Thursday, July 31st
Our trip didn't start out so well. We left Suffern, at 8:30 in the morning. By the time we got to Newark, the car starting running hot. I drove with the window open and one eye on the temperature gauge. We made it as far as Delaware before the needle went all the way to the right. We saw a Holiday Inn from the road and got directed to the Wilmington Airport where we were told we could find a place to rent a car. Since we had to be in Lorton by 3:30 to catch the auto train, we couldn't wait for the car to be fixed, so we left the car at the airport and rented a Bonneville from National. Thank goodness for MKC discounts. It was already 1:00 when we left, but made it to Lorton with time to spare.
This is the second time we've taken the auto train, but the first time we've taken sleeping car accommodations. The rooms were nice, small but comfortable. Two chairs facing each other folded down to form one bed. The second bed dropped down from above. Since we arrived relatively late, the only dinner seating available was for 9:00, so we opted to eat in our room. I think it worked out better, since we were able to dine in private. Our steward brought us our salad and drinks first, then our main course later (unlike room service in a hotel, where they bring it to you all at once and you pray that it doesn't get cold.)
There is a 120-volt outlet in each room, which allowed us to watch our little 9-inch TV we brought with us, until 10:30 and then we turned in for the night. We had video tapes with us, but the reception wasn't too bad, if we had to rely on broadcast TV. Just don't get too involved in hour long shows.
One last thing. I'm a big guy, but I found the sleeping accommodations to be quite comfortable. I slept very well.
Friday, August 1st
I woke up at 6:20am and Judy woke up (with a little help from me) at 7:45. It was raining out. We ate breakfast in the dining car and Judy tried the onboard showers. We arrived in Sanford at 11:00am, 2 hours behind schedule.
We drove to Old Key West to check in. They are doing a lot of construction off exit 25B and I got confused. I have to remember that it's better off to get off at exit 27 and approach Old Key West from Crossroads.
Despite what we heard about the change in the check in procedures, registration went smoothly. When we got there, the line was almost to the door, but it looked worse than it was and we only had to wait five minutes. A CM was walking up the line, to help facilitate the process. I had requested building 40 or 42 and got room 4010, which turned out to be a great location, since it was halfway to the pool and the Turtle Pond bus stop.
After checking in, we grabbed a bite at Olivia's. I asked our server, Jerry, about the rumors of changing Olivia's to a food court. He assured us this was not to happen, that they heard the same rumors, but were told by management that they weren't true. They are planning changes, but these were a few years out. While eating, one of the managers came to talk to us more about the changes. Fran said that over the years, they've been making band aid changes and were not operating as productively as they could be. There are plans for changes, but she also said that it was at least a year off, more likely three, and it was going to come from a higher level if it did happen. She alluded to the possibility of modeling it after some new kind of restaurant in Toronto, something that's never been done in Disney before. Btw, for the record my wife had a luncheon combo of half of a tuna pita, conch soup (although, I had her conch soup) and salad. I had the special which was sliced prime rib rolled up in a tortilla shell with red and green peppers and cheddar cheese.
We took a little walk after unpacking, then drove to the Publix on Rte. 192 to pick up supplies (thanks to the tip from Cathy Preacher.) We ate dinner at Pizzeria Uno in Crossroads and then caught "Air Force One" at the AMC Theaters. Did you know you can get a discount if you're DVC and/or MKC members? I didn't, but since I always ask, just in case, I saved $2.00. You also can use your movie tickets to get discounted entry into Pleasure Island. Our tickets cost us $25.35 for two, which I was told was the best of the discounts you could get. Don't forget, if you don't want to do Pleasure Island the same night, you can always use these tickets at another time. Btw, if you've never been to those theaters, try them. The most enjoyable movie experience I've ever had - wide screen, excellent sound system and super comfortable seats, including a tiered section with high back rests. I just wish they could recline a little.
Saturday, August 2nd
This was the first trip, where I did only minimal advance planning, mostly priority seatings for lunch or dinner. That was built around a day at MGM and a day at EPCOT and the rest spent by the pool, or taking advantage of some of the other activities at Old Key and the rest of WDW. But, we checked how many days were left on each of our five Four Day World Hoppers, and found we had only used one day on each. So, we decided to spend more times in the parks, going at a leisurely pace and only riding attractions that didn't require long waits. Since I aspire to the theory that one goes to one of the two parks that doesn't have a surprise morning, we decided to do EPCOT today.
We woke up at 7:00 and were at the park by 9:00. We walked right onto The Listen To The Land ride. It's funny, I've ridden that maybe five times but there's always something new. I never noticed the misty spray we got hit with in the beginning. Afterwards, we went to the Circle Of Life. We skipped Food Rocks, since I can honestly say it's one of the few exhibits I truly dislike. I miss Kitchen Kabaret.
We then went to Journey Into Imagination for Honey, I Shrunk The Audience. I have to say this was one of the most exuberant audiences ever. They really got into it. From there, we headed to World Showcase. We tried to see Oh! Canada, but the film was temporarily closed due to technical difficulties. So, on we went to Impressions de France, after which we had a snack at the French Bakery. We split an eclair and raspberry cheesecake.
At that point, we saw the Friendship II pulling into the dock by Morocco, so we decided to grab it and head back to OKW for a swim. On the way out of World Showcase, we checked if Oh! Canada was showing, which it was, so we decided to catch it first.
Back in Future World, I noticed that the ride board posted a 30 minute wait for Spaceship Earth, but when we passed it, there was no line at all, so we took another detour and got on. Again, the one thing I love about coming back, is the things you didn't notice before, like where the boy is teleconferencing with his Japanese friend and they're both speaking English. The when the next scene shows the girl teleconferencing with the boy, they're both speaking Japanese, implying some kind of translator was being used. I also never remembered the virtual class trip, where the cars turn backwards before beginning their descent. I'm not saying they weren't there before, I just never noticed them.
After Spaceship Earth, we finally got back to OKW for an hour swim. At 4:00, we grabbed the bus to MK, in order to catch the monorail to the Contemporary for dinner at Chef Mickey's. It started to rain while we were on the bus and it caught up to us again while we were walking to the Monorail. Dinner, was good and as usual, I ate too much <g> They added something new to the dessert portion, a make your own cupcakes for the kids.
It was still raining when we finished at 6:30, so we hopped the monorail, intending to go to MK. But, when it was apparent that this was not a typical Florida rain, we decided to go back to EPCOT, where things were closer and more of the attractions were indoors. We visited Universe of Energy. I hate it when people don't pay attention to the "no flash photography" rule, as some guy took pictures of the dinosaurs. We then did Horizons as our last stop for the night. When we got out, it was 8:50, so we decided to see if we could get a good spot for Illuminations 25, figuring the rain would cut the crowd down (it didn't). We found a spot by the entrance into World Showcase on the Canada side, and even though some trees partially blocked our view, we got a decent view. We were also up wind, which cut down on our visibility, but for only waiting five minutes, it wasn't so bad. We got back to OKW by and turned in for the night.
Sunday, August 3rd
This was one day I intended to take advantage of early entry, to ride TOT. We took longer than expected getting out and didn't get to MGM until 8:30. By then the ride board was showing a 90 minute wait for TOT. The moral of the story is if you really want to take advantage of early entry, getting to the park before the opening is key. Since I didn't feel like waiting 90 minutes, we walked over to Muppet Vision 3D and caught that show. From there we grabbed the Backstage Tour. They have a new house on residential street - George of the Jungle's tree house, but the tour is pretty much the same as it was when we took it in December.
Afterwards, we checked out Superstar Television, but since it was already close to the 10:10 show, and they had picked half the stars, we went to the new ABC Saturday Mornings show. Formerly Monster Sound Show, the new show was based on a scene from ABC's new 101 Dalmatians cartoon. I liked the old Chevy Chase film better, since it seemed funnier when the sound effects were out of synch with the film. Also, the human characterizations are naturally more funny and better suited to the idea of this attraction.
Back to Superstar Television for the 10:50 show. I went up front and got picked to be the newscaster, after flashing my best Ted Knight smile. I think I was most impressed that they had a jacket my size. Judy preferred to stay behind in the audience to watch. I love how the CMs all make you feel like a star. I bet they tell even the worst performer what a great job they did <g>.
We came out in time to see people lined up for the Zero to Hero parade and found a spot along the tape to settle into with only five minutes to go. Not bad timing. I had decided that I wasn't going to bother to wait for any of the parades, especially because they take place in the middle of the day when it's the hottest, and we didn't have the kids with us. But, we ended up seeing most of them, because we always seemed to time things just right.
It was 11:45 now, so we then walked to the Backstage Theater for the 12:30 first showing of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Getting there forty minutes early isn't as bad as it sounds, when you consider that you get seated well before the show starts and there is a little pre show before hand, as a juggler warms up the crowd. Either way, during busy times, to be guaranteed decent seats, you should be on line 30 minutes before show time. As the lines fed in, we cut across the middle row and got great aisle seats right at the edge of the runway. It's a good suggestion to go to the other side as everyone fills in the near side rows first. So even if you're not near the front of the line, you can get pretty good seats.
We then caught "The Making of George and the Jungle", a good middle of the day show to rest and cool off to. When we got out, we still had time to kill before our 3:45 priority seating at Mama Melrose, so first we walked over to TOT, planning to just go to the shop to buy a T-shirt we owed our oldest daughter from our December trip. But, the wait for TOT was only 30 minutes, so we took the opportunity to ride it. Maybe my memory is failing, but it seems that each of the three times I've ridden TOT, the drops were different. This time, there were three drops. the first after you see the gray walls, then one after the doors open out to MGM and one more after that. Either way, I enjoyed this ride the most, since my heart was no longer in my throat as it was on the two previous times and I was able to observe more of what was going on. Next time, I'm going to try the penny trick.
It was getting close to our reservations, so we headed over to Mama Melrose. We got there 30 minutes early, but still were seated within five minutes. I had the Aunt Maria's Oak Grilled Chicken with a Caesar's Salad and Judy had the Grandma Grace's bottomless pasta bowl, for which she still needed to take back a doggie bag, and a house salad.
We had to go back to our room to wait for a call from our kids. They didn't call until 9 (we were expecting the call at 7, which had us climbing the walls <g> After which there was still time to head back to MK for a few quick rides.
On our trip to MK, we got Dawna D, the singing bus driver. She led the bus in all the popular Disney classics, and for those of us who didn't know the words, she was more than happy to teach us. We arrived at MK at 10, just in time for the fireworks. We stood in the middle of Main Street, which is probably one of the best viewing spots there is. Then, we went against crowds to Liberty Square and walked right onto Haunted Mansion. From there, we went to Frontierland and waited forty minutes for Splash Mountain. This is the one attraction I have yet to find a good time to ride, without getting up early and racing the younger kids for. After Splash Mountain, we had to wait for Spectromagic to pass by and stopped at Pirates of the Caribbean for last ride on the way out. Got Dawna again as our bus driver on the ride back, but I think everyone was too pooped to join in with her singing.
Monday, August 4th
Today was a much needed lazy day. We slept late and then spent the day at Storm-a-long Bay at the Y&BC. A white fence has recently been put up to limit access to the pool, leaving only four entry points. Our DVC membership gained us access. I can see where guests might find it a bit inconvenient, but when you trade it off to having more chairs and lounges available for use, I think it's a small price to pay. The only thing I noticed was that the men's room by Hurricane Hannah's was outside of the perimeter. My stamp had washed off, so I was questioned when trying to reenter. We found a cabana with two empty chaises beneath it and settled into them.
After swimming, we went back to the room to shower and get dressed and went to Pleasure Island, using the tickets we bought Friday night. We had dinner at Planet Hollywood, using our DVC membership to get priority seating, which meant we just got to bypass the line. We were seated within ten minutes. I ordered the Combination Fajitas and Judy had the Gardenburger. We both had house salads that were served on these triangle shaped plates. I love fajitas, but the sure are messy. Judy enjoyed the veggie burger, which was huge.
We used the tickets we bought Friday night to go into Pleasure Island and got on line for the first show at the Comedy Warehouse. Pleasure Island is a little disorganized when it opens, since some entry points open earlier than others and we couldn't get on line without our bracelets. I love improv. We sat next to a family who were lucky enough to be next to the phone. If you've been there, you'll understand, If you haven't, I don't want to ruin your fun. Then we went to the Adventurers Club, where I made my wife stay through two shows in the library and one each in the mask room and the treasure room. I could stay there all night. Kungaloosh! But, we finally left at around 11, walked around and spent some money on the games and walked over to the west stage for New Year's eve, then left with the crowd.
Tuesday, August 5th
I woke Judy up after attending the DVC open house continental breakfast. We got to MK at 11 and took the train around once, then got off at Toontown Fair. We walked around a bit, passing up the line to meet Mickey <g> then walked over to Tomorrowland. We first saw Timekeeper and stood in the back for a better view. Everyone gravitates towards the middle, but I'm convinced that the 360 degree films are enjoyed better when you can see as much of the film as possible without having to keep turning around.
Next we went to Dreamflight. You know the park is crowded when there's any kind of line on Dreamflight and the Tomorrowland Transportation Authority which we did after first going to Carousel of Progress. Granted they were short waits, but lines none the less.
We grabbed a snack after that. I finally got to try one of those famous smoked turkey legs. Despite going to MK for my seventh time, I still sometimes get disoriented, and I got confused trying to find the Plaza Pavilion. In walking around, we passed one of those carts selling the colorful bouncing balls. A CM tossed one at me and having caught my attention, we stopped to chat. It turns out that Jeremy was a Venezuelan student intern from the Univ of Georgia. He worked for Guest Relations as a Portugese facilitator, although he spoke four other languages. To me, he had the perfect job. He roamed the parks making himself available to guests for questions. He told me that his manager's only advice to him was to have fun. We chatted for about 30 minutes. As it was getting near parade time and I wanted to get out of the park before the parade started, we started to say good-bye. Jeremy told us he wanted to do something special for us. Before we knew it, we were being whisked through the crowd to the spoke connecting the hub to Liberty Square, which was now roped off and empty, save for a few CMs looking official. Jeremy spoke to one CM and then announced we were going to watch the parade from here, which was the VIP viewing area. There were four benches lined up, so we settled in for what really was a special treat. We found out we were watching it with the VP of Austria and his family. Too bad I don't speak Austrian.
After the parade, we said our good-byes and headed out of the park, stopping at City Hall to fill out a comment form for Jeremy.
Dinner was at Artist Point, so we drove to the Wilderness Lodge. Dinner was excellent I had the Sausage Sampler and Roast American Buffalo Sirloin. Judy had the Lodge Salad and Vegetable Plate, which may sound ordinary, but was like no vegetable plate she ever had. It's interesting how observant CMs can be. A bird dirtied our window while we were eating. I would never have thought of mentioning it to anyone, but next thing we new, one of the servers were outside the window, cleaning it up. Our server had noticed it and had it taken care of. Fortunately, there was a balcony there that made it easy to reach this window.
We drove to the Contemporary and parked, then grabbed the monorail back to MK. We worked our way around, starting at the Grand Prix Raceway, to Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, Snow White's Adventure, It's A Small World and the Haunted Mansion (again). No where did we wait longer than 10 minutes, except for the raceway, which was a long 20 minute wait <g> This time I convinced Judy not to close the park, so we walked through Frontierland and Adventureland and boarded the Jungle Cruise which had a zero wait. We were back in the room by an early 11:00.
Wednesday, August 6th
Hidden Treasures Tour
The day started outside EPCOT at Guest Relations, where we met our tour guide, David. David has been a CM for 7 years, starting in MK at the Grand Prix before moving to Guest Relations and running tours for the Disney Institute.
We walked to the top of the World Showcase, where David did his introduction. There were 10 of us on the tour, Connie and her daughter Katie, from Minnesota, Florence and her mother Dorothy from Philadelphia, Stephen and Rosemary from Malaysia, and a couple from Poughkeepsie, NY.
We had a big advantage going in, since we would have the WS to ourselves for the first part of the tour. David told us how American Adventure was supposed to be at the entrance to the WS, but since they wanted to make it Colonial in style, it would not make a good transition from Future World, so they moved it to the opposite end. But, that is why Canada and Mexico are the first pavilions on either side, since, as our neighbors to the north and south, it would have made sense.
We worked around WS starting from Mexico. We learned about forced perspective and how things are made to look taller than they really are. we learned about "weenies" things that draw you to them from far away and how the tallest point on each pavilion is no higher than five stories. Mexico's night theme reflects the lifestyle of the country, where everything shuts down from noon until 4:00. And, did you know that Illuminations is controlled from the top of Mexico?
Next was Norway, where we learned about the Stav Churches. At this point we were taken backstage, where we went to cosmetology and the wardrobe area. And we saw the "normal" backs of the buildings. We came back on-stage through China, right where the movie exits in the market area. David talked about the symbolism of the colors red and gold, the dragon and the phoenix, and the shapes representing the earth (square) and heavens (round.)
In Germany, David taught us how the shops are either themed to the merchandise, or the merchandise themed to the architecture of the shop.
Italy was going to be a ride themed around its famous art, but the government was afraid of it hurting its tourist trade, so those plans were scratched. Interesting to note that where Italy was afraid of hurting tourist trade, tourism in China increased dramatically after EPCOT opened. We didn't spend much time at American Adventure, since it was assumed that we knew our own culture. But again, we were shown how forced perspective made things look smaller, or bigger than they really were. In this case, eight foot doors and large windows, turned a five story colonial structure into a two story building.
We contrasted the openness of China to the stricter purpose of Japan, and talked about how Japan borrowed from other cultures to define its own culture, before closing its doors to the world for centuries during the Shogun period.
Morocco was our lunch stop at Marrakesh. At the beginning of the tour we were asked if anyone was vegetarian, which Judy and David both were. The were given the vegetable couscous platters. We had what seemed to be a combination of the Night in Casablanca and the Sultan's Sampler - Roast lamb meshoui, chicken brochette and beef kefta. It was served with yellow rice and vegetable couscous. I think the dessert was the Helwa from the description in the menu.
Back on our feet, we went to France and once again, went backstage where we saw for the first time that the facades maintained the theme of the country. Why? Because when the Y&B Club were built, the backs could be seen from the hotel and an adjustment had to be made.
In the UK (not England!) we again saw how the shops reflected the architectures through different periods, from Ann Hathaway's thatched roof cottage to modern times.
In Canada, we ducked backstage at the bottom of the stairs approaching Oh! Canada, to see how the illusion of the Canadian Rockies was created.
All in all it was a wonderful experience. Exhausting, since we were constantly on the go, but wonderful. David promised even us veterans a few "I didn't know that's" and he stopped counting at 10. Btw, he also does the Backstage Magic tour and if you ever take it, I hope you get David as a tour guide.
David said good-bye to us at the pathway to Futureworld and left us on our own to find our way out <g>. Judy and I were pretty bushed at this point, so we walked to Wonders of Life where we sipped ice teas while enjoying the Anatomical Players and caught Cranium Command before going back to OKW for a swim.
Thursday, August 7th
Our last day. We decided to try and catch up with anything we missed, so we first headed to MGM. It was 10 when we got there, so I figured we'd get on line for the 11:00 showing of Indiana Jones. But, when we got there, people were still filling in for the 10:00 show and we were able to find seats all the way in the front on the extreme right. There really are no bad seats and except for the first scene, we could see everything clearly.
We exited ahead of the crowd and got to Star Tours to find nobody on line. This makes a big difference, since the line fills up very fast as people exiting Indian Jones naturally gravitate toward Star Tours. When we got out, I had thoughts of seeing Beauty and the Beast, but the next show wasn't until 12:15 and the TOT line was out into the street, so we decided to head over to EPCOT. I'll have to try the penny trick another time.
We walked thru Innoventions on the way to Journey Into Imagination and I stopped to try the Virtual Raceway, sponsored by Sega. This is an added attraction that has a separate $4 charge, but it was fun. Mario Andretti, I'm not.
We walked onto Journey Into Imagination, but halfway thru, the ride stopped, much longer than one would expect it would take to allow a wheelchair on. After about 10 minutes, CMs showed in our section of the ride, looking at something and then asked us to get out of the cars. This was the first time I ever had to walk off a Disney attraction. I've been on line for rides that stopped running, but was never on a ride that stopped working while I was on it.
We grabbed a snack at the Land. What a difference the time of day makes, the line for the Land Ride was at least 30 minutes long! We then spent the afternoon in Innoventions, something we never had time for because we were always rushing from ride to ride.
Dinner was at Cape May. We walked to the Beach Club from EPCOT. We were in for a special treat. Beside the usual buffet items, they were trying out a new dessert presentation. We were warned that whatever was out at the buffet would not be replaced, so it was funny to watch everyone hitting the desserts before the rest of the buffet. The new dessert menu will be in effect next week and our server told us that they were considering keeping Cape May open after dinner for only dessert and an appropriate price.
After dinner we grabbed the boat back to EPCOT. Since it was already 8:00, we found a bench between France and Morocco and relaxed for an hour, waiting for Illuminations 25. It was a pretty good spot, much better than the other night, only the fountains were a little obscured by one of the islands.
Upon exiting, we caught the boat back to the Y&BC, then switched to the boat for MGM. I find this an easier way to get back to Old Key West than walking all the way out from World Showcase. We had an extra treat as the fireworks went off on our way over and we had a spectacular seat for it, as we were sitting in the front seat next to the driver. We were able to watch the finish while walking to the bus. If you've never tried it, the view from outside MGM is a pretty good one.