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Thread: Rick Chase - March 18-24, 1997 - Wilderness Lodge

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    Rick Chase - March 18-24, 1997 - Wilderness Lodge

    • Time of Year: Spring
    • Travel Method: Plane, Rental Car
    • Resort: WL
    • Accommodations: Standard Room
    • Ages Represented in Group: Teen, Adult
    • WDW Experience Represented in Group: Frequent
    • Comments: Rick and his family visited WDW again after having such a great time on last years family vacation. Rick is a professional photographer, so his report has a lot of detail on how to photograph and videotape the sights and sounds of WDW. The report format is "summary-style", but the details are rich and informative. Wilderness Lodge is about to be officially dubbed "the Chase family Florida vacation home."

    A big thank you to all who contributed comments, information and trip reports over the past year. They all helped us plan our recent trip to WDW. So, here it is! Presenting "Our Second Annual Extremely Long Family WDW Trip Report."

    Last year's 12-part edition was a minute-by-minute report. This time I am going to go with a more categorized report so most of the MK comments should be in one place, etc.

    Table Of Contents

    Our Family, Planning Our Trip, Photography, Packing and Flights, food Theory 101

    The Wilderness Lodge, WL Food and Transportation

    The Magic Kingdom


    The Studios

    Disney Village Marketplace, Pleasure Island and Discovery Island

    Character Appearances and Trip To The Beach (Caladesi State Park)


    Our Family:

    Rick (just turned 48, photojournalist), Patricia (42, reading specialist for local school district), Marie (16, high school junior) and Bob (14, 8th grader and all around righteous dude). Pat and I had honeymooned at WDW (only MK there at the time) in 1975. We went as a family in 1996.

    Planning Our Trip:

    After last year's Spring Break excursion to WDW and the Wilderness Lodge, we told ourselves that we just had to go back there. We did not expect to return so quickly. But, we had airline vouchers from last year with deadlines. Also, the prospect of Iowa in the winter made WDW over Spring Break even more inviting.

    We booked the trip through our travel agent Gayle at AAA last fall and were lucky to hit an air fare sale. With the vouchers the plane tickets were around $100.00 each round trip. You have to remember that our little airport does not get the deals that the major markets receive. The normal round trip pre-booked is easily $600 or more each. Any sale under $300.00 (not including vouchers) is cause to celebrate. We could drive to a larger airport, but we prefer to fly in and out of the home town to avoid long drives.

    The WL package (with LOS passes, etc.) was just about what I had expected compared to last year's price (around $2,400.00). We again requested a bunk bed room.

    I again consulted r.a.d.p., Disney.com, several web sites (Ed's Ultimate, Brian's DVClubber site and Deb's site), Destination Florida boards on AOL and our old 1996 copy of the Unofficial Guide to keep updated. I also requested the current Disney video/commercial. Especially valuable this year were the menus that Deb had archived on her web site. This helped us to decide what eateries fit our family's tastes and budget......nobody seemed to want to eat snails for some reason!

    The March hours, parade schedules and special events' posts were also valuable. As an example, we decided to avoid the Studios on certain days due to the cheerleading events there, and be at the Studios for any Star Wars activities.

    I started an extra vacation stash account last fall. We also used the usual "over the winter pop can fund." I had almost $400.00 in my stash with another $100.00 in the other funds. This covered our travelers checks and cash.

    Marie and Bob were expected to save money from their jobs for souvenirs this year. Last year's crop of t-shirts, Goofy caps and other apparel did not see much use at home this past year (I wonder why).

    Let me make a few comments here about planning, although they may be repeated later. If you are a first time visitor, you will find it more enjoyable and experience less stress if you plan for your trip. You can easily spend at least as much time doing research for your trip as you actually spend in Florida. This may sound funny, but you will be the one chuckling at the unprepared masses if you are ready.

    Purchase the Unofficial Guide To WDW. Read it! Memorize it! There will be a test!

    The discussions about the parks, traffic flow, ride theory, ride descriptions and touring plans are extremely valuable. To borrow a catch phrase, "Don't leave home without it" There are other guides available, and most have good material in them. But, if you are a first time traveler to WDW, the Unofficial should be your first purchase in my opinion.

    Then, to keep up on everything at WDW, you should be reading the "r.a.d.p." boards and checking we sites. Things change, and even the best guidebooks can't be up to date due to publishing deadlines. To find web sites look at the posts on the boards. You can also do a web search.

    I am amazed how many people do not plan for WDW. They arrive at the parks, pick up a map and stand inside the front entrance trying to decide what to see. No wonder that they end up standing in lines all day. If you are not prepared, then expect to be left in the dust! This is one of the "rules of WDW."

    I know that this is a vacation, but you have to play "Disney Commandos" sometimes to keep ahead of things. You will be much happier if you are prepared. Know the parks, the attractions (age and height restrictions and your family's "fright factor" thresholds), shows, character appearance areas, eateries, park hours, parade and fireworks schedules, etc.

    Oh, by the way, bring money.....lots and lots of money. They do take travelers' checks, and there are ATM's (with service fees) sprinkled around WDW. How much of that money will be left in your billfolds when you leave? Now, that's a good question!


    My photo comments in last year's report seemed to be well received. So, I'll include a little bit again here. I really did not plan much this year since I knew what worked well last year. We really enjoyed having both still pictures and video. So, it made sense to pack both formats again this year.

    I borrowed a Sony 8mm camcorder ( Pete and the gang at Porters Camera Warehouse in Cedar Falls, Iowa, will send you a catalog). This one was a 1996 model, slightly smaller than the one I used last year. It easily fit into my regular camera bag along with my cameras. So, we did not have to carry an extra bag for the video camera this year. My goal was to get all photo stuff in one bag for the parks.

    The Sony performed very well. Exposure was very good to excellent even at night and inside. From my experience video cameras on auto exposure tend to wash out the color of fireworks and night lights like Spectromagic and some street scenes. This is to be expected any time you can't set exposure manually. Also, the light intensity of each fireworks burst and float vary a little bit.

    This camera handled these situations as well as could be expected. In looking over the Spectromagic tapes of three nights I thought it did a very good job.

    The autofocus was a little better than the camera last year, but still a slight tendency to drift on to some subjects with many spectral highlights like some Spectromagic floats. Quick changes in scenes sometimes effected it (like moving from a set to one of the Imax-type screens inside of Horizons). But, whenever the autofocus seemed to hesitate, it was in a situation where I expected it to do so.

    All-in-all I was pleased with the autofocus, though. I would recommend that you look for manual focus options in addition to autofocus. It will come in handy.

    I had along three batteries for the Sony, a charger, the appropriate cords for TV connection and AC operation, a case and four 8 mm tapes (both Sony and Fuji brands).

    For the still photo equipment I wanted to travel light but have everything I would need. My longer lenses were not needed in the parks last year (I used them only for KSC and Sea World). I took a small Domke camera bag and packed two camera bodies (a Nikon N90 and 8008 since they were smaller). Sure, I wanted to take the Canon EOS1N-based digital camera system from work, but let's be realistic here, folks.

    For lenses I picked my 24mm F/2.8 and 35-70 F/2.8 zoom. At the last minute I tossed my 80-200mm F/2.8 into one of the suitcases. I took along a polarizing filter for those great saturated colors and Florida skies, a filter adapter ring so one filter would fit on all of my lenses, my small Leitz tabletop tripod that breaks down into two pieces for the camera bag (great for both video and stills), extra batteries and chargers for everything, and a small Mini-Maglight flashlight. For a flash I prefer my Nikon SB units for an on-camera flash, but both of them needed to go in for broken hot shoes. So, I took along a Vivitar 285. I normally use several of these as slave units (lights that are used for extra location lighting), and they are very reliable units.

    I took all of my film out of the boxes and put the plastic film cans in zip lock bags. The film and video tapes went into a Film Shield bag for protection from airport security scans even though I always ask for hand searches.

    I bought Fuji color negative film to take along (ASA 100, 400 and their excellent 800 films). As I noted last year, we use mostly Fuji films at work, because they work so well with our scanning equipment. So, I am familiar with these films and their behavior.

    I also took along a few rolls of the new Kodak Multi-Speed color neg film that can be used from ASA 200 up to 1,000 on the same roll with no processing differences. We tested a batch several months ago at work. If you put it in a camera with auto DX coding, it sets the ASA at 640. I am not sure about availability, but you might want to check it out .The advantage is that you can run in and out of attractions and change your ASA (if you camera allows) to fit the lighting conditions.

    By the way, I tend to stay away from the 1000 and 1600 films as I still think they are too grainy. They have improved vastly over the past few years, but I like the Fuji 800 for a faster film and push it for extra film speed.

    I am not going to comment on slide films as I have pretty much shot all color negative film for the past several years.

    By the way, this year Marie took her Canon Rebel with the short zoom and a Vivitar 283 strobe. Between the two of us we shot 22 rolls of film. I think I shot around 4-5 hours of tape.

    Sorry if this got a little involved, but I know quite a few people would be interested. Feel free to e-mail me with any questions or comments.


    "Keep is simple" was the rule. We had four bags to check. Since it was chilly last year, we wanted to cover that possibility better this time. But, I did not wear long pants, a sweatshirt or jacket except for the flights. Daytime temps ran 75-80 degrees, and it never got chilly at night (as compared to what we call "chilly" here at home).

    I carried on my camera bag and film (except for the one zoom lens in the luggage). Marie and Bob had their school backpacks with CD players, CD's and reading stuff. Marie had her camera and flash, too. Pat did not have a carry on the way down. We packed our trusty LL Bean zippered boat bag in a suitcase. She used it as a carry on for the flights home for "overflow."


    From here you have to fly a "puddle jumper" into Chicago, St. Louis or Minneapolis to make connections. Iowa weather was a factor both coming and going.

    The plane was snowed in out west for our 6:00 a.m. flight out. We had three delays and finally got a flight 3 hours later. United had rebooked us on a later flight in Chicago for Orlando with a two-hour layover. All-in-all we were only 2 hours late getting into Orlando.

    On the flight back we left Orlando around 4:30 p.m. Weather in the Midwest resulted in circling Indianapolis for 90 minutes before we could get into Chicago. So, we got home a couple hours late. This was not bad considering that a lot of flights had been delayed for several hours.

    Car rental at National in Orlando was a breeze. National's counters are just below the United baggage claim. The cars are either in the garage just behind the counter or in the ramp just across the street. We were going in less than 10 minutes. Return is also fast with their hand-held check-in units. Please note that there is a daily tax of around $2.00 per day in Florida plus several other taxes. So, there was an additional $22.00 or so added to our account at dropoff. We had filled up the car before returning it.

    WDW Food Theory 101 (Three Graduate Credits):

    Our theories about food and WDW may differ from your own. Reading the boards, I know that many visitors consider food an intricate part of their planning and visits to the parks. There are many restaurants that we would like to visit. But, we have to be realistic in several areas.

    First of all, food at WDW can be broken down into two categories: expensive and very expensive! We have to remember that we have to eat at home when we return, too.

    Our family eating patterns may also be different than you own. We are not big breakfast eaters. So, scheduling a CB each morning is not something we would not enjoy as much as a larger meal later in the day.

    Our teenagers are not picky eaters, but they have their definite likes and dislikes. So, while they eat Italian, Mexican and Chinese that I cook or that we order at our favorite spots at home, they may not like the way it's cooked someplace else. If you are a parent, you know what I am saying.

    Last year we found several spots we liked (and did not like). So, we had some backups. We did want to try a couple of different places, also. Due to needing flexibility in our schedule (weather for parasailing and the beach) we did not book any Priority Seatings before we came to WDW. I know that it is risky, and I do recommend that you call ahead for certain spots and at busy times of the year. Certain places do book up.

    We also know that many of the "sit down spots" can take a lot of time.

    We wanted as much time as possible in the parks. So, we opted for more food court type of meals with a couple of PS (priority seating) sit down meals tossed into the mix.

    Once we arrived and got the schedule variables figured out, I did call WDW-Dine and got a CB at Chef Mickey's and a CD at Crystal Palace at the times we wanted with no problems at all. We also wanted to try Rainforest Cafe at the Marketplace, and we knew they do not take reservations and that long waits are normal at traditional meal times.

    As a side note, I do think that getting PS for the buffet-style meals is easier at the last minute than at a traditional "sit down and order" spot. They can run more people through a buffet in a given period of time.

    Comments on food along with some costs and our averages will appear later in the reports.

    The Wilderness Lodge:

    It felt so good to pull up to the WL front door and to be greeted by the CM's in their familiar uniforms. Walking into the lobby, I felt at home again. I simply love the place! I know that tastes differ, and everybody has their favorite spots to call home at WDW. We just seem to fit in at the WL.

    There was no line at check-in, but we found that all of the bunkbed rooms were in use. I forgot to write down the name of the CM at the desk. I want to say her name was Betty, but I am not sure. She was so nice and apologized about the room. They had been running at 100% lately, she said. I think since we arrived on Tuesday it was harder to get a bunkbed room that it was on Saturday last year with so many people checking out on the weekends.

    She made some calls and got us the last bunkbed room for the next night and the rest of the week. So, we settled for a regular room for the first night. She said that we would have a voice mail confirmation the next morning regarding the room switch.

    By the way, we tried to call the WL desk to confirm our room before arrival as we did last year even though we had our AAA confirmation number. This year the WL desk referred us to the Central Reservations Office. The CRO said that our confirmation number was not theirs and referred us to the WDW travel number since we booked through AAA. I got busy signals at that number and never did get through to them. The WL would not check on our reservations themselves as they did last year. I am assuming that they were getting flooded with calls.

    Anyway, our room was #5092 above the reservation desk with woods view and opening out onto the lobby. It was a smoking room, and you could sure tell it! We opened up the balcony doors to air out the place and figured we could make it through one night there.

    We had the charge back cards again for all four of us (park admissions, room key, ID card, charge back for food and other purchases). When we changed rooms, they just voided the first four cards and gave us new ones.

    The woods view was not quite as nice as last year's room a little further down the same side of the WL. We had some roof, some trees and the bus stop for a view ( the buses were a little noisy from this location). The balcony was enclosed and not a railing.

    We joked with Bob that he would have to sleep on the floor or in the tub, as he said he was not going to sleep with his sister. I was going to call the desk to see about a cot, but Bob decided to sleep on the floor of the closet and slide the doors shut. So, we used the extra pillows and called for a couple more. He grabbed blankets and slept in the closet, an adventure he has had fun telling everybody here at home.

    The next morning the phone rang from the Marina at the Contemporary.

    They wanted to move our parasailing reservations from 9:00 to 8:15 as they expected it to start getting windy. As we got ready, I noticed the message light and called Mike at the desk. He said they had a bunkbed room for us. We asked to wait until 11:00 to move as we had parasailing reservations.

    He said just to call when we got back. No problem!

    Customer Services came to our rescue when we found out that we had been given wrong times for the boat from WL to the Contemporary the night before. We had also been mistakenly told that we could not park at the Contemporary. Renee at Customer Services grabbed her keys and drove us over with 5 minutes to spare. She apologized for the misinformation and noted that some trainees had been on the desk the night before. She added that we could park there if we just told the guards at the gate why we were coming over. So, we all gave Renee the "thumbs up" awards for the day.

    When we returned, we called the desk. Our bags were picked up right away, and we later settled into Room #4087 with bunkbeds and woods view. The room was ready for us at 2:15. It was on the north side right over the Whispering Canyons and opening out to the lobby. The woods view was very nice, and we could see the GF and monorail off to the left. The WL smokehouse was barely visible through the trees. We tried to view the MK fireworks one night when we returned from the Studios. We could not see them hardly at all from the room due to the trees, gut they were fairly well visible from out front by the bus stop. I almost bet that some 7th floor rooms on the north side would have a pretty good view as you can see the Castle, Space Mountain and Contemporary from some hallway windows on the top floor.

    There have been some comments on r.a.d.p. about the noise level at the WL. We did not have any problems last year. Sure, it's a hotel. So, you will always hear some activity, but it was minimal. Yes, the turboflush toilets can be heard. The sounds of showers in other rooms are quite muffled. I think that the rooms overlooking the pool may be a little noisier than woods views, but this is just a guess.

    As noted, our first room had a little bus noise. Our second room was surprisingly quiet. There was hardly any noise from Whispering Canyons even though we were right above it. One morning we did hear the Hokey Pokey and some of the games. It should be noted that we were not in the room most of the times the WC was open. I did not notice any lobby noise at all. But, the aroma from the WC greeted me every time I opened the door. Maybe that is why I was always hungry!!!!!

    Almost right outside the room door was a little spot with two rocking chairs. We also relaxed at night in a little nook with a fireplace and two overstuffed chairs overlooking the lobby. Ahhhhhh.........after a long day in the parks! There also was a library-styled, long reading table there. I even saw several kids doing homework there in the evenings. How can you concentrate on homework at WDW?

    Again if you have ever been there, you know about the lobby and the views from the upper floors. There are quite a few good little resting, coffee drinking and reading spots scattered around the WL. There is a large front balcony with no chairs. The back balconies overlooking the pool are very nice and have a lot of chairs. In fact we saw at least three wedding parties using these areas for pictures during our stay.

    I could talk about the lobby all day. There are a lot of chairs all over the place. While there is much hustle and bustle at some times, we found it quite peaceful late at night. I also got up very early one morning (my perpetual Iowa cold had rekindled itself) and sat around drinking coffee in the lobby and watching the place come to life. Pat and I had a nice chat with Scott (now an electrician at the WL), who was tossing logs onto the big fireplace one morning. He has been at WDW since the beginning and had many good stories to tell about building the resorts.

    The pool and hot tub seemed to be occupied even early in the morning and very late at night. Towels are available by the building housing the poolside bar.

    Pat and I walked down to the beach one night very late and sat by ourselves and watched the water and stars. Very relaxing! We also ate some meals and snacks outside by the pool and waterfalls.

    There are quite a few activities available to guests. You can tour the WL twice daily, including one tour that takes you into the smokehouse and kitchen. The tours take you to the roof, too. In fact if you ask at Guest Services, you may be able to be the flag family one morning for a trip to the roof to put up the flags. It includes free breakfast coupons for the Roaring Forks and a special certificate. Some friends did it one morning and really enjoyed it. We asked, but they were booked for the rest of our stay. So, ask as soon as you check in if you are interested in it.

    Bob and Marie rented water sprites one afternoon. They are a lot of fun and run $17.00 per half hour. They had the run of the lake and headed over to the GF and over by the MK, the Contemporary, Discovery Island and Ft. Wilderness. We watched them (when in view) from the beach. They just had to sign at the dock and used their cards to charge it back to the room. You can also get bikes for the trails. We were going to do this, but you just can't do everything!

    Wilderness Lodge Food:

    Before I get off this commercial for the WL, I wanted to mention the food. This year we did not eat at either the Whispering Canyons or Artist Point. We did rely on the Roaring Forks for a quick breakfast almost every day as well as late night (actually any time of the day) snacks.

    We took our refillable mugs from last year and used them all week at the RF for free sodas and coffee. The charge backs to the room were so convenient. Any time the kids wanted something, they just headed to RF and charged it. We knew that we could trust them not to "treat" the whole arcade to ice cream and Rice Krispy Treats.

    Roaring Forks is open 24 hours a day. The format changed a little this year. The drinks were situated after the cash register instead of in the middle of the food line like last year. It made it easier to pop in and fill up the mugs. If you were ordering hot food, you bypassed the grill window this year. You ordered hot food at the cash register when you paid for it. They gave you a number and called it out when the order was ready. It helped the line move quite a bit quicker this year. Orders were generally ready in less than 5 minutes, from our experience. The only bottleneck was when the party in front of you in line could not decide what to order.

    Menus had changed slightly. On the hot food side they had several sandwiches (my favorite BBQ beef from last year was not available this time). For example the chicken fingers (adult size) with fries was around $5.00 or so. It was a big order and quite similar to Arby's. The marinated chicken sandwich was $4.50 or so. They also have personal pizzas.

    Here are a few other prices from the RF:

    Rice Krispy treats (very big!) $1.75

    Danish ( stuffed with Apple or Cream Cheese) $2.25

    Milk (school-sized carton) $.70

    OJ (school-sized carton) $1.25

    Fruit Cup (good sized bowl with melons, grapes, strawberry) $2.00-3.50 Muffins $1.25 Drinks Free With Refillable mugs (two sizes of mugs available around $6-7.00)

    Croissants $1.75

    If you have little ones, they do have a kiddie meal made up wit a PBJ, grapes and a small RK Treat. They also have personal-sized pizzas and hot dogs, etc.

    Wilderness Lodge Transportation:

    I think that the bad rap on WL transportation may have started in one of the guidebook editions when the WL first opened. Our experience on two trips is that the WL transportation is reliable, efficient and easy to use when going to the three main parks.

    The main (red flag) boat to the MK runs every 20 minutes. Starting and ending times seem to vary with park hours. There is a sign on the walkway to the dock. A smaller (blue flag) boat runs the route from the WL to the Contemporary to Discovery Island to Fort Wilderness on about the same schedule. This boat may be seasonal as it was not running last year.

    The bus to EPCOT was direct. The bus to the Studios did stop at the GF on the way there. On the way back at park closing it ran from the Studios to the WL to the Poly and then to the GF in that order. They all ran every 20 minutes. One EE morning going to the Studios we walked up to a full bus that was just pulling away. We sat down expecting a 20 minute wait, but another bus came along in 5 minutes!

    There are signs at the WL bus stop to let you know which bus to board for what destination. There is also a big chart on the wall. In addition there are WDW transportation guide brochures available everywhere.

    The only times we drove the car were off site to the beach (with a stop at Chef Mickey's for a CB on the way ) and to the Marketplace and Pleasure Island. It was nice to have the car that evening, because we hit Goodings on the way back to the WL for cold medicine, as I had forgotten to pack my prescription decongestant.

    Also, your level of patience may dictate what you do. On the way home from the Studios one night we stood in line for maybe 15 minutes. Some people got anxious and walked over to a cab to get back to WL. Just as they drove off, the bus came. We got back to the WL right as they got out of the cab. They walked to the handicapped parking lot at the WL and drove off. So, they were not even staying at the WL. They were just using the parking lot there.

    The best thing to do if you are going to a site other than the three main parks is to check the schedules and decide if you want to take the buses or drive.

    The Magic Kingdom:

    A quick note on touring plans is valuable here. Last year we followed the Unofficial Guide Touring Plans to the letter. We made it to everything, and the plans really do help avoid the larger lines. You do lose a little of the atmosphere, though, if you are playing "Disney Commando" all of the time. But, they are extremely valuable for first time visitors. Buy the book. Read it. Use it. Trust me on this one.

    I had planned to follow the plans again this year, but maybe loosen things up a little bit. As it worked out, we knew the parks and attractions well enough that the plans fell mostly by the wayside. We were able to navigate to and from attractions and miss most of the crowds with a little help from the unofficial Guide, our experience, and lighter than expected crowds for most of the trip. We also took a little time to enjoy the atmosphere and even split up several times for an hour or so with a specific time and meeting place. This is an advantage of having teenagers.

    We went to the MK four times during our trip. It is becoming customary for us to spend our arrival and departing days there. So, once we were settled into the WL Tuesday afternoon March 18, we headed to the MK.

    It was 77 degrees outside as we walked onto the boat to the MK with no wait. There was no line at the gates, and we passed the cards through the reader. It was wonderful to walk into the park and look down Main Street to the pink (and I'm talking really pink here, folks) Castle.

    I had planned to play "Disney Commando" most days and had the Unofficial Guide in my camera bag again. We still had the 1996 version as word on the Disney boards was that the 1997 version was not up to date enough to warrant the sticker price. Besides, the r.a.d.p. and web site info was very, very current. Still, the older Unofficial had a lot of good basic info that was well worth reviewing.

    The crowds along Main Street looked a little heavy, but when we got to Tomorrowland, the line for Alien Encounter was.....well, there was no line except a small queue that easily fit into the holding room with plenty of space to spare. It was 4:45, and the sign said a 30 minute wait. We jumped in line, and we walked into the holding room in less than 5 minutes.

    I tossed out any thought of following the touring plans to the letter on this trip (Please note here again that I am a firm believer in the value of using the Unofficial touring plans verbatim on your first trip to WDW and as at least a reference on later trips).

    AE was a lot of fun. Having experienced it last year, Pat and I made sure to have our heads firmly back into the head rests so we would catch all of the effects. I think we all spent most of the ride laughing in expectation of the special effects. It may not have the shock value as riding it for the first time, but it was totally enjoyable and ranks towards the top on our hit parade.

    We walked onto TTA for a look around and to see what everybody wanted to do. We thought we would catch Space Mountain on EE day. The kids wanted to ride the teacups. So, we headed there and all rode with less than a 10 minute wait.

    Marie caught site of Toontown and wanted to check it out. It was under construction last year. We had the autograph books from last year with us, too. We walked into the gift shop (so what else did you expect!) and saw the lines for a couple of character visit rooms. I think they call this the Toontown Hall of Fame. The line for the Villains Room looked short. So, we walked on over for a 15 minute wait. Inside were Jafar, Brer Fox and the Sheriff from Robin Hood. There were colorful backgrounds. They all signed and posed. I liked their attitudes and body language. One pounded his hand on the set to summon the next guest up for pictures.

    According to the Character Greeting Location Guide brochure, these rooms are open 9:00 a.m. to park closing. I am sure that characters vary. You could also meet Mickey in the Judge's Tent, but the line was long.

    In the gift shop we met up with several members of a local high school orchestra that had been in Orlando to perform for several days. They were leaving town later in the evening, and we chatted with them for a few minutes.

    We looked through Minnie's house (as seen on TV commercials). It was interesting, but crowded. On TV Minnie personally shows a couple of kids the kitchen. Well, there were 20 kids in the kitchen with 20 adults trying to videotape them opening the refrigerator.

    The roller coaster looked pretty tame, and the line was long. We were getting hungry (just the airline food all day). So, we walked on over towards Fantasyland and did Mr. Toad with a 5 minute wait. We did the left side, and yes, I did see the much touted nude or as close to nude as you get at WDW).

    Marie wanted to visit Ariel's Grotto (open 10:0 a.m. until park close) since it was new. We waited 20 minutes. It was cute. Ariel was very good with the little kids. Marie sat down, got a signature in her book and I grabbed a picture. Bob kept entertained with the unpredictable squirting fountains outside the queue area.

    It was around 7:30. So, we walked into Pinnochio's for double cheeseburger baskets. We had enjoyed these last year. The fixings bar was good again, although the mushrooms were pretty well depleted. It was around $25.00 or so for the four baskets. Pat thought it was not quite as good as last year. I even added a little side order of sauerkraut and a few extra tomatoes from the fixings bar to my tray.

    We walked along Liberty Square knowing that the spaces were filling up for Spectromagic's one performance for the night. We picked a spot just past the Diamond Horseshoe with a good view, knowing that the Demon from Fantasia opens his wings near that spot. It got a little crowded by the time the parade started, and my videotaping view got a little covered up when a family who had been seated for 30 minutes got up as the parade came around the corner.

    I taped most of the parade from in back of the crowd on the wall and fence where Pat was sitting. Actually, getting a few more feet away from the street helped define the floats a little better. I kept the camera running through the whole parade (introduction and everything), putting my hand over the lens whenever I was not actually aiming at the parade. I just wanted the whole soundtrack and figured I'd edit it all together sometime.

    Spectromagic is one of my favorite things at WDW. I love the soundtrack, and the floats are just beautiful. This year the Spectrodudes on the balls followed the trumpet float (it was visa versa last year) to start the parade.

    After the parade we took the shortcut from the Diamond Horseshoe and ended up at the bridge from the hub to Adventureland. There were very few people there. so, we watched the fireworks from that location. It became a standing joke after last year that we always pick a spot for the fireworks with trees covering up part of the view. Well, you guessed it! It was a pretty good spot, though. As a note, we avoided Main Street for the parades and fireworks due to the mob scene and not wanting to spend up two hours holding a good spot. Yes, people do line up that early for the parades!

    The sea of humanity headed towards the main gate. It was a 9:00 closing.

    We slipped into the sports shop and the Emporium to look around and let the crowds clear out a little bit before getting the boat back to the WL. We caught part of the Water Pageant going across the lagoon as we wait for the boat.

    Our second visit to the MK was on Thursday morning (Day Three). Pat and I decided to let the kids sleep in after our big night at the Marketplace and Pleasure Island (to be detailed in another section of the report). After all, teenagers need their 12 hours of sleep per night. We had been running on 4-5 hours for a couple of days. We headed to the MK for EE, getting off the boat at in line for Space Mountain by 8:10. I know it was a little late, but the SM line that was supposed to be 20 minutes was closer to 10 minutes long.

    We hit the ropes on the bridge to Liberty Square, thinking that it would have opened around 8:30. It was 8:50 before the dropped the ropes. Well, the typical "sea of humanity Disney style" filled the streets towards Splash Mountain and the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad immediately. They were running, pushing strollers, jockeying for position and leaping over every obstacle in their way. I think the term stampede pretty well describes it.

    We walked briskly and hit the SM line at 8:55 and were just outside the short set of ropes that formed the queue. We walked the line, rode it and were in line for BTMR in 20 minutes. We enjoyed SM and rode in the back car. We had not made it on this attraction last year due to the long lines. It's a very much a fun ride with a great soundtrack and many animatronic figures.

    The last big drop was fun. We were much more wet from sitting down on the wet seat at the start of the ride than we got on the ride itself. I think (and correct me if I am wrong) that most of the water from the drop is actually sprayed up mechanically and not caused by the boat. Those plumes make a big impression on you when you are standing in line, but I do not think it all comes from the boats.

    The BTMR line and ride only took another 20 minutes. It's a pretty tame coaster with more quick turns than drops. It seemed to load pretty fast, the scenery was well done and we liked it a lot. By the time we got off both of these rides, the lines were getting really long.

    Feeling like we had scored the "Big Three" in around 90 minutes, we walked down to Main Street for coffee and a treat in the bakery. It took longer to order and get our food than it took for Space Mountain. But, they were very efficient and friendly. The Barbershop Quartet was entertaining inside, and they are always a delight. It made me think of their longtime member (pardon that I forgot his name) who had recently passed away.

    Prices for coffee were $.99 and $1.15. Milk was $.80, and OJ was $1.45.

    Cookies were $1.15 and danish/baked goodies ran from $1.00-3.85. We grabbed a table inside and ate. Then, we took our coffee outside and sat on the lower level terrace of the Plaza Restaurant with only one other table occupied.

    It was a beautiful, clear morning. The Castle just stood out against the sky. We watched some of the added, pink spires swaying in the light breeze. I am not sure how they covered the top of the castle (the lower parts are actually painted pink and you can see some paint chipping on the lower parts probably taken off by visitors as a souvenir). We think that the additions are partially inflated since they float back and forth in the breeze so much. Maybe somebody like Kenny can comment on the actual superstructure and processes involved.

    Well, we finished coffee and wondered over to the Carousel of Progress, a sentimental favorite from our honeymoon almost 22 years ago. There was no line for the 10:40 showing. Afterwards, we walked down Main Street into a good sized crowd heading into the park. At the dock we could see the flood of visitors embarking down the runway from the monorails and the large ferry boats full of visitors hitting the MK dock. We grabbed the boat back to the WL to find Marie and Bob up and getting ready for the day and snacking with a tray of croissants and cereal from the RF.

    The next trip to the MK was later the same day after a session of water sprites at the WL and a little rest on the beach. We wanted to hit the "Remember the Magic" parade Thursday afternoon. With our daily schedule it was going to be the only time we would be in the MK at 3:00 for the parade.

    We got on the boat at 2:05, and at the MK the parade route was packed.

    We headed over to Liberty Square and around the corner. There was a good spot across from the Diamond Horseshoe. We staked out our spot and chatted with others.

    Around 2:30, as the sky clouded up and a drop or two of rain came down, a CM came by and asked if Marie and Bob wanted to be in the parade. He picked several kids from the area, giving each a sticker to show which float's activities they were to participate in during the parade. Soon a "Coach CM" came by and called out the participants. They were very strict about checking for the stickers and did not allow "non-stickered" kids out on the street for practice. The floats that had participation were "Beauty and the Beast" and "Sleeping Beauty" in our area.

    So, as the parade came by, the "Beauty and the Beast" float stopped near us. Marie and Bob went out and got into the "set the table relay race" followed by a "can can line." They had a good time, and it was something special to say that you were able to be in a parade.

    The parade itself is quite short. The floats were well done, and there were quite a few dancers and costumed creatures walking and dancing around the floats. I am not sure what other "participation stops" there are along the route. Maybe others can comment about them. By the way, the afternoon parade starts in Adventureland and runs in the opposite direction on the same route as Spectromagic does at night.

    It was the usual post-parade zoo on the streets. We walked over by SM and BTMR to find long waits. So, as it drizzled, we walked to Pirates. The sign said 30 minutes, but it was only 10 minutes to get on the ride. We headed to Jungle Cruise for a 25 minute wait. You know it is a very small world when you are in line and look across he queue to see your neighbors from three houses down the block standing there waving at you! This has happened with different friends both last year and this year.

    James was our tour guide, and he was full of the expected bad jokes and puns. We were sitting in the spot where you get on the boat and where they put the removable cushion for the trip. The roof was leaking, and we got pretty wet. James noted that the leak was there, because we were not laughing at his jokes. He was very good!

    Well, the sprinkling continued as we walked up to the Crystal Palace for our Character Dinner priority seating time of 5:00.

    We were seated in under 10 minutes and given the usual directions about characters coming to the tables, etc. The buffet was well laid out and easy to navigate even though the dining room was quite crowded. It is a very beautiful place with a lot of mirrors that tend to accentuate the crystal lighting fixtures. Pooh, Tigger and Eyeore were present and did seem to follow a specific route around the rooms. They did not spend much time with us, but they did sign and pose. Pat noticed that after a short break what seemed to be a different Tigger came out. At least during this appearance he was more animated, sitting down at tables and sprawling across the customer's chairs and booth backs. There was not much room for the characters to navigate between tables with the customers and servers all walking around.

    The buffet was pretty good. The main selections of carved ham and beef could be complimented with several mustards, sauces or horseradish. There was a salmon selection with a lemon and herb sauce. I did not take time to write down everything, but the salad bar was creative, the dessert bar was huge and I did notice a well stocked "kiddie" section.

    Adult prices of most WDW CD buffets are in the $19.95 range. They seemed to replenish the food as needed. We did not feel rushed to finish eating and turn over the table. Service was good on the drink refills. It took us just about an hour to eat. I would not rank this dinner as high as the Liberty Tree Tavern (our favorite dinner from last year). Crystal Palace seemed a little noisy and crowded. But, it is one of the places where families with younger children would tend to eat given the Pooh characters in attendance.

    After dinner, we wanted to go on the Haunted Mansion. The crowd had been making a definite move to the exits and was thinning out, as it was still sprinkling off and on. We did not have ponchos, but what's a little sprinkle? However, we bet that Disney paid for Eisner's bonus for the year with ponchos sales for the day.

    The HM line was nonexistent! We did not even have time to read the tombstones before the front door opened. We were ushered inside. Actually, we rode twice in a row with no wait and could have hit it a third time except that a bathroom break was in order. We really like the HM. It is a classic. I wish that there would be a pause over the ballroom to look at the dancing and banquet table longer. Actually, we did have two pauses (guessing that they were assisting special needs riders), but they were later in the ride sequence. We also enjoy seeing what ghosts hitched a ride with us at the end of the ride.

    Well, you have to do "Small World," and we walked on and followed it up by looking over the Dumbo and the Carousel lines. This is one of those Disney moments when you see your teenagers getting into line for Dumbo along with all of the little kids. I know that the line is very, very slow. But, they wanted to ride. So, Pat and I settled back for the 30 minute wait. The kids enjoyed it, and that's what counts. Marie said that they should build an extra Dumbo ride and call it "Dueling Dumbos!"

    Bob wanted to go off on his own to Tomorrowland (it's a teenager thing). We talked about it a little bit and walked over there. Before the trip Pat and I had decided that the kids could go off and explore in the parks for a little bit by themselves this time. We decided he could skip the parade if he met up with us under the Tomorrowland sign halfway between the hub and Tomorrowland for the fireworks.

    The rest of us headed to the hub to find the parade crowd packing the area. Pat and Marie sat back by the wall as I got up to the front by the emergency walkway at the outside the hub area where there was a roped off pathway.

    By the way, the parades were actually roped off this year instead of just being taped off with masking tape on the ground. There was still some tape in walkways, though.

    The poor CM named Linda who had to try to control the traffic flow should get a medal for her work. She kept traffic flowing from the Tomorrowland side into the hub walkway without letting anybody onto the street. She even had to chase down some people who listened to her directions with a blank stare and took off down the street anyway.

    Once when she was close by, I asked her if they were going to close off this walkway and let people up to the curb. She said that it was an emergency route and would stay open. I complimented her on her work, and she smiled as she headed off to grab another group of roaming guests.

    This was the first time we had seen Spectromagic from here, and it was a zoo. People kept trying to come up to the curb on the walkway, and a CM kept sending them back. I had a good view for taping, but the Fantasia Demon was missing on this performance. I was wondering if the off-and-on again sprinkles was the reason.

    After the parade we headed to the meeting spot. Pat and Marie beat me there and staked out a spot. Bob came up and asked if he could skip the fireworks and meet us afterwards. He had found a family in line at Space Mountain and he was hanging out with them. Well, a couple days later when we had several voice mails in the room ,we realized that this family included a young lady about Bob's age.

    The fireworks were well off to the right side of the castle from the bridge to Tomorrowland. We laughed again as we had expected them off to the left side a little bit. Now I am wondering if there may be a couple of spots used to launch the fireworks behind the castle, or if I am just a little off in my directions.

    We met up after the show and walked down Main Street with the usual short stop at the Emporium to let the crowds thin out before grabbing the boat back to the WL.

    On Saturday we returned from our beach outing at Caladesi State Park in the Clearwater/Dunedin area and decided to head over to the MK around 8:00 in the evening. It was a late night (two parades, fireworks and a midnight closing).

    Bob wanted to explore again. So, we set up a meeting spot by the Walt and Mickey statue in the hub after the second parade. Marie was very hungry and said she did not care what we ate or where. So, I lead us through the pre-parade crowd to Cosmic Ray's. I had wanted to try it and watch the show. We all had burger baskets. I thought the show was a hoot, but Pat and Marie tired of it quickly. The first parade was on as we sat there. We could see part of it from our seats.

    We walked onto Carousel of Progress since the line for AE was long. The fireworks went off as we sat there, but we knew that if we were outside that we would be behind a tree for them. Marie was really tired after a day at the beach. so, we let her take the boat back to the WL and get to bed.

    Pat and I headed off on a walk. Lines were fairly long in Fantasyland, and we hit the Presidents right after a show started. We grabbed a coffee and walked along the parade route in Liberty Square, soaking in the atmosphere. There was hardly anybody waiting for the second parade. We took up my favorite spot on the Liberty Square side of the bridge with the Castle in the background and watched Spectromagic again. I taped parts of it with the castle in the background.

    Bob was waiting at the hub for us, and we walked out to the boat. It had been a long day by the time we got back. I grabbed my mug and got a decaf at RF and sat in the lobby for a while to let the decongestants kick in before settling down for the night.

    Well, the final trip to the MK for this vacation was on Monday morning.

    It was an EE day, but we needed to get packed and out of the room. Instead of having the valets store our luggage this year, we just had them load the car. We then parked back over in the WL lot.

    We rode the boat over and hit the gates around 9:15. Our plan was simply to enjoy the MK for several hours before leaving for the airport. The telltale confetti on the sidewalks was evidence of the Easter Parade the day before, and I believe that they had removed the TV scaffolding covered with green fabric that had stood in the island at the foot of Main Street in front of the RR station all weekend.

    On the way over I felt that things were really going to be crowded. The gate at the MK had lines for the first time all week, and the monorail was belching out a continuous flow of people.

    Main Street was quite crowded, and we took the shortcut by the Plaza to Tomorrowland. Well, the walkon at AE were gone now. It was posted as 30 minutes, and SM was lined up out to the TTA with a 60 minute note on the board.

    We walked into Timekeeper and waited inside for only 10 minutes. This really cute older couple (probably 80's), were standing there. He was wearing a dress trench coat and dress hat, and they got separated as the line moved up to the door. I let her pass, and he thanked me. He said, "I don't want to loose her. She's the only one I have, you know!" Timekeeper is a lot of fun, and I like the combination of 360 degree screens with the animatronics. After the show the line for SM was 80 minutes, and AE was queued all the way around the side of the building.

    We were glad we had been there the week before with no lines. Bob joked that we could fly home in the time it took to get into both SM and AE that morning.

    Over by the Haunted Mansion the line was out the gates and down to the exit of the riverboat. It was a walk-on ride just a couple of days before.

    We jumped on the Liberty Bell River Boat as we had not ridden it before.

    Surprisingly, several characters hopped on right before it sailed and drew a big crowd onto the loading dock. I looked on the map to find Riverboat Character Cruises listed there in the character appearances section.

    So, we lucked out and got to ride with Goofy, Wendell, Liver Lips, Shaker, Dopey and Davy Crockett. I may have missed a couple of them. We had a very nice ride, and got autographs and pictures with several new characters. It was very peaceful in comparison to other character greetings. They played around with the passengers and, the bears engaged in a wrestling match on the top deck.

    Marie had been talking about The Liberty Tree Tavern all week. We really enjoyed the CD there last year. The door was open , and we walked in to get a PS at 11:00. They started to serve at 11:30, and we were given an 11:45 PS time. The CM said to come back little before 11:30 and that we'd be seated right away.

    So, we rode the riverboat again, but there were no characters this time.

    The board gave these times for rides just before 11:30: Jungle Cruise 60 minutes, Pirates 60 minutes, Space Mountain 90 minutes, AE 40 minutes and Haunted Mansion 20 minutes (but you could still see the line outside the gate all the way down past Presidents).

    We sat down inside the Liberty Tree and waited to be called. It only took a couple of minutes, and I have a feeling that they were getting really booked up by then. Tammy was our very efficient server, and we were seated in the Betsy Ross room. It was quite peaceful there. I think that is one reason I enjoy it so much.

    Pat and I decided on the beef stew served in a bread bowl. Both kids got chicken fingers (kids meal), which I thought was odd. But, by the time they had consumer two baskets of fresh dinner rolls with apple butter they were pretty full. Tammy had fresh drinks on the table before the old ones were done. She was very good!

    The stew was tasty, although a little salty for us. I do not use much salt in cooking at home. The serving size was quite large, too.

    We exited lunch at 12:30, and there was a line for the parade already along Liberty Square and Main Street. We walked down to the Emporium and looked around a little bit. We then took the train around the park. I really got a kick out of one family. He was saying that they were going to ride all the way around, pick up their stroller, go to ride Space Mountain and be back to Main Street to get a good spot for the parade. He though they could do all of this in around 20 minutes. I didn't want to tell him!!!!!

    When we stopped at Frontierland, we yelled over to the lines at Splash. They said they had been in line for over 90 minutes, and they still had a way to go. All of the queues looked very full as we rode around. Back at the station we dropped in on the Welcome Center, got our badges (two 1975 versions and two 1996 ones). We wanted to do the show and pick up the lithograph. Marie wanted to see the scale model of Animal Kingdom, but there was not enough time. We were running late already.

    So, we looked back down Main Street, knowing that next time the Castle will be returned to its normal and less pink state. We headed out the gates and laughed at whether we should get a handstamp for re-entry that day.

    It was one more boat ride to the WL, up the dock and to the lobby. We decided not to buy anything else in the gift shop and headed out to the car with the old "We'll Be Back" and wave to all of the CM's. Then it was off to the airport and back to Iowa.


    Last year we toured EPCOT on a Sunday, which is supposed to be the best day to visit there. This year we had it penciled in for Sunday. But, we jockeyed a few things around and went on Friday for EE. It was supposed to rain and then thunderstorm later in the day. So, we decided that EPCOT offered a lot of inside activities. We also thought that the rain would keep the crowds down a little bit.

    Before EPCOT, though, we were supposed to do the rescheduled parasailing at the Contemporary. Well, we did not get an answer at the Marina or the main desk there. It was definitely raining, and we decided that they had canceled and just were not there to answer the phone. They had been so careful of wind the other morning that we were sure they would not do it in the rain with thunderstorms forecast for later.

    So, we just took it easy and let the kids sleep in a little bit. Pat and I had coffee in the room, coffee on the deck, coffee in the lobby, etc. I really like having the charge back cards for the Roaring Forks. Whenever Bob and Marie got hungry, they just head on down and grab something.

    We walked down to the bus stop and took the EPCOT bus around 11:00 for the direct, 10-minute ride to the park. As we arrived, it looked pretty busy at the gates. As we entered, Spaceship Earth had a moderate line with many people just milling around the entrance trying to figure out what they wanted to do.

    We took the shortcut through Innoventions towards the wonders of Life Pavilion. We ran into friends from home. They were eating at Innoventions East (do not remember the name) . It's funny that they were also at the WL, but we had not seen them until then at EPCOT even though we had traded voice mails during the week.

    The line at Ellen's Energy Adventure looked pretty long as we walked by it. Body Wars also looked a little crowded as we looked down into the Wonders of Life pavilion.

    So, we walked into the pre-show room for Cranium Command with only a minute left before the film started. I was surprised that the room was only half full and asked the CM at the turnstiles about the crowd levels. He said that it had been pretty light the past week or so for Spring Break. He said that he was expecting the rush to hit on Monday the 24th.

    Cranium Command is one of the hidden treasures of EPCOT. It is thoroughly enjoyable for all ages. We almost got back in line for it again, but the Body Wars queue had lessened. Even though the sign said 30 minute wait, it was closer to 20 minutes. We sat in the second row, and again thought it was very good.

    As a note of comparison, I think it is a little more "tame" than Star Tours at the Studios. Back To The Future at Universal Studios is by far the most "active" of the three simulations. Bob mentioned that he liked the big screen at BTTF better and that in the cars there you felt more like you were hanging out in the middle of the action. I agreed that both Body Wars and Star Tours had a feeling of being more enclosed since you are looking out through the smaller windshield of the craft. Even though, it is a very good ride.

    We walked outside and the Ellen queue had disappeared. We went into the building, and the CM said the show had just started. We ducked into the theater and let our eyes adjust to the darkness. The huge room with cinerama-sized screens was not quite full. After the introductory film, we were directed through the doors under the screen.

    I did not know what to expect as I had not read many of the posts about this attraction. It is a very long ride and also very entertaining. The dinosaur section is "very cool" (to borrow a phrase from Brianne Leary on Inside Out), and the use of the huge screens was excellent (reminded me of the first time I saw 2001 in a cinerama theater) . All of us gave it a very enthusiastic nod of approval.

    Last year we all enjoyed Horizons, and there was no line for it then or now. I know that there have been posts saying that it is dated and in need of a little refitting. But, I really do like its nostalgic view of the future. This is what we all thought the future would hold back when it was a kid. That's also why I like the old "Walt Disney Presents" shows like "Inside Outer Space" and the episodes about voyages to the Moon and Mars. You have to remember when Horizons was built and the optimistic and futuristic views we all had of the future at the time.

    We thought that if we could hit "Honey, I Shrunk The Audience" before taking a break that we would have covered most of the "biggies." Around 1:45 we walked up the ramp and almost to the door. The whole wait, preshow and show only took 45 minutes.

    The Kodak preshow may be a commercial, but I like it. Pat looks at it from a teacher's perspective and that it promotes creativity. I look at the photography and how it shows that you can create a totally different mood by showing a little piece of a picture instead of the whole image.

    HISTA was as good as it was last year. I was looking for the effects and made sure I had my feet on the floor for "those" effects and also was prepared for the "spray" effects (if you know what I mean).

    It was on HISTA that Pat added to her string of "getting seats in the middle of the theater." Last year we always referred to the Unofficial as to where to stand in the preshow and how many people to let in before us in order to get middle seats. Well, I took over the role of getting us to and from attractions again this year. Pat was the expert at seating, and she hit on all shows except one.

    I know that the CM's say that "every seat in the theater is a good one," and it does not matter where you sit. But, the main action in some shows is on certain sides of the stage. Just think back to where the animatronic figures are placed when there is a combination of figures and a screen. You may want to be close to the figures in some shows, but they may block a little of the screen in others. So, we tried to take that into account in being seated.

    Everybody was getting hungry, and I felt that we had hit five of the major attractions in around less than three hours. We wanted to stay in Futureworld for a while and to avoid that awful pizza we had at the place near Innoventions West last year.

    A light went off in my head, and all the time reading all of those posts on r.a.d.p. paid off. I headed towards the food court in The Land as the rest of the family wondered where I was going. It was then that we decided that the forecast thunderstorms were not going to materialize. We could have hit Typhoon Lagoon first and then to EPCOT, we thought. Oh, well! But, I was pleased with the ease of getting through everything at EPCOT so far.

    "The Sunshine Season food Fair" was just the ticket since everybody was hungry for something different. It was a little crowded inside, but we got a clean table in a couple of minutes. Everybody headed off in a different direction to check out the offerings. The advantage here with a family is that everybody can get what they want and just charge it back to the room with their individual cards.

    There are around eight different counters here offering a good variety of food. Here are samplings of prices for the main entrees or combo meals. All have ala carte available on some items at a lesser price.

    There is a beverage bar (alcohol is served there). The Pasta Bar had offerings from $4.35-5.40. The potato bar runs $2.45-4.10. The BBQ counter is in the $6.20-7.20 range. The sandwich shop offered subs and other sandwiches at around $4.70-5.65, and the bakery was in the $1.50-3.10 range. There was also a soup and salad counter costing $5.30-6.55.

    Well it was a Friday in Lent. So, the options were limited to non-meat.

    I know that both kids made a couple of trips up to the counters for various things like fries, a potato, drinks and desserts. Pat watched the table as I went up to the pasta bar and came back with an order of cheese tortelinni with a marinara sauce and garlic bread as well as an order of veggie lasagna. Both orders were very large and quite good.

    I am sure that smaller children could easily split either order, and adults that are not very hungry (or want to sample a couple of things) could also split an order. The service seemed quite fast and efficient. It may be a little on the noisy side and a little hectic with the attractions and the Garden Grill. But, it is no more hectic than the average mall food court. The food is also quite a bit better!

    We had promised Bob an hour or so inside Innoventions to play Sega and check out the computer games. Marie wanted to visit The Living Seas. We set up a meeting place and time by the main fountain. So, Pat headed off with Marie. I walked over to Innoventions with Bob. He is at the age where he wants to explore on his own. So, I wondered off to take pictures.

    I headed back to Horizons and walked on to tape the show. Then, I did a little still and video outside and walked back over to Imagination and onto Figment with only a 2 minute wait even though the sign said 20 minutes. As I exited, I noticed that the HISTA line was now all the way across the plaza.

    As I got back to the fountain, the Kristos performance was in progress.

    They are a trio of aliens who perform "an unearthly strength ballet." I taped them with Spaceship Earth in the background. They were quite entertaining, and their body tight green alien suits and masks made an other-wordly picture with the shiny sphere as a backdrop.

    I grabbed a cappuccino (marginal quality at best) and waited for the family. Pat and Marie enjoyed The Living Seas even though the manatee exhibit was closed for rehab. They did get to see a feeding in the tank. We ran across the friends we had seen earlier near the fountain.

    Bob missed his meeting time (kind of like staying out on the water sprites an extra 45 minutes at the WL). So, I searched Innoventions for him. Marie wanted to hit the various character greeting spots around the World Showcase. So, she and Pat took off even though it looked like they were winding up the greetings, according to the schedules.

    Bob and I met up with them near the American Pavilion. I pointed Marie back to Morocco where Jasmine and Prince Ali were signing. She got there just as they finished, but they posed and signed for her as they started to walk off the set. They were very accommodating.

    We rode the boat across the lake and set up shop near the Plaza Towers around 30 minutes before the scheduled 6:00 character greetings. Not very many people were there waiting when the bus full of characters pulled up at 6:00, but the crowd grew quickly. Marie and Bob were able to hunt down a get signatures and pictures with several characters they had to encountered before. It worked out quite well even though it became a zoo after a few minutes.

    Spaceship Earth was a walk-on at 6:30. I enjoy it quite a bit. Bob decided that he wanted to ride on Maelstrom, which surprised me a little bit. So, we went over to find a 20 minute wait at around 7:15. Really, it is a nice ride. Being part Norwegian on my father's side, I have always fancied a visit to Norway at some point since we know where the ancestral farm is located. We skipped the movie (as did almost everybody there). The line had grown quite a bit by the time we walked out of the gift shop.

    One of Pat's "must see attractions" was the American Adventure Show. We hit the door at 8:00 for the 8:05 show. I admit that I missed the singers in the preshow area. The show was, as always, entertaining and quite moving.

    We exited and walked over to Germany, finding the same spot for Illuminations as we had last year against the wall by the lake. Last year we staked out that spot an hour before the show so I could sit my tabletop tripod on the wall. So, this year we were relieved to get a good spot so easily. Bob and Marie were even more relieved not to have to wait an hour for the sow. We got sodas and watched Illuminations 25. We were all impressed with the show. Marie tried her hands at shooting pictures, and I did some video. After the production, we noticed that all of the smoke had drifted over towards Mexico and Norway. We were glad to have been in Germany.

    As we walked around the east side of the lake, we took it easy and viewed the lighted pavilions and listed to the soundtrack. It had been an enjoyable day at EPCOT, and we got to the main attractions easily. Pat and I had wanted to tour the pavilions a little bit more than we had last year, but it's a lot to pack into a day, especially when we did not arrive until almost noon.

    When we left EPCOT last year, I mentioned that it would have been fun to have eaten in one of the countries. With the kids' food preferences, though, I thought we did well in the food court. Even though I may have fancied a try at Akershus, I am sure the kids would have preferred the food court.

    We hit the bus stop at 9:35 and saw a full bus pull out. We waited the 20 minutes for the next one. One group of adults got anxious and grabbed a cab. As they got into the cab, the bus pulled up. We got back to the WL at the same time their cab did. I wonder how much it cost them. They left the cab and walked over to the WL parking lot handicapped section, got in their car and drove off. Oh, well.....they were not WL guests anyway!

    The Studios:

    Sunday was Day Six of our trip and our day at the Studios. We had wanted to avoid Friday and Saturday since we had heard about the cheerleading competition scheduled then. We have two nieces who have competed at WDW cheerleading competitions in the past and figured that things would be crowded.

    Also, Sunday was a good choice so Bob could see all of the Star Wars activities. Our research also noted that Sorcery In The Sky Fireworks were playing only on the weekends this early in March. Sunday was also an EE day at the Studios with a later closing time.

    We had planned to go to the park early, take a break for Typhoon Lagoon and head back to the Studios later. We ended up staying at the Studios all day since the Star Wars character appearances were right in the middle of the day.

    We hit the WL bus stop at 7:35 (a little later than planned) to see a full bus pull away. Instead of the usual 20 minute wait, a bus came by in only 5 minutes. We made a quick stop at the GF for passengers and pulled up to the Studios.

    It looked like six tour buses were unloading as we walked off our bus.

    Also, 6-8 small tour groups were getting instructions outside the gates. We quickly went into "Disney Commando" mode and passed our cards through the readers, decided to forego TOT until later (I was the only one who wanted to do it again I discovered during our planning sessions) and we headed to Star Tours.

    The sign said "no wait." We walked in, and it took only about 10 minutes to be seated in the simulator. Pat and I tried to keep our feet off the floor in order to be bounced around more. We enjoyed it, as expected, and knew we would keep an eye on the line throughout the day for re-ride possibilities. The line had grown quite a bit by the time we walked out, and I promised Bob some time in the gift shop later in the day.

    The Great Movie Ride looked empty, but as we entered the pre-show film , we saw that it was about full. Still, it moved fast, and the wait was minimal. Our driver was not very animated, but the ride was good. It is an enjoyable attraction.

    We checked the show schedules as we exited and saw that the first "Beauty And The Beast" (B/B) show was starting at 9:45. We navigated the streets across the Studios by 9:15, got good seats just off to the left side in row 11 and watched the theater fill to capacity by show time. The show is excellent and runs about 20 minutes. It is well worth the time.

    Marie was interested in the 101 Dalmatians "Backstage Pass" tour. We made a quick bathroom break near the Animation Building and walked into 101 with a 15 minutes sign posted. The wait was only 5 minutes.

    The tour was fairly interesting. Some kids and parents were talking loudly inside the first Dalmatians' room. So, we did not hear much of that presentation. We made sure to avoid them for the rest of the tour.

    It was too bad that it was Sunday as the sound stages were quiet. The 101 Dalmatians tour was okay and the props were interesting. But, we felt a little rushed even though full photo permission was given for the last room. We looked at Glenn Close's outfits and the sets. Don't expect anything that will keep a young child's attention for long here, though.

    We easily made it over to the Hunchback's 10:45 show and sat up high in the middle. I taped much of it as I had with B/B show. It was well performed with great sound and an interesting set. The staging was super. It was around 30 minutes long. In fact both of the live stage shows we saw that morning are on our "must see" lists now.

    MuppetVision was close by, and we got into line just before a large crowd arrived. Inside the pre-show area it was fairly full with 10 minutes left. This has to be the most entertaining pre-show at WDW. The Muppets are priceless! This was family favorite last year, also.

    Pat pulled her magic at approximating when to enter a row to get middle seats. This show is a lot of fun, and the 3D effects are varied and interesting. The in theater action adds much to it, also. We wanted to do it again right away, but the line was very long.

    Bob was anxious to visit Pizza Planet, and it was close. I stood in line as the rest of the family grabbed a table. Pat joined me to carry food. Their meal deals (pizza, salad and drink) were $5.80 for cheese and $6.30 for pepperoni. We decided to go ala carte for pizza and drinks as nobody wanted a salad. That save around a buck or so per person. Do not expect this place to be like the one in the movie. It's simply a fast food place with video games.

    There are only two cash registers each taking orders from two lines. So, ordering was a little slow. But, the food is up on the counter right away. We had the seats upstairs overlooking the first floor.

    The pizza was about what I expected for counter service and was not bad.

    The pepperoni one Bob got looked a little too done on the pepperonis and part of the crust. The cheese ones were fine. Again, do not expect Chicago-style deep dish pizza here.

    There are many arcade games on both floors. Marie saw Buzz, who signs with a rubber stamp. There is seating outside, but much of it is right next to the major walkway that winds out of Muppets and past the Christmas Shop. So, it's a little crowded out there.

    The Back Lot Tour line was posted as 25 minutes, but we were in the water tank area in 5 minutes. The water tank show is good. Catastrophe Canyon is a hoot. The rest of the tour is of old props and building exteriors and quick glances into shops. It was about the same as last year, although the loading area was different, I believe. The gift shops at the end of the tour were packed. So, we did not stop to pose for pictures like last year, although Bob and Marie opened all of the sound effects boxes sitting by the door.

    The Star Wars activities were going on at Star Tours, but it is a bit of a bottleneck there since the Toy Story parade also emerges into the park next to this attraction. Bob and Marie wanted to catch the Star Wars characters (nobody actually from the movie on that day), and several were marching down the street with a band.

    It was confusing and not well planned out, as the character posed for a quick group picture and said they'd be back for picture sessions (no autographs) at 3:00. We pulled up a table and got sodas near the Backlot Express. There was not time for any attractions, and we thought we could catch part of the Toy Story Parade from there.

    Well, there had been a mixup. After about an hour's wait, a CM came out to wonder what the line was at the signing area. The characters had misspoke, he said, as they were not going to be out to pose for another 1-1 hours. They were, however, greeting people in the queue for Star Tours inside the building which had a 45 minute wait or more. Ya, right! By the time we got inside, they would be back outside.

    We headed to Indy , got great seats in row 9 center section aisle and watched the show at 3:45. When the sea of humanity belched out of the theater, we went back over to Star Tours to find Luke and the Princess on the platform posing. Marie and Bob got in line, and I noted to the CM watching the queue that we had waited over an hour before for them. He made sure they stayed on stage long enough for the kids to get up there. Then, they were replaced by Chewie and Han (or Hans depending on what film's spelling you prefer). Again, the kids did the line and pictures. They were very courteous and did very "serious" poses that really did look kind of funny by the time the kids got in them. They did not hesitate to goof around with the crowd, too.

    Out and walking around were Vader, who just walked ahead and did not acknowledge anybody. He was definitely in character. Several Aliens and Storm Troopers were also posing. We got everybody, and the line at the ride was really long. They also were doing a trivia game on the stage.

    We got out of that zoo as quickly as possible and headed off to the Animation Tour. There was a short wait before the first film. We tried to hold back and let the crowd pass after the film so that we could look at all of the work areas like we did last year. The desks and computers and walls are covered with drawing and personal touches. I am sure a lot of it is planned as part of the presentation for the tour, but the art for future productions is fascinating. I wanted to stay in there as long as possible and then to re-enter and check out the lobby gallery area which was too busy to tour when we waited for the show to start.

    The CM tour guide was trying to get everybody through faster and was not as knowledgeable as the one last year. We had quite a few questions about upcoming features, who did voices and production dates. She was able to answer only a couple of them.

    The really nice part of the tour this time was Disney Animator Joe Cioffe (hope I got that spelled right, Joe). He drew Mickey and held a question and answer session at his drawing table. The drawing were also projected on TV screens. He declined passing out his drawings of Mickey as they were Disney property, he said.

    We held back to talk to him, and he autographed the kids' books and did a quick Mickey illustration on the same page. We asked him a couple of questions, and he graciously took the time to answer. He has yet to work on a feature film, but he is hoping to get the opportunity soon. His answers to questions about education and having a goal were especially good for the youngsters present to hear.

    We got into the final theater presentation late, and I noticed a second animator came out to take the next tour group. In the gift shop a paint and color artist was working on the limited edition cells that they have for sale. He answered questions for the visitors about the editions and colors.

    Some points to pass along here include a comment made by the tour guide that more production is slated for the Florida studios. She also said that while drawing is still done by hand, the coloring is all computer generated. The paint and color artists are now often kept busy producing the limited edition cells.

    There were plenty of pieces of artwork on the tour from Mulan, Hercules and a poster with a whales and dolphins theme from the new Fantasia. I believe they are also doing Tarzan, but can't remember for sure. There was a poster for "George Of The Jungle."

    Well, there was a stage set up all day in the Hollywood Blvd. circle with deejays talking and music playing. As we walked by, a good sized crowd of teens were dancing to tunes from Grease. I thought it funny that they were all hanging out there when so many great attractions were available, but it kept the lines down for the rest of us. Pat suggested heading over to TOT so I could ride. It was 6:00, and the line said around 30 minutes. Nobody wanted to go with me. So, Pat said she would go even though falling elevators are not her cup of tea. The wait was right on at 30 minutes. But, that gives you a chance to look at the lobby set where Disney's attention to detail is quite evident.

    The ride itself was excellent! I really like the additional drop sequence. Last year it was the old single drop version. I even bought the t-shirt this year!!!!! We grabbed ice cream bars ($1.50-1.75 each) on the way back up the street.

    Well, we had made it to about everything! So, we went back over to MuppetVision and a walk-in with 5 minutes left on the pre-show. We followed that up with a short wait for the Little Mermaid (the park map says that they do 22 shows each day). It seemed to us that it was a shorter show than last year. I am not sure. The effects are very well done.

    We still had a little wait for the fireworks. So, we rode the GMR as a walk-on. The theater was only half full, and they only had the left side running. Then, it was over to Star tours again for a walk-on and a few minutes in the gift shop. They did have some Star Wars toy sets at WDW that had not yet arrived in stores at home, according to Bob.

    We wanted to watch the fireworks from a place where there would be no trees in the way. Well, we got a spot on Hollywood Blvd. on the way out with a clean shot at the theater. We laughed and laughed as the first few burst hit the sky right behind one of the building facades and a couple of palm trees. It was a good show, and it really covered a lot of sky with Mickey as the Sorcerer Apprentice appearing towards the end. There had been a featured section of Star Wars music. I am not sure if it was added especially for the event or if it had always been part of the show.

    We were close to the exit and went for the bus ahead of most of the crowd. We arrived back the WL (this bus was routed Studios to WL to Poly to GF). As we got off, the MK fireworks were in the air. You could see them fairly well from the bus stop at the WL even though part was covered by the trees and the WL entrance. Marie and I watched from outside. Pat and Bob went up to see if they were visible from the room. They were mostly covered by trees. By the time I decided to check out the view from the top floor, it was over.

    Disney Village Marketplace and Pleasure Island:

    We did not have the opportunity last year to visit either of these spots. So, they were on our "must do" list for this trip.

    We drove over the Marketplace on Wednesday (that's Day Two of the trip) arriving around 4:00. Our plans were to eat at the Rainforest Cafe, shop a little bit (something different-gift shops!!!!!) and explore Pleasure Island.

    Our first stop was the recently opened World of Disney. This is billed as the biggest Disney shop of earth and is probably the size of several dozen football fields (just joking). Actually, its 12 rooms are large enough to require their own map as part of the Marketplace brochure. Just about anything that will hold a Disney logo is available there. We toured briefly.

    I wanted to get over to the Rainforest Cafe (RC) to get our names on the list, expecting a 60-90 minute wait. But, I was pleasantly surprised when at 4:19 they said it would only be a 10-minute wait for a table. They were just about right.

    We were seated in the Elephant Room right in front of the large animated elephant figures. Right next to Bob on a small wall at eye level was a baby alligator that growled and flexed its jaws. A small cloud of fog floated across the table every few minutes. The thunderstorm effects were great and seemed to come every 15-20 minutes.

    I am sorry that I did not write down our server's name, as she was very efficient and friendly. We had checked over the sample menu posted on Deb's web site, and the menus handed us were very close to the samples with a salad section added as well as the specialty drinks.

    Bob got a Monty Python, more due to the name than the contents. He did not like it, but Marie loved the virgin Strawberry Daiquiri. We got an order of Waffle Fries (Fresh waffle cut potatoes, deep fried and seasoned $3.50).

    Bob does not like to experiment that much with food. He ordered the Paradise Pizza (Fontina, Parmesan, romano and mozzarella cheeses, fresh basil and marinara sauce $8.95) and asked that the fresh basil be held on it. Go figure!

    Marie selected the Chicken Monsoon (Grilled cajun style chicken breast piled high on top of fresh cooked linguine and topped with our fabulous shrimp and corn salsa $9.95). She got the sails on the side. The linguine was tossed with a garlic sauce.

    Pat chose a China Island Chicken Salad (not on the sample menu. So, I do not have a description at around $10-11.00). But it was very tasty and huge.

    I decided to really go wild and order something different. It was hard to choose. I tried the Jamaica Me Crazy (Blacked pork chops, dusted with Jamaican and Cajun seasonings, nestled on a bed of spicy red beans and rice and served with apple chutney $14.95). Oh, ya! Super!!!!!

    We were all very impressed with the huge portions and quality of the food. We passed around samples of all of the dishes so everybody could try them. The total bill before tip was $69.55, as we passed on the dessert tray. We were just too full! I would have to say that it was the best meal of this trip. Our server said she expected the wait for a table to be close to three hours by the end of the evening. So, we were extremely happy to have arrived so early. By the way, you can save a little money here by avoiding the specialty drinks and sticking with sodas or ice tea.

    We made the mandatory walk through of the gift shop and also walked through the Animation Store and book store. Bob checked out the Mattel store, and I noticed that several members of the Detroit Tigers were going to arrive shortly for personal appearances on a small staging area outside.

    The walk to Pleasure Island is very short. As we passed our cards through the readers there, they put "booze" wrist bands on Pat and I. We had downloaded the PI FAQ so we were familiar with the layout and which clubs we wanted to attend. By the way, you have to be 18 to go it alone there at night. Youngster are welcomed (everywhere except Mannequins) with parents. We noticed quite a few families present at all three clubs we attended. It does cost you the park admission fee if you want to be able to attend the clubs after 7:00. But, we just used our LOS passes.

    It was 6:45, and we were about tenth in line for the opening show at the Comedy Warehouse. The doors opened at 7:10 for the 7:20 show. We were seated at tables in the front row of the auditorium styled venue. A waitress came by right away. The drink menu cards on the tables listed their expensive ($5.00-8.00) beverages. We just got sodas at $1.50 each. They ask at every club, but we never felt pressured into ordering anything.

    The entertaining show was performed by a gifted troupe of comedians, who improvised several sketches. They also did a couple of planned routines, and one really did a number on Disney vacations and the costs involved.

    We walked across to the Adventurers' Club, in the door and down into the main salon where the cast was improvising with the guests seated at the bar and in overstuffed chairs. Be sure to pick up a "Permanent Members Guide" with bios of the CM's as well as the show schedules.

    Briefly, there were seven performers present, and they flowed in and out of rooms and the salon. I must say that they kept in character very well and were good at improvising with the customers. Before the first official show, we did become club members (oath, song and club salute).

    We had read that the Library show was the best. So, we positioned ourselves close to those closed doors. When invited inside, we got a front row table. Guess what? They came by to take drink orders. Pat and I got sodas, again.

    There were two shows presented in the Library. Both interacted with the audience and carried on with running jokes that had started in the other room (those poor people from Arkansas and New Jersey!). The cast was hilarious, and all fit their characters exactly. We had read that they often switch roles on various nights.

    The first show ended, and it was announced that they were going live on radio for a fundraiser if we wanted to stay. This was a riot!!!!! The maid (stereotyped blonde, ditzy and in French maid outfit) named Gabby was hula dancing right in front of me (and tossing in a few suggestive moves). She paused and said, :"This is not doing a thing for you is it, sir?" I laughed and said my wife was at the table. She added, "Well, she's laughing!"

    Later, Hathaway Brown (the dashing club aviator) came up a romanced my wife, pulling her chair up to the front of the stage and offering her the number to his hotel room. They also grabbed one kid (birthday, I think) and pushed his chair all over the library. They also had other guests up and dancing on stage. If you happen to be a hair deprived male, watch out! They were really doing a number on one poor gentleman.

    We really enjoyed the Adventurers' Club. You really could spend all evening in there by just returning to the main salon after each show. I expect that all shows are different, plus they improvise much of the time.

    By the way, at both places the comedy may be a little "adult" at times.

    We felt that most of it went over the heads of the younger kids. Our teens "got it" all and were laughing as loud as the adults (We felt there was nothing presented that was any worse than most prime time sitcoms.....it was just funnier!). They really had a good time at both clubs.

    Marie wanted to check out the Neon Armadillo. The band was on break. So, we walked the streets and watched one of the bands at a street stage until the 10:00 set was starting at the NA.

    The band was very good. The club is quite small, and the dance floor also smaller than you'd expect from the TV ads. They had a couple of employees who would come out and dance when nobody was on the floor. This got things going, and the crowd joined in. They also did a dance lesson. A couple of college-aged ladies in the audience got up and tore the place up with their choreographed, fast-footed dancing. They were a lot of fun to watch.

    Around 11:00 we decided to leave, as we had been up since 6:00. So, we did not do the New Year's Eve. As my cold was acting up, we stopped by Goodings. Their prices were a little high, but not that out of line. We got some OJ, cold stuff and some Pop Tarts for Bob along with a little hard candy.

    Pleasure Island can easily take up your whole evening. There were four clubs we did not visit. Plus, there are quite a few shops and a couple of outdoors stages. My advice for families is to get there for the first shows. Things open up at 7:00 for the most part. So, it would not be too early to be in the park and ready to line up at 6:30. You can also avoid most of the "drinking crowd" if you arrive early.

    Discovery Island:

    Located in the middle of Bay Lake, you can see Discovery Island from the WL, Contemporary or Ft. Wilderness. It is easily accessed by boat. When we were there, the small blue flag boat ran the course from the WL to Contemporary to DI to Ft. Wilderness every few minutes. It also makes for a relaxing boat ride, and we saw several people who were just riding the boat and not getting off at any particular destination. The island is only 11 acres big, but it boasts over 100 species of animals and 250 of plants.

    After parasailing on Wednesday (Day Two) and making arrangements to have our luggage stored until our new bunk bed room was ready, we took the boat over to DI and passed our cards through at the turnstiles.

    We were just in time for the 11:00 Reptiles Relations show. It was enjoyable, and the small crowd made it easy to see everything. The show area is quite small, which was nice. We were going to hit the Bird Show, but our touring time hit right in the middle of a two-hour break between shows. So, we did not see it.

    It was very enjoyable to walk the trails and pause to watch different animals. The island is attractively landscaped. You really feel like you are away from it all.

    I realize that it may be a little more hectic if crowded, but I overheard the CM at the gate say over the phone that only 600 people had been through the gate at the time we left. So, we often almost felt alone at times as we stopped to watch different birds.

    Concessions are available. There was a hammock on the beach area, and Bob plopped down into it for a rest. Marie snuck up and swung him up high. There is a nice view of the WL and Ft. Wilderness from the beach.

    DI is a very good place for videotaping and photography. You are quite close to the animals in many areas, and their colors do make for some good photo opportunities.

    The boats leave every 15 minute or so, and you can spend as much or as little time on the island as you choose. If you are into birds and plants, I am sure you could spend several hours there. We were there a little over 2 hours before we left for the WL to get into the new room before we headed off to the Marketplace and PI for the evening.

    With your LOS or Hopper passes it is included and makes for a relaxing little getaway. Marie especially enjoyed photographing all of the birds. Pat and I enjoyed the quite little spots there. Bob, who is easily bored when there is no "action," took off to explore. Two hours was enough for him, but he hit the hammock and watched all of the boats and water sprites on the lake.

    Character Appearances:

    I don't care how old you are, part of the Disney experience and magic is getting to meet some of the characters throughout WDW. It seemed to us that character appearances were a little more controlled and orchestrated this year than they were during the previous trip. I am sure there are several reasons for this trend, including safety for the CM's inside the suits as well as crowd control. I am also pretty sure that this control offers guests a little better chance at both seeing the characters and also getting a moment with them for autographs and pictures without being trampled too much in the process. It may nor be quite as spontaneous as before from the guests' standpoint, though.

    Character Greetings brochures were available at the MK (I have both a red, green and black version as well as a full color one). Also, the park maps included information on appearances.

    In the MK Mickey's Toontown Fair offers all-day greetings. Mickey is in the Judge's Tent (with a long line the evening we walked by), and various characters are in the Hall of Fame building that also includes (wonder of wonders) a huge gift shop.

    As noted elsewhere, we did the Villain's Room at the Hall of Fame and got three visits in a short period of time. They only allow so many people in the room at a time. So, you do get a little bit better more time and quality of character attention. Be sure to ham it up with the characters if you want more than just a quick signature and picture. Ariel's Grotto is new since last year and is in Fantasyland around the old 20,000 Leagues lagoon. This runs from 10:00 a.m. to park closing. I wonder how many different Ariel's work the grotto during a typical day. Lines vary throughout the day.

    The Fantasyland Character Festival is also close by right across from Toad's, but it was not open in the evening. Also, The Mad Tea Party is presented several times each day.

    Along Main Street in Town Square there is Minnie's Main Street Memories, and three shows were listed during the mornings in the brochure. Tour Guide Gardens next to City Hall is also listed for several time slots. We did not experience either of these, though.

    In Adventureland the Character Cabana across from the Treehouse has greeting times. We did see from a distance characters in the Splash Mountain Courtyard by the exit to the attraction. That had both morning and afternoon times listed.

    As mentioned in our MK section, several Riverboat Character Cruises are offered during the day. This was an excellent and controlled greeting area. It gave a small group of people excellent, quality character time. Get on the boat early. As soon a crowd of people saw characters boarding, they mobbed the gangplank. Many did not get on. When we went back and rode again a few minutes later, there were no characters aboard. So, ask the CM on the dock about them.

    By the way, this MK brochure also had the Easter Parade times listed as March 23, 29 and 30 at 2:00 as well as the daily Remember The Magic parade at the same time every day except on the Easter Parade days.

    Character greeting tips were presented on the back of the full color brochure. Also, character dining opportunities were listed (Crystal Palace, King Stephan's and Liberty Tree Tavern).

    Also, there are shows on the stage in front of the Castle daily. They are not autograph sessions. But, you can see characters there.

    In the EPCOT park map Character Dining was listed as three time blocks in the Garden Grill. The American Adventure Shows on the outdoor stage areas were listed (intermittently from 11:15-5:15). On Monday, Tuesday and Saturday at the American Gardens Theater there is a Character Carnival.

    Various World Showcase times are listed daily around the lake, and Sport Goofy and others appear at Pure and Simple in Wonders of Life at various times.

    The Centorium had character greetings listed from 6-9:00 p.m. As mentioned in our EPCOT section, a bus load of characters appeared at 6:00 p.m. in the Plaza Towers area. Look for signs in the hub area around the fountain.

    In the Studios park map the Animation Courtyard was the only place listed for characters. Last year we encountered a large group of characters on the street near where 101 Dalmatians is now. This is not listed in the brochure, however, and we do not know if it is still a greeting area.

    Of course, there is Character Dining everywhere. We did the Chef Mickey's CB and also the Crystal Palace CD, which are reviewed in the other sections of this report. As a comparison, I think the overall amount of time and quality of the character interaction last year at the meals was quite a bit better than this year's experience. I do not know if it was due to picking busier places or just that the characters were giving more time to the younger kids. At both places this year we did get visits from all characters present, and they did pose and sign. But, they did not goof around as much as last year. Maybe they just had too many tables to cover.

    Unless your timing is pretty lucky, plan on standing in lines of some sorts to get to characters in greeting areas. Also, please be aware that the characters are limited to so many minutes out in the crowds before they have to retire to rest and collect their sanity. Some people may be left in line when that happens. But, we have found the characters to be as accommodating as possible, even spending extra minutes greeting as a CM continues to motion them towards the door. This happened in Morocco as Marie made it up to Ali and the Princess just as they were leaving. They were gracious and took time to sign and pose as they walked off the set.

    So, just be patient. There are enough character appearances available.

    Just be aware of the times and places. As soon as a character appears, people come out of the woodwork.

    We have all seen the commercials and videos of Mickey greeting one little toddler who is taking his first steps and of Minnie giving private tours of her kitchen to just two kids. Well, in reality, folks, it ain't gonna happen unless you are extremely lucky. As soon as a character sticks his or her head out of the door, crowds form. You may be fortunate to hit them right as they appear or at a slow time, though.

    Offsite Trip To The Beach (Caladesi State Park):

    Last year we did Sea World, Universal Studios (where the motto is "Our lines are longer than WDW") and Kennedy Space Center. This year our only offsite day was going to be a trip to the ocean.

    We had planned for Cocoa Beach, but I was a little leery of the Spring Break crowds on the coast. Well, as we sat at the airport at home waiting for our flight to be jockeyed around due to weather, we got to talking to a family who was heading to Arizona. They had been to WDW before and mentioned that there was a great beach over by Clearwater and Dunedin at Caladesi State Park.

    So, we decided to head over to the gulf for the day (Saturday, which was Day Five) . We took the interstate over towards Clearwater and the causeway, which was quite scenic. We did get caught up in the downtown Clearwater traffic, especially down by the drawbridge and civic center. We wanted to get to the Clearwater Ferry Service. Nobody was at the building, because a tour was in progress. But, we grabbed a flyer.

    We discovered that we really wanted to be at their dock on Honeymoon Island Recreation Area at the west end of the Dunedin Causeway. It was a short and scenic drive once we got out of the downtown area.

    We pulled into the parking area ($4.00 per car), parked and caught the ferry ($4.00 per adult and $2.50 for children 3-12) over to the island. Caledesi State Park boasts three miles of white and uncrowded sandy beach, concessions, picnic areas, a 3-mile nature trail, etc. They do allow coolers, but I believe it is no alcohol. They also offer umbrella and chair rentals, but it was too windy on the day we were there.

    One good thing about the park is that they only allow you a maximum 4-hour visit so that they can plan on the ferry service especially at the end of the day. That was plenty for us midwesterners with untanned bodies.

    It was quite relaxing. I know there were quite a few people there, but the beaches are so long that it felt very uncrowded. The shell collecting was excellent, and the kids took the nature trails and saw quite a few animals. We even saw a couple of dolphins playing in the bay on the return trip to the park docks.

    You can get info by writing to Clearwater Ferry Service, Box 3335, Clearwater, Fl. 34630. Their fax is 813-446-4814. Phones are 813-442-7433 and 1-800-444-4814. They also offer 1 -2 hour Dolphin Encounter trips and Tarpon Springs "Sponge Docks" tours.

    It was a good trip. We returned to the interstate by driving through Dunedin towards the airport to avoid downtown Clearwater's traffic. It was around 2 hours of driving each way. The traffic on the interstate was a little heavy for a weekend, we thought. There were some construction areas, but nobody was working on Saturday. We arrived back at the WL with enough time to spare for a quick trip over to the MK.


    Under the category of "Guest Information Available" I should mention that WDW offers brochures on just about every locale and subject. Of course, there are the major parks maps and one for the water parks, DI, PI, Marketplace, etc. There are also info brochures available for the Institute, Boardwalk entertainment, EPCOT dining spots, transportation guides, character greeting guides, etc. We found quite a few of these pamphlets at the WL Guests Services desk during business hours. There were often pamphlets on the boat to MK, too.

    In our room at the WL was the newspaper-style WL Info Guide. There was also a full color World Update with hours for all parks, water parks, Boardwalk and church services. On the back was a Ticket Info guide with prices. Here are a few examples of the prices listed.....

    Length Of Stay Passes (LOS) available at participating WDW resorts- 5 nights/6 days $228.00 per adult and $183.00 per child plus tax:

    6 nights/7 days $252.00 and $202.00:

    7 nights/ 8 days $274.00 and $219.00:

    8 nights/9 days $294.00 and $235.00:

    World Hoppers-- 5 days $205.00 and $164.00 plus tax

    Park Hoppers-- 4 days $150.00 and $120.00 plus tax

    They noted that single day passes are $39.75 and $32.00. Kids' prices are for ages 3-9 years old.

    The New Annual Passes for the 3 main parks are $269.00 and $229.00. The Premium Annual Pass is good for the 3 main parks, water parks, DI and PI. They are $359.00 and $305.00. All prices are subject to change. They do include free parking!

    I looked for Cruise Line pamphlets, but did not find any sitting out anywhere. You can also sign up (at several locations) for timeshare tours. The Disney Institute pamphlet I picked up was just general info. The only price noted was that packages start at $499.00 per person (three nights with a one-day park pass).

    I do not think I kept as good of records on food purchases this time around. As noted, we averaged $65.00 per day for all food last year. This year I came up with an approximate average of around $70-75.00 per day total for the four of us. This takes into consideration that the CB at Chef Mickey's was on our flex features (value $68.03, including tip). I am certain that I may have missed a couple of RF food runs that were paid for in cash instead of being charged back to the room. I may have also missed a break for drinks in a park or ice cream bars, etc. But, this is a rough average.

    As an example, we charged back $116.17 at the Roaring Forks for food during our stay. This was mostly breakfasts and snacks, especially after returning at night. Of course, all of our drinks were free with last year's refillable mugs. As a rough guess considering that drinks can run $1.00-2.00 each, that saved us around $125.00 in drinks at the WL for the trip. That is using 3 drinks per day per person at $1.50 per drink average. I know that I always had more than three refills per day. But, that is a rough guide only.

    I may be mentioning meal costs in other parts of the report, but here are a few examples of meal costs. The Sunshine Season food court In EPCOT totaled $26.00 for the lunch there, and everybody headed off in different directions and got what they wanted.

    The total was $96.59 for Crystal Palace CD including tip for the four adult buffets.

    The Liberty Tree Tavern Lunch was $41.34, and the dinner of a hot dog basket and three double cheeseburger baskets was $25.66 at Pinnochio's in the MK.

    The Pizza Planet Lunch was $21.62 for four pizzas and drinks. Dinner at the Rainforest Cafe was $81.55, including tax, plus tip.

    On the non-food side, at Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe in the MK four Christmas ornaments totaled $30.73 ($3.99-8.00 each). My TOT T-shirt at the gift shop at the end of the ride was $18.00. Pat's Goofy Earrings were $5.50. Each of the kids bought a few little trinkets, but we did not buy any other bigger items this year. I was going to buy the two 25th Anniversary books, but they should be readily available at home and may even be discounted at the book stores here.

    Cast members were excellent in their attention to detail, friendliness and willingness to help out and answer questions. A bit tip of the hat to all of them for helping make the trip a success. Many were quite willing to talk, as time allowed, and tell stories about WDW and their experiences.

    Extra activities can get quite expensive. Parasailing and water sprites can add up fast. Some things are available free with your passes or resort. Check them out. Others may be available as flex features or with Food and Fun. Be sure to know what is free and what will cost extra. I am sure you can save some money if you plan to use these extra features quite a bit during your stay.

    Tipping was normally 15% or a little more. Some eateries include a note with your bill that suggests 17%. We normally tipped around a dollar per bag for hauling the luggage around and $2.00 for the valet parking attendants at the WL. They really are on the go all of the time. I know we could have saved $10-12.00 by parking the car ourselves, but the valet parking sure was nice!

    I also tipped housekeeping on the first night for the extra pillows. On two mornings I left $5.00 on the mirror for housekeeping, but they did not take it. So, I was sure to leave a tip when we left for home. By the way, housekeeping on several mornings did little extra things to our room. One day the Goofy caps were tucked into bed like they were Goofy's head peeking out from under the blankets. Another morning they arranged our toothbrushes and wash clothes in the drinking glasses like a flower bouquet.

    Crowd levels were really less than I had expected considering that Easter was a week earlier this year than last visit. The CM's I questioned agreed that it was a little light. They really expected things to explode on Monday the 24th for Easter Week, and it did!

    Now, light crowds at this time of year does not mean that you have WDW to yourselves. The WL was running at 100% occupancy, as an example.

    What it does mean is that with planning you can beat the lines. Our average wait for the week was probably 10 minutes. We had many walkons, but we also had a few 30 minute waits. We did see our share of 60 minute waits. We avoided those lines and hit the short lines. If it is your first time at WDW, follow the Unofficial Guide's touring plans. If you are experienced at the parks, then you may feel at ease navigating them by the seats of your pants.

    Our favorite attractions at the parks vary among us, and it would be too hard to list everything. Personally, I like the blend of the old and the new attractions. It gives WDW a fresh feel, but it still preserves the history and traditions of the concepts Walt had in mind when he set out to build WDW.

    Sure, Horizons and Carousel Of Progress may seem a little dated to some of you. But, I really enjoy them. They are a tradition and bring to mind the sense of the past, present and future that were the reality when they were designed. I sure hope that there is always a place at WDW for tradition as well as the new rides.

    Walt wanted to build a place where parents and kids could both enjoy the attractions. I think that the mix is still there even though some new things are high tech like 3-D and things like AE in the MK. I enjoy both the old and the new. It makes me wonder what they are going to come up with next!

    Again, the WL is great. We love the decor, the location, the CM's, etc.

    Disney really had it all together when they built and staffed this one. As noted, noise was not a problem. I do think that room location may contribute to any noise problems that others have experienced as well as your neighbors down the hall. We tend to like the woods view rooms instead of the pool view rooms. Having a room opening into the lobby did not seems to cause any additional noise to speak of.

    WDW 's transportation system gets a big "A" on its report card. Things ran very smoothly for us. I would say the average wait for a boat or bus was less than 10 minutes. Of course, it all depends on when you walk up to the dock or bus stop.

    Our list of Favorite Quiet Spots at WL and the parks includes several little nooks at the WL with stuffed chairs and fireplaces or rocking chairs. Sitting on the beach there is also quite restful, especially late at night.

    If you look in the parks, there are quite a few little resting places where you can sit down with a cup of coffee or cold drinks and watch all of the activities. We always seemed to be able to find a spot when we needed one.

    A lot has been written about favorite spots to view parades and fireworks and Illuminations. We have tried several spots for all of them now. If you just have to get a spot along Main Street in the MK for a parade or fireworks, please note that people are claiming their spots up to two hours before the event. We have had pretty good luck in the Liberty Square section of the MK for parades. We especially like the spot in front of the Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe by the bridge for Spectromagic. The castle is in the background as the floats come across the bridge. Generally, it is easier to get a spot there than at the hub or on Main Street.

    In planning a spot for Illuminations you may want to check the wind direction as quite a bit of smoke is generated by the spectacle.

    Several things we did not get to this trip included a trip to Typhoon Lagoon (swimming with the sharks), touring several of the other resorts, visiting the Institute, and visiting the Boardwalk. Pat and I would have enjoyed touring the World Showcase shops more. In fact we did very little shopping (or browsing) anywhere due to time constraints. We all would have liked to have spent more time at the Marketplace and also walked through Planet Hollywood and more of the PI clubs.

    We also wanted to have a bottle of wine on the WL beach or in the hot tub, but we were just too pooped when we got back at night! Even a day just hanging out at the WL would be fun. We would also like to be flag family at the WL some morning and take the tour that includes the WL kitchen areas and smokehouse.

    There is always too much to do at WDW. I think we could stay there for a month and not get to everything. So, maybe we better get on with planning the next trip!
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