Kris Jones -- October 2003 -- Walt Disney World (Offsite)
Little did we know at the time this would be the last family trip we would take as a complete family. My brother Jerry J passed away from a seizure in his sleep on May 19, 2004.
This trip was originally a trip to Pensacola, FL to visit my cousin (she isn't really my cousin, but should be) and her husband while they are stationed there. It ended out being a week stay in Orlando and a road trip to Pensacola with many stops along the way. On of the very best vacations any of us have ever taken.
Disney History: We are all Disneyland Vets with many, many, many, many trips under out belts. As for WDW Lora, Jim S and Mary took a quick 2-day trip last year (their first time at the World) the rest of us never even dreamed of a trip to WDW.
In all respects we are all rookies. With all of the Jims and Jerrys this may get confusing, and trying to get everyone's musts in, was a trip in its self. Getting everyone to Orlando was easy thanks to Orbitz and some incredible airfares $225 Sea / MCO and $195 PHX / MCO, Jim & Lora drove. Hotels we split the duties Dad and I were in charge of the 1st week and Mary took Crystal River, and Mom did the Thomasville, GA. In Pensacola we stayed with Jim and Lora's for 4 days. For transportation rented a mini van through Alamo, which was more than we estimated but still less then the other companies.
The Must List:
Kris Illumination Cruise and the Hoop Dee Doo Review
The one must on every ones list was Lunch with an Astronaut at the Kennedy Space Center
The dates for our trip were chosen by Jerry B, it in evolves a Bass Boat and for some reason the rest of us agreed even though we wanted to go at the end of October.
Here we go ..
October 3rd, 8:30pm: Dad takes 2 sets of golf clubs, and 4 suit cases to the Burtons; Jerry B is already in bed. Mary picked the small straw and had to stay up and wait for our luggage.
October 4th, At Oh my God it's early (2:30am): The Jones' say good by to the cats (Pupperoni the Beagle went to Summer Camp the day before) and head for the Burton's (five minutes away). Before we leave the driveway, there were two trips back inside, 1 to be sure the door was locked and the other to get the forgotten cell phone. Shuttle Express is picking us up at 3am; we get to the Burton's at 3am just as Shuttle Express is rounding the corner. After helping the driver cram 3 sets of golf clubs, 6 suit cases, 3 carry ones and 1 video camera in to the back of the shuttle we are off to the airport .well not quite yet, there are two more stops to make before we can head for the airport, this should have been an easy thing but this is a new driver, 3 wrong houses and 12 u-turns latter we are off to the airport (it was our first "E" ride, Indiana Jones @ Disneyland was nothing compared to this ride).
4:20 we arrive at the airport, but Continental has not open the ticket counters yet so we have to stand in line and wait. 4:30 check in and dump our luggage and off to security. My only problem with security is that everyone had to take off their shoes, which to me are overkill, and thank heavens I was wearing socks. 4:45 made it through security and now we wait until boarding at 6:15.
6:35 we're off, we had a very short lay over in Houston and then it was off to Orlando. We landed around 5pm, and found Jerry J down in baggage with his golf clubs looking for his lost suitcase; he had been searching for it since 4:30. PHX had called MCO to advise them that there were 5 suitcases that did not make the flight and would be on the later flight. So between advising Continental where we were staying, getting all of the luggage to Alamo and getting most of us back down to pick up for catch out Happy Limo ride we didn't leave the airport until 6:30pm. (Part of our party took Happy Limo to the Hotel because the mini van would not hold 7 people, 4 sets of golf clubs, 7 no wait 6 suit cases, 3 carry ons and 1 video camera, so we had to do something and Happy Limo seamed like the natural choice. It worked out really well and we all arrived at the Hotel at the same time.)
Tonight's stay is at Hotel Royal Plaza on WDW property, we got a really good deal thanks to Mousesavers (mousesavers on Happy Limo too), three rooms for 9 people $85.00 for each room. The twins and I in one room, Mom and Dad in one room and Mary, Jerry, Jim and Lora in one room. The rooms were wonderful, beds were comfy each had a Roman tub, sleeper couch (Jim J said it wasn't too bad to sleep on no bar in the middle of the back), and a rubber ducky. When Jim and Lora arrived we head down to the lobby for some dinner around 8pm, we ended up at the Giraffe which was pretty good (any thing would have been good by that time, the only thing we had eaten all day was a bowl of cereal and a icky banana on the plane from Sea to Hou and some popcorn in Houston. We were a little hungry and tired.)
Mom had a bowl of soup and an order of chicken wings for her dinner (this is normal) she eats about three of the wings and is good to go and has the rest of them are boxed up to take home, in this case back to the room. Well the box ended up in my room with the twins (more on this in a minute). So by 9:30 were have called it a night and all head to bed, I am snug in my bed about to fall a sleep when I hear the snoring start, the twins beat me to sleep and do they snore in sink, oh no never have, on youth church retreats they would put the twins in a separate room down the hall and around the corner with the door shut so the other youth would get some sleep. So as I'm struggling to find sleep, I've almost got it the phone rings and since I'm awake I get to answer it and it is the front desk saying that Jerry's suitcase has arrived and they will bring it right up. Right up is a ½ hour later. I have suitcase, double check the locks on the door and go to bed, this time I'm able to find sleep with no problem; exhaustion will do that to you. Now back to the chicken wings about 2:30am I wake up to some rustling noises, I hear Jerry say "Oops sorry, I'm just going for some wings, go back to sleep" so I do, but only to be awaken at 3:30 to Jim saying " Sorry Kris, I'm just going for some of those wings". Oh what is a sister to do?
October 5th 2003 the plan Kennedy Space Center, Lunch with an Astronaut and move to the condo. 9 lunches at $30, 4 maximum entry fees full price, 1 free active military and 4 @ ½ price. Dinner at Dixie Landing in Titusville.
We all meet down at Giraffe for breakfast and decided that Dad and Jerry B would take all the luggage of to the country club and then we would go to Kennedy Space Center. 2 hours later we were off to the cape. The Kennedy Space Center was incredible, well worth a trip. We went through the rocket garden, and Merritt's Island Wildlife exhibit, the Early Space Exploration exhibit and then it was time for lunch with an Astronaut. We had a wonderful lunch of roast chicken, rice pilaf, steamed veggies, roll and a verity of different desserts from cheesecake to space shuttle shape brownies. Jerry Carr talked about how he got started in the program, his time up in the space station and what he is doing now. We had the opportunity to ask questions and at the end of the event each group was able to have their pictures taken with him. It was a wonderful experience. After lunch we took the Bus Tour that took us out to LC 39 Observation Gantry where we climbed to the top (ok Mom, Mary and I took the elevator) to get an incredible view of launch pad A and B. Then it was back on the bus to Apollo/Saturn V, where we watch a final count down sequence to mankind's first mission to the moon. Hanging from the ceiling of the center is a 363 foot Saturn V moon rocket which is very impressive; we touch a moon rock, played with some robots and watch reenactments of the first lunar landing which was very impressive. Once we were done here it was back on the bus to the main complex during each bus ride there was a video and narrative of what were seeing out the window and history about the area.
Back at the main complex it was now closing, so with a quick stop at the gift shop we were off to dinner. Mary, Jerry J, Lora and myself were sitting on a bench waiting for part of our party (restroom stop) and my mom who was still shopping. My dad went to find her, and as he was walking away from us, Mary and I couldn't remember the name of the restaurant so Mary yells to my dad, he yells back, still walking away from us, the name. The name we heard was not the name he said. We heard Itchy Crotches and not Dixie Landing, we had a great chuckle about this for the rest of the trip.
Dixie Landing was wonderful, seafood extravaganza. If you ever go have the rock shrimp, skip the crab. We all decided, all of us lover shell fish that we were crab snobs that nothing can compare to our own Dungeness crab, that anything else is icky. And icky was the crab served at Dixie. We came to the conclusion that crab needs colder water, where shrimp does quite well in warmer water. Oh the shrimp on this trip was wonderful and so were the oysters. Anyway at Dixie Landing have the Rock Shrimp you'll be quite happy.
After dinner it back to Orlando to the condo. The condo complex, Orange Lake Country Club, has 3 golf courses, a miniature golf course, 2 swimming pools, 1 lazy river, tennis courts, as you can see it is quite the place. We had a 3 bedrooms, 3 bath condo with a view of one of the golf courses and one of the pools. The only problem we found was the coffee pot didn't work. After a great discussion on who was sleeping where, and what we were doing tomorrow it was off to bed.
October 6, 2003: The Plan: Sea World, Jim & Lora swim with the dolphins, and Golf.
This is the day and you new it was coming that we fall off the itinerary. After a long discussion last night it was decided that Jim and Lora would go off to Sea World and swim with the dolphins and the rest of us would go back to the Kennedy Space Center and the Astronaut Hall of Fame and see everything we missed the day before. With the Maximum ticked you can come back the next day for free. So that is what we did. We saw the movies Space Station 3D and The Dream is Alive in the IMAX Theater, then the robot exhibit (in my honest opinion it was lame). Then after that we went to the Astronaut Hall of Fame, which was really cool, there were a bunch of hands on activities, a couple of simulators, one was a 4 G-Force, and the other was land the space shuttle. There were all kinds of things to see and do. Well worth the time. When it was time to go, we made a quick stop at McDonalds and headed back to the Condo so the guys could play golf.
Jim & Lora spent the day at Sea World where they swam with the dolphins. Since Jim is active military he and his dependents entrance fee was free and he also received 2 complementary glasses of beer. With the fee they paid to swim with the dolphins they received two free tee shirts, lunch, and 4 pictures. I say they did quite well. They had a wonderful experience with the dolphins and a great day at the park.
Now it was time for my Dad's must golf with Jim, Jim, Jerry & Jerry. He was quite tickled over this. They played the lighted nine-hole par 3 course. They had a great time. Mom, Mary, Lora and I went shopping at a local grocery store and stopped at a near by Subway for dinner, while were there Subway ran out of food, and some there was a guy talking very loudly on his cell phone was in our personal space, not a pleasant experience.
October 7, 2003: The Plan: MGM Studio
This was our first day at Walt Disney World and the last day all nine of us would be together, Jim & Lora had to leave for home around 2pm so Jim can attend a mandatory meeting the next day. We arrive to the park about 30 minutes after opening; we got fast passes for the Indiana Stunt Show, and took a quick trip to Star Tours. After the stunt show, Jim, Lora, and the twins went and rode the Rock & Roll roller coaster while the rest of us took off for Muppets, and the back lot tour. We met back up about 2pm said our good byes and see ya's on Monday to Jim & Lora and then headed for lunch, which was at the ABC Commissary, lunch was good, mom and I split the Cuban Sandwich, Jim J and Jerry J split Tabbouleh Wrap, Dad had the fish and chip, Jerry B had the hamburger and Mary had the Cuban Sandwich I have no idea what the cost was but it was tasty. After lunch we went on the Great Movie Ride, and the twins went off to the Muppets, we all met up again and the guys went off to ride the Tower of Terror and Mom, Mary and I did some people watching and then saw the Little Mermaid Show which was really neat, I would have liked it to be a little longer, but oh well. By this time it was time to grab our seats for Fantasmic.
Before we went into the stadium we asked one of the cast members if there were a lot of strobes and flashing lights, Jerry J has epilepsy and does not do well with strobe lights and a lot of flashing lights. The cast member reassured us that we shouldn't have a problem that the flashing lights were a minimum and there weren't any strobe effects at all. So in we went, 2 hours before the show, great seats dead center 8 rows up. "Wait what was that lighting", "will you at those clouds they don't look nice", "what more lighting". For two hours we sat there watching the lighting and the people around us (it was kind of fun we don't get that kind of lighting in Seattle) five minutes before the start of the show, God performed a miracle, he cancelled the show with a rain down pour to the likes I have never seen, boy were we wet. We went later on in the week with out the twins and let me tell you Jerry would not have made it through the show, I don't thing he would have made it through the open number, so as you can see God was looking out for Jerry J that night. Thanks God.
My thoughts on the MGM Studios:
It is a very well designed park and if it wasn't for Media Week we could have easily completed the park with out any problems, but the crowd level was horrible. This would be the first park I would drop if I needed extra time. Growing up with Universal Studios in California, MGM lacks a lot on their back lot tour, as for the rides Muppets, Star Tours, Who wants to be a Millionaire, Play It and soon to be Tower of Terror, are or will be in California. If there is extra time sure I'll spend the day their but only if there is extra time.
Wednesday October 15, 2003: The Plan: Magic Kingdom, Hoop Dee Doo Review.
We made a decision the night before to go to Epcot today instead of the Magic Kingdom to try and avoid the press and some of the crowds. Our objective today Future World, and to see a performance of Off Kilter (just to see what all the hype is about). We got to Epcot early enough to park practically at the entrance walked in and took the mandatory pictures of each family in front of the big silver ball, it was smaller then what I imagined. Instead of telling you our route, I'm going to tell you what we thought of Future World, we found it very interesting and would have loved to spend more time. The guys enjoyed Test Track, nobody cared for Beverly pop, and the girls found Living with the Land very educational and interesting. The movie Circle of Live was well done and I hope it makes people think about the world we all live in. Honey I Blew up the Audience although this is at Disneyland this is the first time I've ever seen it, and it is the first 3D movie that actually made me jump (I have a hard time seeing the 3D effect). Over at the Living Seas, we saw Mickey Mouse scuba diving, and the Manatees but we never found the dolphins. Ellen's Energy Adventure was very enjoyable and Journey into Imagination with Figment was kind of silly in my opinion although I did enjoy the interactive activities at the end of the ride. Jim J and Jerry B rode on Mission: Space according to Jim he got a sever case of tunnel vision and Jerry B got extremely nausea during the ride and was for several hours after. They both enjoyed the ride and would do it again in a minute. Our last item of business for the day at Epcot was a performance of Off Kilter. My first impression was that they were very loud, but then everything at WDW is loud. Off Kilter was very entertaining, the music was very good, they had a great rapport with their audience and great legs. I do have to say they did the WORST version of Amazing Grace I have ever heard, but it could have been a bad bagpipe day, several people got up and left with grimaces on their faces, other than that they were GREAT and would sit through another performance.
Hoop Dee Doo Revue, was our stop for dinner. I have not laughed so hard in a long time. The show was incredibly funny, the food was very tasty, and the cast embarrassed my brother Jerry, it was GREAT, he will forever be known for his tooting ability (On our trip to London, Jerry was pulled out of the audience and was dressed up as a serving wench and had to dance around the room at a medieval dinner show, he has the words "Please embarrass me in front of hundreds of people I don't know" written on his head. Luckily he is a very good Sport.)
After dinner it was back to the condo a quick look at today's portion of the trip video Jerry B is taking and another good laugh at Jerry J over dinner. And then it was off to bed.
Thursday October 8, 2003 The Plan: Animal Kingdom, Illumination Cruise, Twins leave for Miami Beach
Today we loose the twins; they rented a car and drove down to Miami Beach to visit their best friend Matt and his family. On Friday they drove down to Key West for the day and arrived back at the condo about 12am Saturday morning.
We arrived at Animal Kingdom about 30 minutes after the opening and sent Dad and Jerry B up to the safari ride for fast passes, while Mary, Mom and I bought hats. We caught up with Dad and Jerry at It's Tough to be a Bug, we all loved it, and then it was off to the Lion King. Lion King was wonderful. After the Lion King on our way to Pangai Forest Exploration Trail, is where we got total discussed with this park. At the same time as the Lion King was getting out there were "twelve billion" people working there way towards Camp Minnie & Mickey, this made it very difficult for us to exit the camp area. Once we made our way out of the area we headed on up to PFET, and saw the gorillas. By this time it was time for our fast pass for the Safari I wish it was longer and the trucks went slower we did how ever see a lot of animals and the baby elephant that was born on my birthday May 22nd. After the safari we sent Mom and Dad up to the front of the park to sit in the shade, Mom was about done, between the heat and the crowd of people she was just not doing well. Jerry, Mary and I went to see Tarzan Rocks, lets just say Tarzan is mighty fine.
After Tarzan it was time for dinner at the Rain Forest. Dinner was wonderful (mainly it was inside with air conditioning). After dinner we called it a day and went back to the condo to veg, until our Illumination Cruise.
The Illumination Cruise was pushed back due to the media party going on in Epcot. Epcot closed at 3 today for the party. We weren't really sure if the cruise was going to happen until we got there. This was my surprise to Mom, Dad, Mary and Jerry B, they had no idea and couldn't picture what I was describing to them. Jerry B who has video fire works before with out good results left the video camera back at the condo, so no Illumination Cruise on our trip video. Our driver was excellent, I don't remember her name, she only works on Thursdays, and she took very good care of us. The cruise was so worth the early morning phone calls (it took me all week getting up at 3:45, Monday I got through and got a spot but as I was talking got the cast member realized it was for the day we arrived, Tuesday I fell asleep while on hold (Elton John should not be played so early in the morning) so I missed out on Tuesday, Wednesday was our Hoop Dee Doo dinner, and finally on Thursday we got the spot, I was very tired that week. Illumination was incredible and I very glad we saw it from water level. Jerry B was a little upset for not taking the video camera. We told him to bring the camera but would he listen, noooooooooooooo ?
My thoughts on Animal Kingdom, I was a bit disappointed, but then we are all from Seattle were we have one of the best zoos in the world for viewing animals (Woodland Park Zoo is incredible and if you are ever in Seattle you must go). My problem with this park there is only one-way in/out of each area and it gets extremely difficult to move about the park. It is not a guess friendly park. We decided they should have a train that goes around the park similar to Disneyland were it has a station at each land, unlike Magic Kingdom that just has the two stations. Please understand we did have fun and we enjoy what we did and we loved all of the hidden images in the rocks, this park just took everything we had and then some.
Friday October 9th. The Plan: Sea World
After almost killing mom yesterday with the heat, crowd and total exhaustions we decided to just relax today, so Dad and Jerry played golf in the morning (where they had a lovely encounter with a snake) while Mom, Mary and I had a wonderful time in the pool and hot tub. After our swim/golf game, it was time for the girl's priority seating for Tea at the Grand Floridian; the guys rode the monorail and wondered around a couple of resorts. Mom is really into Tea ever since we experienced it in London at the Duke Hotel in 2000. Tea at the Grand Floridian was very similar to what we had in London; it was great fun I just wish the "Royal Court" could have been there to share in the fun. (The "Royal Court" would be my very close friends Linda, Carol and Kathy all who were at our first Tea in London).
After Tea we caught up with the guys, actually they crashed our party drank our champagne and ate our desserts, we decided to try and catch Fantasmic. We did get into see Fantamic and it was a very good thing Jerry J did not see it. Fantamic was good and different from the one at Disneyland; you really can't compare the two shows. I did like the fact that you have a sit during this version. After Fantamic we went to Down Town Disney to do a little shopping and to have a little ice cream. The parking was a nightmare, Dad dropped Mom, Mary and myself off while he and Jerry B parked the van, it was very convenient that he dropped us off at the World of Disney. We all donated some money to the mouse that night and had a lot of fun doing it to. After walking through down town, Dad and Jerry went to get the car and would pick Mom, Mary and myself up at the World of Disney. On our stroll back to WoD we wondered through the toy store Mom was not looking where she was going and didn't see the steps leading up to the entrance (Mary and I were ahead of her) and she fell up the stairs. Mary and I heard from behind us. "Oh or you ok?" "Are you hurt/" and my mom giggling and saying "I'm fine really", Mary and I look behind us to see what was going on and there is my mom laying on the ground with several little old ladies around her trying to help her up. Mary look at me, I looked at Mary and said, "Do we go back and claim her and just keep walking like nothing happened" We had a good chuckled and went back to claimed her. We met up with the guys and it was back to the condo as we told them about Mom's big meeting, with the pavement.
Jim and Jerry J arrived back at the condo around 11 and it was off to bed.
Saturday October 10th: Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Twins leave for home.
Today is our last full day in Orlando. The Twins opted to sleep in and go directly to the airport. So we said our good byes and the rest of us headed off to the Magic Kingdom. Our main goal at MK was to just say we've been there, and to see some of the rides/shows that aren't at Disneyland. We ended up doing Winnie the Pooh, Buzz Light Year the Country Bears, the Tikki Room (I did not like this version) and then finally we the Presidents. That's all we did at MK, we then left and I think we went back to the Condo for a nap, I'm not too sure. After our break we went to Epcot to for dinner and ended up eating at Rose & Crown, Dad had Bangers and Mash, Mom, Mary and I each had the Mushroom Melody which was quiet good, (Jerry B was lost and didn't eat with us). After dinner we started walking around the World Showcase as we reached France the sky open up, it was quite fun watching everyone run for cover and then there was the four of us walking down the middle of the walk way enjoying the rain (we had a very hot dry summer in Seattle and were a little rain deprived). We didn't see a hole lot of the WS, we did do a little shopping in Germany and had dessert in Norway at Kringla Bakeri og Café, Mary and I each had Double Chocolate Cake, Mom had a Lefse and I have no idea what Dad had (Jerry B was still lost). It was all tasty. After dessert we continued our stroll through WS and then the lighten and thunder started, lets just say Dad pulled us out of the rain when the lighten and thunder happened at the same time. Once the lighten quite we worked our way to Spaceship Earth and while we were moving towards SE Illumination started, we watched part of it while we continued to SE. We found Jerry B waiting for us at SE, he had wondered the opposite way we did, which turned out to be a good thing he was able to tape things we missed while we eating dinner and he stayed dry while riding SE several times.
We took the tram back to the car and head to the condo to dry off and pack. Tomorrow starts the 2nd half of our trip.
Let me give you my final thoughts on Walt Disney World and then I'll give you the highlights of the 2nd half of our trip. If you would like more information regarding part 2 feel free to email me.
We had a stupendous time at WDW. We did feel overwhelmed a time or two and I would defiantly do a couple of things differently. I would first spend more time at Epcot in both parts, and I would NOT go during media week ever again (way to crowded). I would also take a "park break" the third day and regroup. And I think I would stay on property, although the condo was great and it fit our needs perfectly and only cost $168 for the week, we were pretty close to the world, but it just didn't have the same feeling, you couldn't charge to your room, or have package delivered to your resort, and you had to take your car every where and you really couldn't split from your group. The other thing I would do would be to slow down and enjoy what is around me, and not go in expecting to see everything.
I would highly recommend the Illumination Cruise and the Hoop Dee Doo Revue they were both well worth the price and the early morning phone call. High Tea was an excellent way to calm down.
Our 2nd part of our trip we toured St. Augustine had a $6 nap and some nasty water at the Fountain of Youth, saw the oldest oak tree in the U.S. in Thomasville, GA, took a river boat ride at Walhalla Springs where we saw an abundance of alligators, turtles and other wildlife and had an excellent lunch at the lodge. We got lost in Tallahassee. In Mobile, AL we toured Bellingraph Gardens, toured a confederate fort, and the USS Alabama and did a lot of shopping at a Christmas Store. In Pensacola we toured Fort Pickens, did some shopping and a trip to Joe Patty's for shrimp and fish, Jim and Lora treated us to a shrimp boil and since they couldn't make it home for Thanksgiving, we had Thanksgiving there.
On our way back to Orlando we spend 2 nights in Crystal River. While we were there one day we drove down to Tampa and spend the day at Bush Gardens. We took the Safari Tour and fed the giraffes from the back of the pick up, it was truly one of the highlights of our trip.
The 2nd day in Crystal River we got up at 6am and Mom, Mary and I squeezed into wetsuits (Dad and Jerry B just went out on the boat) and took the Birds Underwater Tour and swam with the manatees. It was the most amazing experience, it was truly awesome.
Our flight back was uneventful. Would we go back yes most likely during the 1st or 2nd week of December so we can see all of the beautiful decorations, but it will be a few years down the road. Next year is Hawaii and Disneyland's 50th Birthday. If you have any questions regarding any part of this trip report please feel free to contact me.