Binnie L. Betten -- June 1998 -- Walt Disney World (PO) / Disney Cruise Trip
June 7, 1999 to June 18, 1999
I've been to WDW 9 others times in the past. Several trips were pretty elaborate. A few were the "economy" versions. In order to go to WDW, I once I hitched a ride with a friend whom was visiting his sisters in Jacksonville, and once I traveled to WDW from Pittsburgh completely alone. But this trip was a 2-1/2 years in the planning, pull out all the stops, total WDW experience-extravaganza.
Why was this trip so special? Well there were several reasons. First, it was sort of a last ditch effort on my part to convert my non-WDW-loving hubby to a partner who could share in the magic and wonder I felt about this incredible place. You'll have to read the entire saga to find out if I succeeded ;-) Second, at the very first second I conceived the idea of cruising on the Disney Magic, I began a healthy lifestyle calculated to transform me from a 198 pound overweight Internet potato into a lean mean touring machine. I am proud to say that I came very close to achieving that goal. At 131 pounds, I'm still a few pounds from my ultimate goal of 120 pounds, but my health has vastly improved and my touring energy was through the roof on this trip.
Besides the improvements in my weight and health, planning this trip was life enhancing in other respects. I began reading RADP and made some friends (Charlotte, Jane, DC Deb, you all know who you are). I joined the DisneyDieters and made even more friends. I started a few Disney mailing lists of my own, DisneyDeserted, DisneyDepressed and DisneyDollarless. I attended the 3rd Annual RADP Holiday Meet. Last but certainly not least, I spent some cherished time on this trip with some of my new Internet friends, Laurie and hubby Don, Carol, Barbara and Joe. In addition I will be meeting up with some other RADP and DDer friends when I attend the 4th Annual Holiday RADP Meet this December.
Finally, I'd like to mention that there were a few problems planning this trip from the very onset. Originally, my husband (Joe, age 51), my sister (Mary, age 39), Mary's boyfriend (Jimmie, age 44), my beautiful granddaughter (Alisha, age 6) and I (Binnie, age 49), were all booked on the Disney Magic cruise portion of the trip. My dear friends Johnny and Gail were to join us on the WDW portion of the trip, which we had extended to 5 days. Our original cruise date was set for June 8, 1998. As many of you have probably already guessed, the cruise line canceled that cruise because the completion of the Disney Magic was not on schedule. How do you tell a 6-year-old that the trip to WDW for which she has been waiting for 1-1/2 years has been canceled? Obviously I couldn't. So we rescheduled our cruise for June 7, 1999, and Joe, Johnny, Gail, Alisha and I went to WDW for 5 days in June of 1998 as originally planned. The cruise the following year would now include only Joe, Jimmie, Mary and me. We also extended the WDW portion to 7 days, and planning for the trip-of-a-lifetime began anew.
Day 1: Monday, June 7, 1999 --Disney Institute and Victoria & Albert's
At 4:15 AM I got out of bed and began getting ready for our "trip-of-a-lifetime." Joe and I would be spending 2 romantic days alone at WDW before my sister Mary Beth and her boyfriend Jimmie joined us on Wednesday, June 9. At 5:30 AM my sister-in-law Laura arrived to take us to the Pittsburgh International Airport. We did curbside check-in, and then found a sit-down restaurant for breakfast. We both were too anxious to make decisions at this point so we ordered two of the restaurant's breakfast specials which, consisted of scrambled eggs, home fries, Canadian bacon and toast. The total cost was $15 plus a tip, and it really wasn't very good. That didn't dampen my spirits any though. I think you could have served me cardboard and I wouldn't have minded too much. I was just soooo excited to be finally on my way. The cruise line managed to get us booked on a direct flight to Florida, but unfortunately our seats were not located together. I wasn't very upset since this was to be only a two-hour flight. We arrived at our departure gate at 7:00 AM., and the nice lady at the check-in podium switched our seats from 5D and 6D to 6A and 6B. Yes! We would be sitting together after all. By 9:00 AM we were already half way to Orlando. I finished up my orange juice, and pulled out my journal to begin recording notes for my trip report. Joe asked me what I was up to, and when I explained I was keeping a record for a trip report I intended to write, he inquired in a completely rhetorical manner, "does it say O.J. good, husband bad"? I had to laugh because I knew he was referring to the 3 or 4 times I had chastised him that morning for moving so slowly. I told him that now the entire Internet would know why my pet name for him was "Molasses." Next I pulled out the first of the 16 itinerary note cards I had so carefully prepared --the one containing our flight information-- and disposed of it. Joe just rolled his eyes, signifying his disbelief at being married to such a Disney fanatic.
We arrived at Orlando International Airport at 10:20 AM right on schedule and expected as our cruise line literature had described, to be met "at our arrival gate" by a Disney Cruise Line representative. There was none in sight! I marched to the nearest phone and called the DCL "800" number to find out what to do next. I was told that the DCL representative would be "where all of the gates converged near the airport shuttle." That's *not* what was stated on page 62 of our Disney Magic Passport! Sure enough, she was there holding up her Disney Cruise Line sign. In a matter of 5 minutes a rather large crowd of cruise line guests had gathered around her, so she marched us down to where we would be boarding the buses to take us to WDW. As we proceeded through the airport strangers with beads in their hair called out, "you're going to have a great time," as we passed.
We were the first ones dropped off at our resort, Port Orleans. Check-in was a snap thanks to a very helpful and competent CM named Casey. She made sure that we would have adjoining rooms with Jimmie and Mary Beth, even though they wouldn't be arriving until Wednesday. She even sold us our E-tickets for Friday night, and Jimmie and Mary's E-tickets too. Best of all, our room was ready for us at 11:30 AM. Joe and I had time to relax in our room, which had a lovely courtyard view, before heading over to our class at the Disney Institute.
As I previously mentioned, Joe is *not* a park person. In an effort to find more at WDW that would appeal to him, I decided that a class on wine pairing might be just the ticket to "ease" him into our 7-day stay. We arrived at the Institute at 1:30 PM via a free taxi cab ride, and took a leisurely stroll over to Studio 9 where our culinary program "Wine, Wonders, and Song" was scheduled to take place. I'm not sure if after the course was completed we were any more proficient at wine selection, but we enjoyed 4 glasses of wonderful wine and a lovely meal prepared before us consisting of lemon & herb roasted Cornish hens, risotto with wild mushrooms and flat bread. The whole experience could only be described as a thoroughly entertaining afternoon. A little giddy from the wine, we held hands, and made our way back to our resort feeling as if we were off to a fabulous start.
We now had about 5 hours to kill before our 9:30 PM seating at Victoria and Albert's. Joe decided to nap while I took a stroll around the resort and wrote in my journal. After buying 2 of the refillable mugs at the food court, I checked back at the room at 6:00 PM to discover that our luggage still had not arrived. Knowing that I had at least another hour before we would have to start getting ready for our dinner reservations, I hadn't begun to panic--yet. At 6:30 PM I was beginning to get a little edgy so I called Bell Services to inquire about the luggage. They said that it still had not arrived from the cruise line, but they would send it to our room immediately when it did. At 7 PM I decided that I would take a walk down to the cruise line desk to see if they could help me get our luggage before we missed our V&A seating. The nice lady at the desk walked back to Bell Services to check on our luggage personally. I could tell by the expression on her face as she came back through the door that the news wasn't good. She said that the cruise line luggage had indeed arrived, but ours wasn't among them. Yikes! Time to panic! The cruise line representative said that she would call the airline immediately to see if they could locate our luggage. US Airway said they didn't have our luggage. I asked her, "What now"? She said she didn't know since this had never happened while she was on duty. Great! Since I had recently lost weight, I had an entire new wardrobe in those suitcases including 4 very beautiful new dresses that I painstakingly shopped for hours to find exactly the right one for each of the 4 occasions to which they would be worn. I asked if I could use the phone to call our room and let Joe know the situation. Joe answered the phone, and then asked me to hold on for a moment since there was someone knocking at our room door. He then returned to the phone and informed me that our luggage had arrived. The cruise representative looked very relieved, albeit confused, as did I. I thanked her for her help, and then explained that I needed to hurry since we now had very little time to shower, dress and make it over to the Grand Floridian. She said that the cruise line would be happy to pay for a cab so that we would have more time to get ready.
Joe and I arrived at the Grand Floridian with a half an hour to spare and enjoyed a drink while lounging in the main lobby. Two women I didn't know were sweet enough to compliment my dress, and I was beginning to feel as if Cinderellaís fairy godmother had waved her wand over me. At 9:30 PM we were seated at our table, and for the next 3 hours Joe and I made our way through seven exceptional courses including wine pairings. Appropriately, the elegant room contained less than a dozen spaciously positioned, white linen covered, candlelit tables. In the middle of the room was a large marble pedal stool crowned with a huge arrangement of gorgeous fresh flowers. In addition to Joe and I, there were only 4 other couples dining that evening. The harpist was divine and played quite a few of my favorite songs including selections from Phantom of the Opera. The conversation was engaging, and the laughter and wine both flowed. Joe and I agreed that the Chardonnay was the best glass of wine we had ever had, and the German Kona coffee maker placed on our table was the oddest thing that we had ever seen. I'm still not quite sure how it worked. Miraculously, we both managed to clean our plates of all seven courses, and were served sinful truffle confections as a reward. After the meal, our butler Albert presented me with a long stem rose, and Joe and I were given our personalized menus printed with our names and the date as a keepsake. Our maid Victoria graciously agreed to take our picture. The total bill for the most wonderfully romantic meal we had ever experienced was $367 including tax and a 20% tip.
I guess all the wine I had consumed this day made me a little tipsy because as I waited in front of the Grand Floridian for our cab, a giant beetle-looking bug came crawling towards me, and I simply swatted it away with the bloom of my long stem rose. Normally I'd have been standing on the bench screaming when accosted by a critter of that size.
While it would appear that our evening ended on a perfect note, later that night was a slightly different story. Joe and I were both more stuffed than we had ever been in our lives, and unfortunately after tossing and turning half the night, we gave in and got up and dug the Zantac out of our suitcase. The following morning found us both feeling still very full when we awoke.
Day 2: Tuesday, June 8, 1999 --Keys to the Kingdom Tour, Lord of the Dance dinner & show
This morning Joe and I decided that we would definitely skip breakfast and go directly to the Magic Kingdom where we were scheduled to take the 9:30 AM "Keys to the Kingdom" tour. This was a 5-hour walking tour of the Magic Kingdom that included a visit to the Utilidors. Joe found the tour very informative, but I must admitt that after reading RADP for the past several years, I didn't learn very much that was new. Still, it was interesting, and I was particularly surprised by how noisy the pneumatic garbage disposal system made the Utilidors. Our tour guide, Shelly, explained Disney's hiring standards, and I found out that I would make an excellent candidate for a CM but Joe would not because of his facial hair. Next Shelly asked us who was our favorite Disney character. Mine has always been Mickey--no problem there. But it was amusing to watch Joe try to quickly figure out who was his. He finally settled on Grumpy, which was fitting I suppose. We also got to bypass the line at the Haunted Mansion and go for a ride, which was a very good thing since I was expecting to ride it later in the week during E-Ticket night, and it wasn't opened then. The tour guide pointed out a rather abstract hidden "Donald" in the Haunted Mansion that I hadn't noticed before. She also told an amusing story concerning a grouping of 3 dinner plates on the table in the haunted dining room positioned in a "very familiar pattern," and how their arrangement related to a Cast Member vs. Imagineer rivalry. Next we took a half-hour break for lunch. After several hours of walking, Joe and I were finally getting our appetites back and got something to eat at the Columbia Harbour House. I had the chili in a bread bowl, which was very good, but I didn't enjoy eating it at the pace that was required to consume it, take a bathroom break and meet back at the group within 30 minutes. After lunch we continue the tour, and Joe was chosen to demonstrate how "forced perspective" is effectively used in the MK. He climbed up on the balcony to one of the buildings in Fantasyland, and had to duck way down to keep from hitting his head. That balcony sure looked normal sized from the ground.
After the tour we cut through the gift shop on Main Street on our way out of the park, and I just happened to discover two very unique Mickey rings which I immediately purchased. Next we stopped at the "Walk Around the World" Information Both for directions to the brick that I had purchased for my granddaughter and me. We found it opposite of the monorail station to Epcot. Its the one inscribed "Alisha Beltz and Nana, Pittsburgh, PA."
After locating my brick and taking several photos, Joe and I continued on to Epcot to pick up our tickets for the "Lord of the Dance" show and dinner at Alfredo's. When I purchased the tickets over the phone, I was told by CRO to pick them up inside the entrance to Future World at Guest Relations. Upon arriving there, the CM directed me to a kiosk near Germany. I couldn't locate "said" kiosk and after making several more inquires, we were finally directed to a booth near the American Adventure. After waiting an additional 15 minutes for the CM in the booth to take care of the one person ahead of us, Joe and I were given our "ticket" badges. Needless to say this whole ordeal made "Grumpy" very cranky because of all the extra walking. I told him he should have trained better for this vacation as I had. My lack of sympathy didn't go over very well, but I truly had tried to get Joe to walk with me for months before this trip. We still had about a half an hour to kill before the show, so we wander down to the Japanese pavilion in time to catch the girl forming rice candy sculptures. She fashioned a dragon and then a dolphin in quick succession, and succeeded in impressing us with her unusual talent. It was very nice to walk back to the Lord of the Dance stage and not have to wait in line to get a front row seat. Joe and I really enjoyed this show. The dancers were very energetic, and we particularly liked the female fiddle-playing duet even if they were faking it as several people on RADP have suggested. Next we headed to Alfredo's for our prepaid dinner. We each got to select an appetizer, soup or salad; entree; nonalcoholic beverage; and desert from the menu. I had the signature dish, Pasta Alfredo, and thought it was the best I ever had. The roving musicians were a nice touch, but this was probably the most hectic World Showcase restaurant in which I've dined.
I was still very much trying to "convert" Joe by catering to his likes and dislikes, so after dinner I suggested that we walk over to the Boardwalk to checkout the ESPN Sports Club. The club had standing room only due to the Dallas and Buffalo Stanley Cup playoff. Not being able to tolerate the packed conditions in the club for long, we left and took a slow stroll back to World Showcase just in time to catch the evening performance of Illuminations. To Joe's delight, we found a decent viewing spot located next to the beer stand in France.
On our way out of the park, we over heard a little boy asking his mother if they had "this fireworks show here every single night"? After the mother assured him several times that there was indeed fireworks here every single night, the little boy replied, "If I was a kid who didn't get to come here, I sure would cry, and cry, and cry." It made me a little sad that my granddaughter Alisha wasn't along on this trip.
Day 3: Wednesday, June 9, 1999 --Animal Kingdom and Artist Point
Joe and I awoke at 8:00 AM to the sound of Mickey's voice telling us to "wake up pal," and arrived at Animal Kingdom by 9:30 AM. The extremely pleasant weather we had experienced the first two days was beginning to turn a little hot. Our first stop was the Tusker House for a sticky bun and coffee ($8.75). Next we headed over to see the "Flights of Wonder" show. The Caravan Stage was being remodeled so the show took place in a tent that had terrible viewing conditions. I'm sure that anyone more than 5 or 6 rows back could not see a thing. There was a very smart Green Parrot in the show that knew the lyrics to seven full songs. We heard him sing two of them, one in English and one in French. Very impressive! Next we took the Maharaja Jungle Trek. The whole area was beautiful, and I was amazed at how genuinely aged the crumbling walls looked. I came away a bit disappointed though since I had barely caught a glimpse of the tigers. I did however get a good long look at the bats and thought that they were terrifying and fascinating all at the same time. We had 12:00 PM priority seating at the Rainforest Cafe, but we weren't feeling very hungry since we had just eaten the sticky buns several hours ago. Still, I very much wanted to see the restaurant so we headed over. Joe and I decided that we would split an order of Mojo Bones and flat bread, but the portions were so huge that we still could not finish what we had ordered. The aquariums were beautiful, the service was slow, the food was good, the restaurant was noisy, and the fruit smoothies were excellent. The total cost of our shared meal was $45 including a $6 tip.
Now we headed over to Conservation Station to experience the 3-D Rain Forest Sound Booths. I highly recommend that you try these at least once--that large cat roaring in my left ear sent shivers up and down my spine. I truly felt as if it were right behind me waiting to pounce. We didn't see much else there that interested us and promptly departed on the Wildlife Express.
It was just about time to head to the park entrance to meet Jimmie and Mary Beth who were arriving today. After waiting an hour and a half beyond our designated meeting time, I went to Guest Relations and asked if they could phone our resort and find out if they had checked in yet. The resort rang their room, and Jimmie answered explaining that they had only just arrived and that they had been through several connecting flight nightmares, along with some misplaced luggage, and the Mear's Shuttle trip from hell. They promised that they would try to make it over to AK within the next 45 minutes. I viewed the extended waiting time as an opportunity to convince Joe that he should give Countdown to Extinction a try. He really hates coasters, but I thought that he would probably be okay with this. Well, the surprise was on me. He really hated this ride and wouldn't trust my recommendations about "safe" rides for the remainder of the trip. I sure didn't score any points with that one :- (
Finally we met up with Jimmie and Mary at the park entrance. Joe took advantage of the arrival of my new "riding" partners to escape back to our hotel room, and the 3 of us headed back to Countdown to Extinction. Jimmie and Mary both loved it. Next we saw "Tough to be a Bug," and of course we couldn't help marveling at the Tree of Life. Even Mary, who often has a ho-hum attitude in the park, scampered from animal to animal in the queue calling out her discoveries. I thought maybe we would be lucky and catch a showing of The Festival of the Lion King after "Bug," but when we arrived, the show had started 10 minutes earlier. Now for a riddle: There was water below us, and water above us, but we didn't get wet. How did we do it? Answer: While at Camp Minnie-Mickey we were caught in a torrential downpour and climbed up onto a covered well to keep dry because the rain began so suddenly we couldn't find any other form of shelter. That certainly was the worse storm I've ever been caught in at WDW. As soon as the rain eased up, we headed to the nearest shop to purchase rain ponchos. On a positive note, the rain chased most of the people out of the park, and the Safari Ride was a walk-on. We also saw loads of animals on that safari, despite the fact that it was pouring, including a baby hippo.
The rain continued to come down in buckets so we decided to head over to the Wilderness Lodge slightly early for our dinner at Artist Point with Internet friends Don and Laurie. Joe met up with us there, and we spent an hour sitting in front of the great fireplace trying to dry out. A Cast Member explained that the layers of stone in the grand structure were a representation of the layers of the Grand Canyon. I nodded in acknowledgement of the information, while solemnly reflecting on my disappointment at not having gotten to ride the Kali River Adventure over at AK. Finally Don and Laurie arrived only minutes before we were paged to our table at Artist Point. This turned out to be a very enjoyable meal with lots of good conversation. I had the thin sliced beef and Joe had the buffalo steak. Including venison sausage appetizers and desserts this meal cost about $85 for the two of us including the tip and was definitely worth it.
After dinner Don, Laurie, Joe, Mary, Jimmie and I returned to our respective resorts via a bus to MGM that first had to make a stop at the Grand Floridian (I know not why). Anyway, while at the Grand Floridian we noticed that there was a TV installed at the resort's bus stop. Interesting to see how the "other half" lives.
Day 4: Thursday, June 10, 1999 --Richard Petty Driving Experience, MGM, Flying Fish
We had to get up really early this morning as Joe and Jimmie had 8:00 AM reservations to take part in the Richard Petty Driving Experience. On the way out of the hotel we grabbed our refillable mugs and loaded up on coffee for the trip over to the WDW Speedway. We were told that we needed to take a bus to the MK and then catch the monorail or ferry to TTC. From there we could catch one of the shuttles that ran every 15 minutes to the speedway. We were way too excited for all of that hassle, so we had Bell Services call us a cab. In less than 3 minutes we were on our way. After registering upon arrival, we were informed that since two of our party had paid the $328 each for the "Driving Experience," Mary and I would be eligible to do the "Riding Experience" for only $74 each. We both signed up immediately. Below you will find Joe's account of his Richard Petty Driving Experience:
Well, I guess you can tell that Joe really enjoyed his Richard Petty Driving Experience. He was told that his top speed was about 120-mph. Now it was the women's turn to climb into the passenger seat of the very same vehicles our significant others had just finished driving. We were told that since professional drivers were behind the wheel, we would be traveling quite a bit faster. Mary was in the lead car and I was right behind her. As the cars exited pit row together, we were traveling at a 100-mph before we ever actually hit the track. The drivers decided that they would really give us women a thrill by playing their version of "NASCAR tag." First my driver drove right up on the bumper of Mary's car--I mean within inches at 145-mph--and then passed. Now Mary's driver did the same. The drivers continued on in this manner ultimately reaching speeds of 165 mph. At those speeds, 3 laps go by in what seems like a matter of seconds. As my vehicle came to a screeching halt, I sat there, white knuckled, gripping to the roll bar. "You can let go now," the driver laughed. I felt slightly embarrassed that he had to inform me that we were no longer moving.
Joe decided that he had enough excitement for one afternoon and went back to the resort to nap by the pool. Jimmie, Mary and I proceeded on to MGM (I know it's not called that anymore, but I'm stubborn). The first stop was the Tower of Terror--my personal favorite ride anywhere, any place. I liked the new ride format, but like others on RADP I missed the stucco wall at the end. After "Tower," it was time for a hot dog at Rosie's. These are really the best hot dogs in "the world." As we headed for the Great Movie Ride, I decided to treat myself to a piece of fudge since I hadn't eaten a piece of candy in well over 6 months. I bought one square and took my time eating it, savoring its sweetness. I must admit that by design, my diet really went out of the window on this trip. Next we rode Star Tours and went to see the Hunchback show. I had heard about "Matt the Juggler" on RADP, and his unique brand of humor left me holding my belly laughing. "That," followed by Ismarelda's lovely rendition of "God Bless the Outcast," which left me a little teary-eyed. I never cease to be amazed at how effectively the players are able to tell the whole Hunchback tale with so little time and space. Finally, no trip to MGM would be complete without a visit with Jimmie's "other girlfriend," the Little Mermaid. As usual, he swooned during entire performance and insisted that Ariel looked deliberately at him and smiled.
Time "does" fly when you're having fun, and already it was approaching 5:00 PM. We needed to hurry in order to meet Joe at the boat dock of the Boardwalk for our 5:30 PM seating at Flying Fish. Half way through dinner, Mary broke it to us that she was not feeling very well. She has had a preexisting medical condition for quite a few years, and we had been a little concerned that she would not be able to handle the stress of this trip. We had intended to go back to MGM for the 9:30 PM viewing of Fantasmic, but we all agreed it would be better to call it a night and return to our resort so that Mary could rest.
We left Flying Fish and walked toward World Showcase in order to catch the bus back to Port Orleans outside of the entrance to Future World. I bought some cinnamon glazed pecans, and happily munched them while we spent 20 minutes listening to the Music of the British Invasion before finally leaving the park. We were back at the resort by 8:30 PM. I wrote in my journal and Joe watched the hockey play off before drifting off to sleep.
Day 5: Friday, June 11, 1999 -- E-Ticket Night
We decided to sleep in late this morning since we would be up late for E-Ticket night. By 11:00 AM we were finally all awake, and Mary said that she still was not feeling very well. We had planned to spend the day at a water park, but decided we would have just as much fun lounging around the pool, and it would be a lot easier on Mary. Sadly, by 5:00 PM Mary had decided that she was feeling too ill to continue on with the trip and announced her decision to fly home the next morning. Jimmie and I walked down to the cruise desk and explained the situation. The cruise representative was very nice and called the airline to get Mary's return ticket changed. She managed to get Mary a direct flight home for 11:00 AM the next morning and even got the $75 fee the airline charges for itinerary changes waved. Mary insisted that Jimmie stay and go on the cruise. While he put up a fuss, we finally were able to convince him that it *was* the best solution since he probably wouldn't be able to get much of his money back. Joe magnanimously volunteered to stay back at the resort with Mary (park fanatic that he is) while Jimmie and I went to E-Ticket night.
At about 6:45 PM Jimmie and I were stepping off the bus at the Magic Kingdom when the rain began to fall. After stopping by City Hall to exchange our E-Ticket cards for bracelets, we made our way to Caseyís Corner via the Main Street shops and ate some fries waiting for the rain to let up. First I wanted to ride the new Winnie the Pooh ride so we walked the short distance to Fantasyland. Both Jimmie and I liked the slick jumbing and floating motions on this ride. Since it had been years since either Jimmie or I had been on some of the other Fantasyland rides, we also rode Snow White and Peter Pan and really enjoyed ourselves. Then we decided it was time to stake out a spot for the Main Street Electrical Parade. We chose a spot at the end of the parade route near Splash Mountain since that is where I would shortly be meeting up with some of my RADP and DisneyDieter friends. I spread my poncho on the ground, and Jimmie and I had front row seats for the parade. The MSEP was just as magical as the first time I saw it 14 years ago, and I didn't miss SpectroMagic nearly as much as I thought I would.
After the parade, I began to look for my friends, some of which I had never met in person. We spotted Don and Laurie immediately, and then Barbara and Carol wearing their red RADP pins, and I recognized Joe standing with them from his picture posted on his web site. I anxiously looked around for Danielle of RADP fame as we would be on the cruise together, and I had intended on making plans this night to meet up with her on the ship in a few days. Unfortunately, I learned later from Danielle's trip report that she had a problem locating us, and I never did get to meet her (more on an unusual twist to this story later). Our little group decided that Splash Mountain should definitely be our first ride of the night, so we headed to the entrance of the queue just as the CM started checking for E-Ticket bracelets. I can't tell you how good it feels to be able to bypass all of those lines. If you look around, you will notice that people smile a lot more during E-Ticket night than during the afternoons when the lines are long and the park is hot. I've even heard groups of people strolling through the Magic Kingdom singing Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah during E-ticket night. All six of us managed to get into the same log on Splash Mountain, and I think that Joe who was seated up front and Laurie who was seated on the right might have gotten the wettest. The coolest part of the whole ride was watching the fireworks finale as we drifted around the top of the mountain. It just doesn't get any better than that. Since reading Danielle's trip report, I realize that she was somewhere on "The Mountain" during the fireworks too. Rats! Next we all rode Big Thunder Mountain and Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin in rapid succession. I don't think my laser gun was working properly during the "Buzz" ride since I only scored 5,000 points. Jimmie's gun was working dandy however since he got 180,000 points on his first ride ever. At this point we said good bye to Don and Laurie, and the rest of our group continued on to Space Mountain. I think this may have been the longest line we waited in all night. If I remember correctly, it took about 10 or 15 minutes to get on the ride. I always enjoyed riding Space Mountain, and this ride was no exception. After the ride, Jimmie and I parted from the group since we wanted to call the hotel and check on Mary. Joe answered the phone and said she was fast asleep. Jimmie and I decided that since we were on this side of the park, we would take one more spin on "Buzz" before heading to the Haunted Mansion. I did much better this time scoring 97,000 points and Jimmie only scored 125,000, which was still good enough to beat me as he was quick to point out when I commented on closing the gap. When we finally did arrive at the Haunted Mansion we were told that it wasn't opened tonight. Not fair! "It's just a good thing I got to ride it during the Keys to the Kingdom tour," I thought to myself. This meant that the Pirates of the Caribbean "was" opened so we headed over there. We had the whole place to ourselves--I mean there was not another person in sight. It was an eerie feeling to ride the Pirates when it was so quiet. You could hear so much more of the Audio-Animatronics' spiel, and Jimmie and I were both happy to have had the experience. It was getting pretty late, so Jimmie and I decided that after one more ride on Splash Mountain we would head back to the resort.
We arrived back at Port Orleans about 1:30 AM, and I drifted off to sleep with the "Laughing Place Song" running through my head.
Day 6: Saturday, June 12, 1999 -- Epcot and Cirque Du Soleil
We awoke early today and headed to Bonfamille's to eat at their wonderful breakfast buffet before taking Mary to the airport. Mary's flight departed on time, and round trip cab fare for the airport including tip came to about $80. Since we would need transportation to Islands of Adventure tomorrow, we were all kicking ourselves at this point for not having rented a car. Oh well, hindsight is a wonderful thing.
We had the cab drop us at Port Orleans and then took a bus to Epcot where I was to meet last night's gang to send an electronic postcard back to the DisneyDieters. I was the first of the group to show up, and we were getting awfully hot and thirsty waiting for everyone else to arrive. Spotting Ice Station Cool, I decided to quickly introduce Joe and Jimmie to "Beverly," just as my "dear" friends Don and Laurie had done for me this past December. For those of you who have never had the opportunity to indulge in this unique experience, "Beverly" is an awful Italian Coca-Cola product that tastes very much like medicine. Needless to say, Joe and Jimmie told me how cruel they thought I was, but Iím sure they are just waiting for their opportunity to offer someone "a taste of Beverly."
After sending the post card, Joe, an ex-CM, offered to show Don, Laurie, Jimmie and I a short cut for bypassing the line at Test Track. Although I promised not to reveal his secret, I will tell you that this guy is "smoooooth." Jimmie followed Joe's lead and walked right onto Test Track, while Don, Laurie, hubby and I, not being rule breakers, promptly chickened out. I kept picturing sirens going off and a loud speaker bellowing "Hey you there." "Yeah you, the line jumper." So instead, we made our way to the exit to meet Joe and Jimmie who arrived there in about 10 minutes. Hubby and I thought about standing in the 75-minute line to ride Test Track, but realized that we would not make our 2:50 PM seating time for the Coral Reef Cafe and decided to do it after we ate. It was a little too soon to check in over at the Living Seas, so I decided to get in quick rides on Universe of Energy and Spaceship Earth first. Unfortunately, right after boarding SSE the ride broke down for about 15 minutes, and we arrived late at Coral Reef Cafe anyway.
Since we had booked the last lunch seating at the seafood restaurant, arriving late became somewhat of a problem. We were informed that it was now too late to be seated since the restaurant had to set up for the dinner crowd. I begged them to take us anyway, recounting our sad tale of being trapped on Spaceship Earth. Finally they relented and we were seated in an empty dinning room with no one else around. Our waiter, an older gentleman with a Scottish accent, was very gracious as he rushed us through our meal ever so gently. He asked for our dessert selection with our meal order since the kitchen was closing. Our entrees and lobster bisque soup were just okay, but our dessert of pineapple upside down cake was truly delicious and a work of art resembling a miniature coral reef. Our bill for two lunches including soup and dessert came to about $80, and I thought that this restaurant was a bit over priced for the quality of the food. Of course eating in an empty restaurant with a bunch of people running around setting up tables may have detracted slightly from the experience.
Now it was finally time to ride Test Track. Joe said he would wait for Jimmie and me at the exit since he had no desire to wait in the 75-minute queue (yeah, it had nothing to do with the fact that he hates thrill rides). The line seemed to take forever to get through, but I thought it was worth the wait to ride it for the first time. I don't think I'd wait that long for future rides though. Maybe I can get internet buddy Joe to give me a few lessons on that timesaving technique of his. Jimmie made the interesting comment that it felt like he was actually travelling faster on Test Track than he had earlier in the week driving a stock car at 120-mph.
We returned to the resort to relax a little before Cirque Du Soleil and still managed to arrive at Disney's West Side about an hour before show time. Since Jimmie dabbles in guitar playing, I wanted to stop at the Guitar Gallery, and maneuver myself within strategic position of the Candy Cauldron in the process. I couldn't resist buying yet another piece of fudge.
We discovered that we had very good seats for Cirque in section 203, row D. How do you describe this show? Jimmie said that he would tell people to "imagine their worse nightmare, and then imagine that they enjoyed it." Joe said, "it was like being on drugs, without the drugs." And I'm still trying to figure out what that woman was doing hanging out her laundry during the show. At any rate, all three of us joined the rest of the audience when the show was over in a 5-minute standing ovation, thundering round of applause. I'd recommend this show to anyone. I've gotten far less entertainment for my $54 at other shows, and knowing what I know about this one, I'd probably pay more to see it if required (sure hope no one from Cirque is reading this). Don and Laurie who also attended this evening's performance of Cirque would agree, I'm sure.
Joe, Jimmie, Don, Laurie, and I decided to get a drink at House of Blues after the show, but the waiting list to be seated was huge. Oh well, it was getting late, and we had to be up early tomorrow for Islands of Adventure.
Day 7: Sunday, June 13, 1999 -- Islands of Adventure
Because of all the great reviews I had read, I was getting anxious to visit this park long before my trip ever began. If it were anything like USF though, one visit would be enough for me. While I do enjoy thrill rides, WDW holds much more attraction for me because I'm such a sucker for theming, special effects and showmanship. I have definitely ridden more thrilling "drop you" rides than TOT, but in my humble opinion, it is "The Best" because from the moment I step foot into that horrific old hotel, I am transported into........... "The Twilight Zone."
This morning Joe, Jimmie and I would be sharing a cab over to IOA with my Internet friend Joe and two of his buddies. They arrived at Port Orleans in the van-cab promptly on schedule at 8:15 AM. The cab ride cost $30, and we split it 6 ways.
After paying our $46 park admission, we lined up with the rest of the crowd on the bridge to Marvel Super Hero Island waiting for the rope to drop. When the rope finally did drop, half of the crowd made their way to the Incredible Hulk Coaster and the other half ran for the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man. We followed along with the second group and were seated in our ride vehicles in less than 5 minutes flat. This is truly the most incredible ride I have ever been on and is now probably tied with TOT as my favorite ride. The simulated 40-story drop at the end of the ride managed to scare Joe so badly that he swore off all rides in this park for the rest of the day. Jimmie and I on the other hand, promised ourselves that we would do this ride at least one more time before leaving the park.
Now we couldn't help but notice that there was barely any line at all for the Hulk. This coaster certainly was one of the most intimidating looking coasters I had ever seen. Oh what the heck, I decided to give it a try. Wow! We were launched from 0 to 40-mph in less than 2 minutes. Now that was incredible! And guess what? There was still no line after our first ride, so we promptly rode it again. Unfortunately, two times in a row was a little more than my stomach could handle, so we decided to take a small break from thrill rides, and let it settle.
We made our way to the Moon Crest Bakery at Port of Entry and had an absolutely delicious meal of smoked turkey and Brie on a croissant and iced mocha coffee. I have to tell you folks, this place has the best park food I've ever tasted and the prices are reasonable.
After our breakfast, we decided to go to the right of Port of Entry to Seuss Landing. This land is really a feast for the eyes and there truly is not a straight line in the place. We tried to find one! Since there was no queue for Cat in the Hat, we jumped aboard one of the spinning couches and were transported into the familiar children's book. Even Joe decided that this ride couldn't be too dangerous and came along. I liked it very much because I was so acquainted with the story, and thought it was a bit better than the Winnie the Pooh ride at MK.
The next land we came to was The Lost Continent. When I walked over the bridge from Suess Landing and emerged on the other side, I was immediately and completely immersed in fantasy. The theming was awesome, and I knew at once that I was hooked on this incredible park. We ventured into the walk-through attraction Poseidon's Fury, and thought that the 42-foot water vortex inside was just incredible. How did they do that? Another thing I really liked about this land was the unique shops located here. There was a place where you could have the mythical coin of your choice minted by have a this huge weight dropped on it. The shop was located in a tent and the clerks were dressed in desert garb. They stayed very in character addressing us as "Lord" and "Lady" as we selected a picture of Medusa to be pressed on a silver medallion we were buying for our friend Johnny's birthday. There was another tent nearby that had fortunetellers--very cool.
I was about to test my stomach again as we approached the Dueling Dragons. What you've heard about the queue is true, the castle is pretty incredible, and scary, with lots of bones and skulls lying about and an eerie, barely audible, moaning coming from within its walls. It's one of the few times I actually felt bad because there were no lines as I raced through it to my ultimate fate on Ice Dragon. Could it be true? There was absolutely no line to sit in the front of the coaster in the dragon's mouth. I've heard people talk about the frightening near miss between the two dragon coasters, but to be perfectly honest I never even noticed it. And yes, I did have my eyes open--up until I almost slammed into the castle wall anyway. I liked this ride more than Hulk and think that it is my favorite coaster anywhere--even though I'm hoping that Rock'n' Roller Coaster at WDW will give it a run for it's money.
Remembering my bout with motion sickness after the second ride on the Hulk, we decided to move on and do the Fire Dragon at a later time. We were fortunate enough to come upon the Sinbad show just as it was getting ready to begin. I thought that this show was just okay, mainly because the acting and dialogue were so bad. The set was awesome however and the final "human fireball" stunt was downright impressive. Jimmie, who has pledged his undying love to the Little Mermaid many times in the past, seemed all but ready to scrap her for the bronze beauty in the Sinbad show with the washboard stomach.
The next land we came upon was Jurassic Park. As a kid, I was fascinated with dinosaurs and even asked Santa for those little plastic models at Christmas, when other little girls my age were pleading for baby dolls. So I was really looking forward to the Jurassic Park River Adventure, but just as Jimmie and I entered the queue (Joe is still refusing to ride anything), the ride shut down. Oh well, I didn't let it get me down since it was only 1:30 P.M. and there was still plenty of time for them to get it going again. We took a peek in the Jurassic Park Discovery Center instead, and didn't see much that interested us there. We did however witness the hatching of baby raptors and thought that this was very cute for the kids. And speaking of children, we noticed that each land seemed to have a pretty nice playground area for small kids although most of the rides other than those at Suess Landings seemed to be aimed at older children. I'll let you know for certain when I take my 7-year-old granddaughter this December.
We all noticed that the heat seemed to be building throughout the day, and this was probably the hottest day we'd spent in Orlando yet. The obvious solution was to check out the water rides. Dudley Do-Right 's Ripsaw Falls in Toon Lagoon was a spectacle to behold. The drop appeared higher and steeper than "Splash," and the logs came careening down so fast that by the time they hit the smaller double dip at the bottom they are actually airborne. Ironically, while Jimmie and I queued up for this ride to cool off, it was the longest line we encountered and the heat in the queue was unbearable. Most of the queue was out in the direct sunlight, and the large fans they had placed around did little to help. They had a stand in the middle of the queue that sold soda and water, and by the time we reached it we had lost so much fluid we had no choice but to buy one at $2 a clip. I probably would not stand in that line again, but boy this was a great ride. Sadly, all of the theming is on the outside of the ride, and nonexistent on the inside. Even so, it was one thrilling ride. I don't think I've ever traveled that fast, or got that wet on a water flume. As our log came to a stop, I turned my head to look at Jimmie's face who was seated directly behind me just in time to see him spray a huge stream of water out of his mouth that he had taken in as he screamed plummeting down the mountain. That fountain of water spurting from his lips remains one of the funniest memories I have of our entire trip.
Joe was now losing his patience doing nothing but sitting out in the hot sun waiting for us as we ran from ride to ride, so we figured it was time to find some air conditioning and eat our dinner. We passed the Oak Tree Tavern back at The Lost Continent, and it was such an awesome sight that I just knew I had to have a peek inside the cavernous tree trunk. The restaurant was dark, spacey and cool. We ordered the rib special and received a huge plate of tasty barbecued ribs with fries, corn bread and carrot slaw for $9. Once again, I must tell you how good the food in this park really is. During dinner Joe decided that it was stupid for him to continue on with this "waiting" vigil, and he announced that he would be catching the Mear's shuttle back to the resort. Sadly, I realized that I was losing the battle to "convert" him. Jimmie and I walked Joe to the entrance of the park, and I made a mental note that it was really beginning to look like rain.
No sooner did we get past the Port of Entry heading back into the park than the rain began to fall. Jimmie and I were still plenty wet from our soaking on Ripsaw Falls, so we weren't overly concerned. Unfortunately, all of the outdoor rides were closing down due to the lightening in the area. We figured that this would be a good time to ride Spider-Man again, but everyone else in the park had the same idea. I told Jimmie we should just go sit in the queue of the Jurrasic Park River Adventure until the lightening stopped. We waited in the sheltered queue for about an hour, durng which time it was abandoned by most of the people in it When the ride started back up again, we were able to get in the third or fourth boat. The rain persisted for the rest of the night, but Jimmie and I didn't really care because it felt so cooling, and it was chasing most of the crowds away. A ride operator told us that the rides would continue running in the rain as long as there was no lightening within a 5-mile radius. The Jurrasic River Ride was pretty good, but I wished that there had been a few more dinosaurs. The neatest thing about the ride was that we went up the incline to the drop long before they actually dropped us. There were lots of things going on, and eventually I forget that I went up that incline back there for a reason. At one point, a huge T-Rex appeared inches above our heads. I was so distracted by this monster that I didn't even notice the drop coming. Good one IOA!
The next ride we went on was Popeye & Bluto's Bilge-Rat Barges and this is now one of my favorite rides in the Orlando area. The ride was virtually a walk on, and you can not believe how fast this water was moving. The rafts were constantly swirling and bumping off the sides of the embankment. At one point the raft was lifted out of the water and pulled up an incline by a conveyer built. The ride had already been so much fun, we figured that we were just going to the unloading dock. But incredibly, the raft was propelled over what appeared to be about a 10-foot drop. Talk about getting soaked--I couldn't have gotten wetter if I had dived into a swimming pool. And the ride didn't end there, we continued to be swirled down the river for what seemed like at least another full minute. This was one awesome ride!
Jimmie and I decided it was time to dry out a little even though the light rain continued and and made our way to Spider-Man again. It was just as much fun the second time and no less impressive.
It was getting late and the rain started to come down even harder. Jimmie refused to leave the park however until we rode the Fire Dragon. So we made a made a mad dash in the pouring rain to The Lost Continent and ran through the incredible castle queue. At the point where you are asked, "to choose your fate," we went to the right and boarded the Fire Dragon riding it as the rain pelted against our bodies. It was totally awesome, and Jimmie said he thought it was better than Ice Dragon. I thought so too, but wasn't sure if it was because we had just experienced it and the memory of Ice Dragon was fading. Only one way to find out! We crossed over to Ice Dragon without going through the huge castle queue and rode it again. Now we both agreed, we liked Ice Dragon better.
It was approaching 10 PM and time for the park to close. Even the rain decided to call it a night and had tapered of considerably by the time we reached Suess Landing. Jimmie and I decided that we must ride that wild looking CaroSuessEl before leaving the park. There were so many whimsical animals to pick from it was hard to choose. Jimmie climbed atop a dog and I mounted a cow. The rain had completely ceased by the end of our ride, and the weather was warm and comfortable. As if on cue as we stood on the moving walkway exiting City Walk, we could hear and see IOA's fireworks show behind us. What a wonderful day--and one of the most fun I've ever had at a park. I'm going to try and visit IOA again in the near future.
I have only one final thought I would like to share about this park. IOA opened only a month before our visit, and already we were seeing signs of wear, tear and graffiti. Universal has a beautiful park, and I only hope that they learn from Disney and keep it clean and in good repair.
Jimmie and I caught a City Cab back to the resort and found that it was about $10 cheaper than the cabs Bell Services at the resort had been calling for us. We were also given a coupon for $10 off our next cab ride for $20 and over. So if you must get a cab, call City Cab yourself and you'll save a bundle. It was 11:30 PM when we got back to our resort. I went straight to bed since we'd had to get up very early the next morning and pack for the cruise portion of our trip.
Day 8: Monday, June 14, 1999 -- Boarding the Disney Magic
I awoke at 6:30 AM to pack for the cruise line's 8:00 AM luggage pickup. They were very prompt and knocked on the door at 8:05 AM. I discovered a message on our phone from Don and Laurie that had been left the night before while we were at IOA. They wanted to come by before we left for the cruise this morning and have breakfast with us. What wonderful people! We showered and dressed, and met Don and Laurie in Port Orlean's lobby at about 9:30 AM. I couldn't help noticing how sad Jimmie was about going on the cruise without Mary since that is the thing she really wanted to do the most. Once again we ordered the wonderful breakfast buffet at our resort's full-service restaurant, Bonfamille's Cafe. I highly recommend the French toast.
After breakfast we said our good byes to Don and Laurie, and boarded the bus at 11:30 AM to take us to the Disney Magic. The time seemed to pass very quickly, and we found ourselves at Port Canaveral in no time at all. Boarding was a breeze, just scan your room key and walk on board. The first view of the lobby is breathtaking complete with a grand staircase and a statue of Helmsman Mickey. The glass elevators, which completed the beautiful image, I would later come to consider a royal pain in the butt since they were so tiny. In fact, I ended up taking the stairs a lot more than I normally would have because the tiny elevators were always so crowded.
Once on board we headed directly to our home away from home, stateroom 5522. This was a deluxe outside stateroom that we got for category 10 prices because the porthole view was partially obstructed. We didn't think the view was so bad, but later discovered that there may have been another reason that the room was so cheap. Anyway, the first thing I did was to grab our Personal Navigator off of the table and determined which night we would be repeating restaurants. Parrot Cay was scheduled for Thursday and Friday. Next, I rushed to Palo's to make our dinner reservations and was about the sixth person in line--so far so good. In the meantime, I sent Jimmie and Joe to book the shore excursions to Blue Lagoon Island and rent our snorkeling gear for Castaway Cay. When they finally started taking reservations for the adults only restaurant, I had to choose which line to get into, Thursday's or Friday's. I figured that Palo's would be a nice treat the last day of our cruise, so I chose Friday at 9:00 PM. Apparently I hadn't done my homework well enough because I completely overlooked the fact that this time would conflict with our 8:15 PM seating of "Disney Dreams." Next I ran to the Vista Spa and booked massages for Joe and I in the couple's cabana on Castaway Cay. Now I was all set to explore the ship. I met up with Joe and Jimmie at about 2:30 PM on deck 9, and we went to have at look a the "Welcome Aboard" buffet. None of us were really hungry after our huge buffet breakfast at Bonfamille's, but we grabbed few of the huge shrimp anyway since they were too scrumptious looking to turn down. After exploring the ship for a while, we returned to our staterooms to await the 4:00 PM safety drill. We were really glad when that was over since it was a hot and miserable experience with lots of crying children. At 5:00 PM we went up on deck 9 to watch the ship pull away from the dock. We saw about 8 cruise line employees standing on the dock, waving goodbye to us with large white Mickey hands. They sure do think of everything!!
Our dinner seating time was at 6:00 PM each night and on this first night, we would be dining in Lumiere's at table number 69. Since Lumiere's was one of the dressier restaurants aboard ship, I spent a little extra time getting ready for dinner. Joe and Jimmie naturally complained about wearing a jacket and tie, but I insisted. While we were dressing, there was a knock on our stateroom door and our room hostess, Anita from India, delivered a bottle of champagne to our stateroom from our travel agent, West Penn Motor Club. A few minutes later, there was another knock on the door, and this time Anita had a Disney Cruise Line picture frame for us from West Penn Motor Club. A few minutes after that there was a third knock on the door, and Joe and I were holding our stomachs laughing as we answered it and discovered that it was only Jimmie come to pick us up for dinner.
Once in the dining room we were escorted to our table, which already had Mary's chair removed, and met our servers for the duration of the trip. Philip, our main sever, was a very charming young man from Slovakia, as was our assistant server, Erasamo from Chile, and our headwaiter, Alain from France. We later learned that the staff aboard ship was represented by 52 different nationalities. The funniest moment of the evening was when Philip came over and placed the linen napkins on Joe and Jimmie's laps. They were completely clueless how to behave. Later in the trip they became quite accustomed to having their ketchup poured for them and their syrup ladled onto their pancakes and missed the pampering when it was over. Lumiere's was a beautiful restaurant, and while the food there wasn't bad, we liked it the least of the 3 restaurants we ate. Joe ordered a glass of Chardonnay with dinner in his quest to duplicate the wonderful glass of wine we had earlier in the week at V&A's. He was sadly disappointed this time.
After dinner we went out on deck so that Joe and Jimmie could have a cigarette and discovered that it was quite windy and the water was really choppy. To me it seemed somehow perfect as I stood looking out over the dark endless ocean with my hair whipping around my face. Then we headed for our 8:15 PM dinner show. Tonight's performance was by a guitar-playing comedian by the name of Dan Riley. Mr. Riley is a very talented fellow who does his own unique interpretations of songs we all know and love. We all enjoyed the show immensely and left it with great big smiles on our faces. Dan announced that he would be playing in the Rockin' Bar D tomorrow night, and we were very disappointed that we already had plans in Nassau and would not be able to see him again.
Next we decided to check out some of the nightlife on Beat Street, the ships adult entertainment district, but it seemed pretty deserted this first night. In all we spent time in 3 of the ships entertainment lounges over the next 4 days and never once saw anyone circulating with snacks as I have often seen described in various Disney groups and E-mail lists. Not that it really mattered to us, since we always felt way too full on the cruise, but I was wondering where these people have actually seen snacks passed around at? "Rushmore" was playing in the ship's movie theater so we went in and watched about half of it before realizing how tired we actually were, and departing for our stateroom. While the gentle rocking of the ship lulled me to sleep immediately, I found out the next morning that Joe was awake half the night worrying about hurricane warnings he had heard about early that morning at our resort.
Day 9: Tuesday, June 145, 1999 -- Nassau and Blue Lagoon Island
We arrived in Nassau about 8:00 AM in the morning on Tuesday. We ordered breakfast at Lumiere's and then went immediately to the Promenade Lounge to meet up with our shore excursion group. Originally we had wanted to do the "swim with the dolphins" experience at Blue Lagoon Island, but when I called 3 months in advance to book, it was already sold out. I did a little research and found that there was also a "snorkel with the stingrays" experience on Blue Lagoon Island and there would be no problem getting reservations for that. I guess these docile lower life forms are just not as popular as their playful intelligent counterparts located on the other side of the island. Anyway, the shore excursion to Blue Lagoon Island cost $35 each and included transportation to the island and lunch, and snorkeling at Sting Ray City cost $29 and you could do it for as long as you wanted. After arriving on Blue Lagoon Island, we made our way to Sting Ray City, which was at the opposite end of the island from where we got off the tender. Already the skies were beginning to look cloudy and gray. We were given a short informative talk about stingrays and learned that they can indeed sting you, but almost never do so unless completely provoked. By the time we got our snorkeling gear on and got into the water it had already started to rain. Joe, who has never much cared for water or stingrays, was back on shore in about 5 minutes and found a very comfortable stool at the outdoor bar from which to wait for us. Jimmie and I absolutely loved this, and stayed in the water for at least 90 minutes. There were stingrays everywhere in the snorkeling park, and they seemed very friendly as a park guide hand fed them. A few of them were up to 4 feet across. I gave one of the guides my camera and asked if he would mind taking an underwater picture of me in my snorkeling gear. There were also many colorful fish in the park, and in my opinion, the snorkeling was much better here than at Castaway Cay.
After snorkeling, we head for the outdoor Sea Garden Grill to get lunch, and then relaxed about a half hour in one of the island's many hammocks. Later on we moved down on the beach and spent some time playing in the water. Joe, who refused to wear his sunscreen, was already beginning to burn and Jimmie was burning in spite of his, so we figured it was time to return to the ship. We caught the 3:00 PM tender back to Prince George Wharf, and I bought a beautiful huge starfish for $5 from a man selling seashells and such on the dock.
Once on the boat, we dressed for dinner at Animator's Palette and then headed up to deck 9 to get one of those incredible frozen Bon Voyage drinks they sold in the long narrow glass with the bowl at either end. One side of the glass contained a pina colada, and in the other was a frozen strawberry daiquiri. Yummy! After finishing our drink we headed for the restaurant. Tonight's dinner standouts were the chilled crab legs and breaded veal chops, both excellent in my opinion. After dinner Joe and I had several Bailey's Irish Cream coffees with our "palette of desserts" and enjoyed the light show surrounding us. Perfect!
Now it was time to catch a cab and head for the Atlantis Hotel to do a little gambling. Upon arriving, we first toured the huge predator aquariums at the hotel. This place is absolutely awesome and simply must be seen if you get the opportunity. Next we located the immense casino on property. Joe and I set a $100 limit for ourselves and lost that in about a half an hour at the slot machines so we wandered over to watch Jimmie at the Black Jack tables. He was already about $150 up and continued to win for the next hour. We finally managed to drag him out of there with $240 in winnings in his pocket.
The night was still young, so we decided to go back to the ship and take part in the deck party that was taking place on deck 9. When we got there a live band was playing and the ship was really rocking. The "Goofy" pool had been covered to create a large wooden dance floor. Promptly at 11:00 PM the Disney Magic shot a round of fireworks from its smokestack. This was followed by a fruit and dessert buffet on deck, complete with sparklers. We could see the passengers on the decks of the other cruise ships in dock jealously observing the festivities. What a fun evening! I had two more huge Bon Voyage drinks and finally called it a night at about 1:00 AM.
Day 10: Wednesday, June 16, 1999 -- Castaway Cay
I woke up about 7:00 AM full of anticipation about my day on Castaway Cay. Joe had a little bit too much fun last night, and I was unable to get him out of bed. He said that he would meet us later in the day on Castaway Cay for our 1:00 PM massages. Jimmie and I headed for the Topsider Buffet and stuffed our faces once again.
Snorkeling was the first thing on our agenda, but we only saw a few fish and Danielle's little sea turtle friend. We decided to make our way out to the advance snorkeling trail in hopes that we'd find more fish. It took quite a while to get out there and when we finally did the weather started turning dark and the water was getting quite choppy, so we headed back, but not before discovering the sunken treasure chest :-) It seemed like it took about 30 minutes to get back to shore and we were really tired when we finally did make it.
We found a couple of nice lounge chairs under an umbrella and just relaxed for a good long while. Just has it had the day before on Blue Lagoon Island, the weather was starting to turn nice again, and HOT. At noon we headed to Cookie's Barbecue for lunch and had some of the best ribs of the whole trip. The huge chocolate chip cookies and lemonade were yummy too. Oh my stuffed again!
Soon it was time to meet Joe at the adult beach, Serenity Bay. This was a very nice quite beach, and apparently Joe had been here for quite a while. We found him stuffing his face with fruit and the steak sandwiches that they were grilling on the beach. Joe and I found a designated spot to park Jimmy and headed for our massage at the cabanas. The cabanas have 3 walls, and one open end that faces the ocean. A nice breeze was blowing in and the whole experience was heavenly. The women giving the massages were from South Africa, and they told us that the Disney ship is a very difficult boat to get assigned to because the standards are so high. The cost was $69 plus tip and it was worth every penny.
By now Jimmie and Joe were both turning a bright shade of red again, and we decided that they had just about all the sun that they could tolerate. Joe actually had one of the worst burns I saw on ship that night. On our way back to the ship, we stopped and bought a straw purse for my girl friend Gail, and I got a bright yellow Castaway Cay tee shirt. On board, we showered the sand off and laid down to nap for about an hour. Then we dressed for our evening meal at Parrot Cay, selecting our most tropical looking outfits to wear to the restaurant.
Before going to dinner we went up on deck to watch the ship pull away from Castaway Cay. We saw 3 Disney employees waving bye to us with those big white Mickey hands. The standouts from tonight's dinner were the crab cake appetizer and the lobster tail. Jimmie asked for and received a steak with his lobster tail. We also spent some time tonight getting to know our waiters. Alain, our headwaiter told us that the large phallic looking protrusion on the front of the ship was actually an icebreaker. Who knew? We also learned that the ship converts 500,000 gallons of seawater to fresh water every single day. Alain also explained that we were pretty much assured a nice day at sea tomorrow since Captain Henry would steer the boat anywhere the weather was good.
After dinner we went to the Promenade Lounge, where Joe and Jimmie could have a smoke. There we met Captain Henry who we all agreed looks like John Voight. Then it was on to this evening's show, "Hercules the Muse-ical." We enjoyed it and thought that the singers were wonderful. There was some real down home gospel wailing in this show.
After the show we went up to deck 9 to one of the several outdoor bars for drinks. I was in the mood for another Bailey's Irish Cream coffee, but they didn't have coffee at the bar. Our waitress, Gillian from Montreal, volunteered to run to another deck and fetch me coffee so I could have my drink. Is this service or what? When Gillian returned with my drink, she remained at our table for about 15 minutes answering all of our questions about life aboard ship.
Joe was running out of cigarettes so he bought some at the ESPN Skybox, the only place on ship where they can be purchased. Then, not even close to being ready to call it a night, we visited the Rockin' Bar D just in time to see a group of volunteers from the audience doing their impression of the Village People. It really looked like they were having fun in there, but it was so packed at this late hour we couldn't get into the doorway.
Next we headed for the Beuna Vista Theater to watch "Instinct." While I didn't think the movie was very good, it held my attention since much of the movie's philosophy seemed to be taken right out of a favorite book of mine entitled "Ishmael." While the story was different (both involved gorillas though), I thought the ideas were down right plagiarism.
Finally, at 1:00 AM in the morning, I dragged myself to my stateroom for some much-needed sleep. That is when I discovered the wonderful swan Anita had fashioned from bath towels and placed on my bed. Disney magic was the last thing I thought about that night before I closed my eyes to sleep.
Day 11: Thursday, June 17, 1999 -- Day at Sea
I slept in until 9:30 AM today. Joe refused to get out of bed that early once again, so Jimmy and I decided to spend some time exploring the ship. First we stopped at Guest Services and prepaid our tips. While we were there, we picked up a list of hidden Mickeys on the ship and set out to find them from the clues. I believe I still have this list somewhere if anyone is interested. Before starting our search, I stopped by the stateroom to pickup my camera, and Joe was still fast asleep. We followed one of the clues to the bow of the ship where we found a huge hidden Mickey constructed from 3 holes cut in the deck near the staff swimming pool. I took a picture of the cool hidden Mickey for my web page, but unfortunately my thumb was partially covering the camera lens and that Mickey will remain hidden for a while longer. After locating most of the Mickeys on the list, Jimmie and I went to drag Joe out of bed.
The 3 of us went to Shutters to check out the photos and decided that we could live without most of them. Then we continued on to the ship's retail stores for some duty-free shopping. I found a beautiful Mickey medallion for only $495, but Joe refused to buy it for me. I settled for a Disney Magic tee shirt and a Disney Cruise Line photo album instead. I also purchased a Barbie and Ken family of dolls dressed in WDW clothing for Alisha that cost $60.
Since we skipped breakfast this morning, we were all three now ready for lunch and headed for the buffet at Parrot Cay. For the first time during the entire voyage, we were seated at a table with other people. I ended up chatting with the older couple on my left, while Joe and Jimmy monopolized the younger couple to my right with tales from their Richard Petty Driving Experience.
After lunch we remembered that the girl who gave me my massage on Castaway Cay had recommended the Rainforest Room at the Vista Spa aboard ship. Joe wasn't too interested in saunas and steam rooms since his skin was so burnt and opted to lounge by the pool for the rest of the afternoon, leaving Jimmie and I to checkout the Rainforest Room on our own. This place was great! For only $15 you get to use the room for the entire day making it easily the best deal aboard ship. It is a large circular tiled room with 3 smaller rooms extending off from the larger room. In the center of the room is a lovely bubbling fountain. In another area of the room are 4 or 5 tiled "S" shaped lounge chairs that felt slightly warmed and heavenly to relax in. To the back of the room are 3 circular shower rooms, each with a different type of experience, such as tropical mist, hydrotherapy, etc. Also on the back wall is a lion's head that spits out crushed ice for cooling your skin. The 3 smaller rooms consisted of a gentle sauna, a steam room and a eucalyptus sauna. The room is coed, and it really is a great place to hang out with your friends. When you purchase the use of the room, you are given a locker and a large fluffy bathrobe to wear in the hallways of the spa. Fresh towels are supplied in the Rainforest Room. Since we wore our bathing suits into the room, it was great to run in and out from the pool to the spa. Jimmie and I did this for several hours until the sky started looking ominous.
We waited for Captain Henry to steer the ship to where the good weather was, but to no avail. We later found out that an annual drill with the Coast Guard had been scheduled, and the ship was required to remain right where it was. Since the weather had gotten bad, this seemed like the perfect time to get our luggage packed, so we headed back to our stateroom. I had been contemplating canceling our Palo reservations for tonight since it would mean missing "Disney Dreams." But by now I had figured out that they didn't really check your seating times at the shows, and we could probably attend the 5:30 PM show if we really wanted to. I think partly because food no longer mattered, and partly because I didn't want Jimmie to have to attend a romantic dinner alone, and partly because I just wanted to get all the packing done now, I decided to cancel the reservations anyway. I tried to call the restaurant, but didn't get an answer, and someone later told me that they didn't open until 5:30 PM. We finished packing everything but our carry-on bags and dressed pretty casually for dinner at Parrot Cay tonight. I was so completely sick of food by this point I didn't even bother to note what it was we had for dinner, but I know it involved food prepared by the different chefs from around Disney World. We said goodbye to our servers of whom we had become quite fond (we especially enjoyed harassing Erasamo), and handed out the tips. We told Alain that we had 9:00 PM reservations at Palo's, and had been unable to cancel them. He graciously offered to take care of it for us. Next we stopped by our stateroom to locate Anita and give her tip. We were completely delighted with the service from the staff on this ship.
Time to head to "Disney Dreams". I can't say enough about this show. For any Disney lover, this is the perfect way to end a wonderful voyage. I was practically moved to tears when all the Disney characters appeared on stage, and listening to the oohs and ahs of the children made me resolve that I would bringing Alisha on this cruise in the very near future. Without giving too much away, I'd also like to add that the special effects in this show were fantastic.
After the show, we went to our stateroom to place the luggage in the hall. We also grabbed the bottle of champagne that had been delivered to our stateroom the first day and headed to Sessions to polish it off. The waitress there brought us an ice bucket in addition to the glasses we requested, and uncorked the champagne for us. She even refused to take a tip for doing it. We noticed that Captain Henry and many of the ship's officers hung out here. Except for the piano playing, the room was very dark and quite. In little booths along the wall there are listening stations where one could select from about 75 different CDs to listen to. After several hours of drinking and chatting, the champagne was gone and we were ready for bed.
At about 12:00 AM in the morning, we found out the real reason our lovely room was probably so cheap. We were located directly across the hall from the luggage collection room. The banging and loud talking and joking of the workers made it impossible for us to sleep most of the night.
Day 12: Friday, June 18, 1999 -- Departure and Final Thoughts
Since we had to be off of the ship by 9:00 AM, we got up at 6:15 AM and showered and dressed. Next we packed up all the carry-on stuff, and headed to Parrot Cay for our final breakfast aboard ship. The service was much more rushed this morning as the waiters worked feverishly to get us off the boat and prepare for the next batch of guests coming on board. We realized at this point just how many hours of the day they really must work. Even though we understood the reason we were being rushed, it really was a little hard not to feel resentful because the pampering had suddenly come to a stop.
After eating we said our final good byes and headed to our stateroom to pick up our carry-on bags. Disembarkation was painless as we all had less than $500 in merchandise to claim with customs, and we quickly located our luggage and checked it with the airlines right there at the terminal. In less than 20 minutes we were sitting on the bus waiting to be driven to the airport. As the bus left the terminal, there was one lone elderly woman standing there with a large white Mickey hand waving goodbye to us. I couldn't help thinking how "the magic" was slowing fading away.
Upon arriving at the airport we made a beeline for the Disney store to make sure that there wasn't anything we forgot to buy. I saw a pretty good replica of the Mickey medallion I liked so much on ship for only $30 and used the Disney Dollars Jimmy and Mary had given me for my Birthday to purchase it.
Next we headed to Starbucks for some specialty coffee. While we were sitting there we saw the Disney Cruise Line group parade by headed for the buses, and we called out, "You're going to have a great time." Our plane left exactly on time at 1:00 PM and in a few hours I was sitting in my living room contemplating everything that had happened over the last two weeks.
Before dropping Jimmie back at his house, we decided to stop at a local restaurant for a bite to eat. Joe asked the waitress for some salt and pepper, and she grabbed some from the next table and slammed it onto ours. With a little sniff, Jimmie and Joe gently dropped their own napkins into their laps. We were home again, and the reality of it was finally setting in. Joe said that while he's not willing to return to WDW anytime soon, he might consider going on another cruise. WooHoo! Disney Wonder, here I come.
There is one final story relating to my meeting with Danielle that I'd like to share with you. As I've already explained, because we never did meet at Splash Mountain on E-Ticket night, I was unable to make plans to meet Danielle on the ship. Weeks later when Danielle posted her trip report, I emailed her to tell her I had a picture of that sea turtle she was so fond of. In a series of emails that followed between us, we realized that there were quite a few occasions on the ship where we might have met and didn't. This prompted Danielle to look through her pictures to see if she had captured anyone on film that looked like me. Then low and behold she found it. There I was peeking out from the very next table on a picture she a taken at dinner. For the entire trip, Danielle and I had been seated just one table apart and never knew it. I guess it really is a small world after all.
Binnie L. Betten