Jim Indelicato -- November 2004 -- Walt Disney World (ASMoR)
“We’ll get to Disney World eventually.” That was the slogan in our household as our two daughters, Jenny and Allie went from babies to pre schoolers to grade school. Cathy and I each had been 3 times: Once each when we were kids and then twice together before we were married in 1990 and 1991. So it had been 13 years since we had gone. Planning for a trip to Central Florida to us was the equivalent to doing our taxes. We knew we had to do it but kept putting it off. Obviously, we knew how much it changed and neither of us wanted to invest the time to plan. Next, we live in Connecticut so to maximize our time we really needed to fly. Cathy does not enjoy flying thus making the planning something she would prefer not to deal with.
We typically planned a family vacation ever year usually in the summer and always someplace in driving distance. Cape Cod is a popular summer destination for us. For whatever reason, we never got around to planning something for the summer 2004 so we just did a bunch of day trips instead. This opened the door to “How about going to Disney this year.” Jenny had just turned 8 and Allie 5. I started to do some research, looking at height requirements and ticket prices and realized that 8 and 5 was a pretty good combination. At age 8 Jenny was tall enough for every ride but still young enough to appreciate the magic of Disney and the characters plus, she was still young enough to get a child ticket. Allie at age 5 would be tall enough for everything but two of the roller coasters plus she is old enough to get around without a stroller.
So, what about crowds? What about heat? What about hurricanes? We wanted to avoid all of those things. Plus we are very budget conscious and wanted to keep costs down. Finally, we would like to go during school vacations so the kids do not miss school. The research begins. Christmas week is the first choice because the kids will be off for the entire week. Ummmm, wall to wall crowds, 120 minute waits for rides, peak season and peak prices. Forget it. Thanksgiving is next: two days off from school but airfares that week are outrageous. Crowds will be pretty high most of the week as well. OK, what about August before school starts? Too hot and chance for hurricanes. That leaves Columbus day and Veteran’s day. In both cases they will miss four days of school. October weather should be good but it is still the tail end of hurricane season. November seems nice. Weather should be perfect. It is off season so crowds should be low. Cost? Well, November is value season and there are general public Fall discounts available. Airfare? How does $125 round trip per person direct from NY to Orlando on American sound? Sounds pretty good to me. So the only decision now is do we take the kids out of school for four days. Jenny has always been at the top of her class and Allie is reading at a second grade level in kindergarten plus, what are you really going to miss in kindergarten? After discussing it with Jenny’s teacher, we felt very comfortable that four days away from school would not be a problem so we booked the airfare. For our resort, we wanted to stay onsite and someplace fun. Neither Cathy or I had stayed onsite in our previous trips. We knew we would be going commando in the parks because that is our personality and we knew we would want to get the most out of our time there so we didn’t need a deluxe resort. I felt the kids and our budget would love the value resorts. After some research, the All Star Movies (ASMv) was our first choice and Pop Century second. We booked the ASMv at $55 per night and requested a non smoking room in the Toy Story building facing the courtyard (Andy’s room). We also booked a few priority seatings (PS): Chef Mickey’s on Sunday night (arrival day), Crystal Palace 8:10AM on Tuesday before the parks opened and the Princess Storybook breakfast at EPCOT at 11:20AM on Wednesday because we could not get Cinderella’s Royal table. We purchased 5 day park hoppers and planned on going to the four theme parks each day Monday – Friday.
Sunday November 7
We were up early, packed and ready to go for an 11AM flight from NY’s LaGuardia airport. I rented a car the day before to drive down and drop at the airport. Parking at LaGuardia is outrageous and the shuttle was also very expensive so this was the cheapest way to get down there. It was the kids’ first flight ever and the thrill of the take off really could have been the first “ride” of the week. The flight was fine and Cathy had no problem flying. I am really not sure what she is afraid of.
To get to our resort, I researched several options and found one of the cheapest ways to get to and from MCO was to rent a car for the entire week. I got a weekly rate at Dollar of $96 for a mid size car which is about what I would have paid for the shuttle or a town car. Plus, I had the added bonus of having a car at my disposal. Personally, I love having that option but we planned on staying onsite at Disney the entire week and we still planned to give the transportation system a workout as well.
We got our bags and car and headed off to ASMv. You could feel the excitement in the car as we drove along the interstate on our way to the property. We thought about stopping at a grocery store to get some water and snacks but decided we would do that later or in the morning. We noticed several downed trees and tarped roofs still in place from the three hurricanes that hit over the last two months (good thing we did not pick October). I had heard a lot people had to push vacations back because of the hurricanes and hoped it did not mean crowds at the park.
We arrived in the ASMv parking lot and went to the front lobby to check in. The girls went over to watch a Disney movie in the “theater” while Cathy and I checked in. There was no wait at the front desk and the cast member (CM) who checked us in seemed very friendly. He gave us our room assignment in the Mighty Ducks building. Boo-hoo. We really wanted the Toy Story building which I requested on my initial reservation and then confirmed three days earlier before we arrived. Oh well, I had heard that Disney tries their best to accommodate but cannot always meet those requests. The CM then pointed out that it was a smoking room. OK, this is where I was going to draw the line. I travel on business often and refuse to stay in smoking room. I told him that we requested the Toy Story building and a non smoking room. The CM asked us to wait and he would see what he could do. He came back with new room keys and gave us room 0801 in the Toy Story building. This was a corner room on the second floor of the Buzz Lightyear building right next to the giant Buzz right IN Andy’s Room. If he had come back and asked me to pick any room in the resort, I wouldn’t have been able to pick a better room!! Needless to say, when at first you do not get what you want, always ask. It can’t hurt.
We got to our room and unpacked a little. The room was pretty small but clean and certainly would meet our needs for the week. We headed over to the food court for a late lunch and bought two refillable mugs. We are not big soda drinkers but Cathy and I would use one for coffee each day while the kids used another for their drinks. We all wanted to go out and explore all the cool structures around the other buildings. We are all big Disney movie fans and really enjoyed the nice walk around the resort checking out the different buildings. The weather was perfect as it would be all week with temperatures in the low 70s during the day. We brought swim suits and thought about swimming but decided it was a little too chilly so they ended up never leaving our suitcases. In upcoming trips we will plan more down time in our itinerary. We knew this first trip was to try to see and experience as much as we could in the parks.
After walking around and taking some pictures. We decided we would head over to the Contemporary. It was about 5PM and our Priority Seating was not until 8:30PM. This was the earliest we could get. I thought, perhaps if we got there earlier, they could take us earlier and we would be able to watch the fireworks which started at 9PM. We got in the car and drove over. We had no problem parking at the Contemporary. The guard did not even ask why we were there. We probably could have parked here when we went to the Magic Kingdom later in the week but I knew that was not allowed. We went upstairs. The kids were in awe of the resort and loved the monorail going through. We checked out Chef Mickey’s and they were packed. The CMs working the desk were very friendly and seemed that if there was something they could do to get us in earlier they would. I appreciated that attitude instead of the “if I did something for you I would have to do it for everyone” attitude. Alright, so we had three hours to kill. We started by doing some shopping in the huge Contemporary gift shops. We bought some autograph books for the characters to sign at dinner and the rest of the week. We then decided to take a ride on the monorail and perhaps check out some of the other resorts. When we got to the station at the Contemporary, we just missed a train pulling out. We were the first in line for the next train. I had read about asking about riding up front but was not sure how to do it. I assumed being first in line, we would ask when the train pulled in. A line started to form behind us. After about five or six people were in line a family of four showed up and the father yelled out to the CM on the platform if they could ride up front. The CM answered since you asked first you get to ride. Bummer. OK, I guess that is how it works although I think it should have been offered to the first family in line.
We rode to the Polynesian and got out there. We walked around and checked out the resort. It seemed very nice and very tranquil. When we got back to the station again we were first in line. This time we made the request right away to ride up front. Only two people got out of the front car at the Poly so just the girls were able to ride up front. We told them to get out at the Contemporary. They had a great time and they loved watching the castle change colors as we rode the resort loop. We exited the train and went down again to check on our PS. Still no luck. It was almost 7 so we still had some time to kill and we decided to head back to the monorail and take a ride around EPCOT. I really felt this part of the trip was very pleasant and relaxing partly due to the excitement and anticipation of the week ahead. We went around Spaceship Earth through Future World then back to the TTC and then back around the Seven Seas lagoon again seeing the Magic Kingdom, the castle, Main Street all lit up. It was great.
We got back to Chef Mickey’s and we were seated pretty close to 8:30PM. It was late and we were starving. I will say that we really took advantage of the buffet. I went for seconds and then thirds. The food was very good. Not great but perfect for what we were looking for. The kids spent the entire evening with a “perma-smile.” The characters were great. And since we were there late we got extra attention. They all came around at least twice and Mickey and Goofy came three times at one point putting on a little show for us and the few groups still there. The girls got all the autographs and we got plenty of pictures. We all had huge desserts, paid the check, said good bye to the characters and headed to the car. What a great wait to get introduced to Disney on your first day in the world: riding the monorail and the meeting characters. I highly recommend a character meal on your arrival day especially if it is your first time at Disney.
Back at ASMv’s it was straight to bed. I set my alarm early to get up and hit the grocery store before we left for early entry at Animal Kingdom in the morning.
Monday November 8
For a 36 year old, I have to say I was pretty excited about going to the parks. I was up about an hour before my alarm which I never do. I figured I would get up and get started. I got dressed and headed to the car. It was still dark but you could see the sky starting to lighten up. I drove to Winn Dixie on the other side of Walt Disney World and picked up a case of water for the week and snacks. I went over to Dunkin’ Donuts to grab breakfast for everyone. This ended up being the only time any of us went offsite. I got back to the room and everyone was just getting up. We showered and got dressed and ate our breakfast in the room. We stopped at the food court to get some coffee before heading to the car. There was some debate earlier in the week as to which park we would go to first. Tradition says Magic Kingdom should be first. I felt it would be good to experience one of the other parks first. Animal Kingdom was new and was not open when Cathy and I last visited. MGM had just opened but we skipped in 1991 in favor of Universal Studios. So, it was between Animal Kingdom and MGM and since Animal Kingdom had the early entry on Monday, we figured we would take advantage of it.
We knew the park was pretty small and we could do it for a half day then head to another park in the afternoon. We drove into the lot at about 8:15AM. The weather was perfect. It was chilly in the morning but would be sunny and 70s the rest of the day. We had sweatshirts on but left them in the car. We walked in. My first impressions of Animal Kingdom was that I was impressed. It was laid out beautifully and the all the landscaping and detail was spectacular. We walked through the oasis and discovery island stopping to check out some of the animals. Our first stop would be the Safari. Unfortunately, everyone in on the early entry day had the same idea. The wait time was posted as 25 minutes. I didn’t think that was so bad so we waited. I knew about Fastpass (FP) but was a little bit nervous and not sure how to use it. We rode the Safari and had a great time. I wished they could have stopped at parts so everyone could see more of the animals but I understand why they can’t do it. After the safari we walked through the Pangnani Forest trail and then headed off to It’s Tough to be a Bug. The wait time here was 15 minutes so again we waited. I loved this show as did the rest of the family except for Allie. She did not appreciate the bees stinging her. But at least she wasn’t screaming. At some points it was hard to hear anything because there were so many kids screaming. If your kid is going to scream when in the dark, why are you taking them into the attraction? This will be a common theme throughout the week. After the bugs, we were off to Dinoland. From our research I knew this would be a popular spot for our family. Jenny was very excited about Primeval Whirl and I was psyched to see Dinosaur. In general, Dinosaurs fascinate me and this attraction just seemed like it would be fun. My expectations were high. The wait for Primeval Whirl was about 15 minutes and Dinosaur was 5 so we decided to give this Fastpass thing a shot getting four at Primeval Whirl and then also wait on the standby line. Hey, Fastpass is pretty easy. I think we will be taking advantage of this all week. In fact, from that point forward, we were rarely without a Fastpass in hand at any point. Since the height requirement at Primeval Whirl was 48” Allie was not tall enough to go on so Jenny and I went on while Allie and Cathy rode TriceratopSpin. We then headed over to Dinosaur and did that. Allie had her eyes and ears closed throughout but she was good and willing to go on again which we did as soon as we came out. It really did not disappoint and turned to be my personal favorite of the whole trip. We went back and used our Fastpasses at Primeval Whirl. Since we had four I went first with Jenny while Cathy and Allie did TriceratopSpin and then we swapped and did it again. I knew Cathy would not like it because she hates roller coasters but I was proud of her for at least going on once. I loved the coaster part but the spinning started to get to me after riding a few times.
We took a break in Dinoland while the girls each devoured a Mickey bar (and made total messes of themselves) and played for a while in the Boneyard. Then I sent the family off to Camp Minnie Mickey while I got Fastpasses for Kali River Rapids. When I met up with them, the next Festival of the Lion King show was still about 45 minutes away. Luckily, Pocahontas was just starting so we watched it then headed over to the Lion King. After the show we headed back to use our Kali Fastpasses and decided we had experienced enough of the Animal Kingdom for the day. We took pictures in front of the Tree of Life and then headed out to the car.
What park do you girls want to go to next? Pretty dumb question. I knew they were dying to go to the Magic Kingdom. We all had a blast at Animal Kingdom but I knew going there first was like me making them open the aunt and uncle’s gifts on Christmas first before opening Santa’s gifts. OK let’s go to the Magic Kingdom. I heard a loud cheer from the back seat.
We drove over and headed into about a half full parking lot. The CM directing traffic was pointing to a spot all the way at the end of all the cars. I figured it is 2PM, somebody must have left by now. So I rolled down my window and said I would like to try to find a spot closer to the TTC. He waved me on and sure enough, there were a ton of spots right in front. We parked and walked over to the monorail station and cruised over to the Magic Kingdom.
We went through the security gates and walked down Main Street stopping for the obligatory photo with the castle in the background. We decided we would start over in Frontierland. The waits for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Splash Mountain were pretty short 20 minutes and 25 minutes respectively so we got Fastpasses for Splash and waited for Big Thunder. I remember from our last trip 13 years ago that Cathy actually enjoyed this roller coaster and she did again. We determined that it was the height of the roller coasters that really bother her and Big Thunder gives you the feeling that you are on the ground the entire time (on a mountain). While waiting for our Splash FP we went over to check out the Haunted Mansion. There was no wait here and we walked right in. Did the eyes on that headstone just move? Cool. Allie was a little scared at first but then realized that it was more fun than scary and loved it. She wanted to go right back on. We headed over to Splash Mountain and grabbed some Big Thunder Fastpasses before riding. Splash was a huge hit and ended up being Allie’s favorite of the week. Cathy also declared this one as her favorite of the week even though she hates flume rides. Again, the feeling here was never a feeling of being suspended in the air. You feel like you are on the mountain the whole time so the drop was fun for her and not scary. I thought the theming and details were awesome. After Splash, we walked over to Adventureland and hopped on Pirates of the Caribbean with no wait. Then back to Big Thunder for our second ride there. Then it was off to Tomorrowland.
We blew right past Fantasyland and bee lined right to Space Mountain. We grabbed Fastpasses then got into the standby line. The wait was only 15 minutes. All four of us rode. Cathy made it through alive but the feeling of being high in space was enough for her. She had the same reaction when I forced her on in 1990. But again, I was very happy that she at least did it once. The height requirement for Space Mountain was 44” which Allie barely hit. She got checked at every check point. It would have been easier if she was checked once and then given a bracelet or stamp or something. I was a little bit nervous because although she was tall enough she is very skinny and light and I kept having visions of her flying out of the rocket especially as she was going over the bumps with her hands in the air. She and Jenny loved this ride and I knew it would be hard to keep them away from it. After Space Mountain we went over to Buzz Lightyear which was a walk on. I of course, being as competitive as I am needed to make sure I got the top score. After Buzz we noticed that Stitch’s Great Escape was open for previews. The official opening was the following week so, we figured we would take advantage. There was no wait and walked right into the pre-show. The consensus from our family was that it was lame. As we walked out Allie said, “That’s it?” I personally wanted to give it a second chance but I could not convince anyone to go on again with me. Again I could not hear much of it because of the blood curdling screams from a 4 year old kid sitting next to me. Was it that scary?? We never saw Alien Encounter so I have nothing to compare to but I certainly was not all that impressed with it. I did appreciate where they were going with it and thought with some tweaks it might not be so bad.
It was getting late we had about a half hour before the Spectromagic parade and about an hour and a half before Wishes. We went back and used our Fastpasses for Space Mountain. The Standby wait was 5 minutes as I am sure folks were lining up for the parade. After riding I asked the girls if they wanted to see the parade or do Space Mountain again. They wanted to keep riding. So, Cathy went off and did some shopping. We could stay in touch because we each had our own cell phones. The girls and I walked right on to Space Mountain with zero wait again and again and again. How many chances are you going to have to walk on like that? Allie again was checked at every check point for her height. She had to “stand tall” to hit the little level but she made it every time. We took turns riding up front and by the time we were done, Wishes had already started. We met up with Cathy who was watching near the hub in Tomorrowland and we caught the end. We will see the whole thing tomorrow.
A benefit in going commando in the off season is that the parks close early. The park was closing but it was only 7PM. Believe me if the park stayed open until midnight, we would have kept going straight through. But we walked out. Crammed into the monorail and then walked over to our car. We got back to ASMv around 8:15PM and went to the food court for dinner. We ate, headed back to the room and watched a little TV before turning in to do it all again tomorrow.
Tuesday November 9
We were up early dressed and out the door for an 8:10AM Priority Seating at the Crystal Palace. During some research I had read this “tip” and thought it would be cool to get an early morning PS before the park opened. The goal here was to get some good pictures in the park before it was packed with people. We arrived in the parking lot at about 7:30AM and drove right up to where we had parked the day before. Perfect. We could walk right over to the monorail. The weather again today was awesome with sun and low 70s predicted. When we arrived at the station, the express to the Magic Kingdom was still getting its final checks before its first run of the day. There were no other guests on the platform so right away I asked about riding up front. We got the OK and this time all four of us got to ride into the Magic Kingdom in the front car. Very different perspective as we tunneled through the Contemporary and into the Magic Kingdom station.
We headed out and walked through security. Nobody checked if we had Priority Seating they just assumed we did. We walked down Main Street and got many great pictures and then more in front of the castle. One of these will make a perfect Christmas card picture!! We got seated at the Crystal Palace pretty close to 8:10AM and started in right away with the buffet. Again I thought the food was very good and we certainly took advantage trying pretty much every dish. We got our pictures and autographs from Pooh, Tigger, Eeyore and Piglet. We finished up and dragged our full bellies out the door for another day in the park. The plan today was to spend the entire day in the Magic Kingdom. We had a list of attractions we wanted to do and the goal was to hit them all today.
We started again in Frontierland. Both Splash and Big Thunder were walk ons. We got Fastpasses for Big Thunder and walked on to Splash. As we finished, there was still no line so we went on again. Then we walked on to Big Thunder and then back to Splash. The lines were starting to form as we used our Fastpasses for our second ride on Big Thunder. We headed over to Pirates and walked on there then did the Jungle Cruise. There was a 20 minute wait there but we waited and it was not bad. We had a good boat captain and an enjoyable ride. After the Jungle Cruise, we decided to skip the Tiki Birds and Country Bears as they were listed as “optional” on our list and we headed over to Fantasyland. We wanted to hit all the Fantasyland rides. We walked over and Cathy and the girls waited for me by the Haunted Mansion while I went over to Fantasyland. As I got there, lines were already starting to form and there twenty minute waits at all of the attractions here. I had to choose between Peter Pan and Pooh for Fastpasses. I chose Pooh not knowing which standby would be longer. I headed back over to meet up with everyone and we walked on to the Haunted Mansion again. Simply a classic and one that I remember vividly from my first ride back in the 70s when I was eight years old. After the Haunted Mansion we decided to skip the Hall of Presidents and got in the standby line for Peter Pan. The posted wait time was now 25 minutes. This turned out to be the longest wait of the entire trip. We waited at least 45 minutes before making it to our flying ship. As we waited in line we noticed clouds rolling in and before we could blink it started to rain. This would be the only precipitation during the entire week. We finished Peter Pan and high tailed it over to Pooh to use our Fastpasses. Pooh was cute. I vaguely remember Mr. Toad being much more fun but it had been so long since I had seen it I could really couldn’t compare them. I sent everyone over to Pinocchio’s for lunch while I went to Philharmagic for Fastpasses. We had a yummy lunch and then waited on line for Snow White. Snow White was pretty ho-hum and we moseyed over to Philharmagic as the rain was beginning to let up. We all loved this show and the yummy desert smell. Of course some kid was terrified in this show and started screaming. Don’t parents take their kids to movies anymore?? We all loved the show and planned to return at some point. When we exited the rain had stopped. The girls didn’t feel like waiting for Dumbo so we skipped it and the teacups (no spinning rides for me) and we headed back to Tomorrowland where we rode Space Mountain and Buzz again and also hit the Carousel of Progress and the Indy Speedway which the girls enjoyed much more than I expected. We skipped Astro Orbiter. We did a little shopping in Tomorrowland and wanted to do Space Mountain one more time before leaving. I asked Cathy to hold the backpack I had been carrying all day with our snacks, water, camera etc. While we rode she waited by the exit.
After Space Mountain, we headed back down Main Street to do some more shopping before Wishes began. The girls wanted to buy Mickey ears and we had heard that there was a place on Main Street that would embroider their names in the hat. Main Street was starting to get crowded as Wishes was about a half hour away. We walked by a few shops but could not find the hat shop. I told Cathy to go in and ask someone at one shop while I walked ahead to the end of the street. Apparently she did not hear me and as I retuned to the shop she and the girls were no where in sight. I realized that we were officially separated and I was now lost. I reached into the backpack to call her with my cell phone only to realize that I had given Cathy the backpack before our Space Mountain ride. OK, they could not have gone far. I figured I would stay at the spot we last were together and they would find their way back to me. 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15, a half hour later no sign of them. Now everyone was lining up on Main Street and it was packed. Wishes was about to start and I wanted us to watch them as a family from Main Street. I finally thought to find a phone to call her (after a half hour of cursing myself for not having my phone). I asked around and borrowed a cell phone from somebody. No answer on her phone. Cathy later claimed she did not hear the phone ring…hmmmm…I have no idea why. Well, I figured they would find their way back to the car on their own if I didn’t find them so as the lights went down I walked out to the middle of street and started watching the show. After about 10 minutes into the show the three of them came up behind me the girls with their embroidered Mickey ears on. I did not want to argue about why they didn’t wait for me at the first shop because I wanted to see the show plus I was happy to see them. I put Allie up on my shoulders and we watched the fireworks exploding over the castle. After the show, we headed out with rest of the crowds. We hopped on the resort monorail which had no wait instead of waiting for the express which was packed to the end of the ramp (another good tip as it only made one stop at the Contemporary before the TTC). Once on the train we discussed what happened. I got a gold star for following proper procedure and staying where I was the entire time. It took a while but they did find me.
We got back to the car and talked about dinner. We wanted to go someplace instead of the food court but we did not want to wait anywhere. We called Disney dining to see if we could get a PS anywhere and nothing was available without some wait. We thought about the ESPN zone but I figured it would be packed. As we passed the Wide World of Sports on the way back to the resort we noticed the All Star Café sign and we pulled in. The parking lot was empty and we were not sure if they were even open. But there were some cars there so we figured what the heck. The food was pretty basic but we sat down and had some drinks in a pretty quiet and empty restaurant and that was perfect for us. We headed back to the resort turned on the bedtime story and nodded off to sleep.
Wednesday November 10
Today would be our first attempt to use the Disney transportation. We were up early with a small snack in our room and then off to the bus stop for early entry at EPCOT. We had a Priority Seating in Norway for the Princess Storybook breakfast at 11:20AM. This meal would serve as both breakfast and lunch (we’ll call it brunch). With the early entry, the goal was to hit as much as we could in Future World before brunch and then go around the World Showcase in the afternoon. The food and wine festival was in mid swing and we wondered how it would affect crowds.
We arrived about 15 minutes before the park opening and spent some time taking pictures in front of Spaceship earth. When the rope dropped we went into Spaceship Earth with no wait and then off to Test Track/Mission Space. The standby line was 20 minutes for Test Track and 5 for Mission Space. We grabbed Test Track Fastpasses and then went over to Mission Space and debated if we wanted to try it. My concern was the motion as I was very prone to get sick on anything that spins. Cathy had the same concern. After some debate, we decided we would all do it. It was hard to really enjoy the attraction because I was so worried about getting sick. At the end I was a little wobbly and woozy but did not get sick. Cathy and the girls felt the same way. We headed over to Test Track and decided to wait on the standby line. Our Fastpasses were not good until 9:40AM. After about a half hour wait, we were in the preshow room. After the preshow the doors opened but nobody was moving. Surprise! Test Track was down. So, we grabbed a seat on the floor and waited. I knew this would put a crimp in our schedule. After a half hour they closed down the ride and sent everyone out. They gave everyone a return anytime Fastpass. It was now nearly 10AM and we had only experienced two attractions in two hours. Cathy and the girls went over to get in line at Ellen’s Energy Adventure while I walked over to check out Honey I Shrunk the Audience. There was no wait but I grabbed Fastpasses anyway since I was there. I got backed to Ellen’s and the line was long. I was pretty sure I remember that the theater was large and we would get in the next show but I didn’t want to risk it so, we pulled out of line and headed over to Honey I Shrunk the Audience which turned out to be our least favorite 3D movie at of all of them. But at least we were treated to more terrified screaming kids. After the show it was about 10:30AM and we had a little bit of time before brunch. Our original Fastpasses for Test Track were good until 10:40AM so maybe the ride was back up. We had to go that way anyway to get to Norway. Sure enough, it was back up and we used our Fastpasses to ride. I thought it was good but could have been a little more “thrilling” especially if they sped it up during the “curves” part but the part outside was fun.
It was now past 11AM and we hustled over to the World Showcase for brunch. I grabbed some Fastpasses for Maelstrom before our name was called and our princesses were escorted to our table. Again we pigged out at the meal and asked for seconds and then thirds. Even our server, who was very friendly had a few comments about how much we ate. It was crowded and the princesses did not stay very long at each table. Just long enough to sign autographs and take pictures. I tried to get the girls to engage in some conversations with them but they clammed up. And I was afraid to start anything for fear that they would think I was trying to hit on them. The meal was pretty good, not great but we got our fill of food for awhile.
Next we used our Fastpasses for Maelstrom but skipped the film at the end. I can tell that nobody was in the mood for anything educational. So we just strolled around the world showcase without stopping at much. We even skipped the American Adventure which was definitely on our list of things we wanted to do. We got around to England and Canada and the girls did some shopping while I hung out by the lake watching a couple of ducks. We headed over to The Land pavilion and grabbed Fastpasses for Living with the Land. Then we moved over to the Living Seas. We watched the movie and then took a ride on the hydrolator to sea base alpha. We started looking around when a cast member came up to us and asked if we would be willing try something. In general I am very paranoid and do not trust anyone who offers me anything for fear of being ripped off or forced do something I did not want to do. In a split second I remembered a tip from the research I had done before the trip that said anytime a CM asks you to do something ALWAYS say yes. So, quickly, I said “sure, what are you looking for us to do?” He said there was a brand new attraction that nobody had seen yet that was still in testing phase and they wanted a group to test it. I started to get a little excited and I asked what kind of attraction it was. The CM replied it is different than anything you have seen and that it involved Crush the turtle from Finding Nemo. I can now say I was intrigued but still pessimistic which is just my nature. I sure hope this wasn’t another waste of time especially after the Test Track closure. After about a 15 minute wait we filed into a small theater with about 40 other folks. There were benches and a small area up front. There were about 10 people standing around the perimeter of the room holding clipboards. We were later told they were attraction's creators and would be taking notes. The area upfront was for kids to go up and sit down. It was in front of a movie screen. The images on the screen made it seem like you were looking through a glass window into an ocean scene with water, rocks the ocean floor, etc. There was an image of a microphone on the side. The premise is that Crush will come out and talk to and interact with everyone in the theater. There was a CM that moderated everything, introduced the attraction and then got the crowd to call for Crush.
Crush comes out and he is a virtual reality movie image that swims around on the screen, talks, makes expression and reacts to the crowd. As advertised the attraction was definitely different than anything we had seen all week. Basically, the whole show is interactive. Crush can look into the audience and see what the crowd or kids are doing. He asks questions and then the crowd (mostly the kids) ask him questions. What made the attraction great was that he was absolutely hilarious the way he interacted and using the virtual reality technology, it was amazing how he was able to move and react, make expressions etc. For example someone's "shell phone" went off in the middle and he had several one liners for the guy. It was really cute and had me laughing off my seat. Duuuuude!! At the end the overwhelming rating from the crowd was 5 stars out of 5. We left the theater knowing that we had some input in the design of a future attraction (later named Turtle Talk with Crush) at Walt Disney World. Again the tip here is if a CM asks you to do something ALWAYS say yes.
We were glowing when we left the theater and poked around the rest of the Living Seas. We left and then went over to use our Fastpasses at Living with the Land and then hiked across the park to use our good anytime Test Track Fastpasses. After the ride we were ready to head over to MGM Studios.
We left EPCOT and caught the bus for MGM. It was about 4PM when we got there. Really the goal was to get acquainted with the park, do a couple of attractions and then see Fantasmic. We planned on returning the next morning to see everything else. We walked through the gates and took some pictures in front of the sorcerer’s hat and then headed over to Tower of Terror (TOT) and Rock n’ Rollercoaster (RRC). Both had short standby’s of about 15 minutes so we grabbed four Fastpasses for RRC and got in line at TOT. Allie was not tall enough for RRC and Cathy did not want to go. I was a little bit nervous myself because I had never been on a coaster with an inversion. But I knew my thrill ride oldest daughter would love it and I wanted to be next to her when she experienced it. Cathy was also not crazy about TOT because of the drop and her fear of heights but she had heard so much about it she wanted to try it. Allie was tall enough and had been looking forward to going on all week. Of course I thought the theming of this attraction was better than any we had seen and the parts leading up to the drops were awesome. As for the ride itself, I wasn’t crazy about the drops with the exception of the parts when the doors open on top. I thought that part was cool. But being in the dark as the elevator dropped, I lost perspective and I got dizzy and since you couldn’t see anything it did not feel like I was falling. It just felt like I was being shaken like a salt shaker. Cathy was terrified of the heights and drops and refused to go on again. Again, I was happy she tried it once. I was surprised Allie did not like it either and I think the ghost parts scared her. “That was scary” she said. “Allie, what do you thing Terror means?” “Terror means scary?” Aren’t kids adorable? Jenny of course loved it from start to finish. We still had some time before our Fastpasses so we had time for one attraction. I was really looking forward to the Great Movie Ride. So we headed over and experienced it. Unlike Dinosaur that also had high expectations, the GMR was a little disappointing. I loved the scene at the end with all the film clips and I wish there was more stuff like that. In fact, I think I enjoyed the queuing area with all the movie previews better than the ride itself.
OK back over to RRC. It was now just past 6PM and Fantasmic was starting at 7PM. People were already heading in and there were announcements saying to start to head in to get a seat. I had read that the theater fills up quickly. Would we have time to go on the RRC? I guess Cathy and Allie could go in a hold seats for us. Just then I got a huge shock. As we were walking, Jenny looks up at me and says she does not want to ride RRC because she is scared. I was disappointed but at the same time relieved. I was nervous myself about riding and I wanted us to go in to Fantasmic together after last night’s Wishes fiasco. So, I ran ahead and spotted a cute young teenage couple holding hands and walking towards the ride. At first they were like, what does this guy want? Then I handed them the Fastpasses and wished them a great ride. They smiled and thanked me and I headed back towards the entrance to Fantasmic where everyone was waiting.
By time we sat down it was 6:30PM and we were all the way off to the side but only about 10 rows up so we had a very good view. Again this show was very hyped and I had high expectations. I thought it was great although the images on the water were a little over done. We walked out after the show and made our way to the busses. We ended up sneaking on ahead of a huge line and got a lot of evil glances. I know everyone hates it when people cut but we got caught behind another bus as we were walking and ended up past our bus so when we back tracked, we didn’t feel like walking to the back of the line. Oh well, I didn’t lose sleep over it. We got back and hit the food court for dinner. The girls were extremely tired and barely ate. We ended up throwing away a lot of the food we ordered. We went straight to bed when we got in and we were asleep before 10PM after a long day.
Thursday November 11
We were up and ready to go bright and early on another beautiful day. It was Veteran’s day and it would be interesting to see if the parks were any more crowded than the rest of the week. So far I would say the crowds were good. It was not empty as there were pockets of crowds here and there but certainly not bad. The plan was to go back to MGM and catch everything we missed yesterday and then head over to EPCOT to see Illuminations. Illuminations started at 9PM so we needed to make plans for dinner. I called Disney Dining and I was able to book a priority seating for 7:20PM at the Garden Grill. We hit the food court for some breakfast and then we were off on the bus to MGM. We were there as the rope dropped. The goal was to start at the thrill rides and then walk across to the other side of the park and work back. Since Cathy and Allie did not want or could not go on the thrill rides I took all of the admission media to use for Fastpasses. Jenny was still nervous about RRC but I told her if she didn’t go I would go on it myself. Reluctantly, she agreed to go on, too. When we got to the rides, there was no wait for either ride. We decided to do RRC first before deciding on which ride we would get Fastpasses for. Cathy and Allie split and headed over to the Little Mermaid show while Jenny and I got in line. She still seemed nervous as we exited the preshow and got into our limo. I reassured her she would love it which of course she did. What a surprise!! The Rock n Rollercoaster turned to be Jenny’s favorite of the whole week. We grabbed four Fastpasses and then headed over to Tower of Terror. We had a great bellhop at this ride really hamming it up playing the part. We got off and then got back in the standby line for one last ride. Afterwards, we hit RRC twice using our four Fastpasses. I cannot describe the look on Jenny’s face as we zipped through the giant donut on the LA freeway. Priceless. This was what Disney was all about.
We got off and called Cathy. She was holding a spot in line for us at the Playhouse Disney show. We met up with them and saw the show then we all headed to the other side of the park. The next Indian Jones Stunt show was just starting as we go there so we went in and caught that and then had a 10 minute standby at Star Tours. I am a huge Star Wars fan and was looking forward to this ride. Again, I think the queuing area with R2 and C3PO beat the main show as the motion simulators don’t really agree with me. I will never forget how sick I got on Body Wars back in 1991.
After Star Tours it was time for the Muppets and then we hit the Pizza Planet for lunch. Allie spotted Buzz, Woody and Jesse outside of Al’s Toy Barn and wanted to meet them. I agreed to wait on line with her while Cathy and Jenny got pizza. After about an hour wait, a few pictures, autographs and hugs later, we were back on track. We skipped Sounds Dangerous and headed over to the Disney Animation attraction. It was OK but the part at the end where they gave a class on how to draw Mickey was fun. Jenny made a few mistakes and gave up. Allie’s came out surprisingly good for a five year old. Mine and Cathy’s also came out pretty good. We then skipped the Millionaire Play It! show and One Man’s Dream and hit the Backlot tour which I thought was kinda long. As we headed back to Rock n Rollercoaster we stopped to catch the parade then walked down Sunset boulevard and picked up a four more Fastpasses for RRC. We passed the time at the Beauty and the Beast show. After, Cathy and Allie did some shopping while Jenny and I did two more rides on RRC. On the way out I wanted to give the Great Movie Ride another shot. Unfortunately, we got the gangster scene for a second time. At about 6PM we were done at MGM and jumped on the bus over to EPCOT.
With Future World Closing at 7PM we only had time for maybe one attraction so we jumped back on Spaceship Earth for another spin then off to the Garden Grill for dinner. Again we had one of the last seatings and we got a ton of interaction with the characters. They came around so many times it was almost too much. But we had a lot of fun with them. Allie was grabbing Pluto’s tongue and ears. We kept reversing Chip and Dale’s name and they kept correcting us pretending to be annoyed. We already had autographs from everyone but we took pictures since all the characters where in their farmer attire. When Mickey came around, we thought it would be cute for him to sign our drawings that we did of him earlier at the animation studio. He also thought that was a great idea. He signed Allie’s first and was very impressed with Allie’s drawing. Then he looked at mine. At first he seemed impressed but then he started to critique everything wrong. For example I had drawn his nose too long so he made exaggerated gestures pointing to his nose. Cathy’s drawing came out the best out of the three but Mickey was not happy with how she drew the mask around his face making gestures like he was mad because it looked like he had a receding hairline.
After dinner, we had about a half hour before Illuminations. We staked out a spot near the Canada pavilion and enjoyed the show. It wasn’t too bad getting to the bus and back to the resort for bed. We had some discussions of what we wanted to do on Friday including the possibility of saving our last day on our hoppers for another trip. The girls did not like that idea and wanted to go to the Magic Kingdom again. I thought Wishes would be a perfect way to end the week. Since Animal Kingdom was the only park we had not been to twice we decided we would go there first.
Friday November 12
We were up early again for the early entry at Animal Kingdom. This time we had a pretty good plan. We drove over again and we were in a little after the opening. Cathy and the girls checked out the animals around Discovery Island while I went ahead to the Safari to grab Fastpasses. We met at the Tree of Life and walked on to Its Tough to be a Bug. After the show we headed over to Dinoland for the rope drop there. It was suppose to be 9AM but they dropped the rope at 8:45AM.
We were the first in line for Primeval Whirl and then walked on to Dinnosaur. By this time our Fastpass window allowed us to obtain more. So we stopped at Kali River Rapids and grabbed them and then walked over to the Safari. We headed back to Asia and caught Flights of Wonder which we all enjoyed and then got soaked on Kali River Rapids. We dried off by checking out the tigers on the jungle trek. As we entered, there was a cast member at the gate cradling what appeared to be a baby komodo dragon. There were guests hovering around her. “Is that real?” I asked her as I approached. “Yes,” she nodded. As I looked down at it she made a growling noise and shoved the dragon in my face. OK it was just a stuffed toy. Boy, am I an idiot or what?? The CM and the guests around were in stitches as I grabbed my chest hoping my heart didn’t stop and then I burst into laughter as well. Luckily, the rest of my family was already up a ways and didn’t see it. I complimented the CM for an awesome gag and moved on. So much for always trusting a cast member!!
The last attraction in the entire park that we hadn’t seen yet was Tarzan Rocks. The next show was in about 45 minutes but we decided to bag it in favor of the Magic Kingdom. Our clothes were still pretty wet so we decided to head back to the resort to change and grab some lunch and then take the bus to the Magic Kingdom.
When we arrived at the Magic Kingdom and walked through the gates we finally witnessed it…the crowds!! I am not sure where everyone came from. It could have been because of Veteran’s day and people taking a long weekend. It really didn’t matter to us because we only really wanted to hit a few attractions, watch the parade and then Wishes. We started again in Frontierland. Splash and Thunder had 60 minute and 45 minute waits respectively so we grabbed Fastpasses for Splash and then walked over to Adventureland and waited about 20 minutes for Pirates of the Caribbean. After Pirates we camped out in Frontierland and waited for the Parade. As we waited, we noticed that in the sun it was actually a little hot. This was the warmest it had been all week. It felt great especially since we had heard snow was predicted back home. After the parade we made our final voyage on Splash Mountain and then grabbed Fastpasses for Big Thunder Mountain. We moseyed over to the Haunted Mansion again for one last ride there. It was about a 20 minute wait. Afterwards we waited about 20 minutes for Mickey’s Philharmagic and leisurely headed back for Frontierland for Big Thunder Mountain. We walked back across the park to Tomorrowland and got Fastpasses for Space Mountain. We waited about 25 minutes for Buzz and then did some shopping and had some ice cream in Tomorrowland waiting for our Fastpass window to open on Space Mountain. Cathy didn’t ride and saved her Fastpass for the scrapbook. We still had about an hour or so before Wishes and we decided we’d get a good spot right in the hub to watch. When we got there nobody was lining up yet so we figured we had time for one more ride. Space Mountain was a good one to end on but it would have been nice if we could do one more together as a whole family. So we walked over to Splash and Thunder one more time and checked out the wait times. Splash Mountain was still long but Big Thunder was only 15 minutes. So we made that our last ride of the week and we headed back to the hub and got a great spot for Wishes and had a great view. Finally we saw the entire show together. I got some fabulous pictures of the fireworks right over the castle.
We headed out with the crowds tired from another long day. Mickey was up on the train station waving goodbye telling everyone he’ll see us reeeeeeal soon. Jenny broke down and cried while Allie came out with “ummmm, no Mickey we’re leaving tomorrow.”
We got back and went straight to the rooms to get ready for bed. We had a very early 8AM flight back to NY. I took orders from everyone and went to the food court for dinner. I brought the food back and we ate, finished packing and called for a wakeup call for 6AM. Whoa, I had forgotten all about the Mickey wake up call. Lights out.
Saturday November 13
I set my alarm before the wake up call so we were all up when the phone rang and I asked Allie to answer. She had a huge smile as Mickey welcomed a new day. I check out and we were off to the airport. We had a pleasant flight back to NY. We got our rental and headed home. About half way there as we continued north we started to notice some snow on the ground and by the time we reached our house there about two or three inches on the ground. Yuck. When is our next trip to Florida?
If you can swing it, going during off season is a great choice. I am not sure if I will take my kids out of school again with Jenny now heading to fourth grade. Going when we did made this trip so easy and so relaxing even though we were going non stop commando in the parks. With the exception of being tired most nights, the kids handled the non stop touring great. In general, we are not lay around the beach type people we always have to have some activities. Disney World has so much to offer I can see us going back again and again. Although it had changed so much in so many years it was nice to see how much had stayed the same and memories at Disney World with the family will last a lifetime. That being said, as we plan our next trip, we certainly do not plan on going ultimate commando like we did this week. We are already planning more pool time and other activities that are available for next time. This week certainly was extreme but there was not a point in the week when we felt like slowing down. We were just having too much fun.
Some things to remember: