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Erika Pribanic-Smith -- November 2002 -- Walt Disney World (PORFQ)


  • Who:
    • Erika (28) - Newspaper reporter and huge Disney fan (especially of Winnie the Pooh)
    • Jason (27) - Web developer and relatively big Disney fan (especially Eeyore)
  • When: Nov. 24-30, 2002
  • Accommodations: Port Orleans French Quarter
  • Transportation: Plane to Orlando, Tiffany Towncar as airport transportation, MEARS shuttle to and from Universal Studios
  • Disney Experience: Erika's only trip to Walt Disney World was for a school trip 10 years ago, and she only visited the Magic Kingdom then. Jason had been to WDW four times: twice as a child and twice in college (6-7 years ago). He had been to every WDW park except Animal Kingdom

Jason and I wanted to visit Walt Disney World on our honeymoon two years ago but were so tapped out from paying for the wedding, that dream was put off for a while. After receiving a large tax return in January 2002, we decided now was the time. We booked a Disney Magic package through Expedia.com in March, and I started the task of planning the trip.

We selected Thanksgiving week because Jason had started a new job in October 2001 and would not have vacation time until November, and as a vegetarian I wanted to get away from the traditional Turkey Day hubbub at home. My husband the southerner also thought it would be nice to get away from the impending Cleveland winter.

We have no children and are both slightly kid-phobic but at the same time are both children at heart. To plan a trip that would appease our inner children and be a romantic rendezvous for us, I consulted several Web sites and the following guidebooks: Steven M. Barrett's Hassle Free Walt Disney World Vacation, Birnbaum's Walt Disney World Without Kids, and (my personal favorite) Rick and Gayle Perlmutter's Walt Disney World for Couples.

Sunday, Nov. 24

Snow began in Cleveland a couple days before our trip. It was only 30 degrees when my parents picked us up at 6:30 a.m. Nov. 24. When we landed in sunny Orlando seven hours later, local temperature was 72. While we waited for our towncar, we marveled at the temperature and the palm trees.

We chose Tiffany Towncars as our airport transportation for a couple reasons. I read that taking a shuttle might mean sharing a ride with other travelers and extending the length of the trip between airport and resort. I also read that having a private towncar or limousine was the most romantic mode of transport. That was my aim, so Tiffany it was.

Mauro, our driver, was incredibly nice and helpful, and the towncar seemed luxurious with its comfortable, spacious seats. I was pleased with my choice, especially after experiencing MEARS Shuttle for a trip to Universal a few days later.

Port Orleans French Quarter was the obvious choice for our resort. I am a New Orleans nut and in fact incorporated several New Orleans-esque aspects into our WDW trip. I was immediately impressed when we arrived Sunday afternoon. The buildings did in fact look just like those in the French Quarter, and the Mardi Gras decorations throughout the main building were festive.

The place was beautiful done up for the winter holidays, with garland, ribbon, wreaths and lights on the balconies and lamp posts. The holiday tunes coming from the player piano in Scat Cat's lounge, adjacent to both the main lobby and Sassagoula Floatworks food court, was a nice touch.

Our room was spacious and comfortable and overlooked an immense courtyard with a fountain. We were close to the pool and boat launch to Downtown Disney, and not too far from the main building and bus stop.

My only regret is that I did not request a riverview room. As we took the launch to Downtown Disney each night, I was jealous of those who were able to sit on their balconies and look out over the Sassagoula.

After settling into our room and freshening up, we made our way to Downtown Disney. By then it was about 4 p.m. and we had not eaten since 9 a.m.

The boat docked right outside Rainforest Café, which was our first destination. We had been told the wait there could be hours, but we went at a good time. It was busy, but we were seated quickly.

An aquariast myself, I was thrilled to be seated right next to an aquarium for dinner. All of the surroundings were mesmerizing, from the animatronic animals to the soothing, steady rainfall. Even the occasional "thunderstorm" was fun. But, we spent most of our time at the restaurant watching the fish swim about and chase each other.

Jason ordered the Jambalaya, which he said he enjoyed. I had a salad and the plant sandwich, which was huge but tasty.

After dinner, we were off for a couple hours of shopping in Disney Marketplace. We shopped at the Christmas store, Disney at Home, Pooh Corner, Once Upon a Toy, Lego, and the huge Disney store before time came to head on to DisneyQuest on the West Side.

DisneyQuest was more my husband the gamer's forte than mine, but I enjoyed what time we spent there. We covered the entire first floor, starting with Aladdin's Magic Carpet Ride. We both would have enjoyed Aladdin's Carpet and Virtual Jungle Cruise more if we had been better at them, but they were fun nonetheless.

Our least favorite attraction that day was Treasure of the Incas, which we found too confusing to enjoy. Our favorite was Pirates of the Caribbean, which we were most successful at. The highlight for Jason was the old-time arcade games. He spent the remaining time there split between Frogger and Q-bert.

We had planned to close down the place and then head to Pleasure Island, but by 10 p.m. we were too exhausted to continue. We headed back to the resort to rest up for our first full day of Disney fun.

Monday, Nov. 25

We got up at 6 a.m. to take advantage of the 8 a.m. early entry at Animal Kingdom. The sweater I brought came in handy that morning, but the temperature grew balmy by mid-afternoon.

We had to wait only a few minutes for a bus and made only one stop (at one of the bus stops in Port Orleans Riverside) on the way to our first Disney park. We found a large crowd waiting at the turnstiles, but they seemed to disperse once we got into the Kingdom.

We walked quickly toward Africa but were sure to keep our eyes open for animals in the Oasis along the way. We also saw our first character - Minnie Mouse - just outside of Africa and quickly reverted to age 5.

Kilimanjaro Safari was a walk-on at that point. Even though it was early, most of the animals were up and about. The most exciting part for both of us was when a mother white rhino and her baby ran across the trail in front of our truck. The story the tour guide told (of poachers attacking resident elephants Big Red and Little Red) as we traveled was a minor diversion. Actually seeing the animals up close was the highlight for us.

Next, we took in the Pagani Forest Exploration Trail. There were relatively few people on the trail, so we were able to make it through fairly quickly and still spend some time at each animal area. Jason was most thrilled to see the meerkats, which he had never seen in person before. We lingered there for a little while.

By this time, it was after 9 a.m. and time to line up for the first Festival of the Lion King show of the day. Of all the shows we saw during our week stay at Walt Disney World, this one was our favorite. The costumes were beautiful, the stunts spectacular (we were most impressed by the fire spinner and the characters on stilts), and the songs well-done.

Unfortunately, we made the mistake of taking a bathroom break BEFORE exploring the character greeting area. There was no line for the characters when we went into the bathroom, but too long of a wait when we got out.

From Camp Minnie-Mickey, we headed to Dinoland. After snagging a fast-pass for Dinosaur, which had a 45-minute wait already, we explored Chester & Hester's Dinorama. As a whole, Dinorama was unimpressive. The games/prizes were sub-par, and the Triceratops Spin too childish. We did have fun on Primeval Whirl, especially since the guy who shared our car laughed the entire time.

By then, our time had arrived to ride Dinosaur. This ride was not as good as my dino-loving hubby expected. He said it was too bumpy, and he was disappointed that he didn't get to see that many dinosaurs. I found the premise to be interesting and the ride itself to be thrilling enough (even a little scary at the end).

Lunch time. Tusker House had a great deal where we could each get coupons for a bottled beverage and ice cream with our meals for only an extra $3 total. The food at Tusker House itself was tasty, although by now I was bored with vegetable sandwiches. Jason got the rotisserie chicken dinner with extra mashed potatoes, which he said was decent.

We enjoyed our ice cream right away, at a small stand across from Tusker House. Definitely the best part of the meal.

After a little shopping at Mombasa Marketplace, we traveled to Asia. Here is where the day got a little frustrating. The crowd had grown and the wait was too long for Kali River Rapids. The fast pass time was too near to park closing, since we planned to leave right after the parade to prepare for the evening out. We ended up skipping the ride and heading straight for the Maharaja Jungle Trek.

On the Jungle trail, Jason most liked seeing the bats (although they were sleeping) and the Komodo dragon. I was most impressed with the tigers. One was pacing on the other side of the window as we went by, and the Cast Member said she was doing so because she saw the "food" on the other side and wanted to get to it. We moved along a little faster then.

We took in the Flights of Wonder bird show on our way out of Asia. Bird fans, we both enjoyed the show, although it wasn't rated well in the guides I read before hand. Jason most liked the bird that slammed the plastic lizard like a WWE wrestler. I was most impressed with the huge hawk that flew over us, as well as the colorful tropical birds.

Our last stop of the day was Discovery Island. The wait was about 20 minutes for It's Tough to be a Bug, but we enjoyed wandering under the Tree of Life and pointing out all the different animals carved into it along the way. The bug show itself was entertaining and not nearly as bad as I (a bug-phobic) had feared. We had just enough time after the show to explore the Discovery Island Trail before the Jammin' Jungle Parade.

We sought out a spot only 20 minutes before the parade, on the bridge leading into Africa. The most memorable part of the parade for me was being tickled from behind by an alligator on stilts. We enjoyed all of the big animal marionettes as well as the characters that went by - particularly those from the Lion King.

We enjoyed the animals on the other side of the Oasis on the way back out. After a short wait, we were on our bus back to the resort to change for another evening Downtown Disney, this time entirely on the West Side.

We enjoyed dinner at Wolfgang Puck's Express. We both got pizza - Jason a barbecue chicken and myself four-cheese. We had a little time to shop before lining up for Cirque du Soleil. I made a great find at Starabilias: a Gone With The Wind premier program signed by Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh, flanked by two pictures from the movie. It was selling for a mere $4,000 (more than we paid for our whole trip). I passed on it but visited it every time I had the chance for the rest of the trip.

Jason and I both were a little surprised by La Nouba. Jason called it, "An acid trip without the acid." We enjoyed it, though. Most of the acts were impressive, particularly the small Asian girls with Chinese yo-yos and the trampoline folks. We were not impressed by the BMX bikers.

We ended the night at House of Blues Voodoo Garden. It was relaxing and romantic to sip our drinks, alone on the patio overlooking the water.

Tuesday, Nov. 26

We knew we were in for a heck of a day when we met a large crowd at the bus stop to the Magic Kingdom. We crammed the bus without any help from Riverside guests, and met another slew of guests at the main gate. Cast Members allowed us through the turnstiles at 8:30 a.m., but we weren't allowed onto Main Street until close to 9. So we got really cozy with some of our fellow park-goers.

The Good Morning show was cheery and fun, and a great welcome into Disney's most popular park. We didn't have a lot of time to look around as we entered the park and headed to Tomorrowland for our first ride of the day. We watched in amazement as people broke into a full sprint to Space Mountain. We took a slightly slower pace and had only a 10-minute wait once we got in line.

Space Mountain was not as exciting as either of us remembered, but we still enjoyed it. We were glad we didn't race for it, though.

From there, we made a beeline to Frontierland and found a far smaller crowd there. We walked right onto Splash Mountain, and immensely enjoyed the animatronic-accompanied trip. We also liked the big drop at the end, and managed not to get too wet.

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was next. We had a short wait, which we thought was definitely worth it. We mused afterward that we enjoy things differently now that we're older, noticing the little details (such as the cat on top of a cactus) along the way.

Liberty Square was our next stop. We stopped for coffee on our way to the Haunted Mansion, and took time to explore the mansion's merchandise cart while we finished it. Haunted Mansion turned out to be Jason's favorite attraction at MK, and one of mine. I was enthralled with the dancing ghosts. What a neat effect.

I was not as impressed with the Hall of Presidents. Although I am a history buff, I found the show itself boring. I did enjoy the display in the lobby, though. And we were both impressed with the quality of the animatronics.

Off to Fantasyland next, where we found the largest crowd of the day. We waited 20 minutes for It's a Small World (which was just as annoying as I remembered it), 10 for Snow White's Scary Adventure, and five for the Mad Tea Party (good spinning fun). Finding the waits to be way too long for anything else, we decided then was good time to head out for lunch.

We took the monorail to the Polynesian resort, where we hung out for a couple hours. We had a delicious lunch at Kona Café. I very much enjoyed my vegetarian Pan-Asian pasta, and Jason liked his barbecue pork sandwich. We didn't have room for desert but were sure to ogle the chocolate dragon sculpture on the way out.

After lunch, we wandered around the resort and took pictures. The Pacific island theming was terrific. We thought the pool, at the base of a water-spewing mountain, looked like fun. We also enjoyed the view of the Grand Floridian Resort and Cinderella's Castle from a swing on the beach.

We arrived back at the Magic Kingdom in time to grab a Fast Pass for the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh before the Share a Dream Come True parade. We grabbed a prime spot outside the castle and enjoyed the parade, which consisted of big "snow globes" (neat since I collect the small versions). The best part of the parade was my first Pooh and Friends sighting (the main reason I visited Disney World to begin with). I reverted to age 5 again.

Our Fast Pass for the Pooh ride wasn't until after 5, so we took some time in Tomorrowland in the mean time. First we took a spin on the Tomorrowland Indy Speedway. The line for this was long, and neither of us terribly enjoyed it.

Then we headed to Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin, and made a monumental mistake. We could have picked up a Fast Pass, since two hours had transpired since we grabbed the pass for Pooh, but the sign above the stand-by line said the wait was only 20 minutes. Although it looked longer and our instincts told us to avoid the stand-by line, we went ahead and waited...45 MINUTES. It definitely wasn't worth it to me, but Jason thought it was fun. His only complaint was that he couldn't really tell where he was shooting.

We walked right into ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter after that. Neither of us really liked it. Jason said it wasn't as scary as he expected; I thought it was just scary enough to not be fun.

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh was right up my alley. I thought the theming as we walked in was terrific, with all of the storybook pages. And it was neat to ride in a "honey pot." It was my favorite attraction at MK, and Jason said it was cute.

Once we finished Pooh, we had just enough time for a little shopping and a stroll through Cinderella's Castle before grabbing a spot for the SpectroMagic parade. Jason and I both remembered it as the Electric Light parade and were glad to see it again. We both thought it was neat to see everything in lights.

Jason also realized that it was the first time he really "saw" the castle since we'd been there. We really noticed that we were at the Magic Kingdom then, when the day was almost over.

As soon as the parade passed us by, we rushed to Adventureland for a nighttime ride on Jungle Cruise. It was pretty chilly by then, but the cruise still was enjoyable. We found the tour guide's corny humor amusing.

That was all of Adventureland we got to see. In fact, our biggest regret at the end of the day was that we were so busy trying to "DO" the attractions that we didn't spend much time exploring the lands and looking at everything.

We decided to make our way toward the entrance then and made it nearly to the gate before the Fantasy in the Sky Fireworks began. Although we were tired, we turned and watched the fireworks, which was neat to see over the castle.

The line for the bus was so long that we had to wait until the second bus came to catch a ride back to the resort. We decided to stick around the resort that night and check out the pool. We both liked how the dragon weaved around the pool, culminating in a waterslide out of its mouth. We knew the pool was heated - we could see the steam rising off of it. Since the air was chilly, the water felt good. Stepping back out didn't feel so great. Although there were plenty of kids in the pool, it appeared we were the only adults crazy enough to swim when it was just over 50 out.

Wednesday, Nov. 27

My husband, being a huge comic book fan, insisted that we visit Universal's Islands of Adventure while we were in the area. We hopped a MEARS Shuttle over to the Universal complex for the day.

MY ADVICE: If you're going to leave Disney property for a day, rent a car or splurge on a cab. MEARS left a bit to be desired. First of all, we had to opt for a 7:30 a.m. ride in order to get to IOA before its 9 a.m. opening. However, we were there well before 9 a.m. and felt like fools sitting there by ourselves. The shuttle itself was uncomfortable, and loud. At the end of the night, we had to wait 40 minutes for a shuttle back.

Other than our experience with the shuttle, we really enjoyed our day at Universal. Jason said Islands of Adventure was the best park we visited the entire trip.

We started off in Marvel Superhero Island, with the Amazing Adventures of Spiderman. We were able to walk right on when the park opened and were glad later, when the wait got to be in excess of an hour, that we had made it our first effort. It was definitely the best ride of our whole trip. It was a 3-D journey that was incredibly realistic.

We didn't have to wait long for the Incredible Hulk coaster, either. Being big coaster lovers, we both enjoyed that as well.

Our quick trip on Storm Force Acceleration was decent. It was your typical spinning ride. Jason said they could come up with a better X-Men ride.

We were both really disappointed in Dr. Doom's Fearfall. The set-up gets an A, but the ride itself was not the least bit thrilling.

We headed next to the Dueling Dragons in the Lost Continent. We were able to walk right on and ride the Fire side, then get right onto the Ice side. Both rides were exciting, particularly the near-collision between the two trains.

Next we took in Poseidon's Fury, which was a little disappointing. We did like the effects, including the tunnel made of water and the fight scene at the end. Other than that, it was not worth the 25-minute wait.

We spent some time in Suess Landing next, taking in the sights and grabbing a ride on the Caro-Seuss-el. Although the crowds never really got overwhelming, the lines were starting to get long at this point.

We decided to make a trip over to Toon Lagoon for lunch at Comic Strip Café. The food was average. Jason grabbed some chicken fingers and fries while I got a slice of veggie pizza.

Perusing Toon Lagoon was our next activity. We didn't ride anything there because we thought it was a little too chilly to get as wet as one does on Popeye and Bluto's Bilge Rat Barges and Dudley Do-Right's Ripsaw Falls. We did enjoy watching other people get wet, especially from the top of Me Ship, The Olive.

On to Jurassic Park, where we took an enjoyable ride on the Jurassic Park River Adventure. Jason still complained that he didn't see enough dinosaurs, but the premise of the ride was interesting and the ride itself fun.

We took a short tour through the Jurassic Park Discovery Center, which we weren't at all impressed with. The Triceratops Encounter was interesting. The baby triceratops did look real - so real that the woman in front of us really believed it was. The most fun part of the attraction was listening to her explain to her husband how the people at IOA created the dinosaurs out of DNA.

We traveled back through Lost Continent to catch the last show of the Eighth Voyage of Sinbad. We both found it to be a little too corny, although some of the effects were neat.

Back to Suess Landing for a ride on the Cat in the Hat (fun - much like Pooh and Snow White at Magic Kingdom). Then we made a quick trip back through Marvel Island for a little shopping and a few pictures, particularly of some of the characters as they came through on four-wheelers.

We ended the night with Whoville Whobilation, a short version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. The costumes and music were great, and being the last show of the night, we were treated to that day's Christmas tree lighting.

Overall, the theming at Islands of Adventure was amazing. The characters and architecture made it seem like we were really in a comic book or comic strip in Superhero Island and Toon Lagoon. Seuss Island visitors seem transported into the famous Seuss books, and it really feels like a visit to Jurassic Park. My favorite was the Lost Continent, with its bazaar-like shopping area and buildings erected to look like ruins.

After our day in the park, we headed out to CityWalk for a little shopping before our dinner at Emeril's Orlando. I'm a huge Emeril fan, so that definitely was my favorite meal of the trip. Jason very much enjoyed his gumbo and rib-eye. I had a terrific salad and delicious grilled and roasted vegetable plate. To end the dinner, Jason had caramel apple cheesecake and I had sweet potato cheesecake.

We were both so full we thought we could pop. But we couldn't leave CityWalk without a drink at Pat O'Briens. It looked just like the New Orleans original, which we love.

We made it back to French Quarter in time to catch the launch over to Downtown Disney to purchase some of the souvenirs we'd seen at Pooh Corner and the Disney Christmas store. My favorite: an old Animal Kingdom shirt with safari Pooh looking at a Bengal tiger with a magnifying glass and saying "Tigger, Is That You?"

Thursday, Nov. 28 (Thanksgiving)

This was the first time we really took advantage of the Sassagoula Floatworks Food Court, other than a quick snack or coffee. The breakfast selections were outstanding. Jason grabbed a King Creole platter loaded with eggs, potatoes, meat, and a biscuit. I had a fabulously light, fluffy, and cheesy omelet. And we split a platter of beignets - little donut-like pastries famous at Café du Monde in New Orleans.

We headed off to MGM Studios, which was packed from the time the gate opened. The wait at Rock 'n' Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith already was ridiculous, even though we headed straight there. We grabbed a Fast Pass and enjoyed the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror first. The theming in the "Hollywood Tower Hotel" is excellent, with cob-web-covered furniture and décor. The ride itself was great - the thrill we expected from Dr. Doom's Fearfall.

We still had time to take in Beauty and the Beast before our Fast Pass time ended. We found the show to be neat as far as set design, music, and costuming (although Jason didn't like Belle's voice). We did think it was too fast-paced and skipped too much of the story.

Jason loves Aerosmith, so he was excited about Rock 'n' Roller Coaster. He wasn't disappointed, and neither was I. The "pre-show" was a little goofy, but we enjoyed the ride. We both particularly liked the speed burst at the start.

We managed to escape the bulk of the crowds by heading next to Mickey Avenue. After grabbing a Fast Pass for Who Wants to be a Millionaire, we went on the Backlot Tour. Our tired feet thanked us for the 20-minute sit-down ride, and we enjoyed seeing artifacts from some of our favorite movies (namely Pearl Harbor and Star Wars). The movie villains exhibit as we exited was pretty neat, too. And I was pleased to find more Gone With The Wind stuff in the gift shop (for much less than $4,000).

We had a little time to kill before Millionaire, so we explored some of the other shops and took a few pictures. Millionaire itself was a good show. We used to like the Regis version when it first came out and enjoyed being able to actually play along. Jason even ended up in third place at the end, although he was disappointed he didn't get in the hot seat.

We love the Disney animated features so much that we own most of them on video (and I know them by heart). So The Magic of Disney Animation was really neat for us. We also like Robin Williams, who was funny as always in the pre-show. It was cool to be able to see work being done on an upcoming feature, the working title of which is Bears. That comes out in 2004. We also saw some stuff from "Down on the Farm," to come out in 2003, and learned in-depth how BEN from Treasure Planet was created.

By now it was nearly time for the Stars and Cars Parade, so we scrambled for a spot near the Great Movie Ride. We enjoyed the neat cars in the parade, particularly the one fashioned in the likeness of Genie from Aladdin. We also enjoyed seeing some of the "non-Disney" characters, such as those from Star Wars and the Muppets.

We rushed to the Great Movie Ride after the parade passed by and got right on. This ride is great for movie buffs like us. It was neat to be "in the middle" of the movies, such at the Wizard of Oz. And of course trying to name all of the movies shown in the montage at the end was fun.

We were surprised to find there was no wait for Star Tours, either. By this time it was about 3:30 p.m., so we figured the crowd had thinned out as folks headed to their Thanksgiving dinner destinations. The Star Tours ride was okay. The story was cute, although the jostling made me a little nauseous. Jason said it was pretty lame because, "it really has nothing to do with Star Wars." He did pick up some neat Star Wars Lego sets in the gift shop, though.

We had time for a little bit of shopping before our dinner at Hollywood & Vine. We were glad we had made a priority seating well in advance, as they were turning people away at the door.

The buffet at Hollywood & Vine was phenomenal. They had all of the traditional Thanksgiving foods, which Jason liked, but a lot of other stuff as well, which I enjoyed. We both raved about the root beer-glazed sweet potatoes, which I understand is a staple on their buffet.

Our next stop, also with a minimal wait, was Jim Henson's Muppet*Vision 4-D. I watched the Muppets religiously as a child, most often with my grandmother who passed away in January. I was a little teary going in, but the show was great. The effects were decent, and the story funny. I love those old men in the balcony (I used to be afraid of them when I was little). Jason said the show was one of the better 3-D shows we saw during our trip.

Following the advice I read several places, we caught the last Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular of the night. In the dark, the explosions and such really were spectacular. We really liked the opening scene, but found the rest of the show to be a little too technical. Jason said he was disappointed that there wasn't as much action as he anticipated.

Luckily, we were there for the Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights. We bought hot chocolate in an adorable souvenir mug and wandered through the display, which was just a hair shy of tacky. All the lights really were amazing. I liked the huge Mickey and Santa at the end. I think walking through that really made the day feel like Thanksgiving.

To end our time at MGM, we caught the second show of Fantasmic! We were amazed at how the scenes were projected on walls of water, and I was thrilled to see the scene from Pocahontas enacted. That was the most we saw of Pocahontas, one of my favorites, while at WDW (other than encountering Meeko at the Animal Kingdom).

We did a little more shopping on the way out to the boat launch. We rode the launch to the Swan resort for a little late-night miniature golf. The golf was one of the possible flex features available with our Disney Magic package, and we both love to play. Despite the chill, we managed a round on the tough course in Fantasia Gardens. It was almost like a professional course, with sand traps and water hazards. We both played fairly well, though.

We explored the Swan a little bit once Fantasia Gardens closed. I thought the Swan and Dolphin both were neat, with giant sculptures of their namesakes on the roof (which could be seen from both MGM and EPCOT). The swan fountains in the hotel also were nice.

From there we hopped a bus to Downtown Disney to catch the bus back to French Quarter. Despite what I had read about the hassle of traveling from resort to resort, it didn't really take that long.

Friday, Nov. 29

We decided to get up a little early to explore French Quarter's sister resort, Port Orleans Riverside, before heading out to EPCOT. We had seen a little of it stopping at the bus stops there, but I wanted to really check out the Old South plantation-style buildings of Magnolia Bend and snap a few photos.

After a stop at Colonel's Cotton Mill food court for coffee, we boarded the bus to EPCOT. There was a decent crowd on the bus, but we found the crowd at EPCOT itself to be a bit sparse.

Even still, we met with a 40-minute wait at Test Track and opted for the Fast Pass. While we waited for our time, we explored the Wonders of Life pavilion. Body Wars was okay - a little too jolting for me. We thought the Cranium Command show was cute, but could use a little updating. It looked about 15 years old.

Just an aside - the Mission: Space attraction due to open next year looks neat from the outside. We were a little bummed that it wasn't open for our trip.

Back to Test Track for a wild ride. Jason said it wasn't what he expected, except for the outdoor race track part. I thought it was a unique concept, and particularly enjoyed the fast outdoor portion.

Next we headed to the Imagination pavilion. We walked right in for Honey, I Shrunk the Audience, which was pretty entertaining. I am not a fan of the "Honey" movies, but I enjoyed the show here. The Journey Into Your Imagination ride was disappointing, even with the return of Figment the purple dinosaur. The most interesting part was when we were blasted with skunk smell.

By now World Showcase was opening, so we headed for the border and purchased an EPCOT Passport at Mexico. I would highly recommend this, even for adults. Although we had to track down passport stampers at Kidcot stations in each country, I found the passport to be a valuable souvenir. At each country, the passport was stamped with Mickey in native garb, and I received a personalized written greeting in the native language. It's a wonderful keepsake.

The countries themselves were fun to explore. We enjoyed absorbing the culture through entertainers, merchandise, architecture, and especially the "Christmas Around the World" plaques at the entrance to each nation.

We rode the boat rides in both Mexico and Norway and found both to be pleasant, although Mexico's El Rio del Tiempo was a bit too reminiscent of It's a Small World. Maelstrom was a bit more exciting. We were able to walk right onto El Rio del Tiempo, but had to grab a Fast Pass and explore Norway and China before riding Maelstrom.

We skipped the movies in Canada and China by choice, and in France because we didn't really have enough time. Time constraints also prevented us from seeing the show in American Adventure, which was a little disappointing.

Other than the first two countries (Mexico and Norway), we pretty much just walked around and looked at everything. We most enjoyed Morocco and France, because those were the pavilions we felt best exemplified the nations they represented.

Morocco was our country of choice for lunch. Several people I knew at home raved about Restaurant Marrakesh, so I made a priority seating there (although we didn't really need one). We were lucky enough to arrive shortly before a belly-dancing performance began. That and the accompanying music really added to the ambience. We enjoyed the food as well: myself the vegetable cous cous and Jason the lemon chicken.

As we wandered into the building across the street after lunch, we happened upon Genie from Aladdin, in a "storytelling room" with a cast member. We were the only ones there at first, although a crowd showed up shortly after us. We still were able to snap a picture.

World Showcase got so crowded in the early afternoon that even the lines to get the passport stamped were ridiculously long. We chose that time to wander back into Future World, and started our new adventure there with an ice cream while we watched the Fountain of Nations Water Ballet (impressive).

We took our time in the Living Seas, of course, and enjoyed seeing all the different aquatic life there. We liked seeing the manatees and dolphins, but were most impressed by the sheer volume of fish and other sea creatures.

We perused the Land pavilion quickly but didn't partake of any of the attractions there - they didn't really interest us. From there we headed to Spaceship Earth and were able to get in after only a short wait. We found the ride to be pleasant and fairly informative. I most enjoyed the videophone near the end, which was able to translate what kids in two different countries were saying into their native languages.

We took a quick trip through Innoventions to send electronic postcards to our families and sample Coca Cola products from around the world (beware of Italy's Beverly!!). Jason would have liked to have spent more time enjoying the games in Innoventions, but we had other plans for the evening.

We picked up our tour of World Showcase where we had left off, and found the crowds to have thinned substantially - probably due to dinner time. We caught the first Tapestry of Dreams parade of the night and found it neat at first. It got repetitive after a while.

After a quick bite at China's Lotus Blossom Café (we were impressed at the size of the portions for the price), we got in line for the evening's last Candlelight Processional - a holiday musical performance featuring the Voices of Liberty, a celebrity narrator (we got Edward James Olmos), orchestra and mass choir. The singing was beautiful and got us more into the holiday spirit. The only drawback was the cold.

We headed straight for the coffee cart after the show and sipped lattes while we waited for IllumiNations to begin. IllumiNations definitely was better than Spectacle in the Sky, with all of the different effects, but not quite as good as Fantasmic! All in all, we enjoyed it, and made friends with an older couple from New Hampshire.

Because it was our last night at Disney World, we made our way to Pleasure Island after EPCOT's closing. It was too late to do too much, although we managed to get to the two places we most wanted to - Adventurer's Club and Comedy Warehouse. The atmosphere in Adventurer's Club was really neat, like an old gentleman's club, and the bit we caught when we walked in was humorous. I also had the pleasure of riding one of the bar stools to the ground and back up again.

We didn't stay long at Adventurer's Club before it was nearly midnight. We grabbed a spot in line for the last Comedy Warehouse show of the night in time to see that night's "New Year's" celebration. The Comedy Warehouse show was pretty funny (although unfortunately we had seen Second City Cleveland not long before our Disney trip, and the improv in Pleasure Island was not quite as good).

Saturday, Nov. 30

Sadly, we had to check out of our room at French Quarter, which we had been calling "home" for nearly a week. We checked our bags into the luggage room and hopped the Disney bus one last time for the Magic Kingdom.

We had booked a Pooh and Friends character breakfast at Tony's Town Square, and it definitely was a highlight of the trip for me. The food was great, but we hardly were able to enjoy it as we waited for all the characters to come by our table. We were like giddy, impatient children looking around and counting down the tables before each character got to us. I was happiest to meet Pooh, Jason to meet Eeyore. Tigger visited us twice, and kissed me on the head the second time.

Fortunately, we had a little time to catch some of the attractions we had missed Tuesday. We started at Pirates of the Caribbean, which was a walk-on even at 10:15 a.m. Pirates is one of Jason's favorite Disney rides, and it only takes one bar of the "yo ho" song to get it stuck in his head. I thought the ride was just okay myself.

Lastly we took our trip on the flying pirate ship of Peter Pan's Flight. Jason remembered it being a little darker and scarier, but we both still found it fun.

We said good-bye to the Magic Kingdom and headed back to DisneyQuest to finish some of the attractions we hadn't done on our first day. Unfortunately, Ride the Comix was closed. Jason tried his hand at Mighty Duck's Pinball Slam (which he didn't do too well at), and we had a ball creating and riding our own roller coaster on Cyber Space Mountain (although our creation wasn't scary enough for our tastes). We finished the day with a little old-time video gaming - Jason on Donkey Kong Jr. and myself on Frogger.

When our time was up, we headed back to French Quarter to retrieve our bags and catch our Tiffany Towncar to the airport. (I don't know her name, but our return driver was just as great as Mauro.)

All in all, we really had a magical, dream vacation. Although the best-laid plans usually fall apart and high expectations typically are dashed, the trip was pretty much everything we wanted it to be. We're already talking about going back sometime in the not-so-distant future.

Erika Pribanic-Smith

erikap-s@juno.com


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