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Kirk Harrod -- December 2002 - Walt Disney World (Offsite)

We spent 5 days in Hollywood Beach, Florida the week following Christmas. On December 30th, we drove to Kissimmee, where we stayed at the Radisson Resort Parkway. We were going to the Magic Kingdom for New Year's Eve 2002. The Radisson is the closest non- Disney hotel outside of the entrance to the World. The Radisson was definitely sprawling. There were several buildings and people are walking around lost all over. It is hilarious! I heard people saying, "We've been here a week and we still get lost!" The service at the lobby was a bit slow but I think my person was new. When I finally found my room, I had a pretty long haul from the parking lot to my room, and I could not find a luggage cart. If you want bell service, etc, make sure your room is in the main building. I am the type that does not want to even see the staff while I am there. If everything is just right, the staff should be invisible.

The room was of average size, the carpet and comforters appeared to be fairly new. The beds were kind of hard, but not uncomfortable. The bathrooms were nice. The showers were newly tiled and the sink was marble. The tub drained well (my biggest pet peeve, slow bathtub drains). The rooms were quiet and we did not hear our neighbors. It was a nice room for the price I got it for, $69 per night.

For my kids, ages 5 and 7, the only thing that matters is the pool. The Radisson Resort Parkway has fantastic pools. The main pool is irregular shaped with a huge waterfall and a waterslide. The bad thing: it is not heated so it was COLD! A smaller pool was heated and it was very nice with a soft bottom. There were two nice big hot tubs, and one of them had a hot waterfall. Plenty of towels were available at the pool cabana. We will always stay at the Radisson Resort Parkway, because of the pools. And being only 10 minutes drive from the Disney parking lot, I can't imagine why anyone would stay elsewhere.

Here is the most important tip for the Magic Kingdom: GET THERE EARLY! This was New Year's Eve and we knew it was going to be packed. The park was scheduled to open at 8:00 am and close at 1:00 am. We left the Radisson Resort Parkway at 6:30 am, paid for parking, parked within five minutes walk from the Ticket Center, bought tickets, got on the Monorail and arrived at the Magic Kingdom gate at 7:30 am. It was a great thing that we got up and out of the room early because we were about fourth in line to get in the gate. Then, at 7:35 am, they opened the gates. The gatekeepers warned us if we left today we may not be able to get back in due to the crowds. We were there for the duration. I figured that just Main Street would be open, but, no, everything was open and the rides were open, too! We immediately headed for Tomorrowland and Buzz Lightyear. We were among the first to ride, jumped off the ride and got ride back on Buzz Lightyear with no wait. In fact, for about two hours there were no crowds and we rode rides with no wait and no need to use the Fastpass. Before 10:00 am, we rode Buzz two times, Peter Pan, the Haunted Mansion, It's a Small World, Cinderella's Golden Carrousel, Pirates of the Caribbean, Winnie the Pooh, the Timekeeper and Aladdin. We probably rode something that I have forgotten, but the point is, by getting there early we got 2 hours of riding with no crowds.

We got a good apple cinnamon muffin ($2.50) and coffee at a stand across from the Country Bear Jamboree. My son was mad that they were out of blueberry muffins, but I forced him to try the apple cinnamon muffin and he then proceeded to devour it. At about 10:00 am, it began to get crowded, so we started doing the attractions that don't usually have long lines like the Enchanted Tiki Room, Swiss Family Treehouse, Mickey and Minnie's Country Houses, etc.

We had 12:00 pm priority seating at the Crystal Palace. We got there 15 minutes early and probably should have gotten there a little earlier. It was sold out so I was glad I had reservations. I checked in and they gave me a beeper. At 12:05 pm, we were seated. The server took our drink order and told us that the characters make their way around the room so as they get to your row of tables, stay at your table so you can interact with them. They put the kids on the outside so the characters can reach them. I have seen reviews of the Crystal Palace that said that the buffet is just standard buffet faire. That is not true. The food is excellent. Every offering that I tried was very good. The menu consisted of delicious carved flank steak, orza paella with calamari, mussels, shrimp, andouille sausage, etc., oven fried chicken, smoked salmon, sliced turkey and ham, a chicken pasta with cheese, and probably something I have forgotten. Sides included a mélange of mushrooms balsamic, black beans and rice, green bean casserole, and garlic mashed potatoes. Salads included pineapple coconut cole slaw, tomatoes and mozzarella, pasta salad, Caesar salad, and other salads. The kids' buffet had macaroni & cheese, chicken nuggets, peanut butter and jelly, and corn. I did not try any of the kids' buffet, but it must have been good because my picky son ate two servings of m & c, and he usually does not like it. The dessert bar had cookies, ice cream, bread pudding, brownies, cheesecake squares and apple crisp in an iron skillet. The price was $16.95 for adults and $9.95 for kids. We were so full we did not eat anything else until 7:00 pm. I think eating the buffet actually saved us money. Since we were so full of good food, we did not waste money on unsatisfying junk. We will always eat at the Crystal Palace when we go. Next time we will try dinner. The only disappointment: the characters did not get around quick enough. We saw Piglet and Eeyore but Pooh and Tigger did not get to our table in the hour we were there. (We would get lots of playtime with Pooh and Tigger later...) We could have stayed longer, though. The staff did not try to rush you out, and the restaurant is actually not over crowded.

The park was pretty crowded and the Fastpass tickets had a return time of 2 hours or more. We rode rides with the Fastpass, like the Jungle Cruise, which I think is cheesy, but my five year old daughter thought it was her favorite ride, and leisurely walked around the park until time for the afternoon parade. This was a Christmas parade with Santa and it was very good. The best place to watch the parades is definitely around the Town Hall / Entrance area, believe it or not. There is much more room than trying to cram behind the ropes that are put up in other places along the route. Also, the floats go around the circle so you get to see them more than once. After the parade we got a healthy snack of apples ($1.25), watermelon ($3) and carrots ($1) at the Fruit Stand next to Goofy's Barnstormer.

We were getting a little hungry around 7 pm, so we got four egg rolls from Adventureland stand, and two orders of McDonalds fries. Both were good. We moved over to the castle to get ready for the SprectraMagic parade and the first fireworks. Another parade and fireworks was scheduled for 10 pm and midnight, respectively. At 7:15 pm, the sprinkles started. The Spectramagic parade and the first fireworks were completed in the rain. By 8 pm, it was a downpour. Lots of people began to leave, so I went to the car to get our rain gear and prepared to continue on through the rain. TIP: Avoid rain be walking through the shops on Main Street, they are all connected inside, like a mall. ANOTHER GREAT TIP: If the Express Monorail to the Ticket Center has a huge line, take the Monorail to the Resorts. It rarely has a line. It makes one stop at the Comtemporary Resort and the next stop is at the Ticket Center. I got dry clothes and shoes for everyone, and by 9:00 pm, we were at the County Fair, in Mickey's Toontown Fair, at the Character greetings. There was no one there except my kids so we spent the next 45 minutes dancing, playing chase, hugging, etc. with Cinderella, the mice from Cinderella, Daisy Duck, Minnie Mouse, Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, the White Rabbit among others. D'OH! I put our digital camera in the car so it wouldn't get wet. So I ran out to the retail area and grabbed a disposable camera off the shelf. It had no price on it and I was shocked when the clerk said "$19.07." Oh well... I couldn't miss these pictures.

At 10 pm, an announcement was made canceling the next SprectraMagic parade, so we decided to call it a day and left the park. Our kids were asleep before we got out of the parking lot. I have now been to the Magic Kingdom on Good Friday and New Year's Eve, both extremely crowded days to visit. I was not uncomfortable on either day and I don't believe it could be much more crowded. Don't let the threat of crowds keep you from going. Get there early and you will have a great time.

Kirk Harrod


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