Our "party" included myself and my wife (hereinafter referred to as SWMBO: She Who Must Be Obeyed). Both of us are about one year older than Disneyland. We grew up in Southern California going to Disneyland so often we lost count. Now living in Tennessee, this is our seventh visit to WDW. Disney nuts? Yup, guilty as charged!
This is a long one (I don't know how to shut up without an editor to scream at me), and is organized by day. Please note spoiler warnings:
Day 0: Anticipation
Day 1: Eventually, Patient Come Out Thrilled
Day 2: Rediscovering the Magic (Kingdom)
Day 3: Lights! Camera! Sunscreen!
Day 4: Backstage Magic -- SPOILER!
Day 5: The Good, The Bad, and The Yummy
Day 6: OT: Kennedy Space Center
Day 7: Drink Up, Me Hearties, Yo Ho!
Day 8: The Really, Truly, Rotten Bad Day -- SPOILER!
Day 9: Downtown Disney Westside--A First Look
Day 10: Fireworks, plus OT Job Hunting in Paradise
Day 11: Rustic Dining, plus OT Busch Gardens
Day 12: AG Day
Day 13-16: Intermission
Day 17: Pixie Dust Power Loading
Day 18: A Medicine for Melancholy
Day 19: Home and Comments
Day 1, Saturday 13 September 1997. Eventually, Patient Come Out Thrilled.
We made it! Visit #7 has officially begun with our traditional breakfast of cinnamon pecan croissants at the Fountain View Cafe in Epcot.
Why Epcot for our first day? Well, it's the "Early Entry Mornings Rule". If staying on-property, go for the Early Entry Park. If staying off-property, go for the Park that had Early Entry the day before. Makes sense to me!
Now mind you, I'm not complaining, but this trip just feels a little weird. We have two weeks down here this time, and the feeling of pressure to *do* this or *go* on that or *see* something else just isn't manifesting itself. If there's a line, we just wander on to something else. It's more than just having an AP in your pocket, it's having *time* in there, too. Strange feeling. Remind me to tell y'all if I still have it at the end of the visit.
Test Track is dead. I tend to believe that the November date is probably no good either. Journey to Imagination is still going strong, and the attraction doesn't look to much in need of refurbishment, it's still one of the best there. Chefs de France is very closed, and the hammering, sawing, and cussing is going on even on a Saturday. Sounds like they want to reopen soon!
This trip we're trying to view all of the national promotion films again. Got all but China today--save them for last since they don't have chairs. Like last January, I'm still trying to find something . . . anything . . . at Innoventions that I don't have here on this computer in my hotel room (well, decent stereo, but I left that back in the basement). Will look more another day.
Breakfast at the Fountain View Cafe: cinnamon pecan croissants, cafe mocha. Yum, as usual. We've decided that WDW has a really good bakery.
Lunch at Yakitori House in Japan: My Yakitori special was skewered chicken marinated very nicely, with some excellent--if tame--red ginger on a bed of rice made by someone who *knows* rice. (If you like steamed rice done well, you know what I mean.) SWMBO went for curry, and proclaimed herself well pleased.
Dinner at Canada's Le Cellier: Once a cafeteria of no particular distinction, this is now a steak house worthy of consideration. *Severely* limited wine list (two plus a dessert wine), but in all, well prepared and served, even with an 8:30 PS. If you used to hate this place, it deserves a second look--or a first.
Disney Radio along I-75 claims there are 200 restaurants on the property. I didn't believe it, and neither did Guest Services, who claim but 85. I don't know if we'll be able to report on them all, but we'll do our best.
Day 2, Sunday 14 September 1997. Rediscovering the Magic (Kingdom).
Today we began with breakfast that the Contemporary's Concourse Steakhouse. Good food and a seat directly under the monorail tracks. Can you say, "Bouncy, bouncy, bouncy, bouncy, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun"?
Bay View Gifts there turns out to be the only shop on the property which still had the new Michael Broggie book, "Walt Disney's Railroad Story". I've only had time to read the first third so far, but it looks pretty good. A foreword by Lillian Disney and introductions (two!) by Ward Kimball and Ollie Johnston show that this is an "official" version, despite being published by Pentrex, rather than Hyperion. Sixty bucks well spent, seems to me. (Watch for a full review when time permits.)
(BTW, Pentrex is a well respected publisher of railroad books which is not controlled by Disney. Heimburger House Publishing originally had the book, and their failure to publish and Pentrex's pickup of the project [for reasons yet unknown] is why this 431 page tome was delayed.)
After this delayed start, it was off to the Magic Kingdom. You may recall a recent thread on r.a.d.p about the monorail recording? I thought it was silly at the time, but I found my pulse quickening at the sound of it. Yesterday I reported on a lack of a sense of urgency to my visit? I found it! Something about walking under the railroad station and onto Town Square that does something to a person. Ponce de Leon looked in the right place, but he was a little early.
>>> SPOILER ALERT <<<
Light crowds and the calm knowledge that we could do the rest later caused us to concentrate on Tomorrowland and Fantasyland. I am pleased to confirm earlier rumors that the two sides of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride are markedly different: The right side includes a barnyard scene and flying chickens; the left a visit to a saloon, court, and a jailbreak by weasels. Same destination, though. Seems that the wages of sin are still hell. Sin or arguing with trains for right-of-way, whichever.
Even the second time around, The Timekeeper is marvelous, thanks to Robin Williams' manic performance. He doesn't really have two routines, you just laugh so much from the odd-numbered jokes you don't hear the even-numbered ones the first time through. I still love the Carousel of Progress, but I notice that with a less-than-capacity audience, other guests tend to move away from me when they discover I sing along at the end of each act. Their problem--not mine.
Lunch was at Cinderella's Royal Table. We decided to give Cindy a try, despite a disappointing dinner several years earlier. Seems the girl's better at it than her cousin, King Stephan. Food above average, rather than below; service attentive, rather than sparse; and Cinderella greeted each of her guests downstairs before the meal, leaving more room to maneuver in the dining room and fewer screaming children to disrupt your digestion. If you have written this place off, it deserves another look.
I still have two big beefs with the place though (other than the prime rib, I mean): Some of the heraldry is patently bogus (I used to be a special librarian for a collection of heraldry and vexillology); and no one on the staff knows a whit about it--even to the ability to point out the Disney arms. Pity, it could be every bit as interesting as the windows on Main Street with just a bit of effort.
The heat and humidity continue to be in the Summer Swelter range (over 90 both), with no forecast of change in the next week. Hence we finally took everyone's good advice and retired to our hotel for an afternoon nap (at about 5 p.m.). Slept until 8:30, so called upon Wolfgang Puck's Express at Downtown Disney Marketplace (Note acronym change from DVM to DDM.)
Wolfie does decent work, despite a cast who can't make themselves heard over the noise in the kitchen. Puck didn't bake the first wood-fired pizza in California, no matter what his ads say, but he does a good job of it. Note that his "Express" is a counter service shop (in the old Minnie Mia's location), and is at the far end of Downtown Disney from his restaurant, which we later discovered had it's grand opening the same night. Oh well, we were too tired to enjoy it anyway.
DDM is undergoing some major spatial reorganization, with half the shops closed and the other half recently moved to new quarters. Despite this confusion, or maybe because of it, there is now a weekly Guidemap to Downtown Disney in the same format as the Guidemaps to the major parks. What an attitude! At least they got the map right--for now.
Day 3, Monday 15 September 1997. Lights! Camera! Sunscreen!
Finally we get both the hotel alarm clock and our internal clocks in sync, and hit the floor only a little later than we intended. Off to Disney/MGM Studios and a quick breakfast at the Starring Rolls Bakery--not one half so good as the Fountain View Cafe at Epcot, we think.
Crowds are down since it's Monday and the locals are back at work. The Voyage of the Little Mermaid is one of this park's unheralded gems, or so we have thought from previous viewings. It seemed as if the entire cast--humans and puppets--were being played by their understudies, and not well. If you ever get to see this show and are disappointed, please go back in 3-4 days and see if a better cast won't give you a better show.
Muppet Vision 3-D continues to put us in stitches--who can say why, but we love it! Don't fail to spend as much time as the crowds permit looking around at the stuff in the pre-show area. "A net full of jello" (Annette Funicello) is far from the only groaner waiting for you here.
Lunch at the Fifties Prime-Time Cafe was a hoot, as ever. The food here is better than it needs to be, and unlike most Disney attractions, you can greatly influence the quality of the entertainment just by giving your server a hard time. Just remember to keep your elbows off the table and clean your plate--especially if you can't remember the lyrics to "Ittsy Bittsy
The tour of the sound stages has been changed since my last visit, and now uses props from the live-action "101 Dalmations" to demonstrate props and effects. The Henson "Muppet Body Shop" components are particularly interesting and effective. All three sound stages are presently full of "From the Earth to the Moon" sets, which are mostly closed (for practical reasons, not secrecy) and leave little to see there. It's still worth it just for the Henson prop demos.
The heat and humidity rage on, so after a quick visit to The Great Movie Ride, it's nap time again. Boy did we need it! (I'm only getting old on the outside, thank goodness.)
Evening found us dining at the Flying Fish Cafe at the Boardwalk. Very tasty stuff, my potato-wrapped snapper. (She's asleep, so can't check on hers, but she liked it.) One beef about this place (pun intended)--don't you think that with dinner prices exceeding $50/person they could get their own restroom instead of sharing with Spoodles and the ice cream parlor?
Day 4, Tuesday 16 September 1997. Backstage Magic Tour!!!
Today was *very* special, even for WDW. We arose promptly at our 6 a.m. alarm clock, and were showered, shaved, dressed, and presented ourselves for breakfast at the Polynesian's Coral Isle Cafe within the hour. (Can you say, "excited"?) Tonga Toast (my very favorite) and an omelet for SWMBO, and we were ready for our monorail ride to Epcot . . . about half an hour earlier than we needed. Ah well, a complimentary newspaper later (Poly CMs are so *very* accommodating, even for non-resident guests like us), we *and* the monorail were ready to go.
>>> SPOILER ALERT <<<
This was the day we got paid back for the annual fee on my American Express card. Yup, that's right, we took the 8-hour Backstage Magic Tour. Even with the 20% AmEx discount, it still cost $128 (lunch included), but I think it was well worth it.
The group that assembled in front of Epcot at 8:45 a.m. comprised 16 guests and cast member Joseph, our guide for the day. The first stop was Epcot's American Adventure. No, not the theater, the basement where the "war wagons" positioned eighteen scenes under the stage for the show. We watched as CMs prepped each animatronic actor for their days performances and maintenance crews prepared to run a safety check before opening. Wow! Most CMs don't even get to see this stuff!
Then off to The Living Seas, where we toured backstage manatee holding pens, kitchens, and discussed the design of wings--backstage areas that are visible, even if only for a moment, from on-stage.
Disney Animation Studios next hosted us for some drawing lessons, and boy did some of us need them. Fortunately, we had animator Tom Macachyck to help us past the rough spots. His wit and enthusiasm got us all through drawings of Goofy and Pumbaa. When he bragged about how quickly he could draw Mickey Mouse, I pulled off my wristwatch and challenged him. He did it in 3.6 seconds--not too bad!
Lunch was at Mama Melrose's, an assortment of breads, salads, and entrees served family style ... with "Shoiley" inviting herself to join as a member of that family. One of the Streetscape performers, she kept us all in stitches, servers included. At one point, she hauled out a box of Trivial Pursuit cards and challenged us. SWMBO got three right before failing, which earned her first runner-up honors and a sucker. I frustrated her by continuing to get questions I knew, even after she made me change topics from history (my major in college) to science (my minor) to biography (my good luck). I won one of those Nestle chocolate balls with the character inside that litiginous fools claim are choking millions of babies. I didn't choke on that one, either. <puts shoulder out of joint patting self on back>
Shirley joined us on the bus for the next leg of the trip, and came out of character to tell us about work as an Equity actor CM, and her love of the work here. Interesting lady (but warped!).
Back to the Animation Dept., where we were shown how cels are painted by an exceedingly pregnant CM (scheduled to deliver Friday, and not one minute too soon). Not enough time to finish, but we were sent home with paints and brushes to finish up with.
A visit to Fowler's Harbor and the Parade Warehouse came next. King Triton's Electrical Water Pageant and SpectroMagic looks so different in the daylight! We talked a lot about the problems with SpectroMagic and Light Magic, and heard Joseph's frank evaluation of why the new parades weren't as good as the old MSEP: no story for SM, no clue for LM (much of LM was outsourced, including some creative work--bad idea). I thought Joseph was going to choke when I opined that one of the faults with SM was the "Chuckies". It seems I was the first non-CM to use the term and he said he had been waiting for it to leak out to the public.
What can you say about WDW Central Shops? It's this planet's primary Magic Manufacturing facility! Elephants waggling their ears while getting painted gray; new parking lot trams for DL being built from the motors to the seats; a short chat with Isle Voght, the lady in charge of painting each and every carousel horse (who reports that a chariot will be installed soon!); to a preview of a traveling exhibit where an animatronic figure (about the size of "The Dancing Man") will tell the history of Disney parks and animation; to the head department, where all character heads worldwide are produced from a mix of exotic materials for light weight, durability, light weight, ventilation, and light weight. It's hard to put into words all that we saw in a quick walk-through, and it will all be different by next week.
<pauses to reinstall socks>
Finally, we toured the Utilidors under the Magic Kingdom! More than a little disconcerting to be strolling along down an industrial corridor, passing headless dwarfs, CMs of all different costumes, suits, fork-lifts carrying bread and rolls, and just about anything else you might imagine and many you wouldn't. Quick looks into Parade Control, computer systems, cosmetology, then the long hike up to Town Square to view the end of the parade we saw started "downstairs".
The whole day, every question asked was answered, with very little defensiveness even when the questions (or answers) didn't reflect the best possible light on the company, including my frequent queries about up-time ratios and redundant systems. Walkaround casting was discussed, as was Disney's Traditions program and it's importance to the show. Fellow tour members seemed quite well informed about most operations (for non-fanatics). Several guests--and a couple of CM--were fascinated to learn I was making these reports, and eagerly asked how to subscribe to r.a.d.p or join EMuck. Look for them to be joining us soon. (Hi, Tom!)
This tour isn't for everyone (and not just because of the minimum age of 16). At a list price of $160, it isn't cheap, and it takes a full day. (We followed it with a short nap, a quick dinner, and an early return to the hotel.) However, if you really want to see what makes the magic, you could hardly find a better way short of joining the cast--and maybe even then. We loved it all, and recommend it to any Disney fanatic worthy of the title.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go lie down again. The shakes are coming back, and my socks won't stay up. 8;o)
Day 5, Wednesday 5 September 1997. The Good, The Bad, and The Yummy.
For four days they partied, and on the fifth day they rested. Whadda we look like, gods? So we slept in `til 11. So sue us!
We had lunch for breakfast at Captain Jacks at DDM. I do not know why. Every time we eat here, the food is even better than the time before, but the service continues to smell.
I had a wonderful prime rib sandwich, she a lobster croissant. Yummy! But could we get a second cup of coffee, even after we had introduced ourselves to our server as having a late breakfast? Nope-a-dope! We looked for you, Rocco, now you look for your tip. My advice? Eat here, but complain loudly to the manager--this kitchen is too good to spoil with poor service.
The afternoon was consumed by OT business in downtown Orblando. Don't ask--not disnical at all.
Dinner at Coronado Springs' Maya Grill. Whatta joint! They describe themselves as serving "Nuevo Latino" food--sort of "Nouveau Cuisine" meets "Bongos". Very tasty--food, architecture, and decor!
We sampled appetizers of duck tamale; ceviches of shrimp, grouper, and clam; empanadas of turkey and crab. Entrees of marinated beef, tamals, and empanada de mariscos tickled our taste buds and fancy in equal proportion and large portions. It was so bad we had to take a stroll around the lake before returning for desserts of chocolate mousse torte and fruit with lemon ice. Muy bueno! Pricey, too, but well worth it.
The rest of Coronado Springs deserves comment as well. You can see better photos than mine on Deb Wills web site, so I'll just add that the place is huge--on the order of the Caribbean Beach Resort. Its exterior is also colorful enough to fit into Mickey's Toontown without looking much out of place. While the pool area won't displace Stormalong Bay from its spot at the top of the list for resort pool themeing, it'll give whomever has second place a good run for their money.
Makes me want to join some group that's having a convention there. The nature of the convention business should serve both as advantage and disadvantage: conventions will block out rooms for their attendees well in advance, making long-term advance booking difficult. OTOH, as each convention nears, they will drop their holds on the unreserved block rooms and thus short-term reservations should often be available to those willing to take the risk and call frequently. I'll look forward to hearing what success y'all have.
Day 6, Thursday 18 September 1997. OT: Kennedy Space Center.
Another day of largely off-property pursuits, save for meals.
Breakfast was the competent but mostly unremarkable fare at Old Key West's Olivia's. Non-character breakfasts offer the same standard fare as the character breakfasts held Wednesday and Sunday, and it's pretty tough stuff to mess up. Do pay particular attention to their sausage--it *is* exceptional. While the magic level of the environment is satisfactorily high, the food doesn't approach the creativity of a Coral Isle Cafe or a Tony's Town Square. I'll wait for Tigger before I go again.
After a day at the shore, we chose the clambake at Cape May Cafe at the Beach Club Resort. It's been moved indoors, so the mosquitoes don't get a feast at the same time. Clams, mussels, oysters, shrimp, salads, *wonderful* desserts, and enough landlubber fare to mollify the fish-haters among us. Like Captain Jack's yesterday, somewhat less than fully attentive service. Must be something in the fish?
>>> OFF-TOPIC ALERT <<<
Just a brief report on the Kennedy Space Center for those who think they want something different: We got a guidebook with the title "Orlando's Other Theme Parks" since it seemed to be just the supplement we needed to Rita's recent release. I hope his other information isn't as dated as his poop on the KSC--the toll road fares had gone up 28% and tour prices 43% since the "1997" edition.
If you go, take the bus tour--the view of the launch facilities and Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) are worth the $10 fee, with the new Saturn V/Apollo museum worth the same amount again. If they reinstate the historical tour, I'd probably opt for that as well.
On the down side, the guided tour of the "rocket garden" and the "launch briefing" were given by a gal with less charisma and willingness to answer questions than most Mark I animatronic figures. If you go there and meet Cyborg Sue, you'll be well advised to tour yourself--you'll learn more. The art displays and spaceflight gallery were total duds, IMHO, as were the displays on the Merritt Island Wildlife Preserve.
Am I being too tough? Probably, but then I grew up with my nose plastered to the TV for every space shot, manned or unmanned, and even worked on the Shuttle project for a few years. Did I learn much? No, but then I'm not exactly a newcomer to the field. I suspect those born since man *stopped* going to the moon would get a lot more new that I. In all, a mixed bag.
OK, so much for the mid-week OT stuff. Tomorrow, it's back to the MK!
Day 7, Friday 19 September 1997. Drink Up, Me Hearties, Yo Ho!
Today it's back to the Magic Kingdom to see what we missed the first time.
Breakfast at Tony's Town Square: Country Fritattas. This place is such a calm eye of the storm. We sat and enjoyed our coffee; outside the mothers pushed their frightened offspring toward the beckoning walkarounds while proud papas watched their whole life pass by in a camcorder viewfinder. Even at the full length of Main Street, we could tell when the rope dropped.
We quickly made our way to Splash Mountain to find the wait under five minutes! (I do so love visiting in the off-season!) There seems to be a new water cannon added since last we looked--just as each log drops into the briar patch, this new pipe jets water all over whatever log may be drifting past, plus anyone standing on the closer bridge. Run-off from this travels down the sidewalks all the way to mid-Frontierland. SWMBO says the signs that say "You May Get Wet" should be changed to say "You Will Definitely Get SPLOOSHED!"
Camera note: if you like those "disposable" cameras, bring a zip-lock baggy to put them in for SM, or be prepared to watch them disassemble themselves right in your hand. Don't ask. 8:o(
Despite the Swiss Family Treehouse being shuttered for refurbishment, you can get to the Jungle Cruise with a little effort. We found a short line and a short spiel by a pilot with short experience at the use of the microphone. I sat three from the front and couldn't hear most of what he said. He ran so fast that he had to skip several bad jokes, and had no interaction with his crew. Dick Nunis, where are you when we really need you?
[Since my return, I have read news stories about Disneyland Jungle Cruise pilots being fired for failing to stick to the script. Coincidence? Who can say? He still didn't know how to use the microphone.]
Did I see signs of political correctness on the JC, or am I confusing it with the one at DL? I remember the rhino having treed one Great White Hunter and several black bearers--this ride had all white men up a tree. Hmm, could just be my memory.
During this one day, SWMBO became addicted to slushes. We found three different flavors at various spots around the park, and tried them all. It was hot enough. Several more attractions, then we elected to nap away the heat of the afternoon.
Dinner at the Grand Floridian Cafe, but not without difficulty. Remember what the guidebooks say about how far it is from guest parking to the lobby? I measured it at over 1/2 mile to the *closest* spots. We decided against it, parked at the Polynesian, and took the monorail. You'd think they really didn't want us off-property riff-raff coming to eat!
Our appetizer of fried calimari was most unusual. Unusual in that it was neither great nor terrible, as is usually the case with squid, but just pretty good, not *quite* rubbery, just a *little* too spicy. We dined on shrimp Caesar salads, which were excellent--only three shrimp, but BIG ONES.
Back to the MK for the fireworks, and to pick up the merchandise and photos we had dropped off. We watched the fireworks from our favorite bench in Mickey's Toontown Fair, the one that makes it look like the fireworks are being set off in Mickey's backyard. We were surprised afterward to find the WDW Railroad had quit running--we usually use it for a quick exit--because the park closed at 9 p.m. just like the fireworks. Bummer, big walk in big crowd!
At the Polynesian again, we went to "Capt. Cooks Snack & Ice Cream Company". What a rip! The only ice cream in this place is a small freezer of Hgen-Dazs bars. No sign of the "make your own sundae bar" advertised in several guidebooks. So, back upstairs to our favorite, the Coral Isle Cafe where we ordered sundaes, and got just what we wanted--with a big smile. Between the staff, this restaurant, and the convenience to transportation options, I can understand why this continues to be the most popular resort, despite the rooms being a bit long in the tooth.
Day 8, Saturday 20 September 1997. The Really, Truly, Rotten Bad Day.
>>> SPOILER ALERT <<<
No, this post doesn't give away ride secrets or any such, it's just the tale of a spoiled day. We tested the truth of the saying, "A bad day at WDW is better than a good day at work." Boy did we ever!
It started with a truly mediocre breakfast at the Concourse Steakhouse. As good as our breakfast was last week, this was poor. Coffee so bad we had to send the first pot back, missing silver, overcooked food, undercooked food, hard-to-find server, only the Mickey Stickies were as good as we deserved. Nothing bad enough to walk out on, about par for your average Shoney's, but otherwise a meal well worth forgetting--something I would not be able to do.
This day's plan started with a quick sail to Discovery Island for a half-day with the animals. Before we were out of sight of the dock, my camera malfunctioned and required a jury-rig repair. Back on the trail, and my normally modest pace began to slow, just as the stream of sweat down my back began to increase. By the midpoint of the walk, I had to confess I was ill, but there was nothing for it but to make the long trek back to the dock--with no air-conditioned stops along the way.
When we finally reached the boat, I insisted on a seat by the rail. Before we reached the Contemporary's dock, the wisdom of this was, sadly, proven. The pilot was most solicitous, providing a wet rag for my head, an escort to the lobby, and direction to some lounge chairs where I could rest before driving myself back to the hotel (SWMBO doesn't drive--even on Autopia). My bed beckoned, but other symptoms kept me from staying there for long . . . .
SWMBO thinks it was caused by the heat and the DEET-containing sunblock I used for the first time. I blame food poisoning from breakfast. Whichever, it was a distinctly non-fun day.
By evening, however, I had recovered sufficiently to have dinner at Bonfamille's at Port Orleans. Blackened scallops on linguini, and their Trio for Two sundae for dessert. I couldn't finish either, but it all stayed where it belonged and by the next morning I was all ready to go again.
All in all, not a very good day, but one I still wouldn't have traded for work. Hmm, what does that say about what I do for a living?
Day 9, Sunday 21 September 1997. Downtown Disney Westside--A First Look.
Today we take things easy, just to make sure yesterday is passed.
A late breakfast at Wilderness Lodge's Whispering Canyon Cafe. Very late. Almost lunch. In fact, SWMBO asked our server if a sandwich were available, and he finagled one from the kitchen for her. Things were winding down, but in many respects, this looks like the same kind of place the Fifties Prime-Time Cafe is--major audience participation. I think I'll come back here some morning when I'm feeling more energetic.
We asked at the WL Guest Services desk for the Hidden Mickey Hunt. Two pages of abstruse poesy that are supposed to guide one to some obscure HMs. We gave it an hour, found none, and decided to search the Hidden Mickeys web site instead. I really like the feel of this resort. The Polynesian may have the best transportation and friendliest staff, but this place has ... a "feel" that I'm having trouble putting into words. <sigh> I gotta win the lottery so I can try these places out for myself.
We then took a tour through Caribbean Beach Resort, just because we had never been there. Interesting, but too close to the swamp for my taste.
On to Downtown Disney and the new Westside area. Still much construction, with the structures for Cirque du Soleil and Disney Quest still going up. Only a few shops here, and odd ones at that. One sells only refrigerator magnets, one *really* strange art, one collectibles--like gas pumps! The big attractions here are the movie house, the Virgin Records store, and four big restaurants: The House of Blues, Bongos, Planet Hollywood, and Wolfgang Puck's.
>>> OFF TOPIC ALERT <<<
The AMC movie house at Downtown Disney has expanded to 24 screens. The amazing thing is, they still actually pop real popcorn! Also amazing was the film "Contact"--amazing in that it actually stuck very closely to the theme of the book. Most unusual for science fiction. In fact, "2001: A Space Odyssey" and "Fantastic Voyage" are the only other titles on this short list. The common thread to the three films? Each involved the author of the novel in the production.
(Sorry, I'll go back on-topic now.)
Dinner was at the Wolfgang Puck Cafe. Now, in fairness, I have to concede that this is a new location for Puck. It just opened last week. I can't, however, find that sufficient excuse. Don't get me wrong, the food is very good, and the prices quite reasonable for WDW. Sadly, the service sucks!
Why is it that trained waiters bring the entrees out before clearing the salad or appetizer plates? We just stared at him until SWMBO, fearful of wearing her dinner as he tried to balance a plate on the corner of the table, started bussing her own dishes. Later, when our wine glasses ran dry, we couldn't find our server to order another. Finally, the air-conditioning wasn't working, which was in itself sufficient to drive us elsewhere for our dessert.
Frankly, I would gladly trade the "show kitchen" for "show air-conditioning". I always considered it somewhat declassé to enter the dining room through the kitchen anyway. I would also gladly trade the "security-cam" kitchen monitors for a radar system for locating my server when needed.
On our way out, the manager made the mistake of asking us how everything was. We told her. And told her. At great length. I honestly don't think she understood what our complaint was.
Rather than cross Puck off your list entirely, I suggest we give them a month or two to get their staff properly trained. If they still haven't gotten their act together, let's all say not-nice things about them on the internet, OK? Meanwhile, patronize his two "Express" locations, but bring a megaphone.
Day 10. Monday 22 September 1997. Fireworks, plus OT Job Hunting in Paradise.
Today was only a half day of Disney--second half first:
Late lunch at the Yacht Club Galley. Nice. SWMBO says WDW is the only place she's ever had New England Clam Chowder with clams big enough to chew--she loves it. I had an old New England specialty: a spicy chicken burrito, yum.
It still being stinking hot, we tried to walk *through* the Yacht & Beach Club resorts to get as close to Epcot's International Gateway as possible before leaving the air conditioning. The guidebooks say this dual resort is over a mile from one end to the other. I think it's only about half that, but you make so many wrong turns wandering through the buildings that it just *seems* twice as long. We did actually find our way to the door just six feet from the bridge--only had to ask directions once, too.
Because of the mosquito trouble and consequent curtailment of waterway activities, we have changed the theme of our planned photo essay from "The Disney Navy" to "The Fountains of Paradise" (with apologies to Sir Arthur). I hope to include shots of all of the fountains at WDW, and I got a two-roll start on it. I'll post an announcement when the web site goes up--probably by the end of November. (The same November Test Track will open, I fear.)
Dinner at Akershus at Norway. Yummy herring! Then again, where else *can* you get herring in this country? Our server was shocked to find it was our fifth visit with them--she said they almost never see anyone twice there. Maybe if they offered McD's fries?
After three failed attempts at finding a decent spot on previous trips, we planted ourselves in front of Canada and got a quite decent view of Illuminations for a change. I still say that Fantasy in the Sky over the MK is a better show. Malts at Beaches & Cream, and it's off to bed (well, off to <A HREF="http://alia.ce.umn.edu/entertainmuck/">EMuck, but that seems to lack the same sense of poetry).
>>> OFF-TOPIC ALERT <<<
The reason the morning got off to a slow start was a job interview in Orlando. After 15 minutes, the vice president of the college asked if I could start next Monday! We tentatively agreed to wait until the end of the semester. Full-time work, a four-day work week and only 40 minutes from WDW. WOO HOO!!!
Pray for me gang, or at least send me bad news so my sneakers can get some traction--I'm floating!
Day 11, Tuesday 23 September 1997. Rustic Dining, w/OT Busch Gardens.
Breakfast at Boatwrights in Dixie Landings. I don't know what they do to make the sausage taste like that, but it's enough to make this Yankee forgive the South for grits!
Great dinner at Artists Point in the Wilderness Lodge. Fair onion soup, *marvelous* salmon pate served with the apple butter and regular butter for the rolls that is better than all four salmon dishes served at Askershus last night, a rare venison chop (prime rib for the non-Bambi-eating SWMBO), deep-dish apple pie with cinnamon ice cream, wines from my favorite Washington State winery (Chateau Ste. Michele), and decor that is half National Park Service and half Piet Mondrian. Don't miss this joint (unless paying $100 for dinner for two makes you break out in a rash, of course).
>>> OFF-TOPIC ALERT <<<
Today we went to Busch Gardens, just an hour away. Perhaps I should say "Bush-league Gardens". I don't know, but I remember being a lot happier with BG when it consisted of three picnic tables, two bird cages, and a free beer booth out behind the brewery in Reseda, CA. It was free then, too--today it costs (slightly) more than a day at Disney.
FWIW, BG is actually two parks in one. One is a collection of state-of-the-art* roller coasters with slight amounts of themeing in the queue areas. The other is a fairly large and well-managed zoo with frequent opportunities to ask questions of competent staff. Why anyone would consider it a good idea to put these two parks in the same place is beyond me. Oh yes, they're also reputed to brew beer somewhere around the place, but we never found it.
[* Note for adults: state-of-the-art = turns-you-upside-down-for-no-good-reason.]
The zoo was good. Annotated tours by monorail, steam train, aerial tramway, and (extra fare) jeep past the animal enclosures gave us better than expected access to the animals on display. The displays of chimpanzees, gorillas, warthogs, and meercats were particularly interesting and informative.
We did take one ride, the smallest of the water flumes. Disney should copy their signs for Splash Mountain: "You *will* get wet and you *may* get soaked!" Poor engineering and inadequate training put SWMBO and I in the back of a log with a small woman and child in the front. We dragged our tail all through the ride. As with the coasters, themeing stops at the loading platform and does not resume.
This gets put down in my book as a once-in-a-lifetime experience, which is a nice way of saying, "We don't plan to go back." YMMV.
BTW, remember the guidebook "Orlando's Other Theme Parks" that gave me bad data about the Kennedy Space Center? It told me to turn left when I clearly needed to turn right. I never would have gotten there by following his directions. <sigh> I see a pattern developing here.
Day 12, Wednesday 24 September 1997. AG Day.
Well, it's day 12 and the blisters have finally caught up with me. Even double-socks and different shoes aren't helping any more. After limping all day to the chant of "Hurry up!" from SWMBO, I am typing this with one foot propped on a stack of tissues while the blisters drain. It's like they tell you in the army: Take good care of your feet and they'll take good care of you!
Today was "AG" day for us. Breakfast at the Garden Grill with mice and chipmunks. Not bad food at all, but the RPM of the restaurant is increased to double-speed to encourage you to eat breakfast faster. You go around in about 30-35 minutes at this hour.
Next was the "Circle of Life" film, Living with the Land boat cruise, and next door to The Living Seas exhibit. A quick slush and we were ready for the day's main event:
"Behind the Seeds Tour" is a $6 walking tour of the greenhouses and a couple labs at the Land guided by graduate students. We got a very knowledgeable kid who had just graduated with a degree in agricultural management systems who answered nearly every question we ten guests could come up with. In addition to a much more detailed view of the greenhouses and mariculture pens seen from the boat tour, we also toured the bug lab where they were breeding parasitic wasps and viewed the tissue culture lab (through windows, as this is necessarily a sterile lab).
The "hour" tour lasted an hour and fifteen minutes, and was followed by another fifteen minutes of casual questions as we walked back out. For the price, you can't beat this tour if you have any interest in modern experimental agricultural technologies.
After an afternoon nap that coincided nicely with the rain and a movie ("In & Out", kind of a "Mr. Holland's Birdcage", very funny), we proceeded to dinner at the Portobello Yacht Club on Pleasure Island. While this restaurant is *on* PI, it isn't *in* PI--you don't have to buy a ticket to eat, but if you park on the Westside, you have to walk around the party to get there.
You may recall that a few days ago we ate at Wolfgang Puck's, loved the food, hated the service, and decided not to go back (for a long time, anyway). The Portobello Yacht Club gave us bad food and the wrong wines, but great service, and we're likely to visit again. I guess this tells a lot about our attitudes about what's important in dining out, huh?
We began with a pizza appetizer that was better than Puck's (hmm, I'm starting to enjoy bashing him, wonder what that means). The wine steward offered us some suggestions, but couldn't tell us much about the wines themselves. I doubted his advice, but know so little about Italian wines and the restaurant's cuisine that we acceded to his recommendations. At first, I thought the wine good, but inappropriate to the entrees. Later I figured out that SWMBO and I had been served each other's selection.
I had the linguini with mussels, which turned out to be clams in drag. Good clams, undercooked pasta. The crab legs in SWMBO's dish were so overcooked that instead of cracking, they just squished at the nutcracker. The manager tried to tell us that the crab had just molted--neither we nor our server bought the line, but as he sent out a fresh set of legs, we decided not to call him on it.
For dessert we split a dish of cappuccino coffee ice cream with toffee chunks. Half a dish was plenty, but I would have happily finished a whole dish myself if I were given the chance--excellent!
Day 13-16, Thursday 25 through Sunday 28 September 1997. Intermission.
On Thursday, we breakfasted so late it was lunch at the Wilderness Lodge's Whispering Canyon Cafe again. Tomahawk Toss (club sandwich) for SWMBO, Doc Wiggin's Something-or-other (BBQ chicken sandwich) for me. Neither parenthetical description does justice to the food--both were great, and the staff, though much calmer than at breakfast, was still more than willing to engage in battles of wits:
"You have Pooh on your shirt," was the first thing said to me once I was seated (which was true).
"Yeah, but you should see the seagull!" I responded, and the war was on.
Sunday evening we entered the Magic Kingdom at about 5 p.m., and proceeded directly to Cosmic Ray's Starlight Cafe, upon the recommendation from an e-correspondent of their sandwiches. The "Multi-Stage" is indeed a major heap of turkey, swiss cheese, sourdough, and lettuce, plus an invitation to the condiment bar containing everything from BBQ sauce to hot onions (and yes, I did put both of those on). $5 worth of fast food that's actually worth as much, a pleasant surprise.
This place is, however, quite confusing. It's actually three restaurants under one roof. The sandwich shop where I got mine is joined by a burger joint and a fried chicken joint--none of which will serve the others' stuff. If your group wants some of each, you have to stand in three different lines to get it. As a result, about 1/3 of all guests wait in line only to be told they can't have what they want, even though it's only ten feet away. Hello? Is the goal of efficiency worth pissing off that many guests?!?
I suppose I should also mention Sunny Eclipse, the animatronic lounge singer at Ray's. Better I shouldn't, as it wouldn't be very complimentary. I'd have to say his jokes are lamer than those at the Country Bears, and that I could just barely hear his music at a front-row table, even though the hall was only *half* filled with screaming children. Good thing I'm not talking about him.
Just time for a few rides before retiring for the night. One was new to us: Goofy's Barnstormer at Mickey's Toontown Fair. Yeah, I know. It's for kids. As we told the operator, we're much younger on the inside. Not a bad little ride, even drew a couple of small screams from SWMBO. The seats are really too small for two adults, though.
We came across something else new on our way out: In the ground floor of the Main Street train station, in the middle by the locker counter, there are four plaques on the history of the steam locomotives, their history, and the people they are named for. Interesting. At the end of the locker bays, there are framed photographs, about half of which show Walt and the original Lilly Belle--his 1/8 size live steam locomotive and the tracks in the backyard of Walt's Holmby Hills home, the Carolwood Pacific Railroad. Worth a few moments study while you wait for your love to come back from the ladies room.
>>> OT Activities <<<
Between Thursday's brunch and Sunday's dinner, we attended a couple of conventions in the Boca Raton area. SWMBO went to the regional meet of the National Association of Miniature Enthusiasts, I to the National Model Railroad Association's. A good time was had, but very OT.
Day 17, Monday 29 September 1997. Pixie Dust Power Loading.
Slept in again and had lunch for breakfast at the San Angel Inn. Boy do I ever wish there was a restaurant in my home town that could do things like this with beans! Even the chips here are superior.
We spent the bulk of the day just noodling about--shopping, asking very pointed and peculiar questions of the Guest Services CMs (How many cross ties are there on the WDW RR?), and trying to find someone to help us book the Backstage Breakfast for EMuck Day at WDW next December. We spoke to half a dozen Cast Members at the BoardWalk, trying to find one who know who was in charge of booking meetings--nobody knew!
Finally, we were connected to someone who claimed she was in the right department, but that she couldn't confirm availability or book us in, but who took my phone number and email address and promised that we would be contacted before the day was over. Hello? It's now past 1 a.m. and I'm getting a little tired of waiting! Boy am I ever going to have some sharp words with a few people tomorrow.
After a movie at DD ("Event Horizon"--skip this one unless you like random horror, it's *not* science fiction despite being set in the future), we decided we wanted a quiet little dinner, and returned to our favorite on-property restaurant: The Coral Isle Cafe at the Polynesian. Roast pork, spicy chicken, garlic mashed potatoes, we ate everything but the flowers on the plates, and then our server asked why we didn't eat them (we didn't realize they were edible).
We finished quickly, skipping dessert, so that we could rush (slowly) to the beach to watch King Triton's Electrical Water Pageant. This show is very much like the older King Neptune's Electrical Water Pageant, except that now the octopus and the king are now accompanied by music from "The Little Mermaid". Pretty low-tech stuff, but just right at the end of an evening.
For dessert, we went to ... the Coral Isle Cafe again. (Did I mention that we *really* like this place?) A Volcano for me and some macadamia nut and coconut pie for SWMBO. Yum, as usual.
We are starting to feel our vacation winding down beneath us.
The feeling is bittersweet, but inevitable. We find ourselves looking around the different parks and resorts and asking ourselves, "Is there anything else here we want to do here?" Thoughts of our cats, lawn, and jobs also begin to drift by. Did some major shopping today, in part because it was our last chance, but mostly out of a feeling that we might thus sustain the magic just a little longer than the vacation itself.
Tomorrow, we go back to the Magic Kingdom and try to load up on as much pixie dust as we can hold. It may have to last us a long time. Earlier madcap thoughts of shaving off my mustache and spending a day auditioning at the Casting Center have evaporated under the glare of the job listings in the newspaper and Disney's local jobline. "Maybe in December when I'll be between semesters and could *really* consider making a move," I tell myself, already doubting that I'll muster the nerve then, either.
And now to bed, perchance to dream, perhaps to awaken to the magic just one more day ....
Day 18, Tuesday 30 September 1997. A Medicine for Melancholy.
It arrives at last, as every trip must, at the last full day. I wear my new dancing Tigger shirt to remind me that I'm having a great time.
Breakfast at the Coral Isle Cafe--again. Did I mention that we really like the cast here? Apparently, so do others. Our repast was interrupted when a half-dozen CMs came marching in with what I estimate to be about two dozen pizzas as their reward for getting the largest number of favorable comments on the menu cards. (You do know that those little cards that come with the check and tell you about payment methods and tipping have comment cards on the back, right?)
To the Magic Kingdom, and the last few attractions we haven't yet done. SWMBO still refuses to go on the Teacups, but we've done pretty much everything else here we want to. <sigh>
By monorail to Epcot, where a little photography, a couple of attractions, and to Japan for a teppanyaki style dinner with six unsuspecting guests. As expected, edible food, a less-than-stellar performance by our cook (who talked about retirement next month), and good conversation with a group from Pittsburgh who I don't think believed we had been there that long.
Back to MK by boat from the International Gateway to the Yacht Club, then by bus to the MK gate. We were just in time for the SpectroMagic parade, an ice cream cone, and the fireworks display.
It was a melancholy pair who rode the little launch back to the Polynesian and our car, past King Triton's Electrical Water Pageant. (We may be melancholy, but we still have good timing!) This final night, the crowds on Main Street are starting to get us testy with their jostling and
ankle-ramming (please, let's not start another stroller flame war--but it does happen). Perhaps it *is* time for us to return to civilization ... Nah!
One last breakfast in the morning on our way home, then back to work on Thursday. I'll post a final summary in a day or two to wrap things up, then all you lurkers out there can let me know what you think.
Day 19, Wednesday 1 October 1997. Home and Commentary.
At last the dreaded day has come. Even though we brought an empty suitcase, some laundry still gets "packed" in giant trash bags for the return trip. Did we really buy that much stuff, or is it true what they say about clothes expanding when dirty?
I wear my new Eeyore shirt, because I'm so sad to be leaving.
Breakfast at Spoodles at the Boardwalk. Why didn't we eat here more often? Except for the sausage, which was excessively ordinary, the food here is great and the buffet service means you only have to wait for yourself. With a ten-hour drive ahead, we wisely refrained from going anywhere else this morning.
Home late, discovering a mound of mail, three hungry and lonesome cats, no food, but all else in order. Back to work (yuck!), where comments included praise for our tans and unveiled envy at our long trip. I guess we had been gone a long time--the postcard we sent had already been taken down from the bulletin board.
Crowd levels fluctuate wildly over a week's time, or even one day. Except for broad trends like summer/winter and Early Entry days, there's really no good way to predict it. I'd advise anyone with a park-hopper or annual pass to react to crowding by going to another park--chances are you can find another place more pleasant.
The more you put into the experience, the more you get out. This is most obvious at places like the Fifties Prime-Time and Whispering Canyon Cafes, but we found that anywhere we got into the schtick and joked around with the CMs, they responded in kind. It certainly works that way in my classroom--the more questions I get the more interesting I am able (challenged?) to be. At risk of sounding trite, try to believe in the magic, take it all at face value, and you'll have more fun!
This "Hidden Mickey" thing has gotten completely out of hand. We tried to complete the Hidden Mickey Search at Wilderness Lodge. After an hour of fruitless searching, we gave up. Even with the help of the Hidden Mickeys web page, we *still* couldn't identify most of them. Our server at the Maya Grill made a point of showing us how two round tables and a fountain combined to make an HM, and was astonished when we pointed out one in the artwork far more obvious. IMHO, the original HMs were little jokes put into attractions *deliberately* and *without authorization* by fun-loving Imagineers--inside jokes, as it were.
It seems that today, people inside and outside the company are looking for HMs everywhere, and finding even the most obscure and distorted excuses to claim discovery. Come on, people, get a life. Yeah, I know I exhorted y'all to believe in the magic just two paragraphs ago, but really!
>>> SPOILER ALERT <<<
Not every attraction, scene, restaurant, postcard, bottle cap, and wad of chewing gum *HAS* a Hidden Mickey!!! Sorry, but I just had to say that.
Visiting WDW on a relaxed schedule is a very different experience from the four-day Disney-or-Drop blitzkriegs the guidebooks plot out for us. While I'm not saying it takes two weeks to see the place, having the flexibility to just bypass anything with too long a line, knowing the lines may be shorter the next time, gives you a sense of freedom not possible with a vacation-by-the-numbers. I have to punch a time clock, give lectures on schedule, and otherwise enslave myself to the clock and the whims of others at work all year long. Shouldn't my vacation include at least the opportunity for spontaneity, including the decision to just blow off the alarm clock and sleep in?
I remember when I became aware of the passing of time. It was my first grade classroom where the teacher was striving to show us how to tell time by turning the hands of a cardboard clock. Suddenly, I realized that clocks turn continuously and that time was something that flowed on its own account, and not the random positioning my teacher was demonstrating. I'm still not sure I'm the better for that discovery. Disney helps me remember that timelessness of childhood I so enjoyed before that rude epiphany, and that is probably what I cherish most about my time there.
Nevertheless, I still maintain that the three most important pieces of touring advice are "early, early, and early" as Bob Sehlinger so carefully put it. You really *can* do more by 10:30 a.m. than you can the whole rest of the day. We proved that to ourselves on our previous trip, and observed it (mostly in the breach) this time. Do ye likewise.
Some day, we're gonna get our bathing suits wet at WDW. I promise! Somehow, we never do though. I don't know how to explain it--we just always seem to decide that another day at MK has got to be more fun than the unknown pleasures of Typhoon Lagoon or Blizzard Beach. I know we'll regret this recalcitrance once we finally go, but we're notoriously bad at listening to our own advice.
I'm glad I decided to bring my computer along. The nightly chat sessions on EMuck, the never-ending debates on rec.arts.disney.parks, and the access to the WWW for detailed data all helped us enjoy ourselves without worrying about what fun we might be missing. My home ISP wanted only $6/hour to use their 800 number, but we found a local ISP (MagicNet) who were everything we needed, and the $40 they charged for two months' service would not have bought us a fraction of the time we used from our home ISP. It isn't for everyone to schlep their Pentium along on vacation with them, but you might want to consider it.
For those of you who have been waiting for the end to post remarks, to ask questions, or to heap praise or abuse upon my head, I'm done now. Go right ahead. My email address is: Bruce Metcalf, <mailto:email@example.com>.
Me, I've got some planning and packing to do. We leave for WDW in just 55 more days!!!