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Brian Bennett -- October 2000 -- Walt Disney World (OKWR)

Pre-Trip Report

"Live" Reporting

I've never done this before.  On all of my previous trips, I've written my trip report from day-to-day during the vacation, but I've never posted it in pieces.  This time, though I figured that I'd take the plunge and take the next step...providing an ongoing report during the trip.  My MousePlanet goals for this trip are:

  1. Of course, I'll be providing frequent reports (on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays) of what we've done, what we've enjoyed, and what didn't go so well (hopefully, there will be very little of that later category of information).
  2. I'll also be writing full Disney restaurant reviews of all meals that we experience at Walt Disney World, including the counter service and buffeteria meals.  I'm not sure I'll get those up and posted during the trip, but if not, there will be several upon our return!
  3. I'll be providing information on some off-site experiences, too.  Included in that list is an evening at Portofino Bay Club (Universal's first themed resort), our four night stay at Westgate Lakes Resort, a day trip to Sea World, and whatever else we do that takes us outside of the borders of Mickey's Vacation Kingdom.
  4. I'll be taking tons of digital pictures with my new camera!  I'll be adding those pictures to the site when I can, but probably not until our return from Florida.

My personal goal for this trip is simply to enjoy my first trip to Walt Disney World in far too long a time.  (I haven't been on the property since May, 1999...and I've been shaking in withdrawal since we got back!)  In compensation, though, we did get annual passes for this visit, so it is very likely that we'll come down at least twice in 2001!

The rest of this page is just an explanation of how the trip plans for this vacation came together.  This material has been on MousePlanet for several months now (except for the final update, which I just added), so you might not want to wade through it again.  If that's the case, just check back on Monday when I'll report on our trip down to Florida.  We've got several things planned for the weekend (besides the driving) including an evening at Portofino Bay Club (Universal's first themed resort), moving in to Westgate Lakes Resort (for the first part of our trip, we're staying at these offsite accommodations), and an evening at Epcot with dinner at Teppanyaki Dining Rooms, in the Japanese Pavilion.

See you on Monday!

Introduction

Here it is, October 1999, and I'm only now beginning to plan my family's next trip to Walt Disney World.  Normally I have our trips planned out (at least in rough form) a couple of years before we depart, but this trip was a bit more difficult to pull together.  I'll discuss the actual plans for this trip in the upcoming paragraphs.

I've been writing trip reports about my family's own trips since 1995, when I got hooked on the idea of writing a permanent documentary of what we did, what we enjoyed, who we enjoyed it with, and hints and tips for future trips.  I have a fairly poor mid-term memory (I'm ok short term and on long term conceptual stuff, but I do tend to forget details after awhile) so I really enjoy having a text description of our trips so I can "re-live" the experiences.  My list of Disney trips to date is as follows:

  • My first visit was to DL in 1967 as a 3 1/2 year old.  We returned in 1974, 1985, 1987.  Each of those trips were with my Mom and Dad and sister (and brother, except for the first one).
  • I've returned to Disneyland with my wife, Barbara, in 1993 (for 3 days), twice in 1994 (for 3 days each), 1995 (for 3 days), 1996 (for 5 days), 1998 (two trips for 3 days each -- the last one solo), and another solo trip in 1999 for 3 days.
  • I first went to WDW with Barb's family in 1988 (for 3 days). We returned for our honeymoon in 1989 (for 5 days), on business (he he) in 1990 (for 6 days), and for our "last trip without kids" 1991(8).
  • In 1993 we visited WDW with my parents and brother for the first time (8 days), returned for our 5th anniversary in 1994 (10 days, plus a Premier cruise), in 1995 with our friends Mike and Stacey (11 days).
  • In 1996 we drove down to WDW with my folks and -- finally -- our little son Allan, who was 3 weeks old at the time (12 days). In 1997 we vacationed with our friends Tony, Kathy, Vicki, Melissa, and Megan (12 days) and returned by ourselves in May 1998 (9 days). In September, 1998, we visited for 11 days with Barb's family. and again in May, 1999 for 12 more days with my parents.

As of now, then, I've been in DL 30 days over eleven trips and WDW for 107 days over twelve trips.  Not a bad list for someone that lives 1500 miles from Orlando, Florida and even further from Anaheim, California.  I have yet to make a trip to Tokyo and Paris, but they're on the list  :)

"The Rotation"

Barb and I have a cyclical list of family and friends that we've invited join us on our various trips past, present, and future that we lovingly call "the rotation".  Our goal, someday in the future, is to operate on a three-year rotation: my family, Barb's family, friends, rotate, my family, Barb's family, friends, rotate...anyway, you get the idea.  We've also thought that perhaps we'll schedule an occasional trip by ourselves.  The problem is, we have so many folks we would enjoy spending some time with that it's hard to juggle everyone in.

For this trip, in the Fall of 2000, we had originally planned to visit WDW with our good friends Mike and Stacey Allen -- the couple that joined us in 1995.  We invited them to come along again, this time with the kids.  We had tentatively been planning the trip with the Allen clan for some time (in fact, we'd set 2000 as the year right after we returned from our 1995 trip), but due to a move and job change, they had to decline when our discussions became more serious for the upcoming trip.

We offered their spot in "the rotation" to some new friends, Andy and Tracey Wirtz, but the Wirtz's, also fresh off a job change and with a newborn on the way, had to decline, too.

That left us with a dilemma.  Do we visit WDW for a major trip by ourselves?  Do we invite some other family to join "the rotation"?  or do we Invite Barb's parents to join us in order to put "the rotation" on a three-year cycle?

Decisions, decisions. 

While we were hemming and hawing, we received an invitation (we got an email because of a sweepstakes that Barb had entered ) from Westgate Lakes Resort to stay on their nickel for four nights for the low, low price of $99, we decided to take it.  The catch, of course, was that we had to take a "three hour tour, a three hour tour" (sung to the tune of "Gilligan's Island") of the timeshare resort.  When we got the paperwork, it turned out that we'd actually be staying at the Ramada Fountain Park Eastgate, not at Westgate Lakes.  That didn't phase us, we figured it would still be inexpensive digs for four nights.

Then, as we continued to debate, we decided to offer to take Barb's parents.  The catch for them would be that they would have to get their own accommodations for the last part of the trip (or else just leave for home) while we continued on from OKWR to the Ramada for the last few days of the trip.  We just decided that if they accepted, we'd have "the rotation" set the way we want.  If they declined, we'd go by ourselves and let the "rotation" take care of itself!

Rough Concepts

This trip would be a bit different than previous ones we've had with our families.  In the past, we've taken always taken our families down for a twelve day stay at WDW (about as long as we can stay in a 2 bedroom vacation home at Old Key West Resort with our Disney Vacation Club points), along with some time traveling to visit some historical or other attraction during the road travel portion of the trip.  In 1997, though, we drove down with our friends Tony and Kathy Wiedbrauk and Vicki Torrey (in "the rotation" for 2001, when the Wiedbrauk's youngest daughter Megan is a senior).  That trip was a bit unique because we drove down with the Wiedbrauk's, visited WDW for just about a week, then their family drove off for a mini-trip of their own as they returned to Michigan, while we stayed on (at Wilderness Lodge and Old Key West Resort) for a few more days at WDW.  It was really nice to spend time with Tony, Kathy, their girls, and Vicki.  We enjoyed being with them very much.  However, we also learned on that trip how much fun it was to just spend some time with our own family (and acting less like tour-guides) during the last few days of the trip.

Over the last couple of years we reverted back to our previous twelve day pattern in pre-planned trips with both Barb's side of the family (September 1998) and mine (April/May, 1999).  However, in May 1998 we took a shorter trip on our own and really enjoyed doing whatever we wanted whenever we wanted.  It highlighted the fact that we really want to have some family time by ourselves at the end of each and every trip from now on.

So...

We offered to take Barb's parents with us on this next trip with a much different itinerary than we had last time.  It goes something like this (actual dates TBD):

Date(s) Comments
Thursday, October 5 Travel Day, Saginaw to Asheville, NC
Friday, October 6 Visit the Biltmore, Drive on to Savannah, GA, spend the evening in Savannah
Saturday, October 7 Tour Savannah, Drive Partway Toward WDW
Sunday, October 8 Finish drive to WDW, Check into OKWR, 2BdRm
Monday, October 9 - Saturday, October 14 Enjoy WDW with the Whole Crew 
Sunday, October 15 Staples to Depart, Bennetts move to Studio
Monday, October 16 - Thursday, October 19 Enjoy WDW with Just our Immediate Family
Friday, October 20 Departure Day, Drive to Sweetwater, TN
Saturday, October 21 Drive Home

We're not completely sure yet, but we will probably be driving down to WDW in one vehicle, then going our separate ways for the 16th through the 19th, then getting back together to pack the car on the morning of Friday, the 20th to drive back to Michigan together.  Alternatively, we'll drive in two vehicles and just return to Michigan separately...those details are to be determined.

Tentative Goals for the Trip

There are a few things I'd like to do on this trip that we haven't done for awhile (or at all)...

  • Visit something new and different on the trip down to Florida (the Biltmore and Savannah are working suggestions, but we might choose something else instead).
  • We want to enjoy all of the Millennium stuff that's been going on for a year (by the time we get there) -- IllumiNations 2000: Reflections of Earth and the Tapestry of Nations.
  • We're hoping to overlap our trip with brother and sister team Pat and Lori Edaburn.  Pat and Lori have become friends during our on-line discussions and email, and we're hoping to coordinate so we can meet each other for the first time again.
  • Ride the Winnie-the-Pooh attraction (this will be a new one for us).
  • Ride Rock 'n' Roller Coaster (another new one for us).
  • Try the Winter Summerland miniature golf courses.
  • Visit Sea World....Allan will love it!
  • Enjoy Fantasmic! (probably more than once).
  • Ride Test Track (for the first time as a non-GM employee).  Hey, it's legitimate...I want to see the queue, too.
  • Spend a day at Typhoon Lagoon (it's been years) and another one at Blizzard Beach (we've never been!)
  • Have dinner, just Barb and I, at Portobello Yacht Club (if it's still there then).
  • See the Main Street Electrical Parade...I miss it.
  • Catch the Architectural Tour -- perhaps with Pat.
  • Spend a day to sleep in, and just enjoy Old Key West (I say that one every year, and it never seems to happen).
  • Price out homes in Celebration (but only if that Lotto thing happens...and it probably won't since I don't buy the tickets).
  • A meal, sometime during the trip, at our favs:  Rose & Crown, Teppanyaki Dining Rooms (we'll see if we can get Barb's parents in here), Boatwrights, Artist's Point (or perhaps Whispering Canyon Cafe).
  • I'd like to retry Ohanna, Tony's, Mama Melrose's, Le Chef's De France, and Beaches & Cream too, but the world won't end if we don't get there.
  • A character meal at Cinderella's Royal Table and maybe another one at Chef Mickey's.
  • Dinner show at the Hoop-De-Doo.

Well, that's all we've got for now.  I'm getting the itch, so I hope this year flies by so I can get back to see the place before I burst.

Trip Planning Update, 11 September 00

As I look over this report today, I realize how much the trip plans have changed since I last updated the pre-trip report back in the Summer of 1999 (gasp!  It's been far too long!).

The first change was in our trip timing, but just a minor one.  My father-in-law had some commitments in Michigan during the middle of October, so we pushed the trip back a few weeks.  Instead of leaving on the 5th, we decided to leave on the 19th instead.  As our plans evolved, we also decided to cut the side trip to Asheville, NC and Savannah, GA.  Neither the in-laws nor my wife were too excited about either one, and the cost of a tour of the Biltmore Mansion would have been pretty steep, anyway.  That meant leaving on or about the 20th.

Then, for the third time, our Disney trip plans were altered with a potential adoption situation.  When our son Allan was on the way (in the Fall of 1996), we changed our trip plans to accommodate having a newborn with us.  In the Winter of 1999, we altered our plans for our upcoming trip to deal with having a baby with us (the baby was born in February, but the birthmom changed her mind and kept her).  Since we would possibly have a baby with us on this trip, we decided to see what we could do to simplify the trip even further.

I didn't really like the idea of traveling to Florida with an infant with just Barb and I if we could have the luxury of having a Grandmother with us to help out.  We didn't know how to handle things, though, since we were going to (very likely) be staying at different motels for the last part of the trip.  That problem was resolved when we called the marketing company that was handling our timeshare "deal" with Westgate Lakes to ask about an upgrade from the Ramada to a two-bedroom condo at Westgate Lakes itself.  They said we could easily do so, for an additional $221.  Barb's parents gladly paid that amount (since was certainly a reasonable price for four nights at a pretty luxurious place), and we were set for the trip.

Except for one little detail.

I hated the idea of going to WDW, then tacking on a few days offsite.  It made much more sense to me to stay offsite first, then move over to the onsite convenience at OKWR for the second part of the trip.  With a couple phone calls to DVC and the Westgate reps, I was able to shuffle things around.

Then, in early April Michael Scott was born.  We took him home right from the hospital and had a wonderful twelve days with the little guy.  Unfortunately, Michael's birthmom changed her mind, too, after he'd been with us for almost two weeks.  The heartbreak was incredible, but now after a few months has past, life is getting back to normal and we're waiting for another birthmother to pick us again.  Having already made all of the changes to the trip itinerary, though, we decided to just leave things the way they were. 

(By the way, if you're interested in reading more about what happened with Michael and the whole adoption process, there's an article I've written about the whole thing at the Christian Family Services (our adoption agency here in Michigan) website...for which, by happenstance, I am also the webmaster.  Here's a link directly to the article about Michael.) 

The next thing to consider was what we were actually going to do during the trip.  We knew, of course, that we wanted to visit Sea World for a day so Allan could see it.  We'd also hoped to visit Cinderella's Royal Table for the "Once Upon a Time" character breakfast.  I was still hoping to go on the architectural tour with Pat Edaburn, too.  So, I got on the phone and started making some calls.

Exactly 60 days before Friday, October 27th, at 6:55am, I started calling WDW-DINE to try to make priority seating arrangements for Cinderella's Royal Table.  Success!  Unfortunately, I'd told the reservationist that I had four adults and one child and she put in the priority seating for four people.  She wouldn't guarantee that we'd have a table for five.  I kept it anyway, and got off the phone a bit irritated with the reservationist for screwing up my instructions and with myself for not being more clear about it.

So, the next morning I did it again, with equal success!  This time I clear said five people and got the table.  I cancelled the priority seating for the previous day since we didn't need it, for which today's reservationist was very pleased (apparently a lot of people don't bother to cancel them when they decide to not use them).

Next, I wanted to try to book a tour with Pat.  Mr. Edaburn and I had been tentatively planning to take the Architectural Tour sometime during the overlap of our visits.  As we got within a couple months of our departure, I called WDW-TOUR to see about our options.  Here's what I found out:

  • Disney's Amazing Architecture: Travel to many areas of Walt Disney World and selected resorts. Learn more about entertainment architecture and the individual architects. ($49, 3 1/2 hours, must be 16, park admission not required): Monday, Wednesday, Friday @ 2:00pm
  • Hidden Treasures of Epcot's World Showcase: Visit the countries of the World Showcase and learn about their often-overlooked details, art, architecture, and traditions. ($49, 3 hours, must be 16, park admission required): Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday @ 9:00am
  • Disney's "The Magic Behind Our Steam Trains": Learn about Walt's passion for steam trains, and join the opening crew as they prepare for another day at the Magic Kingdom! ($25, 2 hours, must be at least 10 years of age, park admission required) Monday-Thursday @7:15am

After Pat and I emailed back and forth a couple of times, we decided to pursue the Steam Train tour on Tuesday, the 31st, and combine that early morning tour with a character breakfast at Crystal Palace with Lori and the rest of my crew.  I was able to make priority seating for Crystal Palace for the five of us and Pat and Lori, too, without any problems.  Unfortunately, when I called WDW-TOUR again, it turned out that I was wrong and that the Steam Train tour was available on Mondays OR Thursdays, not Monday through Thursdays.  Strike One.

So, Pat and I emailed back and forth a couple more times, and we decided to try "Disney's Amazing Architecture" on Monday afternoon (the 30th).  This time, when I called WDW-TOUR again, I found out that they were running the very last of the "Disney's Amazing Architecture"  at the end of September and WDW was canceling that particular offering.  Strike Two.

Again, Pat and I emailed back and forth a couple times, and we decided that the "Hidden Treasures," which conflicted with our now-scheduled character breakfast at Crystal Palace, wasn't worth the hassle.  Strike Three.

We ended up just deciding to just skip the tour thing altogether.  Instead, we might meet up for Fantasmic! on Monday evening (the 30th) and we'll definitely meet up at the Crystal Palace on Tuesday morning (the 31st) and to tour the park together.  Other than that, the tours are kaput.

Finally, on Labor Day, my in-laws, and Barb and I got together over steaks that I grilled over good old-fashioned charcoal (the only way to cook out, in my opinion) and discussed the final details.  Barb's mom will be looking into accommodations for the trip down and back (she has some sort of discount that she wants to use).  We also discussed several restaurants that we definitely want to visit:

  • Rose & Crown
  • Beaches & Cream
  • Tony's (Barb's favorite Italian restaurant on property, now that Mama Melrose's is so eclectic compared to it's former, "homey" incarnation)
  • le Cellier (the Staples will probably do this on their night out)
  • Portobello Yacht Club (Barb and I will probably do this on our night out)
  • Crystal Palace (character breakfast with Pat and Lori)
  • Cinderella's Royal Table (character breakfast)
  • Teppanyaki
  • 'Ohana

We only have priority seating for the character breakfasts.  We'll wing everything else and hope for the best.

So as of now, my list of "goals" now looks like this (with the stuff we've decided to NOT do crossed off):

  • Visit something new and different on the trip down to Florida (the Biltmore and Savannah are working suggestions, but we might choose something else instead).
  • We want to enjoy all of the Millennium stuff that's been going on for a year (by the time we get there) -- IllumiNations 2000: Reflections of Earth and the Tapestry of Nations.
  • We're hoping to overlap our trip with brother and sister team Pat and Lori Edaburn.  Pat and Lori have become friends during our on-line discussions and email, and we're hoping to coordinate so we can meet each other for the first time again.
  • Ride the Winnie-the-Pooh attraction (this will be a new one for us).
  • Ride Rock 'n' Roller Coaster (another new one for us).
  • Try the Winter Summerland miniature golf courses.
  • Visit Sea World....Allan will love it!
  • Enjoy Fantasmic! (probably more than once).
  • Ride Test Track (for the first time as a non-GM employee).  Hey, it's legitimate...I want to see the queue, too.
  • Spend a day at Typhoon Lagoon (it's been years) and another one at Blizzard Beach (we've never been!)
  • Have dinner, just Barb and I, at Portobello Yacht Club (if it's still there then).  We've been talking about eating at Portobello Yacht Club for years and years, but since it's off the beaten track for us, we've never made it over for dinner.  This year?  Maybe!
  • See the Main Street Electrical Parade...I miss it.
  • Catch the Architectural Tour -- perhaps with Pat.
  • Spend a day to sleep in, and just enjoy Old Key West (I say that one every year, and it never seems to happen).
  • Price out homes in Celebration (but only if that Lotto thing happens...and it probably won't since I don't buy the tickets).
  • A meal, sometime during the trip, at our favs:  Rose & Crown, Teppanyaki Dining Rooms (we'll see if we can get Barb's parents in here), Boatwrights, Artist's Point (or perhaps Whispering Canyon Cafe).
  • I'd like to retry 'Ohana, Tony's, Mama Melrose's, Chef's De France, and Beaches & Cream too, but the world won't end if we don't get there.
  • A character meal at Cinderella's Royal Table and maybe another one at Chef Mickey's.  Plus a character breakfast at the Crystal Palace.
  • Dinner show at the Hoop-Dee-Doo.  This show bit the dust again...I just can't seem to get excited about it when the price is so high.

We'll see what else changes in the last few weeks before we actually leave on the trip.  In the meantime, we're set for now.

Final Trip Planning Update, 16 October 00

Well, the final pieces fell into place over the last few days.  Barb's Uncle and Aunt (Barb's father's brother and sister-in-law) will be at WDW at the very beginning of our trip.  We've made arrangements to meet up with Phil and Lana at Teppanyaki Dining Rooms on Sunday for an early dinner, followed by an evening at Epcot.  It will probably be our first foray into the Millennium park on the trip, so we might just stick around to catch Tapestry of Nations and IllumiNations 2000: Reflections of Earth while were there.  It will depend, in part, on how Allan is doing, since we will already have had quite the busy day (checking out of our Ramada accommodations, going to church at Bible Baptist Church, and moving over to Westgate Lakes for four nights).

I also made one other priority seating arrangement.  On Friday the 27th, Barb and I will dine at Bistro de Paris.  It's a restaurant we haven't enjoyed since our honeymoon trip way back in 1989!  We're looking forward to a night out (leaving Allan with the Grandparents), and enjoying some time together.

On Friday afternoon, I tried to order a AAA Triptik with routing information for our trip South.  (Yeah, I know, we all know the way, but the Triptik is a handy reference and it does give some warning about upcoming construction and so on.)  Well, when I ordered the Triptik on line, it dawned on me that they might not get the materials to me within four business days, so I called them up and found out that -- sure enough -- they need five business days.  I cancelled the order and called our local branch.  They said they'd have one for my by Tuesday.  I also ordered the Tennessee and Florida Tourbooks and an Orlando area map just for reference.

The very last thing that had to be dealt with is the accommodations for the trip down and back.  Barb's mom took on that duty, since she had the means for getting a discount through a membership club that she belongs to.  She booked rooms for us at a Ramada Inn in Chattanooga, Tennessee for the trip down and back, and one at the Ramada Inn West Gate that is just west of WDW in SR-192.  With those arrangements made, we just have to deal with the last few details this week in preparation...then we'll be off on Friday!

Still to be done...

  • Create lesson plans for the Physics class that I teach at our school.
  • Wrap up some details at work.  My crew is excellent, so I suspect they'll hardly notice I'm gone...but I do have to get some paperwork and department financial/budget stuff done before I depart.
  • Put together a plan for MousePlanet content for while we're gone (I'll only be covering Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays...so I'm preparing some trip reports for the other days, so you'll all have plenty to read while I'm out of town).
  • Pack (this is generally Barb's job, but I try to be helpful).
  • Get Traveler's checks (I normally get $600, so I'll just do that again this year).
  • Pick up AAA Triptik, Tour books, and maps.
  • Pick up what few items we decide need to be purchased, if any (toothpaste, deodorant, etc.).

I'm so excited about this trip.  Really, I should spend much, much, much more time in the Orlando area, don't you think? ;)

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Brian Bennett

brian@mouseplanet.com


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