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Sheri Niklewski -- April 2004 -- Walt Disney World (Offsite)

The Cast

  • me - Sheri, age 42 - lover of all things Piglet, the optimist in the family - working as an accountant for a manufacturing company that makes rubber keypads. OK - everyone that has a remote control within his reach, look at it. See those numbers that you press? There's a rubber keypad under that plastic exterior. That's what my company makes.
  • husband - Rich, age 44 - total Eeyore and will doom and gloom just about anything

We're both experienced Walt Disney World visitors with over thirty trips each - all of them together except our first one when we were teenagers. We live just seven hours north in the Atlanta metro area so it's a fairly easy drive for us.

When -

April 8 - 11, 2004. It's Easter weekend but totally necessary and we'll deal with the crowds.

Introduction -

Rich and I haven't had the best of luck in keeping jobs in Atlanta and since we moved here three years ago, we haven't had any time where both of us have been employed. In fact, we went through quite a long time with total unemployment. And if a marriage can survive that, well, you can survive anything. I guess 2004 might be a good year as I got a great job right after the first of the year. To celebrate, I quickly looked at going back to our favorite place. We had been to Disney World in September of 2003 and it didn't look like another trip was possible until jobs were secured. Once I had mine, I got the holiday schedule and saw that we had Good Friday off. I started planning.

Where to Stay -

I knew that staying onsite was not going to be an option this trip. The Annual Pass rates for the value resorts started at $74 and that was a little too high for us. I figured that since it's the spring break/Easter season. So I looked at other options, using mousesavers.com for suggestions. I wanted lots of flexibility because of our history - who the heck knows what we'll be doing in April when I'm making reservations in January? I definitely did not want our credit card charged three months before the trip. I also wanted the option to cancel 24 hours in advance and not be locked into anything or have to pay a penalty if our plans changed. That left a lot of the cheaper options like priceline.com and expedia.com out of the planning.

I normally will go through travelocity.com to see what's available and then use the appropriate hotel main website for the actual reservation. That way, you usually will get the 24 hour cancellation policy (or even by 6:00 PM the same day). But through mousesavers.com, I tried something different. Valuetrips.com. I got a pick of three different Kissimmee locations - Holiday Inn Maingate, Howard Johnson Maingate, and Rodeway Inn. For each, I was shown the rack rate and then the value rate. I got to "bid" on the value rate. Which was basically just picking what I wanted and submitting the request. If the hotel accepted it, then I had the rate. Cancellation policy was 24 hours prior to the check in date. And no immediate credit card charge. Perfect for what I wanted and needed.

I dismissed the Holiday Inn because their rate was higher than Disney's value rate. For $99, I'd much rather be on property! And that wasn't a great "value" rate at all. I had stayed at the Rodeway Inn before and while it was OK, it's nothing spectacular so I just checked them in case it was dirt cheap. That would be the only way I'd go back there. $45 for a standard, $49 for a deluxe which included a microwave and a mini-refrigerator. Not bad for the Easter weekend but I knew the rooms were on the "worn" side. Then I checked the Howard Johnson which is next door to the Rodeway but I've never stayed here. Same rates as the Rodeway Inn but hopefully a little better accommodations. There was one extra thing with the Howard Johnson. I could get an efficiency for the same price as a deluxe room. We'll get a mini-kitchen with utensils and cooking items. I'm not sure we'll utilize this feature but it'll be nice to have. The $49/night rate was not bad for the Easter weekend.

Of course, I would have loved to stay onsite at All Stars or Pop Century. But that'll wait until a lower price season or we win the lottery and all our debt disappears. The difference in the room rate will probably cover our meal budget. Plus, Rich's tolerance level for hotels seems to be $50/night and I'm doing that here.

General Plan - Or "The We Don't Have a Plan Plan"

We normally will not do the entire seven hour drive down all in one shot. We kind of have a driving plan that works for us. We'll leave our house around 6:00 on Thursday evening which should be after the normal rush hour traffic. Rich will take us through Atlanta. We take I75 south and detour around Macon with I475. There's a rest area along this route so we will switch drivers there. I take over and get us to south of Valdosta around 10:00 PM or so.

We stay at a Days Inn in Lake Park, GA at exit 5 on I75. Nothing special but it's functional and the price is right ($36.75/night). I make the reservation via the internet at www.daysinn.com. They also have a frequent stay program that coincides with Howard Johnson. Good deal for this trip. After a good night's rest, we'll be on the road by 8:00 Friday morning. We also use this opportunity to gas up at the lower Georgia prices before we venture into Florida. Rich will take the first leg of the drive and get us to Ocala and the Official Disney Information Center. We'll stop and use the bathroom break and check out the gift shop. Then I take over driving and get us onto Disney property. With this plan, we can be going through a turn style by noon at the latest. I'm not sure if we'll try and check into the hotel before we go to a park or what.

After that - well, we have no idea. We haven't been there in seven months so there are a few new things I'd like to try. Animal Kingdom just opened up the new walkway between Asia and Dinoland so it would be nice to see the new construction over there. Also, we didn't do Flights of Wonder on our last trip or the Safari on the trip before that so those are options for a quick trip to Animal Kingdom. The fireworks show at Magic Kingdom (Wishes) is also new for us. We might take that in on Friday night from the Contemporary fourth floor viewing area. At Epcot (our favorite park), The Living Seas has been redone with Finding Nemo characters and there's a new preshow at Honey I Shrunk the Audience. Also, Wonders of Life has been operating on a "seasonal" schedule but it's going to be open for the holiday weekend so we might duck in here to see Cranium Command just one more time. MGM is always an option with Rock N Roller Coaster and Twilight Zone but we'll see if we make it to this park.

I did make a priority seating for dinner at the Biergarten in Germany for Saturday night. I'm not sure we'll keep this but I wanted something in case the crowd levels were too high for any alternative.

We do have many more trips planned for this year so it's not essential that we see all and do all. It's a short trip and we'll totally go with the flow. I'm just very happy to be back after a tough last year.

Admission Media (or tickets for the non-Disney people) -

This has been a test of total Disney planning. Or lack thereof. We will see what happens.

Our nice dilemma is that we actually have too many options with tickets we already have. And utilizing them for future trips. Besides this trip, we have two planned in May - one for just one evening for a special concert at Epcot and then our typical Memorial Day weekend.

Last trip, for the first time, we didn't have Annual Passes. We went with the cheaper option of five day hopper passes. We only used two days on the passes and thought it would be quite a while until we went back to Disney World. After lamenting to my mother-in-law about not having Annual Passes for the first time in five years, she and my wonderful father-in-law bought Rich and me vouchers. It's not the real Pass but you trade this in for the AP. Once you do that, your 365 days to use the pass starts.

So, there we are - three unused days on a hopper pass and AP vouchers to start whenever we choose.

The simple way is to use two of the three unused days on the hopper pass for this trip (for Friday and Saturday). Drive home on Sunday and not enter a park. Then, use the remaining one day in early May for the one Saturday we'll be at Epcot. Again, drive home on Sunday. Begin our Annual Passes on Memorial Day weekend.

Then you throw in my addiction to Off Kilter at Epcot. A Celtic rock band that performs at the Canadian pavilion. Rich is a fan too and we have all three of their CDs and play them quite often. However, they usually play Sunday-Thursday. So we wouldn't see them if we only visited the parks for two days. I really wanted to go into Epcot on Sunday just to see them. However, Rich doesn't want to burn the extra day on the hopper pass. He wants to save that for the one day May trip. Again, we'd face not seeing Off Kilter on that Sunday too.

So we are tossing all the admission choices we have into our bags and going with the flow.

Mode of Transportation (we go from Christine to Jasmine) -

I wanted to add this in because with the last couple of trips, we've had some car issues. I dubbed my car "Christine" because she tended to act up at the worst times. She locked me out, she tooted her horn for no reason, she dropped the rear view mirror - all while at Disney World (on separate trips, thank goodness). I lamented on the last trip that Christine was on her dying legs.

And she was. She decided that a quick trip to Kroger one day was too much and gasped her last breath along the side of the road. With just me inside. I don't know how I did it, but I managed to save her and get her off the main road. She was towed back home and we had to get a replacement. Christine served us long and well for ten years. We will miss her tremendously.

This trip will be made with someone new - Jasmine. Yes, from "Aladdin". She's a Chrysler Sebring convertible. Hey, I had to have some fun now that the son is married and I'm over 40! Jasmine is black, sleek, and very sexy. So to Larry in Scotland - there's your car story for the report.

And Jasmine will get a present for her services. Christine blessed us with a red, white and blue Mickey antenna ball. Jasmine will get something similar to wear.

Day One - Thursday, April 8, 2004 - "Carry On My Wayward Son"

Getting through a work day when you know you're going to Disney World at the end of it is just pure torture! I was pleasantly surprised to see my boss leave early in the day so I took every advantage to get all my work done and I was out the door by 4:15. We still weren't going to leave until 5:30 or 6:00 to try and let the Atlanta traffic die down just a bit. Since we're north of the metro area and Disney World is south, we have to go through the meat of the city. It's kind of suicidal to do that at the height of rush hour.

I did take some time and poured over the entertainment schedule on Steve's site (http://pages.prodigy.net/stevesoares/index.htm). To my surprise, I saw that the Oktoberfest band at the Germany buffet also performed during lunch. I didn't think they did. I checked the menu on Deb's site (allearsnet.com) and saw that the buffet was $5/person cheaper for lunch. Humm… what would we be missing? Sauerbraten and fish are only offered at dinner. Well, fish wasn't a big deal - neither Rich nor I like fish. I honestly had no idea what sauerbraten was and since it's meat, I wasn't sure if Rich liked it. He replied that it's sour meat and he wouldn't be eating it at all. With that news and the info that we'd be saving $10 on the meal, I switched our priority seating to 2:00 for lunch. Still not sure we're keeping the seating but at least we have it.

We got everything packed up and hoped we remembered everything. Then we corralled up two of the three cats for their rounds of medicine. Todd, the king cat of the house, is on anti-anxiety pills. We have the extreme pleasure of forcing a pill down his throat once a day for the next month. Then we tackled little baby Belle who was diagnosed with an ear infection. For that chore, we have to put drops in her ear. Sounds simple but not with little Belle. I think vise gripes would help with the situation. Total success with Todd and somewhat of a success with Belle. Our middle cat, Gus, is the perfectly healthy one but he doesn't like watching his siblings get "tortured". All three of our children will be taken care of by a wonderful cat sitter who just happens to work for our vet so she's well versed in taking care of the sickies.

After our parental duties and taking digital photos of flowers (more on that tomorrow), we were ready to go around 6:00. The car, Jasmine, needed some food and I suggested the QT gas station at the exit near where I work. It's an easy on/off of the interstate and the prices seem reasonable. Boy, did I look like a genius! While most of Georgia was around 1.66/gallon for regular unleaded, this station was at 1.52/gallon. And it showed. We somehow managed to find the one pump out of twenty that didn't have a car at it or a line of cars waiting for a pump. Jasmine at least doesn't have the expensive tastes that Christine did. Regular unleaded is just fine for our new girl. Cost here was $15.50 for the car meal and $2 for Rich's never ending supply of Diet Coke.

We hit some traffic but nothing major. Rich handled the driving and about an hour and half from Valdosta said that he could do the whole drive tonight if neither one of us needed food or a bathroom stop. I was fine so Rich just cruised for four hours. I struggled to stay awake - it had been a long week and my company treated us to the Braves/Mets game the night before. The total blowout of Braves 18 and Mets 10. We listened to a couple of oldies stations and then Rich found a great classic rock station for the end of the drive. The drive is boring but at least the music was good. There's nothing like listening to your husband belt out classic rock - Kansas' "Carry On My Wayward Son" and the standard Queen "Bohemian Rhapsody". With the last one, we do the head bob made famous on "Wayne's World".

We made great time and arrived at the Days Inn at Exit 5 right around 10:00. I checked us in with no problems. No king bed was available but that's fine. The room is clean and functional. There was a strange smell in the room but the air conditioning took care of that. It wasn't a smoke smell - Rich said it smelled like someone had a perm done in the room. We thought about going across the little street and getting McDonald's but neither one of us was in the mood for the short walk. So we dove into our supply of crackers, cookies, and snacks and were fine. Watched "ER" and then "Third Watch" (the rerun on A&E) and then turned in for the night.

Day Two - Friday, April 9, 2004 - "Tank Ya Vedda Much"

The alarm blared dutifully at 7:00. Much to my surprise, Rich was up and in the shower right away. We were both a little groggy but Disney World awaited. I had woken up naturally at 5:38 which is when I usually do during the week. I don't get up for work until 6:15 but my body insists on starting at 5:38. Oh well, I just laid there and thought about the day ahead.

I did find out the one thing I didn't pack. Socks! Well, Rich loves Wal Marts so I guess one is in our future. For sports cards too, I'm sure.

We quickly packed and loaded up Jasmine and checked out. The continental breakfast area was fairly crowded but we grabbed a couple of cups of mini muffins and mini cinnamon rolls for the road. Then we went to top off Jasmine with fuel. We didn't have high hopes for yesterday's bargain and were willing to settle for the Shell's station of $1.68/gallon. But when we pulled in there, all the pumps were full and there were way too many cars already waiting. So we went across the street to the Citgo at $1.67/gallon. Rich ran in for his "breakfast" of Diet Coke while I pumped. Then I saw why the Shell station was so full. If you used your Shell credit card (which we would have done), the cost would have been $1.60/gallon. Drat it! Oh well, Jasmine was happy. I told Rich about the price difference and the wise man said "yeah, but we still would have been waiting over there just for a pump". I went drinkless for the morning since Rich claimed that the store had tomato juice but it wasn't priced so he didn't get me one. Yeah right. He thinks the stuff is nasty looking and tasting. Cost here was $14.10 for the gas and *gulp* - a whopping $1.49 for Rich's Diet Coke. He got two for $2 yesterday.

After a little bit of a discussion, Rich drove the first leg of the trip. Our radio station success broke down as the only things we could tune in were country and rap. Neither one is our style so we resorted to the CD player. There's a big warning if you are driving in North Florida. Not a big choice of music to listen to. We got to Ocala and the official Disney Welcome Center at exit 350 right around 9:30. I did shout "it's Mickey" when I saw the large cut out on the front of the building. Rich just quietly said "shut up". I didn't embarrass him as we were still in the car but he knows this is a special trip for me. We took a bathroom break and walked around the gift shop to see what was new in the past seven months. They did have kid's Donald Duck NASCAR T-shirts on sale for $5 but nothing was small enough for Marlie nor large enough for me.

We did wonder why there was so much traffic from the state of Michigan. At one point, there were about ten vehicles in front of us and eight of them were from Michigan. All were sports utility vehicles and almost every single one of them had additional luggage strapped to the roof of the thing. Was there an evacuation of the state?

I finally took over driving and had to endure Rich for the rest of the trip say how he drove over 400 miles of the journey. Hey, I did offer to drive! And Rich immediately regretted me being behind the wheel. We hit some traffic snags which was mostly double wide load trucks being passed by other tractor trailers and some car drivers who didn't want to pass anyone. I used quite a few select words that will never make it into a family trip report. Pet peeve of the report - when a driver has successfully passed another, please move over from the left hand lane if there is someone behind you who wants to go faster. Grr - speed limit through here is 70 MPH and I never reached that until we were well on the turnpike.

I got us down Route 27 and to Highway 192. At this point, Rich was cringing because he knows I have no patience for the tourist traffic on 192. I freely admit it. Most people don't know where they are going and the highway is congested enough that I get very frustrated. And I had to drive all the way over to the east side. I thought about taking the "short cut" through Disney property since that would put me on the Osceola Parkway and then I could take International Drive South and be right at the Howard Johnson's. But the turn lane to do that was pretty full with cars so I decided to take a chance on going all the way on Highway 192.

Only to be stopped in what appeared to be a parking lot. No one was moving. This was about 11:00. I knew the backup was about two miles until the Disney exit so I used the first left turn lane I eventually got to and made a U turn and came back to do what I thought about doing in the first place. Once I got on the alternative route, we could see Highway 192 and it was packed to the gills. My way was relatively traffic free. Whoo hoo for knowing some short cuts. Not distance wise but time wise.

We pulled into the Howard Johnson's lot and it was a bit tight since there was a tour bus parked stupidly out in front and lots of people milling around waiting to board it. I didn't expect our room to be ready this early and I was proven right. But I figured I could take care of checking in and then just have to come back for the room keys later. That had happened at other offsite hotels in the past and that was fine with me. Except for here. I couldn't check in. I could only "confirm" the reservation. I had to come back after 4:00 for the check in. What? I waited in line now and then I'll have to wait again? I wasn't a happy camper with this but I'd deal with. My relationship with Howard Johnson slipped a notch. Would it get any lower?

Now we had to decide what to do with the rest of the day. We were both lagging a bit with the late night Wednesday, the drive down, and getting up so early today. My initial planning had us going to Animal Kingdom but I wanted to do that much later in the day. The park was open until 7:00 and I figured most people would head there early (it opened at 8:00) and it would clear out in the afternoon. After seeing the Highway 192 traffic, I knew Disney World was going to be packed. I wanted my first visit of 2004 to be as crowd free as possible. So I suggested going to Epcot and a walk around World Showcase and then we'd go from there. Actually, I was angling for a glass of wine in France. Rich didn't disagree so off we went to our favorite place.

Rich wasn't sure I could handle Highway 192 yet again but I was fine. However, the traffic going onto I4 wasn't that good. They were backed up much like the west side was. I4 itself was a parking lot. I was over in the far left lane and skipped by everyone and was on Disney property in no time. I wonder if something happened on I4 and that's why everything was so backed up? Didn't matter, we were finally here. Of course, I did mention several times to Rich that if he had been driving, we would still be on Highway 192 since he wouldn't have known the short cut and ways to avoid the messes.

I parked us at the Swan and we got park ready. I moved everything into my camera bag and Rich pulled out his cell phone to call his parents. Bobbie and Ed had just gotten back from a two week trip to Arizona and Las Vegas and they attempted to reach us on each on our cell phones. But with our schedule of the past few days, we never hooked up. We traded emails but that wasn't enough for my in-laws. They wanted to hear our voices. With my parents, no news is good news but with Rich's, it's constant check ins after every trip. Theirs or ours. I guess it's a good lesson to learn - you never outgrow your parents. Chris will be reading this later so there's your warning, dude.

The main topic of conversation of this phone call was about the flowers growing in our front yard. Rich's family is so into nature and he had to give his father a very detailed description of the flower. Total geek stuff to me. What color, what shape, what were the leaves like? Multiple growings or individuals? How high? How round? Rich promised to email Ed my photos of the flowers.

With the family business taken care of, we walked through the Boardwalk and over to Epcot. It has been a long seven months and my back was singing "Ava Maria" by the time we got over there. Oh well, small price to pay for being here. We put our hopper passes through the turn style and we were here. Rich did mumble "you sure we still have three days on these and not just two?" I think tomorrow we will stop at Guest Services somewhere and settle that matter entirely.

Our first stop was in France for my wine. Helped settle the frazzliness of the drive. That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it. We peeked into the shop in Morocco and I saw the shirt I liked in September was still there and still $18. But it didn't look so appealing now. Maybe it's a good thing I didn't buy it earlier. We went into a favorite shop at the American pavilion and saw they now have toy figures of historical Americans. Little Ben Franklins (with a flying kite) and little Mark Twains. Very good idea for the youngsters. Marlie might be finding some of those under her Christmas tree this year.

The character bus was out in Japan and there were lots of activity and lots of characters. The lines didn't seem to be that long either. I think having the handlers with the characters has really cut down on the kid pandemonium around the characters. One highly rare pair were there (I rhyme!). Daisy and Donald! Rich and I didn't think we've ever seen Daisy out before.

We were just strolling and my back needed a break so we stopped at the tables at the African Outpost (or whatever that area is called). I like this place since most people hurry by it because it's not a "country". The storytellers were out and we enjoyed watching the families that were in a rush to get somewhere just be drawn in for this entertainment. The kids loved being able to bang on the drums. I think I saw more smiles and relaxation in the fifteen minutes we spent there than I have in the past week. Disney magic at it's best.

After our respite, China was up next. I glanced at my watch and saw it was close to 1:00. I thought that maybe the film started on the hour so we went to check it out. It has been a very long time since we've seen this presentation and it's changed since it first opened. Only nine minutes until show time so we went inside the temple and sat in the air conditioning. Before the film, we were entertained by Si Xian who played Chinese instruments. Very nice. Here's a tip for the hot summer months - this is a great place for a break. Big seating area and very cooling. And extremely beautiful. There's also a display area. The CircleVision 360 film was excellent and I learned a great deal about China. I won't go into all the political aspects of things and the mentioning of Tiannamen Square. Rich educated me on why China just received back land held by the Portuguese. I knew about Hong Kong and all but why the heck did Portugal have land in China? Sometimes I'm glad I married someone who knows all this stuff.

After the film, you are dumped into the gift shop. It's actually a very authentic store so we took our time. Glad we did. I found those medicine balls on sale for $6! Regular $25 and in a very nice gift box too. We're going back at a later time and getting some for Christmas presents. And I just might get some for myself. Keep them in the car for when I get stuck in traffic - hehehehehe. Next up was Norway and a beer for Rich. We took notice that they now have roped off queue areas at some of these carts. Guess it helps cut down on people skipping in line or something. We think it's an improvement in crowd control. Rich got his Ringes and I was denied a glass of wine. I pouted but had to agree that at $5.50 for a glass of Beringer was a bit extreme. I could buy a whole bottle at Publix for that price. Oh well, I did have a few sips of beer to placate me.

We decided to see if we could possibly get a FastPass for Mission:Space. So far, we hadn't noticed any crowded conditions but we were in the relatively safe and open World Showcase. Time to test the water in Future World. We went through Mouse Gear and looked at the Princess stuff for Marlie. She is our little princess. And we looked at the antennae balls for Jasmine. Can't decide on getting a new patriotic one (Christine's is old and faded and I think it should be retired with her) or a sleek black one to fit Jasmine's personality. They did have international ones to cause Rich to ask if they had a Polish one. No my dear, not unless Poland gives up some big bucks to build a pavilion. We passed on buying anything.

Over to Mission:Space. The entrance for FastPass distribution was not in the regular place. It was off to the right and you had to enter at the back of the booths. We couldn't even see when the return time was until we were all the way up there. If we had, we wouldn't have bothered with the walk. It was 2:00 and the return time was between 8:00 and 9:00! We just laughed and I mentally put off a Gary Sinise fix until next trip.

We didn't even bother with Test Track so we went to the "seasonally open" Wonders of Life. I was happy this was available this trip. We absolutely love Cranium Command and I didn't think we would be able to see it again. Six minutes until the next show and we were entertained by the Cast Member here. He proudly announced all the things Wonders of Life had to offer (I'm sure this guy knows after next week, they are closed down) and then launched into every single pavilion in Future World and what you could do there. A rather large crowd had gathered by that time. I think that if people hear something, it's like Pavlov's Bell - they come. One final time with General Knowledge and Buzzy (or Fuzzy or Skuzzy). Bittersweet but the show is outdated. I'd love for it to come back with the same storyline but different actors in the roles. Jim Carrey as the adrenaline gland. The Rock as the heart.

We passed on Body Wars since I tend to get a bit queasy on it. Then we walked past all the closed things and lamented on a great pavilion left to die without upgrades. Do some renovations on this and you'd have a killer left side of Future World. Instead, we have two prize pavilions, one OK, and a dead one. Rant mode off.

By this time, we were definitely in a need of a break but the only other thing I really wanted to see was the new Finding Nemo stuff at the Living Seas. Walked over there (I'm definitely getting walking exercise already) and had Rich say the stupidest thing he could. "Hey, has that stuff over there always been here" while he pointed to the Finding Nemo display. I about shoved him into the crashing waves at the Living Seas entrance sign. This is a great photo op for getting your kids (or yourself) in front of it. But bear in mind it's in the direct sun and it's going to be hot, hot, hot in the summer time.

I wanted to wait until after 4:00 to get back to Howard Johnson's so I could be assured our room was ready. I suggested we go back to the car but stop at the Spoodles takeout window for some beverages and a nice sit along the Boardwalk. That's truly how I know we are back at Disney World. Sitting there and watching the people and hearing the Friendship boats blow their whistles. Pure heaven. We made our way around to the International Gateway with a quick stop at the pin cart in between Canada and United Kingdom. We saw birthday pin we'll probably pick up for Marlie (her birthday is next month). Yes, I know more Marlie references but she is our granddaughter and we spoil her rotten. Rich heard a guy say "let's make like a tree and get the heck out of here". I hope the guy was kidding. If not, he's in the Biff Tannen World.

While we were on this walk all around Epcot, I was throwing out ideas of what we could do for the rest of the day. Wishes was mentioned since I wanted to see that but it wasn't necessary and with the early mornings, I wasn't sure a 10:00 thing was going to happen. Plus, things were crowded already. Not getting into the hotel room was also a factor. Dinner needed to happen, etc. So I just made suggestions and let Rich mull them over. That works well with us. Then Rich came up with his idea. That really works well with us. He suggested that we go back to the hotel, check in, relax and then go to New York Pizza World. I knew he was thinking about that place. It's been a while since we've been and it's his favorite here. My husband is a fantastic person so I agreed to his "just thought of" plan. Little did I know.

On the way out, we saw Princess Aurora signing. I wish I had something for her to sign. We had an incident with Marlie last year. She spied Sleeping Beauty at the Magic Kingdom but she was just leaving. Marlie absolutely loves Aurora. We have got to get that little girl back here again.

We exited Epcot and got our hand stamps. We had no idea of what we were doing that evening but needed those pesky stamps. Oh, for when we go back to Annual Passes! Passing by the ESPN Club, I did take notice of the new signs for the seating lines. No mention now of smoking versus non-smoking. I didn't get confirmation but I believe that the entire place is non-smoking in conformance with the new Florida laws. We also noticed there appears to be a new basketball throwing thing set up right outside here. Four throws for $5 and they will probably rake in all the guys trying to impress their women.

At the Spoodles takeout window, we were behind a mom and her post teenage son and daughter. They discussed their choices which were a large cheese pizza and waters. The daughter exclaimed "what are we going to do with the pizza!?" The mother and son both said "eat it". Duh! Oh well, we did find out they were from Pennsylvania (the daughter talked to the Cast Member) so we forgave the blond moment. Our drinks in hand, we took a table along the water and watched the sea-going rats, sorry, the seagulls. We did see three ducks fly in and land on the lake. The two males swam off together for fun and the female swam in the other direction. Reminded us of Todd and Gus doing their thing and Belle hiding out in our room. OK, the ducks aren't as fuzzy as our children but we were doing the parent thing.

I wanted to check out the candy store here for treats for work. Very glad I did. You can now get a bag of candy or jelly beans (they are candy aren't they) or taffy for $5. Mix and match flavors. Very cool. We're seeing Rich's parent in a few weeks and we can give Ed (who has a huge sweet tooth that is closely monitored by Bobbie) a nice gift bag. We will definitely be back to do this. Larger bags are $10 (didn't look to be twice the size of the $5 bags) and gift tins are $7.99. And for the kids - there are ready to mix Pixie Sticks. Different sizes and you can also mix and match flavors. So if you want your kids running around with pure sugar, go here.

Back to the car and we popped the top on her. The day was just beautiful. In the mid 80s with the sun out but not that bad. Rich did get raccoon eyes since he didn't wear a hat but nothing major. Off to the hotel for some down time. I did confuse Rich as I took a left turn out of the Swan and went down Victory Lane and past Pop Century for the Osceola Parkway.

And then to the Howard Johnson. I'm so glad I had the glass of wine beforehand. This was the total breakdown in customer service and when I'm the customer, well, it's not pretty. I was proud of not raising my voice or cussing but I was totally ticked off a half hour later. It was just past 4:00 which was check in time and I figured there would be a line. Fine. I waited. But at one point, all three clerks were either typing on a computer keyboard or talking on the phone while we waited to check in. And waited. I realized I left my credit card in the car so I yelled out to Rich to bring it in (he stayed with Jasmine because her top was down). He brought it in and was dismayed to see I hadn't progressed at all.

I was finally helped and went through the whole process of giving all my info and credit card. And then was told that the clerk had to wait to see if my room was ready. Housekeeping had to call back. What the heck is up with that? Rich was off to the side and he watched everyone who was checking in before me and after me. The people that had just walked up got their rooms immediately. Anyone who had been there before to "confirm" were being made to wait for their rooms to be "cleared". Most of those people just meekly went off and sat to the side. I stayed at the desk. More people checked in after me. Every time the phone rang, I looked at the clerk and said "that might be my room being cleared". What the heck does that mean anyway.

After ten minutes of this nonsense, I looked over at Rich and said something to him. The clerk then told me that the reason it was taking so long was because we had a "special" room with a fridge and microwave. Um, I reserved this months ago - you didn't realize that more than ten minutes ago? How about five hours ago when this was all "confirmed"? I asked the clerk why they had a 4:00 check in time when they couldn't have rooms available. She said "well, check out time is noon and we have 500 rooms to clean". Um, don't tell me housekeeping can't start before 12:00. I waited a little more and noticed that the clerk had a Manager tag on. I then asked her if she couldn't do anything to speed up the process. She said it was housekeeping and she couldn't do anything about it. I snapped at that point and said she was a manager and she should do something. I still hadn't moved from in front of her station. She helped others around me. Sorry but I was a little ticked. I guess my last shot got to her because I was finally given my keys. We were hassled by those cheery folks trying to sell you timeshares and I had a few choice words for that woman as well. Lady, if I didn't get enough of your shrill thing while I was waiting for the past half hour, why the heck do you think I want to listen to you now?

We went back to the room and unloaded. I have no idea what took them an extra twenty minutes to "clear" our room. Rich joked it was to spray the lemony scent in the room. I thought it was to put the phone receiver upside down. The room is fine and I'm not going to give Howard Johnson's any down points for that. We do have the microwave, the fridge, and two stove burners. Plus all the dishes and glassware. We got some ice, turned on the TBS no brainer afternoon of comedy shows and chilled for a while. This wasn't turning into a great Disney day. Bring on the Magic! Could that happen?

Around 6:30, we headed out for New York Pizza World. I had Rich drive us up Highway 192. With my mood, I didn't trust myself. We wanted dinner and then a night time Disney World thing. Wishes was still an option but so was Illuminations. Everything was to be decided later. I needed a boost. And I got it.

When we walked into New York Pizza World, we saw Manny. This guy is such a treat. He's one of the reasons we come back time and time again. We don't always get him as our server but when we do, it's an experience. Rich said "Manny!" Manny did not remember us (we didn't expect him to and certainly didn't expect to see him there) but he greeted us and made sure we sat in his section. He took our drink orders and then remembered us from our previous trips. He said he would not try and talk Rich out of a large pizza this time! This guy is just great with customer service. He's from New York and has "retired" down to Florida. He still claims he's going to officially retire in June when his daughter and wife both graduate from college. Great guy. Totally a 180 from Howard Johnson and Manny restored my faith in human relations. Rich ordered us a great garlic cheese bread and a large pepperoni pizza. A family of four was seated next to us and they just about gagged when our very large pizza was brought out. We only had three slices left over and I think the kid next to Rich was amazed with just how much "food of the gods" my husband can pack away. Total here was somewhere around $25 and we tipped Manny way over 20% - he's that good.

It was during dinner that I told Rich this was such a nice choice after the long day. Totally changed my attitude. Rich got this very sheepish grin on his face and confessed that he had thought about coming to New York Pizza World a few days earlier and tried to work it into today! That dork! He said that when I offered up the Spoodles pizza, he decided to pass because he thought he could work in his first choice later (Spoodles is second). That man played me and played me well. All the Disney World planning you go through should just be shoved out the window once you are actually there. Of my initial thoughts, nothing went according to the "plan". But things would work out so well.

After the fantastic dinner, it was back onto Disney property. Rich was driving and we were still discussing what we wanted to see. Wishes or Illuminations. I thought we'd be too late for a good Illuminations viewing (it was close to 8:00) but Rich said he wanted to do that instead. I trusted his good judgement so we went back and parked at the Swan and walked through the very crowded Boardwalk and hustled ourselves over to Germany. This is our favorite place to watch Illuminations and it was already 8:40 but there were a few places along the overhang. Rich used the time to take a bathroom break while I staked out some space. We were kind of behind a planter but we know the show enough that we were fine. Rich came back and I traded the break with him.

For the show, well, I knew I'd have a Moment and this was it. We were standing next to a German family and this was their first visit. We also had first timers behind us. Just listening to their reactions and emotions was more than enough for me. And the fact that I love this show. It was a long hard day and Howard Johnson's was horrible but this just made everything bad about life disappear. And then the topper. The German guy next to me just quietly says "Tank Ya Vedda Much" for Illuminations. I walked out of there singing "Promise".

Through the Boardwalk which was positively absolutely mobbed. Huge lines at the ESPN Club, the Spoodles takeout window and even Big River Grille. After 9:00 at night. We headed back to our room and the first run "Third Watch" and some relaxation. Long day, some frustration but enough magical moments to make anyone understand why we keep coming back over and over again.

Day Three - Saturday, April 10, 2004 - Jasmine almost dies

Rich and I agreed to sleep in this morning and my body let me do that until 7:45. I stayed in bed until 8:30, though. I didn't want to get up and disturb Rich. But then I had enough so I was up working on the report and scheming just a little bit on my own. If Rich could get to New York Pizza World, I could get some alone time on the trip. Around 9:00 Rich asked what time it was so I told him. Then I casually suggested that I still needed those socks (I wasn't wearing the same ones three days in a row - two was enough, tank ya vedda much) and would he be a sweetie and run down to Wal Mart for me? I knew he'd jump at the chance to check out the sports card situation too so my alone time was sealed.

With Rich out of the way for an hour or so, I just worked on the report. I did have housekeeping look into the window (I had the shade pulled barely back) to check if anyone was in the room. We had the Do Not Disturb sign on the door and this was only at 10:00 in the morning. Where were these people yesterday when I was waiting at 4:30 in the afternoon for my room to be "cleared"? Rich came back with some cards for him and socks for me. I told him to go cheap and boy, did he ever. Five pairs for five dollars. The only problem was two of the pairs were polka dotted! Well, at least I can wear those around the house. He did try and was totally intimidated by all the choices women get. He also said the customers at Wal Mart reminded him of the zombies in "Dawn of the Dead". Glassy eyes, shifting feet, just the thoughts of the familiar surroundings.

I didn't really want to get to Animal Kingdom too early since I thought the park would empty out towards the afternoon. We set a time of noon to finally head out. It was an absolutely beautiful day without a cloud in the sky. Temperatures in the high 80s. We popped the top on Jasmine and cruised on over to the Animal Kingdom Lodge. This place is so nice with its lobby and the savannah. We took the Lodge's bus over to the Animal Kingdom. Not a long wait at all for this.

After going through the turn style, I asked Rich if he still was concerned about how many more days we had left on our passes. He admitted he still was. So I went over to Guest Relations and told the Cast Member we had a bet on who was right. She swiped my card and said "the person who said one day is correct". I just smiled sweetly at Rich and told him to trust me on things Disney.

We walked back to see what we could at Animal Kingdom. Chris' anteater wasn't there and we didn't think he would be - the only times we've seen this guy is when Chris is with us. Hence, Chris' anteater. We checked out the "big board" that lists the wait times and weren't really thrilled with the stand by times but thought we'd just do what we could with FastPasses. We had to decide what to do first - Kali River Rapids or the Safari. Rich just got this silly grin on his face and said "wanna get wet?" I always get soaked on Kali. So off to Asia. Rich looked at his watch and said it was only ten minutes until Flights of Wonder and that's a favorite of his. I thought about running back to Kali and getting FastPasses for later. Rich needed a bathroom break so we split up and were going to meet at the show.

Rich was successful, I was not. Kali FastPasses were for three hours in the future so I passed. I didn't know if we would be in the park at that time and having those FastPasses in hand for that length of time would prevent us from getting another pass for the next two hours. Rich was disappointed but I reminded him we'd be back again and the parks were so crowded we should just enjoy what we could.

Flights of Wonder did not disappoint yet again. They have this one bird who will fly out to a guest in the audience and take a dollar bill out of his hand. The volunteer this time was a guy sitting in our row. I got some great photos of this. I just love it when the audience reacts so positively to the birds. After the show, we had to swim upstream a bit since lots of kids and their families were going towards the stage to see the birds up close and personal.

We went over to Africa to check out the Safari situation. It was going on 2:00 and the FastPass return time was 3:05-4:05 so we did that. My stomach was rumbling and I suggested a beer and a pretzel break and sitting at the Flame Tree BBQ. Rich said something about actually checking out the Flame Tree BBQ offerings. We went over there and the BBQ pork sandwich interested Rich while the half slab of chicken was enough to entice me. $26 later and a fabulous seat down by the water and we were set for a while to enjoy lunch. We had a view of the new walkway between Asia and Dinoland (which was sorely needed and being used quite a bit) and the construction of Expedition Everest. Right now, it looks horrible since it's all just steel beams. But when it's done, I think it's going to be great.

Our food was very good - I am a fan of Disney roasted chicken. Rich finished the last bit of mine and thought it was good. That's high praise since Rich is not a chicken fan, especially one with bones in it. Our window for the Safari had opened so we swung by It's Tough to be a Bug and got a FastPass for that for about an hour away. Stand by time for this was 30 minutes and everything else was longer than that. Back for our two week trip to Harambe.

This safari was around 3:30 in the afternoon and we saw plenty of animals. So the thought of having a dud tour in the heat of the day goes out the window. We even had to stop for a long time in a line of vehicles to wait for some animal up ahead to get out of the road. My only complaint was the driver was from east Tennessee. I guess Disney ran out of African Cast Members for this attraction. Going on a safari with someone with an American Southern accent just isn't the same. Oh, and can they change that song they play on the radio? I think it's more annoying than "It's a Small World". "A-woo-woo-woo, a-woo-woo-woo". The driver did comment that the singer sounded better than that guy on American Idol who butchered "She Bang". Rich did not get that reference at all and neither did most of our jeep. I about busted a gut, though.

We had timed the FastPasses correctly (kidding - you can't really time the FastPasses, we were just lucky). We had just entered into the window for It's Tough to be a Bug. We went over there and I was confused when we went into the holding area. At least for now, FastPassers go through a totally different entrance and are actually at the front of the area instead of the back. So the entrance doors were on our right instead of the left. Threw me off. Once I realized what was going on, we moved back. I like this show from the back of the theatre. We didn't get that far back because the holding area was full but enough. Since we were some of the last people left in, we had to take seats towards the end of the row. I missed some of the effects but that was fine. I still enjoyed the others' reactions.

After the show, the exit was quite interesting. A total Moo Mentality. It's hard enough to exit this show since the theatre holds so many people and the only pathway out isn't that wide. Plus, parents have to retrieve their strollers along the way. We held back but not enough. It took even longer because they had the area at the end roped off partway because of the parade route. Total ugh. We thought about going to Dinoland and checking out Primeval Whirl but decided against it. Rich isn't a fan of the attraction and I didn't feel like walking all the way back there. It'll still be here next time. We headed out before the parade began. We had a good day at Animal Kingdom and will be back to do things we didn't do this time.

We had a full ten minute wait for the bus back to the Animal Kingdom Lodge. I used the time to review the photos I took of Flights of Wonder and the Safari. Got a great shot of an elephant in front of one of those upside down trees. The bus came and we had the only encounter with a rude family. There is a queue line for waiting for the bus. It wasn't that full. Once the bus came, this family came in from the other side and butted in line because they had a stroller. Big deal. That doesn't entitle you to any special treatment. The bus was no where near standing room only capacity.

Rich suggested what we normally do and that's to go to Epcot for a stroll. I jokingly suggested checking out Mission:Space for FastPasses. I knew that this late in the day, they would all be gone. The day had been so nice but Jasmine had a little surprise for us. She's black, inside and outside. Inside, she's leather too. And she had had a nice long sit in an unshaded parking lot. We went to pull the levers to pop the roof but I ended up burning my fingers! So we turned on the air conditioning full blast. Lesson learned - this girl gets covered for the Georgia summer. My company parking lot doesn't have shade either. Big hint if you rent a car with leather interiors in Florida in the hot summer months.

We drove over to the Swan, sweating all the way even with the air conditioning on. I did find a shaded parking spot although I knew it would be after dark by the time we got back to the car. Rich said something about visiting France first. I knew what he meant - a wine for me. I didn't argue. But I did request that if we did that, we sat down for a while. We had been walking for quite a long time. We criss-crossed a lot at Animal Kingdom and it's a long walk from the Swan to Epcot. With wine in hand, we grabbed a shaded bench and I took my shoes and socks off and let the dogs barking quiet down. Extremely nice break.

Rich mentioned that we hadn't seen very much Epcot entertainment and wanted to know if they were cutting back. I pulled out the schedule and realized that we had just missed quite a bit and were going to miss the later shows too. Everything was there, we just weren't in the right place at the right time. We walked around World Showcase and our only stop was in China to get those medicine balls. I had decided on one set for my mother-in-law and one for me. We had to go through all the choices and finally settled on blue ones with animals for Bobbie and red ones with the sun and the moon for me. They had pandas on one set but I passed since they were green. I am not a green person. Red definitely suits me.

I suggested checking out the singles line at Mission:Space. We did that but Gary Sinise was going to have to wait. 25 minutes for that with a stand by line of 90 minutes. FastPasses of course, gone. Over to Test Track for their singles line. The attraction was down. I jokingly said we could do Spaceship Earth. Rich said he'd do it if there wasn't a line. I chuckled. There's never a line this late in the day. We walked right on there and Rich managed to stay awake this time. After the ride, I said that if I managed to get him on that, could we do Figment too? Over to Journey Into Your Imagination. I had to take advantage of my husband's good mood. Absolutely no one was in this attraction. But there were a ton of people in the interactive area at the end.

We had just missed the start of Honey, I Shrunk the Audience so we passed on that. Rich suggested going out to the Boardwalk for a sit and checking out the entertainment there. We hadn't seen Randy the juggler for a long time and I knew that's who Rich wanted to see. But on the way, Rich heard Test Track operating so we headed over there. 60 minute stand by and 35 minute singles riders line. No thank you. But Rich mentioned that maybe since Test Track was running, Mission:Space wouldn't be as crowded. Over there. Singles riders time of 10 minutes, stand by of 50 minutes. We did singles riders. It was longer than ten minutes but we had no where else to go so we endured. Gary Sinise awaited me!

Rich and I were in the same preshow but on different teams. A word about the singles line. Your party WILL be split up. In the two cases at Epcot with singles riders (Mission:Space and Test Track), it's easy to meet up after the ride. Just make sure you don't do this if you have a child who doesn't understand to wait at the end. In our case, it's a great way to enjoy the attraction without a FastPass and without an extremely long wait. I was on with a foreign family who, I think, were using their headphones as translators. I was the navigator and we were ready to blast off. And then we did. I really couldn't hear that much of Mr. Sinise because the family with me were whoo hooing and whooping it up so much! They absolutely loved this ride. That had me into it so much more. Extremely nice ride.

Rich was off just a little bit ahead of me and we walked that long, long, long exit hall into the interactive area. We met up there and then decided to end our day on this high note. Or was it the end of the day? We still had the Boardwalk to walk out of. Which we did. Two hours later.

The ESPN Club and the Spoodles take out window were both mobbed. Rich suggested getting some adult beverages and seeing the entertainment. As we were walking along, we saw the crowd and we heard the shaker cups. Randy is here! We caught just the very end of his show and then asked him when he would be back that night. In about half hour segments two more times. OK, we'll wait. He's that good.

We settled for some beers at one of the kiosks until Randy came back. We got behind some demanding father (he had his young son with him) who insisted that the beer had to be ice cold because the one he got before wasn't that cold. When Rich ordered, he told me he should ask for ice cold beer. I told him to behave. We sat on a bench for people watching. A mom, dad and an almost three year old girl joined us. The father engaged us in conversation and we had such a nice time chatting with the family. They were from Boston and staying at the Boardwalk. They were DVC members with over a dozen trips under their belt. The dad asked Rich how many times we'd been to Disney World. Rich laughed and said "too many" and I said "not enough". Rich then said probably over twenty. I had to correct him and said over thirty. The dad just whistled. It's easy for us since we're so close - we don't have a long drive and don't have to even think about flying.

The little girl, Emma, entertained us with all her antics. She just had to shoot the water pistols at the booth on the Boardwalk. She was insistent on it. She and her mother did that (the dad stayed behind and joined us in a beer) and then came back. Where she was joined by almost two year old Anna and her parents. Neither family had ever met before but the little girls just were attracted to each other. Soon, we were laughing at the bright innocence of such youngsters while surrounded by the Disney magic. Emma's mom said they were flying home tomorrow and had to get up extra early but she didn't care if Emma stayed up all night. She was having the time of her life and that was important. This was no first-time family to Disney World either. Shows you can still enjoy pixie dust after several visits.

We missed seeing Randy coming out for his next show so just caught the very last bit this time too. We still wanted to see a full show so we chose a bench where we could ensure we'd see the entire thing. It was very nice to just sit and do nothing. I did have this little girl come up to the bench, look beyond it to the grassy area behind and ask "are you the Easter Bunny?" Very strange until she left and I turned around. There was a little bunny eating the leaves off the flowers in the garden area. You could barely see him since it was dark but he was so cute. We kept watching him during our wait. We thought he was cute, not so sure what the Disney gardener was going to think. The bunny didn't touch the flowers, just the leaves.

Randy came out and we finally got to see his whole act. It's been a very long time. Randy is very personable and I'm sure he didn't remember us from our previous visits but he made us feel like he did. These guys see so many people and are surprised when they are addressed by their names.

Rich drove us back to the Howard Johnson and I'm glad he did. Let me just preface this whole incident by explaining that Rich has never had a true auto accident. The only time was when a neighbor backed out of his driveway and into the side of Rich's Trooper. I think the top speed of that little encounter was 20 MPH. My luck, on the other hand, has been horrible. Christine herself was kind of a clone in that she was totally rebuilt after I crashed into a retaining wall doing 55. That was the worst one I've been in. Rich just doesn't understand what happens when your life flashes before your eyes. Chris just asks what is up with me and cars. But anyway, Rich finally had his moment.

We were on the Osceola Parkway just at the I4 interchange. I really wasn't paying attention (I wasn't driving, I was daydreaming) but all of a sudden, I'm flung into the door as Rich yanks the car hard over to the left. I looked to the right and all I could see was black metal. Very close black metal. About an inch away from my window. Rich said the SUV had come up the entrance ramp and didn't even hesitate or look, just moved immediately over into our occupied lane. He was at a very high rate of speed and Rich hadn't really had a chance to move one lane over to let the guy merge. But he did it anyway. Thank goodness Rich has quick reflexes and even more importantly, thank goodness there was no other vehicles next to us.

The SUV then sped up and moved all the way from the right lane to the far left lane and proceeded to make a U turn. I told Rich to follow him and find out just what the heck was so important that he had to go that fast and be that stupid. Rich said that probably wasn't a good idea. But when we got back to the room, reality settled in with Rich and he was furious. I had to spend the rest of the evening calming him down. Now I think he finally understands what I've been through in the past. Too bad it had to happen on vacation. But we were fortunate in that no one was hurt.

Rich finally relaxed enough and we watched Janet Jackson on "Saturday Night Live". Not going to do any boob jokes, thank you very much.

Day Four - Sunday, April 11, 2004 - Hoppy Easter!

I woke up at the extremely nice hour of 9:00. Our only mission today was the first two sets of Off Kilter, time permitting. The weekly schedule of entertainment comes out on Sunday morning so my information was not up to date. We don't do the internet thing while away from the house so we were playing things by ear. I kind of thought the times would be adjusted for Daylight Savings. But we'd see when we got to Epcot.

I worked on the report while Rich rested. Since check out time was noon (as we were so informed by the clerk at check in), we took our time getting ready. Housekeeping once again looked into the window which again ticked me off. Howard Johnson as a hotel is fine. Just take the current staff and replace them with people who actually care and I'll come back. Until then, there are lots of other options.

Around 11:00 we loaded up Jasmine and then went to check out. I made Rich do it. I just wasn't in the mood in case some sort of problem came up. Rich lives the golden life because things went very smoothly and no line for check out. Then off to the Swan for our last visit of this short trip.

The Boardwalk was deserted which was a total change from last night. Once through the turn style, Rich checked the entertainment schedule. I was right. The times changed. The first showing of Off Kilter was set for 1:00 instead of 12:30. The second set was 2:00 moved back from 1:30. So that meant we could only do the first show. Not great but good enough. We still had the seven hour drive to think about. And me with work the next day. Rich did replace the entertainment schedule which had the nearby Cast Member comment "oh, you already have the character greetings memorized?" Chuckle, chuckle, chuckle.

We had enough time for a walk around World Showcase. Things were just waking up. We took our time and made it back around to Canada in plenty of time to grab a nicely shaded bench for the first Off Kilter set. Really nothing to do but just relax. Rich used the time to do some serious bird watching over the Lagoon. He spent a good ten minutes watching and trying to identify some sort of flying thing. I think one of these trips, we'll just spend an entire day sitting along the banks of World Showcase and watching the birds.

Our one and only set of Off Kilter this trip was great, as usual. No Tony on the keyboards again and we think we'll never see him again. Jason on the fiddle filled in very well. After this, we were done. We hadn't gotten Jasmine her antennae ball but I hadn't felt like going down to Mouse Gear for it. We checked the shop at International Gateway but they didn't have it there. Rich had decided on the black one. On the way through the Boardwalk, we checked at the Screen Door and I found the ball there ($4). Small reward for Jasmine surviving last night.

The drive home was utterly boring. We had to fill up on the Florida gas - we had checked all the stations on the way in and here's a tip. The Hess station at Disney World was $1.75/gallon. Stations right outside the maingate on Highway 192 were $1.85/gallon. Stations along Route 27 were $1.71/gallon. Shop around for gas! Rich took the first leg of the drive and I dozed through North Florida. We switched drivers at the Georgia welcome center and then Rich took his snooze. When Jasmine needed food again (thankfully at the reduced Georgia prices), we switched one more time. Rich got the WTF traffic slow downs just south of the metro Atlanta area. No reason for them at all. Just five miles or so when we slowed to 35-50MPH after cruising along at 70. Then we'd go back to the speed limit and then hit another WTF slow down. After several discussions about what to do about dinner, we just decided to grab grub at home so we could see the kitties. Home shortly after 9:00. Todd and Gus greeted us and Belle actually came out from under the bed! We tried to give Todd his pill but he was too ticked off at our absence so we left him alone.

Final Thoughts and Overall Impressions

The only really bad experience on the trip (not counting almost losing Jasmine) was Howard Johnson's. The hotel itself was fairly decent. The things I usually will favorably comment on were there. Good beds (double bed room - we used both), lights kept out of the room in the morning, no noises from our neighbors. The kitchenette area was nice and having the two stove burners would be good. It also was nicely stocked. Sink outside the shower area which helped in the mornings.

All that said, the first impression we received was so negative that I would not go back here again. To have to check in twice and wait thirty minutes the second time was not a good show. I realize that it was right after 4:00 which is check in time but wouldn't you think the hotel would know that and staff accordingly, especially since it was a holiday weekend? And it didn't help that when we first got to the front desk the second time, there were four clerks manning it. But while the line grew and grew, one of the ladies took off. I thought maybe for a break. But Rich told me later that she was going next door (to the Rodeway Inn with whom they are affiliated) to get a light bulb to replace a burnt out one somewhere. And I won't even go into the rudeness of the housekeeping staff to keep peering into our window while we had the Do Not Disturb sign on the door in the mornings. Sorry, but we are not up at the crack of dawn, get used to it. Grr, grr, grr.

I think I've decided that the only night time things we are ever going to do are Illuminations (I need a good cry on every trip) and the Boardwalk. Rich loves doing these (although I think he indulges me for Illuminations) and I like making him happy. We'll see Wishes one day (hopefully with Marlie and we're trying to get her back down there). We didn't take advantage of the priority seatings at Biergarten either. Which was fine. For these short trips, I'm not going to bother in the future to make any priority seatings. We'll go with the flow.

We did some attractions that we don't normally do and that was a lot of fun. The China movie, Spaceship Earth, Journey Into Your Imagination with Figment. We did our standards at Animal Kingdom and Rich got to see Flights of Wonder yet again (he's bird obsessed). Getting on Mission:Space in the time we did with such crowded conditions was great even though I couldn't get to Rich with my goo-goo eyes at Gary Sinise.

We missed on lots and lots of Epcot entertainment but we just weren't there at the right time or in the right place. Of course, I'll gush about Randy the juggler and Off Kilter. Both were great to see after a long time. And Manny from New York Pizza World deserves his own special mention as a highlight.

This trip just whetted my appetite for the future visits. And there will be plenty. The next one is a total insane trip. Basically, one night to see The Grass Roots starring Rob Grill as part of the Flower Power series for the Flower and Garden Festival. We'll see all three shows that Saturday night. Staying offsite again and I think I'll spin the wheel and trying hotwire.com and see what we get. But after that, we'll be back for Memorial Day and onsite at All Star Music. And we have reservations for Pop Century for July Fourth.

So it begins again for me - I went through the past tough year but had a little dose of Disney every day. Makes a huge difference. It's kind of like cleansing all the bad stuff out of my karma. When I read a trip report, I always feel so much better. I hope I can give a little bit back with my adventures.

Feel free to contact me with questions or comments. Please put something about trip report in the subject line. I've cut down tremendously on spammers but they have become quite creative and sneaky. Thanks for reading.

Sheri Kiklewski


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