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Thread: Steve Russo - January 2013 - Old Key West and Boardwalk Villas

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    Steve Russo - January 2013 - Old Key West and Boardwalk Villas

    January 17-27, 2013


    • Steve – Retired potential snowbird and your humble narrator.
    • Barb – The woman who questions everything I say (I think her hearing is going).

    Old Key West Resort (3 nights)
    Boardwalk Villas Resort (7 nights)


    Our last trip was just 7 weeks ago in December 2012. After completing that trip report, I thought that might be my last one. Writing them is an awful lot of work and, quite honestly, I think I’m running out of things to say. It sometimes seems a trip report is just a mirror of the previous one. Nevertheless, something’s come over me and I’ve decided to push through and write this one, doing my best to make it interesting… or at least readable. You can grade it at the end.

    There was not a great deal of planning for this trip. We had decided last February that a January trip was in order. I love January trips because I like low crowds and getting out of the Northeast in the dead of winter is a good thing – in this case, it was a great thing but I didn’t know that then. We also booked these dates to give us a third trip before our Annual Passes expire. As it turns out, thanks to a last minute call in June to cover the Golden Oak press event, this will be a fourth trip on the APs – a personal best!

    We initially booked the 7 nights at the Boardwalk Villas and later we tried to add on the first 3 nights – making this an 11 day / 10 night trip, our longest ever! Unfortunately, the Boardwalk was not available (and the waitlist never came through) so we settled for the first 3 nights at Old Key West. I had stayed at Old Key West only once before, in January 2003. We had a 1-bedroom that trip and there are two things that stand out in my memory: the 1-BR at Old Key West was much larger than the same accommodations at the Boardwalk (as was the balcony), and; it was verrrryyyy cold for most of the week we were there. That was the trip where I sprained an ankle playing basketball but there’s no chance of a repeat this year.

    I tried valiantly to get a deal on a rental car but, in the end, failed miserably. With 10 days, we were hoping to do a little exploring: maybe a trip to Cape Canaveral and some local scouting for potential snowbird accommodations. We’re at least considering the possibility of extending these trips to weeks or months in the coming years. Over the past few trips, I’ve been able to score great rates ($97/week for a minivan and $57/week for a mid-size) but nothing this time. About the best I could do was $200 for the 10 days – it’s not a bad rate but it’s $200 more than Magical Express and… did I mention I’m retired? I even tried for a shorter rental, picking up a car at Alamo’s counter in the Dolphin but it appears there’s a significant premium for not renting at the airport. Ah, well… we’ll just drink the Kool-Aid this trip and be slaves to the evil empire that is Disney.

    Day 0 – Wednesday, January 16, 2013
    With apologies to Peter, Paul and Mary… Well my bags are packed, I’m ready to go. I also played the Southwest Boarding Pass game and got B05 and B06 for us. Daughter Michelle was nice enough to volunteer to chauffeur us to the airport in the morning so we set the alarms for 3:00 AM and hit the sheets around 10:00.

    Day 1 – Thursday, January 17, 2013 – The Great RADP Mini-Meet (If you don’t know what RADP is, visit
    As is so often the case, we’re up before the alarms. I swear the alarm clocks are just an insurance policy we’ve been paying on for years and have never collected.

    Michelle pulls up right on time at 5:15 AM. We had a bit of snow overnight but nothing too serious. The roads are slushy and wet and I tell Michelle to be careful on the ramps and bridges. They typically freeze first and what looks wet could be black ice.

    We make it to Albany International in good time and hug Michelle goodbye, with sincere thanks for getting up a bit earlier to provide this service for us. At one time or another, all three of our kids have served as airport chauffeur and it’s certainly appreciated.

    We check our two bags quickly and make it through Security. After my last two trips, and the associated pat-downs I’ve endured, I’ve smartened up and now put my wallet in my hand before entering the full body scan thing. By the way, I once read that each time through this scanner shortens your life by 47 minutes. 47 minutes! If you opt out of the scan, you’ll need to be physically inspected which, I’ve heard, can take about 45 minutes. I opted for the scan. At least that time will come off the end of my life.

    No pat down this time and we boarded on time, got de-iced, and took off about 5 minutes late. The flight was scheduled for 7:15 – 10:45. We landed at 10:10. I have no idea why the flights from Albany to Orlando are continually listed at 3:30 when every pilot tells us flying time is 2:30. The return flights only allow 2:45. Is there some anomaly in the space / time continuum that only occurs flying south out of Albany? I don’t expect an answer but I’ve been curious for years.

    The flight is mostly uneventful. It’s full – every seat taken – and reasonably smooth. We hit two areas of turbulence but neither lasted more than about 10 minutes.

    We landed early, as I mentioned, and made our way to the Disney’s Magical Express corrals and found we were first in the Old Key West line. Mixed blessings there. While I love to be first in line or, more specifically, I love being “next”, I also realize we probably just missed a bus.

    Luckily, we only wait about 5 minutes when were ushered on to a Disney’s Magical Express bus. We wait about 5 more minutes for additional passengers and luggage to load, and then we’re off. We made a quick stop at Riverside to unload a few guests and made it to Old Key West at 11:25.

    Now… if you remember my check-in at the Boardwalk last month, I was greeted by name when I exited the bus, brought into the lobby and told to wait by the carousel while the lovely cast member retrieved my keys and welcome package. Here? Not so much.

    No greeters that I could see. We made our way into the lobby and entered a short line for the front desk. There was a cast member stationed at the “Online Check-In” window but she was preoccupied keying into her workstation. Eventually, she looked up and said, “Can I help you?”

    Turns out Mary Beth was “earning her ears” and did a fine job for us. She needed help from a more senior cast member, Pat, when I asked if there was a room ready now. When I did the Online Check-In, it offers two requests you can take advantage of: Ground Floor Room and; Near Hospitality House. I checked both although I would easily give them up to get a room earlier.

    After a bunch of keystrokes, Pat asks, “Do you need a ground floor room?” No, not really. A few more keystrokes and she found a room in Building 64, near the Hospitality House, and also on the ground floor. Great!

    As I’m sure most of you know, the new Key to the World cards use RFID technology. When you receive them, you’re asked to enter (and re-enter to verify) a Pin number. You only need to tap your card against the door reader for access to your room and, what’s important to me, you don’t need to take it out of your wallet. I use a leather business card wallet at Disney. It’s the perfect size to hold my Key to the World card, Annual Passes, Tables in Wonderland, ID and any Rewards cards I may have. I now only need to take it from my pocket and place it near the door reader for room access – the card never has to come out.

    We head off to room 6417 and I’m fairly certain we were in this building on our other stay at Old Key West in 2003. I was right. We were in 6426, a 1BR above where we are now. 6417 is an OK room, sort of oddly shaped but good sized. Upstairs, we had a very large balcony and a view of the island green of a par 3 hole on the Lake Buena Vista golf course. Here, we had a tiny patio that barely held two chairs and a small table. The view was a couple of shrubs and the living room of the 1-BR next door. Ah, we’re only here for 3 nights so it’s not a big deal.

    We freshen up a bit and head to Olivia’s for lunch. There’s a few tables filled with business folks, presumably on a break from a seminar or other function. I found this a bit odd as I didn’t think Old Key West was a hot property for business meetings. They seem much more prevalent at the Swolphin, Coronado Springs, Contemporary, etc.

    Barb had (most of) a turkey club and Diet Coke. I had the lunch special: a 3-way salad, which was a scoop each of egg salad, chicken salad and tuna salad served with fruit on a bed of lettuce. That was surprisingly good and I washed it down with a Mango Iced Tea that was less so. The tab, after Tables in Wonderland was $33 with tip.

    We hit the store to shop for half-and-half (for coffee) and butter. I did notice an Old Key West t-shirt that I liked but didn’t pull the trigger. We walked back to the room and Barb lay down for a quick nap while I set up the laptop and got that running. I’ve had an awful time with the laptop at Disney World – even though it works just fine from home and other locations. The specific issue is being able to send email from my primary email address (1 of 3 I use). I can receive email on all 3 and have no issues sending from the other 2. I played with it a bit and, after several test email, finally found the right combination of server settings so everything worked as it should.

    There was a knock on the door at 2:00. Disney’s Magical Express delivering our luggage. We took a few minutes to unpack – I can’t live out of a suitcase – even for just 3 days. While unpacking, I realized I forgot to pack a swimsuit. Keep in mind, I had ironed shirts and shorts and had them neatly stacked on a bed in our guest room for about 10 days. I’ve added things to the pile as time passed and could swear a swimsuit was one of the added items. Nope. I should point out the swimsuit I thought I packed was one purchased at Animal Kingdom Lodge last June – black with a little Mickey figure at the bottom of one leg. Either I forgot to pack it or one of the TSA bag checkers is giddily wearing it right now.

    We head out at 3:15 for Epcot. I’ve been communicating over the last week with Lisa Cubbon and we’ve agreed to meet at 5:00 today at the Rose and Crown. Lisa and her husband, Andy, have been here since Monday and are heading home tomorrow. I also have a tentative meeting set up next week with Sandi and Amanda, two other RADPers who are now local. Amanda’s husband, Joe, will also be in town and attending that one. Lisa informed me, in her last email, that Sandi and Amanda might also make the Rose and Crown meet.

    At the bus stop, we see a bus for the Magic Kingdom, Downtown Disney, Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom before the Epcot bus arrives. I have a theory that says the bus you need will always be the last one. Once again, this proves it.

    When we first arrived, the temperature was mid-70s and it was sunny and pleasant. A cold front was moving through and now it was windy, cool and jackets were required.

    We arrive at Epcot and… I’m such a Crescent Lake Snob! We stay so often at the Boardwalk and Beach Club that entering Epcot through the main entrance is sort of foreign… and more crowded. This is where we first notice that a number of turnstiles have been converted to the new Mickey-head, RFID variety – getting ready for the full implementation of the Next Generation Initiative which seems to have morphed to MyMagic+. The ultimate media, wristbands (termed Magic Bands) are not yet available but, if you’re staying in a Disney Resort AND you have your admission media on your Key to the Kingdom card, all you need to do is touch your card to the Mickey head receiver, watch it light up green, and enter the park.

    Unfortunately, it’s not available for Annual Passholders yet so we queued up with the riffraff and waited forever as people fumbled getting the tickets inserted and their fingers placed appropriately on the scanner. I swear, the more trips I make, the more frustrating this process has become. I can’t wait for my Magic Band.

    Soarin’ shows a 45 minute wait so we grab a Fast Pass for 6:05-7:05. We decide we have the time, so we also enter the Standby queue. I’m betting it’s not really 45 minutes (I would have lost that bet). I pass the time in line, playing with my iPod Touch and the My Disney Experience app.

    If you haven’t seen it, My Disney Experience is the “official” app and is also the terminology Disney is now using on their Web site. In fact, if you have a Disney login, you can make your ADRs online, within the My Disney Experience umbrella, and they magically show up on your mobile device. There’s also a My Itinerary function where you can plan daily activities. The app also allows you to share access with traveling companions so they can see, and even update, the plans.

    Right now, the app is useful for finding you in the parks (or anywhere on property) and showing you nearby options for attractions, dining, restrooms, etc. You can also explore parks and resorts, look at Standby wait times, Fast Pass availability, restaurant menus. You can book or cancel dining reservations and, if my information is correct, someday soon you can get FastPasses via this app. Cool, huh? If you don’t have it, I’d urge you to download it to your mobile device (it’s free) and begin getting familiar with it. I think it’s here to stay.

    During my December trip, I had a less than stellar experience with in-the-park WiFi and the My Disney Experience app. I hoped to perform a more comprehensive test this time. I can say my experience was much better. Keep in mind, with the iPod Touch I rely exclusively on WiFi. If you have a smart phone (iPhone or other), you might utilize your cellular service for connections – assuming you have the available minutes/data in your plan.

    It seemed that WiFi would simply “go away” at times. I learned to mitigate that by renewing the network lease. Thanks to RADPer and Imagineer Admiral Boom, I learned that Disney employs a “complex algorithm for aging out the poorer (and older) connections.” By clicking “Renew Lease”, I receive a new internal IP Address and things begin working normally again. Keep in mind that Disney is attempting to deploy this technology for use across a broad spectrum of phones, tablets, PDAs, etc. and they don’t always work the same way. There will be a few growing pains on the front end.

    In line at Soarin', I learned Test Track was down so it saved me a walk over there. I also searched a table at the Rose and Crown and found one I could book at 6:05, although I didn’t. It’s really a very useful app.

    After a ride on Soarin’, we wandered up to World Showcase and made our way to the UK. We were heading to the restrooms across from the Rose and Crown when I thought I saw Sandi, outside the Rose and Crown. Keep in mind, we’ve never met and I’ve only seen her in photos of RADP meets. When we exited the restrooms, she was nowhere in sight so I assumed I was mistaken.

    We went into the R&C and I ordered a Black and Tan for me and a Stella Artois for Barb. After Tables in Wonderland, this was $17 including tip. Let’s all say it together: “Disney World is the only place I can pay $17 for two draft beers and not have it ruin my day.” To be honest, when you factor in the tip, the cost really isn’t significantly more than a nice bar back home. And here I’m served by people with authentic British accents!

    We grab a bar table (no seats available) and figure we can all stand around it when everyone arrives. In a few minutes, in comes Sandi. She looks at me slyly – she said she only knew I was tall (and I swear I always add “and good looking” in my trip reports). That was Sandi out front – when we exited the restrooms she was off parking her scooter.

    We chatted for a bit and I pumped Sandi for information on local housing. She’s recently moved to the Orlando area and had just rented a condo nearby (waiting to sell her home up north before buying). I had a listing of potential rentals and wanted her opinion on the areas involved. Were they safe? Good communities? Near Disney World? Sandi was very helpful.

    A few minutes later my cell rang. Hearing inside the R&C is not easy but it was Lisa asking where we were. In a few minutes, she came in with her husband, Andy, and had Nick and Nora (Elastigirl and Wall-E on RADP) in tow.

    The first thing I learned is that Lisa pronounces her name “Lih-sa”, not “Lee-sa”. I had a very hard time with this. I’ve been communicating with Lisa, on RADP, for about 13 years. Every time I read one of her posts, my brain thought, “Lee-sa”. Plus… as Mrs. Pezzulo, my first grade teacher, taught me we have rules of pronunciation. And don’t even get me started on Sade.

    Soon, the seven became eight when Amanda joined us. We stood around, sipping beers and chatting like old friends for over an hour. We learned of Lisa’s hot water issues at the Boardwalk (and her comp’ed night because of it). I also got some good recommendations on Todd English’s bluezoo restaurant and something intriguing called a “barrel-aged Manhattan”. We have an ADR there for our last night but I’m now thinking of moving it up in the rotation.

    After an hour, we said our “goodbyes’. Barb appreciated meeting a few of the people she’s heard me talk about and I enjoyed putting faces on a few of the names I’ve known for over a decade. Everyone couldn’t have been nicer and, for my part, it was a real pleasure – even though I’ll still be calling Lisa “Lee-sa” for at least a few years - old habits and all that.

    Barb and I walked back to Future World and used our Soarin’ FastPasses. Test Track was still down so we decided to head out. We were both pretty beat after our early wake-up this morning. The Old Key West bus stop is one of the farthest from Epcot but I found I still had a strong WiFi signal there – pretty impressive.

    There are five bus stops within Old Key West and the Hospitality House is the last one – although I swear it was first in 2003. We drive by it three times before we actually stop and I can get off the bus. Very frustrating. I would also say that whoever designed the bus routes within Old Key West must have his house TPed weekly by the drivers. There are more tight turns than … OK, I don’t have a good comparison here but there are a lot of tight turns.

    Our plan is to grab some dinner to go at the appropriately named “Goods to Go”, bring it back to the room, watch a little TV and turn in early for a good night’s sleep. We grab a Hot Dog dinner (includes fries) and a 1/3 pound Angus burger and learn Goods offers no discounts. No Tables in Wonderland, AP or DVC discount. At a DVC Resort? Inconceivable!

    In the room, we learn that the ice machines are not in each building (where it would have been convenient). They’re located by the pools and *most* bus stops – but there’s no indication of which have them and which don’t.

    We heard fireworks at 8:20. It had to be Wishes but I had no idea we were that close to the Magic Kingdom.

    The lights were out at 9:00. The television was on timer but I don’t think it was 3 minutes before I was sound asleep.

    Things I Think I Think – I think I really enjoyed meeting a few of my fellow RADPers. I think we should have met at Les Halles as Lisa suggested later. It would have been quieter for conversation and offered seats (and sweets). I think I should have packed a swimsuit. I think Old Key West is not my bag, man (in my best Austin Powers). It’s a fine resort but it suffers from not being on Crescent Lake. I think I’m beginning to appreciate My Disney Experience and some of what the Next Generation Initiative is all about. I think Goods to Go should (at least) offer a DVC discount. I think getting four trips on an AP is a good thing.

    Day 2 – Friday, January 18, 2013 – A Great Safari, Kona and a Pats Fan
    I’m awake at 3:00. Part of the reason, I’m sure, is the early wakeup yesterday (my internal clock learns quickly) and the early lights-out last night. The rest of the reason is I heard our neighbor upstairs. Someone’s feet hit the floor, padded across the room and then there was the unmistakable sound of a turbo toilet flush, followed by the padding of feet coming back to bed. I don’t recall hearing this type of thing at other resorts – is it common here at Old Key West?

    I lay in bed, trying to get back to sleep when, at 4:00, I heard our next-door neighbor sneeze. The connecting door is probably the culprit here but it sounded like she was in our room. At 4:30, I gave up and got out of bed.

    I did my usual Disney morning routine of making coffee and updating notes on the laptop while Barb snored happily. After the strong recommendations from Lisa (that’s Lih-sa, dammit! I’ll never remember that) and Andy, and Nick and Nora, we’re thinking of moving our ADR for bluezoo to Monday night, replacing one we have for the Coral Reef. I think I hold the record for Coral Reef ADRs without ever dining there. For some reason, we always think about it and cancel. At any rate, I’ll wait to discuss it with Barb before pulling the trigger.

    I toast an English Muffin for breakfast (breakfast #1 as it turned out) and discover I have plenty of plastic forks and spoons but no knives. I have no problem splitting the muffin with a fork but buttering it is a bit more problematic. It seems I’ve been issuing demerits to Old Key West since we arrived.

    Another strike against Old Key West is that all bathroom fixtures are in the bathroom. Most DVC resorts (all resorts?) give you a sink/vanity outside the bathroom so someone can be brushing teeth, shaving, etc. while another is showering or using the facilities. On the plus side, the shower is great. One of those rain-type shower heads which delivered hot water with plenty of pressure. The shower also had shelves and soap dishes in the appropriate places – something at which most hotels fail miserably.

    After showering, Barb spent time searching the vanity drawers for the hairdryer and came up empty. She asked for help and I politely pointed to the hairdryer mounted on the wall next to the vanity. In fairness, we usually stay at the Boardwalk and it’s always in a drawer there.

    It was a cool 45 degrees when we walked to the Hospitality House and caught a bus for the AK. It’s a little cooler than I’d like but most of our January trips involve a light jacket or sweatshirt in the early morning and late evening. Most days warm into the 70s so mid-morning to mid-evening is fine.

    We’re early and considering the Rainforest Caf for breakfast but when they open the gates a bit early, we instead decided on Pizzafari. This has become Barb’s favorite spot in the Animal Kingdom for lunch so we thought we’d try their breakfast.

    The entry area was now broken up with traditional turnstiles to the left and the newer RFID Mickey heads to the right. There was a cast member directing people while holding a large cardboard Key to the Kingdom Card. I’m guessing a number of people were confused but, hopefully, only once.

    The park opened a few minutes early so we walked with the masses back to Kilimanjaro Safari and caught one of the first trucks of the day. It was a great safari with lots of animals. I got photos of two lionesses sitting on Pride Rock and the male lion actually awake (although he looked a little sleepy). Our guide told us he was an adolescent based on the shortness of his mane, something I could not discern.

    The only downside to the Safari was a 15-minute wait. We could see a truck in front of us, also waiting, so the issue was in front of them. We passed the time watching an elephant eat hay, something that, trust me, gets pretty boring after 15 minutes. We were told the problem was a troublesome ostrich in the road up ahead.

    When we finally cleared, we turned the corner and drove over that rickety bridge very slowly. There was a cast member standing at the front of the bridge and watching. As we approached, she said, “You’ll be alright.” So this convinced Barb the problem was the bridge, not an ostrich. Why else would someone be standing by the bridge? I wasn’t convinced.

    After our two week Safari, we walked to Pizzafari for coffee (yech, Nes-crap-e), a cheese Danish for Barb and a Breakfast Panini for moi. The Panini had egg whites, tomato, cheese, etc. and was quite good and reasonably healthy for a breakfast sandwich.

    After breakfast we walked to Camp Minnie-Mickey for Festival of the Lion King – always a great show. We finally sat in the Elephants section and I was able to trumpet. The scuttlebutt says that FotLK will be moving to Harambe, a better fit, to make room for the new Avatar land but… I haven’t seen anything official from Disney yet.

    We next rode Dinosaur, something we hadn’t done in a few visits, and walked briefly around Chester and Hester’s. Then it was up to walk the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail where I got a great photo of a hippo giving me the stink-eye. We spent a few minutes watching the gorillas do what gorillas do, and then decided on the train ride to Rafiki’s Planet Watch.

    We’ve only been to Rafiki;s Planet Watch once previously and we got to watch as they performed a physical on a Fruit Bat. This time, one of the veterinarian’s was talking to a small crowd, from the lab and through the glass using a microphone, while a turtle was at her feet. The turtle had one foreleg (arm?) bandaged. I posted a photo of that on Face Book and it received the appropriate number of “Awwwww”s.

    It was after noon and we decided to leave. It began misting just a bit on the way out. I was stopped by a cast member and asked to participate in a brief survey. Unless we’re rushing to be somewhere, I always agree.

    One of the replies I gave indicated we were retired so, at the end of the survey the cast member, who told me he was in his 50s, said, “Can I ask you a question? What do you do?”

    His concern was being bored in retirement. I shared the comment I received from a friend when I expressed the same misgivings. “After a couple of months, you’ll wonder where you found the time to work.” I’ve found this to be very true. If you asked me for a breakdown of how I spend my time, I’d be hard-pressed to answer. But I can say that it’s rare when I’m without some type of project or activity to keep me busy. That may change but it’s been 13 months and…so far, so good.

    We walked to the Old Key West bus stop and, again, I found a strong WiFi signal here. It began raining harder and the wind picked up so it was getting miserable. Several folks, including our bus driver lamented that the rain was “not forecasted”.

    While waiting for the bus, and sitting on it during a driver change, I canceled our ADR at Coral Reef on Monday, searched for a table and re-booked Todd English’s bluezoo to replace it, and searched for a table and booked the Kona Caf for dinner tonight. I’m becoming a real fan of My Disney Experience.

    A family boarded the bus after us but, after a conversation with the driver, exited. They apparently wanted to go somewhere other than Old Key West. I see this more and more – people thinking any bus will take them to any park or general confusion over how to get from point A to B.

    As we’re making our around Old Key West, two woman with two toddlers and two strollers board at one of the stops. It was raining but, even if the weather had been stellar, these women were overmatched. It appeared to be a mother/daughter and the strollers were too large for them to handle. If it hadn’t been for the bus driver’s help, they never would have made it on. As it was, they sat in the front of the bus with the strollers only partially folded and completely blocking the aisle. They were headed to a park but I’m not sure how they would handle the exit from the bus and a return trip with the kindness of strangers.

    We exited at Hospitality House and the rain had mostly stopped, or at least slowed to a sprinkle. I wanted to bring some ice back to the room but didn’t want to walk to the room, grab the bucket, walk back here for ice and back to the room again. Have I mentioned it’s inconvenient here? We stopped in the store and I begged a double plastic shopping bag from a cast member and we filled it at the ice machine by the main pool, and then walked to Building 64.

    In the room, we just relaxed for an hour or so.

    Around 4:00, we set out again for the Polynesian and dinner at the Kona Cafe. Naturally, we saw buses to Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Downtown Disney, and Animal Kingdom first. We rode the Monorail to the Poly, first taking note of the construction walls around the center Magic Kingdom turnstiles, apparently getting them converted to the Mickey heads.

    We were a few minutes early so we grabbed a drink at the Tambu Lounge. While he didn’t serve us, we spent a few minutes chatting with Sue Holland Rayford’s friend, Clinta. He told us he was into his second 19 hour shift of the week. Even though they close at 11:30 PM, he was here past 1:00 AM this morning cleaning up. Apparently, they do a major clean-up, wipe-down and disinfecting of all surfaces and bottles each day – mainly due to the humidity (the fountains and water effects in the lobby). I never knew that.

    While we’re sipping our drinks, a Patriots fan (he’s wearing a Tom Brady jersey) sidles up next to Barb and orders drinks for his brood. Now let me begin this discussion by stating I’m a Jets fan. I like to think I’m a reasonably sane fan and act like a gentleman unless provoked. That said, I know some Jets fan (or purported Jets fans) are jerks. I’ve seen it first hand at sports bars and at the stadium. I like to think that’s the minority.

    I’m sure Patriot fans fall into the same categories – some are gentleman (or ladies) while some are complete *****. Unfortunately, I tend to run into the latter. This guy was borderline and we did exchange some (reasonably) good-natured jibes. He also told us he was staying at the Yacht Club for $200/night that he secured on Expedia. I tried that later and couldn’t come close to that rate so he could have blowing a bit of smoke. Eventually, he left for dinner at ‘Ohana and I wished him “good luck on Sunday” – but I didn’t really mean it.

    We finished our drinks and checked in at the Kona Caf. We were seated within 5 minutes. We shared a cucumber roll and an order of pot stickers as an appetizer. Barb had the Coconut Chicken and I had the Ahi Tuna. Both were very good and we washed them down with a Rudy Wiest Riesling and a Simi Cabernet, respectively. I’ve only been here twice but have thoroughly enjoyed the Kona Caf both times. The food has been great, service very good and the prices, by Disney standards, reasonable. It’s become one of my hidden gems.

    After dinner, we rode the Monorail to the Contemporary. They’re offering access to the Top of the World lounge at Bay Lake Towers to any DVC members staying on points so up we went (they did verify us first). It’s a very nice lounge and very much like the California Grill, complete with the outdoor observation deck, but on a smaller scale.

    We each had a coffee and watched Wishes from our table. A word about Wishes from this vantage point, or the California Grill for that matter: Everyone should see it once for the “Wow factor”. It’s cool but… the best view is still from Main Street where the fireworks are centered on and symmetrical around Cinderella’s Castle – as the Imagineers had intended. From this viewpoint, some fireworks explode near the castle while others are seemingly hundreds of yards behind it. The music is still piped in but, at least in my opinion, the “show” is diminished. OK, off my soapbox now.

    There was a problem with broken elevators and only one was working which caused a major backup of people exiting. Rather than wait, we took the stairs (3 flights per floor, 16 stories, you do the math). I was tired of making right turns.

    We walked to the Magic Kingdom and found a waiting bus. We boarded with just a few others. Now… typically, after a park closes, a driver will wait a few minutes for more passengers. Not this guy. When the last person boarded, the door was closed and we were off speeding back to Old Key West. I had the impression this might be his last run of the shift and he wanted to get home.

    He polled the 8 passengers and we only had people for Turtle Pond and the Hospitality House so those were the only stops he made – not that I was complaining.

    We stopped in the store where I grabbed a Diet Coke to quench a thirst and scored a DVC discount of $.26.

    We walked back to our room from the Hospitality House and called it a night.

    Things I Think I Think – I think Old Key West is a fine resort but, for me, it’s just not Crescent Lake. Have I already said that? It’s also noisy. I think we had one of our better Safaris today, even with the delay. I think Pizzafari has become our favorite counter service in Animal Kingdom – although I still like Restaurantasaurus… and Flame Tree Barbecue. I think the My Disney Experience app is becoming a real help. I think I’m rooting hard for the Ravens Sunday. I think the Kona Caf will be on our agenda for future trips. I think I enjoyed the Top of the World lounge but it’s now checked off my Bucket List – there’s no overwhelming need to go back.

    Day 3– Saturday, January 19, 2013 – The Search for Lloyd the Ninjago
    Neither of us slept well. For some reason there was lots of road noise overnight. Our sleep was really a series of short naps and we finally got up at 7:00. We had our usual morning routine and made it out to the Hospitality House bus stop at 8:30.

    The bus stop was crowded and most of the folks boarded a Magic Kingdom bus with us. The bus was standing room only and I stood near a 15-year old kid who sat with his size 13 Nikes in the aisle while he played a game on a cell phone – never once acknowledging the mom standing, and holding an infant, inches in front of him. My mom would have called this kid a Jamoke. I’m not sure of the spelling or the specific meaning but you get the picture. In December, I saw multiple instances of people, often teens, giving up their seats to the elderly or those holding small children. This time? Not so much. Anyhow, I gave him the same stink-eye the hippo gave me yesterday.

    We reached the Magic Kingdom at 8:55 and found huge crowds waiting for the opening show. Some of this is caused by the turnstile construction but this is the start of MLK weekend so we should get used to this for a few days. It’s also warmer today – into the low 70s and sunny which makes it feel even warmer. There’s also very little wind.

    We managed to head all the way to the left and found a turnstile with no wait while most were 20-30 deep. I’m always amazed that people are unwilling to leave a long line for an empty turnstile, even when the lighted arrow indicating it’s open is clearly lit.

    Inside the park, we had a first brush with Brazilians. Over the next week, we’d see numerous Brazilian and Argentinean tour groups, usually led by a flag bearer. Most were OK but several were obnoxious beyond belief. Sandi posted, later in the week, of an experience on a Safari truck with an entire group that were standing, shouting at the animals, ignoring the driver, etc.

    The Main Street Bakery is closed for conversion to a Starbucks and, in it’s absence, the Tomorrowland Terrace is open for breakfast. This may very well be the first time I’ve seen the Terrace open for anything in about 10 years.

    We started in Adventureland and a trip on the Jungle Cruise. It was just OK – our Skipper was adequate but nothing extraordinary. As I reread that, I think I’m being too critical. He was fine. There was just nothing special about it.

    This would be the first time I had difficulty with My Disney Experience. I seemed to have a good WiFi signal but the app couldn’t locate me anywhere in Adventureland.

    We walked up to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and rode with a 10 minute wait listed but it was really just a walk-on. There are lots of new items in the queue that indicate there will be some cool interactive stuff going on. Boxes of explosives and blasting caps are all around and the back wall is lined with cranks and plungers, presumably to blow some stuff up. Can’t wait. By the way, we were 2 of 4 people on our runaway train but, for some reason, they sat us in the first row.

    Next we were looking for breakfast so we found a kiosk in Frontierland that sold muffins and coffee. The muffins were cranberry or… cranberry. We had two and split a coffee (yuck, Nes-crap-e) and took our stuff into Pecos Bill’s to eat. While there, a cast member brought around 5 or 6 new hires and we watched as he instructed them on how to seat people, police tables, etc.

    We then walked to the Haunted Mansion and rode with a 10 minute wait. The Hitchhiking Ghosts switched our heads at the end which is a pretty cool effect.

    Next up was a trip to the “new” Fantasyland and a ride on Journey of the Little Mermaid with a 30 minute wait. I used to have a rule where I would not get in a queue listed at greater than 20 minutes but I seem to violate that more with attractions I want to see. In the queue, I checked My Disney Experience frequently and watched the wait time jump to 40 minutes and then 50 as we exited. It was definitely getting more crowded. I really like this new ride but, as I’ve said before, it features what are probably my three favorite songs from any Disney film.

    We took in a favorite, Mickey’s Philharmagic, next. It was a short wait but the show was crowded. Am I the only one that finds the orchestra scenes in this film (the opening and last scenes) to be subpar? They seem darker than and not as well-defined as the rest. Is it intentional?

    The FastPass machines for the Little Mermaid ride are by Mickey’s Philharmagic and they were packed. Disney will have to address this situation if the popularity of the new ride is sustained – it’s very difficult to move around this area.

    We walked over to the hub and stopped at First Aid for Band-Aids (Barb’s knee) and ChapStick. I don’t think I’ve had chapped lips in my life but I have them now. They’re actually cracked in one spot. I have a tube of ChapStick with me (tucked in the pocket of the pants I wore last night, thank you) but it’s impossible to find more to buy here so I took a shot. The cast member here sent me next door to the Baby Care center where she thought they would have it. The best they could do is Blistex or Vaseline so I passed.

    We hit Casey’s for lunch – each having a hot dog, water and we split the fries. Barb found a table while I schlepped the food. While waiting, she watched a family of five leave a table without bussing their junk. They left a table loaded with their trash. Sigh.

    We window shopped a bit on the way out then caught a bus back. We were two of three people on the bus and our driver wanted to talk politics. Nothing good ever comes from that so I nodded with most of his ramblings on gun control, unions, etc. He did inform us that all union dues go directly to the Democratic party so there’s that.

    I timed it this trip and it took all of 15 minutes to wind thru Old Key West until we reached our stop at the Hospitality House. We hit the room and listened to Stacy’s Must Dos while we each grabbed a short nap.

    Refreshed, I brought up My Disney Experience and checked Wait Times around the parks. In minutes, here’s what I found: Test Track 150, Soarin’ 90, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad 90, Little Mermaid 90, Tower of Terror 110, Toy Story Mania 75. It’s not New Year’s Eve (where I saw an incredible 300 minutes at Soarin’) but it’s crowded.

    In light of the extended wait times, we decided to head to Downtown Disney. As we leave our building, Barb sees a Downtown Disney bus enter the Old Key West complex. We walked to the bus stop and, in 10 minutes it’s at the Hospitality House and we board.

    Downtown Disney is also crowded but we manage to get some shopping done. We want a pink, Minnie t-shirt for Michelle for taking us to the airport and keeping an eye on our house while were away. We find two so I texted her photos and asked her to choose.

    For the grandsons, we need a plush Mickey for PJ (the newborn), a plush Pluto for Christopher (he’s 3 and rounding out his collection of Disney plushes) and a Ninjago character named Lloyd for William, whose tastes are obviously more complex. I had no idea what Ninjago was but was told it’s a Lego so we headed to the Lego store. The Ninjago shelves were very popular with young boys – so popular we couldn’t get near them. We finally grabbed an employee who told us Lloyd ZK (his full name) was only found in a $119 kit that contains a few other characters and sets and the like. I wasn’t about to spend $119 on someone named Lloyd so I texted Michelle to be certain we had the right character and we decided to keep looking.

    We walked around what’s left of Pleasure Island (Ahem… just where is Hyperion Wharf?) and the West End, looking at menus. We visited Splitsville, the new bowling alley at the West End. I will say I had my doubts about a bowling alley in Disney but it is somewhat unique. It has an outdoor sports bar, a sushi bar, a billiards room… Lots of people were bowling but, as a former bowler I can tell you, this was recreational bowling. I saw no one in there who looked like they knew what they were doing.

    We stopped into Portobello’s for a drink at the bar and perused their menu. We decided on dinner here so Barb visited the podium (instead of me using the app to reserve a table). I remember someone, somewhere raving about the Meatball sliders here. They offer beef and veal, chicken, and spicy pork with tomato basil sauce and are on the menu for $7.95. You can get them at the bar - 3 for $5. I should have… but didn’t and regretted it later when a diner at the next table had them as an appetizer. They did look very good.

    We were seated and split an antipasto as an appetizer. We had the Misti: Prosciutto, Parmigiano Reggiano, bocconcini, ricotta and Winter Park honey crostini, oven dried tomato crostini and house made farmer's market pickled vegetables. All very good. I have, however, always been intrigued by the word “antipasto”. Is it the opposite of pasto? It’s arch enemy or nemesis?

    Barb had the Wood Burning Oven Pizza with Tuscan Salumi, tomato, mozzarella. That’s not a typo – apparently salumi is like salami but different… or something. It looked and tasted like pepperoni.

    I had the Rigatoni Calabrese (Italian sausage, mushrooms, tomatoes, olives, escarole) and a glass of Columbia Crest Cabernet.

    After dinner, we caught a bus back to Old Key West, rode through four stops and walked back to the room – this time without tripping.

    Things I Think I Think – I think we’re both happy to be moving to the Boardwalk tomorrow – yes, we’re Crescent Lake Snobs but I’m looking forward to skipping the buses and walking to two of the parks. I think this is more crowded that I’ve seen it before in January – and I’ve been here over MLK weekend several times. I think Disney needs to find a new home for the Little Mermaid FastPass machines. I’ve said this before but I think it’s sad whenever I look at the exteriors of the Comedy Warehouse and the Adventurers Club – so much entertainment there, now sitting idle. I think I have no appreciation for Lego’s Ninjagos (I’m not even sure if I understand what I just wrote). I think I should have tried the Meatball Sliders – next time. I think $119 for a set of Legos is, well, excessive.

    Day 4– Sunday, January 20, 2013 – “Could you slide over a foot?”
    I woke up feeling pretty good and thought I slept well. I looked at the clock and it read 2:57. Arrgghhhh! I turn over and it took a while to fall back asleep, but I did, and woke again at 6:30.

    Today was moving day so we made and drank our coffee, showered, packed up and called down for a taxi at 8:20. We waited out in the parking lot and he showed in about 5 minutes. After a quick $9 ride to the Boardwalk I was at the front desk checking in.

    For some reason the Boardwalk did not have my credit card information, even though I entered it during online check-in (I checked in at Old Key West and the Boardwalk at the same time and Old Key West had it OK). The cast member needed to remake our Key to the World cards so they were valid for charging.

    The hotel was at capacity last night so no rooms were ready. I asked for a text when ours was ready, checked our bags with Bell Services and headed to Epcot.

    There was a very large crowd at the International Gateway – larger than any I’ve seen. It took a while getting through Security and the turnstiles but we were in the park at 8:55.

    We made it to Test Track at 9:02 and there was already a 10 minute wait. The folks entering through the front have a distinct advantage here.

    We had ridden Test Track in December but did so using Fast Pass and didn’t bother designing a car. This time we did. I was impressed with the process and Disney has it orchestrated to eliminate any confusion and maintain the queues. My car looked cool but didn’t do very well in the testing so I vowed to pay more attention to performance next time. I’m warming to the Test Track ride. I didn’t care for it the first time but it’s growing on me. It’s basically the same ride as the previous version but they’ve Tron-ed up the interior for a sleeker look and feel.

    We began walking to Soarin’ and My Disney Experience told me it was already at 50 minutes so we grabbed a couple of Fast Passes for 12:25 – at 9:30! Damned MLK crowds!

    We decided on breakfast in Seasons where Barb had a bagel and I went for another Breakfast Panini. Unlike the one at Pizzafari (the healthy one), this bad boy offered a scrambled egg, bacon and sausage. I could feel my arteries hardening.

    To Mission: Space which lists a 10 minute wait but… as we near the entrance, Barb decides she needs a restroom break. We backtrack to the restrooms while I give her a lecture on letting me know earlier so we can hit restrooms on the way to attractions rather than passing them and backtracking. Women!

    While we were walking back to Mission: Space, we see two large tour groups (Bazillions of Brazilians!) head in and the wait is now 15 minutes. I had never queued outside here before. We rode the Green (non-spinning) side and exited at 10:50.

    We decided to head to World Showcase and rode It’s a Small Burrito and Maelstrom in succession. We even stayed for the film in Norway. Next came looking through the shops in Norway, Germany and Italy. We shopped but bought nothing.

    By the way, we encountered numerous folks today that were sporting t-shirts and jerseys for their teams. I noticed very few 49ers or Falcons (surprising because Atlanta is so close) but tons of Ravens and Patriots. We even encountered several families where both jerseys were being worn. One mother and daughter in Ravens gear while the daughter’s boyfriend wore a Pats jersey. I told them I thought the game would be interesting for their group.

    We headed back to Soarin’ where the Standby wait is now 120 minutes and folks are still streaming in. I can’t imagine waiting for two hours for any attraction. Even with our FastPass, it took 15 minutes to ride.

    It was lunch time so we walked back to World Showcase and into the Rose and Crown. We repeated our order of Thursday (Black and Tan for me and a Stella for Barb) and added an order of Fish & Chips. The sit down tables were all occupied but there was a bar table in the back with three drinks on it but no people. One drink was an almost full beer, another full and what appeared to be a coke (or rum and coke) that was full. I asked the bartender if the table was open and she said, “I think so”.

    We took our drinks and our numbered sign (for the Fish and Chips) back there and took over the table. We moved those three drinks to a shelf but no one ever came back to claim them – odd.

    It was getting warm enough to swim, and I had forgotten to bring a swimsuit, so we set out shopping in the UK for one. I really didn’t want to buy the standard Disney-issue (black with a Mickey) because I already had one. I was actually hoping for a Speedo with the Union Jack emblazoned on it. No such luck.

    We decided to head back to the Boardwalk but stopped first in the World Traveler – nothing there. As we step outside, I get a text letting me know our room, 4073, is ready. I have to tell you that I don’t get much happier than when I receive a text that my room is ready. I’m like a 6-year old on Christmas morning. Seriously.

    We stop at Bell Services and ask them to bring our luggage up and head off to the room which is very close to the elevator. Now here comes a long-winded dissertation on why I like this room location – skip ahead if you’re already bored.

    Lisa (Lih-sa, dammit! Why can’t I remember that!) and Laura Gilbreath were recently commiserating on the benefits of a first floor room at the far end of the Villas hallway. I’ve stayed there and understand their arguments. You can leave your room and exit the building there where it’s a short few steps to the pathway to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Take the same exit and turn the other way and you’re a short walk across the driveway to the bus stops. Very convenient for both but you’re a long way to the lobby and will have the longest walk to Epcot.

    Being near the elevators means I can get to the lobby easily, and take the short walk to the bus stops. Ride the elevator to the first floor and you can turn one way toward the Boardwalk and take the boats to either Disney’s Hollywood Studios or Epcot (something we rarely do) or make the short walk to Epcot (something we frequently do). If you turn the other way, you are at the Luna Park pool and a quick walk through there put you on the path to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. I think this location wins for convenience.

    Yes, you might say but what about your view? I’ll concede this one. Our view is looking over the driveway and front entrance. Not great but if you like to people watch, it’s non-stop entertainment.

    We unpack (again) and head to the Hess station for more Half-and-Half and a 12-pack of Yuengling. We stow the stuff and I head to Thimbles & Threads for a swimsuit. $25 later I’m now the proud owner of two black swimsuits with a small Mickey on the leg (sigh).

    We head to the quiet pool, Barb grabs some towels and we pick out a couple of lounge chairs. As Barb is dropping the towels onto a chair, she notices one is covered with ants. We return that one to the dirty towel bin (after shaking it out) and simply shake off two others to use. I let the cast members in Community Hall know and they said they would notify Housekeeping but did nothing about the problem Later, we saw two women grab towels and Barb shouted out the warning. They looked and immediately noticed the ants. Somehow, someway… there must be some food in the bin.

    The Spa was down for repairs (would be all week) so we swam, sunned and relaxed for about 90 minutes. I wanted to catch some of the NFL Championships today so I hit the room to watch Atlanta versus San Francisco. A good game and the 49ers pulled it out late. Atlanta started strong, faded but had chances at the end.

    Barb went out for a walk and stopped at Kouzzina’s pizza window on the way back. She brought a pizza to the room for our dinner as we watched the first half of the Ravens – Patriots game. We washed down the pizza with water – Orlando tap water. It wasn’t that long ago when that stuff was undrinkable due to the high sulfur content. They must be doing a better job of filtering or Disney has figured something out.

    The temps are comfortable and in the 60s when, at 7:30, we head to Epcot. Walking by the ESPN Club, there were several tables outside with Patriots fans jumping to their feet and screaming – yes, screaming – as they built a halftime lead. Drat!

    We entered Epcot and walked to France and the new, just opened Boulangerie Patisserie les Halles. This place is a lot bigger than its predecessor with a fair amount of seating space to sit and enjoy the calories they sell. There are still two sides offering identical items but, at least to us, there didn’t seem to be as many items or the same “Wow factor” of the old place. Maybe we caught them at a bad time or we just weren’t hungry enough to get the appropriate amount of salivation going.

    We couldn’t leave without getting something so we got a coffee, a good French Roast, and a chocolate chip cookie ($2.95) to share. Even though there is a large seating area, seats were at a premium. We asked a woman with 4 at a table for 6 if we could steal a table and two chairs. She agreed so we slid the table over a few inches to provide a bit of separation.

    After wolfing down the cookie, we walked over to the UK and watched a bit of the British Revolution. In just a few minutes, we heard songs by Queen, the Troggs, and the Beatles. They seemed to be a bit better at the Beatles tunes but that might just be my bias coming through. Honestly, I thought the old British Invasion was much better. These guys seemed to be good instrumentalists but lousy singers.

    After the set, we walked up to the bridge to stake out a spot for Illuminations: Reflections of Earth. It was 8:40 and most spots, front and back of the bridge were already taken. We stood at the leftmost end, essentially taking up the last two spots at the front railing. Can you see it coming?

    At 8:58, a woman touched my arm to get my attention and asked if I could move over a foot to let her mother, who’s in a wheelchair, see the fireworks. My initial reaction is to ask her, “If the fireworks are important to her, why did she wait until there was two minutes to go to look for a viewing spot?” This just seems to be happening more and more but, if anything, I’m sympathetic. I glance to my right and realize we can’t move more than a few inches – the people are packed in that tight. I tell her that and she replies, “Oh, I thought you were all together.”

    I do move behind Barb. That’s not a big deal for me, I can see fine over her (it pays to be tall) but I now have to make sure I’m not going to block anyone behind us who have also been there for 15-20 minutes waiting. At any rate, she slid her mother in and (I think) everyone enjoyed Illuminations. I enjoyed it a bit more when I checked the iPod periodically to find the Ravens, who trailed at halftime, had gone ahead of the Patriots 14-13, then 21-13 and finally 28-13.

    We strolled back to the Boardwalk and, as we passed by ESPN, I couldn’t help smiling a bit as bunches of Pats fans were quietly leaving. We made it back to the room at 9:25 and enjoyed watching the end of the game.

    Things I Think I Think – I think I really like staying at the Boardwalk. I know everyone has their favorite resort and the Boardwalk has its detractors but for us, and our vacation style, it’s perfect. I think it’s odd, or at least surprising, to find Ravens and Patriot fans in the same family. Most fandom is based in geography and I’m not sure how different people in the same household wind up rooting for a Boston team and a Baltimore team. I think the pizza from Kouzzina is actually quite good. I think I like the look of the new Boulangerie Patisserie but will need to stop back again when I’m hungry and craving dessert. I think that if it’s important to you to see a show, parade or fireworks, you shouldn’t wait until two minutes before it starts to find a viewing spot – and then rely on the kindness of strangers to secure one. I think I enjoyed the Ravens win.

    Day 5– Monday, January 21, 2013 – “That’ll be $20… no… wait, this is Disney! That’ll be $30”
    The first thing we discover is our refrigerator has a switch that was in the “Off” position. Luckily, placing a bunch of cold items in there (beer, cream, butter, etc.) and keeping the door closed, didn’t ruin anything. The butter was a bit soft (a good thing) but that’s all. At Old Key West, we found most items in the refrigerator would freeze.

    Today’s forecast includes a slight chance of showers. We head out, walking to Disney’s Hollywood Studios and it begins to sprinkle. At this point, I have a choice. Do I:
    1. Head back inside for a jacket or poncho and a hat?
    2. Head toward the boat dock and ride to Disney’s Hollywood Studios while under cover?
    3. Keep on in the rain hoping it stops?

    Yep. If you chose #3, you know me well. As we neared the overpass, about halfway to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the sprinkling became rain. Barb was wearing her trusty Tink hooded sweatshirt but all I had was shorts and a golf shirt. Of course, today I chose a light blue shirt so it clearly showed every drop of rain that hit it. Before long, my hair was dripping a bit and I could be classified as very wet.

    The crowd at the turnstiles was not too bad. I expect that was due to the rain and some of the MLK weekend crowds may be departing. We headed directly to TOT, an attraction we did not ride in December.

    We went through the queue and walked directly into the TV room. In the elevator, our sequence included lots of drops. We saw the spinning gyroscopic thingy at the bottom (lulling one into thinking it was over) and then shot skyward one more time. Good stuff.

    Next up was Star Tours with a listed wait of 10 minutes but it was really a walk on. When we exited, nothing had changed so we rode again.

    Now it was off to Toy Story Mania where I grabbed 2 FastPasses for 2:55. I didn’t think we’d be around long enough to use them but got them just in case. There was a cast member helping folks get the FastPasses but two women in front of me proceeded to bombard him with questions and all I could do was wait. Ladies, check if you’re holding anyone up before getting into these five minute Q&A sessions.

    The Standby time was 50 minutes so we passed and headed to the new Legend of Captain Jack Sparrow attraction. We didn’t visit this attraction in December because I had heard several warnings about it being too scary for children under 7. After seeing it, I believe most children would be OK. Yes, there is a talking skull and the “skeleton crew” does make an appearance but it’s mostly just kind of humorous. I thought the first few scenes were a bit lame but it picked up nicely when Jack makes his appearance. It actually took me a few minutes to decide if I was looking at a live actor or a projection – it’s really well done – and Jack is at his humorous best. It’s 8 minutes and worth a look to see if it’s something you’d enjoy.

    Because we were on a long (for us) visit of 11 days, I was hoping to see a few things we haven’t done in a while. One of those was the Art of Animation. We visited and looked around the showrooms, then took in the live show where a cast member hosts and interacts with Mushu (from Mulan). I thought it was funny and well done. I had wanted to try the studio where you learn to draw a character but there was a long line there – and we weren’t looking for a lengthy wait at this point.

    Back to Star Tours again. This time the wait was listed at 20 minutes but the queue wrapped all the way through the Ewok village. While in the queue, I checked My Disney Experience and found the wait had grown to 30 minutes. I’m betting this was the result of a few tour groups hitting at the same time and/or an Indiana Jones show just let out. After a few minutes of slow progress, they must have opened up more simulators because the line began moving quickly. We were on in 15.

    It was during this ride that Barb mentioned something I hadn’t noticed before – on about three dozen prior rides. When the transmission comes in, in this instance it was from Princess Leia, she says “deliver her” when referencing the Rebel Spy. After a few more rides, we ascertained that if your Rebel Spy is female, you’ll see Leia or Yoda – both say “deliver her”. If it’s a male, Ackbar says, “deliver him”.

    A check of My Disney Experience reveals Toy Story Mania is now 120 minutes, Tot is 90. We decide to leave and shop our way out. I gave away our Toy Story Mania Fastpasses on the way out but it was tough to do. I first approached three other couples who looked at me like I was a scalper and either just kept walking or offered a terse, “No, thank you” before I found a young couple who took them and thanked me.

    We get a little lazy here and decide to ride the boat back from Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The main reasons are the boat is there waiting and we plan on heading to Picabu at the Dolphin for lunch. Picabu is a buffeteria (it once was Tubbi’s Buffeteria) which means you slide a tray through and select some grab-and-go items. They do have a number of made to order items as well and I’ve always found their food good, prices decent and service above average. We each have a Chef’s Salad and I ask for two cups of ice water. I’ve been doing this more and more at Disney’s counter service restaurants. I rarely drink soda – would actually prefer not to – and I have no affinity for their $2.75 bottles of Dasani. A cup of ice water works nicely.

    While we’re eating, I glance at the receipt (no Tables in Wonderland here but I do get 20% off for DVC) and notice a $2.59 service charge. Hmmm. I’ve never seen that before. Is it for the water? I didn’t ask but probably should have. We shopped a bit at the Dolphin and again at the Boardwalk but didn’t buy anything.

    Barb decided to do our laundry. Considering we would be here for 10 nights and 11 days, we figured on doing laundry once and she chose today. While she was handling that, I headed to the gym for about 45 minutes.

    Back in the room, I saw an email from my cousin, Frank. He and his wife will be arriving Friday and he’s suggesting we meet up for a drink Saturday (our last night). I also noticed that Nicholas on RADP will be in town and he’s suggesting I can find him at Torch # 10 during Illuminations: Reflections of Earth Saturday night (he probably did write Saturday but my mind remembered it as Friday). Nicholas and I have had a few exchanges about Illuminations: Reflections of Earth – I’m a big fan and he can take it or leave it (although I think he’s coming around the last couple of years). I had no idea the torches around World Showcase lagoon were actually numbered so he’s given me an education there.

    Barb was still dealing with drying our laundry so I took a couple of laps around Crescent Lake (after 25 minutes on the elliptical machine I must have been insane). On the second lap, I walked on the backside of the Boardwalk to check out the quiet pool and saw the spa was still down. Darn!

    I met Barb back in the room and we donned our swimsuits and headed to the Luna Park (main) pool. We were hoping to get a few minutes in the hot tub there but, from past experience, it’s almost always filled with children. I’m guessing they consider it like a wading pool except with warm water and bubbles. Otherwise, I can’t believe it’s their tired, aching muscles that drive them there. For me, it’s the tired, aching muscles, the arthritic shoulder and the knee with three torn tendons. A few minutes in a hot tub coupled with a couple of Aleve and I feel 25 again – at least for a while.

    The tub is mercifully empty so we grab a couple of nearby lounges, dump our stuff and wade into the warm, healing waters. As if on cue, we’re joined immediately by a 7-year old girl. She yells to her father to bring her a towel and he dutifully walks one over to her. Sheesh! In a few minutes there are a few more kids splashing around in there with us. Where’s the parental supervision? The sign clearly states children under 12 are not allowed in without an adult. We gave it a few minutes, tired of the company (and the noise) and headed to the pool for a swim and a cool down. From there it was off to the lounges for some rest.

    I plugged in my iPod and had to turn the volume to about 75% to hear it over the din of the music and games being played by the pool. After about 20 minutes, it became tiresome so we headed upstairs for a drink on our balcony followed by a nap.

    At 5:00, we walked over to the Dolphin for our dinner at Todd English’s bluezoo – highly touted by Lisa and Andy, and Nick and Nora. It did not disappoint. I checked us in at the podium (we were about 30 minutes early) and told them we’d like to have a drink at the bar. I’m a Manhattan aficionado and Lisa had been raving about the “barrel-aged Manhattans” here.

    What I learned is that the barrel-aged Manhattan is made with Four Roses Kentucky Bourbon, Dolin Vermouth and Orange Bitters. It’s mixed and placed into an oak barrel where it’s aged for seven weeks. At that time, it’s decanted and served and I was told a new barrel had just been opened. I ordered one and Barb had a Loosen Blue Slate Riesling.

    If you’re near my age, you might remember Four Roses Whiskey. My recollection is it was a cheap, not very good drink – often labeled as “rotgut”. So why is it being offered here in a premium cocktail? I did a little research later and found that, in the 1950s, Seagram’s owned Four Roses and decided to market their fine bourbon in Europe and Asia only. In the U.S. they sold only their single blend whiskey, aka “rotgut”, and received a deserved reputation as a bottom shelf supplier.

    The Manhattan was very, very good (and smooth) if a bit overpriced at $13.99 (thank you, Tables in Wonderland). I know I can pick up some 1-2 gallon oak barrels for less than $50 so I may try this at home. It probably won’t be with Four Roses Bourbon or Dolin Vermouth because I’ve not located either – yet.

    Eventually, we went into their very nice dining room (lots of blue light) where all the servers are males in dark blue shirts and darker slacks. During dinner, I noticed the servers in the lounge (which also has a full menu) were all hot young girls in low-cut tops and black micro-minis. Lisa had neglected to tell me this. No worries, I can ogle from afar – my eyesight is still pretty good.

    We shared an appetizer, "Olive's" classico flatbread, roasted tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella and torn basil. It was very good and too much for the two of us. If a single person ordered this, it should be an entre.

    I had the mesquite rubbed beef tenderloin, anson mills polenta, barbeque short rib ragout, seasonal organic vegetables, and dijon veal reduction. The tenderloin was in the top five I’ve ever had. The short rib ragout was excellent but a strange accompaniment. I bit of a meat “overkill” – not that I minded.

    Barb had the black truffle heritage chicken, potato gnocchi, truffle cauliflower puree, spinach, English peas and chicken jus. It looked good and she liked it but I had more than I could handle so I didn’t taste it.

    We washed all this down with another Riesling for Barb and a glass of Benzingers’ Merlot for me.

    The service here is above and beyond. To demonstrate, Barb left for the ladies room between appetizer and entre. While she was gone, our server policed the table of crumbs and refolded her napkin. By the way, the blue light is also in the restrooms where it’s a bit strange… but somehow cool.

    The bottom line is that we gave bluezoo a big thumbs up. It’s a bit pricey but that’s offset a bit with Tables in Wonderland. I would definitely come back.

    We walked outside the Dolphin and a bus to the Magic Kingdom showed immediately. We shopped on Main Street for Michelle’s shirt and found two that qualified but they were very different. I took an iPod photo of both and texted it to Michelle to ask her preference. She chose the one that was a more red than pink and a bit “dressier” if you can say that about a t-shirt. Barb said “it’s more of a top than a tee” so I’ll defer to her.

    We bought the shirt and also picked up the plush Mickey for PJ. We then hung out on Town Square for the Electrical Parade. It wasn’t very crowded here and we had a good view.

    When the parade ended, we just walked up Main Street about 2/3 of the way to the castle and watched the Celebrate the Magic show (formerly the Magic, Memories and You) there. This show seems to get a little better each time I see it. It definitely has a “Wow factor”.

    Just before the show began, a family from Brooklyn asked if I’d take their photo. We got the two couples and assorted kids and strollers lined up and posed. I shot one photo and showed it to them but they didn’t like it because “Jacob looked goofy”. As I lined up the second shot, the lights went out for the show. I told them I’d try again.

    Once the show ended, they re-posed and I shot three more and they found one they liked. When I returned their camera, I said, “That’ll be $20… no… wait, this is Disney! That’ll be $30.”

    We enjoyed Wishes – again, much better from the center of Main Street. When it was over, we made a fairly quick exit. Here’s another question… Why are we made to exit through the turnstiles at every park? Does the count of those leaving matter in some way? If they somehow determine that 25,000 people entered but only 24,999 exited do they send in the Navy Seal team to find the offender? Actually, the counts are always a bit off because of the numbers of people being waved through the gates with strollers and wheelchairs. I really would like to know because it does slow things down (maybe that’s the reason?). Especially at Epcot’s International Gateway after Illuminations: Reflections of Earth when there are only two exit turnstiles being used.

    We’re on a bus in 5 minutes and are soon back on our balcony where we can see some of the fireworks (the higher ones) from Illuminations: Reflections of Earth.

    Things I Think I Think – I think a “slight chance of sprinkles” shouldn’t bring on a full downpour. I think I should have gone back for the jacket and hat. I think I like Toy Story Mania but don’t think it’s that good to warrant the attendance it gets. I think I still like Picabu but I need to find out about that “Service Charge”. I think I may need to barrel-age a few Manhattans. I think it still amazes me that I can so easily research a rotgut whiskey from the 1950s-60s. I think I really enjoyed bluezoo and the two shows at the Magic Kingdom tonight.

    Day 6– Tuesday, January 22, 2013 –Boardwalk Ballyhoo and the Russo Rule
    It will be a bit cooler today with highs in the 60s and down into the 50s tonight – and into the 40s overnight. We decide on visiting the Magic Kingdom today and walk to the bus stop at 8:15 where we have a 15 minute wait.

    At the Magic Kingdom, half the turnstiles are under construction and a cast member is directing traffic again - holding up that cardboard Key to the World card and directing folks to the appropriate turnstiles. We slide all the way to left with the riff-raff that don’t have the new RFID media. We’re in a line at a turnstile that is approximately 15-20 deep – all the lines are this deep. I notice that there are two turnstiles on our left with no one waiting and the green arrow is lit indicating they’re open. I drag Barb out of line and we queue up there, right at the front. It’s amusing (at least to me) how many people won’t do this. I glance back and I can see those in line looking at us and talking amongst themselves but they’re unwilling to risk giving up their spot in line. When the park opens, we scan our passes and enter and, all of a sudden, there are people filling in the spots behind us.

    We head first to Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin where I beat Barb 200k to 10k. Nothing great about my score but Barb always has a hard time scoring well on this attraction.

    Monster’s Inc. Laugh Floor doesn’t open until 10:00 (even though as we entered Tomorrowland, a sign in front read “Open 9:00 AM – 8:00 PM”) so we decide for another spin on Buzz. This time, about 1/3 through, Barb has maxed out at 999,999. I’ve done this once before and, like me, she has no idea how she did it. She must have accidentally hit a very high-value target.

    We head up to Fantasyland and see Mickey’s Philharmagic where the theater is only full. On entry, the cast members gave no instructions for seating so many folks stopped in the dead center of their row. No one wants to climb over them so we wind up with the theater full from the center to the left edge with no one sitting in the right half. I really wish, when it’s not crowded, they would instruct folks to move 2/3 of the way through.

    We walked back to Frontierland and rode Big Thunder Mountain Railroad with a 10 minute wait. As we entered the queue, we were engulfed in a crowd from multiple tour groups. I don’t have the ear to distinguish Portuguese from Spanish so I’m not sure if it was Brazilians or Argentinians or both (Braziltenians?). At any rate, the posted 10 minute wait became 20 for us.

    The queue has many new artifacts and is strewn with boxes for explosives and blasting caps. By the rear windows, there are a number of cranks to use and demolition plungers. When these new interactive elements go live, I’m betting we’ll be able to blow some stuff up. I can’t wait.

    I mentioned that we were engulfed by the tour groups as we entered. We had lots in front of us and probably as many behind us. It was sort of amusing as the guy in front of us kept motioning for those behind to bypass us and join him – how chivalrous. I’m glad they didn’t try or it could have gotten ugly. From Barb, not me – she has no patience with line cutters.

    To Adventureland where Pirates of the Caribbean was a walk on. Early on, the right side of the queue was closed so I believe they’re also adding some interactive elements here as well.

    After Pirates, we cut through the alleyway to Frontierland and noticed the Country Bears were allowing guests into a show so we took that in. I don’t see this every trip but I am a fan.

    After enjoying Big Al and the gang, we cut through the Castle and walked back to Tomorrowland to visit the now-open Monster’s Inc. Laugh Floor. I guess I’m easily entertained but I always enjoy this show.

    We had now pretty much done everything we wanted at the Magic Kingdom so we decided to shop our way out. This time we shopped Star Wars characters for William, having struck out on Lloyd the Ninjago, but… the problem is he has almost all the characters already. Shopping for the boy who has everything is tough. We did pick up the plush Pluto for his brother, Christopher.

    I’m a lot easier to please. The Confectioners was offering fudge at 6 pieces for the price of 4 and I added an AP discount to it. Am I frugal or what? I allowed Barb to select two of the pieces and they both had peanut butter in them. In my humble, yet expert opinion, if it ain’t chocolate, it ain’t fudge. I must be getting older though – 3 pieces of the 6 actually flew home with us (but they’re gone now).

    We caught a bus to the Boardwalk and stored our booty in the room before heading to the ESPN Club for lunch. We devoured a Dinger sandwich and a Home Run Dog (with chili, onions and cheese) with waters. We were planning on taking in the new Boardwalk Ballyhoo Guided Tour this afternoon so I thought a freshen-up back in the room was in order. I at least needed to brush the onions and chili off my teeth.

    The Boardwalk Ballyhoo Guided Tour is a free, 30-45 minute tour being offered on select days in January. It was being offered on a trial basis and I haven’t yet heard if it will become more permanent. It’s conducted by a cast member (in our case, two cast members) and takes you through several areas of the Boardwalk (Belle Vue Lounge, lobby, Luna Park pool and, finally, to the Boardwalk itself) as you view various artifacts and learn some of the history and secrets of the resort and its theming. There was no sign-up, we just showed up at the Belle Vue Lounge at 2:00.

    While waiting for the tour to begin, I spot Lou Mongello walking through the lounge. Lou is the author of the Walt Disney World Trivia books as well as the host/moderator of the WDW Radio podcasts and Web site. I introduced myself, and Barb, and we spent a few minutes chatting. He had just finished recording a podcast (about the Boardwalk) and was busily snapping some photos. He said he recognized my name from the MousePlanet articles but I’m thinking he was just being nice. I let Lou run off and continue his photographing as our cast member guide, Jesse, arrived.

    There were about 12 people congregated in the Belle Vue Room for the tour. One fellow in particular, came from the back area where Lou had been. I hadn’t noticed this but Barb later said she saw him with Lou. His comments and questions during the tour were such that I felt he was something more than just the average Disney fanatic / guest. (Upon returning home, I listened to Lou’s podcast, viewed his photographs and put two and two together. That gentleman was Jim Korkis and he’s a frequent contributor to Lou’s podcasts. Jim also writes a weekly column for MousePlanet; something he’s done since 2006 – and that’s a lot of columns. He also writes articles for the Allears weekly newsletter and authors a column in the DVC magazine, Disney Files. Jim has also authored several books about Disney (‘Walt’s Vault’ is a favorite). He’s the most prolific Disney writer I’m aware of and, quite possible, the biggest single source of “Disney background information” on the planet. I’ve since communicated with him via email but regret not introducing myself during the tour and picking his brains for a while.)

    I’ll only offer a few words about the tour – I don’t want to ruin it for anyone thinking of taking it (assuming it continues to be offered) and I may write an article about it for MousePlanet. There’s a lot of background on how the resort’s design and artifacts are based on the Atlantic City Boardwalk of the 1920s-30s. We probably all knew that but… It was fun and I definitely learned a few things about the Boardwalk I didn’t know – a few items that were under my nose, so to speak, and I never noticed. I’ll share one… if you scan the carpet outside the elevators on the lobby level, you’ll spot several traditional Hidden Mickeys. Anyone with interest has probably seen them. If you look a bit closer (and apparently I never did) you’ll spot a trail of pixie dust that leads to Tinker Bell. And don’t even get me started on the Hippocampus Electrolier.

    After the tour ended, I spent a few minutes shooting some additional photos that might be useful for an article then joined Barb back in the room for a bit of a rest.

    We left at 5:15 and walked to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, arriving at 5:30. I was ready to head to Fantasmic! to get seated but Barb insisted we had time for another spin on our Starspeeder. I doubted that but as in most marriages, she must be obeyed so we walked up to Star Tours where the Standby time was listed at 10 minutes but the actual wait was closer to 20. I’m not sure why the difference. We had a male Rebel Spy and our transmission came from Ackbar so the theory is still holding. I’m wondering if they recorded two versions for each character’s transmission. I’d say it’s doubtful.

    We head to Fantasmic! It’s now 6:15 and they’re seating in the very last section, “Beast”. We get seats toward the very end but at least avoid the front rows. It’s cool enough tonight that getting wet is not something I’d enjoy.

    They’re still doing the pre-show here and it does serve to pass the time but… the performers need to understand not all in the crowd can see them. They recruited some poor souls and had them singing and dancing which I’m sure was funny for the 200 or so people that had a view. For us folks way down in East Bayonne (aka Beast), I could barely tell where the spotlight was shining.

    Watching Fantasmic! from this extreme angle provided a different perspective. I saw the switch of the Evil Queen to the Hag – I could actually see the Witch duck under the table when the smoke billowed out. I could also easily see the harness holding the Witch to the rising tower and the straps holding Mickey atop the mountain at the end.

    We walked back this time and decided that we would invoke the Russo Rule for dinner tonight and replace it with ice cream. The discussion was whether we should go to Beaches and Cream or the Fountain (Dolphin). The Fountain is closer and won out so dinner consisted of a Hot Fudge Sundae, a Banana Split and two waters. We got the DVC discount here and walked back, spent a few minutes watching a juggler on the Boardwalk then called it a night.

    Things I Think I Think – I think some people fear an open turnstile – they just don’t believe it could be open if no one’s standing in line there. I think the cast members really need to take an active role in seating guests for films and shows. I think I’ve seen enough tour groups to last a few trips. I think the Boardwalk Ballyhoo was well worth 45 minutes of my time but I wished I had recognized Jim Korkis before I got home. I don’t think 60 minutes is enough time to ride Star Tours and still get good seats for a Fantasmic! show. I think the Russo Rule is a very good thing and I’ll allow anyone to use it – for a small fee, of course.

    Day 7– Wednesday, January 23, 2013 – Boardwalk Ballyhoo and RADP Meet # 2
    It’s 48 degrees outside and Barb’s sick. She’s felt a cold coming on for a few days now and it looks like it’s arrived. She’s hacking, sneezing and doesn’t feel well. I expect we may be hanging at the resort today.

    We’re scheduled to meet up with Sandi, Amanda and Joe this evening so I send them a message indicating we may have to postpone. I didn’t want them planning around this meet and then have us cancel on them.

    Barb took some meds, lay in bed a while longer, then got up, showered and announced she was feeling a little better. I updated Sandi and Amanda that we could be back on and we set out. I stopped in the lobby to get a few more photos. As I was taking photos of those hideous little girl chairs (actually “Nanny chairs”), the elephant and all the informational wall plaques, a cast member was looking at me like I was crazy.

    We walked over to Epcot and there was a small crowd at the International Gateway. The Security guards weren’t letting anyone through until 8:55. We walked through World Showcase and rode Test Track with a short wait. I did a much better job on the car design this time. Instead of a hybrid, I opted for a turbo-charger, made it more aerodynamic and gave it bigger tires. It wasn’t much to look at but was one of the higher rated designs for performance.

    Have I yet mentioned how sick I am of “pulling up on the yellow tab”? It feels like I’ve already tugged about 1,000 of them. It seems that every ride with a seatbelt requires the cast member to watch as you tug on that thing. In Star Tours, they make you do it row by row. The cast member checks a light panel that supposedly indicates if someone hasn’t buckled in properly – does that technology take a back seat to the cast member validating your tug?

    At 9:34, Soarin’ has a Standby wait time of 50 minutes so we get FastPasses for 11:05 and head to Seasons for juice, a muffin and a bagel. As we’re finishing breakfast, I now see Soarin’ is 15 minutes. We enter and walk through the entire queue without stopping. I think that 50 minute wait was the result of a swarm of tour groups all hitting it at once. The wait time jumps but then settles back down after a bit.

    We then road Spaceship Earth with a 20 minute wait – the line went through several switchbacks outside but we were in our vehicle in 10-12 minutes. The last time we rode, neither of us could recall the smell of Rome burning – something that’s always been very obvious in the past. We looked for it and yes, it’s still there but the smell has been dialed down a bunch. There must have been some complaints.

    Back to Soarin’ to use our FastPasses. There’s a long line for the FastPass queue so we join the back of it and watch a family of 6 cut the line by merging in right up at the entrance. Nice.

    It feels like it’s warmed into the high-60s so the fleeces come off. I really have no problem with cooler weather at Disney World – it can actually be more comfortable for touring the parks. The problem comes when you need to dress warmer and then spend ample time indoors in queues. Soarin’ is the one I have the most trouble with. It always feels warm in that queue and if you’re wearing a jacket, sweatshirt or fleece, it can seem stifling – at least to me. My problem is most of my lighter outerwear is pullover and it’s a pain to keep taking it off and putting it back on. This time I brought a fleece with a full-length zipper. It’s still a pain but at least a bit easier getting it off and on.

    We’re on the ride in about 15 minutes and, for the first time this trip, we score the top row. I can find reasons to like the top and bottom rows – the middle one is sort of a yawner – but there’s no doubt the top-middle is the best view.

    Barb has been a trouper (trooper?) so far but is starting to fade. We decide it’s probably best to head back and let her get some rest. As we’re exiting through the International Gateway, through the turnstiles for which I still need an explanation, a cast member sniffs “You’re leaving?” We assure her we’ll be back which seems to make her happy.

    Before heading to the room, Barb gets a coffee on the Boardwalk (the tent that’s taking the place of the Boardwalk Bakery while it’s being renovated). I stop in the lobby for a photo of the Flip-Flap Coaster. I tried yesterday but couldn’t find a time where I didn’t have a child with his or her nose pressed against the glass.

    Barb takes a nap while I spend some time with email and the Web.

    At about 2:45, we head over to the Atlantic Dance Hall for Welcome Home Wednesday. That’s a weekly event for DVC members. They provide refreshments while updating you on DVC happenings. It usually includes a trivia contest similar to Jeopardy (the television game show). I’ve attended two of these previously and, to be honest, thought them a bit lame. I’ve heard they’ve changed format so thought we’d give it a chance.

    We meet a couple of cast members at the door who inform us today’s event has been canceled but gives us two DVC hats and 4 pins – SCORE! The hats are DVC labeled and actually quite nice although, other than the golf course, I almost never wear one. The pins are the Mickey shape and say “Welcome Home Wednesday”.

    Back to the room to store our loot and then it’s off to Big River Grill and Brewing Works for a late lunch / early dinner. We ask for a table inside and chow down on a couple of their great burgers. I have a Rocket Red while Barb sticks with water. I’ve ranked Big River’s burger as the “best on property” – although it’s a close race with Beaches and Cream and Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater. I recently heard someone rave about the burger at the Fountain (Dolphin) so there’s one more I need to try.

    We head up to the Boardwalk back porch and take up a couple of rocking chairs. Next to us is a young mom who has successfully rocked her 7-month old to sleep. We spend a while chatting with her and just enjoying the beautiful view across Crescent Lake – blue sky, warm sun, Friendship boats, the Yacht and Beach Clubs… have I mentioned I could live here?

    We head back to the room for a bit. I’ve been looking for news on my cousin’s husband who suffered a mini-stroke the other day. He’s still in the hospital but things were looking better and he might be released today or tomorrow. What I received was even more terrible news. My cousin returned home from the hospital and tripped in her home, dislocating and slightly fracturing her shoulder. Sheesh! Could anything else happen to these two? Neither of them can now drive but, thank goodness their two adult daughters live in the area and can shuttle them to doctor’s appointments and the like.

    While we’re relaxing in the room, Housekeeping shows up for our trash and towel service. For a 7 night stay, it happens on day 4 but I never remember if we should start counting on check-in day or the first full day. We also get our coffee supply replenished which is good.

    I grab some balcony time and I’m watching a guy down below who appears to be bringing 6 electric scooters out of storage for a trip on a truck back to the rental company. He moved all 6 out, in three rows of two, and then drove them to the lower parking area two scooters at a time. He sat on one and controlled it with his right hand, while his left hand drove the other. I’ve never driven one of these scooters, and they do look pretty simple to drive, but this looks dangerous. He’s driving fast and if he ever steered them into each other, it could be a pretty serious accident. Obviously, he’s done this before and pulls it off without a hitch.

    On the balcony below us is a paper bowl loaded with cigarette butts. This is now illegal at Disney resorts – smoking is in designated areas only. In the days when I was a smoker (seems so long ago now), I had stopped smoking indoors. Yeah, there’s nothing like bundling up on your patio to have a cigarette in a snowstorm to get you to quit. At Disney World, when smoking in rooms was allowed, I would still opt for smoking outdoors on the patio or balcony. But I would use a receptacle of metal (a can) or glass. A paper bowl for stubbing out hot ashes doesn’t seem like a good idea.

    We’re off to Epcot at 4:30 and decide to take the boat. Again, we almost never do this but Barb is still suffering a bit and sometimes the boat is a “ride” – an attraction by itself.

    We do a little window shopping around World Showcase and spend a few minutes watching and listening to MoRockin. The Voices of Liberty are in front of the America pavilion singing some patriotic favorites so we hung out there until they finished.

    We arrived at Italy at about 5:20 and found Sandi out front of the Tutto Gusto Wine Cellar. We chatted for a bit and I went to the podium to ask for a table inside, explaining we had three people here and two on the way. I expected the hostess to say she would seat us when the entire party was here but she brought us right inside.

    We began perusing the menus and chatting and Amanda and Joe joined us just a few minutes later. Joe had just yesterday interviewed with Walt Disney Imagineering. I’m not completely sure what Joe does but he’s an engineer, can make a ride-on lawn tractor go very, very fast and is good at blowing things up. Seriously, he has a background with complex fireworks and I think was looking for something there. Joe thought the interview didn’t go well but, based on his description, it sounds like he was being a bit pessimistic.

    Barb and Sandi each had a wine flight with whites and the Rosa Regale prosecco (that’s been prominently featured in Sue Holland Rayford’s reports). Barb was pretty high on the Rosa Regale – she thought the other two were just OK.

    I followed Amanda’s lead with a small carafe of a red wine (Batasiolo? – something like that). Joe just went with a Diet Coke and he and Amanda ordered some food – a Tapas type menu. Barb and I were still stuffed from the burgers but what they had did look good.

    Again, we spent about 90 minutes chatting like old friends. We covered the noisy room at Old Key West, Disney aversion to king-size beds, the state of Disney dining and Disney trivia in general. Shortly before we left, the bar was overtaken by a tour group of Brazentenians. Things got loud and boisterous in a hurry. The bar is really a service bar and not set up to accommodate a dozen customers but that didn’t seem to faze them. We decided to settle up our check in short order.

    Barb still wasn’t feeling all that well so, after a restroom stop in America, we decided to head back to the hotel. It was still early but we both felt the rest would do her good. We found a waiting boat at the International Gateway so… this may be the first time we’ve ever taken the boat both ways.

    I was starting to get a little hungry so I grabbed a sandwich for later from the Bakery. Barb decides on a waffle cone from Seashore Sweets. We spent a few minutes with a magician then took our food back up to the room.

    A while later, I decided to step out for some ice - which is just down the hall, thank you. When I stepped out of the room, I was almost broadsided by a woman, in full sprint, running down the hall with a stroller. I just managed to step back and avoid getting clobbered but she was running so hard and fast, I think there’s a 50-50 shot of a serious collision if someone steps out of their room without looking.

    We had a quiet evening of some television and Words With Friends. Barb turned in early and I followed – not too much later.

    Things I Think I Think – I think it stinks to be sick at Disney World. I had a 24-hour thing once and I know it really put a damper on the day. I think Barb is being a trooper (trouper?) and we got to do quite a bit today in spite of her being under the weather. I hope a good night’s sleep is what she needs. I think I’m tired of “pulling up on the yellow tab”. I think the Boardwalk Ballyhoo Guided Tour was fun and informative – even if there was a bit of misinformation given. I think I enjoyed Tutto Gusto and getting together again with Amanda and Sandi… and meeting Joe. I think that woman should think twice about sprinting down the hallway with (or without) a stroller.

    Day 8– Thursday, January 24, 2013 – She is the Rebel Spy
    It looks like the rest helped – Barb’s still coughing and sneezing but she says she feels better. We’re off walking to Disney’s Hollywood Studios and arrive around 8:45. I do what I normally do and pick what looks like the shortest entry line. Unfortunately, it’s also the line where people seem to have the most problem with scanning tickets so it moves at a snail’s pace until a cast member with a handheld scanner steps in and scans tickets and allows entry through the gate usually reserved for wheelchairs, strollers, etc. Again we bypass the turnstiles so, once more, I ask if they serve a purpose.

    We follow the majority of the crowd to Toy Story Mania and are almost run over by a guy sprinting with a stroller. That’s twice in 12 hours.

    We ride Toy Story Mania with a10 minute Standby wait. I never do very well here. I once read something online describing where the high-value targets are but it didn’t stay with me and, to be honest, I really don’t have that much interest. It’s a fun attraction but, for me, that’s it. It was a bit less fun this time as one of the games wasn’t working. We had a blank screen to shoot at.

    I previously mentioned that, because this was our longest visit ever, we’d try to do a few things we don’t do regularly or haven’t done in a while. The Backlot Tour is one of those. It began as it has for a while, with the water tanks and a demonstration of how a battle scene (the film Pearl Harbor was used) might be filmed. There were no audience volunteers used today. I’m guessing that since it was about 47 degrees, dousing a guest with a few hundred gallons of water was probably not a good idea.

    The ride-through portion was similar to what I remember – Catastrophe Canyon was intact but it felt like there was less to see in costuming, set design, etc. I enjoyed this attraction again but don’t need to see it but every five years or so.

    We walked down to Star Tours and grabbed FastPasses for 10:40 before riding standby. There were lots of Brazilgentians in the queue and they were very loud. It might be because of the language differences but they seem to pay no attention to the pre-show or any announcements made.

    We stopped next in the Writer’s Stop for coffee (real coffee, not Nes-crap-e thank goodness) and muffins. We found a bar table in the back and had our breakfast there. While there, two cast members from American Idol, one with a camera, came in and started filming using a few of the items on the shelves – one was a plush. I’m not sure what they had planned but they were laughing as they did it so I’m sure it was a comical preview to something.

    We finished our coffees and walked back over to Star Tours and used our FastPasses. Again, there were tons of Argentilians in the queue and our Starspeeder. They really yell out a lot during the ride. After dozens of rides on ST, it happened… Barb is the Rebel Spy. I offered to buy her one of those “I was the Rebel Spy” t-shirts but she declined.

    We then rode the Great Movie Ride with a short wait. I still enjoy this but I do wish it would be updated. I also think that we occasionally get an over-the-top cast member that is just really into his role. When that happens, the hijacking scene can be a little painful to watch. This time, we had the gangster side and, when the first shot was fired, the young girl in front of us jumped so suddenly she knocked off her Goofy hat. I retrieved it from the floor in our row.

    Next we spent some time in One Man’s Dream. They’ve added some items since I last visited this attraction – notably a cutaway of Abraham Lincoln from the very early audio-animatronics. We also stayed for the film which I always enjoy.

    It was time to leave Disney’s Hollywood Studios and we found a waiting boat but Barb said she felt up to walking back – so we did. We spent a few minutes in the room relaxing and then decided to head to the Magic Kingdom. We have an early (4:35) dinner reservation at the new Be Our Guest restaurant and thought we might get an attraction in first.

    We just miss a bus to the Magic Kingdom. It’s at the stop as we’re walking down the sidewalk. When I see it says Magic Kingdom, we launch into the fake half-run we all use to let the driver know we’re hurrying. He either didn’t see us or he was a bit sadistic. He pulled away from the curb, then stopped. As we got closer, he pulled away again and, this time, kept on going.

    The next bus was along in 10 minutes. We entered the Magic Kingdom and walked back and saw Mickey’s Philharmagic with a 10 minute wait. This was a full show and a cast member was begging people to keep moving all the way to the end. He actually went into a row to go face to face with a mother and daughter who had stopped in the middle. He told them that people could not climb over them and they would have to move all the way down. They did.

    We walked to the BOG restaurant and checked in. There was a large crowd waiting in line - walkups? From what I’m hearing, I don’t think walkups have much of a shot at dinner. Once you’re checked in and given a pager, you’re allowed on to the bridge to wait. I took that opportunity for some photos of the Beast’s castle, bridge, gargoyles, etc. They’ve really done a great job with theming here.

    In 5 minutes, our pager thingy vibrated and red lights went off so we walked up to the front and were greeted by a cast member. She brought us inside and told us we’d be seated in the main Ballroom which is what we were hoping for.

    She shifted from English to French appropriately and interjected several lines from the song “Be Our Guest” into the conversation. I don’t think it’s a script but they seem to have a bunch of catch phrases that make this mini-tour entertaining.

    We were shown the location of the restrooms and the two dining rooms: the Beast’s room was very dark and highlighted by the rose in a glass case and portraits on the wall that had been slashed by the Beast’s claws. The Ballroom is where we were dining and is right out of the movie – very impressive. We were told the Rose room was off limits (that where the lunchtime counter service is) but we were free to roam the dining rooms. After dinner, there is an opportunity for a meet and greet with the Beast and a chance to view some special tapestries and stained glass.

    Recently, I heard an opinion that Disney will soon raise prices and decrease portion sizes here. It’s my first visit so I can’t comment on the portions but, there is about a 10% price increase over what is listed on Disney’s own Web site and two dining apps I have on the iPod. I would guess this increase to be very recent.

    We shared an appetizer, the trio of salads. I had the Strip Steak (up from $29.99 to $32.99) and Barb wanted to try the Ratatouille (which I have a very hard time spelling). I perused the wine and beer list and settled on a Hoosgarden Wit beer for my very first alcoholic drink in the Magic Kingdom. Barb stuck with water.

    For dessert, they wheel over a glass case, filled with goodies, on a cart and we chose a strawberry cupcake - again to share.

    During dinner, the Beast entered twice to music and walked through both rooms. Have your camera ready because, both times, I wasn’t able to get mine out, turned on and ready to shoot before he was gone. He strides purposefully.

    We finished our meal and then went to the Beast’s study where he was receiving guests. I took a few photos – it’s a well themed room – but neither of us was champing at the bit for a photo op so we left and spent some time photographing the stained glass before leaving.

    I liked Be Our Guest a lot. The Ballroom is beautiful and right out of the film – it looks identical. One windowed wall looks out over the French Alps and, at several times during our meal, it began snowing - really a nice touch.

    The food was very good. My Strip Steak was a little thinner than what’s typical and, when that happens, it’s often tough and tasteless - not so here. It was very tender and tasty. I tried a bit of Barb’s ratatouille and that was also very tasty.

    We walked back through Storybook Circus and, again, the Imagineers have done a great job with the theming here. We caught the railroad here at the new/old Fantasyland station and rode it completely around the park before exiting at Main Street.

    We exited the Magic Kingdom and found a waiting bus to the Boardwalk. We hit the room for a few minutes to freshen up, and then walked over to Epcot. One of our favored spots for viewing Illuminations: Reflections of Earth is in the UK, behind the Yorkshire County Fish and Chips. Unfortunately, there was a private party there tonight. The bridge was already full so we walked down to World Showcase Plaza.

    We grabbed spots in the middle, about 6 feet back from the railing, at 8:40. Sure enough, as Illuminations: Reflections of Earth starts, the camera-Ninjas move in. If you’ve left 8 inches between you and the person you’re standing behind, someone will slide into it.

    I’ve said this before but I’m used to repeating myself. Everyone needs to see Illuminations: Reflections of Earth once from this vantage point. Yes, we all have our favorite spots by Morocco… or Japan… or the bridge… I’m absolutely convinced this is the spot the Imagineers designed the show for. Everything is symmetrical and centered on the globe, which is centered on the America pavilion. When the green lasers shoot out, from all other viewing spots, it looks almost random. From here, you’d think they were emanating from the globe. Trust me on this one – do it and tell me if I’m wrong.

    When the show ended, we said goodbye to the half-dozen people I just swapped DNA with, and we swam upstream and exited through the turnstiles (why?) at the International Gateway.

    Back at the Boardwalk, we spent one show with the juggler, bought milk at the Screen Door, then went up to our room.

    Things I Think I Think – I think there’s a bazillion Brazilentenians here. I think the Backlot Tour is done for the next few trips. I think I need to see One Man’s Dream every trip – just as a reminder. I think I lik the Be Our Guest restaurant – a lot. I’m definitely up for a return trip – hopefully in the Beast’s room next time. I think Disney has done a great job with the Fantasyland expansion – and it’s not done yet. Rapunzel’s village is still t open and next year will bring the Seven Dwarves Mine Train ride which looks huge and is coming along nicely. I think you should all run out right now to view Illuminations: Reflections of Earth from World Showcase Plaza. Go!

    Day 9– Friday, January 25, 2013 – We Find Lloyd
    Sleeping in today. We don’t get up until… 7:15. Barb is still hacking so we decide to take our time this morning.

    We walk over to the Yacht Club at 9:30 for a real breakfast at the Captain’s Grill. We’re seated and given a full carafe of hot, and very good, coffee. Barb has pancakes and I stay with my usual eggs over easy. Here’s where I witness a scam I’ve not see before…

    At the next table is a couple and a young (probably 8 years old) daughter. They seem like he’s here on business – at one point a colleague stops by and meets mom and daughter and they exchange plans for the day. But when it’s time to pay, Dad whips out an AP for the discount. Disney fans but here this time on business?

    So here’s the scam: How can three people (two adults and a child) have breakfast for $9.99 at Disney World? Easy. You pay for the daughter to get the buffet, at children’s price, then mom and dad eat from her plate. They made several trips up and the daughter mostly picked at some pancakes while mom and dad had bacon, sausage, eggs, biscuits, etc. What a deal!

    After breakfast, we stopped in the Yacht Club store where Barb bought more Contac and Nyquil. We dropped this off in our room then came back out and caught the boat to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Yes, we again chose the boat over walking but I blame Barb’s diminished stamina.

    We entered and walked to Star Tours getting FastPasses for 12:05 before riding standby with a 10 minute wait. During the pre-show, Barb suggests the robot giving the safety instructions is voiced by Allison Janney (West Wing). I checked later on IMDB and it lists one of her recent roles as Ally San San on Star Tours so Barb was right. Good ear.

    Our transmission comes from Ackbar and we have a male spy so the theory still holds true.

    On to Muppetvision where we walk in just as the pre-show concludes. Drat! The show isn’t full so the cast member says to sit wherever you want – a disaster. I really think the advice should be to move all the way to the end if the show is full… and move 2/3 of the way down if it’s not. That would seem to be the best advice for everyone.

    The Standby wait for Star Tours is now 30 Minutes. It appears an Indiana Jones show has just let out. We use our FastPasses and we’re on in 5 minutes.

    We decide to leave Disney’s Hollywood Studios now. Once again, there’s a waiting boat but this time Barb decides she wants to walk – so we do.

    Back in the room, we change into swimsuits and hit the Luna Park pool. Once again, it’s noisy and the spa is filled with 7-year olds so we pack up and move to the quiet pool. There are lots of folks there but it’s… quiet. We swim and lounge for an hour or so then decide on a cocktail on our balcony – followed by a nap. Yes, this is becoming something of a lazy day.

    We venture out at about 5:00, headed for Downtown Disney. Our bus shows quickly and (this is important) make stops at the Swan, Dolphin, Yacht Club and Beach Club before heading to Downtown Disney. The Boardwalk is the first stop, right?

    We hit the Earl of Sandwich for dinner. I really like this place but we just don’t seem to get here very often. I have the Earl’s Club Sandwich and Barb gets a Chicken Caesar salad. Both are very good and a bargain – again, by Disney standards.

    Barb wants to hit the Lego store again – one more search for Lloyd ZX, the Ninjago. I’m not keen on competing for shelf time with a horde of 6-year olds but I agree. We venture in and, once again, come up empty. We corner a cast member who knows a lot more about Ninjago than anyone should. He tells us Lloyd ZX is a very popular character. They once had a shipment of twenty cases that sold out in 17 minutes. That doesn’t sound promising.

    We begin to leave when I notice a rack of key chains and one of the chains has a green character on it. A closer inspection shows it’s Lloyd ZX. Long story short, we buy the keychain for $4.99 and with a little work, free Lloyd from the chain and… voila, mission accomplished. Why didn’t the cast member tell us about the keychains?

    Naturally, we need to buy another keychain (Batman) for Christopher because my wife would never allow one grandchild to get something the other didn’t. I’m actually surprised she didn’t want to buy one for PJ – even though a six week old has little use for keys. I’ve often said my bride never actually stops Christmas shopping – she just runs out of time. We had three children. Picture three bars on a graph, each depicting what’s been spent on each child. One is always slightly higher than the others so she will continue to shop until they’re all equal which, as we all know, never happens. She just runs out of time.

    We walk to Ghirardelli for dessert. I would call this the Russo Rule but we’ve already had dinner. A Hot Fudge sundae for Barb and a Rocky Road for me and life is good – we have found Lloyd and my ice cream Jones is satisfied.

    We shop for a while then head to the Marketplace bus stops. These stops, for some reason, always confuse me but I manage to get us at the correct one. Before long we board a bus which now will stop at the Swan, Dolphin, Yacht Club and Beach Club before heading to the Boardwalk. Remember on the trip here when the Boardwalk was the first stop? So now why is it the last one? I can’t figure this out. I’ve stayed many times at the Boardwalk and this is the first time I’ve had this happen.

    We get off the bus at the Swan and make the 5-minute walk to the Boardwalk, as opposed to the 15-minute ride. We spent a few minutes watching a juggler and I glanced over at the Margherita kiosk and see my cousin, Frank, and his wife Patty, ordering something. They just arrived tonight and can’t believe we found them. Easy… we weren’t looking.

    Frank asked if I got his message which, of course, I hadn’t. I rarely hear my cell phone at Disney and usually only find messages if I look for them.

    We chatted while they had a pretzel and a beer. I broke down and let Frank buy me a beer when they had a second. We chatted right through Illuminations: Reflections of Earth. I was going to try to meet RADP’s Nicholas by Torch # 10 tonight but got completely distracted. Sorry Nicholas.

    Frank and Patty invited us to join them tomorrow night for dinner at Via Napoli. We declined, not wanting to intrude on their plans, but acquiesced later when Frank texted me.

    It was getting chilly so, at 10:00, we headed up to our respective rooms.

    Things I Think I Think – I think someone found a way to feed 3 people of a child’s buffet. I think I like the Captain’s Grill… and the Earl of Sandwich. I think people should keep their children out of the hot tubs and spas – really, it’s not good for them and there’s no reason for them to be there. I think I like Ghirardelli’s sundaes – but you knew that. I think I’m glad we found Lloyd. I think it was fun running into Frank and Patty on the Boardwalk but I completely blew my chance to meet Nicholas at Illuminations: Reflections of Earth.

    Day 10– Saturday, January 26, 2013 – OK. So maybe we stayed a couple of days too many…
    Breakfast today is bagels in the room. We bought them last night at the Bakery before heading up.

    Barb is somehow convinced we bought the wrong size shirt for Michelle. We head downstairs to Thimbles and Threads and, thankfully, they have the same shirt and will exchange ours for size. It turned out she was right.

    It was a bit chilly so when we brought Michelle’s shirt back to the room, I grabbed my golf windbreaker to wear. Turned out to be a mistake because I took it off in 10 minutes and just carried it around the rest of the morning. Once the sun got up a little bit, things warmed quickly.

    We walked over to Epcot and Test Track where I designed a very, very ugly car - but got my best score yet with it. The Test Track ride is really growing on me.

    The wait time at Soarin’ is now 55minutes so we grab FastPasses for 11:55 and then head down to the Seas With Nemo. I’ve done this ride several times and, honestly, it’s no longer worth the walk through the long queue. We enter via the gift shop and visit Turtle Talk With Crush and then spend some time viewing the aquariums.

    We still have some time to kill before our FastPasses so we visit World Showcase and I take a bunch of photos in all 11 countries. I’ve started a bit of a tradition by giving each of our kids a calendar at Christmas. Each year, I construct the calendar using photos from Disney World. This year, I’m thinking of going with an Epcot theme and I could use one country for each month – using a collage of photos from that pavilion. I’ll probably finish it with a Christmas photo (Osborne lights?) or photos for December. It’s not 100% decided yet, but I thought I’d get the photos while I have the time, just in case I go with that idea.

    After our photo tour of World Showcase, we head to Soarin’ where the Standby wait is now 70 minutes. We use our FastPasses and score the top row, center for our ride. I have a very large woman on my left. I’d say there was about 30% of her on my side of the armrest. It was her first ride and I swear I heard about fifty “Oh My God”s. At every scene change, she would screech loudly and yell “Oh My God!” She had these little Totie Field-type legs (now there’s a reference for you) and she had them stuck out straight in front of her. Barb had no idea what was going on and wondered why I was laughing throughout the ride.

    We walked back to the Boardwalk and decided to have lunch at the ESPN Club again. We reversed our order from the other day; this time Barb had the hot dog (without the chili) and I had the dinger sandwich (with hot sauce).

    After lunch we went back to the room. This is a sad anniversary for us – it was one year ago today that we lost our dog, Gunnar. His picture is still my wallpaper on the laptop (I can’t bring myself to change it) and he’s still in our thoughts – often. I never would have believed a dog would have become such a huge part of our lives.

    Barb called daughters Stephanie and Michelle to check on things at home. Last week I had decided to pay the $20 for Southwest’s Early Bird Check-in and I got online to find we had B12 and B13 Boarding Passes. Really? I did better checking us in myself on the trip down.

    At around 4:30, the phone rings and it’s Michelle with some disturbing news from home. She and Will stopped at our house to check things out. She was last there on Wednesday. They walked into a mess. The water line that feeds the refrigerator sprung a leak and was spraying a fine mist – probably for 3 days. There was an inch of water in the laundry room and the carpet in the family room was soaked. Water had condensed everywhere – ceiling, windows, doors, the fireplace… everywhere. The ceiling paint was bubbling with the moisture. I spoke with Will and was able to give him instructions to find the shut off valve for the feeder tube. They were in a panic but did a great job of mopping up water and cleaning up.

    My homeowner’s insurance agent is also a golfing buddy so I put an email into him for advice. He sent me the numbers and advised opening a claim which I did. We were heading home tomorrow and not much I could do from here so…

    We left for Via Napoli at 6:30 but ran into a major tie-up at the International Gateway. Just dozens of people trying to get through Security and the turnstiles. Frank called and asked if we were on our way. He would meet us in front and Patty was getting our table. We got there at 6:55 and met Frank outside. Patty was with the hostess and we were seated immediately.

    Today, Frank and Patty moved from the Boardwalk to the Beach Club but never got into their room until after 5:00. They were told it was an “engineering issue” which turned out to be a missing towel rack. They didn’t complain but told the front desk that they should have been given the option of moving in and waiting for Engineering to take care of the towel rack. As they often do, Disney came through. They were given a $100 credit on their room charge and insisted on using that to pay for dinner.

    We shared the salad (family style for $7 per person) and each couple ordered a large pizza (feeds 2-3). Frank and I had beers, Barb had the Rosa Regale she’s become so fond of and Patty had a vodka and tonic (our server, Lorenzo, had a real difficult time understanding Ketel One). We sent the leftovers back with Frank and Patty figuring they still had 9 days in front of them to enjoy it.

    Patty was looking for dessert in France so we headed that way, stopping to watch Illuminations near Morocco. We took up a spot near the wall and two very nice cast members told us we’d have an obstructed view there. They then opened the gate and directed us to the boat dock which offered a great view (even though it’s not the World Showcase Plaza – trust me).
    We said goodbye near France and told them to have a great trip. There was a huge backup exiting the International Gateway – again because of the silly turnstiles. They only had two open for exiting guests.

    Back in the room, I learned Nicholas had “missed Steve” by Torch # 10 tonight. Shoot! I was there but I thought he indicated he’d be there Friday night, not Saturday. Again… Sorry, Nicholas.

    Things I Think I Think – I think we should have done our typical 7-8 day trip. If we had, we’d have been home when the leak occurred and could have caught things sooner – maybe averted a disaster. I think this is my second Homeowner’s claim in two months. A windstorm in December took down some fence. I think they’ll be raising my rates shortly. I think it was fun getting together with Frank and Patty tonight. We’ve only been to Via Napoli twice but have liked it both times. I think I screwed up the mini-meet with Nicholas. That was definitely “my bad” for relying on my memory rather than re-checking his post. I’d like to say we can do it again but who knows the next time we’ll be at Walt Disney World at the same time. I think we have some major cleanup ahead of us when we return home.

    Day 11– Sunday, January 27, 2013 – Is it over already?
    It wasn’t a good night. Sleep was fitful and the night became a series of short naps.

    After 10 days, and given the news from home, neither of us needed to head to a park today. We took our time getting ready and did our final packing. We took our two suitcases down to the Resort Airline Check-in counter, checked the bags and retrieved our Boarding Passes from them.

    We walked out on the Boardwalk for breakfast at Kouzzina. It wasn’t full but was more crowded than I’d seen it for breakfast. As we were waiting to be seated, Stephanie called. She asked if it was OK if son-in-law Paul and his contractor friend, Chris, met at our house to assess damage and see what they could do. Yes… please. I told her to have them call me when they had a chance to look things over.

    We each had the American (Two Eggs with Breakfast Potatoes and choice of Bacon or Chicken Sausage) opting for the chicken sausage which was tasty, but different. We also finished off a carafe of some very good coffee.

    After breakfast, it was back up to the room to pack up our remaining items into the carry-on bags. We then vacated the room to give Housekeeping a jump on getting it ready for the next guests. We then walked out to the back porch and set up again in the rocking chairs.

    A few minutes later, Paul called. His first reaction was it “wasn’t as bad as I imagined”. I spoke with Chris who said if it hadn’t been for the sopping carpet, he wouldn’t have known there was a problem. Michelle and Will had done a bang-up job of cleaning things up and mopping up the floors.

    Chris recommended putting in a large dehumidifier (which he did) and letting run continuously. He also replaced the feeder hose and did it so we wouldn’t have a repeat of this problem. I was feeling better about things but knew we were about to have a few weeks’ worth of serious disruption.

    Our Disney’s Magical Express bus pulled up on time at 12:15. We (surprisingly) made no other stops and were at the airport quickly. Our flight left 10 minutes late and we landed in Albany at 6:15. Nothing prepares you for that cold blast as you transition from plane to jetway. Welcome home.

    Michelle, Will and the boys were there to greet us. Our bags came off quickly and were home in short order. Barb handed out the various gifts: t-shirt, Lloyd the Ninjago, Pluto, etc. Michelle was nice enough to stock us with milk, bread and some breakfast items so we could wait until tomorrow to get some groceries.

    Will gave us a tour of the damage and it really didn’t look too bad - at a glance. The carpet was still soaked however, and beginning to get “that smell”. I thought we might have mold growing very soon.

    This was certainly a unique way to end a vacation.

    Final Thoughts – Was 11 days / 10 nights too long? I’d have to say “no”. We really weren’t sick of Disney or anxious to get home. If we do that again, however, I will definitely have a car and venture offsite for at least a few days. We certainly weren’t sick of the parks and it was nice touring leisurely, with no real agenda.

    The RADP meets were a lot of fun. I’ve heard others say this and it’s so true – it’s amazing how people that have never met can get together and mesh so seamlessly. I guess it’s a tribute to the on-line communities we inhabit. I am sorry I missed meeting up with Nicholas. It would have been fun to watch Illuminations: Reflections of Earth with him. I’m sure I’d have been watching for any sign of enjoyment to rub it in.

    We enjoyed all the restaurants we visited. I’ll give a special nod to the two new places we tried: Todd English’s bluezoo (and thanks to Lisa, Nick and Nora for the recommendation) and Be Our Guest. I really think Disney has done a great job with the Fantasyland expansion and this restaurant is a big part of it.

    I think we’ll be taking a bit of a hiatus from Disney – all of about 9-months. Our next trip is scheduled for the Food and Wine Festival this fall. Barb has been hinting at a short trip in May for the Flower and Garden Festival. We’ll see.

    I’m writing these final words on February 9, 2013 – almost 2 full weeks after returning. As soon as we got back, we had a “mitigation team” come in and, for 3 days, we had industrial-sized dehumidifiers and drying fans running 24/7. It sounded like a jet engine in our family room. Television was out of the question unless we enabled “closed captioning”.

    Yesterday, in the hours prior to a major snowstorm, we had new carpeting installed in the family room and new flooring in the laundry room. I replaced some insulation and wood baseboards but no walls had to be removed. To prepare for the new flooring, I de-installed our washer/dryer. That’s where I learned (the hard way) that the shut-off valve to our clothes washer was defective – almost another disaster. The only indications of a problem that remain are two sticky closet doors. They may have warped just a bit.

    So… all in all, it was a great vacation. While we were gone, the temperatures in the Albany area were single digits with wind chills below zero. We had a few cooler days at Disney but nowhere near that. I was a bit disappointed in Old Key West but loved our week at the Boardwalk. As I said… I could live there.

    Thanks for reading.
    Last edited by srusso100; 02-10-2013 at 12:08 PM.

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  3. #2

    Thanks for taking the time to write the trip report. I know how much work they take. It was a great read today due to the snowstorm we had last night. We got lucky down state here in Mount Vernon, NY; only about 11 inches. Glad we dont live in Connecticut with well over 30 inches snow!

    Ill have to put Portobellos (for the Meatball sliders) and Todd Englishs Bluezoo (but not for the barrel-aged Manhattan). I wonder if my wife Kelli wouldnt mind eating in the lounge.

    And I will have to remember the Big River Grill and Brewing Works for a good hamburger when my wife is looking for a good one.

    Michael and Kellis August 2016 Trip with 25 Friends and family
    Common Walt Disney World Wild Birds
    Our other Disney Trips (including our Disneymoon): Kelli and Mike's Adventures

  4. #3

    Hi Steve!
    Thanks for another great trip report! Perfect timing as well! We live right outside Boston and after a long day of digging out after the storm (4ft in some snow drifts in the driveway) to come in sit down and find your report just made my night. As much as it takes a lot to write these I for one truly enjoy them. We only goto WDW every 2 years so between times we get a little bit of pixie dust through reading them not to mention all the great tips you provide us.
    Our home resort is BLT and have to agree with you about TOTWL, it is a different side view and very loud, much better to walk over to Main Street and see Wishes from there. I think that's why they opened TOTWL up to all DVC on points as the attendance from those staying here is not what they had hoped for. Can't believe someone didn't snap those TSM FP quicker with the lines to this so long. For the life of me I just don't get this ride as I find Buzz Lightyear much better. Illuminations is my favorite, find myself with tears in my eyes everytime,and yes you must, at least once experience the show from WorldShowcase Plaza.
    As far as the Patriots go... well, we won't discuss them.
    Glad to hear your home is getting back to normal and I really hope Barbara gets to go to the Flower and Garden Festival in May!
    Thank you for all your time, effort and Disney magic putting these reports together, we really appreciate it!

    Thanks for Writing!

  5. #4
    Registered User srusso100's Avatar
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    Apr 2001
    Albany, NY
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    Quote Originally Posted by bochnikm View Post
    Thanks for taking the time to write the trip report. I know how much work they take. It was a great read today due to the snowstorm we had last night. We got lucky down state here in Mount Vernon, NY; only about 11 inches. Glad we don’t live in Connecticut with well over 30 inches snow!

    I’ll have to put Portobellos (for the Meatball sliders) and Todd Englishs Bluezoo (but not for the barrel-aged Manhattan). I wonder if my wife Kelli wouldn’t mind eating in the lounge.

    And I will have to remember the Big River Grill and Brewing Works for a good hamburger when my wife is looking for a good one.
    Thanks. I think I need to start another poll on the best WDW burger. It might be fun to try the top 3 or 4 during a trip.

  6. #5
    Registered User srusso100's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by baylakebeliever View Post
    Hi Steve!
    Thanks for another great trip report! Perfect timing as well! We live right outside Boston and after a long day of digging out after the storm (4ft in some snow drifts in the driveway) to come in sit down and find your report just made my night. As much as it takes a lot to write these I for one truly enjoy them. We only goto WDW every 2 years so between times we get a little bit of pixie dust through reading them not to mention all the great tips you provide us.
    Our home resort is BLT and have to agree with you about TOTWL, it is a different side view and very loud, much better to walk over to Main Street and see Wishes from there. I think that's why they opened TOTWL up to all DVC on points as the attendance from those staying here is not what they had hoped for. Can't believe someone didn't snap those TSM FP quicker with the lines to this so long. For the life of me I just don't get this ride as I find Buzz Lightyear much better. Illuminations is my favorite, find myself with tears in my eyes everytime,and yes you must, at least once experience the show from WorldShowcase Plaza.
    As far as the Patriots go... well, we won't discuss them.
    Glad to hear your home is getting back to normal and I really hope Barbara gets to go to the Flower and Garden Festival in May!
    Thank you for all your time, effort and Disney magic putting these reports together, we really appreciate it!

    Thanks for Writing!
    Thanks, Gail, for those kind words. We were spared a bit on snowfall - only about 7-8" at our house. But it's -2 degrees this morning and I'm missing my balcony at the Boardwalk.

  7. #6

    I love your trip reports.. I really love the Things I Think I Think section...

    Donna ~ Next trip - Disney World in November 2014.

  8. #7
    Registered User srusso100's Avatar
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    I just noticed that, for some reason, when I copy/pasted this report over from Word, much of the punctuation did not come with it. Specifically apostrophes, quotes marks, ellipses and colons are gone. That probably makes it more difficult to read and I apologize. I'll try to find out what happened...


  9. #8

    Great report Steve! You are right, alot of work goes into writing one (I failed at my last one and used lots of photos). Photos do say alot, but a nice read is wonderful. I will give you an "A" on this one! I couldn't sleep last night and found your newly posted report. Since it did not put me to sleep, I had to give it high marks. Did you post your photos anywhere...I'd love to see them. Just booked an eight night stay at the Yacht Club for my parents (I will be going as well, but my real role is "escort"). My dad is newly retired at 85 and requested a first class trip and I know this resort will fit the bill. It was a toss up between Boardwalk and BC/YC, but I really wanted to book a waterview room and at YC it is assured. Loved your comments on Be Our Guest, as I hope to get there too!

    Thanks again! Hope you get to squeeze in a May trip...that's also when we are going!

    Followed by Mother/Daughter trip: POP Century - May 13-18

  10. #9
    Registered User arnoldvb's Avatar
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    Just finished reading your trip report, Steve, and enjoyed it immensely! Thanks for the good Sunday afternoon read. Overall, it sounds like you and Barbara had a great time. Hope the water damage back at home is all taken care of by now.

  11. #10

    I really, really, really hope that you keep writing trip reports. I know they are a lot of work, but they are so appreciated!!! I have read so many of yours, and I'm always glad to find a new one. I just spent the afternoon reading it (instead of doing laundry, so thank you for that too).

    I'm sorry about the water damage at your home. What a pain! I'm glad that things are back to normal with that.

    I've noticed the same thing about importing from Word... I don't know why the punctuation is lost. It is frustrating. I didn't notice until I had already posted most of my trip report.

    It sounds like a very nice trip, but I'm sorry Barb had to fight a cold while you were there. I hope that I will get to go sometime in the near future and see the new Fantasyland expansion, and also to ride Test Track. It was closed when I was there last May with my son.

    Thanks again for writing this and posting it!

  12. #11
    Registered User srusso100's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by arnoldvb View Post
    Just finished reading your trip report, Steve, and enjoyed it immensely! Thanks for the good Sunday afternoon read. Overall, it sounds like you and Barbara had a great time. Hope the water damage back at home is all taken care of by now.
    Thanks, Arnold. I've been trying to get to your - unsuccessfully so far. Hopefully this week.

  13. #12
    Registered User srusso100's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by betsyrina View Post
    I really, really, really hope that you keep writing trip reports. I know they are a lot of work, but they are so appreciated!!! I have read so many of yours, and I'm always glad to find a new one. I just spent the afternoon reading it (instead of doing laundry, so thank you for that too).

    I'm sorry about the water damage at your home. What a pain! I'm glad that things are back to normal with that.

    I've noticed the same thing about importing from Word... I don't know why the punctuation is lost. It is frustrating. I didn't notice until I had already posted most of my trip report.

    It sounds like a very nice trip, but I'm sorry Barb had to fight a cold while you were there. I hope that I will get to go sometime in the near future and see the new Fantasyland expansion, and also to ride Test Track. It was closed when I was there last May with my son.

    Thanks again for writing this and posting it!
    Thanks for those kind words.

    Regarding the punctuation... it appears to be an issue copy/pasting from Word 2010. Almost all of the punctuation does not come through. I re-saved the document in Word 97-03 format, and the c/p seemed to work OK.

  14. #13

    Steve, thanks for another wonderful trip report. I always enjoy yours and look forward to them.

  15. #14
    DVC Member ssmerdel's Avatar
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    Jul 2007
    Greenwood, Indiana

    Steve Russo - January 2013 - Old Key West and Boardwalk Villas

    Awesome trip report. Thanks for sharing. We will be trying BOG when we go in June. Cannot wait. We also love Illuminations. We have our favorite spot we watch from, but we will have to try it from World Showcase Plaza.

    Past Trips: 2006-POR; 2008-POP; 2009-CBR; 2010-VB/AKV Kidani; 2010-BLT; 2011-BWV; 2011-AKV Kidani; 2013-BCV/BLT; 2014-AKL Jambo (Concierge); 2015-SSR/OKW; 2016 BCV/AKV Kidani

  16. #15
    Registered User srusso100's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ssmerdel View Post
    Awesome trip report. Thanks for sharing. We will be trying BOG when we go in June. Cannot wait. We also love Illuminations. We have our favorite spot we watch from, but we will have to try it from World Showcase Plaza.
    Trust me.

  17. #16
    Registered User Silvercat's Avatar
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    Birmingham, UK

    Hi Steve - thank you so much for taking the time to write and post this report. I was sad when I read the beginning where you talk about nearly not doing one, because your writing style is just so funny, entertaining and descriptive. I'm sure none of us on here get tired of your reports, and certainly do not think you are running out of things to say!

    Because we only get over from the UK once a year or even less, I am always so interested to read about any new developments or experiences that happen and that you cover in your reports, such as your Test Track experiences this time.

    Maybe one day we will be there at the same time and can share a Mouseplanet related, Disney-driven hug!

    Again, many thanks for the report, it was great fun to read, and I am sorry about Barb's cold and the escaped water.


    (Enjoy reading trip reports? Why not try my books, "Tiggerific Travels Parts 1, 2 & 3" - available now as e-books)

  18. #17
    Registered User srusso100's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Silvercat View Post
    Hi Steve - thank you so much for taking the time to write and post this report. I was sad when I read the beginning where you talk about nearly not doing one, because your writing style is just so funny, entertaining and descriptive. I'm sure none of us on here get tired of your reports, and certainly do not think you are running out of things to say!

    Because we only get over from the UK once a year or even less, I am always so interested to read about any new developments or experiences that happen and that you cover in your reports, such as your Test Track experiences this time.

    Maybe one day we will be there at the same time and can share a Mouseplanet related, Disney-driven hug!

    Again, many thanks for the report, it was great fun to read, and I am sorry about Barb's cold and the escaped water.
    Thanks. I would love the opportunity for a meet-up, especially with someone from across the pond.

    And I love your comment about the "escaped water". Those from the UK are so typically proper. To us Yanks, it was a "#%@$/ leak!"

  19. #18

    I'm stuck for 4 hours in Evansville airport - what a nice surprise to see Steve has posted a new trip report! The best all-time WDW trip reports - say you won't ever stop Steve!

  20. #19
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    Not a bad day. After abstaining all day (you know why) and getting locked out trying to log into MousePad, I finially got in and what to my wondering eyes did appear?
    To quote Frank Zappa...
    Wowie Zowie
    A new Steve Russo trip report.
    Great reading awaits before a long winter's nap.
    See you for breakfast SOON!

    Jim Pertierra

  21. #20

    Thanks for the entertaining report! I'm in the middle of writing one now, and even though it's much less detailed than yours it's still a lot of work.

    We arrived in Florida as you were leaving and I agree that the crowds were much heavier than we have experienced in previous years. Late January/early February used to be our favorite time of year for a WDW trip, but the number of tour groups appears to be growing and their season appears to be getting longer. It used to be that there would be a few, but manageable number of groups at the end of January and hardly any by the beginning of February. This year there was an overwhelming number of groups through our departure on the 4th. The groups also seem to be coming from more countries (we saw groups from Brazil, Argentina, and Peru), so I expect their numbers to continue to increase. I think we'll avoid January and early February from now on. I'd rather go at slightly busier times without the tour groups. At least you can plan for the crowds and walk around freely. The groups clog up the walkways and dramatically and randomly increase wait times. Not to mention the rampant line-cutting, constant pushing while in line, and other annoying behaviors.

    Also, your comment about the noise at OKW reminded me of our stay at POFQ. While we loved the resort, I was surprised by how loud the toilets were! I was woken up several times the first night by toilets flushing in rooms around us. The next day I called housekeeping for extra pillows and slept with one on my head for the rest of our stay. Problem solved.

  22. #21

    In your honor, Steve, Things I Think I Think: My children owe you a great debt since I started following the Russo Rule about 4 years ago. My parents and I bought into DVC in 1995, so OKW is our home resort. Although I have not stayed there in several years, I have not had the unfortunate experiences you did. That said, I consistently trade for BC or BW and have also become a Crescent Lake snob. I understand the bias. Your trip reports shine with love for your family, honest critique without whining, healthy perspective on what is important in life, and simply good writing. You are one of four or five authors of trip reports that are “must read” for me. I know they require a lot of work, and I can’t fault you for taking a pass now and then, but please don’t retire! The forum would be much diminished without your contributions.

    Thanks to you and Barb for sharing your experiences with us over the years!


  23. #22
    Registered User srusso100's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kermie View Post
    I'm stuck for 4 hours in Evansville airport - what a nice surprise to see Steve has posted a new trip report! The best all-time WDW trip reports - say you won't ever stop Steve!
    Thanks. But "never" is a long time...

  24. #23
    Registered User srusso100's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Pertierra View Post
    Not a bad day. After abstaining all day (you know why) and getting locked out trying to log into MousePad, I finially got in and what to my wondering eyes did appear?
    To quote Frank Zappa...
    Wowie Zowie
    A new Steve Russo trip report.
    Great reading awaits before a long winter's nap.
    See you for breakfast SOON!
    The ball is in your court, Jim.

  25. #24
    Registered User srusso100's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by GoofyMomInMN View Post
    In your honor, Steve, Things I Think I Think: My children owe you a great debt since I started following the Russo Rule about 4 years ago. My parents and I bought into DVC in 1995, so OKW is our home resort. Although I have not stayed there in several years, I have not had the unfortunate experiences you did. That said, I consistently trade for BC or BW and have also become a Crescent Lake snob. I understand the bias. Your trip reports shine with love for your family, honest critique without whining, healthy perspective on what is important in life, and simply good writing. You are one of four or five authors of trip reports that are “must read” for me. I know they require a lot of work, and I can’t fault you for taking a pass now and then, but please don’t retire! The forum would be much diminished without your contributions.

    Thanks to you and Barb for sharing your experiences with us over the years!
    Thank you for those kind words. I'll expect a check in the mail for royalties on your use of the Russo Rule ;-)

  26. #25

    1st of all steve PLEASE dont ever stop writing a trip report. your touring style is just like mine . rope drop hit the favs , lunch, nap back to the parks. 11 days wow would love to do that longest for me 7 days . a member of " FRIENDS OF THE ROSE & CROWN " recently spent 18 days @ our home away from home due to the heavy snow in the north , could not get a flight home . a dvc member, disney took good care of him . what would we do with out our sports ??? hockey anyone ?
    go bolts., go bruins . thing i think i really miss BRITISH INVASION . my best to you & barb, dusty



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