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Sheila D'Agostino -- December 2002 -- Walt Disney World (Offsite)

My husband and I decided to go to the International Auto Show being held in Orlando, and to combine that with a visit to Walt Disney World.

Wednesday afternoon, December 4th, we drove from our home in southern South Carolina to Orlando. We had made reservations at the Springhill Suites near the Convention Center so that we would be close to the Auto Show. We got a good price on the suite, $79.00 a night, which we thought a bargain considering the proximity to the Convention Center, the large room with a divider between the living and bedroom areas, two television sets, refrigerator, microwave, and wet bar. The lobby was nicely decorated, freshly-baked cookies were set out in the evening, and a continental breakfast was offered. It was nice and quiet, and overall a very well run facility. We enjoyed our stay there.

After we checked into the hotel Wednesday evening, we drove and walked around the area adjacent to our hotel. There are many interesting shops and restaurants nearby, and we chose to dine at a delightful Chinese buffet. There were many choices, the food tasted freshly prepared, and all was delicious.

Thursday morning we decided to skip most of the continental breakfast provided by our hotel. We did have coffee and a small portion of the good hot oatmeal offered, just to fortify us for the drive to Celebration, where we had decided to have breakfast. We went to the wonderful diner in the downtown area of Celebration, where I enjoyed blueberry pancakes with bacon, and my husband had apple pancakes with sausage. The blueberry pancakes were great, but the apples in the apple pancakes had a decidedly onion flavor and were hard. That was our first disappointment after several delicious meals there during previous visits.

After breakfast we drove back to our hotel to freshen up before going to the auto show, which didn't open until noon. We got to the convention center a few minutes before the auto show opened and were among the first visitors to enter. We enjoyed looking at the cars, getting in them, even taking a couple of test drives, all without any sales pressure from the car people there. It was very interesting and enjoyable, downright fun. We spent about six hours there, and the time just flew by. We sat in just about every vehicle, including BMWs, Jaguars, Land Rovers, and Hummers, among others. I drove a Jeep Liberty and a Chrysler 300M. We got free t-shirts, a couple of free pencils, picked up a bunch of brochures, and talked to a lot of the car representatives. It was a day well spent.

We had never eaten at a Perkins restaurant, and there was a Perkins in the area, so Thursday evening we went there for dinner, mostly because it was recommended by a friend. John had a pasta dish with shrimp, and I had a club sandwich. We both had cups of broccoli cheese soup as a starter. We thought it was a great place. Good food, good service, reasonable prices.

But of course we can't get that close to Disney World and not go. So Friday morning we went to Disney-MGM Studios, starting out with a character buffet breakfast at Hollywood and Vine. The food was excellent as always, and Minnie Mouse, Pluto, Chip & Dale, and Goofy all were very entertaining. After breakfast we did a few attractions at MGM, including "Sounds Dangerous," which was new to us and better than we had expected. Then we took a slow boat ride to Epcot, where we wandered around for a bit, browsed through Innoventions, then relaxed for a while at the pub in the Great Britain section; he had an Irish coffee and I had a British beer. Then we returned to Epcot and bought a light dinner at the ABC Commissary. He had fish and chips, and I had a sandwich. We were disappointed in that meal; it was not up to the usual Disney standards. That evening we experienced the highlight of the trip, the Osborne Lights. We had seen them last year, so this was our second time, and it was even better than the first. Five million lights are put on the movie set buildings and "homes" of the back lot (for instance, one of the house facades is that of the "Golden Girls") in a glorious Christmas spectacle. Lights are wound around bicycles, mailboxes, all over the houses, doghouses, trees, and canopies of lights are erected over the walkway. There are angels, Santa clauses, nativity scenes, think of anything that can be done with lights, and they've done it. It is fantastic. Christmas music plays, and everyone strolls through. We strolled through twice. My description of this is very inadequate -- it really must be seen. We think it is wonderful.

Saturday morning we ate breakfast at the hotel, which offered an "extended" continental breakfast, including waffles, toast, bagels, muffins, pastries, a pot of hot oatmeal, cold cereals, fruits, juices, and so forth. After breakfast we made the mistake of going to the Magic Kingdom. I know that Saturdays are especially busy for the Magic Kingdom, but I had thought that it would still be somewhat manageable. We had been there on other Saturdays and did just fine. Well, it turned out that Disney was filming the annual Christmas parade, and everyone and his brother on the East Coast were there to see it. We did catch a glimpse of one celebrity - one of the regulars from "Whose Line Is It, Anyway" -- very talented, I forgot his name. We went on just one attraction, "The Haunted Mansion", and did a bit of sightseeing, but the crush of the crowds made maneuvering nearly impossible. We can very happily go to any Disney park and occupy ourselves without going on attractions (we like to people watch, shop, just sight see), but it got so we could barely move, the crowds were so thick. So we decided to leave and go to the Grand Floridian Hotel to see the Christmas decorations there. On the way out of the park we witnessed paramedics working on a middle-aged man who apparently was having a heart attack. His family was with him, including his young children, he was clutching at his chest, then the paramedics came with a couple of gurneys. They worked on him a bit, then put him on one of the gurneys (medical equipment was on the other), and whisked him away. We hope that he is all right.

The Grand Floridian was lovely, with a huge tree in the lobby and other smaller trees scattered about, plus many other decorations. Also in the lobby was a giant gingerbread house, made out of real gingerbread and candy, in which an elderly lady was stationed. She gave us a free sample of a pastry, then we bought an overpriced gingerbread cookie from her ($3.50, but delicious). We relaxed on a couch and people watched for a while, then went to a "Disney Vacation Club" desk and thumbed through a brochure. Lo and behold, a Disney Vacation Club representative magically appeared and started talking to us. He offered to fix us up with a tour of the DVC model facilities. I was curious about what those digs look like, so we got in a van and were taken to the "Beach Club" near Epcot for a tour. Well, the rooms are lovely, and we were impressed with the setup. We talked to the sales rep for quite some time, and we were kind of interested. Unlike most time share pitches, we were encouraged to take the literature and think about it and to let them know. There was no pressure, and the concept is kind of neat. You buy points and can use those points for a day here or a week there at many Disney properties, and even the Disney cruise ships. There is a lot of flexibility. Since we go to Disney a lot, over the long run it could be a good deal for us. But you have to pay up front. If we were ten years younger we would probably seriously consider it, since we are unlikely to stop going to Disney World. The deal seems to be best for young folks who know they will be going to Disney for many years to come. My dear husband said that he would buy it if I wanted it, but tempted as I am, I'm just not convinced that it is the right choice for us. Instead, we'll probably continue to go to Disney and end up spending even more money over the coming years. Anyway, I was glad that we had gone for the tour and the sales pitch, since I had never before seen the DVC property rooms and was curious about them.

After we left the DVC sales center we went to Epcot since it was close by and we wanted to see the Epcot Christmas decorations lit up at night. We had seen them in the daytime, but not at night. We were hungry, so the first thing we did was to go to the Electric Umbrella, where we enjoyed excellent chicken Caesar salads. After that light dinner we wandered about admiring the beautiful Christmas lights, which while not in the abundance of the Osborne Lights at MGM, were lovely nonetheless. We especially enjoyed the lights of the huge lacy grillwork erected on the walkway near the center lake, and also the gigantic Christmas tree. There were also frosty-looking blossoms fashioned out of something like wicker and lit up with hundreds of tiny white lights. We walked around World Showcase, stopping for the last two songs of the "British Invasion," a great Beatle cover group. When we reached the American Pavilion, the "Candlelight Procession" with the multi-choir voices were finishing up their caroling, which was lovely. We continued our walk and bought a cup of hot cocoa in the African section to ward off the chill. John took lots of pictures of the Christmas decorations and lights, as he had at MGM.

On the way back to our lodging we stopped at Perkins to get carryout dessert. John bought a blueberry muffin, and I selected a slice of lemon meringue pie. We took it back to our room and enjoyed our treats with some decaf coffee.

Sunday morning we decided to return to Perkins for breakfast, again choosing to skip the free continental breakfast offered by the hotel, since we wanted to see what Perkins' breakfast was like. We packed up and checked out of the hotel, then went to Perkins where John had blueberry pancakes and a huge slab of ham, and I had eggs over medium, hash browns, corned beef hash, and pancakes. Too much food, and it was all yummy. Then we drove home.

Conclusion: For visiting the Disney parks, it is still far more convenient to stay at a Disney resort. However, we enjoyed the hotel and liked its proximity to the convention center for the auto show. We also enjoyed seeing parts of Orlando that we most likely would not have visited had we not stayed closer to the convention center.

We are planning our next visit for this coming March, when we hope to see an Atlanta Braves-NY Yankees spring training game at Disney's Wide World of Sports, assuming that we can get tickets. We'll combine that trip with a visit to the Animal Kingdom, since we skipped that park this trip.

Sheila D'Agostino


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