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Kim Howe -- March/April 2004 - Walt Disney World (Offsite)


Players:

  • Kim - 15th visit and trip report writer
  • Bill - 13th visit and Kim’s husband

Planning:

It seems there is always another WDW trip in the planning stages. The timeframe for this trip was planned around obligations I have with my job and Osceola turkey-hunting season in central FL. Bill is a hunter and wanted to try some turkey hunting this trip. Also, I thought if we took a late winter vacation this year and bought annual passes, we could take an earlier trip next winter to make use of the same passes within one year.

Accommodations for this trip were confirmed the end of July 2003 for a RCI timeshare exchange at the Fairfield Orlando at Cypress Palms for a one bedroom unit from Friday, March 26 to Friday, April 2. The second week was confirmed by mid August for a week at Orange Lake Country Club for the week prior to the Fairfield week, Saturday, March 20 to Saturday, March 27. This would be a studio unit. The weeks overlapped so that we would actually have two timeshares for one night. We will move out of the studio at Orange Lake and stay in the one bedroom at the Fairfield that night. We’ve stayed at the Orange Lake a couple of times but never in a studio…without windows. Yep, can you believe it? But, I was hard pressed to find a gold crown resort (RCI’s highest rating) for THAT particular week (before the Fairfield week) since the week after would run into Easter.

It was a waiting game until Southwest opened flights during these two weeks. I kept my mind occupied with planning my October 2003 trip. Just before I left for the October trip, SW opened up their flights into early March and I thought there would be some time before they would extend into late March and April. Wouldn’t you know while I was on my October trip, the window opened to April 2. I bought tickets as soon as I returned home but was disappointed with what I had to choose from. For one, I wanted to return home on April 3 not the 2nd but I could only book through the 2nd. The other was the lowest fares were already booked and to get a decent fare we would have to fly down a day before our timeshare week started, March 19 instead of March 20. That would mean arranging to stay somewhere for an extra night. The return flight I booked on the 2nd was one I could live with, non-stop evening, in case I could not get a decent flight on the 3rd once they opened up. When they did, I was too slow and couldn’t get the non-stop late afternoon flight I wanted on the 3rd but could get a non-stop morning flight. I asked myself what the difference in time at WDW was between Friday night and Saturday morning. Nothing, except an extra day for the rental car and an extra night of lodging; SO, I stuck with returning on the 2nd in the evening. Confusing to follow I’m sure, but that’s how it went down. In the end, we flew down Friday, March 19 and returned on Friday, April 2. Since we didn’t have a timeshare until March 20, we took friends Mary and Peter up on an offer to stay at their home on our first night, the 19th. The cost was $269 pp roundtrip or $538 total. I’m sure this is the highest we’d ever paid to fly to FL but since these dates were considered “spring break” I felt confident it would be the cheapest I could get for this trip as the other carriers out of ALB are consistently much higher than SW.

Finding a good rate on a rental car was the next game I entered into and the “spring break” thing made getting a decent price seem impossible. I started out in October getting quotes in the $500 to $600 range for a two week rental with an intermediate car among Avis, National, Alamo and Dollar-YIKES! I checked again a couple of times and in November got a rate of $420 through a promotion with SW for Alamo. Then I got a rate of $429 with National with the Entertainment book codes/coupons which was appealing, even though it was a little higher, because I could use their Emerald Aisle program. This program allows you to go directly to the garage to pick out your car bypassing the desk/line in the terminal. The end of December I came up with $406 with National with a code from Mousesavers. Then I tried Alamo and got even lower rates. Using various rate codes, IDs and coupon codes, I came up with a $350, $343, $336 and a $327! Each time I booked one I found a cheaper rate and had to go back and cancel the previous reservation, but I got $327 in the end. This is the cheapest rate, per day; I’ve ever gotten for an intermediate car and used the Disney VISA code 299944. As Mary Waring says on Mousesavers, check the prices between car sizes because sometimes the bigger cars can be cheaper and I found this to be the case in one instance where intermediate cars were cheaper than compacts.

Next it was time to think about priority seating. As I write this portion of the report, the 90 day window has just about passed our travel dates so I better get cracking. It’s not like I’m trying to get a table for breakfast at Cinderella’s Royal Table so I don’t feel any great pressure.

By mid-January I had decided on three restaurants I wanted to get priority seating for. I tried using the Disney Club toll free number but received a pleasant recorded message telling me that the DC was discontinued as of December 2003. Yes, I know that. I was hoping the number would still be good though. I used the toll free WDW central reservations number and listened to the menu choices and chose dining. Then it asked me questions about previous visits to WDW with options to press various numbers to respond. I was asked if this was my first visit, when I visited last and how many times I’ve visited. Then I was connected to CM Lou who helped me with my PS. I made one for Cape May Café for our first evening (3/19) for 6:30 p.m. We will be staying with Mary and Peter, friends who live near WDW, that night and they are joining us for dinner. Tony’s Town Square was next for Tuesday afternoon (3/23) at 2:30 p.m. I hoped to get an outside table and be able to watch the 3 p.m. Share a Dream Come True Parade from our table. The last one was for Thursday (4/1) our last night for Rose and Crown at 7:40 p.m. My intention here was to get an outside table and watch Illuminations from our table. I thought this would make a nice way to end our trip. I was able to get every restaurant, date and time I wanted only 60 days in advance. We will probably eat at other sit down restaurants during the trip but these are the only ones I’m planning to get PS for. Others I’m thinking of are Beaches and Cream, Le Cellier, Trail’s End and Olivia’s.

Since this trip would be two weeks, I knew I should plan some days away from WDW for Bill’s sake to help avoid his having a WDW meltdown. This happened one trip at the end of a two-week commando trip with family members, no less. So, this trip I thought of doing some sightseeing off property and explore some of Florida’s natural landscape with hikes and canoe trips. After doing some searches and looking into some nearby state parks, I decided on Wekiwa Springs State Park in Apopka where we can canoe down the Wekiva River to Katie’s Landing which is reported as having “remained virtually unchanged since early Native Americans hunted and fished its shores thousands of years ago. Its narrow winding channels are canopied for most of the river by majestic hardwood trees offering the canoeist a challenging and interesting recreational experience.” A five to six hour trip down eight miles of river, including time for a picnic lunch (byo), costs $40 for the canoe rental (for two people) and return transportation from Katie’s Landing to Wekiwa Springs State Park. For more information, visit: info@canoewekiva.com <mailto:info@canoewekiva.com>.

I’d also remembered Disney having a preserve of some sort and did a search on www.allears.net <http://www.allears.net> and found it: The Nature Conservancy Disney Wilderness Preserve. I learned that the 12,000 acres south of 192 on Poinciana Blvd. is currently owned and operated by The Nature Conservancy. Originally, it was “established through the cooperative actions of The Walt Disney Company, Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, The Nature Conservancy and several public agencies. To offset the environmental impact of expansion projects at Disney and the airport, ranchland was purchased and deeded to the Conservancy for restoration.” Currently, there are “hiking trails, boardwalk to lakefront, picnic areas, off-road buggy tours and guided walks available to visitors who want to learn about the preserve’s resident plants and animals and the Conservancy’s efforts to restore and protect them.” I’d like to take a half a day and visit, do some hiking and take a buggy tour. It costs $3 per adult entrance fee and then $12 each for the buggy tour. Visit <http://nature.org/wherewework/northamerica.states/florida/preserves/art5523.html> for more information.

We may also take a ride 90 miles north to Ocala and visit Silver Springs. This is more developed than the other two and is in essence a “nature’s theme park”. It looks to be similar to Animal Kingdom with World Bears a habitat for bears, Panther Prowl the same for panthers, Big Gator Lagoon for alligators, and Ross Allen Island for more alligators, crocodiles, gharials and caimans (whatever they are). There is a Lost River Voyage on the Silver River, a Jeep Safari through Florida woodlands, a Jungle Cruise down the Ft. King Waterway and a view of an artesian spring on a Glass Bottom Boats ride. It will also host some country singers in concert both weekends we are visiting for the cost of park admission.

We may also visit Sea World since it will be featuring an All-American Country Festival during both weekends of our trip. This includes country music performances by top country stars and barbeque foods. Sea World has also opened a new area of the park called The Waterfront which we haven’t seen yet. It’s advertised as having live entertainment, dining and shopping in a seaside village atmosphere.

By the end of February, I’d started putting together an itinerary together. It included a definite trip to Silver Springs since I called and purchased reserved seating and parking for the Lorrie Morgan concert. It made sense once I learned that the concert was lawn seating where guests arrived early to set up their own lawn chairs to reserve a spot on the lawn. Since we were flying, we wouldn’t have lawn chairs to bring. The cost of renting a chair at the park was $6 each. However, for $10 each we could have reserved seating in the front, close to the stage which eliminated the need to arrive early to stake out a good spot. I went for the reserved parking for another $10 (only $4 more than regular parking) so we could park and walk in instead of taking a shuttle from a remote lot. As far as admission to the park goes ($32.99), I expect to get a discount either by using coupons my friend Paula brought back from her January trip to WDW (BTW…her family did a 7 day cruise on the Magic too. The TV show Jim Belushi is on was filmed on the Magic.) She brought me a Silver Springs brochure that has a $7 off coupon in it and a tourist discount book that has a $10 off coupon in it. Another alternative would be Bill’s mom Terry, who should be with us this day, is a Florida resident and can buy tickets for $19.99.

The Sea World concerts are looking pretty appealing too. Although they are still not a definite plan, it’s pretty likely we will go to at least one. If we decide to do two or more, we will get either a Fun Card ($60 and good from Jan. - Dec. 2004) or a Silver Pass ($90 and good for one year from date of purchase with free parking and discounts on merchandise). The Silver Pass seems pricey but we have planned our 2005 trip to fall within a year of this one, so we could use the SP again next year. The Fun Card would expire in Dec. 2004, however. I probably won’t decide until I’m at the ticket window when I can ask about discounts for the different types of admission.

As I mentioned earlier, Bill’s mom Terry will be driving up from West Palm Beach and spending a few days with us. She’s done this a few times in the past but not since the winter of 2001. Since our timeshare is only a studio, she will stay with Mary and Peter a couple of nights. Once we move into the one bedroom, she may stay on our sofa sleeper. It would be more convenient for us to be all together to eliminate commuting to Mary and Peter’s to get her for a couple of days. Besides the day at Silver Springs, she will join us at WDW parks for three days. I plan on her purchasing the four day FL resident pass. It is still a savings for her even if she only uses three days. I’d like to visit Dolly’s Parton’s Dixie Stampede dinner show while Terry is with us. I think she will enjoy it and we owe her a night out for her birthday. We will also make sure she gets to church on Sunday before driving back to WPB. I checked for the times of Mass at the Mary, Queen of the Universe Shrine near the Orlando Premium Outlet mall.

Some other things to note…I have not been able to get a lower rate on a rental car. It was disappointing to learn that the 75 Mickey’s will not be at the entrance to the MK during our trip since they were unexpectedly removed earlier in February.

As of right now (late February) the itinerary is:

Friday, 3/19: Fly to FL, have dinner at Cape May Café with Mary and Peter, maybe walk around Boardwalk, stay with them overnight.

Saturday, 3/20: After leaving Mary and Peter’s visit a WDW park OR Sea World for Trace Adkins concert and check in to Orange Lake Resort.

Sunday, 3/21: Visit Disney’s Wilderness Preserve and a WDW park OR Sea World for Montgomery Gentry concert, dinner at resort’s Kemmon’s Restaurant for their seafood buffet night.

Monday, 3/22: Open for a day at WDW.

Tuesday, 3/23: WDW park, lunch at Tony’s Town Square at 2:30 p.m. in hopes to get an outside table to watch the Share a Dream Come True parade.

Wednesday, 3/24: Terry arrives from WPB, meet at Mary and Peter’s, maybe do a WDW park in pm, whatever we are doing we will celebrate Bill’s 25th anniversary date with his job and his eligibility to retire at any time he likes. He’s referring to it as “Freedom Day”.

Thursday, 3/25: Open for a day at WDW with Terry, maybe dinner at Dixie Stampede.

Friday, 3/26: Open for a day at WDW with Terry, check out of Orange Lake and into Fairfield Resort, maybe dinner at Dixie Stampede if not done previous night, Terry might stay with us overnight.

Saturday, 3/27: Silver Springs with Lorrie Morgan concert in afternoon, Terry might stay with us overnight.

Sunday, 3/28: Take Terry to church before she hits the road for WPB, maybe visit Sea World for Brad Paisley concert OR visit Disney’s Wilderness Preserve if not done previously.

Monday, 3/29: Open for day at WDW.

Tuesday, 3/30: Open for day at WDW.

Wednesday, 3/31: Open for day at WDW.

Thursday, 4/1: open for day at WDW, dinner at Rose and Crown to hopefully see IllumiNations from our table.

Friday, 4/2: check out of Fairfield Resort, visit WDW, and fly home in evening.

One day we’ll visit Wekiwa Springs State Park for the canoe trip. We will also visit the various Disney Outlets at least two times each.

If you recall, this trip was planned around Osceola turkey-hunting season in FL. You’ll notice there wasn’t any mention of turkey hunting in the itinerary, that’s because it didn’t work out. Bill couldn’t find an outfitter within daily commuting distance from the Orlando area except for one and the charges were the same if he took room and board or not which was $500 a day. That was just too much money to justify doing something he can do in his own back yard at home, just not for Osceola turkeys.

The Trip:

Day One: Friday, March 19

Our alarm went off at 5 a.m. after a good night’s sleep. “Are we there yet?” is what I always hear from Bill on the morning of a trip and this one was no different. We left the house an hour later and with clear roads we made good time arriving at the Park and Fly at 6:45 a.m. and shuttling to the airport. By 7:15 a.m. we were at the gate finding no lines and no waiting at the terminal. Now we had 2 hours to wait for our flight-ugh! But wait a minute, the 8 a.m. non-stop flight to MCO (which we usually take but I could not get a good rate for this trip) was queued up. We decided to ask if it is full. Jessica answers that it isn’t but it will cost us an extra $100 each to switch our Albany to Baltimore, Baltimore to Orlando flights to get on it since we bought such cheap tickets. We declined and found seats looking out the window on the tarmac to wait two hours.

We watched as a petit female was loading the baggage compartment and agreed that she didn’t need to go to the gym to work out after work. Some of those bags had to weigh more than her. I also observed two families next to us traveling together with about six girls ages 4 to 14. I said to Bill that I am dressed just like them-capri pants, Keds and Disney characters, except, they have princesses on and I have Mickey and Minnie. He responds with a look that says, yes, you are a little girl headed to WDW too. We also have our first group of cheerleaders sighting here.

As the flight starts boarding, Jessica comes over to us and asks how many bags we have and to see our boarding cards. She says that our 9:10 a.m. flight may be oversold and would we want to get on this flight at NO additional charge. Hello! YES! We followed her to the desk and she called to have someone locate our three checked bags. Rosecrans, who Jessica says acts like he doesn’t want to work today, finds them after some time and she issues us new boarding cards, Jim scans them and we are walking down the jet way. Yippee! I tell Bill that I can’t wait to tell Paula (my friend who shares my love of Disney and has taken two trips with me-just us girls) about our good luck. I think, finally, something good is happening to us.

I haven’t mentioned at all that just the day before we had our beloved dog of 16+ years put to sleep. It was not an easy decision or situation to deal with during the weeks leading up to this trip nor a happy time for us. We were feeling pretty low and hoped getting away on this trip would get our minds on happier things.

We found two seats in the front of the plane but not together, as we expected. At least they were both aisle seats. Bill sits in the first row where there is legroom next to a couple with an infant. Lucky for him the baby was very good and slept most of the way. I sat a few rows behind him. Flight attendant Dave gives a comical rendition of the typical pre take-off speech and gets many laughs and a round of applause at the end. His comments include how the flight attendants show us their armpits as they walk up and down the aisles, to pay attention or at least act like you are, give the oxygen mask to your favorite child, no smoking or there is a $2,000 fine and if you are flying Southwest you don’t want to spend $2,000, referring to WDW as the House of Mouse, etc. Speech over, we are soon in the air.

By taking this flight we’ll arrive at MCO at 11:05 a.m. instead of 1:40 p.m. without having to stop and change planes. I wonder what consequences this will have on our rental car reservation. More on that later.

During the flight I was thinking of the Disney music we were listening to in the car on the way to the airport. The song, “Be Our Guest,” reminds me of my 10/03 trip with Paula and watching Mickey’s PhilharMagic. A little girl sitting behind us was singing the words and when the song pauses after “Be our…” she says “…guest!” It was so cute. I think how Disney really brings together the generations. Kids today are familiar with the characters and songs that I grew up with as well as the newer ones. I wonder if that is why I like to return to WDW again and again--the timelessness.

In no time we are landing, a half an hour early no less, at 10:30 a.m. Our bags take a while as they usually seem to do at this airport. With bags finally in hand, we walk towards the car rental desks. I have two reservations one with Alamo for $327 and one for National for $383. My plan of attack is to go with Alamo if the line there is short and go with National if it is not. My theory being that Alamo will be cheaper but not worth waiting in line especially if we can walk right to the garage with National, pick out our own car and be on our way in no time with my Emerald Aisle membership. I got it free and it allows us to bypass the rental counter, go directly to the garage to pick out any car in the Emerald Aisle parking area. You have to rent a mid-size but you can take any vehicle in the parking area including full size and specialty cars without an additional charge. The Alamo line was long and I didn’t even slow down as we headed to the National garage. There were many PT Cruisers and full size cars. We picked out a maroon Buick Rendezvous-nice!

It was a roomy SUV that was comfortable and surprisingly easy to maneuver especially for me, someone who drives a small car. We checked out at the exit booth and found just what I was afraid of. The quote is $20 higher than my reservation for the three hours we are early. I felt that seemed high and the girl in the booth couldn’t explain why and said I should go back to the service counter in the garage to find out. I did and learned that they have a two-hour grace period and since we are three hours early, we are charged for a whole extra day which equaled the $20 after the 15% discount on my reservation. I wasn’t thrilled but at least I got an explanation. I also wasn’t thrilled with the fact that all this took time and my goal was to get out of there as fast as I could with as little hassle as possible. Oh well, I was sure we still would have been in the Alamo line so this was still better.

Finally on the road, we took the south exit to the Greenway, paid $2 in tolls, got off at the International Drive exit, and took SR 535 to Bahama Breeze (Vineland Rd next to Marriott Village on the way to the Premium Outlet Mall) for lunch ($27). We over heard a woman saying to her friends as they are seated outside at a table near us that they really need to sit outside since summer is coming. Ha, we say the opposite in NYS! When summer comes, we want to be inside. We laughed over the different mind sets between FL and NYS summers. After lunch we drove down the road to the Premium Outlets and shopped in Disney’s Character Premier. There wasn’t too much exciting to buy. My notes show I spent $6 but don’t remember on what. Lunch and shopping were accomplished all before we were supposed to land. WooHoo!

We arrived at Mary and Peter’s about 2:20 p.m. and they are surprised to see us so early until we tell them about our good luck. Bill hasn’t seen their house yet, I saw it on my 10/03 trip with Paula, but I take the tour again. We are staying here tonight and checking in at our timeshare tomorrow morning. Mary and Peter are friends from NYS who retired a couple of years ago, moved to FL and are now cast members. They have offered an open invitation for us to stay with them any time. After catching up and hearing about their experiences as CMs, touring the model homes and the club house we leave at 5:30 p.m. for the Cape May Café.

Traffic on I-4 was heavy and moving at 45 mph but Peter said we made good time. We checked in at Cape May at 6:08 p.m. and were seated shortly thereafter. CM Durland is our server and he is attentive until he finds out Mary and Peter are CMs. This is a buffet meal with lots of sea food selections. We found the clams to be small and a little gritty but tasty. The steamed shrimp and fried fish were good as well as the other selections. We noted that the buffet is heavy on the meat selections and light on the vegetables. It has an excellent salad bar, however. The dessert bar has been moved off the main buffet and replaced with breads and a carving station. The desserts are now located near the entrance to the restaurant so you are sure to see them as you walk by. Peter uses his CM discount and gets 20% off the bill so we owe $48 towards it which includes Durland’s tip. After we pay our bill, we sit and chat for a while longer. We notice Durland coming over to the table numerous times obviously trying to let us know we should leave but we ignore him. I thought that was pretty bad show. One time he just stood there and stared at us. I could tell he was getting flustered and felt he was acting that way because Mary and Peter were CMs. I realize he wanted to get more people in so he could earn more money but he didn’t have to be so rude about it.

On the way back to Mary and Peter’s, Peter directs me to take a different route-the back way. This route does not include I-4 and is a time saver when traffic is backed up. It was a good lesson because this was a short cut that we used daily throughout our first week when driving to/from Orange Lake Resort on SR 192 west. From the Beach Club we followed the signs for the Animal Kingdom Lodge, at the traffic light just before the lodge we turned left on Sherberth which takes you out to SR 192. From there we turned left and then right onto Old Lake Wilson and continued on back roads. When Peter was directing me to turn off SR 192, I said, “Oh, on Old Lake Wilson Road.” and he was flabbergasted that I knew the name of the road. He said that I knew the roads better than he does and he’s lived down here a while. I admit I do have a good sense of direction and study the maps of the area but I knew the name of the road because Paula and I stayed at a timeshare on that road on our 10/02 trip. Peter brought this up many times over the next two weeks. He never got over how I knew the name of that road. It was really funny.

After returning from dinner, we stayed up and chatted some more before going to bed and falling asleep quickly. It was a good day. The first days are always long with having to get up so early to make a morning flight.

The weather was perfect today-81 degrees and sunny. This would continue for the entire two weeks.

Day Two: Saturday, March 20

The day begins at 7:15 a.m. and after showers we have breakfast with Mary. We leave at 10 a.m. and drive yet another route toward WDW by taking SR 27 north to SR 192 east. There is a stretch through orange groves on SR 27 that has a noticeably fragrant smell. It took us a couple of trips through this area before we realized that it must be orange blossoms. The drive was pleasant with little traffic and we arrived at our home for the week, Orange Lake Resort, by 10:30 a.m. We checked in but the room, as we expected, was not ready so we were instructed to pick up our keys when we return later in the day.

We decided to set off for Sea World’s BBQ Festival including concerts by Buddy Jewel and Trace Atkins. The traffic was really bad, just a parking lot now on SR 192 so at the first opportunity we turned left and got on Black Lake Road, a back road that runs parallel to it down to Sherberth Road and on WDW property by the Animal Kingdom Lodge. This is the way we came out last night after dinner. Thanks Peter! This short cut was a timesaver all week. We cut across WDW but I didn’t direct Bill to get off World Drive at the right place at the Epcot resorts exit for Buena Vista Drive thinking we could get off further up by Epcot on Epcot Center Drive. Well, we could not get off further up without going to the Epcot parking lot so we wound up all the way up at the Magic Kingdom parking lot booths. We told the CM that we needed to turn around and were directed to a turn around a little past the booths. I thought how easy it would be to tell a CM that excuse to get out of paying for parking and then just keep going to the parking lot. It was completely the honesty system in play. There was no one watching to see where we went after we left the booth. Now don’t anybody get any ideas! Anyway, we are now heading in the right direction and we got off on Epcot Center Drive where I wanted to in the first place but I learned you can not do that coming from the other direction. Soon we are off WDW property and on SR 536 and continued up I-Drive. This is a really nice section of that miserable I-Drive but traffic is still a problem this morning and the line getting into the Sea World parking lot is nearly a parking lot itself. Finally, we pay our $8 and park. The trip from Orange Lake took us an hour! The next day it would take us a mere 20 minutes.

Unfortunately, we found huge lines at the ticket booths which gave me lots of time to try and decide which ticket option we should get. We weren’t sure how good the concerts would be and if we would want to come back the next day and next weekend. I played it safe by buying one day tickets ($53.95 plus tax) with an option to get a second day free or upgrade to a Fun Card ($59.95, good until December 31, 2004) or Silver Passport ($89.95, good for one year from date of purchase). The two one day tickets came to $91 with a 20% discount (about $20) by showing my Southwest frequent flyer card. Then we found ourselves in yet another line to go through the turn stiles. We were sick of lines and waiting so we got our second day free now since we felt there would be a long line at the end of the day and there was no line now.

We are finally in the park and ready to find some Bud and BBQ. It took a while to find the party but once we did Bill gets his Bud and two orders of BBQ salmon and coleslaw ($10). Most of the barbeque food stands were near the Penguin Encounter where there was a small stage set up and a band was playing country music and cloggers would perform. Other food offerings that I recall included ribs and pork, beans, corn on the cob, watermelon, and strawberry shortcake. Portions were reasonable in size and price $3-$4. The portions were larger than those at WDW’s Food and Wine Festival but small enough to try more than one item if you wished. We ate our BBQ while watching the cloggers. After their show it was 1 p.m. and we felt it was time to head toward the Atlantis Bayside stadium (where they usually have the waterskiing show) for the 2 p.m. Buddy Jewel concert.

I’ll note here that I was looking forward to checking out the new Waterfront area billed as bustling seaport village including food, merchandise, music and entertainment. Well, it was a let down. It was not completely finished and the shops and restaurants that were open were no big deal. There wasn’t too much live entertainment around either.

It was a long walk across the bridge to get to the stadium where we found people already lined up and waiting to get in the stadium. We were a ways back and waited until 1:35 p.m. when we were let in. It was open seating so when we could, we ran and got great seats in front of the stage. Jay Horak, a local young guy came out first and sang a couple of songs. One was a Garth Brooks song and he did a good job. There always was someone signing (for the deaf) the entire show and at all the shows we would attend. They were really getting into signing to the music and interesting to watch. We’d never heard of Buddy Jewel before but we enjoyed his performance and recognized a couple of his songs. Later in the day when we were waiting in line for Trace Atkins concert, Buddy and his wife came from a back stage area and walked through the crowd just minding their own business and chatting with people who recognized them. Country singers are so down to earth; they appreciate the opportunity they have to perform and their fans. I thought it was also fortunate for them that he wasn’t such a big celebrity that they could walk around Sea World and enjoy themselves without being mobbed.

After the show we walked around the Shamu stadium to the underwater viewing tank to see the baby Shamu but another Shamu, the biggest one, was in the tank. We headed towards the Hospitality Center for free beer and ran across the Budweiser Clydesdales so we posed for a picture with them. The Hospitality Center was mobbed. Another big line, but we got in it anyway, got our beer and walked through the stables. We decided to go and get our jackets for the evening concert so we headed for the gate. We also decided to upgrade to Fun Cards for $21 more since we enjoyed the first concert, felt they were well managed and wanted to see more of them. So for a total of $56 each we got Sea World Fun Cards allowing us to see three days worth of concerts, six performers in all. Plus, the tickets are good until 12/31/04. What a deal! Go Sea World. You’ll never see bargain like that at WDW. Time was running short at this point so we split up. Bill waited in line to actually get our passes. We paid for them at the upgrade window and then were directed to pick them up inside. While he was doing that, I ran out to the car and got our jackets. I got back just as Bill was the next person to be helped.

After all that was taken care of, it was 5 p.m. so we headed directly to the stadium and since we now had Fun Passes we were allowed to walk up the sidewalk to the right of the stadium which is only accessible to pass holders and those going to have the big buffet BBQ. We decide not to do the BBQ buffet because we felt we would still be eating when they let people in to claim seats and getting good seats was more important to us than eating. So, for dinner Bill got more beer and I had lemonade ($8). We got in the line for seats and we scored good ones once again. High fives! It’s nice that people are allowed in the stadium as soon as the sound checks are done so the remainder of the time waiting is sitting down and people watching instead of standing in line.

We quickly learned that there was a section of reserved seats directly in front of the stage but open seating behind it. We just went directly to that open seating area and sat down. Then we watched as people poured in heading for those empty reserved seats thinking they could sit there. Hello! If they were open, they wouldn’t be corded off and WE would have sat there. So many people wasted time doing this and meanwhile others were filling in the good seats behind the reserved area. Losers! It was very comical. The reserved seats were for friends of the performers and what looked like local radio station contest winners. They all had backstage passes around their necks and showed up just before the show. Any seats that were not taken as that point were opened up to anyone. Over the course of the two weekends, we watched this one slick guy, who reminded of us of someone from home, wait by standing in the aisle and snagging one of those unused reserved seats. He did well for himself most of the time.

Before Trace Atkins’s show, Jay comes out again and sings the same songs he sang earlier. He did a good job but it would have been nice if he could sing something different. The female singer performs the National Anthem again too. Trace’s concert was one rockin’ concert taking Bill back to his wild and crazy days…before he met me. These concerts and this one in particular were Bill’s favorite part of this vacation. I have to admit it was pretty easy to get caught up in the excitement of the party atmosphere.

After the show we headed straight back to Orange Lake, cutting through WDW again and taking Black Lake Road again to avoid SR 192. We stopped at the Publix near Orange Lake to get some breakfast items, snacks and dinner for tonight ($55). We found that everyone else beginning their vacation that day was also there stocking up on supplies for the week. All the registers were open and the lines were backed up into the aisles. We were very tired of waiting in LINES. We finally made it back to Orange Lake and got our keys for room # 5151. The desk clerk gave us really BAD directions and we wound up dragging our full luggage cart a long, roundabout way to our room. We were very tired and hungry but finally found it. We put the groceries away and had shrimp and seafood salad sandwiches, chips and a tossed salad. We unpacked our clothes next and got ready for bed, it was 10:51 p.m.

The theme for today was - you guessed it, lines and crowds. The weather was perfect once again. I got a little sunburned on my neck and chest.

Our room was a studio with two queen beds, pull out sofa sleeper, various dressers and stands, dining table and chairs and a kitchenette with stove, oven, microwave, sink, dishwasher, refrigerator, toaster, and coffee maker with various cooking utensils, dishes, glasses, silverware, dish soap, cloth and towels. The bathroom had two sinks, toilet and tub/shower all in one room. There was also a closet with an iron and ironing board. There were washers and dryers just down the hall. The room was in the main building (registration, restaurants, convenience store, etc.) and on an inside wall. It had a window that opened up to an indoor courtyard. Since we were on the ground floor and there were stairs and a walkway right outside it, we always left the drapes closed. This made the place VERY dark as if we were underground so we referred to it as “Timon’s tunnel.” When we left the building in the morning and walked out in the sunshine, we felt like moles leaving our holes or meerkats anyway. It was comfortable enough for the small amount of time we would be there but we were not thrilled with it. On the positive side, it was very easily accessible to/from the parking lot through a service area entrance which we didn’t mind using for the convenience. I highly recommend this resort if you are staying in a villa, however.

We stayed here in a villa two times prior to this visit. In 2000 our unit was in the North Village, the newest section of the resort. It was a two bedroom unit (master bedroom with king bed and huge bathroom with whirlpool tub and a guest bedroom with two double beds and a bathroom), with full kitchen with breakfast bar and a dining area, living room with sleep sofa, washer and dryer, screened in patio with table and chairs. Splash Lagoon is North Village’s recreation complex; it included a free form pool with waterfall, slide, water volleyball and basketball, a kid’s pool with large fountain, an arcade, gift shop, café and more. There were basketball and tennis court just across from our condo. Since North Village is at the back of the property, there was an access road which allowed us to bypass driving through the whole resort, which was very convenient. The roadway went right past the Orange Lake Publix Shopping Center and out to Route 192. The resort is located five miles west of WDW on Route 192. Although we don’t golf, this resort must be heaven for golf enthusiasts. It has three golf courses and a putt-putt course making at total of 90 holes. The two new courses (Legends Walk and The Legends) were designed by Arnold Palmer. We think it’s a wonderful resort even without the golf courses!

Day Three: Sunday, March 21, 2004
The alarm went off at 6 a.m. thanks to the previous guests-ugh! We finally got up at 7:30 a.m. had coffee, OJ, bagels, took showers and got dressed. We left our “burrow” at 8:35 a.m. and found it very bright outside. We headed back to Sea World via SR 192 and I-4 and make it in 2/3 less time than yesterday, 20 minutes. This is largely due to the fact that we are traveling much earlier than we were yesterday. We paid our $8 to park and made our way to the gate where we registered our hand print, not just two fingers like at WDW, for our Fun Cards.

We toured the park visiting the sting rays, dolphins, manatees, dolphin show, and Journey to Atlantis. We, of course, got wet and I got water in my ear which gave me a soar throat by the end of the day. I was not a happy camper about that. Bill did Kraken and then we had more Bud and BBQ this time it was mahi-mahi and coleslaw while listening to a live band while we ate. We saw a squirrel raiding stroller baskets going from one to another. How funny! We continued our tour with a favorite, the Clyde and Seymour show; then visited the sea lions and seals, and penguins before making our way toward the stadium for the afternoon concert. Before we queued up for seats to see Little Home Town, though, we saw Artic Wild and visited the beluga whales and polar bears. We got really good seats this afternoon and I was very sleepy as we waited for the concert to begin. The crowd was much lighter than yesterday making for a more intimate concert. Little Home Town gave a good performance and, once again, were real down to earth. They made fun of all the small events and places they usually perform.

After the concert (3:30 p.m.), we went right behind the stadium to the Sea Harbor Pavilions and got the big buffet BBQ ($31). The BBQ foods were the same as what was available in the park. It had been sitting out for a long time and was not too hot or the best quality by the time we ate it. After we ate, people are queued up for the 6 p.m. Montgomery Gentry show already and we decided to do the same. Bill held a place for us in line to get seats while I ran out to the car and got our jackets. We were glad we split up like that because he was let in just before I got back and he grabbed great seats once again.

We spent our time waiting for the concert to begin people watching. Jay sang the same songs again! At this point, we really felt he should sing different songs. The National Anthem is performed by a young lady named Kaley. Montgomery Gentry are one loud rockin’ party band. They screamed so loud in their microphones you couldn’t even hear the words to their songs. Bill enjoyed himself immensely saying it was like a blast from the past. I enjoyed it but don’t understand why they have to scream when they sing?! After the show we stopped at a Walgreens so I could get some Aqua Dry drops to dry out my ears and throat lozenges for my soar throat from the big splash on our Journey to Atlantis ride earlier in the day. We headed back to Orange Lake via I-Drive and cut through WDW, Sherberth and Black Lake Roads to SR 192 to avoid the I-4 parking lot. We relaxed watching CMT before turning the lights out.

This was a much more tolerable day as far as crowds and lines go. I’m sure it helped that we got an earlier start. We really enjoyed the weekend at Sea World. Sea World not only provides great entertainment but a great value too. I said to Bill that we’ve been near WDW three days and I haven’t even done a WDW park yet. Tomorrow.

Day Four: Monday, March 22, 2004
We’re awake at 7:30 a.m. and do our usual morning routine. Cooler temps were predicted for the day, only 71 degrees, plus wind but sunny. We set out at 8:45 a.m. or so to Epcot to see “Mushu Mary,” our CM friend. There is traffic on SR 192 so we cut off through the Burger King Parking lot to Black Lake Road again and decide we are just going to get on Black Lake Road at the signal on SR 192 every day. Near the intersection of Black Lake and Sherberth Roads we have a “jerk encounter”. He cuts us off on Black Lake Road then passes a number of other cars on a double yellow line on Sherberth, he then gets in the left turning lane at the signal but turns right cutting in front of cars in the right turning lane. Jeesh!

We parked at the Swan hotel and took a brisk (it’s windy and chilly) walk toward the International Gateway. Besides the cool temp, we were getting sprayed from the fountains on the Swan-brrr. We purchase annual passes ($785) at the International Gateway at 9:37 a.m. Bill is surprised that the cost is “almost $1,000!” I tell him, “you pay it or you don’t come” because there is no way around it. Sea World on the other hand is a real bargain. We’ll use our APs for two two-week trips so it will be economical in the long run. I will probably use mine for three trips.

At the entrance of World Showcase a CM greets us and asks if we need a map-very nice. There are a lot of people in the UK and Canadian pavilions of World Showcase since there is only a rope at the bridge to France near the International Gateway not at the World Showcase Plaza as usual.

As we walked through Future World to Mission: Space we paused to watch the fountain between the Innoventions buildings. We got FastPasses at Mission: Space with a return time of 10:24 - 11:24 a.m. We also tried for Test Track FPs but no computer glitches to allow that. We walked browsing our way through Mouse Gear and across Future World to the Living Seas. The Finding Nemo garden was new and it was very cute. The horticulture staff is pretty ingenious with its use of land plants to make it look like an underwater garden. We took some photos and headed into the pavilion to check out the Nemo stuff inside too. First we watched the movie-volcanoes…rain, rain, rain. The Nemo exhibit inside was very well done and the kids really enjoyed it as they recognized the “real fish” characters of the movie. We big kids enjoyed it too. In the big tank, there was a diver feeding little fish to the big fish.

I wasn’t paying attention to the time and we missed Mary’s first set at Spaceship Earth so we planned to see her at 12:30 p.m. in China. Our Mission: Space FP window was open so we headed back to that side of Future World picking up FPs for Test Track on the way to Mission: Space. We entered the queue for the “vomit comet” as a CM working there referred to it. We walked so quickly through the queue that we didn’t really have the opportunity to notice all the details. We were teamed with a father and son. I was excited and nervous at the same time since I suffer from motion sickness. Everyday at WDW I take Bonnine pills so I can ride everything. I’d heard all the reports about Mission: Space being very intense but I wanted to experience it. I followed all the instructions-kept looking at my screen and didn’t lift my head from the headrest, etc. Bill on the other hand did everything you’re advised not to do. I felt a little queasy afterwards but it passed quickly and he didn’t feel a thing. We both enjoyed the experience; however, we thought it was funny that we didn’t return to Earth. I was grateful though, because I was afraid if we did I wouldn’t make it that far.

We took a restroom break near the First Aid station at the Odyssey restaurant where I also made a Priority Seating for Le Cellier at 1:10 p.m. by keying *88 from a pay phone. We made our way toward China and got a frozen margarita in Mexico and sat on a bench overlooking the lake while drinking it. This was a very nice relaxing break and something we’re not accustomed to doing. When we finished, we rode Maelstrom in Norway where I found and pointed out the hidden Mickey in the mural to Bill. We have the Hidden Mickey book but not with us so I will try to remember to bring it with us another day. We stayed for the movie and enjoyed it as usual. I don’t know why so many people don’t stay for it. The seats are very comfortable even though they don’t look like it.

In China we checked out the menu for Nine Dragons, the sit down restaurant, and decided to return someday to have one of the specials for two people. We went inside the pavilion to wait for Mulan and Mushu and see the movie if there was time. I asked the CM when and where they would appear and we sat down. Si Xian, a woman playing an authentic instrument, performed until the movie started. We decided to skip the movie but browsed through the museum. The CM who I asked about Mulan and Mushu found us and told us they were outside instead of inside today so we went right out. We had our pictures taken with them and Bill interacted with Mushu. He got fresh with a comment about “Mushu pork” which got him a swift kick-too funny. When it was time for them to leave we headed to Canada for lunch at Le Cellier.

After a few minutes wait, we were seated and ordered soup, salad, beef tips, steak and beer ($48 after 10% AP discount and tip). It’s a good meal but really over priced, even at lunch prices. Outside we listened to Off Kilter for one song, “Whiskey in the Jar.” I thought of Sheri. Back in Future World, we walked through Mouse Gear again and rode Test Track with our FPs. This ended our day at Epcot and we returned to the resort for a nap via the International Gateway, a FriendShip to the Boardwalk and a walk to the Swan.

Back at Orange Lake, we walked around the pool and beach area thinking we’d sit out in the sun and relax but decided it was too crowded and noisy with a huge BINGO game going on. I think everybody at the pool was in on it. We went inside and lay down and slept from 3:30 - 4:30 p.m. and then dozed until 5:15 p.m. It was really noisy in the atrium which was right outside our window and it didn’t help that the walkway was tile floor. Very frustrating.

We got ready to go to the Magic Kingdom for the 10 p.m. SpectroMagic parade and the 9 p.m. Wishes fireworks. It was chilly outside. There were no parking attendants so we parked on our own driving all the way up to the AAA Diamond lot, walked to the Ticket and Transportation Center, and took the Monorail to the MK. There were many people leaving at 6 p.m. and they looked tired and cold. We were glad Bill had a jacket and I had two sweatshirts on. The lines were long (40-60+ minutes) everywhere. We went to Tomorrowland and got Buzz FPs since Space Mountain didn’t have any left and then rode the Tomorrowland Transit Authority.

We walked through Fantasyland to Liberty Square and I got a bucket of caramel corn and Bill got a coke ($6). We saw the Hall of Presidents which is a good show for two American history buffs. Outside there were a lot of people along the parade route for the 8 p.m. SpectroMagic. We walked along the boardwalk through Frontierland and rode Big Thunder Mountain Rail Road via standby, 30 minutes, but it went fast due to no FP line so it tool less than 15 minutes. As always, a great ride at night! We backtracked across the boardwalk through Frontierland and then Fantasyland back to Tomorrowland and rode Buzz via standby. This line also moved quicker than the posted time since there weren’t any FPs cutting in. My score was very low until we got stuck in the last room and I increased it by shooting Zurg. Bill still beat me and didn’t believe me that points are earned for hitting Zurg. Back out and through FL again to try and see Mickey’s PhilharMagic before Wishes at 9 p.m. The CM said we’d have to wait 15 minutes for the next show and then the show would be 10 minutes so we went for it hoping to have 5 minutes to spare when we exited. This was Bill’s first time and he liked it. I think it is wonderful-a good sing along attraction. We sat toward the center back and I think it’s better to sit closer than we were. The guy behind us continuously laughed out loud.

In our five minutes before Wishes, we walked back through Fantasyland to the hub and within seconds Wishes began, we see Tink and enjoy the fireworks. Afterwards we made a mad dash for Tomorrowland and got in the Buzz FP line. Bill got a red card on a lanyard to carry and give to the CM who is boarding the ride vehicles. Our guess was they were timing wait times. We were one of the first to get in the line after the parade and got through it fast. Bill got ‘Space Ace’. The standby line, when we came out, was super long. We walked down through the Main Street shops and browsed until 10 minutes before SpectroMagic. We waited on a bench on the porch of Town Square Expo and moved to the curb once it began. It’s very cold now. So, many people were buying warmer clothes and throws or wearing towels. I’m cold now, too, even with two sweatshirts on. After the parade, we take the Monorail to the TTC and walk to the car. It’s a late night with lights out at 12 a.m.

Day Five: Tuesday, March 23
We are awakened at 7:30 a.m. by noise from high heels and carts rolling in the atrium outside our window. The usual morning routine followed except we ate a buffet breakfast ($19) at Kemmon’s, a restaurant at the resort which is in the same building we are so it was quite convenient. It had the usual breakfast foods--breakfast meats, eggs, potatoes, fruit, cereal, toast, bagels, etc. The food was good and the atmosphere nice. Since this is a timeshare resort and they are still selling units, there were lots of sales people and potential buyers (mostly families) everywhere.

This morning we were going shopping so we headed up I-4 to the northern end of International Drive with our first stop at Outdoor World’s Pro Bass Shop ($19). We moved on to the Belz Outlet for the Character Premier, Character Warehouse and Woolrich stores ($40). At the Disney stores I got a jogging suit, button down cotton/linen top with Pooh, two pairs of Pooh slipper socks and boxes of fig and character cookies ($76). At 1 p.m. we headed back to WDW to the Magic Kingdom for our priority seating at Tony’s Town Square Restaurant at 2:30 p.m.

As we pulled into the parking lot we saw a van pulled off to the side and the line of traffic was going around it. We parked and started walking toward the tram stop and heard one parking CM explaining to the other that the lady in the van is “too lazy to walk and has a kid so she didn’t want to park at the far end of the row.” So when the row filled up and they started parking cars at the end closest to the tram stop she parked in one of those spaces. I didn’t see a handicapped plate or hang tag on the van. From the tone of the CM’s voice, it was obvious that he was not pleased with her. I don’t blame him because I don’t prefer to park and walk from the far end either and probably 75% of all guests have a kid. Why should she be any different than anyone else?

Once we got in the MK it was 1:30 p.m., an hour before our PS, so we got FPs for Space Mountain with a return from 5:15 - 6:15 p.m. but we can get another FP after 3:22 p.m. We walked the secret path to Toon Town and rode the Walt Disney World Railroad for a complete loop and enjoyed a relaxing ride. When we got off, we walked through Toon Town, Fantasyland, Liberty Square, through the hub and down Main Street. There were a lot of people on Main Street waiting for the 3:00 p.m. parade.

We checked in at Tony’s and asked for a table on the porch so we could watch the parade from there. We got a table outside in a corner by the railing and it was a great viewing location. Two visiting marching bands went by first, then the grand marshals and then the Home on the Range pre-parade floats. The floats look like the silo and barn floats from Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Parade accompanied by dancers and draft horses being ridden by CMs. Terry was our server and we ordered a calamari appetizer which was excellent. Bill’s entrée was a strombolli and I got the panio verdure (sp?) (Eggplant, yellow beef steak tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, roasted red pepper and lettuce on olive bread with balsamic dressing). Both meals ($39 w/tip) were very tasty. Terry didn’t rush us and said we could stay and finish watching the parade but he brought us the bill before we were done eating. I got the impression he wanted to us to settle up so he could leave. I enjoyed watching the parade like this and recommend it to others. You have your own space and can sit down.

After lunch we wandered around until our 5:15 p.m. FP window opens for Space Mountain. I bought the Annual Passholder exclusive pin ($11) at the Town Square Expo. It has Tinkerbell and Cinderella’s castle on it. We browse through the fire engine barn shop and the Emporium. We stop in the barber shop, too, and decide to get Bill’s hair trimmed later in the week. We walk down Main Street through Liberty Square, Frontierland and Adventureland and browse the shops along the way. The park is very crowded so no chance at any rides-long waits for everything. These conditions really drain my enthusiasm.

As we were walking back through Frontierland toward the Liberty Belle on the boardwalk, we see a trio of CMs walking in the opposite direction playing a banjo, tuba and a guitar. So we stopped and watched what they were going to do and where. We followed them to the Tom Sawyer Island raft dock and listened to them play. They asked us for a request because no one else was paying any attention to them. We chatted a bit and I asked about the unusual guitar and was told it is a “tenor” guitar--between a 9er and a 11er! Funny. They are called Banjo Bob and Friends and played a bluegrass song for us. I express my disappointment with Goofy’s new dance show in the Diamond Horseshoe Saloon and ask how to get the Diamond Horseshoe Revue back. They were very encouraging to have us make out a comment card at City Hall and tell survey takers if we see them. Banjo Bob gives me a pin from his banjo strap that says, “Honorary Citizen of the Magic Kingdom.” COOL! It has a picture of the castle and Tink on it. We say good bye and walk over to Liberty Square to get to the Liberty Belle.

We got a space on the rail port-side and enjoyed the ride around Tom Sawyer Island. We could hear the narration very clearly. The Indian Village and wildlife look like they have been rehabbed recently-nice.

Our FP time has opened now so we head for Tomorrowland and Space Mountain. I notice something must be wrong because too many people are leaving the line, which is outside, and realize the ride is down. The CM advises people to hang out and that it will start in 10 minutes. Fifteen minutes later another CM says FPs will be honored all night and advises us to come back later. Since this was the last stop today, we stuck it out getting closer and closer to the front of the line as people bailed out. I said that we would stick it out until 6 p.m. (30 minute total wait) and if it doesn’t come back up, we’ll leave the line and ride the TTA to (hopefully) see the lights on inside. At 5:55 p.m. it’s up and we are let in. Hooray! I love this ride. Bill says it is tame compared to Kraken at Sea World. As we exit I realize I rode it without a Bonnine today and I feel better than I did after Mission: Space with 2 Bonnines. Wow.

We headed out of the park via the Main Street stores we hadn’t browsed yet. There was a long line for the Monorail and once at the TTC we take the tram to the parking lot and the car. We use Peter’s shortcut back to Orange Lake to avoid traffic on SR 192-following the signs to Animal Kingdom Lodge and then turning left on Sherberth. Thanks, again, Peter for a very helpful timesaver. We stop at the Publix and liquor store near Orange Lake and have a relaxing evening watching TV along with drinks and munchies before going to sleep.

I noticed today that there have been quite a few trees removed from Town Square and the Hub. It is too open with no shade and I don’t like it. The weather today was sunny but cooler unless in the sun. We wore light jackets.

Day Six: Wednesday, March 26, 2004
We are awake at 7:30 a.m. After the usual routine we are out the door for Disney/MGM Studios by 8:30 a.m. We park in TV121 and take the tram to the gate. A little after 9 a.m. we head to Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror. We get FPs for Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster with a return time 10:05 a.m. and a second FP available after 10:10 a.m. We queue up for the Tower of Terror with a 13 minute wait time posted and it takes that plus some. We wait by the exit door in the library so we can be the first ones out and then luck out by being pulled from the line when the CM is looking for a party of two. There is a scared girl about 10 years old in our elevator and the CM encourages her not to ride if she is scared. I thought that was nice. Nicer than the mother who was not making any effort to comfort her. The girl did get off and we had a fun ride. The sequence goes so quickly up and down in the dark now that it is hard to tell if you are going up or down. We browse the nearby shops until 10:10 a.m. and then get a second FP for Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster with a return time of 12:10 - 1:10 p.m. and then ride with our first FPs. Again, we position ourselves by the exit door in the studio room so we are the first ones out getting us ahead of 20+ people and getting on the ride quicker.

We walk all the way down the street and try to get in to see the Making of the Haunted Mansion movie but after 10 minutes in line the CM tells us there are audio problems and we bail out and walk around the park down Mickey Avenue, across the Honey, I Shrunk the Kids playground to NYC Street or whatever they refer to it now. We can see the new stunt show construction over the fence and façade work on the street. As we go past the old Hunchback stage, we can see the Osborne lights stored there. We looked in Pizza Planet and walked back out to the big hat and returned to the Haunted Mansion set. We waited 15 minutes and when our Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster FP window opens, I ran over to Who Wants to be a Millionaire and got FPs before going into Haunted Mansion.

Afterwards, we get a snack-an apple for me and an ice cream sandwich for Bill and sit on a bench over looking the lake until it’s time for Millionaire. We get in early and sit behind the hot seat. A teen who guessed Liz Taylor’s husbands in order of marriage gets in the hot seat. He does well and goes to the $32,000 point. The next man doesn’t make it far and just gets the hat and five pins. During this time, I come in 10th on the board. He misses without even using the helps and we think he just wanted out.

We walk directly to Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and got stuck in the loading area. We were next to load when it broke down. Many management type CMs and maintenance CMs start appearing from doorways, the “work” lights come on, and the music stops. The limo sitting in front of us is unloaded and so is the limo ready for take off. It got very crowded in the queue area because all of these people were crammed in front of us. There is an announcement that the ride was going in off mode, then manual mode and the limos moved backwards then the announcement for off and manual modes again and the limo moves forward and back in front of us and then off mode and finally automatic mode. The crowd cheers. Two limos run empty before re-boarding starts. All this takes 30 minutes. Some people were starting to bail out. The CM said they could get re-entry passes but I didn’t hear how/where to get them or how they were used. We waited because, once again, we were leaving after the ride to meet Bill’s mom, Terry, at Mary and Peter’s. So after a rough ride, I thought so anyway, we left the park, and then stopped at Chick-fil-A for chicken strips. We take them back to Orange Lake and have lunch and freshen up before we actually leave.

The trip to Mary and Peter’s takes about 25 minutes. Terry is a snow bird and lives in NYS in summer and West Palm Beach in winter. She usually drives up to Orlando and spends time with us at WDW. We chat for a while, catching up until 4:30 p.m. then decide to eat at Joes Crab Shack in Lake Buena Vista. We all ride in our Rendezvous which is very comfortable for five adults. Traffic on I-4 is okay and it is so early that the restaurant is not busy until later when we are leaving after 6 p.m. The meal is good and the portions are large. We shared an appetizer consisting of two dips (crab and spinach) and chips. Bill got the shrimp trio and I got the crab cakes with parsley potatoes, broccoli and carrots. Mary, Peter and Terry paid us cash and we charged the bill ($116 w/tip). We returned by driving back down I-4.

Mary offers us dessert but we pass. We spend more time yakking and drinking champagne to celebrate Bill’s 25 anniversary working for the NYS Department of Corrections and his ability to now retire any time he wants. We take some group photos using a tripod and automatic timer on the camera before we leave. There were many comments from the peanut gallery as I was setting it all up. We agree to meet Terry the next morning at 9:30 a.m. and go to Epcot and have lunch in World Showcase. We stop and get gas on the way back to Orange Lake. We are very tired tonight.

Peter and Mary gave Terry two one-day park hoppers that they got as CMs, I think, at holiday time last year. We were going to suggest Terry buy the FL resident Play Four pass but these passes will be better since she will probably only go to the parks two days anyway. Terry is not feeling well and has a runny nose. It continued throughout her stay until she went back to West Palm Beach. We guessed she was allergic to something. The weather today consisted of alternating sun and dark clouds with wind and cooler temperatures.

Day Seven: Thursday, March 25
We are awake at 7:20 a.m. and Bill burns his bagel this morning setting the smoke alarm off. We are out the door at 8:30 a.m. to pick up Terry at M & P’s. We chat with Peter before leaving for Epcot with Terry. He gives me a “Tell-a-Cast” and a CM Atlas of WDW. The Tell-a-Cast is a listing of events and times at Epcot that is pocket size. The Atlas is a map of the resort with backstage roads and CM parking areas noted on it.

At Epcot we park in Imagine. All the turnstiles are open at 10:20 a.m. and there are still long lines in each one. Inside the park, a CM takes our photo. As he was getting us in position, he calls Terry “Mom” which is okay because she is Bill’s mom. Then he refers to Bill as “Dad” a couple of times before Bill took offense and straightened him out. Bill told the CM that Terry was his mother then took his baseball cap off and said that he knew he had a lot of gray hair but that I was his wife NOT his daughter. Too funny! We laughed and laughed as we walked away. Nice compliment for me, though.

Outside Guest Relations, I used the payphone to make a PS for lunch by using *88 again. It wasn’t the same as using the TV monitors they used to have where you could actually see the person you were talking to. Our PS was for Nine Dragons in China at 1:30 p.m. We set out for World Showcase after Bill got two FPs for Mission: Space with a return time of 1:42 - 2:42 p.m.

We notice the flower gardens between Future World and World Showcase near the Showcase Plaza where the Monorail goes through were now planted with flowers for the Flower and Garden Festival. On Monday we had noticed they were marked off with the outline of each design. They were very beautiful already and the flowers weren’t even in full bloom yet. They must be just magnificent during the festival.

We see O Canada which we haven’t done in a while. It’s a nice enough film; it’s just very obviously out of date. We found a rain shower waiting for us when we exited the theater so we just stayed under cover until it stopped. I think today was the only rain we experienced during our two-week stay. I’d brought the Hidden Mickey book today, so we were hunting them down. We found the first one in this pavilion in the Mercantile. The hidden Mickey is one of the scales on a fish in a display on a high shelf.

We moved on to the UK for Harps and browsing in the shops. I always have a desire to buy tea here but always convince myself that you can buy this tea outside of WDW for probably half the cost so I don’t get any.

In France we find the HMs in the grates in the sidewalk around the trees in the courtyard. There was a clue for one in a shrub but we couldn’t find that one. We concluded that the shrub was probably history. There was supposed to be one near the clock on the International Gateway building, too, but we couldn’t find that one either.

In Morocco Bill admires a wooden box made of Thuya wood. He was going to get it later but I said he just better get it now because I didn’t know if we’d be back this way again today and that I would carry it. He hates to carry anything and I knew that’s why he didn’t want to get it so early in the day.

We browsed the department store in Japan and admired the pearl jewelry. I found the HMs on the ornaments hanging off the corners of the pagoda by the bridge over the gold fish pond. It is showering again.

We catch the end of Vibe and then listen to the Voices of Liberty in the American Adventure. They are great singers but their costumes are just that, costumes. There is nothing historically correct about the outfits. Most people wouldn’t know the difference or care. After the performances we found the HM in a small room off the main room. One of the CMs from the Voices of Liberty helped us find it in the corner of the wall design with the eagle on it.

Our walk around World Showcase continues passed Italy but we stop in Germany to find another HM which is on a suit of armor on a statue on the outside of the shop that sells the clocks. After this we walked directly to Nine Dragons for our PS.

We order a special for two (soup, white rice, sesame chicken, cashew shrimp and pepper steak) along with an order of spring rolls. Terry gets soup and a spring roll and has some of our main dishes too. She is a very light eater, so it would have been a waste for her to get an entrée for herself. We all had plenty to eat. Our bill comes to $53 with the AP discount and tip. This was the first time we ate at this restaurant and enjoyed the experience but like others have reported the food wasn’t anything better than you can get elsewhere and cost twice as much. The dining room was much more pleasant than I expected in that it was bright and open instead of being dark inside like I expected.

As we leave the restaurant we notice tattoos on a couple of men’s calves. The first one was quite large of Mickey himself with the American flag. Bill thought that was a bit much until I pointed to another that was ALL seven dwarves. Too strong!

The FP time for Mission: Space was open and only had 10 minutes left so Bill took off to do that. He was going to ride twice using both FPs. While he is off doing that, Terry and I watch the new China movie which I thought was good. China certainly has a diverse countryside. We shopped in the store since it’s kind of hard to avoid. Terry bought a black shawl that the salesgirl said was the only one left. I always wonder when sales people say that and wanted to go back later to see if another one was put out or not. I liked the shawl, too, and was tempted to get it if Terry didn’t. Of course, I didn’t let her know or she wouldn’t have bought it for herself. She would have given it to me.

We walk past Norway to meet Bill at Mexico. I noticed a topiary in Norway of a troll next to the stave church that wasn’t there on Monday. It was obviously more Flower and Garden stuff being set up. We sat on a bench on the other side of Mexico where the walkway around the Odyssey restaurant comes out near the first aid station.

Terry’s had a runny nose due to an allergy since she arrived from West Palm Beach and had taken two Actifeds earlier in the day but still needed more tissues. I suggested the first station and told her to ask for meds for her nose too. Besides the tissues, she came back with two Benadryls. I suggested we walk along the walkway around the Odyssey toward Mission: Space hoping Bill would walk this way too. We waited on the bench at the other end of the walkway because there were a couple of routes he could take at that point and I didn’t want to miss him. When he showed up after a few minutes, we headed out of the park stopping to buy one of our photos from the morning and get two 5x7s for $24 with tax which we split with Terry.

Animal Kingdom is next on our agenda and there are no parking CMs so we parked as close as we could get in Unicorn 21 and walked in. It’s 4 p.m. and we walked straight to Harambe for the Kilimanjaro Safari. The parade had started, so we walked along the parade route in the direction the parade was going. We caught up with the end of the parade in Harambe where it was a mob scene and got worse once the parade passed and people started disbursing. I told Bill to take Terry’s hand so we wouldn’t lose her and we made our way into the safari queue before it filled after the parade. We got on our Jeep pretty quickly but there were few animals out for this trip. We did see the male lion though.

We toured the Pangani Forest next and found it a very pleasant experience with few people around but lots of CMs sharing information about the animals. There were two male hippos interacting in the water instead of doing nothing like usual or not seeing them at all. Gus was sitting by the window people watching. I wonder what he’s thinking as he does that. This late in the day certainly is a great time to visit this park or at least this area of the park. We forgot to look for the HMs in the naked mole rat room so Bill and I went back in but only found one-on a soap box on a desk.

We walk to Asia next and did the Maharaja Jungle trek with only a few people around. The tigers are pretty active because it was close to the time when they would be let in to eat. It was actually after the usual time to be let in but the park was open an hour later today (6 p.m.) and they weren’t used to the new schedule yet. Animals are such creatures of habit. We witnessed one tiger poop right in the pool-nice.

We found lots and lots of HMs here, especially in the murals in the tiger area. I’ve been taking pictures of all the ones we found and it took me a long time to get through this area because there were so many. Terry wouldn’t ever say it but I’m sure she must have thought we were nuts.

The CM in the aviary pointed out lots of colorful birds to us. This was nice since we usually just walk through without being able to find much. When someone points them out, it makes it much more interesting. Even though it was now after 6 p.m., the CM was still sharing info with us about the birds and not pushing us to leave but once we were aware of the time we did.

On our walk back to the car we are behind two boys (7-10) walking with their mother. One of the boys is walking along with his hand in the back of his shorts. He takes it out and smells it. Ewww! Then he asks his brother to smell it but the brother wouldn’t. The mother is unaware of what’s going on so he asks her to smell it. She says no and asks where he’s had it. That cracks both boys up and she catches on. She was very embarrassed and walked quicker to get away from them. We couldn’t believe what we were witnessing. What a hoot! Typical boy humor that’s for sure.

Before we bring Terry back to M & P’s we stop at a Walgreens so she can get more Benadryl and tissues. Because she was feeling so lousy, she decided not to join us the next day. Instead she would stay at M & Ps and rest. She did agree that, if she felt better in the morning, she would call us by 7:30 a.m. Otherwise, she would drive herself and meet us at Orange Lake at 3 p.m. and follow us to the Fairfield resort we would be checking into at that time. The unit we have there has one bedroom and she will stay with us for two nights. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Once we got Terry back to M & P’s we chatted with them about our day before heading back to Orange Lake. We got there at 8:30 p.m., ate fruit, salad and Doritos, watched some TV and went to sleep.

We experienced both sun and showers today. It was a weird weather day.

Day Eight: Friday, March 26
We awake at 7:25 a.m. and receive no call from Terry so we are on our own. After the usual routine we are out by 8:15 a.m. for the Magic Kingdom. We have a hassle free commute this morning-hooray! After parking in the Pluto lot, we Monorail to the gate arriving at 8:45 a.m. and watch the opening ceremony with the Mayor, Mickey and Minnie and the WHOLE gang (I think every character was there) arriving on a train at the Main Street train station. It was very crowded, just jam packed with people between the gates and the station. We were in back on the left side so it was hard to see and terrible for photos. Bill takes some since he’s taller. This is the first time we’ve seen this new addition to park opening and it’s a good way to see lots of characters but it’s a bit chaotic. I’d like to experience it again but arrive earlier to get a better viewing position.

While we were waiting for the ceremony to begin, a family comes through the turnstiles behind us and realizes they are not at the Disney/MGM studios. Duh! They wanted to leave but the CM explains that the exits aren’t open yet because the park wasn’t open yet PLUS there are SO many people packed in that they couldn’t even walk to the exits. Silly people for getting that far before realizing they weren’t going where they wanted to. It was obvious this was their first visit to WDW and they never cracked a guide book. And, here they are at rope drop at the Magic Kingdom and they want to leave to go to another park. We would have just stayed and enjoyed the MK but to each his own I guess.

Finally, the rope drops and we are on our way down Main Street. We cut through by the Plaza Restaurant to another rope drop into Tomorrowland since it is only 8:55 a.m. The CM there tells us not to run. Yeah, right! And we RUN! Stopping to get FPs at Buzz with return time from 10:05 - 11:05 a.m. and then we continue running to Space Mountain. Sprinting to Space Mountain is so fun! The Space Mountain FP distribution machines are not open and are being worked on. It’s a good thing we decided on a Buzz FP and to ride Space Mountain first. The standby line wasn’t open yet either and a line builds. After a 15 minute wait, we are let in and practically walk right on. We ride the right side and it seems slow. Bill rode in the front seat of the first car and I was behind him. We were going to ride again but the standby line was out under the TTA already. No way!

We took off for Frontierland and Big Thunder Mountain Rail Road and see Buzz himself along the way so we have our picture taken with him. A five minute wait was posted at Big Thunder Mountain Railroad but we walked right on and got in the last car with many empty cars on our train. There were no CMs directing people to specific cars. When our ride was over, we got out of our car but saw an empty one so we got in it. The CM checking lap bars said it was okay. When our train pulled back into the station, there was no one waiting for our car so we stayed seated and rode again. The next time there was someone waiting so we got out but found another empty car further up on the train so we got in and rode again. We rode four times on the same train. Two women did the same thing but were only able to ride two times. They could have gone a third but by the time they realized it, they couldn’t turn back. We just waved good bye to them as we pulled out of the station. Fun, fun, fun, fun, fun!

Splash Mountain was next which had a 15 minute wait time posted but was only five at the most. We had a nice ride and didn’t get wet except for our faces. Bill had his arms up in the air for the photo and they blocked my face. We headed back toward Tomorrowland and saw a marching band march through Frontierland. One of the Country Bears was out and he pretended to be their conductor. Those bears are pretty funny. We made a stop at the Haunted Mansion where there was a five minute wait posted but we walked right on. As we walked past the Madame Leona gravestone, we saw the eyes open.

We finally continue on back to Tomorrowland by walking across the hub and asked a CM to take our picture in front of the castle with her camera and with ours. The Space Mountain FP machines were now working so we got them with a return time of 12:20 - 1:20 p.m. (two hours out) before we used our Buzz FPs and walked on earning not so notable scores. Bill’s score was over 100,000, mine was under.

Pirates of the Caribbean was our next stop with a 15 minute wait posted. There was a line of people visible on the right side and no one on the left so you know where we went. Yes, to the left and we walked quite a ways before we found the end of the line. Our wait was not more than five minutes max. We couldn’t remember going on the left side in a long time. Pirates is such a classic. I can remember riding it at Disneyland when I was only about four years old.

We crossed into Frontierland to see the Country Bear Jamboree but the next show wasn’t for another 15 minutes and we were hungry so we got some lunch (11:15 a.m.) at Pecos Bills ($16). Bill got the ¼ pound burger and I got a chicken wrap. Bill loads on toppings on his burger and cheese on his fries from the toppings bar. You could make a meal out of the topping bar. I should have asked for carrots instead of getting the fries. Bill wound up eating most of them, after getting more cheese of course. My chicken wrap was excellent and I only added sautéed mushrooms. Bill said his burger was just okay and he should have gotten the wrap too. We sat outside among the swooping birds to eat. One dived for my fry cup and knocked it over.

We tried the Country Bears again and the wait for the next show was 7 minutes. We saw Banjo Bob and his band outside so we went back out and listened to them and watched two Country Bears dancing with kids while they played. Big Al did a summersault and the cape on his head flipped up. He quickly reached back and flipped it back down. We were watching the clock for the Country Bear show and there were only 30 seconds left so we reluctantly went inside and enjoyed another classic.

Back to Tomorrowland and on to Space Mountain right at 12:20 p.m. with a five minutes wait. The standby line is long and wraps around in the inside queue, too. Once again we declare FastPass rules and standby stinks. I ride in the front of the car this time, on the left side, and I think this side is faster. Or is it just because I was in front?

We walked down Main Street to the barber shop and find lots of characters in Town Square. Bill gets his hair trimmed by Maura and she tells us about working for Disney and her jobs before the barber shop. She toured with the Disney promotions group to Brazil and other Spanish speaking countries. However, she found six weeks was too long to be away from her family so she started working on wigs and animatronics back at WDW. She also told us about how popular the barber shop is and how it is mentioned on the internet, in books and in the Disney magazine. She says people come back again and again. It is also very popular for baby’s first hair cuts. Maura was very hard to understand with her thick accent. I took some photos while she was working on Bill. Plus, when she was done she put a Mickey apron on him and got out big red scissors and posed for me. Then she sprinkled confetti in his hair for the final shot. Too funny!

By this time it is 1:30 p.m. and we need to leave the park to return to Orange Lake to pack, check out and meet Terry at 3 p.m. which we manage to do with five minutes to spare. We could check out so late in the day because we actually have the Orange Lake timeshare for one more night so check out isn’t officially until the next morning. We also have a timeshare at the Fairfield Cypress Palms beginning tonight. Since it is a one bedroom, we are moving there. We are meeting Terry because she is going to stay with us at the bigger timeshare.

I drove our rental and Bill drove Terry’s car. We were moving from West SR 192 to East SR 192, with I-4 being the divider. Bill got stuck at a red light which I go through. I drove really slowly and he caught up with me by the next light. Good thing because he didn’t have a clue as to where we were going. We arrived at the Fairfield at 3:15 p.m. and check in but our unit (Bldg 5103, Unit 405) wasn’t ready yet. We used the time to go to Publix a little further east on SR 192 at SR 535 to restock bagels, fruit, etc ($27). When we returned it was after 4 p.m. and our unit was ready.

We found this unit to be the total opposite from the one we just left at Orange Lake. Instead of Timon’s tunnel, we feel as if we are in Tarzan’s tree house. It is roomy and bright for sure. Yaay! We unpack, do laundry and I catch up on my notes on the balcony while Bill and Terry watch the movie “Nine Months” on TV.

Here’s a description of the Fairfield Orlando at Cypress Palms: It is located between mile markers 10 and 11 on SR 192. It is off SR 192 and behind a number of restaurants that are on SR 192 which are easily accessed from the resort (either by walking or driving) on Elese Drive without going out to SR 192. The restaurants are Cracker Barrel, Pizzeria Uno, Chili’s, and Macaroni Grill plus a Krispy Kreme and a CVS Pharmacy. This location provided an easy drive to WDW by crossing SR 192 (with a traffic signal) from Scott Boulevard on to Polynesian Isle Boulevard. Then it was a left onto SR 535 and a left onto SR 536 which becomes Epcot Drive. No need to drive on SR 192 at all. The resort was very quiet and visually appealing. There were two pools with spas, a playground, and an activity building. Our unit was a one bedroom, one bath with a full kitchen, dining area, living room and screened balcony. The bedroom had a king bed, TV, dresser, night stands and chairs, two sinks and a Jacuzzi tub. The bathroom was accessed by both the bedroom and the living area. It had a shower, toilet and sink. The living area was open from the entrance door to the balcony door with just a counter dividing the kitchen/dining area and living room. The living room had a tv/dvd player, stereo, sofa sleeper, chair, end and coffee tables. The kitchen was equipped with full size appliances and had any kitchen item you’d need. The washer and dryer were in a closet with the iron and ironing board. It was decorated in what I call “Florida style” with tropical designs in pastel colors with light colored wood furniture. I would highly recommend this resort.

We left shortly after 7 p.m. for Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede. We walked in from the parking lot past the stalls of the horses that perform in the show. We checked in and once I turned in a coupon I had, we got $4 off each of our admissions ($127 for three with tax and discount). They took our photo in front of a green screen and then we browsed through the gift shop before sitting down in the carriage room for the pre-show.

At 8 p.m. an Australian cowboy (none of us could remember his name the next day!) and his horse Starstruck (quarter horse stallion) came out and did their thing. The cowboy sang and rode Starstruck among the audience and even went upstairs on the horse. There were cameras that recorded them when they were out of sight which projected them on a screen onstage. Throughout the show there was also some taped video being shown on the stage which included the various places they have traveled and performed around the world. They also did tricks using a whip and volunteers from the audience. For being such good sports the cowboy gave them a copy of his CD.

After the pre-show, we moved into the main arena and found our seats (C5) which were at one end of an oblong area. Our server was Josh and there was a plastic dinner plate with a handled soup bowl, a glass and napkins at each place setting. The audience was divided to root for the northern team (blue) or the southern team (gray). I chose the north when I made our reservation. There were four large school groups enjoying the show with us. Throughout the evening there was a friendly competition between the blue and the gray riding teams which perform gymkhana type games. Performing between competitions there are singers and dancers representing north and south. There are also audience participation games, pig races and even ostrich races (which reminded me of the Beverly Hillbillies episode where granny rode an ostrich-now that’s showing my age isn’t it?), trick riders, and wagon races.

As I suspected when there was no silverware at our place settings, dinner was eaten with out it. We had soup first which we drank from the handled bowl. There were also biscuits and a whole rotisserie chicken, a slice of pork, half of a baked potato and half of a cob of corn. Dessert was an apple turnover. The food was hot and tasty but not gourmet by any means.

The photos that were taken earlier were offered toward the end of the show. There were two 5x7s in a folding western themed cardboard frame. The backgrounds our picture was superimposed on were a western scene and a dessert scene. The pose was the same, just the background scene changed. Terry passed them up during the show, I think because we did, but she changed her mind and bought them after the show in the gift shop ($20). Bill bought a Bill Monroe, the father of Bluegrass, CD set ($60). It’s excellent, too, with real old time bluegrass music.

The show was cute and family friendly and it made a nice evening. I would recommend it for something new to do if you like things like this but it’s certainly not a “not to be missed” attraction. I am probably biased, though, because I grew up on the back of a horse and showed quite a bit too. I’ve seen and sometimes done most everything performed at these types of shows.

We were back at the resort and to bed by 10:45 p.m. with an early start planned for the next morning. The weather today was sunny and warmer than it has been, low 80s. It was breezy but not as strong as earlier this week. Bill is getting a sore throat now.

Day Nine: Saturday, March 27
The alarm clock went off at 6:30 a.m. Bill was not feeling well and had a sore throat but we go ahead with the usual morning routine and our plan to go to Silver Springs “nature’s theme park” in Ocala. We took the Osceola Parkway (toll $1.25) to the FL turnpike (tolls $2.50) and it took us 2 hours with moderate to heavy traffic at times. As we drove along, we saw lots of livestock (pigs, goats, cattle, and horses) in the fields bordering the turnpike. Florida is still very rural in some areas.

Before our trip, I’d ordered concert tickets ($10 each) for reserved seats and VIP parking for $10 so once we arrived at Silver Springs, we parked in the lot close to the gate and walked in, instead of shuttling in from an off site parking lot. Terry bought our admission to the park with her Florida ID for about $10 off the regular admission price (regularly $32.99 vs. $21.99 + tax = $23.53). We offered her $50 but she only accepted $20 because we bought her concert ticket-big deal. We got maps of the park and after a restroom break start touring the park.

The grounds were very well maintained and park like. There was a definite older crowd here with few young families. There are lots of people entering the park with their lawn chairs to watch the concert. I suppose if you lived nearby and had a season pass, this is a great thing to do. Others were simply enjoying the park atmosphere by sitting on chairs and benches throughout the park and reading the newspaper. The atmosphere was a far cry from that of the hustle and bustle of WDW parks that’s for sure.

We did everything but the bird and reptile shows. We enjoyed the nature attractions: glass bottom boats, lost river voyage and jungle cruise. It was nice to be on the rivers and see the wildlife that lives there: turtles, alligators, various birds and fish. The Jeep safari and animal attractions were slightly tacky.

We witnessed some really dumb people who where getting hurt by not staying on designated paths and we were not feeling sorry for them. For example: one woman, in her excitement to see the bears, did not follow the side walk but instead took a short cut by climbing over some rocks with flip flops on and she fell, losing a flip flop. Another loser cut through a rail fence instead of walking around it and fell and scraped her arm and ankle. I’m sorry I just can’t feel sorry for impatient, lazy people.

At lunch time we got two subs, a pickle and drinks ($18) and sat a quiet table near a little stream to eat.

The music had started at the stage at noon, but we kept touring the park. The main concert, Lorrie Morgan, wasn’t until 3 p.m. anyway. Our reserved seats were in front of the stage but in the sun. Luckily, it was late enough in the day that it wasn’t too uncomfortable. There were lots of shade trees in the areas where those who brought their own chairs could set up for the day. Lorrie’s concert was okay. We’d seen hers years earlier and she isn’t as dynamic as she once was. She had a good sense of humor, though, and in her own way admitted to not being as young and vibrant as she once was. I bought Terry and Bill water and beer respectively. This made me short on cash when I went to get myself kettle corn so I had to settle for the smallest bag-darn. I love kettle corn. Then Terry and Bill ate most of it-double darn. Oh well, this incident saved me from over indulging.

After the show (4:20 p.m.), we had a short walk to the car when most people were piling on the shuttle buses with their lawn chairs no less. It was definitely worth it to us to pay the $10 to park on site. We also had access to our vehicle during the day.

I’d recommend a visit to Silver Springs for adults who are looking for something new to do in a quiet setting. I think it would be too boring for teens and perhaps young children might lose interest after a few hours. Seeing everything is easily done in one day. Many concerts are offered at the park so check out their website to see who might be appearing when you plan to visit.

We took the same route home with the same tolls and it took the same amount of time too. TV was the highlight of the evening with munchies for dinner.

Day Ten: Sunday, March 28
We were up early after a restless night with Bill’s cold troubling him. We got ready for church and left at 7:10 a.m. for 7:30 a.m. mass at the Mary, Queen of the Universe Shrine. It is located on Vineland Avenue just before the Prime Outlet Mall. The first time we attended mass here, it was at the end of the road. Now the road continues all the way through to I-Drive and there is the mall, a Publix, a Walgreens, etc. We see growth with each visit to the area around WDW. We only stayed through communion and Terry suggested we leave. We’re sure she was worried about the drive home and just wanted to get going. It’s her nature to be a worry wart plus she is not very confident about driving outside of her neighborhood. Oh, I forgot that she told us she doesn’t worry, she gets “concerned.” Anyway, we drove both cars so she could leave right from church. She followed us down SR 535 to the turn onto Osceola Parkway to connect with the FL turnpike. When we drove to Ocala, we went this way and I suggested that she pay attention so she’d be a little familiar with the route. Of course, going to Ocala, we went north on the turnpike and she would need to go south to West Palm Beach. She did okay and made it safely home.

Once she waved goodbye and was on her way, we got gas ($27) and headed for Epcot. We parked close enough to walk in. The security bag check and turnstiles to the left had short lines meanwhile the right side were mobbed. I guess most of the people entering the park at that time we coming from Disney buses.

We were planning to meet “Mickey Mary” who would be arriving on the character bus in front of Spaceship Earth at 10:05 a.m. but we were early enough to catch the bus in front of the fountain at 8:55 a.m. so we surprised her. Mickey and Minnie have a CM photographer to take your picture with them. Besides that photo, we had the greeter take our picture with our camera too.

We planned to meet Mickey again at 10:05 a.m. so in the mean time, we rode Living with the Land with only two other people on our boat. There were three pots of flowers in the greenhouse arranged to form a Mickey head but it was really a Minnie because they added a bow to it. It was so simple. Anyone could do that at home. We noticed topiaries and plantings for the Flower and Garden Festival as we walked around the west side of Future World that weren’t out earlier in the week in preparation. We found a rake left behind by the horticulture crew just lying in a flower bed! We also found two talking water fountains. One is between Journey into Your Imagination and The Land. The second one is near the kids’ interactive fountain between Future World and World Showcase.

There was still time before the character bus would be arriving so we just waited near Spaceship Earth in the shade. Once it arrived I took a lot of photos and Mickey waved at us once we were recognized. Besides the CM photographer, the greeter took pictures again with our camera plus Mary had also given the greeter her camera so there were many pictures. We waited until the characters re-boarded the bus and I took more photos of Mickey waving good bye. The CM’s pictures would not be ready for two hours and we needed to leave for Sea World so we planned to view them another day. They keep them for three days.

This weekend was another Bud and BBQ weekend at Sea World so we drove off WDW property on SR 536 to I-Drive to the Central FL Parkway to Sea World. We paid our $8 to park and were directed to drive through the parking lot and across the street to the Turtle-A lot. The lots near the gates weren’t full and cars were being parked there but, unfortunately, the line we were in was directed across the darn street. I wasn’t pleased at all. Since it was so far from the park and would take a while to get back to the car, we took our jackets with us this morning. We took the tram to the gate where there was a mob but at least we had our tickets already and we got through quickly. My hand scan didn’t work and I had to show ID and have it scanned again.

We were hungry and decided to eat first and to try the new sit down restaurant at the Shark Encounter, the Shark’s Underwater Grill. It was only 11:30 a.m. and there was a 20-30 minute wait already so we were given a vibrator. We went through the Shark Encounter and then browsed a couple of shops nearby. We returned to the restaurant and it started vibrating-good timing. The restaurant was dark and the tables were on tiers a lot like the restaurant at the Living Seas. We were seated close to the shark tank. The menus are in stainless steel folders. We ordered salads ($5), I got crab cakes ($18) and Bill got the seafood trio-tuna, shrimp and scallops ($20) both were served with vinegar based coleslaw. Bill’s salad was chopped and mixed with gorgonzola dressing and then made to look like a shark. Mine was a boring spinach salad.

During our meal there were guests in cages in the shark tank. We watched them as they slowly moved from one end of the tank to the other. One girl wore a mask attached to an air supply like a scuba diver would wear so she could stay underwater. Another girl just wore the mask but held her breath and then surfaced for air and returned underwater again. That seemed like a pretty silly and tiring thing to do but we thought maybe she was afraid of the air thing. It was a nice relaxing lunch ($60) in a cool atmosphere. On the way out we walked through the bar and it had a shallow fish tank in the surface of the bar with clown fish in it-Nemos.

It’s 1 p.m. now and we decided to queue up for the 2 p.m. Joe Nichol concert at the stadium and so did a lot of other people. We were let in fifteen minutes later and got good seats once again. The show was good and as we left (3:45 p.m.) people are queuing up for the Brad Paisley concert at 6 p.m. so we did too. It was a long wait made longer by the fact that there was an obnoxious family near us. The mother kept encouraging the kids to act up and then complained to the father when they did. Some groups were sending one person off the get food. At least we were able to sit on the curb for a good portion of the time and had a good lunch so we weren’t hungry.

It really hadn’t been bad waiting for seats for the concerts but this one was the most popular and so people queued up earlier. We did have a problem with the handicapped line though. It was a separate line and they were let in before our line was which we could understand and didn’t mind at all. The part we minded was that any number of people could wait with the handicapped person. It appeared that not everyone was really with a handicapped person. We felt that the handicapped person be allowed only one person to wait with them and the rest of their party in the other line and then meet up once inside.

We waited in line until 5:15 p.m. before being let in. Once the crowd disbursed and there was some room, we ran for it and got great seats once again. Bill held our seats while I went to the bathroom-long line too. Then there was a long line for beer. Luckily a guy selling them from a tray was heading my way and I got a few ($15) for Bill. We people watched until show time (6 p.m.). Two young singers opened the show. First Cindy Dawson sang the Star Spangled Banner and then JC Anderson sang a few songs, followed by Cindy again. They did this at the afternoon show too. Brad gave a great concert and had a good time with the crowd. He has a great sense of humor and is very humble. He performed for 90 minutes. We left the park right after the show at 8 p.m. and rode the tram all the way out to the car.

Back at the Fairfield, we called our moms, watched TV, ate munchies and went to bed. While we were watching TV the headline news reported that Disneyland and WDW would be increasing their admission prices. The weather this day was sunny and warm at 83 degrees. I highly recommend attending Sea World’s Bud and BBQ. The price is right and the concerts were excellent.

Day Eleven: Monday, March 29
You know you’ve been on vacation a long time when you wake up and can’t remember the date. We were up at 6:30 a.m. and out at 8 a.m. There were no more bagels or OJ so we set off for breakfast at Fort Wilderness’ Tail’s End Buffet. We parked at the Wilderness Lodge and walked along the nature trail. As we were walking I started thinking that this wasn’t how we went last time when we rented bikes and I guessed it wouldn’t go all the way though to Fort Wilderness. We continued, however, until the trail splits and we bore to the left until it turns and heads back. So it didn’t go all the way through but we didn’t head back either. Instead, we kept walking to the left through an “employees only” sign (yes, “employees”, not cast members) gate. The trail continued to follow the shore of the lake through the woods to River Country, which has been closed for quite some time (years).

We found ourselves in a backstage area of River Country as we came upon a security guard CM sitting smoking a cigarette in a parked golf cart. Bill commented that he was hiding. He ignored us and we just kept walking behind River Country and could see in behind the fence. It looks very weathered and run down. We continue walking along an access road/parking area and saw spaces reserved for the cast of the Hoop Dee Doo. We are soon back onstage again and walked past the stables and petting farm. We could hear a peacock making its call and saw both a female and a male. There was also a white peacock, donkeys and goats too.

Once at Trail’s End, we were seated right away. We were told Edie is our server but she doesn’t show up for quite a long time so the hostess tells us to go ahead to the buffet. Edie shows up after we return from the buffet and takes our beverage order. The buffet is wonderful consisting of bagels, bread for toast, cereal, yogurt, fruit, and cream cheese, peanut butter, honey, jelly, etc. There are also plain scrambled eggs and eggs mixed with cheese, bacon, sausage, potatoes, plus biscuits and gravy, grits, French toast, Mickey waffles with syrup, apples and strawberries, donuts, muffins, and cinnamon rolls. WOW! Our bill came to $24 with tip.

While we were eating, a family with three young boys (ages 2 - 5) sat at a table near ours. Dad sits with the kids while Mom got food for them. Dad then gets his food and stuffs his face while she is cutting stuff up on the kid’s plates and feeding the youngest one. She finally goes and gets herself some breakfast and has to eat very quickly since the rest of her family is now finished and read to go. Jeesh!

The trading post is our next stop and Bill uses the restroom in the back. He reported that it’s beautiful and thinks it’s recently been refurbished with stone floors and tile walls. Some of the tiles had critters on them and were grouped in fours. He wanted to show me but I was waiting for him on the dock and the boat for Wilderness Lodge was about to leave so we didn’t take the time to go back.

As we approached Wilderness Lodge, the geyser erupts and we saw a heron along the boardwalk. We looked for a hidden Mickey near the geyser but didn’t find it. This resort is so beautiful and today it was especially so with fragrant flowers blooming everywhere. We saw a rabbit eating grass on the lawn that didn’t seem bothered by passers by. We visited the gift shop before we returned to the car and headed off property. As we drove past the Magic Kingdom’s parking lot, I wondered how many cones WDW has. Lots!

Our mission off site is to shop. We returned to Outdoor World’s Pro Bass Shop so Bill could get a turkey and Pro Bass Shop logo embroidered on a cap he bought there last week but he was told it could not be done. He was really disappointed and made worse by the employee’s bad attitude. At Belz, I bought more Disney stuff ($26.50) and exchanged the jacket to the jogging outfit I bought last week. We returned to the Orlando Premium Outlet Mall, too, before going to the Character Corner at the Lake Buena Vista Factory Stores ($28). I picked up a few gifts for co-workers, a Minnie shirt and a Tink watch that was $5 less than at Character Warehouse at Belz.

We were back at the resort at 2 p.m. and I called Wekiwa Springs State Park to arrange to take a canoe trip and also asked for directions. I had gotten directions from Map Quest and had an older FL map but asked for the heck of it. I’m glad I did because I was given a better route using a new road which wasn’t on my old map. The directions I had were to go up I-4 and the new directions were to take the FL turnpike.

We spent the rest of the afternoon at the pool sitting in lounge chairs by the spa. While Bill read, I went over what was still on my to-do list and mapped out a plan to fit it all in the next four days. I spent some time in the spa and a boy about 10 or 11 came in too. He was very talkative and in an authoritative manner was telling me where the control was to turn the jets on and about some of the spa rules. I had read the rules already and knew that he was too young to be in the spa without a parent. I don’t recall now the exact age you had to be without a parent but I asked him if he was that age. He said, “No.” and left. Bill says I’m mean. My rebuttal was that he was being a know-it-all and I merely knocked him down a peg or two.

At 6 p.m. we were on our way to Beaches and Cream at the Beach Club for dinner. We were seated at a table right away and ordered burgers, fries and onion rings ($25). This is the first time we’d eaten here besides getting ice cream and the burgers were excellent and really hit the spot. This was the first greasy meal I’d eaten in three months. Our server was an older woman who was all business-quite intimidating too. Her service was so quick we were in and out in 30 minutes.

As we walked toward the International Gateway, we saw a dinner party (white linen and china) set up on the beach in front of the Beach Club. At the time we were walking by people were getting drinks from the two bars that were also set up on the beach. The whole event looked like a lot of fun-unless you had heels on. What were those women thinking???

Once in Epcot we caught some of British Invasion, the mime in France (who is hysterical) and the living statue in Italy. I love walking around WS at night. We made our way around to World Showcase to ride Test Track. Mary had given us re-entry passes that allowed us to enter through the exit and bypass the queue and the video clip. Test Track seems much faster at night and we enjoyed a whiz around the building. Next, we walked over to the Camera Center to check out our photos from the day before.

It was getting close to 9 p.m. and we wanted to take care of this before it was mobbed after Illuminations. We bought the first shot getting two 5x7s for $24. In all the other shots, we were not looking at this particular camera. With our camera and Mary’s camera there, too, we couldn’t look at all three at once. We hoped the pictures on our camera would come out better and they did.

We walked back to World Showcase and Illuminations started as we got there. We continued walking counter clockwise watching as we walked. We stopped on the bridge between UK and France until it was over and then exited via the International Gateway. We saw lots of Illuminations cruise boats. I want to do that! The convention dinner party on the beach was still going on. Our drive home was quick (7 minutes) since all the traffic lights to SR 535 were green. Hooray! We stopped at Publix for bagels, OJ and a picnic lunch for our canoe trip tomorrow ($15). Lights out at 10:35 p.m. It was another sunny and warm day.

Day Twelve: Tuesday, March 30
Up and out at 8 a.m. for Wekiwa Springs State Park in Apopka for our trip down the Wekiva River. We took I-4 to the FL turnpike, SR 409, SR 436 and Wekiwa Springs Road to the park. It takes almost an hour with moderate traffic and costs $1.50 in tolls. The new road off the turnpike was very convenient. It was a toll road but if you had prepaid the toll you didn’t have to stop at the toll booths. The toll booths were like an exit that you got off the highway, paid and then got back on. It seemed to be the honor system as to whether or not you needed to stop and pay the toll because we didn’t see any device where vehicles passing the toll booth were being scanned.

We paid $5 at the park entrance and are given maps and directions where to park. There are only two other cars in the lot and we were not sure where we needed to go. We just started walking and saw the spring which is just like those at Silver Springs. Wekiwa Springs (Creek Indian word meaning spring of water) has been made into a swimming hole unlike Silvers Springs where there is no longer any swimming. The water is crystal clear and we could actually see the water bubbling up out of the ground in between the crevices in the limestone floor, forty-two million gallons each day. The water temperature is 72 degrees all year long.

From the spring area, we could see the concession where we needed to check in and pay for the trip ($44). Cindi helps us and she is also the person I spoke with yesterday. She took our car keys and licenses to hold for the kayak and for ID in case we don’t return-yikes! We decided on the double kayak as opposed to a canoe because the kayaks have back rests on the seats. We’ve never used a kayak before and didn’t have any problems but I’m getting ahead of myself. We took our cooler (soft sided brought from home) with our lunch and our knapsack with sunscreen, camera, etc. down to the river that forms from the spring. Chris (I think) is there to help us with the kayak and gave us oars and life vests. We didn’t have to wear the vests, just have them on board. He showed me how to adjust the foot pedals and pushed us off. It’s 9:30 a.m.

The Wekiva River (Creek Indian name for flowing water) travels north and we began paddling since the current is very slow. The water is very clear and we could see turtle and fish right away. Cool. It’s absolutely beautiful with heavy vegetation along the banks sometimes making a canopy over the river. There was lots of bird life too. There was a grass type plant growing in the water looks like cat tails but stays below the water and moves with the current. Others look like lettuce at bottom. There are also lily pads and a variety of other vegetation that I am not familiar with. Sometimes it is so thick there was only a narrow path for us to go through. It is very quiet and we often stop paddling and float and listen to the sounds-loud frogs, birds and the breeze through the trees. That’s it. We pass one canoe going our direction and two coming upstream very early in our trip and then NO ONE. We cannot see or hear any sign of human life except for an occasional airplane overhead.

The brochure we received when entering the park said that the scenery we were experiencing shows how “areas of central Florida looked when the Timucuan Indians speared fished in the spring-fed creeks and stalked deer in the uplands.”

After awhile the river opens up and becomes quite wide. We are now often in the full sun to the east and my left arm gets really hot. The river winds with islands and we have to decide which way to go around so each trip can be different by going around the islands a different way. On one island there was a sulphur spring bubbling up out of the ground. We see literally a hundred turtles through out the day mostly sunning themselves on logs. Sometimes they would slip into the water when we got too close. Most of them look to be painted turtles but we saw one that Bill says was a snapper. We also saw herons, hawks, egrets, etc. and hear an owl.

Then I shouted, “Gator, gator, gator!” as I saw an alligator sunning on a log with her babies in front of her. We didn’t notice her until we were almost passed so we back paddled and were able to get a closer look. It was surreal. Here we are at sitting a few inches above water level a few feet from a real live alligator and we were NOT on the safari at AK or on the jungle cruise at AK, or standing behind the railing at Sea World or Silver Springs. I was in the front of the kayak and had to tell Bill that we were close enough! I got a picture though. Later on, from a distance, we saw another one slip off a log into the water. There were supposed to be bears, eagles, otters and deer too but we didn’t see any. We were glad we’d visited Silver Springs because we learned a lot about the springs, the river and the wildlife that we were experiencing on this trip.

We paddled for four hours and pretty steadily the last hour through a wide open area of the river. The sun is to our backs now. This area was not as interesting. We began passing docks and private property. Soon we saw a highway bridge and crossed under it. There we saw two guys in wet suits snorkeling and picking up bottles. We are unsure if we’ve reached our final destination, Katie’s Landing. All the landmarks we were to look for are there but it doesn’t seem right. I called Cindi with my cell phone and described where we are and she has us look for certain other things. We conclude we are not at Katie’s Landing yet and continue on further down steam. We eventually find it but it is NOT marked at all which is not very convenient if you don’t know where you are going.

We pulled the kayak out of the water and found a place in the shade on the grass to have our picnic lunch (crab salad, rolls, coleslaw, chips, water and soda). It’s 1:30 p.m. We didn’t stop along the way because I wasn’t really hungry and didn’t know how long it would take us to get to Katie’s Landing. Bill, on the other hand, was hungry and wanted to stop but didn’t say so and was pouting at this point. Hind sight is 20-20 and we could have stopped for lunch because we were 1 ½ hours early for our scheduled pick-up. Two canoes with six people total (grand parents, kids and grand kids) follow us in shortly after we sat down to eat. They called Cindi, too and she said our pick up will be at 3:30 p.m. not 3 p.m. Ugh! We get to chatting and learn they are from Michigan and saw otters and deer on their trip down the river.

The bus finally comes at 3:20 p.m. The driver’s wife is with him and they load our kayaks on a trailer behind the bus (a school bus). We wait some more for another kayak that is supposed to be there any minute but at 3:40 p.m. the bus driver decides to take us back since he can’t see them coming and we’ve already waited so long. I see them coming as we cross over the highway bridge we kayaked under. One of the other women says, “We don’t see anything!” so we don’t have to turn around and get them. Too funny! On the way back the driver tells us about the Rock Springs Run State Reserve surrounding the river as we drive through it. 7,800 acres total. WOW. We give the driver a $5 tip when he drops us off at the park. We get our keys and IDs from Cindi and take a closer look at the spring swimming hole then head for home.

We take the same route back, make good time and are at the Fairfield by 5:30 p.m. I have sun burn on my back and the tops of my legs. After showers we are out the door again at 6 p.m. headed for the Magic Kingdom to see “Donald Mary” in the SpectroMagic parade at 8 p.m.

We’d arranged to meet Peter at 7 p.m. at the Liberty Bell in Liberty Square and we made it with five minutes to spare. We sat on the stone wall and filled each other in on our day and the few days since we’d seen each other last. He’d spent the whole day at the MK. We were sitting in the disabled area (Peter uses a cane.) when three CMs in trash pick-up uniforms come looking for a particular young girl in a wheelchair. They were asking for her by name. When they found her, they gave her a blue princess wand. I never learned the story behind their actions but the little girl was pretty happy.

I left the guys holding our spot and set out to get a pretzel for me and sodas for them ($8). Donald is on the last float and it goes by really quickly after waiting so long. She saw us and waved. Peter and I snapped as many pictures as we could. We stayed for Wishes but Peter left after the parade. Before he did, I gave him the two photos of us with Mickey at Epcot for Mary to sign. One picture is for them. We will try to get together with them tomorrow night.

I’m beginning to like Wishes more and more. There was a huge crowd in the park tonight and it takes us a half an hour to exit and get to the TTC. Back at the Fairfield, Mary called to make arrangements for tomorrow night. We agreed on 6 p.m. at the Boston Lobster Fest on SR 192. I found a free drink coupon in one of the tourist guide books to use. To bed at 10:30 p.m.

It was another sunny and warm day with a nice breeze and no clouds. Because of getting too much sun today and being tired of driving in traffic, I decide to skip the planned visit to Cocoa Beach tomorrow.

Day Thirteen: Wednesday, March 31
We were up early enough to make it to the Disney/MGM Studios by rope drop so that was our plan. I caught up on some notes, too, before leaving at 8:30 a.m. We had to wait for the tram and then at security. I am tired of lines and waiting! At least the turnstiles had no line, yeah! There was a large crowd on Hollywood Boulevard so we made our way through the stores to the front. The CMs escorted everyone at rope drop and no one was allowed to pass them. We made it to the front by the time we reached Rock ‘n’ Rollercoaster. We got FPs at 9:03 a.m. with return time for 9:45 - 10:45 a.m. and then walked on the Tower of Terror, rode RnRC standby with 10 minute wait and then with FP. The stand by line was posted at 15 minutes but it appeared that it would be longer now that the FPs were valid. We got another FP when we exited with return time for 10:40 - 11:40 a.m. and then went to the Animation tour.

We had to wait ten minutes for the next show. The first part of the tour uses Mushu on video and a live CM like what’s done at Disney’s California Adventure. The next part talks about the history of these studios and movies produced at WDW. A walk through where the animators used to work is next and then we had the option of taking a drawing class where you keep your drawing or look a concept art for various films. We chose the concept art and it wasn’t busy so I enjoyed being able to take my time and read the displays. Of course, the exit is through a gift shop. After the tour we went to get Millionaire FPs for the 11:20 a.m. show and returned to RnRC for our FP and then ran back to Millionaire arriving close to 11:20 a.m. and were let in. This is a fun attraction. A man goes to the $1,000 mark and a lady, who’s lost count of how many times she’s been in the hot seat, loses the $32,000 question.

Lunch is our next mission but we ran into Andy Mation. We stopped and watched him create a wonderful Goofy balloon. All the while he was creating it he talked about the creation of the Goofy character. What a talented guy to be able to do two things at once and do it very well. He put the finished Goofy on a stick and gave it to the little girl who was his helper. We had lunch at the Commissary ($20). Bill had the grilled vegetable sandwich and a Bud and I had a chicken salad. Both were very good. We did One Man’s Dream next and it was quiet here, too, and we took our time and read all the exhibits. I start to doze during the film. I needed at nap! We watched three streetmosphere workers before leaving the park. We watched some others, too, but there was no show, just interaction with guests on the street. We left around 3 p.m. and napped back at the resort.

Bill woke me up at 5:30 p.m. to get up and get ready to meet M & P at the Boston Lobster Fest. We met them and were seated at 5:55 p.m. so we are able to get the early bird (before 6 p.m.) price of $24.99 pp (regularly $29.99). Plus, we could use the free drinks coupon-wow! Bill had a bloody mary, I had wine, Peter had a soda and Mary water. Peter got a free refill and Bill got a second bloody mary using Mary’s free drink since she only had water. Besides unlimited whole lobsters, the buffet had just about every type of seafood you can think of plus salad and dessert bars. Food selections besides the sea food consisted of carved beef, mashed potatoes and gravy, rice, linguini and sauce, and corn on the cob. The bill came to $106 plus a $20 tip. We had excellent service and the comment card Mary filled out reflected it. We did the tourist thing and took photos outside by the lobster VW. This meal was better than what the Cape May Café offers and was cheaper. We all agreed that we would definitely return to this place. Mary gave us our photos back signed my Mickey Mouse himself. We said goodbye and headed out to Downtown Disney Marketplace while M & P went home.

We found parking okay even though the sign said “lot full.” We walked through Pleasure Island (7:45 p.m.) and stopped to listen to the band playing on the West End Stage for one song. There were people in line for the Comedy Warehouse and I wondered if Sue was there but, no, it’s not a weekend. We continued to the West Side. We see Cirque guests being let in to the show. We listen to a rock-a-billy band outside of the House of Blues for a few songs and then had back to the Marketplace along the water. It’s so quiet back there.

On the other hand, the Marketplace was mobbed as was World of Disney. I grabbed a basket and Bill did his usual quick walk through. He didn’t see anything he wanted so he told me he’d meet me at the Rain Forest Café bar. I wandered around and got everything I was looking for-Paula’s shopping list, gifts for co-workers, etc. I got a collage frame which I had to ask a CM to get since none were left on the floor. I also looked for replacement pearl earrings but there were none. I checked out and got $7 off with my AP discount (10%) so the total was knocked down to $68. I went to Ghirardelli for a chocolate sample and got one with caramel in it-yum! I sought out a water fountain for my terrible thirst from all that seafood. Then I went to the bar to see if Bill was ready. He had just gotten at seat since it was so busy. He’d been walking around until that point. So, I left my bags with him and hit Disney at Home, Pooh Corner, Days of Christmas and Art of Disney. I bought picnic tablecloth holders for my mom ($10) and a wire Mickey frame ($10) to train my ivy to grow on. When I returned to the bar, Bill was ready and we headed for the resort. It was a late night, notes before lights out at 11:50 p.m.

It was another sunny and warm day. I wore capri pants and a tee shirt to cover my sun burn from yesterday.

Day Fourteen: Thursday, April 1, 2004
It’s hard getting up at 7:30 a.m. but we wanted to try to be at Animal Kingdom for rope drop. Cooler weather was predicted today, only in the 70s, so we dressed accordingly. We got to the park by 9 a.m. but by the time we parked, rode the tram and got through the security check (security CM calls me “princess” and he called the lady in front of me “Cinderella”) and walk to Harambe it’s 9:15 a.m. We got FPs with a 10:05 - 11:05 a.m. return time and noted the stand by time was 20 minutes. We walked to Asia, through the new area toward the Everest Expedition construction and over the new bridge to DinoLand. This new bridge will help with the congestion on Discovery Island.

Our goal here was to ride Primeval Whirl which had a five minute stand by posted but it was more like ten. We rode it twice and then they opened the other side too. I think this ride is fun but not worth a long wait. It’s a bit rough. This area was empty and would have been a good time for winning prizes at the carnival games but by the time we left, it was busier. We got FPs for Dinosaur with a return time of 10:50 - 11:50 a.m. and headed back to Africa for our safari. Harambe was a real bottleneck. The FP line had a five to ten minute wait. We experienced a great safari and saw most all of the animals!

Back to Dino where we were the last two in the pre-show room but made our way across the room during the video and were the first two out the door. Veteran strategy! The ride was working really well with all the areas on line. This really makes for a better experience. So many times we’ve ridden this and half the ride was down. It was 11:30 a.m. and we walked very quickly through crowded side walks to Festival of the Lion King for the 11:45 a.m. show. We were seated in the Warthog section in the back row so we could lean against the railing in the back. This is always a great show but it was a bottleneck getting out between our location in the theater and the strollers parked outside-yikes!

Flame Tree BBQ was next and we walked right up and purchased two meal certificates plus onion rings ($11.99 x 2 + $3.79 = $29) and ordered a chicken salad and a rib dinner. If you’re not familiar, the certificates include a meal, a bottled beverage and an ice cream. But, you don’t have to get the beverage or ice cream with your meal. The beverage and the ice cream are about $5 so if you get a meal that is $7 or more, it’s a value. We sat down by the water. It was a little too cool here due to a combination of the temperature, breeze and the shade. The drinks that came with our meal were huge. The food was okay.

We made it to the 1 p.m. Flights of Wonder with five minutes to spare. Nice show, as always. We took a rest room break afterwards-too much to drink. Bill witnessed a boy in the men’s room with about a half a cup of soap in his palm and asked him if he had enough soap to wash his hands. As Bill left the rest room, he overheard the boy telling his mom, “Some man wouldn’t let me have any soap.” You know the kind. I told him he is an “evil king” since he was calling me the “evil queen” for what I said to the kid in the hot tub.

We got two Mickey premium bars, a coke and water with our vouchers from the meal certificates. While we were sitting on a bench eating the ice cream, a CM in a wheelchair stopped and asked if we wanted to take a survey. The questions asked were about our lodging, ages, purpose of our trip, number of days for this trip, our pass type, number of trips, number as adults. He asked for my name, home and e-mail addresses for additional survey questions. Bill talks with him and learns that e-mails with comments sent directly to WDW are given priority over surveyed comments. We’ll be sure to mention bringing back Diamond Horseshoe Revue to the MK. At this point, we left the park for Epcot.

The purpose of going to Epcot was to have our picture taken with Peter while he’s at work. We had so many photos of us with Mary; we decided we wanted one with Peter at work in his uniform too. We have a CM take one with our camera and two with the CM’s camera of the three of us with the Epcot sign and Spaceship Earth in the background. We said our final goodbye to Peter until our next trip. We were in and out of the park in just a few minutes. We got back at the Fairfield at 3 p.m. to pack and nap until 5:30 p.m.

At 6 p.m. we are off for Epcot again, we parked at the BoardWalk hoping to catch the Boardwalk Buskers after Illuminations. Once in Epcot, we walked to the Camera Center and bought both pictures ($24) with Peter. I will copy them at home and send one of each to him. We walked around World Showcase clockwise, paused for MoRockin and the British Invasion.

We checked in at the Rose and Crown at 7:30 p.m. for our 7:40 p.m. PS. We were given a pager and sat on a nearby bench. Here we witnessed a guest sitting near us deliberately toss a straw wrapper on the ground. Pig! We were called in about 10 - 15 minutes and even though I asked to be seated outside, we were seated inside. This was okay, though, since we’ve never eaten inside, plus it was a little quieter and warmer. The sides were down on the outside seating area due to the cooler temps but they were still seating people on the lower level by the water. We ordered beer and wine, a mushroom and a prawn appetizer and two fish and chips. The bill came to $68 plus an $11 tip. That was way too much money for the food we got. We are really burned out tonight. We are tired of people, especially rude ones, waiting in lines and red lights. After our meal, we walked out to the Rose and Crown viewing area and watched Illuminations. We exited through the International Gateway and walked back to the BoardWalk, stopping to browse in the candy store and the general store where I bought a roll of Rolos-like I needed to eat any more calories. Ugh! It was a weak moment. We walked the rest of the way out to the car, drove to the Fairfield, notes before bed.

Why do kids whine and cry? Told you it was burn-out time! It was a sunny, breezy day with cooler temps and chilly at night.

Day Fifteen: Friday, April 2, 2004
We were up at 8 a.m. and went through the usual motions plus final packing. We checked out at 9:30 a.m. and were off to Epcot for Mary’s second set at 10:10 a.m. as Minnie. Once in the parking lot, we could not pull into our parking space until parties on both sides of us got their shit together-doors open, strollers in our parking space, kids and dogs everywhere! Jeesh! They didn’t have a clue that we were waiting there for them. Nor were they apologetic when they did finally realize it. Can you tell we are tired of stupid, inconsiderate, rude people! It’s time to go home. Anyway, we still have one more day to get through.

We walked to the turnstiles and it was pretty busy but I found one that had a shorter line and we got through pretty quickly. We waited for about 10 - 15 minutes before the character bus showed up. Minnie gave us the “I see you” sign and we went to her area and queue up for photos. When she got off the bus she took Bill by the hand and led him to her spot. We asked her greeter to take our picture with our camera. There is no CM taking photos with a Disney camera today. After our first shot, we got back in line for another. Then we just stood back and watched her interact with guests until the bus was ready to leave. She loves all her fans and it shows. We take a rest room break and then met the bus again at the World Showcase Plaza for a repeat of the earlier meeting.

We planned to meet the bus again in Japan, so we walked clockwise around World Showcase taking photos of more topiaries added since our last visit for the Flower and Garden Festival. There was a troll in Norway, panda bears in China, and Snow White and a dwarf in Germany. I also found a hidden Mickey in the ground of the train display in Germany. The bus would be coming soon and I only have one photo left on the roll of film in my camera so I used it up on the big gold fish in Japan. I didn’t want to waste time changing rolls with the bus there.

Once it arrived, I took many more photos and Minnie’s line was short here, so that provided for lots of opportunities. We also took pictures with Pluto, King Louie, Timon and Daisy Duck. I shot a whole roll of film this morning, plus some, and decided I would have it developed in doubles to share with Mary. We had a ball observing Minnie with her fans and seeing her fans (especially the kids) react to her and the other characters. We noticed how the kids want to take it all in and spend time with the characters but the parents don’t allow it. They are dragging the kids off for another signature and photo. Too bad.

As the bus was leaving, Minnie signs, “I’ll call you.” So, we had to walk out to the car and get the phone. When we got it there was already a message and I listened to it. She wanted to get together for lunch. She called again as we are walking back to the park and I was about to call her back. We planned to meet in Mexico at 1 p.m. I was so glad I had my phone today since I don’t usually carry it. By the time got to the Cantina de San Angel, Mary is already there. She introduces us to another CM who is also on line getting lunch and he recommended the meat burrito. This CM is very close friends with Donald Duck. Mary was very excited that we are there to see her and took so many pictures and offers to pay me for them. I assured her I was planning on the doubles at no charge. As we eat at a table by the water, we chat about the morning and our trip then we say goodbye. Before we part, we asked a boy sitting on a bench to take our picture and I asked Mary to do one of her poses and she did.

We left for the Magic Kingdom with a walk through Mouse Gear on the way. I was considering getting a Minnie frame but passed. Maybe next time after I see how the photos come out.

We called Southwest to check on our evening flight and learned that it was currently delayed but were advised to show up on time just in case the status changed.

We took the Monorail from Epcot to the Magic Kingdom where people were waiting for the 3 p.m. parade. We took a rest room break first and I could hear a marching band pass by outside and they sounded great. Back out in Town Square, we watched another band as they passed by that really looked tired as they marched off stage. I guess they weren’t in shape for the long parade route. Yet another band followed them. It sure was a big day for school marching bands. The last band had many members and did some maneuvers on Main Street. Their pom-pom girls performed as well. (Do they even call them pom-pom girls anymore? Am I showing my age?) They were a pretty impressive group.

The grand marshals rode by next with the Main Street Philharmonic marching band. WOW! I thought that was exciting since you don’t see them much.

We went to Tomorrowland to try to get FPs for Space Mountain but the return time was after 6 p.m. which is too late for us. So, we rode the Tomorrowland Transit Authority, an old reliable, instead. Next we took a walk on the path behind the castle past the wishing well to Fantasyland for FPs for Mickey’s PhilharMagic with a return time between 4 - 5 p.m. We continued along the path behind the castle to watch the parade as it crossed the bridge between Liberty Square and the hub. It just started as we got there. We sat along the wall in the shade and we could see fine.

Afterwards, it was off to Tom Sawyer Island. We had a short wait for a raft and roamed Injun Joe’s caves, and walked over the barrel bridge to Aunt Polly’s for root beer floats ($6). Then we took the suspended bridge on our way to Fort Longhorn. The fort is pretty nice with animatronics-blacksmith, horses, dog and chickens. We took the escape tunnel out and a boy down there said, “Hi” and started telling me what’s this way and that. Then, someone calls him and says, “Coast is clear.” And he told me to never mind and leaves. We followed him out of the tunnel. He and his brother are taking their play pretty seriously as they continued to climbing on the rocks and hiding from the enemy. It was nice to see kids using their imaginations and getting caught up in the magic. That’s what’s supposed to happen, right?

I snapped some photos of the fort and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad across the river before we walked back towards the raft landing. We checked out the scavenger fort and Harper’s Mill which are cleverly done. We were surprised to see working gears inside. Very cool. Do they really turn from the water wheel and does the wheel turn from the water flow or is it Disney magic? At the landing, we sat on rockers and waited for the next raft.

Mickey’s PhilharMagic was our next destination and even with FPs the wait seemed like a long time but was probably only 15 minutes. We are tired. The show is still as cute as always. It is time to go. We walk on the path behind the castle since Cindy’s show is taking place out front. I decided to shoot up the rest of the roll of film by taking photos of the castle so the film doesn’t sit in my camera for months.

As we are walking down Main Street, I said to Bill to take a look at all the American flags and it dawned on me it was 5 p.m., flag lowering ceremony time. When we are half way down Main Street, the Main Street Philharmonic came out AGAIN, forms up and marched down Main Street. I stood right out in the middle of the street and took two pictures of it with the castle in the background. I hoped the pictures would turn out as nice as the scene looked in person. The band marched around Town Square to the train station and played the National Anthem as the flag was lowered by WDW CM security color guards and a man in a patriotic tee shirt, who was probably a veteran. The whole time he was in step with them and at attention. They folded the flag and presented it to him. Very nice! And, it was a great ending to our trip.

We took the Monorail to the Ticket and Transportation Center and transferred to the Epcot Monorail. Bill asked me if I was going to cry and I hold him no because I can always come back.

On our way off property, we stopped at a 7-11 to fill up the gas tank ($23) and continued on to the airport. We arrived at 6:15 p.m. and had to wait for someone from National to check us out. The total was correct, $405, and we were off for the terminal. The tunnel was closed so we crossed outside and went up the escalator to ticketing. We watched a guy just cut pass the entire line and go to the desk by going under the ropes. Bill was ticked and said he hoped he missed his flight. Even though we were two hours early, our boarding passes were for Section C, the last one! I guess we had a pretty punctual group on our flight. I since realized that people probably printed them before they got to the airport. We dropped off our luggage across the room where it would be scanned/searched and headed to the gate. We had one last Disney shopping opportunity at EarsPort but didn’t buy anything. Security was quick and after our last Monorail ride, we were at the gate.

We saw our neighbors and chatted with them about each others trips. They came down during our last week and relaxed while we were on the run. Our flight was delayed and we boarded at 8:40 p.m. when we should have taken off at 8:15 p.m. We queued up to gets seats together but wound up sitting apart so we could sit in the front. Bill got the bulk head with lots of leg room. The pilot announced the temperature in Albany was predicted at 45 degrees. The day at WDW was sunny and warm but windy. I worked on my notes until 10:30 p.m. and then took a nap before we landed. Then it was the usual routine: bags, shuttle to Park and Fly ($3 tip, $76 bill), drive home, unload luggage and to bed at 1:07 a.m.

The next morning, I pick-up our other dog at the Pampered Pet ($343) and unpack.

After thoughts:

  • The weather was very good the entire two weeks with temperatures in the 80s with some days cooler than expected and in the 70s. Some nights were cold and in the 50s.
  • We managed to do most everything I wanted except take the ferry to Old Key West and have lunch at Olivia’s, visit Disney’s Wilderness Preserve and spend a day at Cocoa Beach. So, these are all things to do next time.
  • We enjoyed our non-Disney days and time spent with Terry, Mary and Peter.
  • From listening to my Disney music cassettes, I have become more familiar with the songs and music and recognized it playing in the parks.
  • The crowds were bad the first week causing lines and long wait times. The second week was better. Dealing with crowds, waiting in lines, driving in traffic and sitting at red lights got old quick. Can you tell I live in the country?
  • There were lots of teenage groups that were probably high school bands and cheerleaders.
  • It was too bad Terry suffered from an allergy causing her to have a terrible runny nose. Bill also suffered with a cold during the second week.
  • There was not a lot of selection of adult Disney clothing. It all seemed to be geared toward kids and teens.
  • Some people are real pigs. When I would see trash about, I wasn’t blaming WDW for slacking. I was blaming the people who deliberately throw trash on the ground and/or not clean up after themselves. Where are there values?

Our next trip:
In February 2004, I confirmed two timeshare exchanges at the Sunterra Polynesian Isle Resort near WDW for January 29 - February 12, 2005, two weeks, in a two bedroom unit that sleeps six with a sofa sleeper in the living room. We invited my brother and his girlfriend and my mother and her friend, George, to join us for a few days here and there at their discretion. They will have to work out who’s there when or someone will be on the sofa sleeper. This trip I only offered the place to stay and not tour guiding as I’ve done in the past. Also, I’m sure Terry will also join us for a few days. Bill and I have stayed at this resort for our December 2001 trip and liked it so much I chose it over two other gold crown resorts (RCI’s highest rating) Vistana and Orange Lake. Vistana and Orange Lake are very big resorts and I liked the smaller size of the Polynesian Isles. It is just down SR 535 from Vistana on a quiet side street so the location is great too.

As I finish this report I am two weeks away from another trip in November 10 - 15, 2004. This fall trip has become an annual event shared with friend and co-worker, Paula. Unfortunately, she can’t make it with me this year. So, I’m traveling alone and staying at Mary and Peter’s. Look for that report coming soon.

Thanks for reading. Contact me if you have questions and or comments.

Kim Howe
HOWEKM@Cobleskill.edu

 


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