Gary Rosenbalm -- June 2002 -- Walt Disney World (WL)
6/29/02 through 7/3/02
C and I flew into Orlando International at 2:30pm. Long flight due to a layover, but smooth. The rest of the gang left the day before from Ohio, stayed the night in south Georgia, and then drove to Daytona Beach in the AM. My nephew, LD, had never seen the ocean before and was blown away according to my sister, LA. Little did he know that he would be getting that feeling several times over the next few days! In a bit of perfect timing, I called when we landed and the gang was almost to the airport to pick us up. We grabbed our bags and met them at passenger pick up level.
Both nephews were napping. I saw EV for the first time since he was born and that was the point when the magic began for me...and it never left the whole time. Everyone filled us in on their trip down. EV woke up and was bright eyed due to two new passengers that weren't there before he fell asleep. We hit International Drive and everyone's adrenaline levels shot up. LD was still napping ; )
We passed ToT, Swan and Dolphin, and the current billboards (all of which my sister and her family had never seen). Mom had just visited the MK a few months prior for a day but must have been napping since she isn't recognize any of it. We turned onto our street and under the very large Wilderness Lodge entry. None of the party had every stayed here, including myself, and the pictures I'd seen did not do it justice in size and beauty.
Check in: We checked in with cast member Don who was very pleasant and helpful. I was a little frustrated due to a VERY slow check in process, but it did seem to work out to our benefit. We were informed that there were two rooms available for us, but Don wanted to let us know about the concierge level that was also available. I found this a little odd, but this was my first stay at a deluxe resort and up selling may be standard practice?? We had already gotten a great room rate of $199 (including tax), so we were not really interested in spending more. Don informed us of the concierge amenities and said that the price would be an additional $45/night. Politely, C said we might be interested if it was cheaper but were really more interested in getting to our room and getting to the parks. Don said he would be right back if we could hold a minute. That minute turned into many, but he eventually returned with a new price of $30/night extra per room. We had never heard of negotiation at any Disney hotel. In shock, and because it was a deal, we took it. Check in ended up being at least 20 minutes if not more, but I think it was worth it. (Note: the line seemed to be going very fast for the rest of the guest, so I'm sure this isn't the norm and should not reflect the whole staff efficiency. Also, when your room states courtyard view, that doesn't mean you will be facing the pool area. You could be facing the quiet pool as well as other areas, so don't assume. We ended up with both views between the two rooms).
We dropped everything off and freshened up. The rooms were clean and seemed about the same size as the Dolphin rooms that we stayed in January. We headed down the hall to take advantage of the food out for the concierge level. Here are the offerings and times for our stay:
Continental Breakfast 7am to 10 am
Refreshments 11:30am to 3pm
Afternoon Tea 3pm to 4:30pm
Wine and Cheese 5pm to 7pm
Cordials and Desserts 8pm to 10pm
It rained while all of this went on, but stopped just as we were buying our tickets from the concierge. We purchased 4 day park hoppers. Although we didn't get a full day today, that didn't matter to anyone. We were all too excited!
Our first park was the Magic Kingdom. We walked down the dock and a water shuttle was just arriving. We had to stop at the Ft Wilderness dock before heading over (the direction of the loop seemed to vary greatly during the trip). LD kept asking when we were getting to Disney World since he couldn't grasp the fact that we were already there. We pulled around the Contemporary and I pointed out his version of Disney World on the horizon. He was so excited to see it.
Security check was very efficient and we were soon walking through the tunnel to Main St. We didn't take the obligatory picture in front of the Mickey flower arrangement due to the fact it was still sprinkling a bit and everyone had their ponchos on. LD kept running into things while staring at the castle. We checked the ride board and the wait times were not bad at all except for the one ride he wanted to ride...Buzz. We headed toward the Haunted Mansion and up to IASW. This was LD and EV's first ride at WDW and they loved it. In fact, LD wanted to ride again, but I told him there were all kinds of new rides. When we got out, the rain had stopped completely and it was pleasant. Next stop, the HM .LD was a little frightened in the stretching room. I was a little angry since a lot of the younger crowd was talking very loudly and we couldn't hear the "ghost host" at all. They all screamed loudly when the lights went out (seems to be customary now a days) which scared LD badly. I began to think I had made a horrible judgment call bringing him on this, but, once we were in our doombuggy, he was better. He said he liked it on our way out, but he wasn't very enthusiastic. I think the people scared him more than the ride experience. C and I showed them the bride's ring in the ground and told them the story. Everyone seemed to enjoy the Disney trivia we threw out periodically.
Then, which kind of floored me after that experience, LD wanted to ride a roller coaster. He was too small for SM, so we headed to BTMRR. Mom stayed out and fed EV (she isn't a roller coaster gal even at Disney). Everyone else rode. A mother asked C if he would ride with one of her sons since neither wanted to ride alone. Seems as though there were a lot of "first timers" that day. C said no problem and made some new friends. LD was overly excited on this one. Some parts got a little rough for him, but all in all he enjoyed his first mine train ride. C and LD were getting hungry so we headed over to Pecos Bill's and had dinner. Everyone said their food was good. LA said she was surprised that park food had flavor ; )
It was about 8:50pm and Spectromagic would be getting to that part of Frontierland around 9:25pm. We walked down towards Adventureland and road PotC. Everyone enjoyed it. (Note: EV road everything we could get him on and was never fussy except for ITTBaB over at AK:day 2). We walked down further and LD, LA, Mom and I road Aladdin's Magic Carpets. LD didn't want to go "high" at first, but then liked that he could control the carpet. Mom commented that she enjoyed one fish two fish over at IOA and that they should have done something similar with more spitting camels...lol. We took the cut-through to Frontierland and caught the beginning of Spectro perfectly afterwards. Logan really wanted to see Mickey and was very happy to see him at the beginning of the parade. He was on my shoulders, so I couldn't see him, but LA said his jaw dropped and hung there almost the whole time. Near the end of the parade, he was getting tired and sleepy, so we headed back to the hotel. Although we didn't ride a lot, I was really happy that the first day was just as magical as I thought it would be.
We were all looking for a snack when we returned, so we went down to Roaring Forks to grab a late
Day 2: AK and MGM.
We woke at 6:30 and had continental breakfast on our floor. I went down to our hotel store and bought LD an autograph book. We arrived at the bus stop at 8:15. Posted times for the park busses are 30 minutes prior to posted park opening, but we found they did arrive earlier. LA couldn't find the sun block and my brother-in-law, ER, went back up to the room. We caught the 8:30 bus.
NOTE: Honestly, I was dreading the bus system due to prior experience using it, but, as you'll see, I was surprised how smooth it ended up being.
I had read that the busses also stopped at the Polynesian and Grand Floridian from our hotel, but we only made a stop at Ft. Wilderness. After a pickup there and a drop off at BB, we arrived at AK at 8:55. We checked the bags and stroller and headed in. Everyone commented on how pretty this park was from the entrance (no one had been to this park except for C and I). We headed up the left side of the Oasis and straight to Kilimanjaro Safaris in Africa with no wait. JAMBO EVERYONE!! Lots of animals were out and about. Everyone was really impressed with how close the animals were or appeared to be. The giraffes were reach out and touchable they were so close. This was a definite highlight of the trip according to everyone. ER was especially impressed with the concrete work since he does that for a living. ; )
We walked over and through Asia. No one wanted to get wet this early in the day, even though it was already starting to bake, so we passed on Kali. We passed Devine and watched her for awhile...amazing. Mom saw a pair of light blue Minnie sunglasses with rhinestones she liked and bought them. Login wanted to see the dinos, so we went over to Dinoland USA. We rode Triceratops Spin. I know lots of folks are disappointed in the addition of these rides instead of something more thrilling, but we all really enjoyed riding them with LD. One of the few disappointments of the trip was the fact that Primeval Whirl was not operating. C and I really wanted to try it out since it wasn't open back in January when we were here last. We took a ride on Dinosaur and did our first baby swap with EV. I was really surprised that LD didn't get frightened on this one. He really liked it. We then headed to ITTBaB. This frightened EV, so LA took him outside in consideration of the rest of the guests (something you don't normally see from people who feel they have to get their moneys worth). LD was a little frightened, but seemed to like it. Everyone else really enjoyed it. Mom really jumped at the end when all the bugs seem to leave before us...very funny. The heat was getting to everyone and the spray fans weren't cutting it. We agreed to see Festival of the Lion King and then head back to the WL. I had never seen the show and thought it was really well done. LD was dancin' in the aisles. We didn't get to see many of the animal trail exhibits, ironically, but the gang agreed that would be a reason to definitely come back next time.
We headed out and just in time as the black clouds rolled in. We headed back for lunch at the hotel and naptime for the boys. After the rain let up and the sun came back out, we caught the bus over to MGM. This also stopped at Ft Wilderness, but was a much quicker route. The driver said the MGM and Epcot busses were allowed to use these alternative routes. The ride was very short. LD saw the giant Stitch out front. He hasn't gotten to see the film yet, but knows who Stitch is.
Note: Stitch can be seen in several areas in the park. Not as hard to find as hidden Mickey's, but fun. Check him out on New York St.
We went to the GMR first and this turned out to be another incredible trip highlight. LD's favorite movie is the Wizard of Oz. No one but C and I had been to this park as well, so all these experience were new for everyone. Everyone liked the ride in general, but when we pulled into munchkinland on the yellow brick road, I thought LD was going to combust due to his excitement. And when the wicked witch came out, the look on his face was priceless. I would love to have a video of that moment. When we pulled out into the next segment, he was still looking back watching it disappear.
We headed down sunset next after getting some popcorn for C and LD. Everyone took a drop on ToT except for EV of course. Our pictures were great, so we bought both. The pics are pricey, but great memories. Next was RnRC. Mom hung out with the boys while the rest of us rode. LD wanted a spinning light up Buzz toy, so I went and got one for him. LA says he still carries it around with him at home now. LA and ER agreed RnRC was their favorite ride in all four parks. 5 minutes until the 9pm showing of Fantasmic, so we decided to catch the later one. We went to Muppetvision, which was a crowd pleaser and then went in search of food. Nothing was open except for Rosie's All-American Cafe on Sunset due to how late it was. After eating, some of the group were really tired. Mom, LA and I stayed for the 10:30 Fantasmic and everyone else headed back. Mom and LA really enjoyed the show and we agreed we should have tried to get to the 9pm show so LD could have seen it. Quick bus ride back and we hung out for a little while at the pool before heading to bed.
Day 3: Magic Kingdom, C's Birthday.
After breakfast, we caught the shuttle over to the MK. We stopped at city hall to get a birthday pin for C and a pressed pennies list for LD (who I found out has quite a collection from other places). We headed straight to Fantasyland to knock out some of the dark rides before lines got really bad. We rode the carousel first
I think the smile says it all. We then rode Peter Pan. My Mom, for some unknown reason, has never ridden it. All agreed this was their favorite dark ride in Fantasyland. LD didn't show an interest in Dumbo or Snow White, so we rode Pooh. We all fit in the honey pot. I think that the ride vehicle capacity is a nice touch for a dark ride. LA's favorite ride is the teacups, so she, LD and I took a spin. LD wanted to go faster and faster, but LA and I felt it was fast enough. We hopped in line for the Indy Speedway while Mom, C and EV went to the Bakery on Main St. Our car (LA and I) was very slow. It would be great if they got an upgrade like the one Chevron sponsored at Disneyland.
We went to Tommorowland and picked up our first fastpass of the trip for Buzz. Next was lunchtime. We stopped at Starlight café for lunch and then went to Toontown so LD could finally meet Mickey. Waited about 15 minutes to meet the Mouse and got some great pics as well as an autograph for LD's book. We were about to leave and Mickey motioned that he wanted to hold EV. LA handed him over and we got some more pics. I state it again below, but I was really impressed with the characters. They really were great with the kids! We headed back over to Tommorowland for Buzz and this turned out to be another top ride for the gang. When finished, the blazing heat was upon us again as well as the tons of people who were beginning to flock in for the 4th of July holiday. We took a spin on the peoplemover and then everyone headed back to the WL except for C and I. We picked up a fastpass for Splash Mountain and went shopping for a while. We picked up some pressed pennies and checked out the latest Christmas offerings at Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe in Liberty Square. Before our fastpass time arrived, the clouds rolled in like clockwork and we decided to head back too.
After the standard nap/pool time, and after the rain, everyone dressed up for dinner. Some friends of the family, who were at Universal for two days, arrived to join up with us. The whole party of 12 caught the shuttle to the Contemporary for C's birthday dinner at the California Grille. Dinner was fabulous, as always, and the views were amazing. Only C and I had eaten there before and everyone agreed, including a friend who is a Chef, it was fantastic. We arrived when it was light and left after dusk when all the lights in the MK were on. Another highlight. After dinner, we went back to the hotel to change and then met at the WL marina at 9:15 for a birthday/fireworks/champagne cruise. The boat was all decked out with balloons and banners. The weather was perfect and we were ready to go.
Now, I would tell everyone who books something like this to check and double check your reservation for accuracy, but I did that and it was still wrong. I even had the concierge check earlier that day and verify and they said everything was in order. What was wrong? Well, we were told that there would be beer, wine and champagne on the boat for $12.50/adult who wanted alcoholic beverages. The only thing available though was champagne. The unfortunate thing was that there was only one champagne drinker on the boat. Did that hamper our time?? Absolutely not. (I'll explain what the bad part of this was below) Our Captain's name was Charlie and he was great. He apologized for the mix up and we were on our way. We cruised for awhile, caught the water pageant, and then headed over to the MK. We parked out front and watched the fireworks while eating birthday cake. Charlie was very informative and fun. We then headed back to the lodge and some of the adults headed to the bar for a cocktail before bed.
NOTE: The reason I was not happy about the mix up was that when we returned, the supervisor came out and had me sign for the cruise and the charged us the full price for the alcohol (over $100) even though only one person had a drink. He said he needed my signature and that we could clear this up tomorrow. I reluctantly signed. I had the concierge work this for me the next day, but by the end of the day, it was still not resolved. I spoke to the hotel manager that night since there was no one in recreation to talk to at that time and, even though the cruise was not billed to our hotel bill, the manager took $100 off our hotel bill since we were leaving the next day. Now that is service!!!! I have the manager's name written down and will send a thank you for the help. I was very impressed with the professionalism and the willingness to clear this matter up for us. Tot his day, over two weeks, I never received a call back from the Recreation manager. I left him a message on his voicemail with my home number.
The next day, we had Epcot scheduled for the morning, but everyone agreed that we wanted to take it easy and sleep in, swim, etc. Around 2pm, we got ready and headed to EPCOT. We took the shuttle to the contemporary and then caught the monorail (which LD had been wanting to ride since day one). We were able to ride up front and were given a co-pilots licenses, which I thought was a nice touch. We caught the monorail to EPCOT from the transportation center and was there in no time. LD was shocked at the size of spaceship earth. We went to test track first. LD and ER really wanted to ride this. LD actually was frightened on this one. This surprised me again since he had ridden ToT and Dinosaur with no problem. We walked across to Imagination after stopping at ice station cool for a soda.
My take on the new Imagination (possible spoilers): Imagination has greatly improved with the latest rehab, but still doesn't compare to the original. I felt the "rooms" seemed like big voids due to the black walls/ceiling/floor and lack of things to look at. The eye chart room was a waste of space and, I don't know if everyone else noticed it, the whole ride now smells like a certain unpleasant animal. I guess they can't contain that odor to the smell room. The ending was cool, but quickly lost it's magic when you notice all the figments are stationary (would have been cool to have a couple at least move their mouths to the song...small world children even move their mouths). Reintroducing the song and having figment appear all over has made it more enjoyable, but still not at the level that would make me want to visit the attraction again any time soon. Sorry if I sound too negative. I would just have thought after two rehabs, they would have put something together that was a knockout.
A rainstorm hit (as usual), we covered ourselves and visited the living seas. LD kind of liked it since he enjoys aquariums, but I think the loss of the small peoplemover from sea base alpha lost some of the magic of the attraction. Everyone else thought it was just ok. We then made our move to the countries which my sister and Mother we anxious to visit. Took a boat ride on El Rio Del Tiempo and did some shopping. The Maelstrom was down due to technical difficulties in Norway. The boats were running, but they said it may not open back up that day. That was a disappointment. We made our way over to Alfredo's for dinner (which our concierge was able to get us into at the last minute due to our lack of planning). Everyone agreed that dinner was ok, but not great. I felt this the last time I had eaten there, but that is where everyone wanted to go. I think we are going to try Teppanyaki in Japan next time.
We finished the countries after dinner. We had planned to ride Universe of Energy, but everyone was losing steam. So, we took a ride on spaceship earth and headed out. Luckily it was dark enough to see the fiberoptic walkways. Everyone thought that was a nice and very cool detail. Everyone decided to pass on Illuminations. I've seen the show several times and think it is great, but I think everyone was starting to experience overload. The next bus was within minutes and we were the first drop off on the way back. I must have gotten caught in a swarm of mosquitoes, because I noticed a ton of bites when we got back...yikes. We spent that evening relaxing and discussing what a great trip it had been. Everyone crashed relatively early that night after packing.
The next morning we all got ready and drove the van over to the Polynesian for the Ohana character breakfast. We tried to get Chef Mickey's, since Artist's Point stopped their character breakfast, but it was sold out (even though I called 90 days before we left). I really enjoyed Ohana. I had never stayed at the Poly, but would definitely consider it in the future. The characters were very interactive and hung out with us quite a bit. LD was shy around Chip and Dale, so they tormented him. All the characters loved EV...he is such a great baby! LD lit up like a Christmas tree when Mickey came over and didn't want him to leave. He was a little shy around Goofy too, but Goofy wouldn't stand for it and he picked LD right up out of his chair. LD was cracking up.
The characters really made an impression on him. They really make an effort to care about the kids. The food was good and the friendship pineapple pastry was a nice touch. Well worth it!
We took a stroll around the hotel and took in the view around the lake. LD pointed out the castle through the trees. We headed back to the hotel and packed up the van. We did a little more shopping in the hotel souvenir shop and then said our goodbyes to the WL. The gang dropped C and I off at the airport and began their trip north to O-HI-O. Our flight back was a little long due to a delay while on the tarmac in Minneapolis, but we got home only about an hour later than we were supposed to. The trip was a success!
I have a great time every time I visit the parks, but this was one of the most enjoyable trips I've had. There really isn't anything like experiencing the parks through the eyes of a child. I read all the articles concerning young children before leaving and realized that my picture perfect vacation may not turn out to be so due to their ages. Yes, we did not hang out at the parks all day like I usually do, but I can't stress enough how beneficial it is to take it easy and be flexible with children. We encountered zero meltdowns and had a fantastic time.
The Wilderness lodge has become my new favorite resort.
I don't believe I've ever had a bad experience at any of the Disney resorts I've stayed at so far, but this was the best of the bunch. Rooms are pretty comparable to the other resorts, even on the concierge level, but the atmosphere is really incredible. I thought, living in Colorado and seeing this type of resort all over the mountains, I wouldn't feel like I was really "getting away from it all", but I did.
I realize there have been some readers who wrote in about the bad state of the parks, but I thought the parks were in great shape. I can't say enough good things about the cast members either. They have been through so much the past year with layoffs and the attacks and I found them to be courteous, friendly, helpful, and many went out of their way to make our trip a memorable one. Thank you to them!!!
And for those who feel the magic is gone... that is ridiculous and I'll let you know why. Everyone feels that Disney is responsible for supplying us with an overabundance of magic because we paid our $50 dollars. That is a feeling that can ruin your whole vacation and should be left at the entrance gates. Here is my take on it. We know Disney is all about magic, but the magic itself isn't only in the show that Disney provides. I believe some of the magic is in us and Disney is the vehicle that allows us to feel it. I now that sounds silly, but I believe it. Disney isn't more magical to me just because they have added a new great ride. If Disney was to never add another ride again (which of course I don't want to ever happen), I would still feel the same magic as I do today through the memories and experiences Disney has given me. The Great Movie ride is still the same ride I've ridden several times since the park opened in the 80's, but it just jumped up notch with the memories I've gotten to create with LD and the Wizard of Oz sequence...I'll never forget his expressions. The ToT, although with new drop sequences, is still the same ride, but I'll never forget riding it with my Mom (who is deathly afraid of heights) and her feeling of accomplishment and enjoyment when it was over. I'll remember revisiting old favorites with my sister that we hadn't ridden together in over 10 years and hanging out with my new Nephew and my brother in law for the first time in WDW. I'll always remember eating cake and watching fireworks from C's Bday cruise while hanging out with friends and family on Bay Lake. Some may argue it was just a pontoon and just fireworks, but it was so much more.
Just something to ponder the next time you visit....