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Stephen Wale -- December 2002 -- Walt Disney World (CR)

It had been 5 years since our last trip to Walt Disney World. Just before Christmas 1997, we'd made our last visit, then with only 2 children, ages 4.5 and 3. This time, we have two more in tow - ages 9,8,4.5 and 3.

We had spoken to the children the New Year's Day previously and basically told them that what if they were willing to trade in the majority of their Christmas we would go to WDW. We'd not put up a tree (cats would destroy it while we were gone), no presents from us (except for a couple from Santa :) ) etc.

They agreed and we went and booked the trip thanks to a nice refund from the IRS...

Wednesday 12/11/2002

We got up early and drove out to the airport. We were leaving the day before and returning the day after - when I pay for 8 days at Disney, I want a full 8 days. By the time we left Denver, got to Dallas and exchanged and got to Orlando, it was late afternoon Florida time. We had an early night and somehow managed to get all of the kids down, in spite of their excitement.

The older two had been to WDW before, of course, but it was the first trip for the younger two. They couldn't wait to meet Mickey Mouse.

Thursday 12/12/2002

We wanted to get to the resort as soon as possible to make as much of the first day as possible. We had to go back to the airport for the Mears Shuttle to the resort (as arranged through AAA travel). What a disaster - no one was at the counter and when they did turn up, it took another half hour for the shuttle to arrive. Seemed like it was taking forever, but finally they did arrive and it was off to the resort. The kids were very excited to see the Walt Disney World arch that you pass through as you enter the property. I must admit, I was to.

We were very surprised to get to the resort and find that there was a room ready for us immediately. Last time we were there, we managed to get a bump up into the tower of the resort, looking over the Magic Kingdom. It made access to the monorail very easy. However, this time we were out in the South Garden Wing. Waaaayyyy down the back. It seemed like it was a half mile walk just to get from the room to the front of the resort. But we managed :)

We got to the room, grabbed the stuff we needed for the day and headed over to the bus stop in order to get to the Animal Kingdom.

We were hoping that there would be better weather than our last trip. During the 1997 trip, it rained for 5 or 6 of 8 days. The first day of the trip wasn't boding well. It was overcast as we left for the park and it started drizzling later in the day.

Upon arrival at the Animal Kingdom we started looking at the map and were amazed. People had mentioned to us that we would be able to do the Animal Kingdom in less than a day. I don't know how they worked that one out. We knew that we'd have to come back for a second day.

We started out with the 3D Movie "It's tough to be a bug". Not bad for a 3D movie, but I don't know that the realistic Stink Bug demonstration was necessary :) We wandered around the park a bit more and took a trip on the Safari ride through the animals. Interesting. We took the kids on the Primeval Whirl roller coaster, had a bite to eat and decided to go and see the Lion King show. We were very late and had to be squeezed into the back, but I enjoyed this show. We decided that we would come back to videotape this show. It was going to be a relatively short first day, since we had early dinner reservations at 1900 Park Faire, but just before we left, we decided to watch the parade. We were quite impressed with the mobile puppetry of all of the animals. Not the best parade I've ever seen, but it was alright.

(I still find the 25th Anniversary Remember the Magic parade to be one of the better parades I've seen, but then, maybe that was just because my daughter got to be in it :) )

We managed to finally get over to 1900 Park Faire for dinner with the 100 Acre Woods gang. The 3-year-old just adores Piglet (or Pig-A-Let as she calls him) and couldn't wait to rush over for a hug, since he was hanging around outside for photos. She was just as excited inside to see Pooh Bear, Tigger and Eeyore. It was a nice surprise, because last time we were there, there was no Pig-A-Let to be seen anywhere. After dinner it was back to bed, since we wanted an early start for Day 2.

Friday 12/13/2002

Friday the 13th. Lovely :)

We woke up, pulled the curtains and found that it was coming down in buckets. Sheets and sheets of rain. Really quite disgusting. Pulling out the ponchos we had bought the day before, we trekked out into the rain. By the time we'd gotten up to the monorail station and done the 20 minute loop around the resort monorail, the rain had actually slowed to a steady light rain from a downpour.

It turned out to be a good move on our part, actually. With the early rain, there weren't many people in the Magic Kingdom. We started out in Fantasyland, taking "It's A Small World" first. Why? It's a nice 10 minutes sitting down out of the rain. As we headed around into the South Pacific, we were surprised to see that the Aboriginal Australian lad with the boomerang and the dingo pup were missing. We shrugged it off thinking that the ride must have changed. We found out when we rode it next (a few days later) that it must have been out for repair, since he was back there, boomerang swinging and dingo head wagging. We find this funny because my wife and I are both Australian.

The little ones loved the rides in Fantasyland, we rode them all. The 3 year old was most taken by the new Pooh ride. She wouldn't have liked Mr. Toad and I know that many people were upset about the creation of this ride, but I thought it was very cleverly done. The way the car "bounces" with Tigger and "floats" on the rainy day. Very well done. We did a great deal this day, all things considered, doing everything in Fantasyland, the Haunted Mansion and all of Tomorrowland except Alien Encounter. I wasn't that impressed with it 5 years ago and didn't see the need to do it again. The little ones loved Space Mountain - the 4 year old is *just* 44 inches tall and barely managed to make it aboard. I have a feeling that she'll be one for all the "thrill" rides.

It was a good day. But then, any day at Disney is a good day, no?

Saturday 12/14/2002

We were off to the Disney-MGM Studios this day. My eldest daughter and I ran off to the Tower of Terror. She had ridden a similar ride at Six Flags in Denver and couldn't wait. The 8 year old has a history of heart surgery and neither my wife nor I were mad keen on him riding this ride. His cardiologist had said that he was on no restrictions, but we just wanted to be a little cautious. Besides, I don't think he's the thrill-ride type. This ride is much improved over the 2 drop version I rode in 1997. We had 4 drops on this particular ride. During the rest of the day, we caught the Great Movie Ride, Beauty and the Beast on Stage, Little Mermaid Voyage Under the Sea. I was a little bothered that we never managed to get on the back lot tour, but c'est la vie. It was also disappointing to be at almost the front of the line of the Rocking Roller Coaster when it had 'technical difficulties' - we never did get to ride it.

This Saturday evening was going to be a late opening night at the Magic Kingdom. We left the Studios early and headed back to the Magic Kingdom to make a night of it, but mainly to see SpectroMagic again. It hasn't changed much in 5 years but it's still a very impressive parade. We caught a few more rides and called it a night.

Sunday 12/15/2002

Today was going to be a long day. We had decided to do Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party, but still, we headed over to the Magic Kingdom at the start of the day. It was a late start after the late night last night, but we went over to the newly opened Crystal Palace for a late breakfast with Pooh, Tigger, Eeyore and Pig-A-Let. After breakfast, we decided that it would be a good day to catch a few shows. We caught Cinderella's Dream show at the castle stage and then headed down into Adventureland and Frontierland and pretty much covered all of the rides in those areas, as well as catching a few characters for photo-ops and autographs. The Jungle Cruise hasn't changed - the boat drivers still have the same bad jokes and corny dialog. Still, the kids enjoyed it and that's the main thing.

We headed back to the room mid-afternoon and let the kids have a swim in the pool with my wife while I did some laundry. Even on vacation, you still can't get away from laundry, especially when there are 6 of you. :)

We went back in the afternoon and tried to squeeze as much of the Christmas Party activity in as we could. By the time we'd done the Stage Show, the Parade, the Fireworks, photos, hot chocolate and cookies, it was well after 11 and we still didn't get to do all of the things that we wanted to do. As I said yesterday, c'est la vie. We had a great evening and carted back two sleeping and two almost sleeping children to the room. I don't think anyone lasted more than two seconds after heads hit pillows.

Monday 12/16/2002

Hard to believe that the vacation was already half over. It was over to Epcot for the first time in the trip on day 5. It was early entry day as I recall, so we headed over to Ellen's Energy Adventure since it was one of the few things open. Pretty well presented. I'm not the world's greatest Ellen Degeneres fan, but it was humorous, none the less. During the rest of the day, we visited the Test Track (several times), Honey I Shrunk The Audience (my wife still hates it) and most of Future World with the exception of "The Land" (not interested) and The Living Seas. Later in the day, we started a track around the World Showcase and managed to get a few countries in before deciding to return to the hotel - the kids were getting restless.

Tuesday 12/17/2002

The previous few days weather was overcast but pleasant. The next three days would be starting to get warmer. I really wish I'd taken some short pants with me to Florida instead of nothing but jeans. Next time and all that...

With only three days left on the vacation it was time to prioritize what we wanted to do. We decided that we'd try to finish the Animal Kingdom and the MGM Studios on this day. At the Animal Kingdom we went down to videotape the Lion King show and then straight over to see Pocahontas and her Animal Friends. I must say that I was very disappointed with this show. While the animals were impressive, I just found this show to be lacking something. We followed this up with Tarzan Rocks and then decided to head over to Downtown Disney in order to get a photo with Mickey with our Flex Feature. What a disaster that turned out to be.

We found Lilo and Stitch and the kids delighted in getting to meet their latest favorite characters. They find Stitch to be "Cute and Fluffy!" My eldest daughter does a decent imitation of Stitch's voice. Stitch was seemingly impressed by this.

On the way out, we asked someone at the kiosk outside how to get to Downtown Disney. They said to get to the TTC and get a bus from there. We wait for a bus to the TTC, finally get there and then find out that you can't get to Downtown Disney from the TTC and you have to do it from your resort. So we wasted more time getting on a monorail back to the hotel (in retrospect we should have just gotten off at the Polynesian and caught a bus from there, but we didn't think of that at the time). We finally got to Downtown Disney, got the photo done and decided to split - I'd take all of the junk back to the room and my wife and the kids would go off to the Studios for our 4 pm dinner at Hollywood and Vine before heading over to see Fantasmic. I was horrifically late in getting back but we did manage to get dinner eaten and make it over to the Fantasmic Amphitheater by about 20 minutes before the show.

After the show, all I could say was "Wow". Without a doubt, I count this as the best show I've ever seen at any of the Disney parks. This was an very well put together show. Pity I didn't have the video camera. So, we decided that on the last day, we'd come back and do it again, this time with the camera rolling.

Wednesday 12/18/2002

This day was reserved for getting Epcot finished. We did the Test Track another couple of times (the kids really liked this one) and finished the World Showcase - the kids finished their masks - before heading over to the Magic Kingdom to see some characters again and finish up a couple of rides that the kids wanted to do again - especially Splash Mountain.

We went to Chef Mickey's for dinner relatively early and then I took the older three kids back to Epcot to see Illuminations. A relatively well put together light and pyrotechnics show. I had to practically drag three almost sleeping kids back to the hotel room. I think they were asleep before they hit their beds.

Thursday 12/19/2002

Last day. We started the day at the Magic Kingdom. From a character hunting perspective, we finally managed to track down Princess Jasmine. She was near the magic carpet ride with the Genie. We were getting her autograph and told the Genie that we already had his from when we saw Aladdin a little earlier. He wouldn't get into the photo, he was sulking. I started a little chant that I use with my kids when they sulk.... "The Genie is a Pouty-puss." Imagine my surprise when he came over and gently kicked my in the shin. At least he got in the photo for me after that :)

We also managed to track down Peter Pan and Wendy - someone that I had never seen before. For the final afternoon of the trip, we went back to the Studios. My eldest and I managed to get in one more ride on the Tower of Terror (after I gave her the option of one more ride - Roller Coaster that she hadn't ridden or the Tower of Terror again - she took the Tower option - unfortunately we got exactly the same ride sequence again that we'd had earlier in the trip. Ah well, it was still a fun 4 drops...) She almost flew out of the seat on one of the drops and flipped over the bar, but she grabbed my arm and stayed safely seated.

To finish out the trip, we headed over to Fantasmic and waited an hour in the general seating area (as opposed to the preferred seating we had with the dinner arrangement) and managed to get it on tape. I just loved seeing black and white Steamboat Willie Mickey again.

After that we headed back to the Embassy Suites before heading home the next day.

It was a great trip. I can't wait to do it again, although next time, I'm very interested in combining it with a Disney Cruise. We'll see, it's still several years away, whichever way you look at it.

In retrospect....

Fast Passes are the way to go. Use them, use them often. I'd never wait in line for ages for some of those rides, but with a Fast Pass, it's a piece of cake.

Taking breakfast with us to eat in the room before heading out to the parks saved us a small fortune in food. Eating out twice a day was very expensive when feeding six, especially when we do it for 8 days. Would definitely do it that way next time as well.

We had considered staying off property next time, but weighing in car rentals, parking, etc, we'd probably still stay on property. There's something about the convenience of Disney Transportation.

The kids loved meeting the characters again and getting all their autographs. The older ones liked all of them, but the youngest was really only interested in the fluffy ones. She really could have cared less about the face characters.

If you've stuck with me this long, thanks. We had a grand old time and can't wait for the next one, even though I know it will be several years before we can afford to do it again.

Stephen Wales


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