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Sheri Niklewski -- November 2002 -- Walt Disney World (Offsite, ASSR)

Quick Summary:

  • Participants:
    • Me - Sheri (40 going on 20) - the planner and report writer, Off Kilter junkie, wine freak, and the driving force behind all Disney World trips.
    • Husband - Rich (42 going on 62) - Eeyore and Grumpy all rolled into one except when he's at Disney World. There truly is pixie dust in the air every time we go.
  • When: November 9 - 13, 2002
  • Where: Offsite, All Star Sports
  • How: Personal vehicle from Georgia
  • Experience: Veterans (25+ trips for each)
  • Why: Really Love My Husband And Want Him To Be Totally Happy (yeah, right).

Our November trip to Disney World started out to be a Thanksgiving one. But then we went through some family things and I thought Rich would want to spend some time back in Maryland with his parents for the holidays. I managed to sneak in a solo Disney World trip in October, the weekend before the Food & Wine Festival started. We had done the Festival two years ago and it looked like it was going to be a lot of fun this year. I really wanted to do it but didn't think it would work out.

After Rich took care of the family things, I earned some major brownie points by just looking at him and after twenty years of marriage, knowing that the holidays with family needed to be a priority. So, in front of his parents, I suggested we go back to Maryland for Thanksgiving. I ambushed Rich with this trip as a compromise later. I am such a Disney stinker, aren't I?

Once the Thanksgiving trip went away, I asked Rich if he thought we could do Disney World for the Food & Wine Festival. We are both laid off and actively searching for jobs but I thought if we could go during the week, we wouldn't have to deal with the local crowds on the weekend. Plus, we are Atlanta Falcons season ticket holders so we always have to work around the football games. The weekend of the 9th was perfect. That's the Super Soap Weekend but if we got there in the late afternoon on Saturday, most of the hoopla would be over with.

Rich just kind of grunted when I proposed all this to him but he didn't say no. He was a little disappointed when I went without him in October and did massive sessions of Off Kilter. They wouldn't have been performing over Thanksgiving anyway so I did offer this little nugget up for Rich to make this trip. He bit into it hook, line, and sinker. I reeled him in before he had a chance to think about it.

BTW - Off Kilter is a high energy (that's an understatement) Celtic rock band. They combine bagpipes, rock music, humor, and just about everything else into their performances. They have been a favorite of ours for a couple of years now and it might seem insane but we do plan our visits around their performance schedule. They perform at the Canadian pavilion at World Showcase in Epcot. Usually Sunday-Thursday but they vary the days.

Hotel/Resort - Never Think Any Disney Vacation Can Be Had With One Simple Phone Call

Rich said cheap and anytime he says that, I'm thinking offsite. I could get the Howard Johnson right at Maingate and Celebration for $34/night for the four nights. That's what I was going to do. Until I innocently mentioned the discount rate code from mousesavers.com at All Stars. $55/night. Rich said, and I quote - "that's not bad at all". I just about fell off my chair. I told him the moderates were only $79/night and he sort of grimaced at that. So All Star it is. I immediately grabbed my cell phone and called 407-WDISNEY. I had to call back a couple of times until I got someone in Central Reservations and not with the Travel Company. The Travel Company has more restrictions on changes and cancellations and I need flexibility with all my trips. Third time was a charm and a very nice Cast Member helped me.

I was told the four nights at All Star was not available. The Cast Member said that was such a busy weekend. Yeah I know, it's the middle of October when I was doing this and I figured the soap opera people had this booked months ago. But both the Cast Member and I had an alternative idea. She checked availability for the 10th - 13th. Bingo, it's there for $55/night. Just no Saturday night availability. I knew I could easily get offsite accommodations for Saturday night and it would be a simple switch on Sunday morning to the All Star. Sign me up, please.

I had my choice of All Star Music or All Star Sports. All Star Movies was not participating in this discount so that wasn't even an option. We stayed at Music four years ago so I thought Sports would be a different choice. Not a problem at all. I'm going to request a quiet room, king bed if available. We don't mind if we're not close to the food court or pool. We also don't mind having to walk a ways to get to our room. We'll let those types of rooms go to families who need the accommodations.

I was so happy and shot off an email to my friend and fellow Disney friend, Adrienne. She very calmly replied that the Annual Passholder rates were still out there for my time and the All Star rate was only $49/night. Not a huge savings over what I was getting but a buck is a buck. I didn't even think about the AP rates because I was so zoned into the November trip being over Thanksgiving and that was a blackout time. I called Disney World back and easily had the lower discount code applied to my reservation. I don't think I can get a better deal on Disney property. $49/night before taxes - $54.88 after taxes. No, the All Star Sports is not a deluxe resort but it is Disney and we'll enjoy it.

A side note here. I've been to Disney World 25 times and have stayed in just about every resort on property and a lot offsite. I think I've had every experience you can have with a trip. This past year, I've stayed at the Swan, Caribbean Beach, Polynesian, Animal Kingdom with savannah view, and a couple of different offsite places. Pretty much of a mix of accommodations. Would I love to stay in a deluxe resort? Sure. But we'll enjoy All Star Sports. You go with what you can afford, what you want, and you make it work. Heck, I might even find a football to take along for Rich and I to toss around.

I still needed something for Saturday night. On a lark, I went out and checked my balance at the Starwood Preferred site. This is a frequent guest thing with the Sheraton/Westin chain. I had stayed at the Swan enough times that I racked up points. I didn't think I had enough for another free night stay but I had just a little over 2000 points which was enough. I had two free nights in Kissimmee on two separate trips in June so I knew it was relatively hassle free. Could I do it for Saturday night? You bet I could. One phone call later, I'm set up at the Sheraton Four Points Lakeside which is right across from the entrance to Splendid China on Highway 192. We stayed here in June and it was very convenient to the parks so I'm a very happy camper with this.

BTW - when I went to check out what the rates were on travelocity.com for this hotel, I got back $70/night. Oh, I love getting bargains and discounts.

Food - "That'll Do Pig, That'll Do"

The main purpose of this trip is the Food & Wine Festival. Therefore, I'm not planning any sit down meals. For those who don't know, the Festival takes place at World Showcase in Epcot. Not only do the regular countries showcase their food and wine, but also extra booths from many other countries are set up and each one sells samples of their cuisine. You can literally eat your way around the world. The samples are just that - samples. You can't expect to get a full course meal here without some effort but you certainly can stuff yourself silly. Prices range from $1 to $5 for each sample.

I thought we'd do New York Pizza World which is an offsite place on Saturday after we check into the Sheraton and before we check out the Food & Wine Festival. Rich loves this place and it has a relatively extensive menu. Rich is a meatasarus (love that reference from "Jurassic Park") and I'm kind of like a veggieasarus. I do go through days of being a carnivore but you never know when that is going to happen.

One of my greatest sinful pleasures is to go out to wdwig.com and check out the menus. Especially when I'm hungry and my choice for dinner is either a chicken pot pie or meat loaf carried out from the nearby Kroger. Oh yeah, let's put that up against a Disney restaurant. Hollywood & Vine at MGM for lunch sounded good. So did a couple other places (Fulton's for lunch at Downtown Disney). We'll play all food choices by ear on this trip.

I have a feeling that by day three, Rich will be getting tired of counter service foods and will want a real meal. I've had great luck with being able to call for same day priority seatings for the places we want and the times we want. I think it's because we are just a party of two and we are flexible with the times. A late lunch is fine with us as well as an early dinner time. We'll let the dice roll and see what happens.

General Plan/Touring - Just An Idea, Just An Idea

I've learned from my trips that it's good to have a general plan but you have to realize that it probably will change a lot. My last trip was a case in point. Nothing went according to the "plan" but I still had a great time (after my car was exorcised).

We will leave our house northeast of Atlanta on Saturday morning. I'll, of course, want an early departure time; Rich will want a later one. I think we'll compromise and be out of here no later than 8:00. It's about seven or eight hours including stops to Kissimmee so we'll be checking into the Sheraton by 4:00 at the latest. I think that Saturday night will be extremely busy at Epcot and the Festival since it's the Super Soap Weekend. I'm going to suggest to Rich that we get some food either offsite at the New York Pizza World (a personal favorite of ours) or at the Boardwalk pizza window. And then just see what the Food & Wine Festival is like without having to endure the lines at the booths.

Sidenote: The Super Soap Weekend is when the actors from the various ABC soap operas come to MGM for interviews, autograph sessions, parades, and general "star" appearances. And they don't get the scrubs in either. Susan Lucci herself has hosted this for a while now and the Grand Dame of Soaps really pulls in the fans. And the very high profile actors. So MGM for Saturday and Sunday will be mobbed with soap opera fans. That, of course, causes the nighttime things at the other parks to be crowded since everyone wants somewhere else to go later. Hence the sell out of Saturday night at the All Star. Personally, I would love to see all the women in the whole Jax/Sonny thing ("General Hospital") doing a talk show interview with Linda Dano but I'm not going near MGM over the weekend.

Sunday will be Off Kilter shows with the Food & Wine Festival in between. Rich and I love to walk around World Showcase anyway so we'll be able to do a lot of the entertainment and the Festival and our favorite group all in one day. Watch it rain all day Sunday. Or the guys to be off that day.

I do want to check out the new Primeval Whirl over at Animal Kingdom so we'll try that either Monday or Tuesday. Whatever day we don't do Animal Kingdom, we'll go to MGM. Evenings will be back at Epcot for the last two shows of Off Kilter (if performing) and more of the Festival.

For our departure day, I'm going to suggest what I did on my solo trip. Going to Downtown Disney after checkout. In order to avoid Atlanta weekday traffic, I've found that if we stay at Disney World until 12:30 or 1:00, we can easily glide right through after rush hour in Atlanta. I loved the new Once Upon a Toy store and I know Rich will too. It would be a perfect opportunity to try out Fulton's for lunch.

That's a general plan and we'll probably end up doing some but not all of it. Weather, energy levels, and crowds will play a huge part in it all. We'll just go with the flow.

The Week Before - "We're staying on property?"

I spent a lot of time getting information on the Food & Wine Festival. I used Deb Wills site at www.wdwig.com and Steve Soares site at http://pages.prodigy.net/stevesoares/index.htm for listings of the booths and the recipes and wine offerings (there's also beer but I'll leave Rich to handle that once we are there). I printed out everything and highlighted things I wanted to try. I'm not very adventurous but I think I'll be packing on a few pounds while there.

I also read any postings on the newsgroup (rec.arts.disney.parks or RADP) from people that had already experienced the Festival. An onion tart in France didn't sound all that appealing but after reading rave review after rave review, I have to try it. Rich won't touch it but I'm game. I do want to thank all the RADPers who posted their reactions to the Festival. It really helped with my planning. I'll do the same when I get back.

Armed with all my Food & Wine Festival knowledge, I went downstairs to join Rich in watching Monday Night Football. Green Bay versus Miami. Lots of our fantasy football stuff was on the line so we were kind of intent. I started reading off what I wanted to try at the Festival and Rich was Mr. Whatever. So I gave up and decided he would get into it when we are there. Then we had the Disney non-planner episode.

Me - "I am so glad we're staying on property for this"

Rich - "We're staying on property?"

Sheri now has to pick her chin up off the floor because she literally can't speak.

This was on November 4. I made our reservations on October 21. Just three weeks prior. I swear this man has Disney brain cells that only engage when he sees the first purple signs. And he was the one that said All Star instead of offsite was fine! I sputter and finally stammer out "you have no %$^&* clue where we are staying, do you?"

My husband is the love of my life and he gets this very cute expression when he has to admit that he doesn't know what's going on. He did this time. He confessed that maybe he was a little hazy on the details. Ugh! I didn't give him any leeway though. I told him the first night was offsite, did he remember that? It was only after I reminded him of the freebie that he did remember. Then some light bulb must have gone on because he said "oh, that's right, we're staying at the Sports place, right?" I'm glad there's some sort of pixie dust because that's all that kept me from leaning over on the couch and giving him a noogie suicide or something.

Day One - Saturday, November 9, 2002 - "Are We There Yet?"

Rich had warned me yesterday that I was not going to get him up at some ridiculous hour of the morning to make the drive. I've done that on previous trips where I can't sleep and just give up and get going at two or three in the morning. So to all the people who think they are over anticipating a trip, no, it happens to everyone. I've made over 25 trips, my last one was just three weeks ago, and I still can't sleep the night before. I tossed and turned and snuggled with one of the cats (Gus - he's the only one that'll put up with it) until after 2:00 AM. The alarm was set for 6:00 AM and I finally woke up at 5:55 AM. I was primed and ready. Rich was a little less eager but I reminded him that just last Sunday we were up at the same time for a Falcons game. At least he grunted at that.

We both checked and sent emails (how critical is something at 7:00 on a Saturday morning?). I jumped on the newsgroup for a little while Rich got ready - the man takes longer in the bathroom than I do. I was waiting for the packing ritual. Rich took care of the cats. King cat Todd was not happy we were leaving and Gus and Belle are smart enough now to understand the significance of the suitcase coming out. They will get excellent service from Reigning Cats and Dogs (for those of you in the Atlanta area with pets) while we are gone.

We were packed and on the road before 7:30 which was nice. I would have taken 8:00 but we're pretty much a team so things went quickly despite a few things that should have been done last night that we did this morning. It was a cool North Georgia morning when we started but we were prepared for Florida weather with shorts and T-shirts. I turned the heat on in the car for a while!

Rich took the first shift of driving through Atlanta. We were surprised with just how many cars were on the road this early on a Saturday. No jams or anything but constant traffic with some heavy volumes at major points. Not relaxing at all. That would continue the entire drive. We've never done this drive on a Saturday all at once so it was new to us. Not sure I'd really endorse this for anyone. Maybe because of the Veterans' Day weekend but we had to constantly be aware and focused because of the amount of traffic.

One note here. Rich is a typical male. He didn't take notice of what I was wearing this morning. But on the drive he said that he told his friend, Rick, that I would be attired in a Piglet T-shirt, Tigger socks, and a Mickey hat. I didn't bring a hat. But the other two were right! We had a very good laugh about how in synch we can be.

I was dozing and Rich pulled over to a rest stop about an hour from Valdosta. He said he could have waited but didn't know if there would be another opportunity before the state line. I reminded him that I have a list of all rest stops on that stretch of I75. He sheepishly admitted he forgot. That Disney brain cell went dead again. We switched driving positions and then made a quick stop right before the Florida border and topped off the tank. Definitely do this if you are driving. Georgia gas prices are 20 cents/gallon cheaper than Florida's. Then I drove us to Ocala and the Official Disney Information Center. I am going to love bringing Marlie (our son's girlfriend's daughter) here in May. She won't know we're continuing on to Disney World so this will be her treat. Just a little dose of Disney and clean and big bathrooms. BTW - for those of you into this kind of thing - there's a Cracker Barrel right next door.

Rich took over driving and did the Turnpike/Route 27/Highway 192 leg of the trip. Not his favorite but at least I wasn't behind the wheel during the tourist stuff. He did get aggravated with one guy doing 35 MPH in a 55 MPH zone. I didn't say anything but just laughed - now he knows why I get frustrated! Much to my surprise, Rich remembered where the Sheraton Four Points Lakeside was. He said "right across from Splendid China, right?" Maybe that Disney brain cell is back on. He got us there for me to check in.

Which was no problem except it took a little bit of time to get a room that was clean. This was after 2:30. But we got room 409 and were off to rest up a bit. Last time we were here, we got room 666. First it was something associated with the devil and now we have either a cleaning detergent or the subject of a Beach Boys song. Either way, we don't forget our room numbers.

I'll do the description of the room and the hotel now. Skip this paragraph if you want. The room has two double beds which are pretty comfortable (I'll find that out tonight). A nice table and two chairs. A very long desk/dresser combination. One sink outside the shower area. The shower/toilet room is kind of small but there is a curtain to pull across the sink part so you can get extra privacy that way. An open closet area. The TV was on top of a cabinet and was off to one side. We just turned it so we could see it. There is a floor safe here with a programmable combination.

Other things about the hotel - there's a restaurant and a lounge here (plus two pool bars - there are three pools). A Pizza Hut Express on grounds with delivery available (18% gratuity added). There's also secretarial services during normal business hours as well as a fax machine and a place for sending emails. A shuttle is available to take you to the Lake Buena Vista Outlets. I believe those arrangements are done at the front desk. The 14 buildings are all two stories and we were on the second floor which we didn't mind but were told about upon check in. One thing to think about with hotels. There are no elevators here. You don't have to have elevators with a two story structure. We didn't mind using the stairs but fair warning. If you have any reason not to use stairs, make sure your needs are known before you check in.

Once we got everything into the room, we relaxed with some beverages and tried to recover from the drive. Like I said, we have never really done a full drive during the day. We've either split the drive or I insanely get us up in the wee hours of the morning for the trip. We were not prepared for our reaction. We took some time off and watched the Maryland/North Carolina State football game. Rich is a big Maryland fan (poor guy). Maryland did win so he was happy. Then we headed out to what Rich's friend (and mine), Rick, calls "The Mecca".

I let Rich drive onto property so I could feel at home. I'm here, I'm here (yes, again). We parked at the Swan and walked over to Epcot and World Showcase. On the way over, we were passed by one of the surrey bikes they rent at the Boardwalk. There was a little boy in the front of the bike and as the surrey passed, he turned around in his seat to look at us. Rich didn't do much - he waved to the boy. Who just smiled the biggest smile I have ever seen. It was so cute. His mother, who was sitting behind him, turned around when she saw her son beam and she had a huge smile on her face too. Not much but enough. Disney magic is here!

The goal at Epcot was one walk around to look at the Food & Wine Festival booths and their offerings. I had thought about getting something to eat before this but I just wasn't hungry. We had snacked on various things on the drive down. More to keep us awake and alert than anything. There was a general throng of people on the way to International Gateway. I had anticipated the large crowds and I was proved right. Rich later said Thanksgiving Day last year was bad but this was a close second.

We did a very leisurely stroll around World Showcase. Well, as leisurely as we could considering the hoards of people. Every Festival booth had a long line, with the more recognizable ones (Italy, Mexico, United States), being almost prohibitive. We were there around five or six in the evening so I'm sure folks were getting hungry. I had almost memorized the Food & Wine Festival booth menus but Rich, of course, turned off that brain cell so he had to look at all the choices on the way. We managed to find all the booths and all the choices. Rich found a few to check out later. Tonight was definitely not the night to do this. Not the way we wanted to do it. We did stop at the Terrace which was located between Morocco and France. This place and the Odyssey were sites for food and wine seminars. It's first come, first seated but that doesn't stop you from enjoying the presentation from outside the seating area. All of these presentations are free. Rich couldn't believe that. We saw The Mad Chef, Jon Ashton. A couple of people around us knew who he was - said he was on Fox 35.

We grabbed a couple of beers in Norway at the regular stand, not at the Festival booth. That would last us for the entire walk around. We made it to United States just as the Fifth Dimension was finishing up. We are going to try and see this group later on as part of the new Eat to the Beat concert series. I don't think we'll be disappointed. The theatre was full and lots of people were standing outside listening. However, our timing was really bad because the concert ended and the masses flocked out. Rich and I did what we figured was the smart thing. We grabbed a piece of a wall and sat and waited for everyone to go their own way. At this point, we both realized that the drive down did us in, we were tired and needed to relax for the evening.

After the mass exodus, we continued on and the Japanese drummers were out. Rich remarked that this was the largest crowd we had ever seen for the drummers. We got to France where I wanted a glass of wine but I still had that Norwegian beer. So we sat on a couple of chairs and chilled for a while. The lines at the kiosk outside and the wine shop inside were too long (I am spoiled by much shorter lines) so I passed. We left Epcot after just a couple of hours but this was the most crowded I've ever seen the place. We listened to the start of Tapestry of Dreams (I love the music) but knew the attendance for the later parade and Illuminations would not be to our liking. Plus, we were severely lagging by this time. We needed dinner and some rest.

We walked through the Boardwalk area and the line for ESPN Club was out the door again (it was a little shorter earlier). The Spoodles take out window was manageable but I had thrown out the possibility of New York Pizza World to Rich and I knew he wanted that. So we went back to the car and drove offsite to Manny.

Manny was our server back in June and had given us a 10% discount coupon but that's not why we were back. We were here because of Manny himself. He has such a New York/Italian accent, I can't understand him. Rich saw Manny as we were being seated and he came over to shake Rich's hand. Manny said he remembered us but we highly doubted it. Manny became our server even though I don't think we were seated in his section. New York Pizza World is not the highest establishment in the greater Kissimmee area but it is quite good. Obviously, they have pizza. Also pasta and sandwiches. Manny took great care of us. I got the ham and cheese sub and Rich again ordered a large pepperoni pizza for himself. Manny then surprised us by saying "I'm not going to argue with you like I did last time". He did remember us! Rich can consume massive quantities of pizza. Manny did say he would make sure we got two doggie bags.

Well, I certainly needed a bag since the sandwich is huge and packed with meat and cheese. I ate half of it and considered it a victory. Rich must have been hungry because he only had two slices of pizza left. Manny was impressed. We had a half pitcher of beer and the total bill (with a nice tip to Manny) was under $30. At this place, you pay at the door on your way out. But not with us. Manny took care of the transaction and gave us another 10% coupon. "To make sure you come back and see me". Don't worry Manny, we'll be back.

We went back to the room to veg out for the night. I had discovered we had Showtime and it turned out that "Legally Blonde" had just started so we watched that for the first time. I love Reese Witherspoon. She did a great job in the film. Rich made a comment that the chihuahua looked like our cat, Belle, in a dog suit. I was laughing so hard. That really is Belle. I will never look at her again the same way. OK, it's not much but it was funny at the time.

Then we watched "The Rock" on USA which really stank because of the censoring that had to happen. Why even bother to buy the film if you are going to bleep out every other syllable? Don't waste your money - we'll just get the DVD or video and watch it when we want. Can you tell I was tired? But I managed to stay up for "Saturday Night Live" and made it through Weekend Update. I like the teaming of Jimmy Fallon and Tina Fey. Then lights out. I think Rich was snoring within seconds.

Day Two - Sunday, November 10, 2002 - Who Let The Crowds Out?

I knew I was tired but when my eyes finally cracked open and it was almost 9:00, I realized that this trip, like many in the past, would be done slowly. We didn't hear much outside noise or even anything from our neighbors so high marks to the Sheraton for that. I wanted to check out here by 11:00 and get to the All Star Sports after 11:00 so we slowly got ready (and Rich ate his leftover pizza) and got everything to the car and left right before 11:00. Then Rich drove us onto property without really knowing where he was going. I guided him along.

One thing to note and I didn't know this although I consider myself a Disney expert. All Star Movies, Music, and Sports are all next to each other. I thought they all had a separate gate guard area like Port Orleans Riverside/French Quarter. No. There's one guard for the entire All Star complex. So, if you are staying here, you can freely come and go between the three resorts after getting past the gate. Rich just told the guard that we were checking into Sports and was told it was the first right and then we were past.

I walked into the lobby and expected the worst. From all the horror stories I've heard, I figured if there was a huge line, we'd come back later. I was fourth in line and the first three parties went through very fast. And then things just slowed down. We were handed the informational packet while in line. First in line but that was nice. After about five minutes, we were helped. And I guess all our information is in the system because it only took five more minutes and we had our room, king size bed, and it was ready. Great! Where? Touchdown?! Ugh! I've heard bad stories about how loud that place is. Oh well, we have the king bed, let's just go with it. I was muttering under my breath heading towards the car but Rich said to get over it so I will.

A choke up moment. While I was waiting to check in, the Damn Song came on. "You'll Be in my Heart" by Phil Collins from the "Tarzan" soundtrack. This one always does it to me. Thinking about my family and what they mean to me. Chris and Chandra and Marlie. Rich and me. Our parents. We are separated by distance but not by love. So they will always be in my heart if not in my sight. Put the hankies away now, I'm done.

We had to drive a little ways to get to our building. Number 7. Room 7224 - second floor. We found a parking space so close to the building it was a little scary. We took our first load up and used the stairwell instead of the elevator. I wasn't paying that much attention to it but it would turn out to be a highlight. The room is in the middle of the "corridor" (outside). No parking lot view, away from the stairs, away from the elevator, but close enough to the ice machine. There is a full size football field in between the two Touchdown buildings and it's not that far away but enough away that we won't hear it at all but can enjoy when we want. The food court is a very short walk away.

When we walked into the room, I was so disappointed. It was smaller than the Sheraton room. But it did have the king size bed. I mentioned the room size to Rich and he said he thought the Sheraton room was larger than normal. So I consoled myself with that. Then we went to get the second load of luggage. When we were going down the stairs, it hit me. We're huge football fans, we're staying in Touchdown, and we are now going down inside a huge football shaped staircase. I don't care if the room is matchbox size, this is Disney magic again. I felt like I lost about 20 years off my life in that one moment. I was a kid. We got our second load and went back up the football. I was so happy. All Star may have its critics but I quickly became a fan with these few minutes.

We relaxed in the room but I was watching the time since we wanted to do a marathon of Off Kilter today. We know some locals that are usually there on Sundays and we enjoy spending time with them. We were hoping they were going to be there today.

Another description of the room so skip this if it bores you but it might help another person planning a trip. And it's my trip report. We have the king size bed. Any king size bed room here is handicapped accessible. Not sure I'd want to be on the second floor if I was handicapped but there are elevators (it's a three story structure). The reason that the room seems so small is because the bathroom is huge. And entirely handicapped accessible. It does not have a roll-in shower, though. It's a tub set up with pull bars and a removable shower head. The pull out clothes line is set a lot lower than normal. There's plenty of room for a wheelchair to maneuver. The bathroom has a sliding door which was kind of cool for us. The sink is outside the shower/toilet area. One complaint - you can't block the drain here. They have a screen over the drain hole but no way to completely block it. Rich is going to have a hard time shaving. The open closet area here has the normal high shelf but then also has a lower one as well. No laundry bag but I brought a leftover one from home. We have a megaphone light fixture and a star light fixture. The carpet is very subtlety in a star pattern. We do have the infamous turbo toilets and I expected that. And the soap/shampoo dispensers. No Mickey soaps here for the shower. But I also knew that. The shampoo wasn't a problem and Rich claimed he could deal with the soap. Ha! By the second day, he dove into my personal supply of Mickey soaps brought from home (just because I know my husband).

A couple more things to note about our section of the resort. We're in Touchdown and the railings are adorned with silhouettes of fans watching a football game. I really felt like I was at a Falcons game. Nice touch. We saw the full size football field before we headed out to Epcot and it was quiet at around noon. Overall, I liked where we were located and our room in particular. I asked for a quiet room and a king bed if available. Those faxes have worked for me about 99% of the time. The only problem is now Rich expects me to get the magic every time.

Around noon we headed to Epcot and our Off Kilter for the trip (yeah, like I wouldn't weasel in a couple more visits). The day was absolutely beautiful - mid 80s with white puffy clouds. No threat of rain at all. Whoo hoo! Rich drove us to the Swan and then we walked through the Boardwalk to the International Gateway entrance. Since it was Sunday and football was coming on, the line at the ESPN Club was well out the door. We made jokes about people innocently thinking they could just get there at noon and expect to get a seat. That is not going to happen. I also mentioned to Rich that I would have to give Georgia a call and find out what the Falcons were doing against the Steelers today. It's a must win game but it's going to be tough. Yes, I turned into a die hard Falcons fan somewhere along the last year.

We entered World Showcase and it was definitely an improvement from yesterday. No hoards flocking around yet. We went clockwise and got to Canada and didn't see our friends. They are normally just parked here all day. Well, maybe they weren't going to be there. I had sent an email to one of them and never heard back from her (turns out she replied but I probably bounced her because I didn't recognize her subject line or email address - I am so scared of downloading a virus since I did that innocently last year and our PC was down for three days and Rich was on the phone with McAfee for hours upon hours). So we continued on to the Florida booth. We had scoped out all these places last night and I had an internet printout of the booths that we went through at the room as well as using the official Epcot guide to the Festival. I was in search of the orange slices and then once we got there, realized that the Citrus Roulade with Mandarin Sauce was also there. That's like sponge cake. We were interested in the grapefruit wine and I also added a strawberry blush wine from the orange groves. It was funny because most people were going up and ordering only one thing. We had our hands full on the way out. Oh well, that's what we are here for.

We carried our haul back to Canada (the Florida booth was over on the other side of the World Showcase entrance from Future World) and all the Off Kilter bench seating was taken by people eating the Food & Wine Festival offerings. We sat at the front wall of the stage area and scoped out people we thought would be leaving. There was a group of eight seated on what I consider "my benches" so I told Rich that if they showed any signs of leaving, to hustle over there and get those seats. I went totally into groupie mode at that point. So did Rich. The group did get up to move on (they were enjoying lots and lots of different foods from the Festival and having a great time) and Rich went over there. It was kind of like he was stalking them. But we got our seats and shortly after we sat down, our friends arrived. So we had a nice time visiting with them.

BTW - the orange slices were right off the orchard and not as sweet as the ones in the grocery store. But good. The Citrus Roulade was good once I scraped off the coconut topping. I do not like coconut at all. The strawberry blush wine was OK but too fruity for me. Rich handled most of that one. The biggest surprise was the grapefruit wine. Very good. We went back later to check out the full bottle price. $11.75. We thought Rich's father would like this as a Christmas present. All the booths have their wines available at full bottle prices if you are interested. We were interested.

After Off Kilter's first set, Rich and I headed out to do a walk around of the Food & Wine Festival. Our friends recommended the Durban Spiced Chicken on Sugar Cane Skewer to Rich. I was fine since I had enjoyed the Florida choices (I think Rich had one orange slice). That was our destination but it was all the way over on the other side of the lagoon so we just meandered since we had over an hour until the next Off Kilter set.

On the way over the bridge to France, we stopped at my insistence and I called our friend and fellow Falcons fans, Ray. To get an update. Going into halftime and down 17-7. Not bad but we'll see. Ray didn't even know we were at Disney World. He couldn't believe we were not watching the game. Touchdown building, football, Sunday. I love America!

We stopped at the peanut booth. We had to laugh and talk to the woman manning the booth. These were Georgia peanuts. This woman said that her organization had way underestimated the attendance to the Festival and today was the last day of ten days for this exhibit. The last of the free peanut samples and the recipes were out and the woman hoped they lasted until that night. I don't think they were going to. The woman said she was exhausted because she had a constant stream of people coming by. That was so good to hear - Epcot certainly was hopping the past couple of days.

We made it to the South Africa booth which is where the chicken skewer was. Nice big portion for $3.50. We also picked up some Chardonnay and got kind of a bargain. The usual samples are just samples. But the bottle ran out with our first glass so the server just gave the rest to us. And then since we ordered two glasses, she kind of had to fill the second glass up to the same level. We got almost a full glass for $2.25 each. We enjoyed this for the rest of the walk around the Showcase.

Rich needed a place to sit down and eat his chicken so we ended up at the outdoor seating area of the Lotus Blossum Café in China (the counter service place). It was in the sun but no one was there so we didn't feel like we were taking a table away from a "real" customer. We didn't go inside since both of us would have felt weird going into an eating establishment without ordering something. Then we headed back to Canada and the second set of Off Kilter. I think our whole stroll took over an hour.

After the second set, all the guys came down off the stage and visited with the audience. I really like that this group has the fan interaction. Since our friends know the group, we were briefly visited and I even got a kiss on the cheek from Randy (lead guitarist). It is so nice relaxing here on a beautiful November afternoon. Rich even remarked "it's this supposed to be fall?" The day was absolutely gorgeous. The next set was only an hour away and the band members were visiting so we just stayed put. I did call Ray again and got an update on the Falcons. So, so close. Looks like it's going into overtime. I'd call him after the third set. The conversation got us talking to a guy in the next row who was a Steeler fan. I told him that I appreciated his commitment but the Falcons were going to kick butt (or words to that affect).

During the break, Rich and I went over to the Russian and Eastern Europe booth and got a couple of Pilsner Urquell (12 oz. for $4). Not bad beer - I might have to check out this stuff for the future. Yeah, like I can find this in Atlanta.

For the third Off Kilter set, one of our friends requested "Trouble in the Kitchen". I had heard this live for the first time three weeks ago but Rich had never heard it live. We love this. The guys did it and again, I thought the drums would end up in the lagoon. It's so lively and powerful. I've been to many, many Off Kilter sets and I'd say this day was turning into one of the best. Lots and lots of our favorites and the guys were so entertaining. After the set, I did call Ray again and found out that the Falcons tied the Steelers! That hasn't happened in the NFL since 1997. Unfortunately, in our fantasy football league, there are no rules for tie games for defenses. Rich is a commissioner so he's going to have to make some phone calls tonight to figure out what to do.

We had a while for the fourth and last set and I wanted to try for some postcards to send to Marlie and Chandra (Chris' girlfriend). I figured Mouse Gear would be the place to go. Rich and I headed there and were stopped right outside the door for a fountain show. I love this thing. Into Mouse Gear and I didn't find what I wanted. I really wanted a postcard of Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. Poor Chandra is already scared to go on this and she's not even coming until May. I thought I'd write on it - "Wish you Were Here" in shaky handwriting and then put "hehehehehe" on it. She'll freak.

We got back to the Canada pavilion and then I thought about trying the International Gateway gift shop for postcards. I did get one of Mickey and friends and then another one with Winnie and friends to send to Marlie and Chandra. Then back to Canada for the last Off Kilter set. It was great as always and we said goodbye to a friend or two since they wouldn't be back for tomorrow. Then we headed out for the car. It had been a long day but a good one.

On the way through the Boardwalk we happened upon Phil, the card handler. We had seen him last night but he was packing things up. This time, we got to see the last half of his show. He's really great with kids and amazes lots of people. He's a great family entertainer on the Boardwalk.

Then we headed back to the room. We had already decided to go to the food court for dinner. Our Off Kilter friends chided us for not doing more food choices at the Festival and going for the All Star Sports food court but that's what we wanted. We did a quick stop at the room and then headed for grub. The food court at All Stars has individual stations and you pay on your way out. The problem with this for families is if one person wants Italian and one wants a cheeseburger, you have to stand in two different lines and then pay for all of it at the end. In this case, I wanted rotisserie chicken which had no line and Rich wanted a hot dog and that station had a line. I grabbed some money from Rich and then got my dinner while Rich stood in his line.

I went up to the griller place and they put some slab of chicken on the plate that I swear was the size of Belle, my little cat. And then they asked what two side dishes I wanted. Yikes! The whole dinner was $9 and it was pretty good. I took the platter over to Rich in his line and he just said "should I even bother getting anything myself?" I told him I'd see him at a table somewhere. His line wasn't that bad and he joined me a little later with a chili dog and fries. Not a bad meal. OK, it wasn't the Food & Wine Festival but it was what we wanted. Rich did take notice that all the paintings of the sports figures on the walls had undistinguished emblems except one - The Mighty Ducks.

After our grazing, we went and checked out the gift shop and the rest of the lobby area. Nice set up. BTW - the football field in between the Touchdown buildings was getting a very nice workout tonight. There's even bleacher seating in the end zones. And we saw that the Home Run section (baseball) had stadium lights going. Such attention to detail. After we left the gift shop, we checked out Mount Mickey which was nice but nothing spectacular. Mickey on a pedestal. Rich did a "Rocky" homage and ran up the stairs like Sly Stallone. I just bowed down and gave my thanks that it all started with a mouse. OK, maybe we were tired but it worked for us.

Back to the room for Sunday night football. Poor Rich. He got clobbered in fantasy football. Oh well. He's won the trophy twice now. It's time for someone else (like ME!) to win it this year. Rich called Ray to get some decisions going on the tie issue and then I called Adrienne to thank her for faxing my room request and to tell her I loved All Star Sports. The reception on the cell phone isn't the best - Rich got dropped a couple of times inside the room but I was fine outside with Adrienne. We just watched sports and then turned in for the night.

Day Three - Monday, November 11, 2002 - Veterans' Day - A Special Thanks to All Who Have Served

All Star Sports has outside corridors and there're lots of kids. So we were prepared for some morning noise. It wasn't that bad but our very next door neighbors had a luggage call for 8:30 AM. Ugh! After that, we heard every single noise. As Rich says "do you know that luggage on wheels going over your head sounds just like a jet airplane?" But sleeping until 9:00 wasn't that bad for the first real day of vacation. We got up and got ready. Rich went to the gift shop for a newspaper (has to make sure he really stank in fantasy football, right?) and I worked on the report. It was slow going since I was still tired. Our goal for today was MGM and then Off Kilter and the Food & Wine Festival after that. The day was wonderful. Mid to high 80s and not a cloud in the sky.

When we first came to the room, we noticed that there was an arrangement in the window of the room a couple of doors down of all kinds of Disney plushes. And when I went to get ice, I saw another room that had a towel animal in their window. So I knew our housekeeper was a good one. I made sure we left our normal $3 tip. We don't have plushes, no kids but I figured that something was deserved. On the way to our car, we saw that the room with the plushes had more plushes and they were all in the window awaiting their family to come back. I had to take a picture.

I did make a quick early morning phone call to Ray to do a football transaction. I hate not having internet access down here. I suppose I could but it would cost an arm and a leg. Ray is cheaper. Turns out the guy I picked up is now out for two to four weeks. Last time I listen to Rich's advice!

We went through the football down to the first floor and out to the car. Then Rich drove us over to the Swan for our trek to MGM. One note here. This morning, Rich woke up limping. Rich is in fairly good shape - plays racquetball three times a week and will not hesitate for any athletic activity. However, he usually will end up with some sort of ankle or foot problem at Disney World. We figure it's because the walking here is not the typical walking. It's more of a dodge the stroller or the wheelchair, zigzag through the family that insists on walking hand in hand all across the path, stop on a dime because someone in front of you decides that they really don't want to be going where they are going, well - you get the drift. You literally have to be on your toes all the time. We're only two people so we have the evasive maneuvers down fairly well. Rich dodges left, I dodge right, and we meet up after every group. Rich was playing foot games all day yesterday and it showed today.

After parking at the Swan, Rich requested taking the boat to MGM. We normally would do the walkway but he was still limping. Fortunately, a boat was just pulling up for us so not a problem. I decided to defer to all of Rich's walking wishes today. Renting a wheelchair was not an option this trip. We sat on the outside part of the boat and had a family ask if we would mind taking a picture of them. The mom said that they had a shot of the four of them from two years ago but now there was five. And the fifth little guy was maybe, just maybe, two months old. Very cute.

We entered MGM and wanted to do the two thrill things - Rock N Roller Coaster and Twilight Zone. The crowd level for this holiday was non-existent. I had hoped that with the Super Soap Weekend done, things would die down here. It did. Twilight Zone was a 60 minute wait but that was because Beauty and the Beast just emptied out. We went and got a FastPass for Rock N Roller Coaster for about a half hour away. It was around noonish by this time.

I was getting a little hungry so we mutually decided on a beer and pretzel combo back at the Soundstage Catering Company. It's been a few trips since we've done this so we were overdue. I took a nice shaded table and sent Rich off for the food and beverage. He came back with the beverage. Err, dude, I'd like some food. They only had a spicy pretzel. Rich said "there's no pretzels here". Yes, there are. Go through the walkway there, out to New York Street and there's a pretzel vendor there. Rich looked at me like I was insane. Trust me, my dear, trust me. A few minutes later, we were enjoying our seat, our beer, and a nice big Hercules pretzel. I love Disney World!

We had our lunch and then headed back to Rock N Roller Coaster. We detoured just a bit and got FastPasses for Twilight Zone. We could do that since our Rock N Roller Coaster window had already opened. We were set for Twilight Zone in the next hour. Off to Aerosmith and our limo ride. No wait with FastPasses although we were kind of in between these pre-teenagers and their "adult" companions. The younger ones wanted to run into the attraction while the older ones lagged behind. We didn't know whether to let the older ones go ahead of us or try and get around the younger ones. It doesn't really matter since everyone goes into one big preshow anyway. But on with the show.

Once we got through the preshow (I love Illeana Douglas, by the way) we were headed for our tour of LA. "How many please?" Rich said two. "OK, row 12" Yikes! That's the back row! It was a great, great ride. We've done the front row, the back row, the middle row, just about every seat here. The back row is, I think smoother and has a better total experience. I was whooping it up going through the Hollywood sign. I don't think I've ever done that before. Excellent ride.

We had some time before our Tower of Terror and I wanted to check out the Christmas shop here. I really wanted to get Chandra and Marlie a personalized ornament. As you can tell by their names, they can't get ready made stuff for them. So I thought something with their names on it would be nice. Unfortunately for Rich, the shop is all the way on the other side of the park. But he gamely went over there with me.

I got two Mickey glass ball ornaments - one blue and one gold and then had personalization added to each one. Marlie on the blue one and Chandra on the gold one. An additional $3 for the first name and $2 for the second name. Each ornament was $12. Not bad. I'm sure they will love them. And the best thing was that the finished ornaments would be delivered to the All Star Sports tomorrow afternoon. I love the package delivery system if you are staying onsite. And a special thanks to all the RAPDers who told me that this shop had a better turnaround time than the one at Downtown Disney. I was pretty darn psyched.

We made a brief stop on the way at the Tatoonine Traders to see if they had any new Star Wars stuff for Chris (our son). I swear parents should not let their children have sugar before they enter this shop. It's always high adrenaline in here. Nothing new for Chris but we noticed the pewter figure of Yoda with a light saber is no longer there. Merry Christmas, Chris! (He very much appreciated it).

Back to Twilight Zone to get terrorized. Almost no standby wait at all. I was tempted to keep the FastPass and go standby and then do the FastPass later. But we're really not the "go round and round on the ride" kind of people. So we just walked up with the FastPass. We had a lot of rookies on this. The group in front of us thought that the library section was where we were going to drop. Then through the boiler room and right into an elevator. This might be the last time I'm doing this with a lapbar. Ugh! I made sure my waist pack was in my lap so I had no hang time. I did survive. It wasn't that bad at all. Once in the gift shop, I found a postcard for Chandra. "I Survived the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror". I bought that and then Rich and I grabbed a bench. I had already written out Marlie's postcard and had the stamps. With Chandra's, I did what I wanted and even Rich said I was evil. The whole card just said "Wish You Were Here, hehehehehe, Sheri". Except I did it with a shaking handwriting thing. I know that when I finally get Chandra on here, I'm going to have to say "we're all going to die". I just hope Marlie will forgive me (I've been told that she will love this).

I mailed the two postcards (Marlie gets the nice one from Winnie the Pooh and friends - Chandra gets the evil Twilight Zone one) and then we decided that was it for MGM. All the tours are great, all the shows are great. But we were done for us. We've been there, done that, and we are coming back. With Chandra, Marlie, and Chris. We'll do the whole nine yards with them.

Our normal pattern would be to take the walkway back to Epcot. But Rich reminded me that I left my camera and my Food & Wine Festival guide in the car at the Swan. He asked if I had to get those or if we could just take the boat directly to Epcot. So I knew his ankle was bothering him. I really wanted my camera and my guide but I didn't want Rich to have to walk from the Swan to Epcot. I suggested taking the boat and me getting off at the Swan and then meeting up at the Off Kilter stage for the 3:30 show. We didn't anticipate getting there that early but MGM was so manageable. Rich argued that he would walk with me but I insisted he take the damn boat the whole way. I deboated at the Swan and went to get my stuff in the car. Rich continued on the boat after I threatened to dump him in Crescent Lake if he attempted any more walking than necessary.

I called Chris on the way to the car. He had to do some internet filings for us and I wanted to make sure that was taken care of. It wasn't an emergency but a little important. We chatted for a while and I told him about the evil Twilight Zone postcard I had just mailed. He was dying laughing because he knew Chandra would freak out over it. I told him about the Christmas ornaments and he said that Chandra and Marlie would love them. I also gave him a heads up about another little Disney surprise I was trying for but wasn't positive I could get. Chandra and Marlie are just as devoted to Disney as I am so they love all this stuff. Poor Chris now has to wait to get them on the surprises. But he did do our internet filings so we're fine with all that. I got my camera and my listings from the car and then did the walk from the Swan to Epcot.

The day was beautiful but without those clouds, it was hot! Not that bad and I took my sweet time. Said hi to all the ducks and the coots bobbing along. One of the purposes of the camera was to take a picture of the big Christmas tree on the Boardwalk lawn. Now that I'm living in the South, it's a little hard getting used to the idea that the holidays are right around the corner. It's way too warm for it. I'm used to snow and ice and bitterly cold temperatures. Come to think of it, that's why we live in the South now!

I was a little loaded down going through security since I had the waist pack and the camera case but I had both unshouldered and unzipped and ready to go. The guard said that I was prepared and I replied that I had lots and lots of practice. He chuckled at that. I met up with Rich who prepared himself with a nice Labatts Blue for the afternoon. Off Kilter, here we come. We were met by some of our friends and enjoyed some time before the second set of the day.

The set was "highlighted" by a group who camped out in between the two sets of benches. One woman was in an EVC and had a working dog, Cee. Cee was very cute but a little rambunctious. Not that bad and she had a patch on her "uniform" that said "please don't pet me, I'm working". So no kids bothered her. One little boy had to get a single use camera and take a picture of Cee. I admit it, I took a picture too. The entertainment came from Cee's master's companions. Four adults, two male and two female. Who formed something along the lines of a bobsled team. Male in the back, female in front of him, etc. Not exactly what you would call a normal way of sitting on the ground. When Off Kilter came out, they just said "I hope you guys all know each other". This little group was definitely enjoying the beverages more than the food at the Festival.

After the set, Rich was ready for food so he went off to Mexico for a Quesadilla Polio y Chorizo (chicken and sausage in a tortilla). I asked him to get me a sample of wine. Our friends went off for beverages on their own and I kept the seats for the third Off Kilter set. Our friends got back before Rich did so I went to the New Zealand booth for some mussels and then threw in a Sauvignon Blanc for the heck of it. I met up with Rich back at the seats. Verdict. He liked the Mexican Petite Syrah (red wine - I might have liked it chilled), I thought the Sauvignon Blanc was very good. Rich devoured his quesadilla and I think we'll see a few more in our future. The mussels were good but a little too big. If I have to eat a mussel in two bites, it's a little too big. But overall, we were certainly satisfied. That's why I love the Festival. Rich gets what he wants, I get what I want.

After the third set (we even got some Steppenwolf), we had some time before the last set of the night. Rich was hungry again (I'll call him Heimlich from now on) so we headed out for maybe another quesadilla. We got to Mexico and both of us had to use the "facilities" but there wasn't anything inside the pavilion (or outside) except by going through the restaurant and that had a line so we went next door to Norway. The Ireland booth was right there and our friends had highly recommended the Toasted Oatmeal and Whiskey Flan. Yeck for me but Rich was intrigued. So he got that and we continue on our clockwise walk around World Showcase.

The flan was "OK" and then we hit the Poland booth. Rich wanted to try their beer (check out our last name - go figure). We were not that interested in the food because, quite frankly, I can do better. Sorry but I make a mean, mean pierogie. Totally homemade and wonderful. OK, I'm done patting myself on the back. The beer was pretty good and then we moved on to Germany.

Sidenote. At the Polish booth there was a mother/daughter team with a child in a stroller. They had no clue as to what food was offered or anything. They were just in line until they got up to the displays of food and then they stalled until they decided if they even wanted anything. They decided it wasn't for them and finally got out of line. Kind of frustrating when the choices of food are listed and they could have easily seen the display from outside the line. We met up with them again at the Germany booth where Rich wanted to try the Smoked Ribs. He joined the line (about five deep) right after Stroller Woman. That's what I called her. This time Mom and Stroller Woman kept going back and forth on what they wanted. They didn't even know there was beer here. They finally ended up both getting the ribs and the Mom getting an apple strudel she had wrapped up for later. Stroller Woman almost had a heart attack when she realized Mom was getting a beer too. While Rich was getting waited on, I was standing over by the walkway for Tapestry of Dreams. The Mom asked the Cast Member what the taped off areas were for. The Cast Member explained. The Mom just exclaimed "there's a parade here tonight?" at the top of her lungs. I had to laugh. Then they asked the Cast Member where they could go for American food. I guess for the boy in the stroller. He was about five or so. Err, America maybe? These two could have benefited from a guide book or two on the plane, I think.

Rich had debated getting the ribs because they came with Braised Cabbage and Chestnuts. I told him to just ask for the ribs only. Which he did and got an extra rib. He also picked up a Valckenbery Rhein Dry Riesling for me. It was dry and fairly good. I still liked the New Zealand one better. Since the parade was about to start we went back the way we came to avoid the crowds. Rich needed a seat to eat his ribs and drink the rest of the Polish beer. We found one at the Spain exhibit. This is kind of a featured exhibit this year so it was very well done and a big display. Rich ate his ribs and said they were pretty good. He still said the quesadilla was the best. Well, we'll pass Mexico again on the way back to Canada. Rich said he'd wait so he would have a couple of things to anticipate tomorrow. I had to laugh. They must be good if Rich is going to get a couple of them!

We made it back to Canada where our friends had taken one of the benches and moved it right in front of the stage. None of us really like the later show since it was at 6:40 and it was dark. We much prefer the start time of 6:00. The guys can see the audience better and we can see them. But the last set was great as always. These guys have not disappointed us at all. After this set, we said goodbye to all our friends. Their jobs were calling them for tomorrow.

One note here: the special thing that I was trying for Marlie happened. I had thought to get a postcard and then have all the Off Kilter guys sign it for her. No, she doesn't know the group but she's four and I figured anything autographed would be appreciated. I told my friend that it would take me forever to work up the courage to ask the guys for signatures. My friend and Rich got the autographs after the second set. Tony, the keyboardist, even personalized it "To Marlie". It's a very simple gesture but something that Chandra and Marlie (and Chris) will appreciate. I have had two very special people added to my life this year and I am so grateful that Chris has them in his life. And vice versa. I did call Chris after I had the postcard all wrapped up and put safely away. He said Marlie would go insane with getting something like this. It was kind of neat because I could hear Marlie yelling in the background. Just call me Grandma Sheri.

We were tired from the long day and headed back to the car. Only to be detoured by the Boardwalk entertainment. As we were walking around the bend at the ESPN Club, I saw a juggler. Yes, it's our Randy. He's so good and through Lindy, we knew he was usually doing Monday-Wednesday sets. Unlike three weeks ago when I saw him, Randy had a nice big crowd gathered. We got a couple of spots in the middle, making sure the kids could be in front of us so they could see. Actually, some of these kids are bigger than me but I made the adult sacrifice. Randy was pretty good but tried to do the four pins to five pins juggling (the fifth pin was on his head). It took a while but Randy finally nailed it. Rich had to yell out that it was the wind tricking Randy. Randy then laughed and said "yes, that and the sun". It was nighttime and there was no breeze whatsoever. So the little girl next to us yelled out "there's no sun". Randy diverted the kids' attention by saying "isn't that Mickey Mouse over there". He had to apologize because half the kids thought the Mouse was really on the Boardwalk. Randy did recognize us from before. Yes, we are stalkers. We got a handshake after the performance.

We looked at each other and said that was it, we were tired, let's go back to the room. We discussed going to a grocery store for supplies and debated an evening visit or just doing it in the morning. We were still mulling the decision when we happened upon Phil, the card handler. All alone. So we stopped and once we did that, a crowd started gathering. With all these performers, the kids are the real stars. Fortunately, we got a little girl in our crowd so Phil had her do a couple of tricks with him. It was a great performance and we actually left before it was over. We think Phil was hot that night. He had a ton of kids and wanted to please them and was doing a nice job of it. We had seen him the night before and will see him again.

We decided to do the grocery run tonight so we didn't have to bother tomorrow. A quick stop at the Publix and back to the room. The only thing that had me energized was the walk through the football and up to the second floor. I was lagging. Like Rich said, we had been on the go since 11:00 that morning and it was now well after 8:30. I don't think I stopped walking or standing except for the Off Kilter shows. We got to our room, opened up the door and I was just about to make a comment about how we didn't get a towel animal or had anything done special to the room. And then I saw him.

Mr. Peacock Towel Guy. He was over on one of the nightstands. So cute!!! And all our towels were specially arranged with washcloths inside them. Even the bathmat was fluffed. Our sink soap had a washcloth arranged underneath it. I'm in a value resort and I get this special treatment. Even Rich was impressed. We don't expect this all the time but when it happens, we get the max experience from it. I moved the peacock over to a chair and put the next day's tip under him. I'd tip anyway but Mr. Peacock wanted to thank our housekeeper for bringing him to life. Hey, this is Disney World - Mr. Peacock is real.

We just watched "Third Watch" and then the Monday Night Football game (Oakland beat some Denver butt). Rich got some pitiful points in fantasy football but he's not sure he's going to eke out a win. I was already a winner thanks to a call I made to Ray earlier in the day. My opponent only scored 6 points so I was golden. I love rubbing in the fact that a woman is probably going to the playoffs in our league. Testosterone is going down in our league this year. Gotta love it.

Lights out after a very long day.

Day Four - Tuesday, November 12, 2002 - Gather Up the Animals Two by Two, The Rains are A Coming

So far the All Star Sports had been wonderful. Until this morning. It really was nothing to do with the resort. But please parents - your kids running up and down outside the rooms are very annoying to anyone who really wants to sleep in. We had two little kids for almost a half hour just running up and down and around and around at 8:30 in the morning. I was so tempted to go out and ask the kids just where their room was. And then go by there at midnight (our usual bedtime) and run up and down outside their room. Sorry but it's a huge peeve of mine. If I'm out getting ice late at night, I don't let my door slam shut, I don't yell down the corridor to Rich, I walk as softly as possible. I guess I expect the same consideration in the morning. Oh well, we were up and doing our morning thing a little earlier than expected.

Rich did his routine and then went down for a newspaper and we watched SportsCenter on ESPN for a while. I think Rich was trying to see if the score from last night's football game had miraculously changed from nine hours earlier. I did my thing and we were ready to head out to Animal Kingdom around 11:00 or so. We did a little bit of a detour so I could take pictures of the resort and especially the football field. Have to show Ray this place via photos. His one trip to Disney World was a disaster because he didn't listen to us and stay even remotely near property. And paid twice as much as we were paying for All Star. This place just might change his mind (and the reduced rate won't hurt either).

Rich drove us over to the Animal Kingdom. I just wanted to do the Primeval Whirl since we hadn't done it before. My excuse was that I couldn't recommend or not recommend something I've never tried. The crowd level here was just as reduced as the level at MGM yesterday. The weekend crowds had been bad but not the last two days. I kind of expected that with the locals coming and the Super Soap Weekend. Primeval Whirl said a ten minute wait but it was a walk on. This is like a carnival type roller coaster that's suitable for kids (but has a height requirement of 48 inches due to the restraints used). It does whirl you around and it is a bit jerky so be warned if you have any back problems. Rich's was acting up a bit and he said it didn't really do him much good. But we liked the attraction and I'm sure Marlie will too (she's not going to make the height requirements so I guess I'm going to be doing lots and lots of "Whack a Dinosaur" while everyone else rides). I am seeing Disney World through new eyes since we want to bring Marlie to her first visit next year.

I had asked Rich what he wanted to do at Animal Kingdom and he said Kali River Rapids, The Bugs (It's Tough to be a Bug), Flights of Wonder, and the "Little Red thing" (Kilimanjaro Safari). I expressed my doubts about Kali since I usually get soaked on that one. The forecast for the day was for showers and I was armed with our cheap ponchos in my pack and the heavier yellow Disney ones in the trunk of the car. But so far, the day was beautiful. We were lucking out with the weather, at least for now. I checked my watch after we were done whirling and saw that Flights of Wonder would be starting in about ten minutes. We had walked by the Tarzan Rocks show and could have done that but passed. I like the show but just didn't feel like it today.

Once we got to Flights of Wonder, I asked Rich to give me his pass and I'd go to Kali and get some FastPasses for after the show. He said we didn't have to do it if I was concerned about getting wet. I said we were at Disney World and we hadn't been wet yet so why not. Rich went into the show to get us seats. I went onto Asia for the FastPasses but it was not to be. The standby line was only five minutes so they had the FastPass machines roped off. If we wanted Kali, it would be a walk on.

Flights of Wonder was terrific as always. Rich really likes this show. It's a bird show that showcases the bird's natural talents. Like how quiet the owl can fly and how intelligent crows are. I've never taken pictures of the show and I was carrying the camera today. I think I'm turning into a lunatic with this now. Lots and lots of pictures taken today. I did my usual tear-up with the plight of the East African Crown Crane (named Frasier, get it?). Highly endangered and the numbers are going down. But then we got the message about how we managed to save the American Bald Eagle from extinction and it's not even endangered anymore. Hope, Disney's eagle, got a nice ovation and lots and lots of oohs and aahs. Very impressive looking bird.

After the show, we made our way over to Africa and the Safari. We saw DeVine along the way. This is a person (not really sure male or female) covered in vines and on stilts who walks along the pathway and scares the heck out of people. At least this woman and her son who were about ready to run away. Good spontaneous fun.

The Safari was another walk on after the stroller stop. I really wish they would do this better here. The line is on the left but the stroller parking lot is on the right across the FastPass line. So people with strollers have to stop completely to get the kids out and the strollers over. There is a Cast Member here to take the stroller but lots of parents are concerned about not parking the thing themselves. There's usually a backup while everything gets done and explained. Maybe a little sign along the mile-long queue that says "stroller parking 500 feet" or something? I'm hoping we won't need a stroller for Marlie next year. I'll have to learn stroller etiquette.

Our guide for the Safari was very good and really jazzed up the Little Red poacher storyline. He added comments along with the recorded stuff so it made a little more sense. Like when Warden Wilson's plane is supposed to be going overhead, you hear the plane noise but this guy added "that's Warden Wilson keeping an eye out on us". And he actually pointed out Little Red in the truck at the end. We saw lots of animals and I took some pictures I'm sure will turn out fuzzy since you shake around here so much. But I had to try.

We passed on the Trek after the Safari since we had done both of the trails over Labor Day. Next up was It's Tough to be a Bug and we joined the moving people through the huge queue line. Here's a suggestion for Disney World. Now that the Tree of Life has been there for a while, can we have one queue for viewing the tree and one for just getting to the attraction? I'm not complaining but I think people feel pressured to keep going when there's no line. They don't have the opportunity to stop and see all the carvings. When I bring Chandra and Marlie here, I will run interference and direct everyone around so they can view the tree as much as they want.

We got to the holding area just after a show had started so we did the cattle thing and waited for the next one. We misjudged the crowd and ended up in a row all the way to the right hand side. We had a dad and son to our right on the last seats. They were rookies. I love seeing the reactions. One note here - you might think we had horrible seats since we were all the way to one side. Nope. No seat here is bad. If you are in the holding area, you'll get a seat.

I mentioned something to Rich about food and he said he'd prefer to wait until Epcot and the booths. Methinks I see a couple of quesadillas in his future. Epcot and the Festival were next on the list. And Off Kilter, of course. We could catch the last three shows. Not what we planned but Animal Kingdom went so fast today. We parked at the Swan and then debated about taking ponchos. I had the cheapo ones and I also had the yellow Disney ones. Rich said "none will be needed". So I took the cheapo ones. Just in case.

Since I was the one that mentioned food, Rich was now on a mission to get something for me. I had to fight with him all the way over to Epcot to leave me alone, I wasn't going to die if I didn't get something to eat right now. I love that he's concerned about me but he got to be a little smothering with this.

While we were fussing about food, we were discussing how much cash we had left. Rich said not to worry since the Food & Wine booths took the resort room key for payment. I insisted they didn't. He insisted they did. We bickered and I finally said that I would trade in the stupid conversation for a dinner at the Cape May Buffet where we both knew we could charge the meal. Yes, there are ATMs at Disney World but Rich is a tightwad and won't part with the service fee also charged. I love my husband and I put up with his little nuances just like he puts up with mine (like I have any!). Much to my surprise, Rich said "hey, that's a good idea, can you do it?".

My waist pack will carry a lot - it's a great one from nutztogo.com for $10. Holds tons of things. One of those things was my cell phone. So I pulled it out and called 407-WDW-DINE and asked if there was availability for 7:30 for two adults. Not a problem at all. The timing was important as we would see the last Off Kilter show at 6:40 and then be able to make our seating after that. Nice way to end our Epcot stay.

Once I had the arrangements made, I was kind of smug that I could do a same day priority seating for a place we wanted and a time we wanted. Rich just looked at me and said "that's great but I'm more concerned that you had the number memorized." That relieved the tension and relaxed the day. Onto Epcot and the Festival!

Rich did sheepishly ask if he could still get a "snack". I knew those quesadillas were coming up. That was our first stop. The Mexican booth for not one but two quesadillas. Rich had this goofy grin on his face. He really liked these. We headed back towards Canada and I stopped at the California booth for the bread and tomato salad. I had a problem here with my room key for the transaction (yes, I had to admit to Rich that the booths did take them - I swallowed my pride for a while). But all was done and I had my lunch and a glass of wine. We snacked back at the Off Kilter stage and waited for the next set. We missed the first one but the last three of the trip would be fine. Rich got a little restless and went over to the United Kingdom and watched the British Invasion. If you want some nice entertainment at Epcot, you can go back and forth between Canada and the United Kingdom, throw in a little France, and get your money's worth.

We did have a couple of families stop here with multiple kids. As Rich put it "the parental units were not in control". These kids (all pre-elementary age) were climbing up and down the stairs to the Off Kilter stage (probably not the best thing since the stairs are open) and then running around in the grassy area between this and the coffee kiosk next door. The little boy actually started hitting a tree with something that caused a Cast Member to come over and ask him to leave the area. The parents were never in control of anything. I think Grandma wanted to be in Africa or something.

Off Kilter did not disappoint again (they never do) and we only had an hour in between sets. I was on a mission to find a nice frame for Marlie's postcard. I knew what I wanted. The acrylic thing with the characters holding the frame. I hadn't been able to even find one but I thought Mouse Gear would have what I was looking for. I left Rich to hold our seats - sounds stupid but I love where we sit. I went to both stores at the entrance to World Showcase. The first one didn't have what I was looking for and the second one was transformed into a total Christmas store. Onto Mouse Gear. They had the frames. The only ones that were the correct way (landscape and not portrait for 4x6") were Mickey and Pluto together and then another one with Figment. Marlie has never been to Disney World so Figment would be foreign to her. Mickey and Pluto were nice but at $18, that was a little more than I wanted to spend since we had already gotten her the personalized ornament. Sigh, sigh, sigh. I have to get a job first before I start spoiling this girl. Oops, too late. But we'll do something a little less expensive back in Georgia.

Back for the next set of Off Kilter and we were joined by a lovely couple from Scotland who asked if the group was good enough to stop for. Of course! We did admit our bias but the couple said it sounded fine. They had such heavy accents that we had a hard time understanding them. Sorry to all the UKers out there but sometimes our Americanism is hard to overcome. Bear with us, please. But we had a pleasant conversation before the set. It turned out this couple loved Off Kilter and the guy ended up taping most of the set.

There also was a little boy who probably learned how to walk about a month ago. I don't think he quite knew what to make out of five guys in kilts blaring out Celtic rock music but in the end, the little guy was dancing around with a huge smile on his face. I can't even describe what his parents looked like. A half hour for the kid to work out some energy, parents are happy. Off Kilter can make a nice baby sitting venue. Lots of running around room.

There was one more set for us this trip so we took advantage of the break and went to get Rich's father's Christmas present. Well, part of it - we had gotten the other part on the Labor Day trip. We loved that Florida grapefruit wine and Ed likes stuff like this. All the wines at the Festival are available in bottles. So we wanted to get one for Ed. And we added a couple of glasses of the stuff for us too. Off Kilter requires a nice thirst (yeah, it's an excuse). We were treated to almost full glasses (you usually get just a sample) because the booth didn't have a box to put the bottle in. The Cast Member said that you cannot purchase something like this at Disney World and not have it put in an authentic Disney box. Another Cast Member said she'd go to Mexico and get what was needed. We got extra wine for "the wait". Turns out Norway was the booth that had extra boxes. Pleasant way to spend some time - sipping wine and people watching. With our purchase in hand, we went back to Canada. Our last Off Kilter session for a while. No plans to come back except in May with Chris, Chandra, and Marlie.

Our bench was occupied by an older guy and we asked if we could join him. Not a problem. We ended up talking with him. He's retired to Florida from New Hampshire and comes over to watch Off Kilter several times a week. Says the guys are a big reason for coming to Disney World. We concurred. We also talked about the Off Kilter allure. All three of us agreed it's not only the band but the reactions of the audience. During the last set, the guys did "Amazing Grace". Jamie (the bagpiper) said it is the most requested bagpipe song ever. They start it out very slowly and traditionally and then launch into a rock version of it. We had some young adults behind us and they loved the beginning and then were blown away by the ending. We agreed that we've seen little kids, older people, our age group, and just about all ranges of people here and just about all of them connect with something the band does.

That little boy from the last set was back with his parents for this set as well. We enjoyed watching him dance around again. Somehow, I felt as young as he was.

We had been watching the weather roll in and were concerned with getting the sets in. The stage is covered but everyone except Jamie, the bagpiper, is wired into heavy electronics. I don't think they want to mess around with Mother Nature and Ben Franklin at the same time. The clouds did come during this last set but it was a great performance and we headed out to leave. We waved goodbye to the guys and we will see them again. Their third CD should be out by the end of the year. That'll be my Christmas present to myself. Thanks guys for everything.

As soon as we left the Canada pavilion, it started to rain. Not that much but enough. I thought I had taken both cheapo ponchos in my bag but I only had one. I think I left the other one back in our Falcons tailgating tub (I did - my bad). Oops. We tried to both use the cheapo one for shelter but the winds were picking up. Rich said he had his ESPN hat so I should use the poncho. I admit, I didn't argue too much. We were headed to the Beach Club and Cape May Buffet for dinner so it wasn't that far away. Except Mother Nature has a wicked sense of humor. As soon as were out of the turn styles, I thought I could see animals forming up in pairs and an ark floating by. Why is it that it never just rains at Disney World, it storms?

It wasn't our first time being soaked at Disney World and I'm sure it won't be the last time. I was OK, I thought, with the flimsy poncho. I sent Rich ahead to try and get inside. Ever see the movie "Hard Rain" with Christian Slater and Morgan Freeman? It rains the entire film. That's what this felt like. Even with the poncho, I was wet. My shorts were wet, my shoes and socks were soaked. The winds were pummeling, my hands were getting wrinkled from the moisture since I had to try and hold the hood down. I got halfway to the entrance to the Beach Club lobby and I hear "yo, over here!". Rich was totally soaked. He looked like a drowned rat. He wanted to try and find an inside route to the restaurant but unless we were willing to break into a guest room, it was outside the rest of the way. My guy is brave so we forged on.

We got to the Beach Club lobby and I went to check us in. The guy at the podium asked if we wanted to take a moment to "freshen up or change". Rich said he had nothing to change into. I was OK - not anything adversely noticeable but Rich was soaked. The Cast Member said that he thought maybe we were staying at the resort. That was kind of nice - our seating would have been held if we needed to get changed. We were given a beeper and then took a seat in the waiting area. Rich used the time to literally wring out his shorts and shirt. We were called in less than two minutes. The manager took one look at Rich and asked if he wanted a towel. Rich was surprised but said that would be great. With the rains coming, the temperature dropped as well. Rich was not only wet but cold.

We were seated and ordered a pitcher of beer which is a great value for this place. Huge pitcher. Probably not the best thing to do when you are wet and cold. But we had time. The towel was brought out for Rich and he said it saved the meal. He draped it around his shoulders while sitting at the table and it warmed him up nicely. Then we attacked the buffet. Clams and mussels and peel and eat shrimp for me. Salads? What are they? I did get a nice piece of chicken, corn on the cob and roasted potatoes as well. Rich did some green stuff and then helped himself to the kids items of hot dogs and mac and cheese. I think some ribs and flank steak made it on his plate too. And he ODed on the shrimp. He might turn pink like the flamingoes at Animal Kingdom (their pink color comes from the large amount of shrimp they eat - there's your Disney education for the report). I have to say the shrimp were a highlight for both of us. Peel and eat and they had a nice spice to them. We always eat our shrimp with Old Bay and this was perfect for us. By the time it was for dessert, we were so stuffed. Rich did some cookies and I attempted the chocolate thing but I couldn't do it justice. Total cost, including the pitcher of beer (on top of all that food is not a good choice) and a nice tip (our server was great with removing the many plates and pots of shells) was $69.

We rolled out of there and used the facilities. When I came out, Rich told me to put on the poncho. It was still raining. We hit all the overhangs we could and finally made it back to the Swan. Rich was a little drier and I was fine but those cheapo ponchos aren't that great for a Great Disney World Deluge. The yellow ones would have been better for warmth and coverage.

Rich got us back to the All Stars and we ran up to our room. That football staircase is great - and it's dry! In our room to compliment Mr. Peacock Towel Guy was Mr. Swan Towel Guy. I don't know - they just looked male to me. We definitely had a great housekeeper.

The personalized ornaments were supposed to be delivered to the All Star gift shop today so I got the yellow poncho and headed down there. A very quick exchange and not a big deal at all. One note to everyone who scoffs at the "downgrading" to pick up your resort deliveries at the gift shop and not having them delivered to your room. The ornaments were already heavily wrapped and protected. They were in boxes. And the bag was stapled shut so many times I finally ruined a Disney bag to get them out. In these times, would you really like having something like that sitting on your bed after a full day in the parks? I'm not overly cautious but I liked having to show a photo ID and signing for the package. We are post 9/11 and all the madness and stupid people out there. A little walk in the rain and some piece of mind and I'm set. If it took me fifteen minutes, then I'm happy. War on Terrorism Rant off. Sorry.

Back up in the room (more walks through footballs - I love it!), Rich had already started to dry off and I attempted to do the same. We dove under the covers and watched "NYPD Blue". Tomorrow is our last day. It's sad and I do want to stay but the kitties await. And those pesky help wanted ads. Have to do something to afford these trips!

While we were watching TV and getting warm, Rich finally opened up what I thought were the dresser drawers. We hadn't used the storage since we were fine living out of a suitcase for the time in the room. But this wasn't dresser drawers. It was a compartment and had a refrigerator in it! Rich said he kept hearing something going on and off and finally got curious enough to investigate. I couldn't figure out why we got a refrigerator. We did not request one. And then it dawned on me. This is a handicapped room. I guess Disney World puts these in for medical reasons in case anything essential needs to be cooled down.

We didn't bother to pack since we were tired, a little damp, and a little cold. Lights out for travel day tomorrow.

Day Five - Wednesday, November 13, 2002 - "Storm, What Storm?"

The noise level outside this morning wasn't that bad except for a father who very loudly started his darling child on a race down the corridor. Ugh. Listening to "on your mark, get set, get ready, GO!" at 8:00 in the morning is not how I want to start my day. Rich was still quiet on his side of the bed so I rested and dozed for another hour or so. Then I got up and worked on the report and did a little packing. Not much - we didn't have that much except two bags of dirty laundry. The suitcase was fine and all we needed to do there was just zip it up. So I typed away and kept looking at the clock and wondering when Rich was going to get up.

Finally just before 10:00 (checkout time is 11:00), I said something to him about getting up. He slowly got up and said it was a rough night. I thought he meant because we totally pigged out at Cape May Buffet. I said I was still full too. He looked at me like I was insane. He asked if I had heard the storm. I said "storm, what storm?". He said he heard pool chairs sliding around and we're not next to the pool. I guess the cutouts of the fans in the stands outside on the railings were shaking quite loudly. And Rich said that he heard these huge rushes of winds that reminded him of tornado warnings back in Nebraska. Glad I slept through all of it! Rich, on the other hand, had a toss and turn night.

Rich did have an amusing shower incident. He didn't want to tell me what happened because he said "you'll put it in the trip report". Damn right I will. I guess when our housekeeper cleaned the bathroom, she turned the shower nozzle. Remember that it's a removable head. Rich didn't check it and once he was satisfied with the water temperature, he turned the control to the shower mode. And got a huge face full of water. That got the first nasty word uttered through the door. It was quiet for a while so he could mop up the floor. He tried again and I could hear water going (I smartly remained silent throughout this whole thing). Then I heard another word or two that won't make it into the report (family mode and all) and everything stopped. I took my life in my hands and asked through the door if Rich was all right. He muttered something so I gathered he was still alive. The shower started again.

I had to wait until Rich got out of the bathroom to ask him what the heck happened. I guess after the face full of water, he moved the shower head and once he turned it on, the entire head fell off into the tub. I had such a good laugh at Rich's expense because this kind of stuff usually happens to me.

We got ready and took our first load down to the car. And then returned for a final goodbye to the room. We left Mr. Peacock and Mr. Swan since they were made out of more than just one towel. These guys were so cute. I did take pictures of them. Then one last farewell and one last trip down inside the football. We will not hesitate to come back here.

We had the express checkout and the bill was fine except for one item. A charge from the Greece booth at the Food & Wine Festival. We never stopped there. In fact, we kind of joked about it because of all the booths, this one very rarely had anyone stopping by. But by process of elimination (and the fact that we didn't use the room charge that much), we figured it was for the grapefruit wine at the Florida booth. You should check your room charges and verify everything is in order.

Rich got us headed to Downtown Disney. This was an attempt to wait out some of the Atlanta traffic on the way home. Rich wanted to get going but I asked him if it would be worth it to sit in a parking lot of traffic for two hours or would it be better to be doing something else? He got the point. No problem with getting a parking space except for some guy from New Jersey who just didn't have a clue. As Rich said "I love going 10 MPH through an intersection". You think someone from Jersey would be a daredevil driver. I think my grandmother drove faster than this. Jersey Man went one way, we went the other. Good riddance. He did get a good spot but was still trying to get his car into the slot as we walked by him.

Our first stop at the Marketplace was Team Mickey. Rich and I checked out the football stuff but passed. I could see us in our Falcons tailgating lot with a Pooh football. We might last two minutes before getting kicked out! I showed Rich the NASCAR Mickey. Unfortunately, we do have relatives who like NASCAR. I haven't disowned them yet and I actually made an exception for Chandra.

Next up was the Gourmet Pantry. I am trying to find Stilton cheese (I can get it over the internet but am constantly looking for other options). I had this at the Rose & Crown with roast beef and it was excellent. I am not an adventurous eater but I loved it. Between this and my Feta cheese addiction, Rich thinks I need some help. I didn't find anything but Rich was drooling over the Italian sandwich selections. Meat, more meat, and then even more meat. I was over looking at the scoop of egg salad. How we survive together is beyond me.

Then over to the Once Upon a Toy store. Rich was underwhelmed as much as I was overwhelmed. I visited this store just three weeks ago and I loved it. Maybe because I'm 40 and act like I'm 20 and Rich is 42 and acts like he's 62. I love all the games they have. And you can get individual Mr. Potato Head pieces. And individual Lincoln Logs. One note with this place - look up. We were back where they have all the little girl stuff (the princess room or something). I heard this noise and looked at the ceiling. It was a huge spinner from the game of Life. I almost started singing that song "The Game of Life". I think I was an original owner of that game. I thought my mother was going to kick me out of the house when I decided one time to take the business route instead of going to college.

Next up was the Art of Disney store - just to look and wish we would finally hit the lottery. Oh look, it's "only" $200. This store is linked with the 3Rs store (Reading, Writing, Arithmetic). I usually will bypass this but wanted to check things out for Marlie. She'll be getting into this very soon. If you have early elementary school kids, check this out.

Rich wanted to stop in the Pin Store here. I had mentioned something about a Mickey in a poncho pin. He thought that was kind of funny given our rain situations at Disney World. We weren't on a mission but just wanted to see if we could find one. Our verdict is that the pin trading and collecting thing is something way, way over our heads. One guy was camped out at a table, armed with his collection for trading. A lady was exclaiming "you take your vacation to do this?!" You can even make a pin here. Another guy was intently getting every single state pin Disney made (Sebastian on the Maryland one, Brer Bear on the Georgia one, Mickey on the Florida one). Jeez, if he got them all, it would only be $325. Yikes! We escaped without making a purchase.

It was getting close to 1:00 so I told Rich would could probably leave at any time. We needed restrooms and decided McDonald's would be fine for it. We passed the Lego store and play area. I mentioned to Rich that Chandra thought Marlie would love it. Rich said that we could sit and enjoy a beer, right? We even picked out our bench to wait on.

We headed back to the car and ended our latest Disney World adventure. We did see Jersey Man again - this time he was attempting to get out of his space and not doing a very good job of it. I guess the people from New Jersey can't drive unless they know what exit number they are near (sorry, Adrienne, had to throw that in).

I guided Rich out to I4 and up to the Turnpike. He had a little bit of a gasp when he realized that this route cost us $2.50 but the Highway 192/Route 27 route was only $1. There's the difference in tolls for all interested. The drive home was utterly boring except for Rich almost running us off the road when he spotted a Bald Eagle flying overhead. Did you know that Florida has the second highest bald eagle population (Alaska is first)? We know that thanks to Flights of Wonder. The only other note of interest on the way back is we made two gas stops. Guess who had to use the facilities and who pumped the gas? For all the male chauvinists in the group, put your hands down. Mr. "I Have to Have a Diet Coke for Every Five Miles We Travel" went inside, I stayed outside and transacted business.

We were home by 7:30 and greeted by the king cat, Todd. He did his patented "well, you are finally $%^& home" look. Gus came bounding down and was only concerned because the food dish needed filling. Once we did that, he completely forgave us. We had to search out Belle but she was fine. Our cat sitter never sees little Belle. The only thing that happened was someone (Gus) completely shattered a bowl I had in the guest bathroom. I was using it as an extra water dish and I guess someone (Gus) got ticked because it was empty. It's tough being a feline parent! I quickly ordered us a delivery pizza and we relaxed after the trip.

One extra note - we had phone messages. Four job possibilities for me! Whoo hoo! I lined up two interviews so we'll see. I had sent out ten resumes before we left so at least I'm getting some responses. Poor Rich's prospects are like slim and none. Recession, go away!

Final Thoughts and Overall Impressions

Resort - I loved the All Star Sports. The room we had was wonderful for us. A perfect football themed place for us fans. The full size field kept getting a workout but we were never bothered. There were lots of kids and noises in the morning but we expected that going in. I'm still not convinced that a family of four would be comfortable here but I'll probably never experience that.

The handicapped/king size bed room was excellent. The bed was great for two adults and we'd never expect this if the room was needed for someone else. For a handicapped person the setup, I think (I have no experience) is great. A huge bathroom with sliding door, lots of bar handles. Even a spyglass on the door at chair level (and a regular one as well). The refrigerator is nice for meds. There's a lower closet shelf too. Lots of maneuvering room.

For some reason, I prefer the Sports over the Music. I don't know why but maybe because I can't carry a tune in a bucket but I love to watch sports. Haven't tried Movies yet - maybe when they finally participate in the discounted rates.

I would highly recommend the Sheraton Four Points Lakeside. It's convenient to the parks and a nice offsite place. Lots of extras - pools, restaurant and Pizza Hut onsite, good service, nice size rooms. I got the room for free but will check into this place again even if I have to pay for it (horrors!).

Touring - it didn't seem like we did too much but our main purpose was the Food & Wine Festival and we certainly got our mileage out of that. I did get to do Primeval Whirl at Animal Kingdom. The Safari was great - probably one of the best we've been on. We did the "thrill" stuff at MGM thanks to FastPass and some extra walking time. Downtown Disney is a nice thing to do on your last day if you have the time. It's relaxing and just a little more of the Mouse. Of course, if you're flying, make sure you don't go overboard on last minute purchases!

An extra special time for us was the Boardwalk entertainment. Randy the juggler and Phil the card handler. Both are excellent with kids. Since I was looking at Disney World with new eyes this trip, I realized that the Boardwalk at night is a great family time. Even during the day, the kids looking at themselves in those silly mirrors outside JellyRolls was a hoot. If any of the Epcot resort restaurants look interesting, it could be a nice evening with dinner and then a stroll around Crescent Lake.

And yes, we did lots and lots of Off Kilter. This is a group we both enjoy and the times here are nice to keep that magic going. We've met some great friends along the way and spending time with them just improves the experience. The guys are extremely nice to their fans. We've heard their songs so many times but each time seems like the first time. They've taken us through many changes in the past year - they've been the constant. Thanks guys!

Food - I saved this for the almost last item. The All Star Food Court was adequate although it would be difficult for a family to get everything and check out together. I got my meal and the table well before Rich made it through his food line and then he checked out separately. I kind of would like to see something similar to Coronado Springs where you get a ticket stamped with your food purchases and then hand that in as you leave after eating. Just drop the 10% automatic gratuity. But the food was decent and certainly not four stars but good enough.

Cape May Buffet - another excellent meal here. I'm into the clams and mussels and Rich is OK with that. But he loves the other choices. It's billed as a clambake but there's plenty of animal flesh here. A special thanks to the manager who made Rich feel very comfortable just by providing a towel after seeing how soaked Rich was. This and Boma at the Animal Kingdom Lodge are our favorite buffets.

I'm not going to continue to gush about New York Pizza World but it is an offsite bargain. Definitely not the Ritz so be warned about that. I think calling it a diner would be fair (if not a little generous). But you get more than enough for your money and the food is wonderful. Just ask for Manny. He claims he's retiring soon but you can see if he's still around.

The Food & Wine Festival - WOW! Huge hit with us. Highlights were the bread and tomato salad (for me - Rich took one bite and said I was insane for liking something without meat in it); obviously, the quesadillas from Mexico for Rich - I came back and got the recipe so I'll have to make these for him (I'll do mine without the meat); the New Zealand mussels were good but a little bit too big for me but I wouldn't hesitate to get them again; I liked the New Zealand wine and we both loved the Florida grapefruit wine. We would have never tried any of this stuff except for the Festival. I hope Disney keeps this going for a long time.

Special Touches - I felt like we got some extra special treatment this time. The All Star housekeeper for leaving the two towel animals, the king bed room, and Off Kilter for doing the special postcard for Marlie. We never go to Disney World expecting anything but a relaxing trip if possible. If we get a little more pixie dust, then we really appreciate it. I guess the point is that sometimes these things happen but most of the time, they don't. Don't go to Disney World and expect the most perfect vacation you've ever had with all the extras thrown in. If you get a magical moment, savor it. That's what makes it all special.

The best part - Rich and I have been through a tough and rough last couple of months. We did this trip as cheaply as we could and wanted. But we were together. And we had a great time. We went into it not expecting much and this turned out to be a great, great time. I loved seeing Rich's reactions to everything and those damn quesadillas will always be a highlight for us. I've done Disney World with families, with friends, and by myself. Somehow, the ones with just Rich and me are the special ones. He's my best friend and I'm so glad we get to share these times together.

No plans for another visit until May but I'm sure we'll be back before then. It's too difficult to stay away. Feel free to email me with comments or questions. Have a great Disney day.

Sheri Niklewski


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