1/26/99 - 1/28/99
Kids: 6 yr old girl; 4 year old son
Grandma & Grampa (76 & 81) - Yes they walked!
Day 1 -- January 26, 1999.
We decided to stay at Motel 6 on Int. Drive (East). the night before so we wouldn't have to drive up from West Palm the first morning in the parks. Great decision, although Motel 6 was bare bones. Went to pre-register at Port Orleans & buy length of stay passes. No waiting. Got to park at opening. No trams running as we were among the first 100 cars in lot. Looong walk to gate. Welcome to Disney! Once we got into the park, a lovely dressed African woman was acting as greeter. I love this. MK has the "Mayor" who says a hearty hello, and this was similar. A really nice touch. We ditched our cheap stroller when we saw the cool double strollers, and rented one for the kids. These are great, and much better than at the other parks.
AK is a great, world class zoo. I've been to the Berlin Zoo, and the Bronx zoo (among many others). AK is the best for landscaping and naturalistic habitat areas, hands down. A very pleasant place to look at animals. Of course, they just can't compete with the comprehensive displays at other large zoos, but what they do have is interesting and displayed beautifully. Of course, this isn't even counting the "theme park" parts of the park. The place really is a two for one -- a great zoo, and a (for now) small theme park. First we made a bee-line to the Kilamanjaro safaris. It was very very foggy that morning. No wait. The ride was fantastic. Fun truck vehicle, and just a wonderfully conceived ride. One funny thing was that the animal habitats were super foggy which was really cool, and I commented to mom that I couldn't tell if it was real fog or Disney fog. We had a good guide, a young woman who sounded truly scared to cross the rickety bridge. Saw lots of animals close up, and saw the lion roaring (although mom said it was coughing up a hairball!) The kids were spell-bound, and even Grandma and Grandpa who are old Disneyworld veterans were impressed. We repeated the ride at noon (20 minute wait) and saw many fewer animals. Although, now I could see that the morning fog was both natural AND "Disney fog!" The driver was bad as well. Then we rode a third time at about 4:30, (no wait) and saw a lot of animals again, this time a cheetah as well. Our guide this time was an African American man who really got into the act of being an African tour guide. He was fantastic, and very convincing. This is a ride for first thing in the morning or late in the afternoon, and if you don't like your guide ride it again because they have very different styles, and some are better than others. Also, they don't show Big Red dead anymore, and the storyline is as a result much less "strident" than it has previously been described in this NG.
We then went directly to the Gorilla falls walk. Mind-blowing!! My son got really into the naked mole rats. These are the wierdest creatures on the face of the earth. Of course both the kids loved the meercats, the cutest animals on the face of the earth. But the best was the underwater viewing tank for the hippo. The kids just stared for twenty minutes, in total awe. The gorilla was awesome too, but a bit hard to see because the glass window was still covered with condensation from the cold fog that a.m..
Next we went to Camp Mickey-Minnie to meet some characters. There was hardly anyone there, so all the characters were milling around near the entrances to the meeting areas. This was just the best for the kids. They loved it. They are just the right age for this. Many hugs and kisses and great pics (like a whole roll!) Mickey and Minnie have really cute camp counselor outfits.
I can't stress enough the importance of going in the off-season. We had almost no wait for any ride all three days. Character greetings were almost private, even in the parks. The last week of January is amazingly uncrowded, and we have been all times of the year.
Then we went over to The Dig Site, and Grampa and I (Dad) watched the kids play while grandma and mom went to Countdown to Extinction. Dig Site was a highlight for the kids. They played for at least an hour. There was some mom over in the sandbox part egging her kids on to systematically dig up the whole sandbox, claiming that there were hidden gifts for kids there she said arrowheads). She was a real slave-driver. I think she was full of it, as they never found a thing. Has any one ever heard about this? When Mom and Grandma got back, Grampa and I went on Countdown. A Great ride. One of the best ever. As good as Star Tours and almost as good a Tower of Terror. Scared the hell out of Grampa but he is a real sport. (Scared the hell out of me for that matter!)
By now it was about lunch time so we returned to the Tusker House in Africa for lunch. Excellent food. Mom (vegetarian) had the grilled veggie sandwich. Huge and delicious. I had the rotisserie chicken, fried chicken for the kids and Grampa had the beef stew in a bread bowl. This place is just excellent. Plus they sell beer (which Mom and I indulged in). There was a live band playing steel-drum type music (not really that African) which was a nice touch. Grandma spilled her large drink, and they brought a free refill right away. Typical of the outstanding service, as usual.
Next we went into Its tough to be a Bug. Big mistake. Our daughter had to be taken out sobbing, and out son was very scared too. This is just too intense for some kids, and ours are especially sensitive. A cute show all in all, but you had better sit in the middle or the 3-D effect doesn't work. The tree of life was wonderful though. What a piece of work!! Be warned that if you park your stroller at the entrance, you will be let out on the other side of the park. A real hassle. Better to push your stroller right into the attraction, and then only give it up when they make you, about half-way through the line. They will then park it for you near the exit.
Next we tried to go to Asia. I was pretty disappointed that the Maharaja jungle walk had been closed until March (It was open all through the holidays.) Naturally, the water ride was closed too, and you couldn't even get close to any part of Asia.
The last area we went to was back to Camp Mickey - Minnie for the Lion King show. This time we saw the fire-breathing dragon's cave from the bridge -- super cool. Absolutely the best Disney show we have ever seen. Ballet, acrobatics, singing. It had it all. Our daughter loved it. Our son fell asleep! (But only because it was way past nap time.)
We spent almost the whole day there (8 am to closing at 6 p.m.) Although the park was only open short hours, we didn't see anywhere near everything. I feel the park is a good value, but if you don't like zoos you will be disappointed. It is first and foremost a zoo, after all. Oddly enough, I would still recommend that if you have much time in Florida and you are interested in animals, you may still enjoy gong to Lion County Safari in West Palm Beach. You will see hundreds of more animals at Lion County, although there is really no comparing the two parks. It's just that Lion Country is a heck of a nice older park that gives you a different type of animal experience that is also lots of fun. West Palm also has Dreyer Park Zoo, a public zoo, that is very very nice and has a science museum with dinosaur exhibits as well.
We went back to Port Orleans and got our room. Two connecting ones. I have stayed at the Contemporary, The Wilderness Lodge, and the Polynesian. I must say I was really impressed with PO. I will definitely go back again. We had take out from the food court which was pretty good and super easy to deal with. They even let you take beers (open) back to your room. The kids got room service pizza, which they loved. I recommend the Jambalaya. We then went swimming, and sat in the hot tub for a little while. While we were swimming we saw the Space Shuttle go up!!! Very very impressive. The water slide was great, better than the one at the Poly.
Then we put the kids to bed, leaving them with Gramma and Grampa, and Mom and I took the pontoon boat to Pleasure Island. this was a super fun ride and very convenient. Well, we never made it out of the Adventurer's Club. I have wanted to go there the past two years, and never was able to. This place is, hands down, the most fun place I have ever been to at all of Disney World. We just loved it. The "club members" were amazing actors. Super funny. The shows were pretty much non-stop. We Stayed about an hour and a half, but I wanted to stay a lot longer. The Kungaloosh is also a pretty yummy drink! Then we went back, about 10:30, to get the pontoon boat back. A twenty minute wait! Be warned about this. Also, it was stupid not to have taken the car. PI is about a three minute drive from the Port Orleans. I was amazed at the whole PI, Downtown Disney development. I hadn't been there since the year it opened (and was called the Disney Marketplace), when all there was was a small clothing shop and the Riverboat restaurant. It has come a long way. The last thing we did there was have an elderly gentleman from Korea do letter-art calligraphy of our daughter's name. This blew us away. and only $12 for what I consider a wonderful work of art. I can't even describe it. Each letter was a picture, in full color. In fact you have to look for a minute to see that the whole thing is a name, and not just a wild picture.
Day 2 -- January 27, 1999.
The second day we (Mom & Dad & the kids) went to Magic Kingdom, while grandma and grandpa stayed at Port Orleans, and went to Downtown Disney, etc., with tickets for the 5:00 show to Cirque de Soleil. Sorry to report that I ( Dad) did not get to see Cirque, so my report here is second hand from Grandma & Grandpa.
Got there at opening, and only had to wait about two minutes at the rope inside Cinderella's Castle. I took my son and high-tailed it to Dumbo. I noticed that a cute little girl with bright red hair and a Minnie outfit got to ride with Minnie on the first ride. I wondered how they pick? The first in line? Is this an everyday thing? It looked as if it was. Super fun for a lucky kid! We boys rode the second ride of the day. Got a nice view of behind the temporary wall in front of Toad/Pooh. Lots of drywall buckets. Mom took our daughter over to Peter Pan. Try explaining to a six-year-old that she should ride Dumbo first and then Peter Pan because the line for Peter Pan never gets long and the line for Dumbo is long quickly. Anyway, she rode Peter Pan first because that's what she wanted, and then came over with mom and rode Dumbo during "the boys" second ride. We then scooted over to the carousel, a ride I always enjoy. Next was Peter Pan. We had spotted the sweet girl mice from Cinderella meeting guests, and got nice hugs and kisses from them. Both kids LOVE the movie Cinderella, and have since they were toddlers. Next was the tea cups, and we had our pick of cups (a pink one of course!). Saw the mad hatter (face character) and the queen, but the kids were not too interested.
Next we went to Mickey's Toontown Fair for Goofy's Barnstormer. We love this ride first thing in the morning because they will let you ride it endlessly time after time as long as there is no waiting riders. Last year we rode twelve times in a row. This year we rode about six times, but were itching to get going. Its a fun little coaster if there is no waiting and you can ride over and over without getting out of the ride! I also think it warms the kids up for the bigger stuff! Then we went through Mickey's house, then Minnie's house. I like Minnie's house because one of Minnie's works of art in her studio room is a "painting" of ballerina ducks a la Degas. The funny thing is is that the art is blown-up from an illustration in an issue of Walt Disney Magazine circa 1955 that I remember laying around the house when I was a kid! I always get a kick out of seeing it there in Minnie's house, a nice piece of nostalgia for me. I also always get a kick out of the statue of Cornelius Coot, since I have been a huge fan of Carl Bark's Donald Duck comics since I was seven years old. Of course everyone knows he founded Duckburg, not "Mickey's Toontown!" One small disappointment was that they no longer have face characters greeting at the big tent. Actually this really pissed me off. This was always the one place that my daughter could count on seeing a face character and spending a nice few moments with Belle or Alice etc. I asked the CM and she said it had been discontinued. We saw Pluto, Goofy, Minnie, Pooh, Eyore and Tigger though.
Next was a short visit to Tomorrowland, by way of the Skyway. Skyway is super fun, and I realized for the first time what a huge ride 20,000 leagues was. There is a gigantic building that is now unused. There would be plenty of room there for a coaster. I hope it happens. We went on the new Buzz Lightyear. I kind of liked it, but our son was very scared. Then we went on the People Mover. Its a mellow restful ride. The cool thing was we got to see inside Space Mountain, all lit up and being worked on by construction workers! It is actually even more awesome in the light, because you can really see the track system. Then we went on the Carousel of Progress. This is really a classic piece of Disney, one that has Walt's personal touch all over it. Both kids loved it! I am always amazed that it made it's debut at the 1964 worlds fair, and is still going strong.
By now it was time to go to the Crystal Palace for a character lunch. We had "reservations" but they we hardly necessary. The place was half empty. A great buffet, and very nice time with the Pooh characters. Piglet was there, which was a nice change from last year. This is my favorite MK restaurant. Then off to Adventureland and the Swiss Family Treehouse, then Pirates. Here's a tip: This is a damn scary ride for little kids. They did not enjoy it. (Mom and I love it.) Then Jungle Cruise, (no wait) with a good guide, a young woman was sweet and our daughter liked a lot. Then it was Big Thunder Mt. & Splash Mt. Splash is my all time favorite Disney attraction. Everyone loved it. Then we lined up for the "Remember the Magic" parade that has now been renamed. A nice, but short parade. I for one could do without the audience participation junk at the end, but I guess the kids like it.
Then we rode Big Thunder a few more times, and by now it was getting dark. Big Thunder is definitely more fun at night. Then I took my son to County Bear Jamboree. Now I have been going to Disney since I was ten years old in 1973. I have never been in this attraction. Mom and daughter hate country music and hillbilly humor so they passed on it and got ice cream. My son promptly fell asleep through the whole show. I got a kick out of it, especially the songs "Blood on the Highway", and "Why do all the guys that turn me on turn me down." This ride has dated some, and could really use a new sound system. We made it back to fantasyland just in time for It's a Small World one more time, then the fireworks. A nearly perfect MK day.
When we got back to Port Orleans, there was a note from Grandma and Grampa. Seems they cancelled the 5:00 performance of Cirque! They gave them tickets for the 8:00 show though. I decided to go over and pick them up after the show so they wouldn't have to take the bus or pontoon boat. They really appreciated this. Seems they ended up with amazing seats due to the 5:00 performance being cancelled, right above the sound board. A CM there commented to them "oh you got some of the seats that they don't offer for sale. They are just for VIP's. My parent's were told that the 5:00 show was cancelled because the director wanted one more rehearsal to get it perfect before the debut performance. I guess this was the premiere (although the gala premiere is later this month). They said that the people at the box office couldn't have been nicer to them, really treating them like VIP's. Well, they were gaga over the show!! Grandma and Grandpa have been everywhere and seen it all, from Sally Rand's fan dance at the 1933 Chicago World's fair, to the Follies Bergere in Paris, to blockbuster musical theatre in London. They said they had never seen anything like it, and they meant it! The most fabulous, wonderful performance of any kind that either of them had ever seen. They said it was impossible to describe. An elaborate stage system that had parts that rose up and down, with performances of opera, ballet, acrobatics, and mime, and all going at the same time. Grandpa's comment was that you never knew where to look! Grandpa also liked what he called the "Neanderthal man" who kind of slunked around the audience. I can't wait to go ourselves next year! This is a must must see. Again, after the performance, they were treated like VIP's. Grandma stumbled a little getting out of her seat, and was helped up by a tall, elegantly dressed man she thought was the director, who then introduced her to the choreographer. I'm not sure why they got sure special treatment. Grandma thinks it was because when she went to the Box Office to get replacement tickets, she showed the resort ID with my name on it, that happens to be the same name as a very famous movie director. We all got a huge laugh out of this! I just I think that is silly, and that the Cirque people are just really really nice. (Although two CMs at Port Orleans at two different times asked me if I was the director James Cameron. I just laughed and said that if I was I'd be staying at the Grand Floridian! It must have been the grayish beard. NO ONE in Florida has a beard!)
Day 3 -- January 28, 1999.
The third day Mom, Dad (myself) and the kids went to Epcot. Grandma & Grandpa stayed at Port Orleans and took it easy. Epcot has always been my daughter's favorite, especially the rides at Future World. Horizons was a particular favorite. We got there at opening, and high-tailed it to (where else?) Test Track. We were turned away by the CM's saying it might open later in the morning. We were given, however, pretty cool Test Track pins as a "consolation prize." I commented to the CM, an older gentleman, how sad it was that Horizons was closed for good. He commented that it was closed because Horizon's view of the future was now reality. I didn't argue with him, but the last I knew families weren't living in outer space, under the sea, or on floating towns.
We then scooted over to The Land, and took the greenhouse ride. This was another favorite of ours, and just as good as ever. I saw a hidden Mickey made of grapefruit, which was kind of neat. Had a snack at the food court, which always has good stuff. I had an espresso, to give me a boost after a late night at the adventurer's club the night before. Next over to the living seas. The kids didn't get as into it as I did, so we didn't stay long. It really is a lovely attraction though, in my opinion. We saw the Manatees getting fed romaine lettuce.
Since Journey into the Imagination was closed, we went over to the big ball. This is another one of my daughter's favorites, and we rode twice. Next to the World Showcase
Before I get into that, I must comment on the fact that Epcot really is a sparse landscape these days. Journey (one of my personal favorites) under rehab, and the old ride gone forever. (The ride used to bring me to tears. I found it touching, somehow.) Horizons gone forever. Test Track a huge disappointment (you'll see why later.) We were done by four o'clock, something we have never experienced before. All I can say is that I hope this is temporary, and that the park and concept that I love will be reborn for the new millennium.
We went clockwise around World Showcase, since we had priority seating for the San Angel Inn. (thanks Deb Wills for your great web site and the menus!) We rode El Rio de Tempo twice before lunch and once more after. I love that ride. The thought that it is also now gone forever is bittersweet for me. Yes it was dated. But it was charming and one of the last of the old Epcot rides from my youth. Plus it had a terrific "wow" factor for my little kids. They LOVED it. Even though our timing in having a late January trip was a bit off (missing Asia at AK by a hair, the test track disappointment) going on El Rio one last time made me glad we went when we did. Farewell old friend. Anyway, lunch was great. Wonderful service, and good food. One piece of advice. The menu has very conventional stuff and very unusual stuff on it. Get the most unusual thing on the menu. You won't be disappointed. If you get the mundane stuff, you will be disappointed, drooling over the yummy exotic stuff on your partner's plate (like I was.) I had couple Margarita's which were quite yummy too, I must say.
Next we went to China. My daughter is wild about all things Chinese. She just loved the 360 degree movie. This movie is one of the most mind-blowing things at Epcot. She also enjoyed the gift shop, and stayed quite a long time. My daughter bought a lovely figurine of a Chinese woman. I had to laugh because they had Beanie Babies there. Then I realized that Beanie Babies are probably China's most famous export product to the USA! Next was the Norway Pavilion. My son and I rode the Nordstrom ride because my daughter made a fuss about it being too scary. Thing is, a teenager put on a big performance right in front of us about how SHE was too scared to ride it. Of course then my daughter freaked and refused to ride. So then after my son and I got off, she suddenly wanted to ride. She ended up going with mom, and having a great time. We also discovered the Viking Boat kid's play ground. I think this is fairly new, and fun for little ones.
Next we went on around to Italy and Germany, quickly passing through. I got a large beer at the stand in Germany, and sipped it for the next couple countries. We bypassed the American Adventure, as usual. Morocco is a favorite, and we spent quite a lot of time there. I traveled extensively in Morocco in the early 80's, and love the country and its people. My son grabbed and just had to have a cool wooden articulated toy snake. So realistic that as he waved it in the rest of the park, people were literally alarmed! It was funny though that the CM (from Morocco) who sold it made a point of commenting (with a bit of disdain) that it wasn't really made in Morocco, but rather in Central America. I appreciated his honesty. A young lady who was out hawking for the restaurant (as they do in the off-season) was super nice to my daughter and spent a lot of time with her. The kids also went into a nice tent where they learned to write their names in Arabic. Finally, to cap it off, there was Jasmine and the Genie! No wait at all, and a nice face character encounter for my little girl, which made her beam.
Japan was fun too. It was an interesting contrast for my daughter, who never really understood before the cultural difference between Japan and China. But seeing the two pavilions soon after one another made the point clearly to her. She said "Japan is less fancy that China" which is pretty much correct! We went into the big Japanese Department Store there, and looked at most of the stuff. One cool thing was that they were opening pearl oysters right in front of you. I think you could like buy an oyster and then you got to keep the pearl in it, or something like that. My daughter bought a lovely fan with a woman's face on it. There were also these women drummers who were awesome, pounding on huge (six foot across) drums.
Then we buzzed through France, skipping a character encounter with the Hunchback, as my son was a bit scared. In England, we met and chatted with a CM selling balloons who was from England, and was named "Emma," the same as my daughter's name. Well, of course my daughter was thrilled to meet a nice young woman from England with the same name as her and the woman couldn't have been sweeter to our Emma. We would have liked to have eaten at the Pub, but we were running out of time, and had to meet Grandma and Grandpa at Port Orleans. We thought that we would try Test Track one last time. Well, it was open! We got in line and went halfway through the waiting area. Then the line stopped. After a while they announced that the ride had been shut down and that they would get it up as soon as they could. Forty-five minutes later, we had had enough of the super loud and annoying "music" in the waiting area (they actually finally turned it off towards the end) and we left, disappointed. They had better get this ride working or junk it. There are obviously big problems. Imagine what it will be like during the busy season! We capped the day off with a big family dinner at Bonfamilles's at Port Orleans. A very nice meal with an excellent server.
Grandpa had been sitting in the lobby reading the new Tom Brokaw book, "The Best Generation" while we had been at Epcot. Unfortunately he left it sitting in the lobby when we left. Of course all it took was a phone call to the hotel, and it was sent to us at no charge! What service!
We were, more than ever, impressed by the fact that we saw a large number of "real people" CMs working at the park. By this I mean people of all ages, sizes, shapes and appearances. I remember the days when Disney only employed physically attractive 20 year olds. Now, you see real people like yourself! We saw a number of physically handicapped persons, all doing a great job and upholding the Disney standard of excellent service. This was very gratifying, and a nice change. Disney really is one of the most progressive large corporate employers that I have ever seen.
Is it too soon to plan for next year?
James M. Cameron