Arnold van Beverhoudt- December 2003
Time of Year: Holiday
Travel Method: Plane, Rental car
Ages Represented in Group: Adult
WDW Experience Represented in Group: Infrequent
Comments: Arnold and his wife Helen were in a position many of us would find a little unusual. They live in the Virgin Islands and their doctors recommended they get away from it all for a while and relax. So it was off to Florida and a lengthy stay at Disney World, their first as empty nesters.
Arnold van Beverhoudt -- December 2003/January 2004 -- Walt Disney World (CBR)
Cast of Characters
Arnold, 53 -- confirmed Disney-holic who owns all the Disney animated features on DVD or VHS:
(5 WDW trips: Summer 73, 83, '89 and Christmas '92, '97 -- 1 DLC trip: Summer 85)
Helena, 54 -- my wife, also a big Disney fan, but not as intensely as I am:
(4 WDW trips: Summer 83, 89 and Christmas 92, 97 -- 2 DLC trips: Summer 72, 85)
Although Ive been reading every trip report posted to Mouseplanet over the past two years, this was our first Disney trip during that time and this is my first trip report. I hope you find it entertaining and useful in your own WDW trip planning.
By way of background, I work as an auditor with the U.S. Department of the Interiors Office of Inspector General in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. Our office is responsible for checking up on how the V.I. government spends the Federal grant money it receives for such things as public education, health care, highway improvement, and so on. Helena is an accountant and worked for many years with the V.I. Department of Finance. In fact, thats where we met -- during one of my audits. You could say she was my best "audit finding." :-) She now manages some residential rental units owned by her Mom.
Although wed love to visit a Disney park at least once a year, the high airfare from our home in St. Thomas to the mainland U.S. makes that simply prohibitive. Therefore, weve always tried to make the most of our infrequent trips, often staying a full two weeks. This time we combined a 10-day visit to WDW with a trip to Florida for medical checkups. However, this trip was different from our previous Disney trips because it was the first since 1983 without our daughter, Selene.
Based on what Ive seen in other trip reports, I think that our Disney touring philosophy is a bit different from the majority of Mouseplanet readers. The most striking difference is that were simply not into the high intensity thrill rides. We go to WDW for the shows, parades, character interactions -- in other words, the overall atmosphere. Ill ride some of the tamer thrill rides, like Big Thunder Mountain, Star Tours, and Body Wars; but Helena will only go on the leisurely rides like Its a Small World, Pirates of the Caribbean, etc. This philosophy guided our planning for this trip, which was our third Christmas-time visit.
Mouseplanet regulars know that a trip to WDW puts a premium on advance planning -- often to such an extent that it takes away some of the spontaneity. But we went along with the expected program.
Once we knew we were going to be traveling to Florida in December 2003 for some medical checkups and a visit with our daughter (Selene) and son-in-law (John) at their new home in Port St. Lucie, we decided to include a visit to WDW. Selene and John wouldnt be able to accompany us to WDW because they had already used their vacation time for the year -- maybe next time.
Since staying in an on-property hotel for the first time in 1989, well probably never again stay off-property. The room rates are usually higher than off-property, but the perks and the overall excitement of the Disney-themed resorts makes the extra cost worth it -- at least for us. The only problem is that although wed like to spend time in some of the more upscale WDW resorts, theyre simply more expensive than we can justify. So, the next best thing is a choice of one of the moderate resorts. For our 89, 92, and 97 visits, we stayed at the Caribbean Beach Resort [CBR] and were completely satisfied with the rooms, the overall quiet ambiance and theming, and the relative convenience of the central location. We had originally considered staying this year at either Coronado Springs or Port Orleans, but settled again on CBR mainly because of CBRs central location. Coronado Springs is on the western part of the property near Animal Kingdom, while Port Orleans is on the eastern side near Downtown Disney. CBR is near both Epcot and Disney-MGM Studios and also centrally located to the Magic Kingdom.
In early June we began checking rates and settled on a package that included ultimate park hopper passes, a couple of lanyards and collector pins, and an option of another feature (we went with the Leave a Legacy tile at Epcot). Since we were visiting at Christmas time -- the peak attendance season of the year -- we knew we couldnt wait too long to make reservations. We made our reservations in late July at a total cost of $2,380. That works out to $119 per day for each of us, including the cost of park admission.
Next was to plan out what activities and dining opportunities we wanted to take advantage of. First off, we noticed that the last night for Mickeys Very Merry Christmas Party was December 19, the same date we were planning to arrive. So, we quickly called up to purchase two tickets for our first time at this special event. The total cost was $80. We also decided to book reservations for the Hoop Dee Doo Revue (at Fort Wilderness) and the Spirit of Aloha Luau (at Polynesian Resort). We also booked reservations for the Candlelight Processional dinner package (Teppanyaki Grill at Epcot/Japan) and the Fantasmic dinner package (Brown Derby Diner at Disney Studios).
Lastly, taking a break in the middle of the day at each park is important for us to rest up for an hour or two before tackling the afternoon crowds -- especially at the busy Christmas time. What had worked well in our prior trips was taking the time for a leisurely sit down lunch each day. Except for the four nights when we had special dinner show reservations, lunch would be our big meal for the day, with a light breakfast and a light snack for dinner. On the appointed dates (90 days out) we made priority seating [PS] reservations for Sci-Fi Dine-in (at Disney Studios), Liberty Tree Tavern (at Magic Kingdom), Kona Cafe (at Polynesian Resort), and Garden Grill (at Epcot/The Land). We also planned to have lunch one day at Bongos Cuban Cafe (at Downtown Disney/Westside) and on our departure day at a Boardwalk eatery.
Our schedule for visiting the parks was somewhat arbitrary, but we definitely wanted to be in the Magic Kingdom on Christmas Day. We knew this would be the most crowded day to visit that park, but on prior trips (92 and 97) we had thoroughly enjoyed the excitement in the air at the Magic Kingdom on Christmas Day. Our PS at Liberty Tree Tavern was intended to give us a bit of a break in the early afternoon and still allow us time to see the afternoon edition of the Christmas parade.
We didnt have a detailed plan for actually touring the parks, other than we wanted to be sure to hit all of the new attractions since our 1997 visit. Of course, this included the entire Animal Kingdom park! Also, because Helena recently had knee surgery, we wanted to minimize the amount of walking. Therefore, we wanted to avoid backtracking from one side of a park to another. Because we would be devoting two full days to each of the four main parks, we planned to tour one side of each park one day and the other side the next day. Hopefully, with the use of Fastpass wed still be able to minimize the amount of waiting in line.
Getting from St. Thomas to WDW wasnt really an issue because we already were going to be traveling on American Airlines direct flight to Miami for medical checkups and would have a rental car while in Florida. We checked on the air fares on a regular basis all summer long and finally saw the rates begin to drop in late September. We booked our reservations at $485 each (normal fare around $700 each), and purchased our tickets online. We also reserved a mid-sized car with Avis at $210 per week (including taxes and fees) for pickup and return at Miami International Airport. We were going to be in the Deerfield Beach area for our medical checkups from December 13 to 18, drive up to WDW for our December 19 to 28 stay, drive down to Port St. Lucie on December 29 to visit with Selene and John over the New Years holiday, and finally drive back down to Miami for our January 6 return flight to St. Thomas.
In summary, our itinerary looked like this:
Sat 12/13: AA flight from St. Thomas, VI to Miami, FL
Sun 12/14-18: Medical checkups and some Christmas shopping around Deerfield Beach, FL
Fri 12/19: Drive to WDW, check-in at Caribbean Beach Resort, evening reservation for Mickeys Very Merry Christmas Party
Sat 12/20: Animal Kingdom, evening reservation for Spirit of Aloha Luau
Sun 12/21: Animal Kingdom, evening reservation for Hoop Dee Doo Revue
Mon 12/22: Disney Studios, evening reservation for Fantasmic with dinner at Brown Derby Diner
Tue 12/23: Disney Studios, lunch PS at Sci-Fi Dine-in
Wed 12/24: Epcot, evening reservation for Candlelight Processional with dinner at Teppanyaki Grill
Thu 12/25 Magic Kingdom, lunch PS at Liberty Tree Tavern
Fri 12/26: Magic Kingdom, lunch PS at Kona Cafe
Sat 12/27: Epcot, lunch PS at Garden Grill (character dining)
Sun 12/28: Downtown Disney, lunch at Bongos Cuban Cafe
Mon 12/29: Hotel check-out, lunch at Boardwalk, drive to Port St. Lucie, FL
Tue 12/30-1/5: Visit with Selene and John
Tue 1/6: AA flight from Miami, FL to St. Thomas, VI
What Actually Happened:
Saturday, December 13:
The Plan: AA flight from St. Thomas, VI to Miami, FL
We got up at 5:30 am, dressed, had breakfast, and drove to my brothers home. He drove us to the airport, where we arrived at about 7:30 am for our 10:00 am departure. Check-in and security clearance
were uneventful, and our flight was one of the smoothest weve ever had to Florida. We arrived on time, quickly got our two checked bags, and took the Avis shuttle to their parking complex. There was only one other customer in front of us, and the attendant kindly offered us a free upgrade to a Buick Century after seeing how tall I was. Off we set to Deerfield Beach -- about 50 miles North of Miami -- where we would be staying with my sister and brother-in-law for a few days.
Sunday, December 14 to Wednesday, December 17:
The Plan: Medical checkups and some Christmas shopping around Deerfield Beach, FL
Our medical checkups went well and we only have to followup again next year, unless we have any medical problems before that. We also took some time to do some shopping for clothes, which we boxed up and mailed back home, and for Christmas gifts for family wed be seeing while in Florida. We also visited with my sister and brother-in-law, including having dinner one evening at Little Havana II, a highly recommended Cuban restaurant on U.S. 1 in Deerfield Beach.
Monday, December 15:
The Plan: Request special room assignment at CBR
Four days before our scheduled arrival date at WDW, we faxed a room request to CBR for a first floor room in the Martinique section, with Trinidad North being a second choice. We explained that because of Helenas knee surgery, we wanted to avoid having to deal with stairs to a second floor room and also wanted to keep the walks to and from Old Port Royale to a minimum. Hopefully theyll honor our request.
Thursday, December 18:
The Plan None
Because our medical appointments and other commitments in Deerfield Beach were taken care of earlier than expected, we decided to break up our drive to WDW into two segments. On December 18 we drove to Port St. Lucie -- about 100 miles North of Deerfield Beach -- and visited with Selene and John for one night. This gave us our first opportunity to see the new home they had moved into just before Halloween. The drive up I-95 was uneventful, and we found Selene and Johns home without any problem. We had a nice family reunion, since we hadnt seen Selene and John in almost a year.
Friday, December 19:
The Plan: Drive to WDW, Check-in at CBR , Mickeys Very Merry Christmas Party
By 10:00 am the next morning, we had re-packed our rental car and set out on the Florida Turnpike for WDW. We made one rest stop along the way and had lunch at a Burger King, then got back on the Turnpike. By 2:00 pm we were on the Osceola Parkway following the WDW signs. But I missed the turn-off to the Epcot area resorts, and we found ourselves approaching the parking lot to Animal Kingdom. A quick check for directions from the cast member [CM], and we were headed back the other way, this time finding our turn-off and the CBR entrance without any more miscues. Turnpike tolls were about $8.50.
We drove up to the Customs House, and were soon in line to check-in. There were only a couple of other families in line in front of us, although all of the check-in stations were also busy. After a wait of not more than 15 minutes, CM Nancy was helping us with our check-in and giving us a packet of information on CBR and the current happenings at WDW. Our room was ready, and it was a first-floor room in the Martinique section -- just as we had requested! CM Paul at the guest services desk helped us get our tickets for the Hoop Dee Doo Revue, Spirit of Aloha Luau, and Candlelight Processional dinner package. He also printed out for us a complete schedule of all of our reservations, including PS meals. He said that wed have to get our Fantasmic dinner package tickets at Disney Studios on the date of the event.
A short drive later, we were at our Martinique building (room 2316) and unloading our stuff from the rental car. We had some time before we had to be at the Magic Kingdom for Mickeys Very Merry Christmas Party, so we went ahead and unpacked our suitcases and just relaxed for a while watching the WDW informational videos on the TV. The room was quite comfortable, and had two full-size beds (we had opted to save a few dollars by not requesting a king-size bed), a four-drawer armoire that also held the TV, a round table with two chairs, a bench, and a night table between the two beds. The bedding and matching window curtains were brightly colored and cheerful. A separate curtained-off area held a small, open closet and a wall safe plus a long vanity counter with two wash basins. A separate small room housed the toilet and bath tub. And -- surprise -- an art print on the wall was a painting of the Disney Magic cruise ship in port at St. Thomas! Overall, we were pleased with the room, and couldnt have wanted anything more. This would be our home for the next 10 days.
We had been told that we could get our Christmas Party wrist bands at the entrance to the Magic Kingdom beginning at 5:00 pm and then would be allowed to enter the park. So, around 4:30 pm we went to the CBR bus-stop (which, happily, was only a few steps away from our building) and waited less than 10 minutes for a WDW bus to the Magic Kingdom. There was already a crowd gathering at the entrance to the park, but clearing security was a breeze and we were soon going through the turnstiles with our wrist bands on.
Our first steps onto Main Street USA were magical! We were "home" again! A helpful CM offered to take our picture with my digital camera, and then we were off, joining the other Christmas Party-goers. Since we hadnt eaten dinner yet, we decided to grab a bite before the party festivities were scheduled to start at 7:00 pm. We had never before eaten at the Crystal Palace, so we took a chance and walked up to the podium, and were able to get seating with only a 10 minute wait. Boy, were we surprised to find ourselves at a character dinner, with Pooh, Tigger, Piglet, and Eyore making their rounds! We had no idea that we had just been lucky enough to walk into a character dining opportunity without any prior PS reservation. Our CM Rand explained the set-up for the buffet and took our drink order, and we were off to sample the great food. Besides the main entrees of carved prime rib, ham, and turkey, there were all kinds of salad and side dish options, plus a dessert table to die for. As we ate and enjoyed the festive atmosphere, we had great photo opportunities with both Tigger and Pooh. What a great way to start a Disney vacation!!! The total cost for dinner was $55 including tip.
By the time we finished dinner, it was after 6:00 pm, and we had been told that the park would be closing to guests who didnt have wrist bands for the Christmas Party. Those of us with the wrist bands were to gather in the Tomorrowland section and enjoy the rides there until the Party officially started at 7:00 pm. So, we proceeded in that direction and were soon enjoying our first ever ride on Buzz Lightyears Space Ranger Spin. I controlled the spinning of the car and managed to luck out by hitting some high-score targets. I ended up with a score of 210,000 and Helena scored 41,000. To be honest, I had a bit of an advantage, because I knew what to expect from having read all of those Mouseplanet trip reports, which Helena hadnt had the opportunity to read.
We then got in line to have our complimentary photograph taken. This was being done in the entryway to the now-closed Extra-Terror-estrial Alien Encounter attraction. It took about 15 minutes for us to get to the front of the line, and our two complimentary 4x6 photos were waiting for us in the mail when we got back home a few weeks later. They came out good enough for us to order a 5x7 enlargement for a Mickey frame we had bought during the trip.
By this time, people were beginning to fill up the Galaxy Palace Theater for Mickeys Twas the Night Before Christmas show. This was a lively retelling of the classic Christmas poem by Mickey, Minnie, and the usual cast of Disney characters, singers, and dancers.
Next on the schedule was a special night-time presentation of Mickeys Very Merry Christmas Parade. We found excellent viewing spots right in front of Cinderellas Castle. This was immediately followed by a presentation of the new Wishes! fireworks show, which was followed soon after by Celebrate the Season stage show on the forecastle stage. This show was a rousing musical, and I remember parts of it from Mickeys Jolly Holidays dinner show that we had attended during our Christmas 1997 trip to WDW.
Although more activities were planned for the rest of the evening, by this time it was about 11:00 pm, and we were getting tired from our long day. So, we began heading towards the exit. A short wait later, we were on the bus back to CBR. I made some notes of the days happenings, showered, and joined Helena in bed, where she was already asleep.
By the way, during the evenings activities, we experienced the coldest weather we have ever been subjected to. Remember, Helena and I both were born and raised, and have lived all our lives on St. Thomas, where the temperature almost never drops below 70 degrees. Well, the reported overnight temperature at WDW on December 19 was in the low 30s! Its a good thing we had the forethought to pack long-johns, various sweaters, and leather jackets that we were able to layer to keep ourselves warm. There were some other 40 degree nights during our time at WDW, but this one night was the coldest -- Brrrrr!
Saturday, December 20:
The Plan: Animal Kingdom, Spirit of Aloha Luau
Today we started a morning routine that we would keep to pretty much throughout our stay. We got up at 6:00 am, showered and dressed, then headed out to Old Port Royale for breakfast. I just love the banana nut muffins at Old Port Royale (Id been craving them since our 1997 visit), and basically had one muffin and a mug of coffee for breakfast each morning. Helena had an eggs and bacon breakfast a couple of days, but most mornings also settled on a routine of French toast and coffee. We bought refillable mugs on the first day at a cost of $24 for two, and the muffin and French toast ran us about $8 each morning. After breakfast, we headed back to our room, packed our backpacks, and headed to the bus stop to start the days activities.
Today, we were off to Animal Kingdom for what would be our very first visit to this park. It hadnt yet been opened when we last visited WDW in 1997. We were going through security and then the turnstiles by 9:00 am. Our first impression was that the park was huge and its layout somewhat confusing because you always have to backtrack to Discovery Island to get from one area to another. But this didnt detract from our enjoyment of the park and its attractions. Our feeling coming into this trip was that we would maintain a low-key attitude and see what we could during the time available.
Our first stop was to marvel at the Tree of Life and the surrounding gardens, then we headed to the Its Tough to Be a Bug 3D movie. There was practically no line at all in front of us, so it was essentially a walk-on. The show was hilarious and the "special effects" really added to the experience.
Next, we headed to Camp Minnie-Mickey for the Festival of the Lion King. The covered theater was already half-filled, but we easily found good seats and joined in the pre-show activities -- we were in the "giraffe" section. The Lion King music is among our favorite, and Helena and I thoroughly enjoyed the live renditions and the acrobatics and antics of the tumble monkeys and other characters.
A short walk away was the small outdoor arena for Pocahontas and Her Forest Friends. We were seated a bit more than half-way back, and our view of the stage was somewhat restricted. But we still enjoyed the music, the appearances by the small critters, and Pocahontas environmental message.
Because we wanted to get the stage shows done first, we then headed back across Discovery Island to the Asia section for Tarzan Rocks. Since the next show wasnt starting for a while, we took the opportunity to walk-on to the Dinosaur ride. Surprisingly, Helena agreed to go along although she really had no idea what to expect. Knowing that the dino-critters werent real, we werent startled by them, but we found the bumpy ride in occasional total darkness to be a bit unnerving. Wed still ride it again on another occasion, though.
By this time we headed over to the Tarzan Rocks theater. We really werent sure what to expect from this show, but how could we not like it with the great live renditions of Phil Collins songs from the "Tarzan" animated movie. The rollerblade stunt team was interesting, as were the aerial acrobatics by the Tarzan and Jane characters, but to us the real star of the show was the music.
We then did a quick walk-through of Chester and Hesters Dino-Rama. Im not sure what to make of this section of the park. It certainly stands out in complete contrast to the more realistic atmosphere of the rest of Animal Kingdom. But, if you accept it as simply a recreation of a county fair set-up, with thrill rides and rows of carnival games, I guess it could be entertaining for the younger crowd. Our walk-through was enough for us.
It was now about mid-day, and we decided to stop at the Flame Tree Grill for chicken sandwiches. They were good -- but nothing special -- and cost $19 including soft drinks for both of us. We then headed out for the Kilimanjaro Safari ride. We had purposely left this popular attraction for later in the day because the morning had started out quite cold (low 50s) and we figured that not many animals would be out in the early part of the day. We made the right decision, because we were still able to just walk-on to a safari bus and there was a big variety of animals out and about, including a resting lion. Of course, we managed to stop the poachers and save Little Red.
Exiting the safari ride, we took to the Pangani Forest Trail. We saw some animals out and about, but unfortunately, the gorillas were in hiding and we only saw one at a distance playing with what looked like a blanket or some type of bedding.
Next, we were off to Asia and did the Maharajah Jungle Trek. This walking tour was more interesting, mainly because the tigers were in full view. What magnificent animals they are! I always tend to think of them as big pussycats, but I have no desire to meet one "up close and personal." :-)
I would have taken a ride on the Kali River Rapids, but the temperature was still only in the low 60s. So, I didnt want to get wet. Instead we just went to the over-look bridge and watched other riders for a while.
By then, it was time for the next showing of Flights of Wonder. We had a pretty good seat near the front and right at center stage. To our surprise, just before the show started, Paige Davis -- the popular host of TLCs "Trading Spaces" -- and her family were escorted to seats in the first row. I had almost as much fun watching Paiges enthusiastic reaction to the show as watching the show itself. We didnt try to intrude on her private time with her family, but I lucked out in that, in taking a picture of a hawk flying low over the audience, I also caught Paige in the lower right corner of the frame. After getting back home, we emailed the picture to Paige at the "Trading Spaces" email address -- we certainly hope she received it.
After the Flights of Wonder show, people had already started to line up for Mickeys Jammin Jungle Parade. Soon, Rafiki was coming around the corner asking the crowd if we were "ready to party." The infectious music made this a fun happening. It was now very close to park closing time, so we headed for the exits and, after a wait of only 5 minutes, were on our bus back to CBR.
When we arrived at our room, we were surprised to find a towel turkey sitting on one of the beds and two towel bunnies on the vanity counter holding our toothbrushes. There was also a note next to the bunnies that read: "We missed you and hope you had lots of fun today." These nice touches from housekeeping are all part of the Disney magic. Incidentally, we took the advice of other trip reporters and left a tip for housekeeping each day in an envelope. This assured us that the person who cleaned our room would get the tip.
Our original plan was to attend the Spirit of Aloha Luau at the Polynesian Resort, but this was cancelled because of the cold weather. Luckily we were able to reschedule for December 26. Instead, after freshening up, we went to the new Shutters restaurant at Old Port Royale and had great slices of prime rib with all the fixings. The servings were so large that we simply didnt have room for dessert. Our CM Stephanie was very attentive, and the cost of dinner was $61 including tip. It was then back to our room, take some notes of the days activities, review the days digital pictures, and to bed.
To simplify writing this report, Ill just summarize the shopping activities at the end of each days section. I was amazed at the large number of park music CDs that were available (Id never found any during previous WDW trips), and kind of went overboard, buying almost every park CD I could find. At the Calypso Trading Post at Old Port Royale, I bought five CDs and a dozen key chains for my co-workers back home, and Helena got a couple of nightshirts. Total cost, a whopping $206. At Animal Kingdom, I bought two more CDs, a pack of postcards, and a T-shirt at a total cost of $87. Nobody said that Disney prices were cheap!!!
Sunday, December 21:
The Plan: Animal Kingdom, Hoop Dee Doo Revue
We got up at 6:00 am and went through our daily morning routine. Since we had pretty much covered everything we wanted to see at Animal Kingdom the day before, we decided to instead get a head start on our touring of the Magic Kingdom. Besides, today was early entry day. As luck would have it, our 15 minute wait for the bus was one of the longest of this trip, and we didnt arrive at the Magic Kingdom until at about 8:30. Security was again no problem, and we were soon going through the turnstiles. We had two photos taken by a Disney photographer, and we picked up 8x10 copies of both later in the day -- cost $32.
Our plan was to hit Fantasyland first because we knew that this area can get very crowded very quickly. We were able to do straight walk-ons to Snow Whites Scary Adventure, the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Mickeys PhilharMagic, Cinderellas Carousel, Peter Pans Flight, and Its a Small World. Winnie the Pooh and PhilharMagic were both new attractions for us, and we enjoyed them both. Of course, we also enjoyed the other old favorites.
One thing that I realized throughout this trip was how much I had missed on previous visits to WDW because my face was stuck looking through the viewfinder of an 8mm or video camera. On this trip I had decided to use only my new Fuji 3800 digital camera. As a result, I really saw things in the dark rides that I had simply missed on prior trips. I came away with a new appreciation for such rides as Peter Pan and Snow White.
Helena and I then headed over to Liberty Square, and again were walk-ons to the Haunted Mansion, the Liberty Square Steamboat ride, and the Hall of Presidents. Again, without the video camera these attractions were like new experiences for me. We especially enjoyed the relaxed boat ride and the great views of Splash and Big Thunder Mountains, Liberty Square, and Frontierland.
All of this was accomplished by 12:00 noon, and after the Hall of Presidents, we stopped by Pecos Bills for a couple of burgers. They have the best fixings bar there. The burgers, fries, and drinks cost $16. Unfortunately, I had a small accident while throwing out the trash, as a gust of wind upturned a half-filled paper cup and spilled Sprite all over my jeans.
We next headed to the Country Bear Jamboree for a rousing Christmas performance. Again, either the show was slightly different than I remembered it or I had simply missed some of the performances because of being a video-hound on our prior trip.
By now, the crowd was beginning to build, and getting onto popular rides was becoming more of a challenge. I had decided, even before leaving home, that I was going to ride Splash Mountain for the first time on this trip. Helena, however, wanted no part of getting wet. Well, the weather was in the upper 60s today and I had on my leather jacket. So, I decided to do Splash Mountain. The standby line was about a 15 minute wait, so I got in line and was soon seated alone in the third row of my log. Theres really a lot to see on Splash Mountain, and the lively music from "Song of the South" is certainly infectious. Finally, the big moment arrived for the big drop and -- suddenly my prized Tigger baseball cap was flying off of my head and then just as suddenly I had a face full of cold water! The drop itself was a non-event for me, as I was so upset over losing my Tigger cap. Helena said that, as she and other onlookers were watching, everyone yelled out "There goes his hat!" just as my log went down the flume. The ride picture caught me just before my cap departed the scene, so I bought it as a reminder of how I lost Tigger. Would I ride Splash Mountain again? Certainly, but Ill know better than to ride with a hat on.
Next up, we decided to ride Pirates of the Caribbean. The standby line turned out to be 25 minutes (although we didnt realize that going into it). To make matters worse, the adult family group in front of us was rather obnoxious, continuously trying to play "tag" with each other in that closed environment. We enjoyed the ride itself, as we always do, but were glad to be out of there and away from that family.
It was now around 2:30 pm, and we had reservations for the 5:00 pm showing of the Hoop Dee Doo Revue. So, we decided to call it a day and took the bus back to the CBR. After resting a bit and freshening up, we were again on the bus back to the Magic Kingdom to catch the boat over to Fort Wilderness. Weve always enjoyed that boat ride, although it was a bit chilly this afternoon and we had to sit in the uncovered section of the boat.
We arrived at Fort Wilderness around 4:00 pm, registered and had our photos taken -- cost $23. After a short wait, during which we just sat and people-watched, we were let into Pioneer Hall. Boy were we surprised to be escorted to a table at front and center -- and I mean "FRONT" and center! Our table was right up against the front of the stage, and we were subjected to some ribbing during the show. For example, I was teased about having butter at the corner of my mouth and later Helena was told to watch me because I was looking at the dancers legs. :-) As expected, the Hoop Dee Doo Revue was a completely enjoyable event. Great home-style cooking (ribs, chicken, all the fixings, plus delicious strawberry shortcake) and great entertainment. The cost for the Hoop Dee Doo was $98 for both of us. A boat and bus ride later, and we were back to our hotel room by 8:00 pm.
Except for buying the official WDW photographs taken at the Magic Kingdom and at the Hoop Dee Doo Revue, we didnt make any purchases today.
Monday, December 22:
The Plan: Disney-MGM Studios, Fantasmic dinner package at Brown Derby Diner
Another 6:00 am awakening and through our usual morning routine. While at Old Port Royale, we decided to buy a Pal Mickey. We had read about Mickey in Mouseplanet and other Disney-related web sites, and thought it would be fun to have him around. However, we found Pal Mickey to be a big disappointment. Although we could hear his jokes just fine in our room, with all of the background music and noise in the park (Disney-MGM Studios), we simply couldnt hear a word he was saying. Helena carried Mickey all day, pinned shoulder-height to a strap of her backpack. But even so, she said that although she could feel Mickey vibrate when we got near a new attraction, she couldnt hear what, if anything, he was saying. At the end of the day, we packed away Pal Mickey and eventually gave him to Selene so that she can try him out whenever she next visits WDW.
After a short wait for the bus, we arrived at the Disney Studios front gate just at 8:30 am. There was a huge crowd lined up to get in, but even so, getting through security and the turnstiles went rather quickly. But then we all had to wait on Hollywood Boulevard for the official rope drop at 9:00 am. While waiting, a Disney photographer took a picture of Helena and I, which we later bought at a cost of $18 for an 8x10. We were amazed and amused at rope drop when about 90% of the crowd made an immediate right turn onto Sunset Boulevard and headed towards Hollywood Tower of Terror and Rock n Roller Coaster. We, along with the remaining 10%, of the crowd continued up Hollywood Boulevard. Others later branched off to the left or right, but we continued straight ahead, past the Sorcerers Apprentice hat, and onto the Great Movie Ride.
Speaking of the Sorcerers hat, I can accept it as the new "icon" of Disney-MGM Studios, but agree with many who have said that its placement right in front of the Chinese Theater should be changed. I think it would be better placed just outside of and to the left or right of the main entrance gates.
Back to the Great Movie Ride -- as usual, it was a fun look at the history of the movies through vignettes of well-known scenes. We had the gangster take over our ride vehicle and later disappear at the Temple of Doom.
After the Great Movie Ride, we headed right and over to the Voyage of the Little Mermaid. This early in the day, it turned out to be a direct walk-on and was as much fun as ever. Again the combination of great music and the Disney magic of illusion makes for a great show.
Our next stop was the Magic of Disney Animation tour. The hilarious film with Robin Williams and Walter Cronkite is no more, having been replaced by a presentation by a live CM (probably an actress rather than an actual animator) playing opposite a screen version of Mushu, the dragon from "Mulan." This was entertaining, but still not as good as the old film. What came next was one of the most depressing experiences of our entire trip. We were directed into the animation studio tour area, where we were supposed to guide ourselves through the tour, unlike the former tour guided by Robin and Walter. Many people in our group didnt really know what was going on, and were surprised that no one was working in the now-empty animation studios. My eyes actually began tearing up at the sight of all of the empty and dark animation stations. What an absolute shame that the Disney Company is turning its back on the great tradition of the company that Walt Disney started so many years ago. Why cant they just realize that its not a question of traditional versus computer animation, but the quality of the story that makes the difference between a "Finding Nemo" and a "Brother Bear?"
Leaving that depressing tour behind us, we next went to Who Wants to Be a Millionaire - Play It! We arrived just as the next show was about to start, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Although Helena and I literally knew all of the answers in the rounds that we sat through, our fingers just werent fast enough to get us onto the top 10 board.
We next walked through the One Mans Dream exhibit and were somewhat disappointed by how empty this was. If there were a dozen people in here with us, it was a lot. I personally have a lot of respect for the wonderful creative and marketing genius of Walt Disney. He knew what people liked and how to keep them happy. Too bad more visitors to Disney Studios didnt take the few minutes to tour this tribute to the man who made everything possible.
Next was the short, but interesting Making of the Haunted Mansion exhibit. Then we went on the Studios Backlot Tour. The water tank segment of this tour has changed since our 1997 visit, and now features special effects from the "Pearl Harbor" movie. The tram section of the tour was very abbreviated because the residential street section of the park was being dug up for a new auto stunt show thats coming in a year or so. Other than Catastrophe Canyon, there wasnt very much to see from the trams.
Now back on New York Street (also undergoing some renovation), we then went to see the Muppet-Vision 3D movie. We just love the Muppets, and always get a laugh out of this show. We then made one of the biggest mistakes of our trip -- we got in the standby line for Star Tours, not remembering the deceptive way in which the line snakes around inside the building. To make matters worse, there was a continuous stream of Fastpass riders. Eventually, after a 45 minute wait, we finally got to ride our Starliner into the trench of the Death Star. Helena came along on this ride for the first time and overall enjoyed it, although she thought it was a bit too jerky.
Because of the long wait in Star Tours, we missed the 3:00 pm Stars and Motorcars parade, so we went to Sounds Dangerous. This was a rather interesting presentation, where youre in total darkness most of the time and have to imagine the troubles that Drew Carey is getting himself into just from the sound effects. There was one lady who, even after having been warned that the show was mostly in the dark, brought a little baby into the theater. What a mistake that was! The baby started bawling and a CM had to find the lady with a flashlight and escort her and her baby out.
It was now almost 4:00 pm, and we had a 5:00 pm PS at the Brown Derby Diner as part of the Fantasmic dinner show. We went ahead, anyway, to the podium and were actually seated after a wait of only 5 minutes. Helena and I both had filet mignon, with creme brulee for dessert. Our CM David was quite attentive, and we had fun trying to identify the celebrity drawings on the walls. The total cost, including tip, was $88. A bit steep for just two people, but the food was all excellent. You may have already noticed that Helena and I arent adventurous eaters. Wed pass up a gourmet meal with all kinds of creamy sauces for a juicy steak or a well-seasoned grilled chicken breast. Where we tend to get into trouble is on the rich desserts. :-)
After dinner, we got our passes for the reserved seating section of the Fantasmic theater and started in that direction for the 6:30 pm showing. What can I say about Fantasmic that hasnt already been said by others? Its just a wonderful and magical night-time water, light, and fireworks extravaganza featuring Mickey and a host of evil villains. Its just great!!
The day ended with us following the mad crush of people exiting the Fantasmic theater and trying to make our way to the park exit. Luckily, we didnt have a long wait for a bus back to CBR and the much needed comfort of our beds.
Todays shopping at Disney Studios consisted of a polo shirt, a couple of collector pins, a book on Disney imagineering, a DVD about two of the original Disney animators, a Fantasmic CD, and a package of postcards. Total cost was about $159
Tuesday, December 23:
The Plan: Disney-MGM Studios, lunch PS at Sci-Fi Dine-in
This was the middle of our WDW stay, so we decided to sleep in a little late and get some laundry done. We got up around 7:00 am, had our usual breakfast, then spent a couple hours taking care of the laundry. We were then ready to head back to Disney Studios, arriving there at around 11:00 am.
We first went to take in the Beauty and the Beast stage show, which was beginning in about 15 minutes. The acapella quartet that entertained before the main show was just wonderful. We could have listened to them longer. The main show we had seen several times before, but again, I was seeing it in a whole new light since I didnt have my eye stuck to the viewfinder of a video camera.
We were next planning to go to the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular, but it was already packed and we overheard a CM tell someone that the crowds were unusually large today, so we got Fastpasses for the 4:30 pm showing and decided to instead try to get into Millionaire - Play It! We were lucky to again get in just as a show was about to start and, again, knew the answers but just werent fast enough to get on the top 10 board. How frustrating that can be! Somebody, please tell me, whats the trick?
After Millionaire we decided to take a chance at the Sci-Fi Dine-in, although we were 45 minutes early for our 2:00 pm PS. We were seated within 15 minutes, which saved us a half hour. Hopefully that would give us enough time to finish eating and get good viewing spots for the Stars and Motorcars Parade. At the Dine-in, our CM Willie got our burgers and side salads to us in good order and, after paying the $40 including tip, were out to get spots for viewing the parade.
The parade was actually called the Hollywood Holly-days Parade, and was a Christmas version of the Stars and Motorcars Parade. In either case, we had never seen this one before, so it was a treat to see the characters driving down the lane in their fancy vehicles.
From there we stopped at the L.A. Cinema Stage, where CM Amy served us. We got into a little conversation with Amy about our home island of St. Thomas since she was planning a vacation cruise that would include a stop there. Throughout our visit, Helena was very attentive of the name tags of the various CMs we came in contact with, trying to identify those who may have come from any of our neighboring Caribbean islands. We noted and chatted with several from Puerto Rico.
We then headed back to Indiana Jones and got into the Fastpass line just ahead of others with tickets for the same 4:30 pm show. This show was slightly different than I remember it from past visits. One thing I know for certain is that during our 1997 visit I was disappointed that the final scene, where Indy fights a German mechanic near an airplane that blows up, was not shown. I was glad to see it included again this time.
On the spur of the moment, we decided, after Indy, to head over to the Fantasmic theater to see that spectacular show a second time. We were able to get pretty good seating on the opposite side of the arena from where we had sat the night before as part of the dinner package. Actually, tonights seating was better, and I was able to get better digital pictures of some segments of the show. The only disadvantage to staying for Fantasmic was having to again fight the huge crowd leaving the theater.
Once we were back at CBR, we went to Old Port Royale for a light dinner that consisted of a slice of pizza for me and chicken strips for Helena at a cost of about $12.
Shopping today was a little more restricted, consisting of another polo shirt and a childs T-shirt at a total cost of $59 at Disney Studios, and some kitty treats (for Selenes cats) and a new baseball cap at CBRs gift shop at a total cost of $40.
Wednesday, December 24:
The Plan: Epcot, Candlelight Processional dinner package at Teppanyaki Grill/Japan
A 6:00 am wake-up and our usual breakfast routine led to our arrival at Epcot at about 8:45 am. The park was already open, but lines were very small, so we immediately went on a ride aboard Spaceship Earth. This is probably the "dinosaur" of rides at Epcot, but its still entertaining and well-done. It could probably use a bit of updating, but Id hate to see it go away.
Next up was Test Track. I had been disappointed during our 1997 visit that Test Tracks opening had been postponed beyond the time that we were there. Now, some 6 years later, I was finally getting a chance to ride this one. Helena came along for the ride and was a real trooper, despite the fact that she doesnt like thrill rides. As a big auto racing fan, I found Test Track to be exhilarating, especially the banked curve runs. The ride photo was pretty good, so we bought a copy at $14.
We then backtracked to the Wonders of Life pavilion, where I rode Body Wars. Helena passed on this ride when I told her that I had remembered it as being a good deal rougher than Star Tours. We both then did Cranium Command and then walked over to the Universe of Energy pavilion to see Ellens Energy Adventure. Although I had every intention of taking in the new Mission: Space ride, I purposefully skipped it today because I was concerned about all the stories of people coming off with motion sickness. During the past couple of years I had started suffering from recurring bouts of vertigo and didnt want to mess up our vacation by activating it on Mission: Space. What I planned to do was to ride Mission: Space on our last day at the theme parks. (More on Mission: Space later.)
Helena and I started across to the other side of Future World, stopping along the way to sample the international drinks at Ice Station Cool. We both agreed that Beverly was somewhat bitter, but didnt find it as awful tasting as wed been led to believe by other trip reports. My favorite was the sweet taste of the Japanese veggie drink. I think Helena liked that one best also.
Our next stop was at the Imagination pavilion, where we did walk-ons of Honey, I Shrunk the Audience and then Journey into Imagination with Figment. I have to agree with those who think that this new version is better than the one without Figment, but not as good as the original. We did a quick walk-through of Imageworks, but didnt hang around too long because most of the hands-on exhibits were occupied and we didnt feel like just waiting around until they were free.
Next up was the Land pavilion. We saw that the line to the Living with the Land boat ride was very long, so we got Fastpass tickets for later. We then saw Food Rocks. I guess Helena and I enjoy this because the music is from our generation and we can relate to the caricatures of the various artists. Too bad its going away permanently. But we are looking forward to the under-construction Soaring Over California ride.
After Food Rocks, we stopped by the food court, where Helena had chicken strips and I had a grilled chicken sandwich. Cost $21, including fries and drinks. The time was now up for our Fastpass, so we got in that line and were soon sailing through the hydroponics farm. As opposed to Food Rocks, Im not sure why this ride is so popular. Its interesting, but certainly not thrilling like Test Drive. After the boat ride, we sat in on the Circle of Life movie with Timon and Pumba as Africa development builders in a tale of environmental mayhem.
We started in the direction of the Living Seas pavilion, but saw that the line was all the way outside the building, so we did a quick walk-through of Innoventions and then headed to the Leave a Legacy monument to find two tiles that Selene and John had left during their WDW visit in late 2002. One tile had both of their faces and the second had the message "Glad to see you [meaning Helena and I] were able to make it back. Love and Peace, Selene and John." That was real thoughtful of them!
We then returned to the Living Seas, and the line was now almost non-existent -- Im not sure how to explain that. This attraction seems to be less involved than I remember it from past trips. There was a small, new area with displays based on or tied into "Finding Nemo" and the diver lockout tank is still there. We were in time to see a demonstration of this. But I seem to recall that the main fish-viewing area was much more extensive than it was this time. Maybe Im mistaken.
It was getting into late afternoon by now, so we took the ferry boat over to World Showcase so that wed be closer to the Japan pavilion for our 5:30 pm PS at the Teppanyaki Grill. We went to the restaurant a half hour early, but still were seated within 10 minutes. We shared the table with a family of six from Pennsylvania, consisting of a couple, their two pre-teen daughters, and a set of grandparents. We struck up a pleasant conversation with them about our respective hometowns. Our Teppanyaki chef was a real character and kept us entertained as he prepared our meals at the table grill. I had the steak/chicken combo, while Helena had just the chicken. Overall the food and atmosphere were very good. The cost was $84 including tip.
We then went to the American pavilion and just sat around for a while people-watching until it was closer to time for our 8:15 pm Candlelight Processional. Believe it or not, people actually started lining up for that at 6:45 pm, although seating for dinner package guests was in a reserved area. Eventually the show time arrived and we were let into the reserved area. What an improvement over the "last row" seating we had on our 1997 trip without the dinner package. The narrator was Robby Benson (the voice of Beast in "Beauty and the Beast"). The music was as inspirational as we had remembered, and just the perfect touch for Christmas Eve.
After the concert, we stayed in the area to watch Illuminations: Reflections of Earth. It was good, but somehow just didnt have the "drive" of earlier versions that we had seen. Certainly the music was very mellow compared with the rousing rendition of the 1812 Overture that accompanied some of the earlier versions of Illuminations. I also missed the use of lasers to project animated scenes onto Spaceship Earth. The show was followed by the mad rush through World Showcase and Future World back to the bus stop. We just went with the flow and didnt try to rush ahead. Eventually we got to our CBR bus stop and didnt have to wait more than 10 minutes for the next bus back to the hotel.
Shopping today consisted of a couple of Test Track die-cast models for our two nephews and a visor for Helena at a total cost of $59 and two Japanese fans from Mitsukoshi at a cost of $75.
Thursday, December 25:
The Plan: Magic Kingdom, lunch PS at Liberty Tree Tavern
Today was the big day! We got a wake-up call from Mickey at 6:00 am, had a surprise goodie bag hanging on our door courtesy of the Disney Vacation Club, and exchanged gifts (a Swarovski crystal squirrel figurine for Helena and a Mickey Mouse polo shirt for me). We did our usual breakfast thing and were at the bus stop hoping to get to the Magic Kingdom as early as possible. Our wait wasnt too long, but we still arrived at the gates only at 8:30 am, instead of the 8:00 am opening time.
We knew that today would have horrific crowds in the Magic Kingdom, but we wanted to be there on Christmas Day. We entered the park with absolutely no expectations of how much we would be able to do today. But we were actually pleasantly surprised. We walked down Main Street USA, stopped at the Partners statue for a picture or two, and then went straight through the Castle and walked onto PhilharMagic for our second viewing. This 3D movie is so much fun! My only complaint is that its too short.
From there, we backtracked to the main entryway to Adventureland and were walk-ons to the Jungle Cruise. Our captain was not as enthusiastic as some others weve had, but he was better than others who seemed to be bored by the whole thing. I was almost tempted to get in line to ride again because most of the good stuff to photograph was on the other side of the boat. But I resisted that temptation.
Instead, we went over to the Enchanted Tiki Room, which we hadnt done in a long, long time. The addition of Iago and Zazu is cute, but this is obviously not a very popular attraction based on the small audience. After taking a few pictures of Aladdins Flying Carpets -- but not riding -- we headed across the promenade to Tomorrowland.
First up was the Timekeeper, which is still entertaining despite the now-quaint circlevision technology. We then traveled on the Carousel of Progress, which seems to have a few minor updates from the last time we saw it. The Tomorrowland Transit Authority was next and, is it my imagination or does this travel much faster than it used to? I tried to take some scenic pictures of Tomorrowland, but the ride vehicle went zipping along so fast that all of the pictures were blurred. We intended to next try to get onto Buzz Lightyears Space Ranger Spin for another go at the evil Zurg, but the standby line was already posted for almost an hour and Fastpasses were into the afternoon hours. So, we just skipped it. At least we had been able to enjoy this ride during the Very Merry Christmas Party on December 19.
Neither of us wanted to ride on Space Mountain, so we walked past the Indy Speedway, taking a couple of scenic pictures, and entered Mickeys Toontown Fair. This area was also beginning to get very crowded, so we basically just walked through, taking in the sights but not entering any of the buildings. We made our way to the Toontown railroad station and rode the train around to Frontierland.
We then headed over to the Liberty Tree Tavern, where we had a 1:00 pm PS for lunch. The wait here was about 20 minutes. When we were finally seated, our CM Eric took our drink orders and was soon back with the first course of our all-you-can-eat traditional Christmas turkey dinner with all the fixings. The total cost, including tip, was $51. When we were finished eating, we exited the Liberty Tree Tavern to find that huge crowds were already lined up to see the afternoon parade. At this point, the crowds were becoming overwhelming. So, we headed back to the Frontierland railroad station and rode the train to the Main Street station, where we exited the Magic Kingdom.
We headed back to CBR and just relaxed the rest of the day in our room, with both of us getting good, long naps. Later in the evening we walked over to Old Port Royale and both had chicken salad sandwiches for dinner at a cost of $15.
We didnt do any shopping on Christmas Day.
Friday, December 26:
The Plan: Magic Kingdom, lunch PS at Kona Cafe/Polynesian Resort
We got up at 6:00 am and decided to change our plans for today somewhat. First, we decided to make a morning visit to Animal Kingdom to see if we could see more animals than on our visit earlier in the week. The weather was certainly warmer today, so hopefully theyd be more active. Also, since we had rescheduled the Spirit of Aloha Luau for this evening, it didnt make much sense for us to also go to the Polynesian Resort for our lunch PS at the Kona Cafe.
After breakfast, we caught the bus over to Animal Kingdom, arriving around 8:30 am. We were able get a couple pictures of both of us taken by a Disney photographer, and picked them up later in the day at a cost of $32 for two 8x10s. We then were able to walk-on to the Kilimanjaro Safari ride, and were immediately glad that we had changed our original plans. Many more animals were out today and we were able to get some nice pictures.
From there, we went back on the Pangani Forest Trail and again were rewarded by a lot of activity from the gorillas. One in particular seemed to be a real attention grabber. At first he/she was sitting with its back towards us humans. But then it turned around and seemed to pose, standing almost upright with a hand resting on one hip. Another stood against a rock with its arm draped over it looking at the strange humans. Yet another was fast asleep against the viewing glass. On our way back through Discovery Island, we stopped for a few minutes in the Mombasa area to enjoy the Africa musicians.
We then took the train over to Rafikis Planet Watch, which we hadnt done on our earlier visit to the park. The behind the scenes displays and activities here were interesting, but there wasnt too much activity going on in the veterinary station. After the ride back on the train, we headed over to the Maharajah Jungle Trek and yet again were rewarded with more animal activity. In particular, the tigers were out in full view sunning themselves. I still say they look like majestic, big pussycats.
Having seen what we had come to see, we exited the park and stopped at the Rainforest Cafe for lunch. This consisted of huge 1/2-pound hamburgers with fries! Our CM Shirley was a little slow in bringing our check, but otherwise the service was good. Total cost was $38 including tip.
We took the bus back to CBR, arriving there around 12:30 pm. After resting up a bit, we got on another bus towards the Magic Kingdom. We entered the park just in time to grab great viewing spots near City Hall for the afternoons Very Merry Christmas Parade.
After the parade, we exited the park and took the monorail over to the Polynesian Resort. We were about an hour early for the Spirit of Aloha Luau, so we just sat in the hotel lobby people-watching. Around 4:00 pm, we started heading out to the luau location, enjoying the scenery along the way. Wed really love to stay at this hotel on a future trip -- maybe after Im retired and we become Florida residents.
Around 4:30 pm, the Disney photographers arrived to take official pictures, which we later bought at $27 for the package. We were then let into the luau theater. We were seated at a table for two that was actually only the second row back from the stage. The show itself is completely different from the original Polynesian Luau show of years past. That earlier show was geared heavily towards showcasing the different cultures and dances of the various Polynesian islands. This new show is based on characters from "Lilo and Stitch" -- specifically, Lilos older sister and her boy friend. The emphasis now is on the concept of "ohana" or "family" and trying to get Lilos sister, who has supposedly just returned from the U.S., back into the spirit of the Polynesian ways. Along the way, there are very short exhibits of various Polynesian dances, but nothing as extensive as in the old show. My verdict is that this new show is better than nothing, but I definitely prefer the original. Incidentally, the food was quite good, and included BBQ ribs, Hawaiian chicken, and a pineapple dessert concoction. The luau cost $98 for the two of us.
The festivities were finished by 7:00 pm, and we took the monorail back to the Magic Kingdom, where we arrived just in time for good viewing spots for the SpectroMagic parade. This is definitely my favorite Disney parade (although we both preferred the Electrical Parade music). But boy is it hard to photograph well! Anyone have any tricks they can pass on?
After SpectroMagic, we caught the bus back to CBR after a long, but very enjoyable day.
Other than the official photographs at Animal Kingdom and the Luau, we didnt make any purchases today.
Saturday, December 27:
The Plan: Epcot, lunch PS at the Garden Grill/The Land
Another 6:00 am wake up call, breakfast, and to the bus stop for a ride to Epcot. We arrived around 8:30 am, had our photos taken at the entrance -- cost $32 for two 8x10s. We now have a complete collection of official photos taken at the four parks plus the Hoop Dee Doo and the Luau. This is an expensive proposition, but it was really the only realistic way for us to get decent pictures of the two of us together. We then stopped by the Leave a Legacy counter to have our picture taken for the free tile that was included in our hotel package.
Next stop -- Mission: Space! In retrospect, I wish I hadnt left this ride until the end. Despite all of the press about people getting sick, I absolutely enjoyed it. Riders are warned several time during the pre-show that during the ride you should keep your head straight forward, not turn from side to side, and not close your eyes. I followed those instructions to the letter and had no problems despite having experienced rather severe bouts of vertigo back home, apparently caused by an inner ear imbalance. Without giving too much away, this ride subjects you several times to the feeling of increased gravity, which is felt as a pressure on your chest and the sensation that your arms are too heavy to lift up. When the increased gravity is stopped, you momentarily feel weightless. I have one word for Mission: Space -- awesome!!! I hope I can convince Helena to ride this one next time. She was really concerned about becoming ill, but I think that problem may have been overstated in the press. I know that the 40 people who were in my group (10 cabins with 4 persons in each) left the ride excited about the experience and none of us looked or acted ill as a result.
After that adrenalin rush, we headed over to the Canada side of World Showcase, which would be the emphasis for us today. We were there before the official opening at 10:00 am, so we just sat on a bench and enjoyed the scenery and the quiet for a while. At rope drop, we headed over to the Canada pavilion to enjoy the O Canada movie.
Next we strolled over to the United Kingdom and browsed through some of the shops, especially enjoying the Winnie the Pooh store. Then it was on to France, where we were the first in line for the Impressions of France movie. After that, we browsed some of the stores and then continued on to Morocco, where we got a leather handbag for Selene. At the Japan pavilion, we browsed through a new exhibit consisting of a fascinating collection of tin (metal) toys made in Japan. Its amazing the variety that have existed over the years.
Then it was on to the American pavilion, where we were a bit earlier for the next showing of the American Adventure. As we waited, we were able to catch the Fife and Drum Corps marching by and also enjoy the acapella music of American Vybe. The main show, of course, was as stirring as ever. Its really a well-done patriotic presentation. After that, we continued on to the Italian and German pavilions, where we again just browsed through the shops. Then at the China pavilion, we caught the new Reflections of China movie.
By this time, we had to start heading back to Future World for our 2:00 pm PS at the Garden Grill. We had done this character meal in 1997 with Selene, and had really enjoyed not only the home-style food but also the interaction with Chip, Dale, and Farmer Mickey. The experience was just as enjoyable this time, as our CM Marc served up delicious cuts of beef, chicken, and fish, plus a great apple cobbler for dessert. We had some fun and good photo opportunities with Chip, Dale, and Mickey; but Pluto didnt get around to our table. The total cost was $51 including tip.
The crowds were beginning to build by this time, but we were determined to finish our tour of World Showcase, so we headed over to the Mexico pavilion and rode El Rio del Tiempo after a 15 minute wait in line. By the time we reached the Norway pavilion, the line for Maelstrom was huge, so we got Fastpasses for a return at 5:30 pm. Since this was a full hour and a half away, we strolled back to Italy and found ourselves a bench where we just sat and relaxed, people-watching and listening to the classical music that was playing over the PA system. At 5:30 pm, we headed back to Norway and rode on Maelstrom.
It was now after dark, and the crowds were really overwhelming as we walked back through Future World to get to the park exits. We also accidentally got caught up in the crowd that was assembled for the nightly Christmas tree lighting ceremony. Eventually, we worked our way out of there and soon after were on the bus back to CBR.
Except for the rush at the end of the day to get to the park exits, this was one of the most relaxed days of our time at WDW. One overall impression we had, though, was that there was a lot less live entertainment than during our 1997 trip. At that time, almost all of the country pavilions had either Christmas storytellers or live musical entertainment out front. This time, about the only live entertainment we saw were the Fife and Drum Corps and American Vybe at the American pavilion, a drum exhibit at Japan, and some statue mimes near Italy. What gives?
Todays purchases included a polo shirt, a baseball cap, and three collector pins at the Mission: Space shop, the leather bag at Morocco, three more music CDs at the American pavilion, and two fleece blankets at a kiosk in Future World. Total cost for these purchases was almost $250.
Sunday, December 28:
The Plan: Downtown Disney, lunch at Bongos Cuban Cafe
We slept in a little today and didnt get out of bed until 7:00 am. Unfortunately, I woke up with a scratchy throat -- a sure sign that a cold was coming on. Despite this, we went ahead with our plans to visit Downtown Disney.
After our breakfast routine, we caught the bus to Marketplace, where we spent a good bit of time browsing through the different shops. We got some bed slippers for both our Moms and Helen got a Grumpy nightshirt at Worlds of Disney for a total of $65. I got four collector pins at Pin Traders for $28. We also got two more CDs, a DVD, a Mickey frame, and a scrapbooking kit at World of Memories for $97.
Because the Pleasure Island section was closed until after dark, we had to walk around this area to get to Westside. There we browsed some more, but didnt buy anything. We then decided to pay a visit to DisneyQuest, but frankly were overwhelmed by the place. Its some four or five floors of video and virtual reality games, and they all seemed to be in use by a large crowd of teenagers and young adults. We didnt stay there more than 15 minutes.
By this time, I was beginning to get a runny nose and starting to feel miserable from the coming cold. But we went ahead and got a table at Bongos for lunch. This restaurant is supposedly owned by Gloria Estefan and her husband. We both had pollo a la parilla, which is a kind of grilled chicken breast seasoned with lots of garlic. The sides included Cuban black beans and rice and tostones, which are fried pieces of plantain. For dessert, we had flan, which is a vanilla custard. The food was good, but frankly I wasnt able to really enjoy it because of my cold. The total cost was $61 including tip.
Our last stop in Downtown Disney was at the AMC Theater to see "The Haunted Mansion." We had missed this back home and thought this would be a good opportunity to catch it. The movie was entertaining, but nothing spectacular. It certainly wasnt as good as "Pirates of the Caribbean."
It was still only mid-afternoon, but we decided to call it a day and headed back to the bus stop for a ride back to CBR. Later that evening Helena went to Old Port Royale and got a few things for us to snack on in our room for dinner, at a cost of about $10.
Monday, December 29:
The Plan: Check-out, lunch at Boardwalk
We again stayed in a little later and got up at 7:00 am. After breakfast, which I hardly ate, we stopped at the hotel gift shop for a few last-minute gifts we wanted to take for family members back home. These cost almost $200. Then we packed our suitcases, packed everything into the rental car, confirmed our express check-out invoice, and headed out of Disney property. We had originally planned to have lunch at a Boardwalk restaurant, but at this point I was feeling rather miserable and Helena was also beginning to get a scratchy throat, so we just dropped that idea.
We traveled back on the Osceola Parkway until the Florida Turnpike exit and headed towards Port St. Lucie, about 125 miles away. We made a quick stop for gas along the way, and arrived at Selene and Johns home by mid-afternoon.
Tuesday, December 30 to Sunday, January 4:
The Plan: Visit with Selene and John and try to see some of the Port St. Lucie sights
By Tuesday morning I was running a fever of over 100 degrees, so Helena and I went to a local walk-in clinic to see a doctor. He prescribed antibiotics for both of us for upper respiratory infections and a cough medicine for me. Pretty much the rest of the week we just camped out on the sofa in the living room and watched TV, trying to keep away from Selene and John.
By Saturday, we were feeling much better and were able to go with Selene to a local shopping mall, where we did a bit of additional shopping for clothes that we needed but couldnt get back home. John had to work that day, so he couldnt join us. On Sunday, the four of us went to lunch at a local TGI Fridays and then went to see the Ben Affleck movie "Paycheck." In the evening, Helena and I packed for the final time.
Monday, January 5 to Tuesday, January 6:
The Plan: Drive to Miami, AA flight from Miami to St. Thomas, FL
We left Selene around 10:00 am on Monday, made a stop at a local post office to mail home a couple of boxes with all the stuff we had bought at WDW and at the local mall. Then we headed out to the Florida Turnpike -- destination: Miami.
The drive was uneventful, and we made a stop at Deerfield Beach for a Burger King lunch and to return my sisters house key. We finally got to Miami around 3:00 pm and checked into a Holiday Inn thats just a few minutes away from the Miami airport. We had previously decided to stay there overnight so as not to have to make an early morning drive from Port St. Lucie to Miami the next day for our flight to St. Thomas.
Tuesday morning, we checked out and went to our rental car to find the battery dead. I called Avis and they told me that we could just leave the key at the hotels front desk and that they would pick up the car later in the day and mail us our invoice. We then took the hotel shuttle to the airport and dropped our two suitcases off at curbside check-in. We went through security and were at the gate for our 11:00 am flight with almost an hour to spare. The flight home was smooth, and my brother picked us up at the St. Thomas airport at 3:00 pm local time (2:00 pm back in Miami) and took us home.
We were in Florida a total of 23 days (not counting the travel days from and back to St. Thomas), and 10 of those days were spent at WDW. Overall, we had a marvelous time at WDW. It was kind of strange being there without Selene, but we had a nice time together as an "empty nest" couple. The trip gave us a chance to get away from the day-to-day hassles of life back home and to just relax something our doctors back home had recommended. The only question I have is: "When can we do this again?"
- Being able to do just about everything we had planned on before leaving home.
- The weather. It was very cold some nights, but we had prepared for that, and the days were always pleasant. Also, there wasnt a single drop of rain the entire time we were at WDW. Now, thats really amazing!
- Not having any ride breakdowns during our visit.
- Getting Helena to ride Test Track, Dinosaur, and Star Tours with me
- Mission: Space -- enough said!
- Experiencing all of the new attractions for the first time, including the entire Animal Kingdom park; Test Track and Mission: Space at Epcot; Millionaire - Play It! and Fantasmic at Disney-MGM Studios; Philharmagic, the Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, and Buzz Lightyears Space Ranger Spin at the Magic Kingdom.
- Having our room request at the Caribbean Beach Resort honored, including having the bus-stop literally only a few steps away.
- Finding all of the great WDW music CDs, which werent available on our prior trips.
- Touring the now-empty and deserted Disney Animation Studios.
- Coming down with a cold before the end of our vacation.
- Not having the opportunity to ride Test Track and Mission: Space a second time.
- Losing my Tigger baseball cap on Splash Mountain.
- Families and other groups who insist on walking four or more abreast, without any consideration for others who are trying to use the same walkways.
- Having to pay for all of those WDW music CDs. :-)
You can view about 100 of our best pictures in a Walt Disney World photo tour on my SandcastleV.I. web site at:
Lastly, Helena and I welcome your comments on this trip report and our online photo tour.
Arnold van Beverhoudt