Resort: All-Star Movies
Dates: October 9 - October 17, 1999
Players: (all ages are at time of trip)
Me (Tara) - 28, WDW freak, keeper of scrupulous trip notes and planner of this trip
Joe (my husband) - 30, geology Ph.D. student, loves Disney when he doesn't have to make the plans
Liz, 35, Joe's sister, SAH mother of four boys (!)
Scott, 35, Liz's husband, pharmaceutical operations manager, father of four boys (!), never been to WDW
Christopher, 9, oldest son, loves video games, football, reading
Thomas, 7, loves to draw and write
Evan, 5, the wild child, a big showman, comedian, loves scary stories, and is fascinated by golf
None of the Randbys have ever been to WDW. 11-month-old Brett stayed home with Grandma this time.
Jan, 50, my mom, owns a flavored shaved ice business, hasn't been to WDW since our last family trip in 1987
Jim, 56, my dad, semi-retired (runs the country club pro shop when he feels like it!), hasn't been to WDW since 1987
Jillian, 20, my youngest sibling, college student, got to go on an all-expenses-paid WDW weekend last August (thanks to her very wonderful sister - that would be me)
Why write a trip report some nine months after the trip is over? I started with the best of intentions - I wrote a detailed pre-trip report (posted to Brian Bennett's site and a couple of Disney discussion boards). I made a painstakingly detailed itinerary, including laminated cards for carrying in the parks and color-coded heavyweight-cardstock master sheets complete with transparency overlays to track the comings and goings of the three sub-groups making up the trip. I took notes diligently (well, not always, as you'll soon find out). I took pictures - lots of pictures (the processing fee was more than my airfare to Orlando - if you like to take pictures, it might be a good thing to include film and developing in your budget).
So, what happened between then and now that this trip report is still unfinished?
Here's a good excuse - I returned on October 18, 1999 to a job I hated. After two years of working at something unchallenging and unfulfilling, I decided that the good salary was no longer good enough and quit. That's right, I quit my job. No other job prospects in sight. Being the spouse of the aforementioned grad student, I am the major breadwinner in the house, so this wasn't exactly the safest bet, but DH supported me fully in the idea that I should be happy and with the faith that I'd soon be supporting him in the manner to which he'd grown accustomed . By the end of that same day, I had three job interviews scheduled and went to the first interview the next day. It was like walking into my dream job...client support for a firm that does diversity and inclusion consulting to MAJOR corporations. I cancelled the other two interviews and by Thanksgiving was working for said consulting firm. So, now I was deeply immersed in learning a new job that smelled suspiciously like career. (I learned it so well that I was promoted to manager of my department in my seventh week there.)
That excuse isn't good enough? Well, 42 days after this trip ended, I took another Disney vacation! This new trip was just enough to sidetrack me from the earnest progress I'd made on the October trip report. It languished at Day 4.
How 'bout I through in another excuse for good measure...I'm a creative scrapbooker and after these two trips were over, commemorating them in my album became much more important. What you are about to read is represented by 50 scrapbook pages in my album (and another 25 each in albums I gave to my in-laws and to my parents and sister). In fact, one of the layouts was chosen for publication in a book devoted to scrapbooking Disney vacations, so I must have been on to something in my work!
So now I sit here, knowing that I've documented in the pages of my scrapbook just about all that is possible of both this October trip and the December trip that followed. I'm furiously planning the next two trips for later this year, but this report has been bothering me...sitting on my hard-drive, unfinished. It's this desire to plumb the depths of this special vacation in every way possible that has me still sitting here on my couch, listening to my Millennium Celebration CD (for the millionth time), stretching the cramps out of my fingers before aligning them ("ASDF JKL:") on the keyboard to add yet another paragraph, recall yet another detail, relive yet another memory.
This report is a little long. Okay, it's a lot long. There are parts that contain so much inane detail that some of you will shake your heads, index finger tapping on the "page down" key wondering, "What was she thinking?" Some segments are woefully short on detail because no amount of note taking and no photographic record could accurately capture every moment that went into making this trip such a dream. I've done my best to get it all down in a way that represents it all - including not only the magical moments, but also the trials and tribulations of any vacation, particularly with lots of family. Maybe it'll help someone who is planning a trip with lots of extended family members or planning on staying at the All-Star resorts, or wondering what an Illuminations cruise is really like. Mostly it'll just help me, and I've found that's the best motivation of all to finally get it done.
(An addendum to the "prologue"...I finished the report on a Monday night at home, closed down my laptop and went to bed. When I plugged my laptop in at work the next morning to boot up, nothing happened! Hard drive? What hard drive? Gone. Kaput. Since it's my work laptop, the tech department sent it to a data retrieval company and, luckily, I was able to recover everything. But for a few days I was really mourning the loss of this trip report! (I know, I know - back everything up!)
How this all began:
When Joe and I were on our honeymoon in June 1998, we stayed at Wilderness Lodge. One night after watching Illuminations, we decided to exit Epcot through the International Gateway and see what there was to see. Even though we'd seen it in guidebooks and brochures, we weren't expecting to fall completely in love with the BoardWalk Inn. I knew it must be really special for Joe to start saying things like "Next time we should stay here." Or "staying here would make touring Epcot so much easier." Was this my husband, the curmudgeon?
Turns out he was serious. That fall (still 1998), Joe and I began to play around with the idea of an October 1999 trip to Walt Disney World. We made reservations at the BoardWalk Inn for October 9-17. At Thanksgiving, Joe's sister (Liz) began talking to me about my past trips and how she and Scott wanted to take the boys to WDW. Knowing they wouldn't want to spend the kind of money staying at a deluxe resort requires, I began looking into cheaper options. After going over what I found, we booked two rooms at All-Star Movies at the Magic Kingdom Club rate of $66.60 plus tax per night. I cancelled our reservation at the BoardWalk with much sadness. (Little did I realize that we'd be able to sneak in a 5-day stay there in April of 1999.) Of course, transferring the BWI deposit and realizing that one-night deposit knocked off a huge chunk of what we would owe for 8 nights at ASMo was some consolation!
Liz and Scott were very excited and we all decided to keep the trip a secret from the boys for as long as possible. It was hard - I surreptitiously sent Liz guide books and we exchanged e-mails frequently (as often as her schedule as the busy mother of four boys would allow). We bought airfare; we purchased park passes; we planned. I never realized how hard it would be to keep such a secret! Finally, the time came to let them in on the plans with about 73 days to go - a number they could handle much better than 330+! How we unveiled the surprise deserves a little mini-report of its own, so here it is!
Liz brought the boys up to the Capital District in August to see the NY Giants training camp. We decided to tell them about the trip, so I set up a little event. I planned a little scavenger hunt and took a WDW trip planning video and made a label that said "Play me to find out about a big surprise." Then I hid it.
Unfortunately, Chris was feeling sick on that day, so the scavenger hunt was really not in order. However, Thomas and Evan had been eyeing our Taboo game and asking if we could play it. I tried to explain that it was a game for adults they probably wouldn't enjoy it, but they weren't budging. Finally, we gave in and "played" the game as well as we could, given the ages of the players! Eventually, the boys "won", so I told them there was a special prize for the winners...and brought out the box with the video tape. Chris kept asking "Is this our prize, or does it tell us what the prize is?" while the other two kept yelling "Play it! Play it!"
So, we all gathered in the living room and turned on the TV. I popped the tape into the VCR and pressed play. Looking at them was hilarious - they were on pins and needles, so excited and not knowing at all what to expect! They crouched down on the hardwood floor in front of the television, watching the blue screen become the familiar FBI warning and then the magical words appeared on the screen:
Make a wish...
Then came the music and the sweeping scenes of WDW. Their eyes were as big as saucers! Evan was jumping up and down yelling "Is this our prize? Is this our prize?? Thomas didn't seem to understand the implications immediately. He said to me "Aunt Tara, are you taking us to WDW with you??" I shook my head "yes" and absolute bedlam broke out! They were jumping up and down and yelling and cheering. It was wonderful - probably one of the best feelings I've ever had! We must have watched that video tape five or six time before they left later that evening.
The way they found out about the trip led to a few funny remarks. As the video played, Thomas turned to me and said, "Aunt Tara, do you give this to everyone who wins Taboo?" Also, I let them take the video with them for the drive back and Liz reported that at one point she heard Tom tell Evan, "Just think...if I hadn't wanted to play Taboo, we wouldn't be going to WDW!" How cute is that?
Now, back to the report...
T minus one day, Friday, October 8
Friday morning Joe and I woke up and showered and dressed and packed our toiletries...the last of the packing. I was so excited about this trip that I had packed the majority of our stuff at least a week beforehand! I had to go into work for an hour or so to mail a gift to our office in France (and make sure it was handled properly). As luck would have it, the mail came while I was in the office and the Mickey watch I'd won in a contest was in my box (thanks Kimmi)! I didn't think I'd get it before the trip, so this was a nice surprise. On my way home I filled the car up with gas and stopped to get some cash at the ATM.
Joe and I finally hit the road at about 1:00. The drive from our house in Troy to his sister's house in Pennsylvania was longer than expected by about an hour due to some construction, but no big deal. (When we originally planned the trip we wanted to all travel together, so we bought airfare out of Philadelphia instead of Albany.)
When we pulled up in the driveway, Evan was in the front yard and started jumping up and down and yelling, "They're here! They're here!" over and over again. We ordered pizza for dinner and started going over things.
After we ate, we pulled out the box of goodies we'd brought. I'd collected a ton of little trinkets and toys and coloring/drawing things over the last few months (and many trips to The Disney Store). I had Mickey art kits and stencil kits and coloring books and puzzle books and markers and wind up toys and bouncy balls and silly straws...you name it, I had it! I also had an individual bag for each boy. All included a "journal" - Chris and Tom's books had pages for each day to record what they did, what they liked, what they ate, etc. Evan's had pages for drawing and coloring. Each also had a little Disney wallet with Disney Dollars inside - a $10, a $5 and a $1 for each boy. They had such a great time divvying the stuff up and packing it in their backpacks for the plane trip!
I thought it would be a struggle to get the boys to go to sleep, but from almost the moment we arrived, Christopher asked Liz about every 10 minutes "Is it time for us to go to bed?" because he was worried about getting up in time for the trip! He even slept in his clothes for the next day just in case!
Liz had arranged for a limousine to pick us up and the boys were all very excited about this. Evan asked me about a million times what color it would be and finally said that if it was white that none of us could get in it. "Why?" I asked. "Because if it's white that means it's a haunted limo!" Too funny.
Day 1, Saturday, October 9
Amazingly, everyone was up by 5:00 and ready to go by about 5:45 am. I was prepared for chaos and bedlam...there was none to be found! Everyone had a little bite of breakfast - the boys had cereal, Joe, Scott and Liz had the rest of the leftover pizza from the night before, and I had a serious case of butterflies and couldn't eat a bite! Thomas played videogames while Chris and Evan watched for the limo and Scott loaded the dishwasher...everything seemed so normal, and I was about to go through the roof with excitement! Rob, our driver, arrived and before long we were being whisked away in a white (that's right, white...Evan decided it wasn't haunted after all) stretch limo to the Philadelphia airport.
It was so nice not to have to worry about parking or driving. I mean, is there any other way to travel?? On the ride, Thomas decided that when he marries Laura (his "girlfriend" since pre-school) that they'd have a limousine just like this one. Evan decided he'd live in the limousine and own his own limo company. Also, Evan was convinced that he could see the Big Dipper in the "star field" on the roof of the car (a sheet of tinted plexiglass with pinpoint lights so that it looks like stars overhead). And of course they all had to have a soda - not because they were thirsty, but just because it was there!
With the limo ride out of the way, we all went to check in. This went smoothly and before we knew it we were at gate C23 waiting to board! We had two window seats among our seven seat assignments, so I had a Pokemon book for the boy that didn't get a window. That turned out to be Evan. Chris sat in my window seat with Joe (aren't I a good aunt to give up my window seat) and read his Harry Potter book and intermittently talked to Joe about planes and geology. I sat with Liz and we discussed Disney stuff while Scott sat across the aisle with Tom and Evan. Scott hates to fly, so I'd given him some crossword puzzles to keep his mind off his fears.
Our pilot was a riot. He came on and announced that we had a small mechanical delay but it would only take a few minutes to fix. Then he said that the flight attendants were going to show a safety film in case any of us hadn't ridden in a car since the 1950s and didn't know how to buckle a seat belt! We took off about 25 minutes late (at 8:35), but the pilot said we would probably make it up during the flight and arrive on time. Everyone applauded upon take-off, something I've only encountered on flights to Orlando! After a while, Evan noticed we were above the clouds and turned to us and said "Are we in heaven now? Can we see Nitro?" (Nitro was their golden retriever who died about three months before the trip.) Priceless, huh?
A little later as we were making our approach, Tom said he didn't like flying, that it made him feel sick. Liz reminded him that it was probably the 3 pieces of carrot bread he ate (his, Evan's and mine from our in-flight snack box)!
We landed (about 10 minutes late) and went to baggage claim to retrieve our luggage and meet our Tiffany Towncar driver. We'd reserved round-trip van pickup for $85. As expected, our driver was waiting at the bottom of the escalator when we went to Baggage Claim B. All our bags arrived safely and by 11:00 we were on our way to Walt Disney World!
Now, we've always had exemplary service from Tiffany Towncar in the past, so that's what I was expecting this time. When we arrived, the driver acted as if we were late. Granted, we did arrive about 10 minutes behind schedule, but that wasn't our fault. Our flight number had changed since I made our original reservation but our arrival hadn't changed. In fact, since my travel agent did all the reconfirming for me, I didn't even realize the number had changed until we got to the airport, but since the flight time didn't change, I didn't think it was a big deal.
I had called two days beforehand to request a grocery store stop on the way to our hotel. When I mentioned this to the driver, he seemed surprised, but made the stop. As we got out, he asked us to hurry because he had another pick up to make. This really made me mad. Our flight wasn't that late and we'd paid for a service that specifically included a 30-minute stop, so I resented the implication that I'd better hurry up and not inconvenience them. Still, I was willing to just grin and bear it. Our vacation was just getting started and I wasn't going to let a trivial little detail like this upset me. (But to top it all off, the girl that rang up Liz's groceries was very rude and I had to go behind and re-bag everything she bagged so that the bread wasn't mashed by the milk and such.)
With the groceries bought, we headed for All-Star Movies. As we arrived, the driver asked what time our departure would be on October 17. I told him 6:25 pm and asked what time he thought we should be picked up to make it in time for our flight. He recommended 4:30, so we agreed and he gave me a card, I gave him the $85 and a $15 tip and he left. (Remember this...it will come up again later in a big way!)
Scott and Joe took the boys to sit and watch "Lady and the Tramp" in the theater area while Liz and I stood in line to check in. After about 10 minutes we were at the counter being helped by Dermalysis. We had a tough job for her right off the bat. Liz had purchased 2 adult and 3 child 5-day All-In-One Hoppers before the ticket price increase in May. After the new tickets came out, she decided the 5-day Park Hopper Plus better suited their plans and since the total price difference between what she had and what she wanted was only $28 (total difference for all 5 passes), she decided to upgrade on arrival. It took Dermalysis quite some time to figure out exactly how to do this (especially since one child was on our reservation and had been accidentally listed as an adult). She eventually got the upgrade completed and even encoded the passes on their resort IDs. The whole process of checking in and upgrading the passes took an hour, however. Again, not a big deal because in all fairness we did ask a lot of Dermalysis and she was very helpful and pleasant to deal with.
Our rooms weren't ready (I expected this), so we were given cards with phone numbers to call to check on our room status later in the afternoon.
We had planned to split up after checkout with Joe and I going to Epcot and the Randbys going to Blizzard Beach. Liz held on to the bag with their swimsuits and had Bell Services store everything else and put the perishable groceries in cold storage. Unfortunately, I left our carry-on back with our shorts in the stack of luggage that Bell Services took away. Rather than being bothered with retrieving it, we just skipped it; the day was warm (85F or so), but we were dressed in light pants and short-sleeved shirts, so we figured we'd survive. We made arrangements to meet in the lobby at 6:15 to go to dinner together and everyone walked out to the bus stop to go their separate ways.
As we entered Epcot I noticed right off that the entrance gate has been updated and now just says "Epcot" instead of "Epcot Center" and also has the fabric panels that can now be found over Millennium Central. We pulled out our annual passes, made the peace sign (put our first two fingers in the scanner at the turnstiles) and were in our first park of the trip! Dee took our photo with the newly adorned Spaceship Earth behind us. I was impressed - he really took great care to pose us in different ways and create an interesting picture.
Then onto the thing that immediately captured Joe's attention - the granite Leave a Legacy monoliths. He was on full-scale geologist alert! For about 30 minutes he pored over them, inspecting the composition from a distance of about two inches. Everyone must of wondered who the man practically kissing the monoliths was! He pronounced them beautiful. We had planned on having our photo made, but weren't really impressed with the image quality and decided we'd wait until later in the week to have it done (if we had it done at all).
Of course, Joe can't get within 500 feet of Spaceship Earth without being sucked in by its gravitational pull, so that was our first attraction. Is it just my imagination or was the graduating student at the end previously a male? It's a female now, but that's not how I remember it from our last visit. Anyhow, I love the smell of Rome burning in the afternoon!
After that we went to Sunshine Season Food Fair to get some lunch. I had the chicken strips and a soda and Joe had a veggie wrap, vegetable soup and a soda ($18.90). I had on my Guest of Honor badge and the CM at the counter greeted me by saying "How are you today, Tara?" I just love that - it's silly, I know.
Afterwards, we walked over to World Showcase. Joe had bought the book Sarum at Crown & Crest in the UK pavilion on our trip in April and wanted to see if the store had another book by the same author. They had it (the title was London), so he plunked down $8.47 for it (well, he plunked down his resort ID) and had it delivered to the room. I was surprised they could deliver it without us actually having a room assigned at that point, but they said it was no problem. (And it did show up in our room the next day.)
After teasing Joe that he was the first one to buy a souvenir (he's generally very tight), we walked through the English gardens, stopping for our customary kiss under the arbor. ("Ardor in the Arbor" is what we call it - isn't that just disgusting - I give everyone reading this permission to gag!).
Then we walked to the Boardwalk. I wanted to get a set of glasses from every resort we'd stayed in, but hadn't gotten them from the Boardwalk Inn in April. As we walked along the Boardwalk, Joe said he really missed staying there and wished we were staying there instead of All-Star Movies. We browsed Dundy's Sundries and found they only had Boardwalk Villas glasses, so we didn't purchase any. We did find the pin station on the Boardwalk and I bought a lanyard and some pins for me, and one pin each for the boys ($39.22).
On our way back into Epcot at the International Gateway, I stopped at Guest Services to check something. See, when Jillian and I went to WDW in August 1998, we both had 5-day park hoppers encoded on our resort ID, but we only used 3 days each. When I turned in my pass, it turned out that all 5 days were mysteriously left on it...the CM assured me (with a grin on his face) that the computer was right, so I got a $190 credit instead of a $76 credit, making my AP only $121! So, we hoped that somehow Jillian's pass would have all 5 days left, too. No dice. Oh well - nice try!
Afterwards, we slowly made our way back to the Camera Center in Future World and looked at our photos. We ended up buying a 5x7 of one and having it delivered to the room ($13.73).
We caught a bus back to the hotel and went to Guest Services to find out our room number. The CM looked it up and told us it was 9844 - Toy Story section, building 9, second floor. We'd requested connecting rooms, but didn't get them. Oh well, no tragedy there. Then I realized that our luggage had been stored under Liz's name, so I asked if there was a possibility we could have it delivered to our room. (My fear was they wouldn't release any luggage to us since it was in her name.) She said that wouldn't be a problem and called Bell Services to find it had already been delivered to their room (9845). Then she looked at her screen and said, "Oh, when the Randbys arrive they'll have to have new keys cut because your room numbers changed so you could be closer together." I worried that this would be a hassle for them (Note for those planning a trip for a large group: as the trip planner, I felt a huge amount of responsibility for everyone enjoying every moment of the trip with as little aggravation as possible). So I asked, "When they call to find out their room number, will they be told to come to the desk first and pick up new keys or will they get to the room and find their keys don't work and not know why?" The CM said, "Whoever they talk to will tell them their keys have to be reissued...if they are smart enough to look at the computer screen!"
We walked up to our room, inserted my key in the door and ...wait a minute, red light, locked door. So we tried again. And again. Then we tried Joe's card. Still no luck. I went to the phone near the elevator and called the Front Desk to report that my room key didn't work. The CM said, "That's because your room number was changed and you'll have to have new keys cut at the Front Desk." What? Why didn't the first CM we talked to tell us this? After all that talk about the other keys having to be changed and her crack about "if they are smart enough to look at the screen"??? Oh well. We walked to the front desk and had this little detail taken care of. In the meantime, the Randbys returned from Blizzard Beach and I stopped Liz and had her get the room keys exchanged.
When we arrived at the rooms, Liz reported that the refrigerator they requested hadn't been delivered and the perishable groceries hadn't arrived either. She called Housekeeping and they brought the fridge right up but when we left for dinner the milk and sandwich meats still hadn't shown up.
On the bus ride to the Magic Kingdom, they filled us in on their afternoon at Blizzard Beach. Chris, Thomas and Scott had all tried Slusher Gusher and Tom banged his head pretty good on it. After that, nobody was daring enough to brave the Summit Plummit! They did just about everything else and pronounce Teamboat Springs (the family raft ride) and the Toboggan Racers as their favorites.
Once the bus arrived at MK, we decided to walk to the Contemporary instead of taking the monorail (didn't want to chance a long wait for a monorail) and arrived in a few minutes. We were a little late for our 7:00 seating, but it wasn't a problem. The bus driver had announced the fireworks had been rescheduled for 10:00, so I knew we were in no hurry to eat and could take our time plus take a monorail trip around to all the resorts and watch the fireworks from the beach at the Grand Floridian.
As we checked in and waited for our table, I was struck by the activity in the restaurant. Joe and I had eaten there before, but perhaps being with the boys had heightened our senses to kid-fun. On our previous trips, we were probably trying to tune out that sort of thing, so we were reminded that this trip would be a very different experience for us. We had our group photo taken and continued to wait. After about 10 minutes we were seated, ordered our drinks and then hit the buffet! Ah, parmesan mashed potatoes! Soon the characters started arriving at our table. First came Dale. He posed with the boys for pictures and Chip wasn't far behind. Chris stood up to get his autograph and Chip started wrestling with him and soon they were on the floor rolling around and Chris was laughing hysterically! (And so were we!)
Everyone pronounced the ribs the best they'd ever had and soon there wasn't a clean napkin to be found for the celebrate song! Chef Mickey came out and everyone started singing and clapping - it's amazing how lively this place is!
Later we gave the boys their pins. They'd heard about the pin trading and were very excited about it, so the pins were a big hit. Immediately they wanted to trade with me! After that all we heard was "I'll trade you this..."
Then Minnie came to our table. Chris was in the process of putting his pin on his shirt when she arrived. She noticed his pin and held out her hand as if to say, "Can I see your pin?" (It's amazing how much they can "say" without even talking.) He handed it over and she carefully inspected it. Then she closed her "fingers" around it and started to walk off! Chris looked at me and then said, "Hey, you've got my pin!" She stopped and he held out his hand to take it back, but she wasn't going to let him off that easily. She motioned that if he wanted his pin back, he'd have to give her a kiss! No way was he in for that! We are all cracking up and he's looking around saying "Somebody help me! Somebody back me up!!" Minnie starts walking away and he just doesn't know what to do! He said he wasn't going to kiss any girls and she put her "hands" at her sides and flapped her elbows up and down - the internationally recognized sign for "chicken"! Finally he relented and gave her a tiny kiss on the tip of her nose and got his Tower of Terror pin back. Even though he announced that he was completely grossed out and was mad that nobody helped him, I noticed he was also grinning from ear to ear! When the photos came around we decided to get the package. The meal with photos, tax and tip came to $170.95 for 4 adults and 3 kids, including three beers. (This one was our treat - a welcome to Disney present.)
Afterwards we went up to the monorail platform and boarded it for the trip around Seven Seas Lagoon. We'd decided to take a quick trip around and then go up to the observation deck at the Contemporary to watch the fireworks at 10:00. It was just 9:00 at that point, so I figured we even had time to stop at each resort and have a quick look around. As we pulled out of the Contemporary on our way to the Ticket and Transportation Center, I turned to look at the castle. Oh no! It wasn't bathed in purple or blue light - it was darkened and white lights were sparkling on it like diamonds, which could only mean one thing...the fireworks were about to begin! Our bus driver had been wrong! So there we were, caught on the monorail during the fireworks after I'd so carefully planned it so that we'd have a great view of them! I was so disappointed and said so to Joe, but he pointed out that nobody else was and that I was being too hard on myself. That's the one thing I was coming to realize...as much fun as it was to plan a trip for everyone, it was a lot different taking a trip and feeling I was responsible for everyone having a good time. Glitches that I would normally take in stride were much harder to handle because they were affecting everyone, not just Joe and me.
Fireworks viewing missed, we decided to get off at the Grand Floridian and have a look around. We walked out to the beach and, as luck would have it, the Electrical Water Pageant was just floating by. Not the fireworks, but a nice little surprise anyway! As we walked around I relayed the story of how our friends (Stan and Kathy) had become engaged at Victoria & Albert's restaurant at this hotel.
After the EWP floated by, we walked back to the monorail station and got off at the Magic Kingdom to take the bus back to All-Star Movies. In hindsight, I wish we'd taken a cab. It was Saturday night, the fireworks had just ended not 30 minutes beforehand and the bus stops were packed. We waited for 40 minutes for a bus (a few buses arrived in that time, but the crowd ahead of us was huge) We finally made it onto the fourth bus, standing of course. Everyone was pretty tired by this point - the excitement of the day had worn off and bed was the only thing anyone cared about. Evan had long since gone to sleep in Scott's arms and Scott and Joe took turns hold him. After we boarded the bus, Evan had to stand, so he stayed wedged in between Liz and Scott - I swear he slept standing up the entire trip!
When we got back to the resort, the Randbys went up to their room while Joe and I went to World Premiere food court to get our refillable mugs ($19.24). We got to our room and checked with the Randbys only to find out that the perishable groceries still hadn't been delivered and Bell Services was saying they couldn't find them. I felt guilty, but I just left Scott to deal with it and went to our room to unpack. I got all the clothes in the drawers, tucked the luggage away by the sink, set the alarm for 7:00 and crawled into bed at 11:00. Thomas was going to sleep in the extra bed in our room, but he had already crashed in the bed with his brothers, so he stayed there. He ended up staying in their room the rest of the trip, actually.
Next: My sister Jillian arrives, the Randbys get their first glimpse of Cinderella Castle and Tara, Joe and Jillian "Walk This Way"...
Day 2, Sunday, October 10
What a beautiful morning - it's always so great to wake up at Walt Disney World that first time! I got up at 6:15, showered and dressed. Jillian would be arriving later in the day, so I wanted to take care of business beforehand. I got her a room key for our room and bought a 5-day park hopper to put on it. I also bought E-ride tickets for Joe, Jillian and myself ($31.80). I assumed that the $10 per day for the third adult in the room would be added to our bill - it never was.
With the business taken care of, the next agenda item was breakfast! I filled our mugs with soda and coffee, bought milk ($5.07 for 2 pints) and delivered everything to the room. The milk was for the Randbys, so I delivered it to their room. Luckily, the perishables had been found and delivered the night before and they were already having their cereal. Joe was up by 7:30 and we were fed, coffee-d up (juiced up in the case of the boys) and ready to go by 8:15.
After the previous night's bus ride, Evan was very distressed about the fact that he had to ride another bus. As the days passed, I began to sympathize! Luckily, a bus pulled up just as we arrived at the bus stop, so it was off to the Magic Kingdom!
We arrived at the Magic Kingdom and took our time strolling up to the gates. The boys were fascinated by the personalized bricks, but I noticed that it seems like many are in bad shape. One area has a lot of loose bricks, right as you walk under the monorail tracks from the bus stop area.
As we made our way through the gates and under the train station, I got more and more excited about seeing the looks on their faces as we turned the corner onto Main Street USA and saw the Castle for the first time. I wasn't disappointed - they were all in awe of how beautiful it is! The morning was perfect - sunny but not hot, the streets still glistening from their evening washdown, the hanging flower baskets alive with color (though a landscaping CM was deadheading them as we walked past) - perfect! Since the boys had waited so patiently to begin park touring, we decided to hit Space Mountain first. Evan was not quite tall enough - the measuring stick brushed the top of his head - so he was disappointed. Thomas was plenty tall enough, but wasn't convinced that he wanted to take on this ride. He decided to give it a try - bad move! Liz and Evan sat out in the baby swap area while we rode. Chris had a front car; I ended up behind Thomas, and Joe and Scott were behind us. I can't remember exactly how long the ride is, but for 95% of it, Thomas yelled "I want my m-o-m-m-m-m-m-m-m-m-y!" Chris had a good laugh at his younger brother over this, and Thomas declared that the worst thing he'd ever been through. By the time Liz had her turn on the ride, he had calmed down, however.
Next was Buzz Lightyear. Now here was a ride that made everyone happy! We had all decided that each of us would take a kid so there'd be no fighting over who spun the car. Evan and I rode together and I spent most of the ride trying to fake him out over the fact that our laser guns didn't work. Of course, he was way too smart for this! Since there was no line, we all rode again and all got functional cars this time. Apparently, I do just as well with a non-working laser gun, a point driven home by my pitiful score!
Chris, Scott and Joe decided to try out Alien Encounter, so Liz took Evan for a potty break while Tom and I sat down on a bench to wait. I thought we'd just take it easy and people watch; Tom had other plans. Before I knew it, I was buying him and autograph book and pen! Oh well, Aunt Tara is a sucker. Another $7.95 contribution to WDW!
Soon the guys re-emerged - Chris changed his mind at the last minute. Carousel of Progress had opened, so we went to see it, and then decided to take the Skyway to Fantasyland.
Now, at a theme park in Pennsylvania last year, Liz and her mom had taken the boys to play. They had a gondola ride that Chris wanted to try, but Thomas refused to get on. Chris decided to ride by himself while the others waited for him. Nobody realized it was a one-way ride and Chris wouldn't be automatically brought back to the starting point. To this day, Chris still tells about how he was "abandoned" in the park!
So, that in mind, Christopher REALLY wanted to take the Skyway! So we got in line. Tom, Chris and Scott took one car and Joe, Liz, Evan and I took another. Thomas said he wasn't scared at all, but when we got the pictures back, they told another story!
Once we off-loaded in Fantasyland, we took a quick left and headed towards the Haunted Mansion. (Since we were doing early entry the next day, we didn't see any need to wait in lines in Fantasyland) Evan was really psyched about this - he had been singing along to "Grim, Grinning Ghosts" on the theme park song tape I'd bought him for close to three months! Tom was pretty leery of the whole thing, but we assured him that it was a funny kind of scary, and he was okay. As expected, everyone loved it!
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was next on the agenda. There was practically no line, everyone was tall enough for this one and nobody was scared...what a fun time! With that "thrill ride" success under our belts, we decided to brave Splash Mountain. The line was fairly long (by my standards), so we had about a 25 minute wait. Meandering through the queue, Thomas noticed an old, braided rug draped over a stack of wooden crates that he thought was exactly like one his family used to own. Once again, this was a ride that everyone enjoyed - our little thrill-seeker Evan was wild about it and even Thomas loved it. Everyone came out smiling and singing "Zip-A-De-Doo-Dah". Scott and Liz decided to buy a souvenir photo and frame and the boys played in the little play area while we made the transaction.
Here's where we had a parting of the ways...in a good sense. The time was now about noon and Jillian would be arriving soon. The Randbys wanted to ride Pirates of the Caribbean next, so we walked with them to Adventureland and saw them into the ride entrance and then hot-footed it back to ASMo.
I had bought Jillian a ticket for a flight that left Huntsville, AL at 7:00 am, and since she's a notorious late sleeper, I was afraid she'd miss it. Luckily, my fears were unfounded! I'd arranged for Tiffany Towncar to pick her up and bring her to the resort. She was there in the waiting area when we arrived. Hugs all around, then we took her up to the room and helped her settle in.
She got changed and I bound her feet. (Well, I didn't really bind them, but she is prone to blisters in certain spots, so I did a little preventive bandaging. When we went together in August 1998, I got very good and taping up her toes to prevent/cushion blisters.) That task complete, we went to Cinema Hall for a quick lunch. (veggie wrap and chicken fingers basket $11.49) Jillian thought the food court was okay, but not as nice as the one at Dixie Landings (were we'd stayed last year). We had such a nice time just talking and laughing over lunch. Joe hadn't seen my family for some time, and he is so close to them, so seeing Jillian was great for him. (One of the reasons I love him so much is that he loves my family so much!)
As we were leaving the food court, a CM noticed my pins and asked me if I wanted to trade. I said, "Sure," so she told me to wait right there and then disappeared through a door. In a moment she was back with another CM who was wearing a lanyard. We talked and made a trade - I was so impressed that I didn't have to ask, but that they were coming to me to offer trades instead! This really helped me loosen up about pin trading in general.
Pin trading out of the way, we walked back to the room to stow our refillable mugs. Joe had a very big talk to give in two weeks' time at the American Geophysical Union's annual meeting, so he decided to stay in the room and work on it for the afternoon. We made plans to meet him (and the Randbys) at MGM that evening.
By this time, Jillian was going to slap me silly if I didn't get her to a park immediately! We went out to the bus stop, but had to make a pit stop in the gift shop first. Somehow I was separated from my sunglasses - in the Haunted Mansion, I do believe. I got a pair of sunglasses and some stamps for $16.98. (This is the second trip in a row that I had to buy sunglasses at WDW for some strange reason, and I have to say that their selection stinks!)
Jillian was dying to ride Rock N Roller Coaster, so we went to MGM first. To be honest, I couldn't wait to ride it either - I had planned to do it on the first day, but decided to wait so that Jillian and I could enjoy it together - am I a good sister or what??
Since Jillian was there for 8 days, had two days left on a 5-day pass and the entire 5-day pass I'd purchased the morning, she still needed one more day. So we bought (translation: I bought) a one-day pass at the MGM gate ($46.64) and headed for Sunset Boulevard.
The line for Rock N Roller Coaster was 60 minutes, so we grabbed a FastPass (no kidding - this really is the best thing since sliced bread!) and headed for Tower of Terror - our favorite ride. Jillian was thrilled with the new drop sequence and we rode it twice - each time with about a 15-minute wait.
We tried calling Joe next, but he was already out of the room, so we bought some ice cream bars and ended up hanging out on the main drag watching Streetmosphere characters. "Francis" and "Priscilla" were hilarious - they kept trying to plan a romantic evening and Francis's uncle kept trying to horn in. This is one thing I love about Jillian - she enjoys all the little things that make Disney special, like the wandering performers. Joe can't stand to stop and watch - I think he's always vaguely worried that they'll single him out for something. Jillian, on the other hand, loves it - we stood there laughing until our cheeks hurt!
After Francis and Priscilla were finished performing, we decided we'd better head toward our meeting spot as we only had about 30 minutes. We'd planned to meet by the red car in front of the Route 66 sign. (I thought this was a pretty ingenious meeting spot as it is easily visible and not a major icon - plus I knew that Joe was very familiar with it, so he wouldn't miss it.) Luckily, right in front of us, Delman the Bellman was performing! He was doing the spinning the plate thing and first, which I've seen a million times by now. After that, however, he did something I hadn't seen. He selected four men from the audience and gave each a white, plastic bucket to sit on. He made a square on the ground out of masking tape, placed a bucket on each corner and instructed the guys to sit. He had each face a certain way, cross his arms over his chest, and the lie back across the lap of the man behind him...so they formed a human square. All of this was done in typically hilarious Delman fashion. Next came the kicker - as these poor guys laid there - feet on the ground, arms crossed over their chests - he started TAKING THE BUCKETS OUT FROM UNDER THEM!!! Amazingly, they stayed upright as he removed one bucket at a time until all four were gone and they were balancing by leaning on each other. They looked like a giant crab and the crowd was absolutely going WILD! They were all good sports and finally untangled themselves, but not before Delman made a few cracks (Like, "what has eight legs and hates bellmen??")
Just as that show ended, Joe and the Randbys arrived. The boys had managed to talk their dad into lanyards and pins all around, so they were in full trading mode!
They decided to try Tower of Terror first, and Jillian and I went to use our FastPasses at RNRC. Talk about an awesome ride. First of all, the music they play is great - it's impossible to stand still in that place! Entering, I found my first Hidden Mickey - one that I didn't know about already - in the mosaic tile floor in the "studio" entrance. I also noticed that people can't walk through those beaded doors without giving the beads a spin. Then came the loading area - seeing those limos blast off definitely got my adrenaline going! We had about a 10 minute wait in total - worth every minute and then some!
We went to our meeting spot outside Tower of Terror and met Liz, Chris and Joe. Scott had taken Evan and Thomas to Beauty and the Beast because they were too scared to ride ToT. Liz decided to wait for them while we took Chris to see Muppetvision 4D.
Afterwards, uncle Joe bought Chris a 2000 pin with his name on it ($5.30) and we went to Pizza Planet - the appointed meeting place for dinner. Joe and I got a Woody Pizza deal and an extra Coke for $10.28. (And then I had to go on a scavenger hunt for Joe, who was caught up in some arcade game!)
By this time we were running behind schedule by about 20 minutes or so. We hurried over to the Fantasmic theater, but it was already 6:50 and the massive line of people was already moving into the theater. By the time we got in, it was SRO. There was a lot of frustration over the fact that we had to stand, but we all eventually saw the show, though we were worn out from standing for so long.
[Side note - am I the only adult that doesn't think it's wrong for tall people (meaning adults) to stand in front of a railing so that little kids behind can't see??? I go out of my way to make sure I'm not blocking a child's view of a parade or show, but some people don't seem to care. There were many adults lined up at the railing in the standing area of the theater, and I talked to many who absolutely refused to step back 12 inches so a small child could stand in front of them. I can understand that they felt justified in having gotten there first, but what difference could a few inches possibly make??
Also, why do some people think that they can just do whatever they want? Many people would go stand in the wheelchair area and be told to move by a Cast Member, but as soon as that CM was gone, they'd move right back into the place they weren't supposed to be.]
After the long bus wait the night before, this night was a pleasant surprise. The All-Star buses were coming one right after another. We were back at the resort by 8:20!
Jillian, Liz and I soaked our feet in the pool while the boys swam and Joe and Scott had a beer at the pool bar. I was surprised at how busy the pool was, even later at night.
Soaking our feet wasn't quite as soothing as we'd hoped. The pool was so chlorinated that it was actually making my skin sting! So, Liz stretched out on a lounge chair to watch the boys while Jillian and I went to the room for our mugs.
Even though our feet were aching, we headed out to the food court to fill our mugs for the night. This is when I made a nice discovery. In the Toy Story Courtyard, the giant Woody figure is sitting on what looks like a huge rug. This "rug" is made out of some spongy, cork-like material. I hadn't put my shoes back on yet, and was delighted to find that walking over this "rug" was very comfy - like getting a foot massage! So I walked around in circles for a little while, oohing and aahing over how much better it made my feet feel. I think Jillian thought I was crazy until she took off her shoes and tried it herself! I'm not a big proponent of running around with no shoes on, but this was a nice little treat!
Eventually our thirst won out over our tired feet and we filled up our mugs and went to the room. Joe came up soon after and we set the alarm for 5:45 - big day ahead!
Day 3, Monday, October 11
Tough getting up so early, even at Disney World! We made it, though, and everyone was ready to go and at the bus stop by 7:00 a.m. Unfortunately, no Magic Kingdom buses came until about 7:20, so we missed the gate opening, but we weren't too late.
Something funny happened on the way to the park, though...
Jillian had been worried that the boys would be shy around her or not like her. (She didn't have anything to worry about - they hit it off well and the boys were calling her "Aunt Jillian" by the end of the trip.) Jillian and Joe were sitting together on the bus in front of Evan and I that morning and Evan, in the middle of his normal mile-a-minute conversation says, "Hey, Aunt Tara! Guess what? I know a number higher than a hundred."
At this point I'm thinking "Huh?", so I ask "Oh yeah, what is it?"
His response? "A Jillian!"
I'm quite embarrassed to admit that it took me about two days to get the joke - that Jillian sounds like "jillion", one of those made-up huge numbers. Did I tell you this kid was funny?
Now, back to the regularly scheduled trip report, already in progress...
This time we headed right for Fantasyland. This was my first time touring Fantasyland at Early Entry, and I have to say that I was quite pleased - the crowds were very light.
Evan and Thomas wanted to ride Dumbo, so I suggested they do that first while the rest of us waited. Liz went along for the ride and Evan had a great time raising and lowering his "car".
Afterwards, we rode Winnie-the-Pooh. This was a first for all of us. I was very impressed with it and I have to admit that it is much better than Mr. Toad. (Toad will always have a place in my heart, but this new ride is simply better.) I'm totally impressed with the quality of the ride, the attention to detail, the number of times I felt delighted and amazed, and the fact that all of this was done in a very low-tech, kid-friendly way.
Next we rode Snow White - I hadn't ridden this since I was a child, but it's amazing how familiar it seemed! Since I was revisiting childhood favorites, we chose Peter Pan's flight next. It turns out I was the only one in the group who had ridden this one. Much to my surprise, Chris declared this the coolest ever! Everyone was enchanted by flying over London at night.
We had time for one ride before our breakfast, and Chris chose the Mad Tea Party. The boys got in line with Scott while the rest of us waited. Just the sight of those spinning cups is enough to make me green!
Tea Party over, it was time for the big surprise. The boys kept saying they were hungry as we walked toward the Castle. I kept saying "Well, maybe we'll find something to eat." When I stopped at the entrance to the restaurant, they had it partially figured out. They realized Aunt Tara had something up her sleeve and that it concerned breakfast and the Castle, but little did they know what was coming next!
Now, I like to pretend that all this special stuff was for the boys, but who am I kidding?? I had been looking forward to this breakfast for a LONG time! With all the attention on it - how great the food is, how many wonderful characters there are, how beautiful the restaurant is, and how valuable a priority seating there is, the experience had taken on an almost mystical aura.
We entered the waiting room and the only way to describe our collective reaction is awe - I don't think any of us spoke for a good 30 seconds! (That's definitely a record.) Then the boys went into full exploration mode - had to sit on the throne, had to pose with the suit of armor. Alice appeared and Tom whipped out his autograph book and collected her signature! Soon they called out for the Royal Randby and Pyle families - they looked shocked that they were being called in such a grand fashion!
Up the spiral staircase we went. Evan led the way, asking if there were any dragons in this castle. We had another brief moment of speechlessness when we entered the restaurant - what at a beautiful sight! The regal decorations, rich tapestries, dark woods, intricate carvings, the stained glass windows - it really is lovely! Even the table setting has a courtly flair with the fork and knife laid across the plate in an "x". Since it was late in the morning, the restaurant was full and buzzing with excitement - the boys could see the characters moving around the room and had their autograph book standing by!
Enough about the atmosphere - let's talk food! We began with an assortment of breakfast breads. I could have eaten dozens of those little croissant! Next came the real food...scrambled eggs, bacon, potatoes, and fried cheese danish. The boys had waffles and sausage, but our server brought bacon for them at their request. They were amazed that they could eat all the bacon they wanted! As we enjoyed the scrumptious meal, one princess after another came to see us
Snow White charmed us all and posed for photos all around, but the boys were more interested in Belle. When she arrived, the all said in unison, "Bonjour, mademoiselle Belle!" (Talk about surprises!) Now it was her turn to be charmed! She really seemed surprised, but stayed in character, saying that she wished Beast was there because he could certainly learn some manners from these handsome boys! Thomas told Belle that she was his mom's favorite, so Belle posed with Liz for a photo.
Next, Peter Pan came over and Evan started a secret conversation with him about pirates. I'm not quite sure what they were saying, but I did hear Evan say Peter was the smartest character he'd met!
Cinderella visited our tables next, but to be honest, the boys really didn't care. Belle and Peter were the highlights!
Joe and I had planned on treating everyone for breakfast, but Liz and Scott were so impressed by the surprise I'd cooked up and thankful for all my help thus far that they picked up the bill!
As we were leaving the restaurant, a woman stopped me and said, "Are you the same Tara that posts on the DIS boards?" She had noticed the lime green ribbon I was wearing - the chosen color of DIS board readers. I said yes and she gushed, "I just love reading what you write! You know so much stuff!" What a compliment! I was so glad that this bright green bow I'd been wearing pinned to my lanyard had finally paid off. So, Sue, if you are out there reading this, thanks for the compliment and thanks for being so friendly!
After that, the boys insisted on trying the Speedway, so we walked toward Tomorrowland. I took one look at the line and estimated a wait time of 45 minutes since one wasn't posted. Joe, Jillian and I begged off and went to Mickey's Star Traders to shop while they waited. Joe immediately disappeared, only to reappear a few minutes later with a new silver charm for my Disney bracelet! ($11.13)
We still had plenty of time before they'd be through with the ride, so we bought strawberry bars and sat on the bleachers to wait. It turns out I made a pretty darned good estimate of the wait time - though that didn't please me as I think waiting 45 minutes for an attraction as mediocre as the Speedway is a shame...but that's what they wanted to do, so that was good enough for me.
Afterwards, we all agreed that a break at the hotel was in order - it had been an early morning and we were all bursting at the seams from breakfast!
The boys decided to swim, so Jillian, Joe and I went up to our room. Joe worked on his talk while I re-bandaged Jillian's toes - exciting, eh?
At 2:00, we all met at the bus stop to go to Epcot. I'd gotten a coupon for a free ice cream social and made a priority seating for the Randbys to go, so we walked them toward the Land and then made plans to meet afterwards.
As mentioned earlier, Joe can't resist Spaceship Earth's gravitational pull, so we rode it again. Jillian had never ridden this before and I think the quality of the attraction gave her a new appreciation for Future World in general. Afterwards, we headed right for Test Track. The line was horrendous, but we only had a 20-minute wait in the single rider line. This is one of the greatest ideas Disney has ever had, IMHO! When faced with waiting in line 75 minutes (the posted wait time then) just so I can sit next to my husband or sister or waiting 20 minutes and experiencing the ride with strangers, I would definitely choose the shorter wait time! After all, in that 55 minutes we saved, we can do a lot of things together that are much more fun that standing in line!
By the time we left Test Track, it was time to meet the Randbys. Tom had managed to lose his lanyard clip and was really upset. Since this was their first visit to Epcot, they wanted to ride Spaceship Earth and Ellen's Energy Adventure, so Joe went with them and Jillian and I had some dinner at Pasta Piazza. (1 individual pizza, chicken parmigiana, breadsticks and 2 cokes for $21.52.) This meal was barely edible...at least the Coke was good! Jillian was by now well acquainted with every type of WDW pizza and declared this the worst she'd had.
We were supposed to meet everyone at the stone cross in the UK pavilion at 6:00, so Jillian and I decided to walk over early. Her feet were hurting, so we browsed the UK shops and then sat in the private gardens for a long time, occasionally taking pictures for couples who wandered through. We went out closer to 6:00 and sat on the curb facing the cross and waited - and waited! By this time they were beginning to tape off areas for the Tapestry of Nations parade. I really wanted to see this, so I was getting nervous that the rest of the group hadn't shown up yet and worried they'd be cut off by the parade. Then, what did we see but a very agitated Joe walking with Thomas toward Future World, coming from the direction of the France pavilion. How did he get over there, I wondered??? He was confused and didn't know where to look for us (by now the area was positively choked with people), so we managed to catch up with him and find out what was going on. Apparently they had all been in line for Test Track when it was announced that the ride had gone down. They were given front-of-the-line passes and left, and then Scott and Chris managed to get separated from Joe, Liz, Tom and Evan. So Liz and Evan decided to go look for them and Liz asked Joe if he would take Tom to World Showcase and show him some of the countries and then meet me and let me know what was going on. If only we had the 2-way radios I'd tried to convince everyone we needed! Lesson learned...unfortunately, this wouldn't be the last time something like this happened!
(Joe adds, "I must admit Thomas was a trooper. We walked all around World Showcase with no complaints from him. We did start with a little rest on the Rio del Tiempo boat ride in the Mexico pavilion. Talk about ethnic stereotyping! I was very surprised by the attraction. Thomas also managed to pick up a character autograph along the way from Jafar.")
We walked back to the fountain near Test Track and met Liz. She had found Chris and Scott and they had gone to get something to eat and were going to meet them in front of Test Track to use their passes since the ride was operational again. Tom was watching the other kids play in the fountain and couldn't resist getting wet, too! He had such a good time playing in the water jets, but for some reason Joe got all bent out of shape over this, which made his sister mad, so they left in a huff.
Moral of this story - even the closest of family or friends can max out on togetherness time. WDW can be tiring and stressful (especially when people get separated), so if you are going with a group, be sure to lay down ground rules about meeting times, what to do if you get separated and provide for plenty of private or non-group time! While you are laying down ground rules, some boundaries around how much alone time/couple time/family time you want/need is very important. At times Joe and I felt like we just needed an hour or so on our own, I felt like I needed to spend some quality time with just my sister, etc. Discussing these things beforehand gives each person the space to get what they want and need from their vacation and alleviates a lot of the "we have to be together 100% of the time" pressure that a group trip brings.
(Later Joe apologized to everyone and all was just fine, but it was not a happy vacation moment!)
Because of all the hullabaloo, we missed Tapestry of Nations. We finally found everyone and the Randbys decided to use their front-of-the-line passes since Test Track was operational again. Jillian, Joe and I did some exploring of Future World. This was another new experience for me. Because we are such World Showcase fans, we always seem to end up there at night, so all my FW touring had been done in daylight. At night, it takes on a whole different feel! We mostly walked around and looked at things, but even that was enjoyable - I couldn't believe I'd never seen the fiber-optic light patterns in the sidewalks!
Given the trials and tribulations of the evening, we decided to head back to the hotel. On the way out we stopped at Guest Services to see if Tom's lanyard clip had been turned in - no luck. The wait for the bus wasn't bad at all - 10 minutes, then the stops at Sports and Music and we were back at our resort.
Joe hadn't eaten any dinner, so Jillian and I went to fill the mugs up and picked up a cheese steak sandwich and chili cheese fries ($8.12) for Joe to eat in the room. (Note from Joe - "The cheese steak was terrible!")
We had a message in our mailbox from my mom - they had arrived in Orlando and were going to sleep off the drive at the Best Western on I-4 and meet us at the hotel the next morning. This was a big relief as they hadn't called the night before and we had no idea where they were! They had taken almost three days to drive from northern Alabama to Orlando, stopping to visit friends here and there along the way.
I was worried that sharing a room with my husband and my sister would be tricky, but it actually worked well. Jillian and Joe's senses of humor mesh very well (meaning they both liked making fun of my compulsive trip planning and my geekish fascination with pin trading) so they enjoyed it. We managed to use the shower wisely, alternating evening and morning showers so that our morning grooming routines didn't overlap too much and didn't take too long. We just enjoyed hanging out with each other! This night, for example, we were all complaining of sore feet. I got out my Bath & Body Works peppermint foot soak, mixed it with some barely lukewarm water in the sink and climbed up on the vanity to soak my feet. I figured that Joe and Jillian would be laughing at me; instead, they were asking me when I was going to be done because they wanted to soak their feet, too! It all paid off - my feet felt better, I helped make both of them feel better, and I got the most priceless photo of Joe, perched on the All-Star Movies vanity, feet in the sink, lost in the book he'd purchased at the UK shop on Day 1!
We set the alarm clock, arranged the 5:45 a.m. wake up call, and went straight to sleep.
Day 4, Tuesday, October 12
We had all gotten a good night's sleep, so Tuesday morning wasn't as rude an awakening as I expected.
My parents were due at the resort at around 6:45, so Jillian and I took turns showering and dressed quickly. We were so excited that we would be able to share part of our vacation with them!
Joe was a different story. He woke up with a sore throat and cough. He started going through the motions of getting up and getting ready, but I could see that he clearly wasn't feeling up to it. I was touched that he'd make the effort, but convinced him to get back in bed. I set the alarm for him for 11:30, gave him some medicine and told him to rest and that he could meet us for lunch if he felt up to it and promised to call him to make arrangements.
It was still dark when Jillian and I grabbed our mugs and headed to the resort center. I was struck by how quiet it was - this was definitely the first time the word "quiet" came to mind when walking around the resort! We filled up our mugs and had a little bite to eat and then went to the lobby to wait for Mother and Daddy. Then I rinsed and refilled both our mugs with hot water and collected some tea bags and lemon and took those back to Joe, leaving Jillian as the "lookout". They arrived just as I returned to the lobby. They checked in - their room wasn't ready, of course - but they got their resort IDs and parking pass, left their luggage in their car and we headed to out!
(The original plan was for the Randbys to spend this day at Universal, so they were on their own.)
For the first time, I deviated from the pre-trip plan. Now, I'm a planning freak. I map out every detail possible, produce lengthy itineraries, color coded charts, spreadsheets, laminated miniature cards of each day's plan, etc. You name it, I plan it! BUT, I don't get tied to the plan. The plan is there to keep us from feeling overwhelmed, but it isn't carved in stone - we are willing to ditch the plan when we feel like it. I'd planned a morning at Epcot, but given the previous evening, I was in the mood for something different!
That in mind, we boarded a bus for Animal Kingdom!
It had been 13 years since my parents had been to WDW. That last trip was our first stay on-site; we had a 1-bedroom villa at what was once called Club Lake Villas, now known as the Villas at the Disney Institute. They were in for many surprises!
On the short bus ride, Jillian and I couldn't help grinning and elbowing each other as we watched our parents. My mother was on the edge of her seat; I kept expecting her to say, "Are we there yet?" We had been looking forward to treating them to the kind of trip they'd never had as they always had to watch after us.
We arrived at the gates at about 7:40 and waited for the opening. As soon as we got through the gates, we headed for Africa to ride Kilimanjaro Safaris. We hustled in and - as expected - had no wait. As we rode a long, my dad turned to me and said, "You know, those animals are fake." It was everything I could do not to laugh hysterically! You see, on a Disney trip long ago, my little brother was constantly asking if things were real or fake. We stopped somewhere for pizza (I say it was in at the Plaza Pavilion, Mother says it was at Epcot somewhere, but she's not well! ) and my dad took one bite of his pizza and said, "Is this pizza real or fake?" From then on, everything was fake - it was the running joke and has been for years. I don't know why I thought my dad had forgotten it - he never forgets anything - but it was such a sweet reminder of a happy time so long ago!
We decided to try It's Tough to be a Bug next - Jillian and I had missed it on our trip in August. Mother had to be convinced first that there was nothing that she was afraid of in the movie - namely, snakes. You see, she's terribly afraid of them. In fact, in our home, we were not allowed to say the s-word! The more common 4-letter s-word was not really allowed either, but the 5-letter s-word could get you into REAL trouble! (Yes, we refer to it as the s-word - I'm not kidding.) After she was convinced, we entered the theater and sat toward the back. In all, they both enjoyed the show, but I think Mother was convinced I was either tricking her (who, me??) or that there was a snake in it that I'd missed or forgotten.
We were on a roll now, so we headed for Dinoland USA next. What a shame that they had to fill in the pool with plants. I had to laugh at the ride photo afterwards - my dad looked totally cool and collected! I don't think anything ever catches him off-guard!
Only one headliner attraction left - Kali River Rapids. We all donned our anoraks as we walked through the queue area. So far, we hadn't had to wait in any lines, and this was no exception. As we approached the loading dock, my mom turned to me and asked "Which seat do we sit in to not get wet??" Now, I know a lot about Disney planning, but not that much! I explained that the raft is free-floating, so there's no way to tell when you will get wet. I did know that the people who ended up backwards as the raft went over the big falls would get the wettest, but I also knew there was no way to predict who that would happen to. So, off on the fully loaded raft we went. I told everyone how to tuck their feet under to keep their shoes dry and that worked well. As we approached the falls, I was glad to see that our half of the raft was facing forward, so we didn't get soaked - our raftmates weren't so lucky! One woman was laughing about how soaking wet she got and my dad points to me and says, "She said that seat got the wettest and for us not to sit there." !!!!! Okay, so he was having a little fun at my expense...at least we were relatively dry!
With the big rides out of the way, my parents decided that was enough fun for one morning and wanted to take it easy. We considered seeing Tarzan Rocks, but it was a while before showtime and everyone was hungry, so we got drinks and cinnamon rolls at one of the snack carts in Dinoland. Then we did a little shopping - at Beastly Bazaar I got an AK giraffe pin and an AK passport ($16.85 with a $1 donation to the wildlife fund) and mother picked out AK name pins for herself and Daddy ($15.72).
The park was getting crowded by this point (it was 10:30 when we finished our shopping), so we headed out for the bus stop. Back at the resort, they actually had a room for my parents in the Fantasia 2000 section, so they went to their room and relaxed while Jillian and I got some lunch for Joe and went to check on him. We picked up a chicken sandwich basket with fries, some nachos and pudding ($11.64) and went up to wake him up. He was feeling a little better, but still not 100%. He'd missed out on enough of the fun, though, so he got up and showered while Jillian and I went to help our parents unpack their car.
Then, much to my surprise, we ran into the Randbys! They were supposed to go to Universal that day, but decided to just hang out at the pool. The boys were having such a good time there and Scott was so amazed at all they'd done so far that he didn't see the point of rushing around to spend two days at Universal. They were about to get the boys out of the pool and clean up to go to Downtown Disney . They ended up going to Disney Quest...a great alternate plan, in my opinion! In retrospect, they thought that a non-park day really helped them pace themselves for the rest of the week and not get too tired.
Joe finished getting ready and we got on the bus to MGM. At this point, I was already beginning to tire of the buses. It wouldn't have been so tiresome if the buses didn't share routes with the other All Star resorts. Joe and I sort of quietly mumbled to each other about how spoiled we were by the deluxe resorts we'd stayed in. (More on the resort at the end of the report.)
Finally, we arrived at Disney/MGM Studios. I wanted to start off with something light like the Great Movie Ride, but I knew mother couldn't take the Indiana Jones tomb scene with all the snakes, so we just strolled slowly down Sunset Boulevard. Mother was very wary of both Rock N Roller Coaster (RNRC) and Tower of Terror (ToT), but had agreed to ride both. We tried RNRC first. As soon as we finished, I knew Mother had pushed her limits a little too far. She was okay overall, but a little shaky. She took a few minutes in the shop to collect herself and she was okay, but definitely not ready to ride ToT. She kept saying she would, she just had to calm her nerves first. So we all got some strawberry bars and sat down on a picnic table at the edge of Sunset Market.
Now, recall that I've been wearing my Guest of Honor badge all week. It's hilarious how many people come up to me and ask me questions because they think I work for WDW. (And usually I just answer them if I can and they probably walk away maintaining the illusion that I do work for the park - but I always make it clear that I don't if I can't answer their question.) So, while we were there, there was a crane behind ToT doing something. What, we didn't know. I had speculated earlier that they must be repainting or something. While we were sitting and eating our strawberry bars, a teenage guy gets up and walks right over to me. He stops right in front of me and says, "Excuse me, but are you allowed to tell me what that crane is for?" Without hesitation, I said, "Oh, they're just repainting the building." He thanked me, walked back to the table he was sitting at and reported to the group, "They're painting." Hopefully there's no law against impersonating a Cast Member!
This little interlude seemed to be just the thing to cheer my mom up, so she declared herself ready to tackle ToT since we had assured her that if she could take RNRC that she could definitely take ToT. Okay, so we were wrong! Actually, she handled the ride just fine and then said that it was fun, but she wasn't ever riding it again! Oh well, at least she tried it. No harm done, so I bought her a souvenir ride photo as a reward for her bravery. (one for me too, delivered to the room, $16.91)
On the way out, my dad and I went in Celebrity 5 & 10 and got GoH badges for Mother and Jillian. Jillian just loves getting anything with her name on it since most personalized stuff doesn't usually come pre-made with her name. At this shop they will custom-engrave any name on a badge (or keychain) at no extra charge.
Mother had had all the excitement she could take for one afternoon, so headed for the bus stop. We had planned on a counter service dinner, but I was feeling pretty famished, so I stopped in Guest Services and made a seating for us at Crystal Palace. On the bus ride from MGM to MK we began talking about E-Ride night. It was that evening and Jillian, Joe and I had tickets. We didn't expect our parents would want to attend, but my dad surprised us by asking how they could get tickets, too. No problem! Once we reached MK we stopped by City Hall, bought tickets for them and then picked up our armbands. ($21.20 for their tickets)
We spent a while browsing through the Main Street shops, and we soon made our way to Crystal Palace and checked in for our seating. After about a 10-minute wait, we were seated. The meal was good, but for once the service wasn't. Our server didn't come by often enough to refill our drinks, kept forgetting to bring my dad coffee and just seemed to have an unfriendly attitude. (Come to think of it, this is par for the course at most restaurants, but not at WDW.) After paying the $116.74 bill (yes, we did leave a small tip), we headed out to enjoy the non-E-ride night rides. First on Mother's agenda was Pirates of the Caribbean. The park had already begun to clear out, so the lines got shorter and shorter until we were just walking into attractions like Haunted Mansion and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. I always call BTMRR the "Goldilocks" attraction - as far as my mother is concerned, it isn't too scary or too slow - it's "just right". So we rode this one two or three times.
Next was Splash Mountain. I wasn't sure if Mother would like it, but she assured me she'd be okay, so we went through the line (or the empty queue area, I should say). Not only did she like it, my dad looked at me and said, "Would y'all like to ride this again?" That's his "cool" way of saying "Can we ride it again? Please??" So we rode it two more times. Each of these times, he and Jillian took the front seat to see how wet they could get.
Figuring we'd devoted enough time to the Frontierland attractions, we crossed the park to Tomorrowland to ride Space Mountain. My dad and I sat it out as Jillian, Joe and Mother rode. It is such a herky-jerky coaster that I knew it wouldn't be good for my dad's back and it always ends up giving me a headache anyway.
We rode Buzz Lightyear since there was no line, and I found my aim wasn't getting any better with practice. It was approaching 10:00, so we made our way back to the bus stop. Sure, we all enjoyed the attractions during E-Ride night, but I would pay $10 just for the privilege of walking down Main Street with almost no one else around!
Once back at the resort, we went over the plan for the next morning, filled our mugs with soda and retired to our rooms. We confirmed with the Randbys that they were indeed going to Universal the next day and we hit the sack.
Day 5, Wednesday, October 13
I'd planned MGM for this morning, but since we'd visited that park instead of Epcot the day before, I figured we might as well make up for it. (The Randbys actually did visit Universal Studios this day, using Mears transportation to get to and from the park.)
We wanted to be at the gates at opening, so we met went by my parents' room and met them to begin the morning. We'd all decided that it was silly to take the bus to Epcot and MGM, particularly when my parents' car was sitting out in the parking lot. I was made the designated driver and we headed for the park - this would be my first experience driving to a Disney park! (Hey, I find excitement even in the smallest of things!)
We arrived and before we knew it we were through the gates. First item on the agenda? Test Track! We hoofed it all the way to the back of Future World and rode with just a few minutes' wait. Then we retraced our steps to ride Spaceship Earth. Mother had been remembering those swampy-smelling dinosaurs in Universe of Energy, so we saw that next.
At this point my dad's leg was really bothering him (he's had on-and-off problems with a pinched nerve), so we decided to slow down and have a little bite to eat. We stopped in the FountainView Caf and got some pastries and coffee. ($16.54). Mother had a worried expression on her face and I asked her what was wrong. Typically, she said, "Nothing." I pressed her and she said her back just hurt a little, nothing more than that. Probably slept on it wrong. Now, I don't want to give the impression that my parents are doddering - they'd be really mad at me if I did! They're generally very healthy. I knew that we could just take it a little easy with Daddy and he'd be fine, but Mother worried me. She kept telling me she was fine, so I stopped asking, but I watched her anyway...
Snack out of the way, we decided to try Test Track again in the single rider line. What fun! Once again, I looked at the ride photo (Joe and I were in the same car) - they never seem to be as good as the others - we always look so "blah". Oh well, guess that means we actually save a little money by not buying that souvenir!
Joe had a wicked gleam in his eye when he said "let's go see Ice Station Cool!" I knew just what he was up to, but as warm as the day was, I didn't mind walking through the icy-cold "cave", even if he was up to mischief! We got into the tasting station and of course he managed to get Mother and Jillian to try Beverly soda! They were NOT pleased! (Daddy wasn't biting - he knew something was up.)
By now it was after 11:00 and Mother had had just about enough of all this Future World nonsense - her real interest lay in World Showcase! So, off we strolled... We explored Mexico and rode Maelstrom in Norway and then remembered that we had a priority seating for lunch at San Angel! We were already 45 minutes late, so we rushed over and found that we would only have to wait a few minutes for a table. Whew!!
Once seated, I relaxed and soaked in the atmosphere. This restaurant doesn't get talked about much, but it is one of our favorites (mine and Joe's). You really do get the feel of an outdoor caf. The lanterns, the "starry sky", the volcano in the background - it's lively, but still can be romantic. For us, it's a must-do on each trip.
I had my favorite - Carne Asada Tampiquea - grilled tenderloin of beef, served with chicken enchilada, rice and refried beans ($16.25). Joe had the Sopa Azteca ($3.95) and Tacos Al Carbon - flour tortillas filled with grilled chicken breast or beef, peppers and onions, guacamole, and pico de gallo relish ($11.75). Daddy had the Plato de la Fronteria - Chicken burrito and hard shell beef taco, rice and refried beans ($10.25). Jillian also had the Plato de la Fronteria, with some slight modifications - like no lettuce or onions in sight and a chicken taco instead of beef taco. Mother rounded out the group with the Ensalada Mexicana - mixed greens with grilled chicken, tomatoes, avocado, sweet Mexican turnip, cheese and cactus strips, tossed in our house dressing and served in a fried tortilla shell ($8.95). Everything was just fine, except Jillian's order. Lettuce on the taco - the beef taco. Our server (Frank) took it right back to the kitchen and brought out the corrected order in a matter of minutes - not bad. (Have I mentioned that Jillian is a very picky eater?) When the bill arrived, I noticed that we weren't charged for Jillian's meal - nice touch. With tax and tip, the bill came to $68.35.
Mother was feeling tired (and full!), but wanted to make a circuit of the pavilions before heading back to the resort. We made our way to Italy and you could have knocked me over with a feather - we were browsing through the wine shop and my dad decides he do a little wine tasting! I almost never saw my parents drink anything when I was growing up, and here my dad was having wine in the middle of the day! (Not that I minded; I was just really surprised.)
We were going to see Impressions de France next, but Mother said she was feeling hot and tired and wanted to go back to the resort. I should have known something was up when she didn't want to stay for that - she always said it was her favorite from our one and only trip to Epcot in 1987. But I think I was just blinded by the fun time we were having and really wanted to believe everything was okay. Jillian went back to the resort with them to swim (they decided to take the bus and leave us the car as they weren't as sure of getting around). Jillian said she'd make sure Mother took a nap or at least laid down for awhile and took some ibuprofen for her back. Nothing to worry about, right?
That left just Joe and I...we wanted to see Millennium Village (well, I wanted to see it). Joe was very skeptical and wasn't too pleased that we had to wait outside before going in, particularly since this was the warmest day of the trip so far. (92F was the high). We were let in after about 10 minutes and began exploring. The one thing Joe was hoping for was to try some coffee in the Saudi Arabian exhibit. We never were quite sure if they ever had it to serve, but today there were a couple of coffee pots (ornate gold ones) out and someone saying that there was no coffee. Overall we weren't very impressed with the Village - nothing caught our interest - and I was really hoping to prove Joe wrong! Oh well! (I would include Joe's comments about his impression of this attraction, but they aren't fit to print! That should give you some indication!)
Now I was feeling hot, so we decided to drive back to the resort. We had an early dinner reservation at the Brown Derby, so we figured we'd better have a little time to rest, too!
(Note- afternoon breaks are vital on almost any trip to WDW. On a long trip like this, it's hard to press on day after day without resting here and there. I'm something of a commando and a definite type-A personality, and even I admit this is true! And, during the hot summer months, afternoon breaks are necessary no matter how long a trip you are taking.)
There wasn't much time for a break, but a short nap and a shower will do wonders - we felt very refreshed at 4:30 when we went to my parents' room to collect them for dinner. At this point Mother really didn't seem well, but she kept insisting she was fine and hurried us along to the car. We arrived at MGM in about 10 minutes (this definitely beats the bus service at the All-Stars!) and went straight to the Brown Derby. I'd made a 5:00 priority seating for the Fantasmic dinner package. In return for each person ordering an entre, we would get tickets to a special reserved seating area for Fantasmic later that evening. After what Joe and I went through with the Randbys on Sunday, I promised that I'd never go without this package again (as long as it was still available) and I was so glad I'd booked the package for this evening.
Dinner at the Brown Derby was very nice, as usual. At this point I'd quit taking detailed notes and I've since lost the receipt, so I don't remember what we ate or what it cost! As we were leaving, however, I noticed a stack of hat-shaped cards that said "Hollywood Brown Derby" on them. On a hunch, I stopped at the check-in stand and asked if I could get a copy of the recipe for their famous grapefruit cake. Sure enough, the CM handed me one of those cards - just what I suspected those cards were! What a great addition to my scrapbook!
We had some time to kill before Fantasmic, so we decided to explore the New York Street area. Mother was charmed by the Singing in the Rain umbrella and we each had our picture taken under it. We had a great time playing around on the steps of the brownstones and looking at all the detailing on the buildings - it reminds me so much of the street in NY were Joe and I live!
As we were walking back toward the center of the park, we noticed that Sounds Dangerous was just about to start and they were still letting guests in, so we hurried in and got a seat. This was much neater than I expected - the hairdryer bit seems so realistic! Not a bad diversion - not one I'd wait in line for, though.
It was approaching 7:00 and we were supposed to be in the Hollywood Hills theater for Fantasmic 30 minutes ahead of time. When Joe and I used the package in April, we simply went in the regular entrance like everyone else and showed our tickets to get in the special seating area. (The tickets were really neat then - nice, glossy color jobs with the show's logo, a little map, a perforated part for a CM to tear off. Now the ticket is just a bright orange piece of paper that they write in the date and the size of your group.) This time they had a whole new entrance scheme worked out: we walked up to the front of the park, past Sid Cahuenga's One-of-a-Kind and turned left into a backstage area. Like I said, little things can get me excited, and this was definitely one of them! We saw CM of the Month parking spaces and something I'd never once seen anywhere at WDW - a dumpster!! Joe couldn't believe I was actually taking a picture of a dumpster!
We were seated about 10 rows back and waited for the show to start. Francis did the pre-show warm up which consisted of his picking a child from each section to answer a Disney trivia question or tell a joke. Then the show began - words can't even do justice to this production! Mother sat next to me, holding my hand with her left hand and my dad's hand with her right. Never mind the show, just being with my family was great!
After the show was over and the lights came up, I saw that Mother was teary-eyed. However, I quickly realized it wasn't over the show. She was really hurting and really sick and she couldn't hide it any longer. We went as quickly as possible to the tram and got her back to the hotel. It was amazing how quickly she just fell apart - crying, shivering. I felt horrible and scared - here she was sick as could be but hiding it so we would have a good time and here I was not paying attention to the signs that something was really wrong. "What kind of a daughter am I?" I thought as I rushed up to my room to get the first aid kit while the others helped Mother back to her room. I got back to her room and immediately took her temperature...103F. Not good. Something was wrong. Her back was aching horribly, she had a fever and chills...she had to go to the emergency room. I gave her some Tylenol and got her into bed to keep warm and then sent everyone into action. I sent Joe to find his sister and let her know that we were going to the ER (or leave a message for her if they weren't back from USF yet). I sent Jillian up to the food court to get cranberry juice - I had a hunch what was wrong and though this wouldn't really help, I was trying to do anything I possibly could. When she returned (she must have run both ways because it took her no time), I told her to start making Mother drink it and just talk to her to keep her calm - she was really upset over being sick. Then I ran to the front desk. I called Centra Care from a pay phone to find out exactly where they were located. Then I realized we really needed a wheelchair. Mother had barely made it to the room - she was not in any shape to be walking around. However, the front desk and guest services both had long lines of people, so I picked up a house phone and called Guest Services instead - no way I was waiting in line for an emergency like this! I explained the situation to a wonderful CM named Jennifer who told me she'd meet me at Guest Services with a wheelchair in a few minutes. After a very long three minutes, she emerged with a chair - no questions, no deposits, just a wish that everything would be okay.
I wheeled it back to Mother's room as fast as possible and she was none too pleased to see it. She did not want to go to the ER - never mind how ill she felt. I insisted and Daddy told her to listen to what I said, so she meekly got in the wheelchair. Joe had talked Daddy into staying behind and resting since his leg was really bothering him - there wasn't much he could do and between Jillian, Joe and I, we could take care of everything. We got her in the car and Joe ran the wheelchair back to Guest Services while I drove around front to pick him up.
Off I sped to Centra Care. The location we went to is just past Downtown Disney and it took a little over 15 minutes to get there. Mother cried the entire way - I think the fever really was affecting her behavior - she kept apologizing for "ruining" our vacation. Of course, this made me feel more and more guilty - how badly had she been feeling all along but hiding it to "please" me??
We arrived at Centra Care, checked Mother in and filled out the necessary forms. There were two other groups there waiting and I noticed that there was a strange smell - like a dirty diaper, only stronger, and there weren't any babies in the waiting room. After about 20 minutes, they called Mother back and Jillian went in with her. That left Joe and I to wait. And wait. In the meantime, the smell was getting worse...now it smelled more like a mixture of rotten eggs and something unidentifiably foul. It was suffocating - we had to pull our shirts up over our noses and walk outside every few minutes. (It turns out the x-ray machine was broken, or so we overheard, and there were some chemicals or gases or something leaking. Nothing dangerous, just disgusting.) After about 30 minutes, Jillian came out and said Mother had a bad kidney infection. Just what I thought. In a few minutes she came out, paid her bill and got two prescriptions filled. While we were in the pharmacy, I stocked up on gauze and tape for Jillian's feet.
The drive back was much calmer. Just knowing that she was taken care of and the problem had been identified made Mother feel much better. We helped her back to the room (she wasn't having any more of that wheelchair) and put her to bed. I promised her that I'd take care of everything and she thanked all of us for helping her and had another quick cry and then fell asleep. I told Daddy we'd call them in the morning and then we left.
Now we had a bigger problem. When we first arranged the trip, Mother and Daddy weren't planning on coming. That summer, they decided they'd come and I started making their arrangements, but I was only able to get them into All-Star Movies for the first two nights. After that, there was no availability at any of the All-Star resorts and I had to book them a room at Dixie Landings (luckily, with the MKC discount). That seemed okay at the time, but now it definitely wasn't. Mother was in no shape to pack up and change resorts. So I led the march to the front desk. First, I asked that someone please tell Jennifer (whose shift had ended) how grateful we were for her help with the wheelchair. Then I explained the situation and asked if there was any way they could find room so that my Mother didn't have to leave the resort in the morning. After much checking in the computer and going into the back, the CM told me there was no availability for the next day, let alone the rest of their trip. I was crushed, but at least had enough brain cells still functioning to ask for a late check-out time for them.
Exhausted and drained, we trooped back to our room and set the alarm. One part of our group was out of commission for the next day, but the Randbys were planning on touring Animal Kingdom with us the next day, and I wasn't about to let them down.
Day 6, Thursday, October 14
The next morning we rose early (I hardly slept at all). We had a late breakfast planned, so it was just soda and coffee for us (gotta love those refillable mugs). I filled everyone's mug and get more cough drops for Joe (he still had a cough and sore throat) while Joe dressed and Jillian went to check on Mother. When I returned to our room, the phone rang - it was a resort manager telling me he'd been informed of Mother's situation and had arranged for them to stay at ASMo for the rest of their trip at the same rate they'd been paying. What a relief! So we rushed over to tell Mother the good news. Mother was awake and seemed much better. I took her temperature and it was only 99F - almost back to normal. She said she felt 100 times better, but wasn't going to push it. She knew I had something special planned for that evening and she wanted to enjoy it, so she was going to sleep as much as possible until then.
We met the Randbys right on time at the bus stop...a plan that would have worked well if we hadn't had to wait 20 minutes for a bus to Animal Kingdom! We arrived as the gates were opening, so we were already behind the early crowd. By the time we got to Kilimanjaro Safaris, the line was outside the building, so we got Fastpasses that said to come back at 9:15. Scott was a little skeptical about the Fast Pass system, but he went along with me. We went back to the Tree of Life to see ITTBAB. I had warned Liz about the effects and spiders, so we sat in the back row just in case the boys didn't care for what was in store. The boys loved it though, but were eager to get to Countdown to Extinction. They'd heard and read plenty about it and couldn't wait to ride it! Evan was not tall enough, so Liz stayed with him in the kid swap room while we we rode. Christopher and Scott were in the row behind us and pronounced the ride "totally awesome". When the ride photo came up, we couldn't help but laugh - Christopher had his head between his knees - he looked like he was assuming a crash landing position! We met Liz outside and a CM opened the door to let her in to ride and said that Chris could ride again with her. I thought he wouldn't do it given how scared he really was of the big dino at the end, but he ran right in after her. We waited for them to finish and this ride photo was even funnier - Chris was practically hidden behind Liz!
We had plenty of time before breakfast, so we headed for Asia and Kali River Rapids. Is there anything like the prospect of getting totally soaked to delight a bunch of little boys??? Once again, we had no wait. Chris and Evan were asking which seats would probably get the wettest - an identical question to the one my mother had asked, only they wanted to get wet! We stowed our stuff in the "waterproof" bin in the middle of the raft and we were off. So far, I'd escaped relatively dry from every ride...not this time. I had on my anorak and had my feet tucked under my seat, but my shorts were totally soaked. Joe didn't put his anorak on at all, so he was drenched. The boys decided they weren't wet enough, so the CM in the loading area let them stay on while Jillian, Liz and I got off the raft.
We waited on the bridge for them to finish and when their raft came around, they looked like a bunch of drowned rats! Of course, that didn't stop us from using the controls to squirt them so more when they passed the elephant fountains! They met us on the bridge and we decided to put our Fast Passes to use. We walked back to Africa (dripping all the way). By now the line for the Safari was outrageous - all the way to the bridge to Harambe Village. No line for us...we had Fast Passes, so we were able to breeze right by hundreds and hundreds of people! Scott thought this was the coolest thing we'd done so far and acted like I'd uncovered gold or something equally amazing. I didn't do anything special, just took advantage of the system that was there! They were amazed by the Safari...and I was impressed with what they knew about the animals. They were really good at identifying them. It was all shouts of "Look, there's a black rhino!" "Look, there's Western Antelope!" "Look, there's Pumba!!" (Okay, it was a warthog. But they were on the right track.)
By now we were pushing up against our priority seating for breakfast, so I sent Joe ahead with the Randbys. I was miserably wet and had to do something about it. So Jillian and I stopped in Beastly Bazaar and picked out a pair of shorts for me and a T-shirt for me ($39.22). We hurried over to Donald's Breakfastsaurus in time to change and then have a group photo taken before we were seated.
This place is awesome! Of all the breakfasts we've had, I think this is my favorite! We found the food great and plentiful - and we really enjoyed the variety. First off, it's the most casual-feeling of all the restaurants I've been in. The dcor is wacky - stuff is everywhere - retro looking dino posters, lots of stuff that looks like notes from field expeditions, etc. We were seated and Evan and Joe immediately began to color with the crayons provided (on the butcher paper, of course). The food was excellent - Joe loved the western omelets. From what I recall, they had all sorts of breakfast meats, scrambled eggs, potato hash, French toast, fruit, cereal and more. Characters in attendance were Goofy, Pluto, Mickey and Donald. I think the boys enjoyed Pluto the most - especially when he'd sneak up behind them and flop that big, red, plastic tongue on their shoulders!
After we rolled ourselves away from the table (for the first time, I felt truly stuffed - I usually don't eat that much, even at buffets because I hate feeling so full) we decided to leave the park for the day. It was really crowded by that point and I was eager to check on my mother in person. So, off to the bus stop we went.
Once back at the hotel, the boys did their customary dip in the pool. They didn't care if they only had 15 minutes to swim - they wanted to spend every free moment in the pool! (For one of the few times during our trip, I noticed that the Sorcerer Mickey fountain was working.)
Mother was up and about when I went to check on her, a wonderful thing to see. The antibiotics had really made a big difference - her fever was gone and the mild pain reliever they gave her was actually working. Joe and I decided to go take a little nap while Jillian swam and my mom and dad took their time getting ready for the afternoon.
After they were dressed and ready, we all met in the food court for a late lunch. Joe and I just shared some nachos, Jillian had some fries, Mother had this fajita thing that was really more like nachos with refried beans and cheese and Daddy had a double cheeseburger. It's amazing what a fun time you can have just sitting around over a simple meal with your family! As they were eating, I noticed my dad didn't seem to be enjoying his burger. I asked him if it was bad and he said the burger was okay, but "these buns suck"! Since I didn't have a burger of my own, I can't really argue with that review!
At about 3:30, we hopped in the car and drove over to the Yacht Club and parked. By now I was so glad to have the car! We walked around the resort for a little while and then out to the dock to take the FriendShip launch to MGM. Jillian had a seat next to an open window and as the boat pulled away she looked out at the beautiful hotels around her, stretched her legs out in front of her and said, "I could get used to this!" Having stayed at the BoardWalk Inn before, I know there is nothing quite like that location - so fun, so close, so pretty.
After a quick stop at the Swan and Dolphin resorts, we arrived at MGM. Mother and Daddy wanted to do the Backlot Tour, so they went there while Joe, Jillian and I went to ride ToT and RNRC again. We met up in the New York Street area and goofed around some more and before we knew it, it was time to meet the Randbys for dinner!
I'd made a priority seating for all of us at Prime Time Caf for 6:25 that evening. I figured we wouldn't all sit together, but we were close - Scott and the boys sat at a TV-table while the rest of us sat right across from them at a regular table. Right off the bat I could tell we were going to have a great time - Cousin Bob was our server. He is fabulous - he'd waited on Joe and I in April of that year.
Everyone managed to be good until the beverages came to our tables. Then, when Cousin Bob and "Dad" weren't looking, Christopher put his dad's beer in front of Evan. Bob turned around to see Evan with the Sam Adams bottle in front of him and yelled out, "Dad, he's giving beer to the children!" "Dad" pulled a "trouble maker" hat out and put it right on Scott's head. From then on he was just egging them on, trying to get into trouble!
The food here is good, but tonight I really liked it. We started out with shoestring onions - I love these, and I don't even like onions! Of course, it was milkshakes all around, too (well, most of us had one). The special that night was shrimp oscar, and several of the adults had that. Jillian and Mother had the fried chicken (which is a huge dinner - I really think it's a whole chicken!) and I had the BBQ rubbed chicken. I'd always assumed it was a tangy BBQ sauce, but Bob told me it was a dry seasoning rub put on before grilling and then a creamy peppercorn sauce finish. It was wonderful!
As the evening progressed, Bob came around to see who was deserving of a coveted Clean Plate sticker. Mother hadn't quite eaten all of hers, but she said that was because she was so sick and Bob gave her a third of a sticker, but not until loading up a fork with green beans and posing for a picture as if he was feeding it to her. Jillian was diligently working on hers, but wasn't quite done either. I said to Bob that she really might be scarred mentally if she didn't get a sticker and told her to explain why. So she told her sad story: she's a very picky eater and when she was in pre-school, they ate lunch there and every child who ate his or her entire lunch got a smiley-face stamp on his or her hand. Fine - nice little reward. BUT, every child that didn't eat all their lunch got a frowney-face stamp! Jillian said she would try to eat, but she just couldn't ever eat it all and she never once got a smiley-face stamp. Bob said that was the most pitiful story he'd ever heard and gave her a sticker! She didn't boo-hoo, but there were definitely tears in her eyes! (And she did manage to finish it all before we left, so she truly earned her sticker.) For the first time, I got a CP sticker, too, a big accomplishment for me! (Everyone else did, too - we were a hungry bunch!)
I told Bob that by now we were in danger of being late for a special event and he said he would bring the check out right away - he was very considerate of our timing issue. While he was gone, Liz got up to take Evan to the bathroom. When Bob came back to the table and saw her empty chair, he yelled out again, "DAD! Come here!" "Dad" arrived and Bob pointed to the empty chair and "Dad" said, "Did she leave the table without permission again?" Bob replied, "Uh-huh! I bet she's outside smoking cigars behind the barn with Grandpa again!" So "Dad" picked up her chair and took it away! Liz came back to the table, and then came the lecture.
Dad: "Young lady, don't you know you are supposed to ask for permission to leave the table?"
Liz: "Yes, sir, but I had to take my son to the bathroom."
Dad: "Oh, well, I see. That's probably important. Did you wash your hands before returning to the table?"
Liz: "Umm, yes, sir."
Dad: "Oh, well, that's good, because you know how important cleanliness is here. So I suppose you'll be able to tell me what color the soap is..."
By this point we were all crying with laughter.
Liz: "Ummmm, white." (It was more like, "Ummmm, white?)
Dad: "That's right. I hope that wasn't just a lucky guess, but you still need to learn your lesson, so go right over there and stand with your nose on the wall!"
And she did it! The boys thought this was the funniest thing they'd ever seen - their mom, getting in trouble! (They knew it was a joke but they're smart enough to appreciate it.)
Once we'd settled up ($188 with 15% gratuity, but I bumped it up to an even $200 since that's what I budgeted and Bob really did a great job.) we took a not-so-slow stroll down Hollywood Boulevard toward the front entrance. I told everyone I had a surprise for them. We boarded the boat launch to the Yacht Club and they didn't know what to think! We got out at the Yacht Club and they followed me like I was the Pied Piper around to the dock office where we met Captain Ed. After signing the charge receipt, he came out and introduced himself to everyone and said, "Now, if you'll come with me, we'll fit you boys with some flotation jackets and cast off for your Illuminations Cruise." No one really knew what to expect as we climbed aboard the pontoon and pulled away from the dock!
First, Ed took us around Crescent Lake at a nice cruising speed. He pointed out the sights and I just sat back, soaking up the atmosphere of excitement and enjoying the night air. (The temperature must have been in the low 70s.) Before I knew it, we were approaching the bridge at World Showcase and Ed was mooring the pontoon for the show. By this time, everyone had figured out that we were about to be front row center for Illuminations! Joe set up his Pentax on a tripod and prepared to take some shots of the show. All around we could see the flaming torches. Then, it all began. First, a sonorous voice issued a welcome and made what sounded like a short puff of air or sigh - and all the torches went out as if they'd been blown out like candles on a cake! From there on it was one goosebump after another as the history of man on earth played out before our eyes on a giant, floating LED ball, punctuated by brilliant lasers, fantasic bursts of fireworks and an uplifting, inspiring musical score. It was the best 15 minutes of the trip, hands down! As the show ended, Joe squeezed my hand and said, "Thank you." "For what?" I asked. "For making everything perfect for all of us." Now, if the show wasn't enough to get me crying, that certainly was!
After we cruised back to the Yacht Club and got back on dry land, everyone began thanking me profusely, Scott in particular. He said that even without that it had already been the best vacation he'd ever taken, but this made it unbelievable.
Since we were there, we decided to all stroll around the Boardwalk area. The boys were instantly captivated by Stormalong Bay! I was in la-la land, still feeling pretty high from the excitement of not just the evening's events, but from seeing everyone else's excitement. Joe and I walked hand-in-hand along the path around the lake, looking dreamily at the BoardWalk and promising ourselves we would stay there again.
But, it was getting late, and so we decided to head "home". Joe and the Randby's got a taxi-van from the Yacht Club ($7 plus tip to ASMo) while I drove Jillian and my parents back to our resort. It was hard to believe another day at WDW was ending, but I couldn't complain - it had been an absolute dream!
I had to stop off at the Randbys' room and make sure they knew what time to meet us in the morning, and Jillian and Joe got our mugs from the room and headed to the food court. I met them down there and we sat around talking about how fun the day was. After about an hour of eating dessert (I don't remember what we ate or how much it cost - my interest in note-taking was waning at this point!), we ambled back to our room, Joe and I both took our showers and we hit the sack.
Day 7, Friday, October 15
Maybe I was still keyed up from the magic of the previous night, but I was awake before Mickey's phone call this morning!
Since Jillian didn't feel like eating breakfast and Joe and I had showered the night before, we dressed and went down to the food court for breakfast. This was our first breakfast at the food court at ASMo. We both had a bacon, egg and cheese biscuit plate and I have to say it wasn't bad. The eggs were a lot fluffier than anything we could have gotten at McDonald's, and the biscuit was good, too. Not bad for $7.61. (at least I started off the day properly by taking my notes!) Mother and Daddy and the Randbys were up by this point and they all got some breakfast and sat down to talk to Joe while I went to the room to wrap Jillian's sore toes.
Let me tell you, never cross a girl with blistered toes! Don't ask me how it happened, but we got into a wicked argument - probably all my fault. After a few tense moments, we both came to our senses and apologized and it was over. Once the gauze and tape was in place, she pulled on her shoes and we went to meet everyone. We originally planned to tour Epcot, but Jillian wanted to do Magic Kingdom and the Randbys wanted to do MGM, so we parted ways and agreed to meet at Sleepy Hollow Snack Shop at 2:15 for the Magical Moments parade. The Randbys weren't sure if they could make it by that time, so we agreed that we would watch the parade from there and if they didn't meet us then, we'd definitely meet there again at 6:45 for the Main Street Electrical Parade. So, plans made, we hopped on our buses and headed for the parks.
NOTE: Even though it was great having a car at ASMo, it is definitely better to take the Disney transportation to Magic Kingdom (probably true from any resort). If you drive, you have to park, take the tram and then take the monorail or ferry to the gates. Disney transportation bypasses both the parking lot and the lot-to-gate transportation. And, luckily, each All Star resort has its own bus line to MK, so the ride is made more pleasant by not having to stop at all three resorts.
We arrived at MK to find it relatively un-crowded. So, what did we do first but hit Splash Mountain? Twice! Might as well ride Big Thunder Mountain while we're close by...right? Afterwards, we headed for Adventureland and rode Pirates of the Caribbean. For the first time, I noticed that the parrot at the entrance "talks"! How could I have missed that before?
Joe and I had been discussing having chalk portraits made for the last two trips, so this time we decided to actually do it. We headed for Liberty Square to be immortalized in chalk on paper. The results? Joe looked like he was about 12 years old, and I looked like something...well, words can't quite describe it. As the artist was drawing, my dad looked at the portrait, looked at me and gave me the thumbs-down sign. It is pretty darned hideous. We even had them framed - what were we thinking? The total for two portraits in frames was $40.62. One important NOTE - this service cannot be charged to your room account. We had to pay cash. (I don't recall that they took credit cards - they might have, but we didn't bring one to the park that day.) Rather than lug the monstrosities around, we asked them to hold them for the day and went off to explore Liberty Square a little more.
Liberty Square is really my favorite part of Magic Kingdom. I love the colonial Williamsburg-style buildings and they have the coolest CM costumes there!
Feeling like a dose of good, old-fashioned nationalism, we headed for Hall of Presidents. This attraction always makes us think of our good friend Tom who has a penchant for Presidential history - I always take lots of extra photos in the portrait gallery just for him. The show itself is great - I love all the audio-animatronics. It's amazing how they get the gestures just right - Clinton's are dead-on accurate. I have a hard time paying attention to the dialogue these days - I'm always looking around at all the figures, watching them fidget and "whisper" to each other!
We were getting hungry by this point, so we headed for Columbia Harbor House. We got a chicken strips meal, 2 chicken/fish combo meals, vegetable chili in a bread bowl and 5 large sodas for $32.91. (Mother wasn't very hungry - she and I split a combo meal.) The food here is just fine, not wonderful. In fact, we've eaten here several times, but this day the food seemed way too salty. (Joe loved his chili, though.)
We had really been taking our time, and by now it was after 2:00. I really wanted to get a good spot for the Magical Moments parade (which I'd never seen), so we took a table at the Sleepy Hollow Snack Shop and waited for the Randbys to show up. The parade came and went and I think I was the only one even mildly amused by it, and even I could take it or leave it. But, at least now I could say I've seen it and not have to fret over whether to include it in any future schedules.
Mother and Daddy were ready for an afternoon break, so we walked down Main Street with them and said goodbye. Now that it was just us, we decided to ride Splash Mountain a few more times. There's something about that attraction - the drop is thrilling and certainly gives me a rush, but the rest of it is so charming!
We even rode Big Thunder Mountain Railroad again for good measure. (The waits seemed minimal - 10 minutes at best. For some reason the park wasn't very crowded this afternoon - the least crowded it had been all week.)
It was approaching 6:00, and even though we hadn't planned on it, Jillian and I went into City Hall and bought tickets for E-Ride night that evening and immediately traded them in for the required wristbands. Joe wasn't in the mood to stay up late, so he passed on the opportunity.
Jillian was still working on her list of souvenirs for people, and she wanted to get her boyfriend (Gary) a glass with his name engraved on it, so we stopped in the Crystal shop. While Jillian picked out the glass and ordered the engraving, Joe and I listened to the Barbershop Quartet who just happened to be in the shop performing.
Even though we hadn't planned on meeting the Randbys until 6:45, we headed by to Sleepy Hollow. Instead of going right for a table, we decided to relax in the "hidden park" behind the Christmas Shop. It was about as anti-park commando as you can get, sitting in the cool shade, enjoying the relative calm.
But, 15 minutes of calm is about all I can take! We decide that we might as well grab a table at Sleepy Hollow and wait it out. We chose a spot right by the railing along the castle moat so that we'd have a good view of the parade as it crossed the bridge into Liberty Square. The three of us sat around sharing what our favorites had been so far - favorite ride, favorite meal, favorite funny thing the boys had done. (By this time the boys were calling Jillian "Aunt Jillian".)
I knew that we'd be sitting there a long time if we intended to hold that table until the Main Street Electrical Parade (MSEP), so I mentioned the fact that we'd be hungry soon but the streets would be clogged with people and we might even be blocked in. Joe volunteered to go across to Tomorrowland and get pizza from the Plaza Pavilion. Jillian "guarded" the table while I purchased sodas from the Snack Shop.
Then, as we waited for Joe to return, who should appear but a frantic-looking Liz with Chris and Evan in tow. Joe arrived with the food as she was explaining that they had gotten separated from Scott and Thomas. As they were leaving MGM to catch a bus to MK, they lost track of each other. (What we would find out later is that while Liz went through the gates, Scott and Tom went through a turnstile further away and they lost sight of each other in the crowd. Liz ventured on toward the bus stop, hoping that Scott would keep proceeding according to plan, but she kept looking all around for him outside the gate area. Scott, however, took Tom back into the park to look for Liz. He had to first convince a Cast Member to let them in since Liz had all their admission passes! By this time they were getting further and further apart. In the meantime, Liz and the boys arrive at MK and they wait outside the gates for a long time, hoping that the others will show up looking for them. Finally, she knew we were going to be in one spot, so she found us, dropped the boys off and then went on what I knew was a wild goose chase for Scott and Tom. (Now I was really regretting the fact that everyone talked me out of the radios.) I told Liz to stop at City Hall and leave a message for Scott, but I don't think she did. I'm not sure of what she did at this point, but I know that she rode the monorail around the lagoon once in tears, wondering what to do.
Back to us...the boys hadn't had dinner, so Joe offered to go get them something. Evan had no problem sharing my pizza with me (I wasn't as hungry as I thought), but Chris refused to eat anything. He kept saying, "My dad said we are eating dinner at the food court when we get back." I think that was his way of dealing with the anxiety of being separated. We finished eating, but Joe left a little of his pizza in the box in front of Chris "just in case". Chris kept going on and on about how hungry he was, but he refused to eat. In fact, much to my embarrassment, people around us kept offering him food! I'm sure they thought we were trying to starve the poor kid! (At one point, I did catch him taking a bite of the leftover pizza when he thought no one was looking.)
We had a lot of time to pass before the parade and two anxious boys to distract, so Joe asked if they wanted to hear a ghost story. Of course, they did, and they specifically wanted to hear one he tells based on the Salem witch trials. He told it, and then Evan said he wanted to tell one. He proceeded to weave quite a tale involving a crazy farmer, his dead wife, a tornado and Jaws (they'd been to USF earlier in the week, so I'm sure that's where the final two plot points came from).
We still had some time, and Jillian began to fret about the glass she'd ordered from the Crystal shop. She didn't want to carry it around during E-Ride and she didn't want to get caught up in the Main Street crowds after the parade when she tried to pick it up. Joe said that he would take it back to the hotel if she wanted, and I volunteered to run pick it up before the parade since her feet were sore. I convinced Chris to go with me - we hurried down to the shop and collected the package - it was a quick little distraction from his worries. He was really impressed by the $25,000 crystal Cinderella Castle in the shop window, though. We quickly made our way to back to our spot and I know Chris was disappointed that his family wasn't there waiting for him.
Just before the parade began, Liz came back and said she still hadn't found them, but would we be willing to keep the boys and get them back to the hotel that night. She gave Joe a key to their room and ran off again.
By now the parade had begun...I could tell even if the "uninitiated" around me couldn't! It would be at least 15 minutes before it passed over the bridge, so to kill time, we got the boys talking about their favorite things. Evan was really impressed with the fire-breathing dragon in Fantasmic, so much so that he bought a dragon pin with the Disney dollars Joe and I had given him. I told him there was a dragon in the parade and he finally decided that this was a parade he really wanted to see and asked about every 2 minutes from that point "Where's the dragon?"
When the parade had rolled past us and the ropes dropped, we scurried off toward the Castle to see the fireworks. After that, we made a beeline for the nearest payphone. No answer in the Randby's room, so Joe took each boy by the hand and braved the exiting crowds. I told him I'd periodically call to check on them and see if everyone had been found.
The park was closing, and Jillian and I wanted to get as far away from the exiting crowds as possible, so we went back to ride Haunted Mansion. We mainly stuck to that attraction, Splash and Big Thunder Mountain for the next couple of hours. Every once in a while we'd find a phone and call Joe. It wasn't until about 11:00 that we got an answer. Yes, everyone had been located and everything was okay. But, my mom and dad were both getting sick...they were both coughing and had sore throats. They were due to leave in the morning to visit my mother's sister in Tampa, so I was glad they were going somewhere relaxing, but I felt bad that so many things had gone wrong for them (healthwise) on this trip).
Since we'd had a long day, Jillian bought some ice cream bars and slowly strolled to the entrance to catch the bus to the resort. We stopped in to see my parents and helped pack up.
Day 8, Saturday, October 16
We were up bright and early this morning to help see my parents off. Joe and I loaded up their car while Jillian delivered the orders. They were to call us the moment they arrived in Tampa; they were to drink plenty of juice; they were to go to the doctor as soon as they got to the base (my dad is retired Navy; my aunt's husband is a Lt. Cmdr. in the Navy, stationed in Tampa).
Away they went...and off we went to the food court to meet the Randbys. We all had breakfast together (more of those bacon, egg and cheese biscuits for Joe, Jillian and I). I had arranged for the Randbys to take a Family Magic Tour together for free, so I told Liz where to go and gave her the necessary paperwork. Joe was anxious to work on his talk, so he asked if I minded if he stayed at the resort for a while and worked. No problem - I knew how important his talk was, so Jillian and I could entertain ourselves in his absence.
It was a bit rainy this day, so we walked back to the room with Joe to grab our ponchos and store our mugs. Then we caught a bus to MK and arrived by about 9:45. I normally would never go to MK so late on a Saturday and Early Entry day, but I had something special in mind for today.
I had been wanting to try the Missing Quote Challenge in Adventureland for quite some time, and this seemed like the day to do it...no one to play tour guide for, nothing "urgent" to do. The Challenge didn't begin until 10:30, so we browsed in a few shops and Jillian bought a cool choker. I was surprised by the selection of really hip designer island wear in one shop in particular.
Shopping out of the way, we decided to go wait for the Challenge to begin at the appointed spot. Right on the dot, CM Robin showed up, dressed in safari gear and carrying a leather satchel. By this time, five other teams had assembled. She explained the rules (no running?) and how the Challenge works. Six attractions are each described in their own little poem. Players visit that attraction to answer three questions about it. There's also another riddle/poem that leads you to where the Missing Quote is.
Then explained the prizes. The team to find the Quote (required) and have the most correct answers won the grand prize - either 3 front-of-the-line passes and VIP seats and sodas & popcorn for the afternoon parade or 6 front-of-the-line passes.
Instructions issued, she handed out the question sheets and sent us off on our way.
No dummies, Jillian and I first sat down with the sheet and filled in everything we knew. It seemed we knew most of them, but there was one answer missing for several. So we consulted our map to determine the best order to tour the attractions with the least amount of walking. I won't go into detail about how we got the answers because I don't want to give away that version of the test (they run 12 different versions). It did give us the opportunity to experience several things we hadn't ridden/visited in a long time (Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse, Tom Sawyer's Island and Liberty Belle Riverboat to name a few.)
To confirm one answer, we had to take a ride on the Main Street Railroad, so we went to the Frontierland station to board. As we waited, we hear someone call out "Jillian!" So Jillian turned around, only to realize it was another person they were talking to - a little girl, about 8 years old. Jillian showed the little girl her Guest of Honor badge and asked if that was her name too...she doesn't come across too many people with that name (and that spelling), so we struck up a conversation with the family as we waited for the train. We eventually boarded, rode until we got our answer, and then headed to get some lunch.
Like I said, you'll get no more details out of me, but let's just say that we had the completed answer sheet and the Missing Quote safely tucked into my backpack at 11:52! (We had lunch after finishing and this is the time printed on the lunch receipt.)
Speaking of lunch, we ate at Columbia Harbor House again. This time we each had a combo meal and a large coke ($15.90).
It was still drizzly outside, so we spent a lot of time browsing through shops. Jillian and I also had a kind stranger take our picture in front of the Castle - it's one of my favorites from the trip.
Eventually we wandered back over to Adventureland and waited for CM Robin to arrive. We were the first ones there (apparently), followed shortly by two teenage boys and then the rest of the groups came up just as Robin arrived.
Robin took the question sheets and then "graded" them one at a time - announcing wrong answers as she went and giving the correct answers. Our sheet was at the bottom of the stack, so we would hear everyone's score first. The first group missed 6 questions! (Jillian and I are thinking, "How could anyone miss that many???") I don't recall most of the other scores - each group missed one or two at least. The second to last group to get their score was the teenage boy duo. Now, one question was "What is seen above the stage during the presidential roll-call in Hall of Presidents?" They put "presidential seal". The seal is a colorful round object with text around the circumference...what appears above the stage is a golden liberty eagle sculpture in an oval setting. She gave them credit, giving them a "perfect" score. Jillian and I thought that wasn't right, but we weren't in charge. Now ours - we had all the questions right, including the eagle over the stage at HoP, and got a perfect score. Since there was a tie, both groups got a grand prize. Since we weren't staying for the afternoon parade, we took the 6 front-of-the-line passes. We also got a certificate with commemorating the event. (All teams received one pass just for playing.)
Of course, by this time we were ready to leave MK! We went back to the resort, dragged Joe away from his work and went back to MGM for a few more drops at Tower of Terror. We considered getting in line to see Fantasmic again, but quickly thought otherwise...it seemed the on and off rain that day was threatening to become a bona fide storm, so we didn't want to wait only to have the show cancelled due to inclement weather. So, off to the resort again.
The three of us stopped in Donald's Double Feature and got a 6-pack of beer and 2 Bass Ales (for Joe and Jillian) and a book of matches (for Jillian, who unfortunately smokes a cigarette from time to time). The total was $12.42. I realized that we weren't going to be going back to MK and I had all those front-of-the-line passes in my bag. So I told Jillian and Joe to wait a minute and walked out to the bus stop where there was quite a crowd assembled waiting for buses to MK. I smiled and made eye contact with lots of people and waited for the first person to smile back or say hello. It didn't take too long before a man and his wife both smiled back and the wife said "Hi." They had two girls with them that looked to be about 8-10 years old. I pulled out four of the passes and explained that I'd won them that day but couldn't use them and they could have them. They were so delighted! (I saved two for my scrapbook - two so that I could display both the front and back of the pass.)
Once my good deed was done, we went back to the room and began the sad task of packing. My job was much easier because I'd been so neat all week. I find that I can't stand for things to be messy in a hotel room. I hate having stuff all over the place, so I make use of every drawer - I unpack all my things when I arrive and try to live as normally as possible. (Though Joe would say this neatness is far from my "normal" behavior.) As I type this, I recall that this neatness irritated Jillian to no end. I was not only picking up after myself, but after her, too, which she did not appreciate.
I completed the packing, laid out what we'd need for our final day, and after a brief check-in with the Randbys, we all went to sleep.
Day 9, Sunday, October 17
We slept until almost 9:00 this morning - some kind of record for me! We slowly dressed and gathered up our bags. Scott had managed to borrow a cart from Bell Services, so we loaded up all our bags on it and wheeled them to the lobby to be stored for the day.
Then we all hit the food court for our last fast breakfast. (Again, Joe and I had the bacon, egg and cheese biscuits for $3.59 each.) Scott had arranged for a DVC tour and Joe, Jillian and I decided we'd go along. Joe and I had toyed with the idea of buying in, but wanted to hear the sales pitch.
A DVC van came and picked us up and delivered us right to the BoardWalk resort. We walked in - passed my favorite, the giant, seersucker upholstered settee - and the Randbys were immediately impressed. The driver showed us the way to the DVC offices and we met our guide, David. The boys were whisked away to the playroom where a battery of Playstation machines kept their attention!
David walked us through the presentation very nicely. He worked it out so that the Randbys could buy in with enough points to swing a six-night stay each October in a 2-br villa. The Randbys were teetering on the edge of committing to the purchase, so David gave us the tour - model rooms in each size. I have to admit, I was impressed - roomy, nicely decorated, great location. But something about all those appliances didn't sit well with me. In the end, Joe and I decided that purchase was not in our future. We aren't sure we'll vacation at Disney every year, let alone every other year and we think the maintenance fees make it more costly than it appears at first. It just didn't seem like a good deal for us now or in the future. The Randbys, on the other hand, were 99% convinced. They put down the $500 deposit to hold the buy in deal they'd been offered and decided to go home and think about it. (They would eventually decide against it.)
Presentation over, David collected the boys for us and showed us out, but not before giving us a voucher for free lunch at any BoardWalk resort. Jillian and I had shopping to do, so we left Joe with the Randbys to dine at the Big River Grille while we headed to back to the BoardWalk bus stop to go Downtown Disney.
As we waited for a bus, I was faced with a dilemma - I had to go to the bathroom, but none was close by and I didn't want to miss the bus because we were running short on time. Nature won out and I sprinted to the BoardWalk conference center and looked for the closest bathroom. Even in the rush I was in, I managed to discover my second "unassisted" Hidden Mickey find of the trip. There in the ladies' room, hidden in the ornately-patterned wallpaper, were little Mickey heads! Score!!
I quickly ran back to find that I hadn't missed a bus and reported the news of my big find. Jillian just looked at me like I was crazy.
Eventually, a bus did arrive and we were off to shop. We spent about an hour in World of Disney, picking out T-shirts. One in particular was one I'd hoped to find the entire trip...a really great embroidered one with the 2000 logo (2000 with Mickey, Goofy and Donald hand-in-hand for $34 - the most I'd ever paid for a T-shirt. (I'd been seeing it in sweatshirt form here and there, but had to have the T-shirt.) Jillian and I both polished off the last of our shopping list and realized that we had better feed ourselves because we wouldn't have time to eat before our flights and we certainly weren't getting food on our flights! We needed something fast and cheap, so we went to McDonald's. While there, I finally confirmed one thing I'd been wondering. Bottled water might be $2.25 in the parks, but it was a cool $1.09 at McDonald's!
By now we were seriously running behind schedule. Instead of waiting for a bus, we flagged down a cab. The ride was about $15 plus tip, but worth it because of the time pressure.
We arrived to find that Joe and the Randbys had just requested our luggage, so we were ready to go. So where was our van? The pick up time I'd confirmed with the driver who dropped us off had arrived, and no Tiffany van was in sight. I thought this was unusual because when I'd used their service before, they were always there ahead of schedule. So I went in to call them. No answer! I left a somewhat frantic message wondering where they were and why they now had all my money and I had no transportation to the airport. Then I called by every five minutes or so until I finally got an answer. Debbie asked where we were when their driver was there...then I understood the problem. You see, our original flight was supposed to leave at 3:30, so our pickup time was for 1:45. But, our flight schedule changed at the last minute, so when the driver that picked us up asked us what time we needed to leave on our departure day, I told him of our new flight time (6:00) and we agreed on a pickup time. Yet they still sent a driver to the resort at the earlier original time. Fine, they screwed up - what were they going to do to get us to the airport on time? They said they'd have a van at the resort to collect us in 15 minutes. About 20 minutes later, someone showed up. I say "someone" because he was not a Tiffany driver. He loaded the luggage in the van in the craziest way I'd ever seen and we left for the airport.
By now I was very afraid we would miss our flight. The driver didn't help matters. I don't know enough about the route to the airport to know where we were, but suddenly we were pulling over on the side of the highway and the driver was radioing someone because he didn't know how to get to the airport!! Thankfully, someone told him what to do and we made it to the airport, not that it mattered because we were very close to missing our flight, and even if we did make it on, our luggage probably wouldn't. Because of this, we opted for curbside check-in. I worriedly asked the USAir clerk if he thought our luggage would make it onto the plane in time and he said, "Sure, your flight isn't scheduled to go out until 9:25." WHAT??
Okay, I suppose it was a blessing in disguise - if it had been on time, we might have missed the flight. We checked our bags and wandered to our gate and settled in for the three-hour wait. Thank goodness for all those goodies I'd bought for the boys. They spent lots of time using the markers and Mickey stencils and playing go fish with the Lion King deck of cards. Finally the aircraft arrived and we were able to leave for Philadelphia. When we arrived, the limo was waiting there for us - finally, transportation that worked as planned! What a contrast to that ride 9 days ago - we were alert and simmering with excitement on our way to the airport. Now we were tired, the troubles of the afternoon and evening having tapped our last reserves of energy. Suddenly, that bright idea of driving back to New York after the flight didn't seem so wise, but we pressed on, making it to our apartment at a little after 5 a.m. on Monday, October 18. (Here Joe would like me to stress that HE drove while I slept...but I'm the one who had to be at work the next morning!)
As you might know, All-Star Movies (ASMo) is the newest of Disney's value resorts. These resorts are aimed at families and those wanting to experience the magic of staying on-site at a more affordable price. Each features larger-than-life icons of its theme: Sports features giant footballs and basketballs; Music features giant instruments.
The resort is at the end of Buena Vista Drive, just past its Sports and Music "sisters." A brushed metal sign marks the entrance that features that staple of Disney resorts - a security guard and gate. This is one thing I like about WDW hotels - I always feel safe. The entrance to the lobby is marked by a giant (30-40 foot tall?) gold star of the same brushed metal as the entrance sign. To the left of the glass entrance doors is a Bell Services desk where you can leave your luggage for storage or delivery. Through the glass doors of the entryway is Cinema Hall - the resort center. To the right of the large, open space is the front desk...complete with a roped-off queue area to control check-in lines. Along the back wall of the counter is a mural of "Hollywood", including a painting of whatever building it is at Disney in CA that has the dwarves holding up the roof instead of columns. Part of the front desk is reserved for Guest Services. This is where you can make priority seatings and handle other arrangements of this sort.
Across from the front desk is a little theater with a big screen TV and a few rows of movie theater-style seats. Disney animated features are show here for little ones to watch while parents are busy checking in. Small activity packs are also available at the desk to keep kids occupied. (I noticed that very few parents supervised their children in this area when we were checking in.) There are also rows of benches along this side of the lobby that are perfect for sitting and waiting for others to handle check in, etc.
Just past these benches is an alcove with restrooms and a bank of telephones. There are both pay phones and house phones for calls within WDW and local calls.
Turning left past this alcove takes you to the bus stop exit. Here is where the buses load and unload passengers for all WDW destinations. There are a few wire benches here (not very comfy). Also, the overhang is "supported" by giant letters that spell out "All-Star Movies". The "Ls" make for nice benches, too. Part of the stop area is covered, but two of the stops are beyond the overhand, out in the open.
Back inside, just inside bus stop doors you'll find Donald's Double Feature - the resort gift shop. They sell a large selection of resort-themed merchandise, millennium-themed merchandise and some general WDW stuff (saying "Walt Disney World" instead of any specific park). They also sell some character themed stuff, toys and a variety of other stuff. There is a cooler with milk, juice, some other staple items and beer and wine. Small snack items are also available. Though they aren't displayed, stamps are sold here, too.
Just past the shop is Intermission Hall, the hotel food court. The different food counters are made to resemble old-fashioned movie theaters with names like "Rialto" and "Bijoux." Each has a different type of food service - hot sandwiches and burgers, pizza, entrees, baked goods, etc. There is a large bank of coolers with milk, juices, pudding, Jello, fruit, salads, etc. Small boxes of cereal, trail mix, etc. are also available. Beyond the registers is a counter with microwaves and toasters for preparing bagels, muffins, etc. In the center of the dining area is a round drink service area. They serve Coca-Cola products, Hi-C fruit drinks and Minute Maid lemonade. Hot water is available, as are tea bags, half and half, lemon wedges, sugar, and hot chocolate mix. There are also dispensers for condiments like ketchup and mustard. Large cart-like things store napkins and wrapped plastic utensils, along with paper plates and bowls.
Along the wall outside the gift shop and food court is a photo display of stars past and present. It's pretty interesting to look at - one of the nicest details at the resort, in my opinion.
Just around the corner from the front desk side of the lobby is a set of doors that lead to the rest of the resort. Directly in front of these is the Fantasia pool. It features a Sorcerer Mickey fountain (that almost never worked during our stay). To the immediate left is the pool bar and a screened-in outdoor dining area.
Just to the left of the pool is a small play area for children with a squirting whale. This is right in front of the laundry facility. My mother, who did laundry during her stay, reports that the facility was very clean and she had no problems using it.
Further left past the pool is the Toy Story section. We thought this location was very convenient, all things considered. There is a security guard posted at almost all hours to keep people from climbing all over the giant figure of Woody. There is a small courtyard with a giant "door" entrance - it's all set up to look like Andy's room from the movie, complete with blocks, Bo Peep and other items. This area is pretty cute...good for photos!
Just behind the pool is the Fantasia 2000 section...this location is also pretty convenient to the pool and resort center. My parents' room was in this building, but they were towards the back end of one building, so they didn't notice much noise. They had a king room (smoking) and I thought this detail was odd - the bathroom had a hand-held shower head. I thought these were only available in disabled-access rooms with roll-in showers, but they had a tub.
Behind the Fantasia section is the Love Bug area...it must be much more quiet back here, but seems a little bit of a hike to the resort center.
I didn't explore much beyond this, but the 101 Dalmations area is just to the right of the Fantasia pool and the Mighty Ducks area is beyond that.
On to the room itself...our room had two double beds, each covered in a multi-colored spread featuring icons of all the All-Star resorts. I presume this is so they can use any bedspread at any of the three resorts. There was a small table between the beds with a telephone and one drawer. Inside the drawer is a resort postcard - many people never look in the drawer and don't realize that they provide these postcards for free. They make nice souvenirs or scrapbook material! Across from the beds is a small table with two chairs. On the wall above that is a light fixture that looks like a box of movie popcorn. On the wall beside the beds is a movie poster from Toy Story. The entire room had a wallpaper border of Toy Story characters. (In the other sections, these details would reflect the appropriate movies.)
Moving right along that wall opposite the beds...next to the table was a teal and black chest of drawers, on top of which a color TV sat. (At the moderate and deluxe resorts, the TV is housed inside an armoire with a little more storage space.) The vanity was teal and black as well and features one sink and the usual set up of ice bucket and glasses. To one side was a nook with a clothes bar, an overhead rack and a small safe. To the other side was the enclosed bathroom. The bathroom is done in black and white tile with a filmstrip border in the tile on the walls and a black shower curtain with white stars. This was the cutest part of the room, in my opinion. On the shower wall was a dispenser for liquid soap and shampoo/conditioner. Definitely bring your own if you are picky...theirs always leaves my hair feeling dry.
A recap of the hits and misses from my and Joe's perspective:
Traveling with family with a well-detailed plan. The plan was the only thing that saved us from complete meltdown on occasion and gave us the confidence to ad-lib, knowing there was a solid plan to fall back on when needed.
Chef Mickey's. Still the best way to begin a trip - wonderful character interaction, great food.
Cinderella's Royal Table. Wonderful food, fairytale atmosphere. Well worth the effort of calling at 7a.m. for two mornings in a row to get the priority seating.
San Angel Inn. One of our favorites. The food is wonderful and the atmosphere is very nice - lively and romantic all at the same time!
Prime Time Caf. One of the best meals in terms of total experience. The food was wonderful, the company was great and the service was fast and funny!
Having a car. Being a bit spoiled by deluxe resort transportation, it was a great convenience to have a car at ASMo. I love Disney transportation, but with the crowds at ASMo, the last thing I wanted was yet another long, crowded bus ride.
Illuminations Cruise. The best $110 I've spent at Walt Disney World. The show itself was magical, but the cruise made it a million times more special. It was THE defining magical moment of the trip.
Rock N Roller Coaster. Love the music, love the launch, love the loops, love the ride!
FastPass. It's fast. It's easy. ("Wait in lines? We don't need to wait in no stinkin' lines!")
Pin trading. Here's where I'm tempted to say "the boys really enjoyed this", but who am I kidding? I really enjoyed it!
Millennium Celebration. What better place to honor this particularly special "moment" in human history than in a place that celebrates all the diversity the world has to offer and can dream of for the future?
The Many Adventures of Winnie-the-Pooh. Wonderful, whimsical attraction - all the charm of Fantasyland of old and a pure delight for everyone in our group.
All-Star Movies. Here I want to emphasize that I'm just speaking for Joe and myself. The Randbys loved the resort. We thought it was a good deal for the money, but we'd rather pay more for a bigger room, more food choices, a less crowded/noisy atmosphere and better transportation. And if the chlorine in the pool was stinging my legs when I just soaked my feet, I can't imagine what it would have done to my eyes if I'd swam! I'm sure some people will read this and think I'm off my rocker (the resort is very popular), but Joe and I both said if we could change one single thing about the trip, the resort would have been it.
Millennium Village. Not impressed.
Journey Into Your Imagination. I was no great fan of Figment, but I still don't see how this ride re-do is an improvement.
Whew. Almost done! Thanks for coming along with me on this trip down the Main Street of my memories. If you've read this far, you must truly be a Disney trip report fanatic! As I type this, I'm exactly one month away from another trip - 4 days at the Yacht Club with my sister and her boyfriend, and a little under 120 days away from a trip with Joe for 4 nights at the BoardWalk Inn (ahh, my favorite) and 2 nights at the Grand Floridian. Stay tuned, at the rate I'm going, you should see reports for those trips out in, oh, I'd say around Labor Day of next year! Thanks again for reading...feel free to e-mail me with any questions!