February 7-15, 1998
Cast of Characters:
Dad - of Julie & Stuart
Mom - of Julie & Stuart
Stuart - Julie's younger (and only) brother
Dana - Stuart's wife
Kyle - Dana & Stuart's three month old son
Julie - narrator
Matt - Julie's then fianc (now husband)
My parents are members of the Disney Vacation Club and they had always envisioned using their membership for the entire family to travel together and spend a week in one of the Grand Villas at Old Key West. Since they bought their membership, they've enjoyed a few trips, Stuart & Dana went with the parents once and also used the membership for their honeymoon, Matt & I went for a long weekend, but the family trip hadn't happened. In July of 1997, everyone agreed that we would have a family vacation but Dana announced her pregnancy. Stuart wasn't sure if they would be able to afford to go or not. After a lot of budget crunching, everyone made plans to go. Kyle was born in October and would be three months old.
Friday, February 6th
I had planned to only work a half-day in order to pack and clean house. Stuart, Dana & Kyle were going to spend the night with us in Reston, Virginia while Mom & Dad stayed at a hotel. At the last minute, right before I was going to leave work, I received a phone call from a prospective employer asking if I could come for an interview that afternoon. It was a successful interview with a verbal job offer and a promise of a big pay raise and shorter commute. Unfortunately, that verbal offer didn't pan out but a later offer came through a couple of months later, and that same company now employs me. Anyway, all of the packing got packed, Dana & Stuart enjoyed the honey-glazed chicken that I cooked using a new recipe, Mom & Dad came over to visit, and Kyle had his first taste of ice cream. Dana didn't seem to keen on having Dad feed Kyle ice cream, but Kyle liked it a lot.
Saturday, February 7th
After a rather quiet night (except for Dana and Stuart who were up with the baby), everyone met at noon for lunch at the Bob Evans in Springfield, Virginia. Because Kyle was so little, we decided to take AutoTrain to Florida instead of flying or driving. It cost a bit more to take two cars with us but it would be cheaper than renting once we made it to Florida. AutoTrain is run by Amtrak and operates between Lorton, Virginia and Sanford, Florida. We needed to be at Lorton by 2 in the afternoon on the day of our departure. This is so that there would be plenty of time for our cars to be loaded into the car carriers and we'd be able to get situated on the train with plenty of time before our 4:30 p.m. departure.
If you've never been on a Superliner, these are really neat trains. We chose to go with regular coach cars instead of sleepers so that we'd all be able to talk to each other and be sociable - it was also much cheaper! With Kyle, we were able to hand him back and forth enough so no one got tired of watching him. That's a nice thing about having six adults and one baby! Anyway, we each brought reading materials and a pillow on board with us as well as a couple of six packs of Coca-Cola. Amtrak charges $1.50 a soft drink so we thought we'd save some money. Matt normally drinks three or four glasses of soda at a meal but we ended up exiting the train after our vacation with over a six pack left in our stash. Each reclining seat has a carryon luggage storage area above it, an padded adjustable leg rest, a fold out tray table and an overhead reading light. I did a lot of reading and Matt did a lot of sleeping.
We were seated in what we dubbed "the baby car." Every group in this car had young children and we thought it might be a long and loud night. We were very surprised at how quiet it was - the only noise was from the senior citizens going back and forth to the lounge car through ours. Kyle was very good and didn't cry much. The key was that he wanted to be held and walk up and down the aisles. Each person is assigned a time for a meal in the dining car. We split our meals having four people go to one sitting and two to the other so that Kyle could be watched at all times.
The choices were a chicken breast with an oriental orange sauce or beef short ribs with mashed potatoes. Dessert was either a sundae or cheesecake. There were also two showings of a movie each trip. Southbound the movie was "The Man Who Knew Too Little". We had a great time with the Bill Murray film. Dad, Matt, Stuart & I were in the lounge car playing Uno and started kind of watching the movie. There was Russian dancing music in the movie so whenever the music came on, we all started dancing in it but we were sitting four people in a chair/bench for three so the only dancing parts of us were our flailing arms and nodding heads. The other people in the car certainly thought we were certifiable. A continental breakfast was served in the morning and the key definitely is to get up EARLY for it. It was a long trip down with many delays because of major track repairs caused by flooding. I also found it very difficult to sleep because there wasn't quite enough room to stretch out all the way. I ended up going to the front of our car where I curled up across two seats but each time someone went in or out of the club car, I was awakened. I also ended up falling off the seats at one point and had the pleasure of nursing a sore shoulder for a couple of days. We spent a lot of time just stopped on the tracks. By the time we had our cars back, it was close to noon the next day.
Sunday, February 8th
We managed to make it to the Hospitality House at Old Key West to check in without too much trouble but there was a long wait to actually get checked in. We each received a yellow card that was our admission ticket to the parks and could be used to charge back to the room. We also received gray room keys that didn't always work. The Grand Villa we stayed in was fairly nice but there are some major drawbacks to it. Mom and Dad took the master bedroom with the Jacuzzi downstairs. Stuart, Dana and Kyle took the large bedroom upstairs. Matt & I were relegated to the tiny bedroom upstairs where the bathroom is extremely poorly designed so that you hardly have room to stand and close the door. The downstairs living room was enjoyed by all and we made a lot of use of the laundry facilities. We also loved feeding the ducks (and other birds) from the balcony each morning.
Our first stop after changing, showering and feeling that we were off the train was to drive to the Contemporary Resort to park and walk to the Magic Kingdom. They were in the middle of changing the castle back to its original colors. We had lunch at the Plaza Pavilion in Tomorrowland. Matt had the Mickey Pizza which looked disgusting. Stuart & Dana had the chicken fingers. Kyle had a bottle of Enfamil, which is really nasty smelling stuff. I can't imagine how nasty it must taste! Everyone else had salads. As a group, we enjoyed wandering around a little bit since there was no rush to see everything. The first ride we went on was the Tomorrowland Transit Authority. Dana was concerned about taking Kyle on the ride so Mom & Dad stayed to watch him while the rest of us went on the ride for the first of many times. It's always been a favorite of mine because it's relaxing and you can just sit back, have the wind in your face and watch things go by. This ride has a great soundtrack and Matt is always amazed that months later I can quote lines from it including "Now paging Mr. Morrow. Mr. Tom Morrow. Your party from Saturn has arrived. Please give them a ring." and "Now approaching Mickey's Star Traders." The neat part is using the same inflection as the soundtrack.
We then made our way over to the Mad Tea Party which just Stuart, Matt & I went on. There wouldn't have been room in the teacup for anyone else! Matt has such long legs that we weren't sure if all three of us would make it. We squeezed in and managed to really get the cup moving. Dad still tells the story of when Stuart, our Uncle Steve and I went on this when we were kids and another child joined us who was by himself. We had the cup spinning so fast that the other little boy turned green. When we exited the ride, we waited to have Kyle's picture taken with the Queen of Hearts who was quite obviously a man. His hands were gigantic and he was making very feminine hand motions. No, I'm not saying he was gay - I'm saying it was incongruous and it was way too obvious that it was a man so unless you were a small child, you couldn't suspend the disbelief.
We all walked over to Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. It's hard to believe it's gone! Stuart and I "discovered" this ride way back in the days of actual tickets and thought it was the best ride in the park. Our opinions have changed since then but it was a favorite and we'll miss it very much. Dana, Mom, Dad & Kyle again sat this one out and the rest of us went off merrily to nowhere in particular. In case anyone reading this is curious, we took the side with the naked lady. After changing Kyle, we decided that it was time for his first ride and we made our way to that evil of all evils, It's A Small World. Whaddya know, he liked it. He really liked it. I think he just liked seeing all the lights and hearing the music. Either way, he was happy.
We took a vote and decided to split up for a while. I haven't a clue what the others did but Matt and I went to the Haunted Mansion where we got stuck for a while in the graveyard. The changes to the ride are for the better - especially the bride and the hearse out front. We then traipsed over to the Jungle Cruise that Matt really wanted to go on. We had a very lame female skipper who wasn't into doing the spiel. She wasn't funny. She didn't even shoot at the hippos. She just said "Bang. Bang. Pretend I just shot the hippo." In order to salvage the day, we treated ourselves to a pineapple Dole Whip to share. Very yummy. We took the buses back to Old Key West and got off at the wrong stop. We had a long walk back to our villa but it was fun because we were adventuring. Dinner was at Olivia's with the entire family. I had some conch chowder and a salad. Most everyone else had burgers except for Kyle who stuck with Enfamil. We called it a night and went to bed early.
Monday, February 9th
After a light breakfast of cereal in the room, it was Epcot Day! As soon as we hit the front gates, we split up, planning to meet for lunch. Matt & I were Epcot Warriors, checking out Horizons (for the first of nine times this trip), Spaceship Earth, Food Rocks, Listen to the Land and Journey Into Imagination in short order.
We then made it to England to see the street performers doing their rendition of King Arthur's quest for the Holy Grail and in time to look in the various shops a bit. Lunch was at the Rose & Crown where we stuffed ourselves silly. Matt as usual had the fish and chips. We ordered a fruit and cheese plate to split as an appetizer. Matt really liked the Double Gloucester cheese and the grapes. Dad prefers the Stilton cheese. Dad, Stuart & I each had a Tennants, which was smooth and excellent. I had the pie sampler which was a small cottage pie (spiced beef and mashed potatoes) and a small chicken and leek pie (baked in a shell). It was delicious but there was no way I could finish it. After lunch, we split up again. Matt & I went on a short walking tour of the World Showcase and checked out the various shops in search of a birthday present for Mom. Years ago, there used to be a great variety of merchandise in the different countries but nowadays it's just Mickey this and Pooh that. Everything looks the same. In my opinion, it was much better the old way. We also enjoyed watching the drummers in Japan. Right after lunch we saw the most gigantic swan I have ever seen. It came up past my waist!
As we had earlier agreed, we went back to the villa late in the afternoon to meet up with the rest of the group. Matt & I didn't really care where we went for dinner but everyone else wanted to go to the Rainforest Cafe. The wait was over two hours so we split up. Matt & I enjoyed Caesar salads and clam chowder at Cap'n Jack's Oyster Bar while the rest took off for the Whispering Canyon Caf at the Wilderness Lodge. I heard that their meal was rather lackluster.
Tuesday, February 10th
In the morning, Matt & I went to the Magic Kingdom after a breakfast of cereal at the villa. We basically just walked around a little, went on the Skyway, and had lunch at Pinocchio's Village Haus where I could get my usual hot dog meal and Matt had a hamburger.
Matt & Stuart chose to play golf at Shades of Green in the afternoon. They paired up with a CM who was a waiter at Chefs de France. This guy spent all of his earnings on fancy clubs and clothes and was really a lousy golfer. He claimed that the clothes and clubs helped him to pick up girls! Matt and Stuart aren't very good golfers either, according to them. However, they looked very stylish in their matching Mickey Mouse golf shirts from Mom & Dad!
While the duffers were hitting the links, I went to the Belz outlets with Mom & Dad. They bought some clothes for Kyle and I got him a "Flit" plush from Pocahontas that was marked down to $1.99.
Mom & Dad agreed to babysit for the night so Stuart, Dana, Matt & I went to the Polynesian Village for a light dinner at the Coral Isle Cafe. I know that Dana had the shrimp and linguine while I had the Caesar salad with neon shrimp toast. Those were little chips that looked like pieces of Styrofoam with a shrimp taste. I don't remember what the guys had. From there, we went to Pleasure Island and started at the Comedy Club. After that, we split up and Matt & I spent some time at the Adventurer's Club where we got a Kungaloosh in a canteen to share. We were very careful to save the decorative streamer fan from the drink to show to Kyle since he loves bright colors and motion. We saw one show in the Library and a presentation in the Mask Room before deciding to try out the Beach Club which was rather lame. We played a game of air hockey, which was neat, because the puck glows in the dark under the black lights. We then went back to the Comedy Club and headed "home" for some shuteye.
Wednesday, February 11th
This morning was early entry at MGM which Mom and Dad said we *had* to go to so Dad could ride Tower of Terror. I thought it was a mistake to go on an early entry day but went anyway. Dad was upset with the CMs in the parking lot because guests were forced to park way in the back of the lot while the CMs were packing at the front. I agree with him on this. I worked at Six Flags Great Adventure for six seasons and had to park on the unpaved dirt lots in the middle of the woods many times when the park was full. The employee lot was used for guest parking on those days and they would be trammed over to the main gate from our lot, which was very far from the entrance. I even had to be towed out of the dirt more than once when it rained and the cars would get stuck!
Since we weren't there right at opening, it was a LONG wait for Tower of Terror - almost an hour. Matt was very brave. The group then split up. Matt and I went to Star Tours and to the Muppets before meeting Stuart, Dana and Kyle for lunch at the Sci-Fi Dine In Theatre. Matt and I got there early and we would have been seated then but Kyle needed to be changed immediately so we ended up with a wait of about 30 minutes. Originally, we were supposed to be given a car but those were all taken so we ended up at a very wobbly picnic table in the rear next to the kitchen. My chair was quite loose. On top of that, the food that was supposed to be hot came out cold and it was almost inedible. We had trouble flagging down our waiter whenever we needed him too. I would not recommend this restaurant.
After lunch, Matt and I took the Art of Animation tour where they were spotlighting "Mulan." Our animator drew a picture of Grandmother for us. We were very interested in seeing the movie after taking the tour! However, it hadn't been released yet and we were exhausted so we went back to Old Key West for an afternoon of swimming and relaxing in the hot tub at the pool. Kyle couldn't decide if he enjoyed or hated his first swim.
Late in the afternoon, we went back to the Magic Kingdom for a few rides before E-Ticket Express night started. Matt had never been on Snow White's Scary Adventures so we managed to fit into a log. Matt had to ride on a seat by himself because he didn't fit since his legs are so long. We also watched the Spectro Magic parade and I found the beginning clowns disturbing. Except for that, it was a lovely parade and I really liked our vantage point on the far side of the hub. We basically got to see the parade twice: once on Main Street and again as it went over the bridge toward Frontierland/Liberty Square. Mom & Dad took babysitting duties again and we met up with Stuart and Dana in front of the train station at the Mickey floral portrait. Our first stop was Astro Orbiters, which Dana found to be very scary. She was screaming that Stuart was taking the car too high - it was very funny. Matt & I made our car swoop up and down
which also scared her. Next, we went to Space Mountain where we rode twice in a row. The second time, we all agreed to scream throughout the entire ride as if we were being murdered. I felt sorry for the two people on the train with us because we were very loud. I'm sure that everyone else in the building heard us too. After Space Mountain, we stopped for pictures with Space Goofy. There was a long line for Mickey and Minnie but no one was bothering with Goofy.
We then traversed the Hub over to Pirates of the Caribbean where we all sang along with the soundtrack: "Yo Ho, Yo Ho! A Pirates Life For Me!" If you look straight up as your boat is leaving the loading area, you'll see a booth with a ride operator in it - this operator was making faces at us and having a riotous time. Obviously, we were in a rowdy boat because we were yelled at right before the drop to sit down. I can assure all readers that the standing people were not members of my family - we know better since both Stuart and I worked at SFGA and I was a ride operator! Seriously, I *know* what happens when you violate rider policies and yes, you can die or be seriously injured. When you're told to sit down, keep your arms and legs in the boat/car and keep your seat belt/harness on, do it.
Our group then left for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. The stench of wet bodies (from Splash Mountain), steam and sweat was overpowering. I could never work on that ride because of the odor! Matt has trouble with the size of the seats so we only rode this once. Splash Mountain was another story. We were going to each have our own seat on the log but Matt wimped out and sat with me so Dana sat with Stuart. We rode this one twice and Matt was the only one who got wet. On the way out, we stopped to look at our picture. I'm smiling. Dana is smiling. Stuart is smiling. We all have our arms up. Matt, on the other hand, is sitting straight up and looks like death. I thought about buying the photo but on our second trip through, another couple joined our log, which wouldn't have happened if Matt hadn't been a wimp.
We then split up, promising to meet out front at the Mickey portrait again. Matt & I did the Pirates again but it wasn't as much fun and was rather quiet. The Haunted Mansion was rather spooky at night in an empty park. We also went back to Space Mountain and Astro Orbiters one more time. We ran into Donald Duck in Tomorrowland all by himself. There weren't any other characters around and there weren't any other guests to have their pictures taken. Since we didn't even see a CM with Donald, we traded cameras with each other to take our pictures. Donald sure is short! On the way out we stopped for an ice cream cone. I had vanilla!
Thursday, February 12th
Mom's Birthday and still no present. Matt & I took off for Downtown Disney where we bought her a Winnie the Pooh garden umbrella. She'll probably never use it but we tried. We also got her some Cruella DeVil chocolate chip cookies because the tin was cute. We also bought personalized mugs over at the robot t-shirt shop for his brother and a former friend. I was given a pair of blown glass manatee earrings. I don't know anyone else with manatee earrings! Matt & I enjoyed an okay lunch at the Gourmet Pantry and really enjoyed taking the launch back to Old Key West. We spent the afternoon swimming, hot tubbing and napping. Very relaxing!
Later, we went back to Epcot because Mom wanted dinner at Alfredo's. Personally, I *hate* Alfredo's. The food is marginal and I get sick off of it - I mean, it gives me the runs! It's not a very pleasant experience. However, since Mom wanted it, we did it. Anyway, Mom loved it and she enjoyed being serenaded by
the strolling singers and the waiters. We arranged for a special birthday cake for her, which Matt refused to eat because it's chocolate. To be honest, it wasn't very good. And it was expensive too at $45! We took the leftovers back to the villa and fed it to the seagulls. They're like Mikey - they eat ANYTHING.
Matt & I left Epcot to check out the Boardwalk. We had dessert at the ESPN Club where we enjoyed watching the Olympics on the big screen TVs. We also checked out Jellyrolls which was lame and smoky. We stayed for maybe ten minutes and then I wanted to leave because there was no music and there was nowhere to sit. Matt got our cover refunded and we checked out the Wyland Gallery. Dad bought Mom a dolphin necklace with diamonds on it. It's very pretty.
Friday, February 13th
We started the morning with breakfast for all at Chef Mickey's. The food was pretty good but didn't compare to the beautiful breakfast buffets I remember from the old Top of the World Restaurant at the Contemporary about ten years ago. It's a LOUD place with lots of music and singing and napkin twirling. Matt wasn't really into this, which he says is because he was still sleepy. We all had our pictures taken with the characters.
Since we were right next to the Magic Kingdom, we went in to go on the People Mover, Timekeeper and the Railroad. We met up with Stuart, Dana and Kyle but lost them. Next we went to Epcot for another round on Horizons and to check out the Canada pavilion. Stuart was very kind to us and lent us his car so we could go back to Belz so we could get a Cinderella's Castle snowglobe for $11. We had lunch at McDonald's and it was horrible. My fries were cold and Matt wouldn't take them back. He said I had to take them back and we got into a huge fight about it. Eventually, we figured things out (he took my fries back and again, they were cold so he ate them) and we went back to return the car. We later went to Epcot for a few more rides on Horizons - we did 9 total over the trip despite Matt's complaints. Dinner for us was at the Electric Umbrella where I had a hot dog and Matt had chicken fingers. About three bites through the hot dog, my throat started to hurt and I realized I was getting sick. The first two bites were very yummy. It was raining and I felt very cold but Matt did not think I needed a sweatshirt (it wasn't cold when we left for Epcot). We made it back to the villa where I collapsed into a hot bath and stayed there for a few hours.
Saturday, February 14th
After sleeping in and spending a long time feeding the last of our bagels, English muffins and cake to the ducks, we checked out of Old Key West and went to Downtown Disney for lunch at the Rainforest Cafe. By this time, I was feeling terrible so lunch for me was merely a bowl of their soup. It was spicy and very good but I would have far preferred another bowl of Cap'n Jack's clam chowder! We loaded up the cars and made our way back to Sanford to board AutoTrain for our trek back north. Over the course of the trip, I became progressively sicker and sicker and there was nothing I could do about it. We had no medicine except for a roll of cough drops, a roll of lifesavers and some Michigan cherries for me to suck on for my raw throat. I tried to stay away from the baby. It was very difficult to sleep because there were a number of oldsters who would walk through the car over and over throughout the night, dragging themselves along by pulling on seatbacks and talking at the top of their lungs. Hey, oldsters! Turn up the volume on those hearing aids! We also noticed that the stench from the oldsters car was unbearable. Guess they were dumping their used Depends in the upstairs trash receptacles. The northbound film was "Seven Years in Tibet" which was very boring. Brad Pitt was nice to look at but he wasn't worth sitting through the film.
Sunday, February 15th
Arrival at Lorton by 11 am. In Florida, we were about the first ones to have our cars unloaded from the train. This time, we were almost the last people. I thought the last 40 minutes driving from Lorton to our house was one of the longest trips of my life ranking right up there with the time I was in Charlottesville and I *had* to go to the bathroom but was stuck in a traffic jam for 30 minutes and thought I'd end up peeing on myself in the car. After Mom & Dad left, I drug out the thermometer to discover I was at 102.1. No wonder I felt terrible! The doctor later that week told me I had severe case of bronchitis.
Overall, this was a good trip. No major squabbles in the family. I do not like the Grand Villa at Old Key West. Get a couple of adjoining two bedrooms or a two-bedroom/one-bedroom combo. It think it would work better. We'll find out on our next trip! Oh, one more thing - don't get sick!