MousePlanet Trip Report Editor
Brian Bennett - WDW (23 Oct - 9 Nov, 1996) - Old Key West Resort
- Time of Year: Fall
- Travel Method: Personal Car
- Resort: OKWR
- Accommodations: 2 Bedroom Vacation Home
- Ages Represented in Group: Infant/Toddler, Adult
- WDW Experience Represented in Group: Veteran, Infrequent, DVC Member
- Comments: We started the trip with a weekend in Charleston, South Carolina -- then spent twelve days at OKWR and WDW. Besides Barb and I, our newborn son Allan, and Mom and Dad (Allan's namesake) Bennett joined us for this trip. The report covers day-to-day activities, but also focuses attention on the trip planning process and WDW touring with an infant (a new experience for us).
Among the unique features of this report is that the planning of the trip is a story in itself. Normally, after a brief preamble, my trip reports cover a day-by-day description of our activities and observations. I'll do that in this report, too, but I just have to explain the planning process first. As we moved from November of 1995 to October 1996 our plans evolved through several major changes. You'll see why as we go along. Also, during the course of our planning I developed a unique (at least I think) tool for selecting restaurants for meals at Walt Disney World.
I will also focus, as my trip reports usually do, on meal descriptions. I think that the variety of food options are so incredible at Walt Disney World, that restaurant reviews (and meal descriptions) are a very useful part of any trip report.
There's another feature of this trip that was new for us. I won't mention what it is at this point, so as to not spoil the story, but suffice to say this trip was a new experience for us...
I am Brian Bennett. I'm 33 years old and a mechanical engineer. I have been a Disney park fan for as long as my failing and feeble memory allows. I've been to both Disneyland (9 trips, the latest in September, 1996) and Walt Disney World (7 trips, the latest in November, 1995) several times. The Disney theme parks in the United States are a hobby for me. I enjoy reading about the history and trivia of the parks and sharing that information for other folks.
My wife Barbara puts up with my Disney mania. We visited Walt Disney World together (along with Barb's entire family) in 1988, a year and a half before we married. We returned together for our honeymoon....and we've been fortunate to be able to travel together on each of the trips to the Disney parks since. We've been married seven years.
Allan Bennett, my Dad, is a young 65. As I grew up, Dad took our family on trips to Disneyland whenever we were in California to visit relatives. We also traveled to other places at a furious pace when I was growing up. Pennsylvania, Boston, Massachusetts, California (5 times), Williamsburg, Virginia and the D.C. area (multiple times each), the Black Hills, the Great Smokey Mountains....all were destinations of one trip or another. Even with that wanderlust, Dad stalwartly refused to travel to Walt Disney World, since "everyone else always goes to Florida." It took years of effort, but I was finally able to convince Dad and Mom to go to Walt Disney World with us in 1993 (we stayed at Dixie Landings on that trip). It wasn't a hard decision for them to return to Walt Disney World again last September for their 35th anniversary.
Mom, Carol Bennett, is ten years younger than Dad. She's a wonderful woman that has always been loving, kind, and nurturing to us. Mom enjoys the rides and shows, but also loves the shopping. More than anything, though, I think she just loves being with all of us.
Barb and I consider ourselves Disney veterans. Dad and Mom are experienced at Walt Disney World, too, but typically let us lead the way. That works for me, because I love to have my way in the parks (immature, huh?).
The story of this trip began in mid-November 1995 when we returned from Walt Disney World from our trip with our good friends Mike and Stacey. My parents had agreed to babysit Mike and Stacey's daughters during our trip, so we returned home via Mom and Dad's house to pick up the girls. Mike and Stacey's car was at Mom and Dad's, so it was a relatively simple matter to unload the APV, load Mike and Stacey's car (along with the girls) and send them on their way. Barb and I stayed at Mom and Dad's for dinner, before continuing on home.
Before and during dinner we spent the time planning our next trip to Old Key West Resort...this time with Mom and Dad. We decided that mid-October would be the best time to go. This is typically a quiet time at Walt Disney World, plus it meshes well with Barb's volleyball coaching schedule. Furthermore, Mom and Dad had gone down to Walt Disney World in September of 1995 (we had sent them down on our Vacation Club points for their 35th anniversary). Unfortunately, the weather in September was very, very hot and very, very humid. Furthermore, the weather during our November trip was unusually cool. In fact, daily highs were in the low 70's and even into the 60's during most of the trip...with evening temperatures dipping into the 50's. With our 1995 experiences behind us, we thought October might split the difference...we'll see about that.
The plan for the trip called for a drive down to Charleston, South Carolina to visit the historic part of town, Fort Sumter, and a visit to the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Yorktown. We also planned to tour an ante-bellum plantation or two. After Charleston, we'll drive down to Walt Disney World to stay at Disney's Old Key West Resort (OKWR), then return home to Michigan.
We cut a deal with Mom and Dad...since we were taking our van, and Barb and I were covering the Vacation Club points and theme park tickets, Mom and Dad would cover the cost of the hotels going down and coming back, all the gas costs, and any attraction costs during the drive down and back. We also agreed to go Dutch on all meals.
Barb and I purchased an interest in the Disney Vacation Club (DVC) in 1994, so within a week of our return to Michigan, I called DVC member services and made reservations for two separate stays. First, we would stay at the Old Key West Resort in a "two-bedroom vacation home" from Sunday to Thursday, October 13-24. We planned to move out for the weekend (perhaps to Port Orleans or Wilderness Lodge, depending on our budget conditions at the time). Sunday, we planned to move back to Old Key West Resort for another four days. In order to understand that odd schedule, you have to understand a little bit about how the DVC works. (By the way, there's a detailed description of the DVC that you can access from the main page of "Brian Bennett's Disney Trip Planning Resource Net" web site.) The next four paragraphs are quoted from the writeup at that web site.
"The DVC is a company, wholly owned by the Disney Company, that operates as a pseudo-time share operation. The way it works is that you purchase a number of "vacation points" as a one-time purchase. It is possible to finance this purchase, and the interest is currently deductible as a Federal income tax deduction (if you follow the applicable IRS rules, of course.) You receive an additional full allotment of vacation points each year. The points can be "spent" in several ways, or you can "bank" them to use the following year. Also, if you need extra vacation points in any given year, you can "borrow" points from the following year. The fine-print rules for banking and borrowing are pretty detailed.
"The number of points it "costs" a member to "rent" a room at Disney's Old Key West Resort varies. For one thing, the actual type of accommodation you reserve will affect the point cost. A three-bedroom, four-bathroom villa, for example, requires a lot more points than a one-bedroom studio. The time of year of your trip has a great impact on the point costs, too. Much fewer points are required to rent a room in the Fall than during Christmas week, when Walt Disney World is at it's busiest. Last, the day of the week affects point costs, also. Friday and Saturday nights are always substantially more costly than weekday nights.
"Since point "costs" for a two-bedroom vacation home on Sunday through Thursday in October is only 24 points per night but jumps to 56 points per night on Friday and Saturday...we decided to save those additional points and move out for the weekend.
"By the way, let me just interject a quick comment about Old Key West Resort (Old Key West Resort). Although primarily a time-share facility, Old Key West Resort does rent it's facilities on a nightly basis just like the other Disney resorts at Walt Disney World. Old Key West Resort is particularly nice for families or groups that are large and/or enjoy the flexibility of being able to cook their own meals (since OLD KEY WEST RESORT's larger rooms include a full kitchen). Frankly, there is no way of knowing if the people sitting next to you on the Old Key West Resort bus are DVC members or not...unless you ask. All of the resort facilities are available to members and non-members alike."
Anyway, time passed from Fall to Spring without much trip planning activity. Of course, we frequently talked with Mom and Dad about the trip. I watched and rewatched my Walt Disney World videos (pirated from the Disney Channel for home viewing use only including several episodes of "Inside Out" that I'd taped over the last year and a half. Also, I put together a world wide web site ("Brian Bennett's Disney Trip Planning Resource Net") where you, no doubt, found this report.
More DVC Points Change Our Plans
In April, I received a letter from the DVC. Simply put, it stated that the last buildings at Old Key West Resort that would have a June use-year were soon to be completed. The use-year is a DVC scheduling mechanism that is designed to completely baffle members. Actually, I'm sure it was intended to spread out the work for the accountants by staggering the various membership dates throughout the year. Regardless, it's kinda convenient to have all of your points be under the same use-year. It certainly makes planning, scheduling, and management of our DVC points a lot easier. It's not critical for our points to be all of the same use-year, mind you, but it's convenient. Well, Barb and I decided to add to our original 1994 purchase of points and buy an add-on contract.
With the additional points available, we decided to change our reservations so that we would stay at Old Key West Resort for the entire stay. One last glitch, though, is that our original purchase of points includes free park passes, but our add-on does not. I maximized our park pass usage by scheduling the passes to start on the day after we arrived (since we wouldn't be able to spend much time in the park on arrival day anyway). The park passes for the last portion of the trip, in contrast, were set up to begin on the day of "arrival". What this means is that we were to arrive at Old Key West Resort on Sunday the 13th, park passes would be available on Monday-Friday. Saturday we would not have passes, so we planned to use that day for some non-Disney activity (SeaWorld, Universal, or the Space Center perhaps.) Then passes would again be available from Sunday the 20th until Wednesday. We planned to check out on Thursday morning and head for home, so we wouldn't be able to use our passes that day anyway.
Meals at Walt Disney World are a major part of any trip. The vast diversity of restaurants, themes, and dishes make mealtimes an adventure. Since we all enjoy trying new things...we decided to have several meals at restaurants which we've never tried before. Deciding on how to pay for our meals, though, turned into a big deal...
During our trip with Mike and Stacey, in November 1995, we had purchased the Food 'N' Fun program for our entire stay. We had some wonderful meals and never had a moment's concern over costs since we had fixed prices for all of our meals. Unfortunately, Walt Disney World decided to raise the 1996 price of Food 'N' Fun by $11 over the 1995 prices. I analyzed our meals by comparing their cash costs versus the price of the Food 'N' Fun program (the analysis can be read in DVClubber's Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide if you're interested). For 1996, the bottom line is that: meals costing over $23.78 retail price without tax and tip (6% tax rate and 15% gratuity was assumed) should be purchased using Food 'N' Fun. Otherwise, it's cheaper to pay cash. As a result, we decided to buy only three days worth of Food 'N' Fun and spread those meals over the entire trip with Mom and Dad. Of course, in order to maximize our value for the dollar, we had to judiciously choose those restaurants for which we would use the plan since we intended to pay cash for the other meals at the less expensive restaurants. (NOTE: The Food 'N' Fun program is undergoing major changes for 1997. Instead of being allowed unlimited charges for any given meal, a "debit" system with a fixed per diem meal allowance will be implemented. There is a complete description of this new program in "DVClubber's Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide" if you'd like more details.)
Mom and Dad came up for dinner one Friday night in July to review our trip plans and decide what restaurants we wanted to visit. In the days prior to their visit, I developed a "decision matrix" spreadsheet for Microsoft Excel (note: this spreadsheet is available for download via FTP in the full-service restaurant section of "DVClubber's Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide" elsewhere in the "Brian Bennett's Disney Trip Planning Resource Net" web site) that allowed each of us to vote on a 10-point scale on each restaurant. Ten being a very high opinion or amount of interest, five being "ho-hum", and zero being very low. The spreadsheet included a "Never Been Done (NBD)" factor which was set at ten if none of us have eaten at that particular restaurant, five if two of us have, and zero if all of us have. The NBD-factor placed an emphasis on restaurants we've never visited before (new restaurants and food experiences are always fun!). Also, in order to get the biggest bang for our buck, Food 'N' Fun restaurants were weighted more strongly if they were more expensive, while non-Food 'N' Fun restaurants were weighted more strongly if they were less costly. We went through the entire list of Disney-owned and operated full-service restaurants. Afterwards, I sorted the spreadsheet by overall score to discover that our top twelve Food 'N' Fun restaurants were:
1. San Angel Inn
2. Hollywood Brown Derby
3. Teppanyaki Dining Rooms
5. Rose & Crown Pub
6. Chefs de France
7. Mama Melrose's
9. King Stefan's Banquet Hall
10. Tony's Town Square Cafe
11. Artist's Point
12. L'Originale Alfredo Di Roma
As a group, we decided to use our Food 'N' Fun coupons on San Angel Inn, Hollywood Brown Derby, Teppanyaki Dining Rooms, Marrakesh, Chefs de France, and Biergarten. The reason is that we didn't really think that Rose and Crown and Mama Melrose's are that expensive and we'll almost certainly still go to those two places on a cash basis. Boatwright's Dining Hall, at Dixie Landings, is another old favorite that we'll probably revisit, but not on the Food 'N' Fun program.
Our evaluation of the non-Food 'N' Fun Disney-owned and operated full-service restaurants showed that we were most interested in them in the following order:
1. Au Petit Cafe
2. California Grill
3. Portobello Yacht Club
5. Yachtsman's Steakhouse
6. Bistro de Paris
10. Coral Reef
11. Victoria and Albert's
Keep in mind here, that these restaurants were evaluated with low cost being advantageous (whereas the Food 'N' Fun restaurants were evaluated with high cost being advantageous). We planned on visiting Au Petit Cafe whenever it's convenient, but I made reservations for California Grill and Ohana due to their high popularity. We pretty much decided to skip Portobello Yacht Club just because it's located off-the-beaten-track from where we'll be.
It must be noted that the newest restaurants at Walt Disney World (for instance, those located at the new Boardwalk resort area) and non-Disney-owned restaurants (such as Planet Hollywood and the Rainforest Cafe) were not included in the evaluation. We simply didn't have enough information on them to evaluate them reasonably. We do plan to eat at Spoodles or one of the other Boardwalk restaurants during a night of resort-hopping, if our schedule permits...and maybe we'll go to one of the Village Marketplace eateries, too. Maybe even Portobello Yacht Club!
Restaurant Review Standards
For the most part, I'll simply describe our meals at the various Walt Disney World restaurants. I'll try to take a poll of everyone in the areas of food quality and service, just to give you an idea of our group opinion. I'll use the same scale that we used before...a ten point scale with ten being excellent, zero being dreadful, five being mediocre. Basically, any restaurant that gets a seven or better rating is probably worth repeating. Less than that, and I recommend other choices.
With that accomplished, we sat back to wait out the last few weeks before our trip. The anticipation increased on an almost daily basis until July 31st when all of our trip plans went, to borrow a phrase, "topsy-turvy." The time from July 31st through the beginning of our trip were fun, exciting days. Here's why...
Barb and I had been working on an adoption since March of 1995. We investigated adoption alternatives, considered foreign versus domestic children, evaluated several agencies, applied to an agency and waited....and waited....and waited. The agency we had selected allow the birthmothers to choose which couple would adopt their child from among the profiles that match the birthmother's interests (kind of like a dating service, but the birthmothers choose the matches). Since there were already enough profiles available, we didn't get beyond the application process for about nine months (ironic, huh?) to begin the home study process. In January, 1996 we finally began a four week orientation process. Then we jumped through the many legal home-study hoops to see if we were qualified (in every way other than biological) to be parents. Finally, our profile information was activated and "in the system" beginning in mid-May, 1996. We were told to expect that we would be selected sometime in the one- to two-year timeframe -- at the earliest.
On Wednesday, July 31st Barb answered the phone to hear the news that a birthmother had selected us. The baby's due date was September 26th. We were planning to leave for our trip on October 9th. Timing is everything when you're talking babies.
Well, we met with the birthmother and began to feel pretty confident that the adoption might actually come off. (It's kinda weird to suddenly find out one day that you're pretty sure you're 7 1/2 months pregnant.) The grandmas started planning showers, a stroller evaluation process was initiated (we knew a good stroller would be needed for the trip), we shopped and registered for feeding, sleeping, traveling, cleaning, and diapering equipment at a huge Baby Superstore in the Detroit area. Barb, and our friend Stacy, finished the remodeling of the nursery, which had been moving along at a snail's pace since we hadn't really expected to be selected for a long time.
We decided to check with our family doctor about our taking such a young baby on our trip. His advice, since we were driving and not flying, was that the baby should be at least two weeks old before going on such a trip. Since we would have extra help available and didn't plan on spending every waking moment in the parks anyway, Dr. Brown thought we could pull it off.
As a precaution, then, I called member services again and asked about the possibility of moving the trip back a couple weeks. No problem. It fit Dad's work schedule, it gave us some breathing room with the baby on the way, and it put us a bit further back from the higher crowds expected because of Walt Disney World's 25th Anniversary (on October 1st) and the Oldsmobile Golf Classic at Walt Disney World during the weekend of the 16th. I also added an extra day to our stay at Old Key West Resort. The trade-off was that we won't have park passes on either Friday or Saturday. On the other hand, a two day break in the middle of the trip might prove to be a major blessing. Even if things are going very well and we decide to go to some non-Disney attractions over the weekend, the two day break will give us flexibility.
Rec.Arts.Disney.Parks Advice on Walt Disney World with an Infant
It was at about this time, too, that I asked the advice of the rec.arts.disney.parks newsgroup folks about taking an infant to Walt Disney World. We got some pretty strong "don't even think about doing that!" comments. One person went so far as to suggest that we were unfit to adopt for even considering taking the baby. Most folks, though, simply suggested a slow pace and a willingness to be flexible (both of which are hallmarks of our trips anyway).
There were also several specific hints and tips. Instead of listing them here, I'll be including them at the end of this report, along with our opinions.
Barb's Sister Moves to Jacksonville
Barb's sister and brother-in-law moved down to Florida just a few weeks ago, so we might be stopping in to see them for a short visit and to introduce the baby to them. If we can work things out, we'll swing by to visit Danelle and Mark as we drive through the Jacksonville area from Charleston to Walt Disney World.
I made our Food 'N' Fun meal reservations in the middle of September. Other than that, it's get ready for the baby....and thank the Lord that Mom and Dad will be there to give us a break on the trip!
The Baby is Born
Allan William Bennett II (named after my Dad) was born on October 2, 1996 (he missed Walt Disney World's 25th Anniversary by 2 hours and 41 minutes...sigh...). Weighing in at 8 pounds and measuring 21 inches long, he's a keeper. We signed a bunch of paperwork, watched a mandatory video on bath giving and took our new baby home for the first time. The nursery is ready, the parents have read up on bottles and diapers...and we're ready to go.
Last Minute Details
Packing our Lumina APV minivan turned out to be an interesting project. We've never traveled with a baby before. Funny, how the baby equipment takes up all the space in what used to be a huge minivan (for a childless couple, anyway). We ended up using the car-top carrier and filled it with suitcases, a 160 count case of diapers, and miscellaneous other items. We packed with our intermediate stops in mind...keeping a couple of smaller suitcases inside the APV for the first couple of nights clothes and the mountain of baby essentials and relegating the remainder to the suitcases up top. The pack-n-play (with a bassinet attachment), stroller, diaper bags, baby bouncer, and other essentials took up most of the rear of the van. Hopefully, there's room for Mom and Dad...
October 23rd...Day 1 (Drive to Clinton Township, MI...then on to Dayton, OH)
The goal for today was to get out of work a bit early, head to Clinton Township to pick up my parents, complete the final loading of the APV, and head south. We decided to stop in Dayton because it would be a reasonable distance for our first (and really, only a partial day). During our original planning, we had planned to drive a bit further south to Erlanger, KY, but Mom was adamant that Dayton was far enough on our first real traveling day with the baby.
Well, as it turned out, the Disney bug bit me really bad. I ended up finishing things up on Tuesday and decided to start my vacation early...taking the whole day off. Fortunately for me, I have a lot of good folks in my workgroup so my taking off early would cause only a minor amount of slack that the group can easily take up. Dad, too, ended up having the whole day off, so the only thing between us and the road was a mountain of laundry to catch up on and several miscellaneous other errands that we had to run before leaving town (like getting new license tabs for the van, since I'd forgotten to do so earlier). By about 10:30 am on Wednesday we had things under control and hit the road from our home in Saginaw toward Mom and Dad's place. After I returned from the Secretary of State's office downtown, I returned home to fold laundry (Barb was in charge of actually packing the suitcases and so on, so it was only fair for me to help with the unskilled labor), mount up the car top carrier, and pack the van. One tidbit here...since we had so much baby stuff to take, burp rags, extra blankets, six cans of powdered formula and such...we just threw them into a laundry basket and placed it in the back of the van. Then, when we arrived at Walt Disney World, we unloaded the basket and used it as a dirty laundry receptacle. It worked out pretty well.
We finally got out of Saginaw at about 10:50am or so, as we had to handle a few chores for Barb on the way out of town. We called Mom and Dad from about twenty minutes out to let them know we were on target. Mom went out and picked up some Tubby's sub sandwiches and we enjoyed the quick meal before loading up Mom and Dad's things into the car-top carrier and the van.
Driving South on I-75 was pretty uneventful. Traffic moved well, the weather was fine, and we got to our motel in the Dayton area at around 5:30pm. We checked in, and moved our stuff into our rooms. We were on the second floor (Mom originally made these reservations before we had the baby, so we never thought to ask for first floor accommodations). One side note here, since Mom and Dad are AARP members, they can get some excellent motel rates...we usually have them make the reservations for the trip down and back to save a few extra bucks (plus it made sense since they were covering the cost of the motel anyway).
After we got settled and fed and changed the baby one more time, we drove over to the nearby Cracker Barrel for dinner. We asked for a table where we could stash the baby in the baby carrier as out-of-the-way as possible. We ended up with one of the larger round tables in a corner....perfect!
After dinner, we dropped Mom and Barb (with the little guy) off at the motel, then drove a few miles to the nearest grocery store to buy some bottled water for the baby's formula. Barb had noticed a distinct difference in the baby just in the change from Saginaw's city water to the Detroit city water that my Mom and Dad have. Apparently those folks that say that you MUST use bottled water for baby's on formula on a trip are right. Dad and I also made a quick stop at Wal-mart to pick up some shower thank you notes (Barb thought I'd forget them, but I didn't) and a few other things, too.
October 24th...Day 2 (Drive from Dayton, OH to Spartenburg, SC)
Barb and I got up at a reasonable time (about 6:30am) to be ready for 7:45, but we just didn't get it done. Dealing with the bottles and caring for the baby took more time that we anticipated. Frankly, Barb and I had to learn a new morning choreography for getting ready. Our old morning trip routines just didn't work with Allan in the equation. As it turned out, Mom and Dad slept in, and the extra twenty minutes or so was a tremendous blessing. After a quick continental breakfast at the Comfort Inn (complimentary, of course) we hit the road.
This was a long driving day. The plan called for about 480 miles from Dayton to Spartenburg, SC. One thing we've learned already as I write this, is that traveling with the baby isn't a big deal, but it does take more time. When the baby is due for a bottle, we have to pull of to the side of the road a couple times for burping. Also, we have to stop periodically for diaper changes, too. Again, nothing huge, but marathon driving trips are a thing of the past.
We had lunch at a really busy Wendy's. The food was ok (typical fast food) but the highlight of the stop was when Daddy (that would be me) dropped a couple of paper cups full of ketchup right down on the baby lying on the floor in his carrier. Fortunately, the mess all landed on a blanket which Barb quickly rinsed out in the ladies room. You can probably only imagine how embarrassed I was. Allan didn't even know what hit him. Good thing for me or Mommy might have dumped some ketchup on me...
We made one little side trip that wasn't in the original plan today, too. We drove from I-75 to a little town a few miles North West of Knoxville called Oak Ridge. If that rings a bell from your old history classes, it's because Oak Ridge was a government-built, planned community that was fabricated for the sole purpose of producing Uranium for the Manhattan project during World War II. We only spent an hour or so at the museum of Energy there in town, but my curiosity was tweaked. I told Barb that I'd like to return sometime to take the driving tour of the area (you can also see one of the first atomic piles that was ever made that was instrumental in the bomb's development.)
After we left Oak Ridge, we wound our way back to the interstate and took I-40 to I-26 on to Spartenburg. On the way, we stopped for a quick dinner at a Kentucky Fried Chicken (we all had the buffet).
We didn't arrive at our Comfort Inn in Spartenburg until about 8:45pm. We had upstairs rooms again....something we'd be keeping an eye on for the rest of the trip, but we quickly unpacked the van and headed for bed. Barb and I are "Murder One" and "ER" fans, so we watched those shows before turning out the lights.
October 25th...Day 3 (Finish Drive to Charleston, SC area, Fort Sumter)
The baby kept Barb and I up for a couple hours during the night, so we were moving a bit slow in the morning. Even so, we got up at 6:30 and were ready by 7:45 this time. We're getting the morning routine down a bit better...Barb gets up and gets herself ready while I make up the 7:00am bottle. I woke up the baby with delight (I owed him one) and Barb fed him while I showered and dressed. Then, I washed all the bottles we used during the night and filled them with bottled water, and we worked together to pack everything up to load up the van. By that time, Mom and Dad were ready to go downstairs for our breakfast, so we all did that together.
After breakfast, we quickly reloaded the van and Mom went to the lobby to check us out. I drove the van around, but Mom didn't see us and she walked back to the back of the motel to catch up with us. I drove back around, only to discover that Mom found us missing and walked back to the lobby. Dad suggested that we just stay put, and sure enough, Mom showed up again a couple of minutes later. For a minute there, I thought we'd run out of gas in the parking lot. None-the-worse for wear, Mom got in the van and we headed out for the Charleston area.
We got down to Summerville, where our hotel was located, and checked in. Only one of our rooms was available (it was only 11:30am or so), but we unloaded what we could and took off again. Our first stop was a quick lunch at Burger King. I kept my ketchup to himself this time, and the meal was quite uneventful. After lunch, we drove out to hit I-26 again. I tried to pull into a gas station to fuel up, but traffic didn't cooperate, so we ended up on the freeway. We pulled back off a couple of exits later and filled up at $1.04 per gallon. Not bad, since gas in Michigan is typically $1.17 or so nowadays. I burned up most of the money was saved trying to find my way back to the freeway, but eventually found the van pointed toward Charleston.
We drove first to Patriot's Point. It's actually located across the Cooper river from Charleston. The USS Yorktown, an Essex Class aircraft carrier (CV10) is moored there for tours. A few other vessels are there, too. For today, though, the main attraction was the boat that takes visitors to Fort Sumter in the middle of Charleston Harbor.
I digress for a history lesson here. Fort Sumter was a fortification in Union hands just prior to the beginning of the Civil war. South Carolina and several other states had already seceded from the Union (at least in their opinion) when the Union commander, Colonel Anderson, moved his garrison from Fort Moultrie (located at tip of a peninsula across from Charleston) to Sumter (on an island) in a defensive move. The confederate forces in the area, under the command of P.G.T. Beauregard, interpreted the move from Moultrie to Sumter as an offensive one, since Sumter is closer to Charleston than Moultrie. As a result, the confederates took the fort under fire on April 12th, 1961. The fort surrendered after a few hours of shelling. The attack on Sumter was the last straw that caused some of the other states to secede, Virginia among them. The war probably was inevitable by that time, but Fort Sumter was the match that lit the powder keg.
Fort Sumter is just a shell of what it used to be. Once standing over 50 feet off of the water, now only the first of the original three tiers of gun emplacements still stands. The reason for the massive destruction wasn't the confederate's shelling of the fort in 1861, but the Union shelling of the fort in 1865. Over 40,000 shells were fired at the fort in an attempt to force its' surrender (for the record, the fort didn't capitulate until the bulk of the confederate forces under Generals Lee and Johnston surrendered). In the center of the parade ground, is a huge black concrete structure that takes fully a third of the interior space of the fortification. Battery Huber, as it's called, was built to house 12-inch guns during the Spanish American war in 1898.
Just a quick note, here. We took our stroller on the boat and into the fort with us. It really wasn't possible to take the complete tour of the fort with the stroller, so we ended up taking turns with the baby so we could all check out the fort. Frankly, if we didn't have four able-bodied adults, I would recommend not taking the stroller at all. In retrospect, we should have used our Snuggli baby carrier, which we did use the next day and later in the trip with great success.
We got back to Patriot's Point at about 3:30pm. Rather than rush our tour of the Yorktown, we decided to head back on the morrow. We drove back to Charleston and drove around the downtown area for awhile. We stopped briefly at the visitor's center, then just made up our own driving tour of the battery area. Charleston is really a lovely city. We're looking forward to spending a bit more time downtown on Saturday.
For dinner, we stopped in at a local Summerville restaurant called Alexander's. We were seated at a table with a good-sized distance between it and a brick wall. Allan's baby carrier sat on the floor between us and the wall very nicely. Barb, Mom, and Dad all had steak which they said was very good. I had a chicken dish with a pesto basil sauce...very good too.
Barb and I have also developed a pretty good night time routine. We're using the Playtex brand four ounce bottles that use a disposable plastic bag insert. After we use the last bottle for the day, I dump all the bottles, nipples, and so on into the sink and clean and dry them. Then I put new inserts into them and fill them up. We add formula (powdered) as we need to make up the bottles. It's really working quite well...but I'm looking forward to getting into our Old Key West home with a fridge, so I can make up the bottles in advance.
October 26th...Day 4 (Magnolia Plantation and USS Yorktown)
Last night Barb and I had a friendly little bet about whether or not a TV show she likes is shown on Friday or Saturday night. As it turned out, "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" is on Friday night, so I lost. The wager? The loser had to get up when the baby woke up for his mid-morning bottle for the next couple of nights.
Baby Allan is my hero! We put him to bed at 11:00pm or so and he slept through to 6:30am! This must have been a case of the guys ganging up on the girl...there's no other explanation. Well, Barb got up just a bit before that to take her shower, so when the baby started to fuss, I made up the bottle and fed him. (I had to at least make the appearance of fulfilling my obligation.) When Barb was ready, we switched off and I cleaned up and got dressed. Mom and Dad came over to our room to say good morning to Allan (like we don't matter at all anymore, huh?) Then we all headed over to the lobby for our continental breakfast.
After we ate, we climbed into the van and drove through Summerville to one of the several plantations estates that can be toured here. Magnolia Plantation is owned by the Drayton family, apparently a kind of who's who in South Carolina and even early American History. The house that was the plantation home during the Civil War era was burned by Federal troops in 1865. The house that currently is on the site dates back to the Revolutionary times. It was moved from Summerville in 1868 and rebuilt on the original plantation home's foundation. The major attraction at the plantation, though, is the gardens. About 500 acres of absolutely gorgeous grounds are available to be toured. We walked and walked along the Ashley river checking out the herb garden, the topiaries, the "Biblical" garden (which displayed plants that figure prominently in Scripture), and the rest. Very nice. We spent a couple hours or so on the tour of the house and just walking in the garden areas, but could easily have spent more.
We pulled ourselves away, though, to head back to downtown Charleston for lunch. Dad had a craving for some Southern bar-b-qued ribs...so we decided to eat at "Sticky Finger's" downtown. As I drove from King Street toward Meeting Street, I pulled into a side street that was supposed to have some parking. Sure enough, there was a very nice parking deck dead ahead.
I pulled up to the ticket machine, pushed the button, got the parking ticket, and pulled ahead into the structure. Suddenly it dawned on me that the ceiling was mighty low. I stopped the van and told Dad, who was sitting in the passenger seat next to me, that I was concerned about the car-top carrier atop the van. I got out of the van and sure enough, the car-top carrier was touching a concrete beam that was strategically placed such that my van was not moving forward one more millimeter. Dad and I tried to push up the turn-pike behind the van, but it wasn't budging. Well, to make an embarrassing story as lengthy as possible for the enjoyment of my reading public, Dad went over to find an attendant, and I stoically guarded the van as a line up of vehicles piled up just behind us. Within just a few minutes, the attendant arrived and realized that she hadn't brought the key to the turn-pike, so she had to return to her office. When she came back, she brought a metal garbage can. She waved the can over some proximity sensors in the driveway, the turnpike opened, and as she held up the pike, I slowly backed up sheepishly smiling at the happy line of cars as I passed by. I hollered to Dad to run and catch up because I wasn't stopping...but I did pause briefly so he could pile in and we left the area as quickly as my 3800 V6 allowed.
We weaved our way through the side streets of downtown Charleston for a few minutes, hoping against hope to avoid any of the people that would recognize me. Eventually, we found a parking LOT with no vertical restrictions. We parked the van and Dad snapped a picture of me "driving" the stroller with a blanket over my head (so the folks that I delayed at the parking garage, hopefully, wouldn't recognize me). Then we hoofed it a few blocks to the restaurant. As you might imagine, comments about parking garages became pretty commonplace whenever I erred during the remainder of the trip. Pretty embarrassing, but it could have been a lot worse!
Lunch was very good. Mom and Dad both had the specialty ribs. Barb had a burger. I chose a marinated chicken dish that was very, very good. As soon as I finished up, I fed the little guy, then we walked back to the van where we spent a moment changing him.
Next, we drove back over to Patriot's Point to tour the Yorktown. The Yorktown saw action in World War II. It also was the recovery ship for the Apollo 8 capsule in 1968, just before she was decommissioned. Walking through the ship was fascinating. I'd toured several naval ships before (including battleships Maine and North Carolina), but this was the first time I'd ever been aboard a carrier. I was surprised at how small the hanger and flight decks were. Granted, the Essex class was designed in the 1930's for pre-World War II planes, but even so, it seemed small. On the other hand, the ship really is huge. Don't misunderstand, I don't mean that she was small....just smaller than I'd expected. At some point in her career, Yorktown's flight deck was rebuilt to include an angled deck (which is standard in fleet carriers today), but the deck is still made of wood (armor wasn't included on the flight decks of US carriers until the Midway class was introduced a year or so after Yorktown slid down the ways).
All in all, we spent a couple hours walking around the crew areas, the hanger deck, the flight deck. We skipped the bridge and engine room since Barb was carrying Allan in a Snuggli chest carrier thing. The Snuggli worked well, but Barb was getting noticeably tired after carrying Allan around in it at the plantation then at the Yorktown. An hour or so at a time, with a hefty break in between, is a reasonable expectation. Certainly, we won't be hauling Allan around the Magic Kingdom all day in it.
When we were all pretty tired from the walking up and down the stairs (Barb especially), we headed back to our hotel for an afternoon break.
We got moving again at about 6:00pm. We had a pizza dinner at the local Pizza Hut. Nothing spectacular, but Barb loves pizza...then we strolled the local Wal-Mart for a few minutes before heading back to the motel for the night.
October 27th...Day 5 (Drive from Summerville, SC to Walt Disney World)
Two nights in a row! The baby slept well and didn't really stir for his bottle until almost 6:30am again! Barb got up and made the bottle and fed him. I was kind of surprised...until she explained that she felt guilty because she'd already looked at the TV listings the other day BEFORE we made our bet about "Mr. and Mrs. Smith." Can't trust anybody nowadays. Well, in her favor, she did feel guilty. Maybe there's hope for our marriage after all.
After the baby was taken care of, we got up and moving kinda early, stopped for another free Comfort Inn continental breakfast, and hit the road around 8:00am.
We arrived at Old Key West Resort around 3:00pm. I had called DVC member services several days before we left on the trip and checked up on our reservations and room requests. Everything was in order, but apparently, I didn't do something right. DVC Members have the ability to set up advanced check-in. I thought that's what I'd done when I called ahead, but apparently -- for some unknown reason -- arrangements for our check-in weren't on the computer. All this meant was that instead of walking in to the member's counter at the office, grabbing an envelope with our resort ID's and park passes, and walking out -- I had to wait for the ID's and passes to be made up. It ended up taking twenty minutes or so, but everything ended up working ok.
After we checked in we headed over to our "home" to move in. One thing I've already learned on this trip is that traveling with a baby requires a moving van as much as anything else. Since we were going to be staying here for twelve days, everything came out of the van. Unloading all of the paraphernalia was a chore in itself. Thank goodness we're staying at Old Key West Resort the whole time...and not moving out for the weekend as we had originally planned.
Our room at Old Key West Resort was located on Miller's Road, building 18. We stayed in a "two-bedroom vacation home" which at Old Key West Resort means a regular "studio" hotel room (with two queen-sized beds, a full bathroom, and a mini-kitchen, and television) attached to a living room (with a television and VCR), full kitchen, dining room, and full-laundry room (washer, dryer, ironing equipment) all of which is attached to a master bedroom suite with a king-sized bed, hot tub, full bathroom, and television. As the DVC owners, we laid claim to the master suite (can't give up the hot tub) and relegated Grandma and Grandpa to the studio.
The "two-bedroom vacation home" is perfect for two couples traveling together. We first learned this during our trip with Mike and Stacey the year before. Each couple has it's own bedroom, TV, and bathroom. Plus, there is neutral territory (the living room and kitchen) for gathering and relaxing. We don't use the kitchen much for meals, it is vacation after all, but it's nice to be able to make coffee, keep milk and juice refrigerated, and clean bottles and nipples.
After we got settled in, I suggested Captain's Tavern, over at the Caribbean Beach Resort, for dinner. We've enjoyed Boatwright's Dining Hall (Dixie Landings) and Bonfamilles (Port Orleans) several times, but none of us had ever tried the full-service restaurant at CBR. No one disagreed, so I called for priority seating and we finished settling in before our 5:45 time slot.
Dinner was good. Barb and I both had a steak dinner. Mine was marinated in a special Caribbean flavor sauce. Barb's was a plain steak. Both were served with a baked potato and were very good. Mom and Dad both had a chicken dish. Mom's was a boneless chicken served over a bed of rice and beans with Caribbean sauces. Dad's wasn't boneless, but he says it was very good. It was roasted and served with a baked potato. During dinner, we caught our first glimpse of the 25th Anniversary Celebration. After we'd started in on our salads, a family came into the restaurant and was greeted as the 25th party to eat at the restaurant that night. They were given a small cake and a bouquet of balloons (the little girl was thrilled) and one of the CMs, Captain Ron, sang his own Captain's Tavern rendition of "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah." All in all, our meal at Captain's Tavern was ok. We like Bonfamilles and Boatwright's Dining Hall better, though. Later in the trip we had dinner at Boatwright's Dining Hall and enjoyed it much more. For one thing, the menu is much more extensive. Also, the restaurant, although much larger than Captain's Tavern, is much more quiet. Last, although the service at Captain's Tavern was ok, it was not spectacular. Boatwright's, in contrast, gives consistently excellent service.
After dinner we went over to Goodings at the Crossroads Shopping Center to buy some breakfast goods. We also picked up some more bottled water for the baby's formula and a few other odds and ends that we needed.
When we returned to Old Key West, Barb fed the baby while I did the bottle cleaning and preparation thing. I made three bottles up ahead since we had the refrigerator now.
After the baby was fed and changed, we dumped him on Grandma and went over to the pool for an evening dip. Very refreshing. Barb likes the hot tub, but I like the cool water of the pool much better...we ended up switching back and forth a few times, then dried off and went back to the room.
We ended the day with Barb writing some thank you notes for the several baby showers we've had over the last few weeks. I spent a few minutes updating this report. Mom and Dad just crashed, and I'm sure Barb and I will follow shortly. It's been a long day, but we're all excited about tomorrow...our first day in a Disney park on this trip! That's always exciting...especially with the new baby this time.
I'd like to make one last comment before I break off for tonight. Mom and Dad bought us a Combi Spirit stroller as a shower gift. We've already used it a bunch of times going to the mall and several times on this trip already. It's very light weight, easy to operate, and very easy to push. The handle flips around so it can operate as a carriage or a stroller, the wheels are all double rubber tires with sprocket locks, there's a nice sun bonnet, a small basket for storage, it locks itself (no straps) when you fold it up, and two foot-operated push buttons release the lock...and the whole thing weights less than twenty pounds. If you're looking for a good Walt Disney World stroller, I'd already recommend this one.
October 28th...Day 6 (Magic Kingdom, Tony's for Lunch, Ohana for dinner)
The baby slept until 5:10am this morning. Barb got up to get the bottle warmed up and when she returned, I volunteered to feed the little guy. Barb didn't hesitate to take me up on that offer. As soon as he finished his early morning repast, he dutifully dropped right off to sleep again, so I was able to nod off again, too.
We got up for real at about 6:30 again. After we got showered and dressed, Barb changed the baby. Grandpa and Grandma were already up having breakfast, so Barb dumped Allan on Grandpa for his bottle. While Barb had a quick bite, I washed the bottles and prepared them again (a never-ending task, I've already learned.)
We took a poll for lunch and unanimously agreed to eat at Tony's. I called to make reservations, so we should be all set for a noon meal.
The first day at Walt Disney World is always a joy. It's a tradition of ours to spend the first morning in the Magic Kingdom...and I wouldn't have it any other way. When the bus dropped us off at the bus complex just to the right of the Magic Kingdom turnstiles, I noticed that the Old Key West Resort bus was the second one (the Disney Institute stop was first). On the opposite side was the Swan and Dolphin and the Yacht and Beach club stops. Caribbean Beach was at the very end and all of the other resorts were at the second bus stop building, so I don't know the arrangement there. This is good news, in my opinion. Last trip I was quite perturbed that the "premium" resorts often have bus stops that were located further from the park gates than the "value" resorts. The worst offender was the Disney / MGM Studios, though. I remember last year that the OKW bus was #7 at the very end of the long row, while the All Star resorts were #1 closest to the gates. We'll have to see how the situations are at the Disney / MGM Studios and Epcot now.
Well, now that I have that off my chest...Another tradition we have on our first morning is to head for Pirates of the Caribbean first off. So, we did. We parked the stroller near the ride exit and locked it up (our homeowners would cover it's theft or loss, but our deductible would mean that we'd end up paying for it anyway....and we can't afford it). Barb took Allan on the ride in the Snuggli. It worked well. Unfortunately, the little guy wasn't too impressed with the attraction. He slept through the whole thing.
After we exited, we retrieved the stroller and headed for Splash Mountain. Mom volunteered to watch Allan for this one (it's not her kind of ride anyway). When we first got to the area, we saw a log go down the falls into the briar patch and a huge splash of water went flying across the spectator's area in front of the mountain. The next boat didn't do that, so we made our way across. Barb and I and Dad got in line.
A little girl was being measured by a CM to see if she was tall enough. The CM went through a lot of hassle with that girl. First, the girl was made to stand with her feet together (they weren't before). Next, being just a small amount short of the mark, the CM told her to "take a deep breath." The inhaling made her sufficiently taller and she was told she could ride. I've never seen a smile as bright as hers was right then!
The attraction was fun as always. I waved in the right direction (to the left) at the camera this time. The photo was pretty cool. Didn't buy it though. After the Finale, we found Mom and strolled away toward Frontierland when I noticed a pattern to the huge water splash that I'd noticed before. It's a water cannon that fires on the mountain's spectators every third log.
On our way through Frontierland, we stopped at the Country Bear Jamboree. I still don't like Big Al's "blood on the saddle" song, but that's just my opinion. During the show, little Allan (Barb prefers the full handle, so the diminutive is straight out) was a bit fussy. We decided that he was due for a meal and a change, so we headed for the Baby Care Center. On the way, Dad shot a photo of the Rivers of America all dried up. You don't see that very often (at least you don't when only get to Walt Disney World only once a year.)
The baby care center is a very nice facility. There's an excellent changing room, a feeding room, a nursing room, and is just a quiet, out-of-the-way, place to take care of those things.
While Barb handled the chores, Dad and Mom sat outside while I went over to Casey's to pick up a couple large pops. I waited and waited and waited. The line was incredibly slow. The place was severely understaffed and the staff they had was moving at 50% speed at best. When it was finally my turn, I announced clearly that I'd been in line 25 minutes for two pops. I ordered my coke and orange, paid the slow CM (Alan, by name...can't even spell it right) and he gave me my beverages and a free brownie. Not a bad guy. Slow, but ok.
Next, we headed over to Tomorrowland. We jumped on the TTA for a quick ride around the area. As soon as we finished that, we rode Take Flight. A nice ride, nothing spectacular, but nice...and usually without lines. This time, there was actually a small line up...just twenty folks or so, but a real live line!
When we exited Take Flight, we went through the Pavilion to Main Street to avoid the crowds, then walked up the street to the 25th Anniversary Welcome Center. There was quite a lineup of people trying to register to get their lithograph. With the stroller and the crowds, we decided to come back another time. Hopefully, we'll be able to get in and check out the displays with lesser masses to deal with.
Since our lunch reservation was for 12:05pm and it was already 11:40am or so, we walked next door to Tony's to put in our name and get settled. We were able to get some seats in the waiting area...and ended up waiting all the way to 12:00 before being seated. We were put at an out-of-the-way table with a nice place to park the stroller. Unfortunately, it appeared that our table wasn't assigned to any server so we sat there cooling our heels for about ten minutes or so before one of the servers from the other side of the room walked by and realized our plight. Within a couple more minutes, our beverage order had been taken, bread had been delivered, and a promise to return to take our order was made. Our server did indeed show up a few minutes later. I ordered the pasta primavera. Barb had the Tony's pizza. Dad ordered a chicken Caesar's salad. Mom had the spaghetti. We all enjoyed the bread and olive oil dip. Mom and I had ordered the house salad and Barb requested the cream of chicken soup (trying to find a soup that's similar to the chicken soup at Knott's Berry Farm is an on-going obsession for us).
The meal was very good. Tony's always is. The service was also quite slow. At Tony's it always is. As long as you know going in that your likely to spend a long time at lunch or dinner, it's cool. We knew that, and I warned Mom and Dad of it...and my prediction was correct. Even without the mix-up about who our server was supposed to be things went slow.
Our bill came out at just about $35. Mom and Dad's was about $30. I'd forgotten to bring my Magic Kingdom Club card, so we couldn't get a discount...I made sure to put it back in my wallet as soon as we returned to the room.
After lunch, we moseyed on back to Old Key West Resort. There was a slight delay as the bus driver prepared for a wheelchair guest. He operated the mechanism well, and loaded the guest and us in a very reasonable time. Very professional. Of course, the ride back to the resort was uneventful. It's nice to be at the first bus stop upon returning. That's one key point I'd recommend that everyone consider when making room reservations when you're traveling with kids...good proximity to a bus stop and, if possible, good proximity to the FIRST bus stop on any resort's route.
When we returned, we fed and changed the baby again and I did the bottle cleaning thing again. We all settled down for an afternoon siesta. Allan let us know that he didn't want to participate for about an hour, but we ignored his protests and eventually he drifted off to sleep, too. Just a side comment here...This became the typical afternoon break for Allan. He really didn't settle down for a nap on any of our days. Perhaps it was overstimulation from the parks or maybe it was due to the cooler air conditioned room at the resort, but our afternoon breaks were typically the one time of day when Allan would really fuss and cry and carry on. Except for our desire to have a break ourselves, this worked out ok. Allan was really pretty good at restaurants and attractions throughout the trip. The only meals I can remember him being a problem was when we had dinner at Captain's Tavern and lunch at Tony's and later in the trip, dinner at Olivia's. What we discovered after the first couple of meals (actually, someone in the rec.arts.disney.parks newsgroup mentioned this awhile back, but we just "re-discovered" it) is that the restaurants are kept especially cool. When we walk around outside in the mid-80 degree weather, Allan gets very drowsy. When we enter the cool of the building, he's raring to go. The secret, at least for our little guy, is to wrap him up in a blanket when we enter our restaurant for our meal. He stays nice and warm, and doesn't get too excited and typically slept or just kept himself occupied while we had our meals.
We got up around 5:00 or so. Dinner tonight was at Ohana's at the Polynesian. I'd heard so many good things about this restaurant that I was really looking forward to it. Unfortunately, I made a tremendous error in planning. We had a huge meal at Tony's (where we didn't really get finished until about 1:30pm), then followed it up with an all-you-can-eat meal. Dumb. Very dumb. It's just that none of us was that hungry. If we'd been in the park all day and had a simple fast food lunch, I'm sure dinner would have been a tremendous hit. As it was, we enjoyed the flavors, but didn't really get our money's worth on this one. With our experience with Food 'N' Fun last year (when we stuffed ourselves silly twice a day), I should have known better...as it was, I'm glad we were reminded of that lesson early this trip.
From this point forward, we're planning on having our Food 'N' Fun lunches and having lighter and later dinner / snacks in the evening. The food at Ohana's was very good, unusual, in some cases, but very tasty. One other thing, the meal at Ohana's is mostly meat. The appetizer was three kinds of meat, the main course was four kinds of meat. There were very little vegetables and virtually no carbohydrates at all.
Another problem is that Dad and I are both having some physical problems. I'm dealing with a sinus/allergy problem that always hits me in the Fall. Dad is nursing similar cold symptoms. Oh well, we paid our bills ($45 per couple) and returned to the resort.
Mom kept an eye out for the baby as Barb and I went for another evening dip in the pool and hot tub. It's nice to do that at this time of day...when there's virtually no people and you have the whole place to yourself. We considered taking the water taxi to the Village Marketplace, but decided to hold that for another night.
We got in pretty early, I did the bottle thing again (I'm quickly becoming an expert at this). Then we all relaxed and read and watched TV and generally lounged around. Tomorrow's another day...I love this place!
October 29th...Day 7 (Epcot, Marrakesh for Lunch, Village Marketplace in the Evening)
This morning we started at Epcot. We took the bus over from Old Key West Resort, unfolded the stroller...and took off. My first thought was to go over to the Centorium shop to browse until Future World opened up. When we walked by Spaceship Earth, though, we saw that the line was pretty short and we jumped in. I miss the old Walter Cronkite narrative, but I like the visual effects that came about in the last update. I miss "Tomorrow's Child", too. But then again, I'm a purist.
After Spaceship Earth, we visited the Universe of Energy. Since Allan was sound asleep at this point, Barb asked if we could just take the stroller into the show. Permission was granted, and we were seated in a wheelchair access row at the back of our vehicle to see "Ellen's Energy Adventure." I still don't personally agree with the big bang and evolutionary assumptions of this attraction. I did note, however, that Bill Nye said that "most scientists agree..." during his big bang explanation. Regardless of my opinion on the philosophy behind this attraction, I think the overhauled show is much improved over the old show that was born in the late 1970's. Even the dinosaur coloring was perked up (ala Jurassic Park).
After Ellen answered her final Jeopardy question, we walked next door and rode Horizons. This is a nice ride, I've always enjoyed it. The only drawback is that Walt Disney World has let it fall into a state of disrepair. Our sound system was sketchy and some of the scenes needed paint or at least a general cleaning. One thought that I had while I enjoyed the ride was how well a lot of it would fit into the new Tomorrowland concept of a "future that never was." Maybe they can move the ride over to the Magic Kingdom when and if the oft-promised Space Pavilion is installed.
After Horizons, we walked passed the GM pavilion. The new Test Track attraction is well under construction. Too bad the old "It's Fun to be Free" couldn't be kept when the new ride was added. Still, the new ride looks like it will be fun. I'm looking forward to checking it out next Fall.
By now it was just about 10:30am. Allan was due for a change and feeding, so we walked around the Odyssey Center (where the old Odyssey Restaurant used to be located) and took advantage of the Baby Care Center located there. By the way, the Baby Care Center is located all the way around toward the Mexican Pavilion. There are signs to direct you, but you have to keep your eyes open.
Moments after he was changed, Allan chose to fully utilize his fresh diaper, so he had to be changed again. Not a problem, since Mom and Dad were down at the World Showcase Promenade...and World Showcase wasn't opening until 11:00am. There was a pretty good Mexican mariachi band performing to keep the natives from getting too restless as the clock ticked closer to 11:00. Finally, the rope dropped and the masses ploughed through. We bided our time, then joined the back end of the pack.
We decided to skip Mexico for now. We'll have plenty of time to go back later and a large number of people from the opening decided to make Mexico their first stop. Instead, we decided to check out the shops at Norway. It was fun browsing through the Legos and other Scandinavian imported items. Barb decided that she liked a sweater, but it turned out to be $250...she didn't like it that much (thank goodness!)
When we exited the store, we saw that Maelstrom had a very short line, too. We jumped in and rode through the history of early Norway, the legends of three-headed trolls, and a storm in the North Sea. Just another day at Epcot. When we exited the ride and unlocked the stroller, Dad noticed that the back end of a boat was sticking out of the attraction at the waterfall. We spent several minutes explaining at which point in the ride that occurred (when you change direction from going backwards, after the polar bear, to going forwards again, just before the drop into the North Sea scene.)
We walked from Norway toward our lunch destination. We took our time, it was still twenty minutes or so before our reservation and there was no rush (I love these long Walt Disney World vacations).
I'd wanted to have a meal at Marrakesh since our honeymoon trip in 1989. Barb was never very keen on the idea, partly because the unusual food didn't excite her....but mostly because she didn't want the belly dancers to excite me. With added pressure from Mom and Dad (who had planned to go to Marrakesh during their short trip in September 1995, but weren't able to pull it off due to a scheduling problem) Barb acquiesced.
We were all pleasantly surprised at the menu. There was a wide variety of options and each of us had several to choose from that sounded good to us. I was surprised at how similar some of the dishes were to Greek food. We're pretty familiar with Greek cuisine since we've had dinner in the Greektown area of Detroit several times. Since this was the first of our six Food 'N' Fun meals, we each ordered a Moroccan Sunrise non-alcoholic specialty drink (which was excellent) an appetizer, an entree, and a desert with a beverage. Mom and Dad both ordered the harira soup appetizer. Barb had a beef brewat. I ordered a chicken bastilla. The soup had a lot of saffron in it that gave it a nice kick. Mom and Dad both liked it (in fact, after our meal they bought a cookbook with the recipe for the soup.) The beef brewat and chicken bastilla were similar. They were both thin pastries filled with the meat. To top it off, the pastry had a thin sprinkling of cinnamon and powered sugar which gave it a sweet and very unusual flavor.
Mom and I both ordered the Sultan's Sampler entre that included a brochette of chicken, some beef kefta, and a beef shish kabob along with a side of rice and vegetable couscous. Dad ordered beef kefta. Barb had the shish kabob. The brochette of chicken was simply a chicken kabob. The beef kefta was a spicy meat ball with gravy. In case you're not familiar with couscous (I wasn't until I had this meal) it's a grain, similar to wheat, that is steamed and served with vegetables. My best description for it would be that it's a lot like very small grained rice in texture and taste.
For desert, Barb had a fruit cup with mint ice cream. I had a pastry served with vanilla cream sauce. Mom and Dad both had crepes with ice cream.
The Moroccan entertainment was a lot more low-key that I'd expected. The live music was quiet and unobtrusive. Not top 40's by any means, but not obnoxious. The belly dancing was pretty calm, too. In fact, the dancer spent more time teaching some of the kids in the crowd to dance than she did in going from table to table embarrassing the patrons (which is what I was afraid of). It was pretty cute to see the kids up there.
Since the whole meal was covered by Food 'N' Fun (and I'm being a lot less particular about keeping track of the meal charges this year than last), I'd have to estimate the entire meal cost at $90-$110 for the four of us. Keep in mind that none of us drink alcohol, so that keeps the prices way down.
After lunch, we picked up our rotund tummies and walked around the promenade back toward Future World and our bus. We made four stops along the way. Two were for shopping. The other two weren't.
We arrived back at the resort and Barb finished feeding the baby (she started at the bus stop at Epcot and kept working on it on the bus). He was very quiet this morning. Mostly, he slept. I suspect that that means he'll spend most of this afternoon making us pay for our quiet morning and lunch...we'll see about that.
After our customary mid-day break, we decided to head over to the Village Marketplace to browse a bit and catch a simple bite. We walked over to Turtle Krawl, the centerpiece boardwalk area at Old Key West, and caught the next water taxi to the marketplace. The water taxi runs every twenty minutes and it's a nice alternative to taking the bus. The stroller was a bit of a hassle on the small boat, but not an insurmountable problem by any means. Also, we were given a lifejacket for Allan and were told that he had to wear it onboard. The thing was really huge, so it was really useless for the baby. One of the nicest things about the water taxi is the nice view you get of the new Disney Institute and the Pleasure Island / Village Marketplace area.
We spent two and a half hours at the Marketplace. We strolled though several stores...the Disney art and book store, the kitchen store, the two Christmas shops (we finally selected a baby's first Christmas ornament with infant Simba on it...and paid a bit extra to have Allan's name and the year painted on.) We also spent about a half hour in the new World of Disney store. It's huge and filled with a lot of clothes and a smattering of other character merchandise. Paul "the plush" Pressler (the guy that runs Disneyland) would be proud of one particular room that's filled with stuffed characters from floor to ceiling...and the ceiling is about twenty-five feet above the floor! We had our purchases delivered to our resort, which is a really nice service that we take advantage of frequently on our trips.
Well, after we strolled and shopped a bit, we began discussing food options. Rainforest was out. The line was just too huge (and we really didn't want that big of a meal anyway.) Minnie Mia's was Barb's favorite idea, but Dad really wanted a simpler meal. We ended up at Goofy's Grill. The place was a madhouse. Thirteen orders were backed up when I finally was given my tray (I counted). The fries were greasy and cold...the burgers were hard (yep, that's the word I meant to use) and cold...the drinks were wet and warm (they got the wet part right, but probably only because the beverages were self-serve). Really, for our purposes, Goofy's Grill was ok. We had a fast food snack when we really didn't want an expensive, extensive meal. On the other hand, if I was in charge of Walt Disney World I'd be fixing Goofy's Grill. I'd add capacity and improve the quality pronto...
We rode the water taxi back to Old Key West Resort and Barb and I went over to the pool for our now-traditional evening dip. The baby's about due for his next bottle, so Barb and I are biding our time until the evening chores are finished up.
I'll close today with another baby comment. The Combi stroller has been wonderful. It's really easy to operate -- to fold and push, I mean. The fact that it's so light makes it relatively easy to pick up and lug onto the buses. As I've already stated, we've also been using a bike lock to secure it whenever we have to leave it behind. One comment I'd make, though, is that it's not always easy to find a good place to lock up the stroller. Some of the Epcot pavilions, especially, have a dearth of railings or sign posts or other such places to chain up to. We've had to settle for some less than really secure situations, but there you have it. For the record, we were the only people, so it appeared, to be taking the time to lock up their stroller. On the other hand, I was pretty much certain that the first time we didn't lock it up it would be swiped. Paranoid Detroit native, huh?
October 30th...Day 8 (Magic Kingdom, Plaza for Lunch)
This morning Mom and Dad abandoned us for other plans and we decided to strike out for the Magic Kingdom for Allan's first time in Fantasyland. We got over to the bus stop at about 8:15am. The bus was a little tardy in arriving. One comment here...last year I had a very poor opinion of the Old Key West Resort bus service. This year it seems to be much improved. Maybe with a greater occupancy rate, more buses are put on-line or something, but regardless waits for the bus seem to be much shorter than last Fall.
We got over the Magic Kingdom and headed straight for the 25th Anniversary Welcome Center. We were allowed to bring the stroller into the center, contrary to normal procedure, because the baby was sound asleep. We picked up our "Guest of Honor" badges and even picked up a pair for Mom and Dad. I enjoyed looking at the old photos of Walt Disney World's development. In a short while, we were ushered into a small theatre (used to be the Walt Disney Story) and watched a short film previewing some upcoming attractions that will be added over the next few years. The Disney Cruise Lines, the new Animal Kingdom park, Coronado Springs Resort, and the "West End" expansion of the Village Marketplace and Pleasure Island area were among the things that were described. After the film, we were allowed to view some of the models and artists renditions of those same new things. Finally, we walked through a small shop that contained a large amount of 25th Anniversary logo merchandise. I've already decided to buy a copy of the "Remember the Magic" book and also the new book on Disney architecture, but I decided to hold off until we go back to the Marketplace, since I have a 10% discount at the Marketplace stores with my Magic Kingdom Club card. Barb and I did decide to spring for some personalized "1996 VIP Guest" badges for the three of us, since this is the only place where we've seen them for sale. We pinned Allan's to his stroller. We plan on pinning our other ones to the shirt on our Mickey at home. Back in 1994, we bought a good-sized plush Mickey and a Disney Vacation Club t-shirt. Since then we've bought pins of all the resorts at which we've stayed and parks and a few miscellaneous other Disney events and have pinned them on Mickey's DVC shirt. It's a fun collection to keep up. Mickey also sports a shell lei from the Polynesian Luau.
As soon as we finished there, we headed straight to the Baby Care Center for a change and a bottle. You know, I didn't really know what to expect about Allan's behavior on this trip. Being a baby rookie, I had no clue. Frankly, though, he has really been wonderful. I think that's at least partially due to our efforts at maintaining a schedule for the little guy...and being willing to work his feedings in before he gets too hungry.
Next, we walked through Cinderella's cake and into Fantasyland for the first time this trip. You really have to see this castle thing close up to appreciate it. Barb liked it the first time she saw it. I didn't, but I realize that Disney isn't just trying to satisfy traditionalists. Even though I don't like what they did, they really did a good job...except for those parts of the castle that they didn't repaint at all. They look pretty odd.
First thing we did in Fantasyland was try to pick up a pair of sunglasses for Barb at the Fantasy Faire shop. This is an annual event, because she always forgets to pack the other six pairs we've bought over the years. Having said that, if I forgot mine, I'd go and buy a new pair...and I don't think Barb should suffer all week for making that blunder. We didn't find any that she liked, so we pushed on. In Barb's defense, she wears contacts so glasses aren't something that she thinks of often. Besides, since that's the only thing she forgot when packing for this huge trip...she's doing well (those were her words...she made me put those last two sentences in and I did, even though she cheated on the "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" bet thing.)
Barb donned the Snuggli and we harnessed Allan in for his first tour of Fantasyland. We started by catching Peter Pan with only a short line. I'm not sure if I'm imagining things or not, but the audio-animatronics seemed to have more motion than I remember. Either I'm all wet, or some of the figures have been replaced, or some of the figures have had motions repaired that were broken down last year. I'm not sure which. I was proud of the baby. He stayed awake for this whole ride (one of his Daddy's favorites), but he jumped when Hook shot his cannon at us as we flew toward Neverland.
Small World was next. The line was very short, but the boats were stacked up like cordwood. We ended up in a lengthy queue at the end of the ride instead of the beginning. The ride itself looked really good. Maybe it's been given a cleaning and a fresh coat of paint, but it looked much better than last year. It just seemed dingy last Fall...much better now. There seemed to be something going amiss with the soundtrack, though...several of the rooms had music, but no vocals.
As soon as we finished up at Small World, we walked over to the skyway (no line at all) and rode it over to Tomorrowland. It was cool to see Ariel's Grotto and the new Toontown Fair areas from the air.
When we landed, we continued our search for some sunglasses for Barb. we were eventually successful at the Star Trader's shop. Barb also wanted an athletic supporter for them, so she could go hands free when she took them off.
We stopped over at Cosmic Ray's just because I wanted to see this audio-animatronic entertainer I'd heard so much about. We only stayed for a few minutes, but we'll have to come back with Mom and Dad just so they can see this guy in action.
Our last attraction in Fantasyland was Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. I just had to ride both sides of this one to check it out. I'm not a big Mr. Toad fan, but it was fun to see the differences on the two sides. Until J.T.Toad (from the rec.arts.disney.parks newsgroup) mentioned some of these intricacies of this ride in his trip reports, I'd always thought the two sides were mirror images. Not so.
Our last Fantasyland stop was Ariel's Grotto. We didn't get in line to see the mermaid herself, I just wanted to see the area. As we made our way over, we noticed that the old 20,000 leagues queue area has been turned into yet another character greeting area. A sad end for a once proud attraction.
For lunch we walked over to the Plaza Restaurant at the top of Main Street at the hub. It's hard to find such tasty food in a quiet atmosphere for such a reasonable price anywhere in Walt Disney World...but this place does it all well. It's not fancy, but the service and food is good, the A/C is on, and the prices are ok. I had a Rueben sandwich with fries and a root beer, Barb ordered a grilled cheese sandwich with fries and a root beer float. Since Barb's sandwich and fries was from the children's menu, and the mean included a soft drink and a single scoop of ice cream, they didn't charge us separately for the float! The whole meal (excluding tip) was less than $18. My one complaint about the Plaza is that it really is a tough place to eat with a stroller. There really aren't any great tables for parking one. Barb and I ended up at a small table in the greenhouse part of the seating area (in the far back of the restaurant) with the stroller wedged between our table and the one right next to us...blocking the emergency exit. It was uncomfortable to be so close to everyone and feel like we were making the folks at the other tables uncomfortable too. Other than that, though, the meal was good as always.
On the way back to our bus, we strolled though the East side Main Street shops. Nothing in particular caught my eye, but the smell of the candy shop drove me wild. We made our way back (short wait for the Old Key West Resort bus) and fed Allan and settled in for our break.
We left the room again, after meeting up with Mom and Dad, at about 5:00pm. We grabbed the bus to Epcot and made our way from the front gate through Future World and onto the World Showcase promenade. We had reservations for dinner at 6:15pm at the Rose and Crown, but we were hoping to be seated before 6:00 so we could catch the early bird special. As it went, we did get seated before six, but the early bird specials had been discontinued several months before according to our waiter.
Mom and Dad and Barb and I each ordered a cheese and fruit platter to split. The Stilton and Cheshire cheeses are excellent. We also enjoyed the grapes and strawberries that were included.
While we were waiting for our entrees, we noticed that the table was screwed up. One leg was longer than the others, so it tilted back and forth depending on who had their elbows on the table last (I never claimed to be well mannered). Mom had a brainstorm and when a manager-type guy walked by to see how we were doing -- and to bring an oil lamp to our dark and dingy table, she asked him if it could be fixed. I didn't catch his name, but he immediately crawled under the table and adjusted the table leg. I was very happy...not having to play teeter-totter with Mom made the rest of the meal much more enjoyable.
For dinner, Barb, Mom, and I all ordered the prime rib. It came with Yorkshire pudding and a baked potato and green beans. Dad ordered the fish and chips...he's even more of a traditionalist than I am. The food was very good, we all enjoyed the meal. That's typical for the Rose and Crown. Our combined meals totaled just over $99. Our bill was $52, Mom and Dad's was $47 (see, I can do math!) If you're looking for a really good meal in World Showcase, but don't feel adventurous enough to try one of the French places, Morocco, or Japan...try the Rose and Crown. We've never been disappointed here.
Also while we were waiting for dinner we discussed our plans for the rest of the evening. We kicked around everything from simply returning to Old Key West Resort to strolling the promenade and doing some shopping to walking over to the Boardwalk. The Boardwalk won out...we were all curious about what it looked like.
The walk over was pretty quick. I had expected a much longer haul. We walked from the Epcot end of the complex, where the ESPN bar is located, toward the Atlantic Dance end. We stopped at the hotel lobby to feed Allan. As Barb prepared the bottle, I strolled around to check things out. The Elephant Hotel model and photo were especially interesting. I read the plaque that described them...and immediately went over and told Dad that he wouldn't believe me...sure enough, he got up and went over to check it out himself. Honest to goodness, the model and photo are of an actual hotel, built in the shape of an elephant, that was at Coney Island around the turn of the century. Pretty cool. When the bottle was ready, I did the honors and fed Allan. He's a cute little guy, but of course, I'm supposed to think that...
After our bottle, we walked back to see the Luna Park-themed pool. Then we strolled the Boardwalk a bit longer...all the way to the end. Then we caught a ride on the Boardwalk tram...over to the Dolphin and Swan, then back to the Boardwalk, then back over to the International Gateway.
The Boardwalk has a lot of places to catch a snack or dinner or dance or just hang out. It's probably a short evening's alternative to Pleasure Island. For me, I can take it or leave it...not much there of interest to me, except the atmosphere itself. I think that this resort could have been done much better. For one thing, it's really located in a good spot as far as Epcot proximity is concerned...but a poor one as far as atmosphere. I wish it had been constructed on Bay Lake or Seven Seas Lagoon -- a larger body of water -- so the feel of Atlantic City or Coney Island would have been more realistic. Also, I wish a few Coney Island or Luna Park attractions had been included. I guess, overall, I feel like the resort is an abbreviation of what this complex could have been. Too bad.
When the tram deposited us back to Epcot, we re-entered the park and walked to a spot just beyond the UK pavilion. Actually, we were probably closer to Canada. We camped out for IllumiNations 25, which was to start within a half hour. Our location was pretty good considering we staked our claim only a half hour before the show started. Having been to see Fantasmic, the Main Street Electrical Parade, and Spectromagic...I'm always impressed with how easy it is to find a reasonable spot for IllumiNations.
I took a poll after the show. Dad liked the old show better...hands down. Mom and I and Barb all agreed that the color and pyrotechnics were much better in the new show, but we also felt that the old show had better music and themeing. Regardless of our critical review, it's definitely worth seeing! If you're at Walt Disney World before the end of 1997, catch it for sure. I just think Disney can do better...after all, I've seen Fantasmic!, the Main Street Electrical Parade, and Spectromagic...
After the show, we followed the mob back to the main entrance. We were fortunate to be able to catch the first bus back to Old Key West Resort, too. When we got back to the resort, I started updating this report...Barb got the baby settled...and we all just kinda relaxed for awhile. That pretty much wrapped things up for the day.
October 31st...Day 9 (Disney / MGM Studios, Brown Derby for Lunch)
Uh oh. I totally forgot to work on this day's update until 9:00pm this evening. I hope I don't forget any important details.
This morning we started out at the Disney / MGM Studios. We caught the bus soon after 8:15am and arrived at the Disney / MGM Studios shortly thereafter. Disappointment number one was finding the Old Key West Resort bus stop still located at number seven, way at the far end away from the park entrance. Disappointment number two was finding the All-Star Resorts bus stop at number one. I don't understand that for the life of me. End of elitist comment...
The park was already open, even though it wasn't scheduled to open until 9:00am. I was looking forward to seeing the refreshed studio tour and animation tour (both of which had been updated, according to reports I'd heard).
We started our day by turning onto Sunset Blvd from Hollywood and walked right to the end of the street. There was absolutely no line for the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror 2 (they've added the 2 because the latest ride profile has two 13 story drops in it). Dad and I had already decided to go on this one, Mom didn't decide to try it until she reached the building...then, surprisingly, she decided to do it (mostly due to peer pressure...a friend of hers from home told her not to miss it). Barb waited things out with Allan.
We were ushered into the library without a wait at all. I don't mean it was a short wait...I mean -- we walked right from the outdoors into the lobby into the library...just like that. The preview was the same as always, then we walked through the back door into the maintenance area of the hotel. The atmosphere of this place is just amazing. Mom was getting a bit apprehensive, but when I pointed out the wimp exit she decided to stick it out.
When we reached the service elevator, I tried to get Dad to take the first row. Instead, he walked to the back row leaving me with the...yep, you got it...the middle seat. The one with no safety bar. The one with only a seatbelt. The one with nothing to hold onto for dear life. The one and only unsafe seat in the place...and it was all mine. Thanks a million, Dad.
The ride began as usual. Up to the first stop to see the hallway and the apparitions disappear into a starfield. Up again to the second stop...only to begin moving horizontally into the Twilight Zonish atmosphere of odd stuff...kind of like what Journey into Imagination would be like if you knew you were about to be dropped 130 feet twice in rapid succession.
We reached the shaft and had our first little drop. Mom yelped...I couldn't wait for the big one.
Then, we skyrocketed to the top and the doors opened so we had enough light to see our lives flash before our eyes... then DOWN... DOWn... DOwn... Down... down... then up... and uP... and UP. Then, to prove Newton correct again (at least in the limited conditions on Earth) we plummeted again... DOWN... DOWn... Down... Down... down...
Dad later said that the small Kodak camera he had attached around his wrist floated up during the descents. I wouldn't know...I was sitting there wishing I had a safety bar. Thanks a million Dad. Again.
When we reached the bottom, and the last few film clips were being run before the elevator door opens, I casually told Mom that the next one was the worst...she started to really get worked up until she realized I was pulling her leg. I'm glad she didn't hit me over the head with her fanny pack. I would have been knocked unconscious. (Mom packs her fanny pack like she's a member of the studio audience for "Let's Make a Deal", but I admit it does come in handy sometimes.)
Dad decided to buy the picture just to prove that he did this tower thing. I suggested that he buy the "I survived the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror" t-shirt, but he was happier with the photo. It's too bad they don't snap the picture when you're at the top of the tower. The photos are always much less exciting than the Splash Mountain ones since the fear isn't really there yet...alas, but no.
Well, with that behind us (without a safety bar) we headed back toward the rest of the park. Mom expressed an interest in the Great Movie Ride so we went there next. Mom also wanted to ride car B, with the gangster shootout (she'd only see the car A western shootout previously). By a happy coincidence, we were already in the car B queue...so off we went. (By the way, valet parking for all strollers was available at the entrance. What a deal!)
If you are at all a fan of the motion picture, don't miss this attraction when you're in Florida. It's a great tribute to many of the great films of all time. My personal favorite part of the ride is the film clips at the very end, they bring back a lot of wonderful moments in the history of film. A lot of fun.
After the Great Movie Ride, we headed over to the Voyage of the Little Mermaid. We looked at the queue and noticed that there was no way to take a stroller in with us...so we decided to skip this one. Maybe later in the trip we'll catch it. If not, we've seen it before. It's a fun show, but we were more concerned about dealing with our infant logistics than seeing an old favorite.
Instead we opted for the Animation tour. We weren't allowed to take the stroller in there, either, but nothing...and I mean nothing...comes between me and my annual trip through the animation tour. The Disney / MGM Studios are currently working on Hercules, the Legend of Mulan, Fantasia Continued, and Tarzan. Hercules is scheduled for a Summer, 1997 release. the Legend of Mulan is due in 1998. The other two didn't have dates.
The Robin Williams / Walter Cronkite "Back to Neverland" intro was a riot. Instead of Robin and Walter continuing to guide our tour in the "working area", though, a video on the upcoming Hercules was shown instead. Also, another twist since our last visit, a Disney animator drew a Hercules character for us. Kinda cool. Then, of course, the film of clips from Disney's thirty-four animated features is always a fun ending.
Hercules is a retelling of the classic Greek tales, but done in an odd animation style. If you've ever seen any of the old Ward Kimball animation shorts done for the Wonderful World of Disney -- like the one with the cavemen discovering fire and the wheel and such -- this is similar. It's more of a caricature style with lots of angles and straight lines...not the well-defined character animation of Beauty and the Beast and Cinderella. I hope the style isn't a turn-off at the box office.
As soon as the tour was over, we walked over toward the Commissary to find a spot to give Allan his next bottle. Since we were planning to walk over to catch the Hunchback of Notre Dame stage show next, Barb suggested that we just go over there and feed Allan there. Good idea...so we walked over, and found a line forming already. Barb asked a cast member for ideas about how to handle the baby, and he had her sit outside the queue area to feed the baby while Mom, Dad and I all got in the line. When the line started moving, Barb rejoined us and we all walked into the theatre together.
The show was very good. Frankly, I liked it better than the one in California that we saw a couple months ago. For one, it was easier to follow the story if you didn't remember all the details. Second, it included "God Save the Outcasts", which is my favorite song from the film...and sung beautifully by our Esmerelda, I must say. Well, with Frollo dead, Esmerelda and Phoebus hitched, and Quasimodo happy with his sudden fame and fortune as a Disney character, we left the theatre with the rest of the masses.
Barb and I had had lunch at the Brown Derby the previous Fall. It was a spectacular meal. It wasn't surprising that the Brown Derby ranked high on our list of restaurants to do this trip as well. Well, as soon as the Hunchback show was done, we had to high-tail it over to the Brown Derby to make our reservation time. As it was, we were seated in just a few minutes, down on the main floor as I'd requested (there's a ramp for strollers, so it was easily done) and at a table with a nice spot for the stroller. Allan was awake most of the meal, but he didn't fuss much at all...except for one point, when Barb realized he needed a change and did it between courses (in the restroom, not the restaurant...silly).
Since this was a Food 'N' Fun meal, we did it up good. Dad, Barb, and I all ordered the Oreo cookie drink and Mom had a Orange Smoothie (ice cream and strained orange juice blended together). For our appetizers, Mom and I both had the chicken Cobb salad, Dad had the traditional Cobb, and Barb ordered a gazpacho with scallops and veggies. All were very good. Mom and Dad, especially, raved about the Cobbs...and I picked up a copy of the recipe at the counter for Mom after our meal (printed on a brown derby-shaped card, no less). For our main entrees, Dad had a barbecued pork sandwich served with a very unique potato salad while the rest of us had the chef's selection New York Strips served with garlic spiked mashed potatoes and sauted mushrooms. For desert, I ordered the grapefruit cake, Mom and Dad both had a chocolate wafer pie kind of a thing served with strawberries. Barb had yet another Oreo cookie drink. I think she really likes 'em.
One of the things that was fun during the meal was that an older guy came into the restaurant and was introduced as Sid Cuehuenga (supposedly the proprietor of the One-of-a-Kind Shop at the entrance to the park). He stuck around for quite awhile doing impersonations of several old time Hollywood Stars including Jimmy Durante (he came over to our table and introduced Mom as Mrs. Calabash), George Burns and others. All in all, an excellent and entertaining meal. One of my all time favorites at Walt Disney World.
One thing we noticed...This year at the Derby we did not receive a telephone call during lunch. As a previous highlight of our meals there, this was a disappointment.
After we finished up, Barb headed over to the Baby Care Center and the rest of us strolled the stops on Hollywood before meeting back up with her. The Baby Care Center was a zoo! At the Disney / MGM Studios, unlike the other parks, the Baby Care Center is much smaller and is part of the guest services area. Apparently there was some special Halloween goings on, because the place was swarming with little kids dressed up for the occasion along with their parents. Barb finally left the place when she kept getting kicked by a couple of the more wonderful children.
By the way, I asked Barb to rate the three Baby Care Centers for your reading pleasure. She pointed out that the Disney / MGM Studios center was much smaller and much less quiet than the other two (even without the Halloween thing). Also, the Epcot center is poorly located. All in all, she gives the Magic Kingdom center the overall top rating. Not bad, since I would guess it's also the busiest.
Next on our agenda was our typical daily break...so off to our room we went. At about 5:30pm, we headed over to Epcot. Our plan was to stroll the Showcase for awhile, maybe catch a light bite, then return to the resort.
Mom expressed an interested in Honey I Shrunk the Audience, so we headed there before going over to the Showcase. Allan was fussing a bit too much for my comfort, so I asked Barb to give him to me so I could take him out of the theatre...instead, she offered to take him out. The show was a riot. It was the first time I ever felt the mouse effects...the 3-D stuff was cool, too.
After Honey I Shrunk the Audience, we walked right on to Journey into Imagination. This has got to be one of the oddest Disney attractions ever...an LSD trip without the drugs. Weird and wild. When we exited the ride, we got into a conversation with a CM about ride rehabs and such. He really didn't have any news that I wasn't already aware of. He did say, though, that a minor rehab is about all that's expected at Journey into Imagination...and that it's due after the new Test Track opens next year. He also said that Horizons was a sequel to the Carousel of Progress and that Walt himself worked on it before his death. I'd never heard that before (although its not an unbelievable story).
Since another CM had told me that Future World was staying open until 9:00 (I had expected it to close at 7:00), we decided to give up on our Showcase plans, and we headed over to the Land, instead. We walked over to the Circle of Life film, first...a lovely film (but I wish they would balance the environmental message a bit with the fact that humans can't just drop industry and agriculture just to keep things the way they used to be.)
After the film, we walked downstairs and had a light meal at the food court. I had a ham and cheese sandwich with microscopic side of potato salad (which cost $.99, but was about the size of a large ketchup cup). Barb had only a toll house cookie and milk (lunch was big, remember?). Dad had a stuffed baked potato and Mom had a pasta and bean soup. After all these trips to Walt Disney World, this was the very first time we'd ever eaten at the Land food court. The food was pretty good for fast food, but the set-up is pretty inconvenient for groups, since each of the different food specialties have separate order takers and cash registers. Keep that in mind, if you plan to have a meal here.
After the quick meal, we jumped on the Living with the Land ride, again with no line. The farming techniques part of the ride is especially fun for me and Barb...I'm into technology and Barb is into gardening...it's a neat mix. After the ride, we strolled out of the park and returned to our room for the night.
November 1st...Day 10 (mid trip break, Rainforest Cafe for Lunch, Belz Outlet Mall Trip)
This was probably the oddest day I've ever spent at Walt Disney World. Not bad, mind you, but odd. For one thing, we didn't spend any time in any of the theme parks at all. The reason for that, is that we didn't have tickets for the parks today. As you may recall from my planning discussion earlier in this report, we don't get theme park tickets with our add-on DVC contract...since we've used those points to cover Friday and Saturday, we don't have tickets for today or tomorrow.
The morning started early for Barb and I. Allan stirred just after 4:00am, so Barb dutifully got up and gave him his bottle. He woke up ahead of schedule at 6:30am -- choking -- and Barb ran over to pick him up and settle him down. He must have just swallowed some expectoration down the wrong pipe, or something, because nothing was seriously amiss. Barb got the little one settled down for awhile longer, but by 7:15 or so he was ready for his next bottle...and it was my turn. Anyway, Allan and I had a little Father/Son morning so Mommy could sleep in awhile. Barb took that opportunity and also spent some time in the hot tub, too.
By 10:30am or so, Barb was up and about, Mom and Dad were up (they had been up earlier, in fact, for a quick breakfast and just to hang out). We gave Allan his third morning bottle, then headed over to the Village Marketplace in the van.
By this time, it was about 11:30am. We made a beeline for the Rainforest Cafe to make our reservations. We ended up walking right in, and within minutes of our arrival were seated in the elephant room. The place is kind of noisy, lots of rain storms, animal sounds...that kind of thing. Frankly, it sounds like a restaurant trying to sound like a rainforest. Imagine that?
I was kind of irritated that the host didn't put us at a table that was a bit more out of the way for the stroller's sake -- even after I had asked specifically for a table like that. As it turned out, the location wasn't as bad as I'd feared it would be...we only had to move the stroller once for someone to pass by (in a wheelchair). Frankly, the attitude of the guy was the thing that made me less than happy, but it ended up working out ok. Maybe his problem was that since the Rainforest isn't Disney owned and operated, he didn't ever learn the Disney charm at good old Disney U. Workers here are not Disney employees, but are required to meet CM grooming standards.
The menu was pretty extensive. A lot of things sounded good. We all agreed to stick with just an entree to make this a lighter meal than some of ours have been so we could have an earlier dinner. Dad ordered a Caesar's Salad, Mom had a pita with salad, boneless chicken strips and some Caesar dressing. I had chicken Bombay...grilled, marinated chicken served with rice and greens and a wonderful peanut sauce. Barb ordered a pizza with pepperoni, Italian sausage, tomato chucks, and mushrooms and cheese. Everything was very good. As a group, we agreed that the Rainforest Cafe was worth visiting again...probably not twice on a trip, but again in the future almost certainly.
After lunch, we headed over to the Village Marketplace bookstore. I bought my copies of "Building a Dream", "Since the World Began", and "Twenty-Five Years - Walt Disney World." The total came to just under $90 before I whipped out my Magic Kingdom Club card and got my 10% discount.
Next, we headed off property to go to the Belz outlet shops to peruse the Character Warehouse. We'd heard about the incredible deals that you can get there...so it was one of our goals for the trip. We made the trip up to Belz uneventfully. It's located at the extreme North end of International Drive, further on than the Mercado Shopping Center and Wet and Wild. Just for reference, the Character Warehouse, the shop that is the Disney Outlet, is located in Mall 2 of the Belz complex. It's a relatively small store, maybe 1/3rd the size of the Emporium...and packed solid with character merchandise...mostly t-shirts, but some other stuff too. Barb found a Meeko cookie jar (she collects those things) for $20...they normally sell for $60 or so. Except for that, there really wasn't anything that caught our eye. Ok, I liked the Mickey alarm clock by Lorus, but I didn't want to drop $20 (normally $50) on something that would just collect dust at home.
We drove back from Belz the long way...all the way down International Drive, passed the Quality Inn Plaza where we stayed during our honeymoon and the Mercado Shopping Mall, to SR 535, then under I-4 to the Walt Disney World entrance.
Our afternoon break was quite a bit shorter than normal. We didn't get back to Old Key West Resort until 3:00pm and we agreed to head out for dinner at 5:00pm. We'd thought about going over to Bonfamilles for dinner, but for several reasons we decided to go to Olivia's, right there at Old Key West Resort, instead. Mom and I both ordered the special of the day grilled Tuna. It was fantastic! I also had the conch chowder...Mom and Barb tried the vegetable soup of the day. Dad had the meatloaf and thought it's consistency was too smooth...like the meat was mashed up before the loaf was made. Tasty, but oddly textured. Barb had a fruit and cheese plate that was excellent...a lot of very nice fruit and three different types of cheese.
During dinner, Allan got a little vocal. One of the waitresses came over and spent some time with him and he quieted down and eventually began to doze off. It was cool that she was willing to spend the time to help out.
For desert, I ordered a chocolate fudge cake, Barb had a brownie, and Mom ordered a pumpkin, pecan, butterscotch pie. We teased the waiter that they threw all of yesterday's leftovers into a pan just to get rid of it, but Mom said it was pretty good.
I also ordered a whole Key Lime pie for the evening. It cost me $24.50 and a 45 minute wait. I had read somewhere once that you could order an entire pie to go...apparently it's true, but you use up a big part of your vacation waiting for it to arrive. Oh, by the way, they didn't have a pie box, either, so it came in a regular gift box...with verbal instructions to keep it flat. It was pretty inconvenient to carry.
Well, we eventually got back to the room just in time for Barb's sister and brother-in-law to show up. Mark and Danelle moved to Jacksonville, as I've already said, just a few months ago and we invited them over for the evening, to spend the night on our hide-a-bed, and hang out with us tomorrow too. Since Barb was in mid-bottle with the baby, she finished feeding him, then we dove over to the closest Taco Bell for a quick bite. They were hungry...and didn't want to wait for any lines. The Bell was the quickest option. We sat with them while they ate...Barb and Danelle caught up on things while Mark and I exchanged grins at some of the family gossip. We're both proud that we married into this group and aren't part of the original gene pool.
We spent the evening talking, socializing, eating pie, and generally goofing off and called it quits after Allan's 10:30pm bottle.
November 2nd...Day 11 (mid trip break, California Grill for Dinner)
We got going a little late again today, since we didn't have park tickets once again. Mark and Danelle were camping out in the living room on the hide-a-bed (oh joy, oh bliss...I'm glad it was them and not me). We'd agreed that we'd be up and showered and ready by 8:00am, and give them a turn in our master bathroom. We were going to get going by 9:00am, but I found out that our morning destination didn't open until 10:00am. Barb, Mom, Danelle, and Mark ended up playing a game of Dutch Blitz, which they also played last night. Dad and I just read and relaxed, since neither of us are major game players.
A little after 9:45am or so, the baby had been given another bottle and had been changed, and so we were off. We caravaned out of Old Key West Resort, left on Community drive, then left again on Bonnet Creek Parkway, then right on Buena Vista Drive toward the western half of the Walt Disney World property. Eventually, we turned onto Epcot Resorts Boulevard cruised passed the Swan, and turned left into the Fantasia Gardens parking lot.
Fantasia Gardens is Walt Disney World's new miniature golf courses. It's really two courses in one. We decided to play the gardens course which is the more usual miniature golfish of the two. The other course, called the Fantasia Fairways, is kind of a cross between a miniature course and a real-live course. You use putters, but the course is laid out much more like a real course.
The gardens course disappointed me. It as a pretty good miniature golf course, but frankly the themeing and the play wasn't significantly better than any other course. In fact, some of the "Pirate Adventure Golf" courses are much more interesting visually. If you like miniature golf, you'll like the course...just don't expect the really high Disney standards that we've all come to expect in every other area that the company has touched over the years. Another problem is that a single round on the one course we played costs $9.00 for an adult, four or five dollars more than most such courses. On the other hand, maybe I didn't like it because I was one stroke over par and my wife beat me...as usual.
After we finished our round on the greens, we headed over to the Grand Floridian for lunch. We decided on the Grand Floridian Cafe as a compromise between sit down, but reasonable prices. The cafe impressed me. The service was typical Disney-slow (for restaurants) but the food was varied, tasty, and well-presented. With six adults, we had a smattering of orders. I had the club sandwich that was excellent...especially the home-made potato chips. Barb had a cheeseburger which also looked (and tasted, Barb said) very good. The others had a mixture of soup and sandwiches...really, a nice meal. The menu here is pretty similar to that of the Plaza over at the Magic Kingdom, but with a bit more variety here.
After lunch, we strolled outside and down to the marina. We thought this would be a good time to use up some of our fun cards from the Food 'N' Fun plan. Mom and Dad took out a pontoon boat and we rolled the stroller right on in. They made Barb put Allan in an infant life jacket (a pain, but for a good cause). The rest of us took water sprites, the little motorized boats that are just a lot of fun for zipping around in. We cruised around the Seven Seas Lagoon and Bay Lake. We all went over together on the water bridge, then made our way back singly and in pairs.
During my cruise, I saw the Contemporary, Wilderness Lodge, River Country (appeared to be closed again, like it was last year), Discovery Island and Fort Wilderness, the Magic Kingdom, and of course, the Grand Floridian. I could also see the Polynesian from a distance, but I didn't go close up since I did that last year. I also cruised fairly close to the Magic Kingdom and a service area on Bay Lake that appeared to have one of the Magic Kingdom boats (the ones that run from the TTC to the Magic Kingdom) in dry-dock.
Barb had a lot of problems with her boat this time out. She had to restart the engine four times and also ran out of gas in the middle of the lake. Mark ran out of gas once too. The lake patrol guys are pretty good, though, and not only gave us more fuel, but called back to the Grand to get us some extra water time to make up for the problem. My boat never conked out nor did it run out of gas. On the other hand, it seemed to be very slow. Either that, or it had too big a payload. I prefer to think it was very slow. We got back to the Grand Floridian marina and gave Allan a bottle, then we headed back to Old Key West Resort for the afternoon.
Almost as soon as we got back we all put on our suits and walked over to the pool for a quick dip. We probably only spent half and hour or less there, but the cool water was refreshing and a wonderful change from the heat and humidity.
After our swim, Mom and Dad retreated to their room for a nap, Barb and Mark and Danelle played another game of Dutch Blitz, Allan drifted off to sleep...and I worked on this report. Obviously, I'm the life of the party.
At about 6:20pm or so, Mark and Danelle hit the road for Jacksonville and we headed for the van for our dinner reservations. As we drove over to the Contemporary, I stopped to get gas (very expensive thing to do on property, but I really had no choice because we were running on fumes). For convenience sake, I filled the tank...despite the high prices.
When we arrived at the Contemporary, we found a parking spot that was pretty close to the north door of the main tower building where the resort bus stop is. As soon as we arrived, I asked for directions for our restaurant...rather than aimlessly meandering about the place for a half hour. I was breaking all the stereotypes tonight!
We headed for the elevators as I'd been directed and shot up to the fifteenth floor...The California Grill. We put in our name (actually, we were way early for 7:45pm reservations) and began to wait things out. Mom and Dad seemed a bit put out by the promised one hour wait for a window table (I'd hoped to see the fireworks during dinner). I suggested that they head back downstairs and cruise the shops for awhile, since Barb and I had done that on our last trip. They liked the idea, so they headed off promising to return in a half hour or so.
California Grill is, of course, located on the 15th floor of the Contemporary Tower. It's decorated in an art deco-ish California-modern style. I know there is no such thing, but as a Midwesterner that's the best set of adjectives I can assemble to make the point. The wood trim reminded me of the detail work inside Frank Lloyd Wright's Falling Water home in Pennsylvania. A lot of it was bleached in color. Many surfaces in the restaurant are sweeping curves, others are very sharp lines. It's not an unpleasant mix, but neither is it how most folks this side of Robin Leach would decorate their homes.
Just before 7:00pm, I began to wonder about the fireworks, and asked the host when they were scheduled to go off. The answer: 7:00pm. And I'd just sent Mom and Dad downstairs! Barb offered to go find them, but I told her to stick around because there was no way she was going to find them and get back upstairs within four minutes. I was right, the fireworks only lasted about eight minutes. During the show, the lights of the restaurant were dimmed and the simulcast music was piped in, too. They're using a medley of Disney tunes and the 25th Anniversary "Remember the Magic" theme. The fireworks were really good...a short show, but fabulous in content. A few minutes later, Mom and Dad showed up all aglow because they'd seen the display from the fourth floor where they'd been browsing. Whew! I was off the hook...
After waiting about seventy minutes, we were finally called to our table. We walked from the seating area to the table to find it smack in the middle of the restaurant and not a window table by any stretch of the imagination. I made it quite clear that I was not at all happy and our hostess ran off to figure out how to resolve the problem. After a few minutes of looking around, I realized that the table wouldn't really be so bad...we had a great view of the show kitchen and the fireworks were already over (which is why I wanted the window in the first place). I ran off after our hostess to tell her I'd deal with the table. When I tracked Kelly down, she was working with some honcho-types trying to figure things out. I suggested that we'd stay at the table, and the manager guy offered a couple of free appetizers as compensation. I accepted...very happily.
We ordered our beverages and Barb and I selected a goat cheese ravioli for our appetizer. Mom and Dad ordered a marinated tomato salad. Both were very, very tasty. Even more so since they were free!
The show kitchen has an area set aside for cold food preparation...salads and such and the like. Against the back wall is the wood-fired pizza oven. Taking up most of the right side of the kitchen is the grill and stove area with a huge stainless steel exhaust hood hanging from the ceiling. The many chefs (probably upwards of ten people were working back there at any one time) wore whites, but each had individual headgear, too. Baseball caps were common...the head guy (I think he was, anyway) wore a high white chef's hat like the Swedish chef from the Muppets. The counter in front of the kitchen was where the various orders were placed prior to delivery to the tables. At one point there was a very large backlog of orders lined up...but everything got done eventually. By the way, I understand that it's possible to watch your own meal prepared at California Grill, if you ask. We didn't, so I can't confirm that...but I've heard of people having that privilege.
In between courses, we had a lot of fun watching the chefs preparing food for the many patrons of the restaurant. As I'd hoped, things really did turn out well since the show of the kitchen was quite entertaining. At one point, Barb decided that she needed to have a wood-fired pizza oven installed in our home. Later, one of the meals that was sitting on the counter had a stainless steel cover over it. Mom wondered aloud "what was under the silver dome." "A bad football team", I replied. Think about it Lions fans.
For our entrees, Mom and Dad both ordered the pork tenderloin, Barb ordered a three-cheese pizza, and I had a barbecue fillet mignon. The meals were excellent! In addition, the show of the kitchen was a lot of fun. My fillet was grilled, then doused in barbecue sauce. Very unusual for a prime piece of beef, but excellent in every respect.
I topped off my meal with a cappuccino quake (cappuccino mousse with a sunflower-brittle kind of a wafer stuck in it) and Mom and Dad shared an angel food cake with pear compote. The deserts were excellent too.
All in all, this was one of the most enjoyable meals I've had at Walt Disney World this trip...no small praise, since I thoroughly enjoyed Tony's, Rose and Crown, and the Brown Derby already.
Well, stuffed and satiated, we drove back to Old Key West Resort for a quiet evening, a bottle for the baby, and a good night's sleep (I hope...I'm on call tonight, so I've been informed by the mother of my child.)
02-10-2006 02:55 PM
MousePlanet Trip Report Editor
November 3rd...Day 12 (Epcot, San Angel Inn for Lunch)
This morning we headed over to Epcot. We didn't get to the bus stop until 8:20am or so, but the bus showed up quickly and we got to the park when it was still quite uncrowded. I'm a lot happier with Old Key West Resort's transportation this year compared to last. The buses have been much more frequent and reliable.
We started the morning in the Living Seas pavilion. Dad and Mom had never spent a great deal of time there because the crowds were always so great. This time, we practically had the whole place to ourselves as we looked at the fish and the many displays in Sea Base Alpha. One of the most fun areas was the fish that have natural camouflage. We couldn't even find some of them without a great deal of looking in the tank.
The manatees were few...we only saw a couple. Last year the manatee display was filled with the creatures. This year, only the deuce.
After the Living Seas, we walked on over to the Journey into Imagination pavilion to see Honey I Shrunk the Audience. Because the baby had been fussing last time we visited, Barb missed the show. This morning, Allan was pretty much sleeping life away, so we all went in. Here was another contrast with last year...we were able to feel the mouse effects very, very well as I had the other night. Last year, neither Barb nor I noticed them at all. Either we were sitting in seats in which the effect mechanisms were broken, or our legs were too far away from the seats, or something. This year, no problem...the mice were everywhere!
By now it was close to 10:30am, and Allan's bottle time. Barb took off with the baby in the stroller to the baby care center, and Mom and Dad and I took a walk through Innoventions. Frankly, I was disappointed. The St. Paul's basilica virtual reality thing at the Silicon Graphics display wasn't operational...the Hammacher Schlemmer display, that had been pretty extensive last year, was pretty much reduced to just a handful of hands-on items. Walking through the area, I'm amazed that anyone is interested in spending any time there at all. If Innoventions is going to be any better long term than the old Communicore, it had better be updated with new displays and new attractions on a regular (annual) basis. Otherwise, it's going to become a museum...just like Communicore did.
We caught up with Barb at the Baby Care Center. As I walked into the feeding room, Barb was burping Allan...and he let out a terrible chesty cough. Barb was almost in tears thinking that he was terribly sick. The attendant at the Baby Care Center suggested that we take him next door to the First Aid Station and get the nurses opinion. so we did.
The nurse was able to hear Allan's cough, too. His other symptoms were an apparent sinus congestion (we could hear some noise in there when he breathed on occasion), and a case of constipation. She took his temperature using a strip thermometer in the baby's armpit and the result was 100.6 degrees. Not good at all. The nurse suggested that we get him into see a doctor as soon as we could work it out. On the other hand, his condition was far from serious, just some concerns, so we decided to continue on to our lunch reservations, try to get seated early, then leave the park to get Allan in to the doctor. Before we left, the nurse also provided us with brochures on several 24-hour clinics that were located close by and Turner Drugs, a local pharmacy which offers delivery service to area hotels.
On our last trip, Barb and I checked out the menu at San Angel Inn one day. We were impressed, and decided we wanted to have a meal there, but we just never got around to it. The restaurant has lovely atmosphere. In some ways, it's very similar to the Blue Bayou in Disneyland...as boat loads of El Rio De Tiempo guests float by the patrons' tables. Across the "river", smoke billows from an active volcano. The sights and sounds of an evening in Mexico City surround the restaurant, too, as an open air marketplace is located just outside the restaurant entrance.
Because of Allan's condition, we arrived thirty minutes early for our preferred seating time only to find out that the restaurant didn't start seating until 11:30am anyway. We decided to wait the fifteen minutes, the 11:45 preferred seating wouldn't be much better in time anyway. I suggested that we all go on the El Rio Del Tiempo ride...Barb was so concerned about Allan, though, that she wanted to just sit with him there at the restaurant. Mom and Dad decided to go, but I thought it better to stay with Barb and the baby. Within minutes of Mom and Dad's return from the ride, we were seated at a wonderful waterside table with a great place to park the stroller.
As we received our menus, Dad whipped out a flashlight! Can you believe it? Apparently, the Rita Aero's "Walt Disney World for Adults" book said that the restaurant was so dark that you needed a flashlight to read the menu...so as a joke (or maybe not) Dad brought one. He had a ball during the entire meal shining the flashlight on the menus, on the table, on the stroller, on our food as it came to us...all-in-all a pretty enlightening meal for Dad (insert groan here).
Since this was a Food 'N' Fun meal, we all ordered appetizers first. I had a chicken tostada, Mom and Barb had tortilla soup made with a very rich beef-based vegetable broth. Barb really liked it. Dad had a bowl of the corn chowder which was very tasty, but not spicy hot at all...also very good.
For our entrees, Mom and Dad both ordered a sampler combination platter with several Mexican specialties. Everything on it was good. Barb had beef tacos, while I had the mole poblano, chicken simmered in spices and chocolate. Everything was excellent and the portions were good too. The mole poblano was a very, very tender boneless breast of chicken. Despite the "simmered in spices" claim, it wasn't spicy at all...that coming from a guy that doesn't like Taco Bell's hot taco sauce. The chocolate wasn't sweetened, of course, so it didn't have a very distinctive chocolate flavor. It was very good, but not like melting a Snicker's Bar on your chicken McNuggets or anything.
For desert, Mom and I both had the chocolate Kahlua mousse pie which I thoroughly enjoyed. Barb had ice cream with caramel sauce and Dad had the bread pudding.
One comment I have to make here...all of these dishes were known by their Mexican names. As a tried and true gringo, I can't remember their formal names. Regardless, this was a very good meal. The atmosphere was fun, and the food was excellent from top to bottom. I'd recommend San Angel Inn anytime. The only problem was our mental state about the baby's health. That certainly put a damper on things.
As soon as we were finished eating, Barb and I headed back to Old Key West Resort to figure things out with the baby while Mom and Dad stayed at the park for awhile. The bus was late by a good five minutes, one of the few times the Old Key West Resort buses failed us so far. Even so, we got back to the room in good time to give Allan another bottle while I hit the phones to get things figured out.
The first call was to our health plan back home. There are directions on the back of my card to call them collect if emergency service is required out-of-state. I called, but I got a recorded answer (it was a Sunday, after all). The second call was to our own doctor. I wanted to avoid bothering him if I could, but obviously I had no choice. The first call, to his office phone, gave me his answering machine from which I collected his answering service number. Call number three was to the answering service. I explained the situation to the operator and left my number. She got a hold of the doctor and called me back with directions to make sure that a doctor sees the baby and that Dr. Brown wanted to see him, too, when we returned to Michigan. Call number four was to the Buena Vista Centra Care at (407) 934-2273. (Centra Care is located on SR 535, just west of the Crossroads shopping center, by the way.) No dice...they wouldn't see an infant under four months old. Call number five, at the suggestion of Centra Care, was to the local "Dial-a-Nurse" referral service. (407) 897-1700 is their number. The "Dial-a-Nurse" nurse suggested that we just take Allan into any nearby hospital Emergency Room. I knew that Sandlake Hospital was close by, and so I suggested that one. The nurse agreed that Sandlake would be fine and helped me with directions.
Finally, we had a plan...off to Sandlake hospital. The hospital is located on Turkey Lake Road, a good way South of Sandlake Road, just West of I-4. From Walt Disney World, the best way to get there is to take I-4 to Sandlake, turn left onto Turkey Lake, then South to the Hospital (which is on you're right-hand side). We found the hospital without any problems (the blue "H" signs helped a lot). I dropped off Barb and the baby at the ER and went to park the van. By the time I'd walked back, Allan was being seen and worked on by the ER staff already. The policy at the hospital, we were told, is to treat the patient even before any paperwork is done. They were working on my son before they even knew if we had insurance! Not bad in this day and age of managed care and pseudo-socialized medicine.
The folks at the hospital were great. We got there at about 2:15pm or so, and left shortly before 4:00pm. In that time a doctor examined the baby, recommended and ordered a chest x-ray and an oxygen absorption test, the tests were performed, the results analyzed, and the doctor returned to explain things to us. The bottom line on everything was that Allan had some minor sinus congestion which was draining into his throat which was causing the cough. No problems were found on the x-ray or oxygen absorption test...and we were out the door with instructions to check his temperature periodically with a rectal thermometer (an accurate method) just to make sure nothing is missed.
My only irritation through this whole episode was that the nurse at the First Aid Station used a method of taking Allan's temperature which is apparently well-known in the medical community to be valid only to plus or minus four degrees Fahrenheit. For the nurse to tell us he was running a temperature was guesswork at best. (His temp was measured rectally at 98.2 degrees at the hospital.)
I hope no one else has to deal with a medical issue on their trip to Walt Disney World, but if you ever do, I highly recommend Sandlake Hospital. I'd also not hesitate to try the Centra Care or Turner's Drugs, if need be. Just so you know.
After all the excitement, we returned to the resort for an abbreviated break and made some evening plans with Mom and Dad...
Originally, when we made our plans, we'd agreed to drive over to Wilderness Lodge, Dixie Landings, and Port Orleans and just make an evening tour of the thing. At 7:00pm, when we gathered in the living room, I began to lobby for lesser plans. I was really beat from the whole hospital run thing...tired and in need of some settling down. No one was very hungry after our wonderful Mexican meal at San Angel Inn, so we abbreviated our tour to just a quick trip to the food court at Dixie Landings and a brief stroll about Fulton's General Store.
We jumped into the van, and drove the short way up Bonnet Creek Parkway to Dixie Landings Resort. While Mom, Barb, and Dad got their meals at the food court, I fixed a bottle and started feeding the little one. He was a lot more interested in sleeping than eating, so it took some doing. When Barb returned with her pizza and Mom and Dad with their hamburger and hotdog baskets, I just sat with Allan until Barb was done. Then we switched off, and I went and strolled the food court. Nothing looked particularly good...I really wasn't hungry, but I settled on ravioli with meatballs because I knew I'd be super hungry in a couple of hours if I didn't eat anything. There really wasn't enough sauce, and the raviolis were pretty plain, cheese filled ones (not meaty like the gourmet Chef Boyardee kind -- my most typical ravioli experience to gauge the Dixie Landings ones against). Mostly, though, I just wasn't hungry...so I nibbled and ended up jettisoning most of them.
After dinner we did stroll the store for a bit, then we hopped back into the van and came back to Old Key West Resort. The rest of the evening was spent in simply hanging out in the room. Relaxing and quiet...just what Barb and I needed after the stress of the day.
November 4th...Day 13 (Innovations in Action Tour, Chefs de France for Dinner)
This was, by far, our busiest day of the trip so far. This morning, after we got up, showered and dressed, and got Allan ready to go, Barb and I abandoned Mom and Dad and the baby and took off to Old Key West Resort's Community Hall to meet our party for the Innovations in Action Tour. The tour is coordinated by the Disney Vacation Club for members and their guests and is a Disney University behind-the-scenes tour that includes a walk in the Utilidor (underground passages) under the Magic Kingdom, the plant nursery and tree farm, and other facilities. The cost is steep ($60) but we've all wanted to see this stuff for so long.
When we first started planning this trip together with Mom and Dad, we all wanted to go on the tour. Unfortunately, children under 16 are not allowed on the tour, so we couldn't take Allan when he arrived so unexpectedly. Our solution was to schedule Mom and Dad for the only day we knew the tour was running (Which was last Wednesday... and why Mom and Dad ditched us that morning) and we hoped we'd be able to catch another tour later in the trip. As it turned out, today was the day.
Only thirteen people were signed up for the tour and only eight actually showed up. We left Community Hall at 9:00am and headed for our bus that was assigned to us for the day. Tom, our tour guide, gave us a brief narrative about Walt Disney and his innovative ideas as we drove to our first destination. He mentioned such things as the first animated film with sound (Steamboat Willie), the first animated film with color (Flowers and Trees), the first animated film using the multi-plane camera (The Old Mill) and the first full-length animated feature film (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs).
Our first stop on the tour was the new laundry facility. Opened in 1995, this facility now does all of the bedroom laundry for all of the Disney-owned resorts on property. Just a year earlier, a facility had been built to handle all of the All Star Resort capacity, but with the opening of the new facility, the All Star Laundry now handles all restaurant and food service laundry for all of the Disney-owned restaurants in the parks and at the resorts. A third laundry facility, actually the original one, now launders only cast member costumes.
The facility has an incoming material truck dock. The laundry is then hand sorted by a crew of CMs into towels, sheets, and pillow cases. We didn't see washcloths or hand towels, but I would imagine they are handled at this facility as well. The sorted material is placed in a beige-colored monorail hamper which conveys it to the washers. Once the laundry is placed in the hampers, it is not touched by human hands again until after the folding process has been completed. The German-made washing machines perform the washing task in fourteen chambers. The laundry is moved through the washer with an auger-like arrangement. A minimum of detergent and bleach is used to minimize environmental effects. Bacterial killing agents are also employed. The cleaned laundry is automatically placed in white-colored monorail hampers for moving to the dryers (for towels) or iron/dryers (for sheets and pillow whites). The laundry is then conveyed to folding machines where the final finishing is completed. The laundry facility runs two eight-hour shifts on seven days and is currently running at about 75% capacity (I assume of those two shifts). The old facility was barely able to keep up with a seven-day, twenty-four hour operation.
During our walk through the facility, I asked Tom what the life expectancy of a towel at the Walt Disney World Resort was. He said that most towels are retired after less than ninety days of use.
From the laundry area, we reentered our bus and drove toward the South Service Area of Walt Disney World. Along the way, Tom described the water management that was designed into Walt Disney World property back in the 1960's. Before Walt Disney World opened in 1971, 59 miles of water management canals were dug. Since then, it's not been necessary to add any additional canals. The canals operate with a French-designed balanced water gate that opens automatically, without power, when water levels reach critical heights in the show areas. For example, it is important to maintain relatively constant water levels on the Seven Seas Lagoon and Bay Lake so that water transportation is unaffected. The water management system performs that assignment.
The South Service Area contains three major components: water treatment, waste treatment and recycling, and the horticulture department's tree farm. First, the water treatment facility is located there. Sewage from all of the resorts and parks is piped to the facility for treatment. The resulting "gray" water is 90% pure, sufficiently so to drink. However, the "gray" water is not used for human consumption, but is used instead to irrigate the many landscaped areas of Walt Disney World.
The solid wastes are squeezed to reduce water content as much as possible. Then, it is composted in a managed process with wood chips added to further reduce moisture content. Air is pumped into the piles of compost to expedite the breakdown of the material. The compost, when sufficiently "cooked", is used to fertilize all areas of the property.
We also drove by the recycling facility also. This facility is a sorting and compacting plant which sells the material to outside concerns for actual reuse. The facility, once a liability to the company, now produces about $100,000 per month in additional revenue for Walt Disney World.
Barb's favorite part of the tour was next...the horticultural area. We stopped smack in the middle of the topiary area. Three different kinds of topiaries are produced, maintained, and used at Walt Disney World. First, topiary is made by growing plants in a re-bar frame and trimming the plant as it grows to take the shape of the frame. The frames themselves are made by the central fabrication facility at the North Service Area. This process often takes up to ten years for a showable topiary, but the resulting plant is very durable and can be shown for many, many years. The second kind of topiary is simply shaping trees or shrubs without any kind of frame. An example is the shaped plant material in Future World at Epcot. Instead of taking on the shape of a character, these topiaries are more simple, geometric shapings that provide interest in a planned landscape. The third topiary type is the stuffed topiary. In this case, a frame is used...but instead of growing a plant and shaping it, the frame is instead stuffed with sphagnum moss and ground-cover plants are planted on the surface of the moss to grow. Such topiaries can be made showable in just six weeks or less, but require constant maintenance and watering. Even so, they are only usable for a small fraction of the time of the grown topiaries. Needless to say, Barb became a shutterbug at this stop. One other interesting note...while we were at the topiary area, Tom pointed out a huge berm and fence system...the border of the new Animal Kingdom park.
A driving tour of the North Service Area was next on the docket. We saw the central fabrication shops, which currently produce all of the walk-around character heads for all of Disney's parks around the world for two reasons. First, the capacity and expertise are in Florida. Second, by producing the heads in one location, the appearance of the characters remain consistent from park to park. We also saw a lot of pieces of rides. I saw the front end of a monorail, a Peter Pan galleon, bits and pieces of several Grand Prix cars, and so on.
Next, we drove by the dry dock area where the Richard F. Irvine had just rehabed. Apparently, the boat was only scheduled to be painted, but a lot of dry rot and other problems were discovered that had to be dealt with as well. Now, one of the Magic Kingdom transportation boats was in dry-dock. It turns out that this is the same service area off of Bay Lake that I'd seen from my water sprite earlier in the trip.
The ride and attraction planning building was nearby. Tom didn't have much to say about this...apparently the Imagineering department's East coast facility.
Right around the corner is the vehicle maintenance building where Walt Disney World's (Tom said) over 18,000 vehicles, including 163 buses, are maintained. The buses, by the way, are given complete brake replacements every 20,000 miles. Not a bad idea the way some of these Walt Disney World drivers stop on a dime...or at least try to. The Monorail "roundhouse" was just beyond the vehicle maintenance building. That's where Walt Disney World's 12 monorail trains are serviced. By the way, earlier in the tour, Tom had mentioned that the cost of monorail track is now estimated at about $3 million per mile, not including stations and rolling stock. It's no wonder that Walt Disney World is slow to add additional lines.
Our next stop was the production facility where the parade floats and other materials are stored and maintained. The first thing we saw there was the water pageant barges. The images conveyed on the barges are only two dimensional, but the water pageant was the forerunner of the Main Street Electrical Parade / Spectromagic concept which gives the pageant a nice historical perspective.
Then we walked inside the float storage building and were able to look inside Spectromagic's Ursula float (pretty tight in there, since two folks have to be inside...the Ursula character and the driver.) We were also able to see many of the floats up close. The "Remember the Magic" parade floats were scattered about outside the building. Apparently they are not as delicate as the Spectromagic floats.
Tom described a little bit about how parades operate at WDW. The parade music and other effects (turning lighting on and off, for example) are always zoned throughout the parade route. That is, the people that are near any given float hear the music that is associated with that float while people in other zones hear the music associated with the float that is in their area. This is controlled via "pucks" that are embedded in the parade route pavement and electronic pick-up devices within the floats that allow the floats to "know where they are" on the route. Wireless radio permits the floats to communicate their positions to the parade control center down below in the Utilidor.
One last comment here...we were able to see the Splash Mountain and Pirates of the Caribbean attraction buildings from the backside here. I was surprised at how small they looked...very large, of course, but a lot smaller than I guess I thought they'd be.
Finally, we loaded up on the bus again to ride to our last destination...the Utilidor. The Utilidor is actually built on the ground level. It's 16 feet high, and includes all of the main utility runs for compressed air, water (hot and cold), power, communications, garbage collection, and so on for the Magic Kingdom. The support shops for wardrobe, wigs, costumes, and other support activities are located down here, too.
Over the years, I've read glowing reports about the wild success of the Utilidor. Urban planners are thrilled with the idea, the Walt Disney Company boasts of it's existence, and the advantages of having the Utilidor are really plain to most anyone. So, I asked Tom why the Utilidor wasn't repeated at any of the more recent Disney theme parks. The only answer that Tom could muster is that the cost must be prohibitive. I guess that explains why cities don't have Utilidors either.
Only two internal combustion engine vehicles are permitted in the Utilidor. First, ambulances are allowed (in the case of emergency, of course). Second, a Brinks truck shows up at the cash office to haul away Disney's haul. Tom joked that the Brinks truck came in every ten minutes or so...at least I thought it was a joke. Maybe not.
We walked through the wardrobe department. Service windows exist for each of the themed areas. If you're a cast member that works in Tomorrowland, you pick up and drop off your costume at the Tomorrowland window and so on. Three costumes and at least two wigs (if needed) are maintained for each cast member. Currently, Walt Disney World handles all of the washing and maintenance of costumes, but plans are in the works to allow some CMs to do their own.
We spent a lot of time in the wig department. A couple of wig makers showed us how wigs are produced and maintained for both "face" character CMs and also audio-animatronic figures (as in the Hall of Presidents). Wigs can cost up to $3000 or more depending on it's materials and complexity. Human hair is used on some wigs, but most are artificial fibers.
One other stop was the central control facility where the audio and animatronic controls for all of the Magic Kingdom's attractions are located and operated. We weren't allowed to enter the room, but clearly the facility is mostly digital now (it used to be all analog in the old days) and looks pretty much like a computer room in any office or manufacturing facility.
After that, we walked out of the Utilidor by Tinker Bell's Treasures. We walked from there to the corner of town square with Tom pointing out several items of interest along the way.
- The castle has absolutely no bricks in it's construction. It's all steel frame with a fiberglass shell.
- The statue of Walt and Mickey, located at the hub, was dedicated in 1995.
- Walt's name appears above the Carnation Ice Cream parlor on the North side...one of the very few spots in the park where Walt's name appears at all. (I also noted Ron Miller's and Card Walker's names on a couple of other windows.)
- Over the Market House, the investment company "M.T.Lotte" is honored for the behind the scenes work that was done to buy the 30,000 or so acres of Walt Disney World property at approximately $170 per acre. Property around Walt Disney World now costs as much as $500,000 per acre.
With that, we walked back to the bus, behind Tony's Town Square Cafe. The bus dropped us off at the front entrance to the Magic Kingdom...and the tour was all over just like that. The three and a half hours flew right by.
We'd arranged to meet Mom and Dad in front of the 25th Anniversary Center. They were right there...and we immediately walked down Main Street to the Plaza Restaurant for a nice lunch. I had the club sandwich (called the "triple decker"), Barb had soup and the cheese and bacon burger. Dad followed suit (with Barb) and Mom had the chef's salad. Everything was very good...typical Plaza. Our combined bill was just shy of $50 for the four of us.
We strolled over to Alien Encounter next. Since this isn't Barb's favorite attraction, she took this opportunity to feed Allan.
We practically walked onto the attraction. When we got into the outer waiting area, we stood no more than a couple of minutes before heading into the first pre-show area. Then, as we moved on into the pre-show itself (where Skippy is shabbily transported across the room), Dad and Mom cut through the crowd in a different direction than I did. I eventually met up with them in the AE attraction room itself.
This is certainly an interesting attraction. I felt all of the full effects this time (last year, I didn't feel the touch of the alien on my head). It's pretty cool, but not something you can enjoy over and over like the rides. Good show, though, for all that.
We met up with Barb at Cosmic Ray's. Ray (I don't know if that's the audio-animatronic guy's name or not) played a rendition of the Sherman Brother's music from It's a Small World. Pretty funny...he said that the music is used to subdue the enemy on the planet where he comes from.
To close out the afternoon, we walked over to the hub and down into Liberty Square to stake out a claim for the afternoon parade. I won't go into the details here, but some folks are just plain rude about nudging into and in front of other people that waited a long, stinking time for a good place to watch the parade. Needless to say, we were the innocent party in our case (aren't we always?). I almost strangled the kid that kept bumping Allan's stroller when he was sound asleep.
The parade itself was ok. Typical afternoon parade. The music was a combination of very good and not so hot. The 25th theme isn't bad, but the funky versions that are played during the parade aren't my favorite. Also, the soundtrack itself is too short. We must have heard the same two or three minutes of sound ten times...too repetitive, redundant, repeating, recurrent, and so on and so forth.
After the parade, we made our way back to the bus stop, caught a bus that was sitting there ready to go to Old Key West Resort, and took our daily afternoon break. Whew! we all needed it bad.
We didn't get going again until 6:30pm. We caught the first bus to Epcot (which happened to be at 7:00pm). We high-tailed it all the way to Chefs de France where I inquired as to the possibility of a) getting a table for four and b) using our Food 'N' Fun coupons (even though Chefs de France doesn't accept Food 'N' Fun for dinner according to all the Food 'N' Fun literature.) I was told that yes, the coupons would be accepted...but table availability wouldn't be known until 8:30pm or so. Since it was only 7:45pm, we had to kill some time.
We walked over to the American Adventure to see if we could fit in a show, but the next show wasn't until 8:15 and we'd not get back to Chefs until almost 9:00pm that way. Instead, we walked back to Japan and spent some time browsing in the Mitsukoshi store. Barb and Dad both love bonsai and other Japanese things, so it was fun. A side note, while we were there, I had the need to use a restroom. I thought the nearest ones were in Morocco, but I asked a CM just to be sure. Actually, there are some small restrooms located just behind the Yakitori house fast-food restaurant which is in the small building on the hill behind the five-roofed pagoda. Nice to know they're there...for future reference.
We returned to Chefs at 8:30, and were told that we could, indeed, be seated...and yes, our Food 'N' Fun coupons would be honored. This was pretty much a repeat of last year when we ate here with Mike and Stacey. Nice restaurant...Food 'N' Fun...good deal!
For an appetizer, I had the chicken and duck pate' in puff pastry. Dad and Mom both had onion soup with cheese. Barb had a potato and mushroom soup de jour. Everything was delicious. I tried to get everyone to try the pate'. No one would, but it was excellent.
For our main course, Barb had the beef tenderloin in a raisin brandy sauce. Mom had braised beef tenderloin with a burgundy sauce. Dad and I both had roasted duck with a sweet and sour orange sauce. As with the appetizers, everything was excellent. Very tasty, well prepared, well displayed. Wonderful! I never realized that duck was so much like red meat. I'd expected dark or white meat like chicken, the only poultry with which I've had a lot of experience...but instead, it looked just like rare beef. It tasted unique, more like beef than chicken, but still unique.
To top off the meal, Dad had a hot apple tart. Mom had custard with caramel sauce. I had a souffl' with grand Marnier. Barb, the purist, had vanilla ice cream. Our waiter tried, unsuccessfully, to convince her to try something a bit more complex.
As we did last year, we closed the restaurant and were among the very last people out of the park. We waited only about ten minutes for a special bus to be dispatched to take us to Old Key West Resort...where I stayed up far too late to update this report while everyone went to bed. Goodnight!
November 5th...Day 14 (Disney / MGM Studios, Epcot, Magic Kingdom, Biergarten for Lunch)
Just a note for my fellow DVC members here. Yesterday afternoon, we were visited by housekeeping in the early afternoon to have a "trash and tidy" service on our room. We were kind of surprised, because we'd been expecting a full service. I called housekeeping and asked about the schedule. We had been given a full service on day four of our twelve day stay. On day seven, we had a "trash and tidy". We were scheduled to have another full service on day twelve...the day we check out. The woman at housekeeping that I was talking to rescheduled the last full service for today, so we will have had two full services and one "trash and tidy" during our stay. Point is, you can negotiate your service days with housekeeping if the normal cycle doesn't fit your needs very well. If you're not a DVC member, this paragraph isn't a big deal...don't worry about it.
So begins our last cycle of mornings in the theme parks....today, the Disney / MGM Studios. As we had been doing throughout the trip, we planned on heading for the bus stop around 8:00am. We caught the bus to the Disney / MGM Studios and pretty much walked right in.
Our first stop was the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. Dad had had such a wonderful time on this ride the other day that he'd been looking forward to riding again ever since. This morning there was a little bit of a wait. Only about ten minutes or so, but a lot since the other day we walked right on. Mom was unsure about going on the ride again, but decided to do so after all. This time we were directed to the right-side library. Nothing major to note there. It was fun to be able to spend some time looking at some of the atmosphere in the maintenance areas.
When we eventually got to the maintenance elevator, we were directed to row six again, but with only three of us I didn't have to sit in the middle seat this time. As I've said so many times before, the effects on this ride are just spectacular.
Dad noticed that when we started to move horizontally at the second vertical stop, we moved through the Twilight Zone images, then moved to the right on a track that seemed to be shaped in a Y. He also noted that we were under the "oll" of Hollywood when the doors opened before our drop. I wish I knew more about the logic of the ride's operation. If anyone out there knows more about this, I'd love to hear it. Anyway, we got off the ride and met Barb and the baby in the picture viewing room, then exited the building and walked on down Sunset boulevard.
Our next destination was the Backstage Pass to 101 Dalmatians production tour. This is a wonderful refresh of the old production tour that included content from "Honey I Shrunk the Kids" and the old Bette Midler short that was produced just to demonstrate production techniques. I'd seen that old stuff so many times that I could practically picture the entire tour in my mind. The new tour covers a lot of the same techniques, but uses new examples. "A change is as good as a holiday", right? (A little quote from Paul Brickhill's "The Great Escape", in case you were wondering.)
I do have to make a very important point here for those folks that are planning on taking younger kids to the Disney / MGM Studios. The new production tour is very friendly for strollers. Frankly, I think the cast members need to do a better job of giving directions to the stroller-bound parties, but if you know which doors to use you can take the entire tour without stairs and in relative ease. Just listen carefully when the CMs tell you where to go with a stroller and everything will be fine.
Next, we walked right over to the backlot tram tour. Again, the stroller wasn't at all a problem during the water effects demonstration. However, it's important to note that if you have a double-wide stroller or a wheelchair, you must take the right-most row (which turns out to be the front row of the water tank area) as it is wider than the others.
After the water tank demo, we walked to the left and hung a hairpin turn down a ramp to the prop warehouse. With the mass of people is was hard to keep our group together, but we eventually made our way into the building where several movie and TV props were displayed in a winding path. Frankly, I didn't see any particularly famous props...just a bunch of stuff that had apparently been used at one time or another on a film project. As we exited the warehouse, we walked toward the tram loading area.
Then we ran into stroller problems.
One of the cast members that were facilitating the loading of the trams directed us to row five. With the stroller, I also took over row six. The CM, a guy named Steven, told me that since five adults could fit into a row, we could easily all fit in row five with the stroller. When I objected, he rudely insisted. Well, when the tram pulled up, I got on the tram and sure enough....it didn't fit. I was really hot, and tried to track my pal Steven down, but he was clearly avoiding me. In the meantime, I was holding up the tram since I was standing there with my stroller. Fortunately for Steven, another CM walked up and saw my dilemma and helped me stow the stroller further back in our tram car where there's a flat surface where the tram wheels are covered. Steven purposely avoided me as I tried to get his attention. Jerk.
The rest of the tour went without problems. Not much of anything new was going on. The backlot has the same old buildings, the same old boneyard, the same old Catastrophe Canyon. One item of note, near Catastrophe Canyon there is a large building being built. No mention was made of what it is. I have no idea, but it looked like it might be another large sound stage or some other production building. Since it's on the production side of the Disney / MGM Studios, it's not likely that it's a new attraction or anything fun like that...although that's just my own conjecture.
After the tour, we left the park. We headed straight for the boat landing to catch the boat to the Boardwalk resort area. Barb prepared a bottle for Allan and started feeding him as we waited for the boat. When it showed up just a few minutes later, we boarded. The newer "Friendships" that service the resorts all have flush-to-the-dock, stroller-friendly, decks -- unlike those that shuttle across the World Showcase Lagoon. The ride over to the Boardwalk was only about ten minutes or so. We floated by the Swan and Dolphin (man, I hate those buildings) and around the bend to the Boardwalk. We left the boat and sat at a bench in front of the hotel lobby area of the Boardwalk to finish feeding the baby, then walked over to the International Gateway and into World Showcase.
Just inside the gate, we met up with Belle and the Beast. They must have been trying hard to get some romantic time in, because they were virtually all alone in this remote part of the park. We took the opportunity to introduce Baby Allan to his first of the Disney princesses. Dad snapped a picture of Belle, Beast, Barb and Allan....then the film was finished. We all waited for him to change the film and he took another one. As Barb was puting Allan back in the stroller, Belle came over to look down at him and tell him how cute he was. Beast came over, too, and bent right over the stroller. Dad took a few pictures of that that should be really cute!!
We strolled around the Showcase, stopped to snap a picture in front of Chefs de France to commemorate last night's dinner, and continued on to Germany. We'd planned on using our Food 'N' Fun cards for our lunch at the Biergarten restaurant, but when we saw the prices (only $10.75 per adult for the buffet) we chose to pay cash instead. We'll use the extra cards for another meal later.
The Biergarten lunch was a meal that had appealed more to Dad than to any of the rest of us. None of us drink, so the beer wasn't the draw...I think we all, and Dad especially, wanted to check out another Walt Disney World restaurant that we'd never visited. We were all curious about the atmosphere and the German cuisine.
We were not disappointed! The atmosphere of the restaurant is wonderful. It looks like you're in the middle of a small German village in the Fall of the year. We were seated at a table right next to a small set of stairs. Our hostess removed a couple of chairs so we could put Allan's stroller right between the stair railings and the table. It worked out perfectly!
The food was very good. I didn't really know what to expect, but it was very tasty and filling. Our only wish is that the items have labels so that us ethnocentric Americans could better tell what we were eating. We left the restaurant having spent under $60 for all four of us including our beverages (again, we're tee-totalers, so that helps us keep our costs down) and the tip.
After lunch, we left the park for our typical break. We got back to Old Key West Resort around 2:00pm or a bit before and relaxed for a bit.
We got moving a bit earlier than usual this afternoon and left Old Key West Resort at 4:00pm. We did something a bit unusual so that we could more easily handle our dinner plans. We drove our van over to the Contemporary Resort and parked in the North-most corner of the Contemporary Resort's parking lot, in clear view of the backside of Space Mountain. Then we walked along the Monorail line on the "Walk Around the World" to the turnstiles of the Magic Kingdom.
During our walk from the van to the gates, Mom and Dad got into a little marital spat. Seems that Mom thought Dad had intentionally hit her with a stick and he vehemently denied doing so.
Then we had a little bit of a mishap entering the park. Mom slipped her length-of-stay pass into the card reader and walked through the turnstile. A CM stopped her, though, because she didn't have a handstamp. He told Mom that he could deny her entry to the park because the computer showed that she'd already been in the other parks today, but didn't have a handstamp. Mom was already mad at Dad about the stick thing, so the CM got blasted. First Mom went at him, then Dad did too. I hadn't realized what was going on, so I jumped in and defended my Mom to the CM who was getting on the hot side himself by this time. Independent sources tell me that Mom and Dad were really the cause of the whole altercation. If it hadn't been for the stick thing, the fight with the CM might have been more of a discussion and less of a joust.
When we finally got away from the turnstile, we entered the park. As soon as we got into the Square, Barb and I both looked up and South. Excellent! The train station had a lot of open spaces for the evening Spectromagic parade. We made our way upstairs and camped out in front at the far right side, toward Tony's. It was now just after 4:30pm or so, and we had an hour and forty-five minutes yet to wait. One of the cool things about having taken the Innovations in Action tour before seeing the parade is that right below us, maybe fifteen feet to the right of center of the train station, six or eight parade location "pucks" were clearly visible in the pavement. They were scattered in a "W" pattern near an expansion crack in the concrete.
During the course of our wait, I walked down to the bakery on Main Street and picked up some fudge brownies and some soft drinks. I figured the snack might cool down the combatants a bit. A little while later, Mom and Barb left us to stroll some of the stores (especially the 101 Dalmatians store at the firehouse) in the square and on Main Street. While they were gone, I asked Dad to explain to me what had gone on. Turns out, he did NOT (in his words) hit Mom with a stick. He did admit, though, to tossing a piece of stick at her. Semantics...I told Dad that if he didn't confess and apologize I was putting this whole thing in the trip report. He did, but I still put it in the trip report...I couldn't resist. (As a side note, later in the trip I invited Mom and Dad to come back to Walt Disney World with us for their 40th anniversary, but only if they got marriage counseling before then.)
The time passed quickly, and finally 6:15pm was upon us and the spectacle began. Spectromagic is a parade that everyone who visits Walt Disney World should see, especially since it's running nightly during the 25th Anniversary.
Since we'd seen the parade floats during our tour yesterday, it was fun to see them in operation tonight. The colors, lights, chasers, fiber optics... everything was spectacular. One of the cool things was watching the little pigs float, the one with the white and colored buckets of paint. As the float passed by the control "pucks" in the pavement below, the entire float changed from all-white to multi-colored. The pig character was supposed to wave his paintbrush so it appeared to be his doing, but he was a bit tardy and waved the brush several seconds after the float had passed over the "pucks" and had changed color.
I'd love to get a hold of this parade soundtrack...maybe before the 25th is over someone at Walt Disney World will get smart and produce an updated album of Walt Disney World music. The one that's currently being sold is so old that it includes music that's no longer being used at attractions that were rehabed years ago.
When the parade was finished, we walked downstairs and out of the park. Getting to the van was a breeze. As the crowds stormed out of the park and headed for the buses, boats, and monorail station, we walked along a virtually empty path to our vehicle and easily drove away.
We have always enjoyed Boatwright's Dining Hall at Dixie Landings, so I'd concocted this oddball transportation arrangement to facilitate our getting over there for dinner. Boatwright's always has good service and good food. The menu has a wide variety of selections. Finally, and very important, the prices are very good for the value received.
Barb and I both had the New York strip while Mom and Dad both ordered the Prime Rib. The rolls and salad that came with dinner were very good. Our waitress brought us carafes of water and iced tea, so we never ran out of beverages. Boatwright's reputation for value and good service was maintained. Our combined bills came to less than $66 for steak and prime rib. Not bad for four people.
After dinner, we drove over to Port Orleans to see the place again. Mom and Dad checked for a CM that they know, but Annie wasn't working tonight. We also looked at the menu at Bonfamilles, a restaurant that I've enjoyed in the past, but Mom and Dad have never tried. Finally, we strolled out to the pool area and just looked at the atmosphere. Port Orleans is a beautiful resort. I'm looking forward to staying there sometime in the future. By the way, while we were there, we checked out the map of the resort. Building four and seven are the two closest ones to the resort's single bus stop. Buildings two and three are the closest ones to the themed pool, Doubloon Lagoon.
After our walk about Port Orleans, we drove back to Old Key West Resort to settle in for the night, watch the election results (boo hoo...I was hoping for a rehab of the Hall of Presidents, but no dice), and update this report. See you tomorrow.
November 6th...Day 15 (Epcot, Teppanyaki for Lunch)
As usual, we got up and were off to the park shortly after 8:00am this morning. Since we already had reservations for lunch at the Teppanyaki Restaurant in the Japan pavilion, we decided to spend the morning at Epcot. Besides, there was a lot of territory that we hadn't covered at that park yet.
We started the morning by walking over to the Wonders of Life pavilion. On the way, we walked through the West side of Innoventions. We browsed the area while we were there. America OnLine was up on a PC across from the Apple Computer displays, so I went over and pulled up my web site just for kicks. The counter showed that the site has had 10,009 hits since I opened it in May. Not bad for a web rookie. The fun thing for me was that a CM walked by after we left and when he saw what I'd pulled up, he started perusing my web site! We walked on toward the West side of the building and stopped at a few other displays along the way...General Electric, Disney.com, Honeywell, General Motors (the EV1 Electric Vehicle was on display) stuff like that. I looked back at the CM that was reading my web site and saw that he was still reading when we finally left the area. Too cool.
We parked the stroller outside the pavilion when we got to the Wonders of Life. We really had only one goal here...to see Cranium Command. When we got inside the building, though, I saw the Body Wars marquee and decided I just had to ride. Mom was the only other one that had any interest, so Mom and I took off. We had to wait one simulator's load time worth, but made the very next ride. Since there were so few people, we had our pick of seats, so I selected the back row for no good reason. The ride was pretty wild. Of course, Mom and I both knew what we were getting into so it wasn't a surprise.
After Body Wars, Mom and I met back up with Dad and Barb and walked onto Cranium Command. It was a blast too. Always is. Oh, one last comment about Wonders of Life...while we were in the pavilion, a couple CMs were flying a small Met Life blimp. It was remotely controlled, maybe six or seven feet in length...and powered with little fan propellers. Another cool thing.
We left the pavilion and headed over to the East pavilion of Innoventions. Innoventions is one area that Barb and I have never fully explored, and Dad had a real interest in checking things out. I checked to see if the St. Peter's Basilica virtual reality thing was operating and it was still shut down. Dad found some information on DirectTV...looks like he might take the plunge on that one. Other than that, we just strolled around a bit.
When we left the building, we walked right into a bunch of Disney custodians entertaining the masses by playing their garbage cans. It was an excellent percussion performance by the "Jammitors." We'd seen them on the Disney Channel's "Inside Out" show, but were more fun live and in person.
We really didn't have anything else in Future World that we wanted to do. Except for Image Works (which wasn't worth the walk) we'd seen and done just about everything. World Showcase didn't open for another forty-five minutes or so, so I suggested we stroll over to the Fountainview and catch something to drink and maybe a snack. Mom and Dad and I all had Cafe Mochas, Barb had some water. I also had a croissant while Barb downed a small donut. Just after we got our stuff, the place suddenly got busy. We just timed it perfectly. While we were seated, we took the opportunity to feed Allan, too. One complaint here...Although we saw two performances of the fountain while we sat inside the cafe, the music wasn't audible. Too bad the sound isn't piped into the cafe, too. It would have been a nice touch.
By this time, World Showcase was open, so we made our way to the lagoon and clockwise. We stopped to meander through the shops of several countries. China was the first. For all the times Barb and I have been to Walt Disney World, we've have NEVER walked through the shops in the China pavilion. The merchandise is extremely beautiful. There were some writing desks, especially, that were just gorgeous pieces. We also took a picture of Dad with one of those rice paddy worker hats that are conical in shape and made of bamboo.
After China we continued our saunter around the promenade stopping in the shops in Italy and checking out the outdoor railroad layout.
We got over to the American pavilion a bit early. Mom and I had been wanting to hear the Voices of Liberty for years...since I'd read about them in Mike Scopa's 1994 trip report. Well, here they were at 11:55am...just minutes before our lunch reservations. As we approached the entrance with the stroller a CM insisted that we couldn't take it inside. We explained to her that all we wanted was to sit in the rotunda for 15 minutes to hear the Voices of Liberty. She was adamant that the stroller could not be allowed because of fire regulations. That excuse just doesn't hold water since we had already been in most buildings on property with the stroller. I pointed out that it is no more of a fire hazard than wheel chairs and her answer to this was that only seven of them are allowed per show. She finally permitted us to stand just outside the door for the performance. When it was finished and we were leaving - our reservations for Teppanyaki were in five minutes - she stopped us and said they would allow us in the wheelchair entrance for the American Adventure show after all. They were not up to their capacity of seven wheelchairs. Barb again told her that all we had wanted to do was hear the Voices of Liberty, and she acted put out that we weren't going to take advantage of her generous offer. Not one of our favorite CM's on this trip!! Anyway, the Voices of Liberty group is excellent! Their voices blend extremely well and their tone and pitch are perfect. The show is only about fifteen minutes long, but very enjoyable just the same. Mom and I checked a little later in the day for a CD of their music. The shop to the right side of the pavilion does sell acapella Americana music, but not by the same group. We both decided to pass, since the music wouldn't be authentic.
As soon as the Voices of Liberty finished their last tune, we walked next door to the Japan pavilion for lunch. After hearing about our experience at Teppanyaki last Fall, Dad decided that he just had to have a meal at this place. Both Barb and Dad have developed an appreciation for Bonsai, the Japanese art of caring for miniature trees, so a meal in the Japanese pavilion seemed to be a natural.
As we approached the Mitsukoski building, with the store below and the restaurants above, I dreaded carrying the stroller up those stairs. Fortunately, just to the left of the main store doors, there is an elevator up to the restaurants above.
This was a fun meal. First of all, it was a Food 'N' Fun event, so everything was covered...and we really ran amuck. Also, both our server and chef were much more friendly and fun than the two we had last year.
To start, Mom and I ordered some pickled Japanese vegetables. The dish included cabbage, egg plant, and a few other things that escape my mind right now. Frankly, the taste of each of them was just about the same, although their colors and textures varied a bit. Very briny in flavor, not the vinegar and dill you might associated with pickled somethings. All four of us also ordered the ginger dressed salad. This was very, very good. Much better than I remembered from last year. For one thing, the ginger dressing was more mild...also, the presentation of the greens along with the tomatoes and other items was very pretty.
By the way, Mom and Dad and Barb all ordered the Momu specialty drink. I ordered the one with the strawberries (the name escapes me). When they arrived, Barb was disappointed with the flavor of her Momu, so we switched. Both were equally good to me, and she really liked mine better.
Since our server was allowing it, Barb, Dad, and I also ordered the grilled shrimp appetizer. My friend Mike had this last year and raved about it...I was apprehensive, but ordered it because it was free. As it turned out, the ebi (shrimp) was delicious. This was the first time I've ever ordered shrimp in a restaurant (although I've had it on several occasions as part of a buffet or formal dinner). It was fantastic, though. Let me try to describe it a bit...it had a firm texture, not the slimy / veiny texture I associate with cold shrimp cocktail. The taste was mild, but faintly like charcoal grilled taste. I know it wasn't, since the meal was cooked on a stainless steel cooktop, but that's what it tasted like.
For our main entree, Mom, Barb, and I all had the tenderloin while Dad had the Sirloin. Again, all were cooked to perfection and were excellent.
Our chef, as I've already said, was a lot more fun than last year's dour dude. Towards the beginning of his tasks, I placed something on the cooktop and he warned us that the cooktop was very hot. "550 degrees", he said as he glanced down at the controls. "When I get home, I cook only TV dinners...350 degrees for 20 minutes", he added.
As he dished up the dipping sauces, he mentioned that the mustard sauce was hot. "Medium for me, but hot for you". He then pointed out that the ginger sauce was best for the shrimp and the mustard sauce for the beef. One other tip, he suggested pouring half of the ginger sauce on the rice. "Then it will be just like Uncle Ben's".
As he began to cook, he put a large slab of butter on the cook top. "Japanese butter," he said. "From Japanese cow. Looks like this...." Then he put his fingers to the corners of his eyes and made them slant upward. This, I think, was his funniest moment.
At one point as he was cutting a piece of meat, he had a little bit of trouble and commented that he bought his knife at K-mart (that just floored Dad, since he works for the big K).
The last bit of wit and wisdom from our sage chef was when he turned up the hood fan just before he began to clean the cooktop. He started jumping up and down and said that the fan was so powerful it pulled him up. He was quite a character.
To top off the meal, Mom and I ordered the chestnut cake (which I loved...much more than the mousse I'd sampled last year). Dad had the Mousse and Barb selected the vanilla ice cream. This was another wonderful meal. This trip has had many of them.
After lunch, we walked back to the American pavilion and caught the American Adventure show. As I've said in other trip reports in the past, you can't walk out of this show without being proud you're an American. Even if you're not.
After the show, we returned to the resort via the Friendship boat and the Old Key West Resort bus. Mom and Dad went over to Goodings to buy some things for dinner while Barb and I tried to catch a bit of a nap (Allan wasn't too cooperative, so Barb was mostly up all afternoon.)
This evening, Mom and Dad kept watch over the little one while Barb and I took off for a dinner by ourselves. Since they'd had one huge meal after another on this trip, they decided to just make up a simpler meal here in the vacation home.
At about 7:15pm or so, Barb and I headed for the van and drove over to Wilderness Lodge. We were early for our 8:10 reservations, so we ambled around the resort for a bit. We walked through the store, took the elevator up to the 7th floor, and just walked about.
The reason for the foray upstairs was that I was trying to figure out how to get to the observation deck on top of the building. We found the stairs (you can see them above the seventh floor balcony) but didn't know how to get up to them. Later I asked a CM about it and was told that there is indeed an observation deck up there, but you have to have a CM take you up. She also mentioned that there was a daily tour of the resort that goes up there if anyone is interested.
Dinner tonight was at Artist's Point, a lovely, bright restaurant with a nice menu and typically good service. Due to our big lunch, we both passed on appetizers and salad. Barb ordered the porterhouse steak and I had -- get this -- buffalo sirloin. Both were absolutely wonderful. I still think that Artist's Point serves the best steak at Walt Disney World, much better even than the Yachtsman's Steakhouse we ate at several trips ago. The buffalo was very tender, but didn't taste significantly different from the beef. It was perhaps a bit more firm in texture, but was still very tender. We passed on desert as well, and paid our bill, which came to about $55 before tip.
We made one last stop before we left the resort. We walked back from the main building to the pool (the pool was crowded even at 9:10pm on a cool night) then back to the boat dock.
Several other people were already out there, but we all just made ourselves comfortable and waited patiently for the Water Pageant. At almost exactly 9:30, we saw the barge's green lights pull around the island that blocks the view of the Contemporary Resort. Moments later, the music began and the show was underway. The Pageant was short, probably no longer than ten minutes, but was fun to see.
For those of you that don't know, The Water Pageant premiered at Walt Disney World in 1971 and was the spark of inspiration that led to the development of the Main Street Electrical Parade which opened at Disneyland the following year. The Water Pageant has apparently been updated over the years because it now includes several pieces of music from the Little Mermaid. It ends with a patriotic number, reminiscent of the Main Street Electrical Parade, then floats off to it's next destination. A great way to end a very nice night.
November 7th...Day 16 (Magic Kingdom, Crystal Palace for Lunch, Mama Melrose's for Dinner)
This was our last day in the Magic Kingdom. We were at the bus stop, as usual, shortly after 8:00am and took the bus to the Magic Kingdom. Our driver, a guy named Michael, was quite the speed demon. For one thing, he took off from every stop before the folks getting on had a chance to sit down. Then, he drove around the Old Key West Resort roads like he was on a time trial. As we exited the resort his parting words were "for your safety, please remain seated while the bus is in motion.." Yeah, right. My wife almost tossed my infant son on the floor thanks to this guy. As we arrived at the Magic Kingdom, Michael said, "if you enjoyed your ride, my name is Michael...if you didn't, my name is Shamu and you're at Sea World." Probably would have been funny if the ride had been a safe one.
Our first stop for the morning was Space Mountain. Barb and I love this ride, but Mom and Dad both would rather skip it. It worked out well. As we were walking down Main Street we came across a brass band that was playing. We left Mom and Dad there with the baby and went to the Mountain. There was about a twenty minute wait, but it wasn't bad. I didn't remember there being so many bumps on this one. There was a lot of air time, even though there aren't any big drops.
After Space Mountain we met up with Mom and Dad and walked over to TimeKeeper. We didn't have our Snuggli with us this morning because Allan moistened it yesterday, so Barb stayed outside with him. We just figured a Circlevision thing wouldn't work very well with a baby and no Snuggli. We had another wait here, maybe twenty more minutes, but it was fun. Frankly more fun than I'd remembered it being. Barb took good advantage of her time by feeding the baby while we were hanging with Nine-eye and Jules Verne.
After Timekeeper, we walked over to Crystal Palace for our 9:45am priority seating. We ended up waiting until after 10:10am! Barb finally figured out the problem. Our reservation said five people (four adults and the baby) so they were waiting for a five person table for us...even though Allan certainly wasn't sitting in a chair. This is a good lesson, because we've run into this before and I should have realized the problem. Make sure, if you're traveling with an infant, to make it clear when you make your priority seating arrangements and even more so when you get to the restaurant that the infant is staying in the stroller. I thought I'd done that, but I guess I wasn't adamant enough. I'm glad Barb realized what the problem was.
Breakfast / Brunch was good. The quality of the food was as good as I ever remembered it being before the character meals were implemented there. The puffed French toast was just as good, but instead of being in the size of a half of a piece of sourdough bread, they now make it with quarter-sized pieces...probably because there's a lot of kids eating there now compared to a year or so ago. The other breakfast foods were good too.
Pooh came over just as we were finishing our meal, and we got some pictures of Allan with Pooh. Pretty cute. He'll hate these pictures in fifteen years. I can't wait until he has his first girlfriend...then out come the old Walt Disney World pictures...hee hee hee.
The buffet cost us just under $60 for the four of us, including beverages. Not excellent, but not bad. Especially if you have a Pooh, Tigger, or Eeyore fan in the family.
After Breakfast we went over to the Haunted Mansion. I was surprised that there was a line, but we waited fifteen minutes to get in. Not a bad wait, but a lot more than we've been used to. The ride is always fun, but when we were in the graveyard the music was playing, but the only voice track was the bass singer. Weird. I guess the 999 ghosts got the other guys. When we exited the ride, I told the CM. He seemed to believe me, because he started calling someone up on his phone as I was leaving. I love being helpful. By the way, I didn't remember until I started editing the trip report that we had a similar problem on It's a Small World just a few days ago. I wonder if the central control system is screwed up somehow.
We left the Haunted Mansion and the line by that time had grown to at least twenty or twenty-five minutes. We walked around the Rivers of America, The Richard Irvine still isn't operational, and saw another big line for the Country Bear Jamboree. I have no idea why the Magic Kingdom was so busy today. We also saw some new walk ways being built along the edge of the river. Probably just to relieve pedestrian congestion.
Big Thunder had a twenty-five minute line, but Mom wanted to ride so much that we decided to do it. The baby swap here is simple. Some of your party gets in line to ride, the rest hang out with the baby at the ride exit. When the first riders are done, the baby sitters walk into the exit and are immediately loaded. It worked really well for us. Pretty cool, Mom and Dad waited in line while Barb and I sat in the shade...then we rode without a wait. Too cool. This baby thing isn't all bad.
While we were waiting for Mom and Dad, before our trip on the rails, Allan was fussing a bit. We knew he was close to feeding time (in fact, we took care of that in just a few minutes). A very odd thing happened, though, while we were waiting...a woman, that we'd never seen before or since, came over and started to speak to Barb and I in Spanish. We couldn't understand her, so she took it upon herself to take care of Allan for us. With Barb and I looking on in amazement (and irritation to which she was oblivious) she pulled down the shade on the stroller...then picked up the pacifier and stuffed it into the baby's mouth upside down, then touched his cheek, then gave up and walked away. We couldn't believe anyone would have the nerve to do what she did, and we were too stunned to act sooner. On the other hand, we didn't want to suddenly grab her arm or anything for fear that she might hit the baby. In the future, I'll just use mace.
By this time, Allan was getting hungry again, so we walked back around the river to the Columbia Harbor House and grabbed a table so we could feed the baby. While Barb and I sat, Mom and Dad strolled some of the shops in the area. Columbia Harbor House was busy and has a nice menu for a fast food place. It's been a long time since I've eaten there....we'll have to make a point of doing it again on the next trip.
Our last stop for the day was Toontown Fair. We walked from Liberty Square through Fantasyland, passed by the Teacups, and left into the area. It's really a heartbreak to see Toontown Fair after seeing Toontown at Disneyland. It's several huge steps away from the quality it could have been. Too bad.
We weren't there for anything other than an audience with the Big Cheese, though, so we went to Mickey's house and got in the queue. We waited a long, long time. It was probably over a half hour before we were shown in to see the Corporate Symbol himself. The CM playing Mickey was great with the baby...and the Grandpa. Dad took five or six shots, hopefully one or more came out good. More pictures for that girlfriend...
After we saw Mickey, we strolled slowly back though Toontown Fair, passed the Teacups again (this time around toward the hub) and made our way back to the bus stop. We returned to Old Key West Resort in good time.
The Magic Kingdom is my favorite park. Frankly, I wish we'd spent more time there than we did, but we allowed our priority seating (the bulk of which was at Epcot restaurants) to drive our schedule more than we should have. We'll be careful about that on future trips.
After our abbreviated afternoon break, we caught the 3:45pm-ish bus to the Disney / MGM Studios. It was very unusual for us to finish our trip at the Studios. In fact, this was the first time I can ever remember doing so. Usually we spend our last morning in the Magic Kingdom and the last evening at Epcot (or at one of the resorts). This time, though, we wanted to have dinner at Mama Melrose's because we'd never had the chance to do it during the trip so far. When we arrived at the Disney / MGM Studios, we made a beeline to the restaurant and got there just a few minutes before our priority seating time.
This is the first and only complaint about this meal. The restaurants at the Disney / MGM Studios close at 5:00pm even though the park is open until 7:00pm. It's too bad, because Mama Melrose's and the Brown Derby are restaurants where later seatings would be nice. I know they're open later in the summer and Christmas seasons, but it would be nice if they were open later during the less busy times of the year, too.
We were seated at a great table with a nice, out-of-the-way place to park the stroller within minutes of our arrival. Our server, Kerry (actually, she introduced herself by her Mama Melrose's given Italian name, but Kerry was easier to remember so I stuck with it) came quickly and took our order. This was a Food 'N' Fun meal, so each of us ordered an appetizer, and entree' (most with options) and a beverage...and Kerry took the entire order completely by memory and served it flawlessly.
Dad and I both ordered the antipasto salad, Barb had deep fried mozzarella, and Mom chose a bowl of the vegetable minestrone soup. With our entree's, Dad, Barb, and I all ordered the minestrone, too. While Mom had the house salad. The antipasto was excellent. It was served with a balsamic vinegar-based dressing that was fabulous. The soup, too, was superb. Dad was irritated with Mom for not letting him have some...until she reminded him that he had some of his own coming in the next go round. Mom's salad was served with the same dressing that Dad and I had enjoyed on the antipasto.
For our entree's, Dad ordered a veal scaloppini, Barb ordered a four-cheese pizza with mushrooms, sausage, and pepperoni. Mom and I both had the bottom-less bowl of pasta. I had the marinara sauce with chicken, Mom selected the meat sauce. Again, everything was top-notch. Dad raved about his veal. I really enjoyed my pasta, too. Barb's pizza was good, but was baked a little unevenly. Otherwise, it was good, too.
For desert, Dad and Barb both ordered the triple chocolate cake. I had the tiramisu. Mom chose the gelati. None of us really had room for our desert...we all pretty much just nibbled on it, but it was a wonderful taste to end the meal on.
At the end of our meal, I asked Kerry if a manager was in the restaurant. She flashed me a look like she was really concerned and asked if she was in trouble about something...I shook my head no, and she left to get him. He came by several minutes later and I just told him that we'd been to Mama Melrose's several times in the past, but had never had as good of service as Kerry had just given us. He thanked us for the compliment (I hope Kerry gets a pat on the back for it) and engaged us in pleasant small talk for a few minutes before we left the restaurant. Kerry really did an exemplary job, better, I think, than any server we've had this trip (and several have been exceptional) and certainly better than any other we've ever had at Mama Melrose's.
After dinner we made a couple last side trips before leaving the quickly closing park. First, we walked around the corner to see the Muppet 3D show. It's fun, too bad we missed the pre-show, though. It's almost as fun as the actual show itself. Second, we made a point of stopping in at the Buy the Book shop to pick up a story book for Allan...something we'd been planning to do all trip and just hadn't gotten done. Snow White was the story of choice...since it was Walt Disney's first animated feature.
With that, we hit the bus and returned to Old Key West Resort. We got back early to start the packing process and take it easy before our earlier day in the morning.
Twenty-five years is quite a milestone. I've only been coming to Walt Disney World since 1988, although I visited Disneyland several times before Walt Disney World even opened. The entire 30,000 plus acre complex is a wonderful retreat from the regular pressures of work and home. It's a wonderful place to spend time with friends and family...and Barb and I have had a ball here with Allan this year. We're looking forward to many more...
November 8th...Day 17 (Drive from Walt Disney World to Sweetwater, TN)
Boring, boring, boring. I hate driving days. Worse than that, I hate leaving Walt Disney World in the morning...never to return until next year.
Not much was planned for today except for the interminable traveling. We got up early and packed the van and left by about 7:20am or so. We went over to the Hospitality House to check our bill before leaving, just to make sure everything was in order. Then we drove south to 192 and caught US-27 north to the Florida Turnpike.
We stopped briefly at the Russell Stover candy outlet store in Wildwood (near the intersection of the turnpike and I-75) and picked up a few dollars worth of chocolates. A few hours later, when we stopped for gas, Mom bought a few bags of grapefruit, too. We did stop at a Pizza Hut for a buffet lunch, and for dinner at a Shoney's. Except for that, we pretty much just drove to our Comfort Inn at Sweetwater.
November 9th...Day 18 (Drive from Sweetwater, TN, to Saginaw, MI)
Boring, boring, boring. I hate driving days. Where have we heard that chorus before? The drive over the Mason-Dixon line into the Mid-West was typical. We had a brief stop for lunch at a Wendy's in Kentucky, I think. I also had the privilege of driving through the first really bad snow of the young winter season in the mountains of Tennessee. Eventually we arrived at Mom and Dad's...dropped them off, then forged on home.
Barb and I made one last stop for dinner at a roadside place called "Freeway Fritz's" in Bridgeport, MI. If you've ever had the chance to have a chicken dinner at Zehnder's or Bavarian Inn in Frankenmuth, this place is the next best thing. It's fast food, but all the recipes are the Zehnder's family ones. Not bad for a quick bite.
What can you say after a twelve day stay at Walt Disney World preceded by a weekend in Charleston? This was indeed a wonderful trip. For all we did, it felt like it was too short. Usually on my trips I get to a point when I'm ready to go home. That didn't happen this time. I just wanted it to continue on and on...
Our meal experiences were spectacular. We had our share of slow and even mediocre service (unfortunately, to be expected at many Walt Disney World restaurants). Nevertheless, our restaurant experiences that were new for us were a blast. Many of those same restaurants are old favorites to many people...for us, they are new favorites. The top meal highlights, in no particular order: Tony's Town Square Cafe, Plaza Restaurant, California Grill, the Rainforest Cafe, Boatwright's Dining Hall, Artist's Point, Chefs de France, Rose and Crown, Teppanyaki, Biergarten Restaurant, San Angel Inn, Mama Melrose's, and the Hollywood Brown Derby. Not a bad list for one trip!
We missed quite a few attractions this year. We never made a trip on any of the Rivers of America boats, nor did we get over to Tom Sawyer's Island. We missed the Jungle Cruise and the Tropical Serenade in Adventureland. We never took the time to ride Snow White's Adventures, Dumbo, the Carrousel, or the Teacups in Fantasyland or Goofy's Barnstormer in Toontown Fair. In Tomorrowland we missed the Raceway, the Orbitron and the Carrousel of Progress. At Epcot, Barb and I missed Rio del Tiempo and the Canada Circlevision film (Mom and Dad rode them though). We all missed the Wonders of China and Impressions de France, but caught everything else in World Showcase. We missed several of the lesser shows in Future World including the Making of Me, and Food Rocks. At the Studios we missed a lot of stuff. We never saw the Beauty and the Beast stage show, the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular, Superstar Television, the Monster Sound Show, or Star Tours. We'll catch most of these another year.
Taking the baby changed some things for us. We learned very early to expect the unexpected. We found out that schedules, no matter how perfectly designed, had to be flexible. Frankly, fluid plans have been a hallmark of our Walt Disney World trips for years, so the only difference on this trip was that taking care of the baby's needs, rather than our own whimsy, drove our day. We couldn't always do exactly what we wanted to do when we wanted to do it, but the baby was not an inconvenience.
But to those who told us to not take the baby on our trip I say...phooey. I'm an old-fashioned kind-of-guy and I really think that our time together as a family will mean more to us in the long run than distant memories of vacations away from the kids. Allan was wonderful. As long as we did our job of taking care of him, he did fine. If we went too long between bottles, he let us know...and we quickly learned to stay on a reasonable schedule.
On the other hand, having Mom and Dad on the trip was a blessing. Whenever we needed a hand, they were there. I think one of the joys on this trip was watching Grandma and Grandpa with the little one, really for the first time. Besides that, Mom and Dad's presence allowed us some flexibility to go our separate ways a few times and just relax without the parent's responsibilities weighing on our shoulders at every turn. On those occasions when we did go alone, we spent a fair amount of time wondering how the baby was. I dread the upcoming weeks at summer camp and the college years.
A summary of the "dos" and "don'ts" of traveling with an infant has been added to DVClubber's WDW Trip Planning Guide. It is located under the "Developing a Daily Game Plan" section. I trust that it is of value.
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