Brian Bennett -- September 2001 -- Walt Disney World (OKWR)
Trip Report Contents
Barb and I have a regular cycle for our WDW trips. In one year, we travel in the Fall (October, usually) and visit WDW for a couple weeks. For that trip, we purchase annual passes. The second year, we travel in the Spring for a week or so, then return in the Fall just before the annual passes run out. That way, we get three trips on on the annual passes and squeeze as much value out of them as we can.
Another cyclical part of our WDW vacationing schedule is who we take along for the trip. On our Spring trips we usually like to travel with just our immediate family. We only do the Spring trip every other year, and it's a fun way to enjoy the resort (and our pre-paid DVC vacations) just by ourselves. We did that just last April and May, in fact.
In the Fall, though, we usually take some other folks with us. Last year, in October, 2000, we traveled with Barb's parents spending four nights offsite at Westgate Lakes Resort followed by a full week at Old Key West Resort. In the Fall of 2002, we'd planned to take my folks with us. In the year in-between the trips with the in-laws and the 'rents, we'd planned to take some friends of ours, but got turned down -- get this -- three different times. None of the families we talked to were able to cover the expense of the trip. Even with the free accommodations we were offering, the price of food, admission media, and travel just added up to too much. That left us with a dilemma about what to do in September.
Now normally I have our trips planned and booked ten to eleven months in advance. With all of the changes to our plans (being turned down three times and all), we got into May and still didn't have anything booked at Old Key West Resort for September. It turned out to be a good thing because our trip plans were about to take another turn.
Back up to mid-March. My mother was left a small inheritance. Mom, bless her heart, decided to spend a portion of the money on a family reunion at WDW in December of 2002. We'll be staying over the Christmas break (busy, I know, but the only way we could work out the schedule with three branches and the trunk of the family tree involved here) and staying at a moderate resort -- all expenses paid! THAT will be a fun trip report to write. :)
Now, fast-forwarding back to May... we were supposed to be visiting WDW with my folks in October of 2002 and now, again, in December of 2002. I love my Mom and Dad very much -- without them, I wouldn't be here -- but two trips within two months with them? Hmmmmm. Besides, Mom and Dad really didn't plan on visiting WDW at all in between now and our trips in 2002, so they would have no time at the resort followed by two trips back-to-back.
I proposed an alternative. I suggested that Mom and Dad join us in September of 2001 instead of October of 2002. That would leave Barb and I free to do whatever we want to do in 2002 on our own... followed, of course, by our visit to WDW with the whole family later in the year. Dad loved the idea, he really thought that two trips so close together was a bad move anyway, so they agreed.
In the past, when visiting with our family, we've stayed for twelve days at WDW (which is about as long as we can stay in a 2 bedroom vacation home at Old Key West Resort with our Disney Vacation Club points and still leave some points left over for those Spring trips). In 1997, though, we drove down with some friends who visited WDW with us for a week, then left on their own as they returned to Michigan, while we stayed on for a few more days at WDW. It was really nice to spend time with our friends and enjoyed being with them very much, but 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.
Our Fall 1998 and 1999 trips reverted back to the old twelve day pattern because we had already made arrangements with our families (again, the in-laws and 'rents) to do the longer trip. Then, our Fall 2000 trip was eleven days long. We stayed in a two-bedroom condo at Westgate Lakes Resort for the first part of that trip (Barb's parents paying the bulk of the cost for that Westgate stay) so we still covered the full week at OKWR. Bottom line, we still spent the full trip time with them.
So finally, in September of 2001, we're implementing the "one week with them followed by five days by ourselves" trip plan. We're excited about the trip, I'm sure we'll enjoy the time with Mom and Dad, but we're also looking forward to having some wind-down time by ourselves at the end.
One last thing that shaped our trip plans a bit is that some friends of ours, by coincidence, were planning a trip at about the same time. We coordinated schedules so that our trips overlap a bit. I'm sure we'll have a meal or two with John and Brenda and their family, and maybe some time in one of the parks, too, but we won't be sharing accommodations or spending major time with them.
Finally, we had dates set. I called member services and was able to book our two-bedroom followed by a studio for five additional nights. If we're able, Barb and I will use the studio for the entire stay. There's no guarantee, but we requested that the two reservations be "linked" and we're hopeful that things will work out so that we don't have to move into other accommodations mid way through the trip.
One other detail fell into place when I suggested that we all do the Hoop Dee Do this trip. For all of the times we've been to WDW, we've never done this dinner show. Barb and I did the Luau at the Polynesian by ourselves several years ago, but the Hoop Dee Do will be new for us. To put icing on the cake, Mom and Dad offered to pay for the show for all of us as a special treat. Very nice!
As far as travel down and back, Mom and Dad are going to meet us down at OKWR on the day of check in. We've decided to wing it and just get rooms on the road as opposed to having room reservations at a hotel or two for the trip. That shouldn't be a problem in mid-September. We're planning to leave on Friday the 14th and drive as far as we can get on the first day. We did a two-and-a-half day trip down in April and it worked out well with the boys. Beyond that, there isn't much else to concern ourselves with until the week before departure.
Here's a rough plan for our trip:
Well, I just counted off the days. From today, June 29th, there are exactly seventy-seven more days to go before we depart. I can't wait!
Just a few days ago, on Tuesday the 11th, the horrific attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon have plunged our nation -- and many other of our ally nations -- into a dark war against terrorism. The Walt Disney World parks (along with the ones at the Disneyland Resort) closed on Tuesday, but re-opened on Wednesday. I'm suspecting that there won't be much different at WDW than normal except for some even smaller than normal crowd levels perhaps.
One of my engineers pointed out Psalm 112, which was his regular scheduled devotion for Wednesday (just by coincidence). It says:
I'm personally claiming verse 8, "His heart is secure, he will have no fear; in the end he will look in triumph on his foes" for our nation. I have nothing at all against folks that follow the Hebrew, Islamic, or Eastern faiths... but anyone that performs such evil deeds (regardless of their supposed motivation) is a foe of those that are doing good. I'm not anti- any racial or religious group, but I'm definitely against criminals -- and terrorists are nothing but heinous criminals in my book.
After some serious deliberation, we decided to go ahead with our plans for our trip. There's nothing we can do at this point, so we decided to go forward. (I tried to give blood on Tuesday, but since I'd done so just four weeks ago, I wasn't permitted to do so again. It's a shame, since I have type O- which would be particularly helpful right now.)
Mom and Dad had been planning to fly down on Sunday. Instead, they'll drive down leaving today also. It won't affect Barb and I much as we're still just going to meet up once we're at Old Key West Resort on Sunday afternoon.
Anyway, today was departure day. Leaving late morning on Friday worked very, very well for our trip back in April, so we decided to repeat the process this time around. In fact, as far as timing goes, this trip will be a carbon copy of April. The differences being that this time we'll be meeting up with Mom & Dad for a week and spend some time with John & Brenda and their kids. Of course, we're also staying at Old Key West Resort this time (we were at the Villas at Wilderness Lodge last trip).
Allan started kindergarten a few weeks ago, so we decided to send him on to school this morning. The plan was for me to work half a day, drive home to pack the van, go pick up Allan (timed to get him as his class was breaking for lunch) stopping at a Pizza Hut on the way out of town, and driving until we were tired of driving.
That's pretty much the way it worked out. We did stop at the Pizza Hut and we did some other running around that we had to get done before we left town, then we hit the road. Construction was pretty bad in Ohio and Kentucky. We also stopped at a Big Boy's Restaurant for dinner, before finishing up the day's journey.
I had a personal goal of getting at least to Richmond, Kentucky (which is where we stopped on the first night of our Spring trip). We did get to Richmond, but stayed at the nearby Ramada Inn for $39.95, instead of the Days Inn where we stayed last time.
The end of the day was a carbon copy of our Spring trip. "We moved everything into the room, got Michael's Evenflo "Happy Camper" set up, and we all crashed for the night. It was close to 9:30pm before we got settled, but had taken a big chunk off of the drive to WDW." That quote came from my April trip report, but it is just as true for September 14th.
Not much more to say about today besides the fact that we drove a lot.
Ok, we did stop at Kennesaw Mountain in Georgia to break up the afternoon a bit. The place was crawling with people, and I thought it might have to do with patriotic fallout from Tuesday's attack, but as it turned out (I asked a park ranger), there are big crowds at the park every beautiful Saturday in the Summer and Fall.
Lunch and dinner consisted of stops at KFC and Cracker Barrel respectively. Again, nothing fancy, but functional.
We finally had our fill of driving after we got to the Valdosta, Georgia. We drove from motel to motel looking for a place that had a room that was 1) on the first floor, 2) non-smoking, and 3) inexpensive. It seemed to be a difficult thing to accomplish because we stopped at a Quality Inn, a Holiday Inn, a Fairfield Inn, and a Ramada Inn and couldn't find a place. Allan was a bit concerned -- and got even more stressed when I suggested that we could just sleep in the van. He wasn't for that idea at all. I promised him, though, that I would find him a bed to sleep in.
I left that area of Valdosta and drove on to the next exit and we visited a Comfort Inn, a Rodeway Inn, a Days Inn, and finally a Motel 8 before I accomplished my goals. Allan was pretty pleased with me, and even told me "Dad, you rule" when I showed him the key to our room.
Tomorrow we would only have about a three-hour drive to get to the resort, so we felt we were in pretty good shape.
The only drawback to the Motel 8 was that we didn't get a complementary continental breakfast. I took care of that problem by bringing some Pop-Tarts into the room from the van the night before for the boys (they both eat anything and everything in the morning while Barb and I would just as soon skip breakfast all together).
We drove on toward WDW and arrived pretty close to noon. I was immediately struck with the lack of vehicular traffic on the complex. The place was pretty quiet, more so than I think I've seen it in years. We checked in, but weren't able to get our room assignment as of yet. That was a surprise, because I figured that there would be plenty of OKWR rooms available.
For lunch, then, we drove over to Port Orleans and got some quick food at the Sassagoula Floatworks. Barb got an order of chicken strips and I got a chef's salad. We both shared our food so we didn't have to get the boys anything extra.
After lunch, we drove back to OKWR and parked near one of the quiet pools. Barb and the boys got into their suits for an afternoon dip. I didn't because I figured it would be just a matter of minutes and I'd be able to get our stuff into the room. I was pretty wrong on that one. It wasn't until after 3:00pm that we got moved in (a good two-hour wait) and that was after I asked the front desk to move me into something "close" to what I'd asked for. I had to drive back to Hospitality House to get a new set of keys and so on, too. Frankly, I'm not upset or disappointed. We got our room sooner than the usual 4:00pm check-in time... it's just that I was hoping to get in even sooner since the resort was obviously less busy than usual.
After we got settled in, Barb called Mom and Dad to let them know where they would be able to find us when they got to Old Key West Resort. We found out that they'd been rear-ended by an impaired driver. They ended up not arriving at the resort until after 4:30pm. Of course, both Mom and Dad were tired and shaken, so the first order of business was just a nap and some relaxation time.
We ended up getting moving at about 5:30 or so. We drove over to Animal Kingdom Lodge to show off the newest resort to Mom and Dad.
Boma, of course, was our first destination.
The restaurant is just fantastic. The entire dinner was great. We tried lots of different dishes from the roasted meats, salads and relishes, side dishes, and dessert. Mom and Dad really enjoyed themselves, it seemed, as they compared notes on the various foods they were trying.
At one point, Barb told the waitress that Mom and Dad were celebrating their 41st anniversary that night. She responded by bringing out a special plate with "Happy 31st Anniversary" (yeah, they were off by a decade, but it wasn't a big deal) written on it in chocolate, along with several excellent cordials. As she brought it out, she got the table next to us to sing "happy anniversary" to Mom and Dad, too... of course, Barb and Allan and I joined in as well. Mom then announced that it was OUR (Barb and I) anniversary, too. We were married -- to the day -- on Mom and Dad's 29th, so she was right. Today was our 12th anniversary as well as their 41st. It made for a nice little treat on a day that otherwise was mostly just travel and check-in routine stuff.
After dinner, we walked outside to see the savannah. Allan took Grandpa around to see some of the animals from Arusha Rock's outlook.
After a while, the rest of us settled down around the fire pit to save seats for the fire pit story. That started rather promptly. The story of the night was about the squirrel and the spider. The squirrel, it seems, owned a farm. He traveled to and from the farm through the trees, so he didn't have a specific path to get there. The spider pointed that out, and "stole" the squirrel's farm by claiming it. When the squirrel disagreed, the spider argued that without a path to the farm, the squirrel obviously couldn't own it. The judge agreed and gave the farm to the spider. A few months later, the squirrel made a very similar argument and got the farm back (because the spider didn't have a path, either). The moral of the story? "What goes around comes around." It was a difficult story to follow (I'm given a strongly abbreviated Reader's Digest version here) and the moral really wasn't as clear from the story as it sounds. In any case, we experienced something new (the fire pit story), but learned we really don't need to do it again. It just wasn't that great a time.
By this time, it was too dark to see much else outside, so we walked back inside and checked out the resort shop before heading out to the van. We ended the evening with a run to Publix to pick-up breakfast stuff and munchies, then drove back to OKWR to work on the trip report, check email, and crash for the night.
Tomorrow was our first real day in the parks!
This morning was our fist day in the parks, so out of tradition, we made the Magic Kingdom our first one. We started the day shortly after 8:00am and noticed something that would become a pattern for this week and next. Hardly ANYONE was in the parks. We rode a bus today that was virtually empty (only our party and a couple of other folks). Later in the trip we would experience several bus trips with just us on board. That's very, very unusual at WDW at any time of the year.
We started our day in Adventureland. As we walked through the hub toward that part of the park, we found Goofy and Max greeting guests. Allan, of course, really wanted to meet them so we went toward them only to find out that they were already going away for a break. Fortunately, Allan knows that the characters do that and that he'll get plenty of opportunities to visit his favorites, so he doesn't get too upset when such things happen.
Our first stop was to ride the new Aladdin's Magic Carpets attraction. It's nicely done. The queue and surrounding area is nicely themed, the two spitting camels (from the Aladdin parade that used to run at the Studios and which were later placed in the Animation Courtyard) are props (one of them spits, too) and the bazaar gives a nice backdrop for the area. Barb noticed that the pavement has "jewels" embedded in the concrete. It's a nice touch.
HOWEVER, the new attraction is NOT a big crowd attraction. We never saw the area filled with people, as is commonly seen around Fantasyland's Dumbo, because it's all by itself. The old retail adage of building your store near the competition would have been wise to follow here. Fantasyland and Toontown Fair are where more attractions for kids are needed. Adventureland just needs more attractions period. A new E-ticket is sorely there, in my opinion. It would draw the crowds to this part of the park (like Disneyland's Indiana Jones attraction has done for it's Adventureland) and really add to the excitement and fun here. Adventureland also is sorely in need of a good restaurant. The old Adventureland Terrace should be turned into a full-service restaurant, again, to draw people over to this very quiet part of the park. It needs to be spiced up, and I would love to see Imagineering given the green light to put in a new attraction and restaurant here.
Jungle Cruise was our next stop. This is a venerable attraction, I'm glad to see the queue area improved (it's been given more of Disneyland's 1930's retro treatment) and the ride itself is always fun. I think the ride operators need some training and some new lines (more on that in the "bad" section of "The Good, the Bad, and the Lessons Learned" section, if you want to look up an event that occurred on our last day at the Magic Kingdom), but it's a classic and always fun.
After our return to civilization, we walked toward Pirates of the Caribbean, but Allan wouldn't ride on this one. He has a terrible fear of the waterfall that the boats go down (he doesn't much mind the similar waterfall in Maelstrom, go figure).
We continued around the horn to Frontierland, and Barb, Dad and I enjoyed Splash Mountain next. Mom kept the boys while we got VERY wet. We could have ridden again, the CMs invited us to stay in the boat for another run, but Dad preferred moving on.
Big Thunder Mountain was next on the agenda. This time, Grandma wanted to ride too, so Barb and I joined the queue and we did a baby swap so the Grandparents could avoid much of the line. We learned something new. The Fastpass entrance is being used for the baby swap now. We didn't do a lot of baby swapping, but I suppose that's the case at many attractions now.
After we'd finished our ride, Dad noticed that his hat was missing. I walked back into the exit and found a CM that described the hat for me. It turned out that she'd seen it just as the train was pulling out of the station. I waited for it to return, and got the hat without a problem. Dad was pleased (he'd been ready to just abandon the cap) and it only took a few minutes to retrieve it.
We walked through Frontierland and Liberty Square. We didn't really have a plan, but when we got to the Haunted Mansion, we decided to take a ride. Frankly, Allan was scared to death during most of the ride, but we stuck out our tongue at the spooks and that seemed to break the ice a bit. Allan just clung to me at the beginning of the ride, but was pretty much calmed down due, no doubt, to our rude treatment of the Mansion's inhabitants.
After that, we rode Peter Pan and It's a Small World (with virtually no lines, as it's been all day for us) before walking back to Liberty Square for lunch at Columbia Harbor House. We had a combination of fish and chips and chicken strips with fries between all of us. I think Columbia Harbor House is one of the best values for lunch in all of WDW. It's unpretentious, so it isn't given huge amounts of accolades (even in my own sections of MousePlanet), but it's a nice place to get a simple, inexpensive, decent meal.
As we left the park, we strolled the shops on the Emporium side of Main Street. Halfway down the street, we found the Dapper Dans singing on the corner, so we stopped to listen for awhile before continuing on.
Then, as we finished up our morning visit of the park, I made my way to the new Gallery shop just to the left of City Hall while the rest of the crew went over to the Expo hall to see what characters were about. I enjoyed my run through the shop. It's got some great, albeit upscale, items. I would love to spend some money on some of these collectibles some day. Unfortunately, that will have to wait until my ship comes in (and I don't see it anywhere near port as of yet). While I was breathing the rarefied air in the Gallery, Allan was enjoying the company of Goofy, Donald, and King Richard at the Hall. Again, we were shocked at how few people were around in the park. Allan almost had these three guys to himself for several minutes!
After we returned to Old Key West Resort, I ran over in the van to the front desk to pick up our Hoop Dee Do tickets for the following night. My annual pass got us a very nice discount on the dinner show. After that chore was completed, I returned to our room and we all settled in for a nice nap.
Tonight, we took the bus over to Epcot for our first run to that park this trip. We walked from the front gate back to World Showcase and the United Kingdom pavilion to catch dinner at Rose & Crown. Again, we were startled to see that we were seated almost immediately. The restaurant was half empty even at prime dinner time!
We got our menus and noticed that our favorite prime rib wasn't on the menu. Our server explained that the restaurant was undergoing renovations. We also found out that our meal would be served with plastic plates and utensils. We probably would have bailed in favor of an alternative restaurant had we known this up front, but since we were already seated, we decided to make the best of it.
The food was still ok, even though we didn't get the option of ordering our favorite Rose & Crown meal. Mom and I ordered a cottage pie (we didn't want the whole pie sampler... just the cottage pie, which is sold separately as a lunch entree). The server fixed us up because of our disappointment about the prime rib. Unfortunately, the price we were charged was $15.95, the price of the dinner pie sampler. It's much less pricey at lunch.
After dinner, we strolled the promenade. We spent some quality time in the Mitsukoshi shop in Japan. Mom even got a pearl and a pendant. We also enjoyed the demo of the motion clocks, which are now located in the far back of the store (last Spring they were way up front). We also strolled through the shops in Germany and enjoyed Maelstrom, in Norway, before settling in along the World Showcase Lagoon to enjoy IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth. Mom and Dad were duly impressed. The show is spectacular, and we all enjoyed it. I think the location directly in front of Norway may be the best place to see the show. There's a clear view of the globe as well as a water screen.
After the show, we made our way back to OKWR and bed.
This morning was spent at the Studios. As we entered the park, we found that our bags were checked much more carefully than at Epcot yesterday. I haven't mentioned that in the report yet, but that's something to point out. Each of the parks requires a cursory check of any bags that you bring in. In most cases, the check was perfunctory. In at least one case that I know of, our belongings were tossed around a bit too cavalierly (Barb was concerned that my digital camera may have been damaged, but it turned out to be fine), but for the most part the guards were courteous and careful.
For the record, there is strongly stepped-up security to enter all of the resorts, too. In addition to the usual car pass requirement, I was asked to show either my room key card or photo ID depending on the mood of the guard, at every resort we visited (including every time we returned to OKWR, too.)
Now, back to our regular story...
When we first got into the park, I made a beeline to the reservation center at the corner of Hollywood and Sunset. There, I made dinner reservations for the Fantasmic! Dinner Experience at the Hollywood Brown Derby restaurant for Thursday. I'm not sold on the Fantasmic! Dinner Experience idea, but it's something we haven't yet done so it's worth checking out. I'll report more on this on Thursday.
After that chore was taken care of, we walked down Sunset to catch the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. When we got to the Tower, we found almost no one there. The library had only ten people or so in it. We waited for quite awhile, probably close to ten minutes before the lightening shocked the TV into operation and our journey to the top of the building (and down and up and down and so on) began. During our wait, Barb and I were disturbed to witness a boy, maybe nine or ten years old, forced to come on the attraction by his mother. The kid was absolutely terrified, but she just insisted that he "grow up" and "shut up" and "deal with it." Barb said that that same kid was a basket case when she saw him in the exit room after the ride. That just steeled my determination to never force my boys to go on any attraction that they are afraid of. It just won't happen.
The ride was great, as always, and Dad and I ended up riding twice in a row. Barb stayed with Mom and the boys during our second run.
After our time at the Tower, I rode Rock 'n' Roller Coaster by myself. No one else had any interest, but I enjoyed my trip last Spring and really wanted to try again. Again, the crowds were very small, so I ended up walking from the pre-show room directly to the waiting limo. We were allowed to choose our own seats, so I took one in the very last row. Riding the coaster there was very intense. I could see the entire limo "super-stretched" in front of me as we zipped, rolled, and twisted through the Southern California freeway system. It was a great ride!
After that, we enjoyed the Great Movie Ride. Michael enjoyed it very much. He even held his hands over his own ears when he saw Allan doing it (Allan has always had very sensitive ears). Nothing scared him -- or Allan -- but they enjoyed the ride very much.
After that, we walked back down Mickey Avenue and saw Pooh, Mickey, Tigger. All three characters were out for everyone to meet. Pooh and Tigger, of course, came out of their Airstream trailers. Mickey was situated down toward the end of the Avenue outside the building where he is normally found when the crowds warrant a queue.
After meeting with the threesome, we walked all the way back to Sunset Boulevard to catch the next Beauty and the Beast show. We got there a bit early and were able to thoroughly enjoy Four for a Dollar as they warmed up the crowd a bit. The show itself was predictable. We've seen it many, many times. It's a bit sketchy. If you don't know the story from the animated film going in, you'll have problems following what's going on. In any case, the girl playing Belle was great. She had a strong voice and played the part very well.
After the show, we made our way toward Echo Lake. I wanted to consider 50's Prime Time Cafe for lunch, but my Dad has never been too enamored with the Cafe, so we stopped to check out the Hollywood & Vine lunch menu instead. So, for the first time ever in life, we had a meal at Hollywood & Vine. The restaurant is not spectacular in any way. Architecturally, it's rather bland. It's simply a cafeteria style restaurant with a simple cafeteria design. As far as the food is concerned, it's decent but not great. The selections might be more impressive at dinner, but for lunch it was rather limited. The thing that makes this a restaurant that I'll recommend, though, is that the character interaction is absolutely excellent! Minnie, Chip, Dale, Goofy, and Pluto were out and about constantly throughout the meal. They were great with the kids, and even interacted with the adults, too, as Grandpa found out when Minnie took his seat and proceeded to eat his lunch when he was away at the buffet one time too many.
After lunch, we returned to OKWR for our afternoon break. Today's was a long one with a swim and a nap.
After our rest, we drove over to Fort Wilderness at about 6:00pm. From there, we took a bus to the Settlement from the bus depot at the front entrance of the Campground. Our final destination, of course, was the Hoop Dee Do Musical Revue at Pioneer Hall.
Of course, we'd left OKWR to go to Fort Wilderness a good hour and a half prior to the show, but found that there wasn't much to do when we were that early. We'd hoped to let Allan take a pony ride at the campground petting farm, but they stop that service at 5:30pm, we found out. He was able to spend some time in the petting farm. Otherwise we just pretty much sat around and waited to be allowed into Pioneer Hall.
Finally, starting at about 6:30 or so, some cast members began the very organized check in process in front of Pioneer Hall. After checking for our tickets and confirming that all was in order, we were given our table assignment on a small piece of paper. We were also directed to go and have a group photograph taken. I thought it was a nice perk to provide us with a picture, since we were paying so much for the privilege, but later we found out that we would have to pay for them (over $20 for a photo and two magnet photos... of course, we passed on the purchase).
Eventually, at about 7:00pm or so, the first group began to exit the hall. After an additional wait (while the tables were bussed and the place cleaned up) we had a very orderly entry to the hall. The tables were all ready for us upon our entrance to the hall. Bread and water were available. Throughout the course of the show, some pretty decent food was given to us. For the main course, we were given fried chicken, ribs, beans, corn (not on the cob). Later, strawberry short cake was passed out as a most suitable dessert.
The show itself was EXCELLENT. It was very interactive. In fact, there was a lot of action right near and around us (we were at table #43, right in the center of the Hall about two rows back from the stage). Allan laughed himself silly at the antics, especially those of Six Pence, all night long. At one point, Grandpa had his hair braided by Claire de Loon (more funny if you realize he's very, if not quite, bald). There was a solo sung right next to us. The whole troupe danced in a circle around our table. The show was lots of fun overall, but due to the high price, I wouldn't do the Hoop Dee Do more than once every four or five years.
After the show was over, we rode the bus and the van back to OKWR.
It was a good day at WDW today. :)
Today, we started our morning at Animal Kingdom. We had a long wait for bus. We've found that if you catch them, you're ok. If not, you're in for a loooooong wait. Not surprising with the crowd levels down so much from normal.
When we arrived at the park, we walked back to Harambe and walked right on to Kilamanjaro Safari. The guide/drivers on this attraction are really good. They know an awful lot about the animals on the savannah.
After the safari, we took the train back to Rafiki's Planet Watch. It was the first time in a long time that we did this. They've done a good job of adding value to the long walkway between the train station and Conservation Station.
There are several things worth checking out in Conservation Station itself. There's a binaural sound demonstration with sounds from the rainforest. It's pretty cool -- but more for the sound technology than actually from listening to the sounds themselves... at least to me (but you must remember that I'm a noise and vibration engineering supervisor and not much of a naturalist).
The food prep area, where you're shown some of the food prepared for the animals kept in the park. The mealworms made me squeamish, but I suppose some animal of some sort loves them. The neonatal care area and the Affection Section (where kids can pet some of the smaller animals).
We got back on the train and rode back to Harambe. Then we walked back to Discovery Island and had a simple lunch at Pizzafari. The chicken salad is pretty good there, although Allan and Barb like the pizza.
After lunch, Allan made a pitch for one last attraction before heading back to the resort for our break. He was accommodated by a run on Kali River Rapids. The ride is a very short one, the story is terribly poor (and the ride itself is not worthy of the great job that was done on the queue). In any case, if the main goal of the ride is to provide a wet ride, it worked. Allan and I got totally soaked, while Barb and Grandpa were moistened, but much less so while Grandma stayed with a slumbering Michael. It was a fun way to end our morning at the park, although I still wish that more had been done with this ride.
After our mid-day break, we drove over to the Beach Club Resort. We had dinner at the Yacht Club Galley. It was a good meal, including the smoked prime rib I had which was dry, but ok. In any case, our dinner was just ok, not a great meal like we had on our October 2000 visit.
After dinner, we walked to Epcot. We made a beeline back to the American Adventure and enjoyed the show. After Misters Franklin and Clemens finished up their whirlwind review of United States history, we strolled through the Heritage Shop, the shops in France, and the shop in the International Gateway before returning to the van and Old Key West Resort.
This morning we visited the Magic Kingdom. Our first stop was to enjoy Buzz Lightyear. We saved the galaxy from the evil emperor Zurg twice without a wait either time. Next, we made our way across to ride the TTA, but found that it wouldn't open until 10:00am, so we continued on to Fantasyland. In quick succession, we enjoyed The Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Dumbo, and King Arthur's Carousel.
Then we made our way back to Tomorrowland. Allan wanted to ride on the Indy Speedway, so everyone jumped in line (except for me and Michael). While Barb and Allan loaded into their car, about a half hour later or so, I took their picture from the grandstand. It's a classic picture we try to take each year. Soon, Michael will be photographed on the Speedway, too.
After everyone finished their circuit of the Speedway, we walked over to Auntie Gravities in Tomorrowland for a cool snack. The mocha smoothies that Grandma and Grandpa shared and that I had were great! Barb had a root beer float that she shared with Michael and Allan had a vanilla cone. It was a refreshing break. As we finished up, a talking trashcan rolled our way and started quite the dialog with Allan. He was shocked that a garbage can would stop to talk to him. Eventually the garbage can rolled off to visit with some other guests, but Allan had his hit of the day.
Next, we enjoyed the TTC. It's always a nice ride around Tomorrowland, and one that everyone can enjoy together. We strolled back to Toontown Fair via the Tomorrowland pathway and enjoyed a walk through Mickey and Minnie's Houses. The line to visit the Big Cheese was pretty short, but it still took just about as much time (I assume that fewer Mickey's were on duty due to the lower crowd levels).
While Allan and I were in Minnie's house (it's just a walk-through, there isn't any character interaction going on), the rest of our crew stopped in at County Bounty to see if there was anything they wanted to buy. Barb saw some beach towels, one of the main things on her list, and the CM there told her that all of the beach towels in the parks were "reduced." She decided to wait and see the selection at the Emporium before buying any, though.
Allan did say that he wanted to ride Goofy's Barnstormer, but then changed his mind when he saw how fast it was. Another one of those attractions that he'll enjoy much more in a year or two as long as we don't push him too early now. All in good time...
Lunch was a simple one. Grandpa had a hankering for a hot dog, so we had them at Pinocchio's Village Haus. The works bar at Pinocchio's is great with onions, pickles, lettuce, tomato, and the usual condiments. It's also one of the most inexpensive meals you'll find at the Magic Kingdom.
After lunch, we stopped at the Emporium to look at the beach towels, but didn't end up getting any. Then we returned to OKWR for a swim and a nap before we continued our day. During the break, I made a phone call to the Disney Vacation Club. Mom and Dad leaving a day early because their travel plans changed after the airlines had such problems after the 11th. Member Services told me that we'd get the extra points back. There's really no reason for them to do so, the airline problems weren't caused by the DVC, but still, they're being very gracious in helping me out.
After our nap, we rode a bus over to the Studios for dinner and Fantasmic! This dinner at the Brown Derby was probably the second best meal I've had at the studios ever! (One meal we had at Mama Melrose's was spectacular, back in 1996 when we had the old Food 'n' Fun meal program that has since been discontinued in that "anything goes" format.)
For dinner, I had seared sesame tuna, mom and dad had pork loin, Barb and Allan had mac & cheese... we also ordered a Cobb salad for mom, dad, and I to share as an appetizer.
Part of the Fantasmic! Dinner Experience deal is that everyone (except kids under four years of age) have to order an entree, but Barb was permitted to order off the kid's menu (which she always does at the Brown Derby, as the fancy stuff just doesn't float her boat here). That leeway was just another example of Disney's good service that we've enjoyed so much in the past.
All in all, we enjoyed both excellent service and excellent food at the Brown Derby this time. Another thing that made the meal special, though, was the "streetmosphere" that we enjoyed during the meal. The Studios has quite a few streetmosphere characters out and about during the day. The Brown Derby is a restaurant where it's not uncommon to see a "movie star" or "agent" or some other such character. Tonight we enjoyed a few moments with Mr. Roman Holiday and his agent. Holliday, through his agent, asked about our "mulch" ( the Cobb salad). I told him that it was the Brown Derby's signature dish, the Cobb Salad. Holliday then called over a server to confirm that that was true. When his did so, Holliday gave him a $100! I asked why he tipped the server when I was the one that gave him the information in the first place, so he gave me "something much more valuable than $100... a picture of himself!" Then Barb asked if it was autographed, so Holliday made a big deal of having his agent turn around, and bend over so Roman could use his back to sign the picture, it was pretty funny -- and something else we'll remember about the Brown Derby for a long time.
After dinner, Mom, Dad, and I ordered desert. I had a chocolate macadamia ganashe, Mom had the Derby's celebrated grapefruit cake, Dad had the berry cobbler. All were excellent! This I know because I sampled all of them before the meal was done.
After dinner we strolled down Hollywood, stopping in at some stores to kill some time. We ended up at Sid Cahuenga's (I haven't strolled through there in years) and Dad and I did the circle tour of entertainment memorabilia. I can't believe some people pay so much for this kind of stuff! I did see something that I want to get... there are four pictures of Walt Disney on sale for $5.00 each. I'm going to buy all four, frame them, and hang them on the wall of my new den (we just moved a few weeks before the trip). The den will be my place to put all of my Disney books and stuff. I don't collect a lot, but what I have (including a way-cool Mickey day bed) will be kept in there.
After we did our strolling, we made our way over to Oscar's Service Station and walked back stage to the priority seating area of the Fantasmic! theatre. We had a wait of about thirty five minutes, which was just about right with a very restless Michael, and enjoyed the show along with the other spectators.
I've not been very high on the Fantasmic! Dining Experience, but I'm a convert. The seating isn't as poor as I thought it might be. The area set aside is far to the right, but the view is still very good. The best thing, though, is the simple fact that you don't have to wait in a milling mass of thousands just to get into the theatre. With a one-and-a-half year old, the half hour we did wait was plenty. An extra thirty minutes or more would have been a real pain in the neck.
The show was great, as always. I still think that the Disneyland version is significantly better -- the use of Columbia and the Mark Twain as integral parts of the show make it very special. Even more significant, though, is that the Florida version is much "darker" with a lot more evil and villains than at the original. Still, Mickey and good beat the bad guys in the end. The music, pyrotechnics, and water effects are great any day of the week!
This would be Mom and Dad's last day with us. They planned to leave after the afternoon break to start driving back to Michigan (they originally were going to fly back on Sunday morning).
We decided to spend the morning in Future World at Epcot. When we arrived, at the park, we endured the now usual cursory bag check as we walked up to the turnstiles. Then, at Allan's request, we rode Spaceship Earth and spent some time in the Global Neighborhood hands-on area. Actually, everyone but Michael and I did the Global Neighborhood. He and I returned to the area in front of Spaceship Earth to retrieve the stroller while the rest of the crew enjoyed the hands-on stuff.
From there, we strolled around the West side of Future World. Allan took Grandma and Grandpa into Ice Station Cool to check things out. Barb and I walked around to the exit (the stroller couldn't go inside through the front). While we were there, I suggested to my parents that they try the Italian Beverly with the usual results.
When we existed the ice station, we walked through the Kodak 2001 Gallery of award winning photography. We didn't take a long time, just a quick walk to see some of the pics.
From there we made our way over to the Living Seas. We saw the film and rode the hydrolators, but the cast members sure did waste a lot of time. I got the strong impression that they weren't supposed to start the first group through the attraction until a specified time and that they were doing whatever they needed to do (including holding up the crowd without letting us enter the pre-show are for a long period of time, a loooooong verbal introduction to the film, and so on). Bottom line, I felt like we were involved in a non-delayed opening delayed opening.
Still, we enjoyed the time in the pavilion. Barb and Allan just love this place, and we spent a good hour checking things out, watching the fish feeding, and so on.
From there, we walked over to the Land. Living with the Land is another one of our family favorites, but today the attraction was run by a bunch of folks that had no idea what they were doing. The cast member that was supposed to be pre-organizing guests to enter the boat was doing absolutely nothing. When the boats arrived (very few and far between, by the way, we were in line for a good half hour -- in a line that normally would have been gone within ten or fifteen minutes) the boat guides had to get folks lined up to enter the boats themselves. No one else working the attraction helped them in the least. I've never seen such poor loading procedures at any Disney attraction ever. Period. It was that bad.
Of course, the attraction itself was fun as always. It's fun to see the aquacells, the hydroponics, and other high-technology agriculture. When we got off the boat, though, we experienced another of the late opening attractions. Allan wanted to see the Circle of Life attraction, but of course the film wasn't running yet. I really, really hate paying full price for a park that isn't fully operational. It takes away from the good, enjoyable experience in the park... and I'm not even going to start on the delayed opening of World Showcase almost every day!
After we left the land, we walked to Mexico. I took a wrong turn at Albuquerque and ended up taking us to Mexico via the Rose Walk... which meant a rather lengthy detour. Good thing that Barb and the Grandparents enjoyed it.
Once we got to Mexico, I talked Allan into trying El Rio del Tiempo. He was afraid it might have a waterfall, but when I convinced him that it was waterfall-less, he got aboard the boat, albeit very warily. Once we got moving, though, he said "oh yeah, I remember this one... there's no waterfall here" and had a good time.
After the boat ride, we stopped to have lunch at San Angel Inn. The menu here is a lot more like Chi Chi's than it used to be. I had a chicken taco salad that was big on chicken (there was a ton of the stuff in the tortilla bowl) but rather simple otherwise. It wasn't bad, it just wasn't spectacular either. The atmosphere of this restaurant, though, is VERY spectacular. It's one of the most lovely eating places I've ever experienced.
After lunch, we let Allan play on the Norse boat at Norway while I had a rice cream and Barb had a chocolate chip cookie. Michael enjoyed playing on the teeter-totter with his big brother, too. We just took the time for a little break before going back to the resort for the big break, I guess.
On the way out of the park, we stopped to enjoy the Fountain of Nations for awhile. It had been dry and shut down on our earlier walks past, so it was fun to see it operating before Mom and Dad left WDW.
Then, of course, we returned to OKWR for a nap. We got up around 4:00pm, as Mom and Dad were planning to get moving by then. I helped them carry their stuff out to their car, got things packed up, then Dad and Mom got in, put the key in the ignition, and.... nothing.
The car had been sitting since they arrived on Sunday (we'd either taken buses or the van wherever we'd gone) and now the car wouldn't start. Dad had a set of jumper cables, but we couldn't jump it from the van, either. Either the battery (or some other part of the electrical system) was shot or perhaps there was a short in the system due to damage from the accident they'd had in Gainesville. We didn't know.
Not good news.
We went back inside, and Dad called AAA. Then he called the local Saturn dealership about service and found that we would not be able to bring the car in until tomorrow morning (or else drop car off tonight, but it wouldn't be looked at until the next morning in any case).
Apparently there is a AAA truck onsite, because it arrived in less than a half hour. We were called by the front gate of OKWR to confirm that the truck had been called in, and of course, we were glad it was there.
The AAA guy DID get the car started. He cleaned off the terminals on the Saturn and used a souped-up charging pack and it started right up.
Then the truck driver suggested that we try the Car Care Center rather than waiting for the Saturn folks. Dad and I drove over (I led in the van, in case we had to leave the car there, too) and we made quick time over to the center (it's located near the Magic Kingdom parking lot, if you ever need to use it).
The guys there did a great job. Within a few mintues they'd checked out the electrical system (battery, alternator, started) for $23. They found nothing wrong and agreed that the problem was probably just because the car had been sitting and perhaps the trunk light had been on (due to the accident on the way to Florida). In any case, the $23 was a small price to pay for the peace of mind that no major problems existed.
When we got back to OKWR, Mom and Dad reloaded the car (that we'd unloaded just in case) and drove off toward Southern Georgia. They left just about an hour and a half later than they'd planned, but got back to Michigan safe and sound a couple of days later without further problems.
With all of that excitement done, Barb and I packed up the boys and headed over to Downtown Disney for a short evening. We made a bee line to Wolfgang Puck Express for dinner. I had my usual tomato basil linguini while Barb and the boys shared a pepperoni pizza. We also got some fresh fruit that we all shared and a brownie (that we didn't end up finishing until our return to Michigan, but Barb reports that it was still excellent even a full week later!)
After dinner we did some shopping around the Marketplace. We went into Disney at Home and looked at throw pillows and drawer pulls that I considered buying for my Disney-themed den. I didn't find anything I couldn't live without, though, and even though we made a follow-up visit later in the trip, I never did buy anything here for the den. I did get the Sherman Brothers book entitled "Walt's Time" from Art of Disney along with a handful of other items as Barb perused the Garden shop nestled in between the Pooh and Disney at Home shops.
After that, we went to Ghiradelli's and ordered a sundae (for me and Allan to share, although Michael shared our whipped cream) and an ice cream cone (served laying in a dish, if you can believe that) for Barb.
After our dessert, we walked over to World of Disney where Barb got some things she wanted and (along with Allan's help) I selected a big Woody (from Toy Story) for Allan and a Pluto plush for Michael. When we finished our shopping, there was a tremendous downpour. We waited a few minutes to see if it would abate, but when it didn't, we braved the slicing rain and drove back to the resort.
Today was moving day. Mom and Dad had left the night before, but they left after check-out time, so we had the extra bedroom, living room, and kitchen (and most importantly, the laundry room) available to us until late morning today. We took advantage of that by finishing up some laundry before we checked out of the two-bedroom. Fortunately, we'd been assured when we checked in last Sunday that we'd be able to stay in our lock-off studio, so while Barb did that thankless task, I gathered up all of the belongings we had scattered about the living room and kitchen (food in the fridge, snacks, the boys toys, etc.) and moved it into the quickly shrinking studio. When all was done, Allan and I went over to the pool for a quick swim (it had been promised the night before) while Barb finished the last of the laundry chores.
Something that Allan has started with me, it happened a couple of days ago and again this morning, is this job of searching the pool for "pirate treasure" and then recovering it. Of course, there's nothing really there... this is all in the active imagination of a four-year-old boy. Still, looking for and gathering up pirate treasure took up a significant part of our pool time this morning. We wouldn't want to leave any of that gold, silver, and jewelry laying around on the bottom of the pool, now would we? I think not.
Finally, we loaded into the van and drove over to Hospitality House to check out of the two-bedroom vacation home and into the studio in one seamless (and rather painless) transaction. While I took the boys over to do that chore, Barb took care of a World of Disney delivery over at the general store.
Finally, we drove out to the Belz Outlet Mall for a brief stop at the Character Warehouse and Character Premiere shops, the Disney outlet shops that are located in that mall at the Northern end of International Drive. On the way back, we stopped for lunch at a Sizzler then drove back to WDW on International Drive and SR-536, it took awhile, but reinforced our reasons for enjoying accommodations onsite at WDW rather than at the various tourist strips in Orange and Osceola Counties.
When we got back to the resort, we took another swim, this time in the OKWR main pool. Unfortunately, we were forced to shorten our bathing when a severe thunder and lightning storm moved in. We left the pool for the relative safety of the studio and finished the afternoon with a nap.
After that, we made our way over to the Magic Kingdom via the Contemporary (where we parked the van). This was a Saturday and the only day during our trip that Spectromagic would be running, so we wanted to enjoy it when we could. The park was a lot busier than we ever saw at any other time during our trip. Apparently the parade's limited run was drawing a large number of people that otherwise would have been scattered at the other parks at WDW and the Orlando area.
When we first arrived, we enjoyed a ride on the Jungle Cruise, this time with a much better skipper than we had last time. I wanted to ride Pirates next, but again Allan vetoed the idea (that waterfall again). A ride through the Haunted Mansion rounded out our evening's list of attractions.
We walked from the Mansion toward Frontierland and finally settled in for a long wait for Spectromagic at a spot directly across from the Liberty Tree Tavern. It was a nice spot to watch the parade, although Michael was a bit restless until the parade turned the corner and came our way. From that point on he (and Allan) was mesmerized.
After the parade, we walked to hub to see Fantasy in the Sky. Everyone else seemed to have the same idea, though, so the pedestrian traffic congestion got pretty heavy. Again, Michael was a bit impatient with the wait, but thoroughly enjoyed the fireworks. So did I, I must say. The show has improved significantly over the years. It's not as awe-inspiring as Believe! at Disneyland, but a lot of the Believe! effects have been added to the Fantasy repertoire.
After the fireworks, we walked back to Contemporary. We made a bee line to the Food and Fun Center for a snack. Barb and I shared a bacon cheeseburger and Michael shared our fries (which were very bad, but Michael will eat just about anything). Allan had a cookie (not very healthy, I know, but it was just a snack after all, right?).
After our snack, we walked into the game room and spent a little time there. Allan had a ball trying out a fireman and a skateboarding game as well as skeeball, a basketball shooting game, and a few others. Altogether we dropped $4.00 in maybe twenty minutes and earning 39 tickets in the process. While standing in line to redeem them, though, Barb was given 281 more by another guest. We spent them on a super ball, a flying helicopter, a spring ring, and two rubber lizards... a very good haul, don't you agree?
We drove back to OKWR for the night and crashed.
Today was an unusual Sunday for us at WDW. We didn't go to Sunday School and church at Bible Baptist because we'd originally planned to have to take Mom and Dad to the airport this morning. Bottom line, we didn't have dress clothes packed for the more formal service, but we did plan to visit Bible Baptist in the evening.
In the morning then, we took the bus over to the Studios. There were very long lines to get into the park today, so the bag checks were even more cursory than they had been. Another thing that was adding to the crowds were the large numbers of characters that were scattered around outside the park (in the plaza) greeting and meeting guests.
We intended to head straight back to the backstage tour and the backlot tour first thing this morning. We were side-tracked, though, when we saw that the new 100th Anniversary attraction, One Man's Dream, was holding a soft opening just as we walked by! No strollers were allowed, unfortunately, so we had to lug Michael throughout the attraction. Even worse, no photos allowed, so I don't have a record of the many wonderful things that are on display in this walk through exhibit.
First part was a history from Walt's birth through about 1955 or so. In this part of the attraction, most of the displays were decorated in black and white. Included in this first part were displays of old licensed toys, a model of Disneyland's Main Street USA (along with a turn-of-the-century photo of Marceline, Missouri for comparison purposes), a scale model of a set from the film So Dear to My Heart, a demonstration of the multi-plane camera (the old Wonderful World of Disney clip narrated by Walt himself), an animator's desk, and more. My personal favorite, though, was the actual dancing man model of Buddy Epson doing a simple jig dance. It was one of the earliest animatronic models ever. The audio playing in the background included several folks telling various stories about Walt's life. One that comes to mind now is Herb Ryman's description of how Walt talked him into making the classic illustration of Disneyland that Roy took to New York City and used to line up financing for the park project.
The second part of the walk-through was separated from the first by a set of doors. This part covered the era from from 1955 or so on to today. Here the use of in color is much more prevalent. Barb noticed that the CM's costumes were very colorful here. In the earlier portion they were black and white. A nice touch. (Later Barb noticed that the vests were reversible, so each CM had both the black and white and the colored version.
This section included displays of the castles (Sleeping Beauty's, Cinderella's, and Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant in Paris), the Peter Pan "fly through" attraction, Disneyland's Adventureland, the Tower of Terror, Miss Tilly (the shrimp boat high and dry atop of the mountain peak at Typhoon Lagoon), a representative animatronic human figure and bird, a portion of Tokyo's Disney Seas, Walt's working office, some movie paraphernalia from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Zorro, and Mary Poppins, and finally a display on the original EPCOT concept.
After absorbing all of this, all of the guests are ushered into the Walt Disney Theater (used in the past for the finale of the Animation Tour). There we were shown a FANTASTIC film biography of Walt Disney hosted by Michael Eisner. Most of the narration was from recordings of Walt himself.
Of course, One Man's Dream ends in a shop. This one has lots of Walt Disney paraphernalia. Among my favorites were some Steamboat Willie and 1928 Mickey plushes. I didn't buy anything, but I was sorely tempted (someday I WILL buy that desktop-sized bronze of "Partners" but at $295, it will have to wait.
Overall, I think this new attraction is a hit, but I'm a Disneyphile. Some Joe Blow off the street will likely find some of this stuff interesting, but they won't probably find this a repeater attraction like I did. It's a fine, if short, museum-like set-up. I enjoyed it very much.
After that pleasant surprise, we all walked around the corner to catch Voyage of the Little Mermaid. Allan enjoys this one, and our Ariel was much better than the girl we saw last Spring. Next we finally did walk back to see the Backlot Tour. Now the tour is mostly oriented towards Pearl Harbor now, the demo hasn't changed much, but it makes the point. Unfortunately, we couldn't understand the water tank cast member at ALL. She just had a very strong accent and a poor speaking voice. She was badly miscast.
After the Backlot Tour, we enjoyed a great lunch at Mama Melrose's. I still think they need to lighten up a bit on the menu. Mama Melrose's used to have a bottomless pasta bowl, some simple (but great) pizzas, and so on. Now the restaurant is trying too hard to be a movie-themed Wolfgang Puck's. It's too bad, there are lots of places like Puck's around, but Mama Melrose's used to be very fun and special, even if it was much less pretentious. In any case, we did enjoy our lunch very much. The pasta dish I had was flavorful and Barb and the boys enjoyed their pizza. More important, the service was really good, and the desserts were excellent!
After lunch, we went back to the resort for a nap. Then we got up and made our run out to Bible Baptist in Kissimmee for the evening service there. While we were out, we made a much-needed Walmart run, then drove on to the Beach Club for a snack at Beaches & Cream. I had a burger and Barb had some chicken noodle soup. We all shared a side of onion rings. Then it was strawberry shortcake for Barb and Michael and a mud slide for Allan and I.
Not a bad way to end a day.
Today we started off at Animal Kingdom, but for some reason we were just moving slower than usual and got a later start than normal. Instead of arriving at the park near 8:00am or so, it was more than an hour after that before we walked through the turnstiles.
Clearly, the crowds were already larger than they were last week. Perhaps some folks that were planning to visit last week (or the week before) simply delayed their vacation to this -- or later -- weeks. Still, the crowd levels today (and for the rest of the trip) were lower than usual for late September, they just weren't as extremely low as they were last week.
When we first got into the park, we really only had three goals which we bumped off in quick succession. First, we wanted to see It's Tough to be a Bug. The walk back into the theater from the attraction entrance is a very long one, but with the spectacular views of the gardens and the animal sculptures engraved in the tree of life, it's a pleasant one. We got to the theater and had only a short wait before we were admitted in to the theater. The show was fun, as always. Allan isn't afraid of the "steam" (the billowing theatrical smoke that is used to great effect during the presentation) like he used to be. Michael didn't get much of any of it, so he just enjoyed the sights and sounds blissfully unaware that we were being attacked by giant spiders and stinging insects.
After we Finished up with Flik, we walked over to Dinoland so Allan could spend some time in the Boneyard digging for fossils and climbing the rocks and sliding the slides and stuff. While Barb took Allan in for that, Michael and I went over to Chester and Hester's Dinosaur Treasures to see what wonderful items would be for sale there. I suppose that elementary-aged kids that think dinosaur's are the greatest thing in the world would find many interesting things in the establishment. Michael, of course, thought that there was a lot of things worth grabbing (literally). As for me, I mostly enjoyed the air-conditioning.
Michael and I strolled back to the Boneyard and waited on a nice shaded bench for Barb and Allan to reappear. When they did, we all walked back to the Theater in the Wild to wait for the next show of Tarzan Rocks. It took awhile before we were allowed into the theater itself, but when we did, we got settled and I walked over to buy some frozen lemonades for Barb, Allan, and I. At $3.00 each, these are tasty, refreshing snacks that perfectly fit the bill for us as we waited for the show to begin.
We sat in seats right along the middle left to right aisle (midway down from the top of the theatre). It turned out to be a fun location because some of the skaters rolled right by us (and gave high-fives to Allan) once the show began. Tarzan Rocks is a fun show, it's a mixture of music, acrobatics, and rollerblading. It's worth seeing, but it's not as great a show as Festival of the Lion King (which we seen so many times we just decided to skip it this time... but Festival remains the better show, I think).
After Tarzan Rocked, we walked all the way back to Harambe to ride Kilamanjaro Safaris at Allan's request. It was about a fifteen to twenty minute wait, which Michael mostly slept through. Our driver was great on this run! He provided good information on the animals, and was really, really, really into the poacher story (more so than I've ever experienced in the past). I mean, this guy REALLY wanted to get some poacher's. I wonder if anyone told him that Big Red and Little Red were ALWAYS ok in the end? Maybe not...
After the Safari, we had a simple lunch at Tusker House. It wasn't great, but it wasn't bad either. Tusker House has never impressed me, but neither have we had a real bad experience there. It remains lackluster, in my book.
After lunch, we rode a bus back to OKWR for a rest, then went over to Downtown Disney to do a few chores. We needed to stop at World of Disney to replace some damaged items that had been delivered to us at Old Key West Resort. The exchange was painless, but it was irritating to even have to do it. The cast member that we had worked with when we bought those things should have done a better job of wrapping things for delivery. Instead, she just tossed them into a plastic bag.
On a happier note, we also picked out a remote-controlled Safari truck for Allan. When we had bought him his new hugh Woody, he gave his old one (formerly known as "big Woody") to Michael. He was so sweet about it that we wanted to reward his attitude, and got him the additional new toy. We also made a run to the Garden Center, Disney at Home, and the Gourmet Pantry.
After that, we drove over to the Contemporary. We had plans to meet up with friends of ours from Michigan for dinner. John and Brenda and their four kids, plus Barb and I and our two kids made for a large group. Chef Mickey's was the restaurant of choice. We figured that the combination of the characters and a great buffet would make for a great experience.
On the way into the resort (as the security guard gave me directions to the valet parking) I made a smart comment about the no-longer-free valet service. To my surprise, the security guard completely agreed with me. He asked me to complain about the reduced service as it would be the only way that WDW's management would address things.
After we parked, a bit early for our dinner seating time, we strolled the grounds of the resort. The boys played at the playground (near the North Garden Wing) for a bit, we strolled the shops, then we went back to waited for our friends John and Brenda Schulz and their family. They were a tad bit later than we'd expected, but still way earlier than our priority seating time, so all was well.
I had a bad experience with a couple of cast members as I checked us in for dinner. (This is getting to be a broken record, isn't it? -- perhaps a lot of CMs are demoralized about the cutbacks or something, but I've never experienced as many "incidents" as I did on this trip.) It really detracted from the experience, too.
Chef Mickey's is still the best character interaction restaurant IMHO in all of WDW. It's too bad for me, personally, that I'll forever think of this whole episode when I come to Chef Mickey's. On the bright side, our server -- Tom -- did a great job at a very busy table (with six!!! kids, the kids had a great time with the characters, and we stuffed ourselves at the buffet.
After dinner, The Schulz and Bennett families went our separate ways. We drove back to Old Key West Resort and settled in for a night of blissful sleep.
Something I've not yet gotten around to mentioning is a little saying Allan picked up during our drive down here a few days ago. He's carried it through the entire trip so far, and never fails to cause a smile. At one point, when Allan and Michael were sleeping next to each other (Michael's crib was right next to Allan's bed), Allan pinched Michael. It was playful, and didn't really cause any hurt, but Barb saw him do it and sternly told him, "boys, no pinching over there." Well, now a nightly ritual is for Allan to tell Barb and I, "Mom and Dad, no pinching over there."
Bummer... kinda takes the fun out of bed time, don't ya think? ;)
This morning we decided to visit the Studios. We got out of our room a bit later than normal (that's happened several times this trip... probably because I'm staying up way late to read a book I'm engrossed in) and caught the first Studios bus to run by our bus stop. We didn't get to the park until after 9:00am, though. The crowds early in the morning were, again, much greater than the previous week. Perhaps the tourism industry in Central Florida, although still in the doldrums, is out of the near-depression it was in last week.
Allan had been asking for a camera for several days (he had the chance to use a Kodak disposable back in the Spring), but it just hadn't been convenient to get him one. We figured if we didn't get him one today it wouldn't be worth getting him one at all. However, I'd promised to get him one earlier in the trip so it was now or break a promise to my boy. So... the first thing we did, after having our bags inspected and getting through the turnstiles, was to buy Allan a disposable camera at Crossroads of the World right at the front of the park. For the rest of today and tomorrow we had periodic stops so Allan could take pictures at various locations around WDW. We'll have to get the pictures developed to remember exactly what he shot, I just don't remember off-hand.
After buying the camera, we started strolling down Hollywood and noticed that the "hat," the Mickey's sorcerer hat that was constructed right in front of the Chinese Theater for the 100th Anniversary (and which, in my opinion, is out of theme and ugly) was open for the first time. Every other time we'd been to the studios the construction barricades were still around the structure (frankly, it might have looked a bit better that way), but now they were gone.
I took a couple of pictures of the "hat," then we walked up to check it out in more detail. The hat is constructed on a raised brick patio and is raised above the surface by supports. You can walk clear underneath the hat itself, if you have the urge to walk under a 100 foot tall hat. Inside the hat are two things worth noting. First, there are some interactive information kiosks titled "Discover the Stories Behind the Magic" which are fun for a few minutes of browsing. The other thing is that the hat houses a small shop with 100th Anniversary trinkets.
One interesting thing that happened while we were checking things out goes back a couple of days. Back on Sunday, Barb had noticed, when we walked through One Man's Dream, that the cast member's vests were black and white for the first part of the attraction, but that the cast members in the second portion were wearing colored vests. Today she noticed (the cast members at the Hat and at Dream are wearing the same costumes) that the cast members vests were actually reversible, so each CM had both the black and white and the colored version.
I did talk with one of the CMs for a minute about the Hat. Apparently the Disney jury is still out as to whether or not the Hat will permanently become the park's icon -- replacing the Chinese Theater facade of the Great Movie Ride. I certainly hope not! The hat is worth seeing, briefly, but I certainly hope it's history after the celebration is over -- like the awful "cakesickle" that covered Cinderella's Castle for WDW's 25th! Like I said before... the Hat is out of theme and ugly. May it go away suddenly in 15 months.
After our little investigation, we did several things that Allan wanted to do. First, we enjoyed Muppetvision 3-D. Then, as I went to retrieve the stroller we'd left behind in Muppet Plaza, Allan played on the firetruck that is parked just outside the Muppet Character Shop (across from Mama Melrose's). It's a traditional thing for him... he just loves the truck (and he loves the old Chevrolet truck over at the Beach Club, too, just for the record).
Next, we went over to Al's Toy Barn to see Woody and Buzz. These two characters are definitely on Allan's top three list. After that, we went over to the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids Playset. This playground area has been around for a long time now, but it's well-maintained and the kids love it. The only problem I have with it is that it's hard to keep track of where your kids are once they disappear into one of the holes scattered about. Even so, it's a nice place for the kids to release some extra energy and well-worth the stop.
After that, we planned to go see the Backstage Tour, but the Backstage Tour is run on an actual schedule (it's not a continuous loader) and it was too long of a wait before the next run (which wouldn't have been until after our planned lunch time).
So... we walked down Mickey Avenue and saw that One Man's Dream was open for a soft opening again. I really wanted to go again and see what I'd missed from the last time, so I went to do that while Barb went, with both boys, to see Playhouse Disney which, we were told, was also having a soft opening.
I enjoyed the walk through again very much. There were several things that I'd made a point to see that I'd missed last time (I already updated the list that I put in earlier in the trip report, so I won't mention everything again here). When we talked with the cast member under the hat earlier this morning she told me that the dancing man was here (I'd missed it last time). Also, I wanted to check to see if the office that was here was Walt's formal one or the working one (turned out to be the working office). In addition, I wanted to take a few moments to take a better look at the various models on exhibit. Finally, I was itching to see the biography film again.
As I strolled through the attraction, I had more purpose this time around. There were some things that I'd concentrated on in some detail back on Sunday. Today, I wanted to spend some quality time on some of the other things. As it turned out, I was the first person to arrive at the doors that separate the two zones of the exhibit. They opened automatically, so they must be a device that is merely intended to stagger the groups of people moving through. This has the effect of keeping three distinct groups in the attraction... the group looking at the first part of the expo, the group in the second part, and the group watching the film.
Anyway, while I was doing all of those things, Barb had taken the boys over to the animation courtyard to see if Playhouse Disney was really running. Turns out it was, in fact, going to have it's very first soft run in just a few minutes. After a brief wait, Barb and the boys went in to see a 20-minute show that replaced the Bear In the Big Blue House show (but which still includes the Bear). Other characters are included from "Bear in the Big Blue House," "The Book of Pooh," "Rolie Polie Olie" and "Stanley" -- all shows that are part of the Disney Channel afternoon lineup.
Barb thought it was better than the Bear In the Big Blue House show that had run in soundstage 5 for a couple of years just because there was a bit more variety.
Before the show began, the show producer announced that this was a soft opening and that interruptions, false starts, and other problems may occur as the grew works the "bugs" out. The only problem that Barb noticed was that sightlines in the front of the room are pretty poor -- something that the she shared with the show producer (who had solicited suggestions at the beginning of the show) afterwards.
After enjoying our two soft openings, we decided to head over to 50's Prime Time Cafe for lunch. As usual for this trip, the lack of crowds was working to our advantage. We walked into the restaurant and were seated almost immediately. Barb ordered some chicken soup and (her usual) the pot roast dinner. I had a tuna melt which was really a grilled tuna steak with some great horseradish sauce (think Arby's horsey sauce and you'll have the right idea) and some sides. The boys shared our entrees. After that, I ordered a s'more which was made open-faced with two graham crackers, two full sized Hershey bars, sixteen marshmallows. It was fun, but a bit undercooked (not all of the marshmallows were browned). All in all, we had a decent meal with good food but our server provided very little themeing (which was probably a good thing with two very young boys).
On the way out of the park, I stopped in to Guest Relations to make a formal complaint about the Hat. I figure I'll do my part... hopefully others will too, so the Hat will bid us adios come the end of 2002.
I have no notes regarding what we did during our break today, so I assume it was simply a nap and some reading time. After that, we went over to Epcot for a brief evening. We heard, when we first entered the park, that Tapestry of Dreams would be having a soft opening tonight, too. We decided to sit for it on a bench on the promenade in between the Morocco and Japan pavilions. For a new minutes, I abandoned the family and went back to do some shopping in Morocco then rejoined them in plenty of time for the parade.
Tapestry of Dreams is very similar to Tapestry of Nations that ran during the Millennium Celebration (and afterwards) in Epcot. Some of the older Tapestry music is still used, along with the non-lyric lyrics, but some new dialog is spoken and another melody is weaved (no pun intended) in occasionally. Some of the old Tapestry drum floats are used, but there's only a couple or three of them. They're widely spaced out. The Sage of Time has been eliminated in favor of a strange storyline based on a sort of "if you can dream it, you can do it" concept. It's kind of difficult to follow, I didn't catch it all in the one viewing we had. In any case, though the parade is a fun one for the kids. It's been softened a bit with more colors and fabrics on the floats versus Tapestry of Nations. It makes the parade more kid-oriented, but still has enough of the Tapestry of Nations flavor to keep fans of the old parade happy. More important, it probably saved Disney a pretty penny on production costs since most things were thinly-veiled makeovers at very low cost.
After the parade, we went back to France for a very light dinner / snack at Patisserie. I got a fruit and cheese plate, some huge cookies, and a napoleon which we all shared around one of the small outdoor tables in the back street directly adjacent to the pastry shop.
After that we called it a night because Barb wasn't feeling very well. We returned to OKWR, then I drove off to Walgreens to get some medicine for Barb. She's started doing much better after she took it.
Tomorrow's our last day on site.
Last day in the parks, so of course we decided to spend our last morning in the Magic Kingdom.
The first thing we did today was spend some time in Adventureland. We enjoyed the Flying Carpet Ride and the Jungle Cruise in quick succession. Our boat skipper was very strange. He seemed to be trying the delivery style of "Carrot Top" the entertainer in Vegas, but without the "being funny" part. Too bad for him...
When we returned to the dock, Allan asked if he could drive the remote controlled boats, so I dropped yet other dollar into the token machine so he could do that. I made the mistake of saying "yes" once, so until I get some backbone I guess I'll be dropping that buck every once in a while.
We planned to ride Pirates of the Caribbean next. Allan had decided that he was willing to do it, waterfall or not, but when we got there we found out that Pirates wouldn't be open until 10:00am. There was no notice of this late opening in the guidemap or at the info board, but a cast member at Pirates assured me that the ride was NOT down for technical difficulties. It just wasn't open yet.
So, we left Adventureland and walked all the way over to Tomorrowland where we rode Buzz Lightyear twice. Both times it was a complete walk-on. I had problems with my gun both times (I know it wasn't just me, because I've never had problems on Buzz before) but I wasn't able to let the cast member at the exit know about the problem as he was helping another guest the first time and wasn't around the second time.
After that, we rode the Tomorrowland Transportation Authority, then went over to Fantasyland and enjoyed Pooh, Peter Pan, the Carousel (actually, only Barb and Allan rode the carousel as Michael and I strolled Fantasyland shops), Legend of the Lion King (Allan and I, as Barb "freshened" Michael's aroma).
Then we walked out to the hub and over to the Plaza Restaurant for lunch. Again, we were struck by how few people were around. In a dining room that usually bustles with people near noon, there were only four or five parties seated. The rest of the place sat empty! Even so, service was slow. I had a Rueben sandwich which was excellent. Barb and the boys shared a couple of grilled cheese sandwiches off of the kids menu.
After lunch, Barb took the boys shopping on Main Street while I went directly to City Hall to lodge a formal complaint about Monday night's incident at Chef Mickey's and also about the late opening of attractions. The late opening of Pirates really frosted me because it turned out to be the only opportunity I had to ride with my whole family (I could always have ridden alone or done the baby swap so Allan didn't have to ride, of course) but it didn't work out. The bottom line is that I paid a certain amount of money for park access. I understand that the parks need to shut down attractions, on occasion, for maintenance purposes... but late openings just cheat me out of what I paid for in my opinion.
After I got that off my chest, we went back to the resort for a quick swim (just Allan and I this time) and a nap (for all of us) before heading out for our last evening on property.
Tonight we'd planned to stroll around the Swan and Dolphin resorts. We drove over in the van, but we were not permitted to park as the resorts had some conference going on. So, we switched gears and drove over to the Polynesian instead. Dinner at 'Ohanna just sounded good at that point.
Unfortunately, I had yet ANOTHER negative experience with a cast member... this time the security guard at the Polynesian. At first, he steadfastly refused me access to the resort! He said that his general manager (the one in charge of the Polynesian) doesn't want people there unless they are Polynesian Resort guests. When I held my ground and insisted that an Old Key West Resort guest was supposed to be given access to the resort, he gave me a short term parking pass and acted like he was doing me a favor in providing it!
Fortunately the dinner that we enjoyed at ‘Ohana was served with more style than Richard showed. After we finished our feast ('Ohana provides a great meal with all-you-can-eat grilled flank steak, turkey, shrimp, and pork), we strolled around the resort for awhile. Barb picked up some things at Trader Jack's shop, then we rode the monorail around the circuit just for fun and just because Allan wanted to. After that, we returned to Polynesian (having never gotten off the monorail anywhere else), walked to the van and returned to the resort.
After I returned to Old Key West Resort, I called the front desk to confirm that I was still supposed to have access to the other WDW resorts. I got a call back from Old Key West Resort’s desk manager, and was assured that I was supposed to be given access and that the problem with Richard would be dealt with. The manager later called be back to tell me that the Polynesian had been contacted and that "every effort was being made to make sure that this kind of thing doesn't happen to our guests in the future."
Today we departure day. We left our room at the resort at about 8:00am, a little behind our self-imposed schedule. We had to stop over at Hospitality House on the way out to check out and pay off the phone bill. I found that the reservation was supposed to go through to Friday the 28th, apparently the timing was messed up when I changed the reservation when Mom and Dad had to leave early. (Note: The Disney Vacation Club folks were very helpful on the whole matter. Normally when points are "spent," you can't get them back... but due to the events of September 11th, the DVC has been a bit liberal on that policy. As I write this note, on October 5th, member services has already credited the points back to me.)
Otherwise, all we really did today was drive. We Stopped for lunch at a Pizza Hut and had dinner at Wendy's. We stopped for the night at a pretty nice Comfort Inn in Clinton, TN. Allan was pleased that I didn't haul the family around to seven or eight hotels before finding an acceptable room and rate.
Today we got an even later start. We didn't get on the road until pretty close to 9:00am, after having a light continental breakfast at the Comfort Inn. We stopped for lunch at a Taco Bell, but then just drove on home from there. Unfortunately, there were lots of detours due to heavy weekend traffic and two local homecoming parades (in Chesaning and St. Charles) before we finally got home.
We took some time unpacking the van, ordered some pizza for a later dinner, and just spent the evening relaxing. The next day (Saturday) was spent catching back up on laundry and mail and stuff, then it was back to our usual routine on Sunday morning and into the week.
I've never had a trip to WDW with so many examples of poor service -- either by policy (like the elimination of free valet parking for resort guests and the late opening of attractions) or by cast members just not performing well. I didn't even include the worst of the details of the cast member situations in the report. As I said earlier in the report, perhaps some cast members are demoralized about the cutbacks or something, but I've never experienced as many "incidents" as I did on this trip. It really detracted from the vacation. I just did NOT receive the service I'm used to getting when I visit Walt Disney World. I've already sent a formal letter of complaint to Walt Disney World. I'm not going to go into any more details here. I don't think airing the specifics of the problems on MousePlanet is appropriate so I'll let it go at that.
But to say that the trip was a bust would be a misnomer. Allan and Michael certainly had a great time, and for a family vacation, we had fun being together.
I've compiled this list of what we liked, disliked, and learned -- or in some cases, learned again.
The very best part of the trip, though, was just being able to spend time as a family. We enjoyed being with my Mom and Dad at the beginning of the trip... but being with our two boys (by the way, Michael's adoption was finalized just before the trip, I don't remember if I'd mentioned that yet) and me being with my best friend (Barb) is always something to cherish.
I was going to give a play-by-play list of a series of the negative experiences we had on this trip but as I already stated, I've sent a letter of complaint to WDW, so perhaps the resort management can act on my criticisms. Since this was a personal vacation, I'd rather keep my personal concerns private rather than publish all of the dirty laundry here on MousePlanet.
Lessons Learned --
After lunch, we drove back to OKWR and parked near one of the quiet pools. Barb and the boys got into their suits for an afternoon dip. I didn't because I figured it would be just a matter of minutes and I'd be able to get our stuff into the room. I was pretty wrong on that one. It wasn't until after 3:00pm that we got moved in (a good two-hour wait) and that was after I asked the front desk to move me into something "close" to what I'd asked for. I had to drive back to Hospitality House to get a new set of keys and so on, too. Frankly, I'm not upset or disappointed. We got our room sooner than the usual 4:00pm check-in time... it's just that I was hoping to get in even sooner since the resort was obviously less busy than usual. My mistake. I knew better. :)
Fire Pit Story
We didn't really enjoy the fire pit story time at Animal Kingdom Lodge all that much. It was a difficult story to follow and the moral wasn't very clear. We really don't need to do it again. It just wasn't that great a time.
Hoop Dee Do Musical Revue
This was our first experience with the venerable dinner show. We learned several things. First, we were able to pick up our tickets at the front desk in advance of the day of the show. I did that during our afternoon break, so there wasn't a big crowd at the resort's front desk. It made for a quick transaction. Also, my annual pass got us a very nice discount on the dinner show.
We drove over to Fort Wilderness a good hour and a half prior to the show, but found that there wasn't much to do when we were that early. We'd hoped to let Allan take a pony ride at the campground petting farm, but they stop that service at 5:30pm, we found out. He was able to spend some time in the petting farm. Otherwise we just pretty much sat around and waited to be allowed into Pioneer Hall.
The event itself was great, but I won't repeat the description of the meal or the show here.
At the conclusion of every other trip I've every taken to Walt Disney World, I've left with a strong desire to return and saddened that the vacation was over. This time I was actually anxious to get out of Dodge.
Our next trip to WDW won't happen now until December of 2002. That's the trip that my Mom and Dad are springing for... as a family reunion vacation. Barb and I were personally planning to return before that, in the Spring of 2002, but frankly I was so disappointed with the experience this trip that we're taking some time off. Perhaps a "time out" will help me enjoy WDW better in fifteen months.
So, I'm investigating a Western road trip, a New England road trip, and a Williamsburg, Virginia road trip in the Spring or early Summer with the boys and a flying trip to Vegas for just Barb and I -- perhaps around our anniversary time in the Fall.
I'll just be saving up those DVC points for a rainy day. We might go on a Disney Cruise (with or without a WDW side trip, depending on how things go in December of 2002) in 2003 or we might just trade out of the DVC and enjoy a different kind of trip.
Walt Disney World needs to provide the best service in the world and provide high value for the prices they charge. right now, WDW is not at the top of it's game. Hopefully that will be turned around by the time I personally pass through the park turnstiles again.
Here's a table showing all of our receipts from the trip. Our planned budget for the trip was $1800, excluding the annual passes that we'd paid for earlier and the value of the Disney Vacation Club points that we're using for our accommodations at OKWR. We beat our budget by over $100... not bad for a trip of this length.