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G. Christopher Folke -- August 2002 -- Walt Disney World (PR)


The Particulars:
  • Port of Origin - Minneapolis, MN
  • Dates - August 10 - August 18, 2002
  • Resort - Polynesian Resort, Concierge level, lagoon view

Cast of Characters

  • Chris - 39 years young, your humble narrator, Disney FANATIC
  • Sandy - wife, younger than Chris, suffers through endless planning, counting down, etc. of Chris. Loves Disney as well - just has a healthier perspective.
  • Trevor - 9 year old son, the thinker.
  • Emma - 6 year old daughter, the daredevil.

Introduction

This trip was the second for our entire family, the first one being in 2000. For me, Walt Disney World has always been a special place. My grandparents lived in Orlando when I was growing up, so I have been visiting since the resort opened in 1971. In fact, my grandpa took me to the preview center several times before the opening. He was as excited about the opening of the park as I was, and was involved in some of the development of sewage systems as he worked for the state of Florida. On our first visit to Orlando after the park opened, he was not feeling well and was not able to go with us that day, or any other for that matter, as he died several months later. Despite the fact that he never went, my grandpa gave me an enthusiasm for Disney World that survives to this day.

We continued to visit my grandma and Disney World on an annual basis. It was always my dream to stay on site someday. In particular, I always wanted to stay at the Polynesian Resort. In 2000, this dream came true with a follow up visit this year.

Our trip in 2000 was a very good trip, but we had some problems, mostly with overextending our kids. As such, we had several meltdowns, and not just from the children! I had an unrealistic expectation of how much could be seen: I of course felt we could "see it all". We (mostly me) learned from that, and deliberately planned a more leisurely stay this time. We all worked together and planned our daily itinerary, building in slow days and breaks.

We decided to go in the summer, realizing that the heat can be unbearable. However, we are personally not comfortable pulling our children from school at this point for family vacations. We understand many people do, and we don't have a problem with that. Since we were not interested in fighting the crowds at Christmas or Easter, that left us with summer. However, in Minnesota, school doesn't begin until after Labor Day, so the middle part of August worked very well, and it turns out the crowds were quite manageable. As luck would have it, the heat was not totally oppressive (92 was the highest it got), although that was just good luck.

We chose to stay at the Polynesian Resort, primarily because I wanted to and nobody had any strong objections. With younger children, a Magic Kingdom resort made the most sense, and as mentioned above, I have always loved the Polynesian. Once that decision was made, we chose to upgrade to concierge, largely for the lounge and food that are provided. For us, it made sense to spend the extra money so that we didn't have to mess around with breakfast in the morning or dinner many evenings. In addition, the availability of water was critical for a summer visit. We also decided to go with a lagoon view to add to the overall magic. The downside: by going this route, we will wait several years until our next visit for financial reasons.

One other thing that we did as part of our family planning was the "change jar." For a year and a half, we collected our change into a jar for something special for our vacation. We were able to save enough as a family to take an Illuminations Cruise and go to Cirque Du Soleil. I also had the Concierge staff make several priority seating arrangements for us. Before we knew it, the two-year countdown was over and we were on our way!

August 10, 2002

Our flight left Minneapolis at 7:30 A.M. Central time. We arrived at the airport at 6:00, not sure what to expect, as we had not traveled by air since 9/11. Our airline was Northwest (in Minneapolis, you don't have much choice). I had printed off our boarding passes the day before, and we utilized curbside check-in. We got through security with no problems (although my cell phone set off the detector and I got "wanded", much to the delight of the children) and we were at our gate by 6:30! After a smooth and uneventful flight (window seats for the kids), we landed in Orlando. After our first monorail trip of the vacation, we picked up a rental car. We got a very nice deal, thanks to an Entertainment coupon. Then after a quick bite at Steak and Shake, it was off to Disney World.

There is something very magical about that first entry onto Disney property, and this was no exception. It is just exciting to realize that you have finally arrived at the World while following the signs to your ultimate destination, driving along and seeing monorails passing next to the road, seeing bits of pieces of MGM, Spaceship Earth and other sights as you drive. And thus we arrived at the Polynesian Island Resort.

Since we were staying in the Concierge building, our luggage was loaded onto a cart and we were driven to the building. I hadn't been paying close enough attention to the various Internet message boards beforehand, because I didn't discover until later that valet parking is $6.00 per day. At the Polynesian, anyway, it is not clearly marked. Even though it was 1:30, our room was ready, and we were able to enter our room and settle in before checking in at the concierge desk. Everything went very smoothly, we were issued our cards, (we went the Ultimate Park Hopper route) and it was off to the Magic Kingdom!

We caught the monorail at the Great Ceremonial House. Again, that first monorail ride is a magical moment. However, we noticed at this time, and numerous times during our stay, that the monorails seem to take a bit longer than they used to. Our impression is that you sit in the stations longer, and that there are more delays pulling into the stations. Not excessive, but I would estimate that there is an additional ten minutes of travel around the entire loop. A minor point to be sure (after all, this is vacation - relax and slow down a bit!) but somewhat annoying none the less.

After getting off the monorail, we were faced with another surprise - the searching of all bags, backpacks, etc as part of new security measures. This process was actually handled in an extremely efficient fashion throughout our stay, and was not terribly inconvenient and certainly did not have a negative impact upon our vacation.

And then our first steps onto Main Street. Even though I've seen it countless times, it still feels fresh and exciting. At Trevor's request, we actually did something I had never done before - rode one of the vehicles (the fire truck) to the end of Main Street. There is no specific reason why I never did that. Back in the days of the ride tickets, I always ended up with a bunch of A tickets because I felt too "cool" to ride one of the vehicles. After that, I guess I just felt in too much of a hurry. Thanks to Trevor, I experienced something new and enjoyable.

Our first stop was Space Mountain. Both kids wanted to ride that as neither had been on it before. In fact, they had been planning for weeks that Space Mountain would be the first attraction we would go on. However, it was closed due to technical problems, probably our only disappointment of the week. So we went on Buzz Lightyear instead. Trevor and I rode together with Sandy and Emma in the car behind us. About halfway through, the track stopped and stayed stopped for about a minute. As luck would have it, I was aiming at a target that gave me 25,000 for each hit! I just kept hitting it repeatedly as were stuck. Once the ride resumed and we got to the end, my family was amazed by my 525,000 point score - until I filled them in on my "cheat". A subsequent visit later in the week netted me a more realistic 75,000.

A quick check indicated that Space Mountain was still closed, so we moved on to Fantasyland and the Mad Tea Party. The primary thrill here is the attempt to make Dad dizzy - an easy task. I did get dizzy, but managed to hang onto my lunch.

During the wait and the ride, it began to rain - hard! We had not yet settled into the "it can rain at any time" mentality and were caught without our ponchos. In fact, every day that we were at Disney World, it rained for at least a half-hour, but no more than ninety minutes - pretty standard stuff for central Florida. We never left without our ponchos again, which we would recommend as standard procedure for any summer visit.

However, caught as we were without our raingear, we sprinted over to the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, mostly to get out of the rain. Everyone did enjoy it, although Trevor protested that it was dumb. We closed out our first day in the MK on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, always an extremely enjoyable ride. This is a terrific coaster to try out with younger or more timid riders, as it isn't terribly wild. If Big Thunder Mountain Railroad unnerves someone, Space Mountain should not even be considered.

At this point we did go back to the Polynesian, mostly to eat and swim. We had supper in the concierge lounge. The evening service each night consisted of fruits, cheese, crackers, and a unique item. These additional items included chicken, salad, sushi, and nachos. The fare is simple, but tasty and plentiful. Wine is also served in the evening along with deserts. There is also a separate kid section with PB&J or ham and cheese sandwiches, gummy worms, and other similar items. There are a number of non-alcoholic drinks available at all times including juices, soda, and bottled water. For us, the evening service sufficed for supper quite nicely on those nights we were there. Later in the evening a variety of deserts and cordials are also available.

We then checked out the pool. The kids had been looking forward to swimming ever since they heard there was a slide coming out of a volcano. The remodeling of the pool is wonderful, and is an improvement over the old pool. The slide in particular is quite good. I was surprised at how long and twisty it was. The main pool area with the waterfall is nice as well. Overall, a very solid recreational pool, this is not a pool for serious lap swimming. I have only two very minor complaints. First, the underwater music is gone! Second, there aren't quite enough tables near the pool area. It was often difficult to find a spot to sit and relax while keeping an eye on the kids. There are an abundance of lounge chairs at the beach and bar end of the pool, but not quite enough tables within easy eye and earshot of the main pool. However, these minor points did not prevent the pool from being a great place to relax and cool off at any point during our visit.

To close out our first day, we went back to our room, had the kids put on their jammies, turned off the lights and opened the drapes to enjoy the Electrical Water Pageant. And with that, our first day ended.

August 11, 2002

I am a morning person. On a family vacation where we are all sharing one room, this poses a potential problem. On our first morning, I slipped into a routine that worked quite well for us and proved quite enjoyable to me. I woke up around 6:30 nearly every morning, quietly got up, got dressed, and left the room. I then got a cup of coffee, a newspaper, and walked outside to our patio. I found this a very peaceful time for me. It also afforded me the enjoyable opportunity of seeing the world come to life. For example, the monorails began running at precisely 7:00 A.M. each day. One morning the howling from the Haunted Mansion could be heard. Since I only heard it once, I am assuming that there was some sort of test going on. Another day I could hear some sort of practice going on for a new type of park opening where they introduced a family of the day. I'm assuming it was a practice because it was occurring well before opening and they kept using different family names. There was always something new to observe.

Breakfast in the lounge is essentially an expanded Continental selection: English Muffins, pastries, fruit, cereal, oatmeal, juice, coffee and milk. It is not exotic or overly fancy, but rather tasty and plentiful. Again, not having to mess around with hunting down breakfast was terrific. Plus, the kids loved the selection of items and ate a very hearty breakfast every day, something that served them well throughout our visit.

We decided to visit Animal Kingdom our first full day. I had personally wanted to take the car, but was overridden by two children who wished to ride the bus. As always, Disney Transportation was very efficient. My only complaint is the multiple stops, but I did not argue about the bus ride. It worked out that this one time using the bus got it out of their system, and on subsequent days we were able to use the car when it made sense without protest.

Animal Kingdom is a great park to visit for starting out, as it is easy to tour in less than a full day. There aren't as many "formal" attractions as at other parks, but there is plenty to see and do on the way to the various venues. One is often presented with a choice of paths to follow, any one of which will take you to your destination. Quite often the side paths take you past interesting animal and plant exhibits. More than any other park, you are best served touring Animal Kingdom at a stroll rather than a trot.

As such, we strolled to Kilimanjaro Safaris, the signature attraction at Animal Kingdom. On the way there, I was struck particularly by the level of detail in Harambe, from the cracks in the pavement (I'm assuming it was intentional!) to the weather beaten appearance of signs and buildings. I have never been to Africa, but I certainly felt as if that is where I was.

The Safari itself is great fun. We had about a ten-minute wait, and boarded our vehicle. Again, the feel of the roads is very realistic with the potholes, jaunts through streams and up hills, and twists and turns. Ironically, the only part of the journey (with the exception of the story) that felt contrived was the collapsing bridge about halfway through.

The views of the animals are obviously the main thing, and for this the attraction is first rate. The proximity and feeling of proximity to all of the animals, including the dangerous ones like lions and cheetahs is amazing. Disney has done an outstanding job of hiding the barriers so that you truly have the feeling that there is no separation between you and that lion up on the rock. Adding to that illusion on our particular ride were the giraffe and zebra crossing the path of the truck, proof that you are on the veldt with the herbivores anyway! Our personal favorites were the meerkats, ostriches, elephants, and giraffes. The ride is a bit rough, but certainly not overly so in my opinion. Overall, a top-notch attraction.

A stroll through the Pagnani Exploration trail was the logical follow-up. The lush forests are relaxing to walk through. The exhibits are well thought out and the site lines are very good, with excellent views of the animals. Our favorites here were the hippos and the gorillas. One male gorilla in particular was right up against the observation glass. Imagine everyone's delight when it decided to pick its nose!

Next we went to Emma's favorite: Kali River Rapids. She had been talking about the soaking she got on this the last time we visited. Once more, luck was on our side as there was only a five-minute wait. I was the last person onto the raft, and unfortunately the last to get a crack at the center storage area. As such, I was unable to put our backpack (with camera) in due to the shoes and other belongings of other guests. I was able to quickly wrap a poncho around the camera, and we came out OK. My advice would be to wrap something larger like a backpack that you don't want to get wet in a plastic bag or poncho before boarding the ride - there's no guarantee that you will get it in the center.

Within the first 50 feet of the ride, you may discover why this is important. I would say that it is virtually impossible to stay completely dry on this ride with a better than 50% chance that some if not all of you will get soaked. And for us, that is the fun of the ride! On a warm summer day, it feels quite refreshing. Again, the scenery and theming are quite well done, with the heat from the logging fire being particularly impressive. As with many Disney World attractions, one might quibble that this ride is not quite as wild as similar rides in other theme parks, and I would agree that it is a bit on the short side. But overall, the attraction lives up to the Disney standard of providing a ride with a story behind it, and making the experience an enjoyable and memorable one.

At this point, it was lunchtime. We chose Pizzafari, as we didn't feel like dealing with the Rainforest (not to mention the walk back to the entrance). Plus the kids love pizza. The meal was quite reasonably priced and tasty. The only negative was that we were still soaking wet from Kali River, and it was a bit chilly in the restaurant, but who's fault was that? We would definitely have no qualms about eating here again.

At this point, our interests diverged. Neither child was interested in any of the live shows (we had seen them on our last visit), but Trevor and I were interested in It's Tough to Be a Bug as well as Dinoland. Emma was still pretty tired from the trip and wanted to go back to the resort to nap, which was fine with Sandy. So we split up agreeing to meet up at the room in a couple of hours.

The main reason Emma didn't want to see Bug was that she remembered it from our last visit, and it terrified her. I had missed the end as I took Emma out, so this was a chance for me to catch up. The effects are quite intense, and it is easy to see how younger kids in particular can be frightened. Trevor was a bit unnerved as well, so I do recommend using caution. If you're unsure, try to sit near an aisle, as the attendants will let you out if necessary. That being said, we enjoyed the presentation a great deal. The effects are terrific and the surprises are loads of fun.

Next was Dinoland, which we had skipped entirely last visit except for the Boneyard. And ironically, the Boneyard was the one attraction Trevor was not interested in. However, the Boneyard is a great spot for younger kids to unwind and just have some good unstructured fun. And parents will like the fact that it offers a break from being on your feet.

Triceratop Spin was first, and this ended up being Trevor's biggest disappointment. Clearly, it is Dumbo as a dinosaur, but the tilt didn't work properly on our car. No matter. Dinosaur and Primeval Whirl made up for it in a hurry.

Dinosaur in particular was great fun. There are legitimate reasons that this ride has warnings. It is quite bumpy and rough, dark, and very intense. The pre-show stuff and buildup actually frightened Trevor more than the actual ride - he was clutching my hand tightly as we boarded the cars. But after my reminders that it is all made up, he relaxed and enjoyed the attraction a great deal. I liked it as well. It really is sort of a "Universe of Energy on steroids" with intense lights and dinosaur action. There is a real musty feel that adds to the realism.

Primeval Whirl is also new, and a fun little coaster. It is a throwback to some of the older small amusement park coasters. In particular, I am reminded of a coaster called the Mad Mouse. The added twist here (literally) is that the cars spin at various points of the ride. Again, a fun introductory roller coaster that lies somewhere between Goofy's Barnstormer and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad on the thrill scale.

We then made our way back to the Polynesian. After meeting back up with Sandy and Emma (who was quite refreshed after her nap), we ate supper in the lounge, and took the boat over to the Magic Kingdom.

We immediately went to Space Mountain. We entered and after about a fifteen-minute wait, we were strapped in. Sandy was directly in front of Emma and looked back a couple of times, unsure whether she saw joy or fear on her face. We quickly found out that it was sheer joy, as Emma and Trevor both proclaimed Space Mountain their favorite ride of all time. As most Disney veterans will attest, the ride itself wouldn't be too terribly frightening - if the lights were on. I had forgotten what a great thrill Space Mountain was until this first ride after a ten-year layoff. Trevor and Emma immediately spent some of their souvenir money on Space Mountain t-shirts. We would ride four more times (!) before leaving WDW, with each of us taking a turn in the very front at some point. Our waits varied from 5 minutes to 20 minutes.

Actually, our longest wait was about a half hour, but fifteen minutes of this was spent with the ride shut down for a technical problem. This ended up being quite interesting, however, as the lights were brought up, and we were able to see what the coaster actually looks like - not nearly as intimidating!

We then took in Splash Mountain - my personal favorite attraction at WDW. The combination of storytelling with the water drops makes this an attraction that to me is what Disney World is all about. Even the sights as you wait in line from the various posters and pictures to the silhouette of Brer Frog rocking in his chair add to the fun. We rode three times over the course of our visit, and never got soaked. The tip about sitting on the right side if you want to increase your chances of getting wet is true however. The kids are still singing the songs from Splash Mountain!

Night was beginning to fall, so we started to head back to the entrance. On the way, we passed the Magic Carpets of Aladdin, which had no wait. Essentially a modified Dumbo, Carpets was a lot of fun since the cars were working correctly and we were able to control the pitch (forward and back motion) as well as the height.

Back at the resort, we swam for a bit, heading back to the room after the Water Parade. We got deserts from the lounge, changed into pajamas and opened the blinds to watch the fireworks from the Magic Kingdom - a pleasant end to another magical day.

August 12, 2002

We planned this as our Epcot day. We made the strategic decision to devote less time to Epcot on this trip than our earlier trip, primarily because the kids were bored the last time and expressed little interest in more than a few attractions. In particular, there was not the interest level in the World Showcase. Sandy and I agreed on this as well, realizing that we were opting out of some potentially rewarding experiences in the interest of a better overall vacation. And while we both agree that Disney has done a great job in recreating the atmosphere and feeling of the various countries represented, we felt better served in bypassing the entire area for this visit. Plus, this will give us something new to look forward to on a future trip!

We walked over to the Ticket and Transportation Center to catch the Epcot monorail. Taking the monorail down to Epcot is an attraction in and of itself - more exciting than a bus ride, being up in the sky and seeing the scenery pass is a joy that shouldn't be missed. We tried to sit up front, but there was quite a wait, so we took a pass. The entrance into Epcot and the swing around Future World with the World Showcase in the distance is a terrific overview of the park as well, albeit a short one.

Upon our arrival, we went straight to Test Track. After about a 30-minute wait, we went for the ride. On our prior visit, this was Trevor's favorite attraction, and it became one for the rest of the family as well. However, the timing of a couple of elements seemed a bit "off" to me. Specifically, the truck light and horn activated after we were past the point. Also, the dummy car had already crashed, thereby partially destroying the illusion that they were preparing to run us into a wall. When we saw the attraction previously, we observed the dummy car actually crashing into the wall before accelerating through our own wall. In any event, the attraction was enjoyed by all. I guess I'm just a curmudgeon.

We then walked over to the Universe of Energy. The show is very entertaining and educational. The scenes with the dinosaurs are impressive without being frightening. All in all this was enjoyable. In fact, Emma named it her favorite attraction of the day!

We then went to the Coral Reef Restaurant in the Living Seas Pavilion. I was interested in it for the view and ambience that I had heard about. And the view from inside of the tank is spectacular. On each table is a listing and picture of all the fish in the tank. Two divers entered the pool while we were eating to perform maintenance. They were great about waving through the glass at people. The highlight was probably the sea turtle swimming right past us. It was huge and we all got a thrill out of seeing it. The food was good, but a bit overpriced, even for Disney. This is pretty consistent with the myriad reviews we have read. You are definitely paying for atmosphere here. It was a good experience, but one which we will likely skip on future visits.

After lunch, we explored the Living Seas Pavilion. There is quite a bit of interesting stuff, but it is not much better than a good aquarium. If you are interested in sea life, Sea World is definitely a better option. This last observation probably deserves a big Duh!

Trevor then wanted to see Honey I Shrunk the Audience, an attraction that held no interest for Emma, and based upon the descriptions, would probably frighten her. So Sandy and Trevor took off to that while Emma and I waited to see Living With the Land.

The review on Honey I Shrunk the Audience was positive, although Sandy said that she got creeped out by a couple of things, but they both loved the ending. Emma and I enjoyed the Land exhibit as well, although the line was quite slow. As a side note: this was by far the most educational experience any of us had at Disney World. While waiting for us, Trevor had a great time playing video games at Innoventions.

We took one more spin on Test Track and then decided to hit Spaceship Earth on our way out. Everybody enjoyed this as well, especially the idea that we went up on the big ball. The scenes presented are quite impressive. We were also proud of the fact that there was no line when we decided to go in mid afternoon. The line can be quite long first thing in the morning as everybody stops there on his or her way into Epcot, so it is best to wait.

And that was it for Epcot! As I stated above, we probably gave Epcot short shrift, but this was the choice we made. We were all more interested in relaxing for a bit by the pool at this point, having a bite to eat, and then going out for our first "change jar" activity - the Illuminations Cruise.

Our boat was to leave from the Yacht and Beach Club, so we drove down there. Due to our misunderstanding the time we were supposed to arrive, we had about an hour to kill, which we spent by strolling over to the Boardwalk area. Trevor bought a "boomerball" and Emma got her face painted, so it was time well spent. The ESPN club was a mob scene, as the Miami Dolphin cheerleaders were apparently inside. On our way back, the kids admired Stormalong Bay, and expressed an interest in staying there and using that pool someday.

It began to rain, just as we arrived for our cruise. Our driver, Karen, put the canopy up, wiped off the seats, and we were off. She took us slowly down to MGM, past the Swan and Dolphin, and right up to the entrance. It was a lot of fun and very pretty. Karen was quite knowledgeable on Disney trivia and on Walt Disney World, so we were able to pick up a few interesting bits and pieces.

I was glancing at my watch, as I didn't notice any of the other pontoon boats, especially on the way back. Karen set my mind at ease by explaining that the other boats all had full loads of ten or more, and therefore they just went to sit under the bridge since it was raining. Indeed, we got to the bridge on the international entrance side of Epcot, and there was one space left for our boat, which Karen squeezed us into, just as the five minutes to Illuminations announcement was made.

The show itself is great, and our view was unobstructed and spectacular. We had seen the show two years earlier, but did not realize, for example, that there are pictures and images on the globe. We could even feel the heat from the flaming barge. Best of all, when the show was over, we had a relaxing boat ride past the Boardwalk and back to the Yacht and Beach Club. No fighting crowds or waiting for transportation! All in all, we were glad we splurged on this.

Back to the Polynesian in time for the fireworks, and to bed after another great day!

August 13, 2002

If one were superstitious, one might be tempted to blame the one bad thing that happened on our vacation upon the date. All I know is that this is the one day that I decided not to shave, and thus I probably jinxed myself. But all in good time!

All of us were interested in visiting a water park. We decided upon Typhoon Lagoon. The kids and I had visited on our last trip, and Sandy was interested. Plus, everything we had read indicated that Typhoon Lagoon is the most appropriate park for pre-teen families.

Again, we used the car and were at the park in about ten minutes. It was about ten O'clock, and not yet busy. We got a locker, found some chairs, and headed into the wave pool. The wave pool is clearly the defining item about Typhoon Lagoon, and it is awesome. The thing that truly sets Typhoon Lagoon apart from other Non-Disney water parks is the theming and attention to detail. I don't think there are any other water parks with the same level and consistency of theming as at the Disney Water Parks. There is always something interesting to look at, and Miss Tilley (the boat on top of the mountain) going off every half hour adds considerably to the fun.

The "lazy river" tube ride around the park is also relaxing with a few surprises. We all enjoyed the family tube ride, Gangplank Falls, although it is a bit on the short side. The Keelhaul Falls and Mayday Falls tube rides are also fun, but again a little bit short. The storm slides (not the speed slide, Humunga Kowabunga) are quite good, and the kids and I really enjoyed those. The walk up to the slides in particular is quite scenic, with a number of surprises on the way. Also, at the top you are right under Miss Tilley. In fact, she blew her top once when we were up there.

And of course, we made several forays into the wave pool. For those who have never been in it, the wave pool is a huge zero entry pool which goes to around ten feet deep at its deepest point, although one doesn't need to get anywhere near that depth. Every ninety seconds, there is a huge WHOOMP sound, followed by the screams of all the people in the pool as a wave from three to six feet high comes bearing down on you. Some people try to body surf; others just enjoy letting the wave wash over them. In addition, the pool is switched over to gentle waves for a period of time. These are rolling waves, about a foot high at most that come continuously. While not as wild, these waves are a lot of fun for bobbing, floating, and just horsing around.

And now for a warning based upon personal experience. If this does sound wild, it is. In fact, we were at the end of our day as I had told the kids just a couple more waves. I was swept up on a wave and came down on somebody's head. I do not know how that person made out as I lost sight of him, but his head struck me right in the base of the ribs on my left side. I had the wind knocked out of me, and the ribs hurt like mad. I ended up at the Florida Certicare at Crossroads Shopping Village at 11:00 P.M. that night. Fortunately, the ribs were not cracked or broken, just badly bruised. I was given some painkillers (more on that later!) and a wrap for my ribs. They were finally completely healed about four weeks later.

The warning is this. You often lose control on the waves and can crash down on people. Conversely, you may find people coming down on you. In addition, the bottom of the pool is concrete, meaning scrapes and bruises are possible. If you are willing to risk that, by all means check out Typhoon Lagoon. If you aren't interested in the wave pool at all, I would recommend Blizzard Beach as my understanding is that the slides are more exciting than at Typhoon Lagoon. All of this said, would we go back to Typhoon Lagoon. Call me foolish, but I would!

Back at the hotel, we changed and went to Chef Mickey's for the character dinner. We relied on various reviews ranking this as a terrific character meal, and indeed the characters were awesome from the moment we arrived. Donald and Goofy were on hand while we were waiting for our table and they both mugged it up quite a bit. During the meal, Mickey, Minnie, Chip and Dale all dropped by our table, and each one of them interacted terrifically with the kids. Minnie made "kissy" sounds, which caused Trevor to blush! Mickey arrived while Trevor was getting desert, and he plopped down right next to Emma, which thrilled her. And Chip and Dale clowned with both kids and grownups. All in all, these were the most energetic and enthusiastic characters we met anywhere at WDW!

The food was another story altogether. I don't know if the breakfast is any better, but the buffet food for dinner was not very good. The fish and chicken were both quite overcooked, and other items lacked flavor. The sundae bar was fine, but overall the food was extremely disappointing. If we go to Chef Mickey's again, it will be for breakfast.

We then went to the Magic Kingdom. We decided to go on a few attractions before Spectromagic, the night parade. We staked out seats in front of the Frontierland Shooting Gallery and proceeded to witness one of the major highlights of our trip.

Quite simply, Spectromagic is the best parade any of us has ever seen. The combination of music and floats is truly awesome, from the beginning to the end. The characters in the parade interact with the crowd continually, and the lights are beautiful. We saw the Main Street Electrical Parade on a previous visit and enjoyed it immensely. But Spectromagic is a cut above that. I can't recommend it enough and would rank it as a huge don't miss. We went back Saturday night to see it again and even bought the CD of the parade music to enjoy at home.

We then wandered onto Main Street, along with everyone else, and enjoyed the flight of Tinkerbell and the Fantasy in the Sky Fireworks. It is clearly a matter of personal choice whether to stay and watch the fireworks and fight the crowds afterwards. We did it, and are glad we did. There is something magical about watching fireworks over the castle on site. Once we were out of the park, the wait for the boat launch back to the Polynesian was not bad either - about five minutes.

And thus ended a great for three of us. My night was just beginning, but overall it was a nice day for me as well.

August 14, 2002

Before this trip, I had virtually no experience with painkillers. I did not react well to the two I took for my rib, one at night and one in the morning. They made me feel pretty woozy and nauseous. We had a bit of breakfast, and I felt a bit better, so we decided to go to the Magic Kingdom, as this was a kid's choice day and MK was where they wanted to go. I decided that I would let the current painkiller wear off, and be done with them.

Everyone was agreeable to going on some tame rides until I was feeling better, so we started off with the Enchanted Tiki Room. Trevor enjoyed this, in spite of himself. However, the big thrill ended up being the Elvis sighting as we were waiting to go in. This particular Elvis was pretty gung-ho as he had on a black long sleeve shirt and black slacks on a day that would prove to hit 92. Emma reported that Elvis enjoyed the Tiki Room (I guess she looked over at him a couple of times) and appeared to be singing along at one point. The show itself has been spiced up a bit with Iago and Zazoo, but the overall intent of singing birds is roughly the same. It is more than possible that the dark and stormy parts could scare younger or easily spooked children.

We then decided to tackle the Jungle Cruise, as the lines did not appear long. This has always been a favorite attraction of mine, and the kids were quite interested in it as well. We boarded, and what happened next has already become a family legend.

We were seated up front - Trevor was right next to the driver and I was next. I felt pretty good as we started out. We were enjoying things and looking at all the neat animal stuff. All of a sudden, Sandy noticed that I had gone completely white. I was feeling extremely ill, and the driver noticed as well. Putting aside his microphone he asked me if I was OK. I told him that I thought I was going to be sick. He said, "Just do it over the side of the boat." And as discretely as possible, I proceeded to get physically ill over the side of the boat.

I did feel a lot better, but was very embarrassed. It did not appear that I had caused a stir with the other passengers. When we docked, I mumbled an apology to the driver, who responded "Don't worry, it happens all the time." I received about two minutes of sympathy from my family. After that, I was fair game for numerous jokes the remainder of our vacation and beyond. (I.e. "Dad, are you going to boot?", "Honey, do you think Peter Pan's Flight will make you sick?", etc.). I have told numerous people the story, as I agree that in retrospect, it is quite funny.

I did feel well enough to go on Pirates of the Caribbean, and enjoyed it as always. My children have a hard time believing that when I first went on the attraction not long after it opened, the lines were well over an hour long. In some ways, it's kind of sad seeing all of the old empty queue area and realizing that an attraction like this doesn't hold the same appeal it once did, at least from a crowd standpoint. Then again, when the lines were long, there were fewer attractions. Also, I am not complaining about only having to wait five minutes. It's just always interesting to remember the day that this E-Ticket attraction was a main event of a Magic Kingdom visit.

After a walk through the Swiss Family Tree House, we decided to go back and get some lunch. Truth be told, I was feeling a little tired and wanted a nap as well. So we took a two and a half-hour break, which included lunch, my nap, swimming for everyone else and a hair wrap for Emma. The hair wrap, incidentally, stayed in her hair until exactly one month after it was put in.

The rest of the day was spent back at the Magic Kingdom visiting old and new favorites. Tom Sawyer Island was first for the afternoon, and we all had a great time. There was a bit of disappointment, as several of the items are no longer accessible or gone. This includes the tipping rock and the mini-playground at the top of the hill. The various caves remain a lot of fun, as does the Fort. Also, Tom Sawyer Island is a great place to get some good pictures, especially of Big Thunder Mountain and the Haunted Mansion. There is a real feel of getting away from the crowds out there as well.

I was walking around the edge of the fort taking pictures of Big Thunder Mountain, when I noticed a log floating in the lagoon. However, the log was swimming and turned out to be a small (about five feet long) alligator! It just swam slowly along. When we took the raft back to shore, I mentioned it to the driver. He pointed out a second alligator to me as well. On the rest of our Florida vacation, I looked periodically for alligators in all the places you would expect to see them, but saw none. So the only gators we saw were right smack in the middle of Disney World!

Haunted Mansion was next, and Emma decided to go. This had been the big debate, as she was frightened by the idea of ghosts. But with some coaxing and encouragement from her big brother, she went on and enjoyed it a great deal. Despite the true statement that it is more fun than scary, there are several "Gotcha" type moments, but all in all the Haunted Mansion remains good fun that is not terribly frightening. The special effects continue to be impressive, although the pre-show seemed a bit rushed and was not as impressive as past visits. The expanding room in particular did not seem to be working the day we visited. Overall it remains a not to be missed!

We closed out our day at the Magic Kingdom riding our old favorites: Big Thunder Mountain, Splash Mountain, Space Mountain and Buzz Lightyear. Back to the resort for more swimming, dinner, and fireworks - another great day!

August 15, 2002

This day was set aside as a relax day, with several special events. First was breakfast at Cinderella's Castle. We took the monorail over, and entered the Magic Kingdom. One of the great things about an early morning character breakfast in the Magic Kingdom (whether in the castle or at another venue) is that you are admitted only if your name is on the priority seating lists. I would recommend giving yourself a few extra minutes for pictures as you will never be on Main Street when it is less crowded than entering for a priority seating before park opening.

The meal itself was very good, and the setting, of course, is tremendous. What was somewhat disappointing was the characters themselves. Belle was very friendly and interacted well with the kids. In fact, she was terrific. Alice was OK too. Cinderella and Snow White, on the other hand, left a lot to be desired on the enthusiasm and friendliness front. I realize that it is probably difficult to maintain a happy face for that length of time, but the seemingly complete apathy was annoying. This is one thing we will probably take a pass on during future visits.

We were done with breakfast, and our next stop was the Grand Floridian for the Pirate Cruise. The funny part about this was that we were leaving the Magic Kingdom at 9:30, a half-hour after opening. A security guard looked incredulous as we were leaving, as did a number of other guests. It was a strange feeling in a way.

We walked over to the Marina and dropped the kids off for the Pirate Cruise. They had a great time on this. Basically, they tour around the Seven Seas Lagoon and Bay Lake, making several stops as they put a pirate map together. They are each given a bandana and put it on pirate style. The people that run the cruise have them say "GAR" a lot and at the end of the trip they each get a bag of booty. They made stops at the Polynesian and the deserted River Country. At one point, they were going to leave Captain Drew behind, because he was being greedy and calling the kids names. All in all, they had a great time with it.

Sandy and I ended up going back to the Magic Kingdom and shopping. It was pretty relaxing to be able to browse a little bit and not have to worry about keeping our eyes on the children at all times. I ended up indulging myself in what became a mild obsession on this trip - pin collecting. In all, we bought about 25 pins as a family! It was a lot of fun, we traded with a couple of people and Sandy threatened to buy me a pin-trading vest.

After lunch, it began to rain. And rain. And rain. With thunder and lightening. Our afternoon plan had been to hang around and do water mice and the pool. However, everything was obviously shut down with no end in sight for the rain to let up. Our evening plan was to go to Cirque Du'Soleil, so we decided to head over to Downtown Disney for the afternoon.

Trevor I decided to try out Disney Quest while Sandy and Emma shopped. Trevor had been quite interested in Disney Quest, but we had planned on taking a pass. Essentially, it is a juiced up arcade. There are several unique items, some better than others. The layout is confusing as well, and the map is not particularly helpful. I would say that it is definitely set up with the idea that one will wander aimlessly through the place. Its appeal is definitely teens and pre-teens.

We tried the Mighty Ducks Pinball Game. Trevor liked it, I didn't get it. Next we did the Pirates of the Caribbean virtual ride. In my opinion, this was the best attraction in the place, a 3-D battle with other ships, sea serpents and a ghost pirate at the end. Virtual Jungle Cruise was a disappointment and very difficult to navigate. We next played some of the arcade games (all free, but with lines). The best was the Daytona Speedway game with up to eight players per race. This is the standard arcade game that you will find all across the country.

Next was Virtual Space Mountain, where you design and ride your very own roller coaster. This was a lot of fun, and we designed a pretty wild looking coaster. Then we got strapped in to a simulator and we were off. This was Trevor's favorite attraction, it made me a little woozy and dizzy (can't blame this one on painkillers!) After that, Trevor wanted to try the Magic Carpet of Aladdin, which I was not up for. He enjoyed that none the less. At this point it was time to go, which was fine by me. I was still feeling a bit off as it is very crowded and noisy - not for claustrophobic people. Once we stepped outside, I felt much better.

We had dinner at Wolfgang Puck's, and it was quite good. The California Pizzas are the specialty, and the two we had were yummy. The salmon one in particular is extremely tasty, but be forewarned that these are not typical pizzas - no tomato sauces, etc. But very unique and delicious.

Cirque Du'Soleil was something we had heard positive things about, and we made this one of our family "change jar" treats. The show was one of the true highlights of our trip. We even bought the CD to enjoy the music at home. It is difficult to describe, but I will give a few impressions.

First, I will state that this was one of the most astounding visual presentations I have ever seen. Setting aside the difficulty of the stunts performed, there is always something interesting to look at. In fact, it is sometimes frustrating to know what to look at. From the costumes, to the movement, to the lighting, to the sets - the sights are absolutely stunning. It is also very artistic in a highly stylized fashion. The music is also extremely interesting as well, mixing elements of modern, rock and folk into a seamless whole. The music is also performed completely live - a fact I did not fully comprehend until about halfway through.

There is a story line of sorts, but that isn't really important to the flow of the show. And it really does flow, from act to act. I don't really want to tell too much, as this could spoil some of the surprises and fun. I will say, however, that the show is spectacular throughout, but the final performance is beyond description and belief. The show is a bit pricey, but there are a number of discounts out there, and the show is well worth every cent spent. If we had seen this near the beginning of our stay, I have a hunch we might have gone again!

After wandering for a little bit more around Downtown Disney, it was back to the hotel for the evening.

August 16, 2002

From the start, we realized that this would be our longest and potentially most troublesome day - MGM. Our idea was that we would spend the entire day at the park without a break, but we agreed to keep an open mind to going back to the hotel if a break was needed. As it turned out, no break was necessary and this was quite possibly our most fun day from start to finish.

When we visited in 2000, the kids had been too shy to go on the big rides - Tower of Terror, Rock N Roller Coaster, etc. This year, they both were itching to go on both. We arrived about 10:00 and went right over to the Tower of Terror and Rock N Roller Coaster. We got fast passes for RNR, and got in light for T of T.

After being prepared for huge waits, we only had to stand in line for about five minutes until we were in the waiting room. The bellhop who showed us in scared Sandy by sneaking up behind her and just standing during the pre show. The theming and detail in the lobby and down into the basement are great, with dust covering everything. In the basement, there is even grease on the lights. It's very well put together.

The ride itself is also terrific. There is no surprise that there is a drop during the ride. The surprise (to me, anyway) was when it occurred. The various sights leading up to the drop are also neat. All in all, we enjoyed the ride a great deal. Trevor liked it, but showed no interest in going on it again later in the day. I think he was a bit frightened by some of the sights. The drop didn't phase him - the story line did just a bit. There is noting gruesome or gory about any of it - just some tricks on the imagination and realistic looking special effects. In this sense, the ride is true to the spirit of the show.

We then used our fast passes and got right on Rock N Roller Coaster. Again, the theming leading up to the ride itself was quite good, from the inside of the studio to the alley where the limo waits. The final wait as you watch the cars take off really builds the anticipation, or causes panic depending upon how you react to the cars zooming out. The ride itself was thrilling, with several loops and tight turns. While this coaster is in the dark, like Space Mountain, it is very smooth and does not have the jolting and lurching that Space Mountain has. What it does have is the infamous shooting out from the start (which is also surprisingly smooth) into the first of three inversions. Sandy joked that if she could see the coaster before riding it, she probably wouldn't have gone on it. Rock N Roller Coaster was picked as one of the top rides for our family, with it replacing Space Mountain on Trevor and Emma's top spots. We went on three more times during the day.

Once again, we split up. Sandy and Emma to check out Beauty and the Beast, Trevor and I to Star Tours. Beauty and the Beast was very good, with all of the highlights from the movie and Broadway show hit upon. Emma especially liked the ending when Belle comes out in her pretty dress. However, they no longer release the birds at the end of the show. We were told this was because local hawks and birds of prey got wise to the release schedule and timed their meals accordingly.

Star Tours was fun for Trevor and I as well. As with most things throughout our trip, we walked right on to the ride with virtually no wait. I would rank this attraction at the top of the list of rides that can cause motion sickness. I felt slightly weak in the knees when we were done, but it passed quite quickly. It is also a must see for anybody who loves the Star Wars movies. The story is good, the action is top notch, and the effects are great. You really feel like you are in the middle of all the action! The special effects can be quite intense however, and anyone put off or frightened by explosions should think twice about riding.

We then met up at the 50's Prime Time Café for lunch (by prior arrangement). The premise of the restaurant is that you are going home for a meal, and all the cast members treat you like a member of the family, in good and bad ways! Trevor thought it was pretty funny when the hostess called me "Hon" as we were seated. Our waiter introduced himself as Uncle Tim - funny again because the kids actually do have an Uncle Tim. His persona was of the ignored and much put upon family member, with some complaints about us never writing or calling, etc. After taking our orders, he marched us off to the bathroom to wash our hands. At various times he also warned us about keeping our elbows off the table.

The best moment came at the end, however. Sandy was not able to finish all of her chicken sandwich. Uncle Tim told her she needed to finish up, didn't she know about "the starving kids in China", etc. He left, and Sandy hid her chicken under her napkin. When he came back, without a word he plucked her napkin off her plate and just started shaking his head. He then said, "I told you about those starving kids," and began cutting a piece of the chicken. He then loudly stated "I need everybody's help." He got our whole side of the restaurant to stick their arms out and make airplane noises. Then he took the cut piece, and flew it into the hanger of Sandy's mouth! She was laughing so hard she could hardly swallow. Another diner even took a picture of the whole thing. All in all it was a great time.

The food, incidentally, was quite good. I mention this as I have seen several poor reviews of the food at the 50's Prime Time Café. We all enjoyed our food quite a bit, so either we ordered "right" (meatloaf, chicken sandwich, grilled cheese, and hot dog), the food has improved, or we are not picky. It is probably a combination of all three, but we thought the food was more than acceptable and a good value.

After lunch, we decided to check out Muppetvision 3D. We got to the theater just as they were letting people in, so we got our glasses and went right in. Another great show! The funniest part is when the little buzzing guy says something about being there just for you. Afterwards, Trevor and Emma both had a bit of an argument insisting that he was coming straight at them. It was nothing serious, and they did believe me for once when I explained it was just an effect that worked the same way for everyone. We all got a big kick out of the entire show, especially the ending with the cannon. Great fun for all!

We went to check out Who Wants to Be a Millionaire next. I will state up front that I fancy myself something of a trivia buff, and had been looking forward to this. The kids love the television show as well and wanted to play along, even though they knew Regis wouldn't be there. I had read a couple of things about speed being important, so I knew that I wanted to play fast to improve my chances of getting in the hot seat.

There was a good line, and we weren't sure we were going to get in until the very last moment - in fact we got four of the last ten seats. I sat behind the other three, and we settled in to play. There was no carryover person, so there was a fast fingers question that had to do with European geography, which a fellow from Europe won. He did quite well on the questions. But the most exciting part was that when they flashed the scores where the audience was about halfway through, I was in third place! However, I missed a question and took myself out of the running.

After the first player quit, a woman was in the hot seat. She did pretty well also, but was down to her last lifeline when time expired, so she was carried over. They did the "just for fun" let's see how the audience is doing, and there I was, in the top spot! We were pretty excited, and I had to be dragged away. If only the game had extended for another five or ten minutes, I might have made it! Oh well, it was a lot of fun and I have something to brag about.

We next checked out the Honey I Shrunk the Kids Playground. This provides some great photo opportunities, and is a nice break for everyone. Kids love the playground and the fact that it is "unsupervised" and spontaneous. Adults like the rest. Plus, many of the items are quite clever and fun to look at.

Once more, we decided to split up: Trevor and Sandy to Star Tours, Emma and I to Tower of Terror. The funniest part about Tower of Terror was that Emma was the smallest person (by far) on our elevator and was sitting next to a heavily tattooed young man. The young man was screaming, and not in a funny way - he seemed truly terrified. Emma, meanwhile, was yelling with delight. It was at this point that I realized that she had turned into a complete and total daredevil.

On our way to meet up for dinner, we came across the Stars and Cars parade. I put Emma on my shoulders and we enjoyed the parade. It is pretty good, nothing terribly spectacular, but not a total waste of time either. Emma enjoyed it, especially the Aladdin car. Overall, it was pretty clever.

We had made priority seating arrangements for the Hollywood Brown Derby in order to take advantage of the reserved Fantasmic seat program. After a hot day in the sun, the Brown Derby was a welcome respite. The restaurant is very nice and comfortable, elegant without being overbearing. The staff is also very attentive, again without hovering. The food was also terrific. Again, this is another restaurant we would definitely dine at again, although it is pricier than the standard restaurants.

After dinner we bummed around for a bit (Rock N Roller Coaster), and then headed over to Fantasmic at 8:30 P.M. There is a special gate near the entrance to the park for the reserved seating. We presented our voucher and headed in. The walk back to the theater is neat, with some great views of the Tower of Terror in particular. The one negative with the reserved seat program is that the section is on one side, not anywhere near the center. However, our view of the show was unobstructed and quite good. It did not appear that we missed any nuances of the show due to our seat location.

The show is fairly intense and scary in some spots. We saw several young children (under 5) being taken out crying. Some of these effects, especially the fire breathing dragon, are very realistic. However, we felt that the overall show was somewhat ho-hum. The projections onto the fountains was nifty at first, but got old after a while. It really felt more like a plug for every Disney movie ever made more than anything else we experienced at WDW. The very end with the boats, however, was good, and the kids and adults enjoyed that. Overall, we are glad we went to see it, but don't feel a compelling need to see it on future visits. Also, we are glad we did not invest an hour to an hour and a half waiting for the start.

So it was back to the resort after an extremely magical day!

August 17, 2002

We woke up on our last full day at Disney. Once more, we went with the kid's choice, and once more they chose the Magic Kingdom. We spent the day visiting favorites from earlier in the trip, as well as a few attractions that had been passed over previously, such as Peter Pan's flight, Snow White's Adventures, Tomorrow Land Indy Speedway, WDW Transit Authority, It's a Small World, Astro Orbiter, and The Country Bear Jamboree.

All of these attractions were worthwhile and fun with one notable exception, and it pains me to mention it. The Country Bear Jamboree felt stale, old, and flat. I don't know why, and it sort of bugs me, because once more I remember it as one of the highlights of any trip to Disney World. I believe the current show is the original, but it just didn't seem as good as I remembered it. And the rest of the family found it lame as well. It's also entirely possible that we visited too late in our vacation, and that we were "Disneyed out". But I submit that the other attractions we went on, including Small World, held our interest and were enjoyable to the entire group.

We also took some time in the afternoon to rent Water Mice back at the resort, something we had actually hoped to do earlier in the trip, but were unable to due to weather. These boats really are a lot of fun, and you can quite a bit of territory while getting some great views of the Magic Kingdom and the MK resorts that you can't get otherwise. Bay Lake has a few interesting things as well, including River Country (closed while we were there), Wilderness Lodge and Discovery Island. Discovery Island in particular is a curiosity to "old-timers" like me who remember when that was a side trip in and of itself. Discovery Island is a preserve with a number of exhibits of exotic animals. At one time, you could take a boat from Fort Wilderness and tour the island. A few years ago, it was closed to the general public, and my understanding is that it is open only for private parties. From the boat, you can see some of the cages, nets, etc. that house the animals, and I believe I heard some bird chatter.

We viewed Spectromagic again, and retained our same overall impression. I highly recommend the Frontierland viewing locations, simply because the crowds are more manageable and you don't need to stake out a spot an hour in advance.

And so we closed out our last full day of Disney magic and prepared for the tearful goodbye the next day.

August 18 and beyond

In some ways this was a sad day, but for us the blow was somewhat dampened by the fact that we were traveling to Sanibel Island for about a week. Truth be told, we were ready to leave - even though the crowds were quite manageable, they were still crowds, and we were eager to get a break from that.

We packed up all of our stuff, and called for baggage pickup. Again, everything went smoothly - our bags were loaded onto a cart, taken out to our car, and loaded into the trunk. This was just the final piece on terrific service all around from the staff at the Polynesian. We will definitely consider staying here again, as we have never had a complaint about the level or friendliness of the service.

We made a final swing through the Magic Kingdom (surprise) and did some final shopping on Main Street. It was with heavy hearts that we took the monorail back to the Polynesian, got into our car, left Walt Disney World, and headed south.

I will just briefly mention that if you are looking for another place to visit in Florida, we can highly recommend the Ft. Myers and Sanibel Island area. My brother lives in Ft. Myers, but doesn't have enough room for us. We had stayed at the Pink Shell Resort in Ft. Myers Beach two years earlier, and had enjoyed it. The nice thing about Ft. Myers Beach is that the beach itself is nice and the sand is great. The downside is that there is a higher element of crime and strangeness in Ft. Myers Beach. I get this straight from our observations, as well as from my brother who works for the city of Ft. Myers Beach. So we decided to stay on Sanibel Island this visit. The upside to Sanibel is the shelling, quietness, and natural beauty of the island. The downside is that it is a bit more expensive, and the beaches have the famous shells in them which makes the walking a bit crunchier than other beaches.

We stayed at a resort called Casa Ybel, and we can highly recommend it. It is essentially a condo development with rentals for when the owners are not in town (as differentiated from a timeshare). This is apparently a very popular structure for building management in the area. Thus, the only negative, is that you will probably be asked a couple of times if you are interested in ownership or would like to attend an ownership meeting. However, I want to stress that these requests were very low key and when I said no, there was no attempt to get me to change my mind. The units have enclosed decks that face the gulf. The pool is very nice and quite large. It is basic, however - no water slides, etc. But we all enjoyed it. There are various children's activities scheduled throughout the day, some on a fee basis, some free. It is quite simply, an extremely relaxing environment and place to stay. There are also various nature opportunities, including the J. J. Ding Darling Nature Preserve and several nature cruises as well.

We drove back up to Orlando on Thursday as we had a Friday morning flight. What is of interest here is that we stayed one night at the Wyndham Garden Hotel. This hotel is nice enough, but we didn't have a particularly pleasant experience. The check in was slow, the pool was OK, and the overall level of service was not what one would expect from a hotel that advertises itself as being a luxury hotel. And although we were staying on Disney property, I really didn't feel like we were back at Disney.

We spent our last night in Orlando shopping at Downtown Disney for those last second things. After breakfast, it was off to the airport, where we again had no problems or delays with returning the rental car, checking in, and clearing security. We returned home with mixed feelings. We had a terrific time, but it is always good to get home.

Upon reflection, we were extremely pleased with our vacation, and have virtually nothing we are sorry we did. The closest things would be the Chef Mickey's and Cinderella's Castle character meals. We feel both were overpriced for the experiences and food. As mentioned, we would probably spend a little more time at Epcot and less at the Magic Kingdom perhaps.

I suppose the main thing we would consider on future visits is other attractions in the Orlando area, specifically Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, Sea World, and the day trip to the Kennedy Space Center. The Space Center in particular strikes us a being a very worthwhile site to visit.

In closing, I would just like to say that I hope you found this at the very least entertaining and informative, and at the best helpful. We can't wait for our next trip, whenever that may be. Peace.

G. Christopher Folke

CFolke@tiroinc.com


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