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Leslie Meister — August 2004 — Walt Disney World (OKWR)

This is my first trip report (that I’m actually finishing, anyway) and I like to talk and I love WDW, so be warned. Long probably won’t even begin to cover it. I guess I’d better start by telling you who the heck we are.

  • Me - Leslie (49) : Certifiable Disney Nut and the Planner
  • DH - John (50) : Great guy who indulges me in my Disney madness
  • DD - Alissa (11) : Big Thunder Mountain Railroad Enthusiast; Disnut in the making

Prior Trips:

  • Dec ’98 - Polynesian Resort - First ever trip to pure Magic for all three of us - “The reason I had a child” according to my DH
  • Feb ’99 - Caribbean Beach Resort - John and I tried lots of different stuff, childless
  • Spring Break ’01 - Port Orleans Riverside - 3 of us on “the trip from h***” as we refer to it - Do Not even get me started
  • June ’02 - Animal Kingdom Lodge - Mother/daughter trip which continued onto Naples, Florida for two more weeks
  • Jan ’03 - Polynesian Concierge - What a way for three people to start a New Year!

Pre-trip Planning and Planning and Planning: (Feel free to skip ahead at any point; you can’t hurt my feelings ‘cause I’ll never know!)

And so it began, gentle reader… with no visions of Disney dancing in our heads (well, to be perfectly honest, those visions are ALWAYS in my head!) we were checking out “local” amusement parks, within a day trip distance. While comparing $$$ to bang for those same bucks, i.e. what we would actually ride with DD’s motion sickness issues plus DH’s and my dislike of many thrill rides, we were finding little that made sense to us. John actually said those fatal words “We could do Disney cheaper!” a little cartoon bubble of words actually floated above his head. Picture panic-stricken glance in my direction to see if I caught this slip of the tongue! Daddy’s little girl immediately chimed in with how cool of an idea this was and how much she missed BTMR (Big Thunder Mountain Railroad), which was her first roller coaster experience on our last trip. Picture Daddy giving in to the inevitable. Soo, I got some figures together for CSR (Coronado Springs Resort) and some transportation figures added in. 48 hours flew by as I did nothing but jump from MousePlanet to Deb’s site to MouseSavers to the Disney site to my calculator. The 7-for-5 Special was on which was added enticement.

Conclusion: (yes, you are reading this correctly) I vetoed the trip! We had had a poor (literally) winter and I was too uncomfortable spending the money. All were disappointed but proud of my resolve (and surprised!). And so, the dream of Magic ended…to begin again!

John was on e-Bay looking for another cheap laptop to mess around with and I was in the next room on e-Bay, trying to figure out tips on becoming a seller. I was looking at Florida vacations (what else) when I found an auction, with one hour left to go, for 8/21 - 8/28 (the very dates we had originally been looking at …meant to be?) at a one bedroom villa at Old Key West. Totally on the spur of the moment, we bid (at John’s insistence, I swear!), didn’t meet the reserve, auction ran out and another end of story. Nope, next day I get an e-mail - we were the high bidders and did we want a “second chance” to rent the villa for $ 900.00? There was lots of scrambling to check all this out and we were more than a little skeptical and worried, now that this was a reality. The seller was great and the people over at the Dis DVC Boards answered some questions and it was a go!

This was actually an Interval International timeshare exchange rental, not renting DVC points directly from a DVC member. I’m still not sure if this transaction is playing strictly by the rules and hope that DVCers won’t become enraged with me taking advantage of the situation. We actually made the reservation confirmation with DVC Member Services and paid the guest charges, which made us more confident about the whole transaction. We figured we had Pay Pal and e-Bay backing us up, too. Somehow, I stopped worrying about the bank balance and decided to just go for it - we were going to the most Magical place on earth! I was also thrilled to receive a Magical birthday present from my father and stepmother - a check to be put toward the trip. This trip was definitely meant to be!!

When I spoke to Vanessa at DVC Guest Services, I had lots of requests - no one could have been more patient. We needed a non-smoking room, due to my daughter’s allergies. I also requested that all the bed linens, including blankets and spreads, be changed out for us. This was as much for Alissa’s allergies as it was for my oogy factor; yes, I read that thread on the Dis… made me even more nuts about hotel rooms than usual. I asked for a room on the first floor, close to the bus stops, and not handicapped - we wanted that Jacuzzi and we wanted it bad!

Even with the good airfare prices, we figured we’d save about $ 300.00 (HA! more later) by driving, so that became the plan. The three of us live in Lutherville, which is a northern suburb of Baltimore, Maryland. It amounts to about a 15-hour drive and approximately 930 miles. We had a very unpleasant homecoming drive on our last trip - both Alissa and I woke up violently ill in the hotel in Florence, South Carolina on our second drive day. When I say violently, I mean violently! Literally, we stopped at every exit known to man, woman, or child all along the I-95 corridor. We were sick in every gas station, rest stop, and visitor center that John could find. The nightmare of this for John was that he gets sleepy on long drives so I usually do most of the driving. Every time we stopped, he chugged another Mountain Dew - I don’t think the man stopped vibrating for about three days. Nor do I think that he stopped worrying about a recurrence of this nightmare until we got home this time.

The three of us decided to each pick one dining experience in advance and make Priority Seatings. The rest of the meals would be on the fly, whatever made sense at the moment. This plan of action has worked really well for us in the past. We’d also use the kitchen some, take some snacks, and take drinks and our Brita water bottles. John chose Boma for his pick - DD has wanted to take him there since she and I enjoyed it on our Mom/Kid trip back in 2002. Such a nice Dad! Alissa’s choice was Whispering Canyon Café - she hoped for silliness to the max. We would go over one day after Early Entry at the Magic Kingdom and have Guest Services at the Magic Kingdom get us a Priority Seating at the last minute. And I headed right to the phone to get Hoop-Dee-Doo roped in. (hee-hee) I made the PS for Boma in about 10 seconds flat and then the very nice Cast Member spent some time with me on the Hoop-Dee-Doo reservation - we’ve never made it to this show and from what I had read, I knew I wanted to be in on the hijinks on the ground floor. Now, they can’t tell you where you’ll be seated when you make the arrangements and this was only two months out (you can make reservations for this show two years in advance) but she intimated -never ‘promised’, mind you - that since there were “lots of seats” still available on Monday’s 5:00 show, it looked good for the first floor. Perfect! Well, not as it turned out but you’ll find out all later.

When I’m in planning mode for WDW, I make a spreadsheet (by hand; this one never made it to Excel) turn an 8 x 10 landscape style, make the appropriate number of columns for trip days, put a header of the day/date, then add each park and its operating hours and note which park is Early Entry. The balance of the day’s column is mentally divided into thirds - I put in any special events and loosely base each day’s plans on the Early Entry park. We tend to get up and at ‘em early and then take a midday break - we’ll need this in the August heat. Then I plug in any Priority Seatings along with the confirmation numbers; next comes any ideas on when it might make the most sense to see Fantasmic, Illuminations, or now, Wishes. I also make note when I think there might be a problem - like a 3:00 parade if I think we’ll be attempting a speedy getaway, just when there will be a ton of people between me and my objective. (Lesson learned from first trip - thankfully all the shops are connected when you’re going to miss your plane ‘cause you had to take the kid on just one last ride on it’s a small world and you literally run into about five million sweaty people waiting for the early parade on Main Street. My darling husband will never let me forget that one! ) I take copies of this “calendar of events” and use it to take notes on what we actually end up doing. Works well for me as I can’t remember what day it is about three days into vacation.

A certain amount of dithering was experienced when it came to admission media. I did a comparison of every combination of tickets for eight fun-filled Disney days and nights, with no water parks, no Disney Quest, and no Pleasure Island on the plan. Annual Passes were less expensive - WOO HOO!!! (I keep a binder of all this stuff but darned if I can find this particular number crunching) Honesty compels me to admit that I was secretly leaning in the Annual Pass direction because after all - I AM a Disney freak! Also, Annual Passes would carry some discounts on this trip and, if I could find the time to bring just Alissa in the next year, maybe I could snag an AP resort rate for that possible trip. Also, I just think they’re totally cool!

I looked at floor plans of Old Key West and read all the boards - I just couldn’t get enough info on the place. I asked a lot of questions re the most miniscule details - I am happiest when I understand the mechanics of how things work. I like knowing what day you get trash/towels service in advance and the hours the inevitable gift shop is open. Knowledge is power. I took the virtual tour on the Disney site and watched the planning DVD over and over and over. I read trip reports on MousePlanet (my must reads are Steve Russo, Sheri Niklewski, and Larry Wilmot) and the Dis (Kevin Stringer and Poohshoney). No way can my trip report live up to these great writers but I’ll try!

I dug out my books and leafed through all the info I probably know by heart. I made a list of the attractions in every park and had my two favorite travel companions rate each attraction. The ratings were:
#1 = Can’t Wait
#2 = mebbe, mebbe not
#3 = only if a meteor hits every other attraction (stolen from Larry Wilmot’s son)

The results of this poll were somewhat surprising to some of us. Alissa had no interest in some of her old favorites but was very interested in trying more e-rides. John didn’t surprise me with his usual reaction: if he’d been there and done that, he had no interest in doing it again. But, he planned on going on every E-ride this time! Bit of “if the kid can do it, I can do it”. Me - I wanted to try lots of new stuff (to us) - I was determined to ride Splash Mountain, see Mickey’s PhilharMagic, and my #1 wish was Wishes. I love fireworks; we missed the Fourth of July celebration this year and DD and I consoled ourselves with the promise of Wishes. I had my favorite must-dos that I couldn’t miss: Carousel of Progress should be open (woo hoo), have to kick butt at Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, and I love Spaceship Earth and the Tomorrowland Transit Authority (oldies but goodies). On our last trip, Alissa overcame her motion sickness issues and became a Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (BTMR) aficionado. This had been John’s and my first coaster experience in years and we both loved it, but not as much as the kid! And this was on our 5th trip to the World - just goes to show that WDW’s got something for everyone. The good thing about our rating the attractions was that it made us honestly indicate what we were really interested in; and we could agree to be honest in the parks about what we wanted to do or not do. None of that “**sigh** I guess I’ll ride if you’re going to” nonsense. With Alissa being eleven now we had no issues with her doing an attraction by herself or sitting out a ride by herself, and maybe more importantly, neither did she.

I have to admit to my second addiction (since you’re reading this, betcha can guess what #1 is!) because it is supposed to be therapeutic. Hi, my name is Leslie and I am a list addict. Confession is good for the soul and making lists is good for my mental health. I have oodles (scientific measurement term) of travel lists on my computer that I continually tweak. Once something is added to said list, it promptly stops nagging at my pea sized brain, which is not always a good thing. The problem comes in when I write it on a list, forget all about it, and never actually DO anything with/about it. The great thing about making lists on a computer is that I must save about a tree a week. In this time frame pre-trip, I continually added to my travel lists, as I would gain tips from reading trip reports and posts. I also put a WDW basket (aka big laundry basket) in my closet so I could just chuck little stuff (okay, not all the stuff was so little) in as I acquired it or came across it in our storage. The problem with that was eventually the basket was so jammed full, it was stuck inside the closet and none of it was organized. Dollar Store ponchos nestled in a Brita pitcher and my new WDW Trivia book competed for space with the new peanut butter jar. Jeesh, what a job organizationally, but I’m always up for any challenge that involves a trip to my World.

We did have a bit of a scare in the two weeks prior to the trip - each of us had a potentially trip-threatening health situation arise. Alissa went for CAT Scans, lots of tests and to consult an ENT regarding a mass in her sinus. Thank God, it’s a benign cyst. John had a flare up of his ongoing GI problem and I developed cellulitis. I know, I know - more than you truly wanted to hear about our real lives. Just put in to illustrate that real life can try to interfere with Magic, but my money’s on Magic every time!

Then…it happened. With only a week on the countdown clock, Hurricane Charley hit Florida and whooshed right smack through Orlando on Friday the 13th of August. Catch that? Friday the13th!!
OMG!!! A hurricane watch was certainly kept in our house - I can take anything except uncertainty. As I watched the news non-stop, I was totally frustrated by the dearth of information regarding any part of Florida except Punta Gorda. Now, it’s not that I’m such a heartless wench as to not care about the devastation there - I do care. But, we have family and friends who own or live in other areas of Florida … what about them? Could maybe a smidge of news be broadcast about other areas? And, while it may be selfish to care about vacation plans while others are in mortal peril, realistically we did have plans that were being affected and I did want to know about Orlando. I got more info on the boards and AllEars than on the national news and it appeared that the World was safe. Not so lucky were many folks in the Orlando area, as we’d find out upon our arrival.

With one eye constantly on the Internet and on the TV, final preparations were made. The car was serviced, the dog was kenneled, the bird was dropped off at her caregiver’s, last minute laundry was done, the bags were packed like sardines into the car and we were down to mere hours on the clock until Magic Hour. Or at least until Takeoff Hour - the real Magic Hour doesn’t happen until I walk into Magic Kingdom!

Travel Day
Friday, August 20, 2004

The agreed upon plan was to leave at 4:00 AM (yawn!) to miss the dreaded Washington traffic - not a minute later or we’d be in deep doo-doo. The car was packed the night before except for the last minute stuff. And it appeared to me that there was more last minute stuff than there was the you-can-pack-it-anytime stuff. Here’s the other part of any trip that freaks out my husband. We want to take how much??? And he’s supposed to put it where??? That and why do I need to buy a new bag, of some sort, for every trip that we ever take. This trip, you’ll be happy to know, I kept up my end and bought a new small cooler for our lunch in the car. That does so count as a new bag according to DH. Does not, according to me… Does too… But I digress. You can guess that we didn’t meet our goal of a 4:00 AM departure. We exceeded that goal (ha - fooled ya) and we left at 3:15 AM. We were up, we were ready, and Washington scares the hell out of us!

The day actually went pretty quickly; maybe because we switched off driving more than we ever have on any car trip anywhere. The upshot being that I actually closed my eyes and nodded in the backseat a couple of times. Even though we had packed a lunch, it didn’t appeal that much so we decided to save it for dinner and stop at an Iron Skillet. The billboards looked tantalizing - okay, as tantalizing as a truckers’ stop along I-95 can look. John and Alissa both chose the buffet which was surprisingly tasty. While waiting for my rib eye (as seen on said billboards - can you tell who was driving and decided on Iron Skillet ?) to arrive, I had a long conversation with a trucker that had been delivering dry ice down to central Florida, post - Charley. He’d had some wild drive times and was going back to restock and go again. This nice man gave me some Georgia driving tips, which I promptly forgot, and we had a long talk about taking kids to WDW. Very pleasant break but let’s go, people, back in the car.

We, the car weary travelers, arrived at the Country Inn and Suites in Kingsland, Georgia at 4:10 PM and were pleasantly surprised. It wasn’t bad - reasonably clean - we still introduced Clorox wipes to any conceivable surface we could touch. That Dis thread rearing its head again! There was a separate bedroom with a king sized bed and the living room had a pull out couch - pretty much your average set-up for a suite in that level of hotel. We just hung out, watched TV, and enjoyed our “lunch”. Mainly, all three enjoyed not being in the car. Internet access was free, so at some point John checked e-mail and I have no idea what else. Bed called to us so off we went to dream about Magic and highways and Castles and speed limits.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Here finally was the day I had been waiting for! I’m gonna see Mickey, I’m gonna see Mickey! No problem getting up and at ‘em this morning! We were downstairs by 6:45 AM and the breakfast was set up already, well in advance of the 7 AM promised time. A great spread which was free, to boot! There were the usual cereals and fruit, pastries and bagels, coffee and juices. But there was also a waffle maker with cups of batter and a crock pot full of sausage gravy with biscuits on the side. I was quite impressed with this setup and all found a hearty breakfast among the multiple choices.

On the road again, I just can’t wait to see Mickey again. (sung to that old catchy tune. What! You don’t remember that catchy tune? Well, I’m old and I DO remember it so let’s just move along.) Here’s the low point of any drive to WDW: you will actually have to drive through Florida to reach the Orlando area! Bummer, huh! I-95 moved along at its usual slow pace here and then the other dreaded part of the trip … I-4. Real bummer! Others have reported no problems along I-4 but in my vast experience, this being my second driving trip to Lake Buena Vista, prepare to crawl. John and I figured that maybe it being a Saturday might impact the traffic in a positive manner but nooo.

Serious note here: one of the main reasons for the slow traffic was the vast number (++100) of utility trucks coming into the area to help restore power post-Charley. The majority of them were from Georgia but a few were from Alabama. On the northbound side, we passed maybe double that number, making their weary way home. So, no complaints here. I was dumbfounded by the sheer numbers of trucks…sort of made you gulp and realize the enormity of what the area had been through. And was still going through -- we stopped at a rest stop but it was shut down due to sewage problems and no water supply. As we continued on, we saw a lot of sign damage, many damaged roofs, and lots and lots of landscape and tree damage.

Somehow we got lost between I-4 and Old Key West - I think I turned right when I had already “veered” right and didn’t notice. MapQuest and I don’t play together well. Several tense moments and a bus driver amazed by my turning radius later, I got us on the right path and turned into OKW. (This is why I hate driving in WDW - I’m not sure who is more dangerous, me or the other tourists.) “Welcome Home!” Not being a DVCer, I felt unworthy of such a wonderful greeting but as long as I was going to be allowed out of the car, I tamped it down and moved on to the Hospitality House to check-in.

Luck was on our side as Betty was the Cast Member who stepped up to take such good care of us. She said a villa (say it with me - “Villa” - just sounds grand, doesn’t it?) was ready but she was noting our request for all changed out, cleaned linens. Betty got right on the phone and had a long conversation with Housekeeping, who was not aware of this request. Drat, the villa wouldn’t be available until later. One hopes for the best but is prepared for the worst. When I wondered if she could point us in the general area of where our villa would be so we could park our car in the shade at the appropriate bus stop, Betty circled the parking lot on the resort map and then pointed to our building and said that building would be “real close”. Next, we confirmed Priority Seatings and got Hoop-Dee-Doo straightened out. I put down a credit card for express checkout and charging privileges on two of three room keys, much to Alissa’s disappointment. We mentioned to Betty that we had gotten slightly lost on the way in and she promptly gave us a map of the area, which she had had printed, that was awesome and went over it with the navigator in the bunch. In fact, we were so busy with the map that Betty forgot to get our room keys out of the printer. I kept feeling like something was being forgotten but it didn’t dawn on me until we were outside. I told John that I had to run back and get the key cards and he argued that we didn’t get them until later, when we got our official room assignment. Ding-ding-ding - WRONG! I walked back into the check-in area and was promptly handed the cards. I tried hard not to say “I told ya so” but it was apparent by my smirk as I handed out the disputed cards.

Car to shady parking lot - everybody out, waist packs on; let’s move to the bus stop, people. We were off to the Magic Kingdom, Saturday or no Saturday, because you’re not really there until you walk down Main Street. Yeah! we were the first bus stop at MK - I grade resorts by where their bus stops are located! Sounds petty but by the end of a day, I’m counting every single, slow step. OMG - Hot!! Hordes of People!!! The people were just pouring in through the turnstiles as we walked over to the ticket counter to purchase those first-ever Annual Passes. Well, that’s not strictly accurate. We walked over to stand in the broiling sun in line for twenty minutes to get to that ticket counter to purchase those first-ever Annual Passes. Can you say heat index of 110 degrees? Can you say out-of-control screaming children? Can you say I don’t care, get out of my way, I’m gonna go see the Castle?

Finally through those crowded turnstiles - WOO HOO! Twelve noon and we’re in a park!! Alissa announced right away that she had to take a bathroom break; for the first time in my life, I didn’t and tried to wait patiently outside City hall, surrounded by other people also trying to be shade hogs. We strolled up Main Street, as a faster pace was out of the question with the crowds - wall to wall people. I was forced to give up my dream of an immediate picture of the three of us with the Castle in the background - there were maybe fifteen characters around the square with the resulting lines and confusion. Add in all the folks still streaming in and the total road blocked condition of Main Street and give it up. I faded left and went up the sidewalk with Casey’s in my mind; french fries and a Coke did a lot to set us up. I had made Priority Seatings at Liberty Tree Tavern for 2:00 and Tony’s Town Square for 5:00, figuring one would make sense, depending on when we actually hit MK. Betty had been kind enough to cancel the Tony’s PS for us, so we were eagerly awaiting a nice meal at LTT and didn’t want to spoil our appetites.

Now, I had always assumed that our first attraction would be Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, as Alissa was the “Official Next Attraction Chooser”. John had bestowed that honor on her and stuck to it the whole trip - whenever she’d ask “What’s next?” DH would reply “What IS next? - your decision!” Big Surprise here - Alissa was, instead of BTMR, vacillating between Jungle Cruise and Pirates of the Caribbean. Her reasoning: Jungle Cruise was supposed to go down after today (it was still running on Sunday) and she loves Pirates and the lines would be long for BTMR. Hmm… a Mom aside here that will help explain how and why we do things the way we do them at WDW. Alissa is strongly affected by outside stimuli - she doesn’t like loud, she doesn’t like right in her face (picture 3-D effects), she doesn’t like smells (i.e. skunk in Journey Into Imagination), and she especially can’t stand water being spritzed on her glasses (in Disney this happens at some point in almost EVERY attraction). She had a fear of ghosts and skeletons when she was little, so, if you put all this together, I think she based her first ride strategy on testing herself and her now 11 year old sensibilities.

And so, just to get on something, anything, at this point, she chose Pirates for our first ride and we got FastPasses for BTMR. All enjoyed the dark coolness inside, and Alissa was pleased by her non-reaction to the “dangers” lurking there; now she knew she was ready to take on Walt Disney World and all that entailed. I broke out laughing under the hairy legged pirate, as I pictured NJ Mike and Wingnut (posters/brothers from MousePlanet boards) evaluating jumping up to touch the same leg on their Halloween trip (Joke, people, do not flame me). Nobody could understand what was so funny and, it being too hard to explain, no one ever will.

Next it was time for our raison d’etre - Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, yeah! The entire interior web of the queue was packed like sardines. It was great to walk right on through and get right on the next train, while trying not to feel too superior. Say Hello to FastPass, folks! Maybe many held FastPasses for another attraction and were trying to get on BTMR while they waited for their window to open, I don’t know. We were on the receiving end of quite a few dirty looks, so maybe not. This was the best version of the ride for the entire trip (Great!) as far as I was concerned. I don’t like the last car, although my companions sure do. We must have been in the perfect cars and the ride was smooth and fast. Not so, on all the other week’s trips. Now deafened by my daughter’s screaming, I tried to hear her next choice … FastPass Haunted Mansion so we’d be close to Liberty Tree and go on Jungle Cruise while we waited. (Okay, so I nudged her into this plan)

We set sail on the Jungle Cruise, with Pete as our Guide. Pete was, bar none, THE best skipper we’ve ever had; he truly made what can be sorta tired jokes hilarious. I even saw Mr. Never Laughs at Stupid Stuff crack a smile. There was a large family of newbies on this ride and the giggles of the five kids alone could make anyone smile. It’s great to be at Disney!! When we exited, I asked the CM standing there if she knew the guide’s name because I couldn’t see his nametag. She bent down to peer under the canopy and under his hat, and said suspiciously “Pete, why??” I told her he was fabulous and she said she knew - he was her husband! I asked her to pass along my regards and thanks, as Pete was sailing along to the next cruise.

The three of us trotted over to the Haunted Mansion to await entry for John’s and Alissa’s first HM experience. We had fun with the tombstones and tried to ignore the lady yelling directions to her husband via a walky-talky. He could have understood her better if she just put the dratted thing away and screamed through the park. By the time she repeated herself for, literally, the 27th time, everyone surrounding her was laughing together and she was trying to figure out what was making us all laugh. Which just made us all laugh all the harder. It was hot, it was threatening rain, and we were all waiting; yet everyone was laughing together - gotta love that! Onto the stretching room (which is my favorite part). I smiled to myself at the Asian family that had pushed through the entire line to end up in the same place with the same people. My newbies enjoyed the stretching room but weren’t overly impressed with the rest. I kept busy, all alone in my doom buggy (giggle), trying to find all the touches I had read about, while still trying to savor the experience of the attraction.

When we exited, the sky was blackening and threatening. We sat on a bench, with ponchos at the ready, while I called OKW on my cell phone (+/- reception) to see if I could get our room assignment. YES!! We would be in Villa #3111 and it was ready. YES!! Even though we were checked in, I’m positive that John still wasn’t sure that this whole deal was going to come off; I could sense his tenseness the whole day. It being 1:30, we went over to Liberty Tree Tavern and checked in with the “brutal” cast member on guard duty at the entrance. He (I want to say his name was John but I simply can’t remember; dontcha think I should be able to remember if it was John ?!) was an unmerciful tease about us checking in early and our first day and our hunger pangs. A little over the top for my John, but I was up for the challenge of witty repartee.

We only waited a few minutes before we were seated in the blessed air conditioning and Jennifer was making my caffeine-starved little self very happy with an ice cold Coke. I devoured the Pilgrims’ Feast (turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and stir-fried Asian green beans - yum). John decided on the bacon cheeseburger with all the trimmings and made some serious inroads on that, along with a strawberry milkshake that was so sweet it made my teeth ache when I stole a sip. Little one (not so little any more at 5’4”) chose chicken fingers and french fries, which were not a hit. My DD is very picky about food and we feared this might be a problem throughout the trip, but feel that this is an issue with which she must learn to cope. When Jennifer the CM noticed that A wasn’t eating her food but was instead scarfing my mashed potatoes, she brought her out a casserole dish of just mashed potatoes (and never charged us). In fact, this feast totaled only $ 41.25 (before tip) - quite the bargain for the amount and quality represented. The host CM from out front rotated into dining room duty and he came over to check up on us. We felt very special and well cared for, by all the CMs - we will certainly choose the LTT again… and again!

Leaving LTT, we tried to roll our stuffed selves uphill to check out Mickey’s PhilharMagic, past all the construction walls surrounding the old Skyway site and the walled off “it’s a small world” (iasw). Just as we reached the top of the hill, the skies opened and it just poured rain. The considerate CM at Mickey’s PhilharMagic opened the doors so people could crowd in and let us bypass the outside “snake” lines (you know how they snake around and around). Most folks then sat on the floor in the interior snake line and tried to dry off a bit. I enjoyed the show and I want to see it again. Surprisingly, the 3-D fan in our midst, John, was disappointed with the show. Oh well. When we exited, the CMs were trying to get people to exit into the still pouring rain - nobody would leave, they just hung back, clogging up the works and the gift shop. We struck out for Main Street and met a solid mass of people trying to stay dry inside the Castle, not letting anyone through. Always have a big 6’3” guy at the head of your party - DH got us through and made a path that many followed. And no, no small children were harmed in this trailblazing. Yeah, again, for the first bus stop as we trudged through the downpour! We had on ponchos but they were little defense against this deluge; Alissa had on leather Tevas and I had on suede Birkenstocks - it took about three days for our sodden shoes to dry.

Through my dripping hair, I stared out through the streaming bus windows to check out the destruction along the road to OKW - lots of tree stumps where chainsaws had been busy in the last week. There was one whole stretch where every tree was uprooted and lying against the next like big dominoes. Throughout the week, it became apparent just how much “landscaping” the hurricane had done - nature’s way of cleaning up. Enough time passed that the broken branches still in the standing trees were turning brown and the damages became more obvious. The Disney crews had done a simply amazing job just cutting down trees and cleaning up in the landscaped areas around the resorts, golf courses, and in the parks. Hats off to them.

Excitement mounted as we entered Old Key West - the moment of truth had arrived! Our tired trio oohed and ahhed all through our new home - Villa 3111 (even an easy number to remember!). John finally took a breath because this place was Awesome! We had gotten our request for a first floor, which was great with the car steps away. You enter a hallway with a coat closet and a tiny shelf for keys below a mirror. If you proceed straight ahead, you enter the large great room with the full kitchen on your left. I think there were accessories and utensils I don’t have in my kitchen at home! An island, with a TV/DVD player hidden inside, divides the room with the dining area next. There is a large round table and chairs and a built-in cabinet with two huge storage areas under the countertop. Continuing around is a seating area with a sofabed, loveseat, coffee table, and an armchair (uncomfortable) in the corner, all under a ceiling fan. This area has shuttered windows on two sides with shuttered doors to the patio, where there is yet another table, chairs, and a ceiling fan. The view was across Old Turtle Pond (I’m guessing here ‘cause we were located on Old Turtle Pond Road) to the 5th hole of the golf course. Ducks immediately came up and introduced themselves, recognizing suckers the moment they laid eyes on our group.

Guess what? - I ain’t done yet! If, when you first entered, you had turned left down the hallway, the master bedroom, with a king sized bed, was immediately ahead. There was a reading chair (uncomfortable), large armoire with a television, and one of those upholstered storage bench affairs - I didn’t notice this had drawers until the end of the week. There was yet another door out to the patio, where the ducks joyfully welcomed us back after our long 2 minute absence. If, instead of going straight back to the master bedroom, you had entered the first door on your left, you would have found yourself in the laundry room - bliss! Keep going and you’re in the shower room with vanity, toilet, and - you guessed it - a shower stall. Through yet another door and you were in the Jacuzzi room which also housed another sink and, strangely enough to me, the clothes closet. There was, again strangely enough, no door to the master bedroom from the Jacuzzi room. There was also a shuttered interior “window” between the swimming pool (I mean tub) and the bed. I am guessing that this odd setup is somehow related to romance, but I don’t get how and I didn’t give a hoot.

When we finally finished our extensive tour of this expansive accommodation, off we went to unload the car and settle in. It was sort of spitting rain but that was certainly better than the previous downpour. There was a very nice man unloading a huge conversion van, which I enviously kept trying to peek inside, until DH suggested I’d do better getting the inside of our palace organized. I unpacked the clothes and toiletries and Alissa was put in charge of organizing the snacks and sundry foodstuff we had brought. I had a pretty good notion that no one would touch the basics I had brought, but felt more secure with peanut butter (for the picky eater) and soup and Ensure (for the GI patient). Then, the decision was made to make a run to Conch Flats, before we settled down for the night, to get the most important vacation staple of all: little powdered sugar doughnuts. Up the road we went and had a good time browsing through all the goodies; right up until we all got into a spat and left, all angry. I can’t remember the last vacation/trip when we didn’t have an argument on the first day, always because of the stress levels of tired people. We all studiously avoided each other for a few minutes, then apologies were offered all around and with good night kisses, off we went to sleep.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Slowly up and at ‘em this morning for Early Entry at the Magic Kingdom. We had a bit of trouble establishing the coffee / breakfast / sunscreen / pack-up-waist packs routine that would become our morning life. We arrived at MK right at 8:00 to hear the opening ceremony off in the distance as we were clearing the security bag check. Up Main Street we trotted … wait. Let’s be honest - my two companions both have incredibly long legs and they trotted ahead, as my incredibly short, arthritic legs lagged behind. John was being adventurous and took off for Space Mountain to “test” it for Alissa; she and I walked onto Buzz Lightyear, admiring our glowing shoes in the black light effects along the way. No monumental scores were reached as my gun wasn’t working properly - I don’t know what A’s excuse was. It was then that we realized no meeting place had been established; jeesh, the first full day and we’re already breaking our standard park rules. The two of us rode my beloved Tomorrowland Transit Authority, thinking maybe we’d spot John in the interior queue of Space Mountain or, at the very least, spot that Tom Morrow fella. Nope. So, we waited outside Space Mountain, me with cell phone ready in hand and Alissa going in and out, in and out of the shop trying to be the first to spot Daddy. Minimum twenty minutes later, the Dad finally exits and we rush over to get Fast Passes for all three to ride Space. Then, we had to continue the Buzz competition so we waited a few minutes in line to go on our mission. And the Dad won this competition, drat it! John = 444,280 so he’s a Space Ace, Leslie = 398,600 also a Space Ace but a loser and the Space Ranger, First Class, Alissa = 62,300. As we waited for our Buzz pictures to come up on the screen, John expressed some concern over the kid’s motion sickness being triggered by the upcoming dark mountain ride and DD decided to mull over riding a bit more.

We walked back through the hub, thinking to get a small nosh to tide us over. Minor rant coming - Casey’s was still closed and the Main Street Bakery line went out the door and down the street. Why are not more places open mid- to late morning? Many people have been on the go for four or five hours at this point and are more than ready for some chow. And, not everybody wants breakfast food; I’d love a hot dog, long about 10:00. In my humble opinion, Disney is missing a food marketing (pun intended) opportunity and Disney doesn’t miss many marketing opportunities! End of rant, move along, folks.

Which is just what we did - move along, that is. Since John had been our pioneer and tried Space Mountain, Alissa and I were going for Splash Mountain. Off we went in the direction of Frontierland, passing the still closed Aloha Isle. Grrr! John decided to wait on the bridge and try to snap some pix of our first descent. We didn’t appreciate this enough at the time but the standby wait was less than 10 minutes and we passed the time chatting with the trio ahead of us in line. Before you knew it, we were off with our ponchos on! (Yes, we are Splash chickens!) When we went through the part where you actually come out in “front”, DH got a good picture of his two girls, but had no idea how long the balance of the ride lasted; he thought he had missed our drop and got some terrible shots of complete strangers, which he deleted. Turns out our digital camera just isn’t fast enough to catch the action there; so he wandered over to the bottom of the drop circle and caught us dripping, after we finally did drop. And what a drop!! For a second at the top, looking out on the briar patch with my wet butt in the air, it felt like our car was no longer attached and we were gonna go sailing off into space. Totally exhilarating!!!!

The big guy had checked out BTMR once we went past him, thinking this would be a great next step since we were right there, but no go - it was down. We backtracked to go on Pirates again, at The Official Ride Chooser’s request. Shortish wait in the cool which nobody minded one little bit. On exiting, we all went to the loo and saw Peter Pan, Wendy, and Captain Hook at that little character spot just past the Pirates Bazaar. I then led the gang over to Aloha Isle (finally! open!) and three pineapple/vanilla cups were thoroughly enjoyed; but the joint consensus was maybe just plain pineapple next time. We had a little talk while sitting on the cool stone benches about what we were finding on this particular trip. We had been anticipating the heat but not the crowds. Maybe Hurricane Charley had pushed a lot of trips forward, but there were a lot of pushy people. We always have to remind ourselves, at the beginning of every trip, about the cultural differences found in the visitors to Walt Disney World. In some other countries and cultures, it is the norm to push and get “too” close to others; in this heat, that was sorta hard to take for us.

We wandered up past the tip board, discussing our plans. Our FastPass window had opened for Space Mountain but our daughter was very hesitant to attempt this and “ruin” the day; her parents concurred. The tip board had BTMR as being back up so my two advance guards hot-footed it back there to check out the lines and maybe get a FastPass. Along my slightly slower way, I passed the folks we had chatted with in the queue for Splash, and handed them the Passes for Space Mountain. Totally could not understand why we weren’t doing it but were very happy to get the Passes. Arrived at BTMR to find it still down + Splash down = an angry mob forming (all right, disgruntled is the better adjective). I was a smidge short with the CM when I asked why in the heck the tip board CM didn’t have all this info. Although she never answered my question, this extremely low-key woman quietly said to be patient and just wait in line for a few minutes and we’d be happy with the results. So, there we stood under the midday sun, eavesdropping to amuse ourselves in the interim. BEST conversation overheard between two ladies somewhere ahead of us … the WDW Railroad steamed by on the overhead bridge, blowing its whistle. The one woman said “I don’t know who that CM thought she was fooling about this ride (BTMR) being stopped - you can hear it running and blowing its whistle”. Do you think she was surprised by her “sedate” train ride on Big Thunder Mountain!?!

The attraction opened after about ten additional minutes, although Splash remained down, with no water running down the drop. I appreciated being able to board a train right away but the ride was a tad off, slowing down to an almost complete stop at one point, and then jerkily resuming. John made a completely tasteless joke that cracked me right up, that alluded to the “trouble” with the Disneyland version. Probably better not to repeat it here.

By now, it was about 11:30 and it was time to get out of Dodge - it was getting more crowded by the minute and the temp was going anywhere but down. Cool food, cool drinks and cool air in a cool place were the next order of the day. A City Hall Cast Member set us up with a PS at Whispering Canyon Café, over at the Wilderness Lodge, for 12:40; this gave us time for the boat ride over, a potty break, and a wander around the lobby of the WL. Alissa had never been here before but immediately remarked how much it reminded her of the lobby at Animal Kingdom Lodge. (The same architect designed both Lodges.) My clever child and I had stayed there on our Mother / Daughter trip back in ’02. What a magnificent lobby - always takes your breath away and then fascinates as you start noticing the myriad of details. Actually, that’s true of both lobbies, now that I reread my description. DD was entranced by the bubbling water and the bridge right there in the WL lobby and couldn’t wait to follow it out to the pool.

But first, time to check in at the podium; as the two CMs were discussing which table was available; I quietly advised them of DD’s hope for “silliness to the max”. They looked at each other, looked down at the computer screen, and then both chuckled. It seems that “Tumbleweed” was in a right silly mood that day and off we went to her section, at the back of the restaurant. I cracked up before we even sat down as Tumbleweed was just delivering a giant, pitcher-sized soda with a straw to match, to the table next to ours. She announced to the whole room that refills shouldn’t be needed by that customer for a while! And, just as quietly (not) to the guest, to not even think about disappearing off to the bathroom since food was going to be coming out shortly. John ordered up some Ranger Rick nachos and his two ladies decided upon the Skillet. While we were inhaling our drinks, Tumbleweed went into her “bathing suit” routine that involves the haute couture effects of a large black trash bag torn in the appropriate places. Ya sorta had to see this to understand - let me just state that I was glad Coke didn’t come out of my nose, like it did when I was little, because I was laughing that hard. Again, a little over the top for my husband, but the two kids were having a blast! Lots of delicious food began piling onto our table and we all set to. “Doc” Willis announced “Critter Call” where he invited all the kids and grown-ups too, to make critter noises into his microphone. Some very unusual sounds were heard - probably sounded bizarre out in the lobby. My pony gave her best whinny when Doc worked his way round to our table, for which she received a nice little “Magical Moment” certificate. It certainly was a Magical Disney Moment and a very nice gesture on the part of the Whispering Canyon Café.

Alissa ordered Worms in Dirt (chocolate pudding with chocolate crumbs and gummy worms), which she shared with her stuffed parents. Tumbleweed brought the check and sat down with us; her alter ego self, aka Diane, emerged and we had a pleasant little chat - you know the kind you have with friendly Cast Members - about hometowns and travel. Another enjoyable dining experience for our trip log. Catch the pattern here with great CMs and great food?

After another visit to the loo, we wandered around a bit more, this time in the gift shop. I went over to stand in front of the counter - I wanted to ask for a plastic bag to put Alissa’s Magical Moment certificate in, to make it easier to carry. One CM was busy with a large phoned-in food order and the other was clearing up the reams of paperwork from her last guest. I just stood there for a few minutes, waiting patiently, when the one CM handed me a bag without my having to ask. She said she figured that’s what I needed and thanked me for not bugging her and I thanked her for the bag. Don’t we both have exquisite manners?

Our family wandered down to the boat dock to wait for the next launch to the MK. I should note that we take the water transportation whenever it’s available; we find it very enjoyable and a relaxing way to spend the transport time, sort of another Disney “ride”. It’s pleasant to sit down and take a load off, either in the sun if it’s cool or in the AC if it’s hot out. A family of four from Australia followed us on board and sat on the deck seats behind us - the little boy had one of those hollow wooden tubes where the ball pops out the end with an accompanying loud popping noise. I kidded the mom that she was going to regret that purchase by the end of the day; she said he had gotten it the night before and her only hope for sanity was that he tired of it soon. Another impromptu Magical moment.

Once back on shore at the Magic Kingdom, we veered over to the bus stop to head back to Old Key West for a bit of a rest. The bus area here at the MK was under what appeared to be major construction through our entire trip; there was a temporary traffic light set up with someone manually changing the light as buses approached, from either direction. I never did determine exactly what they were changing or repairing; the setup did have a minimal impact on wait times. After a short wait and a short bus trip, we entered the villa just as it began to rain. John took a nap in the bedroom and Alissa laid on the sofabed and watched some Disney channel, while I curled up on the loveseat and took some notes and stared out the window at the deluge. I can’t recall such heavy rain for such an extended period of time - it flat out poured for over two hours. I’m used to it pouring in Florida but usually only for a short time; once it gets it out of its system, it’s done (weather humor). Clearly not the norm today.

Plan was made to go onto Epcot when the rain let up a tad - on went the ponchos and rain hats and off we went to be the only passengers on our bus. Chatting with the bus driver uncovered some sobering truths about what was going on in real life for many Cast Members. He stated that a high number of the bus drivers were homeless or had seriously damaged homes due to Charley. His own home’s roof had been damaged and he couldn’t find a roofer to check it out. This man’s neighbor had lost his cement block construction home, his car had been destroyed, and his workplace was severely damaged so he was out of work. How do you recover from that? The driver said he and his wife were reconsidering staying in the area, as were many others. Disney was putting up many CMs and their families at the All Stars, he went on, and without this help many would have been unable to come to work. John and I were totally unaware in WDW of the surrounding chaos - many areas were still without power and water, according to the local news.

All were so busy with this conversation that we paid no attention to the fact that the driver let us off at stop # 14; the OKW stop is # 4. When the buses approach the “guardhouse”, a controller radios them what stop to approach and where their next run is to. I have to be reminded, the hard way, on every single trip that you don’t necessarily get on where you got off. Later that evening, that lesson was learned yet again. For now, we dripped our way to the World Showcase; it was soon to be time for Future World to start shutting down, so we didn’t even bother. Entry to the Mexico pavilion found a mob of people in the square trying to stay dry, but surprisingly no one was going on El Rio del Tiempo - except us, that is. I know people knock this little ride, but I happen to enjoy it, especially the fireworks in the sky. None of us was in the mood to linger and check out the wooden carved animals, so we went out the side door and down the ramp, to fight our way past the smokers standing there. Another tiny rant…well, maybe more of a comment - I saw more smokers on this trip, few of whom were smoking in a smoking area, than I have seen in a long time anywhere.

Off to Norway, but much too dripping wet to invade the Stave Church - another time. We did wait in a ten minute line to go on Maelstrom, at the Official Ride Chooser’s insistence; once again, I enjoy a ride many do not. For once, we were not “held captive in Norway”; which is a reference to a thread on MousePlanet’s MousePad, which I thoroughly enjoyed. We did scoot right on through the theater as the CMs were opening the doors just as we disembarked. The Kringla Bakeri og Kafe had absolutely no line and I did promise my friend, Carol, to have a rice cream for her on her birthday (okay, okay, it wasn’t yet her birthday - I’d just have to come back for another!) and we were sorta hungry and it was wet… Enough excuses - in we went to order the requisite rice cream, a sweet kringla (that sweet pretzel thingy), and a berry tart. We passed around all the goodies and our water bottle while I looked longingly at a cappuccino that a woman was savoring. She caught my totally non-subtle stare and said I should go for it; that unlike the usual WDW coffee, this was truly exceptional and the highlight of her day. I wavered but caffeine and a night’s sleep no longer co-exist in an evening’s span for me. *sigh*

Off we sped into the still dripping World. Not much caught anyone’s eye until we got to the Yakitori House, which was under major exterior renovations. We followed the signs that pointed up through the wooden walls to the seating area, which looked the same as always - crowded. The last time we ate here, we were sorta put off by the chicken which was nothing but fat and compressed nastiness. So, I ordered three rice bowls with teriyaki sauce only, which I have frequently gotten here before. Big discussion in Japanese ensued; just as I was getting ready to say forget the whole thing, the ladies decided to let us order this. We found spots at the end of a table and sat there, still dripping, to only take a couple of bites of this. Yuck! How can you screw up simple rice and sauce??

Back into the now darkness, to wander on, NOT enjoying the evening’s wet air. Oh great! Now, the rice was kicking me from the inside and John looked to be in some discomfort also. We continued on to Canada, where Alissa suddenly needed a trip to the bathroom. Uh-oh. Let’s think -- it was only twenty minutes until Illuminations and we had a seat, and although it was not a good viewing area, we did have a bathroom within range…sold. John did his best to save two seats on the bench and I kept Alissa company by the fence; again not a good location because of the tree but no good spots were within our range (and the bathroom’s range). Once the show finally started, not only did we have an impaired view of the spectacular because of that tree but also because of the smoke that just kept pouring in our direction. Now, of course, it was coming back to me what I had read about viewing from this particular area. Duh! As much as IROE can be enjoyed in the rain, in the smoke, in the crowds, standing in front of a tree - I guess we enjoyed it.

When Illuminations ended, we stayed put on the bench and just watched all the masses of people streaming past us towards the exit. C’mon people, move right along. Finally, it was deemed the time to move out and we joined the many still limping towards their temporary home. We went right past all the bus stops to Number 14 …wrong! Rain was, by now, starting to get heavy again and the sidewalks were overflowing with standing water. I backtracked to the info window where I was told the correct stop was Number 4. I walked and waved, trying to get J’s attention; my two came on the double when they finally saw me and passed me on the fly heading to try to catch the bus at # 4. Thank you, nice bus driver, for waiting for me on my limping foot to get there. Clearly, this was not the first bus to depart from this stop as there were only a few people riding. Interior lights went out and everyone waited, patient but miserable in their damp and tired condition, to return to their home away from home.

When we were divested of all our ponchos, shoes, and uncomfortably damp clothing, the three of us met to talk about the plan. The next day, Monday, was slated to be Early Entry (excuse me - Extra Magic Hour) at Animal Kingdom. All were tired and were not overly excited about the effort this would entail for little satisfaction. The things we wanted to do at AK this trip were not on the EE openings, so we could go later in the day and get almost as much accomplished. Sleep in?? Three ayes, No nays, Votes counted and approved - sleeping in it is. End of Day.

Monday, August 23, 2004

This morning, I slept-in, in luxurious splendor in our luxurious accommodations, until the incredibly late hour of 5:30 AM. Wow! My darling had already been up for a while, on line, and my slightly smaller darling slept on through the noise of me making my much needed morning caffeine fix. I ran three loads of laundry, including the hotel towels, through the appropriate machines. Let me stop here to say that having a washer and dryer available is nothing short of sheer bliss! We cut way down on the number of clothes that we brought, which would have made more of an impact had we flown, but still. I’m a spiller and clothes were still real wet from the night before, so a load made sense. Even though we would get “trash and towels” service the following day, I wanted clean towels now - I can’t stand wet nasty towels, and especially washcloths.

Off we drove to Olivia’s Café, which is located at the Hospitality House area, to enjoy another luxury - a big breakfast. Alissa ordered fruit, a cinnamon roll, and breakfast potatoes (which she disliked as they had eggs and cheese added). John enjoyed his poached eggs on a hash and sweet potato base. I waded through a biscuit, potatoes (so-so), and a ham and cheese omelet, which was super. This was all swilled down in the wonderful atmosphere that is Olivia’s - lots of pictures of DVC members and their families. Oh, to belong on those walls. *sigh*

Next we waddled into the adjacent store area, where we purchased charms for our Italian charm bracelets and the always important little powdered sugar doughnuts (for later, much later!). The rest of the gang took a potty break while I went across the walkway to the Hospitality House counter area to confirm that Betty, our check-in friend, had lined us up for express checkout. While in line, I teased a Dad in an immaculate white t-shirt holding a tiny person, who couldn’t have been more than 11 months old, trying to slobber his way through a grape lollipop. I kidded the Dad that I didn’t think his t-shirt was up to such a challenge and he laughed and agreed. I joined my guys over in Papa’s Den and the father/son duo joined their large extended family group. We would see this group everywhere we went over the next couple of days, including later that same morning, when the Dad had indeed changed his shirt.

After dropping off the car and doughnuts, we trekked over to join the crowd standing around the bus stop. There was a couple smoking inside the bus stop and the smoke was forcing people to stand outside. Not at all helped by the fact that the ceiling fan in the bus stop was missing its fan blades - maybe a casualty of Hurricane Charley or maybe part of the OKW bus stop overhauls started later in the week. John murmured to me to keep my opinion to myself as the guy appeared to be spoiling for a fight; I settled for glaring at him as did others. No impact whatsoever and we had another long wait for a bus to the Magic Kingdom. Yes, I know it was scheduled to be Animal Kingdom, but one has to be flexible. Nobody was interested in AK that day and Splash Mountain was calling Alissa, who wanted her Dad to experience it. Okay, then. MK, it is, even though it’s late morning and these are the most crowded conditions I have ever experienced in Walt Disney World.

Once again, I had trouble with my biometric finger scan and had to show my id - I think I kept trying to shove in one extra finger; I didn’t get the hang of this until the end of the trip. Since I continually had to show my id, I ended up just keeping it, along with my AP and my room key card, in one of those little plastic id holders that come on a lanyard with a Velcro closure. I attached this sucker to the key holder in my waist pack and could just whip it right out at the turnstiles or at a FastPass kiosk, and still not worry about dropping it - it couldn’t go far. Worked real well for me but neither of my guys ended up using theirs.

On to Main Street, where I was still hoping for that traditional shot of the three of us with the Castle as the background; way too crowded - wall to wall people. There were several official photographers but I’m too cheap to pay for them; I miss the days when there was a Cast Member there who offered to take your picture with your camera for free. I’ve since read that the Disney photographers will take your picture with your camera, if you ask nicely. John did take a pic of Alissa and me (me pouting) but the attacking hordes made even that one photo difficult.

We turned around and headed upstream to climb the stairs to the train station, where we just caught the train and got maybe the last seats. Discussion ensued as how to approach our mission - ride BTMR and FastPass Splash or vice versa? Hmmm… I chickened out here and went off to the loo at Frontierland, leaving my AP for their FastPass choice. Alissa chose to FP BTMR and wait in the standby queue for Splash. Warning …fatal error ahead…we should have known better when we saw where the end of the line was! Traditionally, we Never-Wait-In-Line! Well, never for more than maybe ten minutes, tops. My DH is not a good waiter (that sounds funny but you know what I mean). The three of us idiots actually stood there, inching along in the heat, with not one person speaking English around us to eavesdrop on, memorizing every bit of the path for …ONE HOUR! First, and last time, for us. Ever. This unfortunate choice pretty much ruined the rest of the day.

Once inside Splash Mountain, we were afforded the opportunity to memorize the area surrounding the three cute little possums hanging by their tails, as we were stopped there for at least five minutes. If I had had a gun, I would have been aiming for the speakers (no, not the cute little possums), that music just grating on my last frayed nerve. We did survive the Briar Patch, with John unsure if he enjoyed the attraction but positive that it was certainly not worth the wait. To further top off our day, as we were shaking out our drippy ponchos, we realized that Alissa’s brand new, magnetic clip sunglasses were gone; probably lost forever on the drop. I inquired about lost items with the two CMs at the standby entrance and they just sadly shook their heads; sweeps are made at the end of the day but glasses of any kind don’t stand a chance against the mechanics of the attraction. They advised checking in with City Hall the next morning. Advice I still don’t quite understand as City Hall has nothing to do with Lost and Found…more later.

BTMR FastPass window was still open, barely, so we walked right past the crowds, with Alissa frantically searching through her waist pack for her sunglass clip, just in case she had misremembered what she had done with them. She was close to tears waiting to board our train; this pair of glasses with clip had been her first new frame in several years and she felt they were more suitable to her age. She had been envious of John’s similar pair and was just tickled by their purchase and subsequent arrival in time for our trip. Our trip on the Big Thunder Mountain was not very enjoyable… the train still wasn’t acting right and Alissa was miserable.

The crowds made this entire area impassable; we mounted the stairs to the train station and rode around to see if Carousel of Progress was open. Yes! I love audio animatronics and this is a favorite of mine; it’s supposed to go down for a rehab as soon as the new Stitch ride opens and I’m a little distrustful of what, exactly, they’ll “do” to this gem. I thoroughly enjoyed the show, John just waited in the cool to leave, and my DD just fretted about her sunglasses. She was fading fast and suddenly not feeling well (when she gets that upset, her gastric reflux will start up) so off we went to the bus stop. Back to OKW to:

a) try on her spare pair of glasses that “transition” to sunglasses - too baby
b) try on my spare pair of “fit-over” sunglasses - too dorky (they really are!)
c) hope for the best with lost and found - her final choice.

Tonight was the night I had been looking forward to …Hoop-Dee-Doo!!! Woo Hoo!! Bus to MK to boat to Pioneer Hall for the long wait for the show. They told us to come early and I had allowed extra time for the transportation; so of course, the bus and the launch came with little or no wait. If I had been thinking, I would have realized that Disney had programmed in extra time for that all important merchandising opportunity - in this case, a photo sales pitch. We solved this by never actually going over to the photo area; when I heard the price on the package, I just sorta gasped out my negative response. My mind goes blank at the actual figure; I can be very cheap about spending minor money in the middle of a vacation spending thousands, but there it is. I guess I wasn’t as interested in a photograph of the three of us as I professed to be.

While waiting, up came this weird solitary guy that I’d had a conversation with on the day we went to the Wilderness Lodge, while waiting for the launch. You know the kinda person that sets your teeth on edge and decides to have a lengthy, inescapable conversation with you, his chosen victim. I mention this only because, in the course of that conversation at WL, he mentioned attending Hoop-Dee-Doo “if” he could get a ticket. At Pioneer Hall, he went up to the will-call / ticket window and then was directed to enter through the opposite door from where we were told to enter. Now, remember that I was really, really hoping that our seats were on the first floor. I don’t quite know how or why this became of such paramount importance to me, but it did. It surely did. When this man got sent to the other door, I was sure we were golden; after all I thought he was buying a ticket at the last minute so he must be upstairs!

Now it gets so embarrassing that I’m cringing…you guessed it, we were directed to the second floor and seated at a horrible long table with our backs to the stage. Exactly the last place I wanted to be. I was sooo disappointed that I lost it…right there, in front of everyone. Picture over-tired, over-stimulated, over-heated child and you’ve got my picture. Our wait staff CM, Dallas, was getting us drinks and piling salads and bread on the table; a nice man and his family from New York was seated next to me, elbow to elbow, and tried to start a conversation with me. There was absolutely NO room to swivel the stool around to see the stage, so I just kept throwing sad little glances at the stage over my shoulder, while trying to juggle the conversational ball. John and Alissa held their collective breath while a tear crept slowly down my face. I heard them mutter about my disappointment and what to do with me when Dallas suggested moving to another table. Wha’???

It seems that there were two tables of no shows, in his section of Real Tables That Faced the Stage and why didn’t we, and the NY folks, all move and enjoy the show with an improved view. Dallas, my man!! We all thanked him profusely as we dragged all our food to the new tables, trying to help, over his repeated assurances that the new table was set up and ready to go.

You know, in life, everything always turns out for the best. If you can just be patient enough to see it through to the end. The Real Table That Faced The Stage was better than the tables on the first floor! Much better view of all the proceedings and all the actor CMs made their way upstairs at some point during the show, to involve us and speak to each of our tables. The show was foot stomping, hand clapping great!! And the food was even better and just kept on coming. Chicken and ribs and beans and corn and shortcake, oh my! I had read some bits about how you had to keep up a brisk eating pace but none of that here for us. We had a pitcher (or two) of beer and eventually my family stopped staring at me to see if I was really going to keep it pulled together. I hereby offer my sincere apologies, to one and all, for my non-Magical behavior. As I write this, I still can’t believe how truly disappointed I was and how I behaved in public.

John handed a hefty tip to Dallas as thanks for his averting the disaster that I had become and off we went, avoiding the solitary weird guy. From our vantage point, I had pointed him out to John, sitting all alone up by the stage - so much for “if” he could get a ticket. And, so much thanks to the Greater Powers that I have a wonderful husband and child and I’m not a solitary weird lady. Weird, maybe. Solitary, not. About a ten minute wait for the launch and we rode off into the setting sun. Where my tired DD felt her motion sickness big time, only to disembark for another long wait for a chance to get motion sick on the bus ride to OKW. I swear, all week it felt like we spent a lot more time than usual just getting to and from places. We always use all kinds of transportation and we think the transportation is wonderful when you stay on site. I’m thinking the schedules were thrown into some disarray with so many Cast Members unavailable post-Charley.

As we were settling down, doing all those end-of-day and get-ready-for-tomorrow chores, I could hear Illuminations off in the distance. I figured it was Illuminations every night because it was always a little after nine. Any thoughts, anyone?

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Not a good night for Alissa - she was up in the night with a nosebleed and feeling like she’s coming down with a cold. Feeling just miserable and just wanting to lie on her luxurious floor (we moved the sleeper sofa mattress directly onto the floor - much more comfortable for DD) and watch a DVD and just maybe go back to sleep for a while. Our game plan had called for an Early Entry round of MGM; she urged us to take off as there was nothing specific to be done for her. I dispensed some Tylenol, rustled up some breakfast for her, and off we went. Odd feeling, that.

John and I made it into the park by 8:30 and proceeded to the back for our first viewing of Jim Henson’s Muppet Vision 3*D. I’m not quite sure how, but, we have never made it to this show on any visit. I enjoyed looking all around at the pre-show and spotting many of the things I had read about. A net full of Jell-O makes laugh every time I think of it. After returning our glasses, we walked down Mickey Avenue and got some FastPasses for the first show of Who Wants to be a Millionaire - Play It! from a man giving them out, in front of the theater. We ambled into Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream and checked out all the fascinating exhibits and trivia. Unfortunately, time was not in our favor here, so we ducked out the side door. I desperately needed a little something by this point, so we hoofed it over to Starring Rolls to get a bite. There was a long line and the tables were packed, so I was glad we hadn’t lingered in One Man’s Dream; I’d like to spend a lot more time in there and not rush through the exhibit. Two blueberry muffins, chocolate milk and a cappuccino (finally got that cappuccino!) later we were ready to kick some butt in WWTBAM - PI!

By the time we walked back down Mickey Avenue, it was time to enter the pre-show. There was a teenager answering all the questions on the pre-show computers, and correctly I might add, whose Mom was sort of staring at him in surprise. I wondered if he had been to the MGM show about a gazillion times or if he was a big fan of the TV show or if he was just naturally good at this sort of trivia. Guess I’ll never know but he made for a heck of a pre-show. Into the theater and no Hot Seats in our twosome. I did look for the teenager but didn’t spot him in the crowd. I did spot, since they were all seated right next to me, the Magical Gatherings family of lollipop fame - the little one had a pacifier this time. And the Best t-shirts ever …”Raid the Castle, Storm the Beach” worn by yet another clan - guess we all know where they were staying! There was some funny guest interaction in “Phone a Complete Stranger”, which by the way, is absolutely always a funny title to me. Once out in the warmth of Mickey Avenue, we phoned the villa to check on the kid. It was evident that she had had enough alone time, was up and dressed, and was ready to roll.

It seemed we were being attacked as we walked by the BAH, excuse me, the Sorcerer Mickey Hat - no, it only felt that way. It was loads of characters coming on stage and 3,496,782.5 guests magically appeared from nowhere to form lines. The inception of this phenomenon is truly amazing to watch. For about 1/10th of a second, I entertained the vague notion of getting a hug from Tigger but decided I wasn’t a strong enough person to take on that group of parents. Move on. We waited a short while for a bus back to OKW; once there, I got on the phone to City Hall, as the Splash CMs had suggested. City Hall gave me right over to the Lost & Found, which I know intimately from a cell phone incident on another trip. No sunglass clips matching that description (Alissa’s actually fold in half) had been found and this CM, too, held out little hope for their return. Next ensued the all important tickle battle and then John took his turn at napping. DD and I went off to Conch Flats, the general store, for English muffins, little doughnuts (such a surprise), and to exchange my charm, which wouldn’t fit on my bracelet correctly. We had to look through all the charms to find another Mickey head with “diamonds”; when we finally found one, I asked Alissa to put it on the bracelet (this is her specialty) to make sure this charm fit (with the permission of the CM at the register; she also gave us a hint to dab a little clear nail polish on the stone, as they fall out easily). While there, we looked around a bit, shopping for a little gift for our bird watcher, a pal of Alissa’s. Three pens with a moveable tiny Mickey on top later - well, can’t you guess that A & I both needed one too! - we were ready to go. When we walked outside, it was starting to rain and then it really came down, so we sat on one of the benches and people watched for a few minutes, until it let up a bit. Am I the only one who thinks it funny that people will dash from a pool when it begins to rain, to run under cover so they don’t get … wet? Hello --- you’re already dripping!! This was actually the closest we ever got to any of the pools on the entire trip; it simply did not work out between the heavy rains and our plans. I had visualized us spending part of every afternoon enjoying one of the pools, but not to be. Best laid plans and all that.

Next up on our agenda - BOMA! Once spruced up, it was off to the bus stop, where we decided to take the first park bus that happened along. It happened to be the Magic Kingdom bus, which was perfect because the Animal Kingdom Lodge stop is right next to the Old Key West stop at the MK. I love efficiency - and no extra walking! Of course, too good to be true - the driver went completely to the other end of the bus area and waaay off in the distance (okay, it just felt that way), there was a bus idling in the AKL spot. Off we ran (some faster than others) to catch our transport.

I soon wished we had missed this particular bus, as it had some overtired kids on board at the end of a long Disney day. One boy, of about 6 or 7, had a sword which he repeatedly thrust in people’s faces, while his mother sat back and watched. His next trick was to stab the little boy, seated behind him, in the abdomen about 97 times, until the little kid started screaming at the top of his lungs. Once his screaming started, it had some bizarre domino effect and other children started crying and screaming. I sat there musing that I was quite content with one, well behaved, older child of 11.

For the entire ride, that one daughter again regaled her father with all of our stories of our stay at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. She had been waiting to show him all around since 2002 and there wasn’t a detail minute enough for her not to share. She gave a tour of the amazing lobby, the interior fire pit, the area where we attended a presentation on Kenya, our room location, and her favorite viewing area. Next the tour continued onto the exterior fire pit and Arusha Rock, where we spent a good bit of time checking out all the animals. Noticing the time for our Priority Seating at 5:00 was fast approaching, we then led Dad down to the waiting area for Boma, where we sat next to the waterfall, holding our pager.

Enter one mother with three children with behavior problems, all of whom seemed to have a burning desire to climb over us to push each other into the water or to retrieve some of the pennies, I’m not sure which. I joked that I knew who would be seated next to us…and I was right. Only saving grace was that they were fast eaters and even the mother had had enough, decided it was time for bed and off they went. Peace at last and certainly time for an adult beverage. And time to try lots and lots of the goodies presented on the buffet.

I won’t even begin to go into the food choices - they are legendary. I remember chicken that was too spicy for me, some fabulous beef, delicious side dishes and the most delectable fruit that I’ve had in a long time. I also joined the other kids at the children’s section to sample some french fries and other offerings. John tried everything and Alissa ate a lot of fruit, raving about the pineapple. Many desserts were sampled, including the famous zebra domes. I’m in the minority here but they’re not my favorites; there were some tarts that were incredible and some brownie type deal that was definitely worth seconds. We ate and ate and thoroughly enjoyed this feast.

Back to the villa for an early night, after a browse through the Zawadi Marketplace. Our first bus strategy worked better this time; we hopped on the MGM bus that was the first to arrive and when we got to MGM, only had to walk from stop # 8 to stop #7, to get right on a bus bound for OKW. G’night World.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

This was to be another long night for Alissa, as she was up again with a flowing nosebleed. And this is sort of scary and definitely yucky … I swear there was a “hidden Mickey” in the blood on the sheet. Maybe I’ve been here a leetle too long! As John had a headache, (probably due to one of the spices at Boma -his migraines trigger easily) I let Alissa sleep as long as possible and then up and right into the shower before she had time to protest (too much). She was definitely perky this AM, though, looking forward to doing Test Track at Early Entry at Epcot. I put a call into Housekeeping and also requested a washed blanket as none had been in our villa; the woman on the phone doubted this until I explained the original request for washed blankets. When we got back that night, there were two blankets waiting for my chilly child.

The bus to Epcot zoomed up within about five minutes and we were off. Once past the Berlin Wall of the ‘Leave A Legacy’ area (I recently heard this description - apt, no?), DH and DD zoomed ahead to snag FastPasses for Test Track; once I caught up, we jumped into the standby line which was snaking out to close to the exterior doors. We got stuck for a few minutes outside the Briefing Room and I was hoping the ride hadn’t gone down already - I had really been looking forward to this. Cleared for testing and off we sped for Alissa’s first TT experience. Her reaction …”fun but a little slow!” - my new ride junky!!

I was next obliged to make a pit stop (get it? cracking up!! Gawrsh, I’m funny!) before we got right back in the FastPass line. Gotta love this ride! Although, every time we accelerate around that curve that’s located roughly above the attraction’s main doors, I hear the newscaster’s voice in my head… “Freak accident today at Walt Disney World’s Epcot Center when a ride vehicle on the Test Track attraction, actually left the enclosed track at an estimated 64 mph. The car flew approximately 796 yards before nose-diving into Odyssey Lake, a man-made lake next to the old Odyssey Center, which was, prior to this mishap, purported to be the future site of the new Disney attraction, ‘Atlantis’. “

Fortunately, us test dummies made it out to check out the new GM vehicles on display. John competed with about eight other little boys to investigate the Hummer and I went to climb into the conversion van and drool all over the nice leather upholstery. Our SUV, a 4-Runner, fulfills my day to day needs quite adequately. It’s just not comfortable on road trips, though, and I long for a conversion van, with all the bells and whistles. Of course, it would go about ten feet before it needed a gas stop and who am I kidding… I won’t get this crew in a vehicle again after this road trip for a long, long time. Back to this World. As we exited through the usual Disney merchandising opportunity, I spotted the license plate holder that I had been coveting - “Been There, Done That, Going Back!” - had to get this. I have a magnetic bumper sticker of this but I want to see it so I stuck it on my file cabinet, where it’s always in view. Alissa found an antenna topper of the Castle for me, which I had not seen, and I also purchased this, to sit on my computer. I chatted with the CM as she filled out the paperwork to send these items back to the resort (dontcha just love this part of staying onsite?!); she lived about thirty minutes away from Lake Buena Vista and had thankfully come through the hurricane with no problems.

The crowds and the heat were building as we headed back to join Ellen’s Energy Adventure. About a ten minute wait in the hot sun, where I watched a poor woman, who had barely survived her flight to Mars on Mission: Space, turn positively green. I was really concerned about this lady and thought it was quite possible that she would pass out on the pavement. As soon as the doors opened, my group went immediately over to grab a bench to wait for the pre-show, which started pretty quickly. Guests kept wandering in, saw all the folks standing to watch the pre-show, and wandered right back out again - I guess they thought that the pre-show was the attraction. As always, I enjoyed Ellen’s adventure from the pre-show straight on through, although I wish the sound could be turned down a tad; bonus points for air conditioning and a sit-down also awarded today. As I turned my head away from the screens to miss the helicopter ride segment, lest I turn green, I saw the “green” lady seated in the row behind us. She was huddled against her husband, head on his shoulder and her eyes closed - her color improved slightly by the time we said goodbye to Ellen but she sure didn’t look ready for a day of fun in the sun. This strengthened my resolve to give Mission: Space a miss, as I don’t look good in that particular shade of green.

Innoventions is one of our daughter’s favorite things to do while in Epcot; however, it could disappear from the face of the earth and I’d barely register its loss. Maybe I’m never in the mood or maybe it needs some updating. Anyway, we turned Alissa loose in here and John and I hit the Electric Umbrella to split a bacon cheeseburger to tide us over ‘til lunch. I misread the overhead menu and had to return to the unpleasant CM working the register when I received only a cheeseburger minus accompanying fries and drink. It wasn’t that crowded that she had to act so put upon to wait on me again. Complaint mode off. Good thing that we did take a food break as John’s color improved and he perked right up - definitely needed a little sustenance. He headed back to Innoventions to find our child and I headed off to the Land. For the life of me, I couldn’t remember the interior layout of the Land pavilion - it had been some time since we had ventured inside. Once my memory was nudged, I thought I might check out Living with the Land; I did remember how quietly pleasurable this gentle boat ride had been. To my surprise, there were approximately a gazillion (technical accounting term) people in the standby line and the FastPass return time was for dinner time. Huh?? Put out a FastPass machine and they will come in droves? I did recall (sort of) that FP had been installed here but had never paid much attention to the addition. Am I missing something? Well, for today, it’s going to stay missed.

I took this golden opportunity to head over to Mouse Gears for a few minutes of Mom-time - shopping all by my lonesome. As I usually do, I wandered looking at everything and not being particularly grabbed by any one thing. At least not enough to actually head for the cash registers…until my eye was caught by a yellow “girl-cut” t-shirt with WDW in glitter and colors. Hmmm, maybe…uh-oh out of Mom-time. Time to head over to the meeting spot inside Innoventions. Where I stood waiting for fifteen long minutes, as I was early and they were late. Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda stayed longer in the shop.

Now for a treat I had been salivating at the mere thought of - fish and chips from Yorkshire County Fish and Chips over in the United Kingdom. On our last trip, we thoroughly enjoyed piping hot, crispy fish with salty hot chips and an ice cold beer, while sitting in the warm sun on a chilly day with a view over World Showcase Lagoon. Nothin’ finer. (I could write advertising copy for Disney, huh?) Today’s experience was slightly different: the fish was hot but not crispy; the chips could have been cooked a tad longer; Coke not beer - not quite the same; the broiling sun in the humid, 92 degree air did nothin’ for me; and finding a seat in the crowd was difficult, to say the least. Bubble popped - on with the show.

By now, it was past noon and we all had had enough of the sun and the heat and the pushy people. Since we were right next to the International Gateway, we discussed taking a Friendship to MGM where the OKW bus stop was front and center. Although the boat rides had been playing havoc with Alissa’s motion sickness, she acquiesced in this plan. First, though, could she please, please have a Mickey bar, please? The Dad and the Kid plopped me down on a bench in the shade right at the IG and took off to hit the ice cream cart we had passed along the way. I waited and waited and thought they were lost - the cart had closed by now and they had to walk “pretty far” to get a McDonald’s Crunch McFlurry. Err, isn’t that all the way …never mind. Timing was perfect as a Friendship was waiting for us (and the nice crew never said a word about the ice cream) and we continued on, enjoying the views of all the Epcot resorts. Gotta stay here one day! At the Swolphin, the Captain tried to entice a duck, standing quacking at the doorway, to waddle completely aboard but had no luck as he had no bribe in hand. He asked if anyone had a cracker or similar snack and then kidded Alissa that he didn’t think ducks went for ice cream. The duck decided we were not going to be easy targets, so off he went.

Upon arrival at MGM, we hustled to climb right aboard the waiting bus - timing is everything! On the walk to our villa (by the way, the walk from villa to bus stop always took about 3 - 4 minutes) I had to step over a tiny snake, lying dead in the gutter. Shudder!!! I don’t like snakes existing in my universe and I especially don’t like physical reminders of that existence. And no, it is not possible that they are more afraid of me than I am of them!!! I moved right along to our villa, just in case his momma came looking for him. I called dibs on the bathroom, turned on the light and surprised a tiny little gecko who ran to hide behind the toilet - what, did we enter the Animal Kingdom and nobody told me?! Lizards don’t bother me but I was apprehensive that this little dude would startle someone (an 11 year old someone) but catching him was out of the question. John took his turn in the bathroom next and emerged with an unusual decoration on his shirt - the lizard had run onto a magazine sitting there, John had picked up the magazine to carry the baby outside and the gecko thought John’s upright chest looked the safer place to be. One tiny lizard safely deposited back outside. This concludes the wildlife segment of the day’s adventures.

Now for the really incredible event of the day - I took a nap! Very rare occurrence for me (usually only when I’m sick) but I was plumb tuckered out. The heat, humidity, and crowds were sucking the energy from us, day by day. My husband joined me in napping and I think my tired girl rested those eyes for a bit, too. Since we were all beat, we decided to order in a pizza and take it easy. I ventured forth to the Conch Flats store for goodies to complete our nutritious repast - little doughnuts and ice cream. All the major food groups would be represented with that list! Except, they were out of ice cream - out of ice cream, sacrilege! Seriously for a brief sec, I think their suppliers were having hurricane related shortages, as quite a few staples were in short supply, mostly ones that required refrigeration. Conch Flats was still having some water related problems, also, as fans were usually left running over damp carpets there.

Over our dinner of completely inedible pizza (and they charged how much for this??) and wish ice cream, we laid our plans for the morning assault. First thing in the morning was the only time we were getting anything accomplished; past that and the hordes and the heat made life in the parks unbearable. The next day, Thursday, was slated for Early Entry at the Magic Kingdom but we had gotten quite a bit accomplished there. How about bypassing that entirely and fade left - let’s be off to MGM by 8:00 and let the Official Ride Chooser do her thing. We set up our waist packs, laid out breakfast and clothes and we were ready to Rock ‘n’ Roll (er Coaster)!

I did some housekeeping chores since we were staying in - started the dishwasher and two loads of laundry. Lovin’ that washer and dryer - with the heat, we were going through a couple of changes of clothes, undies, and socks a day. Of course, every time I tried to leave the laundry room, I turned the wrong way; when’s the last time you had to complain that you kept getting lost in your hotel room?!? I also filled the Brita pitcher we had brought and filled the Brita water bottles; these worked out so well for us on this trip. I dislike the taste of the Orlando water but I am also sensitive to the different mineral contents of water when we travel. The Brita products seem to filter out enough to alleviate any problems and they’re certainly cheaper than $ 2.50 a bottle! We would carry a Brita bottle with us and refill it at water fountains whenever we needed to; even refilling constantly, I still don’t think any of us were drinking enough in the heat.

Again, fireworks heard off in the distance past nine - made me wish we had gone to MGM to see Fantasmic as we had originally planned but I knew I would have been sorry if we had gone. It would have been a mistake, pushing all past their limits. We all had to accept that we simply would not get done what we had hoped for and that things had to be done differently than planned. Even though we live in Baltimore, which is almost as hot and humid as Florida, we weren’t usually outside for long stretches of time and we weren’t usually surrounded by crowds of pushy people. Get over it and adapt to the way things really are, not how you hoped they would be. I’d vowed before we ever left home that this was NOT going to be a killer commando-type trip that leaves you absolutely exhausted, in need of a vacation from your vacation. Now, if only I could keep that vow and keep the Magic in our World.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Up and out at 7:50 … Woo Hoo! Last night certainly paid off as all were well rested, well breakfasted, and well ready. A Disney-MGM Studios bus pulled right up and we were off; we made it to MGM to be the first ones in line for the opening. I went over to the Guest Relations window and the nice CM made us a 5:00 Priority Seating for Le Cellier; she seemed a little disappointed that she couldn’t do more for me but I couldn’t think of a thing. Next I tried to stave off the stop that was sure to be coming, as soon as the rope dropped, by hitting the loo before I got back in line with my gang. Stan, an elderly CM, was giving the kids in line Mickey stickers. When he gave one to Alissa, I told him I was really a kid inside and he promptly handed me a sticker, too. No flies on Stan.

The ticket agents were setting up the turnstile machines for the day and I avidly watched these procedures and asked some questions. First, they send an alcohol card through to clean the heads. Then, an expired pass is sent through, all four ways, to check that all the heads are reading correctly. Next, the entire reader is wiped down and programmed for the current day. Again, I totally enjoy being in on the mechanics of how these things work.

At 8:50 AM, I was the first one let through the readied turnstile, after the little opening ceremony. We were only allowed a short way down Hollywood Boulevard before we were halted by CMs holding a rope. A bit of a lecture followed, the most important part being “don’t run over the CMs in your haste to be the first one down Sunset Boulevard - it’s sorta frowned upon”. I had a chat with a Canadian while waiting here, when I commented on her accent when she said the word “out” as “oat”. She said that and “eh” were the dead giveaways in her speech. Then, we wondered what was happening in Britain this week, as clearly all the Brits were in WDW. You couldn’t walk five feet without hearing that dead giveaway accent; I never did get a chance to ask if there was a holiday in England that week.

The rope dropped and we walked sedately down Sunset to Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. Even though it was at opening, the exterior snake lines were set up and we were made to walk back and forth, back and forth. Onto the pre-show, where I was busy wondering if I was insane for trying this. I did go through with it but do not ask me about the ride. My eyes never opened - whoa! too fast for me. John was also just a bit unsure and Alissa…ride junky!! This was her new favorite and would remain so for the rest of our trip. Let’s do it again! Mom said let’s not and I went off to procure FastPasses for Millionaire. The nice Dad went with her, again a walk-on. This would prove to be a mistake as far as John was concerned.

All met up again outside the Great Movie Ride, which was still a walk-on. This morning strategy was paying off better than the usual Early Entry strategy for us. At the entrance to the Great Movie Ride, I asked the rather unpleasant CM out front if the cowboy side was running. With six previous rides under my belt, I have only ever seen the gangster side of this attraction - I wanna see what I’m missing and see that bank blow up! Not today, though. The CM said I was “out of luck” with “s - - t” implied at the beginning of that answer. Warning - another minor rant … Why are all the Cast Members here always so nasty?? Why do they make you all bunch up until rows are overflowing and then the last couple of rows are completely empty?? This has been my experience here on six previous days, not just on this one particular day; other guests have also mentioned the same experience, so it’s not me alone kvetching. Rant mode calmed down but not off on this particular subject. All enjoyed the Great Movie Ride, especially Alissa, who remembers only bits and pieces of this attraction from previous trips.

Onto the Backlot Tour, where we waited maybe two minutes prior to the “sub” plot (hee-hee). I had steered us all to the back row so no splashes for us - yeah! Onto Catastrophe Canyon (which was as cool as ever) one of my faves. The newbies seated behind us weren’t too sure if this was supposed to be part of the tour or truly an accident - I think the father’s fight or flight mechanism was well and truly activated. And let me just say that it was great without the Residential Street and Backlot part of the tour - got to do only the two parts you can see over and over again. I will miss Residential Street for the Osborne Family Lights but besides that, once you’ve seen it, you’ve seen it. We could catch a tiny glimpse through the construction fencing at the muddy site of the new Lights, Motors, Action extreme stunt show - can’t wait for that in 2005. (Gee, sounds like I’m planning a 2005 trip, huh?)

The giant Coke bottle stop was just putting out Cokes on ice as we walked by on our way to our Millionaire FastPasses, so we stopped for a drink. I wanted to call Guest Relations to make a lunch PS for 50’s Prime Time Café, one of our favorites, but my cell phone reception was not great. I asked a passing CM if there was a Guest Relations phone back here somewhere but she looked at me like I was nuts and pointed to the pay phones. I tried my cell in the smoker’s area (cough, cough) and got through to be put on hold. My connection was so poor all I could hear was faint music to know I was still connected. Finally got through and got the lunch Priority Seating time.

Alissa was eager for the WWTBAM - PI! experience and thoroughly enjoyed it; John not so much - he’s by now had enough of this and sat back and didn’t enter any choices. I was too busy blowing on my hands as it was FREEZING in there, as we were seated right under the huge blower ductwork, with AC pumping outta that sucker. A teenaged girl from England made it to the Hot Seat and did fairly well with the decidedly American questions. The host, who had been the stage manager on Tuesday, asked how many Brits were in the audience and fully 75% of those present raised their hands. I could have told him if he had asked me!

Up the wheelchair ramp and into the Sorcerer Hat area (don’t even get me started on the inappropriate location of this hat - totally ruins the view of the Chinese Theatre; I think the hat would look great in the plaza between the buses and the security area, off by the side where you pass to catch the Friendship). Characters abounded, as did the attendant lines - total madhouse. In general, we saw more characters in every park than I had ever seen previously; some familiar characters and some so obscure I wasn’t even sure of their identity. Our 11 yo daughter will now run screaming in the opposite direction from any character interaction. I sort of miss meeting them all, but I don’t miss the pushy, hoggy parents one little bit.

Early arrival at 50’s PTC meant a too brief sit down in the living room, watching TV, before we were whisked to our usual table (we always seem to sit at the same table). John was feeling the effects of too much fun and wanted only an appetizer - I suggested the Boursin with raspberry sauce, as touted by Sue Holland in a trip report, and this was a hit with him. I got my usual pot roast and Alissa her usual fried chicken. The server was laid back and gentle about A not touching the dreaded green beans and elbows on the table; since he was kind enough to change the hot fudge sundae to a Hershey’s chocolate sundae for her, he was forgiven this lapse in the usual 50’s attitude.

My memory kicked in once outside and I dragged all to the well outside Indiana Jones to pull the rope, the one marked “do not (crossed out) pull this rope!” I got one faint “stop mucking about up there” - is that it? My memory isn’t good enough to remember what it used to say in the past.

Briefly discussed was a new adventure upon Tower of Terror but decision was made that it might be a tad too soon after lunch; onto Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, which was a walk on. Yes! Unfortunately, I dropped my waist pack as soon as I sat down and worried the entire time that it would zoom off on one of the inversions, with my entire life inside, gone forever. Didn’t happen, but with one eye on the foot trying to hold the bag strap down and one eye shut, not a wonderful time was had. And, why didn’t I think it was too soon after lunch for this, duh!?!

Having had about enough of MGM, we moseyed out to take the waiting Friendship onto Epcot, where we planned that the father/daughter duo would get us FastPasses for Test Track. My foot was bothering me at this point (why later) so I just kept on moseying. All met up at the Friendship dock but it was closed for rehab. Luckily the other dock was open and a boat was on its way. After disembarking, we all adjourned to the loo in Germany. I was so busy laughing to myself about my friend’s (German) husband’s reaction to this area that I completely forgot to check out the trains. Heat must be getting to me because this is always my favorite stop. Oh well, maybe next time.

Onto Italy, where we did remember to wait for Imaginum, A Statue Act. This is one of Alissa’s favorite things in life, since our trip to Las Vegas where we discovered the Venetian’s incomparable statue act. First rate but since we will never, ever go to Las Vegas again, she’ll make do with Disney’s version. We saw the same lady statue that we always see, who was as good as always. Is there more than one performer here? A was a bit disappointed as, since she was the first to go up to the statue, she got a straight picture with no tomfoolery. Lots of funny business for the ones that followed and the statue allowed lots and lots to follow; in fact, she stayed past the time when her handler was trying to nudge her to disappear. Quite a nice gesture on her part.

The whole time we were waiting, I was eying up the Gelato cart; finally I succumbed and got a frozen cappuccino for me, plus a frozen strawberry drink and a frozen lemonade for the others to fight over. I couldn’t resist a cannoli but although we ate every last morsel, I much prefer the traditional cheese with chocolate bits as opposed to this which had bits of fruit that I didn’t especially care for. We walked along the promenade, enjoying the last of our treats, to the good ole’ USA.

The Voices of Liberty were performing when we entered - Alissa joined those on the floor and the two old fogeys sat on a bench, soaking up all the air conditioning available. When we went upstairs, I was surprised to hear the announcement that we could sit wherever we wished and that we were asked to move only about two thirds of the way into the row (as opposed to move all the way to the end of the row). Alissa and I being the only ones that had visited this attraction, she warned John that it was boring but he didn’t find it so, being quite the history buff. As I’ve probably stated, I enjoy anything audio animatronic so I get into this presentation. I would very much like to visit the area under the seating to see how all the vignettes fit under there and how the mechanics work.

Continuing on our tour, we strolled over to Japan, in time to catch the last few minutes of Miyuki, the candy artist. Awesome performance and my child was extremely disappointed that this would be the only time we would be able to catch her act. Somehow, we can never fit the EPCOT performance times together with what we want to do - maybe I have to try harder to plan it out. Later that night, we saw someone still carrying one of Miyuki’s creations - it was sorta mushed from Test Track and the heat; sour grapes but it lessened A’s disappointment at not being able to choose an animal for her own creation.

On to Le Cellier for our early Priority Seating. We were seated in the farthest corner booth, where we inhaled the famous cheddar cheese soup and the bread trio. It worked out well that each of us liked one of the breads, so we could be pigs with absolutely no guilt. John ordered a dark beer that was the “special”, Tres Pistoles, which was absolutely delish. Mother and daughter, being so adventurous (not), both enjoyed a filet, mashed potatoes, and asparagus and almost licked the plate clean. This was where riding Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster three times caught up with John…he didn’t want to chance eating anything other than the soup and decided to go back to OKW to lie down. A definite must for future trips; Alissa and I felt better with some proper food in us. No visit to Canada would be complete without seeing a moose, so DD ordered Le Cellier’s version - a chocolate mousse made to resemble a moose head. Take one large scoop of chocolate mousse, topped with chocolate crumbles, with blueberries for the eyes and maple leaf cookie ears, all plopped on a large chocolate chip cookie. A second, smaller scoop makes the snout with a big cherry for the nose; long chocolate whiskers and a red sugar tongue are drawn on the white presentation plate. Totally clever presentation and totally delicious!

DD and I wandered around World Showcase for a bit and then snagged a spot under an umbrella to wait for Off Kilter, just as it started to sprinkle a tiny bit. Here comes another cultural difference example: A middle-eastern woman and her teenaged son walked up, and the mother stood right in front of Alissa, not three inches between them. The boy sat next to Alissa, literally touching her, he was so close. The mother stood partly in the drizzle, while the boy ate from a plastic container of food she had prepared. My DD was very uncomfortable but waited it out, and they left shortly. Next came an American Dad and his teenaged boy to wait - this boy wouldn’t get within a foot of Alissa, even if that meant he wasn’t protected by the umbrella. The Dad told the boy to sit there patiently for a bit to give his Mom, seated behind us, a minute of peace to enjoy the show she had been anticipating. It seems she had read a trip report that raved about Off Kilter; must have been Sheri, huh? This whole time, the British Invasion was playing off in the distance; they sounded just like the Beatles to me.

We enjoyed an entire set of Off Kilter and had still more entertainment from the audience. One rabid fan set up a video camera in the middle of the open area where all the kids sit; then, sat on the little stone wall up in front of the stage, taking still pictures of the band. One woman standing at the back totally grooved to all the songs, clearly not a newbie to this stage. I’ll never be able to tell you which songs Off Kilter performed, but I was happy to finally get the experience and know what trip reports are referring to.

Next we took off to Test Track for our FastPass time. Great ride, with Alissa immediately running back to the entrance to take advantage of John’s FastPass. Picture me running behind her to make sure she got safely admitted into the queue, as it was now one minute past our FastPass window. I’ve read how some folks use their FastPasses hours, or even days, past the return time. Not to be a total priss, but I disapprove of this abuse of the system. The system would fall apart if everyone felt that they were “special” and could get away with the abuse. I didn’t feel that one minute would constitute abuse but that’s probably because I’m so “special”. I sat inside people watching, waiting for A; she had another great ride with a very nice Mom and little one on board her car.

To the loo, as usual, then off to Mouse Gears for a bit of shopping. I bought A an RnRC postcard she wanted as a souvenir and myself that yellow t-shirt that I had so admired. I ended up hating it on, as my bra straps showed, and it wasn’t cut right for me. Should have been more patient and tried it on. Oh, well.

Walking out of Epcot, I phoned John to let him know we were on our way “home”. Alissa walked right onto an Old Key West bus at stop #5 - she caught right on that the bus was at the “wrong” stop. The Mom thought that she was getting on the wrong bus; the Dad’s hearing may never recover. I have rarely been that happy to get on a waiting bus (and I’m always happy when a bus is waiting!). This day had turned into a twelve hour marathon and it had been a huge mistake. When we finally got back and I took off my shoes, I realized why my feet were bothering me. For the first time ever, I had blisters on both feet, by my big toes. Blisters + swollen feet + heat rash = miserable Les. It was soo past bedtime - only one full day left. Would I be able to walk in the morning??

Friday, August 27, 2004

I struggled out of bed reluctantly this next morning and loaded moleskin onto both feet. I had now been carrying this package of moleskin since our first trip in 1998 and never used it before this; thankfully, it wasn’t dry rotted and was still sticky. By the way, it’s not fun to peel super-sticky moleskin off wet blisters at the other end of the day; I didn’t know this before - who says WDW isn’t educational? Again, we went against our standard Early Entry Park routine, and went to the Magic Kingdom in time for the opening ceremony and rope drop. We were sweating bullets just standing there waiting, which didn’t bode well for the rest of this, our last full day.

Hurrah! my AP finally worked - a little scary how long it takes me to master simple things. John and Alissa power walked ahead to get us all FastPasses for Splash Mountain; then we rode Big Thunder Mountain Railroad standby, which was a walk-on. A very nice CM, whose name I asked and then promptly forgot (sorry!), let us stay on for two more rides (thanks!). The first time we moved from the last car as someone was waiting for that particular car; then, we stayed seated for one more go-round. By this time, John’s stomach had had about enough of roller coasters for a while.

My daughter and I tackled Chickapin Hill next with our FastPasses. We were happy we had stopped to put on our ponchos as we were drenched by all the drops, not just Slippin’ Falls. In front of us in the log was a tiny little guy who was totally into the ride experience - themeing, music, and splashes - while his mother clearly would be thrilled never to ride Splash Mountain again in her lifetime. She said that she was glad she hadn’t taken the time for a shower that morning as she sat there dripping wet and agreed that they could do it again. What troopers so many parents are at WDW!

Our trio decided to take the train to Toontown to access the back of the park one last time (sob). While waiting for the train, we had another pleasant conversation with the station master; we had chatted previously about his experiences in Syracuse, NY with snow blowers and his current experiences with the heat and hurricanes in Florida. Guess which one he’d rather deal with! I related my story from Sunday of the confused woman who thought that BTMR was the WDW Railroad and he got quite a chuckle out of that one. From the vantage point of the train, a lot of the “behind the scenes” devastation from Charley was still evident - there were still lots of brush damage and some big trees down and/or chain-sawed.

We all walked the “secret path” to the Space Mountain shop where we enjoyed the air conditioning while Alissa looked for souvenirs. Onto Carousel of Progress for one last spin; I am always afraid that COP will be dismantled before my next trip, so I ride it whenever possible. Next, my other favorite old timer, Tomorrowland Transit Authority, was my requested attraction. By now, we were thinking about something to eat so the decision was made to head out for the Polynesian; Alissa’s request was to go by Monorail as she couldn’t stomach (GI humor) the thought of the launch. At 11:26 AM the Kona Café was still serving breakfast and the unpleasant CM (usually she’s very nice) told us we’d have to wait until their noon lunch start to get seated. Maybe a Charley problem?

J & A both wanted lunch anyway so I gave up on Tonga Toast (again!). I thought I’d at least get a cup of the wonderful Kona coffee at the takeout but it was closed - AAARRRGGGHH! This place drives me insane with its hours; the only place on property to get a fabulous cup of coffee and it doesn’t open until 7:00 or 7:30 (at least in the past) and it’s closed by 11:30 - what’s up with that???

At the kid’s request, we went downstairs and I waited at Guest Services to get a PS for 50’s Prime Time Café; J & A sat by the stone wall and watched the kids hula-hooping it up near the TV area. Alissa always laments the removal of the parrots from here in the lobby as she so loved them on our very first trip - they remain one of her favorite memories. The Polynesian always seems welcoming and comfortable and like we’re coming home - still my favorite resort. I was incredibly entertained while on line by a guest complaining about her bill to a CM earning her ears. This “lady” was trying to get away with all kinds of stuff: she had a deal for a % off her first night - why wasn’t that % taken off every night? (Well Duh) She didn’t understand all these “extra” charges …ummm - Florida sales tax and county resort taxes. (Duh) And she was NOT paying “all these ridiculous phone charges - how was she to know there was a charge every time she picked up the phone?” …gee, how about it’s posted in about three places, including ON THE PHONE!! (Duh) And, she certainly couldn’t be expected to pay for all the store charges, oh no! (Duh) Thankfully, the new CM was rescued from the evil witch by a Poly pro CM who: deleted the telephone charges, couldn’t delete the taxes, and stood firm on the store charges as she couldn’t change what the family had bought. OMG!! If you stand at Guest Services long enough, I guess you’d be even more amazed that the CMs ever feel or are able to project any Magic! The CM who fulfilled my simple request for a Priority Seating was typically warm and thoughtful and gave me leis as a good luck enticement to return to WDW and the Poly in the future, when I mentioned this was our last day.

Out we went to the new Polynesian bus stop location. I don’t know when they made a real bus stop location but it was a simple, great idea. I never liked standing on those steps right in the traffic flow immediately in front of the resort and figured someday some antsy little one was going to get nailed by a car. We sat in the shade and watched an overtired child pick all of the foam blades off of her misting fan in little tiny pieces and then meltdown when no one could fix the fan. It was a loong bus ride to MGM with her still going at it and the whole family loudly blaming each other for not stopping her destruction. Really not feeling the Magic with this bunch!

John took off to procure FastPasses for Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, which was down, and the Mom/Daughter team headed to 50’s PTC to put our name in awhile for our PS. I was evil and lied to the hostess Cast Member and said our whole party was there, as John would be there momentarily. Sure enough, we had no sooner sat down in the living room and John arrived. Once seated at our usual table (yes, we sat there again!) Alissa and I ordered our usual fried chicken and pot roast, respectively, and DH tried the chicken sandwich (so-so), we all shared some fab onion rings and a huge brownie sundae and DD got a glowing ice cube drink in a souvenir cup.

Off to the tip board to check out RnRC; it was still down but the helpful CM was nice enough to call ahead to check if the store was open ‘cause Alissa really wanted a Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster souvenir. It was indeed open so we took off in pursuit. Had to laugh at some very unhappy people who pushed past the whole line of CMs trying to advise them that the attraction was down and were then surprised at the attraction’s closure- another Duh! moment. Alissa was tickled with her purchases: a tie-dyed RnRC t-shirt; “Minnie” wearing “leather” pants, sparkle shirt, and platform shoes; and “Mickey” in a tie-dyed shirt with a backstage pass. Some of the incredibly bored CMs were making a play list of Aerosmith songs and all were having fun with the guests - the joint was rocking even without the coaster part.

By this point, my blisters were making themselves felt, so it was back to the villa for naps for all. John and Alissa decided to hang out at OKW for the evening; they went to Hess for gas and got a pizza there for $ 6.00! Both said it was a million times better than the $ 26.00 so-called pizza from the other night’s delivery. They were kind enough to return my t-shirt disaster and pick up my souvenirs that had been waiting at Conch Flats. This is an amenity that you don’t hear much about - you can return anything bought at the parks, with your receipt, to your resort gift shop and save lugging the package (and not have to go) back to that park just to make a return.

John “ordered” me off to Wishes and, surprise, surprise, I went. The weather was very uncertain and I was the solitary rider on the bus to the MK. Although my blisters protested loudly and clearly, the bus driver paid no attention to them and dropped me off at the absolute farthest bus stop. The Magic Kingdom was packed and I immediately started to question my decision to come, while looking between all the people and all the clouds. I went upstairs to the train station and guests were already starting to hold spots - I just couldn’t face sitting there that long so I rode the train all the way around while deciding what to do. By the time we completed the circuit, there wasn’t room for Jiminy Cricket to view Wishes from that particular vantage point. I went to the loo while I had the chance and wandered down Main Street to Casey’s Corner. I got a hot dog, some horrible fries, and a large water and made my way outside to look around. I found a seat on a bench across from the tip board, facing the Castle; many passed this by because the tip board blocked a bit of the Castle but I figured that the majority of the fireworks would be high and I’d rather have a seat for the wait. While waiting, the sky completely blackened and there was lightning off in the distance, so no Tinkerbelle flight for this particular extravaganza. This was an incredibly long 45+ minute wait; I enjoyed sitting and people watching but still questioned my sanity in coming to the park just to sit and wait. That still seemed better than the alternative, though, which was walking on my poor feet in packed conditions. Finally, Wishes began - this was truly the most amazing show I have ever seen. Twelve absolutely delightful minutes of oohing and aahing! Can’t wait to see it again…and again! Of course, then followed the inevitable solid mass of people exiting the park, the long wait for a bus, the crowded-to-the-max ride back to the villa, hmmm. Yes, it was worth it!

My loving husband was waiting up for me and we went over the morning plan for checkout day. Oh, if only the Magic were to continue and whisk me Magically home. **sigh**

Saturday, August 28, 2004

I was rudely awakened by the covers being swept off me and two attacking ticklers - have I mentioned that I am no good before coffee? Especially on my last day of Magic, the dreaded check-out day. The original plan had been for me, Leslie, to pack up while John took Alissa to the Early Entry park, Disney MGM. The night before, I had asked John to pack up the electronics and the food, as we had brought way too much stuff. He had gotten up at his usual 3:00 AM (yawn) and conquered these tasks plus started in on packing the car; I simply could not have gotten it all done without him. I sent the troops off to MGM, for Early Entry, to have yet another go at Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. They later told me that it was near riot conditions, with guests staying off property not understanding why guests staying on property were being allowed early into the park. I sorta forgot how many newbies don’t know all the ins and outs of Walt Disney World; except…wait…this is our sixth trip and I still don’t know all the ins and outs, so no need to sound so smug and superior.

I relished a moment’s peace and took a shower before finishing packing up and loading the car. I checked over the bill, which was waiting on the door, and smacked myself in the forehead when I realized we had forgotten to use our Annual Pass discount during the trip. What fools we! I drove the car to Hospitality House and parked under a tree, for as much shade as possible, and went to wait at the bus stop, while calling my gang to see how far they had progressed and where we were to meet. I got them just as a bus was pulling up for Epcot, so the decision was made for me to hop on and they would make their way towards Epcot, too. This would work out well as we had a Priority Seating for an early lunch at Le Cellier so that we could get a great meal into Alissa prior to our car ride up North. Once again, I had the bus to myself. By the time J & A zoomed up and we got in line for security, it was only 9:00 - whew, got a lot done already!

All were indecisive about what to do; the Official Ride Chooser decided upon Spaceship Earth, one last time. Always a good choice, in my humble opinion. Let me mention how sad it is to walk out into what was the Global Neighborhood; now a dark, empty expanse of nothingness. Some of Alissa’s favorite things to do, since she was four, had been in this spot. It just looks so forlorn and depressing!

Our family trudged over to the Land next. What a difference from the other day! Absolutely NO people! Sustenance was needed so we grabbed a cappuccino and muffins; Alissa choose a decadent chocolate dessert, with the excuse that it was the last day of vacation. All the goodies hit the spot!

I know many think the Land boring but I actually enjoy it. Maybe not every trip, but it’s a laid back, cool escape from the teeming masses. At least this early in the day - I wouldn’t have said that upon seeing the teeming masses in here the other day! I usually find Living with the Land interesting and informative. Unfortunately, on this day, our tour guide had a grating voice and made it obvious that he had given this speech one too many times. Also, a bunch of the screens weren’t working properly but I still managed to enjoy the experience.

We split up for the next bit - Alissa wandered through Innoventions East and we found an e-postcard waiting when we arrived home. I took John over to see the latest incarnation of Journey Into Imagination, which he had yet to see. Okay, minority major rant here. This attraction sucks!!! Alissa and I loved the middle incarnation - here’s the minority part - that everyone else thought sucked. We were never privileged to see the original JIYI, with Figment, so I don’t have that for comparison. I just know that when my daughter and I went in 2002, we totally looked forward to seeing the reincarnation of one of our favorite attractions. And this from the kid who hates 3-D and smells, etc. She was livid when we exited and vowed never to return; she maintained that vow again today. John thought the attraction was stupid and disliked Figment and I still miss the old version. Oh, well.

My big sweetie walked over to find my smaller sweetie, while I walked over to find a shady bench by Le Cellier and put my feet up (sorta hard to do on a bench) to rest my blisters. We all trooped into Le Cellier early for our seating time; Amanda, our hostess, played a game about Canada trivia with us; none of us guessed right. Hanging our heads in shame, we sat down to enjoy the Canadian goodies. This meal was a replay of the other night, with boring A and I getting filets and mashed potatoes. John enjoyed the cheddar cheese soup again, along with a salad. Our server, Ashley, had included a little card, with the bill, thanking us for coming and sending wishes for our return to WDW. We filled out the little survey/satisfaction card that comes along with the check, just as we had all week, whenever one was offered. An aside here: I was excited to be asked twice during the week to do a survey in the parks by a cast member with one of those little computers; but they only wanted to know 1) where we were from 2) was this the last or only park we were visiting that day. I was a little disappointed not to be asked for more opinions but maybe they knew they’d be still standing there listening 15 hours later!

When we left the coolness of Le Cellier, Amanda, our hostess, was out in World Showcase soliciting guests to come in to the restaurant to eat. I was surprised how many guests took her up on the idea; and how many guests had no idea that Le Cellier was located there or, even, what it was. We waited our turn and then asked Amanda, pretty please, if she’d take our picture with Canada as the backdrop. She was reaching for the camera before the words were out of my mouth and took the only picture of the whole trip of the three of us. She was cheap, too! Thanks, Amanda!

We bid a sad adieu to the World Showcase and left through the International Gateway. We watched the painters working on the boat dock canopy while we waited for the Friendship to arrive and dock. They had also been working on the Old Key West Southpoint bus stop, the entire bus stop area at MK (as I mentioned), and another bus stop that I just can’t place in my memory banks right now. I had the impression that this was planned maintenance rather than hurricane damage, but I don’t know that for sure. We did overhear yet another conversation between the boat crew cast members re the double shifts they were working. We had heard quiet conversations all week about doubles, and absentee co-workers, and all the hurricane related problems cast members were having. Yet, as guests, we were never made aware outright that there was a staffing problem - this was never given as an excuse for anything. Onstage, it was Magic as usual. The only thing that I noticed in several locations was planters that needed watering; I’m sure the landscaping staff had much bigger issues they were dealing with.

As I sat musing on all this during the Friendship ride, I smacked myself in the head again. I completely forgot to check out the tin toy exhibit in Japan! This exhibit had been on my mental “must do” list and it’s another thing that I never thought to do. What is up with me?? Must be the heat as I totally zoned!

Our private transportation back to Old Key West was waiting for us at MGM; yet again, there was a bus in the OKW slot and yet again, we were to be the only passengers. This happened frequently during this week; probably because we tended to come and go at odd times. This was a benefit of Annual Passes and multiple trips - we knew what we wanted to do and went and did it. Back to the Hospitality House for the last bathroom break and for one last look through Conch Flats. When unable to prolong the dreaded trip end and departure a second longer, we went out and opened up the car. Tenners off (yes!!!), waist packs unbuckled, drinks out of the cooler, and AC set on high - off we go. Bye-bye Magic!

On the road, we passed a multitude of utility trucks heading out, with small numbers of trucks heading into the area, on the other side of I-4. Time passed as we drove and drove. We reached Kingsland, Georgia and were assigned the same room at the Country Inn; we had not requested this arrangement and it was a little eerie, but at least we knew the layout. Once our minimal setup was completed, we headed across the road to the Ponderosa Steakhouse. Now, John and I haven’t been to one of these in twenty years and we should have left it that way. ‘Nuff said. We put our tired bodies to bed early.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

John woke me up by pulling my pillow out from under my sleeping head so that he could pack it. No AM lollygagging when he’s up and about. A good breakfast again and on the road for a late start of 8 AM. We did encounter lots of storms through Georgia as a tropical storm was hitting the coast. A LOOOOOONG 12 ½ hours and 939 miles later, we were home again. I am happy to report that no one threw up once! I also must confess…I spent part of the journey planning a trip for Alissa and me. Now, if we stay at the Beach Club….

Once home, we found the e-postcard Alissa had sent from Innoventions and we received a survey card from Old Key West. Alissa’s lost sunglasses clip was returned by Lost and Found, a little the worse for its Splash Mountain adventure. This simply flabbergasted me because a) they had found them and b) what WDW goes through to return guests’ possessions.

While still ignoring that last unpacked suitcase, Alissa saw me reading a post on Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and wanted to know what the heck MNSSHP stood for. Guess which Mother / Daughter duo is going to check it out??? Port Orleans French Quarter - Here We Come! Guess which Dad decided he couldn’t be left behind??? Boy, those Annual Passes are dangerous!!!

Final Thoughts

I had some final thoughts about Walt Disney World, in general, and this trip, in particular. Here they are in random order, if you can still focus your eyes at this point:

  • Even if Central Florida normally does not see hurricanes, when they say it’s hurricane season…believe them!! I will never again disrespect that warning.
  • Brita water bottles are your friend. We drank more than I thought possible - and we still didn’t drink enough fluids. August is HOT!!
  • This last week of August is normally a quieter time in the Parks. It sure wasn’t quiet during 2004 - I have never seen these kinds of crowds in WDW (and I hope never to again!). We could handle the heat, we could handle the humidity, but we just couldn’t take the crowds, too! When they say “historic attendance figures” do not take that as a promise of attendance figures for your particular vacation!
  • Old Key West is a wonderful resort - I regret not taking more advantage of the facilities available. I cannot emphasize enough how blissful it is having a washer and dryer available in your accommodations, especially in summertime. If we had paid for that many loads of laundry, it would have equaled a night’s lodging on property! Even with the size of the villa, we still couldn’t get away from each other at times. Picture me, a la Larry Wilmot, sitting on the closed toilet reading, while everyone else was asleep. The two sinks were good for morning ablutions, but my DH says what’s really necessary is two toilets!
  • Not having Mouse-keeping come every day was a relief, not a bother. I only missed clean sheets a little (I refuse to change/wash sheets on vacation!) and I just threw a load of towels in a couple of times. I welcomed the feeling that all would be as I had left it and didn’t have to worry about a Mouse-keeper’s time schedule.
  • Annual Passes are the most devious marketing strategy that Walt Disney World ever came up with! You just have to return again…and again!! Yes, we did go to see Mickey for Halloween and had a blast. Now, about that next trip…
  • I was the only idiot that had trouble with the biometric scans; they worked fine for everybody else. Two fingers, not three.
  • Driving to Florida is the pits! Considering all the stops that we made, I don’t think we realized significant savings over flying - I mean, you can’t just stop to use a restroom; you have to buy something to justify using their facilities.
  • Great Britain must have been a minimum of two inches lower in the sea this week, ‘cause all the Brits were in WDW! There were also a considerable number of Spanish speaking peoples but you couldn’t walk a foot without hearing a British accent.
  • The majority of guests were friendly, polite, and respectful. It still amazes me when you can spontaneously chat with a total stranger and come away smiling and feeling the Magic.
  • It is important to remain flexible enough to throw your game plan out the window and go with the flow of what’s making sense in the moment. This is where being informed on WDW really comes into play - if, when you arrive at Maelstrom you find the wait to be 1 hour +, you know that the Mexico pavilion is steps away and you can, instead, check out El Rio del Tiempo. If one food venue is packed, how about the one across the way. Knowledge goes a long way to handle the crowded Disney experience.
  • WDW needs to open more eating choices earlier than 11 AM!
  • Pay attention to where your bus stop / pickup location is located when you arrive at a park - it’ll be a lot harder to figure out in six mind-numbing hours!
  • Even we can get tired of little powdered sugar donuts!
  • We were as entranced by the ducks and the lizards as we are by the animals at Animal Kingdom (maybe not the snake, though ***shudder***). We never did make it to Animal Kingdom, the hottest park, on this trip - next time for sure.
  • Pay attention to the strengths and weaknesses of your entire party, especially in August heat. There were lots of red-faced, heat stressed, overtired parents and kids. Naps or a daily break are essential. My daughter says that this was her favorite aspect of the trip - it felt relaxing, not stressful. And do not overlook your poor feet…take time to take off your shoes and socks, air them out a bit, and change your wet socks.
  • Our best decision of the week was to re-evaluate our “style” of doin’ Disney. Early Entry (Extra Magic Hour) just wasn’t working for us as it usually did. When we avoided the Early Entry park, the flow of the day improved dramatically.
  • Before separating, even with cell phones, make a meet location. Cell reception is iffy in many locations.
  • You can’t do it all - you may not even be able to accomplish all on your daily plan. Get over it and go on with enjoying what you can do. Don’t be one of those people screaming at your kids, because you’re tired and they’re tired and it’s hot and it’s crowded and you’re behind schedule. The idea is to have fun; schedules are for real life, not vacations!
  • On this, our sixth journey to Magic, I am still amazed that we never run out of things to enjoy, many for the first time. Whatever your age, whatever your adventure level - there’s something for everyone. We totally enjoyed doing attractions that we had not previously experienced i.e. getting out of our rut.
  • I am unbelievably fortunate to have a wonderful husband who, though he doesn’t feel the Magic in the same way that I do, journeys with me on the road to Magic. And a daughter who is Magical to me every single day of my life. And a father and stepmother, who gave me such a Magical birthday present.
  • Kudos to all the Cast Members of Walt Disney World. I am blown away by what they handled post-Charley, both in their Magical lives and their real lives. To have done so with the grace that was displayed is humbling. Thanks for a Magical trip.

Thanks for reading this far - you must truly have stamina! I never realized how much work went into a trip report but now that I have finally completed one, I’m hooked. Next up will be an attempt to write about our Halloween adventure with the few notes that I actually took. Feel free to e-mail me with any questions, comments, or suggestions but put “OKW trip report” in the subject line or I’ll zap you gone.

Leslie Meister


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