This past Thanksgiving, 1997, I went with my family to Disney World. We had a wonderful time and I would like to use this space to write a bit about our thoughts and experiences on this trip. Many who will read this have been to WDW many more times than we, and Im sure that many of our experiences and observations will not be anything new. Yet I will try to focus most of my attention on the unique (I hope) aspects of our trip. If I fail in my attempt to express something new and fresh, I hope at least to illicite fond memories from you, my patient reader. At any rate, my writing will certainly illicite fond memories for me, and to tell the truth, thats good enough reason for me to write this.
The players are myself, John, 40 (now, more on that) a computer database consultant, my wife Andrea (Andie, 41) an advertising copywriter, Natalie (Nat, 4 ), a remarkably bright and sweet little girl and Charlotte (Charlie, 6 months) a, well, a baby. We live in Westchester county, a suburb of New York City in a house built when George Washington was 16.
This trip came about in a somewhat roundabout way. It started right after we celebrated Andie's 40th birthday in Cape Cod, MA. It was a wonderful trip. We stayed at the Chatham Bars Inn in Chatham, one of the oldest and most beautiful hotels in Cape Cod. After we got back Andie asked me "Where do you want to go for your 40th?" Now, my birthday is November 27th, a date that, occasionally, falls on Thanksgiving. As it would happen, my 40th would be one of those occasions. I didn't have to think for very long before I said "I want to go out west and go skiing". Fast forward a few months. Andie informs me that another child, our second, is on it's way. Soon afterward, upon realizing how old the baby would be on my birthday, it dawned on me that skiing would be out of the question. Now then, where could we go that would be fun, make me forget about hitting a milestone birthday and would be "baby friendly"? Where else but Walt Disney World?
This would be the second trip for me and the third for Andie. We had made a trip to WDW about 6 years earlier, before we got married. Andie had been once when she was in college. She had also gone once on a business trip, but didn't visit any of the parks. (She *did*, however, see "The Lion King" before it opened in a special screening as she was working on a Burger King commercial with a Lion King tie-in). Also, in truth, I visited Epcot once while in Tampa on business as well.
Before I continue, I would like to write a few words about something dear to my heart. T-shirts. I love 'em. Whenever I go anywhere I try to get at least one T-shirt. But not just any T-shirt. It has to say something about the place I visited and it has to be cool. What is the coolest in my opinion? Something that mentions the area you visited but isn't a tourist shirt (I *do* get tourist shirts, mind you, they just aren't my favorites). As an example, one of my favorites is from a private airport in Cape Cod where I went on a biplane ride. Very cool. But it *has* to be someplace I actually visited, and yet I will refuse to wear the T-shirt while actually *at* the place mentioned on the shirt. Now, I especially love Disney T-shirts, but it's hard to find ones that are rare or unusual. I do try, however. And I love wearing Disney T-shirts while at a Disney park but, as I mentioned, I won't wear a T-shirt *from* the place *at* the place. In other words, no Disneyland T-shirts at Disneyland. Disney World T-shirts at Disneyland? Very cool. A Disneyland Paris T-shirt at Tokyo Disneyland? Extremely cool (maybe someday). As you can see I'm somewhat obsessed about this. So I put a lot of thought into what T-shirts I should bring on the trip and when I would wear them. This is why, in each section, I will write which T-shirt I wore that day.
Day 0, Tuesday, Nov. 24 Getting there. All Star Music.
Whenever we take a trip, Andie and I try to do our traveling in the evening. This way we don't waste precious vacation time in an airplane or a car. To that end, we booked a flight out of Newark Airport for 5:00 Tuesday evening. Since we live in the suburbs and therefore going home before going to the airport would be a waste of time, we decided to bring the kids with us to our offices in the city. We drove in, something we rarely do, in order to make it a little easier. I took Nat to my office, while Charlie went with Andie. Needless to say, neither of us got much work done that day.
We left the city around 2:00 and drove to the airport. I dropped Andie and the kids off and went to park the car in long term parking. For those of you who are familiar with Newark Airport, I had to park in the one lot that is not serviced by the monorail as they were full. This meant parking the car and taking a shuttle bus. I was very happy that we left plenty of time, because getting to the airport, parking and checking in took much longer than I expected. As an interesting side-note, I overheard an airline employee tell one of the passengers that flights to Orlando were among the only ones that they don't pre-board people with small children. "Everybody would be pre-boarding" he said.
When we arrived at the Orlando Airport one of the first things I said to Andie was "My God, even the airport is beautiful!". Palm trees, beautiful plantings, a warm breeze blowing... definitely *not* Newark Airport. I picked up our rental car (white generic GM something-r-other) and we were off to our first destination, All Star Music Resort.
One problem with arriving at your destination at night is that, since it's dark, you don't get as much of a "feel" for the place as you're driving through it. On the other hand, you do get to "discover" bits and pieces of the area you're visiting as your trip unfolds.
We nearly missed finding the ASM because it appears to be the one resort that doesn't have signs all over telling you where it is. I'm not sure why this is true, but I suspect it's a budget thing. Anyway, we did find it with no problem thanks largely to Andie's sharp eyes.
Our decision to stay at the All Star Resort for our first night was purely financial. We were going to arrive pretty late and the plan was to get up first thing and hit one of the parks. I couldn't see spending $200+ for an extra night at Wilderness lodge when the All Star would do just as well for $90. I must say that, driving up to the ASM, that I was immediately taken by what a cool place it is. Older kids and teens that go to WDW must love this place. It's very in-your-face. Everything is blown way out of proportion. Yes, it's basically a Motel 6 on steroids, but all the Disney touches lend the place a special atmosphere. If your budget only allows for staying here, you won't be disappointed. No, it's not the Grand Floridian, but it is a very nice hotel with it's own special charm. I hope to stay there again someday.
We did have a small problem checking in. The check-in area seemed poorly marked to me and, as a result, I waited about 15 minutes in the wrong place when I should have been able to walk right up and check in. I seem to recall reading this complaint of the AS Resorts either in one of the guide books or on the Internet. At any rate, I complained a bit to the Cast Member who checked me in, but she smoothed out my somewhat ruffled feathers with her cheery efficiency pretty quickly. This scenario, of a problem situation being handled by a competent Disney CM with aplomb, is one that would be played out several times on this trip.
We were in the "Jazz" wing of the ASM. Huge saxophones graced each of the buildings. The Jazz building has a nice location - close to the food court area - but from a musical preference standpoint I would have preferred the Country Faire. Besides, those giant cowboy boots looked way cool.
Our room was small but not *too* crowded. If we had more than four people it would have been too small. The rooms are well appointed and clean but far from luxurious. About on par with your standard Best Western. The decorations were a bit loud for my taste, but that's a minor complaint. These aren't exactly rooms that you want to "hang around" in any way.
Once we were settled (we were switching to the Wilderness Lodge the next day so we couldn't get *too* settled) we ordered some food. The only room service available for AS is an extended Pizza delivery menu, but we didn't feel like Pizza. Instead we ordered Chicken Caesar Salad, Bread Sticks and wine. While we were waiting for the food to arrive I decided to go for a short walk and get the lay of the land. Mostly I wanted to check out where we could get breakfast the next morning as we were planning to leave early and make Early Entry at Disney MGM Studios. The Pools, one shaped like a piano and the other a guitar, looked like a lot of fun. I regretted the fact that we wouldn't be able to make use of them.
The Intermission Food Court was a very pleasant surprise. I looked over the choices and was pleased to see that they stocked fresh fruit and other healthy items as well as the standard food court faire. I asked one of the CMs on duty about hours, and was pleased that they opened at 6:00 AM leaving plenty of time for a quick breakfast before our trip to MGM.
I went back to our room. Nat, very excited needless to say, was jumping on one of the beds. When she tried to jump from one bed to the other she fell off and hurt her leg. She was fine within a few minutes, but this incident would come into play later in our trip.
After eating our supper (a little over $30 including tip - not cheap but I've seen worse) we decided to hit the sack. We were all pretty excited (well, maybe not Charlie) but we were also very tired from our long day and had no problem falling asleep.
Day 1 - Wednesday, November 26 MGM Early Entry, Wilderness Lodge check-in, Illuminations
Mickey dutifully called at 6:00 to wake us up. Everybody felt a bit groggy, but soon the excitement of our first "real" day at WDW set in.
I walked to the Intermission Food Court for breakfast. I got 2 coffees in those re-usable mugs, some fruit, bagels and muffins. The bill came to $18. I thought this seemed extremely pricey and was glad that I thought to request a refrigerator for room at the Wilderness Lodge so we could stock it up with food from the local market. It turns out I was wrong. Nearly all of the bill was for the coffee mugs and the rest of the food was reasonably priced. I learned that by stocking up from the market you waste a lot of food, spend almost as much (if not as much or more), and it's a hassle. On our next trip I will definitely get the re-usable mugs (a good deal, plus they look cool and make great keepsakes) and I will also get fruit, bagels and the like from the food courts.
T-shirt for the day: As our main plan for the day was to visit Disney MGM Studios, I thought a movie-themed T was in order. So on this day I wore my New York City Hercules World Premier T-Shirt.
We drove to Disney MGM studios. A word here about renting cars. If you have small children, if you're on a tight schedule, or if you're not staying at one of the hotels on the monorail, I think you should seriously consider renting a car. All three were true for us so it was a no-brainer. That was a decision I would not regret.
We got to MGM a little after 7:30. I was immediately struck by how crowded it seemed for so early in the morning. I soon realized that it was more because the park, or at least the part open for walking, is rather small.
The first thing on my agenda was the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. Of all the attractions at all of the parks, this was my number-one can't miss. Andie isn't much of a thrill-ride person, and the kids are both too small, so they waited on a bench in the plaza while I went and got terrorized.
The wait (until entering the elevator) was about 20 minutes. Not bad. With the possible exception of Indiana Jones Adventure in Disneyland, TZToT has the coolest queuing area I've seen. The attention to detail, from the overgrowth in the garden to the dust in the lobby and the grime in the boiler room is amazing. Like IJA, I almost found myself wishing that the line moved more slowly so I could take it all in. The ride itself, of course, is awesome beyond words. I won't go into a detailed description as that can easily be found elsewhere. But I will mention two things. First, I was amazed at how smooth the ride is. It's thrilling, for sure, but is doesn't jerk you around like so many other thrill rides do. Second, I know that the ride is programmable and can change at the whim of the Imaginears, but I thought I new *somewhat* what to expect. But no! The first drop took me *completely* by surprise.
After leaving I toyed with the idea of riding again - especially if the line had gotten any shorter - but by then the line looked to be at least an hour. Oh well, next time.
I regrouped with Andie and the kids and we went to our next stop, The Great Movie Ride. Once again, the line was about 20 minutes. This ride was going to be something of a test for Nat. On our last trip to Disneyland in January, Nat did 2 "dark" rides (Peter Pan and Snow White), got scared, and wouldn't go on any more. I knew that if she got scared on GMR we wouldn't be able to do any more "dark" rides (and there goes most of Epcot). I was especially concerned how she would react to the Alien. That in mind, I forewarned her in great detail what to expect. I also explained to her that it wasn't all real, and that it was all built by Mickey Mouse and that Mickey wouldn't do anything that would hurt her. I don't know whether it was my preparation or there was never anything to worry about, but she loved GMR and she would love all the "dark" rides we would go on during this trip.
I was hoping we would make the first showing of Voyage of the Little Mermaid, but it was not to be. It was now about 10:00 and the park was starting to fill up. We got in line a VotLM and were informed that the wait would be about 40 minutes. This was to be our only visit to MGM on this trip, and we thought Nat would really enjoy the show, so we decided to stick it out. It was a decision we would not regret, as it was a wonderful show that we all found quite enchanting. It seemed to be one of the highlights of the trip for Nat. Charlie slept. The consensus in our family was that the best effect was the use of green lasers and mist to make it look like you are "under the sea". Very cool.
By the time we got out of VotLM it was time for our 11:30 seating at the Sci-Fi Dine In restaurant. I had made all of our meal reservations well in advance and my original intention was to make lunch reservations elsewhere (perhaps Mama Melrose or the Brown Derby) and then go to the Sci-Fi for a snack just before leaving MGM. The reason for this plan was because, although I thought that the Sci-Fi would be a kick and we really wanted to go there, I had heard that the food wasn't very good. Also, this was one place that Andie and I tried to get to during our first trip together but it was booked (we switched to 50's Prime Time and had a terrific time). Unfortunately, all the afternoon slots at Sci-Fi were blocked off for some reason (I never found out why) when I called to make ressies, and I called 60 days in advance. So, we ended up there for lunch.
This place is strange. The restaurant is made to look like a drive in movie theater. You sit in these tables that look like little cars. All the seats face a giant screen showing clips and trailers from 50's "B" Sci-Fi flicks. The first thing I was hit with as we walked in was how eerily quiet the restaurant is. Everyone is watching the movie clips, and the seats don't face each other so it isn't exactly conducive for conversation. The CMs, talking in a normal tone of voice, sound like they're practically yelling. It made it easy for Charlie to sleep through the whole thing.
Andie ordered "The Big Dipper" (soup) and "Little Green Men" (salad). Nat had "Junior Red Planet" (pasta with tomato sauce) and I had "The Beast from Beyond" (roast beef sandwich & fries). I also had a chocolate Milky Way-out Milk Shake. The shake was pretty good, but no $5.00 shake as John Travolta would say. The rest of the food was mediocre at best. Andie didn't finish her soup, and Nat had one bite of her pasta and proclaimed it to be "yucky". My sandwich was strictly diner faire. All in all it was an experience I was happy to have had, and will be equally happy to never have again. The atmosphere is fun, but more in its uniqueness than anything else. If I had to decide between the Sci-Fi and the 50's Prime Time, I'd opt for the 50's Prime Time every time.
When we returned to the outside world it was painfully obvious that the park had become quite crowded. I had hoped we could see the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular and the Hunchback of Notre Dame Stage Show, but we wouldn't have time for both as we had to get to Wilderness Lodge to check in. So I did what any good dad would do - I asked my daughter. Nat voted for the Hunchback (no big surprise there). We had some time to kill before the show started, so Andie found a bench to sit at with Charlie while I took Nat to explore a little. We happened upon the "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids" Movie Set Adventure, and I was surprised to see (given what I had heard) that it wasn't incredibly crowded. Nat and I stayed there for about 15 minutes, then we left to meet up with Andie and Charlie (as anyone noticed yet that all the women in my life have boy's nicknames?)
We got good seats on the aisle for the 1:15 Hunchback show. Although I wasn't surprised by the shows level of professionalism and entertainment quality, I was somewhat surprised by it's originality. A band of gypsy street performers tell the story and are used as a dramatic device to keep the story moving quickly. The shows opening, with the gypsy's telling the story using puppets and building, along with the music, to an image of swirling capes at last revealing Quasimodo being pulled 15 feet into the air by the rope of a bell sent shivers down my spine. "Cool", I murmured under my breath. All in all a quite enjoyable show and one I would rate as "not to be missed". Natalie loved it. Charlotte slept.
The show was over just in time for the Hercules "Zero to Hero" parade. Andie took Charlie and found a spot where they could park the stroller and still see the parade. Nat and I vied for a good position. The parade, though short, was the typical combination of imaginatively designed floats, dancers and blaring music. I tried to capture as much of it as I could on videotape while Nat, perched on my shoulders, bopped to the beat of "Zero to Hero". Charlie slept.
We bid adieu to Disney MGM Studios at about 2:30. This would be out only visit for this trip. On both of our trips Andie and I spent less time at MGM than any other park. This makes sense, of course, because it *is* the smallest of the parks, but some day I would like to spend a good deal more time there. I understand a massive expansion of MGM is being considered, and I think this would be a good thing as the little park feels much more crowded than the others.
We drove to our new hotel, the Wilderness Lodge. It's sort of interesting how we chose the WL. As you may have guessed, I did all the planning for this trip. I did, however, want Andie's input, but I didn't want to force the issue with her (I'm the Disney nut in our house, not Andie). You see, if I had my way we'd make fairly frequent trips to WDW whereas Andie wouldn't be upset if we didn't go at all (it's not that she doesn't like it, she can just take it or leave it). So, I had an ulterior motive of "converting" her. Well, I sent away for the WDW planning video. Nat and I were watching it, and Andie walked into the room as they showed an aerial shot of Wilderness Lodge. "Wow" said Andie, "that place looks great!" That decided it. We would stay at Wilderness Lodge.
To get to the Wilderness Lodge you must first pass through the main gate for the Magic Kingdom. Surprisingly, this made getting to MK from WL something of a hassle (more on that later). You then drive a separate road to get to WL. I had heard that the Imaginears had attempted to give WL the feeling of being secluded, and in this they succeeded. If it weren't for the signs, you would think you had made a wrong turn.
At last you round a bend and suddenly there it is. It is truly a spectacular sight. I have no doubt that the Imaginears who designed WL had this in mind when they built the approach to the lodge.
We drove up to the entrance and I dropped Andie and the kids off. I then self-parked and walked back to the main entrance. The attention to detail, even in the parking lot and the approach to the entrance, is amazing. Whether it's the sounds of forest animals in the distance, the smell of woodsmoke or the animal "tracks" in the sidewalk, there is always something new to discover here.
As for the lobby, all I can say is that you have to see it. Words can not describe, and no picture can do justice to it's sheer scope and splendor. Whether it's the huge fireplace, the massive log totem poles or those funky Native American themed chandeliers, everything in the lobby comes together to make it seem massive and cozy at the same time. The multiple rows of wooden rocking chairs in front of the fireplace add much to this coziness. Andie would later say that it was the most beautiful hotel she had ever stayed in.
We had an uneventful check-in and made our way to our room on the seventh (and top) floor. Our room was nicely appointed, larger than the room at ASM (and *much* more subtly decorated) but still a bit on the small side. We didn't really care, though. Give me a smallish room in a hotel with wonderful amenities and a beautiful lobby over a huge suite in a hotel with no services any day. One small problem was the location of our room. WL is shaped like a squared off "U" and our room was in one of the corners facing the other corner. Not a great location. In hindsight I probably should have requested we be moved, but it was no big deal. If we stay there again (which we probably won't - no reflection on WL, Andie and I just happen to prefer new experiences) I would request a room at the "bottom" of the "U". Much better views.
The property, with it multiple levels, waterfall and bubbling brook that empties into the grotto-like pool, many wooden foot bridges and even it's own geyser is, needless to say, spectacular.
I drove to Goodings market and bought a bottle of wine, some fruit, muffins and cookies. As I mentioned earlier, this concept of "stocking up" which (judging by what I read in guidebooks and the Internet) is frequently used is, in my opinion, not a good idea. We never opened the wine, the fruit wasn't very good, the muffins got squished and the cookies well, crumbled. If you have a much larger family, you're staying in a family suite with a full kitchen or your stay is much longer it might make sense. For us it turned out to be a waste.
We rested up for a bit, gave the kids baths, and left for Epcot around 7:00. The main goal at Epcot was to get good seats for Illuminations. We had 8:00 ressies at Rose & Crown in the England Pavilion, but I thought we might try the San Angel Cantina just outside of the Mexico Pavilion first. When we arrived there were plenty of seats at San Angel. We ordered a couple of Margaritas and some chips and salsa, as well as some milk for Nat. The Margaritas were surprisingly good, and the Mickey-shaped chips tasted (even more surprisingly) fresh. After our drinks we decided that the Cantina was not a great place to spend an hour and a half waiting for Illuminations to start, so we decided to risk it by giving up our well-positioned seats and take a chance on the Rose & Crown. Besides, I had the feeling that the Cantina would fill up with people standing once Illuminations started, and Andie and I had seen Illuminations from the Rose & Crown on our first trip and it was one of our fondest memories from that trip.
It was a decision that we would nearly regret. When we got to the Rose & Crown and made our request, the CM (who I assume was the manager) made it sound like our chances of getting an outdoor table were pretty much nil. He was very helpful, however, and at his suggestion we kept our reservation. If there was nothing outside by around 8:30 he would seat us inside, and he assured us that they could hold our meal during Illuminations so we could walk outside for the show. We were given one of these funny light-up paging gizmos with the warning that they would only work while in or close to the England Pavilion. This turned out not to be a problem as the England Pavilion has, in my opinion, among the best shopping at Epcot. First Andie took Nat to get Nat her one item for the day (she was allowed one thing per day) while I waited at a bench with Charlie. They soon returned, Nat the proud owner of a very cute little umbrella with miniature stuffed Pooh, Piglet, Tigger and Eyeore. It was then my turn. I really hadno intention of buying anything, but then I saw a teal green T-shirt the a Rose & Crown logo embroidered over the left breast. It was love at first sight.
I returned to our bench, the proud owner of one very cool T. We sat and chatted about our day for a bit. We watched some very drunk English guests flirt mercilessly with one of the Rose & Crown CMs. They had obviously been there before as they all seemed to know each other. I also noticed that the drunken brits were all wearing the same T-shirt I had just bought. I mused for a few minutes on what a different place Epcot was at night, and how different it was from the Magic Kingdom at night. One of the main reasons for this difference, I think, is the prevalent drinking at Epcot. I'm not passing judgement here and I don't necessarily think one is better than the other, it's just an observation. It gives them different personalities.
Around 8:30, as promised, a Cast Member came to inform us that our table was ready. They didn't bother with the flashing light gizmo as they knew where we were sitting. We were very pleasantly surprised when we were lead to a table outside with a perfect view of the lagoon. Once again, Disney Cast members doing their best to make the guests stay a magical one. I made a mental note to take the time to thank the manager/CM personally.
Andie ordered a glass of wine, I ordered a Black & Tan, and Nat got a glass of milk. We also ordered a plate of English style Fruit and Cheese. For dinner Nat and I both ordered Fish & Chips, Andie ordered the Chef Selection, grilled lamb. The food was a sight better than Sci-Fi Dine In, but still not great. But what a dinner show! Illuminations was every bit as wonderful as I had remembered. Definitely worth making special plans to see. Nat was enchanted and enthralled. Charlie slept.
Our food arrived after Illuminations, and by the time Andie and I were finished and had had another drink, the kids were both out cold. One nice thing about eating so late was that we avoided the mad post-Illuminations rush for the exit. We were able to leisurely stroll out of the park. We drove to our hotel and slept like babies.
Day 2 - Thursday, November 27 Magic Kingdom Early Entry - Artist Point Character Breakfast - Epcot - Thanksgiving Dinner - My Birthday
Mickey, once again, dutifully called at 6:00. This time, however, I would be the only only getting up early. In addition to being Thanksgiving Day, this was my 40th birthday and I had a little birthday present in mind for myself. While Andie and the kids slept I pulled myself together and made my way to take advantage of the Magic Kingdom early entry. We would have 2 opportunities for early entry at the MK this trip, one being this day and the other Saturday. I figured since no-one else but me was interested in thrill rides, I would do Tomorrowland EE on my own and we would do Fantasyland EE together on Saturday.
T-shirt for the day: This day I chose to wear my exclusive Ceasars' Palace Las Vegas Disney Store T for no reason other than I think it's cool.
I had considered taking the boat to the Magic Kingdom but the CM at the registration desk was a little vague about when it would arrive so I decided to drive to the Ticket & transportation Center and catch a monorail. The drive to MK turned out to be an adventure unto itself. First, it appeared that you had to drive out of the MK area, make a U-turn and drive back in through the main gate. This seemed odd to me because, I thought, "what if there is a long line of cars at the main gate?" I soon realized that there was a place to make a U-turn before exiting the main gate, but, I would also soon discover, actually seeing that turn in time to make it was another thing.
Regardless, I drove back through the main gate and followed the signs to MK parking. I drove. And drove. And drove. Finally I saw a CM in the nearly empty parking lot and asked if I was going in the right direction. He said yes and assured me that if I kept going I would, eventually, get to the TTC.
I was the first one at the TTC waiting to get in. The gates to the monorail were closed. After a while two other families showed up and a CM working there assured us that they would be opening the gates soon. I must say that I was somewhat surprised by how informal the whole thing seemed. It was almost as if the CMs were surprised to see anybody at all. After about 15 minutes we were let in and we all went up to the monorail loading dock. Some more people showed up and we waited a bit longer. An empty monorail pulled in and departed, still empty. Finally another monorail showed up and we all boarded. By now it was nearly 7:30 and there were quite a few people on the monorail, but not a huge amount.
After stopping at the Polynesian and Grand Floridian to pick up more guests we finally arrived at the Magic Kingdom. Just as I was surprised by how few people there were to catch the monorail, I was surprised by how many people were now at the gate waiting to get in. I could see that the crowd by the monorail station was considerably smaller than by the boat docks, so I assumed that most people who chose to do MK EE either take a ferry or walk (if they are in the Contemporary or Grand Floridian). All worked out fine because the park had not yet opened, and I was among the first people in.
First on my agenda was the Alien Encounter. This was one attraction that I had never experienced and it was number 2 on my "must do" list (after TZToT). I got in to see the first show and only waited a few minutes. I have to say that I wasn't terribly impressed. Don't get me wrong, AE was, in my opinion, very well done and technically impressive. And I actually enjoyed it quite a bit while I was experiencing it. It just didn't feel "Disney" to me. All Disney attractions even those that are "thrill" rides have a certain optimistic quality that I felt was lacking with AE. I can safely say that, although I would gladly experience AE again, I would also be glad to skip it.
When I left the line was quite a bit longer than when I got there, so I was glad I experienced AE when I did. I had a slight desire to ride the Astor Orbiter, but, of course, Space Mountain was higher on my priority list. I had ridden SM at Disneyland many times in the past, but I had only ridden the WDW version once, or so I thought. The line was pretty long and the wait was about 40 minutes. As I waited in line and viewed different parts of the queuing area, many times I found myself thinking "I don't remember this" By the time it was my turn to board I was certain that I had never actually ridden this version of the attraction. It was actually surprisingly different than the Disneyland version, with little of that rides tendency to always turn right, but, of course, the overall effect was pretty much the same. And a terrific ride it is.
By the time I was finished with SM it was about 8:40 (2 major attractions in less than an hour? Not bad) so I assumed that the park was now open to the public. I also assumed that my plan to wait for the rope to drop at Adventureland and dash to Splash Mountain was squashed (surely the line would be huge within minutes of general opening). Regardless, I figured it was worth a try. I rushed to the Adventureland entrance from the hub to find much to my pleasant surprise that the rope had not yet been dropped. Waiting for the rope to drop gave me my first opportunity to take in some of the ambience of the Magic Kingdom. Obviously the Magic Kingdom is the one park at WDW that encourages the most comparison to Disneyland. Standing in the hub at the entrance to Adventureland I was mostly taken by how much more spread out the MK is than DL. On my first visit to WDW I was left somewhat unimpressed by the MK, I think mainly because it had too many fond DL memories to contend with. But standing there, admiring the arhitecture of Cinderella's Castle and the Crystal Pavilion, not to mention the graceful curve of the perfectly manicured lawn as it gently slopes down to the castle moat, I truly began to appreciate the MK for what it is and how its differences give it a unique character all its own.
As it would turn out, the rope wasn't dropped until 9:00 sharp and I was actually near the front of the crowd. Once we all got in I joined the sea of humanity in the "dash for the splash". I called Andie from my cel phone to let her know that I would be a little later than I expected and to have the kids ready to go as soon as I got there. After a mere 10-minute wait I was in my log, ready to be splashed. I found myself regretting the fact that Nat was just shy of 42 inches, as I think she would really have enjoy this ride with its wonderful music and colorful characters. She might even like the "big drop". Splash Mountain at Disneyland opened not long before I moved from Southern California, so I am not as familiar with it as many other DL attractions, but it seemed to me that the ride in both parks is pretty much the same.
After Splash Mountain I rushed out of the Magic Kingdom. I found myself regretting the fact that I had to move so fast, but we would visit MK twice more before the trip was over and would have more time to meander. I did, however, take the time to locate our brick in the Walk around the World. It's in an excellent spot (owing, I imagine, to the fact that I ordered it when they were first offered) right in front of the main entrance to the Magic Kingdom. It's brick # W02 032. I was about to board the monorail when I realized that there was an additional seat in the front pilot's section. I figured "why not?' and jumped in. I sat there enjoying the ride, listening to the family I was sharing the cab with discuss their plans to meet family at Fort Wilderness for Thanksgiving dinner. The pilot often cursed herself under her breath because an alarm warning her that she was going too fast kept going off. I could tell that, given the choice, she would have "put the petal to the metal". I disembarked at the TTC, received my "Monorail Co-Pilot" card, thanked the pilot and went to my car. With the parking lot now somewhat full I realized just how close to the station my car was.
I drove back to Wilderness Lodge, picked up Andie and the kids from the room and we went downstairs for our 10:00 seating at the Pocahontas Character Breakfast at Artist Point. The breakfast was buffet-style and not bad. Pocahontas, John Smith, Meeko and Radcliff were on hand to greet Nat and "ooo" and "ahh" over Charlie. Nat loved Pocahontas and Meeko, was a bit scared of Radcliff but later warmed up to him, and was altogether shy to John Smith. Charlotte played with Meeko's nose (when she wasn't sleeping, that is).
After breakfast we all headed over to Epcot. I knew that visiting one of the parks in the middle of the day during a holiday season (thereby foregoing the usual "come early - stay late" idiom) was risky, but my gut told me that Epcot wouldn't be too crowded on Thanksgiving. I turned out to be right. Epcot was far from empty, but it was even less crowded than I had anticipated.
We strolled right through Future World and paused to catch the end of a "Dancing Waters" show. Entering the World Showcase we picked up a Passport for Nat. Our first stop was the Mexico Pavilion. This is Andie's favorite and we lingered there for a while. Nat got her Passport stamped and we left.
We saw Donald standing outside next to the Mexico Pavilion and Nat wanted to stop, so we did. When it was her turn to see the Duck, Donald took Nat by the hand and simply started walking away with her. Nat turned to wave "good-bye" and off they went. I immediately flashed back to Disneyland, January 1994, when we were in California for my parents' 50th wedding anniversary. Nat was 6 months old and the cutest baby in the world. (no, I mean that) Andie and Nat were sitting in that little "foam rubber" park in Toon Town when Goofy walked up and started fawning over Nat, who was in her stroller. After a few minutes he just simply took the stroller by the handle and walked away. See ya, Goof. Anyway, Donald and Nat stopped walking after about 40 feet (Donald was trying to get the crowd to move in) and they posed for pictures. Just another fun moment.
We made our way to the south side of the World Showcase, stopping at each pavilion along the way to get Nat's passport stamped. Once we got to the American Pavilion time was running short so we strolled through the rest of the World Showcase without stopping to get Nat's Passport stamped, but she didn't mind. Neither Andie nor I are the type to rate the success of a trip to a Disney park by how many attractions we see, and we knew that we would miss a lot given the relatively short length of our stay. So we didn't let it bother us. We took the place in at the pace we felt comfortable with and saw as much as possible without killing ourselves. At Epcot I feel that the World Showcase is especially conducive to strolling. For one thing, it's not exactly "attraction oriented". The place is its own attraction. Future World is the exact opposite - you want to hurry from one place to another to get inside the pavilions to see their attractions.
As we were passing through FW on our way out I realized that we had a little extra time and also that the wait for Honey, I Shrunk the Audience was short. We decided to go for it. We weren't surprised, given its reputation, what a great show it was. What did surprise me, however, was the overall structure of the show. I didn't realize that it was produced to look essentially like a stage show. This is, in my opinion, one of the most creative uses of 3D movie making that I have ever seen, and the overall effect was very convincing (of course, actually feeling the mice scurrying under your feet helped with the effect).
We left Epcot and returned to the Wilderness Lodge. When we got to our room we were greeted by the little Winnie-the-Pooh stuffed animals Nat had purchased the night before neatly arranged on one of the beds and peeking over the pillow. This would be our one experience with the housekeeping staff's artistic side. Nat thought it was very cute.
We had 6:00 reservations for Thanksgiving dinner at Whispering Canyon. Upon checking in we were not surprised to find that there would be a wait. (A note of explanation for any reader not versed in the Disney way of restaurant reservations. You don't actually make a reservation but rather you get what they call "Priority Seating". This means simply put that you get priority over people who just walk in. As a result, you may have to wait regardless of reservations.) This was certainly no problem for us. Andie and I smuggled a couple of glasses of wine from the bottle in our room and enjoyed the amazing ambience of the WL lobby. Nat played with Lincoln Logs in the Whispering Canyon waiting area. Charlotte slept.
Our table became available and we were seated. Whispering canyon is not exactly what I would call a place for a relaxing dinner. All of the Cast Members have guns with blanks that they fire off whenever the mood strikes them. They also maintain a good-natured banter among themselves and any guests that seem willing to cooperate. Guests are also occasionally selected out to participate in somewhat silly and embarrassing stunts. At one point, as an example, it seems that every kid in the place between the ages of 10 and 16 was forced to don a tiny cowboy hat and ride around the lobby on stick horses. I got the feeling that this was something of a tradition at Whispering Canyon. One CM in particular seemed to exceptionally good at maintaining a fun atmosphere. He even made a knocking noise on the floor with the food tray stand that sounded just like a galloping horse. One funny decoration I noticed was a miniature outhouse that was occupied by a small stuffed Goofy who looked as if he had had several too many (et's just say he was "on his knees"). A bit later I looked again and noticed that the outhouse door was closed and the Goof was gone. He must have gone to sleep it off.
The food at WC is served in abundant portions on a skillet. As it was Thanksgiving the meal consisted of traditional holiday faire including roast turkey and ham, mashed potatoes, yams and stuffing. One unusual addition was a pretty tasty salad consisting of potato, tomato and mushroom in an oil and herb dressing. For dessert they served pumpkin tarts. Andie and I were somewhat divided over the quality of the meal. We agreed that it wasn't exactly fine cuisine, but I felt that it fit the role of traditional Thanksgiving dinner quite nicely and I rather enjoyed it while Andie found the meal to be disappointing.
After dinner we decided to go for a swim. Andie informed me that she had requested a birthday cake for me at WC but they apparently forgot. Oh well. Nat had been complaining that her knee bothered her, something we had written off as soreness from her fall at ASM, and we also thought a trip to the Jacuzzi would do her some good. There were two Jacuzzi's and, in typical Disney family-friendly fashion, one appeared to be somewhat cooler than the other. The pool at WL is nothing short of wonderful. The stream that starts in the lobby turns into a waterfall and eventually empties into the pool. The pool also has something of a current, especially near where the stream empties into it. Natalie loves pools, and after a little soaking in the Jacuzzi and swimming in the pool all thoughts of a sore knee were forgotten.
After our swim we were all pretty bushed so we decided to call it a night. Birthday cake or no, I must say that it had been a very good birthday over all. Too bad you can only turn 40 once.
Day 3 - Friday, November 28 - Epcot Early Entry, Wilderness Lodge Pool, Magic Kingdom
6:00 again, Mickey again. Our plans for the Morning were to take advantage of Early Entry at Epcot. We got ourselves together, had muffins for breakfast and were on the road by 7:00.
T-shirt for the day: Since we were going to the Magic Kingdom later in the day, I thought my Disneyland T was in order.
We made it to the Epcot Entrance by about 7:30. I was somewhat surprised, given what I had seen at the MK and MGM Early Entries, at how empty it was. The reasons for this, I assume, were probably a combination of the size of the park and the fact that it seems to be the least popular of the 3 major parks (something that will, no doubt, change when Test Track finally opens). Since only a portion of Future World is open for EE we used this time to take in as many of the pavilions there that we could. We immediately went to Spaceship Earth and got on in a matter of a few minutes. We then went to The Sea. Natalie really enjoyed this, especially since it was almost empty and we had the run of the place. Nat was able to dash from one place to another looking at all the fish she wanted. This pavilion, essentially a (very) large aquarium, is extremely cool, especially for kids. It was difficult to get her to leave.
We then went to The Wonders of Life pavilion. There was a man near the entrance running a big toy radio-controlled Met Life blimp that was fun to watch, but our main goal was to see Cranium Commandos. This wonderful attraction was the biggest pleasant surprise for Andie and me on our previous trip and we were both were looking forward to seeing it again. We were also looking forward to seeing how Nat would enjoy it. We were not disappointed. Cute, funny and highly entertaining, Cranium Commandos is, in my opinion, one of the best attractions at Epcot, if not all of Walt Disney World. Nat loved it. Charlotte slept.
After Cranium Commandos we ran into Goofy who posed with Nat and signed her book. We then went to the Energy pavilion and caught Ellen's Energy Adventure. This attraction had changed substantially since our previous trip. Although the shows centerpiece, a trip "back in time" to witness when dinosaurs ruled the Earth is left pretty much unchanged, the remainder of the show is completely re-worked. The changes that have been made to the attraction, which now features Ellen Degeneres Bill Nye the Science Guy and Jamie Lee Curtis are, I think, an improvement. I don't recall much about the attraction's previous incarnation but I seem to recall that the film portion was something of an industrial infomercial. The new film is more memorable and entertaining enough, so I guess I'd say that the changes were improvements. The old pre-show, something of a slide show integrated with a screen made up of moving cubes did impress on our previous trip however, and I did miss that.
It was getting close to 11:00 and we had early priority seating reservations at the San Angel in the Mexico pavilion, so we decided to start back toward the World Showcase. We got to the entrance of WS before they dropped the rope. Once the rope was dropped we went straight to Mexico. I checked in at the restaurant, but they didn't start seating for another hour. I took Nat and Charlie and sat on a bench near the entrance ramp to the pavilion. Andie went to the jewelry store and bought a very nice beaded silver bracelet and a pair of earrings. Charlotte slept. So did Nat.
We were scheduled for the first seating in San Angel at 11:30. I was very disappointed to discover that the Chicken Mole, the very reason I had made reservations at SA in the first place, was not available for lunch (I had read in Selinger's book that, although it is not on the lunch menu, it could be special ordered). Oh well. Instead we ordered appetizers and enjoyed and enjoyed the ambiance. The San Angel, with its appearance of being outside at night and boats from El Rio Del Tiempo floating nearby, reminded me of the Blue Bayou in Disneyland.
After lunch we headed back to the American Adventure. We got there just as a show was starting, and since we had no luck getting Nat to eat anything at SA, we took the opportunity to get her some chicken nuggets and an apple in the pavilions restaurant.
After Nat had her lunch we went into the main pavilion. It was pretty empty so we found a bench to sit on. After a few minutes the Voices of Liberty came out to perform their pre-show. Andie took Nat and the two of them sat on the floor while I stayed on the bench and feed Charlie. Unfortunately I was sitting behind the performers so I really couldn't watch them, but that didn't stop me from listening. Besides, this way I was able to watch the look on my daughters face as she listened to the singers. We then went in to watch the American Adventure and all I can say is that it was as technically impressive, awe-inspiring and (ahem) relaxing as I had remembered.
After the show we strolled around World Showcase for a while and Nat had her passport stamped at pavilions we had missed on Thursday. Andie and I got a kick out of people watching at Epcot. Where else can you see tourists from Iowa in polyester shorts and loud Mickey Mouse T-shirts say things like "Do you want to go to China now and meet at France later, or should we all just go to Morocco?". At the France pavilion Nat got her one toy for the day, a Belle doll. At every opportunity we would make Charlie try on a silly hat. It was now about 2:00, we were all tired and Nat had lost interest in getting any more stamps for her passport, so although we missed a few pavilions we decided to call it a day. I think the main surprise for me at Epcot was how much Nat enjoyed it. I figured that MGM was too small for her to get bored with and I was still looking forward to taking her to the Magic Kingdom, but I was a bit concerned that she wouldn't like Epcot. Now, after being home for a while, Epcot is the park she talks about the most.
At the hotel Nat and I decided to go for a swim. By now she had started complaining about her knee hurting more, and thinking it was a pulled muscle I figures a dip in the pool and Jacuzzi would help. It did seem to help and ran around quite a bit.
After the pool Nat and I joined Andie and Charlotte in the room. By now it was almost 5:00, and we had 5:30 PS ressies at the Liberty Tree Tavern which we were obviously not going to make. I called central reservations and changed us to a later 8:00 reservation at Tony's. We all got cleaned up and dressed and headed out for the Magic Kingdom.
We originally intended to drive to the Ticket & Transportation Center and then take the monorail to the Magic Kingdom. I was hoping that we could get in the front of the train and Nat could watch as the MK approached. My experience with the TTC from the morning before, however, made me realize that the ferry from Wilderness Lodge would be so much easier as to make the hassle of dealing with the TTC simple not worth the trouble. I'm not saying that the TTC is a big hassle mind you, just that walking to the lake to catch a ferry is infinitely easier. Besides, it also meant we wouldn't have to deal with monorail crowds when we were ready to leave.
I was very pleased with that decision. The ferry ride to the MK was very pleasant, and the view approaching the MK from the water is probably almost as nice as the view from the monorail.
Once we got there the Magic Kingdom was, not surprisingly, quite crowded. We only had about an hour and a half to kill before we had to go to dinner, so we just strolled around. The wait for Bear Country turned out to be reasonable so we decided to go for it. They were also showing the Christmas version, which I had never seen. Unfortunately, jus as we were entering the theater it became (ahem) painfully obvious that Charlotte needed a change. I explained my predicament to the nearest CM and he escorted me out. After changing Charlotte's diaper, however, I wasn't able to convince another CM to let me back in (no surprise, but I had to try). So I put Charlie in her stroller, found the exit of Bear Country, sat on a bench and people-watched.
We still had a little time to kill so we checked out the waits at Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion, but both had waits of an hour or so. So we just walked around taking in the ambience and doing a little window-shopping before dinner.
As we walked down Main Street I was taken by how different the Magic Kingdom is from Disneyland. I think those differences present themselves in the two park's Main Streets better than anywhere else. I found myself searching for the right words to sum up this difference. Then it came to me. Charm vs. Elegance. Elegance may seem a strange word to describe a Disney Park, but I think it's the perfect word for the Magic Kingdom. Elegant and self-assured. Disneyland, on the other hand, is more charming, more whimsical and perhaps even more mischievous. Whereas the Magic Kingdom seems to say "Welcome. Come in and have a wonderful time", Disneyland seems more to be saying "Hey! Look at this! Isn't this cool!? No no, look at this!"
There are three main ways these differences manifest themselves to me. First and most obvious is, as I mentioned earlier, is the fact that the MK is more open and spread out than DL. To those who measure the success of a theme park in the number of attractions I suppose this is a bad thing, but as I'm sure you've figured out, that's not how I measure it's success. Secondly, everything in the MK seems to me to be better integrated as a whole. I'm not putting DL down here, I love DL. It's just that DL seems somehow more like a patchwork quilt than the MK. I have no doubt that this is because many more changes have occurred there. Finally, while in both parks "the beauty is in the details", the details of MK seem to me to be more subtle. I want to emphasize that I don't really prefer one over the other, I just enjoy trying to get at what it is about each park that makes them unique.
Well, we got to Tony's for our 8:00 seating when it occurred to me that the tables on the patio in front of the restaurant were the perfect place for watching Spectro Magic at 9:00. I wish I could take credit for planning it that way, but it was pure dumb luck. When we put our name in I requested a table outside and the CM on duty said she would see what she could do. Meanwhile we waited in the lobby. I sat and, as usual, people-watched. Andie and Nat sat on the floor in front of a TV and watched "Lady & the Tramp". Charlotte slept.
Our table was ready at about 8:30. As we were lead through the main dining room to our table outside I felt a tinge of regret that we had requested outdoor seating. The dining room at Tony's is gorgeous. It is themed after "Lady & the Tramp" but the execution of this theme is very subtle. Once we got outside and I realized what a great view we would have of the parade, however, all regrets were forgotten. When the waiter came to our table to take our drink orders I ordered a glass of wine almost out of habit (it is an Italian restaurant, after all). The waiter, of course, informed me that they don't serve wine. "Of course" I realized, "no alcohol in the Magic Kingdom". Andie and I ordered diet Cokes, something of a sacrilege with pasta if you ask me. For dinner Andie had penne pasta with sausage and I had turkey primavera. The food was, by a long shot, the best we had on this trip. It was actually quite good. Nat ordered the kid's spaghetti. Charlotte slept.
The Spectro Magic parade started at 9:00. The start of the parade route was actually right in front of us across the plaza. Conveniently, our table was directly in front of a set of stairs that led to the patio, and a CM was posted there to keep people from standing on the steps (fire regulations, I assumed). This meant that we had a pretty clear view of the parade. Spectro Magic was a lot of fun, somewhat reminiscent of the Main Street Electrical Parade at DL although more high tech. I found myself thinking how we had nearly as good a view as people who had parked themselves on the curb for well over an hour, and all we had to do was purchase a (somewhat overpriced) meal. It's pretty typical of the WDW experience; it's always easier if you're willing to pay.
We had had a long day and we were all pretty bushed. Also we weren't looking forward to the mass exodus that would occur after the fireworks. Since we were at the beginning of the parade route we had an opening after the parade and finishing our meal, so we decided to take the opportunity to make an early escape. Quite a few people had the same idea, but I have no doubt that the crowds leaving a half-hour later would have been infinitely larger. As luck would have it the fireworks started as we waited on the dock for the ferry so we got to see at least a little of the display.
Needless to say, none of us had trouble sleeping that night.
Day 4 - Saturday, November 29 - Magic Kingdom Early Entry, Wilderness Lodge
6:00, Mickey, you know the drill. This was to be our big Magic Kingdom day. We had gone to MK the night before and I had visited breifly on Thursday morning, but both of those visits were merely tastes. This was going to be a MK feast. My original plan was to get to MK much earlier on Friday and only do a couple of hours during EE until it got crowded on Saturday, but it didn't work out that way. I knew that we would end up at MK the better part of the day, and being an EE day it would probably be crowded, but when you're working on a tight schedule sometimes you have to compromise.
T-shirt for the day: I felt it was time to proclaim my New York-ness, so I wore my exclusive New York Disney Store T.
Andie and I were both quite taken by how beautiful the MK is when it's decorated for Christmas. Andie mentioned that she could never imagine getting "into the sprit" in the Florida sunshine, but all the decorations (especially at WL and MK) really set the holiday mood.
On Thursday I had used Early Entry to get in some attractions at Tomorrowland, today we were going to use EE take in some Fantasyland attractions. First on our agenda was Dumbo (one of Nat's favorites from our last Disneyland trip) immediately followed by Snow White's Adventures, Peter Pan Flight and the Carousel. Peter Pan Flight at Disneyland scared Nat, but she loved it this time out. Charlotte needed feeding and changing, so I volunteered for baby duty while Andie took Nat on It's a Small World (who do you think got the better end of that deal?) While I was tending to Charlotte I got to thinking about how I had been reading on the rec.arts.disney.parks newsgroup that Disney was planning on replacing Mr. Toad's Wild Ride with another attraction. I'm not a huge Toad fan, but I figured this would be my only chance to experience the WDW version of this attraction (I had only been on the DL version in the past). So, when Nat and Andie came out of IASW I suggested we ride the Toad. One interesting aspect of the WDW version of MTWR is the fact that it's actually two rides with, from what I could tell, slightly different beginnings and ends.
By this time the park had opened to the general public so we decided to go to Toontown so Nat could meet some characters.
Nat loved Mickey's Toontown Fair, especially Minnie's house. I think she was ready to move in. Meeting the characters in Toontown is quite well organized. They reduce the wait by grouping the characters into like-themed combinations. One group had "classic" characters, one had Pooh characters and the third had villians. First we took Nat to see the "classic" characters. The line for this group was the longest, but not too bad. Minnie, Donald, Goofy and Pluto were there. Nat had missed Minnie at Epcot and wanted to see her first. She had already seen Donald and Goofy at Epcot so she wanted to see Pluto next. By now Nat's knee was really hurting so she sat on the floor and pulled Pluto down next to her. Nobody was waiting and Pluto seemed eager to oblige.
We then went to see Pooh, Tigger and Eyeore. Tigger was first. After Nat saw Pooh and we were walking away I heard a few people say "oh, look!". I turned around to see that I was being followed by Pooh with his arms outstretched. He wanted to hug Charlotte. Very cute. Nat then went to see Eyeore. I noticed that she was really favoring the one knee and was limping. As she stood next to Eyeore I couldn't decide who looked gloomier.
We tried to see Mickey, but it was getting close to our resevation time at Cinderella's Royal Table and the line looked prohibitive. We left, but Nat didn't seem too upset about missing the Mouse. Then she said "we can see him later" and i felt bad because i knew that wasn't likely.
We got to the castle just as it started to rain. A bunch of people were gathered under the castle for shelter, and who should be there but a bunch of characters including the Mick himself. It seems that they were scheduled to put on a show in front of the castle that was canceled on account of the rain. It was very crowded and somewhat chaotic, but Nat got to meet Mickey after all.
Our reservations for Cinderella's Royal Table were for 11:30. The CM at Cinderella's RT said it was too early to check in but we could feel free to sit in the lobby downstairs from the dining room. The lobby was empty except for one other family and us. Nat needed to use the restroom so Andie took her up. I thought Charlotte might enjoy getting out of her stroller so I layed out a blanket in the corner and let her roll around on it.
Nat and Andie returned a few minutes later, and by now Nat's knee was hurting quite a bit. A few minutes later Cinderella showed up with the Fairy Godmother close behind. Snow White followed soon afterward. I picked up Nat and took her to see Cinderella. By now she didn't want to stand so she sat on the floor. Cinderella just sat herself down right next to her. I then took her to see Snow White. Nat started crying because her leg hurt. I explained to Snow White that she had hurt her leg and Nat and I went back to the corner where Andie was sitting with Charlotte.
At some time while this was going on Peter Pan and the Mad Hatter also showed up. Snow White had started spreading the word to the other characters that there was a sad little girl, and at the same time the lobby was quickly filling with more guests. All I can say is that between a crying 4 1/2 year old and a (if I do say so myself) very cute 5 month old, the other kids in the room didn't stand a chance. First Cinderella and Snow White came by, sat on the floor and tried to comfort Nat (while "ooo-ing" and "aww-ing" over the baby). The Fairy Godmother went up to the main dining room and made a little bag full of candy and little toys for her. The Mad Hatter chimed in with jokes and general silliness. The best of all for Nat, I think, was when Peter Pan came over, sat with her and told her a story about the time he hurt his leg while flying around the castle. (I have to admit I felt a twinge of guilt. Nat had their nearly undevided attention for at least 15 or 20 minutes while the other kids there might have felt a bit left out. Oh well...)
The characters all went out of their way to make a sad little girl feel better. They weren't able to completely cheer her up, but certainly not from a lack of trying. And it definitely has given Nat a special memory.
Later, during lunch, I asked our waiter Curtis what the best way was to express our thanks to the characters. He suggested stopping by guest services and filling out a guest comment form, which I did. I only hope they know what a magical moment they provided for one little girl (and her daddy .
After leaving Cinderella's castle we decided to give Pirates of the Caribbean another try. We told Nat she could stay in her stroller since it was hard for her to walk. Luckily the line for PotC wasn't too bad. Nat really enjoyed the ride. I can safely say that she is now a big fan of the "dark rides". After PotC we went to check out the line at Haunted Mansion but it was prohibitively long, and we wanted to catch the afternoon "Remember the Magic" parade.
We wanted to place ourselves strategically close to the main entrance because our plan was to leave the park as soon as the parade was over. We found excellent spots on benches at the end of the main street exit plaza facing south. Andie and I took turns sitting with the kids while the other took care of essential business like getting candy and fudge from the Main Street candy shop. At one point all the kids in our section were asked to et up and practice a little dance they would do when the Little Mermaid float came by later during the parade. Nat was obviously not up for dancing but wanted to get into the act so I carried her and we practiced the dance together.
The parade started at the other end of the parade route (in Liberty Square, I think) and made its way down to where we were. This was good because it gave us plenty of time to just relax. It was bad because it meant that we had to listen to the "Remember the Magic" theme song over and over. That little ditty is rith up there with the IASM theme song for annoyance level.
The parade made its way to us. The song blared. Nat smiled, laughed and waved at all the characters. She was especially thrilled to see characters she had previously met. When the Little Mermaid float arrived Nat and I danced the Calypso. Charlotte slept.
After the parade it was time to say good-bye to the Magic Kingdom, the last park we would visit on this trip. We still had some more fun scheduled, but it still felt a bit like saying good-bye to WDW, so I felt a little melancholy. Nat turned around and waved at what she had come to call the "candy castle".
We had reservations at the Flying Fish for later that evening, but by the time we got back to our room at about 5:00 everybody was too tired. I was a little disappointed because the food in general on the trip was something of a letdown and I thought that the FF held the chance of getting a good meal. But the thought of a relaxing evening in our hotel was too inviting. We went down to the pool and Jacuzzi and spent some time relaxing and swimming. Any intentions we may have had of keeping out dinner engagement were quashed after that. We retired to our room for an evening of munching on snacks purchased at the "Roaring Fork", TV and packing for the trip home.
Day 5 - Sunday November 30 - Downtown Disney
No pesky call from the Mouse this morning. We all slept in, no surprise there. Our flight was scheduled to leave at 2:30 in the afternoon, but we had a little time to kill so we decided to spend it at Downtown Disney. The only part of the complex that had been there on our previous trip was Pleasure Island, so I was interested in seeing what it was like.
We finished packing, got dressed and went downstairs to check out. One thing that I think makes going home from vacation easier is to leave in small increments. We had said good-bye to the WDW parks the afternoon before, now it was time to say good-bye to our hotel. I hate checking out of hotels, and it is especially hard when the hotel you are checking is as wonderful as the Wilderness Lodge is. The lobby, with its woodsy atmosphere and its rocking chairs beckoning you to sit and relax in front of the incredible fireplace, is not exactly a place that makes you want to leave. And of course the night before we had received a message from the management suggesting that we extend out stay at reduced room rates. Maybe in another life.
We spent the rest of the morning walking around the Downtown Disney. Pleasure Island was all closed. The West Side was mostly under construction, except for the theaters and the House of Blues. We ended up spending most of our time at the Disney Marketplace.
In terms purely of shopping, this place is incredible. There are some really cool shops there, including a Lego store that has gigantic Lego sculptures that must be seen to be believed. Of course, our money was spent at the World of Disney which is, as I understand it, the largest Disney Store in the World. I work near two showcase Disney Stores in New York City, one which is very big. This place, however, puts them both to shame. I have to point out that there was a particular stuffed animal that I wanted to get for Charlie which I have seen in the 5th Avenue store and didn't see at the World of Disney.
We told Nat she could get one last item. She picked out an Esmarelda outfit with matching slippers. Andie had not been able to pick up a birthday present for me, so she told me to pick something out at WoD. I knew exactly what I wanted: a Mickey Mouse Watch. I wanted on of the "classic" style watched, with Mickey on the dial, his arms used as the hands on the watch. There must have been at least two dozen to chose from, and I didn't like any of them. I ended up getting a chronograph style watch with auxiliary dials that form the familiar Mickey shape. There was a bit of money left in the budget, so I also picked up a copy of "Building the Dream".
After a lunch of pizza at Wolfgang Puck's it was time to say goodbye to Disney World and head back to the real world. It would have been nice to stay longer, but then it's also nice when you leave wanting more.
One thing I was really hoping to do on this trip was to make Andie a bit more of a willing participant in our Disney excursions. She enjoys Disney parks, don't get me wrong, but she's not quite as enthusiastic as I am. As we were making out way through Downtown Disney to our car, Andie said, "You know, we should come back here sometime without kids. We could do the Disney Institute and really check out the night life".
It was then that I knew that I had a convert on my hands.
John Thompson, HootDad on radp-friends
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