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Jeff Sjoquist -- December 2002 -- Walt Disney World (Offsite, CR)


WDW, The Sjoquist's & Christmas... How can you go wrong?

The Players:

  • Jeff (me) frequent visitor, Disney fanatic, and future CM (once I retire)
  • Kathy (my wife) frequent visitor, the one who puts up with all my crazy Disney plans
  • Ellyn (13 year old daughter) 4th trip to the "world"
  • Kristin (8 year old daughter) also on her 4th trip to the "world"
  • Tom (my father-in-law) great guy, but hasn't been to the "world" in about 20 years !!!
  • Theresa (mother-in-law) what can I say that won't sound like sucking up or could threaten my supply of great lemon meringue pies??? Also hasn't been to WDW for about 20 years.

Dates: 13 thru 22 December 2002

Hotels:

  • Comfort Inn Lake Buena Vista (1 night)
  • Contemporary Resort (6 nights)
  • Grosvenor Resort (2 nights)

Planning:

As you see so often in these reports, the planning for this trip started shortly after our last Florida trip in June of 2001 which included a one day visit to the MK. This was to prove to my wife that I could do a one-day trip and to prove to my kids that there are other things to do in Florida besides support the mouse. Kathy and I have always wanted to see how they Decorate for Christmas. So we picked the month of December and then decided on the week of 14-20 December. Being military, and wanting to take advantage of the Shades of Green (SOG), we knew that we should be making our reservations mid to late December of 2001. For those of you not familiar with booking at the SOG, they tend to fill up early. They do offer a wait list for a certain percentage over full booking, and can get you discount rates at other resorts if the wait list is full. Bottom line is if you want to stay at the Shades of Green... plan early... so we did!

Hotel reservations for 2 rooms in hand, planning took a back burner as I had numerous deployments and inspections to get through this year (I don't understand, they actually expect me to work?? I thought this job was just to allow me the time and money to plan these trips!!!) After all, I had months to plan this and lots to do here at work. I did my usual reading and research on the web to see what was going on at Disney and then in late February I came across some troubling news... Shades of Green was closing in April for 18 months of remodeling!!! OK, stay calm, what to do?? Relax, don't panic, certainly there is a plan... isn't there ????? Of course I read this Saturday evening so I couldn't call until Monday. Monday arrives (at last!!!!), I called Shades and trying not to sound too worried, I asked about whether they were closing, and the woman I was talking with reassured me that everything was fine and that they were going to relocate us to another resort on the property. I asked if she knew where, and she said, "Are you sitting down??... You are being moved over to the Contemporary Resort North Garden Wing for the same price." It took a minute to collect my thoughts (I was 10 when WDW opened and I always wanted to stay at either of the two original monorail resorts, so this was GREAT news!!!) So the first bit of Disney magic having occurred, the planning heads to the back burner once again,... that work thing got in the way again!!!

Through the summer, no real action on the plan. Kept watching airfares for good deals, but not much else to do on it, too busy and too early. Our kids started asking if we were going to go anywhere this summer (they did NOT know about this trip...yet), and Ellyn started asking if next year we could go to California... to Disneyland. Hmmm, let's see how many trips to Disney dad can be planning at one time?? The answer would be TWO! So while the Florida plan was on the back burner, I started looking at a trip to Disneyland for June of 2003... but that's another trip report for next year !!!!!

Late in August, Southwest ran a good deal to Orlando from St Louis and it was time to figure out who was using that second room we had. We had figured it was for Kathy's folks, but hadn't asked them yet. It took a little arm twisting, but eventually Tom and Theresa said they would love to go with and we locked in the airline tickets that evening (like I said, a LITTLE arm twisting...very little!!!) Travel dates were now departing St Louis late Friday night (13 December) and coming back mid afternoon on Sunday (22 December).

This meant we needed 3 additional nights in hotels (the 13th, 20th & 21st). First choice obviously was to see if Shades could accommodate us on any of the extra nights but with what I stated earlier about getting reservations at SOG, the answer was no. This lead to a search for hotels near the park (hmm, only a few hundred to choose from there) that ended up with us staying the 13th at the Comfort Inn in Lake Buena Vista for about $37 a night per room and then the last two nights at the Grosvener at $49 a night per room.

Next hurdle, how do we tell the kids ????? As October arrived, things were looking good that everything was going to line up with work and the trip was on. My unit had a deployment overseas in December, but this year I wasn't needed for it. Of course all the talk about going to war with Iraq didn't help my confidence. Kathy and I started talking about how to break it to the girls that we were going to WDW in December and that their grandparents were going with us. We decided that on my birthday (13 Oct), Kathy would give me an envelope with the reservations and airline tickets. Well, as I open the envelope and take out the reservation sheet, both girls catch the Disney logo on the sheet and in about a tenth of a second figured out where we were heading. After about three or four minutes of cheering and jumping up and down, they finally ask when we were going and when they heard in eight weeks, they were back at jumping and cheering. What fun, I live for moments like this !!!!!

Now with everything in place, and everyone in the loop on the trip, the last eight weeks before departure dragged on, even with two work trips of about a week each, these eight weeks have seemed to go so very slow! But here is the overview of the "plan":

  • Friday 13 December: Depart St Louis on Southwest Airlines, getting in to Orlando around 1225 AM Saturday morning. Pick up rental car from Hertz, head to Comfort Inn, SLEEP!!
  • Saturday 14 December: Check out from Comfort Inn around 10:15 to 10:30 and head over to the Contemporary Resort to drop off luggage and PS for 11:15 at Chef Mickey's. After eating head over to the North Garden Wing to get our park tickets from the SOG ticket office and tour the resorts (looking at decorations, what's changed etc. remember, Kathy's folks haven't been here since 1983). Late afternoon, head to our rooms, change and go to church at Our Lady Queen of the Universe. After church, over to the Polynesian to watch the fireworks from the beach and then to the Kona Café for a late dinner.
  • Sunday 15 December: The plan is to sleep in a little (this is a vacation after all) do some shopping and resort touring, maybe taking the kids to Fantasia Gardens or Winter Summerland for some mini-golf, and then to the Very Merry Christmas Party at the Magic Kingdom. Tickets were purchased in advance; I elected to pick them up at the "Will-Call" window at the TTC Saturday while we were at the Poly (since it's a short walk over there). Our plan is to make sure we see all the special things they do for the party since we have more time at the MK later in the trip to get our fill of the rides. Of course if the opportunity presents itself, rides here we come !!!!
  • Monday 16 December: As a military planner, one of the things we learn is that a plan is just something to deviate from, and here is where I expect my first change. December in Florida and I am planning on going to Blizzard Beach. Crazy?? Kathy thinks so, but we'll wait and see what the weather brings (as of today, 10 December they say it will be 70 degrees). I know they say the water is heated, but you do have to get out of it at some point. Non Blizzard Beach people will relax, shop, whatever they want.
  • Tuesday 17 December: OK vacation over, it's time to hit the parks !!!!! Early Entry (sorry, Extra Hour) at MGM here we come. 8:00 we will be at MGM spend the morning there and then sometime in the afternoon head over to EPCOT for the rest of the day to include the Candlelight Processional and Illuminations that evening.
  • Wednesday 18 December: Magic Kingdom for the day. Here is our primary day to do rides at the park that started it all (in Florida anyway). Spectromagic and Fantasy in the Sky will round out the day.
  • Thursday 19 December: EPCOT is the plan, may head over to MGM in the evening to see light displays there, but will end up back at EPCOT by the end of the evening. Our last pre-planned meal will be a late lunch at the Rose & Crown (1:10).
  • Friday 20 December: Checkout of the Contemporary, head to Animal Kingdom for the morning. Afternoon for anything else the group wants to do, together or split up. I'm sure the end of the day will find us all at the Magic Kingdom for the fireworks and that last look at the castle before we have to start thinking about going back to "Realityland". After the park closes, we head to the Grosvenor and check in for our last 2 nights of the trip.
  • Saturday 21 December: Orlando touring or Downtown Disney. Kathy's family used to spend every summer down here BM (Before Mouse) and I'm sure we'll do some local touring to see how much things have grown up and changed around Orlando. Maybe more mini golf if the kids want to and basically just relax.
  • Sunday 22 December: Checkout of the hotel, have a relaxing morning and a good lunch before heading to the airport and depart.
  • Monday 23 December: Back in my green "bag" (that's a flight suit for you civilian folks) and the trip will be just a smile on my face and ton of great stories...I hope!!!

Overall, it is a very flexible plan that should allow everyone a chance to get away and do what they want. We didn't plan on a whole lot of set meals just to keep everyone from feeling like this is a set "battle plan". I do have to admit to being a former Kingdom Commando, but thanks to Brian and everyones' trip reports, I'm feeling much better now ;-)

10 December: Faxed our room request to the Contemporary, asked for connecting rooms, water view and any other magic they wanted to provide.

Day 1, 13 December 02 Departure Day

Today was my first day of leave and for once I was able to help Kathy get ready and make sure we hadn't forgotten anything. The girls went to school, we had a quick dinner, then it was time to go to the airport. One of our neighbors picked us up at 5:15 PM and then picked up Kathy's folks. Then it was off to the light rail station! We usually take this out to the airport so as to avoid the downtown St. Louis I-70 traffic. Since 3 interstates funnel into three lanes and then to what at best could be called one and a half bridges, one accident can really mess things up!!

Anyway, we arrived at the airport with plenty of time before our flight. Check-in at Southwest and going through security was a breeze. Everyone was very friendly and the security check was good, but not too time-consuming. I did have to get checked by the security agent for setting off the metal detector, but the gentleman that did the check was nice and it only took an additional minute or two.

Flight down to Florida was good, nice folks at Southwest (as usual) and they got us in almost 25 minutes early (a big help when you are supposed to get in at 12:25 AM). No problems with luggage or rental car pick-up (Hertz, Mercury Grand Marquis, and I thought my Buick was a big car !!) and then it was off to the hotel.

Check-in at the Comfort Inn was a little slow; apparently we weren't the only people getting in late Friday night, as there were 6 other people in front of me in line. The Comfort Inn was nice (37.50 + tax for the night) and the rooms were OK, a little close to I-4 (noise level and all) but comfortable and clean and at almost 2 AM, it was a place to sleep!!!

Critique of the day. OK the airfare was cheap, and we were concerned about getting an earlier flight without just picking up the girls from school and heading directly to the airport, but getting to the hotel at 1:30 AM was just a little too late for all of us (apparently especially my mother-in-law) and I don't think I would take such a late flight again. But we survived and the trip had started.

Saturday 14 December 02

Planned as Chef Mickey's for a late brunch, check-in at the Contemporary, and do some resort touring. Theresa woke up not feeling very well, but thought that yesterday's schedule may have been a part of it so she still wanted to go have brunch with Mickey.

We arrived at the Contemporary around 10:45 and were seated almost immediately at Chef Mickey's. What can I say about this character meal?? Everything was fantastic from the staff and characters to of course the food. We stayed a bit over an hour and had every character visit us at least once. Pluto was particularly entertaining as they had seated two large groups next to each other by sliding 2 tables to each side leaving a space that looked big enough for another table wide open. Pluto came by, stopped, and looked at the gap and acted like someone "stole" the table. The kids, and adults loved it!!!

Ellyn & Kristin with the "Big Cheese."
Ellyn & Kristin with the "Big Cheese."

After brunch we went down to check in. It was just after noon and of course our rooms were not ready yet. Did all the paperwork and Theresa (the check-in clerk, not my mother-in-law) was very helpfully getting us all set and telling me how to call in to get our room numbers when they were ready. Took the Monorail (yes that first day, gotta ride the monorail) over to the Grand Floridian to see the Christmas decorations. The decorations and the tree were unbelievable! The tree went all the way up to the fifth floor! Kathy's mom was not feeling well so by 1:30 I called about our rooms, and we were on the monorail back towards the Contemporary. We had been assigned 2 rooms in the South Garden Wing 6311 & 6312. The rooms were great! (My thanks to the staff at the Contemporary, got just what we had asked for) And what a view !!! We looked out over Bay Lake with a couple trees in the way, not bad, just enough to break up the view, it was very very nice. All of us were a little tired from traveling the night before so we just took it easy for a while that afternoon.

Our original plan was to go to church at 6 and then see the fireworks from the Poly before having a late dinner at the Kona Café. Well change 1 to the plan, with Theresa not feeling well, we decided to go to church Sunday morning and only Kathy, the girls and I would go to dinner. We called over and changed our PS for the Kona to 6:05 and then drove down to the Beach Club Villas. We bought into DVC earlier this summer and had not seen the resort (except under construction on our June 01 trip) and wanted to see it in person. After walking around the building and looking at the model, we walked down and toured the Yacht and Beach Club Resorts and of course Storm Along Bay. Kristin wanted to go in so bad, but that will have to wait for another trip (it was only about 55 degrees at the time, but there were kids in the pool). As for decorations, the lobby of the Beach Club was so nice, with the giant gingerbread carousel and just a nice Christmas feeling. By this time it was 5:30 and time to head to the Kona.

Dinner at the Kona was nice as usual, we beat the dinner crowd there and were seated right away. The food was very good, however I would say my Teriyaki Beef was not up to par with what it was last year (still good, but was better last year). Ellyn won the prize as having the best meal, she had the prime rib and it was PERFECT!! Filled to the gills we walked around the Poly for a while, but then back to the Contemporary to see how Theresa was feeling. She was still under the weather but had slept for a while and was feeling better (24-hour bug or the late travel the night before???? Who knows)

We called it an early night as everyone was starting to run on empty.

Sunday 15 December

Plan: Church, Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party.

Weather: Started off nice and sunny high in the low 60's, but by mid afternoon, the clouds had moved in and the temperature started dropping.

We all slept in a little with us finally heading down to breakfast around 9:30 AM. Look who is up and around, Theresa and Tom were already there and she was looking much better. After we ate it was off to 11:30 Mass. Our Lady Queen of the Universe is a beautiful shrine and the service was very nice, and I'm the non-Catholic in the family, so I think that is saying something.

After Mass, we went over to the outlet mall next door and had a small bite of lunch and did some shopping. By 2 PM we were back at the Contemporary for an afternoon break. Planned on heading over to the "Party" around 3:30 as we had heard that they would start letting people in around 4:00PM. Very good info as we arrived at the front gates of the Magic Kingdom right at 4 PM and were let right in. The Cast Members near the security check points asked if we were there for the Very Merry Christmas Party and were directed to go to the right side where they were all set to start letting folks in. Typical Disney, well organized, friendly, helpful. I cannot say enough about the professionalism and friendliness of the people we interacted with the whole time we were there.

As for the party itself? One word...FANTASTIC!! Well worth the price. The crowd was light, everything was open, except for Timekeeper. Our plan was to make sure we saw all the special shows since we have 2 more days planned for the Magic Kingdom before we leave. Figure we have plenty of time to make sure we ride all of our favorites, but if the lines are short, we'll jump on and ride.

We headed back to Fantasyland right away, and the kids asked to ride Dumbo. Dumbo of course was too crowed, same with pooh (figured we could ride them later). Snow White had a short line so we rode that, then as we were moving towards Peter Pan / Small World, we saw that the Sword in the Stone show with Merlin was about to start. This was about to become one of those special Disney Moments you hear about. Right up front and center was a young man, probably in his early 20's with what looked to be a fairly significant learning disability. Merlin chose him to try to remove the sword, which of course he was able to do. Then as those of you who have watched this show know, Merlin crowns our new temporary king and everyone cheers. Here is where that Disney Magic begins. As Merlin was handing out the mementos to the people who took part in the show, he told this young man to wait a minute and says "I know what I'm going to do, I may get in trouble for this, but what the heck." Then looking looked up at the castle to where I assume there is a control room for this "stage" says "Do we have an extra crown and cape up there?? Signal me if we do." And there was a bell, he then announced that the cape and crown were his to keep as his souvenir of his day. He was thrilled, and during the rest of the night , I think we saw him at least 3 or 4 more times, always with his cape and crown, looking so proud and happy. My hat is off to that CM who truly believes in Disney Magic and created some for that young man and his family.

Kathy and I caught each other wiping a small tear from our eyes and then said "off to Small World." Absolutely no line for this attraction and then it was over to the Haunted Mansion with the same lack of wait.

We then walked over to Fronterland and Tom and Theresa went to Country Bears, Kathy and girls and I rode Big Thunder twice before meeting back up to walk over to Tomorrowland at 6 PM. Saw the regular fireworks from Frontierland, it was nice and not crowded.

Ate at Starlight Café and by then it was approaching 7:00 PM so we started back towards Fantasyland to get our Christmas party picture taken by It's a Small World. We walked through the path on the right side of the castle and with no one else around came across Cinderella's carriage, even though there were no characters in sight yet, it was nice to get to spend some time looking at all the details and decorations. Suddenly it occurred to us that with no one back in Fantasyland, there would be no line for Dumbo. Kathy and the girls went and rode Dumbo, complete with his Santa hat.

Kristin on Dumbo.
Kristin on Dumbo.

After we had our picture taken, we quickly went over to the Diamond Horseshoe to see the Christmas show. We were on the second floor, but had good seats to see everything. The show was fun to watch and very entertaining. The best part was that it let out just in time for the start of the first parade. We were able to get a spot right on the rope only 5 minutes prior to the start of the parade (like I said, the crowd didn't seem very large.)

The Very Merry Christmas Parade.
The Very Merry Christmas Parade.

After the parade, it was over to the Castle forecourt to see the Celebrate the Season show and then the fireworks at 9:15. Of course the crowd was gathering near the hub and castle, but still didn't seem too bad. What was starting to be bad was the cold. The evening started out in the low 50's and was going down fast, and what was worse was that the cloud cover had moved out and the wind died down. Translation...it was going to keep getting colder. The joke with a lot of people was they were going to be able to have REAL snow on Main Street before midnight !! But we were still having fun.

The show was very well done, it has been a few years since we have seen Disney shows, and they never fail to impress my family and me. The energy of the cast, the quality of the music and sound system in general, was simply put, great.

The Very Merry Christmas Show.
The Very Merry Christmas Show.

After the show, we waited for the 9:15 Fireworks. What a place to watch from, right in front of the castle. OK, I know all of you real pros are saying... "No, that's too close, you need to be back a bit and off to one side!!" And you are right, I was so in awe of being so close to the castle, that I didn't think of it and when the fireworks started, a lot of them were out of view behind the castle. However, when you get a picture like this...

it is hard to complain. Besides, anyone who has seen the fireworks at the Christmas Party knows that there is something special about this fireworks show and in the end I would have to say we couldn't complain about our view one little bit.

The fireworks, photo taken from the Contemporary Resort, December 19th.
The fireworks, photo taken from the Contemporary Resort, December 19th.

After the fireworks, it was over to Tomorrowland to see Mickey's Night Before Christmas. It was about 20 minutes to the show, and my youngest (Kristin) had been asking to ride Space Mountain all night. So as we found seats for the rest of our group, then I took Kris by the hand and said we'd be right back. About half way to Space Mountain, Kristin got this grin and said "I have a real good feeling about this" and she was right, we were going to sneak in a quick ride before the show. There was absolutely no wait and we rode and got back to the show about 5 minutes before it started.

The temperature was still dropping and it was starting to get a little uncomfortable for all of us. We were dressed warm, but even though we packed for cold, we didn't pack for this cold. So now we started to look for places to duck in and get warm for a few minutes before heading on. And what better place to start?? Why Buzz Lightyear, of course!! With almost no line at all.

Next it was to the Merchant of Venus to shop (get warm), before heading towards Fantasyland for an attempt to ride Pooh. Again, no line (I guess a lot of people left as it really seemed empty in the park now).

After riding Pooh, we walked towards the Castle figuring we would head to Main Street and work our way to the gate doing some shopping. Hmm, what's this?? As we approach the backside of the castle, there are a bunch of people, wow, Cinderella, The Fairy Godmother and Sleeping Beauty were near Cinderella's Carriage. Suddenly, no one seemed cold as we waited for the girls to get their turn with a Disney classic character you never see (Or at least I have never seen out and about), Sleeping Beauty.

Kristin and Ellyn with Sleeping Beauty.
Kristin and Ellyn with Sleeping Beauty.

After this it was down Main Street, to the monorail and back to the Contemporary.

Overall, the Very Merry Christmas Party was a blast and well worth it. While it was cold, we all had a great time and would do it again in an instant. (hmm, how many more of these before we leave ?? no no no, can't do that.)

Monday 16 December

Plan: Relax. Come on, we are on vacation and were out till after midnight last night... in the cold!! We'll do some shopping and I want to do some driving and exploring. For all the trips we have made here, there are some parts I had just never been before, plus a couple places I just wanted to go and take some pictures of.

Weather: A bit warmer, and not a cloud in the sky. Probably got into the low 70's, but not quite warm enough to let the girls hit the pool.

Ate lunch at Uno's in Lake Buena Vista, picked up some groceries for the room and dropped off everyone else at the outlet mall and back at the resort. Then went out on my little exploration.

For those folks looking for news on the Shades of Green, I can tell you that the new building is on the south side of the old one. The superstructure of the new building is going up, not sure how tall it will be, but it looked like they were working on the 3rd floor. The old front of the resort is all torn up and looks like it will have some major changes in it when this is all said and done (new date is mid December 03). It does not look like there will be major structural changes with the old portion of the building, just theming. As to what they are going to do about parking? I'm not sure, but it looks like the new building isn't in the boundaries of the old south lot, but obviously with more rooms, they are going to need a lot more parking spaces.

New construction near the old south lot.
New construction near the old south lot.

The old main entrance.
The old main entrance.

Went back over to the Contemporary, picked up our park tickets before going to pick up the mall contingent. Spent a quiet night relaxing at the resort.

Tuesday 17 December

Plan: MGM, EPCOT.

Weather: Sunny and warm, around 76 for a final high temp.

The first of our 4 real park days! The day started off well, we didn't get moving early enough to take advantage of Extra Hour at MGM, but the crowd was light when we arrived so it was not a big deal. Kathy, Kristin and I went and rode Rockin' Roller Coaster right away, it was the first time on it for all of us. What a great ride. Kathy and I have done California Screamin' so the launch was not new to us, but Kristin was a little surprised by the start. Other than that, the ride is very smooth and fun. On our way out I picked up Fast Passes for later that morning so we could ride it again.

Went and saw the Voyage of the Little Mermaid and then walked though the Walt Disney: One Man's Dream exhibit. It amazes me how involved he was with everything and the things that he and the original Disney folks came up with. Before we got to the movie, it was getting towards the end of our Fast Pass window, so Kristin, Ellyn and I went back to Rockin'. Ellyn is not normally a big roller coaster fan (except for Big Thunder) but was going to go on it, until she saw the launch, that took care of her so Kristin and I went on by ourselves. We did use our Fast Passes but in all honesty, the time difference between the stand by and Fast Pass was minimal.

After that we joined back up with Kathy and her folks to see Muppet 3D. We have always enjoyed this show and this was no exception (of course not, it hasn't changed, so why wouldn't we?) After that we took the Backlot tour. This is another thing we had never done before at MGM, but with Hunchback gone and the girls not interested in seeing the Radio Disney studios again, there was some extra time available this trip. The tour was interesting, and we were glad we took it, but for me it falls into the category of "been there, done that". Timing being everything, we got off the tour with enough time to get over to the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular. None of us were chosen as extras, but it was a great show that everyone enjoyed.

By this time it was about 1:30 and we decided it was time to change parks and move to EPCOT. The drive over was simple, traffic going into the park was minimal and it didn't seem like we were very far out in the lot, just past half way, I think.

First stop was the Land to grab a quick lunch from the food court downstairs. Kristin got recruited by the Nestle folks to make cookies, so the rest of us ate while she went to play chef. After she was done she joined us and had some lunch as well, and then it was off to see the line at Test Track. With only a 20 minute wait, all six of us rode in one car. There was a minor glitch with the ride system at the evasive maneuver, where the car crawled thru that part of the ride, then came to a sudden stop just passed the truck. Got our attention, but was forgotten about when we started the speed run. As usual, what a fun ride!!

Test Track.
Test Track.

After we got off Test Track it was off to the World Showcase to get ready for Tapestry of Dreams. This is a parade we did not see in 99 when it was Tapestry of Nations and were determined to see it this time. The parade started promptly at 4:25 and we were right at the beginning. Kristin and Ellyn both had puppeteers come up to them several times during the parade and Kristin actually got pulled out into the show at one point. (this was a trend item for her) Tapestry lasted about 15 minutes, and then it was time to let the girls do some shopping around the World Showcase. Our next important event for the day was going to be the Candlelight Processional with us shooting for the 6:45 show.

The 5:00 show was packed so we figured we would be well served to not do too much before we got in line. We walked over to Italy to listen to the "Story Teller" and then went to see the American Adventure. By this time it was about 40 minutes to the next show and the line had formed back towards Italy, so we jumped in and waited for them to start seating.

It wasn't long before they started letting people in and we were able to get seats in the middle just behind the tree line. Not bad and it ended up being a great place to watch the show (like there is a bad place??). Collin Raye was the narrator for the evening and he did a very nice job. The orchestra and choir were outstanding, and the whole show was a very moving and wonderful experience. Of course later in the trip I bought the CD so we have it to listen to at home.

After the show I suggested we start looking for a small bite to eat and expressed my interest in trying some of the food in Morocco. In my many trips to the Middle East since 1991, I have really developed a taste for Middle Eastern food and on my last trip I didn't get off base to have any, so I really had a taste for a Shawarma. It was very good, though prepared different from the way I have had it in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. Strange as it may seem, no one else had the desire to try it so after I was finished, we started the hunt for something for everyone else. We ended up back at the Liberty Inn with everyone else having burgers.

By this time it was about 9:00 pm with the fireworks at 9:30, so we walked around to find a good place to watch from. To be honest, I am not sure where we ended up exactly as I was looking at our view of the water, not where we were in the showcase. Illuminations was very nice, although I liked the original version better because of the higher use of lasers and the focus on each country around the World Showcase. But it was a very good show and everyone enjoyed it.

IllumiNations.
IllumiNations.

The park was closed as the fireworks ended so it was off to the Contemporary and a good night's sleep. After all, we are going to the Magic Kingdom tomorrow.

Wed 18 December

Plan: Magic Kingdom with Kathy the girls and I heading over at opening and Kathy's folks joining us around noon.

Weather: Looks like another great day, a little cooler than yesterday, but nice.

The four of us walked over just before 10 AM and the morning crowd seemed very light. decided to go to Tomorrowland to ride Space Mtn right off the bat as Ellyn had said she wanted to ride it and I figured we better do it before she changed her mind. The line was non-existent and they were only running the right side!! To mess with Kristin, I have been telling her the right side was rougher than the left, this was now coming back to haunt me as Ellyn (the one who is NOT a big coaster fan) has been hearing this and now does not want to get on the ride. Kathy says a few magic words (I have no idea what they were, but they worked) and Ellyn is calmed down and still with us. Space was it's usual fun, and everyone (including Ellyn) had a great ride.

Kristin and I took advantage of the short line and quickly rode Space again while Kathy and Ellyn went to the Speedway.

We filled the rest of the time before Kathy's folks got there by doing Buzz Lightyear, Teacups with the Mad Hatter (with Kristin and I) and Alice. Peter Pan, Haunted Mansion and using our Fast Passes on Splash Mtn (about the only ride the whole trip we really needed to use them). Then we went back to meet Kathy's folks and watch the 11:30 show at the castle forecourt.

The show was cancelled shortly after it started, never found out the exact reason, but we saw the show later, so no big deal. After that the whole group went and did Jungle Cruise, Tiki Room, Aladdin's Magic Carpets and Pirates before stopping for lunch at Pecos Bills.

After lunch we caught a quick showing of the Country Bears Christmas show and then found a spot for the 3:00 Share a Dream Come True Parade between the entrance to Country Bears and the Shooting Gallery. The parade was very nice, a good length, and with lots of characters interacting with the kids along the route (Kristin once again got pulled out into the parade).

At the end of the parade, Ellyn, Kristin, Theresa and I went to use the Fast Passes for Big Thunder Mountain I got before the parade. Of course EVERYONE had the same idea and the Fast Pass line was longer the standby line, but it moved faster of course. Ellyn and Kristin got right back in line and rode it again with very little wait and it then it was back to meet up with Kathy and Tom. By this time it was getting to be time for the next show at the castle forecourt so we worked our way back there and found a good place to sit, have some ice cream and relax a little while we waited for the show.

The Castle Show.
The Castle Show.

The show was fun to watch, and afterwards people stayed where they were for the 6:00 Spectromagic Parade, so some of us stayed put while others walked around for a while before rejoining us in time for the parade.

Spectromagic was fun to watch and very well done, but not as nice as the Main Street Electrical Parade. Not saying that it was a bad parade but there was just something about the MSEP that seemed more magical (years from now our kids will probably be commenting on what replaces Spectromagic by saying the same thing, guess it is all what you are used to seeing). After the parade ended, not many people started heading to the gates, but there was enough movement that I was able to move to the west side of the hub for the nights fireworks (a better location than I had Sunday night).

After the fireworks were over, it was a little shopping up Main Street as we headed out of the park. This was one of the few times that we have actually left the park before closing time and was surprised at the line for the resort monorail, so we decided to walk back to the Contemporary. We guessed it would be 3 or 4 monorails before we got to board and I counted the number that passed us as we walked. As we were walking behind the Tower building, I saw the third monorail enter, so we certainly didn't lose any time by walking and had a nice conversation as we walked.

Grabbed a quick bite to eat at the Food and Fun Center and it was back to the room to relax and call it a day.

Thursday 19 December

Plan: EPCOT for the day, concentrate on Future World in the morning and do the World Showcase in the afternoon. Lunch at the Rose and Crown at 1:10.

Weather: Looks like the best day of all!! Started off a little cloudy, but a nice warm breeze told you it was going to warm up and it did with a high in the mid 70's.

Got a slightly later start than I expected but were on our way for the 9 AM opening at about 9:15. For some reason (maybe avoiding the TTC, I don't know) I decided we would drive to EPCOT. This would've been fine if I had not blindly followed the bus ahead of me as we exited for EPCOT. Thinking the bus was a WDW bus I just followed it, and then watched as we went passed the entrance to the parking lot...oops !! So a couple extra minutes of touring the world as I went to the next exit and got us turned around, silly me.

Anyway, we got to the parking lot and there were very few cars there, we were well inside the front part of the lot but out near the bus drop off side of it. Got through security very quickly and it was off to see Figment & Honey I Shrunk the Audience. We also spent time in the Kodak What If Center letting Ellyn send her friends e-mail pictures and getting a few good pictures of the rest of us too. Ellyn and I then went into Innoventions while the rest of the group went to the Living Seas before we all met up again and went over to Test Track for a quick ride.

We decided that we would start working our way into the World Showcase so we would be near the Rose and Crown in time for our 1:10 PS. As we were passing the Showcase Plaza we saw a whole bunch of characters were there and we went over to get some pictures (we were hunting for the perfect Christmas picture to send in our cards after we got back) so the girls got their pictures with Santa Goofy, Mickey and Mr. Smee before they had to leave.

Kristin, Mr. Smee & Ellyn.
Kristin, Mr. Smee & Ellyn.

As we walked through into the World Showcase, we all decided we were hungry enough to go ahead and eat so we went over to the Rose and Crown to see if we could be seated early (it was only about 12:30). Well the crowd was so light that day that there was no one waiting and they seated us right away. There were actually very few people eating there and it was a very quiet and relaxing meal.

I had the Sausages Rolls and a Snake Bite (I've developed a taste for these on my many trips to England), Ellyn had the Beefeater (without the Stilton cheese), Kathy had the Chicken Pot Pie, Kristin had the kids hot dog (but ate more of Ellyn's beef than she did hot dog) and Tom and Theresa split the Fish & Chips. Overall I would say this was an outstanding meal with great, friendly service and sitting outside on a warm December afternoon topped it off. I wonder if the Snake Bite had anything to do with how I feel about this meal???

After that it was a relaxing afternoon touring of the World Showcase with the girls determined to get to every country for their stamp on the masks they made. We saw the Fife and Drum Corps in America, and the Tapestry of Dreams Parade (for the second time). Did a lot of shopping (well mostly looking) and Kathy's folks saw the Wonders of China. As we finished up our tour of the World, we went inside the Mexico Pavilion. As the girls were getting their stamps, Kathy was looking at some of the merchandise and came across a hot sauce that we used to get when we lived in Spokane, but can't get anymore in the St. Louis area, so she bought a few bottles for us and a friend of ours in New Jersey who can't find it there either. We then all rode El Rio del Tiempo.

All through the trip Kathy, Kristin or I seemed to be fighting a cold, and today was my turn. This was enough for me to be ready to call it a day after one more trip on Test Track. Kathy and Ellyn stayed behind for a while longer, but Kristin, Tom, Theresa and I went back to the hotel.

Friday 20 December

Plan: Checkout of the Contemporary, Magic Kingdom, move to the Grosvenor over by Downtown Disney.

Weather: Well it finally caught up to us... RAIN.

Well, talk about laid back, Kathy (the family alarm clock, always the first one up) wakes just before 8 and jumps out of bed saying she overslept. This of course wakes me up but my ears have already detected something, the sound of rain. I looked outside and sure enough, it is coming down hard, can't see halfway across the lake. I turned on the weather channel and in a few minutes made the decision that we were not going to the park today. No one seemed to mind, and we just slowed down and took it easy. Now maybe the fact that I know we are planning on coming back in about 18 months had something to do with it.

We took our time and got some pictures of the resort and checked out around 10:30 drove over to the Wilderness Lodge and Animal Kingdom Lodge for more resort touring. By noon the sky was clearing and I was starting to second guess my decision to skip the park that day but everyone said it was nice not rushing to get checked out and over to the Magic Kingdom and felt it was the right call.

Drove out to Hwy 535 and ate lunch at Fridays, (the usual TGI Fridays with good food and good service) before heading to the Grosvenor. One room was ready so we loaded all our stuff there and Kathy, the girls, Theresa and I went over to play a round of mini golf over at Winter Summerland and back to the Beach Club Villas (since Theresa wasn't with us when we went last Saturday).

Kathy and I went and made one last grocery store run to Publix and picked up dinner for everyone to eat back in the rooms. That night I started working on this report and Kathy, Theresa and the girls went over to Downtown Disney for a few hours.

Saturday 21 December

Plan: Shopping at Downtown Disney, Kristin is just begging to go swimming, church and maybe Kathy and I going out to dinner on our own.

Weather: Back to nice sunshine and warm (low 70's maybe)

We walked over to Downtown Disney and did a lot of shopping (wanted to pick up some things for my admin staff at work and some things for the kids). So many wonderful things to buy there, especially the pictures and prints, (I could fill all the walls in my house with Disney animation cells and other Disney stuff if Kathy would let me) and it was nice to just let the girls do what they wanted to do (Ellyn: Shopping, Kristin: running thru the fountains, she's good, never got directly hit!). After a while and another possible Christmas card picture (the one we ended up using) it was back to the hotel. Ellyn & Kristin finally got to go swimming until it was time to get ready for church.

After Mass, we picked up dinner for everyone else on the way back to the hotel and then Kathy and I went out for dinner. Back to the Contemporary and the Concourse Steakhouse. Got there just before the 8:00 fireworks at the MK so out on the 4th floor observation deck we went. After the fireworks we checked in at the Concourse Steakhouse and only had to wait about 3 minutes to be seated. We each ordered the prime rib, I had the salad, Kathy had the onion soup and we split the desert. The food was wonderful, the prime rib cooked perfectly and very tasty. The staff was great and our waiter was very friendly and talked to us several times during the meal.

It was just after 10 when we finished eating and decided to take that last trip on the monorail. Like so many other people, this has started becoming a tradition with us, first and last day of the trip monorail rides, but this one with it being just Kathy and I was very special. As I am writing this report Kathy and I have just celebrated our 18th wedding anniversary. That last trip on the monorail with it just being the two of us, reminded me of our first trip to WDW in January of 1988. We got off the monorail back at the Contemporary and started walking to our car when we heard the music start for the nightly water parade. Now this is something they did every night we were at the Contemporary, but no one ever had the energy to go down and watch it from outside, and the three trees I mentioned at the start of the report were perfectly positioned to block our view of it. So Kathy and I ran back over by the marina to FINALLY catch this show. There we stood, holding hands and taking in that last bit of Disney Magic for the trip.

Sunday, 22 December

What, I'm going to ruin that last paragraph by talking about our travel day home??? No way !!

We checked out went to the airport (made a few last purchases at the Disney Store there-we are so weak!) and flew back to Realityland.

Conclusion:

After a very busy year, I really needed a relaxing vacation. Who'd think I'd get that at WDW, but I did. Having Kathy's folks with us was very nice, I hope they had as much fun as we think they had. If you are like me and think that WDW is a magical place, then you have to come here during the Christmas season. Everything was done so well, I am afraid it will be a let down when we go back the next time (June 2004). The girls wanted to spend more time in EPCOT than we have on previous trips and we did that. And I finally got to stay at the Contemporary Resort!

Pros: The decorations, CM's, food and the Contemporary were all great. The Very Merry Christmas Party was a blast, well worth it, and fun. I know some people have complained about it being too crowded, maybe we just picked a good night to go, but I'd do it again in a heartbeat. Loved the fact that it seemed the characters were interacting with the guests more. When we were there in June 2001, I think we saw maybe 2 or 3 characters outside of the meet and greet areas. This trip, they seemed to be everywhere, hope it stays that way!

Cons: That late night flight in, cool weather, and having to go back home.

What will I change for next time? Honestly, I don't think I would change anything (except not taking that late flight at the start of the trip).

Overall, the crowds were so small that we were able to accomplish a lot of things each day without feeling like we were rushing. I think had we tried to do the same amount of things in the summer, even with the increased hours we would have been a lot more tired. Cool weather and smaller crowds made this a very easy, relaxing and enjoyable trip.

And now, keeping with what I stated early on in this report about being able to plan 2 trips at once, you'll have to excuse me. I have some trip planning to get back to:

  • Disneyland, June 2003 (Disneyland Hotel)
  • WDW June 2004 (Beach Club Villas)

See you all around the "Land" and "World" and I hope you all had as great a Holiday Season as my family and I had.

Ellyn & Kristin.
Ellyn & Kristin.

Now, a brief postscript from the Ellyn and Kristin's mom (aka, Jeff's wife, Tom and Theresa's daughter, and the "family alarm clock.") I won't ramble on as this trip report already seems longer than the trip itself was! Instead, here's a Top 10 list of my favorite aspects of our trip.

10) Location, location, location. Couldn't beat the Contemporary for easy access to all we wanted to do this time, although our rooms were a bit of a hike from the Tower building. We've stayed on more remote parts of the property on past trips (Caribbean Beach), and I loved the ability to avoid busses and walk into a park or to the Monorail. Also liked the ability to walk into the Marketplace from the Grosvenor-if you've driven that area you know what I mean.

9) Having Mom and Dad along. We honestly weren't sure how it would work. But we are blessed with a good, honest relationship and are pretty good at knowing when we've had enough togetherness. Adjoining rooms were perfect-when the middle doors were open, we all came and went as we pleased. Closed doors meant we needed our space. It was a kick to see Mom especially doing the rides-Big Thunder, the teacups, and all the E-tickets I can remember going on with them as a kid. We even made note of the spot outside the Haunted Mansion where I passed out while on queue some 30 years ago (we always took family vacations in July!!!)

8) The weather. Yes, it was on the cold side for Florida, especially the night of the Christmas party. But that just made the complimentary hot chocolate and cookies that much better. Look, I grew up doing Orlando in July (my Grandma lived there long before Mickey moved in), and I learned early on that you can always add another layer of clothing, but you can only take off so much.

7) A slower pace. This was a huge concession on the part of my Kingdom Commando husband, made in part because my parents were along. Shorter park hours made this a little easier to take-you felt less like you were missing out when things were closed anyway.

6) Shop-portunities. Ellyn's idea at the start of the trip was for us to choose "secret Santas" to shop for. We each drew a name, then set out to spend $25 on Disney treats for that person. It was fun picking out special gifts for each other and keeping the secret until Christmas morning back home, when we all got to open our "mystery" souvenirs. This will become a family tradition on all our trips, Christmastime or not.

5) Resort touring. If time allows, I really recommend checking out all the World has to offer. We'd never stay at the Grand Floridian (too stuffy), but I love exploring the atrium there. We were floored seeing the Wilderness Lodge for the first time-what awesome attention to detail! And while I don't want to stay at the All-Stars (the bus thing again), I'd sure like to see their pool and common areas just because the theming is such a hoot. Maybe next time.

4) The Return of the Characters. I honestly can't recall ever seeing such an array of Disney characters mixing it up with guests all over every park. To have Alice and the Mad Hatter hop on the teacups and ride with us was, well, highly unexpected and an awful lot of fun. (Mad Hatter: "Alice! I'm going to lose my tea!" Kristin: "Spin faster! Spin faster!") We saw Goofy ride the Barnstormer in Toontown just a few trains (planes?) ahead of us-three times in a row! And face characters like Mulan, Cruella deVille, Maleficent, Peter Pan and Wendy-I've never seen them outside of a parade or character meal, but there they were! How cool is that!

3) Christmas magic, Disney style. Eye-popping trees. An African village of marzipan and gingerbread. A spinning 4-horse carousel of gingerbread. A full-sized cottage of gingerbread, from which you can buy candy and cookies. Snow on Main Street. The Candlelight Processional at Epcot. Santa hats with mouse ears (a furry bargain at $12). Richly Decorated shop windows at the Marketplace, reminded me of shopping on State Street in Chicago way back when.

2) Seeing the girls take ownership of the parks. We brought along 2-way radios this time, and Ellyn started to strike out on her own from time to time, within radio range. She is not an adventurous kid by nature, so we're obviously reaching a certain comfort level at WDW. Likewise, Kristin knows the back roads and shortcuts in the MK as well as Jeff and I do.

1) A Disney "date." Just Jeff and I going out for dinner and a Monorail run was a lovely glimpse of our Disney days to come. At some point the girls will be old enough to go their own ways (or-shudder-stay home alone!), and it'll be fun to be a couple at the resort once and a while. But for now, give me that family magic-pixie dust and two sweet young girls who won't grow up until I'm good and ready for it!!!

Jeff Sjoquist

Jeffrey.Sjoquist@charter.net


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