Prologue - How It All Began
This briefly covers the 6-hour trip that inspired the 6-day trip. This Prologue is being done from memory many months after it happened, so some of the details (or even some of the characters) might be fuzzy. Warning: If you get overcome by acronyms while reading this report, please refer to Deb Wills' WDWIG for the English-language equivalents.
Steve (39, your host) - been to WDW once, for 1 day in 1974 Teri (34, Wife, Mom & Stay-at-Home Superhero) - 2 DL trips / 1 WDW trip, 15-20 years ago Sean (8 years old) and Tyler (5 years old), never been to WDW.
Supporting Cast - the Ferrells, friends from Omaha who have been to DL many times; Arlene Kolb, the Music Director at our former church back in the Detroit area. (Read Chapter 0 for more details.)
Last February (1997) I was in Orlando for 5 days on business, and Teri came along as a woman of leisure (the kids stayed home with Grandma). One evening we drove to the Disney Village Marketplace. We shopped in the World of Disney, and spent some time wandering around the Marketplace (looking in the Rainforest Cafe, watching the "burping" fountain with 1 very wet kid in it, etc.). The whole thing was kinda cool - you didn't pay to get in, but you got the same feeling of being surrounded by the Disney Magic. You can tell I'm a rookie - just hanging out at the Marketplace got me excited. I loved it, because even though I am no longer a kid (please refer to age disclaimer above), I still act like one. A bug bit me.
Although I really wanted to get to WDW that week, it wasn't cost-effective to spend over $80 (two 1-day passes) for a few hours in the parks. At that time of year MK and The Studios closed at 7:00, Epcot closed at 9:00, and the earliest I got out of my training classes was 3:30. We ended up sitting through a 90 minute time-share demo (Westgate Lakes) which was not a bad deal for us - we got a free buffet dinner, and 1-day passes for any park in WDW at less than half-price. We knew the sales presentation would be 90 minutes long, so we knew what to expect. The result was instead of paying over $80, we got 2 tickets for $17.50 each. Such a deal! It would be fun, but we were not planning on an extended trip any time in the future.
Thursday, Feb 27, my class ended early (3:00) and we were in the Epcot parking lot by 3:30. OK, so I drove a LITTLE fast since I was WAY excited. Neither of us had ever been to Epcot before. We walked on to Spaceship Earth, JiI, The Land, Horizons, Body Wars and UoE. We did have to wait about 5 minutes for HISTA. Did you catch that? Our only wait was 5 minutes at HISTA. Hey, all you folks who fill those cattle lines during July - HELLO?!?
The same bug that bit me at the Marketplace bit again. The AA figures, lighting, and staging were very impressive. (Side note: I have a background in music and theater so when I look at these attractions, I notice the staging and presentation. How they focus your attention where they want to WHEN they want to. You don't see something coming for 5 minutes before you actually get to it.)
SIDE NOTE on the AA Ellen: You have to remember that we knew nothing about Epcot before we went. (Thanks to radp I now know more than is probably healthy.) As we rode past the AA Ellen figure in UoE, I commented to Teri that the actress they had in there looked nothing like Ellen. Only after becoming obsessive/compulsive with this whole Disney thing did I discover that it wasn't a real person! So I give the Imagineers a perfect 10 for that incredibly life-like AA figure. I give them about a 2.25 for trying to make it look like Ellen. IMHO it didn't look anything like her. I also found out that this wasn't their first try. The first attempt at the AA Ellen looked even less like her, so they scrapped that one and built the current model. Maybe release 3.0 will be a better rendering.
Teri's fave was Horizons, and I was just blown away with the creativity in HISTA. We killed an hour or so in Innoventions. Decided that if we ever brought the boys, we would stay away from here. Spend a few hours playing video games at WDW? I don't think so! We really enjoyed the interactive area after JiI. Teri had a little too much fun playing digital games with my face, and I, the big kid, was dancing around saying "I'm stepping on the floor, and making music!" Including a leisurely dinner at The Land food court, we did all of this from 3:45 until 8:15 without pushing at all. This was a very non-commando touring plan, since we didn't even have a touring plan. Remember, we had never been to the park before, and didn't even know the layout before we got there.
Since it was late, we decided to take a whirlwind trip around the world. From 8:30 - 9:00 we did the clockwise world tour. The architecture was very impressive, but that's about all we had time to see. We watched Illuminations in front of Canada (beauty, eh!), and thought it was great. The choreography between fireworks, lasers and music was quite impressive. We followed the herd out, waving to the CMs at the exit.
Once out of the parking lot, we participated in our final ride of the day the Electric Brake Light Parade along with several thousand of our closest friends. This would have a profound effect on any future decisions of on-site vs. off-site.
Chapter 0 - The Planning or 'The Allied Invasion of D-Day Didn't Take This Much Planning' or 'Scrooge Wasn't This Cheap With His Own Money'
Steve (39, your host) - been to WDW once, for 1 day in 1974. Teri (34, Wife/Mom/Stay-at-Home Superhero) - 2 DL,1 WDW trip over 15 years ago. Sean (8 years old) and Tyler (5 years old) had never been to WDW.
I'm not quite sure exactly when it happened. Maybe those bugs that bit me back in February finally caught up with me. Sometime between March and May I went off the deep end and became a Disneyholic. I even began to entertain thoughts of taking my family to WDW sometime soon. My wife thought I was completely nuts. I spent hours reading books and gathering info on line. I read every trip report on Brian Bennett's page. My mouse knew the way to Deb's WDWIG all by itself. Every evening I would come up with a new fascinating (well, at least I thought they were fascinating) Disney facts. "They use this thing called forced perspective to . . . The Tower is 199 feet tall because . . . The trash cans are about 17 steps apart because . . . When they dug the lagoon they used the dirt to . . . " Then came the defining moment when I broke from reality all together - I stumbled into a place called radp, and life has never been the same. Have I actually slept at all during the last 4 months, or have I spent the entire time planning this trip?
Actually the number one and two reasons for this trip are named Sean and Tyler. They are fantastic kids with huge hearts who love almost everything with the name Disney on it. Months before the actual trip, I would get a little teary-eyed imagining their reaction to seeing the Castle-Cake-Thing for the first time, giving big hugs to Mickey, riding the monorail right into the Contemporary . . . (Yes, we are easily amused.)
Due to financial and time constraints, this trip won't be repeated in the near future. We are a one-income family who chooses not to go into debt (except for a mortgage).
The first time I even allowed myself to think of going to WDW was when I found out they had hotels that didn't cost a small fortune. I remember asking the CM at CRO what was wrong with the All Stars, since by comparison they were so reasonable. By traveling in late January, I got a reservation at ASM for $74. MKC would later take this down to $66. (Total savings of over $40.)
Airfares from Omaha to Orlando hovered around the $220 - $280 range, until TWA came in with a $169 rate. I'll take four seats RIGHT NOW please. (Money Saver's Note: I got both these deals because I planned well in advance, and continually checked rates.)
I got 4-day Park Hopper passes at TDS for $549.52, saving about $25 with MKC. The 4-day Value Passes would have been a little less money, but we did want the option of park-hopping. As it turns out we used this quite a bit.
We decided that food was one place where could save significantly. We brought individual cereal boxes and NutriGrain bars for breakfast, and granola bars, beef jerky, nuts, etc. for in-park snacks. The breakfast worked out great, since the boys could take it on the bus with them and not have to rush. We also brought water bottles to further cut down on expenses. We filled them with ice at the hotel, then stopped a water fountains in the parks to re-fill them. All of this, along with ponchos and cameras were carried around in my backpack, which worked perfectly.
Putting this whole trip together individually was a lot more leg work for me (but I'm kinda weird - I enjoyed it). Buying a travel package, either from Disney or a Travel Agent, would have cost us more and given us options that we did not want. However, some packages seem to fit some people's tastes perfectly, so do your own homework.
The Grand Plan
(Editor's Note: This is not to be confused with Disney's almost-all-inclusive package deal that includes accomodations at the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa.)
Now for our itinerary (hereafter known as The Grand Plan). We kept the trip to 6 days/5 nights, with the middle four days in the major parks. We decided right away that we were most definitely not trying to "do it all". Our first priority was to hit the attractions that the boys would enjoy the most. DAY 1: arrive mid-afternoon, ride the monorail to some resorts (remember, we're rookies), dinner at Whispering Canyon. DAY 2: EE at The Studios. DAY 3: EE at MK. DAY 4: EE at Epcot, focusing mainly on Future World attractions and some World Showcase entertainment. DAY 5: Whatever we missed, whatever we want to see again. DAY 6: Disney Village Marketplace (whatever it's called now), mid-afternoon flight home.
During late January/early February, the parks close early but are fairly empty, so we planned to stay in the EE park all day. On the down-side, I got flamed BIG TIME in radp by some veterans for this touring plan. "What, only 1 day in Epcot? How could you? I can never do it in less than 2 or 3 days!" For a while I felt dumb. Then I realized that Sean and Tyler would be bored with the arts and crafts, the passports would be forgotten once we were home, and they would come close to breaking something in every gift shop. (What did you learn at Epcot, Tyler? I learned how to say "Don't touch" and "Put that down" in seven different languages.) I know that many children enjoy the World Showcase movies and pavilions, but they just didn't seem like the boy's speed. We could always use our Day 5 to come back and see Cirikli, Statues, Acrobats, etc. (No mimes please!) Stay tuned to see if this plan actually worked.
Flash update! I talked so much about planning the trip, that friends of ours (The Ferrells) booked a WDW trip for the same time. It was funny to hear Derek get excited, 6 months after I had gone through the same thing. "Did you know Disney has it's own web page?" I know Derek. "And they have pictures of all the hotels, and the rates too!" I know Derek. "And you can see live pictures of what's happening right now in the parks!" I know Derek. Derek has taken his family to DL the last several years, coinciding with a guitar trade show in CA. He owns 2 music stores, and we both play in a very rock-oriented band at our church. I think a Dad's night out to House of Blues and the Guitar Gallery has just been added to the agenda.
Flash update #2. This one falls into the "God's timing is amazing" category. Two days before we left, I thought about calling the Music Director at our former church in the Detroit area, just to chat. (We moved to Omaha 18 months ago.) That same afternoon she called me, because she was re-reading our family's Christmas letter in which I mentioned our upcoming WDW trip. She asked when we were going and where we were staying. I told her Jan 31 - Feb 5 at All-Star Music. She started laughed hysterically because she was staying at All-Star Music from Jan 30 - Feb 4. So we got to do a little reminiscing while we were there.
January 31 - Chapter 1
We got up early and cold. It's 30 degrees at 8:00 AM when we took off. Very uneventful flights, changing planes in St. Louis. (You don't really want to know if we had window or aisle, and what we ate, do you?) I thought about teasing the boys by telling them that it was the Disney Monorail that went from the gate to the main terminal at MCO. I decided I didn't want any future psychological damage or criminal activity blamed on me, so I held my tongue.
It's 65 degrees in Orlando. A 35 degree swing in 6 hours - not bad at all! We were met at baggage by Gus from Florida Town Car. For the same price as Mears we got door-to-door service without the crowds and the wait. I recommend FTC wholeheartedly. Gus was friendly and on-time, and his car was immaculate. He pointed out the various resorts that we went past. He mentioned that he had lived in North Jersey (that's my 'hood) so we talked about Seaside Hts. and Asbury Park when we drove past the Boardwalk.
Check-in at ASM took about 5 minutes. The boys watched videos and Teri observed someone else's kid experiencing Disney meltdown. Throwing a tantrum, calling his mother a stupid idiot. It made a good object lesson for our boys. We got exactly the room location I requested. First Woo-hoo! We were on the 2nd floor of Calypso and although it was parking lot view, we opened our door to trees, not cars (Room #1511). We didn't want to face the pool due to noise from late-night swimmers. It was absolutely the closest room to the bus stop/food court. We unpacked and I "helped" the boys find the hidden Mickeys in the Pizza menu and in the toilet paper wrapper. I tried hooking up with Arlene, but missed her. We bought 2 refillable mugs and then set off.
An Epcot bus arrived almost immediately. At the Epcot monorail station I walked past the 30 people in line and asked the CM if we could ride up front with the driver. (Thanks radp!) He said sure. Second Woo-hoo! I walked back and told Teri what was up, but not the boys. When they started to load the next monorail, I told the boys that we had a surprise. Tyler started to get in the front car through the regular doors, but I said "No. THIS door" ushering him into the very front. They were already excited - at this point I thought they would spontaneously combust. CM Cliff was very friendly and answered Sean's questions (Top speed? 40 mph). He posed for pictures with the boys and let them blow the horn.
At TTC we started our monorail resort tour at the Poly. I saw several radp'ers cars parked at the Poly! Shamey shame on you ;o) The 2 dads snoozing in the hammocks on the beach looked very comfortable. At the Contemp Sean found the goat with 5 legs and we enjoyed the view from the 15th floor balcony. We had PS at Whispering Canyon so we took the launch from MK to Wilderness Lodge just as the sun was setting. Very nice and relaxing - sure beats the bus.
We met the Ferrells in the lobby. Derek and Lori have 3 kids, so they had 2 rooms at CBR, and were very disappointed with them. As soon as he walked into the lobby, Derek went right to Guest Services and got his other 6 nights changed to WL. He even got all 5 in one room. Describing the WL is kind of like describing your honeymoon. People just don't get it. Even though the temperature was in the 70's, the fireplace just seems to draw you towards it.
We were a party of nine and Disney Dining said they couldn't seat more than 6 at one table. We checked in, got a pager and set off to find hidden Mickeys. We just found our first one when the pager went off. We were seated 5 minutes early, all at one table. Third Woo-hoo! (I'll stop counting now.) The table was toward the back to the right, near the fireplace and we had a high wall bench seat behind us. (This is important later) This place was a hoot! Miss Kitty, our server, was great with us all, but especially at the kid's level when dealing with them. Her gun had been "taken away" so try as I might, I couldn't get Derek shot. (I even told her that he needed directions to Universal Studios!) Cole Ferrell (5 yrs old) got shot by another server for wearing Nike's. The expression on his face when she pulled her gun was priceless. Remember how Mr. Bill looked on SNL when he said "Oh No!" Cole's eyebrows were as high as they could get and his mouth was drawing a perfect circle. Tyler wanted ketchup with his kid's meal fries. Knowing what would happen, I told Miss Kitty. Again, so appropriate for a 5 yr old, she knelt down and quietly (but dramatically) told him that they don't like ketchup there, and explained what usually happens if you ask for it. She then smuggled a bottle out, wrapped in a napkin. Miss Kitty made such an impression on Tyler that he didn't want to eat his dinner because he "didn't want to get shouted at." Teri and I eventually convinced him that it was OK, but the bottle stayed covered throughout dinner. The kids heard some commotion over the bench wall so they all stood and cautiously poked their heads over. Chuck Wagon was putting a new table through their paces, when he saw these 4 little heads poking over the wall. He pulled his gun, yelled "Shooting Gallery!" and opened fire. You never saw 4 kids drop so quickly. It was a stitch. The kids all took part in the stick horse races, and then all gathered to take an oath led by one of the servers. I, state your name . . . to which every kid replied "I, state your name." (Anyone remember Animal House?) They vowed to kick Sonia, the manager, in the shins and pull her hair before they all left. I charged dinner to our room - how easy. Good food, lots of it, and entertainment. 4 thumbs up from the Roberts. Sorry for all the detail here, but we're new. Dinner in our house usually doesn't involve firearms.
Two busses and a few stops later, we were back at ASM. Our adventure was blessed with a wonderful start. Just before lights out Derek called. He had run into someone he knew at CBR and that person told him that MGM, which we planned to hit the next day, had cheerleader contests all weekend. That meant Indiana Jones, Superstar TV and Goosebumps were closed, and crowds would be up. We shifted tactics, and I drew up a non-EE touring plan for Epcot instead. This also meant a little extra sleep, which is always a good thing.
February 1 - Chapter 2
We had breakfast in the room and I made a 2:00 PS for the Garden Grill. We ran into Arlene at the ASM food court and visited for a while. She was also heading to Epcot, so we ran into her several times during the day. Less than 5 minutes wait for the bus and about a 10 minute bus ride to Epcot. We got there at 8:45.
I had the boys "stumble" on the talking fountain behind Innoventions and they promptly wasted about a gallon of water.
HISTA seemed eerie with NOBODY on the ramp up to the doors, NOBODY inside except 3 CMs, and 5 people in the Kodak commercial, I mean the pre-show. We warned Tyler about the lion and snake, so he was OK with it.
JiI was next and Sean and Tyler got excited about the hidden Mickey on the back of the ostrich. After the ride the boys digitally altered each other's face, and we all enjoyed the dancing/music room.
On to The Land, where we walked into Circle of Life and Food Rocks, which were new to Teri and me. Being a musician, I was impressed with how faithful the Food Rocks musical arrangements were, especially Queen, Peter Gabriel and the Police. Exact guitar and keyboard sounds were duplicated. I also showed the boys the hidden Mickey in the spotlights outside the entrance. We also rode the Living With the Land boat ride with about a 5 minute wait. Teri and I both enjoyed this last year, as it is both fun and educational.
We rode Horizons next, and I have a question for radp - wussup here? None of us thought it was screaming for rehab, the soundtrack never cut out, and we all enjoyed it. I expected to see chunks of plaster falling from the ceiling after some reports I read. Individual results may vary.
Over at WoL, Teri and the boys rode Body Wars, which Tyler didn't care for. As a treat, I had Tyler's baseball swing analyzed by Rod Carew. We had never seen Cranium Command, but it became a Roberts' family fave! I loved Bobcat. I stopped at the Met Life video kiosk and we should get our "family souvenir" soon. (Editor's note - it came the day after we got home!) We walked into UoE 30 seconds after the pre-show started, so the boys understood what was happening. I finally noticed Kramer's cameo as Neanderthal man, and Tyler enjoyed the dinosaurs, even getting sneezed on.
We were seated at exactly 2:00 for our Character Lunch at Garden Grill. The boys didn't know this was a character lunch until they walked in and saw Mickey. It was lots of food and lots of fun. Tom, our server told us the smashed potatoes had just been thrown against the barn door by Chip and Dale, and Sean and Tyler thought that was pretty funny. Teri & I agreed that they were some of the best potatoes we have ever had. Mickey made Tom climb over the wall onto the rocks from LwtL to take a picture of our table. We had a booth facing out, and Teri commented that it felt like we were the only ones in the place - high backed, big curved benches obscured your view of the rest of the tables. It also allowed the characters to "sneak up" on the kids. Plus there weren't bunches of kids chasing after the characters. We had them all to ourselves while they were at our table, and they all came by at least twice. We had pictures and autographs with Mickey (Tom called him Boss), Minnie, Chip and Dale. BTW, Minnie is crazy about me. You can tell by the way she looks at me.
Near the Innoventions Fountain we stopped for the boys to take pictures with Goofy. I asked him which one was Goofy and he pointed to himself. Oh gawrsh! The EpBOTS were performing and I wanted to blow them off but I'm glad we didn't. They were very entertaining. HOW DO THEY DO ALL THOSE COOL SOUNDS? Digit grabbed Tyler's baseball hat and sneezed a bunch of binary code into it. Next was onto Spaceship Earth without a wait. We all liked this one. That finished everything in Future World we wanted to do so we set off for the countries.
Neither El Rio del Tiempo nor Maelstrom were part of The Grand Plan, but Sean asked to see them both so we did. I'm glad there was no wait for El Rio because it wasn't worth waiting for. Did I miss it, or did they ever explain to you what exactly you were seeing? Maelstrom pleasantly surprised me, and I'd ride it again. Sean became interested in both of these rides after seeing them on the Disney update channel at the hotel (as opposed to the Disney Channel we all get on cable). We passed on the Norway movie after the ride.
We saw Cirikli twice, the last few minutes of Bubble Nicholas, and the Japan Taiko drums. I thought taiko drumming was supposed to be an exciting entertainment form. We left after less than 5 minutes.
We saw a Living Statue in France and she was excellent. After about 5 people posed with her, she started moving. She made one guy kiss both cheeks and both hands before she would give him his hat back. All her movements were slow and graceful, even when people were grasping at stolen objects or trying to get lose from her "grip".
American Adventure was next and I found it very moving and inspirational. I thought the best AA was the family photograph scene with the 2 brothers who were supporting different sides of the Civil War. Very lifelike range of motion. To keep the boys occupied we rode the launch from Germany and saw fireworks over China for the Chinese New Year. We strolled back toward China and saw the Pu Yang acrobats. How do those kids do that stuff? It was pretty amazing. We ate fried rice and egg rolls in China and then staked out a perfect Illuminations spot near the Chinese restaurant.
While Teri, Sean and Tyler went for coffee and funnel cake, I struck up a conversation with Chris, a CM from TDS somewhere in Ohio. He is also a 3-year veteran of the Disney College Program. Chris was excited to see the new non-25th anniversary Illuminations since today was Feb 1. In the first sentence the soundtrack said "Remember the Magic" so Chris knew this was the old show. That was OK because he had only ever seen Holiday Illuminations during all his time at WDW. Here's a question for radp. When Teri and I saw Illuminations in Feb of 1997, we only remember the ball in the lagoon. Neither of us remembers seeing the water/mist screens. Anyone know when were those added? Anyone, anyone? Bueller? I still think Illuminations is one of the best multi-media (see it doesn't only apply to CD ROM) shows I have ever seen. I recognized almost all the classical music too.
We slowly trudged along with the crowd, and the line for the All Star (combined) bus was big. The busses pulled up 2 at a time in rapid succession, so the line moved fairly quickly. Then 2 "super busses" rolled in and scooped a bunch of us up. The boys were pumped about riding in one of them. In one non-EE day we easily saw everything we wanted to at Epcot, walking directly on to almost everything.
February 2 - Chapter 3
I got an obscene phone call from a rodent at 6:00 this morning. Actually the only thing that was obscene was the hour. Otherwise we were in WDW so all was right with the world. The weather button on our phone called for 100% chance of rain today. Humph!
Breakfast in the room. We put the ponchos in the backpack, caught the MK bus at 7:10 and were at the gate by 7:25. Walking down Main Street we saw a crane and a "cherry picker" working on the castle, starting to remove the inflatables. Inside the castle, we stopped to look at the Cinderella mosaics. Teri thought that the 2 step-sisters looked very similar to the characters in the Rogers and Hammerstein musical Cinderella from TV many years ago. Anyone else ever notice?
We rode Dumbo with no wait. All was definitely right in the world as I, proud Dad, craned my neck to take video and photos of our sons riding in the elephant behind us.
Next was Cinderella's Golden Carousel without a wait. This was a special moment for me because back in the early 60's I had ridden that same carousel as a child at Olympic Park in Maplewood, NJ. Disney rescued it when the park closed and did an absolutely marvelous job of restoring it. My horse glistened.
Teri, Sean and Tyler rode Mad Tea Party with no wait, then we all walked on Mr. Toad. Forgive me for blaspheming, but I was underwhelmed with Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. If Disney closes this and replaces it with something else, I will not be saddened.
Next on to Tomorrowland where we waited 3 minutes to ride Space Mountain. Teri took the back door out as planned. Sean loved it, Tyler didn't, and I spent most of the time making sure Tyler was OK. He wasn't crazy about it, but he decompressed by the time we reached the end of the speedramp and walked into the gift shop.
At Tyler's request, we deviated from The Grand Plan and rode the Grand Prix Raceway, which perked him right back up again. Sean steered our car and I slowed down enough to allow Tyler, who was steering Teri's car, to bump into us. I pretended to be mad and squirted them with a water bottle. Gotta test those slicks on a wet track, ya know.
We rode Snow White without a wait and waved to Dopey above the exit. BTW, the sign telling you how long the wait is still says Snow White's Scary Adventure. How long ago was "Scary" dropped from the official title?
Toontown opened at 9:00 so Sean and I rode the Barnstormer, and he was thrilled about being in the front car. Next we all made popcorn in Minnie's kitchen, then waited in the character tent for 20 minutes. Oops! That's just the line to see Mickey! We had him to ourselves yesterday afternoon at the Garden Grill. We walked through the Character Tent twice, once for Pooh, Eyore and Tigger and then for Goofy, Minnie and Launchpad.
Back in Fantasyland The Grand Plan called for the Lion King but it wasn't starting for 20 minutes so we rode IASW. Tyler liked it in spite of himself. He claims to hate the song and turns up his nose when you sing it.
We queued again for Lion King, only to have the line shut down when we were 10 people from the front. What would you do? Yes, we went off to Never Land to find the Lost Boys. It's a good idea to see the Disney videos before coming. We had just seen Disney's version of Peter Pan so we all knew what was going on. We finally got into the Lion King. This was the first of many places I noticed how they direct the sound to appear from the side of the stage where the character is. I know it's not unique to Disney, but it thought it was extremely well done throughout.
Haunted Mansion was next with about a 5 minute wait. Although Tyler was a little skeptical, he did fine. One of my few memories of my trip 24 years ago was the part where the hitch-hiking ghost rides in your doom buggy. It was a fond memory when we reached that spot this time.
We walked into Country Bears as it was filling, and Tyler really liked Big Al's Blood on the Saddle. Side note: Whenever we talk with a fake accent (Brooklyn, Cockney, Southern) Tyler always says "That sounds funny. Talk like you're drunk again." I don't know where he got that since we don't drink. Now, FINALLY, he hears someone who sounds drunk. Everyone now "There was bloooood on the . . . "
At 12:15 we got a couple of turkey legs and ate with the birds on the dock. As we boarded the raft to Tom Sawyer Island, the CM warned us of a severe storm due to hit within the hour. The raft stops running during heavy storms and we might get marooned on the island until the storm died down. We chanced it and lived to tell. On the way across the CM asked if anyone had seen "Titanic." Halfway across he yelled "ICEBERG!" Everyone's a Jungle Cruise wanna-be.
The boys ran up to Ft. Langhorne and shot everyone who was riding BTMR. It was fun for them to blow off some steam here. Back on the mainland Sean and I rode BTMR with a 15 minute wait. I pointed out all the actual old mining equipment scattered through the queue area. Next was Splash Mountain for all of us with about a 5 minute wait. Before the first drop Teri asked "Is this the big one?" She doesn't do roller coasters. We were backed up about 3 logs deep at the lift to the big one. At the top I waved at the camera while Teri and Tyler ducked. All dry (back 2 rows) we rounded the bend and I gave the "Royal Wave" to those watching us on the bridge. As we came around to the waterfall on the right, all logs stopped but the waterfall didn't. People were opening umbrellas to stay dry. After more than 5 minutes the water was shut off, and we waited for at least another 5 minutes before we started moving again. It's the truth. It's actual.
We had enough time to ride Jungle Cruise before the parade. We had an OK skipper, but I almost witnessed a Jungle Cruise disaster. The CMs don't steer, but do control the throttle. As we were loading our boat, the next boat in line had 2 CMs in it and was going around without passengers. One skipper was getting training because he had a 3-ring binder open as he was driving and the other skipper was his mentor. The rookie skipper was so intent on the notebook that he left the throttle running, right at our boat. The mentor turned a little pale and reached for the throttle in time. Either that or he had just seen The African Queen and wanted to sink the Louisa. (Now why isn't THAT one in The Great Movie Ride?)
We got great seats near Country Bears for the Magic Moments Parade, which is just Remember the Magic with a new name. I got an excellent video taping spot standing on a raised tree planter directly behind Teri and the boys. I thought the first and last floats were especially cool. As soon as the parade ended we headed to Pirates, which was a walk on. Tyler remembered the Pirate sitting against the wall with the pigs from a picture book we had seen at TDS. He bought a pirate hat and a small wooden gun with his Disney Dollars. Not a bad purchase as far as souvenirs go since he really likes dressing up in cowboy, police, or knight outfits. Anything that involves weapons.
We crossed back to Tomorrowland and saw the Timekeeper. We waited about 3 minutes before the doors were opened. I think Robin Williams is a very creative person, especially when he improvises. I still remember back on Mork & Mindy when he would just go off and the rest of the cast would simply have to get out of his way. What's the line he uses in Timekeeper when 9-Eyes is running away from Mozart? Something about Chandelier, Chardonnay?
Astro Orbiter was next. It was a tight fit for me to spin around and take video of Sean and Tyler in the rocket behind us while Teri drove ours. The TTA was not on The Grand Plan but Teri thought it sounded nice so we rode it. It was pleasantly relaxing, and kind of fun going into the different buildings.
Next we waited about 5 minutes for CoP. This was another nostalgic moment for me because as a lad, I rode this at the 1964 NYC World's Fair. That's Gene Sheppard narrating, isn't it?
God's timing again proved perfect because 5 minutes after we entered Cosmic Ray's (5:35) it started pouring. (Remember the 100% chance of rain?) I've played in lounge acts like Sonny Eclipse so I thought this was somewhat funny. We spent some time unwinding in here before donning our ponchos and braving the elements. It had been windy and overcast all day. Several of the deflated inflatables on the castle turrets were now just flapping in the wind. I just had a REAL bad thought. If Disney is selling the 25th Anniv. stuff from the park, has anyone checked to see if Mr. Osborne (of Osborne Lights fame) has purchased all the inflatables for his house? "If I can't do lights, I'll do candy!"
We strolled through Main Street shops staying dry, looking for a vintage poster for Sean and Tyler's violin teacher. It's a picture of Mickey playing bass. You can see it in a thumbnail on one poster but it's no longer available by itself. Oh well. Every CM said the same thing about SpectroMagic - they will decide about 6:55 whether to go or not. We stopped upstairs in the train station at the end of Main Street to wait. The boys played with the antique mechanical soccer game. Jim, the Railroad Conductor, spent a few minutes telling us about it. It's all original equipment, and every day someone comes in to clean it and keep it up. Then Jim "hot wired" the mechanical band machine and had it play just for us. It was interesting to see all its internal workings. Jim was a little bit of Disney magic during a rain delay, since the boys were getting a little antsy. At 6:57 it was announced that SpectroMagic was canceled due to weather, so back to ASM by 7:30. The boys got baths and I worked on my notes.
February 3 - Chapter 4
With The (Modified) Grand Plan, today is the Studios, non-EE. Teri and the boys went in some shops (ever notice how they don't have ropes in front of the stores?) and I sat on a bench by the rope to jot some notes. I was entertained by a tuba/euphonium band, who did a very entertaining rendition of Bare Necessities.
After looking at some of the hand prints in the cement, we walked onto the first ride of The Great Movie Ride. Before the trip I wasn't sure if I'd like this one. It became a favorite of ours. We rode on the gangster side and I warned Tyler about the gunfights, the Alien and the Wicked Witch. I noticed that although the Alien itself is not very scary, they get you on the edge of your seat with music, sound effects, video monitors and lighting. (I'm even typing faster as I write this part.) Several times we found ourselves saying to the boys "You've never seen (blank) movie? We'll have to rent it." I couldn't believe they haven't seen The Sound of Music yet!
Next we walked on to Star Tours, and requested seats in the back. Tyler and I don't do well with motion simulators but I had heard on radp that this wasn't as bad as Body Wars. I would definitely agree. We got through the queue area so quickly that we didn't have a lot of time to see C3PO or R2D2. Given the choice of spending 20 - 30 minutes studying every aspect of the queue area or walking directly on, I chose walking on. I showed Teri the George Lucas cameo, and Tyler pointed out the speeder from Endor crashed into the tree as we exited.
Next was Muppet Vision 3D. I have always been a fan of the Muppets, I find the humor extremely clever. Saw lots of the jokes in the pre-show, but the biggest hit was Tyler and Sean knowing some of the jokes from the pre-show video. (Thanks to whoever has the Muppet Vision web page with the jokes downloaded.) They laughed at Rizzo/Mickey even though they knew exactly what was coming up. That's just good humor (no, not the ice cream). The electric sign in the pre-show area just continually said Muppet Vision 3D. No jokes. The show itself was great, and we will see it again. I was so intent on the show, I didn't notice the walls changing. (Duh, that's the idea, Steve.) BTW, whoever said that the wreaths on the theater walls are hidden Mickeys is wrong. The size of the ears is way off. Just wishful thinking.
We split up and got great aisle seats in about the 5th & 7th row center for the 10:00 Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular. The Casting Director was still picking audience volunteers. I thought it was cool when the 1st set broke down and drove away - do you think the rest impressed me too? This showing played to a packed house.
Next was the HISTK Playground. All 4 of us went in and took some pictures and video. We found the sniffing dog. This place must be an absolute mess when the park is crowded. Teri and I sat at a table by the exit and just let the boys run for a while more. This was a big hit with both of them.
It was time for the 11:30 HoND show. We were in the 4th row to the right of the walkway. Tyler had the seat next to the walkway. Matt the Juggler (is "the Juggler" really his last name?) lived up to his radp billing. He is a talented juggler as well as an excellent showman. He juggled rings, 6 balls and the Diablo. Then the Hunchback show started. We rented the video before we left and we were glad we did to learn the story. We didn't care for the movie at all. IMHBAO dark, evil, adult crotch-level humor doesn't belong in a family film. How could a movie that we disliked so much turn into our absolute favorite show in the entire park? The staging was great, the gaps in the story were filled in using puppets, and using cast as the "scenery" was extremely creative. Esmerelda and Clopin were fabulous, Quasi and Phoebus were very good, and the Gargoyles added the needed comic relief. I was also impressed with the fact that all the leads were actually singing. As a musician and a performer, there isn't much I hate more than a lip-synched show. It gives me the same feeling as the entire Mormon Tabernacle Choir raking their fingernails across a blackboard. Yucko mundo! Six stars out of a possible 5 for HoND! After the finale, Tyler got patted on the head by Clopin, Quasi and Esmerelda. He squished up his nose pretending not to like it.
After lunch at the Studio Catering Co. we queued for the Backlot Tour. This was better than I was expecting. Tyler found the hidden Mickey on the fridge in the prop room, and I liked seeing the Tool Time and Binford props. As we lined up for the trams, we were going to board first, and a foreign (German?) couple were also going to be in our row. Knowing what was coming, I "allowed" them to board first, and we rode on the right-hand side of the tram. As the CM said, "Those of you sitting on the right are going to get wet. Those of you sitting on the left are going to get soaked." He wasn't far from the truth. It was fascinating to drive behind Catastrophe Canyon to see how it was all done.
Next we got front row seats at Hollywood and Sunset for the Hercules parade. We saw the Ferrells in the crowd, and Cole came to sit with us. It was a nice short parade and the boys enjoyed being together. Our location was strategic, because we wanted to make a quick exit to the TZToT immediately after the parade. Derek said they rode it at 11:00 with an hour wait. That kind of wait didn't fit into The Grand Plan.
It took 20 minutes from the end of the line until we were in our elevator. Everyone is right about the attention to detail in this place. It does look like nobody has been here for 60 years. Teri and Tyler took the express elevator out, while Sean and I got in the front row of our Service Elevator. A rather large man was with us in the front row, and the lap bar only went down to his lap. I had a few inches between my legs and the bar, but Sean had quite a bit of air between the bar and his lap.
POTENTIAL SPOILER AHEAD: The first drop was scariest since it was in the dark. When we went up and the doors opened, I snapped a quick picture and then held on for dear life. The second drop was altogether different since you never stop moving from going up to going down. It's like going up over a hill, flying a little, then going down the other side.
SPOILER ALERT OFF.
I didn't need to buy a picture of me taking a picture, so we passed.
We had a little time to kill before the 4:00 BatB show, so we ate a snack and window shopped. We ended up sitting in the 3rd row, center. Four for a Dollar were outstanding. They are a 4-part a capella group that's part barbershop, part do-wop, and part stage-hands. Their "entrance" was very clever. I really enjoyed their arrangements, and they stayed absolutely perfectly on pitch. For the chronics, they sang It's All Right (Have a Good Time), Imagine Me for You and You for Me, Moondance and Love Potion #9. Frankly, I enjoyed them much more than the BatB show. Probably since Belle was the only one actually singing (see HoND above), the show just didn't hold my interest. Always the practical one, Teri asked how many doves/pigeons they go through in one day. Anyone know? Here's another question. If you cut huge chunks of story out of your show, why do you include several minutes of ballroom dancing at the end and several minutes of those green things (were they supposed to be wolves?) messing with the townies?
Time for our 4:30 PS at 50's PTC. I looked forward to more hijinks with the servers, and purposely asked for someone having a good day. Our "Cousin" was Patrick, and other than an occasional "Elbows off the table", there were no hijinks at all even though I tried to egg him on. I started to get upset, since this wasn't how I had it figured it in The Grand Plan. This was supposed to be entertainment, darn it! Then I stopped obsessing about how I wanted it to be, and took a look around. Tyler ordered and ate an entire PB&J sandwich. At home HE HATES PB! Both boys were entertained and sat very still while watching the old clips on our TV. Teri loved her pasta and scallops in pesto, and got to relax and unwind while the boys were occupied. Did it fit my pre-conceived plan? No. Was it supposed to go that way? Obviously not in God's plan. Funny how His plan is always better than mine. Duh!
We walked to the bus in a slight sprinkle, but it stopped almost immediately. We headed to the MK to see SpectroMagic and Fantasy in the Sky, both of which were canceled the night before due to rain. In our non-EE day at the Studios we saw everything we had planned except for VotLM.
At MK we staked out a wonderful spot on the curb in front of the Main Street Confectionery Shop. Try staking out a spot for 25 minutes while smelling cotton candy. Talk about will power! SpectroMagic was an added bonus to The Grand Plan, since originally Disney was not planning to show it during Feb. except for weekends. We had an excellent spot since the floats had to loop around the little circle in front of the train station before they headed past us. We could see them for quite a while. Sean finally got to see Roger Rabbit, the one character he had been waiting to see.
We followed the end of the parade up Main St. and stood in front of the Cake Becoming Castle to watch Fantasy in the Sky. I found a better spot on the bridge to Tomorrowland, right under Tink's wire. This was a surprise I had not let the family in on. "Teri, remember when you were a kid and you watched the Wonderful World of Disney every Sunday night?" "Yeah." "Remember how the show started with Tinkerbell flying around the Castle?" "Yeah." "Good. Watch this." Guess what. No Tink. Could have been a major blow, but we just kinda rolled with it and enjoyed the fireworks. It was nice watching fireworks while listening to Disney music, but this was nothing compared to Illuminations.
February 4 - Chapter 5
Today is our last day in the parks, and the coldest morning yet. It's long pants and sweatshirts all around. This is our park-hopping day. So far we have covered 3 parks in 3 days and the only attraction we wanted to see but haven't is VotLM. When I first drew up today's agenda in The Grand Plan, I put the Studios first, Epcot second and finishing the night at MK. I had visions of ending our trip by standing on Main Street watching fireworks over Cinderella Castle. You know, just like a Disney commercial. Having seen Fantasy in the Sky the night before and thinking it was just OK, I decided that Illuminations would make a more memorable finale. So now The Modified Grand Plan, release 3.21 is EE at the Studios, then MK, and ending at Epcot.
We were asked for Resort ID at the Studios for EE. Sean and I walked with the Bellhops for our second ride on TZToT. We were the first ones through the boiler room and once again got front row seats. IMHO the TZToT is the best total package in the parks - theme, ride, atmosphere and excitement. Even if someone in your party wants to ride it but you don't, walk with them through the queue just to catch the set dressing. Lots of attention to detail. And besides, if you're not awake at 7:35AM, it's a guaranteed wake-up call! We caught up with Teri and Tyler at TGMR. Sean found Roger Rabbit's paw prints in the cement. I quietly asked the CM which side we were on, and it was the cowboy. (We rode the gangster side yesterday.) I didn't tell Teri and the boys, we just climbed into the first row of our car and headed off. I made a big deal when we got to the gangster scene. "Hey, where's the gangster? Didn't he come out of there yesterday?" Sean was really excited to be sitting next to the cowboy (girl, actually) when she took over our car. We had a much better view of the Wicked Witch today. Check out how she points her finger - very lifelike.
We needed yet another dose of the worst humor in the park. You guessed it - back to MuppetVision 3D. Teri found a possible inconsistency in the movie. The first time Kermit talks about Miss Piggy's "little number", she comes out of her dressing room and she's wearing curlers in her hair. In the next scene when she sings "Dream a Little Dream" she has short straight hair. So is this a faux pig, or what?
At 9:00 it was time for VotLM. If this was the first show we saw instead of the last, we'd probably think more of it. Surrounded by everything else in the parks, it kind of pales. Ariel was definitely altitude challenged (read: SHORT). She also had quite a NYC area accent when she sang. Maybe Ariel is actually from the mythical undersea kingdom of Hoboken. BTW, the laser "under sea" effect was really cool.
Next was another go round with Indiana Jones at the boy's request. We sat in the front row, just to the right of the center section. Rosie, the preshow, came out and we were the first ones she came to. She made us get up so she could mop our seats, then planted a big red smacker on Sean. Tyler pulled his baseball cap down over his face. Rosie was a stitch! She had tons of fun with a man from Japan and a couple from Paraguay. None of them spoke English, but they all understood her perfectly.
POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT!
We saw a slightly different Indy show today. Yesterday in the airplane scene, the big fighting German soldier got caught in the propeller and went up in a cloud of smoke. Today, he was just gunned down by Karen Allen from in the airplane. Are there other versions?
SPOILER ALERT OFF.
While Tyler and I strolled over to HoND, Teri and Sean walked on to Star Tours again. I asked Tyler what his favorite attraction was and he said "All of them. Except for the ones I didn't like." (read: Body Wars & Space Mtn.) I'm glad he and Sean are enjoying the trip so much. The whole thing was put together with them in mind.
We got great seats for the 11:30 HoND - fourth row, on the runway to the left. I was looking forward to another dose of Matt the Juggler, and I was pretty disappointed when Randy the Juggler came out. Same last name - are they related? My fears quickly ended because Randy was probably just as good as Matt. Excellent stage presence, timing, audience rapport, and talent. He juggled clubs, made a balloon dog behind his back with a bowling ball balanced on his face, and juggled 3 sickles "blindfolded". For his finale he juggled the bowling ball, a machete and a bean bag. The Hunchback show was just as good as yesterday - this is a talented cast. Today's Clopin was different. He had a sort of Cockney accent and yesterday's spoke with a French accent, I think. Both worked for me. One glitch in today's show was that the cauldron didn't get dumped on the soldiers who were storming Notre Dame. It was there, but it just didn't get dumped. Time for lunch, so we got 4 individual pizzas at Toy Story Pizza Planet. This was a good value.
Good bye Studios. Bus to MK. Tyler wanted to ride Dumbo again and Sean wanted another crack at Space Mtn. We decided to wait until the 3:00 parade to hit these so queues would be shorter. Queues were so small everywhere that we had to keep adding other rides to the agenda just to make it to 3:00. Where do you start?
Yo ho, of course, let's walk on to Pirates. Can I rant for a moment? Why the big PC fuss about Pirates chasing women/Pirates chasing food, if we can have Pirates auctioning off women? "We want the red-head!" Thanks, I feel much better now. Rant mode off.
Then Peter Pan, which said a 30 minute wait but was only 15. One more spin on IASW just for old time's sake. I can now do that 2 arm up-and-down hula thing. Lion King was full so we waited 5 minutes for Dumbo. Tyler even got to pick which color hat he rode - purple of course.
Finally it's 3:00, so off to Tomorrowland. Teri and Tyler walked on to TTA and Astro Orbiter while Sean and I rode Space Mtn. with a 15 minute wait. Since I wasn't worrying about Tyler this time, I relaxed and had a much more enjoyable ride. (Teri mentioned the same thing when she rode Star Tours the second time.) I told Sean that it's much more fun if you shout and scream the whole time, so he did. We got the boys Mickey ears with their name embroidered at The Chapeau, then it was time to leave. I actually got a little teary when I stood in front of the train station and told the boys to say good-bye to the castle.
A quick 40mph monorail trip over to Epcot. It was very windy, and we walked into Spaceship Earth with the help of a strong tail-wind. Cranium Command was next. Tyler now does an imitation of the General in the preshow. "Where do you think you are, Disney World?"
We walked on to Horizons and all enjoyed it again. Still no signs of neglect to my untrained eye. Next was Living With the Land with about a 5 minute wait. The CM deviated from the script to tell us a few interesting facts. He mentioned that the farm house was an actual house that Disney purchased and shipped to Orlando. He also pointed out the picture of Walt as a young boy (on a bike, I think?) in the photo montage. The problem was when he was speaking from his prepared script he talkedsofastthatyoucouldn'tunderstandhalfofwhathes aid becauseallhiswordsran together! Next was Food Rocks again, which along with Cranium Command were the surprise "sleepers" of the trip. BTW, is that really Tone Loc doing the voice of Fud Wrapper? We had dinner in the Land food court. Good selection and fairly low prices.
We had some time to kill before Illuminations, so we went into Innoventions East/West? (The one closest to The Land.) I was quite disappointed here. I remember when we were here a year ago, the only thing you had to pay for was the race cars that were linked together. This time half the building was down for rehab, and the other half was a pay-as-you-go video arcade. I don't believe this was what Walt had in mind for his prototype community! Sean played Mancala on somebody's computer and Tyler found a Kindergarten program on another.
We walked over to the other Innoventions and Sean and I did the exhibit where you can be on the Tonight Show, Saved by the Bell, etc. We decided to be sportscasters who were supposed to be reporting on Notre Dame's upcoming football season. Once I realized what the script was, I changed all references to Lou Holtz and the Irish, and shamelessly plugged Tom Osborne and the Huskers. Go Big Red! The CM running the attraction got a kick out of that. We went though the Honeywell home of tomorrow, which Teri really enjoyed last time we were here. Sean volunteered to help cook the turkey - put it in and push one button.
Over to World Showcase, we rode Maelstrom again at my request. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this ride. Teri knew that El Rio and Maelstrom were not in The Grand Plan, so she told Sean that Maelstrom was an ITYS (I Told You So). I told her that El Rio was an IWR (I Was Right).
It was cold and very windy, so we took a tour of every gift shop on our way to the US pavilion. Due to the weather World Showcase was virtually empty at 8:00, and it seemed almost eerie! We warmed ourselves with coffee in the USA, and at 8:55 walked out to the gondola area to claim excellent front row spots for Illuminations. (OK, actually EVERYBODY had front row spots since there weren't that many people around.) The wind blew the smoke over toward China so quickly, there's no way they could see anything from there. Illuminations was a good ending to our trip, and the wind didn't seem to bother the water/mist screens as much as I thought it would. Since this was the end for us, we purposely walked past the waving CMs before we headed over to the resort busses. Good-bye golf ball.
February 5 - Chapter 6
We had breakfast in the room again, packed, and caught the bus to Downtown Disney. Gotta love these direct busses. We never waited more than 5 minutes for a bus at ASM, and they went directly where we were going. Returning at night was a little of a wait, but that's to be expected. Packing snacks and bringing water bottles worked out better than we could have expected. We filled the water bottles with ice at the hotel, then filled them at the fountains in the parks. The boys ate individual cereal boxes or NutriGrain bars for breakfast while watching Disney Channels (non-cable version) on TV. We never had to stand in line for snacks or drinks unless we wanted something specific, and more importantly it saved us a bunch of $$. Here's one example. Teri bought one funnel cake and one mocha late' at Epcot - $6.50. If we had to pay more than that every time we wanted a snack, it would have added up very quickly.
We played outside the Lego store for a while, and even went in McDonald's. You couldn't compare prices since their menu is a series of video screens, instead of a fixed menu board. I imagine that when they start serving lunch, they change the display to show lunch food. All we saw was breakfast, which seemed fairly reasonable. JUST LOOKED, DIDN'T EAT.
We did some final shopping at The World of Disney, taking advantage of the MKC 10% discount. Back at ASM, we ate lunch in the food court. A word about the condition of these hotels. They were fine. Almost every night/early morning, painters were working, using big blow-dryers to be sure paint was dry when guests woke up. They were even power-washing the sidewalk on the day we left. Construction of All Star Movies continues right next door. So what will be the acronyms when it opens? ASMo and ASMu?
JC (the owner) of FTC picked us up because Gus had some trouble with his car. I told him about their excellent reputation on the web, and he seemed genuinely concerned with customer satisfaction. Again I say that I would recommend FTC to anyone. Here's how good the flight back was. I slept through take off. I have NEVER done that before.
POST-LOG - 'How much did all this cost?' and other final thoughts
How the money got spent:
$676.00 Airfare for 4 from Omaha (paid for before we left)
$549.52 Four 4-day Park Hopper Passes (paid for before we left)
$373 5 nights at ASM, including tax
$85 FTC (including tip)
$60 Character Lunch at The Land (MKC discount)
$65 Dinner at Whispering Canyon
$49.20 Dinner at 50's PTC (MKC discount)
$9.58 Misc. food/drinks in the parks
$106.51 ASM food court and in-park lunches & dinners
$15 Groceries (breakfast, in-park snacks)
$120 Souvenirs (MKC discount at World of Disney)
$17.10 2 refillable ASM mugs
$2,125.91 Total (I have read that the average WDW vacation costs $5K. I guess we just gave some of you guys more leeway on the top end of the scale.)
TOTAL MKC SAVINGS - over $90. Not a big deal compared to some, but $90 is $90. So, can it be done for less that an arm and a leg? Yes, most definitely.
What worked well, we're glad we did it this way:
Going in late January/early February. Very small crowds. Lower rates. Warmer in Orlando than Omaha. We left 30 degrees and arrived to 65 degrees. Gotta love it!
No mid-day break. Since we were able to get so much done so quickly we didn't need the nap breaks. Since parks closed early, we never stayed out past 9:15.
Using Early Entry/Surprise Mornings. Got TONS done before the (sic) crowds were let in, but never felt crowded enough to leave that park later in the day. This was especially important at MK where crowds seemed to pick up as the day wore on.
Dinner at Whispering Canyon. If you like to participate (or if you like to watch other people participate) in dinner shenanigans, do not miss this place.
Not renting a car. At no time did we wish we had rented one. We never waited more than 5 minutes for a bus to the parks, and never more than 15 minutes for the return. We got dropped us off at the entrance to the park, not way out in the Dopey 9837. Didn't pay for parking at the parks. Didn't participate in the Electric Brake Light Parade at the end of the day. Didn't get lost. (How many trip reports have you read where the author says, 'We accidentally took a wrong turn and ended up in . . . '?
Staying on-site. No driving. (I AM on vacation, know what I mean?) Disney Transportation. Early Entry. Guest Services. Package delivery to our room. 'Special guest star' wake up calls for the boys to answer. Disney magic at all hours. We were shielded from the outside world for 6 days.
Staying at All Star Music. $66/night was well worth it. The boys loved the theming and the hidden (or not-so-hidden) Mickeys. Although we have stayed at some more upscale hotels, this resort met all our needs. If you would never dream of staying at a Holiday Inn, then don't consider the All Stars.
Having fairly detailed touring plans (The Grand Plan) for all parks, and being able to flexibly (is that a word?) stick with them.
Planning early, reading a lot, and getting TONS of help from radp. Especially Deb Wills WDWIG, Brian Bennett's trip reports, Ed's TUDLP, and Steve Soares Epcot Live Entertainment page. God bless you all!
OT - Nebraska wins another National Championship! I realize it's only 3 times in 4 years, but not even Tom Osborne is perfect. ;-)
What didn't work so well, we'd do it differently next time:
First of all, we seem to be the exception to the rule in radp. This was the first WDW trip for our family, and although we would love to go back tomorrow, it will definitely not happen for at least another 5 years.
There's only one thing I'd do differently - take a longer trip. Although we didn't feel like we missed anything we wanted to see, the water parks, etc. would definitely be fun. Even a down day where we just vegged and did nothing would be a welcome luxury. OTOH, I got to save valuable vacation time for Long Beach Island this summer and a mission trip to Central America next December. Priorities.
If you've read this far, I hope you've either been entertained or enlightened. (If you haven't read this far, what are you doing here?) My target audience was those who are infrequent WDW visitors and those who don't have a lot of money to spend on a trip. (The rest of you were most definitely welcome too!) I would be happy to help answer any questions or clarify anything in this trip report. Feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. (Sorry, I don't know how to do that link thing where you can just click on my e-mail address.)
Stephen E. Roberts