8/16/98 - 8/24/98
We're back, we're tired, we're not nearly into the early September routine, and as therapy for the post-trip depression, I just spent way too long writing this extremely verbose trip report. When writing these, I always say that it's a diary for the kids, for when they're older and want to remember a particular trip. In reality, it's just to make the magic last a bit longer.
The Cast of Characters:
Dotti (that's me! 44 year old in her favorite place in the world)
Tony (45 year old hubby)
Joe (15 year old son)
Elie (12 year old son)
Peter (10 year old son)
Karen (my best friend, 40-something)
Mark (Karen's hubby, Tony's best friend, slightly over 40-something)
Mike (17 year old son of Karen and Mark)
John (15 year old son of same)
Cara (7 year old daughter of same, our godchild)
Whew! Just getting plane ressies and priority seatings was exhausting!
A little background: This is my 10th trip to WDW since 1992, my family's 9th trip, and the 4th trip for our friends. They have one son who is very actively looking at colleges so this may be their last family trip for quite some time and we convinced them that this was the perfect time for a WDW trip with us. I've been planning and dreaming about this since last September, they just told their kids 2 months ago. We were *all* very excited!
Day One, Sunday, August 16:
Our 9am flight from Boston was uneventful with not even a little turbulence. Just the way I like it. We landed and went off in search of the Dollar Rental counter to pick up our two cars, ours being a full size and theirs being a midsize with the hopes of an upgrade using the Rita Aero coupon. Not only Was an upgrade not available (something I seriously doubted) but the free 15 minute phone card offer had been discontinued. I wondered how legitimate this was as it was part of the original offer *and* it was still advertised on the map which they handed to us. Oh well. 15 minutes less time for Joe to call his girlfriend.
The service was quick and efficient and the cars were quite nice. Our car was only $179/wk and their slightly smaller car was only $122.88/wk (not counting all those extra little charges that they add on). By 12:30, we were well on our way. It briefly went through my mind that my Disney countdown program on my computer would be reading 0 hours. Woohoo!!! I was finally here!!
We arrived at the Old Key West Resort (OKWR) to find *no* parking places, making me wonder what kind of a mob would be in the check-in area. Surprisingly,there were only 2 families in front of me. I had better luck than the poor people who came in after me. I took at least one hour and fifteen minutes just to check in. Being Disney Vacation Club (DVC) members, we have 3 different contracts, one that I bought in 1995 which included points with park passes and two add-on contracts which did not include the passes. I had made my reservations to fit our touring plans using one day without passes, two of passes, one without, two again with, one without and one with. Confused? On top of that, some of the people in my party who had passes would have charging privileges and some would not. Add to this mix the fact that the DVC prints out room keys/charge cards/park passes for each *segment* of the trip, so that I had separate cards for the days with passes and the days without. At one point, the poor, confused gentleman at the front desk had a minimum of 40 cards sitting on the counter. ack!!!
He finally went in the back to have Member Services fix the mess (I had already sent my family over to Olivia's for lunch) and came back with the news that they had to redo my entire reservation. Now, my reservation had park passes for Monday through Thursday and didn't include Friday, the day that I had a Priority Seating for the 50's Prime Time Cafe. (I did call and email all of this info previous to my trip and had the email back from Member Services saying that it was all taken care of...*sigh*.
He disappeared again and by this point, the heat, the tiredness and the hunger was setting in and I was getting annoyed. He came out once again with 6 one-day hopper passes to get me into the parks on Friday. Hmm....$240 worth of passes for waiting one hour in line? Sure! I went smiling into Olivia's and joined my family for a great prime rib sandwich for lunch!
So, did I mention that it was hot, hot, hot? We changed, got our towels (the gas problem was still being fixed so they asked that we hold on to them until they could start doing laundry again) and spent the afternoon in a *very* warm pool until a little after 4 PM when our room (2922) was ready. I had been waiting 11 months for this...to see the look on my boys' faces when they walked into the Grand Villa. It was so worth it! This place is magnificent....from the gleaming hardwood floors in the living room and dining room (a full dining room with seating for 8!), to the immense Jacuzzi in the master bedroom, to the four (yep, count em, four) bathrooms, to the second floor balcony overlooking the two-story living room, to the cathedral ceilings....it was the closest to luxury that I'll ever get in *my* lifetime. Housekeeping was just finishing up as we were moving in (a daunting task, I'm sure) and about an hour later, seven year old Cara, all showered and wrapped up in her towel, looked up at me with her doe eyes and said, "Aunty Dotti? Where are the servants?" A little princess in her castle.
We had a priority seating at Chef Mickey's for 6:15pm so we stopped admiring our surroundings long enough to get showered and dressed. We had survived a very odd dinner there last year (Peter was almost smack in the middle of two men who began to beat each other up!) but we were eager to return - it's a great place to eat! Cara got a few autographs and pictures from Goofy and Pluto and then we were escorted to a table way in the back, up the stairs, out of the main room. There are great picture windows in this room. Unfortunately, they look out on the top of what is, I think, the convention center. Really ugly.
Our server was Melvin and after he took our order, I approached him with our question. When Cara was in WDW two years ago, Chip became her very favorite character. She told me that, when she was leaving, Chip told her that he was very sad. I wanted so badly for Chip to actually "remember" her! Melvin was the man! When Chip was a few tables away, with Cara anxiously watching his back so that she wouldn't miss one second of his attention, he turned around,threw his arms in the air, and came *dashing* over to the table to give her a huge hug! He then took her autograph book and wrote, "Cara! I've missed you!" From that point on, anytime he was in the room, he would turn to her and make that mad dash over to her for another hug and kiss. What a hoot!! She later announced to all of us, "He remembered me!!! *Even* with my haircut!!!"
After a delicious dinner, and lots of picture taking (amazing how many pictures you can take when you have a little girl with you!), we left the restaurant and Cara had her picture drawn by the artist-in-residence outside of the Outer Rim. Great picture, reasonable price and pretty quick to boot. We then took the elevator to the 15th floor to walk a bit outside and admire the view. It was too early to wait for the fireworks, so we headed back to the villa and the boys played cards until bedtime.
Day Two, Monday, August 17:
We all got up early (well, early for *us* anyway) and got to MGM by 8:20am for the 9am opening. At 8:30, they let us in the park but only up to the ropes which were blocking each section of the park. What's with this? I know that I'm usually not in the parks this early, but didn't they always let you in a*little* early at least? They didn't drop those ropes until 9:02am and it was sure hot standing there for 30 minutes. Since Cara is a very timid child (the Muppets even scare her), Karen, Cara, Peter and I opted to start with the Great Movie Ride and the rest of the gang headed to, where else, but the Tower of Terror. We had the gangster side (I like the cowboy side better but was almost glad because Cara would have been terrified with the bank blowing up) and I held Cara and told her everything that was coming so that she wouldn't be startled.
Next, it was off to the Voyage of the Little Mermaid (4 minutes until the next show) and then to Muppet Vision where we were the very last people let in,rushing right past the pre cook (which I like but didn't mind missing) and into the theater. Cara sat on my lap and again, I told her what was coming. She kept on the glasses most of the time (wouldn't wear them at all on the last trip) and actually laughed out loud a few times. A success!
Cara and Karen went over to the Honey I Shrunk the Kids Playground while Peter and I ran back to SuperStar Television where we were planning to meet the guys. They wanted to see the 11:15 show of SuperStar Television and I wanted everyone back for the Hunchback of Notre Dame (HoND) stage show which was to begin at 12pm, so I decided to save seats at HoND so that we could do both. I hoofed it back over to the playground (walking by the HoND theater and meeting Brad, one of the gypsies - nice guy!), found the goils and headed back to get good seats for the show. We ended up in the third row to the right (facing the stage) of the center walkway. Not bad!
I should mention here for those who don't know me that I could see HoND for every showing on every day of every trip and not get tired of it. That said,of course the show was wonderful, and the same Quasi, Esmerelda and Clopin performed as when I saw this show with 20 of my very best friends in February. <Note to Michele and Deb..I did *not* sing along half as loud this time ;-) > Matt the Juggler didn't do the preshow but his replacement, Randy (?), was quite good.
We stopped to eat on the way out of the park, the quickest and easiest place being the ABC Commissary. We were hot and hungry and thirsty, and we didn't have priority seating for ten people anywhere so it sufficed, but I don't think that I'd eat there again unless I was hot and hungry and thirsty with no priority seating. Joe and I stayed in the park to see the Mulan parade and everyone else drove over to the Beach Club for a swim in Stormalong Bay. <note to DVC members...Tony got in with no problem just by showing his room key which said "DVC member". I was asked for both my room key *and* my DVC membership card.> The parade was cute, the cross-dressing soldiers were a hoot, but this was a once-is-enough event for me. We took the boat over to the Beach Club to meet everyone and spent a while in the pool until it was closed due to lightning in the area.
We all decided to head to Epcot earlier than planned since our pool time was cut short. The simplicity of that statement is deceiving, however. I remember having looooong conversations with everyone, accompanied by various snacks and treats which appeared out of Beaches and Cream, all the while shelling out quarters for the arcade, while we decided who was going where and with whom and if we really wanted to spend the evening at Epcot without going back for the deodorant that washed off in the pool.
So yes, we did head over to Epcot, Tony, I and the boys bearing left into Future World for a 10 minute wait for Honey I Shrunk the Audience. As usual,there were *lots* of screaming kids as we exited. I don't know how large they have to make the signs so that people will realize that this attraction can scare the bejeezus out of little ones.
From there, Mike, John, Peter and Elie all wanted to ride Journey into Imagination but Tony, Joe and I opted to skip another encounter with Figment and meet them at the dancing fountains. While we were in the area, we spotted the Ice Station set up by Coke, an igloo type building where you could sample,free of charge, the many drinks that Coke markets throughout the world. Some of these were really tasty but some, the Beverly drink from Italy in particular, was absolutely *vile*!! (Thanks for the warning, gardenia!)
On our last summer trip, at the RADP meet at the Wilderness Lodge, we met a lovely family from North Carolina, the Liles. Their two daughters, ages 17 and 11 at the time, became friends with two of our sons, Joe (15) and Elie (12) and have been corresponding via email ever since. They had made plans to do E-Ticket together on Tuesday, but in the first of many weird encounters on this trip, we practically tripped over them coming out of the Ice Station! This was so nice for all of us...the kids had more time to spend together and Tony and I got to visit with their parents, Don and Pam.
We all trooped off to Spaceship Earth and then to Horizons (for my 20thone-last-time-before-they-close ride) and then headed over to the Canadian pavilion to see the 8:25pm show of Off Kilter (a progressive Celtic rock band) where we planned to rendezvous with Mark,Karen and Cara. While Pam Liles and I waited for the show, we caught up on family, RADP, and discussed how much fun it is to visit WDW with someone who actually *gets* your Disney obsession. We then both hooted, hollered, clapped and stomped throughout the show and I scored "cool points" with the kids for telling them about the band. They are now big time fans.
After the show, Karen, Mark and Cara decided to head back to the OKWR and were nice enough to take my Peter with them as he was needing to give his feet a break. The kids (3 Liles, 2 of my boys, Mark's and Karen's 2 boys) all headed to the ESPN Club for dinner and to try to rent the surreys and Tony and I,along with Pam and Don Liles, tried to find a place to eat at Epcot before everything closed up. No luck. At exactly 9pm, as IllumiNations was beginning, we stepped into Le Cellier and was told that they couldn't serve anyone else as they had stopped seating at 9pm. "But we'll eat fast?" "No, I'm sorry." "But...we have someone in a wheelchair and it's awfully hard to get him somewhere else." "No, I'm sorry." sheesh.
We walked over to Spoodles at the BoardWalk (no easy feat for Don once he gave the wheelchair back at the exit) and they sat us immediately. They were serving from a limited menu as they were still recovering from the kitchen fire that they had in July and were planning to close for dinner the next night(along with the entire day after and breakfast the day after that) to replace the hoods. Tony and Don had the "Seafood Basque", a delicious seafood stew,and Pam and I both had the grilled chicken with olive oil mashed potatoes and spinach. They were nice enough to make me a Blue Spoodle (a drink I had in February and *loved*) even though they had to make up a batch of it just for my one order. Yummy! We met the kids at 11pm at the Yacht Club to drive home and found out that they hadn't been able to rent the surrey bikes because of their age. After 8pm, at least one person in the party has to be 21 years old or older. Before 8pm, the age is 18. This is probably not such a bad thing as they may have ended up in the water anyway.
Day Three, Tuesday, August 18:
Cara had fallen off the ladder to a diving board a few days before her trip, so today was the day that her family would go off in search of a stitch-puller-outer. I got lots of great suggestions from radp'ers (including one that involved imbibing, grabbing, and yanking) so they knew all about Centra-Care, the health clinics that are plentiful around WDW. Hopefully no one reading this will ever have the need to use them, but there are two clinics at Crossroads, one that opens at 8am and one at 9am. They arrived at the 8am opening clinic at approximately 8:30 and found a 45 minute wait. They were smart enough to head right over to the 9am clinic and were 2nd in line to be seen. Quick, easy and covered by insurance, as opposed to those traveling physicians who charge $130 just to stick their heads in your resort room.
Everyone but me decided that today would be a great day for Blizzard Beach and they were nice enough to let me wander on my own for part of the day. They all took off, sunscreen and flipflops in hand, me with a little prayer that no one would get lost, and I hopped on a bus to MGM, with hopes of catching the 12pm show of HoND. I made it just at the end of the preshow, snagged a first row seat, and marveled at how easy it is to seat one person instead of ten. You know I loved it, so I'll skip that part.
I ate lunch at Studio Catering Co., a pretzel and a large diet coke for $5.25. Expensive but a great pretzel! I then went to the Animation Tour, something the kids haven't wanted to do with me since 1994. What a pleasant surprise! Instead of the Robin Williams/Walter Cronkite film being on overhead monitors while you walk through and hope to see someone that's not on his/her coffeebreak, the entire film is shown at the beginning of the tour in a theater withseats. From there, you are brought into a fairly small room where a real life animator answers your questions, no matter how dumb, and astounds you with his talent. Well, he astounded *me* anyway. I even have a problem with stick figures. From there, you go on a short walking tour and then into a room where there is a short film of interviews with several animators, the clips of them speaking alternating with scenes starring characters drawn by them. The finale is another sit down theater showing bits of the Disney cartoon classics. Iloved it!
That was sadly all I had time for. The bus back took 20 minutes to arrive and I counted 2 buses for almost every other resort in that time. I arrived back at the OKW at 3:30 and threw in some laundry, the rest of the gang came in at 4:15, and we all showered, dressed, and were in the cars by 5:10 for our trip to the Wilderness Lodge and the Whispering Canyon Cafe (WCC). This was our fourth meal there but our friends' first so I was eagerly anticipating it!
We met my friend Gardenia in the Wilderness Lodge lobby and after hugs and kisses and "I've missed you's", she took us all outside on the bridge for family pictures. We all got somehow talking about the hidden attractions at WDW and Tony asked the time for the Ladybug Release. Gardenia and I both said, "11am" in unison and had a good laugh about our collective wisdom! Mark then asked what time they change the sheets in Room 3302 We then went inside to the restaurant and found my favorite server, Rick O'Shea, at the desk. At the desk? A seater? And his name tag merely said, "Richard". I questioned himand he said that someone in upper management decided that the guests would much rather know the *real* name of the server and that this was one of the many reasons that he no longer serves and is looking for a transfer. What a loss - he's one of the reasons that I come to the WCC time and again. Since Gardenia's good friend, Ivana Diamond, was off that night, we asked for someone else who would be "lively" and they all snickered and said, "Hehe...we'll give them Chuck Wagon!". Woohoo!!
If you haven't eaten at the Whispering Canyon Cafe, you're missing one heck of an entertaining meal! Chuck Wagon is *loud* and 'ornery and doesn't put up with us city folks more than he has to. He grudgingly supplied our "sissysticks", made Joe and Mike get up and sing "Happy Birthday" to a very pretty 16 year old girl named Brianna because "when I mentioned that she was 16, these two boys just about jumped right out of their seats to get a look!", wouldn't take Tony's drink order because, "You won't shut up long enough to listen to me! You talk more than an old lady in a soap opera!" and made sure we minded our manners..or else! Unfortunately, this was the very first time that I was less than pleased with the food. Everyone said that the turkey and sausage was tasty but I usually love the ribs and brisket and the former was gristly and the latter was tough as shoe leather. I would have complained but the company (I hadn't seen Gardenia since February) made the food secondary.
Soon after, the Liles' girls appeared and whisked the four older boys off tothe Magic Kingdom for E-ticket and the rest of us, after sad goodbyes to Gardenia, headed to the boat for our own brief visit to the Magic Kingdom. Tony, Peter and I went to the Pirates of the Caribbean (no wait) and then to the new and not-so-improved Tiki Birds. It was better...just not better enough. Tony and Peter then went to the Jungle Cruise (and reported to me later that they had a tired, hot and unenthusiastic skipper) while I went to stake out a spot for SpectroMagic, finding Mark, Karen and Cara in the process. Finding them didn't surprise me as we had told them where we usually wait for the parade. What *was* a surprise was having all of the teenagers walk rightby us, Joe giving Tony the casual "Hi Dad" as he passed.
For SpectroMagic, I usually like to sit in Frontierland, with my back to Pecos Bill, facing Splash Mountain. They had found a nice spot exactly across the road from there, so I joined Cara on the ground, under the rope. Incredibly (or maybe not), right as the parade was about to start, an entire family, from children to one elderly woman, decided to trample on everyone to push their way to the rope for a better view. They not only blocked the view of all those politely sitting near the front, making most of them stand, but stood directly in front of a very sweet and quiet Asian family who had a son in a wheelchair! arrrgghhh!!
After SpectroMagic (which we enjoyed nonetheless), Tony, Peter and I rushed over to Big Thunder Mountain and found only a 10 minute wait! This was my first time riding it in the dark and, seeing that I'm getting braver every timeI do this (this is only my third time!), I really enjoyed it. What made it even more special was that, at the last turn, we were able to see the start of Fantasy in the Sky. Ahhhhh! On the way out, on Main Street, who do we find that we're walking next to but Mark, Karen and Cara! We all took the boat together back to the Wilderness Lodge, got our cars and headed back "home" to wait for our partying children. At 1:50am *yawn*, everyone was back and I finally fell into a deep sleep.
Day Four, Wednesday, August 19:
We let the kids sleep late to recover from their night in the MK and I got in some quality balcony time. I had been having my coffee every morning outside but it was so much nicer to not rush. A word on balconies - this was one ofthe major selling points for us when we purchased into the Disney Vacation Club. Each unit at the OKW has a balcony which overlooks either the golfcourse or the Trumbo Canal, a waterway leading to Downtown Disney. The balconies in the studios hold a table and two chairs but the ones for the one bedroom and larger units are quite spacious, with a table, 4 chairs, light and ceiling fan. I don't have a porch or deck on my home in Boston. This area is my own private paradise.
Joe, Elie, Mike and John woke up, called the Liles' girls, and planned to meet at MGM. The rest of us headed over to the Magic Kingdom, not having done a whole lot the night before. Even though we were late (it was after 11am by the time we got organized enough to get there), the Haunted Mansion (HM) was a walk-on. Cara was trying this for her very first time, so she got the honorary seat between me and Peter so that I could warn her of "coming attractions". I had let out one of my bloodcurdling screams in the shrinking room when it got pitch black, and I had to promise not to do it again on the ride. Half the time I speak so quietly that it's an effort just to hear me, so my kids think that this little personality abnormality is interesting.
From the HM, we walked through Fantasyland but the lines were pretty long for almost everything. Karen had plans to take Cara back to the MK early on Sunday morning, always a sure thing for beating the crowds, so we were just wandering looking for manageable lines. Mr. Toad's Wild Ride only had a 15 minute wait so Tony, Peter and I took Cara. From there, we missed the doors closing for Timekeeper by about 3 seconds but it was hot and it was cool inside so we waited for the next show. Poor Peter....the heat and the huge portions of food that we had been digesting finally got to him and, as soon as we were let in, he informed us that he needed to get to a bathroom..quick!! Tony took him out through the exit and we stayed for the show.
Afterwards, I wasn't quite sure where to look for them. Did they finish and get back in line? Were they planning to meet me outside the exit? A very nice cast member (CM) named Booker was willing to take me in through the exit doors to see if I could see them inside but they found me just before I was about toenter. Tony went back in for the show (this is a never-miss for us), Karen, Cara and Mark went on the Tomorrowland Transit Authority, and Peter and I headed back over to the bathrooms across from the Grand Prix Raceway where we would meet Tony afterwards.
I'm trying to think of a way to lead into the fact that this was one of the most enjoyable parts of this trip to the MK without sounding like I have a bathroom fetish. It was actually *outside* of the bathroom where things got cute. Karen had found me there waiting, Cara and Mark went off to drive the cars, and Peter, feeling only slightly better, came out to sit with us while we waited for Tony. A mother pushing a small child in a carriage passed us by. A garbage can followed her. She sat on a nearby bench. The garbage can came up behind her. She was so intent on speaking with the child that she took no notice of this peculiar occurrence. The garbage can began to push her carriage away, child and all. Finally, a crowd of people gathered around the can, one small boy sticking his head pretty far in to see who or what was controlling it, his mom grabbing him by the shoulders to pull him out. Suddenly, a high-pitched, computerized voice said, "Ewwww.....he just stuck his head somewhere where I wouldn't want *my* head to go!" The can slowly turned around to face the gathering crowd and exclaimed, "Ooooh...look at all the people! Does anyone have any garbage for me by any chance? Please??" This was so cool!! (And we *did* accidentally find out how this was done but I won't spoil it by writing about it here.)
Tony met up with us and Peter was still feeling pretty lousy so the three of us said goodbye to our friends and headed back to the resort. There was one doozy of a storm coming in but I had Tony drop me off at Olivia's where I sat in an almost empty restaurant for another prime rib sandwich. Peter took a shower and rested a bit and was almost as good as new when I returned, just moments before the skies opened up.
Once the ten of us were back together, we decided to visit the Swan and Codfish..oops, I mean Dolphin...for dinner to use our $50 coupons from the Rita Aero book. We had two coupons (thanks, Mary!) and didn't want to waste $100!! We had planned on the Coral Cafe at the Dolphin but wanted to see if the buffet menu pleased the whole party. Our family will eat just about anything but our friends were a bit on the fussy side, tending to stick more with meat and potatoes. The buffet on this night was Italian and looked wonderful, they could seat us immediately, and it was no problem using the two coupons for one party of ten as she would split up the bill for us. Great!
This restaurant was actually a very pleasant surprise. The buffet included pasta with a choice of three different sauces, meatballs which all the kidsgraded as excellent, eggplant, chicken, seafood alfredo (really yummy with*huge* tender scallops), a salad bar with a wide variety of ingredients, and a dessert bar with a killer chocolate mousse cake. Cara got the "gooey pizza" (which we all read as "Goofy pizza"..duh) from the kids' menu for only $2.95 and the buffet prices were very reasonable at $16.95 for adults and $7.25 for kids. Drinks were not included in the buffet price. Our entire bill after the coupons, including tax and a 20% gratuity, came to under $30 for each family!
After dinner, we were entertained by Captain Don, an entertainer in Pirate garb who visits each table and makes the most interesting balloon animals and wacky hats. Since the restaurant was fairly slow (something we found almost everywhere throughout this trip), he spent a lot of time with us, making Cara a bunny bracelet, Elie a dog in a cage to wear on his head, an Ali Baba type hat for Tony and many other odd and unusual creations. Joe's balloon hat was about 3 feet high and had swirly balloon appendages coming out of each side.
After stuffing ourselves at dinner, Mike and Joe took off for Downtown Disney (Joe wearing the hat which we later heard whacked Mike in the face every time Joe turned his head) and the remaining seven took the boat to MGM, me to visit the Prime Time Cafe to cancel our priority seating for Friday and then to see the Sorcery in the Sky, the rest of them with agendas of their own. After StarTours for some, Muppet Vision again for Cara, and the fireworks for all who got there on time, we headed back for the boat and a thirty minute wait for the first one to arrive. I don't know what the problem was (we joked about no gas) but I have never had to wait this long and felt bad for the many, many people who did not fit on this first boat.
Day Five, Thursday, August 20:
Another day, another slow start. Mark took Cara to the Cape May Cafe for another visit with Chip and for some one-on-one father/daughter time. Karen went to the pool and Tony and I took the kids who were awake to Downtown Disney. Mike and Joe were going to possibly see us there when they finally got up, showered and dressed. I didn't buy much, only visiting the World of Disney and the Christmas store (I think that it's called Disney's Days of Christmas but the receipt still calls it the Christmas Chalet). Cecelia, a CM at the Christmas store, was kind enough to go into the back room and bring me a rollof 500 stickers when she heard about my soap and shampoo project for the kids at Children's Hospital! Peter bought a pair of huge Goofy slippers which were a real nuisance to pack. John was hunting for a souvenir for his mom and sneakily trying to buy a pair of earrings for *me*. He's a sweet kid! Oh yeah...and I bought a teeny little thing at Giradelli's which I sipped very contentedly while I strolled. Elie and John then took out the Water Mice which, at $16.50/half hour was hopefully a wonderful experience! Tony and Peter went to McDonald's (which still doesn't look right to me there) and met up with Mike and Joe! Our timing was unbelievable on this trip! Tony, Peter and I headed back and found that the boats weren't running due to an incoming storm so took the bus. At the bus stop, we chatted with a fellow DVC'er who,upon seeing my Christmas stickers and being told where they were headed, said,"Oh yeah! I know all about you from AOL!"
The boys were to meet us later and were a bit late as they stopped in at Pleasure Island to make a music video at SuperStar Studios. It came out great and is absolutely their favorite souvenir from the trip! If any of you or your children like to ham it up, this is the place to go. They give you a list of songs to choose from, instruments to play, and you lip sync to the song. For the short time involved in making it, the video looks almost professional and most of the lip synching errors are virtually unnoticeable.
We swam for a bit at the OKW main pool and got all cleaned up and pretty for Peter's birthday dinner at the Garden Grill in the Land pavilion of Epcot. Tradition is that Peter gets to pick one meal on our summer trip as his "official" birthday dinner (his actual birthday this year is the day that we fly home) and he was a bit apprehensive about this year's choice, having never been there before. This was our second very pleasant meal surprise on this trip! When we first checked in, the CM doing the seating handed Peter the phone and said that there was a call for him. It was Goofy wishing him a Happy Birthday! We were then seated on one of the outer tables of the rotating restaurant so that we were all facing the outside of the circle, reminding me of the way they would place the characters on any sitcom of the 50's, all faces towards the camera. We couldn't see the other diners from our table so it really felt private. Well, at least until the rotation brought us out by the entrance to the whole Land pavilion where hundreds of people could watch you spill mashed potatoes on your lap. The food was exceptional!! The steak was juicy and tender, the chicken was delicious, the fried catfish was great, the salad, cornbread and biscuits (yum) were plentiful and the mashed red potatoes were to die for. Something that I particularly liked and haven't seen anywhere else is the fact that they bring the children's choices (fried chicken, fries and macaroni and cheese) out on a large skillet for everyone to eat from and keep replenishing that as well. The characters were Mickey, Minnie, Chip and Dale and they made numerous appearances at our table, Mickey making a big deal of sending four kisses to the four Minnie's on Cara's cap.
The dessert options were Apple Crisp with vanilla ice cream and something else that I can't remember. At the end of the meal, the servers came over for an Old McDonald's version of Happy Birthday and brought out to Peter a lovely birthday cake! It wasn't only pretty but tasted good also (the reason that I can't remember the other dessert?).
After our meal, everyone scattered in their own direction, some to visit Figment, others to Body Wars and me to the ladies room. Joe waited for me and we decided to catch the 8:25 show of Off Kilter seeing that I had brought the video camera. This was a lot of fun...there were three guys dancing in the audience, beer glasses in hand, drenching everyone in sight. Nobody seemed to mind and their enthusiasm was contagious making this one of the better crowds of this trip. Joe and I met the band afterwards, exchanged email addresses and posed with them for pictures. They do seem like a really nice bunch of guys! We all then watched IllumiNations and headed back for an early night. Animal Kingdom tomorrow!!
Day Six, Friday, August 21:
It's vacation and I'm getting up at 6am? sheesh. We were in the car by 6:50am and arrived at Animal Kingdom (AK) at around 7:05am. The shuttles weren't yet running but we were fairly close to the entrance. <Insert a big thank you to gardenia and Deb Wills for their wonderful touring advice - it worked!> We had limited goals for this park. There are not as many air conditioned attractions here, so we knew that it would get as hot as Hades by the middle of the day. We wanted to do Countdown to Extinction, see It's Tough to Be a Bug, get on Kilimanjaro Safari and make it to the 10am show of the Festival of the Lion King. We would take the boat ride if and only if the lines were short and we accomplished everything else as almost everyone has told me that it's very nice but not worth a wait of over 15 minutes.
With all that in mind, and the park map imbedded in my foggy, caffeine deprived brain, we headed into DinoLand for Countdown to Extinction. I was a wee bit nervous about this, not knowing how much jostling I could take, but I screamed and yelled and whooped and hollered and loved it! Since there was no one in line (really no one!), we went right back on for a second ride.
From there, we immediately headed for the Tree of Life (do not pass Go, do not collect 200 dollars) for It's Tough to Be a Bug. I almost wished the line was going a bit slower for this because the detail on that tree is just so amazing and incredible, I felt the need to just wander slowly and soak it all in. There are no words to describe it. Next trip, on a cooler day, this will be my AK goal. We got inside/underneath the tree very quickly and we all enjoyed the movie posters and show tunes in the waiting area. I'm still singing "Beauty and the Bees".
I liked the show itself very much but don't want to give anything away. I would like to mention, however, that if you have a bug phobia, this is not the place that you want to be, cute as it is. Also, and this does give a bit of it away, so scroll down to the next paragraph if you'd like to skip it.....thereis a simulated "sting" in the show which actually hurt Joe and Peter pretty badly as it hit a tender area in their spines. If you have little kids, it maybe better to have them sit in your lap, or at least lean forward, even though it takes away some of the effects.
Our next stop was Kilimanjaro Safari, and is it just me, or are the queues to these attractions much, much longer than those at any other park? There was again no wait and we were in a vehicle by 8:15am. It was still cool enough (everything being relative) to see a lot of animals but what impressed me even more was the incredible detail of the surroundings. You could almost leave reality and believe that you were somewhere in the heart of Africa. Mike, the17 year old, made a comment about the differences in AK to other animal parks, Six Flags specifically. He said that it was neat to visit the animals in their own environment instead of bringing the animals to yours. There was no reason to feel sorry for these beautiful creatures as they were not imprisoned.
Well, it was 9am and we had accomplished so much already! We took a slow walk back towards the Tree of Life but somehow bypassed the entrance to the Festival of the Lion King (the signs only say Camp Minnie Mickey so it was a bit confusing) but it was a fortunate mistake. Just as we realized our error, we saw the Cirikli in our path! Tony had been hunting for these men/birdcreatures all over Epcot but didn't see them listed anymore in the entertainment schedule. After a few moments of excitement (well, Tony and I were excited and everyone else humored us), I turned around to see Joe standing with a 6'5" center forward that he coached basketball with this summer. Weird! He had come over, put his elbow on Joe's shoulder and said, calm as could be, "So, how's it going?" Joe looked up at him, showed no surprise, and said, "Oh,pretty good...you?" Two of a kind ;-)
We got ourselves in line for the 10am Festival of the Lion King show at 9:35 and were really surprised at the amount of people already in front of us. With no more than 30 or 40 people behind us, they opened another queue for the 11am show! We found the best seats to be about halfway up any section (the theater is "in the round" and the entrances are from all sides) on the farthest end of a row as there are no seats directly in front of you. Great for taping. The show is lively, the costumes are some of the best I've yet seen at WDW, and the performers are quite talented although, in my prejudiced opinion, not as talented as those in Hunchback. Definitely a must see!
We split up for a bit then with plans to meet at 11:30 at Restaurantasaurus. I talked Tony into eating at the Rainforest Cafe (thanks, hon!) to satisfy my craving for Mojo Bones, so after we rendezvoused, our Elie went off to eat with our friends and their John came to the Rainforest Cafe with us. John is a big animal lover and said that, in this atmosphere, he was "in paradise". It *is*a cool place to eat, animal lover or not. We almost all got Mojo Bones either as appetizers or as the main meal (me) and those that didn't get it, shared with those that did. Sufficiently stuffed, we left the park and headed back tothe OKW to change for Typhoon Lagoon.
The day had started out very cloudy, a big plus for AK touring but an even bigger plus for a water park. We left the resort at 1:45, arrived at Typhoon Lagoon shortly after, found parking very close to the entrance and went in to find many chairs available and the lines to be quite short. We went directly to my favorite area to sit. If you are standing in the wave pool with the ship in front of you, there is a kiddie slide which is on your left. We always seem to find seats in that section, no matter how crowded the park is. One of the entrances to Castaway Creek is right across the walkway, the bathroom is only a few steps to your right, the wave pool is practically at your feet, the family raft ride and one of the slides is moments away, and that great little cart that sells Arctic Dots is also nearby. Well, maybe *that* one is a little too close. It's also very easy for the kids to find us for our periodic checking in. After staying about 4 hours, with the kids going everywhere except Shark Reef, we headed back "home" to order Pizza Hut pizza, get the kids settled, and head out for our friends' first adult night at Pleasure Island.
This was a night of revelation. No, not reveling...revelation As hard as it was for us to accept, getting up at 6am, hitting two parks, and then deciding to party in the evening was just too much for us old fogies. We wanted to at least walk into every club, get a feel for it, and then decide if it was something worth coming back to. Our opinions....The new Wildhorse Saloon looked like a lot of fun. A portly gentleman was being projected on a wall size screen as he led everyone on the dance floor through the steps of a line dance. If we had hit that one on the way out, I think that we would have stayed a bit. The Rock and Roll Beach Club was *way* too loud for me and I'm someone who cranks the music up in the car and sings along. It was also extremely smoky and the crowd much too young. Same thing goes for 8-Traxx. The jazz club (forgot the name) was also smoky, there were no tables available, and we didn't want to sit and not order anything anyway. Mannequins was...bizarre. Lots of bright strobe lights, rotating dance floor, music so loud that we felt it pulsating our feet through the floorboards. The mannequins actually gave me the creeps..very Stanley Kubrik/Clockwork Orange. It seemed as if they were trying to provide electronically the LSD mind-altering experiences of the 60's. That all said, I wouldn't have minded dancing but don't think I could have lasted in there for longer than one song. As it was, we didn't even last that long.
On my February trip with my women friends, I had tried the Adventurer's Club for the first time. This place is a blast! We stayed there for quite sometime, watched the induction ceremony (Kungaloosh!), the two man initiation by Babelonia, checked out the Mask Room and caught the show in the library. Gabby, the maid, is my favorite character and she was wonderful, as always. Our friends thought that they could easily spend the entire evening there and I wish we had. Next time! On the way out, we saw the basketball player again.
Day Seven, Saturday, August 22:
All the males in our party packed up their testosterone and left at 8:15am for a day at Universal Studios. Karen, Cara and I puttered around for a while enjoying the quiet without the guys and then I walked over to Community Hall to straighten something out with our reservations. Julie, a really nice CM who had helped me out previously, and I got to talking about the Disney soap project that I'm involved in out of Boston (WDW- Disney Mickey Soaps) andtold me about her work with "Give Kids the World". She has a few friends in Community Relations and offered to pass along my story to see if they could help out. Great!
The Ladies Day Out was going to consist of a swim at Stormalong Bay (SB), lunch and shopping. We left the room to catch the bus (the guys had both cars) at approximately 11:15....and didn't get to the Beach Club until after 12:30pm! We caught the bus to Downtown Disney after a 15 minutes, waited for the Yacht Club/Beach Club bus for at least 20 minutes and then traveled from the Marketplace to Pleasure Island, the West Side, Typhoon Lagoon, the Swan and the Dolphin before getting off at our destination. Cara was very patient!
Our swim was wonderful. The pool was very quiet and we wondered if Saturday was a big coming/going day and people were busy checking out or in. We got some heavy rain about an hour after we arrived which coincided perfectly with the time that we wanted to eat lunch, so we covered everything with our ponchos and ate at the table under one of the umbrellas. Cara and I had delicious hotdogs from Hurricane Hannah's and Karen got a hamburger. I also got cheesefries with mine which was a real treat after 12 weeks on Weight Watchers! After one last swim from one end of the pool to the other, which at SB takes quite some time, we changed and took the bus back to Downtown Disney, this time opting for the boat back to the OKW to avoid all of the stops along the way. On the bus, we passed right by the entrance to the OKW and I think the driver was *almost* ready to take pity on us and drop us off. He said that they were currently revamping all the bus routes and were planning to have more multipleresort stops along the Downtown Disney bus routes. He said that, especially with the crowds in the evening, it made no sense to have a bus go to only one resort at a time. I'm not sure how I feel about this or if I even understood him correctly but the concept seems like a reasonable solution to the headache of resort hopping.
While waiting for the OKW pontoon boat (which, by the way, is a new boat which now holds only 10 rather than 14), we met a family with a tired, cranky infant girl, who had just been left at the dock because the baby would have made the 11th person. I've never seen this happen before and felt really bad for the bunch of them. The mom and baby probably weighed less together than I weigh alone. Our boat came after about 15 minutes and at least 10 boats for Port Orleans and Dixie Landings. There was a major storm brewing and the driver warned us that is she saw *any* lightning, no matter how far away, she would have to pull into the nearest dock and wait out the storm. We were brave. Actually, we were hot and tired and just wanted to get on the dang boat. We beat the bad weather and really enjoyed the ride, one of the fastest I've ever taken on a pontoon!
The boys surprised us by coming into the room shortly after we returned, around 5:30pm. We thought we'd be long gone back to the Marketplace before they arrived back. Most of them liked Universal, but didn't love it. Joe, who I've trained well, thought it was "really lame" and that "MGM is much better". Peter, I think, enjoyed it the most only because everything for him was new, he having sat out most of the major rides on our last visit to Universal in 1994.
We had another one of our very long discussions on where to eat dinner and decided to try the Pizzeria Uno at CrossRoads as we had coupons for the kids to eat free. We drove over and were seated almost immediately. Everyone really enjoyed their meal (we have one about 5 minutes from our house so were familiar with the menu) and the entire bill for 10, including tax and gratuity, was only $100.04. From there, we drove to the Marketplace and spent a few hours playing with Legos and shopping. I taught Joe and Mike the "lions and tigers and bears" skip so we linked arms and headed to the car that way. (And I counted my blessings that my 15 year old son and his 17 year old friend would actually do that with me.)
Day Eight, Sunday, August 23:
On our last full day in WDW, we usually let the kids pick which attractions they'd like to repeat. I asked all my boys on Saturday night what they'd like to do on Sunday morning and they all said, "SLEEP!!!". Karen and her three kids took off early to the Magic Kingdom for all the rides they had missed earlier, and I got up at 8:30am, did a few last loads of laundry, took lots of time on the balcony with my breakfast, tried to straighten out the suitcase to fit those huge Goofy slippers, and watched the updates on Hurricane Bonnie. Great. It was expected to hit land on Monday at 2pm. Our flight was on Monday at 2pm.
At noon, Peter and I headed to the pool (everyone else was watching "Hook") and had a very relaxing few hours of water and one-on-one conversation where I finally got to hear all about his experiences at Universal Studios without everyone yakking at me. Tony and Joe were sighted having a rousing game of ping pong at around 2pm when Peter and I went over to Good to Go to buy my Disney Vacation Club refillable mug ($4.95 and $1.04 for refills) which I should have bought on day one. It was getting pretty hot by this point so we grabbed lunch, found a tiny spot in the shade, ate and went back to change and get ready for Epcot.
We left for Epcot at around 4:15pm and, once we got to the gates, I had my only major meltdown of the trip. I had told Tony that our DVC park passes were not coded into our cards but were actually separate passes good until the year 2004. Somehow, at the time, he thought that this information was irrelevant. Now, on the way to the turnstiles, the bulb went on and he realized that we were using $240 of passes for 4 hours in the park. Did he really want to do this? (Did I really want to strangle him?) After much (too much) discussion, all of us wanting to do different things but *not* wanting to split up on our last day in the parks, and me cursing Tony for not listening in the first place, we decided that Tony and Elie would rent the Water Mice at the Yacht Club Marina and then go for a swim while Joe, Peter and I would go to Epcot.
I *love* Epcot...it's worth any amount of money to me. We walked by the Canadian pavilion and watched the 5:15pm show of Clan Terra, the fiddle group. We walked over to the United Kingdom for the 5:35 show of the World Showcase Players who were doing the Search for the Holy Grail. The audience participation in this show can either make or break it, and this time the king was Oscar worthy! After a lot of laughing, we headed back to the Canadian pavilion for the 6pm show of Off Kilter and we talked again with the band afterwards and Peter got autographs.
We had met Karen's boys at the 6pm show (this one was planned!) so went to China in search of the Pu Yeng Acrobats. They were as wonderful as always. Everyone was hungry by this point but the line for Maelstrom in Norway was only 15 minutes so we headed there first. I had a great time in line pointing out the Hidden Mickeys to my gang (and anyone else who was in hearing range). My friend Meli had shown them to me in February so I was able to impress my boys. The line moved fast and we were soon "not ze first to pass zis vay".
I grabbed a Rice Creme as we were leaving Norway, torn between wanting to go with half of the group to Mexico but *not* wanting to let John go to the American pavilion alone for a hamburger. Tony's Lebanese family makes a very good rice pudding but Norway's is much creamier and also has that yummy syrup on the top. It's my favorite dessert in Epcot.
Our collective goal was to see the last show of the evening for Off Kilter and all met there to grab front and second row seats. I sat next to a 65 year old woman from New York, visiting WDW with her three daughters who had bought her this trip as a birthday present. She clapped and stomped with the music and told me how glad she was that I told her to stay for the show. At the conclusion, Joe, Mike and John starting to shout "encore" and got the entire crowd worked up. I'm not sure if this was the first time that this has happened...they looked up at the sound woman who gave a tentative "ok" (it was getting close to IllumiNations) and they gave an encore which surpassed anything I've ever heard them play! A great crowd, a great show, and a wonderful way for our boys to finish off their last night. They talked about it all the way home! We walked out of the front gates before IllumiNations concluded so had a short wait for the bus and back to the resort we went for showers and last minute packing for the morning. How did this week go by so quickly?
Tony had an interesting story to tell when he returned to the room shortly after we did. They had gone to rent the Water Mice, swam a bit at Stormalong Bay, and then had come back to swim some more at the main OKW pool. Close to the end of the evening, with only a few people left in the pool, a little girl (Tony thinks about 6 or 7 years old) who had been sitting on the side waiting for her parents, decided to go for one last swim. Unfortunately, she forgot that she had taken off her life jacket. The parents, busy with their belongings, didn't notice the girl going in so it was Tony who found her gasping and floundering in the middle of the pool, trying to yell for help but getting a mouthful of water instead. He grabbed her and brought her to her*very* grateful parents. He told me later that he felt that God had made his decision that night to not go with us to Epcot, that he was meant to be in that pool at that particular time.
Day Nine, Monday, August 24:
It's Peter's birthday!! And we're leaving!!
The suitcases were packed and the last minute checking under the beds was complete, so we moved our luggage down to the car to head over to the Beach Club for our breakfast at the Cape May Cafe. Our priority seating was for 10:15 but we arrived at 10am and were seated immediately. The place was half empty!! Even with priority seating, in the past we would have a long wait for our table. The manager recognized Cara from her visit a few days before and even remembered that Chip was her favorite character! A few minutes into our meal, Dale came over, told Cara to close her eyes and put out her hands, and into them he put an autographed photo of him and Chip!
Servers and characters alike then came over to sing (and sign) Happy Birthday to Peter. They gave him a signed balloon and a huge, frosted chocolate chip cookie. Our server then offered to take a group photo of the ten of us...this is the *best* photo we've ever had taken at Disney, Goofy in the middle, Chip and Dale on both ends, all of us smiling and happy, best friends who even stayed best friends after 9 days of close contact...I'll treasure this picture and the memories of this trip always!
Random Thoughts (aka Things That Didn't Seem To Fit Elsewhere:
Winner of the Most Helpful Policy Award: I liked the way that there are CM's stationed all over Animal Kingdom to help the guests find their way. I don't think that the park is big enough to be too confusing, but I also don't think the pathways are clearly marked.
Honorable Mention for Most Helpful Policy: As of this trip, they still had stations set up to distribute drinking water in Animal Kingdom. I sure do hope that they continue this as it's quite hard to find a fountain.
Nicest Memory: Sitting on my balcony, sipping coffee, while the sounds from Fantasia came softly from the living room where Cara sat watching.
Best New Place to Eat: The Garden Grill at the Land. I'm hungry and I wanna go back.
Best CM experiences: Tied between Julie at the OKW front desk for her patience, Cecelia at the Christmas Chalet for her generosity and Matt, at the Contemporary's DVC infodesk who gave me a load of stickers and OKW buttons for the kids in the hospital.
Most Frustrating Shopping Experience: Trying to buy Off Kilter's newly released CD at Epcot. According to Randy, the lead guitarist, they were hidden away "in the back" until Disney could change the bar code system to be compatible with theirs. I finally ordered it online.
Most Useful Info to Know: For those who asked boxers or briefs. Off Kilter wears spandex shorts, in a lovely stripe ;-)
Cutest Observation: Two little children, looking like brother and sister, playing pat-a-cake on the bus back to the OKW. They were sitting at least 20 feet from each other, hands in the air, in perfect synchronization. I hoped that their relationship had even some of the essence of the harmony in their play. (Humor me - I only think thoughts like this at Walt Disney World ;-))
Thanks for reading!