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Amanda Parr -- December 2002 -- Walt Disney World (AKL)


The Am I Crazy or What Parr Family Pilgrimage

Who
Amanda aka Ginny Favers - 35 - Veteran & Park Addict
Miles - 4 - My son - Veteran & Park Addict
Taylor - 12 - My niece by one brother-in-law - Been once before for 4 days, about 2 years ago
Krystal - 19 - My niece by the other brother-in-law - Been once before with a huge school group, about 5 years ago
When: Wednesday, December 11 - Monday, December 16

Wednesday, December 11

Had to go to two places this morning to pick up two of Miles' cousins (different families, both brothers of my husband's) accompanying us on this trip, so it took about an hour and half to round everyone up in the same car. My sister in law kindly offered to drive us to the airport in my van, and keep it at her house while we were gone, so that saved us about $60 in parking fees.

I had gotten $$ upfront from Taylor's parents to cover her food and souvenirs, and I knew I'd end up paying for some things over and above the $200 I asked for. Krystal, being a big ol' grownup and using her own paychecks not money from mom and dad, wasn't about to let me touch a penny of it, so she just brought her own dough and was pretty frugal with it. Of course, I ended up paying for a few things for her, too, but hey what are Aunts for?

With two "teens" (I know, Taylor isn't officially a teenager yet but it flatters her and keeps her in a good mood to call her a "teen") to help lug luggage, there was no need for skycaps this trip. We got our own bags inside, Southwest Airlines had NO line at all to check in -- but being there about three hours before our flight may have had something to do with it. I had kind of overestimated the time to pick the girls up, and my sis-in-law had to get somewhere, so we had a really long time to kill in the terminal.

I made everyone hike to the opposite end of the airport from our gate, to visit the coffee shop. NEEDED a large something, settled on an iced chai with skim milk. Taylor tasted Krystal's frozen coffee and made a face, guess she's not ready for the caffeine thing. Miles got a nice organic juice blend which he proceeded to drink almost none of, I think I ended up drinking it before we boarded the plane.

In security, Krystal knew somehow to take off her boots. I kept my new Lands End all weather clogs on, and of course I set off the metal detector. The security chick did me with her wand, and let me tell you, there is definitely metal in even a sports bra, because I set off a little beep at each shoulder and then across my back, beep beep beep, three sets of beeps in a row. So, everyone knew I was wearing a bra. I guess they kind of already knew, because it's a pretty common thing, but now you know they all were THINKING about it. When the wand got passed over my crotch I actually held my breath... good thing I wasn't wearing my underwear with rhinestones all over, each stone is set in a metal grommet... Actually, just for kicks, I may wear those on my next trip.

Poor Miles. He was really worried about missing our plane. He was ready to go. We had to tell him over and over that our plane wasn't here yet, the planes taking off from surrounding gates hadn't left without him, etc. I just think he was tired, he had not slept much last night, from excitement.

Tried to feed him some cheerios but no doing - he was on a hunger strike until he got to Disney World, period. Fed myself a Cajun dog from the Lucky Dog stand, man that thing was spicy! Highly recommend if you need your sinuses cleared out in the N.O. airport. Girls had both ate a big breakfast at home before they left, weren't hungry yet.

Finally it was time to board, and about 45 seconds before they called pre-boarding Miles said he had to go potty. Well, of course! Luckily the potty wasn't too far away and we were back in plenty time to get in line for the first seating - getting there three hours early, we obviously had the first set of boarding cards. Had to wade through the fifteen or so strapping businessmen reliving some traumatic Tokyo subway experience, blocking the entrance, all clutching boarding cards labeled "C" or "D". What were they thinking? Maybe they just like to press against one another when they're feeling anxious about leg room.

The girls wanted Miles to sit in between them so they could play with him and fuss over him. I sat in an aisle seat catty-corner from them, where I could keep them in my sight. A large business guy was thrilled to get the seat next to me, as it was one of the emergency exit spots and there was nothing between his chair and the exit door but a big open space where they evidently have removed (or never installed) a seat on this model of airplane. Businessman leg room heaven!

We chatted a little, pleasant conversation, can't remember a word of it. Some "I go to WDW this many times a year" social posturing that is the mark of the new American middle class. I predicted to him that my nieces would NOT try to sit next to Miles on the trip home, in fact, I predicted they would actively avoid it. He agreed.

Landed. Miles had to get some nuggets at the terminal's McDonalds. I had to get some more caffeine at the coffee stand. The girls had to get slices of pizza from the Sbarro. We were about ten minutes "late" coming down the elevator to baggage claim, our Tiffany Towncar driver looked stressed out. I need to remember in the future to mention that we will be stopping for food on the way down. Didn't cause any overall delays, the bags were all just coming out, but I think we worried him. Honestly, the guy seemed chronically worried about almost everything.

We waited a very long time for him to go get the town car. Don't know why he hung around while we got bags, he didn't help at all. Now that they don't let the limo drivers park at the terminal, they have to go quite a ways, I think, and come back again. Must have taken a huge bite out of the number of runs they can make in a day, and thus a huge bite out of their income. Maybe that's why the driver was anxious.

I had asked for a car seat when the reservation was made, but there wasn't one. The car was enough of a boat, and Miles large enough, that I wasn't too distraught over putting him in the middle back seat lap belt between the girls. Not ideal, though, so call and confirm your car seat with Tiffany the morning of your flight is my advice. If he'd been an infant I would have been much more upset.

Stopped for groceries, couldn't find a thing in the Publix, felt like it took forever. I wish I could just get the stuff mailed to me from Netgrocer but the weight/postage would be outrageous as almost all of what I buy when I go is drinks - Starbucks frappucinos, bottled water, 2 liters of soft drinks, juice boxes. Got some crackers and spray cheez, too, because honestly it's not vacation without spray cheez.

The driver was pleasant enough, but not one of the bubblier or more helpful Tiffany drivers I've had. Tipped him well, hope that made up for our extra ten or fifteen total minutes of his time, and my son getting a little LOUD in the car.

Animal Kingdom Lodge! We found it! Here it was! There were little faux cooking fire light fixtures along the driveway, what a great touch.

This is my new favorite place in the entire universe. Who wants to go to heaven? Book me one of the suites at the AKL for eternity! I just don't know what to say about it to convey my deep abiding love for this resort. It's... beautiful, peaceful, mysterious, complex, engaging, warm, intimate, soaring, whimsical, aromatic, handsome, intriguing. Thank goodness I could come, on an Annual Pass off-season rate that I snapped up at $168/night, Savannah View. Could *never* afford the $320+/night rack rate at peak season.

Room was to the left, fourth floor, at the end of the second "U". View was fine, there was a large fenced-in pen with green mesh across the back of the whole area. Animals almost never went into the landscaped area in the middle of our "savannah" they liked to stick to the road and the fence line. A few times a day it seemed, the zookeepers would slowly drive their jeep along the road and all the animals would follow along behind. I was thinking they were doing this just so that they could make sure to parade the animals around for all the rooms to have a shot at seeing them in the morning and again at sunset, when lots of guests are in their rooms.

Our room had bunk beds, plenty of space for everyone and their stuff. Big dresser up by the door, big closet, two sinks and plenty of counter space, room underneath for all our toiletry luggage, room under the bunk bed to store more luggage, folding luggage rack next to the TV armoire, more drawers in the armoire, table and two large chairs. The top bunk was adequately railed for kids to sleep up there safely. Sturdy ladder. Miles slept up there the first night with Taylor, then wanted to sleep with Mommy for the rest of the trip in the double bed. Krystal took the bottom bunk.

We ate dinner at the Mara food court. Krystal freaked out at the prices. I just laughed. It was a little outlandish, the one non-alcoholic beer I ordered with my African platter was $4.75 or something just ridiculous like that. A whole six pack of the stuff is less than $4. First and last time I did that on this trip! There's just nothing magical about paying five times more than you need to for something you didn't really need in the first place. Now that I think about it, the prices were definitely higher here in the Mara than almost anywhere else on property we ate similar food, even more expensive than in the theme parks. Maybe the Deluxe resorts are now charging Deluxe prices in their food courts? I know the food courts at the moderate and value resorts I've stayed at didn't strike me as this overpriced.

Trooped over to Simba's Clubhouse to see if Miles might enjoy an evening there the next night while I partook of Jiko and Survivor on TV in the room. He didn't want to leave tonight once he saw the place, he was really excited about going back to play tomorrow. Made a reservation for him with one of the two pleasant, seemingly quite competent, older women running the place.

Explored the savannah off the main lobby, and sat by the fire pit for a moment. Miles told the South African teenager doing tourist duty at the savannah overlook a joke about a zebra and something on its back and something falling out of the sky, that made no sense. Miles wanted to know how old all the animals were, too. The kid finally wised up and just started making up answers. Did you know all the animals are two? Miles is four, we definitely all got clear on that point.

Went back to the room. Girls fell into a teen coma on the bed as soon as the TV came on. Did you know teens today are all watching dramas and situation comedies on the Disney Channel? I had no idea those shows were so popular. Miles and I put on our bathing suits and headed down for the hot tub. Way too cold outside for the pool, I thought, so I admonished him we would be doing the hot tub only.

Oh my god. That was the best hot tub I have been in my whole life. First, it was actually HOT, not tepid. Second, it was BIG. Third, it was surrounded by LOVELY landscaping and low mood lighting, and, through the branches of an exotic African tree, the moon was hung just for me. Fourth, there is wonderful African MUSIC playing softly all the time, here and in all the AKL public areas.

The girls showed up right about the time we had gotten hot enough in the hot tub to try the pool after all. It was surprisingly warm enough. It is really huge. We all got back in the hot tub together for another fifteen minutes or so, and then went back to the room for bedtime and some quick phone calls home.

Thursday, December 12

Blew off my detailed trip plan I'd worked on for months, like I always do, but made good use of all the notes and planning that was done in coming up with it. That's usually my WDW trip m.o.

Forgot to mention, in those 3 hours we had to kill at the airport, I got out my Passporter (yes, I have the deluxe leather ring binder edition, what can I say) and made the girls rate every attraction, parade and show in it as either "Will Die If I Don't Do It", "Won't Die" and "Could Care Less". Had a few surprises, like they voted "Could Care Less" on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, Play It and Star Tours. And they both voted "Will Die If I Don't Do It" on the Jungle Cruise at the Magic Kingdom. Also surprised me that they both voted "Could Care Less" on all the parades, but I warned them up that the parades were all on Miles' "Will Die If I Don't" list. Also took this opportunity to warn them about Miles' extreme need to see the new Playhouse Disney show at the Studios, and his love of Kilimanjaro Safari at the AK, which Taylor had done a couple years prior and had denounced as "boring".

It was a *really* good idea to sit down and do this. I told 'em all that when we got sick of each other and started looking like an MTV Real World episode a few days into the trip, we'd be glad we had negotiated all this stuff up front.

I was also TOTALLY surprised that they didn't want to go anywhere by themselves, or even anywhere without me and Miles! I had planned lots of time for them to be on their own doing Downtown Disney, Epcot at night, Disney Quest, etc. but they weren't interested. Too intimidated I guess being somewhere totally new. If we had more days on this trip, I would have just taken half a day to ride busses all over and orient them so they might have felt more comfortable venturing out on their own. It is a really, really big place but together I think they would have been fine. I actually regretted their insisting on grouping up every day, as it led to lots of me wasting my time waiting on them to finish things Miles couldn't go on yet, like Space Mountain and Primeval Whirl. It was also NOT a barrel of fun to wait on their shopping excursions, they really took FOREVER. I like to commando shop, in and out.

Anyways, back to the day.

First thing I did upon waking was call and make a p.s. for the Hollywood & Vine character breakfast in the Studios. Made the last available breakfast seating for the day, figured we'd all be good and hungry by then, and eating "brunch" would kill two meals for one price.

Got everyone up pretty early, Krystal turned out to be a major shower hog. I didn't get a shower not one morning of this trip, had to take mine at night or in the afternoon. She also had a lot of trouble getting out of bed in the morning.

Still managed to get us all to the bus stop, where a Studios bus had just pulled up and we climbed on with about 30 foreign businessmen, all speaking French or Arabic though maybe those were just the languages I could hear.

Got to the studios just in time to stand in a pretty small line at the turnstiles, only about fifty maybe one hundred other people waiting for park opening. It was around 8:25 a.m. All the foreign businessmen from our resort sailed through the Hollywood & Vine character breakfast check-in gate. Whoops. I had assumed when I saw the full bus that this was the Magic Morning or Extra Magic or Early Entry or Super Duper Day or whatever they call it now, for the Studios. After about fifteen minutes Krystal asked me "What time does this park open?" I said, "Oh, any minute now, maybe 9?" She replied, "We're here 30 minutes early, you FREAK." Hey, I was just enthusiastic, OK? Honestly, I didn't want to wait around in the hotel room, so I kind of pretended to myself that maybe it was Magic Morning (or whatever) without checking first, so I'd have an excuse to bolt out of the resort and GET GOING. OK, so maybe I am a freak.

They let us in at the stroke of 8:50 a.m. and we were just a bit back from the rope drop and heard the little opening spiel at 9:00 a.m. Went straight over to the Great Movie Ride, which (again surprisingly) Taylor had put on her "Die If I Don't" list. Miles had been scared by this at age 2 so I skipped it the last couple of trips, this time at age 4 he was just scared enough to make him feel brave at the end. The girls seemed to really enjoy it.

Throughout this trip, they were wowed by audio-animatronics. They are teenagers. That's the group that the current Disney administration supposedly "knows" don't like educational audio-animatronic presentations anymore. And yet, at least with these kids they are wrong, wrong, wrong. The girls would say they were after thrills and "rides" but it was the audio-animatronic presentations they remembered and wanted to return to, they were the attractions that struck them as totally "amazing" and gave them a real feeling of being somewhere special, seeing things they can't see anywhere else. Disney, please take note!

It was time for the first Beauty and the Beast stage show of the day, which I had warned them was on Miles' list. Little did I know Krystal was going to go nuts for this show, in fact she put it as her #1 thing for the entire trip. I guess it came out right about when she was at the prime age for a Disney romance, around 9 or 10 years old perhaps. She spent the rest of the trip trying to find a plush "Chip" and was thoroughly disappointed that the resort had no current "Chip" merchandise of any kind, save a single little pin. She didn't want to wear or trade pins, so she passed. (But on our next to last day, I bought it when she wasn't looking and put it in her stocking for Christmas back at her house.)

The woman playing "Belle" was excellent, the show just so energetic and fun. Love that score. Too bad the chorus lip-syncs but I understand why they have to.

It was time to head over to our breakfast. Miles got his Holy Grail of breakfast foods, biscuits and scrambled eggs doused in country sausage gravy, the girls both found something to eat, I don't remember exactly what I had but it was good. All the characters came by, and while we were waiting for rope drop I bought Miles an autograph book, guessing he was now at a prime age to get into it, and I was right! All the characters have a unique way of signing their name that is "in character" it's really quite a neat thing for kids of any age, and maybe 35 year olds, too.

Chip or maybe it was Dale pretended to steal and eat some M&M's off my son's much-cherished dessert plate, which really started to upset Miles. We had to back the chipmunk off in a hurry and assure Miles that he could have more. Minnie came by next, and when she motioned to Miles' dessert we offered her some but she "replied" that she was watching her figure. I told her that was good, because Chip had caused a bit of a trauma by stealing the baby's M&M's. Minnie immediately marched off and had a cast member over at the dessert bar fill him another bowl full, and brought it back to him herself. Now if THAT doesn't make a four year old smile, nothing will. Actually, my son had mice waiting on him hand and foot the whole trip, but that's a story for another day...

Breakfast over, I declared we had better get in the requisite Playhouse Disney show for Miles (in other words, get it over with). Can anyone, anywhere, in that theater actually see the puppets? All we could see was the top of their heads, if at all. Couldn't see but half the stage. We were about two "rows" of people back from the front. Can anyone vouch for being able to really see the show from further back? If I was directing and staging this show, I would feel really bad about there being such poor sight lines for such a big chunk of the house. They desperately need to raise the floor. Maybe they can't because then you'd see down in the puppeteers' pit? Well, then how about not pretending the area near the stage is a real seat for the show? Oh well, if someone can verify you can see more from the back, I'll try again next trip and hang to the back of the house, maybe just stand up at the back wall if they'll let us. The plain old Bear in the Big Blue House show was much better, anyways. (And yes we were up front and couldn't see much for that one either.) But Miles looked like he just got everything he ever wanted when Rolie Polie Olie and Zoie and Spot came out, so I guess all this griping is from a grownup perspective, not a four-year-old's.

Walking out, Miles wanted to buy his "one thing" for the day. Wish I could have gotten him to keep to a budget instead this trip, but he's just not old enough to get the concept, so he's stuck buying things under $10. Maybe when he's five or six or seven, he'll grasp the idea that if he waits and saves "today's" $10, there will be $20 tomorrow, $30 the third day, $40 the fourth, etc. and can learn to pace himself and make better choices. But for a three and four year old, this "under $10" "one thing a day" plan has worked as well as a shopping plan can, in a place designed to drive people crazy with desire for stuff they never knew they wanted. He picked out a plastic Zoie figure which is who knows where in the house now. Of course, my husband would tell you the same thing about my golf clubs. Really, I'm going to play with them again, I promise.

Spotted a billboard saying you could meet Lilo and Stitch in the queue area for the Animation tour, so I made the girls come see. They acted like they didn't want to do it, but I just plowed us all in there. When Taylor saw Lilo she got terminally excited. Of course, by the time we got to the front of the line Lilo had gone away for an hour. Had to promise Taylor I'd pay for her therapy when we got home. Got to pose as a group with Stitch, ended up buying the photo though now that I have my film developed I wish I hadn't, we actually got a better picture on my camera. Miles got another autograph for his book.

Time to head over to Rock 'n Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror, I figured. Taylor had said she wanted to go on ToT but chickened out when we got there. Krystal was up for Rock 'n Roller Coaster, Taylor wanted nothing to do with going upside-down. On the way to the RnR, caught a juggler doing his thing in the street. He picked Miles to come stand still in front of him, and juggled around him. When I took out my camera to snap a photo, he thoroughly embarrassed me by saying "Sure, Mom, blind me with your flash while I throw heavy object inches from your child's face, go right ahead." I'm sure he gets to say that line at each performance.

Taylor and Miles had the nearby Mickey Ice Cream Bar cart and potty pointed out to them. Krys and I got onto the RnR in about 15 minutes. This was the first time I have ridden in the front car, always been towards the back in the past. You HANG up front, felt radically slower and I felt the inversions much more. I prefer the back.

Taylor had the Backstage Tour on her "Die If I Don't" list, and I figured it would be a good way to take a break on a slow ride with Miles, who was in the middle of the afternoon with no nap in sight. It started to rain about halfway there. We stopped for a quick photo with Sorcerer Mickey who was just hanging around with no line at all in one of the studio buildings along the street. The kids enjoyed the special effects water show, this time there were some guys actually trying to act, but the final cut still looked laughable.

Should have stood up for myself and the kids at the tram tour. The cop-like cast member loading us snapped at me to get in the front of the vehicle, not the second seat row where we were standing. Should have refused, really it's ridiculous for them to expect anyone to sit in the front when it's raining, as it's very exposed and unprotected. I could tell he was going to get nasty about it though, so I just meekly climbed in. Our knees were wet wet wet by the end of the tour and we were pretty cold.

We ran in the now pouring rain over to Sci Fi Diner to see if we could get in for some "linner". Hey, if breakfast & lunch is "brunch" then why not "linner"? Maybe "dunch" would be better. We got seated very quickly. The prices freaked *me* out this time. $13.50 for a sandwich? OK, it's a big sandwich, but really... I was feeling like I was coming down with something and didn't want to eat meat anyway, settled on a house salad which was really quite good and inexpensive (relatively), and a chocolate milk shake. Miles got "Asteroids" a.k.a. cheap food service chicken nuggets for a bunch of money, Taylor got a hamburger, and Krystal had to beg to order the kids' menu "Asteroids" too. Thank goodness the waiter was nice and didn't hassle her about it, I don't think there was a single other thing on the menu she would eat. She's strictly pizza, spaghetti, chicken, mashed potatoes, and simple breakfast foods. I've been hoping she'd grow out of it as she leaves her teens, but I think she's doomed to be this picky forever. Too bad, because she'll be setting herself up for heart disease as she gets older, and diabetes. Ahh, the American diet.

I really like this restaurant's theming, I will definitely come back and order some of the extravagantly expensive sandwiches someday, really I will. Or just come back when I'm in the mood for a big ol' hunk of cow. Miles almost fell asleep in the dark, put his head in my lap for a few minutes and let me stroke his hair, while we waited for our food. The girls and I just enjoyed sitting in the dark checking out the movie trailers. For some reason there seemed to be a lot of crabby guests sitting around us, getting all steamed up about one thing or another. Maybe the prices on the sandwiches, lol.

After linner, we were all getting a little burnt out and tired. Still wet, though the rain was letting up, we decided to call it a day. Figured I could run in with Miles to Voyage of the Little Mermaid but they closed the turnstile to us just as we ran up. Would be another half hour or more to the next show so I just said forget it, I'm done for today. I wish it didn't feel like the guests were in a battle with the CMs regarding crowd control all the time, but that's the reality of the place. Every guest wants everything they want when they want it, every CM has to say "no" hundreds of times a day. I try really hard not take any of it personally or get bent out of shape.

Krystal had to stop for an installment of her fruitless "Chip" quest and I bought our Stitch group photo, on the way out.

Back at Animal Kingdom Lodge there was time for a little animal spying from the balcony, though we couldn't see a thing out in the now pouring-again rain. The girls watched a little TV and we all changed into some dry clothes. Only one day into the trip, and we had a large batch of laundry to do, with getting wet today. I gave Taylor a room key she could charge on, and left the girls with an invitation to go and do anything they wanted tonight, but they just decided to go split a pizza at the Mara and then come watch Survivor with me.

I took Miles down to Simba's Clubhouse and dropped him off, with orders to eat a grilled cheese sandwich and not give the ladies a hard time about it being "too cold" or "too hot", and warned him again that he couldn't ask for any help in the potty, he was on his own. Went next door to the laundry room and got that started, Krystal had said she'd be in charge of putting it in the dryer and bringing it all back up to the room. Then I walked into Jiko which was uncrowded, with no wait. Would have done Boma but as usual there was a gang of folks waiting to be seated. They seem to be chronically jammed in there, I can't imagine what it's like when the resort is at capacity. If you're staying in busy season, be prepared to wait a long time for meals.

I asked to be seated at the "bar" in Jiko, stools along the front of the station where the chefs are making appetizers, including the flatbread ovens. Had a very nice conversation with an African American woman from up north, who had been there since the opening. She said the menu was put together originally by a chef from South Africa and had a few authentic dishes, but now she was gone and the menu is pretty much a group effort, and largely guided by guest comments.

I started off with the Lentil Pastilla , a take off on Indian samosas, but done with lentils, not chickpeas, and in phyllo dough. Can't remember if they were deep fried, but I think they were not, which put them in a class above a typical samosa in my book. Then came the Roasted Acorn Squash Soup, healthy and excellent, again with spices familiar to me from Indian cuisine.

While waiting for the Steamed Golden Bass "with spicy Chaka-Laka sauce and mealie corn pap", I talked to the chef about world cuisine. We both agreed that seafood from estuaries and brackish rivers beat open ocean seafood hands down, everywhere in the world. I told her about the one way I really dislike fish prepared, which is cooked with tomatos, and described a local dish here in New Orleans that my mother-in- law was always big on, called Court Bouillon, which is a big ol' fish cooked down in tomato sauce with onions.

Well, my entree comes and it's... fish cooked with tomatoes and onions! Guess I should have asked what "Chaka-Laka sauce" is, I just assumed it was some kind of pepper puree. It wasn't terrible, which I could never say about my mother-in-law's court bouillon, but it would not have been anything I would have picked if I'd known. Oh well, mea culpa!

Didn't order dessert, as I was sure the Mara had Zebra Domes, the oft-touted Boma dessert bar wonder. Alas, at the Mara, no Zebra Dome. Got a piece of pecan pie and a cup of coffee and headed up to the room to catch Survivor.

Just like I was sure the Mara had Zebra Domes, I was sure tonight was the Grand Finale for Survivor. Not! So Miles got sprung from the kid's club about 90 minutes earlier than I had planned. Little guy had an excellent time, but after that, he had enough, he didn't ask to go back and when I asked him if he wanted to return he said "We already played in the kid's club let's do something different." So maybe it wasn't as big a blast as he thought it would be.

Dryers took two cycles, which was around $5, not fun sitting there waiting for them. Finally I left Krystal and Taylor and just went up to bed, I was tired beyond tired.

They came up and we put clothes away about twenty minutes later, turned out the lights and I think everyone was asleep in five minutes.

Friday, December 13

It had been pouring since 7 p.m. the night before, and when we woke up this morning it was still pouring. I was really, really, really glad I had changed our Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party tickets from the 12th to the 13th several weeks earlier. I can't tell you how sorry I felt for people trying to attend in that rain. It wasn't just pouring, it was dumping, without pause, and it was cold.

I had said I'd host a little rec.arts.disney.parks get-together in the Magic Kingdom's Fantasyland this morning at 9:15 a.m. Partly because I am a FREAK and partly because I didn't want to let anyone down, I went ahead and got Taylor and Miles up and out. Krystal absolutely refused to get out of bed, even though we'd all had a good nine hours of sleep, more or less.

I called and made a priority seating for the Garden Grill at Epcot for 1 p.m., and told Krystal to meet us in front of Spaceship Earth at noon. She grunted OK and went right back out, covers over her head. With the earth-toned camouflage-like bedspread at AKL, she kind of looked like a giant land tortoise.

I've never seen the Magic Kingdom so deserted as it was this morning. We stopped for me to buy an umbrella, as no one was selling any rain hats and every single place I asked was sold out of rain ponchos from the night before. Really, really nice umbrella. It's black, and has -- Mickey ears on top! It got a lot of smiles from people this morning. Not the cheapest umbrella available, but was still under $20 and I think it's made rather well, really. I remarked to the cashier that I was surprised it was so affordable, I'd have paid $30-something for it and I immediately clapped my hands over my mouth! What was I saying, and out loud in an area that was probably being monitored by marketing underlords in the Utilidors. Please don't report to anyone I just said that, I begged the cast member. She had a good chuckle at me.

It was wet but still pretty magical, walking through the Castle. I think every person in the MK was there because they had to make their reservation at Cinderella's Royal Table, it was the only place I saw this morning with anything approaching a crowd.

No one showed for the internet meet, which honestly was no big surprise. Took the kids over to Winnie the Pooh and waited in a ten person "line".

Wanted to get some quick breakfast into the kids - thus began my fruitless quest for ANY counter service hot breakfast in the Magic Kingdom. Guess what, it doesn't exist! This was the one thing I learned the hard way on this trip, that I should have researched. I am sorry to say that I walked the kids from Pinocchio Village Haus (not open) to Starlight Ray's (not open) then pulled out my Passporter and looked it up, finally. The Passporter had a check-mark by breakfast for the Diamond Horseshoe Review. Sorry kids, gotta walk back over to Frontierland. Got there, don't open until 10:30 a.m., it was just now 9:50 a.m. and Miles was starting to whine. Gave up, walked down to the Main St. Bakery where we should have just gone in the first place. They have cold cereal, French pastries stuffed with cream cheese and fruit fillings that Miles won't eat, oatmeal, and... huge iced cupcakes. Guess what the kids wanted?

They also STILL don't have iced coffee! What is wrong with Florida? Everywhere you go in the civilized South you can get a great tall glass of cold-drip (NOT brewed, yikes, though a steamer over ice is o.k. in a pinch) smooth iced coffee, but evidently the Mouse hasn't heard of it yet. In that climate? I just can't fathom how anyone can live from day to day without being able to get properly prepared, good quality iced coffee. It's barbaric. And not that horrid instant-coffee corn-syrup-sweetened guar-gum-thickened mix they whip up at the Fountainview in Epcot, and try and spray whipped cream all over.

Wet, cold, suffering from culture shock and iced coffee deprivation, I couldn't muster the strength to nix to big iced cupcakes. After about eight heaping tablespoons of hydrogenated vegetable oil and confectioner's sugar, dyed neon yellow, my son announced he was full. Am I a great mom or what?

I also now had a horrible bleeding BLISTER on my left heel from my new Lands End all weather clogs. They were definitely the handsomest, warmest, most waterproof fashionable trendy butter brown genuine leather shoes I've ever owned but... I had no idea they would give me a blister! I had been "breaking them in" for over a month, but it now occurs to me that sitting at the computer, sauntering around Wal-Mart, and walking from the house to the mini-van and back a couple times a day doesn't qualify a pair of shoes for WDW Extreme Hiking.

I limped on my toes, trying to smile, back to Fantasyland and ordered Taylor to take Miles on Snow White's Scary Adventure while I went into the Pooh gift shop for some big, thick, make that extra thick, socks. Ahh, put both of the socks on my left foot and while it cramped my toes past comfort it was better than being stabbed in the back of the heel with each step.

The little half hour or so of compensatory limping and walking with my toes clenched up in a ball that I did that morning just about wrecked my legs for the next two days. I had to work some scary, scary lumps and guitar strings and tender spots out of them, my right leg especially. Finally rectified it with some excruciatingly painful but very necessary deep stripping to the distal attachments of my right iliotibial band. For you non-massage therapists and football players (who are injuring it all the time), that's a tough little bugger that runs from your hip joint to the outside of your knee. So, my advice is: please forget any shoes which A) look good or B) are under a year old. Better yet, just pack the shoes in which you climbed Everest, hiked Death Valley, or gave birth. Anyone who makes fun of WDW tourists in socks and Tevas should just hush up and bow down in the presence of wisdom.

All right, enough about me, forget it, the kids the were fine. Taylor thought the Snow White ride was cute, we walked right on to Small World and had a great game of "I Spy" with Miles. There was a set piece that had fallen over on its face in Australia, you could see the unpainted back - told the unloading cast member about it when I got off. Cleopatra AND the Italian gondolier were also both completely missing this time. I heard from an engineer on a backstage tour last year that Cleopatra was having major problems with her computer program, and evidently the gondolier is as well. Has Disney given up on the old audio- animatronics completely? Why on earth would they do that? Maybe I just have really, really lousy timing and have only visited on the few days these figures are off for repair. But I mean, they are major highlights of their areas/countries, heck there are pins of them, can't Disney freaking build a couple that work? I mean, it's just one eyelid going up and down for Cleo and little rocking back and forth for both of them.

Walked right on to Peter Pan's Flight. Now the rain was beginning to let up, and we had time for one more thing before we'd have to leave for Epcot to make our noon rendezvous with Krystal. Kids picked the Haunted Mansion. Miles was hip to show Taylor the new tombstone that looks at you. He is just amazed by that.

Audio in our Doom Buggy was a little messed up, cut off entirely a couple of times. Tried to show Taylor the hidden Mickey in the wraith's tomb but it wasn't clear this time (or the next a few days later).

On to Epcot... rain had completely stopped now. Tried to get the kids up front but they weren't letting anyone ride up there, I was told, until the tracks dried. Looked over and saw every cab coming from the MK disgorge riders from up front... must be something a little different with the Epcot beam.

Or something a little different with Sergeant Ed your friendly TTC Tyrant. LOL, really, he was just a bit short on social skills, I don't think he meant to come off as rude as he did. Realized it wasn't just me when the rest of the folks in our monorail car started making fun of him and blowing off some steam from something else entirely that he'd said or done to them, couldn't catch what it was. Again, mind you, I could care less about being told no, it's just our friend Ed (name changed to protect the innocent) forgot to get in line when the Maker was handing out happy pills. I don't know -- why do people have to get angry at you when they need to say "no"? That's one for the therapists. I mean, just say no if you need or want to. What is the point of getting resentful at someone because you need or want to say no to them? Of course, I only recognize this behavior because I'm the poster child for it. Hey, we're all a work in progress.

Rode to Epcot, Miles wanted me to carry him all the way down the ramp. I think they could have made that ramp a bit shorter some way. It's like a fifteen minute walk down, you have to ford a couple of croc- infested rivers, dodge some man-eating potted palms, traverse a desert.

Got up to Spaceship Earth at 11:57 a.m., parked Taylor and Miles to wait for Krys and went to stash all our rain gear and my 30 lb. purse in a locker. Then went and rented a stroller. Miles had done well walking all morning, but I wanted something he could sack out in if needed as the afternoon wore on.

Now it's 12:20 p.m., no Krystal. 12:30 p.m., no Krystal. I took pity on the kids and told Taylor to take Miles onto Spaceship Earth. Grr, I really wanted to do that with them before lunch today. I walked over to Guest Services (what a nice place and nice cast members, too) and called the room. Got the voice mail, left a message to tell her to meet us at the Garden Grill by 1:30 p.m. , Guest Services at 2:00 p.m., and after that just forget it and be in the room at 5 p.m. Left the same message on the park's guest messaging system. Met the kids back up front and we went over to the Land for our Garden Grill lunch.

What a great character meal this is. The characters had lots of time to spend with us. Chip did a game on Miles' placemat with him, the food was great, and hey it revolves and you get to hear an attraction going on below you. Towards the end, Mickey came back a second time, and as he was walking away, Miles called him back. "Wait, I have one more thing to ask you." Mickey is all ears. "I need more hot nuggets, please." Mickey was off like a shot snapping for the waiter. LOL. Our waiter came out a few moments later with a plate of nice, hot chicken nuggets. He said he'd heard through the grapevine that Miles might have been wanting some more.

Man, I pigged out. The dessert wasn't as good as I remember, instead of bringing out a cookie to decorate the kids got worms in dirt. Miles made me wipe all the "dirt" off the gummy worm, he was really appalled that the restaurant would put dirt on his candy. There was pumpkin cheesecake for me instead of the berry cobbler I had last time. Good, but I was kind of sad about the cobbler, it was beyond good, and would have been perfect for the cold, damp weather.

Right at our last few bites, Krystal appears and slaps down in the chair across from me. She is all eyeing everyone's food and cokes, and then our desserts, but I basically told her I wasn't going to fork up another $18 when Miles would be ready to leave in a few minutes. Waiter realized what was up and unobtrusively offered her her own coke, free of charge. That was sweet of him. She was just eating our leftover fries and mac and cheese and nuggets that would have gone in the trash can, anyways, we were really full. Left the waiter a good tip. I like the staff here a lot, I recognized a couple of them from a year ago.

Hail, hail the gang was all here. Krystal was in the shower, it turns out, when I called. Got our message and came straightaway but had a lot of trouble finding "The Garden Grill" once she got into Epcot. I was still a bit put out that I missed Spaceship Earth, but it was time to press on.

Walked downstairs and happily there was only a ten minute queue for Living with the Land. Miles is up on anything where you ride a boat, and the girls wanted to see what we'd been looking at the top of up in the Garden Grill. Miles was really excited by the greenhouse, the hanging gourds and the science lab, especially. Ahh, I let myself be carried into a reverie starring Miles, 25 years old, with an advanced degree and a job in research, curing world hunger and banishing all disease. Perhaps he could come up with the first nutritionally complete bio-sustainable cheez puff.

To my surprise, the girls didn't want to see Honey I Shrunk the Audience, Taylor had been too frightened by it on her first trip, and when she told Krystal stuff sprays on you and there was something with a huge snake, Krys didn't want to do it either. Miles definitely didn't want to do it, his Grandfather coerced him on to it on our last trip, after Miles had said he didn't want to go in about half a dozen times -- I wasn't there to stand up for him, and Miles had gained from the experience a firm and unshakable knowledge that he doesn't like the attraction.

We all wanted to go on Imagination, just to see it with Miles. That was his favorite ride last trip, he rode it four or five times. But as we approached, he balked and said he was too scared, he didn't want to go on it. Huh? Finally got out of him that he didn't like the smell where the skunk "stinks you out". I negotiated with him that maybe he could just hold his nose at that part, and he was ready to go.

This ride is o.k., I like the surprises, the song, the optical illusions, Figment. The only thing that's weird is that it's the biggest expanse of empty, unused space I've ever seen in any Disney attraction. I mean, it's strangely empty... There's just a tiny little Figment, for example in a whole room that looks like it could fit the launch for Rock 'n Roller Coaster. Not much to look at. And what was up with the Audio room where you are prompted that something is "stereo" and then "right" and "left" or whatever, but the sound doesn't move, and there's nothing in there but black foam all over the walls? And the train effect is weak. Cute start, but with some bucks and time I'm sure the Imagineers could add some more stuff and make this way better. The interactive exhibit area after the ride is, however, excellent. For some reason the "changing" holographic posters were all gone from the walls, that was Miles' favorite thing in there last time. Replaced by just plain old posters, can't imagine why. Had a good time in there, Krystal and Taylor played on the alter-your-photo computers for over 20 minutes until I made them leave.

After that, headed over to the Living Seas, which again I was surprised the girls really wanted to see. We have a (sorry) much better aquarium at home. They wanted to skip the film but I kind of tricked them into seeing it, I figured they could use the Earth Science lesson. On the hydrolator Krystal, always the skeptic, declared we weren't really moving. I said yes we were, look at the bubbles! Now she didn't look so sure, maybe I'd got her believing...or the look she gave me was her way of being polite to a mental cripple.

No manatee in sight, poor thing was sleeping in the back. No dolphins in sight, must have been sleeping in the back. Enjoyed watching the cuttlefish, though I wish they had some rocks or plants or caves or something to swim around with in their tank. The touch pool cum tidal pool exhibit still makes no sense. In fact, there is precious little information on anything. The folks from Animal Kingdom need to be set loose with some money in here. Miles insisted, much to the girls' chagrin, on sitting through the whole Atlas educational film. Taylor watched for a second and announced she had received an "A" in all this at school already, then lay down and looked at the ceiling. Krystal sat with her back to it just in case she might learn something.

We missed the diving presentation, as always. I've never seen it, in six or seven visits. Upstairs, most of the guests and fish were all watching the people paying to dive in the tank. Taylor was really mad that they took the "Sea Cabs" out downstairs. She just couldn't believe they'd do something like that, she was looking for it the whole time. Walking back out, I told 'em about the lady who sued Disney for popping her eardrums with the rapid descent in the hydrolator, and revealed that you move something around 10 inches. I think Krystal was relieved that I didn't *really* think we had descended hundreds of feet below sea level. After all, she was counting on me to protect and look out for her for a few more days, can you imagine the crisis in confidence that would have developed?

The House of the Future had interested everyone, so we hiked over, went into the wrong side of Innoventions, of course. Miles could have stayed all day playing computer games, but we drug him out after fifteen minutes. The girls couldn't seem to focus on anything. Walked across to the proper side for the House, it was closed for annual repairs. Miles climbed all over the inside of a new SUV on display. Taylor wanted to know, "What's so special about that car?" I said, "They want you to buy it, isn't that special?" Saw cast members on Segways, I want to ride one. The girls were completely unimpressed.

No one wanted to ride Test Track; Taylor was scared of it and Krystal said she could drive her own car at home, and Miles is too short. So it was time for World Showcase, very quickly, as we needed to change in the room and rest a bit before Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party tonight. We stopped for nuggets and fries for Krystal and Miles at the McDonald's stand.

Taylor had just been to Vancouver, Canada this past summer, and said she'd seen a real totem pole there somewhere. They had no interest in my "Candy Around the World" idea, oh well. The Beatles imitation band was playing in the back garden at the UK, so we trekked back there to see them, and took the opportunity to duck into the Pooh greeting where there was not another soul. (Overall, I'd say the character greetings have gotten so much more plentiful that there are now almost no lines in the indoor greeting areas like there used to be. Yaay Disney!) Miles got an autograph and offered Pooh some of his power bar, because it has honey in it. Taylor, seeing the characters, was reminded there would be characters in each country, and suddenly got real motivated to be here.

We went on another installment of the Chip merchandise quest through the France pavilion. Krystal commented, upon touring the stores full of impressionist art knick knacks and real stuff from France, that "There's nothing in there." The Beast was doing a greeting, but since he didn't sign autographs and Miles was too intimidated to go up to him, we just peeked around the corner at him and gummed up the entrance for a few confused moments.

Taylor got really excited at the prospect of Aladdin perhaps being next door at Morocco, so we went in quest of him. No Aladdin, just Jasmine, but Miles was smitten and I think Taylor secretly was, too. The Moroccan staff have turned their once-extensive museum into a couple of displays and a prayer area, I assume for visitors and perhaps the kids working the pavilion? I think with everything going on in the Muslim world, they are really focusing on their spiritual life now, as a culture.

The new "Spain pavilion" looked like nothing but a narrow gift shop, there wasn't really anything to draw guests in - no restaurant, no attraction, no characters, no performances going on. We walked past. Everyone else was walking past, too. The cast members looked pretty lonely, just hanging out in the doorways with nothing to do.

We had just enough time now to catch the American Adventure. The girls looked like they'd rather have their teeth extracted when I said it was about American history, and Krystal gave me a look to end all looks at the Voices of Liberty show in the rotunda. I guess it's not very hip, lol. But in the show, they were pretty awed. It was an impressive experience for them, I think.

A quick trip to the American potties (wish we'd gone to the Japanese potties they are really weird and authentically Japanese), then we hiked around to the front. The girls wanted to shop in Mouse Gears, so I said I'd meet them in front of the tip board in half an hour. Took Miles to the bathroom again, returned the stroller and retrieved our stuff from the locker, looked at some pins. Half an hour rolls up, girls not in sight. Looked at some more pins. 45 minutes rolls up, the girls saunter up. They had just been on Spaceship Earth, without me, again. Grrr. "You weren't here when we looked," I said did you look really, really hard? Giving them a time to meet me after splitting up was translating into "Go off and do whatever you want until you've had enough, starting at (insert meeting time), I'll go wait for you until you decide to show up." Hey, my fault for not being more specific with my instructions. (Actually, my husband and father were way, way worse on my trip with them.)

All in all, this was a far more rushed day than I would have liked to have in Epcot. It's really a two day park for me, as I enjoy experiencing World Showcase to the fullest, and Miles likes to explore all the interactive exhibits in Future World. I dream of the luxury of taking ten or even twelve day vacations at WDW -- then I could relax and take my time in Epcot, finally.

Back at the room there was some good animal viewing to be had, the weather was pretty, the sunset was pretty, it was cool but not horribly cold, it was going to be a great night for the Party at the Magic Kingdom.

I went and got us all a pizza to split from downstairs, and a grilled cheese for Miles, which he refused to eat. Plan A: Get into an enormous power struggle. Plan B: Let him not eat it and just feed him power bars later if he gets hungry. I went with Plan A. Krystal and Taylor finally got him to eat when they picked up the phone to call Santa Claus and tell him that Miles was being bad. He came down to the food court with me and we reheated the sandwich and he ate about half of it and said thank you to me. Or else. LOL. Honestly, Plan B just did not enter my mind at all until it was all over with. If anyone saw a woman yelling at her small child out on the balcony at the Animal Kingdom Lodge around 6:30 p.m. on Friday the 13th, that would be me.

Into some warmer clothes and we were off to the Christmas Party. Everyone had pretty much calmed down and hugged and apologized and cheered up at this point, so we were ready to have a good time.

The bus driver kept telling everyone to step back and let more people on... there was no room to step back, I was in the back and I could see there was no room to step back with my own eyes. There was a lady with a huge double stroller behind me, the stroller being folded up and down on the floor (there would have been no way for her to hang onto it and hang on herself), and I think the driver was seeing that open head space back there and thinking it meant there was open floor space. He just wouldn't leave until we all "took two big steps back" so I called out to him that what he was seeing was not open space, but a big stroller on the floor. He gave up. After we pulled away, he announced "Just how easy he had let us off - this bus has about (60) (don't remember if that was really the number) people on it right now - it holds (85) (don't remember if that was really the number, but the gist of the disparity is about right). He was very friendly about it, and I suppose he knows you have to fight with any reasonable person to get them to literally press themselves into the body of a stranger behind them, with nothing in reach to hold on to.

I thought, what bozo in Disney management would think it was o.k. to create a living hell for their guests and then bill it as a big perk for staying at the resorts? Why would you *start* your plan for bus deployment with a "given" that you are going to make your guests angry and uncomfortable? Who the heck wants to pay thousands of dollars to be pressed up against strangers' bodies on a lurching, swaying bus? Trust me, if he had put 25 more people on that bus, we would have all been getting very, very friendly with eachother's personal space. I think the drivers should all tell management to get a clue and freaking spring for some more busses, and this time buy some that actually have seats in the middle.

Had a great time at the Christmas Party. The parade was excellent and magical, the snow was great and magical, the cocoa and cookies were actually good this year, the kids got to do their beloved Jungle Cruise, we got to greet and get autographs with Meeko and Smee and Aladdin and Jasmine again, Krystal got to ride the Haunted Mansion for the first time, I got to ride Splash with Krystal - and yes, we got wet! Right up in the front, a nice big ol' sheet of water right in our faces (Taylor wouldn't go, played with Miles in the playground under the railroad bridge). The only low point of the evening was missing all the stage shows from our timing being just not quite right. Saw the fireworks from my new favorite viewing spot, in front of the Liberty Tree Tavern just right out in the middle of the road. I also wish I had split seperate ways with the girls after the second parade - they ended up making me wait around for them again while they disappeared to ride Space Mountain (broken) and then "looked for me" for like one second, fifteen minutes early, and went off to watch some teeny bopper band performing on a Tomorrowland stage. By the way, I've always read the advice that the second parade at these parties is much less crowded. Maybe, but on a night when they had totally sold out of tickets, both parades looked equally jammed along the whole route to me. For our final act, I let the girls ride Big Thunder Mountain while I took Miles on the Magic Carpets. I had really wanted to do the Country Bear Christmas show for him, and I was hoping to get a turn on Big Thunder Mountain myself, but too late, the party was over and Cinderella was about to turn into a pumpkin at the stroke of midnight.

They actually start all the last shows at midnight, by the way, including a last Castle Forecourt show, which we stopped to watch from a bit of a distance. Miles passed out on Krystal's shoulder with visions of characters dancing in his head. We didn't have a stroller, and by the time we got Miles on to the bus (next to last stop at the MK, ai yai yai that's a hike), we were having to switch him back and forth, having turned into 35 lbs. of totally dead, floppy weight. Trying to carry him back to the room, we really wished we had a stroller!

The minute I put Miles down on the bed, he woke up. We ended up all staying up for about another hour, finally about 1:45 a.m. we were asleep.

Saturday, December 14

I figured 10 a.m. would be a reasonable time to get everyone up today, providing a sound 8 hours of sleep for all, and perhaps Miles would be tired enough to either really take a nap this afternoon, or at least go to bed a bit early.

I awoke around 8:30 a.m., suffering from chronic "I'm at Disney I can't sleep" syndrome (oh, I forgot to tell you that our first morning, remember the one where I made everyone run out of the room to stand in line for half an hour at the Studios gates, I had awakened at 5:45 a.m. that morning, too excited to sleep, got up and did some yoga on the floor next to the bed and then watched the dawn with a giraffe slowly appearing to view as the light came up in the sky), so I got up and snuck out, leaving everyone behind, and had breakfast at Boma by myself.

I like the food here, the setting is o.k., but the price is a little out there for me because I can't help getting a press pot of the Kenyan coffee, and that with the tip puts the bill in the mid-$20's range for one person for breakfast... sorry but that's about what it costs to eat Jazz Brunch at Commander's Palace in New Orleans, and the food at Boma just isn't *that* good. The juice tasted different than I remember - like it was missing a tropical element that was there last time I had it. May be my imagination.

Browsed the gift shop for pins, books, etc. Found an excellent large paperback on modern Africa and African history, "Into Africa" - I just can't recommend it enough. That the authors manage to weave together the history, culture, politics, ecology, and ambiance of an entire continent into something that flows coherently and is fun to read is just amazing.

Back at the room, Miles woke up when I came in and was ready to get up and go. The girls looked more like surgery recovery room patients than sleeping beauties. I didn't even try to get them up, though Miles did, to no effect. Took a bath with Miles (hadn't bathed him since we got to Disney, hey, we did get rained on, doesn't that count? told you I was an excellent mother), and when we were all fluffy and sweet, wrote out a note to the girls that we were going to Animal Kingdom and please meet us here in the room at 1 p.m. and we'll all pick somewhere to go together. Hmm, where to put the note so they'll be sure to see it... the mirror!

I was glad to have some time alone with my peanut. I love traveling with him, he's a great traveler and touring buddy. There's a rhythm that we get into when it's just the two of us that's very quiet and tuned in to each other, and it makes everything just so easy.

Have to apologize here for not attending the rec.arts.disney.parks Big Meet at 1 p.m. today... I just couldn't bring myself to skip taking Miles to eat at the Rainforest Cafe, which was really high on his "Must Do" list, he'd been asking me for a year to take him back there, and I couldn't figure out any other time this trip to go. Plus, without the girls to take him to Ellen's Energy Adventure while I chatted with grownups, I couldn't imagine what he'd do besides get really bored and frustrated, so I skipped the whole thing. I think I need to come to r.a.d.p. meets as a solo three or four night trip in the future, like I did the first two times. Brought Miles this time because I was so lonely for him at RADP 6, I had a hard time enjoying myself. Maybe if it was me and him, we could have made some more meets together, but once I invited the girls there was just no way to juggle all of it.

This was my second time at the Rainforest Cafe outside Animal Kingdom - both times I've been there around the earliest lunch seating, i.e. between 10:30 and 11:15 a.m. It's a good time to go. I didn't ask for a breakfast menu, not sure if I could have got it at that time. I was handed a lunch menu. Service was a bit slow, but friendly, and the food was all right. Having just pigged out at Boma, I stuck with a cup of clam chowder and a smoothie. Miles got chicken nuggets in the shape of dinosaurs (can't even begin to guess how much hydrogenated oil and hydrolyzed soy protein was in those vs. chicken) that sent him over the moon. Got him to drink a bunch of my smoothie, too. It's fun to eat here when the place is fairly empty, it leaves you free to wander around while your food cooks, without disturbing anyone.

Finished up and got into the Animal Kingdom. Checked the tip board, saw that there was a Festival of the Lion King in about twenty minutes. I figured we'd just stick to Camp Minnie Mickey today and that would be it, then go back to the room to round up the girls.

Finally got to sit in a section besides Warthog or Giraffe, that was nice to get a "new" view. The cast was excellent, as usual. Came out and just ducked across the "street" to the Pocahontas show, which began in just a few minutes. I wish Miles would have gone to sit in the front middle "kids' rows" because honestly that's the only place you can really see all the animals and puppets for the length of time they're on stage. Pocahontas looked really cold.

On the way out, we stopped to pin trade. Today was the first time I bothered to trot out our lanyards, as I knew the girls weren't interested and didn't want to make them stand around a lot waiting on Miles and I. Traded with a cast member who had a lanyard pin and something Miles wanted. He was blown away that I traded him "real" pins, as in, something that originally cost more than "free".

I love trading with cast members, and I want to keep them happy and fresh with it, so I try not to use them as my personal greed depot. I like to put pins on their lanyards I know other guests will be happy to find. Only once, last year, did I ever get the creepy feeling that cast members were trying to play me and my son, and intended on taking the thing right off and straight to eBay the minute we walked away - we had a newish Disney Store state pin from Hawaii, which you could then buy for about $5 to $6 online, but for some reason these two CMs thought it was a goldmine and they were like drooling and getting all shifty- eyed. It's sad to see anyone get greedy or dishonest about these things, when they could just relax and have fun instead. Of course, it's a microcosm for our relationship to money as humans - I guess you could work out a lot of karma with the pin thing.

Outside the Pocahontas exit, there was one of the new kid stations open. I had answered a poll, upon entering, that we had come today specifically to see shows and look for these stations. The kid stations at Animal Kingdom are EXCELLENT and staffed with EXCELLENT cast members. The brochure you get stamped is a first class item, too. We ended up doing three of the five stations on this trip, looking forward to finding the other two next time.

This one had some info on the animals from the Pocahontas show, including a jar of porcupine quills, a bubble making station just for fun, and an opportunity to "plant a tree" to help "save the forest". Miles got so into this it's not even funny, we had to make him stop and save some for the next child after about four turns. If you are looking for something for your four year old to do, hand 'em a small spade and a bag of acorns, and let 'em loose outdoors.

We had about a half-hour more to kill, so we did some character greetings. Goofy Santa was there, and we met Daisy and Minnie as well. A trip to the potty, and we were done with Animal Kingdom and Camp Minnie Mickey for today.

Back at the room, at 1:30 p.m. the girls were still asleep. The room was dark and warm and starting to smell a little close, like the den of a hibernating bear. Miles was looking really tired, so I took his shoes and sweater off and told him to climb in next to his Nanny (Krystal is his godmother, he calls her Nanny). She threw her arm across him and I grabbed "Into Africa", spray cheese and Ritz crackers, and a couple of juice boxes, and tiptoed out to the lobby.

Ahh, every vacation needs those moments of aah, that point at which the whole thing just peaks. Mine was reading all the lobby art displays, including the collection of photos in the quiet lounge, then pulling up a chair around the fire pit in the AKL lobby, putting my feet up so I could feel the warmth on my sore legs and feet, listening to the hubbub of other guests and the African music, smelling the turmeric from Boma below, eating spray cheese and reading my new book.

After an hour or so of bliss, I went back to the room. That was it, it was almost 3 p.m. and the lights were coming on and the curtains were going to get opened. Up, up, up, children, up! Opened the balcony door to get some fresh air in there, too.

The only option open to us for the rest of the day was Epcot, so I figured it would finally be my chance to ride Spaceship Earth with everyone. We sauntered in about 5:30 p.m. (the time lag is from Krystal and Taylor taking showers and fixing their hair and makeup like they were about to attend their own wedding), and ducked into Innoventions again, because Miles wanted to see the Robot Puppy. After that and a couple of computer games, we walked over to Ice Station Cool - for some reason there was no snow in the hallway at all today. Taylor was a sport and tried almost everything, and Miles drank two cups of Beverly. "Yummy," he pronounced and patted his tummy. This from a child who is such a picky eater, he rejects 75% of the candy in his Halloween pumpkin each year. Whatever! Krystal refused to try a sip of anything, period.

Walked to World Showcase, ate some very decent food from the counter service stand (definitely going back there to eat in the future, I was pleasantly surprised) at Mexico, and then rode Maelstrom in Norway, which for some reason had a fifteen minute line, probably because the parade had let out right before we came over.

It was now a choice between lining up to see Illuminations, or riding Spaceship Earth (which an off duty cast member said he "knew for sure" was closing at 9:00 p.m., even after I mentioned that Illuminations wasn't until 9:30 p.m. tonight because of the Candlelight Processional. One of many instances where honestly it's far more productive to use the Passporter, www.wdwig.com, and other great web sites, and rec.arts.disney.parks for information about Disney World than asking or paying any attention to Cast Members. Only the true WDW geek can keep up with the place, it's just that big and complex). We were tired enough that sitting down in a ride vehicle in warmth sounded way more appealing than standing out in what was becoming some rather bitter cold. We walked right on, like you always can at night, and I rode up front with Miles. He thinks the newsboy in the 20's is "Just like me!" and that the Egyptian guy making papyrus is Tarzan. His favorite part though is the "earf". He always wants me to point out to him "where on the earf is Mandeville," our home town.

In the AT&T exhibit hall after the ride, Krystal had the big idea to call her mom from the AT& T Family Fone, an enclosed booth where your whole party can supposedly dial a number on a giant key pad, and all talk together to the party on the other end. In other words, it's a speaker phone. I had started the trip with a free 50-minute calling card, which Krys had just about burned up calling friends from the room to say Hi from Disney World, but there was enough left on it for a quick call here. My sister in law answered, and this was the conversation:

"Hello?"
"Mom, it's me."
"Hello?"
"Mom, it's Krystal."
"Krystal? I can barely hear you! Hello?"
"Mom, can you hear me?"
"Hello?"
(shouting now) "Mom, we're in a Big Phone." (now you know that just clears it all up, doesn't it)
"Hello?"
(louder shouting) "Can you hear me now?"
"No."
"But you just answered me! I just asked you can you hear me and you said no!"
(getting irritated) "Krystal, I can't hear you."
(all of us shouting) "Can you hear us now??"
"No!"
(all of us shouting louder) "Can you hear us NOW??"
"NO!!"
"Call you tomorrow, bye!"
I was laughing so hard I was crying at this point. Favorite line for the trip: We're in a Big Phone.

I was hoping we'd catch a bus back to the resort before the post-Illumination crowds came out, but we still ended up on a packed busload as the crowds began to gather behind us, after a fifteen minute wait for a bus to show up. At least the AKL busses only go to ONE bus stop. We stopped in the gift shop and then the Mara for bedtime snacks for the kids (they split a partial bag of Pepperidge Farms cookies from the pantry section). By 11:30 p.m. we were all asleep.

Sunday, December 15

Our last full day, *sigh*. I try not to focus on the dwindling time but savor every moment. No way I was letting anyone sleep in today, though! Got the crew up, then got the girls up again, strange how they seem to be pulled by a magnetic force back under the covers when I'm not looking.

Made a priority seating for Donald's Breakfastosaurus, at Animal Kingdom, for the last seating available for the day. I really wanted to see Miles eat a big, full meal and I knew brunch somewhere with biscuits and gravy and scrambled eggs would do the trick.

We weren't at Animal Kingdom for park opening, like I had hoped, we got in the gates around 9:45. Went straight into It's Tough to Be a Bug, which we finally talked Miles into going to see, after resolving the earlier "stink" issue with the Figment ride. Turns out it wasn't the dark, or people screaming, or Hopper that he didn't like here, it was the Stink Bug. Oh, and the things that crawl under your butt at the end, so I promised him he could sit in my lap, and I'd tell him when to hold his nose. After a five to eight minute wait inside the very densely packed waiting area, we filed in to our seats... and right back out again, it was broken. They just made us wait inside without telling us what was going to happen, if they knew, and then follow out the audience departing from the previous show. Oh well.

Strolled over to the Breakfastosaurus, and checked in at the podium. We were seated within a few minutes. The food was really quite good, which surprised the heck out of me since during lunch this is just a big McDonald's. Characters were a bit rushed, but it's a big place, and it was just about the end of the breakfast. Our server was really excellent.

After eating, I had Taylor take Miles to play in the Bone Yard or whatever they're calling it now, while Krystal and I did a spin on Dinosaur. I really enjoyed answering her questions about what was going to happen on the ride, what with the coaster that breaks away and goes upside-down in there, dripping acid, and the real dinosaurs created by Disney's current DNA re-engineering experiments. She said she wasn't scared at all, and I made it through without having to close my eyes too much. Still, that last animatronic at the end that rushes right at your face while you dive down the exit, phew! On the photos in the gift shop at the end, we could see just about every car had a row where entire families were huddled in a big heap, not looking at a thing around them. My favorite was where a Mom had two kids on either side of her, who had dove into her lap, and both pulled their jackets over their heads.

Miles didn't want to leave the playground, and I wish I had just stayed with him there some more while the girls went on Primeval Whirl. Instead, I took him for our first and I swear our last experience with Disney's new casino for children, a.k.a. Dinorama. How dispiriting... but you know, I let Miles have the full experience of all the fun trying to win and not being able to, and coming away with nothing to show for spending $10, took the opportunity to discuss with him that this is called gambling and no, it's not really fun is it, to be disappointed when you don't win. My advice, if there are more than one or two guests at any given game, don't waste your money. The girls took quite a while, as there was a pretty big line for the Whirl, which surprised me since Dinosaur had been a walk-on. We may have hit it right as Tarzan had let out, I don't know. We all went on Triceratops Spin, whoopee, it goes around and there's no great view like on Dumbo. Still, Miles seemed to like it o.k.

Nobody wanted to see Tarzan, so I headed us through the Asian animal trail. Nobody was up to much, I'm never there at the right time of day to see the tigers active, I think. After that, we headed back to Conservation Station. Miles and I always spend a lot of quality time here, and I was thrilled to see the girls enjoy it, too. On the path to the exhibit hall, we stopped and helped Miles complete the bug hunt, one of the hands-on activity stations in the park now. Fun.

In the exhibit hall, the girls were blown away by the mural in the foyer, and I found a hidden Mickey amongst the animals! Won't tell you where it is, you'll have to go look for yourself. Miles always wants to see EVERY endangered species video they have, it's hard to get him to go do something else than sit and push every button on the video screen, but when he starts repeating them it's time to give someone else a chance. Taylor was just beside herself to meet Pocahontas. Meeko was rummaging around in garbage cans and had to be scolded, which was really funny. And we got to meet.... FLIK! Hey, that got Mommy excited. Miles was pretty thrilled, too.

Nothing going on in the veterinarian exam room, but a cast member on the vet staff came and gave a short presentation, with a video, as to what goes on in there. They've also changed the feeding area so now you are invited to TASTE samples of the food the animals eat! Even GRUBS! Flik had a big ol' grub climbing around on his hand, and we followed him back to the feeding area to see what the heck he was going to do with the thing -- there was a little Plexiglas cube of the critters, just out in the open next to chopped apples and chow pellets of different types. Hmm, no, Miles, I don't think I want you to eat that.

Some really, really obnoxious woman stopped at the staffed hands-on exhibit table so she could opine about how bats fly in your hair, and seemed to have no interest in really learning anything. I looked at her, and the very patient and friendly cast member, and just couldn't help jumping in. "Do you actually know ANYONE that that has EVER happened to??" Woman - "No, but they say they do it." Me - "Well, people also say they've been beamed up by aliens to flying saucers." Whatever.

We had a ball in the rainforest sound booth, watching Miles jump about two inches up in the air at the end when the jaguar growls at you. The petting zoo was fun, Miles groomed a couple of goats and cooed over them. Didn't notice if the girls touched any goats, I don't think they did.

It was time to sit a bit, so I herded us on to Kilimanjaro Safari. It was a walk-on, and absolutely the BEST safari I've seen yet. Everyone was out and romping! Rhinos on our path, giraffe five feet from the vehicle, elephants cavorting, both lions visible, warthogs all out and visible, and even the cast member who gets to say "Little Red is o.k.!" put some heart into it.

The troops were getting hungry, so we stopped at Tusker House. They've changed the menu, no more stew in a bread bowl, and no more fried chicken. Can't remember what we all ended up getting, but it was pretty good, as usual. Helped Miles do some more pin trading with a couple of supervisor/manager types in the restaurant, one turned out to be from not far away from where we live. Small world and all... She asked me what I thought about the menu changes and I said I missed the fried chicken, and that it would be nice to see something in a bread bowl again, that's nice and hot. Of course, being another cold and cloudy day, I was thinking about hot soup more than guests probably do in July.

I didn't want to miss showing the girls the Pangani trail, figured we could hurry through it and catch the parade. Krystal proceeded to absolutely blow me away by positively dawdling, stopping to talk to three cast members at length, including over fifteen minutes glued to a hippo window, listening, fascinated, interacting with the cast member. I had a great conversation there, too, with another cast member, about zoos and fund raising and research. Did you know hippos are very, very difficult to treat, because their skin is like an ultra-thick wet suit, making the only accessible veins in their mouths or via a blind stick to their tails?

I can't tell you how touched I was to see Krystal really stopping and learning. I sincerely believe she's mildly dyslexic, just from watching her try to read and struggle with it. She's never been diagnosed, but I've watched her have an unbelievably hard time in school her whole life, and I'm afraid her parents didn't do much for her, and the Catholic school she attended did nothing for her at all. She barely managed a high school diploma, by attending a private Baptist school that basically just milled kids through if they paid their tuition. In a couple months she will be starting beauty school (something which she is actually quite talented at), college is not even on the radar. You may remember, at Epcot she literally turned her back on the educational aspects of any exhibit. But here, with all of the cast members to talk to, she just tuned in and soaked it up. I remember reading that the modern approaches to teaching kids with dyslexia include lots and lots of verbal instruction, on which they reportedly thrive... Catching up to Miles, Taylor and I at the end of the trail, she said, "I'd like to do that, be a Vet." But her voice trailed off at the end, like she was catching herself saying something that she knew was just not going to happen. It breaks my heart, because here is a kid who certainly could have achieved that, with educators who were willing and able to recognize and work with her disability, but nobody did. All I can say is, if your child is having difficulty at school, don't ever assume they're "lazy" or have a "bad attitude" -- please believe that they would strive to get A's and please everyone if it was in their power, especially in the elementary grades. If something doesn't seem quite right, be prepared to get them tested independently and then be ready to fight for them, home school, move somewhere where they can get what they need, whatever it takes.

To my great pleasure, the cast members told us we could still catch the parade if we went back to Harambe Village, and we basically had the parade to ourselves! It was starting to drizzle again, but everyone went hoods up on their rain gear, and I watched the kids watch the characters. We had time to finally try It's Tough to Be a Bug again, and it was running, but not Hopper, who was totally absent from the show. The girls didn't know anything was missing, and the show made sense without Hopper, you could hear all his lines and it just looked like Flik was talking to him off-stage. But Miles knew Hopper was missing, and was a bit worried about it. The bugs leaving the theater effect at the end is one of my favorite effects in any park attraction, ever, just priceless.

A final stop for souvenirs, Krystal was on a hunt for something to soothe the hurt of never finding any Chip merchandise (Chip from Beauty and the Beast, that is) but whatever this new character was she was after, they didn't have anything with that one, either. I bought some pins, including a Chip pin which I later gave to her for Christmas, and we hiked out with the last stragglers out of the park, as the sun was beginning to set.

Back at the Lodge, we stopped at Mara for nuggets and turned in early upstairs, the girls watching some more Disney Channel teen shows while Miles and I took a bubble bath. Lights out early tonight.

Sunday, December 15, now with Gingko Biloba

I know, I know, they've proven scientifically that gingko biloba just isn't going to help someone like me with their memory problems, but you'd think there'd be hope for me somewhere?

Did NOT go to bed early after spending 7 1/2 hours at Animal Kingdom in the cold and drizzle with three kids, of course not! We had an Illuminations Fireworks Cruise to catch from the Yacht Club dock at 8:30 p.m.!

My big ponder was how to get there... at around 7:15, after some dinner snacks from the Mara up in the room and a nice hot bath for Miles and I, we changed into layers and layers and layers of our warmest clothing, and headed down to the bus stops. I figured if an Epcot bus came first, we'd get on that, if a Studios came first, we'd get on that. Either would put us within walking distance of the Yacht Club marina.

Well, the Studios bus was right there, with a bunch of people already on it and the driver loading a guest with a wheelchair when we walked up, so we stood patiently with a three other people, as the front door of the bus had been closed while the driver had the back doors open. In the meantime, an Epcot bus came and went down the line.

After about five minutes, the woman standing in front of me started saying to her two companions that this driver just didn't want to be bothered with a wheelchair, and boy was he going to get in some trouble after the letter she was going to send the next day. Apparently, he had at first refused to let them on, and I got the whole story out of her: the bus had stopped to let off guests, and was marked Studios, so these folks had tried to get on. The driver had told them the Studios were closed, so he couldn't take them there. At this point, it was just about 7:10 p.m. - yes the Studios were officially closed, but the lady told me that she used to work for Disney, so did her husband (who was the one in the wheelchair) and they still had a good friend in higher-up management, who was going to meet them at the Studios gate and let them in to walk around and see the Osborne lights while Fantasmic was going on. She said she just refused to explain all this to the driver, who had been surly with her from the start, and should take her where she wanted to go without having to know her reason as it was none of his business. Anyways, the upshot was that the driver was royally pissed off that he had to load a wheelchair and drive to the Studios, which I don't to this day really understand, since he was at the Studios bus stop, driving a bus marked Studios... whatever. The lady and her family were absolutely convinced it was all about the wheelchair, and the driver being older and tired at the end of a long day.

After about a ten minute wait in total, the guy and his chair were loaded, and the driver opened the front doors for the lady and her other friend/family member to get on. I started up the steps and - bonk - here comes the driver's arm down in front of me. "Are you with the wheelchair?" he asks me in a VERY unfriendly voice and I, breaking my usual vow of not speaking falsely, immediately had the sense to reply "Yes, we are." Surly driver: "Where are you going?" Me, walking away from him and getting us all seated firmly down, "To the Studios." Surly driver closes door and starts up the bus. Lord, forgive me, but we'd been at this for about 15 minutes, and can you imagine that he would try to stop us from going to the same place he was already taking people? Very very odd. I can only surmise that he really believed he was forbidden to take guests to a park that was closed... but aren't the busses supposed to run about an hour after closing, to accommodate guests who were hopping, or visiting resorts to eat and shop, etc?? The whole thing seemed like a big lack of communication.

We stopped, to my surprise, at the Animal Kingdom theme park parking lot, and everyone who had been sitting on the bus at the AK Lodge when we walked up to it (all of whom I thought were going to the Studios, since they were sitting in a bus marked Studios), got off. What the?? LOL, OK, I get it now, the driver really was thinking he was about to get off work for the evening, and we had put a major crimp in his day. At the Studios, he stopped to check in with a couple of walkie-talkie dispatchers and I didn't see them look surprised or disturbed that he was bringing guests to a closed park. After we all got off, the lady said to me, "Do you know what he said to me? (said huffily and gruffly in imitation:) 'I don't know how you think you're going to get in.'" I got to hear again how it was really none of his business.

They had phoned their friend, as they now felt it was too late to really see the Osborne Lights (it was around 7:45 p.m. at this point), and made their apologies. I heard them saying maybe they could go catch Illuminations, and wondering where the bus stop was, so I told them we were walking that way if they wanted to join us. They had no idea there was a walking path connecting the Studios and Epcot now, and it was a fun walk, all of us a big group bonded by our bus trauma. She told me what she and her husband used to do for Disney, and bragged a bit on her friends still in management (I'm jealous!), we talked about the Boardwalk resort and the new walkway we were on. I showed them how to take the Boardwalk to walk to Epcot, as they were wanting to get something hot to drink (recommended the Bakery, yum!) and we parted ways.

At the Yacht Club Dock, I met up with our fearless pirate captain Randy from my beloved internet usenet group rec.arts.disney.parks. Randy was to be the bravest host alive tonight, because within half an hour, he had not one not two but three weeping, wailing small children in his boat, who were all crying like they'd been flayed alive, over having to put on and wear bulky, cold and very much required-by-law life jackets. Miles was especially distraught, since he'd fallen asleep after a couple minutes on the Studios bus, and had been napping ever since in his stroller -- I had to wake him up to get on the boat, then he told me he had to go potty, which was REALLY far away in the lobby, so we ran and ran and ran while they held the whole boat for me, and then I was in such a hurry to get out of the potty, I pulled his pants up wrong and his underwear got twisted into an atomic-wedgie-type torture device. I don't know what was going on down there, but he was crying really hard and I couldn't understand a word of it, then I had to put his life jacket on and he was still crying... Krystal took him away from me and gave me a really appalled speech about how I'd pulled his pants up wrong and didn't I even notice?? What can I say, we were about to miss the boat.

The cruise was fun, it's cool to be down and close when the show goes off, and cool, too, to cruise out onto the World Showcase lagoon as you make a U-turn to head back after the show. We had lots of goodie bag goodies and pirate things and lots of saying "Arrgh" and such. Miles to this day talks about how he went on the Pirate boat and the Pirate Man gave him a Pirate flag and our boat flew a big Pirate flag off the back.

The only downside was that it was really kick-ass COLD and the whole boat was WET. The captain had to put tons of towels down everywhere, and he had blankets for us, but we couldn't let them touch the floor, which was really rather hard to do. I asked him why the boat was all wet, and he said it was condensation. I don't know how anything can condense on anything when it's 48 degrees outside and 3 hours after sunset, but I guess it must have been true, because I can't imagine the cast members soaked the whole thing down with a hose and then lied about it. So... my advice, cruise in warmer weather. Miles and I both came down with sinus infections and had $140 in medical bills when we got home. Cruise when it's warm and the boat is dry, but definitely cruise, it was worthwhile. In fact, if I can ever get my husband back to Disney World, it's on my list of last-ditch attempts to get him addicted like me.

The boats (I think there were three or four in total) dock alongside one another under the bridge between England and France, about fifteen minutes before the show. While we waited, the captains and first mates of the boats put on a finely tuned joke telling routine that was first class. Too bad I couldn't hear any of the jokes, because Miles was so excited he couldn't stop talking to me about this and that, and then of course he wanted to tell jokes, too, so I got to do Knock-Knock Little Old Lady Who? a few times, that's always a screamer.

Krystal, however, did hear all the jokes, because she was absolutely riveted on the extremely attractive and charismatic first mate for our boat, a strapping youngster maybe in his mid to early 20's, who was looking fine in his pea coat, and was as articulate and friendly as he was good-looking. I don't think Krys took her eyes off him for more than three minutes without having to go back for another deep drink at the hormonal well.

After our cruise, we bid farewell to our fellow Pirates, and headed into the Yacht club lobby to use the potty, and I figured I could stand everyone to some ice cream before going home. I just couldn't face walking all the way back through Epcot to the front, to catch a bus back to our resort, I decided I'd rather pay the money to just take a cab. Good choice! Sometimes, especially at the end of WDW trips, it's just so *nice* to have a cab to yourself, and go where you want to go, directly, when you want to go there.

We checked out the ginger bread sculptures in the lobby, which Krystal was interested in, as her mom has worked as a cake decorator for a bakery in New Orleans for over 15 years and does a lot of similar work at home as a sideline, making cakes for friends and family. I headed down to Beaches and Cream, it's a very small restaurant and not easy to find from the lobby. Didn't expect it to be so tucked out of view from the dock, but it is. Taylor and Miles played a couple of games in the adjacent game room while we waited for our food. Krystal ordered a burger, Taylor got a sundae, Miles a grilled cheese, and I think I got a burger, too. I know I tasted someone's burger, maybe it was my own. Or did I taste a burger? Hmm, now I'm thinking I didn't. What did I eat? What did Krystal eat? Was I really inhabiting this three-dimensional universe, or was I in fact somewhere else?

Well, whatever dimension I was in and whatever I consumed, I liked it all. Nice place, nice booths, though Imagineering needs to make the juke boxes at the table work and play all the most excellent songs listed there. Nice food, nice waitress.

Would never go there at peak season at a peak time, though, because like I said it's very small inside, and I bet the place is a madhouse every day right after Illuminations, and a good place for a crushing incident Christmas week right after Illuminations.

Taxi! Got a cab, and it was under $10. I would have paid more to avoid the hike from the Yacht Club marina to Epcot's bus stops that night, much more, and I guess once you add in the substantial bill for our "snacks" at Beaches and Cream, I did. I was just sorry the driver couldn't drive us to our room.

Driving through the World on our last night, my happy load of youngsters alongside me, I caught sight of the large fountains on top of the Dolphin. On our last trip, we'd stayed at the Boardwalk Villas resort, and I had watched the fountains from my balcony during my bedtime cigarette each night, long after all the theme parks had been put to bed and my own family was mostly asleep. There was a peace, and a sense of time standing outside itself. I had made myself memorize that vista, as a touch point, so I could return to it. Like the bright moon over them, in the clear sky, the fountains were luminous, and completely silent.

My trips to Disney have evolved their own rhythm, of coming and going, joining and leaving. I feel myself passing into and out of "my" resort and "my" room and "my" experiences, and I sense that I'm among a stream of tens of thousands of others passing in and out, and yet it is like that fountain will always be there, like the moon is in the sky, like your child will always be a newborn in your hands, or your mother will always be young, and somehow there will be a place for me there, forever.

I caught sight of the Osborne Light displays along the Studios perimeter fence on our drive "home" tonight, and had the same sensation. We were there, I thought, on our Backlot Tour tram, getting rained on, on our first day here, and now hundreds strolled past the chasing Angel wings and red garlands at the same spot. Tomorrow we will leave and someone will take our place. Next week, thousands will have cycled through again, some never to return, some for their first trip of many. There's an eternal quality.

And now, for the *real* end to my Sunday segment: It's not early and it's not at all a reasonable hour, it's midnight; The kids aren't snug and warm in their beds, they're cold and damp and full of sugar.

Ahh, vacation!

Monday, December 16

Last day, last day. We had packed up what we could the previous evening, while we had a little time, so it only took twenty minutes to have everyone's things ready to pick up by bell services this morning. We were out at the bus stop to the Magic Kingdom by 10:00 a.m. Following my usual vacation weather luck, today was the prettiest, sunniest day of the whole trip with a great forecast for the next week.

I had purchased 4-day Plus Hoppers for the girls, planning on visiting Blizzard Beach one of these days, but even today it wasn't really warm enough. So I've got those water park visits tucked away for another trip, and I forked over $100+ for a half day of magic for them at the Magic Kingdom turnstiles, which I never could work up the gumption to ask them/their parents to pay me back for, because honestly I didn't want to stay out of the parks today, I wanted more more more!

We went straight to Tomorrowland, Miles has finally done enough trips and enough Fantasyland that he doesn't have to drag us straight there. We did Buzz Lightyear, and then the girls ran off to finally ride Space Mountain. I rode Buzz again with Miles while they were gone, when they came back we all took a spin on the Tomorrowland Transit Authority.

It was now just a few minutes before 11 a.m., time for brunch, so we stood around in Starlight Ray's and waited for them to open. After "wasting" precious last day vacation time waiting for our food, we wasted some more time while Miles ate really slowly then wanted more. Usually he bolts his meals and makes a ruckus while you're still trying to eat just a portion of your own food.

Still hadn't done Toontown Fair so we all went there. Krystal and Taylor were really tempted to get their faces painted with huge glitter butterflies, but when I reminded them that they would not be wearing them at Disney much longer, but in the airport and on the airplane, they lost interest.

We rode Goofy's Barnstormer with about a five minute wait. This is a pretty rough coaster, but the ride is so short no one could have time to get too traumatized. The queue is half the fun, getting to watch the coaster go through the barn with the terrified chickens. It's really well-themed.

Down in the character greeting area, Goofy was holding court but I was surprised to see his son Max there, too. My husband was a bit disappointed when we got home that we hadn't stopped to get a photo and autograph with Max. Didn't know he was a fan!

Mickey and Minnie's houses were both packed to the gills, as usual. Even on a really slow day, Minnie's kitchen is hard to move around in. The kids love it! The girls wanted to go shopping while I took Miles to see Cinderella. I think it's just SO cool that they have the princesses back here now. It's a very relaxed, calm and controlled greeting set up, the way they let you into an enclosed room with quiet music, in batches. Her Highness was so happy to see Miles and hear all about his... well, Miles started telling her about a movie we have on video that has nothing to do with Cinderella or Disney or anything, and I don't think she picked up on a word he said really, but she was still delighted to hear all about it.

Why does Cinderella practically whisper? This is the second time I've met her, and both times she's almost tongue-tied, and speaks in an incredibly low voice. Low self-esteem? It comes across as odd. I wish the character handlers would rethink this, if they're coaching the cast to talk like this. You can be "subdued" and "regal" and still speak in a clear voice. I swear you couldn't hear either of the Cindy's three feet away from them. There were other characters in the room, two of her mice, but they don't talk, and the other greeting I had was out in the open in front of her carriage and castle, with no reason to speak softly. So I believe it is part of the character. But where in the movie does she murmur? There was something kind of creepy about it.

Back in the gift shop, the girls were nowhere near done shopping, though of course they hadn't actually been buying anything, just deciding. I bought a big chocolate covered nut cluster from the candy counter that turned out to be horrible when I finally ate it on the plane home. Don't bother with that candy, it's really not anything special. Also bought a tin of cinnamon mints in the shapes of the Fab 5, for everyone at work to share. Miles had not seen Treasure Planet (and he still hasn't, I wised up after Atlantis that just because it's Disney and animation, it's not necessarily appropriate or enjoyable for young children), but he was critically drawn to a pink fish with bugged out eyes named Morph. I had refused to buy a 20-inch plush Morph at the Pirates of the Caribbean gift shop a couple days earlier, but Miles spotted a 6-inch plus here, so I let him have it as his one thing today.

After another 10 minutes of looking and no buying, I was getting impatient with the girls. They just couldn't figure out what to buy for their family members... finally settled on Goofy hats and Mickey ears and Tinkerbelle rearview mirror suction cup dangles. Just in case you're wondering how these were received, for planning your own souvenir shopping list, no, nobody will ever wear that Goofy hat outside of the parks, Mickey ears will sit on a shelf, but every teenage girl within 100 miles of you will want a Tinkerbelle rearview mirror suction cup dangle when they see it.

We hadn't had a chance to ride the Disney World Railroad yet this trip, so we hauled on and rode around to Frontierland. I was thinking I could get a chance, finally, to ride Big Thunder Mountain. I wanted Taylor to take Miles to the playground while Krystal and I went, but they noticed kids smaller than Miles going onto the attraction, so we figured what the heck, and walked right on. Miles at home and the doctor's office measured *exactly* 40 inches high before we left, but I have heard so many horror stories of the cast members not being consistent with measuring, from the beginning of the queue to the loading area sometimes having discrepancies, kids well over 42" being told they're not 40" a year after they rode for the first time, etc., I wasn't even going to try this trip to get Miles on, not wanting to create a situation where he'd feel let down. I knew he could handle both rides emotionally, he's pretty fearless.

He loved Big Thunder Mountain! I like this ride best at night, but this was my first chance in two years to ride, so I figured I'd take it. He said that ride was really fast. He's right!

Well, why not try Splash Mountain now? Taylor still refused to ride it, so we left her under the railroad bridge with orders not to move, and once again walked Miles right on. He loved this one too! He says he was really happy, he wasn't scared, he knew he couldn't fall out (he's telling me this right now as I type this trip report). But he did whack his face on the padded thing in front of us at the bottom of the first small drop, not badly, no blood, but I realized he hadn't thought to brace himself with his arms, and he was refusing to let me hold on to him (I can ride by myself), so I quickly instructed him that he had to push against the pad when we go down hills, and there were no further incidents. Brer Rabbit's shadow running away across the fields and the leaping water effect in the cave were both non-operational, which bugged me a little, it being Miles' first ride and all.

Wow, I can't believe my years of sitting out with Miles while other people do the "big kids" rides are over! Miles goal now is to get tall enough to see Alien Encounter. He makes me describe it to him over and over and I reenact the whole thing for him, including the restraints and screaming and pitch darkness -- he saw and was dutifully scared by the Alien figure in the Great Movie Ride, so he has some idea of what he's up against. I think 10 years old is about right for Alien Encounter, so the child has a lot of nuggets and scrambled eggs to eat between now and then. But it won't be long before we're doing Space Mountain, Star Tours, and Tower of Terror, and the Playhouse Disney show and Winnie the Pooh will fade to nostalgia.

I had imagined for so long how cool and what a big deal it would be to take Miles on Big Thunder Mountain and Splash Mountain for the first time, it was a bit of a let-down to unexpectedly walk on this way. Perhaps I was a bit sad that he was growing so fast, the whole baby and toddler thing is just plain over now.

Oh well, time marches on and so do stomachs. We had a moment to get a little something to eat, settled on hot dogs and popcorn. I got Miles' silhouette made outside of the Hall of Presidents. The woman who did it, has been doing it since the 1970's, and she FREEHAND cut out a perfect likeness of him in about 90 seconds! We were floored. It was so inexpensive, too, this is totally at the top of my awesome inexpensive things to do at Disney list now.

It was about 2:20 p.m. now, I figured we had time for one more ride, and everyone picked the Haunted Mansion again. This time it stopped with us next to the coffin scene for about five minutes, and I was glad I wasn't sitting with a child who scares easily, because it's a bit overwhelming right at that spot with all the banging and yowling from the nearby hallway doors.

Got off, where's Morph? Miles had been hanging on to Morph all day now, but sweet Morph had disappeared. I got the kids settled in a spot where I could find them again, to watch the imminent parade, and ran back to the attraction to see what I could do.

A veritable swat team of Ivy League Brooks Brothers-clad management types swung into action. Actually, I think they were there for something else but offered to ride through and look for it on the floor. All the doom buggies have a number, and the cast member working the unloading area explained to me exactly how long it takes for the cars to cycle, and just had me hang tight. After a few minutes, and the cars all coming around again, she picked up a phone and heard that the managers had indeed found it somewhere on the set and had put it in doom buggie number 86 and Morph was on his way.

Just in the time I was standing there, about ten to fifteen minutes, I saw her take out of buggies a child's shoe, an umbrella, and a digital video camera. We spoke a bit about working for Disney, she was there on the college program, and her advice? An emphatic "Don't! Just come here and have a good time." She also said everyone HATES their new automated deployment system, which has some acronym I can't remember.

When Morph came around, his bugged-out eyes just said it all, poor little pink guy having to ride in the scary mansion and see all those ghosts, all by himself!

Tried to thank the managers when I saw them back out on the street, and they were cursorily polite, but I got the impression they were much more interested in swaggering around together being well dressed and clubby than interacting with guests. Sorry, but there is something wrong in Disney management, they are recruiting only rich white hot shot type kids and seem to be selecting them based on looks to boot, like some kind of uber-man master race plan, and they have uniformly come off to me as arrogant and snotty. Not just talking about this encounter, but seeing managers in action over at Epcot and Animal Kingdom, too. They've never come across as genuine, or warm, and they downright scowl and don't make much eye contact with the cast members running the show -- I've got a seventh sense for corporate culture/workplace dynamics, and I'm telling you my Spidey Sense is tingling, there's something twisted going on.

The parade was great, as usual, though we had one of the weaker audience participation segments stop in front of us, can't even remember now which one it was... my favorite are the chimney sweeps for Mary Poppins and Capt. Hook's pirates. Miles is still not interested in leaving my side to go out in the street on his own, maybe this summer he'll be ready to do it.

After the parade, we really needed to leave and meet our Tiffany Towncar driver, who had arranged to be at the Animal Kingdom Lodge at 4:15 p.m. But I couldn't leave! I swear, I just couldn't... and I took everyone into the Hall of Presidents for one last hurrah. Well, there are a lot of presidents, plus the wait time before the show started, and then when we got to the bus stop, an Animal Kingdom Lodge bus pulled away as we were running to catch it, result, we got to the AKL at 4:35 p.m., and no Tiffany Towncar.

I told the valet parking desk guy that I guess we needed a taxi since we'd missed our towncar, and he said that they guy had JUST pulled away, and he quick got on the phone and called Tiffany and had them send him back. He really must have not been far away, because he was back in under two minutes, and man was he irritated. He stayed irritated, and again would do nothing to help us get our bags in or out of the car, but I gave him a $20 tip anyway and was just as pleasant to him as I could be. I really did owe him the courtesy after my discourteous behavior, but in the future I can't wait to make my trips by private car and avoid all this business altogether.

Flight home was uneventful, we were at the airport way earlier than was really necessary, again, and we spent the time eating nuggets and Sbarro, then Miles and I had an excellent game of hide and seek among a collection of benches and giant cement planters. On the plane, the girls did not volunteer or attempt in any way to sit next to Miles, just as I predicted. Everyone was just tired. Instead, a woman from India, who had been living in Orlando for 15 years and was going to visit a friend in Hammond, Louisiana, sat down with Miles and I and was very patient and friendly with him.

Back in New Orleans my husband came to pick us up in my van, we dropped the girls off at Krystal's family's house, where my other sister in law was waiting for Taylor, too, and then hubby got in his car and I got behind the wheel of my van, hubby and I followed each other half an hour north to the other side of Lake Pontchartrain and that was that, truly one of the best vacations I've ever been on in my life.

High Points

The kids
Animal Kingdom Lodge
The big phone call
Conservation Station
Beauty & the Beast stage show at the Studios
Jiko
Getting a backstage peek at the Haunted Mansion operations while collecting Morph
Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party parade
Helping Miles pin trade with cast members
Watching the kids meet characters, and Miles' getting into collecting autographs

Low Points

Miles growing up so quick
Being forced to sit in the rain on the Backstage Tour
The cold wet weather
Not getting to go to Blizzard Beach and shelling out another $100 for a theme park day
The blister on my left ankle
Not getting to take Miles up front on the monorail, again (tried every trip for two years, need to try harder I guess!)
Mara food court
Rides missing things or broken: Small World, Splash Mountain, Space Mountain, It's Tough to Be a Bug
Not being able to see half the show at Playhouse Disney Live on Stage because it's set up badly

Thanks for reading!

Amanda Parr

GinnyFavers@aol.com


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