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Brian Bennett -- December 2002 -- Walt Disney World (ASMoR, OKWR)

Table of Contents


Introduction

There'd been some discussion about a family reunion trip to WDW over the years.  In the Spring of 2001, my mother's closest aunt passed away and left her a bit of money.  After covering the typical bills and so on, Mom and Dad decided that it was time to do something about this family reunion idea.  So, way back in May of 2001, my sister, brother, and I got an email from my Mom and Dad, titled "Family Reunion 2002," that went like this,

Hi all,

Yes that is the right year. 2002... December. I am not sure of the exact dates yet.

The plan for now is that I will book rooms at one of the Walt Disney Resorts. Rooms -- not an apartment. We will not have a kitchen. I will plan on having a breakfast of sorts in our room each morning. I will take a toaster and coffee pot. We will eat lunch and supper in the parks. If a larger lunch then a lighter supper. Or, we may toy with the idea of being in the more rustic resort... Fort Wilderness. It is more like a campground and we would have a couple of cabins to share. I am still thinking. Transportation around the grounds is easier from the "hotel" type of accommodations. We will not need cars. The bus system is excellent.

Air transportation, ground transfers to Walt Disney from the airport, Hotel rooms, 2 meals a day, plus an in the room snacky breakfast are included in the all expenses paid vacation. Also included are length of stay passes to all 10 Disney parks. You will be responsible to let me know in plenty of time to cancel these reservations if you cannot come. I know having to do this a whole year plus some months ahead means that all plans are tentative. I will book and pay for airfares later. I am sure we will have to do this early, but not this early. If something forces us to cancel these thoughts after all this advance thinking, we will try to plan a family get together in late 2002 or early 2003 in Michigan. The big draw at that time will be family togetherness only. Keep in mind that while this is expensive it is something Dad and I have wanted to do for a long time. We have become convinced that a Disney vacation is real luxury and so entertaining. We have chosen this because there is something for all ages. Transporting 11 or 12 people around to activities is not a problem there. There may even be times when some will want to go to different things.

You will need to plan on buying any extra snacks. Any extra things you may wish to do. Brian mentioned going over to a Universal Park for some other attractions. I have no interest in that one and will be the happy grandma with Allan and Michael that outing. You will need to pack light to medium jackets. Josh will be happy to know that while shorts can be enjoyed in Florida in December so can long pants. You will probably be able to swim some of the time. Pools are outdoors and it can be a bit cool in December. Pack a swimsuit.

I will not be booking this until after we get home from England. So if you have major concerns drop an email back. Money is not to be a major concern. Aunt Evelyn who was so afraid she might run out of money is kindly taking care of everything. Love MOM and Dad

Mom and Dad had decided to pay for an all-expenses-paid vacation to WDW!  My family of four is the only group of WDW veterans in the family.  Mom and Dad have been down three or four times, my brother Dave, once.  Karen, her husband Steve, and her boys Josh (17) and Ben (15) are all rookies.  Dave's girlfriend, Kristin -- who hasn't been to WDW since she was very young -- was invited to join us a few months later. (She became his fiancee' shortly after that, they are planning a wedding for June 2003.)

So how do you plan a vacation for twelve people ranging from 2 to 72 and from veteran to rookie?  Well, we had to start with dates.  We were pretty sure that we had to focus on Christmas time.  Mom didn't want to brave to heat of July or August, but Dave and Kristin are both teachers, so that made a Fall trip impossible.  Christmas week itself, although the single busiest time of the year at WDW, became the best option.  For the WDW vets among us, we'll just treat this as a new experience.  The crowds and later park hours will make the visit busier, but whatever we miss due to long lines we know we can make up later during our Summer or Fall trips next year.  December 22-29 became the finalized dates for the trip.  Karen and Steve and the boys and Dave and Kristin will fly in on the 22nd (late afternoon / early evening) and depart late morning or early afternoon on the 29th.

As far as travel goes, I have plenty of vacation time each year, so it's most likely that my family and I will drive our van down to WDW.  The cost of our travel will significantly less than airfare for our family of four (and even with the additional time expended, more enjoyable and less hectic).  The further advantage is that we'll have a vehicle on site, so Mom and Dad (who'd been planning to rent a car) can skip the rental and save that money too.  We're planning to drive down such that we're in the area the day that Mom and Dad arrive.  We'll pick them up at the airport, probably end up staying off site (to save at least some points... Friday and Saturday point costs are just incredible), then get over to the resort for check in and to get our rooms before the rest of the crew arrives.

A lot of discussion, mostly between me and Mom and Dad, took place over the next few months as we discussed accommodations, meal plans, and so on.  When we looked at the prices at the moderates versus the home-away-from-home resorts versus the deluxes, it was clear that the budget wouldn't support a week-long stay at the high end hotels.  We also ruled out the cabins at Fort Wilderness just because of the fact that transportation with twelve was going to be difficult enough without having to add the additional complexity of Boone and Crockett buses.  Mom really didn't want to go to the All Star resorts.  She just figured that the rooms would be too small.  Obviously, we're all spoiled by the great setup at Old Key West.

Just as we'd pretty much decided on getting three rooms at Port Orleans or Coronado Springs, my Mom's friend offered a piece of advice.  Why not spend the money for the trip accommodations on Disney Vacation Club points?  Then, instead of scrimping to stay in a moderate, we could have the kitchen and living room available.  Well, there were issues there.  Although we had thought of doing just that in earlier discussions, we decided that we wouldn't be able to buy anywhere near enough points to cover the whole trip.  (In fact, at one point way early on, Mom mentioned that she had assumed that Barb and I would be kicking in all of our points for the trip.  However, we just didn't have enough points to make it happen without wiping out our own family's vacation plans for several years, something that I, frankly, wasn't willing to do.)

Here's a little breakdown of the number of points we would need at Old Key West Resort for a seven night stay during Christmas week:

Studio 133
Two-Bedroom 371
======
Total Points Required 504

Since my family only has a fraction of that number available each year, and we just about make our number work for a Fall trip and part of an abbreviated Spring trip each year (three trips over two years), clearly this would break the point piggy bank for us.

However, if Mom and Dad were to buy some additional points that we could use for this trip, we could finagle my points and Mom and Dad's points and make it work.  So, I started searching around and found a contract on 150 points at Old Key West in the September Use Year (our points are June Use Year), that included 30 points that were banked from 2001.  We could make that work.  Mom and Dad bought the points, and the way it will work out is this:

Mom and Dad's 2001-2003 points 330
Brian & Barb's 2002 points 174
======

Total Points Required

504

So now Mom and Dad owe me the 174 points in future years out of their allotment.  Furthermore, we've also discussed adding a couple of days at the end of the trip (an additional 82 points) just so Mom and Dad can make sure that everyone got in and out of Orlando in good shape.  Those points will come out of future allotments, too.  Effectively, we are wiping out an entire year of DVC points for the trip, but at least it's compensated... we'll get those points back down the road.

Just a few days ago when Mom and Dad came over to celebrate Michael's second birthday a few days late (we were out of town on his actual birthday), we had some other talks about meals (now a more complicated issue since we had a kitchen available but also a desire to enjoy some of the restaurants), park admission, daily plans, and so on. Here's a discussion summary email I sent out to everyone on Friday, April 12th:

Hi all,

On Tuesday, Mom, Dad, Barb, and I had some discussion about upcoming December trip and how we're going to handle things.  Here's a summary of our conclusions:

Travel

Barb, the boys, and I will definitely be driving down.  This will reduce trip cost as we will not need airfare... but Mom and Dad will cover our hotel, meal, and van costs in exchange (It's still over $700 in savings for Mom and Dad!).

The van, therefore, will be in Florida.  If anyone needs to make a store run for anything, feel free to get the keys and go.  If you don't feel comfortable navigating, feel free to grab Barb or I to chauffeur.

Barb and I will be picking up Mom and Dad at the airport (and returning them to MCO after the trip, of course), but plans are for the Railings and Dave and Kristen to use a shuttle service to get to the resort.  (This Page  may be a helpful reference for planning, pricing, and reservations).  As I understand it, Mom and Dad will be paying for the shuttle as part of the trip costs.  The airport pickup perk is something due to all Grand Poo-Bahs out of courtesy for their age and wisdom.

Groceries

Mom will be buying as many nonperishable groceries in Michigan, in advance of the trip.  Barb and I will stop by on the way down and take those items in the van.  That will allow mom to buy things on sale and at lower prices (the stores around WDW are notorious for high prices as so many vacationers are a captive audience).  After we check in to the condo on Sunday the 22nd (at which point we will have a refrigerator available), some of us will take the van over to a local grocery store to buy the perishables such as milk, lunch meats, or whatever.  Mom stated in an earlier email that, "Groceries will be purchased for breakfast, lunches and remaining dinners by Grandpa and Grandma Bennett," so I'm assuming that the cost of the groceries will be covered by Mom and Dad.

Sit-down Meals

For the "sit-down meals" at WDW restaurants, we came up with the following proposal:

  • We do a sit-down meal at lunch time on each of the park days.  Lunch prices are significantly less costly than dinners and portions, although smaller, are still plenty.
  • Because of the large group (and the busy crowds at this time of year), I'll make "priority seating" (WDW-speak for reservations) at each of the restaurants for each specific day.  I'll arrange those for 12:00-12:30pm.
  • At each restaurant, we'll have to decide how to handle the meal (for one we might want to say that anyone that wants a desert, it's covered... for another, we may want to order two or three appetizers to share, whatever).
  • We'll capture the total cost of each of the sit-down meals as we go through the trip.  At the end of the trip, each part of the family will be responsible for a quarter of the total cost (probably by sending a reconciliation check to Mom and Dad after the trip).  This allows us to level the cost of the meals, but still keep the concept of each part of the family paying for a meal.
What do you all think of that?

The restaurants that Mom, Dad, Barb, and I thought might be good choices (not too expensive, each one somewhat unique, and with a mix of styles) for our lunches are:

  • The Plaza Restaurant (a toned-down "Farrell's" ice cream and sandwich place, probably including sundaes?)
  • Nine Dragons (Americanized Chinese like you'd expect at any local Chinese restaurant, possibly sharing entrees?)  Sounds like this one will be right up Josh's alley.
  • Hollywood Brown Derby ("Golden Hollywood" atmosphere, fairly highbrow entree choices)
  • Some counter service place in Animal Kingdom... perhaps Flame Tree Barbecue (sandwiches, grilled meats, salads) or Pizzafari (pizza and salads) neither accept priority seating, so we'll just have to stand at the counter.  An alternative would be to pick another restaurant in another park and switch parks just for lunch time.  (Personally, I wouldn't mind moving over to the Studios on this day to lunch at the 50's Prime Time Cafe.)
  • Rose & Crown (English entrees including fish & chips, etc.  They also serve great prime rib, but only at dinner... so may we want to make this our one and only dinner choice?)
Christmas

On Christmas day, Mom will do a traditional dinner (turkey or ham, etc.) in the condo.  We'll also open gifts, etc., on Christmas, of course, but will plan to NOT go into the major parks on that day as Christmas is the single busiest day of the year and attraction lines will be bad enough on the other days without us braving the worst of them all.  There are other things to do around WDW so we won't be bored.

Park Admission

Mom and Dad are providing five-day park hopper passes to cover park admission.  That gives five days of major theme park access covering Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.  They are not planning to buy the upscale "plus" passes as we really won't have time to take advantage of the extra perks those passes give anyway.

Park Touring Plans

Therefore, we'll spend time in the major theme parks on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.  A typical day's schedule will be as follows:

  • Self-serve breakfast will be available in the kitchen from 7:15-7:45ish.
  • We'll need to be out to the bus stop to go to the park du jour by 7:45am or so each morning.
  • Each day we'll pick a different park to visit for the morning.  This is intended to be the one group event each day.  We'll do rides, etc., then have a group lunch all together.  I'm sure that, once in the park, the group will break up to do various things... we won't be walking around like a pack of Japanese tourists all the time.  Some of us may want to do more of the thrill rides while others may want to take Allan and Michael through Peter Pan.  We'll deal with those things throughout the trip.
  • Come lunch time, we'll have our group lunch, then we'll break up for the afternoon.  Some folks may want to spend more time in the parks, some may want to go back to the resort to swim or nap, whatever you want to do is up to you.
  • A semi-self serve "supper" (sandwiches, salads, etc.) will be available at dinner time.  Since we'll be doing the sit-down lunches, dinners won't be as complicated so the planned menu thing I'd mentioned before will be overkill. I'm thinking this will be 6-6:30pm each night, but we can adjust as we see how the days go.  For one thing, we might not yet be hungry after a big lunch -- but we won't want to wait too long because I'm sure many of us will want to spend the evenings back in the parks.
  • After supper, there will be another planned excursion into the parks.  Each night will be a different park with a parade and/or light show in mind.  One night will be a visit to the Magic Kingdom for SpectroMagic, another to the Studios for Fantasmic!, a third to Epcot for IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth, a fourth to the Studios to see the Osborne Family Lights display, and the other one to whatever park floats our collective boats the most.  Everyone is welcome to join the large group or go their own way each evening as they see fit.
  • The parks are open very late during Christmas season, often to midnight or even 1:00am.  Barb and I will likely call it a night rather early since we'll have the younger boys to deal with, but all are certainly welcome to do as they see fit.
Accommodations

As everyone knows, Mom and Dad chose to buy a temporary lease of some points at Old Key West.  Even so, by using ALL of Mom and Dad's points for 2002 and 2003 (a total of 300), Barb and I are kicking in an additional 256 points of our own for the reservations.  From 2004 on until the lease runs out, Mom and Dad will be able to use those points for their own trips.  It just made sense to do it that way versus spending an equal amount of money for accommodations for just this one trip.  (In exchange for us giving up some of our own points for this trip, Mom and Dad are paying us back with future points in later years.)  We'll be using our shared points to get both a two-bedroom vacation home and an additional studio.

The two-bedroom vacation homes at Old Key West Resort have a master bedroom, an attached studio (a hotel-room-like second bedroom with it's own bathroom and two queen beds), a living room with a sofa-sleeper, and a full kitchen.  The living room does not have it's own bathroom.  Brian and Barb will use the master bedroom (as it has only has one bed, the Bennett boys will sleep on the floor).  Mom and Dad and Dave will use the attached studio with Kristin camping out on the living room sleeper sofa.  A second studio has been reserved for the Railings, identical to the one Mom and Dad and Dave will have, but not attached (the Railings will have to go outside to come into the living room).  I requested that the two rooms be nearby each other, and in a specific location in the resort (South Point) which is close to a pool and a bus stop.  I also asked for nonsmoking, first floor.

Note that there is a full-sized washing machine and dryer in the two-bedroom that will certainly be available to everyone.  Barb and I will bring basic laundry supplies in the van, so if you need to run a load or two during our stay, it shouldn't be a problem.

Check- in day is Sunday, December 22nd.  We shouldn't expect to actually get into our rooms until late afternoon (4-5:00pm).  When you arrive from the airport, you'll be dropped off at "Hospitality House" which is the resort's main guest services area.  Depending on plane schedules, you'll either have to have bell services store your things (if it's before 5:00pm) until we get our rooms, or they can take you right to our rooms (they'll be glad to help with the luggage).  Closer to trip time, we'll have to make more specific plans about hooking up at arrival.

Since this is a condo, housekeeping is unusual.  Unlike a hotel, it's not daily maid service.  Instead, we'll receive full maid service only on the fourth day (when bed linens are changed, towels are refreshed, garbage cans are emptied, the entire facility is vacuumed, and the kitchen cleaned). We can, of course, ask for additional toilet items and linens for a minor fee. Towels are provided at the pool for anyone that's going to swim.  You should plan on bringing plenty of your own soap, shampoo, etc.

Church

Of course, I feel very strongly about attending every church service (morning, night, and midweek) when we're home, but we do lax up significantly on vacation.  We won't be planning to attend on either Sunday or Wednesday, but if anyone feels strongly about it, we'll gladly loan them the van and give a recommendation to a great church we have visited in Kissimmee.

Other Issues

In an earlier email, Mom asked, "Is there someplace on the property that we can have a group picture done?"  At the Imagination Pavilion at Epcot, there is a place to get digital pictures taken.  They sell packages at various prices.  That would be my best suggestion.

I'll quote Mom again here, "You may want long pants and shorts.  You may need a swimsuit.  You may need a warm jacket....not quite as warm as an Alaskan parka.  You will need a medium winter jacket.  A sweatshirt could be handy.  They are available in the gift shops, but are often overpriced.  Sunglasses, hats, and sunscreen will be needed.  It will be warm and sunny in the middle of the days even if mornings and evenings cool off.  The sun that close to the equator can be beastly.  I am not planning at this point in time to pack rain gear.  This is not usually the rainy season.  Because we all own most of these kinds of things none of us should have to go out and purchase special things just for Florida weather."  Also, be aware that the resort pools are all heated, so even if the air temperature is "only" in the 70's or so, we can still swim.  Plus, each pool has a hot tub.

One key to making a trip to WDW with such a large group work is communication.  Please, please, please -- both now and while we're all in Florida -- let Mom and Dad know when something isn't working!  This is their trip, it's on their dime, so I figure they have a big say in what we do... but I'm sure accommodations can be made to resolve any problems that arise.  None of us tend to be too quiet, so I don't think that will be a problem anyway.  ;)

Let me know if you have any questions.  Feedback on these plans is greatly welcomed!  I hope you don't think I'm trying to take over the planning... I'm just trying to document (and inform) about what we've all talked about.

Here's a follow-up email I sent out to everyone just a few days ago:

Hi All,

Just reviewing old emails. This one was the original invitation by Mom and Dad that kicked off the thing. Just some quick comments that capture why some things have changed from the original intent.

First, since Mom and Dad did choose to buy a temporary lease of some points at Old Key West, that opened the door to using the upscale facilities at Old Key West Resort. The big advantage is the availability of laundry and kitchen facilities (and a living room for general hanging out) versus the regular hotel room setup. I think it's a nice upgrade from the original plans.

As far as what's included, Mom and Dad wrote, "Air transportation, ground transfers to Walt Disney from the airport, Hotel rooms, 2 meals a day, plus and in the room snacky breakfast are included in the all expenses paid vacation. Also included are length of stay passes to all 10 Disney parks." To help Mom and Dad plan, I laid out a list of all associated costs for the whole trip. The total cost for everything that still has to be paid for (since the accommodations are now covered with the DVC points) is still almost $10,000! The "2 meals a day" statement is true, it's just that Mom and Dad are covering the simple suppers. In order to enjoy some of the WDW restaurants, we're all kicking in (by the way, I don't know who's idea that was, but I'm happy with it.). Otherwise, Mom and Dad would still, I'm sure, be willing to cover 2 meals a day prepared in the room. The cost of "length of stay passes to all 10 Disney parks" is just prohibitive for a group of twelve. Going to the 5 day park hoppers saved over $1000. Besides, I'm not sure that we'd have time (or the right weather) to enjoy the water parks, too. The 5 day park hoppers just seemed to be the best value.

Also, Mom stated, "Brian mentioned going over to a Universal Park for some other attractions." In some emails that bounced around, from back in May of last year, there was some serious discussion about spending some time at off-site parks / activities. Universal Studios and the Space Center were the two mentioned. If anyone wants to still do that, and the group that does will fit in the van, I would guess that Mom would be willing to buy those folks four-day park hoppers instead of five-day ones and give the difference to the folks to offset the cost of the admission media from the other attraction(s). You'd be welcome to use the van in that case. Personally, I'm happy staying on-site, so I'll keep things the way they are for my family.

I'll repeat another of Mom's statements, which I also quoted in yesterday's email, "You will need to pack light to medium jackets. Josh will be happy to know that while shorts can be enjoyed in Florida in December so can long pants. You will probably be able to swim some of the time. Pools are outdoors and it can be a bit cool in December. Pack a swimsuit." In December, average highs are 73 and average lows around 51 degrees Fahrenheit. As Mom said, you need to plan for extremes, though. I've known of folks that have gone on trips during December and had very warm (not hot) days, then very cool evenings. Pack accordingly, with with the laundry available, you can pack lighter than you otherwise might have to (you don't need two wardrobes, just some clothes that cover the extremes that can be washed if need be).

So, that's it for now.  Mom and Dad have yet to deal with the others on airfare issues.  Closer to the trip, I'll be making a bunch of priority seating arrangements for those lunches.  We have to deal with the groceries and packing and travel arrangements for the trip down and back... but those are all easily dealt with and far into the future.  For now, we have our OKWR reservations made and a good beginning on what promises to be a great trip that we'll all remember for many, many years to come!

Thirty Day Update

All of our priority seating arrangements have now been made. I won't mention them here as they are listed in the daily plans. Mom and Dad have also nailed down the air travel arrangements for everyone but my family. In the mean time, Barb and I have planned how we're going to handle the drive down and back.

Twenty Day Update

A small development has come up. Dad found out that my third cousin, David Webb, and his family from the United Kingdom, will be at WDW during Christmas week. We've made plans to meet up with the Webbs on Sunday the 22nd (we figure their kids and our boys will get along well, and it's an otherwise open day). We're also going to discuss the idea of them coming over to Old Key West Resort to visit with the whole family on Christmas day.

Because we've made arrangements to meet with the Webbs, I've made lunch priority seatings for the 22nd at Liberty Tree Tavern.

Also, everything is documented for the trip... rough plans (much more detailed than I ever do for my own trips, but I'm just thinking about the size of our group and the high crowd levels at Christmas time versus our normal trips), priority seatings, and so on.

Sunday
Monday
Tuesday
Wednesday
Thursday
Friday
Saturday
15 16 17 Drive to Shelby Township, then as far as we can go... 18 Drive to Sweetwater, TN. 19 Mom & Dad to Fly in.  Check into ASMoR. 20 (AK) MVMCP PM. 21 (Studios) Crazy all day.

22 (MK) Arrive, check into OKWR. MK AM w/ Webbs. Liberty Tree Tavern (6 adults, 4 kids, 1 highchair) 12:00pm.

PS# 26086845

Railings and Dave arrive PM.

23 (AK) Epcot AM. Nine Dragons (10 adults, 2 kids, 1 highchair) 12:00pm.

PS# 25626408

MK PM (Spectro Magic).

24 (Studios) AK AM. Candlelight Processional Dinner at Rose & Crown (10 adults, 2 kids, 1 highchair).

PS# 25280319

Epcot PM (Illumi Nations).

25 (Epcot) Christmas Day—No Parks (in room, around resort, etc.) Webbs to visit in the afternoon. Downtown Disney PM?  Port Orleans PM? 26 (MK) Studios AM.   Hollywood Brown Derby (10 adults, 2 kids, 1 highchair) 12:20pm.

PS# 25626427

Crazy PM.

27 (AK) Crazy AM. Couples Night at Boma (6 adults) 6:10pm.

PS# 25626444

Resort Tour PM (see below).

7:20pm.

PS# 26241531

28 (Studios) MK AM. Plaza Restaurant (10 adults, 2 kids, 1 highchair) 60 days, October 29th.12:00pm.

PS# 25785100

Studios PM (Fantasmic).

29 (MK) Railings and Dave depart. Crazy all day. 30 (AK) Crazy all day. 31 (Studios) Check out of OKWR, Depart, Drive to Sweetwater, TN. 1 (Epcot) Drive Home

Tuesday, December 17, 2002 (Travel)

Plans: The goal for today is simply to get on the road, picking Allan up from School on the way, stopping at Mom and Dad's house to get some things so they will have less to deal with on the plane, and putting as much distance between us and home as possible.

Today was a little bit different than I'd planned. As it turned out, Barb had one final volleyball match before the holidays scheduled for today, so we stayed in town until after the match.

Mom and Dad knew about our adjusted schedule several days before the trip, so they voluntarily drove up to see us a week and a half before departure day and dropped off the Christmas things, extra suitcase, and other items (including Christmas cookies and a bunch of kitchen stuff) that we were to take in the van. Barb and I actually packed the van on Monday night, so when I got home on Tuesday we just drove over to school for the match, hit a Wendy's for a quick bite on the way out of town, then hit the road for a jump start on the trip.

We managed to do pretty well, getting all the way to Williamstown, Kentucky before calling it a night in a Days Inn just off I-75. I think Barb and I were asleep before the boys. Fortunately, they stayed in bed and fell off to slumberland too, without any problems.

Wednesday, December 18, 2002 (Travel)

Plans: The goal for today is simply to drive, drive, drive. In fact, if we could get all the way down to the Lake Buena Vista area, I'd love to stay there and spend all day Thursday in the area.

Wednesday, we got up, repacked the van, and made our way to the lobby for a quick continental breakfast before getting back on the road.

To make a very long story short, we did, indeed, make it all the way to Lake Buena Vista this day. In fact, we pulled into the All Star Movies parking lot just after 11:00pm, where I inquired about the possibility of coming in a night early for our stay with Mom and Dad. As it turned out, we were about to check in early. The good news was that Mom and Dad's room, which I could check into the next day, would be adjoining ours. More good news was that we were on the first floor. The bad news was that the "preferred location" that I paid an extra $10.00 night for, meant that we would NOT be in the Toy Story section as I'd requested, but in Fantasia.

While I was taking care of things at the front desk, Michael woke up (Barb had stayed behind in the van with the boys while I ran in). Seeing a Disney bus driving by, he said "Mommy, we're at 'Waut Disney Wood'."

We drove around to the Fantasia area, got the things out of the van that we needed for the morning, then called it another late night.

Thursday, December 19, 2002 (Travel, Check-In at All Star Movies Resort)

Plans: The goal for today is to finish up the drive, as much as there is left, then do some shopping, etc. Finally, later in the afternoon we'll drive over to the All Star Movies Resort, check in, and move in for the first part of the trip. Then, while Barb and the boys hang out there at the resort, I'll go pick up Mom and Dad at the airport, take them back to the All Star Movies Resort, help them get settled, then go out for dinner somewhere before calling it a night.

Since we already were at the All Star Movies Resort, there was no need for any more driving. However, I did have to go over to the front desk (I made the trek just before 7:00am) to check out and check back in. After we all got up and ready, we made a quick run over to the food court for breakfast, then unloaded a few things from the van.

We spent several hours checking out several scrapbook stores in the area. Barb always enjoys seeing new stores, so we make a point of it whenever we're on vacation (we drove almost all the way to Hampton Roads from Williamsburg, Virginia during our Spring trip to visit a store, for example).

We stopped at Jungle Jim's at the Crossroads, for a very late lunch, before going back to the room for a nap. I got up in plenty of time to drive over to the airport where I picked up Mom and Dad (their flight had been delayed 50 minutes or so, but our connection was easily handled).

We had a simple fast food dinner at the food court before calling it an early evening. Barb and I watched the Survivor Final Episode (this Thailand event was a bit less engrossing for me than the previous ones, I don't know why), then dropped off to sleep.

Friday, December 20, 2002 (Enjoy the day, Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party)

Plans: Tonight we're going to enjoy Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party over at the Magic Kingdom. I bought tickets for the event back in August or so (Barb and I are springing for the event, since it wasn't on the original agenda... and I just think that we'll really enjoy doing this with the boys. Who knows when we'll be back at WDW at this time of year?) So, the plan is to spend some time in the morning just having fun, but getting back to the resort for a good nap by mid-afternoon at the latest. The party begins at the park at about 7:00pm, so we'll try to get over there a bit early and have dinner on the way to the park (perhaps at one of the Magic Kingdom resorts). After that, we'll enjoy the party as long as the boys hold out.

Today, we started our day at Epcot. It was a rainy morning, and we got pretty well soaked, but we still had a good time. We enjoyed Spaceship Earth, had breakfast at Sunshine Food Fair at the Land, saw Ellen's Energy Adventure at the Universe of Energy, strolled through the Wonders of Life (including Cranium Command, still a favorite after a decade or so), then we went back over to the Land for Living With the Land and Food Rocks before leaving the park for the day.

This evening we went over to the Magic Kingdom for Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party, a special "hard ticketed" event (which means we paid about $34 each to be there). Although I think the parade was really great, I personally feel that the rest of the evening was a bust, at least for our family. Clearly the party is designed for folks that will NOT be at WDW during Christmas week. The reason I say that is that all of the special shows, Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Parade, and so on actually run during Christmas week for regular park guests. Furthermore, the crowd levels were higher during the "Party" than during the day on other days during our trip. For folks that would miss out on those special shows (because they visit earlier in December), the party is a good idea. For us, it would have been MUCH better to save the money and do some of those things later in the trip.

What made the evening worse for us personally was that Barb and I had a communications glitch that lasted much of the night. She wanted to spend most of the evening seeing the shows. I thought the boys would be bored with that, so I was concentrating on rides. Unfortunately, the large crowds didn't lend themselves to either solution. Both Barb and I got quite testy, something that is really rare in our family, and our combined attitudes just added to the misery.

One thing that we did fairly early on was to catch a quick bite at Cosmic Ray's Starlight Cafe. I just directed our group over to Cosmic Ray's because I was so hungry. Unfortunately, the idea of stopping for food was another thing that Barb didn't really want to do. She had suggested earlier that we eat at the resort before the party started to save time. That plan was rejected because no one was fully hungry earlier.

We did stick around in the park until pretty late. We didn't get back to the All Star Movies Resort until after 11:00pm, but all we really did was get our free digital picture taken (not by a professional, by any means), rode Buzz Lightyear and Winnie the Pooh, saw the Fireworks and enjoyed the parade. The fireworks were very low and pretty poor -- no where near as good as Believe at Disneyland or even the regular Fantasy in the Sky display, in my opinion. The only cool thing was that some fire works were fired all around the park, so there was a "surround" effect that was pretty interesting. Otherwise, I preferred the regular display any time.

Live and learn.

I won't be doing Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party again any time soon.

Saturday, December 21, 2002 (Enjoy the day)

Plans: After what promises to be a relatively late night at Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party, today we'll sleep in as late as the boys allow, then just spend the day enjoying WDW. One possible evening idea is to go over to the Studios to see the Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights to see if it's worth taking everyone else over later in the trip, or if we should just skip it. Otherwise, nothing is planned, nothing is critical... we'll just do whatever we all want to do at a relatively slow pace, since this is our last deep breath before the rest of the family shows up for the main event tomorrow.

This morning we slept in a bit because of the late night the evening before. When we finally got moving, we took a bus over to Animal Kingdom for the morning. We started by making the looooong walk back to Harambe, getting Fastpasses for the Safari, and having a light breakfast at Tusker House. Just about the time that breakfast was done, the Fastpass window had started, so we walked over to the Fastpass return line and just about walked onto the ride directly with only a very small wait.

Without doubt, this was the best safari ride that I've ever been on. We saw a ton of animals out, perhaps because of the lower temperatures than we're used to experiencing down here in Central Florida.

After the safari, we walked through the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail. The one major change that I noticed was the addition of a large number of fish in the hippo pool. Of course, the hippo was there too, but the fish greatly added to the show. In contrast, though, the gorillas were not very active. We could only see a couple of them, and those two were not making themselves very visible.

After the trail, we walked over to Dinoland and rode on the new Triceratops Spin and Primeval Whirl. Both were OK, but I don't think they're anywhere near worth the publicity that the Disney folks have given these modest additions to Animal Kingdom. I also noticed, but passed on (much to Allan's consternation), playing any of the "Dinorama" midway-type games. A basketball shooting game cost $2.00 for one shot, much too rich for my frugal blood.

We made one last stop on the way out of the park. We stopped for a quick ice cream snack before heading back to the resort for our afternoon nap break. Then it was back to the All Star Movies Resort for the duration of the afternoon.

We got moving again at about 5:00pm or so. During the break I'd made reservations for Mama Melrose. We got to the restaurant about half an hour before our appointed time, but we were seated within five minutes or so.

Dinner was simple, but very good. I had a chicken with pasta dish. Dad and Mom had individual wood-fired pizzas, and Barb had spaghetti. We passed on dessert, we just didn't have the room... nor did we want to add much more to the bill.

The next stop was New York Street for the Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights. I just can't describe how awesome this display really is. I had thought of the Spectacle of Lights as being a very big light display like one would see in any typical subdivision in suburban United States. I was quite wrong. Actually, the word "Spectacle" is a very apt description. Over 21,000 man hours go into setting up the display over a ten week period of time in September, October and November each year. It's a walk-though display, but it really is incredible. The Spectacle begins in the town square area at the foot of New York Street. From there it winds through the residential area of the Studios backlot.

I was completely spellbound by the incredible scope of this thing. Lights, including a bunch of articulated displays, spread as far as the eye can see.

Did I say this was incredible? :)

After we finished up walking through the display, it was just about the time that the Studios was closing up for the night. We were still raring to go, though, so we left the park and got on the Studios Friendship and took a cruise to the Epcot resorts and finally to Epcot's International Gateway. We entered the park and strolled around World Showcase for awhile and ended up seeing IllumiNations from the China pavilion.

After IllumiNations, we strolled up to the front of the park, exited, and took the bus to the All Star Movies Resort and called it a night.

It was a jam-packed day, but we thoroughly enjoyed it.

Sunday, December 22, 2002 (Check-In to OKWR, Grocery Shopping, Prep for Crew Arrival)

Plans: Today will be a very busy day. As soon as we get up, we'll have to pack up our things. I'll take them over to OKWR sometime earlyish in the morning to pre-check in over there. I'll have to leave the van loaded up, as I'm sure I won't actually get the rooms at that time. Still, I hope to park somewhere near where we will be staying for the week. Then, I'll jump on the next bus to wherever we agree to meet up. I'll find Barb and the boys and Mom and Dad, and we'll just enjoy the morning and early afternoon where ever we end up going. Around 3:00pm or so, we'll get back over to OKWR and (hopefully) get our room assignments confirmed so we can move things in. From that point on, we'll have a busy day as the Railings and Dave and Kristin arrive throughout the evening. We also need to make a run over to Publix or Goodings to get some groceries (we'll be bringing non-perishables from home, but need to get milk, bread, and so on after we check into OKWR). Depending on what everyone's final schedule is for arrival, we might make a venture out somewhere to have dinner... or perhaps we'll just do something simple there in the room. The jury is still out on that.

Today started just as planned, with one interesting twist. There was a check out notice hanging on our doorknob when we got up in the morning, and we had been overcharged $43 per night per room for the last two nights of the stay. To the credit of the All Star Resort folks, they resolved the problem immediately, but the irritation was the explanation provided... "sorry sir, there was a computer glitch." The total mistake would have cost Mom and Dad over $165 with the increased room rate and fees. Fortunately, I caught it and got it fixed.

After that interesting start, the morning went pretty much as planned. We got the van loaded up, and I left everyone to go over to Old Key West Resort to check in. Check in went very smoothly. The Studio that the Railings would be staying in, was ready, but the two-bedroom vacation home was not. I asked if parking in that building's parking lot would be wise (as I was given the keys to both rooms immediately, but couldn't be told the room number of the two-bedroom vacation home until the afternoon) and the check-in CM simply said, "Yes."

The other things that I took care of while I was at Hospitality House was picking up our Candlelight Processional passes and the package that Karen had shipped ahead. Both were handled quickly. The Guest Services CM that helped me told me that the CM choir was 72 voices and that local churches and schools added an additional 350 voices for each performance.

I checked out the studio and found everything in good order, then left the van behind and caught the first bus to the Magic Kingdom.

Today was the day that Dad had arranged for us to meet up with my third cousin, David Webb, and his family. The plan was to meet up at the flagpole in town square on Main Street USA at 9:00am, then spend the morning and early afternoon together before we had to leave to get settled in at OKWR.

I arrived at the flag pole at about 8:45. Mom and Dad and Barb and the boys were already there. We ended up waiting until 9:35am or so for the Webbs to show up.

In the meantime, there were plenty of things going on. The whole of town square was filled with tons of people. There were characters everywhere and long lines of people eager to meet them. Barb took the boys to see Captain Hook and Mr. Smee before I'd arrived. She took Michael over to see some other characters, too, but Allan preferred to wait with Grandpa and Grandma by the flag pole.

It was great to meet the Webbs. Allan (6) and Michael (2) got along well with Alex (8) and Henry (3) right off the bat.

Then began a whirlwind tour of those parts of the park that I thought the boys would most enjoy. We started by walking down Main Street and through the castle into Fantasyland to ride Peter Pan and It's a Small World. Both were fun, and this early in the morning, the crowds were still very manageable.

As we walked from the flag pole through the castle courtyard, Barb noticed the interest the Goldie, David's wife, showed in the characters that were around (the princesses and other "Fantasyland" characters were all around the inner courtyard, much like the large number of characters that were around in town square). So, we made the long walk back to Toontown Fair to get some photos with Mickey. When we arrived at the judge's tent, a small line was forming but no cast members were around. Perhaps we arrived just as Mickey was preparing to meet guests this morning. Anyway, we waited only a very short period of time before we were ushered in to see the Big Cheese. The Webb boys got to meet Mickey first, then Allan and Michael did too. We also got our "triply" photo with our whole family and Mickey.

After we finished up with the Mouse, we walked out to Toontown Fair. Allan wanted to walk through Minnie's house, but the majority ruled and we went, instead, to ride the Barnstormer. Just before we got there, we saw that Goofy was there to meet folks. Allan and Michael wanted to do so, and did, although Alex and Henry apparently had had their fill of characters. Then we got in line with Grandma, of course, staying behind with Michael.

The line was very short, and Allan was pretty stoic about it, but after we left he load area, he got quite a bit uneasy about things. He just about, but not quite, cried out in fear. I put my left arm around him to give him a bit more confidence that the next couple of minutes wouldn't be his last on Earth. He really did appear to be quite shaken.

When we pulled into the station, though, he looked at me, smiled, and said, "that was fun, can we do it again?" I guess that's how coaster nuts are born, huh?

After the Barnstormer, we walked back to Fantasyland and rode Snow White with only a minor wait time (less than a half hour for sure).

Finally, it was time to head over to Liberty Square for our planned lunch at Liberty Tree Tavern. Unfortunately, we were not seated at a table that could accommodate all ten of us and not wanting to break up the boys, Barb suggested that she take Allan, Michael, and Alex with her at the table for four. The rest of us gathered around a larger round table. After we'd ordered, but before the food was delivered, Goldie brought Henry over to Barb's table so he could be with the other boys. The food was good, David and I both had the Pot Roast, Mom and Dad ordered the salad. I just felt bad for Barb because she was over there dealing with four boys all by herself while the five of us enjoyed our meals in relative peace and quiet.

When we finished up at the Tavern, we walked around the Rivers of America and caught the first raft over to Tom Sawyer's Island. I thought that the Island would be something the boys would enjoy. In fact, it had been a good two years or so since Allan had been to the Island (and it was the Disneyland one that time). Michael never had been.

As I expected, it was a hit. We spent time at the Scavenger Fort, in the Mine, and checking out the Barrel Bridge and Rope Bridge. But when we got to Fort Langhorn, I think Allan and Alex hit nirvana. They spent a good half hour just crawling all over the place checking out the guns (that make a really good report when you pull the trigger) and cannon.


Allan defends Fort Langhorn.

We also went deep into Injun Joe's Cave, walked past Aunt Polly's and Tom's fence, and ended our tour at Harper's Mill. Unfortunately, Barb had to take Michael back to the "mainland" for a cleanup shortly after we'd arrived on the island. Frankly, I think (after lunch) she enjoyed being with just one boy for awhile anyway. ;)

One story I must tell... When we went into Injun Joe's Cave, I was amazed at how deep and long the cave went into the hillside. When we got deep into the cavern, there was no light and we were moving around pretty much by feel. It was at that point that a small group of college kids decided to play some games. They "hid" along in some of the nooks and crannies of the cave and were reaching out and touching people or making startling noises right next to folks that were unsuspecting. Dad, David, and I didn't have any problems (not that the kids were causing problems), and the boys were pretty much oblivious to what the older guys were doing. I wanted to figure out a way to let them know that I knew they were there, but without giving them the chance to startle me. So, I got out my camera and took a couple of flash pictures just so I could get a quick glimpse of where they were hanging out. When we got out of the cave, the college guys came out too, and we laughed about their antics and my photography.


The boys in Injun Joe's Cave.

After leaving Injun Joe's Cave, we made our way back to the landing and there we found Barb. While she had taken care of Michael, she found out that the afternoon parade that we had wanted to see was running at 2:00pm, not 3:00pm. The only way we could catch it was if we left the Island immediately. The Webbs decided that this would be a good breaking point, so they declined while the six of us jumped on the next raft back.

When we arrived back in Frontierland, we found out that the parade that would be running was the same Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Parade that we'd seen on Friday night, so we decided to call it a day and head over to OKWR. Michael was done, he was getting very crabby and definitely needed a nap. Even if the two-bedroom vacation home wouldn't be ready yet, we decided that the boys could at least catch a nap in the studio if need be.

So, we caught the next bus to Old Key West Resort. When we got to the Southpoint stop, I called the front desk and found that our room was ready. I already had the keys from this morning, so now all we had to do is move in.

The room was at the absolute opposite end of the building from Karen and Steve's studio. It would make for some brisk early morning walks to breakfast for the Railing clan, but otherwise is fine.

We found the two-bedroom to be in good shape, so I moved the van a bit closer to the door, and started hauling things in. While I did that, Barb got the boys settled down for a nap and Grandma started the process of moving into her kitchen as we'd brought about $150 worth of groceries in the van, plus some extra pots, pans, and utensils.

After we got that settled, Mom and Dad and I left Barb and the boys and went to Publix near Orange Lake off SR-192 and spent $271 more in groceries. We really tried to do the shopping with a single cart, but halfway through the run I was sent back to get a second one (we filled the second one pretty well, too, so I don't know what we were thinking originally). It felt like we were playing "Supermarket Sweep." Mom would mention something and Dad and I would pull three or four off the shelf and drop them into the cart. Just about all of our estimates were rounded up. Thinking back, I can't think of a single thing that we decided to NOT toss in. Everything was such a blurr... and I figure that Mom, Dad, and I and our two shopping carts were whirling dirvishes (a little Sound of Music lingo there) in that Publix that Sunday afternoon. After our spree, we drove our laden van back to the resort and unloaded the newly purchased victuals.

After that, Mom prepared all the fixings for taco salads (or just plain tacos, depending on each person's preference). We waited for awhile for the rest of the crew to arrive, but after getting a phone call from Karen, we decided to go ahead and eat and let the others chow when they arrived.

Karen's call was placed on her cell phone from the airport. They had arrived safely, but had to wait for Dave and Kristin to arrive before they could board the Mears shuttle as their reservations were for a party of six and two of the six weren't there yet. That was easier said than done, since Dave and Kristin were flying in an hour later on a different airline.

All's well that ends well, though. Everyone did get hooked up at the airport and they caught the shuttle to Old Key West and arranged with Bell Services to get them and their things to our building without any problems. They ended up getting in just before 8:00pm or so and had delayed Taco Salads

Karen and Allan and Michael (in a mostly symbolic role) put up the Christmas tree that Karen had shipped in from Seattle. It was only a couple of feet high, but it made the point... and we were able to place our collected Christmas gifts around the base of the tree which made it feel a bit more like Christmas time than it had been just a few hours earlier.


Aunt Karen gets some help with the Christmas tree.

Then we all visited for awhile before we called it a night.

Monday, December 23, 2002 (Enjoy the day)

(Note: Now that everyone has joined us, we will have a daily morning excursion planned. Everyone, we hope, will join us though lunch time. In the afternoon, my family and I (and I suspect, Mom and Dad) will beat a hasty retreat to OKWR for a break. Then, in the evening we will have another park run planned that everyone is welcome to join us on. The idea is to have a plan, but be sufficiently flexible that everyone can split up to do some other things as they wish.)

Plans: Today is our first family day in the parks. We have priority seating plans for lunch at Nine Dragons at noon, so we'll head over to Epcot in the morning to enjoy our first park time together in Future World. In the evening, I'd like to go over to see SpectroMagic. It would be the first time at the Magic Kingdom for several of the crew, and that would be a spectacular introduction!

Today was our first day together in the parks as an extended family.

Michael Scott Bennett ...As I was typing this part of the report, Michael came over and asked me to type his name, so I did. Then he said, "Thank you Daddy," and walked away. I don't really get it, but I'm NOT going to erase this paragraph. :)


First of many waits at the bus stop.

We started over at Epcot this morning. We arrived there, after doing a "self serve" breakfast in the room. (Did I mention that Barb and I brought about $150 worth of groceries from Michigan and that Mom and Dad and I had picked up another $271 worth on Sunday? Did I?)

Anyway, back to Epcot...

We got to the park at about 8:30am. I figured that, this being Christmas week, the park would open at or before 8:00am. I was wrong. As it turned out, we had to wait until rope drop, which wasn't until 9:00am. Obviously, we didn't have a long wait. As soon as 9:00 rolled around, we were off (along with a bunch of other people) to get Fastpasses for Test Track.

Then, we walked right into Ellen's Energy Adventure and thoroughly enjoyed that attraction (for the second time this trip for my immediate family, but for the first time for most of the family). We followed up Ellen's energy education with Test Track (which everyone enjoyed) using the Fastpasses we'd gotten earlier, and then saw Honey I Shrunk the Audience and Journey into Your Imagination (which I think is much better with Figment, but is still a shadow of the original attraction (with Dreamfinder) that opened this pavilion.

At that point, we figured we'd better get moving over to World Showcase for lunch. We pretty much just hightailed it over past Mexico and Norway to China for a sit down meal at Nine Dragons. This turned out to be an excellent meal! For $14.95 each (child's rates were a bit lower) we had our own buffet served family-style right at the table. We had sweet and sour pork, beef tenderloin with vegetables, honey sesame chicken, cashew shrimp, a lo mein dish, and one or two others... along with appetizers of soup (hot and sour or wonton or both), spring rolls, and Chinese dumplings. Desert was ginger or red bean ice cream. I can't say enough about this lunch (I noticed that this "sampler" option wasn't available on the Dinner menu). We all enjoyed it, and I will definitely come back to Nine Dragons much sooner than the five years it has taken me to return since our last visit here.

After lunch, we continued our stroll around the promenade. We made our way over to Japan, where Mom sprung for pearls (where you pick your own oyster) and settings for each of the girls as their Christmas gifts. Allan actually selected Mom's and Barb's and did very well! Barb's was large enough for the cast member to ring the gong, which they do only when the selected pearl is particularly large or special for some reason.

While the girls were dealing with those chores, I took the guys back to the back of the Mitsukoshi store to see the motion clocks. I've mentioned those in my trip reports in the past. They're just way cool. Someday, when I have $300-400 to burn, I'll buy one of those things. :)

After the pearl task was completed, several of us left Japan and caught the Friendship from Morocco to the foot of World Showcase Lagoon. From there, we made our way out of the park and back to the resort for our afternoon break.


Several of us retreating to Old Key West on a Friendship.

The others, Karen, Steve, Dave, and Kristin, walked the rest of the way around the promenade just to get a little taste of France, the United Kingdom and Canada. I believe that Ben and Dave and Kristin made a trip to the pool later in the afternoon. I'm not certain of that, because I was sound asleep by that time.

At about 5:00 or so, we all started to congregate back in the kitchen and living room. We had a simple sandwich and snack supper before heading back out for the evening. Tonight, it was off to the Magic Kingdom to see SpectroMagic! We got to the park just before 7:00pm or so. The parade was scheduled to run at both 8:00 and 10:00pm, and we decided to try to catch the first one.

Although the crowds were building steadily, we were able to stake out a prime piece of real estate right in front of the Frontierland Shooting Gallery. It turned out to be the perfect spot for a lengthy layover. A couple of tables with checkerboards were nearby, a couple of Frontierland stores were right in the area (great for a leg-stretching walk), and the shooting gallery itself (and about $5.00 in quarters) kept Allan occupied for awhile. I think we all enjoyed the time to just sit and visit a bit. The wait for the parade went very quickly.

SpectroMagic was great as always. It was particularly fun to watch the parade with the family members that had never seen it. Michael and Allan were enthralled, as usual, too.

But the fun for the evening (at least for us older folks) began after the parade was over. We walked over to Splash Mountain and a whole bunch of us, minus Grandma and the younger boys, went to ride the rapids. The wait time was only about five minutes or so. When I asked Josh what he thought of Splash, he said "excellent," but in some evil character voice. (He says it's "Mr. Burns" from Simpsons, and I'll have to trust him since I've never seen the show myself.) The photo, that dad purchased, showed all of us cowering to some extent, but I, in a flash of brilliance, was pulling my jacket over my head. It had the fortunate effect of keeping my glasses relatively dry, but the negative effect of appearing (in the photo) that I was cowering from fear. I wasn't, really... I was just trying to stay dry! Really. I was...

After that, we walked over to Big Thunder, but found that the spirits had shut down the Mountain for some reason, so we grabbed some Fastpasses then went back for a rerun on Splash. This time, Barb and Karen joined the cowards (OK, OK, Barb had to change Michael and Karen was a bit queasy). The ride was as fun as the first time, with all of us getting our fair share of water. Several of us enjoyed giving Kristin trouble about the drops. She's the self-professed 'fraidy cat about coasters, drops, and so on... so we gave her quite the treatment about the big drop (both times, actually).

After our second splash down of the evening, we walked back to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and several folks rode. Barb and I stayed behind with the younger guys, but when it was our turn to go, we were able to take a few extras with us... I'd gotten a baby swap pass (good for three of us), plus I had our four Fastpasses, so seven of us were able to go on the second run.

Obviously, both Splash and Big Thunder Mountain were great hits. Josh and Ben thoroughly enjoying them in particular. In fact, the reception of these two classics got me to thinking...

There IS another Mountain in the Magic Kingdom... hmmmm...

So we decided to walk over to Tomorrowland and try to catch Space Mountain, too, before the park closed. We started to walk along parade route (along river boardwalk) as SpectroMagic was in progress (but not quite yet to Frontierland), but Dad suggested going through Adventureland instead. I hesitated, but I couldn't think of any reason why my route would be better than Dad's suggestion, so we made a hairpin turn around Pecos Bill's and headed into Caribbean Plaza. As it turned out, I think it was a good choice. It was very, very quiet back in Adventureland... so quiet, in fact, that I was struck by the incredible difference between the traffic levels in the East and West coast Adventurelands during the evening hours. This part of the park is just SCREAMING for a new E-Ticket attraction. I hope someone at WDW and Imagineering is working on something that they can drop in here in the next five years or so.

Anyway, we got to hub and had to wait due to the tail end of SpectroMagic going by on Main Street. The mass of humanity in the area was huge (I was reminded of those Summer nights when the Main Street Electrical Parade was "glowing away" at Disneyland a few years ago...) but with very little problem, I was able to navigate our double stroller through the crowds, behind the tail end of the parade, and follow it to the Tomorrowland causeway. Just twenty feet or so from the hub, the crowds thinned down quickly, so the walk into Tomorrowland proper was child's play. Fortunately, the rest of our twelve member crew made it through the crowd, too, so we were off...

We did decide to break up for a little bit. While most of us went off to ride Space Mountain, Barb, our boys, Aunt Karen, Grandma and Grandpa all went to enjoy Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin (some of them rode twice while we were off riding Space Mountain).

The rest of us got into the standby line for the Mountain. Listed wait time was about 20 minutes, and I think that timing was just about right. Except for Dave and I, no one really knew what to expect with this ride, but the buildup as we walked through the queue was great. (Sidebar: One of the things I really enjoyed on this trip was seeing some of WDW's wonders through fresh eyes. It's been years since I've noticed that Space Mountain's queue was anything other than a place to store bodies before they loaded into the vehicles. Seeing the anticipation and smiles plastered on the other family member's faces was a ton of fun... all week long!)

The ride was classic Space Mountain. It's always fun, always worth the wait, and always something to do again... but alas, we couldn't. We had to move along because the park was closing at 11:00pm, and when we exited from the Arcade building, the line had been closed off.

We walked across Tomorrowland and found the rest of our group over by Buzz, then made our way out to the hub, Main Street, the entry plaza, and the bus terminal.

All in all, this was an absolutely awesome first day! If I'd orchestrated it from beginning to end, I couldn't have made it better. The flurry of rides were were able to enjoy post-SpectroMagic just punctuated a great start to our trip.

Tuesday, December 24, 2002 (Enjoy the day)

Plans: This morning, I'd like to head over to Animal Kingdom for first part of the day. A trip on Kilimanjaro Safaris and Kali River Rapids as well as seeing Festival of the Lion King (if we can squeeze it in) would be a nice introduction to this park. Also, we have dinner plans at the Rose & Crown tonight at 5:30pm, just in time to enjoy ourselves before the scheduled Candlelight Processional at 8:15pm. I'd like to stay in the park afterwards for IllumiNations if everyone is willing to stick around.

Joshua Railing, my 17-year-old nephew, has plans to enter veterinary school. In particular, he has interest in felines. Today's plans, involving a visit to Animal Kingdom, were right up his alley.

We started the day with our regular breakfast in the room. Getting over to the bus stop by 8:00am or so wasn't a problem, in fact, as I write this after arriving back home, we did fairly well as a group on getting out to buses all week. Having said that, WDW Transport was running in top gear all week too. We did have our share of waits for buses, and we had our share of full and very full buses, but I was very pleased with the overall results given the crowd levels during the holidays.

As we drove up to Animal Kingdom, we pointed out the Tree of Life to Karen and Steve. Even from this distance, beyond the parking lot, the Tree is huge. It also looks very, very real from far away. Not until one is close enough to make out some of the animal carvings does the fact that this tree is man-made really sink in.

When we got to the park, we walked through Oasis and Discovery Island back into Harambe. The first thing we did was a walk-on of Kilimanjaro Safaris. The Safari is always fun, but with the exclamations of excitement from the others, it made it all the more so.

After the Safari, we left Harambe and walked all the way over to Asia to walk through the Maharajah Jungle Trek. We could have done the Pangani Forest trail, and with more time certainly would have, but doing the Safari and the Trek gave a good balance between the Africa and Asia areas of the park. During the walk, I took tons of pics (Steve did too... I'm really jealous of his new digital camera and I'm trying to talk Barb into letting me buy a new one before our next trip).

During the Trek we had, without doubt, the greatest views of the tigers I've ever seen. Four or five of the big cats were in the area and they were quite active (and even playful with each other).

When we returned to Anandapur, a subset of our group chose to ride Kali River Rapids twice. I personally chose to pass given the coolness of the day (and the fact that I'll certainly return on future trips with warmer weather). Dave got totally soaked on both of his runs down the river, and I have some great pictures to prove it.


Our crew riding the rapids on the Kali River.


The Wet Ones.

After Kali, we all walked over to Dinoland USA and most of us rode Dinosaur while Barb took the younger boys to play in the boneyard for a bit and to meet up with some characters (Tigger was one, but I can't recall the others).

Then, at least for me and my immediate family, it was back to the resort for lunch and a nap. We had big plans for the evening, and we wanted to make sure that the little guys were well rested for it.

We napped early and got back up and out to the bus stop for at about 5:00pm. The bus wait, probably the worst of the whole trip, was about 30 minutes or more. Finally, though, we were at the park and walking though Future World toward World Showcase... when it started to sprinkle. I'm not sure what it is for me, a big group for dinner, the Rose & Crown, and rain... but those first three ingredients seem to bring on the fourth. By the time we got to Canada, the sprinkle had turned to heavy rain. Before we got to the Rose and Crown, we were Drenched!

We ended up waiting over 30 minutes for a table inside for 12, but eventually we were inside and dry for a very good dinner. The Candlelight Processional dinner included appetizers, entrees, and dessert and with twelve people, the service was slower than normal (but given the large group size, not unreasonable). I enjoyed the fruit and cheese plate (but "lost" most of my grapes to Michael), the prime rib dinner (and got Barb and Karen's Yorkshire puddings to enjoy with my own), and capped it all off with a delightful rum-flavored "sticky pudding" dessert. The dinner was fantastic, even though we spent the whole time drip-drying from the downpour.

After dinner, it was time to head back out to get in line for the Candlelight. We walked around the promenade and found that the line stretched all the way back in Japan (from the American Adventure).

Then it started to rain again.

In fact, this became one of those classic Florida rains that just poured and poured. After about fifteen minutes of this, Dad left. I thought he was mad, and leaving to get under cover somewhere, but soon I realized that he was just being smart... since he returned with ponchos that he purchased at the Mitsukoshi store in Japan.


The Wet Ones, Part Two.

We were all absolutely soaked at this point, but we all put on the ponchos just to reduce the likelihood of getting even more wet (how much more wet can one get when they are drenched?)

I felt really bad for poor Michael. He was cold and wet and frankly couldn't figure out why we were standing in the cold rain at all. He never cried, but he just held on as I held him looking sad and stunned at the strange way our family was spending this Christmas eve night. Except that I knew otherwise (because he did respond when we talked to him) I would have thought that he was comatose. He wasn't a happy camper, but neither did he complain about the situation.

Allan, on the other hand, started out thinking that this was just the greatest adventure of all time. He was really quite jovial. When the girls behind us started to sing Christmas carols, Karen and Barb joined in... and Allan just thought this was great fun.

Just before we were to be seated, I was asked by a cast member to stash the stroller. There was no place under cover to do so, so I ended up leaving the stroller parked in the rain. It certainly wasn't going to be any more dry than we were for the rest of the evening.

A few minutes after I returned to the line, we were finally allowed in. Unfortunately, the overhanging ceiling only covered the first eight or nine rows... and we were ushered to the first row that was NOT under cover.

Then the rainfall became stronger.

A cast member suggested that we move back to the back of the concert area, where the colonnade offered some minimal cover. We moved some benches around and tried to get comfortable, but it still wasn't a good situation. At this point, Allan lost is jovial demeanor. He was now very upset, crying (not in a temper tantrum... just a very heart-rending, sad cry) that he just wanted to "go home."

Then, with the rain coming down and our spirits ebbing quickly (especially mine... I just felt so bad for Michael and Allan)... there was an announcement that the Candlelight Processional was being cancelled.

I was shocked and a bit peeved, but frankly the right decision had been made. None of us would have enjoyed the presentation at that point.

However, I was certain that I was going to make sure that we got some compensation for this. After all, Mom and Dad had paid $32.99 for each adult and $10.99 for the two kids for a total of $361.35 for this package... and was supposed to have included the preferred seating at the Candlelight Processional! (By the way, those prices are at least $7-10 per person higher than the food prices themselves... so effectively, the "preferred seating" was actually a paid-for ticket to the Candlelight.)

I found the nearest cast member and was directed back to a special Guest Relations tent that was set up behind the theater, but in front of the American Adventure. That tent was where Epcot Guest Relations was actively selling the Candlelight Processional dinner packages, but when I got there there was already a crowd gathered and the cast members there pretty much just told everyone to go blow (OK, OK... they told everyone to go to the main Guest Relations desk up by Spaceship Earth... but at the time, it sounded pretty thin to me).

I went over and got the stroller (since I was the only one that knew where it was) and took it over to Barb. I told everyone I would meet them back at Old Key West, and abandoned them to make a fast walk to Guest Relations.

Barb told me later that after I left, just about everyone in our party made one or more stops to the rest room even before leaving the American Pavilion. I guess the rich pub grub from the Rose & Crown had finally caught up with everyone. Eventually, though, the family made it's way back around the promenade over the International Gateway and back to Future World. After an additional bathroom break at the rest rooms West of Spaceship Earth, they made their way out of the park, over to the bus stop, and back to the resort.


The Candlelight rain delay...
I had already left for Guest Services when Steve took this.

Meanwhile, I hoofed it back to Future World around the promenade the opposite direction. I went counter clockwise beyond Germany, Italy, China, and Norway. When I got beyond Mexico I walked through the Odyssey complex over to the causeway and then through the plaza to the Guest Relations on the East side of Spaceship Earth.

I was about the fifth person in line when I got there, but the line formed fast from then on. After a brief wait, I got my hearing before the magistrate. The first question I was asked was, "have you already had dinner." Of course, we had... so that limited the options apparently (I guess one can't give full refunds when most of the value has been given out). I was able to make arrangements for "preferred seating" for the Friday night, 5:00pm (first), performance. I thought, off the top of my head, that that night would work out OK. I also secured a 15% off merchandise coupon for Friday (that's also part of the package deal, and I knew that Barb had planned to take advantage of it, but with the rain I was also quite sure that she would skip the planned shopping run to get the boys back to get warmed and dried).

When I left Guest Relations there was a good 200 or so people in line, by my estimate, with more people arriving. Based on my experience, though, I'm sure Guest Relations handled the bad situation as best they could. I certainly wasn't happy with what had happened, but neither could I blame Disney for it, either.

I walked out of the park and noticed that a small line of folks was at the Guest Relations building outside the park, too. Perhaps, I thought, some of those folks were trying to get resolution to their woes. Then it was on over to the bus stop, where I was able to catch a bus that was loading up just as I arrived at 9:00pm. I actually got a seat on the bus, near the back, and just sad in my puddle (that I'd brought along with me) during the run over to the resort.

When I got back to Old Key West Resort, I got off at our regular bus stop, walked back to the room, and found that no one was there... so, I walked back to the bus stop to wait for everyone's arrival there (I figured, hey, if they have to be uncomfortable waiting for a bus or whatever, what right do I have to go into the room, change clothes, and be comfortable?) Everyone arrived just a couple of busses later. To their credit, no one was jumping up and down happy, but neither did they have terrible moods about them.

As soon as we got in the room, Barb got Allan and Michael in a hot bathtub to warm them up. That certainly helped them both improve their outlook. By then end of the bath, and as the evening progressed, everyone seemed to be just fine. It was a bad experience, but we still had the rest of the trip to look forward to... starting with a great Christmas day right here at Old Key West.

We spent the rest of the evening hanging out in the living room together, which was, after all, the point of a reunion trip. Mom and dad hosted a game that involved a pair of dice and about 100 lunch bags each packed with some trinket. Everyone ended the night with a few goodies.

Just before I went to bed, though I checked our trip schedule and noticed that I had double booked the new Candlelight Processional time over our planned date night. Now I was really stressed. I called Guest Relations there at the resort, but they were off duty so they were not able to help me move either the Candlelight Processional time nor the restaurant priority seating tonight. I'll have to work the issue tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 25, 2002 (Merry Christmas!)

Plans: For our first, and likely last ever, Christmas day in Florida we're going to try to have as "regular" a Bennett Christmas as possible. That means getting up in the morning, enjoying a breakfast there in the room, then having our gift opening time late morning. Mom is planning to make a turkey dinner with all the fixings for the whole crew there in the room, so that should be interesting (just the seating arrangements alone should be interesting). Afterwards, we don't have anything major planned. Since the Railings and Dave and Kristin won't have park passes for the day, the only possible group excursion would be a run over to Downtown Disney. If enough folks want to go, I'm game. Otherwise, we'll just spend the day at OKWR enjoying the resort.

Today was an odd Christmas day for us. One on hand, the day was scheduled much like our typical Christmases back home, but having everyone together in unusual surroundings made for a very different experience.

I got up kind of late, 8:00am or so, and breakfasted on scrambled eggs and coffee. Most of the others had been up for an hour or more already, so this was a rare treat for me to be able to sleep in a bit. (Especially since we're at WDW and I NEVER sleep this late when we're down here.)

After breakfast, we gathered around the tree (Karen's tree that she'd sent ahead from Seattle) and passed out and opened our presents. Christmas was lighter in the gift department than in some years. For one thing, everyone had to carry their gifts from miles and miles away. For another, we were all spending money on the trip in lieu of lavish gifts. It was a fine trade off, though, to be able to spend a week with the family.

After we cleaned up the living room of boxes, bags, paper, tape, and ribbon... Allan donned his roller blades for the first time. We (I was on foot) went out with David, Kristin, Barb, and Allan on blades. We went out to the parking lot and from there to the Old Key West walkway to Downtown Disney (which doubles as the golf cart trail for the Lake Buena Vista golf course) and the four of them bladed up and down the path for a while. Allan did really well. He didn't have any serious falls at all, and by the end of the half hour session was doing pretty well. I suppose I'll have to go out and buy some blades, now, for myself... so our whole family can blade around the subdivision and park (our township park is just a half block away from our house) in the nicer weather.


Allan checking out his new blades.

We spent the rest of the late morning and early afternoon checking out various gifts, playing games, (me) working on the trip report, and so on.

Finally, the big moment came... Turkey dinner with all the trimmings. One of the things that we'd purchased at Publix on Sunday was a 23 pound bird. Mom cooked him to perfection and we had an awesome, buffet style turkey dinner with mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce, corn, two kinds of Jell-O, black and green olives (and a few of us are so strong in our differing opinion as to which is best that we might have started throwing them at each other if they weren't so good), and so on.


Serving up Christmas dinner.

Everyone was able to be seated, but there was little elbow room. We used the main table, the outdoor (patio) table, the table from the adjoining studio, and all of the chairs (and a highchair for Michael). I think that Steve and the Railing boys brought over a couple of chairs from their studio, too.

All in all, it was an awesome meal, but a ton of work. Clean up, though, was relatively easy, since many of the pans and dishes were disposable. Since the two-bedroom vacation home provides service for eight, and we had twelve, we had to supplement.

After dinner and clean up, some folks went swimming and Michael napped for a bit. Later in the afternoon, David Webb and his family arrived and visited with the family (especially those that they hadn't met on Sunday) for a couple hours or so. I got quite an education on tea, as the Webb's, of course, are big tea drinkers. What I hadn't realized prior to this trip, though, is that David (my brother) and the Railings are very much into steeping leaves, too. In fact, Karen had purchased a sampler of teas at the Tea House in the United Kingdom pavilion just the other day, so we had several varieties to compare.

In the early evening, we went over to Downtown Disney. Dave, Kristin, and Josh and Ben left a bit earlier than the rest of us, and had already progressed to the Lego Imagination Center, so we stayed on the bus until the Pleasure Island stop and took the shorter walk to meet up with them. From there we just strolled through the area (and some of the stores) back to the East end of Downtown Disney. The crowds were so great that none of us bothered to buy anything, but still it was nice to get out of the room for a little fresh air. When we got all the way to the scrapbook center that has replaced Readin' 'n' Ritin', we jumped on the next Old Key West bus from the Marketplace bus stop. I think our journey took us out for a good hour and a half or more, and frankly I had thought we might do some serious shopping during the run... but I didn't realize (silly me) that the crowds would be so great on Christmas evening.

When we got back to the room, we enjoyed turkey sandwiches and other snacks. A couple of games broke out and several of us worked on other things (I worked on the trip report for awhile) and then the day came to an end.

Thursday, December 26, 2002 (Enjoy the day)

Plans: Since we have priority seating arrangements for lunch at the Hollywood Brown Derby at 12:20, we'll start the day over at the Studios today. I certainly hope to get in a couple runs on the Tower of Terror and Rock 'n' Roller Coaster with anyone that dares join me. Otherwise, we'll just enjoy the park as much as possible before lunchtime. The evening will be spent over at the Magic Kingdom for some general ride time or Epcot for a World Showcase stroll (or break up into two groups to do both) depending on everyone's interest.

This morning was our first foray to the Disney MGM Studios. It was a jam-packed morning.


One of many, many bus trips.

Right off the bat, we split up. Mom, Karen, Kristin, and Allan and Michael went down Hollywood Boulevard to ride the Great Movie Ride. The rest of us, Dad, Barb, Steve, Josh, Ben, Dave, and I, went to ride on the Tower of Terror. As soon as we hit the ground (for the last time) we went around and did the thing again. Both times the wait was only ten minutes or so... virtually a walk on from the library to the elevator. The new "version IV" of the Tower is fun, but I wasn't able to notice huge differences from the old. I did, however, count seven "ups" and "downs" as we bounced in and out of the Twilight Zone.

After we finished up on the Tower, the daredevils among us (that would be Steve, Josh, Ben, Dave, and I) went over to ride the Rock 'n' Roller Coaster while Dad and Barb went to meet up with the others at the Chinese Theater. On the way to the Tower a few minutes earlier, we'd stopped over and gotten Fastpasses for the Coaster in preparation for the ride, but when we got over to the coaster wait area, only a five minute time was posted for the standby line. It seemed like such a waste to use Fastpasses under those circumstances, so I suggested we just ride via the standby line and use the Fastpasses later. So we did. We joined Aerosmith on a great limo ride in Los Angeles accelerating (2.8 seconds from zero to 60 MPH, if I have the statistics right), turning upside down, and twisting to the "concert."

When we got done, we saw that the standby line was 25 minutes long, and felt much better about using the Fastpasses now... so we almost immediately went through the Fastpass line to ride again. While we were waiting inside G-Force Records for the group to finish their recording session, we (Steve, Josh, Ben, Dave, and I) got to chatting about the ride. We couldn't agree as to whether there were three or two inversions. I thought I "knew" that there were three, but we could only collectively remember two. Well, during our second go 'round, we found the missing inversion. It's right at the beginning when you go over twice. The third time is a solo inversion loop later in the run. Aren't you glad we cleared that up? One other thing about our second run is that Ben really wanted to ride up front, so we asked if we could ride up there. Steven and Ben got into the very first seat, but had to run one limo behind us.

When we all gathered back together, we walked down Sunset, turned down Hollywood, and met up with all of the others. They ended up waiting quite a bit longer than we had realized (probably a good forty minutes or so). Of course, to those of us churning our guts over on Sunset Boulevard, it seemed like a fleeting time... but for those simply waiting for us to arrive it wasn't so quick. Fortunately, no one was really too upset, although Dad made it clear that we'd taken more time than he'd bargained for.

From there, we walked back and enjoyed Star Tours and MuppetVision 3D in quick succession. Star Tours is a classic, and this time Allan chose to ride the shuttle to Endor for the very first time. We had a bit of a technical glitch because Kristin's seat belt didn't work in the first shuttle we loaded into. We all decided to join her in the alternative vehicle rather than maker her ride alone. It was a great ride, and I was very happy to see that Allan enjoyed the ride. I wasn't sure if he would since it's pretty quick and a very exciting ride compared to anything he'd ridden before, but he really did enjoy it. The one thing he commented on was that he really didn't like when we were doing the "falling." (When we lose power over the Death Star and start to fall toward it's surface... the simulator pretty much stands on it's nose until R2D2 locks down our thrusters.) MuppetVision was fun too, but I still think I have more fun in the pre-show than in the 3D theater... but maybe that's just me.

Last for the morning was a run on the Great Movie Ride. For some of us this was the second Ride of the morning, but for many of us it was not only the first Ride of the morning but the first time ever on this great attraction. We were in the A car, so we got to see the shoot-out in the Wild West, which is cool because Karen, Mom, Kristin, and the younger boys were in the B car the first time this morning.

Lunch was over at the Hollywood Brown Derby. I was disappointed that there was absolutely no streetmosphere in the restaurant during our meal. Otherwise, the service was very slow which was made worse by my two boys being rather cranky. I still enjoyed my Cobb salad, and my dessert (I can't for the life of me remember what it was, but dessert at the Brown Derby are never disappointing), but the overall experience was less than awe-inspiring. To be fair, that could be due to the fact that my boys just weren't behaving well... due in part, no doubt, to the fact that they didn't really have a fun, exciting morning. Instead, the morning was oriented much more towards the E-Ticket fans among us.


Lunch at the Hollywood Brown Derby.

After lunch, our merry band broke up. Barb and I took our boys for a short stroll through some of the Hollywood Boulevard shops then back to OKWR for nap time while the others went on the backlot tour before returning to the resort. Although I must admit that the crowds are not as great as I'd expected them to be (I had worst-case scenarios in my head for the last year and a half), I really do miss the quieter Spring and Fall times of the year. Even just simple things like maneuvering the stroller through stores is soooo much easier when the aisles are relatively clear. I'm already looking forward to our next trip so I can enjoy the relative calm in the parks and shops.

A trip over to Epcot is on tap this evening. We had several goals in mind and achieved them all. First was to get a family, group picture taken over at Image Works in the Imagination pavilion. Barb and I had a separate one of just our immediate family done too. Due to the large size of our extended family group, the photographer took our pictures in groupings against a green screen and then pasted them and arranged them until Mom was satisfied. The only negative is that we had to make arrangements to pick up the prints later in the evening. They couldn't just run them off and give them to us immediately. All in all, though, we're happy with the results.

After the photo shoot, we walked back to World Showcase and enjoyed the classic Impressions du France film. Even after all these years it's still a favorite of mine. Immediately after the show, we walked around the corner and several of us jumped into line at the Patisserie. Allan joined me in line, another first for him as he's always stayed behind with Barb before. I got my traditional Napoleon and some cookies for the boys and Barb, Allan also picked out a chocolate cream for him and Michael to share. I picked up one last thing... a fruit and cheese plate for Dad and Mom to share. Since Dad has a diabetic condition, he often skips very sweet desserts, but I thought that the fruit, cheese, and bread (the plate came with a small loaf of excellent French bread) would fit the bill. After those of us in line came out, we found that the rest of our crew had managed to Shanghai several of the small tables and chairs nearby, so we were able to sit down to enjoy our snack. The fruit and cheese plate was a hit... and apparently I wasn't the only one to have considered the idea as both Dave and Karen later commented that they were doing to buy the same thing for the 'rents, but just weren't sure if Dad and Mom would enjoy it.

After we finished up in France, we walked over to the American pavilion and waited only a brief amount of time before the American Adventure show started. This is a fantastic presentation that never fails to move me. Every time I see the clip of the Eagle landing on the moon I feel pride in our nation. I think it would be a neat thing if our country would give NASA the go ahead to go back to the moon. Perhaps a shuttle could be sent over with a modified lunar module that would fit in the cargo bay? Idle prattle... but I think it would be neat.

After Ben and Mark finished up at the Statue of Liberty, we walked outside to see IllumiNations. It was pretty close to show time, so we weren't able to get a really good spot, but settled instead for a location right in front of American Adventure. Barb had to miss the whole thing as she had to depart to go over to the Imagination pavilion to get photos before they closed up for the night (they said we had to be there by 10:00pm, and IllumiNations started at 9:30 which left no margin for error).

After the show, we all met back at bus stop for our ride back to Old Key West Resort.

Just a little medical update. At this point Ben, Allan, and Michael have persistent coughs, Karen is not feeling well (fortunately, she felt better within 24 or 36 hours or so), and Dave is kind of sick. I'm not sure exactly what's going on, but he's complained of fever symptoms and so on. I think the weird weather, it can't seem to decide if it wants to be warm or cool or dry or wet, is contributing. Hopefully everyone will be better soon.

Friday, December 27, 2002 (Enjoy the day)

Plans: The only hard plans for today is a "date night" including the siblings and significant others. We have priority seating arrangements for dinner at Boma at 6:10pm. After dinner, we'll drive over to, probably, the monorail resorts for a tour and perhaps a quick visit to Wilderness Lodge, too. So, that leaves the morning open. Since we will have seen all of the parks by this time, we'll just evaluate everyone's interest to decide which park to visit during the morning.

Last night, Dave and Kristin made plans with Joshua and Benjamin to go over to Downtown Disney during the morning to do some shopping. Karen was a bit hesitant when Dave asked her and Steve about the idea. She preferred that everyone stay together. After some discussion, I suggested the compromise that we all go over to the Magic Kingdom this morning. (Even though we have plans to go there again tomorrow morning, I figured that there was enough to see there that we hadn't yet done.) Then, since we didn't have any solid plans for lunch, the foursome could break off for the Downtown Disney run during the late morning and early afternoon. Everyone was happy with the solution. However, since it was close to 8:00am before this was resolved, we got a slightly later than normal start.

(Just a side note... One other thing drove our schedule today. Our rain-delayed priority seating for the Candlelight Processional was set for 5:00pm today, so we would have to get back to the park earlier than normal. Also, I had to get our priority seatings for "date night" (when Karen and Steve, Dave and Kristin, and Barb and I are going out for dinner) pushed back to allow enough time to get over to Animal Kingdom Lodge.)

When we got off the bus at the Magic Kingdom today, we entered the park, walked down Main Street and went to the left into Adventureland. We didn't really have any hard or fast plans, but ended up riding on the venerable Jungle Cruise. This morning we were "privileged" to ride in a boat skippered by a young man that was either poorly trained, strung-out, hung-over, extremely bored, or all four. His spiel was dreadful and it's delivery was completely void of entertainment. The experience reminded me of the old story when Walt himself rode on the original Jungle Cruise with a very young Dick Nunis. Walt had to correct a lot of the procedures and completely overhauled the "script." Several days later, Walt returned to find that Dick had done the job and had retrained the entire Jungle Cruise staff to provide the kind of guest experience that used to be the norm. Well folks, it's time for another spot inspection.

After that, our group headed further into the bowels of Adventureland to catch Pirates of the Caribbean. Unfortunately for me, Allan didn't want to ride this time (he's still squeamish about that dratted "waterfall") so he and I stayed behind while the others enjoyed visiting the buccaneers. Of course, before everyone was back through the ride, Allan had decided he wanted to do it afterall... but it was too late at that point.

As we walked out of shop, Steve got sidetracked. He found a hat that came complete with a set of Caribbean dreadlocks that really fit his fancy. (To fully comprehend this, you have to realize that Steve, in his middle years, is no longer endowed with a large amount of hair... in fact, he has very little of the stuff on top.) After modeling the hat for all to see, he and Karen settled down to the serious job of buying some poncho-style pullover tops. They weren't very expensive and they provided some much needed warmth on this chilly day, too.


Steve in Dreadlocks.

Next, we walked back through the Adventureland / Frontierland crossover (which is behind the Aladdin's Magic Carpet ride) and made our way over to the Haunted Mansion. When we got there, I had to leave the group to go across to Columbia Harbor House to park the stroller (with the parks more crowded than we were used to, the cast members were much more strict about acceptable areas for stroller parking, not unreasonable given the large amount of traffic that they had to keep moving through congested areas). When I returned to the group waiting in front of the Mansion, I was hassled by a couple of Haunted Mansion cast members about "making everyone else wait on me." The fact that some of the folks in the family were egging on the situation only made matters worse. Well, I played along and acted like I was offended that I would be falsely accused this way and eventually the CMs left us along so we could join the tail end of the queue.

Of course, the Mansion was fun. Seeing Madame Leota's tombstone for the first time was kind of neat for me. One bad thing was that I was severely injured when I whapped my elbow against one of the chain poles that pull the crowd down to the loading area right after exiting the stretch room. I considered sueing... but it was my own dumb fault. My "funny bone" got quite a jolt from the impact, though, and I got quite a bruise from the collision. Also, Michael, for some reason, was a bit fidgety. He seemed, for the first time, to be genuinely frightened of some of the effects that were going on (never before had he shown any concern in riding the Mansion).

We enjoyed one last attraction before we split up for the morning. Walking just down the street from the Mansion, we turned and went into the Hall of Presidents for the first time in several years. I really enjoyed this presentation, especially since it had been so long since I've seen it. Hearing the fast intake of breath from Karen as the presidents were unveiled and the roll-call began was another one of those moments when I realized that something I'd been taking for granted (that is, the magic of Disney's incredible showmanship in audio-animatronics) is really something special for those folks that don't get to enjoy it as often as I do.

As soon as Misters Bush and Lincoln finished their remarks, Dave and Kristin and the boys left. Dave later told me that they walked around the river and rode Big Thunder twice before leaving the park, walking to the Contemporary to catch the Downtown Disney bus (he thought the walk was much greater than the half mile or so that I'd estimated). They lunched at McDonald's and then did their shopping in the Marketplace.

The rest of us did a little browsing of our own on the way out of the park at the Yankee Trader and also the west side shops of Main Street. Then we returned to Old Key West to have a simple hot dog lunch back in the room before our daily nap time.

Our break was a bit shorter than normal, since we had to be up and out the door by 3:30pm or so. We (Barb and the boys and I) jumped into the van and drove over to the Boardwalk where we valet parked using our free DVC valet privilege. Then, Barb ran on ahead to take advantage of that 15% off shopping pass, while Allan and Michael and I strolled from the Boardwalk over to the International Gateway. Barb spent several hundred dollars on some items that she had her eyes on there at the shop at the International Gateway.

While Barb finished up the details on the purchases, the boys and I continued our slow stroll on to the Garden Theater where we were all to meet up by 4:30 or so to catch the Candlelight Processional. Allan, Michael, and I actually got in line just a little after 4:00 and was told by the cast member there that we would be seated in about 15 minutes. That stressed me a little bit because that would be a problem if the rest of the family didn't show up until the planned arrival time. Fortunately, everyone trickled in -- Dave, Kristin, Josh, and Ben from Downtown Disney -- Mom, Dad, Karen, and Steve from Old Key West via bus -- and Barb from the International Gateway -- in plenty of time. It turned out to be more like 25 minutes than 15, but without any rain in the sky it could have been an hour for all I cared.

When seating time actually came up, we got in quickly and were given seats in about the third row. This turned out to be a great location, near the front and center, and smack in front of the percussion section.

It was a good twenty or more minutes before the Candlelight Processional actually began. Again, being out of the rain... we didn't mind. Especially since we were comfortably seated while the rest of the theater filled up. Shortly after 5:00pm, the prelude started.

What can I say about the Candlelight Processional? It was a fantastic presentation. The music was gorgeous (I bought the CD) and the performance was spectacular. Barb and I enjoyed one young blond girl in the choir, though. She didn't seem to know the words to any of the songs except the basic Christmas carols. Barb and I had a pretty fun time mocking the girl, although I will admit that she didn't deserve to be roasted quite as strongly as we were doing.

Gary Sinese was our narrator. He did a good job, I think. I was disappointed (putting my fundamentalist wacko Christian hat on for a moment) that, although Christ's birth and life were celebrated, and his crucifixion was mentioned, there was no acknowledgment of his resurrection. Frankly, I consider that to be the seminal moment in history when God defeated sin. I agree that Christ changed history... but his life, death, burial, and resurrection are more than just matters of fact and faith, they are all critical parts of God's plan to reestablish His relationship with anyone that wants to be His child. Anyway, back to the Candlelight Processional... my boys complained of boredom, but the rest of us thoroughly enjoyed it.

As soon as the concert was over, we (Karen and Steve, Dave and Kristin, and Barb and I) left Mom and Dad all four of their grandsons. They spent the rest of the evening at Epcot, then returned to the resort to play some games before bed time.

Meanwhile, the three couples had a very fun evening out. Right from the Garden Theater, we walked to the International Gateway, out of the park, and over the bridge to the Boardwalk. We strolled around the resort for just a few moments before I went out to ask the valet to retrieve our van. Then we drove over to Animal Kingdom Lodge. We strolled around the Lodge for awhile, as we had at the Boardwalk, before dinner. While we were in the Zawadi Marketplace, the resort's shop, Steve's haberdasher habit came up again. Remember the hat with the dreadlocks from this morning?, well tonight we were treated to "The Many Hat's of Steve" as we took pictures of Mr. Railing with several wonderful head coverings. He looked particularly cute in the little pink frilly number that had the word, "princess," embroidered on it. The best part is that we have pictures. :)


Steve dons one of his head dresses.

After we went down to Boma to check in and get our pager, Karen, Steve, Barb, and I walked out to Arusha Rock Lookout to see the savanah animals while Dave and Kristin hung out by the restaurant. In the late dusk light it was difficult to see any... but there were a few anakole that we could see out and about.

Finally, we made our way back to Boma to wait the last few minutes. Total wait time from when we checked in was probably 20-25 minutes, but we were seated within five minutes of our priority seating time.

What can I say about Boma that hasn't already been said? It's an incredible restaurant. Our server, and I'm flashing now and can't remember her name, gave us a tremendous run down on the dishes that were on the buffet. It was fun to see the contrast between Karen's expressions and Kristin's. Karen was interested in trying all of the new and unusual flavors. Kristin's tastes tend more toward traditional American dishes. Even so, I think everyone had a great meal. Karen, Steve, and I took the lead on checking out the unusual. Dave and Barb stayed to the middle of the road, while Kristin, not surprisingly, ate a bit more conservatively. I can't say in words how absolutely awesome the carved prime rib and marinated flank steak were. I really enjoyed the salads, relishes, and the topnotch desserts, too. As I write this a couple of weeks after our return, I'm salivating... and contemplating my return visit in late April. Yep, we'll be going back to Boma, I'm certain.


Dinner at Boma.

The rest of the evening was fairly predictable. We went from resort to that resort's bathroom to another resort and to that resort's bathroom and so on. First off, even before we left Animal Kingdom Lodge, we all used the rest room. Then we all collectively waddled to the van. Before we drove away from the Animal Kingdom Lodge area, though, Dave asked me to pull back around to the porte cochere. Kristin had to return to the rest room to get sunglasses. As it turned out, she didn't know if she even had brought them and in any case, she didn't find them at Animal Kingdom Lodge. I can't remember now if she found them back at Old Key West or not. I hope so.

Next, we made our way to the Grand Floridian. On the way, we were all getting a big giddy. I'm not sure if we were all tired, if there was some chemical reaction with some of the Boma dishes, or what... but as we drove toward the Magic Kingdom area, we sang Christmas songs like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (and adding the "like Monopoly" and "like George Washington" comments).

Once at the Grand, we really enjoyed the upper crust atmosphere. I'm still not sure that I ever want to stay here, it's a bit stuffy for my liking, but listening to the orchestra and seeing the decorations. For the record, Karen, Kristin, and Barb took advantage of the indoor plumbing that is a nice feature of this fine resort.

Next, we jumped on the monorail and rode around to the Contemporary. There we strolled Bay View Gifts and just looked around a bit. Dave checked out the porcelain here.

After monorailing over to the Polynesian, we all shopped in Trader Jack's. Before leaving to return to the Grand, Kristin ran downstairs to use the facilities.

When we got back to the Grand Floridian, we just made our way back out front and walked back to the van. We made one last resort stop at Wilderness Lodge, which turned out to be the favorite of both Kristin and Steve -- and the location of my own run to the men's room.

Too much information you think? Sorry. I don't mean to be offensive. I look at this as an opportunity to point out that Walt Disney World has something for everyone... and sometimes that's a very good thing.

Anyway, while I was otherwise occupied, Barb took the others out to see the overlook and pool area. Unfortunately, they were all locked out of the building which, apparently, locks up at 11:00pm. Fortunately, some guest that was staying at the Lodge let them back in so we could gather together and return to Old Key West Resort. We arrived back at about 11:30pm and called it a night.

Saturday, December 28, 2002 (Enjoy the day)

Plans: Today we'll start over at the Magic Kingdom and just enjoy the park. The goal for today... Plaza Restaurant lunch at noon. In the evening, I'd like to go over to the Studios to see the Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights and Fantasmic!

Today is really the last day of the family reunion. We decided to make this a catch-up day, and just do things that we haven't yet enjoyed. We started at the Magic Kingdom and planned to go over to Tomorrowland as soon as we got to the park. However, Barb and the boys and I were a little ahead of the rest of the group when we entered the park, so we snuck over to visit with Mickey and Minnie before heading on in to Tomorrowland.


Michael and Allan with the Big Cheeses.

Alien Encounter was our first stop. Allan was quite insistent on joining us for this one, I was a bit concerned that he would be too frightened by it, but he said that he understood that it was all pretend. The theater was almost completely full, and Allan and I were not able to sit very close to anyone else in the group. He was a bit startled, and I don't think I can say that he enjoyed it... but he didn't panic or get very frightened, nor did he have nightmares in the nights to come (unlike the time a couple of years ago when I stupidly allowed him to ride Dinosaur and he had nightmares about T-Rexes for a couple of weeks).

As soon as we got out of the Encounter with the Chairman, we walked over and got Fastpasses for Space Mountain, then backtracked to see Timekeeper. I always enjoy this attraction, but it is rather limited in it's repeat appeal. I don't think it's an attraction that I would ever see more than once on a trip on purpose.

After NineEye returned us to Tomorrowland, we split up for a bit. Some of our group went to ride Space (I gave them our four Fastpasses for a second ride, but demurred myself this time) while the rest of us rode the Tomorrowland Transit Authority, listened to a school band perform, shopped, and watched the Alien Encounter line grow from walk on (when we rode) to over an hour.

With just that little bit of activity in Tomorrowland, it was time to make our way down to the hub for our lunch at the Plaza Restaurant. In addition to the Reuben sandwich I was able to order a mocha shake. It was awesome, with a heavy dose of coffee flavor to go with the chocolate. Frankly, I think it was the best mocha shake I've ever been able to get at the Plaza... and not too far different from the mocha shakes that I used to enjoy so much at the Carnation Restaurant at Disneyland. I also made my annual request that the Chef's Salad be returned to the menu. That used to be one of my favorite meals in all of Walt Disney World -- along with the all-you-can-eat pasta at Mama Melrose's. Both classics are gone now and it's a shame.

After lunch, we all returned to the resort for our nap. On the way out of the park, we strolled through the shops on the East side of Main Street.


Karen listens to the last remaining party line phone in the Market House.


Michael and Uncle Steve wait for the bus.

Tonight, after the break, we went over to the Studios as our last park of the trip (at least for most of the crew). As soon as we got to the park, we made our way back to New York Street and walked through the amazing Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights. As much as we all enjoyed seeing this the previous week, we enjoyed it again tonight.

It was starting to get up towards 7:00 or 7:30 or so, so I suggested that we make our way over to see Fantasmic! The crowds, as always, were astounding, but we eventually got to some pretty decent seats about halfway down and to the left of center. Dave left after a few minutes and when he returned, he very thoughtfully brought me a salted pretzel, which I'd mentioned that I had been craving. I think he actually bought three or four and shared them around. I shared mine with Barb and the boys. It was nice to have that little snack. :) Also while we waited, I brought out some small toys that I'd stuffed in my pockets before we left the resort. They provided the desired effect of keeping Michael (especially) and Allan (to a lesser extent) busy before the show started.

Fantasmic! was a great show to end our trip with. It has some great effects, I love the water animation screens especially, a lot of action, and the music is fabulous, too. I particularly enjoyed the fact that the dragon fire effect worked this time. Last time we saw the show, the fire never appeared.

After Steamboat Willie and his friends made their appearance, and the show came to an end, we decided to sit tight for a few minutes and let the worst part of the crowds dissipate. When we got moving, we were directed out of the amphitheater way to the right and when we were not too far along, I realized that we were on the path that goes backstage and were already beyond the stroller parking area. Barb and I and the boys separated from the others to go back to get the stroller, then rejoined the throngs of people. We were dumped back on Sunset near the Carthay Circle and just made our way back to the front of the park, the bus stop, and to the resort where the rest of the family joined us a short while later.

During the bus ride back, I stood by driver since the vehicle was filled up and was able to talk with her during the drive. I found out that Universal Studios actually pays less to their transportation employees and gives them fewer hours than Disney does. She also told me that Walt Disney World's bus drivers are only getting about 33 hours right now.

Sunday, December 29, 2002 (Crew Departure, Enjoy the Balance of the day)

Plans: The Railings and Dave and Kristin will be leaving sometime in the morning today. At this point, I don't know exactly what times they will be departing, so we'll just be fluid on that. After everyone leaves, I'll run over to Hospitality House to check out of the Studio. Then, the balance of the day will be R&R and perhaps a park or Downtown Disney run at as slow a pace as we all wish. The goal is to see everyone off, then allow us all some decompression time. Karen, Steve, Joshua, and Benjamin and Dave and Kristin, of course, will have those long flights home along with the joy of returning to reality after spending a week at Walt Disney World.

As it turned out, the Railings and Dave and Kristin ended up leaving by 8:15 or so. Bell services was a bit late, so when Barb called the desk to see what was going on. When they answered the bell captain just immediately said (without a "hello" or "hi" or any other greeting, "they should be knocking on the door just about now." They were right. The van drove up just a couple of minutes later and all of the luggage and six of our group left. We later got phone calls from both the Railings and Dave that everyone made it home without problems.

It was sad to have to say good-bye to everyone. It has been such a fun week seeing everyone, enjoying the parks together... and enjoying just being together. I wish we all had the money to do this every few years or so, but I don't think that's really going to be possible.

Well, within a short while of everyone leaving, Barb and I left the boys with Grandma and Grandpa for the morning. We drove over to Downtown Disney for a combination shopping and photo (for MousePlanet) trip. On the way, we made a few minor stops. First, at the Disney Institute, we found out that there really isn't anything to see regarding any new construction of the Saratoga Springs resort that will become Old Key West Resort's neighbor on Community Drive. Most of the old villas have been knocked down and the guard told me that the bungalows will follow. I've heard rumors that the treehouse villas will remain. (Later in the morning we were able to see the demolition across the lagoon from Downtown Disney.)

Next, since we were about a half hour before the Downtown Disney stores opened, we drove up and down Hotel Plaza Boulevard to take some pictures of the Downtown Disney Resorts. The only one that we went into was the Hilton (we'd stayed there on a trip back in 1990 and enjoyed seeing it again). However, as an assignment for MousePlanet, we drove by all of the others to take exterior pictures.

Just about at 9:30am, we arrived at the Marketplace and Barb did some more shopping that she wanted to do at World of Disney. I dropped a couple of items, some CDs and a pin or two, into the basket but everything else was Barb's stuff. We had a brief snack at the Gourmet Pantry, but the rest of the morning was spent with me snapping pictures at the Marketplace, Pleasure Island, and the West Side. Oh, yeah, we also bought a couple of CDs at the Virgin Megastore at the West Side, too, then we drove back to the resort and had a simple lunch there in the room to try to use up some more of the groceries that we still had in big piles around the kitchen.

After our break, which was a bit abbreviated today, we did something a bit odd in going back to a park around mid-afternoon. Several days ago, Allan saw a small stuffed tiger that Joshua had bought for Leah, a friend at school. I promised Allan that we'd look for one, and that we'd go back to Animal Kingdom to buy it if we didn't find it anywhere else. Well, today was payday. We'd been looking around for a week... and never saw those stuffed tigers anywhere else (and I scoured Downtown Disney while I was there this morning, too). So, being the trustworthy dad that I am, it was off to Animal Kingdom before the trip was over to buy that tiger... and today was the day.

We started our odd evening by driving over to Port Orleans Riverside. We parked the van there and took the bus to Animal Kingdom. When we got to the park, we made our way over to Discovery Island and started to look for a place to camp out to see Mickey's Jammin' Jungle Parade. We found a great spot all the way around towards Asia and Mom, Dad, Barb, and Michael hung out there while Allan and I walked over the bridge to the Mandala Gifts shop in Asia to buy that tiger. While we were there, I picked out an elephant for Michael to go along with Allan's tiger. Then the two of us walked back and arrived just in time to buy a couple of cups of pop before the parade arrived.

Mickey's Jammin' Jungle Parade was pretty good. I still don't care for the Disney-penchant for having guests populate a parade (and there were a LOT of guests riding the floats in this one). Still, it was fun to see all of the characters out and the boys certainly enjoyed the music.

Almost as soon as the parade was over, we walked all of the way back to the bus stop and caught the next one back to Riverside. It was a short trip, but it accomplished the goal of getting that tiger (I really should learn to stop making promises like that... but as long as I make them, I feel that I'm obligated to keep them).

When we got back to Port Orleans, we took forty five minutes or so and just strolled around the resort, reminiscing about our 1993 trip. We walked over Ol' Man Island to Magnolia Terrace. Mom and Dad discussed the fight they had (yep, nine years ago) there on the day we checked in. For some reason, Mom and Dad seem to have fond memories of that particular marital spat. Very odd...

Anyway, we eventually made our way back to the landing and went in to have dinner at Boatwrights Dining Hall, which is a restaurant that we've enjoyed for many years. In fact, Mom and Dad and Dave first "discovered" Boatwrights during that 1993 trip, and on their recommendation, we tried it and really enjoyed it on several following visits. Dinner tonight was just OK, not spectacular. We've had some fantastic meals at Boatwrights... and some pretty usual ones. This one was one of the humdrum ones. It wasn't bad, it just wasn't anything to get very excited about.

After dinner, we drove over to the Grand Floridian so Mom could see the tree and other Christmas decorations. This is something that she'd been talking about for weeks (her friends from church wax eloquent about the resort's Christmas makeover), and tonight was really the only opportunity we'd had to get Mom over there to see them. Tonight, Mom paid for valet parking and we walked in, looked around, and walked back out to retrieve the van probably at just about the same time the valet staff finished parking it.

After that, we simply drove back to Old Key West Resort and turned in for the night.

Monday, December 30, 2002 (Enjoy the day)

Plans: Since this is our last day in the parks this trip, we'll just take a good look at what we want to do, spend time in a park in the morning and evening, and just enjoy our last day. We'll decide the particulars during the trip... no need to plan now.

It almost seems like the last two days of the trip have revolved around what Allan wants to do. Yesterday's run over to Animal Kingdom and today's run to the Studios in the morning really are a partial compensation. Normally, my boys (Allan and Michael) get some input as to what we do during our trips. This time, they were pretty much locked into doing whatever fit the rest of the group just because we were catering to a bunch of rookies and wanted them to be able to see as much as possible during a week long visit. Veterans Allan and Michael were pretty much along for the ride this time.

Today's morning plans came about from a comment Allan made about the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, "Dad," he said, "I want to see the one where the big rock rolls over the guy, but it turns out that it's not that heavy and they punch and kick each other." He also showed a lot of interest in riding Star Tours again. It looks like we have another Jedi fan in the family.

Anyway, we were running a bit later than usual with the pressure off and only our smaller group, we just weren't as concerned with timing. When we eventually got into the park, we went over and got Fastpasses for Indy then continued on over to Star Tours. We were able to walked on this morning and had no technical problems at all. Then we just slowly strolled back to the Echo Lake area.


Another Star Wars fan is born.

When we got over to Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, we got in line for our Fastpass entrance. At this show. Fastpass folks are corralled to the left and stand by folks to the right. Both groups are allowed in at the same time (in other words, Fastpass folks get a guarantee of entry, but don't necessarily get better seats). For the first show of the day, I don't think Fastpass was worth the bother. Live and learn.

Anyway, the show was fun as always, but we know all the tricks. I think it's time for something new. In fact, it's way past time for all of the Disney parks to get some new E-Tickets.

After the Stunt Spectacular, I took Mom and Dad over to One Man's Dream while Barb took the boys over to see Playhouse Disney. Unfortunately (and unknown to me), Allan behaved very poorly for Barb in the queue. He didn't want to go to a "baby show," but enjoyed it once the show started. Regarding One Man's Dream, Dad, in particular, seemed to enjoy it saying, "I wish I had more time to spend looking through the displays in there."

At that point, we left the park for the day, and went back to the resort for one last in-room lunch. After lunch, we took a very looooooong nap. Before laying down, though, I made a couple of tries to get priority seating for six at any of the Epcot restaurants (le Cellier, Marrakech, San Angel Inn, Teppanyaki Dining Rooms, Rose & Crown, Biergarten, Alfredo's). I wasn't successful, so we decided we'd trying our luck at getting a walk-in table.

So, after we woke up and got the boys moving, we took the bus over to Epcot. I was shocked! The number of people in the park was just incredible.

We walked from the front of the park back to World Showcase and made our way first to Le Cellier. No tables were available when I asked the question, so we continued on.

We noticed that it was very crowded around Yorkshire County Fish Shop. There are only four tables outside for Fish Shop customers and all were taken. Mom preferred waiting until a table became available, but Dad and I wanted to see what other options we had, so we (Dad and I, I guess) decided to go on to Morocco and check out Marrakech and then we'd go on to Liberty Inn if need be.

So, we walked all the way to Morocco and back to Marrakech only to find out that they, too, had no tables available. It wasn't until then that Mom shared that she didn't want to go to Liberty Inn (they'd eaten there with the boys on Friday night and only now were we finding out that Mom didn't enjoy it), so we walked all the way back to Yorkshire County Fish Shop.

At this point, no one was happy and everyone was frustrated. Mom was angry with Dad for blowing off the Fish Shop earlier. Dad was angry with Mom for not being willing to eat at the Liberty Inn. When we got back to to Fish Shop (walking all the way back from Morocco), I asked dad if we (he and I) should get in line and leave the others to grab a table if and when they could. He replied, "I'll do whatever anyone wants me to do," so I said (rather sharply, unfortunately), "fine, come with me," and he did.

The line wasn't as bad as I'd thought. We were in line perhaps fifteen minutes or so and everything we ordered came up quickly. While we were dealing with that, Mom and Barb had been able to get a table. It turned out OK after all. The only drawbacks were that the the tables near the Yorkshire County Fish Shop are too few (another two or three tables could easily have been placed into that area between the promenade and the lagoon) and the almost complete lack of lighting in the area.

A few years go, the year that Allan was born if I remember correctly, we had lunch at the San Angle Inn inside the Mexico pavilion. Dad had read in Birnbaum's before that trip that the light levels were low, so he brought a small pen light along as a joke and used it to read the San Angle menu. I wish he'd brought it along tonight! When I dumped the packets of ketchup, mustard, vinegar, salt, and tarter sauce on the table, it became a scavenger hunt to see what everyone needed versus where it was located. We would pick up a couple of items, then hold them up to the light as best we could -- squinting to see if we could make out the labels. After the tension and the tempers that had been flaring, it was good to get some food into our stomachs and have something to joke and laugh about. The meal turned out to be a good one (Barb and I and the boy's have enjoyed the Yorkshire County Fish Shop before).

After we finished up, we walked around the promenade heading towards Norway. I wanted to get some dessert, and the rice cream seemed like a good solution. As we walked, though, we were more and more impressed with the crowds along the way. They were incredible! I haven't seen crowds like this since 1988 when the Magic Kingdom and Epcot were WDW's only two parks. In fact, I've been flabbergasted over the last several days in seeing long lines for attractions that are usually walk-ons during the times of the year that we usually visit, but tonight the crowds were larger than any we'd experienced yet this trip.

When we got to Norway, Mom and Dad didn't see anything on the menu that interested them too much and the line for the Bakeri was more than I wanted to deal with, so we left there without adding further to my waistline. Unfortunately, Mom made the assumption that I was upset that neither of them wanted anything. She got mad at Dad for turning me off from getting anything. It took me until well past Mexico before I was able to calm her down and get her to realize that it was the crowds that made me decide to skip it... not any decision that she or Dad had made.

Our last stop of the evening was a quick run over to the Land. Earlier in the trip (on the first day, in fact), Barb and Dad had seen a concessionaire selling plant cuttings. The plant is the one that Hawaiian's use to make Leis, but the name of it escapes me at the moment. Anyway, Barb and Dad disappeared into the pavilion for a few minutes while Mom and I and the boys stayed outside just under the monorail beam. It was a relatively quiet area compared to the hustle and bustle of World Showcase and the central part of Future World.

Finally, we called it quits. We walked out of the park and out to the bus stop and rode the first available bus back to the resort. Frankly, it was a disappointing day to end the trip on. Coupled with the disappointing day we started with (the night we attended Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party), I'd have to say that the family reunion week was definitely the highlight of this trip. I suppose that's a good thing, though. :)

Tuesday, December 31, 2002 (Travel)

Plans: Mom and Dad are going to take an airport shuttle today. I suspect that I'll take their things over (probably with dad) to Bell Services and have it stashed until their shuttle arrives. Then we can go back to the room, Barb and I can finish packing... and then we'll head out. We'll have to work out the details on checking out since I don't know Mom and Dad shuttle schedule. After that, the goal is for us to get as close to home as possible in the time remaining. My goal is Sweetwater, Tennessee since that is the halfway point between WDW and home. I wouldn't mind getting a bit closer than that, though, if we're still doing well on the drive.

I wasn't feeling so well, as I'm coming down with a serious head cold. The combination of unseasonably cold weather and rain has finally caught up with me. Barb did the vast majority of the packing work (she always does), and I helped get it to the van after things were buttoned up.

In between packing, the boys and I had a light breakfast (donuts and milk for the boys and coffee for me).

We were packed and loaded by 7:58am, not a record for us, but a great start since we'd planned for an 8:00 departure. We left Mom and Dad there at the resort, Bell services would pick them up in a half hour or so, and went over to Hospitality House to check out. Our total bill was $4.55 for a handful of local calls to check email and so on.

Then we hit the road.

There isn't much to say beyond that. We stopped for lunch at a KFC. Barb took over from there, as usual, and drove to just North of Atlanta. After we switched drivers again, Allan complained of an upset stomach. Just in time, Barb was able to find and empty a plastic bag that was handy, and Allan filled it airsickness bag style. We pulled off the freeway to deal with that incident, but except for that one symptom, Allan was fine (he never complained again about feeling bad, and had only mentioned it once in passing prior to being sick).

After I drove awhile further, we stopped for dinner at a Wendy's (Allan's choice, after his stomach incident), then continued for awhile longer.

We didn't really want to be on the road too late, since this was New Year's Eve and there was no telling how many inebriate drivers might be out and about this night. I pulled into a Comfort Suites in London, KY and secured a room for the night at about 8:30pm or so.

Wednesday, January 1, 2003 (Travel, Happy New Year!)

Plans: Tomorrow I need to be back at work. That pretty much defines today's goal which is to drive home, unpack the van, and try to get some sleep in preparation for the first day back after a great trip.

Today, all we had to accomplish was the final stretch drive home. We got up a bit later than normal, and with a quick continental breakfast in the Comfort Suites' lobby, we didn't hit the road until after 8:30am.

We kept ahead of most of the bad weather that we were supposed to have run into. Although we did have to deal with some drizzling rain for much of the drive through Northern Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Ohio during the two-day trek, we didn't have any freezing rain or snow as we had been warned to expect by the Weather Channel.

We stopped for a lunch break at a Ryan's Steakhouse, but didn't stop for dinner at all. Allan and Michael both love Ryan's (why, I'll never know), so we make a point of going there every once in a while.

We got back to our house in Hemlock shortly after 5:00pm. After unloading the van (Barb did most of the work), I started work on my "expense report" (so I can get reimbursed by Mom and Dad for everything I paid for out of pocket).

Later in the evening, Barb's parents and sister came over to spend part of the evening. Although it was a very weird New Year's Day for us, they were all very much still in Holiday mode.

All in all, a successful trip. Feel free to read on to catch my final thoughts and trip summary.

Post Script

I got this email from Mom and Dad after we returned from the trip:

Hi all,

It was wonderful to leave home on Dec 18th. We only went as far as the airport and then did not have to rush through the morning traffic. A friend ended up on the same plane as we went out on the morning of the 19th. She had to be up at 4:30 in the morning to get to the airport on time. We rolled out of the motel at 7:30 for the same flight. We had not realized in advance that we would be leaving on the same plane or we might have arranged to travel together. That early rising time did not sound good to me though.

We were an hour late getting into Orlando. Brian was not supposed to have to park and come in to find us, but with the late arrival we found him standing at the baggage claim area. Florida weather was very warm that evening. It cooled off and was almost chilly for the next several days. We were very glad to have our medium weight winter jackets along.

We spent the first night at the All Stars resort on Disney property. I can't really say anything bad about it.....but would not choose to go back there. It is very plain and drab. After we were able to move into the Old Key West Resort we were much more at home. All of the kids arrived on schedule and things were wonderful.

On the Sunday we met up with David, Goldie, Alec and Henry Webb in the Magic Kingdom. What fun to see cousins from half way around the world. I found that watching 4 little boys run around at DisneyWorld I was tired out. The Webb boys are fearless. Our 6 year old Allan is very at home in the Magic Kingdom and felt confident and comfortable. Michael was only slightly more willing to stay in the stroller until released. So dashing in and out and all around made me uncomfortable. The boys had a great time though. We had lunch at the Liberty Tree Tavern and it was unfortunate that we had to be at 2 tables. The Webbs came over to the Old Key West for a little while on Christmas afternoon to meet the rest of the family. We put out a few snacks, but most of us were too full from lunch to do more than have a cup of tea. Again the boys were out on the porch playing having a great time. All of our adult kids found David and Goldie's traveling experiences interesting conversation. We ended Christmas evening by going over to Downtown Disney to shop a bit. Now being Christmas evening I thought it would be quiet. Boy was I wrong it was packed and jammed full of people trying to buy buy buy. We pushed through the crowd for a few minutes and then broke up into small groups deciding to meet near the bus stop in about an hour. That was enough Downtown Disney for me. When Barb needed to go back later in the week, I was thrilled to baby-sit and relax with our two little guys. Brian was concerned because they would be gone all morning. I was still thrilled. The little guys needed a quiet few hours to watch cartoons and just play like quiet kids for a little while, so it was good. Grandpa even enjoyed a quiet time at the condo.

The whole week with the kids was wonderful. On arrival day we rushed off to the grocery store. Although Brian and Barb had brought down some nonperishable things from the store at home we needed bread, milk, lunch meats, and the Christmas turkey. Brian said it was like playing supermarket sweep on television. We filled two carts at the Publix market. Since Allan and I usually shop for 2 it was hard for him to think 12 for several days when choosing breads and things like that. We had to restock milk, lunch meat and orange juice a couple of times. But just went over to Goodings to replenish the supplies.

Christmas dinner was a great time. The gravy needed more salt, but everything else worked out well. Turkey (23 pounds) mashed potatoes and gravy. Mixed veggies, Jell-O, cranberry, dressing, rolls and pies for dessert. We did quite well.

We did manage to get into all 4 parks, rode the best rides, missed a lot, ate at several good restaurants, missed a lot of those too, had a rest time ever afternoon and some days that warmed up enough to swim in the heated pool. Overtime we did something good Michael (2 years old) would say "do again." After the whole week was over and Karen called from Seattle to say they were safely home she said, "Do again!".

Bennetts and 4 Railings left on Sunday. It was quiet in the condo with just 6 left. Brian and Barb left on Wednesday morning at 7:58 am. I sat and had a cup of coffee and then we closed our luggage up and moved out to the curb for bell services to pick us up and take us to the "taxi" stand. The Mears shuttle picked us up promptly at 9 o'clock and we were at the airport in line for check in at 9:45. The lines were long and we were glad we were early. Had a nice chat with a family flying home to London while we were in line for an hour and a half? As we cleared check in we were told to go directly to security for that check and not to take time for lunch first. Still we were at the gate about 15 minutes before they began boarding. Left on time and into Chicago on time. Out of Chicago on time and on the ground in Detroit about 15 minutes early. Frank and Nancy were waiting for us at the baggage claim. It felt like we had been gone for a month or more. It was great to see friends and we were ready for home.

...See you all soon. Since I know most of you are sick (Dave and Kristin have the stomach flu, Karen and Steve headcolds, Allan (both grandpa and grandson) were beginning to cough, Michael and Ben had been coughing for a while). Somehow so far Barb, Josh and I escaped the bugs, get well and keep well all.

...Barb just called. They are in the car heading north. It has rained all the way for them. They are north of Cincinnati already and will be home about supper time. Pray that the freezing rain that is predicted holds off until they are out of the rain. It is cold and dry here with major snow predicted for Thursday.

Love Mom

So there it is. The end of a year and a half long effort to enjoy a family reunion trip together.

(By the way, we had a vote and agreed to come back if Mom and Dad decide to foot the bill again.)

The Good and the Bad

The Good

  • Just spending a week together.
  • Christmas Dinner with everyone all together for the first time in 17 years. It was crowded in the two-bedroom vacation home's small living room and kitchen, but it was fun to be together.
  • Seeing the Kali River riders all completely soaked after the trip.
  • Dinner at Boma and "the many hats of Steve."
  • A tremendous lunch at Nine Dragons. We'll definitely repeat that one on a future trip!
  • Allan's first ever ride on Star Tours (and his second, too).
  • Twilight Zone Tower of Terror IV. Very fun, and it looks like the synchronization of that final video in the drop shaft (just before unload) has been improved.
  • The Tower of Terror, Rock 'n' Roller Coaster, Star Tours, the Mountains, Alien Encounter... all of those E-Tickets with people that enjoy those kinds of rides (I rarely get to do them when it's just my own family as the boys are too young for them).
  • A great dinner at Rose & Crown... even with the rain.
  • The Candlelight Processional was great.
  • SpectroMagic, IllumiNations, the Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights, and Fantasmic!

The Bad

  • Finding out that the "preferred locations" (that Mom and Dad paid an extra $10.00 per night for) at All Star Movies Resort are ALL in the Fantasia area, meaning that we would NOT be in the Toy Story section as I'd requested.
  • The computer glitch at All Star Movies Resort that almost cost Mom and Dad $165.00 in upcharges. (To their credit, the folks at the front desk immediately fixed the problem when I complained, but had I not noticed it...)
  • The crowds all week.
  • The weather... it just wasn't as warm as I'd hoped (although it was still 20 degrees warmer than it was home in Michigan).
  • Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party -- Barb nailed it. We just didn't treat the evening as a night that had to be planned. Furthermore, we were disappointed to find out that all of the special holiday offerings that were available during the party (i.e. the shows, parade, etc.) were all run during Christmas week during regular park hours. Finally, the crowds were VERY heavy during the party. I thought that the party was limited to a set number of people, but either that limit if very high or else the policy no longer is in place. The crowds were easily as big as the midday park crowds during Christmas week.

Well, that just about does it. Almost two years in the making... and now it's over. I'm really revved up, though, and looking forward to two... and maybe three... trips in 2003. More on that when the trip reports come out. :)


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