David Casali -- September 2002 -- Walt Disney World (PR)
I've been a Disney-holic my whole life, but that's never really translated to the boys. They like some of the Disney movies (the Toy Storys come to mind) but have always been more interested in playing outdoors or on the computer than reading Disney books or watching Disney movies. Cathy and I went to Disney for a short trip about 12 years ago, staying at the relatively new Grand Floridian (GF). I've been anxiously anticipating bringing our children ever since.
We decided that we wanted to wait until they were old enough to go on any ride and really be able to take everything in without being overwhelmed. Cameron is autistic (I'll also throw the word autism in here in case people are using that in the search engine) and we wanted to wait until we confirmed that he could travel on a plane before we'd dare to dream about the Disney trip.
Well, in March he successfully traveled with Cathy to her parents in Florida and I started planning the day they returned (I even cancelled our already planned summer vacation and ate the $400 deposit). In doing my research I came across Mouseplanet and have read every trip report and article on Disney World that was posted over the last 5 months or so. I found it to be so informative and fun that I vowed to take the time to do a trip report that would focus a bit on traveling to Disney World with an autistic child to help parents in similar circumstances plan a future trip.
I can't stress the word "plan" enough. Cameron is very set in his ways and has certain things that he responds well to and certain situations that can cause havoc for us and anyone in the general vicinity. You can't anticipate everything, but thinking things through worked out pretty well for us.
For example, Cam is very much into Thomas the Tank Engine. Some might say obsessed. I know there are parents of other autistic children who are nodding their heads because it's pretty well documented that this isn't an unusual thing in the autistic community. Thomas is The Man for some reason. Anyway, we purchased back-issues of the Thomas magazine online and some books that he didn't have yet (hard to believe there are any) via ebay or amazon.uk to use for incentives in getting him from one place to another. They worked beautifully. Also, the gameboy was great for keeping him occupied on the plane and while waiting for meals in sit-down restaurants (keeping it turned down of course).
The other thing I'm sure most are familiar with is the Guest Assistance Card (referred to as "The Card" from here on in). If you bring a note from your pediatrician to Guest Services at one of the parks you can get a pass that allows you to utilize the entrance for guest with disabilities. Most places use the Fast Pass entrance, which takes a lot of the glares and humiliation (tough word, yes) out of the process. Kudos to Disney for that. The Card created some friction between Cathy and me. She is an unashamed advocate for Cam. She is at the school most days and spends a great deal of time trying to make sure he gets whatever services are available. I should take a second to note our school system is fantastic with Cam. We adore the people who work with him. I just point this out because she's more likely to take the "who cares" attitude if people look at us funny at the park, where I spend too much time caring about what other people think.
In planning, we researched the time of year that looked the least crowded and decided to take the kids out of school to assure that we'd get the smallest lines possible (and avoid using The Card as much as possible). The boy's teachers were great about it and encouraged us to do so.
We decided to start the trip on September 28 so we could take advantage of the lower rates that end on Sept 30. As long as you book the first day in the Value Season you get that rate for your entire stay. We knew we wanted to stay on the monorail so we could get in and out of the Magic Kingdom (MK) easily. Having stayed at the GF in the past we knew that would be a bit too fancy for us as a family. The Polynesian looked ideal, except for the comments we kept seeing about it being rundown a bit due to age. We decided to chance it anyway. I've never been a big fan of the look of the Contemporary and the new pool at the Polynesian clinched the deal.
I'm a big online purchaser and checked pricing from a few different places. The absolute best deal came from one of the places we found online, but for something of this nature I felt more comfortable going through an agent I could speak with in person if things didn't appear to be going quite right. We ended up using AAA in Nashua NH. I'd recommend them to anyone. We paid about $50 more for the total package than the cheapest place I could find, but the peace of mind was worth it. We purchased the Ultimate Park Hopper passes, which worked great for us.
Here's a tip-remember to upgrade to a limo. The price was negligible (maybe $20-40 more than a shuttle roundtrip) and the convenience is fantastic! Instead of waiting in line to get on a shuttle and making a ton of stops before the Polynesian a guy is waiting for you at the baggage claim. AAA used Star Limo and both ways we had a brand new town car with a really nice driver. Within 3 minutes of our bags coming off the conveyor belt we were on the road and dropped off at the front door. Fantastic!
We arranged for our own air travel. We always fly Southwest out of Manchester NH (about 15 minutes from home). Some may look at Southwest as a bit of a cattle call, but they just provide good transportation at a good price. They don't take themselves too seriously and are always helpful and nice. We've also never had a flight arrive late. We get a pre-boarding pass with Cam, which really helps. By the way, if you live anywhere near Manchester try that airport out. I can't begin to tell you how much easier it is to get in and out of than Logan. Even if you have to drive over an hour, it takes only a couple minutes to park and get to your flight.
Some say it's more expensive to fly out of Manchester than Logan, but if you keep your eye out on southwest.com you can always get a good deal. We got our flights using the Friends Fly Free promo and got all 4 of us round trip for $400 plus tax (about $460 total). That's tough to beat. We had 1 stop on the way down but nonstop home.
Anyway, the prologue is longer than some trip reports already, so onto the trip:
Saturday, Sept 28
I dropped Spenser the Wonderdog off at the kennel. He gets the daycare so he can mingle with the other dogs. The first $260 of the trip is dropped. There's more to come.
We leave Manchester and arrive at the Polynesian without incident about 6:00PM. No lines at reception and check in was easy. The card they give you to use as room key, pass to the parks and credit card is fantastic. We did not get the longhouse we requested (we used the info from Tikiman found through www.wdwig.com to determine what to ask for, a great tool if you are considering the Polynesian). However, the room we got turned out to be perfect. Third floor with a balcony in Samoa facing the "quiet pool". Very close to the main building where all the action takes place (restaurants, pools and all transportation). I thought we'd need access to the Transportation and Ticket Center (TTC) more often than we actually did. All locations (except Epcot) are reached via either monorail or bus from the front of the Great Ceremonial Hall, or whatever they call the main building.
I think Samoa must have smoking in some rooms, because I'm sure I could smell it in the halls and Cathy was pretty sure she smelled it on the balcony next to us (although they could have been smoking outside a non-smoking room I guess). Our room seemed like it had never been smoked in. There was no hint of smoke whatsoever. The room looked like it had been recently redone, with new green tile in the bathroom and what looked like fresh paint everywhere. We were very pleased. Two queen size beds (that's what they called them but they seemed bigger) and a daybed worked out perfectly for our family of four.
We hit the line for the monorail at about 7:00PM. We hop off at MK and the adventure begins! No time to get Cam's pass tonight, so we will take the train to Adventureland. Cam is very impatient; he loves trains (he'll get used to this one soon and it becomes no big deal).
We grab a Fastpass for Splash Mountain (SM) then head for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (BTMR). Very short lines at this time. As we suspected it is a huge hit with both boys. They are starting to understand what this whole Disney thing is all about and are excited. We move to the side of the street to see the parade, but it doesn't reach us until about 8:20. Zack (and the adults) like it but Cam is pretty indifferent. He keeps wanting more BTMR or SM.
After the parade we rush over to SM and use the Fastpass. Zack has to sit in front and I agree to get soaked with him. The ride is much better than I thought it would be. I time it at just a hair over 10 minutes. It looks great and is really fun. I'd suggest taking the first ride at night, so you can be surprised a couple of times.
We are off the ride at 7:56 and rush back to BTMR for a final ride. Cam would ride this all week. We walk right on and are greatly surprised to have the fireworks going off overhead as we ride. All The passengers scream as the fireworks explode and it's a very exciting end to the first hour in the parks.
We walk back to the monorail. The line is really long and we (actually I) make the ill-fated decision to wait for the ferry. I don't know how long the monorail wait would have been (in retrospect I'm sure it would have been quicker) but the ferry took forever and Cam is heading south fast. No melt downs, but the boys are really tired and the wait (probably 45 minutes) seems forever.
We grab a quick bite at Captain Cooks at the Polynesian and head to bed.
Sunday, Sept 29
I'm the early riser in the family and don't want to wake anyone up, knowing they must be exhausted. I sneak out at 6:00 and buy the $10.99 refillable cup. It is good for coffee, tea and soda for the length of stay and well worth it. I have 2 cups, one on the beach and one as I walk the grounds checking things out. It is much darker here at 6:00AM then it is in NH. I don't get it, but that's just one of many things I don't get.
At 7:00 I get bagels and donuts and bring them back to the room. I also get a third cup of coffee, this one for Cathy. I'm not sure if that violates the letter of the "cup law" or not and don't really give it much thought. Everyone is still passed out, but I get them moving. The last Character Caravan in history is this morning (being replaced by Early Entry starting Tues) and we get pictures with a couple of the Jungle Book gang. Cam is nervous around them at first but warms up quickly. The kids don't have a big Disney background, so they don't recognize them, but they will learn quickly.
We stop at the store to convert our coupons into 4 trading pins for Zack. I was sure he wouldn't get into this, but I prove my ignorance as he spends all week expanding his collection and trading. It's a great diversion for him and not too expensive. Then we head to MK. We get The Card from guest services and see the people I sat next to on the plane from Nashville. They said "maybe we'll see you tomorrow" and I told them the odds were certainly against it. Now you know why I quit gambling after I got married.
We bought walkie-talkies because we figured Cathy and Cam wouldn't go on some of the rides and we'd be splitting up. Waste of money, because that never happened. They've never been used if you want to buy them cheap. I should have known when both of them came on Space Mountain and loved it. This becomes Zack's favorite ride (for the moment anyway). Zack makes his first pin trade at the gift shop and is hooked. We walk right onto Buzz Lightyear. I like it, but no one else seems to think much of it. Anything not fast is now officially kind of lame.
Parents of autistic (and probably any young children) take note-STAY OFF ET ALIEN ENCOUNTER. By far the worst part of the entire trip. Cathy reads the warnings and asks if I think it'll be a problem. Nah, he liked Space Mountain, this'll be a piece of cake, right? Dead wrong! I won't go into the gory details (it still gives me the shivers) but he is really frightened and just keeps holding my hand asking for it to be over. It kills me to even type it in and haunts me the rest of the day. By the way, Zack was really scared too.
We get an ice cream to try and calm everyone down. The boys want to do the Indy Speedway, but there is a long wait and no Fastpass line to use The Card at. Since I've got "a thing" about using it for anything except Fastpass I talk everyone into waiting until later to try this ride.
We do the Barnstormer at Toontown Fair but it (and the entire area) is geared to younger kids and we move on quickly. We go to the Haunted Mansion but the Fastpass line is roped off so we try to wait in the standby line. Cam will have none of it and I don't want to figure out how to use The Card, which clearly annoys Cathy. But she understands my own phobias (undoubtedly feeling my genetics are the cause of Cam's issues) and backs off.
We decide to head for BTMR to get Cam back on track. On the way Zack and I get a hot dog. Actually we get 2 huge things in a bun that they call hot dogs. We should have bought 1 and split it.
We use The Card for the first time on BTMR. The kid at the Fastpass line doesn't seem to understand it but after reading it a couple times lets use go through graciously enough. Of course we need to go through it again at the end of the Fastpass line. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate and encourage the use of this pass. We couldn't have done a lot of rides (especially if we came during the busy season) without it. I fully recognize that this is a "me" problem. Disney was great about it.
We head to SM and use The Card again. A family heading backwards in the Fastpass line warns us we better get on the other side of the rope or they will send us back. I'm considering putting a cast on Cam's leg and getting a wheelchair at this point. I'm really uncomfortable with the whole situation. With that and the ET thing I'm getting pretty nervous about the rest of the week. Fortunately once the weekend ended we didn't need to use it much at all.
We walk right onto Pirates of the Caribbean (POC) and don't need The Card. Then we head back towards the monorail. Cathy gets an egg roll from a vendor that is surprisingly really good (yeah I took a taste).
We get back to the Polynesian and spend a couple hours at the pool. I explain about Cam to the lifeguards (he doesn't pay any attention if they speak to him) and watch him like a hawk for a couple hours. We need to walk up to the waterslide with him and make sure he waits in line and doesn't go before the light turns green, then watch to make sure he gets out of the way at the bottom. That poolside bar looks really good, but it goes unused by us all week.
After we get changed we head to Downtown Disney. Zack uses his Disney Dollars (the boys split the $25 we got from AAA with the package) to get a lanyard-type thing (to hold his pins) and a Polynesian pin. Excellent choice. He's having a lot of fun with this. The Cast Members (CMs) are great about trading. In the course of the week I was told that they are issued pins by Disney and must trade any pin they have as long as they don't already have the pin you want to trade. I'm not positive, but they may even need to trade if they have only one of the pins you want to trade. Your mileage may vary.
We check out some stores and go to Captain Jacks for dinner. We really enjoy it, but we are easy to please because we don't get out a lot (we've only got 1 sitter). The shrimp cocktail wasn't up to our New England standards but the chowder was good as were the crab cakes. The Sam Adams was an excellent vintage. Of course we left one of Cam's magazines there, which he'd ask about for the rest of the week.
We then walk over to Disneyquest, which was included with our tickets. Zack and I are video game freaks and love it. Cam likes pinball and plays for quite a while. Cathy puts up with it because she knows we are guys and that's what we do.
We go back to the resort and spend an hour sharing the quiet pool with a couple ducks. The excitement and pace have gotten to Cam and he melts down because I walked away from the pool without consulting him, then won't get him French fries for the 3rd time today. We vow to let them sleep in as late as they want tomorrow to avoid a repeat.
The boys are in bed by 9:00 and I get a couple Pina Coladas to go from Ohanas. The tab is $13.25 and the bartender gives me a five and a one instead of 6 ones. I (of course) ask him to change the five so I can give him a decent tip, which makes him very appreciative. In younger days I would have stayed at the bar and taken full advantage of that gratitude but instead retired to the balcony to have a drink while the kids fall asleep.
I'm hoping today isn't a harbinger of what's to come. There was a bit of tension surrounding The Card and the meltdown at the end of the day. Even worse, the Patriots lost in San Diego. Fortunately things would go uphill from here.
Monday, Sep 30
(We guessed that our anniversary would go by and we'd forget it and I was right. I recall it as I write the date down the morning of Oct 1st)
Today we learned that our kids do have a limit of how much they can do before they pass out. I was ordered to stay out of the room until 7:30, which I did. It gives me time to read the paper, have 2 cups of coffee and write the trip report.
Today we got on the bus and arrive at Animal Kingdom (AK) just after opening. We walked straight to the Safari (LOTS of walking at AK). Fastpass wasn't open yet but they let us use The Card. I notice people wondering as we walk by how the heck we got a Fastpass already. No one has been unkind or made any comments but it's painful for me to do this. I know it's wrong but what can I tell you? We still need to go back to Haunted Mansion because I wouldn't use it there. Cathy has the proper attitude about The Card and it's a cause of continuing tension between us right now. It's really the only tension between us because we get along great and can see the others point of view most of the time. At least I can admit I'm wrong about The Card, so it placates her a bit.
Anyway, we DO use it and get on the Safari immediately. The line turns out to have been pretty short, but you couldn't tell that from the beginning. We are learning how to tell as we go along and will be proficient at reading the times soon (they aren't always what they say).
The Safari is excellent (at least for adults). Lots of animals and beautiful scenery. People say to go on early or late in the day or you won't see animals. I can tell you that we went first thing and saw tons of animals. The poacher thing is kind of preachy, but so what? Zack likes that part. Even Cam perks up to check out a few animals.
We then take the train to Rafiki's Planet Watch. Unless you have kids that like a petting zoo you may want to skip this. Not much going on over there. Our guys liked it okay, but it wasn't very exciting compared to the other stuff available.
Every told us you had to see the Lion King, but the kids really like the rides and find the shows boring. Still, we wanted to try some of them or we'd run out of things to do quickly. I was pretty sure we'd need to take Cam out early, but we were happy to find it kept him mildly interested and the rest of us very interested. Cam really liked the acrobatic "monkeys". Zack thought the whole show was pretty good, and the adults really loved it.
We had promised Cam fries today and he was now calling in that marker. We got them at the entrance to Dinoland on the way to lunch at Restaurantasaurus. I refuse to eat McDonalds food on vacation. I don't mind other fast food, just not the same old stuff on vacation. I hold off for something better and end up skipping lunch altogether (as Cathy predicted), except for a frozen fruit bar on the way out of the park.
After lunch the kids really enjoyed running around the playground (I think it's called the Boneyard). Zack is truly great with Cam as usual. We use The Card to get on the Primeval Whirl (PW). No comments, but the 2nd CM either reads really slow or read it 3 times. When we left she got on the phone and I was convinced she was calling someone about us (yes doctor, I am paranoid). Cam looks "neurologically typical" and unless you observed him you wouldn't figure anything was amiss. If you did watch him for 20 seconds or so you'd figure it out quickly enough though.
Anyway, the PW is great and Cam immediately wants to go again. No way baby. I refuse to use The Card at the same place more than once a day, and certainly not back to back.
Zack drops a few of my bucks at the carnival games, but I don't mind since I figure they aren't rigged, we just were unlucky. We'll figure out how to make them work in our favor next time we are there.
Dinosaur is not working, so we'll need to make a trip back later in the week to see it.
We promised them Typhoon Lagoon (TL) today so we head for the Rapids to get soaked before we go back. We thought about It's Not Easy Being a Bug, but there is some confusion at the Fastpass entrance and I really don't want to deal with The Card for something I don't think the kids (or I) will like. Cathy is better than that. She doesn't want the kids to miss ANYTHING, but she sees I'm adamant about it and lets us move on without to big a fuss (thanks Hon!).
The Fastpass entrance is closed and there is no CM at the Kali River Rapids. The sign says 20 minutes and Cathy agrees to wait rather than pursue The Card and we break out a Thomas the Tank Annual to keep Cam busy while we wait. He's very happy with that trade.
We all get soaked, so we're glad we did it last. I was kind of disappointed in it. Nothing much happened and it was really short. We did have fun talking to the people we went on the ride with though.
On the way out we grab the aforementioned frozen fruit bars and Zack dips into his own stash for the first time to buy a new pin.
We took the bus back to the room, got changed and took another one to TL. We've had great luck so far with the bus transportation. Never too much of a wait and always easy to tell where you needed to be to get a bus.
TL is fantastic for kids our boys' age. They love everything. The wave pool is great. We spend time there, then try the 3 raft rides, then back to the wave pool, then the 3 "storm slides" which are really fun. Just the right speed for us, and no mats or tubes that Cam can use improperly. They (and I) love these slides. The only problem is walking up about 7 times got my back aching. I've got a herniated disk that I probably should have had operated on when I had the chance 6 years ago. I knew it would give me some trouble and was ready for it, but this walking uphill really got to it. Finally I just let them walk up alone and Zack makes sure Cam waits in line and doesn't go before the light is green.
We get some snacks, then hit the wave pool and a few more water slides (they want to do the speed slides but I know my back won't take it so I promise them next time) before we head out as the park is closing. The water parks are open until 6:00 today but will move back to 5:00 starting tomorrow (Oct 1).
Back at the room we call for priority seating at the pub in the UK. The only time they have is 7:20 so we have to fly. We set a record getting changed and walking to the TTC to get the monorail to Epcot. It's a longer walk than I remember from the monorail to the UK but we get there at 7:15 with everyone ready to pass out.
We are seated immediately. I get the tall thingy with 24 ounces of beer in it but get a glass for Cathy to have some. The menu creates a problem. The adults get prime rib and fish and chips, but the kids' menu is sparse and Cathy can't get any help choosing from the boys who are exhausted at this point. She gets them mac and cheese, but it's REAL mac and cheese (with orange cheese to boot, those darn Brits), which neither of them will eat. Zack doesn't want us to be upset he's not eating and almost melts down, but when I ask our waiter to add a hot dog to the order it appears magically within about 15 seconds and disaster is averted.
The food must be sitting under lamps because our food order showed up BEFORE our drink order! We don't really care though, and it tasted fine.
Cam eats the chips from the fish and chips and Cathy gets him to eat some of the mac and cheese by while he's playing gameboy. Don't judge too harshly about the gameboy until you've traveled in our shoes, it's the only way he'll sit at a dinner table long enough for us to scarf down our food.
Our waiter (Wayne) graciously takes the mac and cheeses off the bill even though we didn't ask or expect him to, and he is rewarded with an enormous tip. When you don't get out much you appreciate any help and tip accordingly.
If you have an autistic child (or any picky eater for that matter) you may want to pass on the pub due to it's limited children's menu. However, Cathy and I loved the place and enjoyed eating outside by the water.
We really need to get the kids to bed but are surprised to see Spaceship Earth still open for business, so we take a spin. The kids are pretty bored but I for one am really happy to be sitting down. Test track is also opened but it's 8:20 and we need to get them to bed, it's been an incredibly long day.
My back won't even take the walk from the TTC so we change over to the resort monorail instead of walking. I can't even stand up by the time we get back to the room so I go to bed with the kids at 9:15 while Cathy has her end of the day cocktail on the balcony (probably cursing her luck at ending up in paradise with such a wimp).
Tuesday Oct 1
Early Entry is back! Of course, we don't take advantage of it. Too darn early for us, plus Cathy's parents (Phil and Susan) are coming up from Tampa to spend the day with us at MGM. They arrive right on time just after 9:00. We show them around a bit then head to MGM. I'm excited because I've never been, but afraid there won't be much for the boys to do (I'm proven wrong yet again).
MGM is amazing to look at. I remember how as a young adult I'd come here to Disney with my brothers and just take in the rides, but as an old fogy I notice and appreciate all the details that go into the attractions.
First stop is Rock n Roller Coaster (RRC). Susan decides to sit this one out. The rest of us walk on with no wait (no need to use The Card) and scream as the car in front of us shoots off like a rocket. Let's go!
Everyone but Cam loves it. He gets off and says, "I feel green in the face"! I don't know where he heard it (he never comes up with any original lines, they are all from somewhere) but it cracks us all up. He makes it known he has had enough of RRC! The experience also keeps him off Tower of Terror (TOT). We try to fool him by calling it the Happy Elevator Ride, but since he's autistic and not blind he's not falling for it. The women sit this one out and the 3 older boys walk on with no wait and love it. Zack is nervous when the ghosts appear right before the ride starts but likes the ride itself quite a bit. At least the boys are having fun so far.
In an effort to get the women into the action we walk down Hollywood Boulevard with our guidebooks and eyes open. We go to Voyage of the Little Mermaid and use The Card. It's the last time today we'll use it. If you or your kids are Little Mermaid fans you'll undoubtedly love this show. It's very well produced and lots of fun. None of us are big fans though, so I don't think we'll ever sit through it a second time. We'll take a ride over a show any time.
It's getting hot so we stop for an ice cream (and popcorn for Cam, who also asks for hot cocoa everywhere we go despite the 90+ degree weather. We mosey over to Star Tours and wait in the stand-by line at my request. We probably should have used The Card, the wait was longer than advertised. Cam's a little nervous (probably lingering feelings from RRC) but once the ride starts he's fine. We now have a new favorite! Star Tours is enjoyed by all (although Cathy says she watched the pilot the whole way to keep from getting motion sickness, so how would she know?), especially Zack. Each new ride is becoming his favorite.
Next we let them play on Honey I Shrunk the Kids playground, then head for the back lot tour. I've cleverly deduced that they have trams on this attraction that I can refer to as a train for Cam. Of course, when it starts there are no trams and Zack asks "is this a ride or a show?" I thought it was both, but it looks like a show right now and he's thinking that it's going to be boring. He gives that thought up when the bombs, torpedoes and gunfire start! After that part we are indeed led onto trams and we get a little tour and end up with the fire and water treatment. All agree that this is yet another must-see for MGM, which is coming up aces at this point.
We have priority seating at Sci-FI Drive In Theater for 1:25. We get seated at about 1:40 but since they are telling people it's a 90 minute wait we don't feel too bad. Let's get one thing out of the way, the food is kind of forgettable. But who cares, this place is COOL! You can eat at a fancy restaurant at home. It takes forever for the food to come as well, but nobody cares. The kids are glued to the campy movie trailers and cartoon shorts the whole time. The cars for seats and the night sky make this place too neat to pass up. So just get a sandwich and a beer and enjoy yourself. We sure did.
After lunch we took in Muppet 3D. Oh boy, another show. Of course, Zack loves it. So did I, I thought it was cool. Cam watched most of it, though he did take his glasses off for a while during the middle of the show. The whole group enjoyed it.
We leave just in time to walk into the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular. An excellent show. Cam didn't follow exactly what was going on, but was interested enough to not create a disturbance. Zack fell in love with it and made it his mission to purchase a hat or shirt to memorialize it. The adults all enjoyed it too.
The Star and Motor Cars parade was about to start but we didn't have time for it. We wanted to get one more ride on TOT and RRC before we headed out. Susan is gonna try this time and we need someone to watch Cam. I offer but Cathy doesn't really want to go so I brave it again. Cathy loved RRC so I stayed out with the in-laws and Cam while she and Zack took the final ride of the day.
I was shocked to see how much fun we had at MGM. Not a heck of a lot for Cam today, but he was good and we all had a great time.
Back at the resort we hung out by the pool for an hour or so. The lifeguards were cool and I was able to just sit at the bottom of the waterslide and watch out for Cam without expending any energy while the boys go down 100 times or so. Phil and Susan head back to Tampa at about 7:00.
We ate late but the boys need something so we decide to check out the food court at the Contemporary. On the monorail ride we find out that MK is now open until 8:00 again (it's Oct 1st), which is great news. The chicken tenders are pretty good at the Contemporary and we let the boys play a couple games in the arcade before we head back. The Contemporary is certainly convenient, but the Polynesian is much nicer in my mind. The Contemporary seems dated and has a sterile motel kind of feel to it. Someone described the Polynesian as "Campy" to me tonight. That may be true, but if it is, it's in a good, fun way. Plus the grounds are so plush, well kept and unusual that it just has a neat air about it.
Wednesday, Oct 2
Let me take a second to interject some sartorial comments. I brought some camp shirts and polos to wear but they don't work very well when it's really hot. Shorts and t-shirts are the outfit of the day. Tank tops look a little too messy for me. Tucked in or hanging out depends on the shorts/shirt combo, either is acceptable.
I brought a fanny pack to carry my digital camera (a fantastic purchase for this trip btw), wallet and Talkabout. They fit perfectly and it worked great for the trip. I'm not sure what I would have done otherwise. But let's get one thing straight: there is no way to make a fanny pack look cool. To loosely quote Quentin Tarantino from Pulp Fiction, "you look like a dork". Fortunately, every other guy is wearing one, which cuts down on the snide comments significantly.
Let me give you a couple fanny pack tips:
1. If at all possible, don't wear a fanny pack over an un-tucked shirt. That takes dorkiness to a new level (but you see it all the time). If you must wear it with an un-tucked shirt wear the shirt over the belt and bunch it over the pack. It looks dumb, but less dumb than the alternative.
2. When wearing a fanny pack with a tucked-in shirt, wear it like a gun belt from a western movie. Leave a little slack so that it sits over your hips under your belt like Wyatt Earp in the Gunfight at the OK Corral. Then wear it off center a bit. Not all the way to the side like a gun, but about halfway off center (on your left if you are right handed and vice versa) and go for it quickly when you need your wallet, like you're going for a gun. You'll get respect this way.
I know you're probably laughing at this now, but when the time comes you will thank me for these face-saving tips.
Okay, back to the trip.
Since Cam has been asking to go back on BTMR every five minutes since we were on it last we decide to head back to MK this morning. It's early entry day at Epcot, so maybe the lines will be shorter at MK. I don't know if that has anything to do with it, but the lines are indeed very short. Lots of characters around and we get many great pictures.
We head straight for BTMR but stop to try Peter Pan since there is no line. Too tame for our kids. We walk right onto BMTR twice (The Card is not necessary), then head over to "the Story Ride" as Cam has appropriately christened SM, his 2nd favorite ride. Also able to walk right on here and choose to sit in the back, but still get pretty wet.
We do POC again with no wait, then move over to the Speedway determined to wait even if there is a line. The wait is posted at 30 minutes, but I talk Cathy out of using The Card, then stick her in line with the boys while I take pictures. What a guy. On top of that I pick up a frozen lemonade to have while I wait for them. They've got some great snacks at this place!
Zack wants to do Space Mountain; though I'm afraid Cam might be a little gun-shy after the RRC affair. But no problem and there is no wait at all. From there we go back on the Tomorrowland Transit Authority (TTA), which he loves from our first trip. It's tame for us, but it is the only real time of the trip that Cathy and I can sit back and relax without worrying about watching out for Cam, so we don't complain.
After a 5 minute wait for Buzz Lightyear 1 spot Zack 100K points and still cover the spread. Next we get the boys an ice cream and plot our next move. The characters are out in force and we grab our favorite of the trip, a Chip and Dale with the 2 boys. I was smart enough to take it in high resolution on the digital camera so I can get an 8x10 for work. I can't tell you how wonderful the characters were with the boys all week! Cam didn't seem real interested at first but they were so good we got a bunch of excellent shots.
We head over to (what else) BTMR and SM before we leave MK for the day. Long line at BTMR and we use The Card without incident. Since we are leaving right after SM we sit in front and take the ride down with arms in the air (all except Cam). We officially join the ranks of dorkdome by purchasing the picture. I'll give you a tip-they take the picture very high up the waterfall so you can get your picture taken looking cool and still grab the handle on the way down. I swear we kept the arms up all the way though.
Since we started the spending we continued it by buying a BTMR T-shirt, die cast train and a Brer Rabbit book for Cam. He loves them all.
We take the train back to Main Street where Zack purchases a mouse-ear hat with his name embroidered on it (I'm not sure if we paid for it or he did at this point, we're paying for everything and taking it out of his allowance account). But the big moment comes when a fellow at Disney Vacation Club gives him 2 pins, which makes him very happy.
We go back by the pool for an hour or so. We've got priority seating at Mama Melrose at 6:00 along with the Fantasmic preferred seating package. Mama Melrose gets trashed by some of the restaurant books, but I'm Italian and love Italian food and liked it a lot. I think people just expect too much. We both had the veal (sorry if that offends some people) and loved it. The meal that comes with the package is too much food for us, but we put a pretty good dent in it. I did notice that they were rushing people through there pretty quickly. The place was packed. But we took our time and thoroughly enjoyed it.
Zack picked up an Indiana Jones shirt (on us) as we headed to the priority seating area. They stop letting people through the priority seating gate at 7:30, so there is still a bit of a wait for the show, which goes off exactly at 8:00. Cam had his Gameboy so it's wasn't a big problem.
Fantasmic is a great show. Zack and the adults loved it, but it was way too loud for Cam. He held my hands over his ears for a good part of the show, which was a bit of a drag. I'd skip it if you have an autistic child or any child who is sensitive to loud noises. But the show is worth seeing if you can swing it.
I was really nervous about waiting for a bus but we got on the first Polynesian bus. Unfortunately there were no seats and Cam was starting to freak out. He gets crazy at the thought of standing on the bus for some reason . A very nice lady noticed what was going on and put her son on her lap so Cam could have his seat and saved the day for us. That was gonna be an ugly scene. THANK YOU!
Thursday, Oct 3
Today's mission is to hit the things we want to do but have missed to date. That puts Dinosaur (at AK), Epcot and Blizzard Beach (BB) in our sights. We go to AK first (arriving about 9:15) and head right to Dinoland. The Primeval Whirl (PW) beckons without a line as we enter so we go on it twice. It seems to be spinning more or something today so we break (at my urging) after the second ride.
The carnival games are open and no one is using them. If your kids like this stuff you should note that you can guarantee a win when no one is there by just playing with family members. Zack is always dying to win stuff at carnival games so I put $2 each down and play the game where you roll the ball into a hole to make your horse mover. He beats me in a close race (what a coincidence) and is thrilled to be handed a stuffed animal as a prize. Since nothing's ever easy, Cam wants it so I ask Zack to play another game with me, which he wins and gets a better stuffed animal (a dinosaur). Lets total this up...$12 for 2 stuffed animals and the flush of carnival victory for Zack. That's a steal. Try it yourself. You could probably accomplish the same for $8 now that you know the secret.
Dinosaur is next and we walk right on. The Card is destined to remain in The Pocket all day. Cathy and I think the setup is really cool (the cars you ride on in particular). The ride is over quickly though. Zack likes it but it's not his favorite. Cam is non-committal. I think it was a little loud and dark at times for him. I watched him for most of the ride and can't really report on it's details.
The boys want to hit the PW again but I'm not doing it. Cathy goes for one ride then gives up and they take the 4th ride alone, with Cathy walking up with them and waiting while they went. Both times there is a 10-15 minute wait but Cam is okay.
They hit the playground for about 15 minutes then we head for the bus to Epcot. We've had great luck with the Disney transportation to this point (except for the ferry). Never more of a wait than 10 minutes or so. This is no exception.
At Epcot we are disappointed to see Test Track closed until at least 6:00PM. At least I am, the others don't seem too unhappy about it. We do Honey I Shrunk the Audience, which is really fun, except for the interminable Kodak commercial that leads up to it. We then take the Figment ride, which is kind of cute, but nothing special. Those with young kids may want to note that it gets pitch black for a couple seconds.
We walk halfway around the world clockwise looking for lunch. We wanted Mexican but since the menu doesn't say "this is a taco just like at Taco Bell or at your house" Zack gets cold feet and we move on. Cam wants to watch the model train in Germany all afternoon, but we drag him away after he follows it around the track a few times. We eventually get to America for an exotic lunch.
It's getting late and the water parks now close at 5:00 so we grab the ferry across the pond and then hit the monorail back to the room. We finally get a ride in front, which makes Zack (and Cathy who has been pushing for it all week) very happy.
I think BB is really cool. Chair lifts to the top! But MUCH more time waiting in line for the lift and to go down the slides than at TL. We did more slides in 10 minutes at TL than we did at BB in an hour and a half. Plus the rides have a lot more rules than at TL. Some have mats, some have rafts and some you need to cross your arms and legs. No big deal for most, but big trouble for us as Cam won't stay on a mat or raft (unless I'm there to hold him, and most of the rides are for singles) and he won't cross his arms and legs all the way down. We went down the Slush Gusher which was way cool, but the line was much too long and Cam had trouble doing it right, so we only got 1 ride in.
Don't be afraid to go on the family raft ride even though it starts way up the top. It's pretty tame and kind of fun. It's also (I think) the only thing you can take the kids on at the top of the chair lift if they are under 48".
The wave pool is a continual wave, which the boys like, but I miss the big wave that hits every 5 minutes or so at TL. I thought without the big waves it would be too tame for them. They are very good swimmers for their age (we've got a pool at home) and love being under the water. But Cam doesn't understand that if you keep going into the deep end of a wave pool (or an ocean for that matter) you eventually will be unable to get back, so we have to watch him like a hawk.
We tried the side by side race slide on mats. Even though I held back a lot at the start my "superior" weight brought me across first, which sends Cam into a fit. He is an some kind of mode where he needs to win everything or freaks. I was even accused of being a cheater, which I can assure you I was not.
Zack and I snuck off to use the Double Dipper tube ride before closing. You ride a tube down an almost straight drop. Hmm, that makes it sound scarier than it was. It was great. I win again with a time of 5.6 seconds. That weight thing again.
Back at the bus we get our first long wait of the week (guess I jinxed us), maybe 20-25 minutes. Cam is really cranky and the bus is packed when it shows up. Look out, another seat crisis is brewing! I can joke about it now, but I saw this coming and was panicked over it. Thankfully another mother ascertained what was happening quickly (don't they always) and asked her son to share his seat with Cam, which saved the day.
My back is very sore at this point and everyone is a bit crabby. We decide to stick at the resort and have dinner at the Kona Café, the ugly stepsister to the more famous Ohana. It's actually pretty good, but don't think it's a cheap date. 2 adult meals, 2 kids meals and dessert set us back $120 including the tip.
Friday, Oct 4
We left Friday open to hit the spots we wanted to revisit the most. No doubts here-MK in the morning and TL in the afternoon. We are at MK shortly after 9:00. Crowd still seems pretty small. We walk straight to BTMR and go on 3 times straight with no wait.
Then we do SM, with the adults being careful to sit in the back so we don't get too wet so early. This doesn't guarantee you won't get wet, but it will improve the odds greatly. Also, if you enter the boat first (which puts you on the left as you are going forward) you will be on the weak side (to use a football phrase) when the 2 "incidental splashes" occur. The first is when another boat comes crashing down the end of their ride and splashes you as your ride begins. The second is when the ride is almost over and you are heading back into the mountain. A waterfall on the right can get you pretty wet if you are sitting on that side. Hey, you're reading this to get information, aren't you? Anyway, Zack gets doused and we escape pretty much unscathed.
Now we want to hit a few of the "optional rides", things we thought might be interesting but didn't have on our "must see" list. First we hit POTC again, and have the whole boat to ourselves. Then we hit the Jungle Cruise. If the line is long, skip this one. It moves slowly and the ride is nothing to write home about. There was no wait so we hopped on this time. Despite the fact that the guide was energetic the ride is still kind of dated and lame. A bad driver would absolutely kill it.
The boys go on the Magic Carpet ride, which would probably be boring but the Genie rode with them, which was really neat. Got some great pictures of that.
Cam is asking for SM again and we say okay if he sits through the Tiki Room. It's kind of funs for the adults, but the boys don't think much of it.
We jump on SM one more time then head for Tomorrowland. On the way we try the Shooting Arcade, which should be turned into something else. You have to pay to shoot the rifles at targets. Circa 1960. Yuck. Cam picks up an embroidered hat and Zack whacks me at checkers while we wait for it. The crazy mountain guy is harassing people in a really amusing fashion.
We do Space Mountain (no initials, so you don't confuse it with Splash Mountain). Everybody in our group loves this ride. No matter how many times I ride it, it still scares me, which is a good thing. They have both sides open for the first time this week, which keeps the line very short.
Of course Cam needs to go on the TTA again, then we stop at the Plaza Pavilion for lunch. The fast food at the parks is actually pretty good. Cathy and I split a salad and Italian sandwich and the boys spilt an enormous order of chicken strips and fries. Cam's diet is pretty much plain pasta, chicken nuggets, French fries (which he'll eat any time he can get them) and various cold veggies, which makes lunch at the parks hit or miss. The chicken strips at most of the places are pretty good so that helps. He only drinks water, chocolate milk and apple juice and his mood on them varies depending on the phases of the moon or something I can't figure out.
Here's a pet peeve. The chocolate milk only comes in 16 ounce bottles. You can't carry it around on a hot day, so we ended up wasting quite a bit of it over the course of the week. Small kids can't drink that much at one sitting,, can they? I know Cam won't. I've got to remember to mention that to someone.
We wanted to get priority seating at the Plaza in the MK but after checking out the menu we passed. There was nothing for Cam so we decide to wing it again. We walk through the shops on Main Street on the way to the monorail. I bite on the Beauty and the Beast DVD sale. $25 includes the DVD (which is getting fantastic reviews), a pin you can only get through this deal, a free DVD from a limited selection (I go with Hercules, because the selection was thin and the voice acting was really good in it, especially Danny Devito and James Woods) and free shipping. Of course, if you didn't get the pin right away I probably would have passed on it.
We make a quick change and head to TL. The lines are very short on all the slides. We do the wave pool for a minute but then I'm held to my promise and we go to the speed slides. They actually aren't bad, nothing like the monster at BB. Cam doesn't really ride them correctly, so Cathy takes him to the Storm Slides, which he can do with no trouble. We get 3 trips for every 1 they do, because the walk is so long up to the Storm Slides. After 4 rides or so my behind is killing me and we go back to the wave pool. Later we finished on the Storm Slides, which are a bunch of fun. A good long ride that swerves back and forth at a fast clip, but not too fast to scare anyone off. After that it's back to the Polynesian with no problems on the bus.
For the last hour and a half of our trip (that's what I thought at the time anyway) we went back to MK for some more BTMR and SM. We make 3 quick trips on BTMR and then head to SM. It's getting late. We go once and the CM asks if we want to stay on and ride again. Why sure, thanks. As I said, this ride is just over 10 minutes and we need to get on BTMR again so it'll be close.
We get off at 8:55 and pass on another, running to get to BTMR. We run right on and for the second time this week we get treated to fireworks as we ride. Wicked cool! As it ends the CM says, "Stay on for the last ride of the night!" Who are we to argue? Everyone aboard starts screaming and yelling. We've been yelling "the wildest ride in the wilderness" with the recorded message the last few times. You had to be there. Cam loves when we do it though, so I swallow my pride and yell with them each time. The last ride is very rowdy and lots of fun as the fireworks end during the ride. A great end to the night, and the trip. Unfortunately the shops at this end of the park are now closed and we can't get the ornaments Cathy wanted to pick up before we head home. Maybe this isn't the last time in the park...
Saturday, Oct 5
We're getting picked up by the limo driver at 10:30. We want to try to get some ornaments and Zack is looking for a Disney visor, so I agree to make one more trip over to MK. For the first time we get to see the official opening with the characters arriving on the train. That's a big plus. Really corny, but really great. Another thing you have to see.
I now know what "the rope drop" is, having experienced it at Frontierland. Cam didn't understand why we had to wait and then walk behind the CM to BTMR, but it was kind of fun. I guess they are trying to avoid a mad dash that would result in injuries or something (like lawsuits).
Anyway, we get the first ride of the day on BTMR, so we had the last one on Friday and the first one on Saturday. No time to mess around though. We take a quick second ride, then a ride on SM. That's it for the trip. We head to the Christmas shop but it doesn't open until 10:00. No way we can push our luck that far, we've still got to finish packing.
Our luck turns and we find a visor and a set of ornaments on Main Street and our trip is complete. We get back to the room and are out front of the Polynesian at 10:25. The limo is waiting and the driver waits while Cathy goes upstairs to get more coffee. I offer him some but he declines. He's a nice guy and regales us with stories on the way to the Airport. The only way to go. The flight home is blissfully uneventful, but we get home too late to pick up Spenser the Wonder Dog so his vacation will not end until Sunday.
I really can't think of anything we'd do differently other than skip that darn ET ride. We had some issues, but everyone has issues traveling with kids. The best advice I can give for people traveling with special needs kids is plan for anything.
Cam was very difficult to control at the end of the day the last few days of the trip. He will usually listen and obey if you are persistent but he wasn't obeying too much late in the day Thursday and Friday. Maybe the trip was a day too long, but I don't think we could have gotten everything done in much less time.
It's a ton of stuff for him to take in and long days with a lot of walking and playing. He never gets that much of a workout and I'm sure it was very tiring for him. You've just got to know it's coming and try not to get frustrated. All in all I'm really pleased with the way he acted on the trip, and it's great to see him have such a good time.
Zack on the other hand was (and is) a genuine angel, great with his brother, thoughtful and much more patient than I am at times. And the great thing is none of it's forced, it's all genuine. He was extremely polite and gracious to everyone we met, including the workers at the resorts and the parks. Now that I think of it, he deserves a bonus of some kind. I think I'll let him keep the money he spent out of his allowance account. He really deserves it.
I had heard about surly CMs and run down conditions at Disney World, so I was on the lookout. I cannot report one CM who was impolite, one character who wasn't wonderful with the kids or one instance of peeling paint. I'm not being an apologist, that's not my way. The parks looked fantastic and every CM we encountered was willing to take the time to chat or help. It was fantastic. Not only that, but the rest rooms were spotless.
Let me recap a couple final tips:
I hope you got some information out of this. I can't believe how long this thing is. Please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions.
PS-remember to have fun!