Stephen Roberts -- June 2000 -- Walt Disney World (PO) / Disney Cruise Trip
6/6/2000 - 6/15/2000
Pre-Trip and Planning
In January, 1998 we visited WDW as a family for the first time. (See Brian Bennett's page, Winter 1998 for complete details.) Prior to that, it had been almost 25 years since I had been, and about 20 years for Teri. Although I was ready for a return trip a week after we got home, we agreed there are a lot of other places we wanted to take the boys first. It would probably be another 5 years before we went back to Disney. So why are we going back 2 1/2 years later? God's timing, not ours. Sean and Tyler take violin lessons in a Suzuki group, and about a year ago their teacher started talking seriously about the group auditioning to play at WDW, and combining it with a Disney Cruise. We sent an audition tape and were accepted to play in Epcot on June 9th, 2000. We never would have entertained the idea of doing the cruise on our own, but this was an exceptional opportunity. And I get to be the group's accompanist.
A little background here. I have played piano since 1st grade and sax since 4th grade. I majored in Music in college, taught High School band, I have played in bands for more than 20 years, and continue to play Contemporary Christian Rock today in church. In all that time, I never had the opportunity to play at Walt Disney World. I was thrilled when ON THEIR OWN, the boys expressed an interest in taking violin lessons. Please understand that I was not the frustrated musician/ballerina/athlete/whatever who pushed their kid into their parent's favorite activity. I realize that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and that is the only reason we considered going back to WDW so soon, and taking the cruise. This trip is costing more than twice what our 1998 Disney vacation did! We used that as a motivation for the boys. I practice violin with them, and after every practice where they displayed a good attitude, $5 went into the Disney trip fund. Somehow a $5 bill sitting in front of them on the piano allowed them to focus on the goal. Gee, I wonder why?
Well, being addicted to planning, I hit the web. All the old standards were helpful once again: Deb's WDWIG, Brian Bennett's trip reports, Steve Soares live entertainment page, and RADP were like old friends. I found several individual pages of photos and cruise information, but the "newcomer" DIS information page was a huge help with cruise info. The trip was a group package being booked through a travel agent. Doing my homework, I was able to book the exact same trip myself and save almost $450 over the TA because of "deviation fees" and other things she could not do. Not to knock travel agents, but they don't specialize in WDW and they don't know a lot of the things that you can find yourself on the web. I booked the 3-day land (Port Orleans)/4-day cruise (Wonder) package through DCL and added an extra land day in front of it. Four months before we left, the travel agent found out that she could transfer my DCL reservation to her agency for the same price I got on my own. So to keep peace in the group, I agreed to that. I had already booked airfare separately and saved a bit when fares dropped for a few days. On my own I booked a separate night at PO and arranged Tiffany Town Car from MCO to PO so we can arrive the night before our park passes are activated. I just can't see paying for a full day in the parks, and then arriving at 2:00PM. dead tired from traveling since 6:00 AM. Anyone else like me?
All those details were finalized early in the year, so I had a little time ;-) to plan itineraries. I am not a total "commando", but since we go to WDW so infrequently I wanted us to be able to see all our favorites in 4 days. We most definitely are not trying to "see it all". The boys play on June 9th in Epcot, so that morning was locked in. On our last trip we used EE and liked it, but this time I decided against it. We actually will be in Epcot on it's EE day (Friday) but the morning will be tied up with rehearsing and performing. So the plan is to start Wednesday at AK and see everything we want, then head over to Epcot for ToN and Illuminations. Then MGM on Thursday, performing at Epcot Friday AM, MK Friday PM, leaving Saturday for Epcot. You might be thinking, "You're spending less than 1 day at MK?!?!?!?!" This may border on blasphemy, but of the 3 parks we've visited, MK is our least favorite. Sean & Tyler aren't into autographs, so lots of character time isn't important and we've already seen the daytime parade. We could easily hit all our A-List attractions in less than 1 day. I realize that "soaking in the ambiance" and "smelling the roses" are wonderful on longer trips. Since the purpose of this trip is performing in Epcot, that event has to dictate the schedule. We all rated our "must do" attractions, and the itineraries were built around these. I plan the days pretty closely, then try to loosely stick with the plan, taking things as they come. There's also a lot that's new since our last trip: Tiki Room & Swiss Treehouse (closed for rehab last time), Buzz & Pooh; Test Track; ToN, R&R Coaster, Doug and Fantasmic; and all of AK.
Since park time is brief, we didn't want to take a lot of time with meals. On our last trip Teri did a fantastic job bringing breakfast food and snacks. We ate bagels, cereal & pop tarts in the room, snacked out of the backpack during the day, and ate at inexpensive restaurants in the parks. Teri mentioned that she enjoyed our "fancier" meals on the last trip - Whispering Canyon, character lunch at The Land and the 50's PTC. To save time and $$, we decided to do 1 nicer meal, most likely at MGM, to break the hot dogs & burgers monotony. Besides, we were going to eat quite well once we were on the Wonder.
Teri & I have been to Nassau twice, but the cruise will be the boy's first time out of the country. Every summer Teri & the boys spend 2 weeks at the Jersey Shore (I only get 1 week) so a big beach day in Nassau is not crucial for us. Besides, we get a private island the very next day! We'll probably walk around, do the straw market, and spend the rest of the day on the Wonder. That will probably be Teri's spa day. I gave her the Facial/Massage & Rainforest as a Christmas present. (Yup, gave her the whole darn Rain Forest!)
Now all we had to do was practice.
Day 1, June 6. Arrival at Port Orleans
I don't think you need to know how we got to the airport or what we ate on the flights, do you? The Cliff Notes version goes like this - two uneventful flights, and we were met at baggage by Brian from Tiffany Town Car. $45 plus $5 tip for one-way. Last time we used Florida Town Car and had no problems at all. Just decided to do something different this time. Sorry, we just don't do Mears. (Can you say "Moo"?) For 4 people, it's cheaper to do a Town Car. Besides, Brian had a luggage cart waiting and loaded all our bags for us. Leaving MCO, we drove through some smoke from the forest fires, and could see a bit of charred ground where fires had been burning. We pulled up to Port Orleans at about 7:30pm.
Port Orleans is quite nice, especially since we had only seen it in pictures! I love the punny street names. We left our bags with the Bellman, and went to check in. CM Chip was good, drawing our first Hidden Mickey on the PO map. He showed us the Transportation Guide and said that it's quite easy to follow. "For example, if you want to go to the Magic Kingdom, you board the bus marked . . . ?" I paused for a moment, then replied "Magic Kingdom?" Chip made a big deal about my correct answer, so I jokingly asked if there was a prize for it. He reached behind the counter and produced an Amex White Glove fanny pack!
We actually had 3 separate reservations at PO. I booked Tuesday night separately without LOS passes (or whatever they're called now). The 3-day land (Thur - Sat nights) was part of the Cruise package, and I added a 4th land day (Wednesday) through DCL, which is booked as it's own separate day with park passes. So we could have ended up having to move to 3 different PO rooms. God's in control once again, because my faxed request worked perfectly. We were in building 7, room 7316 for the entire 5 nights. And it's a corner room! It might not sound like a big deal but that extra window makes the room seem much bigger. We hit the food court for dinner, which included red beans and rice, and bought 2 refillable mugs. The boys even got a little pool time, but since it was 9:00, the lizard/dragon slide was closed. After that it was back to the room to unpack.
Happy dance! We are in Orlando and all is right with the world. Mickey, can you call me in the morning? We're going to see the Animals.
Day 2, June 7 Animal Kingdom
Hey, get up! Mickey just called and said there's big goings on! Here's a tip. Hit the speaker button on the phone and the kids can hear Mickey's wake-up call too. This was our morning routine: I filled our mugs with coffee and the boys watched the Disney Resort channel while they ate and dressed. (I don't know what it's called, but it's not the Disney Channel we get on cable at home. It's the one that shows all the parks and what's happening at WDW. So like, ya know?) I had to re-check in this morning since last night's room reservation was not connected to the cruise package. This involved turning in all the Cruise documents, getting park passes, etc. Here's the first snag. The computer couldn't code our park passes on the room keys. We were given 1-day Park Hopper passes, and were told to try again at the end of the day.
Due to the problem at the Front Desk, we didn't catch an AK bus until after 7:30. I had planned for us to be at the gate by 7:45, so we could walk on to Kilimanjaro. Instead, we hit the gate exactly at 8:00 and heard the official Animal Kingdom opening. Pretty cool! EDITOR'S NOTE: Disney does such a masterful job of staging attractions, even one as large as the Tree of Life. As you leave the Oasis, it's as if a curtain opens on the Tree. You don't see it tower over the park as you get out of your car or walk through the entrance. I had seen hundreds of pictures of the Tree, but that still doesn't prepare you. You just gotta see this thing for yourself. It's like trying to tell someone about your honeymoon - if you're not there you just don't get it. We marveled at it as we quickly strolled back to Harambe.
First a word on my expectations of AK. I grew up in North Jersey going to the Bronx Zoo. In Omaha, where we now live, the Henry Dorley Zoo was voted by Disney Magazine as the #1 Family Attraction in the country. (yes, even ahead of WDW and the SD Zoo!) So zoos I know. I think Disney did a wonderful job of simulating natural environments on the Safari, Pangani Trail and in the Maharaja / tiger area. It's probably as good as you get until they invent a drive-through safari park with free roaming gorillas. "Please remain in your vehicle while the male silverback rips the door off your brand new Sport Utility Vehicle."
By the time we got to Kilimanjaro, it had a 30 minute wait posted, so we got our first Fast Passes and headed to the Pangani Trail. It was 8:10, and already it felt very hot! I love the animal tracks in the cement. The gorillas were somewhat active, and overall we thought the trail was good. The CMs stationed throughout the trail offered a lot of interesting info. Using our Fast Passes, we walked on to Kilimanjaro with a 5 minute wait. We saw lots of animals. The highlight was the male lion sitting up on the highest rock, very visible. I had no problem with the poacher story. EDITOR'S NOTE: Allow me to wax philosophical for a moment. It seems to me there are a lot of parallels between this ride and Disney's overall approach to AK. The ride isn't on a track, so the CM actually drives AND steers the vehicle. Your experience on the ride can vary greatly due to animal activity/interaction. There's no set time limit to the safari, since you could get stuck waiting for a rhino to get out of the way at a rhino's pace. It's not a neatly packaged attraction where everyone experiences the same ride every time they ride it. That's the kind of feeling I got overall about AK.
Our next AK attraction was the 10:00 show of FotLK. For us, this is our second favorite live show in all of WDW, behind HoND. The tumble monkeys are great, and the Circle of Life song really stirs the heart. (For the record, my eyes misted up.) The boys liked the fire juggler. Following the show we queued up for It's Tough To Be a Bug. The line moved steadily around/under/through the Tree of Life, but I still slowed down to take video and pictures. This is as close as you get. We were all having fun with "I see a lion. Look at the snake! There's an eagle." Once inside, Tyler knew about some of the surprises, so he was able to adjust himself in the seat accordingly. (I'm trying not to give it away.). Of course the highlight for 2 adolescent boys was the stink bug. I hope that their violin group performing in Epcot still ranks higher than insect flatulence when Sean & Tyler fondly look back on the trip. In the end, Tyler disliked this movie because he thought it was too scary.
We were starting to get hungry so we walked over to Dinoland. (Why does saying that make me think I'm going to visit the Flintstones?) One good thing about the heat is we didn't feel as hungry. Teri & I split a turkey leg, and the boys got McNugget meals at Restaurantosaurus. They didn't need the toy, so I had them spread some Disney magic and give theirs away as we walked through the park. In '98 we had turkey legs at the MK and loved them. Teri found them at the grocery store at home and, how do I say this, they just weren't the same. I guess it's yet another Disney secret. While I got FastPasses for Dinosaur (nee CtX), the boys played in the Boneyard for about 20 minutes. The xylophone bones and interactive footprints were a big hit. It's fun to just have some down time like this in the schedule, but being out in the heat wasn't a lot of fun.
We queued for the 1:00 Tarzan Rocks show. We sat in the 2nd row of the 2nd section. So the roller bladers came right in front of us. There have been several complaints on the web about this show being too loud. I didn't notice it. Before we left home, Tyler asked me if Phil Collins would be at AK. The roller-bladers were excellent. I can't wait until Sean & Tyler try the "you stand on your head and spread your legs and I'll jump over you" move at home. I'll send you the video of THAT one. It's interesting that at most shows they don't allow food or drinks, and at Tarzan they actually walk around selling it. And 2 frozen lemonades really hit the spot in the 95-degree heat.
Using our Fast Passes, we walked right into the Dinosaur pre-show. I was able to warn Tyler and Teri of the loud noises and bright lights, and told them how this ride had been "toned down" recently. Teri's only concern was "You're not taking me on a roller coaster, are you?" As it turns out, it was a lot bumpier and jerkier than I expected. Maybe because I was worried about Teri & Tyler, but I really didn't enjoy the ride too much. I didn't have a burning urge to ride it again. BTW, I would think that Disney would create their own dinosaur. We all know about stegasaurus and tyranasaurus. How about myfeetaresaurus? After 4 days at WDW that might be pretty accurate.
Next we walked over to India. Again the attention to detail in the buildings and the environment is very effective. I got Fast Passes for Kali with a 3:25 return time. We strolled through the Maharaja Jungle and the tigers were mostly inactive, but it was still cool to see them. The bats were . . . big. Yup, those are big bats. I found a Hidden Mickey outside the last tiger viewing area. In the wall carving, there's a guy with a medallion around his neck. Mickey is upside down on the medallion. We had a little time to kill before our Fast Passes, and the fountains in India sure came in handy. Finally we rode the Kali Rapids. Teri was the only one wearing a poncho. The geysers at the top of the lift got several of us wet, and the big drop took care of the rest. The "dry compartment" in the center is a good idea. We even got some action on the rapids after the big drop. Tyler wanted to ride it again.
That's it for AK, so we hop the bus to Epcot. By 4:30 we're walking under the biggest mouse's hand on earth. All we wanted to do at Epcot today was ToN and Illuminations. Friday, when we perform here, is an EE day and we don't want to fight EE crowds for the big nighttime events. Both Teri and I agree that the Millenium "Leave Your Money With Us" pictures looked dumb and out of place.
It's the music. When I watch the video from our first trip and listen to the background music piped into Epcot, it just takes me right back there. The Millenium version of Spaceship Earth looks very cool. About a zillion times cooler than that Cake-Castle-Thing we saw at MK on our first trip. We went back to find the stage we'll perform on in 2 days, then checked out Ice Station Cool. Everyone found a favorite, and Beverly tasted WORSE than I remembered.
I wanted to catch the 5:00 Off Kilter show, but at 4:55 it started pouring. That helped to bring the temps down. We hung out in the Canada gift shop for a few minutes, then took out the ponchos and walked over to Mexico. There was literally nobody in line for El Rio del Tiempo. Tyler had just studied Aztec and Inca civilizations, so the temple and gods were interesting to him. He even was able to tell us about the musicians dressed up as skeletons. We rode Maelstrom next with a 15 minute wait. (Everyone together now, "Yew arrr not de furst tew pass dis vay . . . ") Sean had just studied Norse mythology, so he was able to tell us about Odin and his 1 eye. Gee boys, isn't it cool when you can USE the stuff you learned in school? The rain had almost stopped so we had dinner at the Cantina de San Angel, splitting several plates.
We were ahead of plan, so we did Ellen, Bill Nye and the dinosaurs, walking in on the tail end of the pre-show. We don't believe that you came from nothing, so it's good to see the big bang presented as only a theory. No wait for Spaceship Earth, so inside the golf ball we go. I'm officially going to contest the Hidden Mickey in the video phone section of Spaceship Earth. The American boy talking to the Japanes girl has 3 cookies on a plate, but they're all the same size. Sorry, Mickey's head is bigger than his ears! Did you notice that the boy speaks and hears the Japanese girl in English, and she speaks and hears him in Japanese?
We staked out a spot in between Norway and China at 7:50. The boys sat up front for Tapestry of Nations while Teri and I remained territorial back at the rail. Tyler was so tired he came and sat with Teri. When I first heard about ToN, I thought it sounded pretty lame. The more posts I read on the web and saw pictures, I became more interested. We had been listening to the Millenium CD at home, and liked the ToN music. I must say that I did enjoy it, but no emotional stirring or tears in my eye. It was just nice. Now on the other hand, Illuminations was simply spectacular! The choreography of music, lasers, water screens, video and fireworks was flawless. Don't miss this! Tyler and I loved it at the end when the entire sky lit up with bright white fireworks. This was the first time I have seen fireworks that were timed so well to the music. Even the old Illuminations (Remember the Magic version) is a very distant second to Reflections of Earth. There was no wind that night, so nobody was bothered by blowing smoke.
Back at PO, it took 30 seconds to correct the park pass situation. This was a great first day in the parks. Tomorrow is spent at The Studios.
Day 3, June 8. Disney Studios.
It's kinda cool not having to do Early Entry. At 8:15 we caught the bus to MGM. We chatted with some other Nebraskans in the crowd, and precisely at 9:00 we followed the CMs down Sunset Blvd. and into G-Force Studios. The RnR Coaster was on our A-list, so we were very excited. Sean and I were definitely going to ride. Months before we left, I explained to Tyler that RnR is very fast and told him about the loops, and he decided to give it a go. I looked for the Hidden Mickey in the recording studio, but it wasn't there. Teri took the chicken exit and met us at the end. I told the boys that the scariest part of the ride is watching other cars take off. It sure got my heart pounding! The sound is awesome and the anticipation before the launch is great. Tyler was not crazy about the ride, Sean was OK with it, and I was pumped.
Tower of Terror was next on the list, but it had a 50 minute wait. So we got 4 Fast Passes and headed to The Great Movie Ride and rode the Gangster side. On our first trip we thought this ride sounded lame, but it just shows how wrong I can be. I still think the AA Witch in the Wizard of Oz scene is even more life-like than the AA Ellen at Epcot. It was nice to see the updated movie clips at the end like Shakespeare in Love. We had time to kill before our TZToT Fast Passes, and we had never been to the Sound Show / Sounds Dangerous / Sounds like we should give it a try. Teri thought the CM was joking when she talked about switching sides of the headphones, because only 1 side of hers was working. Fortunately there were empty seats next to us so she grabbed another set of headphones. We might not race back in line for a second show, but the sound effects were kinda cool.
It was time for a brief but moving stay at the Hollywood Tower Hotel. I still think this is the best total attraction at WDW. Theming, set dressing, anticipation, multi-media, and some good old-fashioned thrills all in 1 package! Tyler said he wanted to ride this one too. I prepared him the best that I could without giving it all away. I made sure to tell him what was going to happen next, but since the drop sequence was new to us, all I could say was that "we were going to go up and down quite a few times". Teri waited outside and we walked right into the pre-show. Have I mentioned that I love Fast Pass? The expanded drop sequence was great. Plenty of excitement, and several opportunities to re-visit your stomach in case you left it on the first drop. It's wild feel yourself being pulled down faster than a free fall. Tyler will not ride this again any time soon. Sean wanted a "I Survived the ToT" t-shirt which he bought with his money.
Next was Star Tours, listed as a 30 minute wait. I pointed out the Imagineers initials and birthdates in the props. Halfway through the queue, we were sent over to the Fast Pass side, so it went quicker. I can't stomach riding Body Wars, but I enjoy Star Tours. Look, there's George Lucas in the video! Or is that Egroeg Sacul, his twin brother? By the time we take another WDW trip, this ride should be updated to pod racers. How cool! No better way to continue our tour than with the best example of the worst humor in the park - Muppet Vision 3D. I love these guys. There are so many puns and hidden jokes around this theater, it ought to come with instructions. Tyler found a Hidden Gonzo outside in the queue, and I pointed out the Hidden Mickeys in the padlock and in the test pattern in the pre-show. By the way, can we clear this up right now? They are not "those 2 old guys in the balcony". They are Statler and Waldorf, and Jim Henson named them after 2 old hotels in NYC. There, I feel much better.
We had a 12:30 PS at the Sci-Fi Drive In. It was very quiet and the food was good, and we can say we've been there and done that. Chocolate shakes were yummy! It's too bad that last time the 50's PTC didn't impress us enough to make a return trip. Our server was just OK.
It was time to surprise Sean and Tyler. They are both huge Radio Disney fans, and it's on constantly in the car and in their rooms. They both have called-in to win prizes, and I made sure Tyler wore his Radio Disney T-shirt today. We "just happened" (read: meticulously planned) to walk by the studio as B.B. Goode was doing her show. Through the window she and her producer saw Tyler's Radio Disney t-shirt and made a big deal out of it. Jimmy, a Production Assistant, came out to give us a picture of the DJs and told us that B.B. has a meet and greet at 4:00. We'll be back. We took the Backlot Tour and enjoyed it. This time we went directly from the water tank show right on to the trams. Last time we wound through the prop room. Tyler and Sean asked to sit on the left, and I put Teri on the right. She got mad at me when the CM said "Those sitting on the right will get wet", but remembered what happened when he said "Those sitting on the left will get really wet."
We waited about 5 minutes before being let in for the 3:00 Hunchback of Notre Dame show. Randy the Juggler was very talented, but his banter with the audience was almost better than his juggling. He asked an older woman in the audience to throw a club to him as he juggled 3 others, and she did terribly. He told her "It's not your fault, it's mine. I picked you." His finale of juggling a bowling ball, a beanbag and a machete was great. EDITOR'S NOTE: Teri and I commented how witty and funny Randy and the Diamond Horseshoe Magician are. They are quick and they are truly funny. Compare them with the un-funniest guy on TV, Jay Leno, and these guys could be making big money. Sitting in the 4th row, right on the runway, the Hunchback show was as good as we remembered it. I thought all the leads except Frollo were the same actors we saw 2 years ago, but Teri thought only Quasi Modo was the same. To us it's the best live show in all WDW. We hate the movie and love the show. You just can't argue with strong performers and live singing & dialogue vs. pre-recorded lip-synching. (Can you say Milli Vanilli and the Beast?)
It was time for our Meet & Greet with BB Goode. She came out a little after 4:00 and spent at least 10 minutes with the boys. She made a big deal about them performing in Epcot, and told them to send her an e-mail telling her how it went. She went out of her way to make them feel special. BB autographed her picture and gave them each Radio Disney sunglasses. Just perfect. Ain't God cool? Next we walked almost 20 steps to get front-row seats for the Mulan Parade, which was short and cute. Following that we saw Doug Live, which we all enjoyed. (I almost enjoyed it enough to get a nap!) Good performers and good message. I kinda like the way each Doug cartoon has a lesson to learn. I'm still trying to figure out what message we learn from Pokemon. Tyler said he liked Doug better than HoND. Patti's voice was, um, well you just have to hear it for yourself. We had time to kill before dinner so we went to the Backstage Pass show. It was just OK. We had dinner at the Commissary, and for dessert we had another ride on TGMR, at Teri's request. As we were riding through she commented that you just don't get this kind of ride anywhere else, except WDW.
At 7:55 we headed down Sunset Blvd, and I expected to join the hordes waiting for Fantasmic to open. They had already filled 3 sections, and we got in the Sebastian section, about halfway back - perfect seats and close to the exit. This must have been painful before they added pre-show entertainment. The TZToT bellhops are quite funny and talented. Fantasmic was outstanding and should not be missed. Having said that, I like Reflections of Earth even better! YMMV. Since we were close to the exit, we made a fairly quick getaway down the extra path that takes you backstage. As we were walking, Teri's "Mommy instinct" heard a distressed "Mama!" cry. A child, no more than 3 years old, was walking uphill against the flow of everyone leaving, obviously alone. We stopped and caught up with the child, who may not have spoken English. I suggested we return to the top of the exit where CMs were. One CM tried to show his name tag to the child as if to say "It's OK, I'm friends with Mickey Mouse. I'll take care of you." Surprisingly, we heard no frantic adults screaming for the lost child. Must have been one of those "What do you mean you thought he was with me? I thought he was with you!" situations. Hopefully they were reunited quickly.
Well, tune up the violins. Tomorrow we play at Epcot!
Day 4, June 9. Performing at Epcot, & MK
Today's the day we play at Epcot. I know the boys are excited, and Teri and I have nervous jitters. And I'm only the accompanist. Maybe they don't realize how big this will be to them 20 years from now. We took some group pictures in the PO lobby. Transportation was a bit of an issue here. Since you are "on stage" as a performer, you can't just ride a Disney bus and walk through the front gate of Epcot. We had to charter a Mears bus to take us from PO to Epcot and back again. Linda (the teacher), the kids, our announcer (one of the Moms) and I rode over and were escorted backstage. The rest of the parents had to take regular Disney busses to the park and meet us inside.
Driving backstage was cool since we went through the employee lot right under the Test Track outdoor loop. We saw the percussion floats from ToN and the Illuminations barges being reloaded. We parked at the Magic Music Days building/trailer and were met by CM Eve. She reminded us of some rules: no video or pictures backstage, 1 earring per ear for girls, no gum, and professional behavior since we would be "on stage". We went in a studio for a brief tune up / warm up time. Being nosy, I listened to music (ToN maybe) being practiced behind closed doors in another studio. Back on the bus, we drove around the back of World Showcase clockwise, going under the waterway leading to the International Gateway. We parked behind JIYI, and Eve escorted Linda and I into the park. We met the stage manager and checked out the setup. Then we walked the kids into the park - 2 by 2, no talking or waving. We got a 5-minute announcement just like Illuminations!
Then, "Ladies and Gentlement, Walt Disney World presents from Omaha, Nebraska, the Omaha Suzuki Strings!" Wow, we're here! I felt like I was living in a Disney commercial. God is so good, and everything went very smooth. Nobody fainted or got sick, no broken strings, no panic attacks. The electric piano they had set up for me was quite good. We had to be off stage in 25 minutes, so I kept a stopwatch on us. We played mostly pieces from the standard Suzuki repertoire along with a few Disney songs: When You Wish Upon a Star, Mickey Mouse Club March, It's a Small World After All. As soon as we were done, we walked through the backstage entrance and boarded the Mears bus. Eve gave us a Magic Music Days plaque, and a sign that was displayed by the stage with our group name on it. Our bus took us back to PO where we changed and met up with Teri, who had to take Disney transportation back to the hotel. We're done being performers, now it's time to go back to being tourists from Omaha.
We boarded the MK bus and greeted Freddie, the driver who was drawing a really nice pen sketch on a piece of cardboard. I complimented him on it and he reached into his bag to show me some other pictures. He didn't have any left because he had "given them all away". We were the only ones on the bus and we sat for a few minutes. A dad and a child at the bus stop had asked Freddie to wait for mom who was changing a diaper. After almost 5 minutes with no sign of mom Freddie told them that another bus would be along shortly, and he pulled away. I shouted goodbye to Freddie as we left through the back doors, and he told me to wait. He still had one Tarzan pencil sketch in his bag, and he signed it for us. More Disney magic! EDITOR'S NOTE: Since on both our trips, we only did Disney attractions, we have never rented a car. We never had more than a 10-minute wait going to the parks. We had reasonable waits returning in the evening, which can be expected trying to move that volume of humanity. I have read far too many trip reports where someone who wanted to drive said, "We took a wrong turn and ended up in . . . " Besides, I have participated in the Electric Brake Light Parade at the end of the day, and it just ain't for me. If you plan lots of off-site trips, then a car would be a worthwhile expense. Otherwise, I don't see the need. YMMV. I am on vacation, ya' know what I mean?
We arrived at MK at 11:45, and had hot dogs and fries at Casey's. Both Teri and I noticed how loud and crowded it seemed on Main Street. The music being played at a loud volume didn't help the situation. At 12:15 I got Fast Passes for Space Mountain with a 3:15 return time. We headed over to Carousel of Progress where Tyler announced that he would be bored. Now, you don't say that about CoP! I rode this at the '64 NYC World's Fair (OK, I was only 5) and it still holds sentimental interest for me. So I did what any good Dad would do - I bribed him. I promised ice cream for him and his brother if he could tell me something he learned while in CoP. Teri likes to point out that the difference between the next-to-last time period and the "future" keeps growing. How many last scene rehabs will they go through before the other scenes get a face-lift? The Hidden Mickey web page lists the TV in the last scene as a Hidden Mickey. In a word - NOT! Last time I checked, the mouse's ears and head were not square.
It was now time for our first trip "To Infinity And Beyond!" We were all looking forward to Buzz Lightyear, but the wait said 45 minutes. We got on line and were in our car in less than 15! I rode with Tyler to help him with shooting. This was one of our must-see rides, and it was a hit with all of us. I read a very accurate description of this ride on the web: it's like riding through the inside of a video game. As we exited, Teri surprised me by asking if we wanted to ride again. Why not. Posted wait was 45 minutes and we were walking out the exit in less than 20! I showed the boys the Hidden Mickey in Pollust Prime. This time the ride must have stopped to load a wheelchair guest, and Tyler took advantage of the stops to rack up 100,000 more points than his first ride! Pooh was next in the schedule, but it was closed for the day. Oh well, if that's the worst that happens to us we'll be doing OK.
We rode IASW with less than 10 minutes wait and quizzed the boys on all the countries. EDITOR'S NOTE: There are certain rides that define MK for me: Space Mtn., Carousel of Progress, and IASW. Probably since they do not possess state-of-the-art technology and yes, they are somewhat dated. That's what makes them SO Disney for me. Next we waited 20 minutes for Peter Pan and flew our ship to Neverland. It's kinda funny, but since we only had time to ride the attractions that we all wanted to see, I keep saying ". . . and we all liked it." So, we all liked it. Haunted Mansion wasn't on the schedule, but we had time for it. I guess I was too conservative in my planning. I don't remember liking this very much on our last trip, but this time it was quite enjoyable. We saw the Hidden Donald in the overstuffed chair and the Hidden Mickey at the dining room table.
Just before the 3:00 parade the wait for Splash Mountain was too long, so we crossed over to Adventureland and walked on to Pirates. It was nice and cool inside. I still don't get this PC stuff. We now have women chasing Pirates and Pirates chasing food. Why then do we have Pirates auctioning women off? "We want the redhead!" Tiki Birds was closed for rehab on our last trip so it was a must-do this time. It was cute. After this the boys got their reward ice cream (remember CoP?) and I went for Fast Passes to Splash Mountain. I asked a CM at the Fast Pass machine about getting new Fast Passes before a prior one expired. He said you can only get a new one when the first one expires. WRONG! At 3:45 I got Splash Mountain Fast Passes and our Space Mountain return time was 3:15 - 4:15. Teri and Tyler rode TTA while Sean and I rode Space Mountain. Using Fast Pass we walked past a 90 minute wait and were on in 6 minutes. Sean was a little worried, and I told him that this was very tame compared to RnR. I also told him to keep his eyes open since we were in the back of the car, so he could see what was coming up. He did fine.
We regrouped and Teri suggested Diamond Horseshoe Revue, another attraction that wasn't on the plan. It was cool and relaxing. The only family member who didn't get picked on was Tyler. Sean had a verse of "Comin' Round the Mountain" sung by the crowd for him. "He'll be drinking lots of soda when he comes". Then it was my turn on a song that all the kids already knew - "It Wasn't Me, It Was Him" and the entire house pointed to me every time they sang "It Was Him". Teri helped a magician with a card trick by saying "Stop" as he riffled through the deck of cards. But he did it so fast that she didn't have time to say "Stop". He commented "So you're not used to saying "Stop", are you?" I made the mistake of looking at the MK map during his show and he announced "Sir, you know where you are. Put the map away." Swiss Family Treehouse was closed on our last trip, so we did it next. The boys like this movie, especially when the little kid brings home the elephant. "Can we keep him?" That probably made it more appealing to Sean & Tyler, otherwise they might have been bored.
We waited about 10 minutes for the Country Bears Jamboree, and we got to hear 2 family favorites - Mama Don't Whoop Little Buford and Big Al's Bloooooood on the Saddle. It was time for our Fast Passes at Splash Mountain. This ride is IMHO the best total package in MK. Theming, scenery, story line and a little action all in 1 convenient package. (TZToT is still the BEST total package at WDW.) We were on in 5 - 10 minutes and didn't get too wet. To break the burgers/dogs/pizza regimen we ate at El Pirata and enjoyed it. As we headed back to Tomorrowland, Sean asked if we could walk through the castle. I'm not going to ruin a boy's Disney request so we did. Tyler and Sean rode AO and I wanted a ride on TAA. We saw the Mickey on the belt buckle in the salon. Teri suggested one final ride on Buzz, then we shopped for a hat for Tyler on Main Street. We decided to take it easy and not stay for MSEP. The tradeoff was worth it for us. The boys got baths, I worked on my notes, and we were asleep by 10:00.
WE JUST PLAYED AT EPCOT!!! WE JUST PLAYED AT EPCOT!!!
Tomorrow we hit Epcot for the attractions.
Day 5, June 10. Epcot
Teri was talking last night about how much she had enjoyed the Garden Grill on our last trip, so this morning I made a PS for 12:15. We caught the Epcot bus at 8:00 since I wanted to be there for the opening. It's quite cool with the music and the birds being released. We walked briskly back to the Test Track. It was not open on our trip in '98, but I was able to ride it twice last year on a business trip to Tampa. We all wanted to ride together, so we skipped the singles line and breezed through the queue. I gave Teri a detailed description of the ride since she doesn't do coasters. She must have asked 20 times if there was a big drop. The video monitor in our car didn't work but that's OK since Teri and the boys were able to concentrate on the surroundings and not on the dashboard. Where else but WDW can you play a Bach Minuet one day and race around at 64.7 mph the next day? The Hidden Mickey in our picture looked better than we did, so we didn't buy it. We immediately got Fast Passes for 9:05 and headed to Wonders of Life.
I could watch Cranium Command once a week for a year and not get tired of it. Do not miss the pre-show to this one. It's classic. (Where do you think you are, Disney World?) We watched The Making of Me next (we have discussed this topic with the boys several times). The last time I saw this the CM was going through the usual post-attraction spiel - gather your personal belongings, take small children by the hand, yada-yada. Then he said, "If you have any further questions about this movie, just ask the person sitting next to you." I guess that's not a part of the script because we didn't hear it this time.
At 9:55 we were walking into the Test Track briefing room. As the doors opened, a man walked out of the briefing room toward us, said nothing, and went up to the loading CM. As we walked in, the doors started to close right away so we backed out. This man wasn't in a CM uniform and didn't have a CM name tag, but had a radio belt on. He and the loading CM jogged around to the back of the line. Oh well, we went in the next time the doors opened. This time our on-board monitors worked. On our way out we grabbed one more set of Fast Passes.
It's the music. I watch the video from our last trip, and the background music from Epcot takes me right back there. Yesterday on Main Street the music was so loud, it just seemed to add to the crowded, confusing feel. At Epcot it's so soothing. We walked past the stage we performed on yesterday as we walked over to HISTA. I didn't realize this now has Fast Pass. We safely watched the movie, safely, then we had our first view of the updated Jouney Into Your Imagination. It's definitely not up to the old Figment's standard, but it's not the end-of-Disney-creativity that some are making it out to be. There are some very cool effects. We sent an e-mail picture post card, and headed over to Mouse Gears for some shopping. Being involved with Marching Band/Drum Corps I love the Jammitors, and hoped the family would too. On my business trip last year, I got picked to hold the guest drum (trash can) in their act. This time they had a slightly new lineup, but they didn't disappoint. The boys thought they were funny and talented. We squeezed in one last Test Track ride before our 12:15 PS. The standby wait was 2 hours. They were only letting in Fast Pass riders, not mixing them in the queue like on other rides. I spotted the Hidden Mickey formed out of washers at Station 8B.
We were 10 minutes late for our PS at the Garden Grill, but we got right in. What was different from our last time here? No Minnie (she's mad about me, you know), no smashed potatoes (thrown against the barn door by Chip and Dale) and we sat on the upper level instead of the lower booths. The booths on the lower level are excellent because you literally can't see anyone else in the restaurant, and the characters can sneak up on you. Both Teri & I think that Living With the Land is the most interesting/informative attraction at WDW. A real sleeper. By the way, I could not imagine waiting in that huge cattle queue they have for this ride. We waited about 15 minutes. We went to Food Rocks and the boys spotted the Hidden Mickey on the floor outside. I just love how authentic that music sounds.
Since we had seen ToN and Illuminations on Wednesday, that was all we wanted to see at Epcot. The boys really enjoyed Kali Rapids and Kilimanjaro Safari so we hopped an AK bus. We grabbed Kali Fast Passes and rode standby with a 25 minute wait. We got soaked and enjoyed it. We rode again using our Fast Passes, and this time the Standby line was just as quick. We took one last ride on Kilimanjaro Safari with an American driver. Since it was late in the day (4:30) he was able to stop a lot and the whole ride seemed less rushed. On our first ride we could see 4 or 5 safari vehicles on the plains ahead of us. This time there was only 1 ahead of us, and he had to stop to let a giraffe cross the road. We were out of AK by 5:00. Back at PO we had dinner, did laundry, took pictures and video of the grounds, and the boys got some quality time on the lizard slide. Dinner was a whole pizza from the food court. We all liked it, and it was a great value at 12.99.
The grounds at PO are very nice. I loved walking for coffee in the AM with rabbits and the small white crane-looking birds. One complaint is that there are so many trees, you can't get a good picture of the architecture. Terrible problem, eh?
Day 6, June 11 EE at MGM / Disney Wonder
Sean and I decided to hit EE at MGM, and Teri stayed at PO to relax with Tyler. They swam, and had beignets (sp?) with coffee and hot chocolate. At MGM, Sean and I witnessed 2 minor snags on our first 2 rides. We were in the first RnR car of the day. As I got in and went to sit down, something felt wrong. The shoulder harnesses were not up! The CMs told us all to get out of the cars, and had a small CM conference at the control booth. The car took off empty and we waited for the next car. It also had the restraints down, so it was sent off empty. Finally the third car was ready for us. We heard Sweet Emotion again. I told Sean to keep his eyes open since we were in the back of the car so he could see what was coming ahead. That corkscrew is da bomb! I got Fast Passes for RnR, and we hit the bathroom. The reason I point out this mundane fact is that Sean noticed the Rest Room signs at RnR. The Men's room sign is a guy holding a Strat, the Women's is holding a Flying V, the Handicapped Rest Room has a studio microphone on it, and the baby on the changing station is wearing head phones. How cool!
We walked on to ToT and were in the front row again. We saw the original occupants of the elevator beckon us to join them, and the doors closed. Then we proceeded to just sit there for at least 15 seconds. It wasn't a long time, but it seemed like an eternity at the time. That spooked Sean a little, and he decided not to ride it another time after that incident. It wasn't time for our RnR Fast Passes yet so we rode TGMR. Sean mentioned that he really wanted to see the cowboy side, so I made sure to get in the correct queue. We were in the front row. Has anyone else noticed that the "drivers" have a steering wheel even though the ride is controlled automatically? Sean wanted to end the morning with RnR, so we gave away our current Fast Passes and got new ones. This was not as easy as it should have been. We walked past 40 people in line, who looked at us like we were scalping box seat tickets for a Yankees game. Finally I saw a couple and I said, "Here, take these. You can ride NOW." We saw the Muppets one last time. This time I saw the key under the Security Office mat in the hallway. We had our second RnR ride of the morning, this time with Love in an Elevator and Walk This Way. (Has anyone had to explain to their 8 year old what "Dude Looks Like a Lady" means?)
This morning was the re-opening of Indiana Jones. I knew there was a cast member preview earlier in the week, and we had heard sound effects on Thursday when we were here. Unfortunately the first show was at 10:30 which just didn't fit our schedule. At 10:00, we caught the bus back to PO. I mentioned to Sean that I am always sad when a vacation ends, but this time it feels like one vacation (WDW) is ending at the same time that another (cruise) is just starting. At 11:30 we were boarding the DCL bus. Leave it to Disney! I love the way they painted the DCL busses to look like the old-fashioned 50's busses. We watched the video on the way to the port, but after 10 minutes the sound stopped. The driver tried to fix it and finally gave up after another 10 minutes.
My first look at the Wonder literally took my breath away. What a ship! Even the terminal is done in Disney style. Sean and Tyler posed for pictures with Goofy in front of the ship model, then we experienced our first walk-through hidden Mickey. "Welcome aboard the Wonder the Roberts family from Nebraska with their violins!" The ship's photographer immediately took our picture, the first of several to follow. We headed to the Beach Blanket Buffet, so we could eat outside. You just gotta love this. At 2:00 I went to the Vista Spa to make reservations for Teri's facial/massage combo. Even though the ship was very full, I didn't have to get there 30 minutes early to get what I wanted. So, do you have to drive your own car to Port Canaveral to be the first on the ship to get the first reservations? We didn't. YMMV.
We took a walking tour of the ship, which we both found very helpful. It doesn't take a long time, and it helps orient you to the clubs, restaurants and shops. Our tour guide Keyon was knowledgeable, and he also confirmed for us that the chandelier in the lobby is a Dale Chihuly piece. Teri and the boys had just been to a large Dale Chihuly exhibit at the Art Museum in Omaha, so that was very cool to find out. After that we tried to register Sean at the Oceaneer's Lab and Tyler at the Oceaneer's Club, but it was a zoo so we came back after the lifeboat drill and had no wait at all. The Club and Lab both look great.
We went to our stateroom, #7543. Teri thought it was so cool that the room key we got at PO also was our room key on the Wonder. Our room was inside, which worked perfectly for us. We were only in the room to sleep, shower and change clothes. We met Marcus, our Cabin Attendant. He said very little after introducing himself. As a matter of fact, I don't believe he ever said "I'm your cabin attendant". I asked him where we should go for the boat drill. His answer was "You go to deck 4." Well, it's a big deck and I would have appreciated a little more specific of an answer. Several times during the cruise I would pass him in the hallway, and he either would not look up to make eye contact, or he would immediately look down after making eye contact. I wasn't looking for a TV gameshow host, but minimal verbal skills would have been nicer.
We unpacked and had enough room for our stuff. Since this was our first cruise we had nothing to compare stateroom size to. I realize that Disney's rooms are larger than the industry standard. I would hate to have had an "industry standard" room on this trip. Our room was very small. We were almost always getting in each other's way when all 4 of us were there. But the good news is that we weren't in the room that much, so it was not a huge negative experience. I enjoyed the Disney artwork in our stateroom. We had several drawings from Pirates of the Caribbean, including the pirate wearing all the hats trying to carry a treasure chest onto a rowboat.
Now it was time for the sail-away party on deck 9. How festive! Band playing, bubbles bubbling, people dancing, all the Disney characters. Just like a normal Sunday afternoon in Omaha! Leave it to Disney to be so creative with the ship's whistle, which blew as we were leaving port. You must get it on video. I felt like a celebrity waving to the people on shore and in the boats around us. The boys got drink stickers for their Keys to the World. We had early dinner seating, and our first night was at Animator's Palette. Our server was Ismael from Chile and his Assistant was Dejan from Macedonia. Ismael was very lively, personality plus. Dejan was a man of few words, except when I asked him about Macedonia. He launched into a 5-minute editorial about how all the refugees (from Bosnia?) were ruining things in Macedonia. Seemed quite out of place for a Disney employee. We shared our table with a family from our Omaha violin group and a mother/daughter from Orlando who were friends of another family from our group. I had the parmesan veal chop and we all had an assortment of desserts. It was so cool, I took a picture of my dessert palette. The lights in Animator's Palette seemed sporadic. At one point during our meal, the large video screens had a message something like "Animator's Palette - recycling presentation." Ismael told us about "the big show" for dessert. Mickey paraded in with all the servers and they all stood in the middle of the dining room. Would have been great except we could hardly see anything from our table.
During dinner I noticed the seas getting fairly rough. We went out on Deck 4 and you could really tell the ship was trying to make good speed through the rough seas. Next we went to Studio Sea for the Mickey Trivia game. If I had been selected, I probably would have won. Robin, the host, was very good. I went to Guest Services for some seasick meds. We went to the Walt Disney theater for the Voyage of the Ghost Ship. Before the show, Jim our Cruise Director, introduced the Captain. He then introduced his crew, who all came on stage and stood in parade rest in their dress whites. It gave me a little relief to see all of them stumbling to keep their balance as the ship plowed through the rough seas. The Ghost Ship show was cute, and we all enjoyed it. We checked the boys into the Club & Lab for a brief visit before bed. The medication must have worked, because I slept straight through until 7:30 the next morning.
Day 7, June 12 Nassau
I was awake by 7:30. I took the boys up on deck while Teri got ready. We were just pulling into port in Nassau. As we were docking, 2 other ships were docking. A much smaller boat that needed tug boats to help it dock, and a huge Royal Caribbean ship (Sovereign of the Seas) that could turn itself around just like the Wonder. As would be our breakfast and lunch routine, we ate at Beach Blanket Buffet. The décor was nice. Surfboard dividers, towels and blankets in the carpeting, and surf music playing. This was the boy's first time in a foreign country, and we had prepared them for the taxi drivers, hair braiders, t-shirt sellers aggressiveness.
It was very hot out. Around 90 - 95. We walked thru the straw market, not looking for anything in particular. Next we walked over to the British Colonial Hotel. 10 years ago Teri and I won a trip here, and we wanted to show Sean and Tyler where we stayed. Lots of construction and refurbishing going on here. It was pleasantly cool to just sit in the lobby. We walked out back by the pool and saw the moon gate Teri & I had posed in front of 10 years ago. The boys took our picture there again. We walked up to Fort Fincastle and said no thanks to the "tour guide". Another family had actually paid a "tour guide" who was quite loud, so we got to listen to his presentation. We skipped going up the Water Tower, and enjoyed the view from the fort. After buying bottled water from a vendor, we headed down the Queen's Staircase. Tyler and Sean decided they wanted Hawaiian print shirts, so we headed back to the straw market for them before re-boarding the Wonder. I told Teri she never should have thrown my Hawaiian party shirt away, it would have come back in style! Even though we prepared the boys for Nassau, Tyler ended up getting spooked. Some men were chopping weeds by the sidewalk using a small machete. Tyler was worried that they were going to attack us, so we had to convince him that machete attacks were not in the best interest of Bahamian tourism.
There were always people cleaning on the Wonder. Painting rails, sanding and refinishing benches, cleaning windows, vacuuming. Every cable, deck board, window and floor was constantly being cleaned. We had a lite, cool lunch at the buffet. The boys played shuffleboard and rode on the Mickey slide while Teri stayed in our stateroom to read. I enjoyed listening to the band on Deck 9, most of them from Jamaica playing many styles of Caribbean music - reggae, ska, soca. It was funny to hear a reggae version of an old Motown hit sung by Jamaicans - "Da way you do da tings you do". After a while I checked Sean & Tyler into the Club and Lab and I sunned (read: burned) on Deck 10. I really enjoyed relaxing by the adult pool where you can wade, or sit in the water.
Dinner was in Parrot Cay, and the boys wore their newly purchased Hawaiian print shirts. I had jerk chicken and key lime pie. Nothing I had at any dinner disappointed me. During dinner it must have rained because all the decks were wet, and the staff was working to dry off Deck 9 for the Nassau party. We checked the boys into the Club and Lab, and Teri and I saw the Dueling Pianos in the comedy club. He was good, she was weak. We walked around a little more, enjoying the elegance of the ship. Everything is very tastefully decorated in the theme of the classic ocean liners. I enjoyed the Disney cartoon storyboards and chalk drawings hanging in the stairwells. We all hung around for part of the deck party, then called it a night.
Day 8, June 13 Castaway Cay
We woke up this morning in paradise. We were already docked at Castaway Cay, backed in. The weather was perfect but hot, again in the mid 90's. After breakfast at the Beach Blanket Buffet we took the elevator down to Deck 1. The elevator let us out right at the door, which opened a minute after we got there at 8:30. There's lots of construction still going on at Castaway Cay, but the island is in wonderful condition. We got our towels and rode the tram to the family beach. We got a great spot in the first row, right by the water. 2 lounge chairs, 3 regular chairs and a big beach umbrella.
I rented 4 sets of snorkel gear at Gill's Fins and Boats and we set out to do the short course. There are 2 sets of buoys set up - yellow for a short course and red for a longer snorkeling course. There's even a map on shore. I was worried that the boys would not have a good experience snorkeling, but God once again blessed us - they did great and they loved it. Since we went out so early in the day, the water was clear the whole way around. When we went out again later, you could not see much from the beach to the first buoy due to all the sand that had been kicked up. Beyond that, it was crystal clear. So even if you snorkel late in the day, the view is still perfect once you get past the first buoy.
I checked Sean and Tyler into the Club and Lab on the island, and I set out to snorkel the long course. I took pictures of lots of cool stuff, including the Mickey masthead, a trombone and a typewriter. In the meantime, Teri had gone back to the Wonder to get a book to read. As she reached the exit to leave the ship, all the doors closed. Apparently they had been announcing some door safety drills, but she didn't hear about it. She was stuck in the stairway area with no way off the boat. She made it up to deck 4 and worked her way around, but still no way out. At one point she saw Captain Hook, who pretended to check the seal on one of the doors. Finally, after almost 30 minutes, she made it back on shore.
We had lunch at Cookies and the lines were very short. The number of people in food service both on the boat and ashore impressed me. There's an army of people working food service on this cruise. Another musical moment occurred here. I'm eating ribs and beans, drinking lemonade in this open air pavilion, just being thankful for this awesome Caribbean trip. Then I notice a new song playing on the speakers, and it's Bob Marley singing "We're Jammin". It was too perfect. I did notice several others bobbing their heads as they ate. After lunch we all did the long snorkel course. It don't know how long it took. You know mon, I'm like on vacation, OK mon? The play fort in the water was closed this morning, but Sean played on it for a while after we snorkeled. Tyler and I played some volleyball, in knee-deep crystal clear waters. It truly was like paradise. You could look down the beach and see this beautiful ship docked right there. This is living.
Back on the Wonder, we had a 5:30 appointment with a ship photographer for a group picture in front of Ariel's statue. That was when Linda, the violin teacher, told us that we were going to be able to play on the Wonder. She had spoken with the piano player in the Promenade Lounge, and he had agreed to let us play at around 7:30. So we dressed for dinner at Triton's, and brought violins with us. The travel agent who set up our group package said that men must wear a jacket at Triton's. It was one of many times when I was able to provide correct information to the group based on my web research. (She told the group that there would be fireworks on Nassau night. How long ago did they stop doing that?) About half the men wore jackets, so you would not be out of place with one or without one. Ismael, our server, has been calling us "my family" since the first night. We are now getting more comfortable with the dining, and ordering what we want. Almost all of us order 2 appetizers or 2 desserts each night, and tonight we ordered 2 additional vegetable entrees for the table to split. I had seafood pasta which was very good.
Following dessert, at 7:30 we hustled out to the Promenade Lounge, where many of the kids were already getting ready to play. It's so nice to have an hour and a half dinner, and not even notice how long it takes. Linda had the kids play the Disney songs we had played at Epcot and the lounge pianist accompanied them. Then they played a few of the Suzuki songs, and I got to play. Kinda cool. I've played on the Wonder! Due to the location of the Promenade Lounge, lots of people stopped to listen as they were walking by.
Tonight's show was Hercules. It was definitely better than Voyage of the Ghost Ship. Hades was excellent, doing his best James Woods sneer. He even incorporated some information specific to our cruise. Monday was a holiday in Nassau (Wit Monday?) and most everything was closed. Hades commented "So how did you like Nassau? All those lovely little shops and restaurants ALL LOCKED UP TIGHTER THAN A DRUM!!" We checked Sean into the Club, and Tyler came with Teri and me to watch Walk the Plank in Studio Sea. As he was in the Mickey Trivia game, Robin was excellent as host. The ship pulled away from Castaway Cay before dinner, and I haven't felt it move once.
Day 9, June 14 Day at Sea
No land in sight as we woke up this morning. It didn't really feel like we were moving, but several crew members insisted that we were just moving rather slowly. (Teri still thinks we just dropped anchor for a while.) Guess where we had breakfast? If you've been paying attention, you would have buzzed in with "Beach Blanket Buffet" and you'd be correct! Teri commented on the quantity and selection. We both felt this was definitely better than the run of the mill buffet you might expect. And we never waited in any lines.
Teri had her combination facial/massage and Rainforest appointment this morning. The day consisted of pool time, the Club and Lab for the boys, the ESPN club (got to see Omaha since the College World Series was going on), shopping, and taking pictures and video around the ship. Can you tell there's a lot less detail about today? Just a calm, relaxed hakuna matata kind of day. Teri liked the spa treatment, but enjoyed the Rainforest the best. I told her that she could go back any time that day she wanted, and she said that they never told her that in the spa. Maybe that was covered in the tour we skipped on Sunday.
The boys checked into the Club and Lab to rehearse for their Discover the Magic show. Teri and I got seats in the 4th row, center. The kids all parade down the aisles wearing their new "I Discovered the Magic" t-shirts that they get for being in the show. Then they show slides of photographs taken of your kids during your cruise. We knew of one taken with Sean on Castaway Cay, so we were looking for it. They buried him alive, and took a picture of all the other kids with him. The highlight of the show is Mickey. He comes out and the kids sing with him. When they started to sing "Now's the time to say goodbye . . . " my allergies started acting up. I'm a guy so I definitely was not crying, OK!?! It was such a perfect memory. If you have kids DO NOT MISS THIS SHOW!!!! Some people in our group asked where the boys got their t-shirts, and they had no idea that the show even existed. Do your homework. Read your Navigator.
Dinner the last night was at Triton's again, with the best of WDW Resorts on the menu. We had Guest Services charge our gratuities to our Visa card, and gave them out to Ismael, Dejan and Karoly, the head server. (Note: our Travel Agent said you could not do it this way, that you had to pay cash for the gratuities.) We left Marcus' tip in the stateroom. He was very efficient, but extremely non-verbal. He would see you in the hallway, and look at the floor to avoid eye contact. Here's an example of why that's bad. Tyler and I were walking around the ship taking video of restaurants and clubs, and he was being silly. As he was jumping around, he walked right into the glass door to Animator's Palette, which was propped open. He hit it so hard, that it knocked him down and gave him quite a knot on his head. Back in the stateroom I called Guest Services to get some ice sent to our room, since there's no place on the ship you can go to get ice. They brought the ice, and we put the rest in the ice bucket, only to find out it was full. Non-verbal Marcus had been filling it and emptying it every day since Sunday because he never told us that there was ice in it. This was 4 days later! Oh well.
The show tonight was Disney Dreams, which was by far the best show of the trip. Ghost Ship was OK, Hercules was good, and Disney Dreams was fabulous. I won't spoil it, but the staging and set changes were up to Broadway caliber. And you get to see just about any Disney character you would want to. Jim, the cruise director, said that they had been offered to take the show to Broadway, but Disney decided that only guests on the Magic and Wonder would ever see it. How cool!
We packed, put the provided zip strip locks on our suitcases, and put them in the hall. We went to turn the pager in to the Club at 10:45 and overheard a parent tell their kid "Hurry up. We have to go back to the room to pack!" Um, your luggage is supposed to be in the hall by 11:00. We took a last walk on deck and played a favorite game with Sean and Tyler. "When you're married, will you bring your family here? What will your kids like best? Can Mommy and I come along?" We could see lights on the horizon, so we knew we weren't far from shore.
Day 10, June 15 Back to Reality and After Thoughts
Ouch, we were up at 5:30 to be at Triton's at 6:15 for breakfast. The buffet only had cold food, so this was the one time we went to a sit down breakfast. We said our goodbyes to Ismael and Dejan. I asked Sean if he would like to work on a Cruise Ship, and he said he would like to be a Cruise Director. He has the right personality for it. I told him to write to Jim and ask how one becomes a Cruise Director.
At 7:00 people were already congregating in the Deck 3 lobby, although they were asked not to. We hung out on Deck 9, relaxing and waiting for the all clear at 8:00 to disembark. We looked over the rail and saw people leaving the ship at 7:50, so I guess the all clear is only announced in the deck 3 lobby. Oh well, at 8:00 we walked right off without a wait. We gathered our bags, walked straight through customs and boarded our last Disney bus. They showed a cute cartoon and video on the way to MCO. I didn't realize that we still had one more attraction on our trip: The Great TWA Check-In Line! It was by far the longest wait of our entire trip. The pilot on our Orlando to St. Louis flight tried to add some excitement by attempting to land nose-first. It felt like we were coming straight down out of the sky!
Port Orleans was quite nice. The waterway, vegetation, rabbits, etc. all contributed to a very nice environment. That being said, I'd stay at All Stars on our next trip. Saving at least $50 a night over a longer trip far outweighs the extra amenities. We are not in the room very much, so I can't see paying for things I don't use.
Staying onsite is the only way to go for me. I'm on vacation, so don't ask me to drive. Disney transportation did as well as expected or better than expected for us. We also took advantage of package delivery to our room and Early Entry. And you can't beat a wake-up call from Mickey on the speaker phone. It was also so handy to have our room key for PO also be our park passes, our charge cards, and our room key on the Wonder.
Our only other WDW trip was in February. Guess what, it's hotter and more crowded in June!?!? I got quite scared our first night at PO listening to one guest tell another about how crowded MK had been. "We only got to do 2 rides, and waited over an hour for both of them!" Due to planning, we did not spend half our trip waiting in lines. We saw everything we planned to except Pooh, added some things that weren't on the list, and saw some (Buzz, RnR and Test Track) up to 3 times! Oh, and if you don't use Fast Pass, it's your own darned fault!
After my first night on the Wonder, I doubted I'd ever cruise again. After the second day my mind was changing, and Castaway Cay removed any doubt. We will not do this again for at least 5 years, but I would do another Disney cruise again. I can't imagine any other cruise company having all the family and children's activities and an atmosphere that is built around kids and families. You were still definitely in a Disney state of mind on the ship.
If you have kids, get the Club and Lab Navigators when you board. They have all the week's activities already listed. It allows you to plan your schedule ahead of time.
I hope these reports helped you in your planning, or just provided some pleasant reading. I would be glad to answer any specific questions.