Wendy Nelson -- August 2002 -- Walt Disney World (BCR)
August 24 - September 1, 2002
Background: After a miserable day visit to 6 Flags Theme Park on our family vacation to Denver last summer, I decided to show my kids what a fabulous theme park is really all about. I've been planning (and saving) for this vacation for a year. Bought all the books and hit all the web sites (repeatedly). When plane fares dropped to $189 round trip out of Denver, we bought our tickets. We live in a National Forest in SD and were evacuated for 4 days in July for a raging forest fire which came CLOSE to our home and burned over 11,000 acres of our beautiful forest. We were ready for a vacation and due for a few magical moments.
Day 1 - Saturday: "Can we stay here for our next vacation?"
Our plan was to load up the van, pick up Sherry, and hit the road by 10:00 am for our 6-7 hour drive to Denver. In addition to three kids, we also have three cats, a dog, and a fish that refuses to die. After taking the dog for an hour "guilt" walk and packing up everyone and cleaning out the van, we finally hit the road around 11:45 (arrrrrgh!!). We had a nice drive through Wyoming and into Colorado and checked into the Days Inn at Denver for their "park and fly" room deal. For $69.00, we had two queen beds, a fridge, a microwave, blow dryer, iron/board, coffee maker, indoor pool and hot tub. Plus, we could leave our van at the Days Inn and catch the hotel shuttle to the airport in the morning. A great deal, considering parking at the airport alone would have cost us more then the hotel. Sherry got a separate room - no sense in burning her out on us the very first night, right? We ordered room service for dinner, had a quick dip in the pool, popped popcorn and watched a movie, then hit the sack. Ian (God bless his heart), said "HEY - can we stay here on our next vacation?" Only $69.00 and he was perfectly happy to stay the entire week :)
Day 2 - Sunday: Hurry up and wait Day
Our plane was scheduled to leave at 6:30 am, so to get to the airport 2 hours early we left a 3:30 am wake up call. I know, why bother going to bed at all? The hotel shuttle picked us up and delivered us on time to Denver International Airport. We actually got there about 4:15 am, but the Northwest counter didn't open until 5:00. (Our first "hurry up and wait".) Got through security (not a problem) and on the plane. My kids' first plane flight - what fun! Changed planes in Minneapolis (kids added Minnesota to the list of states they've been to) and landed in Florida on time (kids added Florida to their list). Happy Limo was not at the designated area so I called and their driver was at the wrong end of the airport. We waited about 15 minutes for him, getting crabbier by the minute (remember, we've been up since 3:30). However, all was instantly forgiven when we saw our car. We reserved (and paid for) a shuttle van, but they gave us a free upgrade to a beautiful stretch limo. I'm fairly unimpressed with limos, but this one was gorgeous! We requested a grocery store stop (cereal, milk, bread, pop, and several bottles of wine) and arrived at the BCR in style. What a beautiful resort! The pool is everything I've read, and more. My only complaint is that we faxed in a room request for a full balcony and didn't get one. The room was a little small for 5 people (room 3643), but the location made up for it. We had a great view of the Boardwalk across the lake, we were close to the elevator, and we were close to the lobby (and pool and bus stop). We requested a refrigerator and a coffee maker, which were in our room when we checked in. We also bought a cheap cooler at the grocery store, so we had plenty of room for pop, juice, milk and wine. We decided to skip the refillable mugs ($50 for the 5 of us) and buy pop at the store instead ($6.00, and we left half of it in the room when we checked out).
Our other sister, Mary Jo, lives in Tallahassee with her husband (Michael) and son (Sam - 7 year old Danger Boy - perfect match for Calla). They drove to WDW on Saturday and stayed at a Hotel Plaza Resort in Downtown Disney. We called them and they drove over to the BCR with pizza and rum coolers. Michael took the kids swimming and we three sisters had a wonderful time catching up. We had requested turndown service and got yummy mint chocolates on our pillows. The kids watched Monsters Inc as the TV bedtime story, then lights out at 10:00. Wahoo!!! We're finally here!!
Day 3 - Monday -NO LINES at EPCOT!!
Mickey gave us a wake up call at 6:55 - a great way to start out the day. Breakfast was cereal in the room, and then we met Mary Jo, Michael and Sam in the lobby and walked over to Epcot at 8:55. This is a wonderful 5 minute stroll along the water to the International Gateway at Epcot (what ARE those little lizard things all over Florida, and aren't they constantly getting stepped on??) We got a FastPass for Test Track (didn't need it, but wanted to try out the system:)), then went to Body Wars. Cam hated it, but the rest of us had fun. Went to Cranium Command (cute show), and considered The Making of Me (to get that whole sex education talk out of the way for our 7 year olds) but the kids were hot to get back to TT. Cam said "no way", so he and I walked over to get a FP for Honey I Shrunk the Audience (didn't need it - 5 minute wait), found some popcorn, and headed back to TT to wait for the rest of the gang. After about 20 minutes, they showed up with Calla and Sam in tears - the ride broke down and they waited and waited and finally gave up. We got another FP for them and then went to see Energy Adventure (Ellen DeGeneres is a hoot). Back to TT and the kids finally got to ride. Then the Living Seas, the Land for lunch (everyone had something different and we shared "family style"), and Living with the Land. Time for Honey I Shrunk the Audience - Sherry and Mary Jo hung by the fountains to visit and Michael and I took the kids. FUN show! (Cam didn't like it, but was a good sport). It rained while we were in the show, so we got that out of the way for the day. Next we headed into the Image Works where the kids played for about an hour.
Sherry and Michael had filled their fun quota, so they headed back to Great Britain for "a" beer, and Mary Jo and I took the kids into Spaceship Earth (Cameron's favorite attraction at Epcot), and an hour in Innovations. We headed out through Ice Station Cool (I thought Ian was going to barf after chugging the Beverly), and met up with the rest of the gang at Great Britain. We watch the British Invasion, and I got Pooh's autograph (the first autograph of our trip!!) although the kids refused to pose for a picture with me (first day jitters :)). I did get an air kiss from Pooh when I told him he was my favorite character.
At this point, the kids were done for the day, so we took the boat to the Boardwalk and walked back to the BCR from there. The kids hit the pool, than Ian went "home" with Sam for a sleepover in their hotel. Sherry and I took Cam and Calla to Cape May Cafe for the seafood buffet for dinner (expensive - $117, but wonderful). I couldn't talk anyone into heading back to Epcot for the parade and fireworks, but I figured we have lots of evenings to do that (mistake) so we watched the fireworks from the beach, and were in bed asleep by 10:00.
Day 4 - Tuesday - Calla Gets her Groove at MGM
Mickey woke us up at 6:55, and after breakfast in the room, Calla headed down to the lobby with me for the Character Caravan. Ok - I was never here for early entry mornings, but I LOVE the Character Caravan. The van pulls up in front of the resort and there's music and fanfare, then the characters come in and it's so fun! NOT crowded, NO lines, NOT hectic. Plus, you never know who's coming, so it's fun to be surprised. This morning we had Pluto, Geppetto, and two bad guys from Pinocchio. (Pluto gave me a pat on the head when I told him he was our favorite character).
We hopped on the boat and landed at MGM on a gray, overcast morning. As soon as the park opened at 9:00, the skies opened up and it poured (although it ended as quickly as it started). We put on our ponchos and headed over to the Tower of Terror. Cam said "Nope", so Calla and I walked right on. What a riot! The ride sounds so much scarier than it is. After ToT, we headed over to the Rock 'n' Roller Coaster. Cam said "not only no, but ---- no", so Calla grabbed Sherry for this one ("As soon as this thing took off, I knew we were in over our heads" - what a great aunt!) and Cam and I wandered through the gift shop. Calla was not about to leave this corner of the park, so Sherry took Cam over to the "Shrunk" playground to wait for Sam and Ian and the gang, and Calla and I did the ToT and RnRC again. And again. No lines! After we met up with the rest of the gang at the playground, she dragged Michael and Mary Jo (and Ian and Sam) back to the ToT and RnRC. Calla rode RnRC 5 times that day, and went on ToT 4 times. She had to quit when she ran out of adults to go with her. She is now an official Aerosmith Fan ("Mom, what does, 'Dude looks like a lady' mean?" "We'll talk about it later, Cal") Ian's goal this trip was to keep up with Calla and Sam, and that almost did him in. But he tried everything once (and then started asking, "Does it have seatbelts?" "Does it go upside down?"). We hit the street venders for lunch (pizza and McDonald fries for the kids), and watched the Indiana Jones show (fun). We then hit Star Tours, which the boys loved. I can do barrel rolls and bumpy and upside down, but Star Tours made me nauseous. I'm such a mom! By mid afternoon, everyone wanted to head back to the BCR to the pool, so Calla and I stayed for the parade and sent the rest of the gang back. Ok, so we hit ToT and RnRC again, and the Muppet Show (boring), then settled in for the parade. What a great parade! At the end when Mickey and Minnie show up and the kids are waving and clapping and cheering, I actually got tears in my eyes (my first clue that someone isn't getting enough sleep). After the parade Calla and I headed back to the hotel and hit the pool. I couldn't talk the family into walking around Epcot for the parade and fireworks, so I ordered room service for the kids and headed over myself. World Showcase is my very favorite part of WDW - I love the atmosphere, love the food, love the shopping, love the music, love the parade, love it all. After the parade I came back to grab the kids for the fireworks, but they begged off and I figured we have lots more nights to catch it (mistake). Kids watched Toy Story as the TV bedtime story, and we were asleep by 10:00.
Day 5 - Wednesday - "FastPass Comes in Handy"
Mickey woke us up at 6:55, and after cereal in the room we were on the bus heading to the Magic Kingdom by 8:30 for the 9:00 am opening. The Disney transportation system is the best. That alone justifies the additional expense of on-site vs. off-site hotels, in my humble opinion. No driving, no parking, no directions, no stress. Just hop on the bus (boat, or monorail) and you're there. The buses weren't crowded and we never waited more than 10-15 minutes.
When the gates opened, we headed straight to Buzz Lightyear, and rode it 3-4 times without stopping. Calla had enough, so she dragged Sherry over to Space Mountain while the boys and I did Buzz one more time. While we were waiting for Calla and Sherry, Cameron discovered the Arcade and Ian wanted to go on Space Mountain. We got about half way through the line, and he changed his mind. Yesterday's RnRC was almost too much for him. So we headed back out and met up with Mary Jo, Michael, and Sam. Sherry and Calla came out, and Sam and Calla wanted to do Space Mountain (again), so Ian decided he wanted to, also. This time he made it through, although he didn't really like it. At this point he decided he didn't need to keep up with The Roller Coaster Queen and her sidekick, Danger Boy. Sherry took Calla on the Tomorrowland Indy Speedway (lame, with a LONG line) and the boys hit Buzz several more times. By this time I was getting very impatient and ready to hit the rest of the park (2 hours shot and we weren't out of Tomorrowland yet - we were WAY off schedule!!!!). So the group sent me on a cross country hike to get FP tickets for Splash Mountain while they did Astro Orbiter and the Transit Authority. A brisk trot across the park to get FP tickets, then a not-so-brisk trot back to gather up the gang, then another cross country hike back to Frontierland, and the Florida heat and humidity took the spunk right out of me. If we only got through 1/3 of the schedule (which I threw in the trash), so be it. I was ready to calm down and tour at a sensible pace (another advantage to FP - send the crabby and/or impatient one across the park:))
Time for lunch - we ate somewhere in Frontierland (great burgers with a huge condiments table), watched a square dancing troupe, and then headed to Splash Mountain. We all loved Splash Mountain and would have gone again, except the lines were prohibitive. I don't know if it's Magic Kingdom, or because Labor Day Weekend is coming up, but the park was definitely more crowded than either Epcot or MGM. Plus, this is an old park - lots of slow loading rides. Cam, Ian and I took everyone's park tickets and headed off to get FP tickets for Peter Pan and Haunted Mansion, and left Calla and Sam to drag the rest of the adults on Big Thunder Mountain. We got FP for Peter Pan, but Haunted Mansion wasn't using FP that day, so I left the boys in the shade and went back to gather up the rest of the gang. We sent Sam, his parents, and Sherry to Peter Pan while Cam, Calla, and Ian went to Haunted Mansion with me. The sign said 20 minute wait, but it was a walk on. Ian did not like it, but was a good sport. Ian is 7 years old, and I always thought he had a good grasp of what's real and what's pretend. However, Disney does an incredible job of making everything feel so real. The attention to detail is truly amazing. Ian really struggled with some of the rides ("I know the ride is fake, Mom, but who was that ghost that was in our car with us?")
At this point, I took pity on my poor kids and took them to It's A Small World. It's such a classic. The bummer is, of course, we were humming that little ditty the rest of the day. We rode Cinderella's Carrousel (we're a carrousel family), and the kids were done. We headed back through a couple of shops and caught the tail end of the parade by mistake.
That Florida heat and humidity is truly exhausting, I have to say. Especially for us mid-westerners where the temp rarely gets above 90 and humidity is not something we deal with. Honestly, the air feels like a heavy wet blanket. The kids hit the pool and begged off the fireworks and parade again. I ordered room service for dinner and sent Sherry into Epcot for an evening by herself. The weather turned on us and it poured off and on all night. The parade was cancelled and Sherry headed back before the fireworks. Which I guess they rarely cancel, even when the weather is awful.
I was starting to realize that we probably should have done the Epcot parade and fireworks when we had a chance and the weather was cooperating. However, my kids were such troopers, and they were beat by the end of the day. I just didn't have the heart to force them out at night, too. Plus I figured we still had a couple of nights to squeeze everything in (mistake). Lights out and everyone asleep by 10:00, so I headed over to the laundry room at BCR for a couple of loads of laundry.
Day 6 - Thursday -"Florida is Stinkin' HOT!"
Mickey gave us our usual 6:55 wake up call, and after breakfast in the room all three kids decided to come down to the lobby to check out the characters with me. This time it was Baloo, King Louie, and Timon. We got our pictures and autographs (except King Louie couldn't sign with his huge orangutan hands, but did blow me a raspberry when I told him he was our favorite character) and were on the bus for Animal Kingdom by 8:30 for the 9:00 opening. Since everyone heads straight to the Safari as soon as the park opens, we headed over to Dinoland. Calla, Ian (who probably shouldn't have), and I went on Dinosaur. Actually, Ian didn't get too scared because he didn't lift his head or open his eyes during the entire ride (but insisted on going - go figure). Cal and I rode again since it was a walk on, while the boys and Sherry browsed the gift shop. This was probably the most intense ride of all that we did (since I said "no" to Alien Encounter - the only time I said no the entire week). Cal and I loved Dinosaur (of course), but it wasn't for the boys this trip. Maybe next time!
Since it was still early, the line for Safari wasn't too bad, so we skipped FP and got in line. After all the hype, we were a little disappointed with this ride. We love zoos, and have been to several outstanding zoos across the country. Seeing a few animals in their "natural habitat" isn't all that unique for us - maybe that's why we were ho-hum about it.
At this point, we could really feel the heat and humidity. Sherry took the nature walks and went to get us FP for Kali River Rapids, while the kids and I went to the Lion King Show. We LOVED it! After the show, we met up with Sherry and had lunch at Pizzafari. After lunch we got autographs from Eeyore (the best autograph - he turned his y into an Eeyore tail) and Tigger (illegible, but he gave us a tigger bounce when we told him he was our favorite character).
As soon as the window opened for our Kali River Rapid, I ran over and got FP tickets for Primeval Whirl for Calla and I, then onto the Rapids. Good thing we had FP, because the line was long. We all loved this ride, and would have ridden it again if we could have. Then we saw "It' Tough to be a Bug" (fun show). The Tree of Life is so amazing. If WDW made a miniature 3-D toy version, it would sell like crazy. I would have bought tons to bring home as gifts.
Cal and I hit Primeval Whirl (lame), and we were ready to leave the park. I don't know if this was the hottest (most humid) day of the week, or it's just the hottest park, or if 4 parks in 4 days had us whipped, but we were definitely slowing down. I don't really understand why this park is so hot - there is lots of natural shade (from trees), but maybe it's the whole greenhouse thing. Anyway, we were dragging ourselves out by 2:00.
On the bus back to BCR, Cam and I got our second wind, so we hopped on the next bus to Downtown Disney and wandered around for an hour while Sherry took Cal and Ian swimming. When we got back I told the kids we WERE going to Epcot for the evening, as we were running out of time. Of course, it immediately started to rain, then pour. We grabbed our umbrellas and ponchos and headed over. The parade was cancelled, but we did watch the fireworks - in the POURING rain complete with thunder and lightening. Quite the adventure! We got back to the hotel cold and wet and in bed by 10:00.
Day 7 - Friday - "Do-over Day!"
Friday was the 5th day for our 5 day pass, so we decided to hit our two favorite parks. Easily - MGM and Epcot (we totally lucked out for location when we picked our resort). We had decided to let the kids sleep in and take this day a little easier, but everyone was up and ready to go by 9:00, so we were at MGM by 10:00. This is the point where I realized that first hour in the park is like gold. By 10:00 (on Friday of Labor Day Weekend) the park was much fuller than on Tuesday. Calla and I got FP tickets for (anyone? anyone?) RnRC and ToT, while Sherry and the boys went to Star Wars. We met up and then headed over to Who Wants to be a Millionaire. We just missed the show by a couple of minutes, so we got FP tickets for a later show and went to Pizza Planet for lunch (I am sooooo sick of pizza and fries :)) After lunch and arcade stuff, we went on the Great Movie Ride (which we all enjoyed), then to Millionaire. The first question was putting animals in the order of how many legs they had, and Calla randomly pushed buttons as fast as she could - she got the #2 spot!! None of us were on the board after that, but it was a fun show. On the way out of the park, we got an autograph from the Green Army Men, who are so cool. We got a snappy salute when we told them they were our favorite characters.
Back to BCR, and the rains started. They boys wanted to just relax in the room, so Calla and I took our umbrellas and headed over to Epcot to fill up a passport book for her. We counted over 30 of those little lizard things walking over - our cats would be in heaven here (if it didn't rain). We hit all the countries and I bought a ton of chocolate and a beautiful piece of art. We got (anyone? anyone?) fries for the boys and a beaver tail from Canada for Sherry. Back to BCR and an hour to dry off and warm up. I insisted that we go back to MGM for Fantasmic, as this was our last night to catch it. Of course, it was raining with thunder and lightening. We're sitting on wet metal bleachers in a thunder and lightening storm hoping to see Fantasmic. The bad news is that they cancelled the show (for the 3rd night in a row). The good news is that we didn't get zapped by lightening while we were waiting, and my sister and kids still love me in spite of that night.
Day 8 - Saturday - Our Last Day
This was our last full day in WDW. We decided to skip DisneyQuest and miniature golf (original plan) and just wander around Downtown Disney. We took the bus and had lunch at the Rain Forest Café (gorilla room), and then wandered around and shopped. Then we took the bus to the Polynesian, as we had tickets for the luau dinner show. We got there early, so rode the monorail a couple of times and looked at the other Magic Kingdom resorts. The dinner show was great fun, with a TON of food, and no rain! Our waiter was exceptional - got Cam PB &J and fries when he saw that he wasn't eating the mac & cheese and chicken nuggets he had brought out for the kids. After the show, we took the monorail to MK, and then grabbed a bus back to BCR. One final dip in the pool for the kids while I packed our suitcases.
Day 9 - Sunday - "Back to the Real World"
The characters this morning in the lobby were the Queen of Hearts and two other characters from Alice in Wonderland. I couldn't talk the kids into coming down for autographs and pictures, so we skipped it. Check out was a breeze, and Happy Limo was right on time (with a shuttle van this time). We were able to check in at the curb at the airport (I thought they quit doing that - security and all), and getting through airport security was fine. We changed planes in Detroit (kids added Michigan to their list of states), and landed in Denver on time. Days Inn sent a shuttle for us and we were on the road by 5:00, home by midnight (and only had to brake once for deer in Wyoming). The dog and cats were all extremely happy to see us, and the kids were happy to be home.
WDW was so wonderful. This was definitely the best family vacation we've ever had. Considering the fact that this was WDW, it was surprisingly stress free and relaxing. And, it was stinkin' FUN! I did learn a few things about touring in August, and had one "aha!" moment.
1) Touring in late August is defiantly a trade off - shorter lines, but the weather is unpredictable. Which is actually fine for us. Waiting in lines and maneuvering around crowds is exhausting and eats up too much time. We don't mind umbrellas and ponchos - my kids were all born in Oregon. We're used to cold wet weather; at least the rain in Florida is warm. However, next time we'll do the evening stuff when the weather is cooperating - no guarantees that we'll have clear nights.
2) Touring in the off season is also a trade off - shorter lines, but shorter park hours and not all the attractions were operating. However, there are enough things to do that we filled up our days and still didn't do everything we wanted to do. Our original plan was to tour till mid-afternoon, go back to the resort for a swim and rest, then back to the parks for the evening. However, the parks aren't open that late so we toured until we were done for the day. This worked out fine for us, too, as most evenings were rainy anyway.
3) We could have done everything we wanted to do, if we had two weeks instead of one. However, WDW is continuous over-stimulation. I don't think we could last two weeks. Plus, the timing was to get home before school starts, after Labor Day. Originally, I thought this would probably be our one and only trip to WDW - there are so many other places to see. However, we're defiantly going back. Now the plan is to hit Yellowstone and the Pacific Ocean (again) next summer, then back to WDW in 2004.
4) Next time, we're going to resort hop. We'll start out at the Animal Kingdom Lodge for the first part of the week (and start with Animal Kingdom and Magic Kingdom parks), then moved back to the BCR for the rest of our vacation (and Epcot and MGM). We LOVED the BCR pool and location, but we want to try something else. Plus, I feel that we short-changed the Animal Kingdom Park since it was the 4th park in 4 days. Next time we'll start with that park when we're fresh and spend more time there. It would be nice to take a day off from the parks in the middle of the week, but we didn't want to tour during Labor Day Weekend.
All in all, the timing worked out for us, and we'll probably come back again during the last week in August.
My "aha" moment: This is probably completely obvious to everyone else, but here's my revelation: When I was growing up, Disney was the only game in town. We watched the Mickey Mouse Club, and Disney movies were the only movies available for kids. I expected my kids to be as excited about Cinderella's castle as I was. However, I realized that my kids are growing up with Nickelodeon and WB Kids and Spongebob and Rugrats and about a million "kids only" channels on TV. If Spongebob or the Rugrats were in the lobby for autographs, my kids would have been all over them. So, my kids just weren't as excited to be in the land of Pooh and Mickey as I thought they would be. However, they had a great time and want to go back. They aren't dying to go back like I am, but they want to go back and that's good enough for me.
The bonus is, now that we're home, sometimes they turn to the Disney Channel on TV. And that makes me smile!