Steve Russo -- November 2002 -- Walt Disney World (BWR)
November 3-7 at the Boardwalk Villas Resort (BWVR).
The Russos and Goergens have taken a significant number of WDW trips - some separately, some together, some with some of the family, some with everyone - but always with the kids. In 2001, we had a trip for 12 (all the Russos and all the Goergens). This would be different - a shorter trip without the kids.
The credit for this "adults-only" trip goes primarily to Wayne. Somewhere back in March/April, during one of our Saturday night dinners together, Wayne posed the possibility of a trip for the Food and Wine Festival... without the kids. Now keeping in mind that the youngest "kid" is 17, this would still be the first trip for just the four of us. It made a lot of sense to Barb and me. In February, we purchased our first Annual Passes under the assumption that our next trip would be in January 2003 - giving us 2 trips on the APs. This would add a 3rd trip to the AP, bringing the cost down to about $0.11 per day (OK a little more than that but you get the idea). We secured some tentative dates for the Festival and selected November 3-7 for a number of reasons. It's Value Season (DVC) and staying Sunday to Thursday would allow us to avoid the more "expensive" Friday/Saturday night stays. We contacted DVC and secured the Boardwalk Villas - 2 studios with preferred view. Our choice was the standard view (fewer points) but none were available so we wait-listed it. Since joining DVC, Barb and I had only stayed in 2 BR Villas so this would be something of a let down - no Jacuzzi, no washer/dryer, etc. Ah, the things I put up with. Our only requests were for no-smoking rooms and that they are located somewhere near each other.
Now for the flights: Since the demise of USAirway's MetroJet service, they no longer offer a direct flight from Albany to Orlando. However, Southwest does. I started watching their website and, as soon as they were available, I booked four seats for $198 per person, round trip. After taxes and the newer security charges, it came to $227 per seat. We leave on 11/3 at 8:10 AM, arriving Orlando at 11:15. Our return on 11/7 leaves Orlando at 6:05 PM and arrives back in Albany at 8:40. Can anyone tell me why it takes 3:05 to fly south and only 2:35 to fly north? Did someone adjust the jet stream while I wasn't looking?
Sue mentioned the possibility of taking a "behind the scenes" tour - something we had never done. After some checking (thanks to wdwig.com and the great folks on RADP), we selected the Keys to the Kingdom tour at Magic Kingdom. It lasts 4-5 hours (perfect) and the cost was not exorbitant (around $49 each after a 20% DVC discount).
Sue made a PS for us at Alfredo's in Italy (Epcot) for Monday night. This would be the only advance reservation made. November is an interesting month for us - Barb will celebrate a milestone birthday (and I ain't saying which one - let's just say that 40 is now in the rear view mirror) and we'll also celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary. Sue had this in mind for this dinner (more later).
In late-September we receive a call that they now have a standard view room for us. Surprisingly, Sue and Wayne never get the change and wind up with the preferred view. It's an additional 25% more, in DVC points, and I have a hard time justifying it when we spend so little time actually in the room.
In October, I sent an email to Tiffany Town Car and reserved our ride. The last items were taking care of those we leave behind. Our son, Stephen, is the only one left at home (along with our Black Lab, Gunnar). Our oldest, Michelle (recently engaged, thank you), graciously offered to spend the week with him. Our other daughter, Stephanie, will be out of town on business but would also be stopping over and helping out. Together, they'd make sure my Dad was taken care of and that no one would go hungry.
Fast forward to the eve of the trip. I spend most of the day raking leaves (ah, autumn in NY). Barb does the grocery shopping and spends $6,000 making sure our offspring and my Dad won't have to worry about food until the next millennium. I set the alarm for 4:30 AM and drift off to sleep.
November 3, 2002 - Day One
I wake up at 2:15 AM. Don't ask why - it happens. I realize that returning to sleep is next to impossible but I lay there trying until 4:00 when I concede defeat and get up. Barb's right behind me. We let Gunnar out and - surprise, it snowed last night. Not a lot, but there was a trifle more than a dusting that covered the deck. Bring in Gunnar and ensure that he's fed while we inject caffeine, shower, dress, etc. I loaded our single suitcase into the car last night.
At 6:00 we wake Stephen and say goodbye, back the car out of the garage and head to the airport. I quickly notice that the road salt trucks have been out. Kind of unusual for an early season dusting. As I'm navigating the ramp that takes you from I-90 to I87, I begin to lose control of the car. Apparently, the roads are a bit icier than I thought and the bridges (like the one I'm on) are pretty slick. (Note to those that don't live in the colder climates - the bridges always freeze before the road surfaces). I pump the brakes and regain control and notice the Grand Cherokee nosed into the guardrail, damaged grill and bumper on the ground. Apparently, 4-wheel drive fares no better on slick roads. There was a police car there attending to the scene.
We park in the airport garage (making a mental note of P3) and hoof it to the terminal and down the escalator to the Southwest counter where - surprise - Sue and Wayne are waiting for us. This is a running thing - some people are always late. The four of us are always, I mean always, early. We get into a short line and check in. Southwest has changed their system a bit. Instead of a numbered boarding pass, they now give out A, B, and C which controls the sequence of boarding. It's about 6:35, we have an 8:05 flight, and we're given 'B' passes. What? They apparently allow check-in at the counter up to 4 hours before flight time. You mean some yahoo was actually here at 4:00 AM? Never mind.
Upstairs I buy a couple of newspapers while Wayne looks for sustenance in the way of McDonald's. Now about Southwest... I truly believe their "cattle call" system is not a bad idea. It does, however, foster this "me first" and "I gotta get mine" attitude in many people. People will get in line at the 'B" gate an hour before the flight; just so they can be the first in their section to board. I kind of understand it if you're traveling with a larger group and need to sit together but, I've found most people accommodating if you need them to slide over. It's also not usually a problem if you just need 2 or 3 seats together.
They pre-board the pre-boarders (families with a child 4 or under, handicapped, elderly), then the 'A' group. I scowl at them. They're getting my seats, filling up my space in the overhead bins and, for all I know, eating my roasted peanuts. As they board I can see them smirking in my direction.
Now the 'B' group. As I walk past, I make a point to smirk at the low-lifes in the 'C' line. Suckers! We snag a window-center near the wing with Sue and Wayne in the same setup across the aisle. As the 'C' group boards a family of 4 takes the 4 aisle seats in our quadrant. I have a little girl, around 8, next to me. Her Dad is across the aisle next to Wayne, mom and brother in the aisle seats, next row back. For a moment, I consider rearranging things to allow them to sit together but quickly realize there's no easy way to do this. They seem happy and the little girl spends most of the flight turning to talk to Mom while she kicks me in the leg.
The pilot informs us that our flying time is 2:35 and we should be landing early. So why is the scheduled time 3:05? I guess this answers the question about the shorter trip north.
We land at around 10:50 and it's warm (high 70s) and sunny. Take the tram to the main terminal and we meet Omar, our Tiffany driver, at baggage claim. He's polite, quiet, and efficient. He informs me that they're now parking even farther from the terminal so he's off to get the car and we should meet him outside at the last pickup station (I think it was A35). Our luggage comes off quickly and we have a 5 minute wait outside for Omar. It feels like 85 degrees and we're wishing we had worn shorts (although the trip to the airport in Albany would have been a bit chilly).
Omar brings us to a Publix for a 30-minute grocery stop (we only need 15) where we stock up on the essentials - beer, soda, wine, bagels, muffins, chips, and pretzels. Let's see - that takes care of the major food groups, doesn't it? We dropped the grand sum of $54 here.
Next stop, BWVR. I see purple road signs - I begin to smile. We hand our bags and groceries to Luggage Services. We pay Omar - $80 round trip minus the $5 internet coupon plus a $10 tip = $85. I'll save the other $10 tip for the return trip. I've heard you could get a different driver although, in my experience, that hasn't happened.
No line at the front desk so we check in and are informed the rooms are not yet ready. No surprise here. Wayne is also informed that he has a package waiting. He's told it's "bigger than a breadbox" so he asks to have it delivered to the room later - no sense carrying it around this afternoon. We spend a few minutes speculating on what it could be - a gift from DVC (where's mine?)?
Now it's off to Epcot and the Food and Wine Festival. Shortly before the trip, Sue and Wayne's son, Jeff, made some smart-ass comment about wiring bail money to the Disney Police because he was certain that the 4 of us would wind up drunk and disorderly at Epcot. Kids! They know nothing.
We make our way through the International Gateway (IG) bag check and turnstiles uneventfully - the APs still work. First stop is the UK where we head into the Rose and Crown for a beer to wash off the dust of the trip. Bass Ale for me with something lighter (Stella Artois) for the others - total $28. (Note - I did a very poor job of saving receipts and/or taking copious notes during our sojourns around Epcot. I have no recollection of the costs of the food, wine, beer, cognac, etc. except that most were in the $2-$4 range. It did seem, however, that a round of drinks was almost always $28 so I'll stick with that.) We moved to a table at the R&C and sipped while we watched the crowd pass by the windows.
Dust washed, we picked up and headed for Canada where we hit the Russia and Eastern Europe booth where Wayne and I had the Beef Stroganoff and the girls opted for the Moskowshaya Kusock (braised duck over cucumbers). Oh, and 4 Pilsner Urquells (total cost around $28). All was very good. I actually thought about attempting to rate each selection for this report. You know, 1-10 stars, or 2 aprons, or 3 spatulas...that kind of thing. In the end, I figured that was too much like work. I'll just tell you if we liked it or not. We sat on the benches by the Off Kilter stage while we noshed. I took a couple of photos and a kind gentleman offered to take a group shot for us. Four drunks, dressed for the Northeast, sucking beer, Stroganoff and duck in 85-degree weather. A great shot!
We strolled around World Showcase (WS) in a clockwise direction until Mexico where I spied... the Margarita stand. Let's have four (Strawberry for Wayne, Lime for the girls, and a Mango for me). (Another note - while it may seem like we're imbibing a prodigious amount of alcohol in a short time span, I assure you we are professionals. Don't try this at home). The 4 Margaritas cost about $28.
We spent some time touring the new building housing Andalucia, Spain. I agree with others that it does look permanent. We chatted for a bit with CM Bobby (an Air Force brat) who informed us it was indeed temporary. The entire building would be dismantled after the festival. He also said that the heavy crowd we were a part of was "mostly locals". On Monday, things would return to a lighter crowd - what the CMs termed "surface noise".
Wayne decided he didn't like his Strawberry Margarita and gave it to Sue who, somehow, had already finished hers. He used the opportunity to sample some Strudel and a Valkenberg Rhein Dry Riesling from Germany (around $28) and rated it very good. Continuing clockwise, we finally stopped at France where Sue and I sampled the Chocolate truffles. These are $1 and taste like heaven in a ball. OK, Sue and I are chocolate lovers and we're biased but these things get 4 stars, 10 aprons, 5 spatulas, and a couple of Veg-o-matics thrown in. We also bought 2 Remy Martin VSOP Cognacs which Wayne and I threw down (I told you - we're professionals).
We dined on the truffles and cognac on the benches toward the back right of France and chatted with a couple from Long Island. It was their last day and they shared some of their experiences and tips. It had become apparent that Sue had begun to get a bit of a "buzz" and Barb commented, "Jeff was right".
It was now about 3:00 and time to head back to BWVR to check on our rooms. We did this from the lobby phones and were told they were ready. We were in 4054 and the Goergens across the hall in 4055. The rooms were a short hop from the elevator (unlike our February trip where I needed to cover a 1/4 mile for each trip to the lobby). We went up and called for our luggage (5 minutes). BTW, the Goergens' preferred view looked out on the grassy area below the rear porch and the boardwalk beyond. Our standard view looked out on the Luna Park pool. We could see the Tower of Terror and Ear-ful Tower at MGM very well. IMO, that's a preferred view. Standard views are, supposedly, of the parking lot.
While we unpacked, Wayne went in search of his "package" They told him he'd have to get it at the convention center at the front of the BW. That was closed and a CM there sent him to the BW shop (I think the Screen Door). Anyway, after a bit of a chase, he secured it at the BW gift shop in the hotel. In the meantime, a package was delivered to our room. It seems that their son, Jeff, and his wife, Kelly, had sent us each a "care package". A very nice WDW canvas tote bag stocked with goodies (fruit, bottled water, Mickey pretzels, etc.). They included a nice note thanking me for doing their taxes and helping with the move into their new home. It was a very nice gift made even better when mine was delivered to the room while Wayne covered 17 miles in search of his.
We called home and talked to Stephen. I needed to find out what I had missed NFL-wise. We freshened up, changed into shorts and set off for dinner. I was hoping for a table at the ESPN club so I could catch some of my beloved NY Jets as they squared off against San Diego. The ESPN club had a line out the door earlier but was now fairly empty. We got a seat near the big screen just in time to se Santana Moss return a punt for a TD making it 14-0, Jets. Wow!
We get a mix of sandwiches (Roast Beef, Turkey Clubs) and soft drinks - coffee for Barb, iced tea for me, cokes for the Goergens. What? You were expecting beers? I said we were professionals - not idiots. By the time we finished eating (cost about $28) the Jets were up 31-7 and I felt comfortable enough to leave (they could still blow it but wound up winning 44-13). We head through the IG, past the UK and Canada resisting the urge for a beer, and into FutureWorld (FW). Test Track had a 1-hour wait and no FastPasses (FP) available so we opted for a ride through Spaceship Earth. Somehow this is usually our first ride of any trip. We then ride through the "new" Journey (something, something) Imagination. I can't keep up with the name changes but this is the new one with Figment brought back. I think it's better than the previous edition but still looks kind of thrown together. They should have done more with the "Sight" segment. We spend a few minutes in ImageWorks (is it still called that?) and head to Honey, I Shrunk the Audience (HISTA). This was, is, and will be one of my favorites. I enjoy the hokey, saccharine pre-show (Yes, I like True Colors and the photos are beautiful) and the Eric Idle corny humor. The 3-D film is great. I love to watch little kids (and some older ones) reaching out to touch things, screaming at the "mice", etc.
While walking through Epcot, this afternoon and evening, we were surprised and alarmed at the numbers of people that were lighting up and smoking - everywhere. Walking through WS, on the benches by Off Kilter, etc. Smoking areas are clearly marked in the parks and well noted on the guide maps. These folks are either ignorant, obnoxious or both. At one point, I stood next to a woman that was smoking on the promenade in front of Italy and loudly asked Wayne if there were any smoking stations around here. She ignored me.
We strolled back to WS and the America's Garden Theater. We were hoping to catch Little Anthony and the Imperials. We were allowed in and were seated and caught the Tapestry of Dreams parade while we waited. Little Anthony et al put on a good show. I was never a big fan but do like some of their tunes (Tears on My Pillow). We walked by during several more of their shows over the next few days and I really need to know where these guys buy their tuxedos. I've never even seen these colors before.
After the show, we wandered over to the bridge between France and the UK and staked out a spot for Illuminations - Reflections of Earth (IROE) by the back railing. The front side was 3-deep - a crowd I'm unfamiliar with during off-peak seasons. IROE was great, as always, but I always notice some differences from show to show. Tonight there seemed to be a few more fireworks but no flaming barge. Maybe someone forgot to order the propane.
After IROE, we strolled back to the BW and caught a few minutes of a guy juggling some fire. From there it was off to the rooms for relaxation and sleep. It had been a long day.
Things I Learned Today - When the roads are salted, be cautious on the bridges. Some people get up very early to get a Southwest 'A' boarding pass. Never "spend" for a preferred view at the BW. The Food and Wine Festival is pretty cool. There are a lot of smokers at Epcot that are ignoring the policy and smoking wherever they damn-well please. The Jets are still in the race.
November 4, 2002 - Day Two
The forecast is 85 and sunny. I'm awake at 3:30 - sleeping in after yesterday. My internal clock is really screwed up. I hang in bed until 5:00 then get up and put on a pot of coffee. One difference (of many) between the studio and 1BR / 2 BR is the size of the coffee makers. In the larger rooms, they're full sized (10-12 cups). In the studio, they're mini (4 cups). Barb and I are both coffee drinkers and these 4-cup pots only yield 1 1/2 cups each.
We're all ready early (surprise) and I suspect we're walking to MGM but am quickly overruled. It's Animal Kingdom today for early entry (or is it Extra Magic Hour now?). We trudge to the bus stops and catch a bus in less than 5 minutes. We're in line at AK at 7:45. In line with 75,000 other people. OK. That's a slight exaggeration. The gates open at 8:00 and in we go.
First stop is It's Tough to be a Bug. Another great show and great theming in the pre-show. The movie posters are really well done. During the show there's a young girl, maybe 15-16, behind us and she is screaming like a banshee. Feet pulled off the floor, curled into her seat and causing blood to run from my ears. She either really hates bugs or is a lot younger than she looks.
After ITTBAB we head to Dinosaur but are blocked with a rope and a CM. It seems Dinosaur is not part of early opening. We head for the Kilomanjaro Safari, which lists a 15-minute wait. We ride and see both lions (sleeping), rhinos, elephants, crocs, but no giraffes. I think it's cool that no two rides are ever the same.
Now it's tradition for the Safari to be followed by a late breakfast at the Tusker House. We scarf down breakfast sandwiches, croissants, juices and coffee (cost around $28). From there we head to Dinosaur and ride with about a 10-minute wait.
It's now time for the back-to-back shows. I'm not a big "show" person. I can enjoy them in small quantities spread over a period of time. Never back-to-back.
We hoof it to Tarzan Rocks about 15 minutes before show time. It's a good show if you like a rock band and roller skaters in the jungle. Seriously, there's some immense talent and choreography at work here. The girls do the appropriate amount of drooling over the stud that plays Tarzan. I can't understand it. I have twice the body he has (actually about 1.5 times) - I'm just a little differently proportioned. Anyway, I get my revenge by wolf whistling at Jane and trying to stuff dollar bills in her sarong (I stop at around $28 when Disney Security threatens to evict me).
After Tarzan, Barb informs me that we're heading to the Festival of the Lion King. What? Two shows back-to-back? This is sacrilege and I'm not sure if my back (3 surgeries) can stand being bleachered for this amount of time. We go, I enjoy it (again) and my back somehow survives. FotLK is a great show even if, like me, you've seen it before.
The park is very crowded and it's getting late (around noon) so it's time for what is always our last ride at AK - Kali River Rapids. We enter and partake of the great theming in the queue (15 minute wait). We ride with another family and we all get wet - except the "other" mom and dad who seem to catch about 3 medium sized drips on the entire ride. Is this fair? I spit on them as we leave.
Slightly wet but drying quickly we catch a Boardwalk bus. Actually, it's a Swan, Dolphin, Yacht Club, Beach Club, South Side of Chicago, Montreal, THEN Boardwalk bus. It's also my first ride on WDW's "new" buses. They're lower (easier access for the impaired) and have fewer seats and more standing room. So we stand. It's pushing 1:30 and I ask the question "If we have ice cream now will it ruin our appetites for tonight's dinner at Alfredo's?" What? Ice cream ruins dinner? Are you insane?
My thought was to get off at the Beach Club and hit Beaches and Cream. However, our first stop is the Swan and Barb has remembered the Dolphin Fountain - a 50s style burger and ice cream spot. Good call. Wayne does the Banana Split (it had a much more interesting title but I can't remember it), Sue has a small cone (Piker), and Barb and I each have a Sundae-Sundae. She has the hot fudge version over vanilla ice cream. Me? Let's see, 2 scoops? Let's make the first one chocolate. The second? How about chocolate? Sauce? Why not chocolate? See a pattern developing? (Total cost about $28).
We walk back to the Boardwalk and spend a couple of hours relaxing and refreshing before we head over to Epcot for our 5:30 PS at Alfredo's (actually it's something like L'Originale Alfredo di Roma but I hate typing long names). We stroll through Epcot arriving at about 5:25 and are seated immediately.
We meet our server, Luana, who's from Italy (except I've forgotten the name of the town).Over the course of the next several hours we learn that Luana will return to Italy in April, she may move to New York City and look for work there, she's looking for a boyfriend, and she'd like to go to a disco with us and party. OKaaaaaayyyyy.
Everyone agrees that they'd prefer wine rather than a pre-dinner cocktail. I peruse the wine list and realize that the majority of wines range from $60 - $420 per bottle. Now I know a little about wine (and I know I like wine) but, in my experience, I can't appreciate a $30 glass of your finest red. So I did something I never do - I ordered a bottle by price - choosing a hearty red about 4 notches up from the cheapest. I can not, for the life of me, remember the name (Monte Pulciano?). Anyway, it was certainly acceptable for our less than discriminating taste buds. BTW, Luana was pushing hard for the bottle of mineral water which we declined.
So we're sipping wine and trying to decide on appetizers when Luana recommends, and we accept, the Stuzzicarolo (serves 2 to 4 for around $28 - actually $23.95). It's listed as a "rustic assortment of imported Italian meats and gourmet cheeses including prosciutto, salami, artichokes, bresaolo, mortadella and soppressata". It was very good and is certainly more appropriate for 4, than 2. The only thing we didn't care for was the gorgonzola. And while it was good, Wayne referred to the mortadella as Italian bologna - which it looked like. When we quizzed a waiter on what, exactly, mortadella was, he said pork and slapped his hip. So if you're ever asked, mortadella is a pig's hip.
For entrees, Wayne and Barb opted for the day's special - Fettuccine with marinara and shrimp. Sue and I went with the Trittorici Pasta (I know I spelled that wrong). This appears to have replaced the Tri-colored Pasta (which I can spell) on the menu. When I asked Luana what Trittorici meant, the best she could do was "Three t'ings". It offered smaller servings of Lasagna, Gnocchis (when my Mom made these for me I called them "sinkers" for obvious reasons), and Fettuccine Alfredo (the specialty of the house).
It had been quite a while between getting our wine and ordering entrees and our wine bottle was dangerously low - so we ordered a second. The second bottle was delivered with the entrees - great timing and not a moment too soon. Barb and Wayne blessed their dishes. I found the lasagna to be OK, neither the best I've had nor the worst. The gnocchis were good but you need to like gnocchis. The Alfredo was superb - best I've had. There was something unique about it that I couldn't quite put my finger on. Maybe some things are better left a mystery.
The dining room is almost full and I'm surprised at the leisurely pace. We've been there around 2 hours and have just finished our entrees (and 2 bottles of wine). Luana inquires about dessert and brings that teaser sample tray along. Everything looks great but we're stuffed and decline. This is when Luana mentions something about a birthday and I realize Sue has set up Barb. Soon Luana and 3 waiters are at our table with a sampler tray of desserts (complimentary and yes, we ate them), singing something in Italian. It didn't sound like Happy Birthday - more like the Naples version of Culture Club singing "Do you really want to hurt me?" Anyway, it was fun.
We capped off the dinner with a cappuccino (Wayne), espresso (me), coffee (Barb), and tea (Sue). When the bill was delivered (around $28), Sue grabbed it quickly and insisted it was their treat (Barb's birthday and our anniversary). We protested and I started throwing money at her - she threw it back - I threw it again - you get the idea. I think I finally wound up contributing about $70 which, if my calculations are correct, is about 1/3 the bill. Thanks, guys.
We leave and the girls make the obligatory trip to the Ladies Room. I'm shocked by 50-70 people milling around the lobby (more outside) waiting for a table. Any other restaurant would have pushed us a little bit with that large a backlog. Stepping outside we quickly realize that WS is now packed. Smokers everywhere and another minor annoyance I've noticed on the trip - every third person is talking on a cell phone (every time I walked near someone on e cell phone, I'd hold my hand to my ear and keep repeating "Can you hear me now? Can you hear me know? I'm such a card).
It's now about 8:30 and we head back to the BW and decide to give Jelly Rolls a shot. We've been there before and were less than impressed. We do, however, remember thinking that with the right crowd Jelly Rolls could be a great time. There's a $6 cover charge (my treat - least I could do after they covered dinner) and we grab a table on the floor in front of the pianos.
If you haven't been there, Jelly Rolls is billed as "Dueling Pianos". There are 2 grand pianos, facing each other, on a stage. Two piano players/singers perform at a time (for about an hour when 2 new performers take over) and take requests written on cocktail napkins, accompanied by a tip, thrown atop one of the pianos. Our first time here (2001), the place was overrun with Lotusphere folks that kept requesting the same songs. It was a tedious night.
This time, it must have been the right mix of crowd and performers because we had a great time and stayed for over 3 hours. The performers played everything thrown their way including Dave Matthews, Beatles, Billy Joel, Elton John, Garth Brooks, etc, etc. One of the players asked where we were from. When he heard Albany, NY he said "Isn't that near Schenectady? I have an ex in Schenectady" and launched into an impromptu version of "All My Exes Live in...Schenectady".
One of the performers was a kid...couldn't have been 25. He looked like the illegitimate son of Rob Lowe and Bill Gates. And he was phenomenal. His partner, Tommy, indicated the one empty table that was stage side. He asked that whenever someone sat there, regardless of whether it was mid-song, we all stand and applaud. Sure enough, while Tommy was backstage a couple came in and sat. 150 people stood and gave them a tremendous ovation. They had no idea what was happening. The current performers stopped and one said "I have no idea what just happened but I'll bet it was Tommy".
At one point Wayne tossed up a recommendation for "Your Song". He remembered it was our song (Barb and me) form our wedding and being that we were almost celebrating our 30th...it was nice and the performer gave a great rendition.
So after 3 hours of drinking, singing, clapping, laughing, etc. we decided to call it a night.
Things I Learned Today - WDW is more crowded than I thought it'd be in early November. Never do 2 shows back-to-back. Jane, in Tarzan Rocks, is a hottie. Alfredo's doesn't rush its diners and their alfredo is very good. There are too many smokers and cell phones at WDW. Jelly Rolls can be very good with the right combination of performers and crowd.
November 5, 2002 - Day Three
Awake at 5:30. Finally adjusting. We do the coffee thing and meet Sue and Wayne to head to the Magic Kingdom for the Keys to the Kingdom backstage tour. When I booked the tour, I had a choice of the 8:30 or 9:00 start time. Because I know it can take some time to get to MK, I chose the latter. We get to the bus stop at 7:45 and within 5 minutes are on a bus. We're sharing it with a half dozen or so people that are mostly headed to breakfasts at the Contemporary and Grand Floridian.
We get to MK around 8:00 and proceed to the far left turnstiles. A CM there asks my name and checks us in on her clipboard. Now I realize I'm in line with a whole bunch of people that are heading to breakfast with the princesses at Cinderella's Royal Table (CRT). Now I'm guessing that a good percentage probably got their PSs through the Breakfast Club and here I am, wearing my RADP blazer (you know the navy blue one with the gold buttons? It has RADP emblazoned on the chest pocket and across the back in large red letters. You all have one, right?) Anyway, I suspect this blazer identifying me as a RADPer is likely to make me a target. I sweat the next five minutes until we're ushered inside. Interesting to note is that there's a fairly large crowd queued up at the regular turnstiles even though the park doesn't open until 9:00.
Now we're on Main Street and there's nothing open - no shops, no confectioners, no bakery. We stroll around a bit while I regret not booking the 8:30 tour. Wayne spends some time pin shopping. At around 8:30 we head to our meeting area, the flower garden to the left of City Hall. There are others there waiting, mostly those on the 8:30 tour.
There's 3 CMs behind a table. They're there to check you in and it's a very efficient operation. They have pre-printed name tags (Mickey, Minnie, your name, and Keys to the Kingdom) and complimentary coffee. They check you in and hand you a menu for the Columbia Harbour House. You pre-order lunch so it's waiting when you get there.
One of the CMs, Chris, is hysterical. She's having a great time needling the tour guides about everything and feeding questions to the guests ("Make sure you ask about the water pressure from the Main St. fire hydrants"). She seems to really enjoy her job and it shows.
At 9:00 our Tour Guide, Mark, pulls us together and explains the rules of the road. Judging from the people streaming in, it seems that MK will be crowded today. Our tour group is 20 people which, I gather, is a little on the large side. It may be difficult to stay together.
Mark brings us out to the center of Main St. and explains the meaning of the word TEAM (Together Everyone Achieves Magic) as it pertains to WDW CMs. He also explained the four "Keys to the Kingdom" - Safety, Courtesy, Show, and Efficiency - and we discuss examples of each that may be found on Main St. The tour then continues through Adventureland , backstage behind Frontierland, into Liberty Square, lunch at the Harbour House, and finally backstage off Main St. and into the Utilidors. Lunch was, as promised, waiting for us in a private room upstairs at the Harbour House.
Now I won't spoil the tour for anyone thinking of taking it. Our opinion is that it's worthwhile and very well orchestrated. It's designed to be about 4.5 hours although ours ran about an hour over that. I'm guessing it was the size of our group and the fairly large number of redundant questions that Mark received.
The highpoints included: the discussion of forced perspective and explanation of the names on the Main St. shops; the ride on the Jungle Cruise without the usual narration - yes, you can hear "I love disco" and it's interesting to learn how the Chief got his name; viewing the backstage floats; what constitutes on versus off stage; using the VIP entrance to the Haunted Mansion and finding all three (1 official, 1 unofficial, and 1 accidental) hidden Mickeys that Mark clued us in on; the Utilidors.
If anyone would like more information on the tour or the locations of those Hidden Mickeys, feel free to email me.
There's a fair amount of standing in one spot on the tour so when it ended, we were fairly tired. We decided to ride the monorail to Epcot and walk through to the BW. As the monorail circled inside Epcot, I notice no lines at Test Track so we decided to ride. By the time we got there, it was listed as a 20-minute wait. We rode after waiting about 15 minutes. From TT we walked back to WS and stopped in Canada for a thirst quencher - Mooseheads. The sky was starting to get a little dark so we finished our beers and headed back to the hotel through the IG. As we were walking down the Boardwalk, the sky was very dark ahead and I expected we'd have rain in about 15 minutes. We got to our room at 4:10 and at 4:15, the sky opened up. It poured for about 40 minutes. I was on our balcony, overlooking the Luna Park pool. As it began to rain I watched as people jumped out of the pool, grabbed a towel and, holding it over their heads, raced to the hotel. I could not figure that out - weren't they already wet or is rain water somehow different than pool water?
We relaxed and freshened up until around 6:00. Tonight's plan was Pleasure Island so we caught a bus to Downtown Disney and got off at the Marketplace. We strolled through and window shopped for a bit - Wayne bought several pins he had been looking to add to his collection. Side Note - Wayne has a fair-sized collection of pins which he keeps framed and displayed. Now the problem is that his memory is not what it used to be so, when he sees a pin that he likes, he's often not sure if he already has it. To compensate for this, they have photographs of his pin collection with them. Each time Wayne finds a pin he likes, Sue opens her purse and pulls out two pictures. They compare the pin to the pictures before he buys. For some strange reason, I find this hilarious and make comparisons to most people that open their wallet to show you pictures of their children or grandchildren while Wayne will show you a picture of... his pins.
We then hit Wolfgang Puck's Express in the Marketplace. Is the one at the West End still there? Do they really need two? Barb and I each get a Chicken Caesar Salad, coffee for her, iced tea for me (around $28). Sue and Wayne share a four-cheese pizza and two root beers (around $28). They say the root beers suck - there must be a problem with the syrup/seltzer mix.
From there we head to PI and the Comedy Warehouse (CW). We enter PI at 7:00 (we have Park Hoppers with leftover Plus features from a past trip) and stroll through. When we get to CW, we see that the first show isn't until 8:15. What happened to the one at 7:20? We wander back down the street (nothing but the shops are open) and decide to get a drink at the outdoor bar at the bottom of the street. Sam Adams for me, nothing for Barb, a Budweiser for Wayne, and...after staring at the overhead menu for quite some time, Sue orders a Madras. We get our beers and then watch as Sue's drink is mixed and served in a bucket - a bucket very similar to those that you would get for a child to play in the beach sand. It actually has a little handle to help carry it. I'm guessing it holds 453 ounces of booze and costs around $28. We head back up the street and grab a table to sit and sip while watching Sue lug her drink around.
We finish our beers (it will take Sue several more hours for her drink) around 8:00 and head up to the CW where there's already a line. We get in line and I realize, again too late, that there are not enough people in front of us and we'll probably be seated in the floor seats. The door opens at 8:15 and in we go and, yes, we're seated on the bar stools behind the tables on the floor. Not bad seats but if we had waited for 8 more people, we'd have been fine.
I don't visit CW with the frequency of Sue Holland so I can't get all of the actors' names right. I do remember Greg, Jake, and Jen. There's a guy I haven't seen before as well. This is the first show of the night and, IMO, it was just OK. There were some funny moments but it seemed that the cast was struggling with rhymes for the songs and sometimes, in Jen's words, "had nothing".
They did do the "This is Your Life" skit. They ask for an audience member who has had an interesting life. The guy directly behind me shot his hand in the air and was asked to come up on stage. Greg quizzed him about his life so the others could then reenact occurrences in a skit. The guy's name was Rory, he was from Colorado, in WDW alone at a tech conference.
Greg: "How old were you when you got your first kiss?"
Me: (wiggling index finger in ear) "Did he just say nineteen?"
Greg: "Who did you kiss?"
Rory: "My wife".
Me: (wiggling whole hand in ear) "Did he just say his wife?"
Greg: "Where did you meet your wife?"
Rory: "On-line in a chat room".
Me: (wiggling elbow in ear) "Did he just say a chat room?"
Note to Rory: There's such a thing as giving too much information. He went on to inform us his wedding reception was in the Colorado hotel that served as the inspiration for Stephen King's "The Shining". Oh, and his wife resents it when he gives his mother money. Anyway, the cast had some fun with this. The highlight had Jake, wearing a blond wig, riding a tricycle around the stage and talking with his finger ("Redrum, redrum"). If you don't get the joke, read the book or see the movie.
When the show ended, the group seemed more interested in heading back to the hotel than staying for the next show so off we went. The first bus we saw listed the usual Swan, Dolphin, Y&B, BW and the driver advised us to wait for the next bus that would be BW only. We agreed, but I felt we were being scammed. Sure enough, in about 3 minutes we were on a BW only bus and headed back to the hotel. We decided to call it an early night and headed off to the rooms.
Things I Learned Today - The Keys to the Kingdom tour is fun and worth doing. The Columbia Harbour House, which I had never tried before, is very good. There's an awful lot that went into the construction of WDW - and I was unaware of much of it. Don't order a drink from the street bar at PI unless you like to drink from a sand bucket. Some people will reveal way too much information in front of a crowd if you hand them a microphone.
November 6, 2002 - Day Four
Sue and Wayne called and asked us to breakfast at Spoodles. Unfortunately, we already had coffee and English Muffins in the room so we said we'd meet them for coffee. We went down to Spoodles and found Sue and Wayne at a table near a Boardwalk window, They had ordered and Barb and I had coffee in cups the size of large soup bowls - I'm guessing our mini-pot in the room couldn't fill one of these.
After breakfast, we walked to MGM and encountered a fairly large crowd at the gates. It began to rain and it was funny to watch as the many lines re-shaped themselves to take advantage of the overhead cover. Today was still forecast in the 80s but there was a cold front coming through that would bring some showers and cooler temperatures.
Originally, Wayne and I had contemplated playing golf today. There's a reduced greens fee for DVC members ($50) if you play after 2PM. We thought about bringing the clubs but, reconsidered and just brought balls, tees, etc. and thought we'd rent sticks at the course. Today's forecast of windy, showers, etc. didn't seem conducive to playing considering we'd have to shell out $100 each (with club rental) to play in wind and rain.
The showers stopped just as the gates opened at 8:45. We were in but still roped off up the street. We visited a few shops and made a bee line for Tower of Terror as the rope dropped. Wayne hung back, not wanting to ride. Unfortunately, ToT had a problem and a delayed opening so I suggested we ride the Great Movie Ride while there was no line. When we got there, the line was out the door. It turned out that it was only wrapping every other row inside and we boarded after about 10 minutes. After never seeing the gangster side in my first 15 rides on GMR, I now have seen it twice in a row.
When we exited, under the covered area, it was pouring rain. We hung in the covered area for 10 minutes until the rain let up and then sprinted (OK, walked really, really fast) to Walt Disney - One Man's Dream. We had missed this in February. I thought this was really informative and well done. I really liked the film. I think it was a stroke of genius to piece the film together so Walt was doing the narration. Definitely a must see.
We then took a trip to the Moon of Endor on Star Tours and visited MuppetVision where we went directly into the theater, missing the entire pre-show. As we approached the MuppetVision building, it was starting to rain again. After the Muppets, we took in Sounds Dangerous (heard it's closing soon). Then we headed over to WWTBAM, something Barb and I hadn't seen yet. We got in line and, after about 3 minutes, were moving into the theater.
While seated and waiting for the show to start, the guy behind us pulls out a... c'mon, you know. Can't you guess? That's right. A cell phone! He's giving instructions to someone about painting a garage as I go into my "Can you hear me now?" shtick. While those around me found this immensely funny (OK, Barb smiled), the guy on the phone gave a look that indicated he was less than amused.
The show starts and out comes our host, Kevin Something. I immediately recognize him as the lead guy (Jim?) from last year's Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue. He's the one that our girls nicknamed "Ken Doll". Man, this guy is born to be a game show host. He's got the square jaw, pearly white teeth, million dollar smile, and a voice that just oozes of schmooze. Anyway, it's fun. We go through 2 contestants (one a 13 year-old home-schooled kid that fumbles on the "Are you out of school now?" question), 2 calls to a total stranger, a couple of ask-the-audience polls, and a lot of glare from Kevin's teeth. At one point, Barb has made it to number 3 on the leader board even though she answered the last question incorrectly - go figure.
Never getting to the hot seat is a disappointment but I'll get over it. We decide there's not much left at MGM (ToT is now a 45-minute wait) so we head back. On the way, we decide to have lunch at Tubbi's in the Swolphin (I can never remember which one it's in) so we opt for the boat. At Tubbi's we get lunch (sandwiches, burgers, soft drinks, about $28) and relax for a bit. Barb decides it's time for a soft ice cream cone on the BW so we head to the bakery where she and Wayne each get a small cone. Sue and I abstain as we're watching our (cough, cough) calorie intake while at WDW.
While sitting on the BW we decide it might be a good time to tour the rooms at the new Beach Club Villas (newest DVC opening). We head over and, eventually, find our way to the Villas and the "open" rooms. We're greeted with a sign-in for DVC members and are given a free BCV pin! A free pin! Life is good.
We decide that the BCV is nice but you need to leave the building to partake of any of the lobby services as they're in the main Yacht and Beach Club building. The rooms are similar, but not identical to those at the BWVR. Décor is different, kitchen bench seat rather than chairs, etc. But they do have a DVD player instead of a VCR (like I come to WDW to watch a movie). The 1BR kitchen appears smaller than BWVR but the studio bathroom looks bigger - maybe it's me.
As we're leaving, Wayne and I get into a violent argument (fists flying, rolling around on the floor) about the number of points that BCV requires for a stay. OK, it was more like a mild discussion. He also maintained that OKW offers both Standard and Preferred views. Hah! Now it's off to the DVC office on the BW so I can validate my answers and, once again, assume my role as trivia maven. We visit the office where the receptionist is immediately frowning upon hearing that we're already members. I ask for point charts and verify that (Yes!) I am correct. The BCV points are identical to that of the BWVR Preferred View and OKW does not offer 2 views (actually, the BWVR is the only DVC resort that offers different point costs for different views). Sue and Wayne chat with their DVC rep (Jim) for a few minutes while Barb and I get as much of the free lemonade and cookies as possible (think they'll notice the bulging pockets?). Jim tells us that BCV are about 80% sold and that DVC will "never again" offer 2 views (for different point costs) at a resort. They learned their lesson with BWVR. "Even if you're looking at a dump, the points will be the same". Uh, Jim? If I'm looking at a dump, I better not be on a DVC property.
We went up to the rooms and pulled up some chairs on Wayne's balcony. The girls cracked a bottle of wine while Wayne and I knocked off a couple of beers. The conversation was mainly about DVC, our reasons for buying, and how much we've enjoyed it. Now we're looking out on the BW to the left, watching a father/son throw a football on the lawn, and looking at the BW porch and lobby area to the right. Have you ever seen that tower that rises above the lobby? It appears to have an area at the top that would/could be used for a private party/viewing area. This is when Wayne gets his trivia revenge. He maintains that the area of the BW lobby, over the carousel, rose all the way to the tower roof. I wasn't buying that until I looked up in the lobby. Shoot!
We freshened up and decided to head for Epcot. The cold front had moved through and the temperatures had dropped into the low-mid 70s - still comfortable but noticeably cooler. We grabbed some beers in the UK (Bass for me, Harps for the others - they couldn't remember the name of the Stella Artois they'd had earlier - about $28). We listened, from the UK, to Off Kilter's final number and then walked down the side street to see the British Invasion. Every time I see this group, they're 4 new guys. They were, as always, very good (I'm a Beatles fan). One point - remember how Paul was the "cute Beatle"? Not here.
We head around WS, clockwise again, and stop at Morocco to try some Beef Shish-Ka-Bobs and some Barbier Red wine. Sue and Wayne get theirs and find a bench. Barb and I order and pay (around $28) but are told they're out of beef. It'll be one minute. After five minutes, they offer us a complimentary Hummis while we're waiting - it was very good. Eventually we get our ka-bobs and devour them (very good). Guess it's time for dessert so we head to France. Sue gets a chocolate crepe while the rest of us get a Cabernet from the wine booth and chocolate truffles (I get 3 - 2 for me and 1 because Wayne is sure that Sue will eat it after her crepe). We find some benches, I taste Sue's crepe (oh, yeah) and Sue and I down the truffles (I could eat a dozen of these).
We decide to head to Canada for some Beaver Tails. Barb decides to use one of those cool red phone booths in the UK to call home. Tonight is the night that Michelle was cooking dinner for everyone (my Dad included). When we called from the room at 5:00, Stephanie informed us that Michelle had run over a "rock" on her way home from work. She had the sense to pull over and noticed lots of leaking fluid. She had called a tow truck and was waiting for it to arrive.
We found that the first phone booth by the Rose and Crown is for show only. Barb used one further down while I visited the rest rooms again (you don't buy beer, you just rent it). Michelle was home and her car was at our mechanic's shop. Later we found that she had damaged the oil pan and had her car back the next day.
While Wayne and I are standing outside the red phone booths, he's trying to remember the name of the British TV show that featured someone traveling (through time?) in a phone booth. Neither of us could think of it. A very young, female CM walked by (very British accent). Wayne said, "You're probably too young but do you remember the show that featured...?". Without a beat she answered "Dr. Who". That's it!
Our minds at ease about Michelle and her car, we headed to the Beaver Tail booth. Barb and I split a Cinnamon and Sugar and Sue and Wayne tried for a Strawberry and Whipped Cream. All out. They settled for a Maple-something. All were very good and about $28.
From Canada to Ireland where I wolfed down an Oatmeal and Whiskey Flan and we all sampled the O'Meara's Irish Cream (around $28). Very good all around. Next stop was the USA booth where Wayne sampled, and approved of, the clam chowder. Epcot had gotten very crowded and we were minutes away from the 8:15 parade so we decided to head back to the BW and visit what has become my favorite bar, the Belle Vue Room.
The Belle Vue is a quiet space located down the hall (on the Inn side) from the lobby. It has a small bar and the room is dotted with sofas, easy chairs, and game tables. You can play chess, checkers, backgammon, or one of several available board games. They have old (1940s?) version radios that play old radio programs. It's quiet and very comfortable. We settled into a back area with 4 easy chairs and a table. The bartender came over (a single bartender tends the bar and serves the tables) and we ordered two Amarettos on the rocks (Sue and Barb) and a couple of black Sambuccas for Wayne and me. A tip here. Most people are familiar with the white Sambucca, but not the black. It's somewhat different but, IMO, better. It does, however, make a difference what brand you drink. The Belle Vue offered Opal Nera which, again IMO, is the best choice. There are others, Romano comes to mind, that are not quite as good. It should never be taken over ice (waters it down) but is excellent served chilled or, even better, after a couple of hours in a freezer.
We sipped and chatted. Wayne and I had a second (I told you, we are professionals) before deciding to turn in for the evening. Just before 11:00 we hear fireworks from our room. They appear to be coming from MGM. I've seen some conjecture about a press event at MGM for the new "randomizer" ride at ToT. Any ideas?
Things I Learned Today - I don't understand how they rank the players at WTTBAM. The food from Morocco is very good. Opal Nera is very good ( I guess I already knew that) and available at the Belle Vue Room. Five days is too short for a trip to WDW - we're leaving tomorrow.
November 7, 2002 - Day Five
Last day. Barb and I, with Stephen, will be back in two months but it's still tough to leave. We have some coffee, shower, and pack. We decide to walk our suitcase down to Luggage Services rather than call for someone to come up and get it. Our flight isn't until 6:05 and I called Tiffany to change our pickup from 3:45 to 3:30 - don't want to cut it too close.
I had asked for express checkout but found nothing on our room door. I stop at the front desk and realize it's because we have zero bill. I charged nothing to the room and our only phone calls were 800 calls with a pre-paid phone card. Man, I love DVC!
Typically, we'll spend our fly-out day at the Marketplace searching for gifts and souvenirs. We decide to make it Epcot instead. We'll forego the discounts (DVC, DisneyClub, AP) that we would have gotten but...so what?
We decide on breakfast at Tubbi's and then head to Epcot. We walk through to FW and decide to ride the Universe of Energy. I still enjoy this but is there anyone that can stay awake in the radio room near the end? From here it's off to the Wonders of Life and we ride Body Wars after about 10 minutes in line. For some reason, it seems shorter and tamer than I remember. Maybe it's me.
Wayne decides to hit the pin cart by the Fountains while Barb and I head to Mouse Gear to find something for the kids. We find a ceramic Mickey and Minnie, in wedding tux and gown, for Michelle (I did mention she's recently engaged, right?). Stephen gets a Mickey bobble head, in a throwback football uniform. For Steph, it's a ceramic coffee mug (she's the only coffee lover among our children). As we're checking out we catch Sue and Wayne who are loaded up with gifts for their brood.
The gifts are out of the way, so we stroll through Innoventions. There's an exhibit for Mission Space but it tells you very little about the ride. I spend ten minutes answering NASA questions (correctly, I might add) with the promise of information when I've completed my "Flight Training". I get nothing.
As we're walking through Innoventions, we notice that a film is about to start. It's part of the Motorola exhibit and is titled something like "Vision of the Future". That's not exactly it, but it's close. You'll be happy to know that, in the future, we will all have a Motorola cellular phone, video wrist band, roller blades, etc.
Time for lunch. I suggest LeCellier and we trudge off to Canada. It's about 12:15 and we're seated in about 30 seconds. The dining room is about half full. Maybe the food kiosks are drawing away customers.
Our waitress is Angela although she's wearing Becky's name tag (forgot hers) and she takes great care of us. I had the Cheddar Cheese soup and a garden salad with iced tea. Everyone else opted for a sandwich of some kind (don't remember exactly but I think Wayne had a hamburger and Barb had a chicken wrap) and Wayne also had a very god Beef Barley soup. Oh, and we demolished the breadsticks. Total bill was around $28.
The weather called for a high of 71 today but it feels a lot like 76. It's really a beautiful day. After lunch we catch a full set of Off Kilter and the British Invasion before heading back to the hotel. We relax for a while on the back porch before heading out front and retrieving our luggage. While we're waiting for Omar, our Tiffany driver, I remark that it's uncanny how they show up at precisely the agreed upon time. I suspect they park around the corner and drive up with 30 seconds to spare. Wayne checks his watch and says if that's the case, he should be here in 30 seconds. I look up and, sure enough, here comes Omar.
We have a very uneventful trip to the airport. We check our bags with a Sky Cap and he hands us 'A' Boarding Passes - yippee. We get through security in about 10 minutes and kill time at the gate reading the newspaper. Our flight is not entirely full so we commandeer aisle/center seats in nearby rows and then spread out to aisle/window when no one else claims the seats. The flight home is smooth and we land in Albany at 8:40, retrieve our luggage and car, and head home. Temperature is around 30 degrees and falling. Groan.
Summary - Another trip in the books. We really enjoy the Boardwalk and its convenience. Barb, Stephen and I are coming down for a week in January and are scheduled to stay at Old Key West. I'd like to stay there and have heard many good things about it but I just can't break away from the Boardwalk and it's proximity to Epcot and MGM.
We thoroughly enjoyed the Food and Wine Festival and would do it again in a heartbeat. Highpoints on meals included both dinner at Alfredo's and lunch at LeCellier.
We've spent tons of time, over the years, with Sue and Wayne. We travel well together and have vacationed together numerous times at WDW, Las Vega, and Atlantic City. We have similar likes and dislikes and always have a great time.
Next trip's in January 2003. If you have any questions, don't hesitate to shoot me an email.
Thanks for reading.