Mary-Ellen Marks -- August 2001 -- Walt Disney World (PORFQ)
August 25-September 4, 2001
Background: we began saving for this trip 7 years ago when Andrew was a baby, aiming for $50/month. At the age of 3 Andrew was diagnosed as having pervasive developmental disorder (PDD)-autism spectrum disorder. We found that he makes tremendous advances when we take vacations, so travel is a high priority in our budget. We bought a pop-up camper to increase the number of weekend getaways we could make.
Planning for this trip began in August 2000 when I was lounging on the beach at the Delaware shore, musing about trips not taken, life experiences not had, perhaps(!) having a mini-midlife crisis. I decided the kids were old enough to appreciate (and remember) a trip to WDW and that it was high time I experienced it. That evening, DH bought me Bob Sehlinger's Unofficial Guide as an early birthday gift and for the rest of the trip it was my only reading material. Over the next 11 months I became addicted to WDW trip reports posted on www.mouseplanet.com and www.wdwig.com.
Day 1 - Saturday August 25th
US Air Metrojet left Boston's Logan airport on time (1:30P) and arrived at MCO on time (4:30P). Sam Sharma from Tiffany Towncars (TTC) was there to meet us. There was a heavy downpour and T-storm, the only significant daytime rain of the trip. TTC is such a deal if you have a party of four or more. We made a stop at Publix to buy juice boxes, and a case of 24 bottles of Dannon water on sale for $7. The good/bad thing about Dannon water is that it tastes the same cold or warm. We had brought a collapsible cooler in our luggage and once at the hotel, filled up the cooler at the ice machine.
I had chosen Port Orleans-French Quarter as our hotel because our budget allowed a moderate hotel, DH had liked visiting New Orleans, and quite frankly, the All-Stars scared me! It sounded like unbridled chaos and noise. PORFQ sounded lovely, small, quiet and from all reports had a terrific pool. All of these attributes were true and as I write this, I am heartsick that WDW has moth-balled PORFQ because of declining tourism. At least I hope its only moth-balled! Even so, I changed hotels, on paper, at least six times during planning, before coming back to my first choice, trusting my gut instinct. I had to make two separate reservations because one of the days fell under Regular Season and the others under Value Season. I received the AAA rate of $122 per night, except for the first night for which there was no discount ($165). I tried to get the AP rate upon arrival but they said the AAA rate had already been applied and there would be no other discounts.
After having our luggage delivered to our room we headed for the parks. It was about 6:00 p.m. at this time and we took the bus to MK. It was the longest wait of the trip for a bus - 25 minutes sitting at the bus stop - plus a 25 minute ride to MK, including 10 minutes to load a wheel-chair bound passenger. The bus made 5 or 6 stops in the giant Port Orleans Resort Riverside complex, returning to the back side of Port Orleans French Quarter! Frustrating, but I knew that on the return trip, we would get dropped off first.
We went straight to Guest Relations at MK and bought annual passes - the best deal for us since we were staying 10 days and planning a return trip to Fort Wilderness within a year. Our son's neurologist had put us on to the fact that WDW is very accommodating to special needs children (thanks Mr. Eisner!) and wrote us a letter to present to WDW explaining our son's condition (pervasive developmental disorder (PDD)-autism spectrum disorder) and need for special considerations. We gave this letter to the CM at Guest Relations ( Jessica, a lovely blonde from the Netherlands) who read the letter and generated the Guest Assistance Pass (GAP) She asked us how long we were staying and how many people in the travel party. The pass is good for everyone in the party, provided the special needs child is participating in the attraction, obviously. The pass is to be shown to the CM at each Fastpass line - the GAP works like a FP except that there is no return time on it -- your return time is whenever you get there. You get in line with the other Fastpassers. For those attractions without FP, you go to the handicap entrance. Only one CM among dozens made a face when we gave him the pass...he made a show of looking at the pass, his watch, the posted wait time (30 minutes) and finally waved us through. The others accepted it graciously and with a smile, although some of them studied it very carefully, as if it were a piece of foreign currency to be checked for counterfeit. We never abused the GAP by using it for rides with a posted wait of 15 minutes or less and never for the same ride twice in the same day. My son was not interested in the super-popular rides like TOT, RRC and the Mountains. When my daughter and I rode Splash Mountain near the end of the trip, we did the race-walk from rope drop like everyone else. I did not feel the least bit guilty about using the GAP - life is hard enough for my son and this made it easier, if only for the length of our stay.
Our first purchases were autograph books and fat pens. Throughout our visit, we had no trouble meeting characters - they seemed to be everywhere. I overdid it with the character dinner PS - one meal would have sufficed.
Our first evening at WDW we rode Snow White (stand-by), Pooh (GAP), Peter Pan (GAP), Haunted Mansion (stand-by, while everyone else was at the parade). IASW was closed for refurbishing which was disappointing because it is just my son's speed. The line for Dumbo was typically long and since neither child expressed a strong desire to ride, we went off to dinner at Pinocchio's Village Haus. I had the salad - chicken, blue cheese, walnuts, greens, peaches - quite refreshing and DH had the turkey sandwich which he pronounced "okay". The kids' meals, hot dogs and fries, were not well-received but perhaps the kids were too excited to eat? Figaro's fries sounded gross - bacon, lettuce, tomato and cheese whiz over French fries - but we saw a lot of folks eating them and they smelled great. Next time!
At the tender age of 42, this was my first trip to WDW or DL and I was very impressed by every ride this particular evening. There is something for everyone and that is the way it should be. I get dismayed by those folks who want certain rides to be speeded up or made more scary or more interactive or eliminated entirely. Please remember that not everyone flies by the seat of their pants. WDW, like life, needs a balance.
We cleared out of MK before the fireworks - my son is terrified by fireworks and thunderstorms. The bus was waiting at the stop , which became a recurring theme - us running to catch it. It was a 10 minute bus ride back to PORFQ. I couldn't help notice that Florida gets dark at 8:30 p.m.
I arranged a Mickey wake-up call for 6:03 a.m. because I had read in trip reports that odd times ensure that it is Mickey who calls rather than a human. It was at this time that my only regret about this trip came to mind. I had to leave my beloved miniature dachshund back in Boston, boarding with her vet. Several times while sleeping, I was awakened by what I thought was the sound of her toenails walking across the floor. It was in fact, the tick-a-tick of the ceiling fan that I heard. But I couldn't help missing her every night. The next time we visit WDW, she'll be with us in our camper at FW.
Day 2 - Sunday, August 26th
A friend of mine from work had given me her four Dixie Landings mugs and since the two resorts had merged, I read that the refillable mugs were good at either place. No CM said anything to me about using them. It's still dark at 6:45 a.m. and I trundled down to the food court while the family slept. It was already hot and steamy. Many people have compared Florida to an oven, but it's a sauna, folks. My glasses were perpetually fogged up, from constantly moving between A/C and the heat.
The Food Court is not really open at this hour, so breakfast consisted of hot beignets from the bakery, bananas, cherry coke and tea. The beignets were delicious this particular day, powdered sugar pillows crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Subsequent purchases never lived up to that quality.
We got to the bus about 7:35 and waited about 10 minutes. We arrived at AK at 8:04 and went straight to the Safari line - at 8:09 it was already long. We used our GAP, but the FP line merges with the regular line quite soon, so very little time was saved. We waited 20 minutes and began the Safari at 8:30.
What can I say that has not already been said about Safari? It was fabulous, Disney at its best. The animals were active, many of them eating, but all seemed very content.
One of the best sights was a baby rhino sparring with his mother's horn. Terminally cute!! The rhinos were very close to the jeep, five feet away at times and no apparent barriers. The elephants were the healthiest I have ever seen! Perfect ears with no tatters, skin that looked like it had been moisturized. All the animals looked happy and well-cared for. They did not looked tranquilized, as some have suspected. It's the same pixie dust that mellows out all of us. The poacher theme did not bother me - it gets you engaged. Maybe after a few times, it could get old. Our guide was a blonde female from South Africa who drove the truck like an expert. She was very animated but slipped out of character when a cheetah was spotted on top of a rock - she seemed genuinely surprised to see it. Some of the animals we saw on safari - cheetah, white rhino and baby, black rhino, hippo, eland, okapi, bongo, lion, Thompson's gazelle, elephant, giraffe, wart hog, Nile crocodile, birds of many species, wildebeest, and several different species of antelope.
After KS, I hunted down the safari hats I had coveted for the kids which had black plush mouse ears and a leopard print band. Adorable and practical, but very expensive. I did not see ANY other child at ANY time wearing these hats. Was I the only guppy to take the bait? Still, the kids looked so darned cute in them...
After getting the hats, we went down the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail. Yes, the gorilla looked bored - he needed a tire swing or a few rolls of toilet paper or something like that - but I suppose the Disney logic is that it would "spoil" the natural flavor of his enclosure. We finished walking the Pangani trail but it was so hot and humid that I couldn't enjoy it. I had images of the Bataan death march. My kids liked the fish tanks in which you could see the hippos tip-toeing across the bottom. We skipped Pocahontas and Lion King, again because of the heat.
Brunch was at Tusker House - forgettable, except the hash browns.
ITTBAB was excellent. We used GAP, but still ended up waiting inside the tree with hundreds of our closest friends. I couldn't resist buying stuffed animal versions of Chili the Tarantula and the stinkbug.
We snacked on soft serve ice cream in waffle cones at Camp Minnie Mickey, some of the best ice cream we had at WDW. We then headed for the character greeting trails, also at Camp Minnie Mickey - we saw Tigger, Piglet, Eeyore, Chip and Dale, Safari Mickey and Minnie. When we explained why son Andrew resisted them, the characters were very gentle and protective with him and won him over. We used the term "autistic" to describe Andrew rather than PDD, because when most people hear "PDD" they are thinking "ADD" or "ADHD" which is hyperactivity and treatable with medication.
At noon-ish we returned to the hotel to try out the fabulous-looking pool with sea-serpent slide - however, it was closed due to a pump failure! We were among lots of disappointed guests. Because our kids are 5 and 7, we did not feel the least bit awkward going into the wading pool to cool off. By 4:00 the pool was still not fixed. I felt a little sorry for the CMs who had no control over the delivery of parts but had to deal with angry guests and their children all day.
At 4:00 we were off to MK for a character dinner at Crystal Palace. I must be the only person who was disappointed by this meal, but I considered it a major rip-off. The characters were very rushed - Tigger, Piglet and Eeyore were a blur. However, the "big guy", Pooh, was worth the wait and lousy food, as far as my son was concerned. His face lit up and his fear disappeared. In fact, Andrew initiated the hug with the giant Pooh which we considered another milestone.
Now getting back to the food. I would give it a C-/D+. Most of the dishes were either mushy or dried out. The kids' station was a joke! Dry chicken strips, rubbery pizza and mushy mac and cheese. No other selections! I gave my kids my fruit salad and rolls or else they would have had nothing to eat. I would suggest to Disney that kids be allowed to select from the adult buffet. In fact, I didn't see any kids select food from the kids' station and instead, were filling their plates with fried rice, from the adult buffet.
The desserts, however, received a grade of B.
TIP: Always confirm your PS before leaving for it - we were in line at Crystal Palace for our character dinner, behind a woman whose PS was "accidentally" cancelled, she said, by a CM. She argued and argued, refusing to be put on a waiting list while the rest of us WITH PS had to endure her tirade. Eventually a CM appeared with a clipboard and went down the line to check us in.
We then proceeded to Pirates of the Caribbean which was wonderful. My husband and I laughed at the idea of people wanting to make PoC more politically correct - that would be like rewriting history. The gift shop was very tempting, but we restrained ourselves and bought only a Jolly Roger flag and Pirates musical CD, for Andrew's upcoming Pirates birthday party.
The next ride was the Jungle Cruise - one of those rides I had to try, but would never bother with again. The kids liked it of course. I can see that it would be interesting 30 or 40 years ago when the technology was new, but now with AK and the safari just a few miles away, JC is lame and boring and in the Florida humidity, torturous. My DH was entertained by looking for politically correct changes - he found one character being speared in the bum by a rhino and recalled that the white face had previously been painted black! I tried to think of JC as a time machine, a flashback to 1950s Disney. It only helped a little bit. For the rest of the trip, I was adamant that we not waste time on this one again. People complain about Carousel of Progress (which we liked) and Enchanted Tiki Birds (which we did not), but I think JC is the most obsolete attraction.
When we returned to PORFQ, the pool had been fixed so we took an evening swim. The serpent slide was great and the water was comfortably warm.
Day 3 - Monday, August 27th
Surprise morning at MK (heavy heart again as I think that this wonderful perk has since been eliminated)
The bus arrived at 7:19, bypassed all the stops at Riverside and arrived at MK at 7:35, just as the gates were opening. We made a bee-line for Dumbo and still had a five minute wait. Obviously, it's the idea of riding on Dumbo rather than the ride itself that makes it so popular. However, the scenery over the tree-tops was nice.
Then on to the recurring favorites of the trip - SW, Pooh, PP with no wait, no GAP needed. Then to Tomorrowland - we used GAP for Buzz, but the kids and I were not impressed with it. They liked Tomorrowland Transit Authority better and it is a great place to rest tired legs - recall what I said earlier about needing a balance among the attractions? Then to BTMRR which my DH promised was a tame coaster - I have motion-sickness issues as does DD Stephanie. We used GAP which sent us through the exit of BTMRR, right to the loading zone. The CM was gracious and friendly. This is another ride which I had to try but have no desire to do again. It disturbed my sensitive inner ear that made for a queasy stomach and dizziness even after disembarking.
I felt better after a walk over to Tony's Town Square for breakfast. No PS, but we were told there was only a 10 minute wait. We met Cruella DeVil in the Camera Shop and she was thoroughly in character. Cruella asserted loudly that "no children should be allowed in the Magic Kingdom". She signed my DD autograph book with great exasperation. She treated my son like any other child - when he shyly went up to her with his autograph book, he got nervous/excited and started to babble. Cruella said to DH "I cahn't understand a WORD this child says! You need to keep him on a short leash."
Our server at breakfast was Jason - cute, very efficient, but he seemed to find his role as an Italian waiter to be a source of private amusement. I understand this breakfast has since been cancelled, but the food was good and Jason was very accommodating to the children - he came up with a bowl of berries and dry white toast for my picky Andrew.
Then on to Country Bear Jamboree - there is no FP and no disabled line and the queue was over-whelming, stifling in fact, although we stuck it out. We amused the kids with the pressed penny machine. Kids and parents alike enjoyed the show, in fact the adults laughed louder and more often than the kids. Andrew tolerated the queue better in the future because he knew what was ahead.
Then we took a trip to HM and afterwards had an ice cream break - my kids preferred the juice bars while I became addicted to Mickey bars.
We left MK around 12, with the bus waiting at the stop. We returned to POFQ around 12:20 and were in the pool by 12:45.
First un-magic moment: at the pool. The lifeguard (life-nazi?) hollered at DH and pointed to DS "does he belong to you? He's been pinching kids and cutting in line at the slide. ALL the parents are complaining". The lifeguard was angry that Andrew was not responding and when we tried to explain that he was autistic we got a glazed look of total ignorance. Thinking back, I should have reported the LG, if only to spare others the misery. My DD reported that in fact the OTHER kids kept pushing Andrew out of line and he pinched as his way of communicating that they were cheating. I was watching from the bottom of the slide and he seemed fine --- waiting his turn, trying to initiate conversation, all milestones. DH said it was only ONE parent who complained - a loud, peroxide blonde in a leopard skin swimsuit who, naturally, had the children from hell. For the rest of the trip, DH or I accompanied Andrew up the stairs to the slide and down. I can appreciate the difficulty of the lifeguards' job and the emphasis on safety, but there were too many hellions going unpunished and yes, I felt Andrew was picked on because he's "different". Conversely, because Andrew is also rather handsome, the little girls try to initiate conversation with him and when he doesn't always respond, they think he's a snob.
After getting cleaned up, we left for MK at 3:00, arriving at 3:30. We hit HM and then on to our PS at Liberty Tree Tavern. The characters were VERY attentive and Minnie was absolutely lovely in a blue velvet Colonial style dress. The food, alas, got a grade of C - it tasted like an over-salted Stouffer's TV dinner - surprise, surprise since Stouffer's provides the food at LTT. Brian was our server - he was very efficient and accommodating. I asked nicely if we could get kids' meals since I knew they would not eat the set menu. He brought chicken strips and fries and watermelon cut in the shape of Mickey's head. Thanks Brian! I only wish I had ordered the same thing for me.
Then on to Epcot for the first time. It was the beginning of Andrew's love affair with Spaceship Earth. The ride was quite good, but ironically the sound quality of the narration was lousy, crackly, staticky, despite the fact (or because of it?) that ATT sponsored the ride!
We stopped at Ice Station Cool to try the beverages. I HAD to try Beverly, being an adventurous sort. This was one of those times when a taste can take you back 30 years in your life. To me, Beverly tasted and smelled like this diarrhea medicine my mother gave me as a child - Paregoric it was called - worked like a charm, but I don't think you can get it any more. The sodas from China, Germany and Mozambique all tasted good.
We then tried to watch the TON parade but there was constant motion of tourists along the parade route and we gave up and went to ride Maelstrom. We skipped the movie but we mean to try it next time. This was one of the few rides that frightened Andrew -- the storm in the North Sea scared him, but all storms do that to him. I bought a troll which was poking his pointy nose through a hollow tree trunk, sold to me by one of the many exquisite Norwegian women in that pavilion. Its really not fair.
We then wandered over to Japan where we bought rainbow kaki-goris - worth every penny. We then found ourselves "stuck" there for Illuminations - like thunder-storms, Andrew is terrified by fireworks. With trying to calm him down, we could not enjoy much of the show, but maybe next time. We didn't even consider Fantasmic after this.
At this point Andrew developed a defense mechanism which he used during the trip. He asked "I want bus please". Once he saw we were moving, albeit slowly, to the bus stop (he has an incredible sense of direction) he started to calm down and we watched bits of Illuminations over our shoulders.
It was a very long, hot wait for the bus to PORFQ - the 20 minutes seemed like 120. We decided that the buses must be told to wait until Illuminations is over before picking up people. My DD was exhausted and I felt like the meanest mother in the world because I scolded her for whining! She quickly recovered once on the bus.
Back at the hotel, I took the first of what became my nightly 800 mg dose of Ibuprofen for leg and back aches and "Mother's elbow". I also developed a fondness for Dixie beer, but limited it to one small bottle per night.
Day 4 - Tuesday, August 28th
I was up at 6:30 to do one load of laundry for $5. We went through two changes of clothes per day.
DD can't start her day without a good breakfast so I went to the Food Court to get pancakes, French toast, bacon, scrambled eggs and home fries. Sorry to say that it tasted like microwave able meals from the freezer section, but DD enjoyed.
Disney-MGM today! We went first to Muppet Vision - I was surprised and pleased to hear that Kermit was voiced by Jim Henson - I didn't realize MV was that old. The storyline was non-existent and the movie was way too loud! As much as we like the Muppets, I can live without seeing it again. I took photos of the kids outside by the Muppet fountain.
Then we went over to the Great Movie Ride. Now that is an excellent attraction! Since GMR doesn't have FP, our GAP did not help much, at first. We waited in the long queue with everyone else as it wound past the carousel horse from Mary Poppins and then we got to the disabled entrance where we showed the GAP and were escorted to the doors behind which the ride loads. The GAP effectively cut our wait in half. We had been warned about the gunshots during the ride, but it seemed they toned them down, since Andrew was not fazed by them. We were hijacked by the gangster. We were entranced by the movie scenes. A woman behind us pronounced the Wizard of Oz scene "darling" and that is the perfect description.
We went to lunch at Toy Story's Pizza Planet which of course is nothing like the movie's pizza place. However, we all liked the pizza.
Then to the Voyage of the Little Mermaid. The GAP allowed us to by-pass the stand-by line, but once inside, it was that box-car feeling like in Country Bear Jamboree. VotLM was very good, with excellent special effects. A number of babies and toddlers cried during parts of it, but my kids loved it.
Back to the hotel for a swim. We were blessed by excellent weather all week. it was a running joke between DH and I that we should get jobs as Florida weather forecasters...we could just phone in our forecast. Every day during our 10 day stay the forecast was "a high of 92 degrees with a chance of scattered afternoon thunder showers".
After our swim it was off to Epcot. Of course we had to ride "the golf ball" at Andrew's request.
We had PS at Le Cellier in Canada and were seated immediately. I had an excellent appetizer - rock crab spring rolls. The pretzel breadsticks were also outstanding. I ordered the surf and turf special - the lobster tail was small but good, the filet a little dry but the roasted potatoes tasted like they had been roasted the day before and re-heated. Too bad, really. DH had the cheddar cheese soup, excellent as reported, with the filet mignon and risotto. The steak was very good but he said the four cheese risotto was too strong and overwhelmed the steak's flavor. Andrew had plain, buttered pasta which is what he likes and Stephanie had a cheeseburger (more like a steak burger...mmmm). Le Cellier has an excellent kids' menu including special kiddy desserts, like chocolate "moose" and campfire s'mores.
We both had the Acadian cobbler for dessert, which tasted more like hot, berry-flavored applesauce with ice cream on top than a real "New England-style" cobbler.
We returned to our hotel right after dinner because my son's lower GI tract was upset, either due to stress or swallowing chlorinated water in the pool. We all fell asleep at 9 and awoke at 6 a.m.
Day 5 - Wednesday, August 29th
At 9 a.m. we were off to Epcot - we never bothered with EE for Epcot since World Showcase doesn't open until 11 and the other attractions were not a high priority. We went to Cranium Command first - funny and clever - and a very good insight into the teenage mind. However it was very loud, we were seated too close and the bright, unexpected flashing lights frightened Andrew to the point he peed his pants. You never know!!
The Making of Me was cute and tastefully done but I'm not sure how interested the kids were.
Food Rocks was loved by both kids. It, too, was cute and clever and another one of those mild-mannered attractions needed for balance. The Peach Boys sang "Good Nutrition" to the tune of "Good Vibrations", and so on.
Living with the Land was an interesting look into alternative methods of farming, including hydroponics, aeroponics and aquaculture.
We went back out into the sauna and went to Cantina de San Angel for lunch - we shared the adult size nachos (tasty) and the kids shared a burrito/tortilla chips meal.
We shared the fruit drink they call a Conga which was also good, if pricey.
We rode El Rio del Tiempo which was okay, but at least it was cool. It seemed like a Mexican version of IASW and as DH said, "a rah-rah for the country of Mexico".
We bought 2 passport kits as we entered the World Showcase - a great souvenir and a powerful incentive to visit every country. With the passports, the kids stopped at the "Kid-cot Fun Stops" at each country where the child puts that country's stickers on a page of the passport and a native speaker stamps the book and writes a message in his/her native language. In France, for example, the CM wrote in French "Hello from the Land of Cinderella".
In China we waited inside for the movie to start. Meanwhile, DD volunteered to join the Chinese musicians to play an indescribable Chinese instrument - like a xylophone. We decided not to watch the movie after I found out it required 18 minutes of standing up.
Off to Germany where our Stephanie met 3 CMs also named Stephanie (including one Stefanie). Her passport was signed, in German, "Hello from the Home of the Gummie Bear".
We might have by-passed Italy except for the need to get the passport stamped. We wound our way to the back of Italy where we caught the Venetian performers who wore velvet masks and brocade costumes, giving a very Renaissance air to the place. We snacked on granitas (like a Slush puppy -- lemon is more refreshing than the strawberry) and cannoli.
The American Adventure was excellent - cool, relaxing and inspiring. It is not intended to be comprehensive, nor could it be, but it does inspire patriotism.
We toured the mini-museum at Japan - traditions (samurai) and baseball which is good for killing time if your DW is shopping in the Japanese department store.
In Morocco I tried the chicken shawarma sandwich while DH took the kids to get their passports stamped.
In the UK, we listed to the British Invasion (like Beatlemania) while we shared an order of fish and chips. The fish and chips were excellent and while waiting in line, I was amused to hear that all the other accents in the line were British, raving how the food was "just like home". Can't ask for a better endorsement! DD lost her nearly completed passport and after a near melt-down by me, DH went back to the fish and chips stand where, it turned out, DD had left the passport on the counter and the CM had set it aside.
In Canada, we visited with the friendly CM who was sorely overdressed in a buffalo plaid flannel shirt. Andrew fell asleep on a bench, so we headed home to the resort at 5:30.
DH and DS napped while DD and I went to the pool for a half-hour. Dinner was take-away from the Sassagoula Floatworks and early to bed.
Day 6 - Thursday, August 30th
At 9:30 we began the day at Disney-MGM by heading for the Backlot Tour. The friendly CM sent us to the Honey I Shrunk the Kids playground because he said we did not need to get in line so early for the 10:00 first tour. The playground was very clever, with giant slides and such, but unbearably humid, even at that hour. I recall misting machines and fans, but it only seemed to make it worse. If they could enclose it and add A/C, then it might be a destination. That is something I couldn't help noticing about MGM - very few attractions are air-conditioned. I can't believe Disney ran out of money when they built MGM but it seems they took the cheap route by constructing open air theaters instead of real buildings. I wonder how they hold up during a hurricane.
Anyway, the backlot tour began at 10, after another sweaty queue in which we were treated to scenes from "Pearl Harbor" on TV monitors. The first part of the tour was a recreation of a scene from Pearl Harbor, in a giant water tank, with participants from the audience. It was very interesting and funny. Then we boarded the open-air tourist trams - what the heck do I call them? The best part of the tour was the stop in Catastrophe Canyon and the special effects of an avalanche and fire. At the end of the tour is an exhibit of dresses once worn by famous actresses. I was amazed at how tiny these women were, not unlike the size zeros of today, only shorter.
We headed for the 10:45 show of HOND and yes, Mary-Ellen-the-penny-pincher bought a mister-fan to get her through the show. My mind went blank when the CM told me the price, but I think it was about $18. HOND was superb! The singing, acting, puppetry and scenery were top notch. The show was opened by Randy the Juggler who wowed the audience by (simultaneously) juggling a machete, a beanie baby and a bowling ball.
At 11:30 we went to the ABC Commissary because I had heard good things about it. All I can say is - yuck! ick! eeeyew! The chicken yakitori and veggie stir-fry were awful and the kids' fish nuggets and chips were nearly as bad. Lest you all think I am a Cordon Bleu trained chef by trade, I am not. Nor am I a picky eater. But so far, I found the food either disappointing in flavor or a poor value or both. But, it gets better...
At 12:30 we went to Beauty and the Beast - another open-air theatre. The kids, especially, loved it. The story was familiar but greatly abbreviated and the costumes were spectacular.
Because of the heat, we skipped Indiana Jones and headed back to PORFQ for a swim.
After the swim, we headed to Downtown Disney. We had an early dinner at Wolfgang Puck Express. I had the rosemary chicken and garlic mashed potatoes but there was too much olive oil on the chicken (she's complaining again!). DH had the chinois chicken salad, DD the triple-decker PBJ which she could not finish and DS had the pizza. I will give Disney credit for one thing - they can make a decent pizza, no matter which restaurant.
We spent time shopping at the World of Disney - T-shirts, software, mousepad, photo album, hair elastics with mouseheads, fanny pack embossed with Mickeyheads, etc.
As the dark clouds appeared on the horizon, we had tasty chocolate and vanilla shakes at Ghiradelli and made it back to PORFQ before dark. It T-stormed overnight but was clear in the morning.
Day 7 - Friday, August 31st
Early rising to make AK at 8. The Food Court at PORFQ was not open yet, so I headed to the bakery for donuts, muffins, and bananas and to the beverage center for refills of cherry coke for DH and hot tea for me. The kids had orange juice boxes from our portable cooler.
We got to AK at around 8 but found that Asia was not open yet! We had planned on doing Maharajah Jungle Trek and KRR while still coolish. So, instead we went to ITTBAB where this time, I got the FULL 4-D effects.
We hit the 9:15 Lion King show and it was already sweltering. Warning! to parents of special needs children - the show is VERY loud and the theatre is very HOT and CROWDED. I was on the verge of a panic attack myself. Thank God for my mister-fan. The costumes and the floats were excellent, the tumble-monkeys and acrobats and fire-eater great, but the story-line non-existent. The singers were very loud and unintelligible. It was really a collection of entertainers rather than a coherent story-line.
The Maharajah jungle trek was unique and the tigers' enclosure was a work of art. We saw four tigers, a dozen or so giant fruit bats, a tapir we could see only by his white bum sticking out, and a very small Komodo dragon. The crowds on the trail were very noisy and it seemed to keep the animals in hiding or at a distance.
I finally convinced DH to try KRR - he was afraid of getting drenched. We used the GAP. In the queue, we watched with some alarm as riders getting off the rafts walked past wringing out their clothes. As we approached the loading zone, the kids and I took off our socks and shoes. Once on board, I stowed them in the center well of the raft. DH claimed he knew from his days in USMC how to keep his shoes dry in wet situations. The other riders put their shoes and cameras on top of our shoes and then covered everything with a rain poncho and finally the well's plastic lid. Off we go!
It was a great ride, especially when DH and DS got drenched by a giant wave that came over their backs. Despite the geysers, waterfalls, waves and squirting elephants, DD and I stayed dry. And yes, DH kept his shoes dry!
Lunch was at Tusker House - DH had the turkey wrap, DS the veggie wrap, I had the grilled chicken with ham and cheese and DD the PBJ on blue and purple rainbow bread. The bread was pretty but somehow not appetizing. The food was unusual but just okay in flavor.
We then went to take a look at Dinoland - I could not convince DH to try Dinosaur/CTX because he was afraid of DS reaction. The Boneyard looked too hot and had too many potential exits for Andrew to disappear out of.
At around 1:00 we headed to the bus and went for a swim at PORFQ. It was another day of kids cutting in line at the slide and going down before the person ahead had made it to the bottom. It was very nerve-wracking for parents of young children.
Not only that, but a lot of locals had shown up for the weekend and, how do I say it? They lacked a certain finesse and pool etiquette. And I'm talking about the adults!
After about an hour, we got cleaned up and headed for MK, arriving at 3:45. We had about a five minute wait at the stop and the bus bypassed PO-Riverside again.
At MK, we let Andrew select the rides. Lest you think Stephanie is hidden in the shadows, who do you think had been choosing the rides for the first part of the trip? We went to SW, which had a 20 minute posted wait but was only five minutes. Then to Pooh and PP where we used the GAP (40 minute posted wait). Pirates was a walk-on -- boy, you really appreciate that long, cool queue! As we exited PoC, we had our first daytime T-storm in nearly a week. The rain came down heavily, in short bursts, with the sun still shining. In between bursts, we made it to the monorail and to Ohana where we had PS.
Ohana lived up to its excellent reputation (see, I told you I would find decent food!). We were seated right away and waited on immediately. The servers there are very attentive. We asked about non-alcoholic drinks, since most of their signature drinks can be made without alcohol. However, the drinks are small and expensive, so you need to ask for glasses of water. The appetizers came quickly and it is easy to get filled up on them. The fried won-tons were especially good. There is no kids' menu at Ohana but my kids liked the fried rice. The skewers of meat come while you are still working on the appetizers/side dishes. Much to my surprise, the kids tried and liked the chicken and steak. The skewers of grilled pork, chicken, shrimp, turkey and sirloin tips were all cooked to perfection and kept coming. We tried some of the dipping sauces but they are NOT NECESSARY and in fact, overwhelm the good flavors of the meats. At about this point in the meal came the hot, moist towels! We all thought it was a great touch! DD had missed the coconut roll because we couldn't hear the announcement, but she did participate in the hula-hoop contest. Then came the fresh pineapple with warm caramel sauce. Yes, it is heavenly, and I don't even like pineapple. We could have and should have stopped there, but since this meal was one of our two major dinner splurges, we ordered dessert. DH had raspberry cheesecake and I had the key lime pie - both were good. But the dessert of desserts was the shaved ice. The biggest snowcones we had ever seen, two kids' sandpails filled with shaved ice, with rainbow flavoring, and the little shovel to be used as the spoon. The kids barely made a dent in them. We casually took the pails with us on the monorail to Epcot, since the pail looks more like a toy than food, and strolled the International Showcase with the most refreshing treat you can imagine. Note to Michael Eisner: you should consider serving these snow pails in the parks. (But then, the bottled water business would suffer.)
At Epcot, we did SE at DS request and then HISTA. The effects at HISTA were good, but the story line lame.
Back to PORFQ for a Dixie beer for me and Popsicles for the "three" kids.
Day 8 - Saturday, September 1st.
EE/Surprise Morning at MK. We arrived at MK about 7:40. We rode Dumbo, Snow White, Pooh (already a long wait -- dirty look from CM for using GAP), PP and SW again (walk-on). We went to Mickey's Toontown Fair at 9, although they had opened it early and there was already a long line for the character greetings. DD and I rode Goofy's Barnstormer - it was mercifully short, but not short enough for those like me who are very prone to motion sickness. Donald's leaky boat was bone-dry - the water was turned-off due to drought. We then boarded the WDW RR but then the train broke down and we had to disembark, queue up and try again. The ride is relaxing but not very scenic. Mostly you see the backs of buildings and attractions. Some effort had been made to give riders something to look at, such as the Powhatan village.
We took the train from Toontown and back again. Mickey and Minnie were on break, so we visited their houses without crowds. Then it was off to Tomorrowland to do Timekeeper - this was disappointing, although Robin Williams was good as the narrator. At DS request we rode TTA and Carousel of Progress. Even though it omits about 50 years of recent history, we enjoyed it and cannot get that song out of our heads. Andrew loves singing "it's a great big beautiful tomorrow" and knows all the words, including JFK's quotes!! I am saddened to hear that COP is closed down, but I hope not permanently. This is another great place to rest and cool down and the audio-animatronics are terrific.
We had some half-decent burgers at Cosmic Ray's - that place is a zoo at lunchtime.
Then off to the Enchanted Tiki Birds - Under New Management. I guess I am the only living person who does not like this attraction. It started out pleasantly enough, with the glee club singing. The appearance of Iago was jarring - too coarse, shrill, loud and unfunny. Gilbert Gottfried should not be allowed to sing. I could tell from my children's faces that this was not appreciated by them either. The only funny part came when DD pointed to the parrot voiced by Jerry Orbach and asked "why is that parrot talking like Lumiere?"
Back to the hotel for a swim and two loads of laundry. Then off to Epcot for a character dinner at the Garden Grill. We were seated at 5:20 with a PS of 5:30. The server brought bread immediately, quickly followed by salad and then personal skillets with fried catfish, flank steak, roast chicken, herb flavored mashed potatoes, stuffing, a veggie medley and corn on the cob for adults. For the kids, it was mac cheese, fries and chicken fingers although they also ate our corn on the cob. This was the best food of the character meals and it was interesting to consider that some of it came from the farms in Living with the Land. Pluto, Chip and Dale were very attentive; Mickey came by briefly and only upon request. The restaurant rotates very slowly and I think the kids liked this aspect as well as the characters. Dessert was butterfly cookies for the kids and a warm brownie sundae to be shared by the adults. There were unlimited refills of drinks and souvenir sippy cups for the kids. All in all, a good value. Next time we want to try the Ice Cream Social.
Then we stopped into the Circle of Life movie - it was a combination of a National Geographic special and a cartoon. It was intended to be an environmental sermon.
We reached the hotel at 7:30, just as we heard T-storms rumbling in the distance.
Early to bed again. These kind of early evenings help DH rest his leg before the next round of touring.
Day 9 - Sunday, September 2nd
We slept until 7:30 and had breakfast from the Food Court. We arrived at MGM around 9:30, to see a gi-normous line at the entrance, the first we had seen. We did GMR at 10 and got the gangster again. We then scurried to Indiana Jones - the theatre was filled by 10:30, for the 10:45 a.m. show. The special effects were terrific. We followed it by ice cream at Dinosaur Gerty's - large, excellent soft-serve ice cream. We did a little shopping on Hollywood Blvd at Mickey's of Hollywood and then DS requested "bus please".
We caught the bus at Noon and had pizza at PORFQ food court. Here DS had his first bad spell of the trip...a tantrum just like any over-stimulated child. He threw my pin-filled hat on the floor of the Food Court, twice, and threw his new toy monorail cars on the floor and then on the way back to the room, he takes DD hat off her head, and throws it and the many dollars worth of pins attached to it, off the third floor balcony and into a tree. Presumably the weight of the pins caused the hat to fall through the tree, and DD and I ran down to retrieve it. DS was punished with a time-out and no swimming. DD and I went to the pool for an hour while DH rested his leg and DS calmed down.
Yes, we did get caught up in pin-buying and pin-trading, but mostly the buying. We just had to have pins of our favorite attractions. DD traded for a Cheshire cat pin and then traded that for Tarzan. Most of her pins were "no-touchies". I only let her trade with CMs because I knew she would not be turned down. We saw the Cheshire cat pin on every other CM lanyard we approached.
At about 2:30 we headed to Downtown Disney where we shopped at Disney at Home, World of Disney, 2 R's - Reading and 'Riting where I was really tempted by Seven Dwarfs desk accessories, and then Lego World. 2 R's had a nice set of four Princesses board books in a little briefcase for $9.99 which turned out to be a good purchase. We rested at Ghiradelli with shakes and ice cream before returning to PORFQ to unload and rest a bit.
We headed to Epcot for dinner at the fish and chips take-away in UK. We began the hunt for the Epcot tee-shirt that cannot be found - I saw some folks wearing a shirt on which the flags of the world were in the shape of Mickey's head. I thought it would be a fun way to teach the kids about other flags. It turned out to be an older design. I guess I was surprised by the lack of variety of T-shirt and sweatshirt designs - the same ones seemed to be in all the parks, although DH did love (and buy) the Pooh "Is that you Tigger?" shirt from AK.
Then we went to Impressions of France where we had "Sam" the wise-cracking Parisian CM. He tried to teach my DD to say "Bonsoir" and she told him politely "Excuse me, but we speak English here," to the roar of the crowd.
The film was okay and at least we got to sit down. Perhaps I was too tired to enjoy it...I had visited France in my single days and loved the Chateaux country. We headed home well before Illuminations and again, a long bus wait.
Day 10 - Monday, September 3rd - Labor Day
EE at MK. We arrived at 7:20 and the gates opened at 7:30. We rode Dumbo first, then multiple rounds of SW, Pooh and PP, all walk-ons. Did I mention how much I loved Peter Pan? Dee-lightful, but the end brings you bumping hard back into reality. Breakfast was cinnamon-sugar soft pretzels and cokes. Today was to be the day that DD and I rode Splash. At 8:40 we went to the rope at Liberty Square and waited with the crowd. Then two CMs escorted us to Frontierland where we waited for another rope drop. At rope drop, three streams of people converged, all going either to Splash or BTMRR. DD and I race-walked to Splash and walked on. DD was anxious about the 5-story drop which is visible to all. Throughout the ride, DD would ask, "was that it? was that the big drop?". No, honey, you'll know. The anxiety about the drop ruined our enjoyment of "the laughing place" and all the little vignettes and details. The drop was not as bad as expected - I was more concerned about losing my glasses than getting killed.
While DD and I were on Splash, a CM dressed like an old prospector struck up a conversation with DS and DH. He suggested to my son that he would like Tom Sawyer Island and my husband was impressed with the way he treated DS.
At 9:30 we took a ride on the Liberty Belle, a real steam paddle-wheeler. It is a nice ride, with the breeze from the movement of the boat helping. Then we did HM and onto Tom Sawyer Island. The world's shortest raft ride took us to the Island. We explored the "dee-zerted caves" and "abandoned mines", the only cool places on the island. Fort Langhorne was neat, but it was too blessed hot to explore too energetically. Aunt Polly's was closed at that hour.
At 11:30 we had lunch at the Columbia Harbor House - the fish and chicken basket was just okay, but the tuna sandwich was mushy.
Then we shopped on Main Street for awhile and found one bargain souvenir - the Mickey head antenna ornament for $3. It makes it easy to find your car in a crowded lot and I wish I had bought more of them for gifts.
Back to PORFQ at 1:00 for a swim. We had early dinner at the Food Court at 3:30 - the pizza was good but the burger meat tasted "skunky".
We then headed off to MK. We used GAP for Pooh, went stand-by for PP and SW. It was a walk-on for Pirates. We then had ice cream at Mrs. Pott's Cupboard.
DS had his first melt-down of the trip in the ladies room at Pinocchio's Village Haus. He locked himself in the stall, put his thumbs in his ears, and made the automatic toilet flush over and over again by standing up and sitting down, standing up and sitting down...He was a million miles away in some safer place in his head and I had to get DH to stand at the doorway and bellow at Andrew to get out of there.
Day 11 - Tuesday, September 4th - Last Day
I had requested late check-out, but it came to naught because DH had Bell Services pick up our luggage before we left for MK. Even though the room would have been available when we got back, our stuff wouldn't be there!
At MK we hit our favorites...SW, Pooh, PoC, PP, plus we climbed the Swiss Family Tree House before it got too hot. It will mean more to us, I suppose, once we see the movie. We did some last minute souvenir shopping on Main Street and then back to PORFQ for pizza at the Food Court.
Sam from TTC picked us up at 2:00 and we got to our gate at the airport at 3:00, for a 4:45 plane. When we checked in we were told there were severe T-storms in New York and that all planes were delayed and that we might not leave until 8:00!!
Our plane was waiting, but couldn't get clearance to leave. Still, they let us board at 5:00 and we sat on that runway for 4 hours! And they didn't feed us, nor could we leave! They said (every ten minutes, for 4 hours) that we could get clearance to leave "at any minute" and they couldn't waste any time rounding up passengers in the terminal. Being a pack-rat, I had stashed a bag of Mickey pretzels which appeased my kids, along with the shot-glasses of water USAir doled out. I had also snagged two blankets when we first boarded and it turned out they were the last two blankets on the plane. While we waited on the plane, they brought in external A/C and it got quite frigid. I gave the kids the blankets and they promptly went to sleep and I put on a sweatshirt which I had bought for my mother (I knew she wouldn't mind if I borrowed it). At about 8:45 p.m. we were told we might not leave until morning and then 10 minutes later we were told to prepare to take-off! We made it to Logan without a problem. We got there around midnight and home around 1:00.
As everyone knows by now, Logan was the airport at which two of the planes used in the September 11th attacks were hijacked. Nevertheless, we flew out of Logan on October 1st to take advantage of a terrific family package to London on Virgin Atlantic. I tell you all this because I want parents of a special needs child to be bold and take your child everywhere! Your child may surprise you! Andrew loved London, whether it was riding on the red double-decker buses, chasing pigeons in Trafalgar Square or exploring the HMS Belfast. He advanced tremendously in his development after the nearly back-to-back Disney and London trips.
Our next trip to WDW is somewhat "up in the air", so to speak. I am awaiting a decent airfare from Boston, since our annual passes are calling to us from the safe, but I can't spend another $1,000 for airfare for four. I may even try the dreaded All Stars, if the price is right. If we don't get to go this winter or spring, we are still going down in August, with our pop-up camper, to spend two glorious weeks at Fort Wilderness.