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Sheri Niklewski -- July 2004 -- Walt Disney World (PCR)

The Cast of Characters

  • me - Sheri, 42 - I do the planning and scheming to get to Disney World. My love for the place borderlines obsession but I think of it as my hobby
  • husband - Rich, 44 - goes along with my "hobby" like I go along with his. Actually he likes the place just as much as I do but he'll never admit it. Although he does have some great replies when our family and friends ask "don't you ever get tired of it?"

We're from outside the Atlanta metro area so it's a seven hour total drive for us. Good for a nice three day weekend getaway.

When - or "Are You Totally Insane?"

The "gulp" Fourth of July weekend!

Introduction -

We have never been at Disney World for the holiday. It is a three day weekend for me and the thought of going to Maryland and being with Rich's family entered my mind for a while. But then the Annual Pass resort rates came out, I did a double take and realized that they were good through July 4. We'll be seeing my in-laws throughout the year so this July Fourth, we're going to be joining the mobs at Disney World. My perspective - you only live once. I know it'll be crowded, I know it'll be insane. But I don't care.

I've always been a patriotic person. To me, Disney World is as American as baseball, apple pie and Chevrolet. I have a chance to be there on the anniversary of our independence so I'm grabbing it.

Accommodations -

As I said, the Annual Pass rates came out and were good through July 4. That really sealed my plans. Value resorts were $59 and when I mentioned that to Rich, he said "wow, that's a great deal, can you get it?" This is one of the reasons I love this man! Yes, he did know that I had contemplated going to see his parents for this weekend and he gladly is going to Disney World instead.

When I called Disney World (the day the rates were posted on mousesavers.com), it was late afternoon. I had to take a few hours to weigh the decisions of family versus Disney World. Sorry family, you lost. The Cast Member kind of laughed a little when I told her the rate code. She said they were swamped that morning with the new discount. I guess even Central Reservations didn't know the codes were going to be out until they logged into their computers that morning. I was asked how long I waited for the call to be picked up. It wasn't even three minutes. The Cast Member said that 45 minute waits were common that morning! Wow! The power of the internet.

When I saw the discounts for value resorts, I immediately just clicked into All Stars. But when I was talking to the Cast Member, I almost hit myself on the head. Pop Century was open! This was a great opportunity for us to check out one of the newest Disney resorts. So we were booked into Pop Century for July 3 and 4. We've watched the resort "grow up" and had a year of silence after September 11 when construction stopped. I think it's fitting we are staying here for July Fourth.

We normally will drive halfway and stay at a nice Days Inn in Lake Park, GA. However, I procrastinated way too long to make a reservation for Friday night of a holiday weekend. I use daysinn.com and no rooms were available for July 2. But there are other Days Inns in Valdosta which is just ten miles north. So I booked one off exit 22 for $41/night. I'm not a big fan of this exit (can you tell I've done this many times) because it's much more congested. But I'm the one that screwed up and didn't make a reservation earlier. I'm going to continue to check since blocks of rooms at the other one could turn up between now and July 2.

There was nothing at the "preferred" Days Inn so we'll just have to deal with the other one. One thing I hadn't thought about - the Daytona 500 is run over the Fourth of July weekend. Lots and lots of NASCAR fans heading to Florida. I guess I should be grateful I got anything in Valdosta.

General Plan -

For July Fourth, we will spend all day at Epcot. It's our favorite park, our favorite group (Off Kilter) will more than likely be playing all day, and I always tear up at Illuminations so that's a must for the evening. I'm not sure what the crowd levels will be but I want to make sure we're into Epcot early enough so in case the park shuts down for control, we'll be OK.

I wanted to make sure we were fed for the day. I thought about a nice sit down lunch or dinner but then realized that the timing wouldn't really work out for what we wanted to do. Rich and I are not morning people by any stretch of the imagination. I get up at 6:15 every morning and Rich is up by at least 8:00. But when we have a chance to sleep in, we do. But the holiday had me concerned. I looked at doing a late breakfast. Near or at Epcot.

The Princess breakfast at Norway sounded nice but I really want to do that with our granddaughter, Marlie. The Garden Grill was intriguing but for some reason, I just thought it would be "stuffy". Spoodles was a choice but I wanted something "special". Then I focused in on Cape May Buffet and the Goofy breakfast. We always park at the Swan and walk over to Epcot via the International Gateway so this was a definite option. I booked it for 10:00 on July 4. I didn't have to put down a credit card although I think that's because I made the seating so early. I'm going to want to be at Epcot by 11:00 anyway so this is perfect for us. Getting up by 9:00 shouldn't be a problem.

We have plans to meet up with Larry, and every trip report reader knows who he is. Think Scotland and a very nice wife and two fine sons. We'll do something together Saturday afternoon. Everyone, I think, is very flexible so it's kind of a "whatever" Valley Girl attitude. After some emails, Larry and I decided to meet up at MGM so he can wow us with his skills at Who Wants to be a Millionaire, Play It.

I think on Monday, the 5th, I'll suggest a venture to Downtown Disney before heading home. We haven't been here in quite a while and I'd like to check out Team Mickey for NASCAR stuff. Chandra (our daughter-in-law) and Chris (our son) have really turned us into quite the NASCAR fans. Last year at this time, I was poo-pooing NASCAR. Now I can't get enough of it. Somebody shoot me now. Between football and NASCAR, just about every single one of my weekends during the year is taken up by sporting events on TV or in person.

The Week Before - "When Life Hands you Lemons, Make Lemonade and Go to Disney World!"

I was doing my normal Saturday routine for actually being home - puttering around the house and surfing the net. All of a sudden, I realized that we hadn't set up cat sitting for the up coming weekend! Our little family had expanded since our last trip. We've had three adorable cats - Todd, Gus and Belle - for the past three years. We are animal lovers and will go out of our way to help the critters. So when I heard a co-worker say his girlfriend knew of someone who had a cat that gave birth and the husband wasn't too thrilled and wanted to throw the kittens into a lake, I had to act. I told Jon that if he heard things were that dire, to let me know. We'd do everything in our power to find homes for the kittens (let's not get into the fact that the idiot husband should have spent the money to get his cat spayed and he wouldn't ever have to worry about adding to the pet overpopulation issue).

Right after our Disney World Memorial Day trip, Jon said things were bad. Four kittens with no homes and they were eight weeks old. The bag and the weights and a trip to the bottom of Lake Lanier were going to happen that week. I called Rich, we talked about five seconds and decided to take all four kittens. It would be difficult with the three cats we already had but we couldn't sleep at night if those kittens were fish food. As it turns out, two of the four kittens were found new homes so only two males were left. We drove up there Tuesday night and picked them up.

I wanted to continue our string of Disney names so the little grey tiger striped one was named Nemo (now nicknamed Fish Cat) and the totally black one was named Meeko (Meeks). We kept them segregated from the other three cats until we were comfortable with everyone getting along. After an initial bout of "who the heck are these little guys", the four males were pretty close. Little Belle was shocked at the new critters and we're still hoping she comes around. She's afraid of her own shadow, though.

So getting someone in to look after our family was critical. We have a great relationship with our service and I emailed them immediately to get something set up. I wasn't worried. Our cat sitter was the first person we called for advice on how to integrate the kittens in with our cats. And to find homes for the other two. This service also does a lot more like rotate your blinds, turn on different lights, bring in the mail and newspaper, even put out or take back your trash and recycling bins. Extremely great peace of mind while on vacation.

On our last trip, we carried a bigger bag because we needed more due to the heat factor. Rich needs to change shirts during the day since he sweats right through. Plus, we'd need the water bottle and washcloths for cooling down. The bag we used was fine but it just had one Velcro strap for closure at the top. This time, I wanted the same one compartment but with a zippered top. I found a great bag at Target for $12. And it's sort of a denim material so Rich can carry it too. Actually, he carried the other one the entire time last trip.

We will take all of our ponchos. We have the Disney yellow ones and cheapo plastic ones too. Since we're fairly close, we have just about the same weather as Disney World. It's been hot and humid and stormy. I checked the weather forecast on Wednesday. 93 degree temperatures and thunderstorms for the entire weekend. We'll be splashing through puddles but that's OK. That's life in the South right now. I think I'd rather have that than brush fires and droughts.

Work was extremely hectic for me. It was not only month end but quarter end. Total ugh. Plus, the weather was horrible with the rains so every evening, the commute home was an adventure. I hoped that on Friday, Mother Nature would be kind and hold off the precipitation.

And my new boss asked me what I was doing for the three day weekend. I just said "what do you think". I'm the one with an entire cube filled with Disney stuff. He said "you're going back there AGAIN?" This is my third trip in his two and a half month tenure. And then he said the thing that always needs a come back - "don't you get tired of that place?"

Actually, no. What's there to get tired of? Meeting our friends? Sure, all day Sunday will be at Epcot but we've never been to the character breakfast at Cape May Buffet. That'll be new. Off Kilter just changed their playing schedule to five shows a day. We will overdose on them but we meet friends there too. The American pavilion will be the focal point of the holiday celebration so we'll spend lots of time there. If I make it through the day without glad tears coming down my face, it'll be a miracle. I guess the thing is - I really don't want to spend this very special holiday anywhere else except my very special place. My Laughing Place.

And we had some potential horrible news. Our little six year old granddaughter, Marlie, broke her leg and needed surgery on Thursday. The whole week was filled with us trying to calm down our daughter-in-law and helping our son, Chris, deal with the crisis in his young family. Not easy to do when we're in Georgia and The Kids are in Toledo, OH. Chris has been very fortunate. Other than my broken shoulder a few years ago, he's never really seen a seriously hurt person before. And he didn't even see me until well after I already was in and out of the emergency room (he slept through all the commotion). But, on Thursday, we found out that being a six year old can have its advantages. Marlie came through the surgery with flying colors and was home by lunchtime.

Now I really did need My Laughing Place.

Day One - Friday, July 2, 2004 - "I refuse to work later than 4:30"

The hectic pace at work continued with our accounting department trying to get the month end to close. It all was complicated by the holiday weekend. Our headquarters is in Switzerland and most of our customers and supply vendors are in China. We not only have to deal with time differences but also cultural and language barriers. The big issue this month (there's always something) was our American office was going to be closed Monday. While the European and Asian calendars do have a July 4 on their calendars, it's not their Independence Day. We deal with Asian Boat Holidays and the closure of their businesses but American holidays really aren't very international.

I ran home at lunch and looked at my To Do list for the trip. I figured I could get out of work by 4:30 and avoid the rush hour and still get things done by 6:00 to leave for Disney World. I chatted with Chandra (daughter-in-law) online for a while and then went back to work to do just one more thing before I could leave for the day. A simple check run. What should have taken an hour took all afternoon since I was constantly being interrupted by other people's questions that weren't that important. "Why is this customer on credit hold". Me - "I don't know, I'm in the middle of something and I can't look right now". Person (whining now) - "But I neeeeeeeeeeeeeed this noooowwwwwww!". Me - "Fine but just be glad I'm not doing payroll checks or else you wouldn't be getting one".

I finally accomplished the payments, gave my boss the checks to sign and was cleaning up to go at 4:30. Then my boss gives me two emails he's been sitting on and says I have to answer them for him today. Grr. I did that and went to tell him at 4:45 that I was leaving for the weekend. Last month, I was delayed at work for month end until after 7:00 the Friday before Memorial Day. Of course, we were going to Disney World. We decided then to drive all night. We vowed never to do that again. Rich had already informed me that leaving very late for this trip was not an option. My boss was just finishing up signing the checks and I asked if they could be mailed out on Tuesday. I pleaded. But then I thought outside the box (a saying that's getting rather old, don't you think). I offered to take everything with me and get them mailed out over the weekend. He agreed. I never made check copies so fast in my life! I grabbed my stapler and ran out the door at 5:03.

I work 20 miles south of where I live. It's all interstate 85. I knew there would be traffic but didn't expect this huge parking lot going north. My direction. I could escape most of it using some back roads and a long access road. Heaven help anyone who was just passing through today. I eventually had to join the cows, err cars, on the interstate but I knew it would clear up one exit north. And it did. But then right when I had to make a choice for an alternative route, it slowed again. I picked the wrong way. I bailed when I could and finally made it home at 6:00. Not good. I didn't even have my cell phone so I could call Rich and make sure he could finish my To Do list.

Fortunately, Rich is a great husband and had 99% of the things ready to go. I needed a drink to settle down after the entire stressful week and the drive home. Rich had to deal with a suggestion our cat sitter gave us for little Belle. Basically, close her up in our bedroom with a litter box, food and water of her own. Then she can relax and not have to deal with the four male cats. Rich also packed up the car so I could check emails and tool around on the PC for a while to ease my tension. I checked the traffic online for southbound. Pretty clear for the weekend. We were ready to go by 6:40 which is pretty darn good.

Rich always drives us through Atlanta. With the job and my commute now, I'm getting more patient with the traffic situation but sometimes I'm not a pretty person when we hit the WTF jams. Northbound was still jammed packed and Rich was amazed. He thought everyone was evacuating or something. I guess South Carolina is getting a lot of Atlanta money this weekend.

We made a gas stop south of Atlanta and combined it with a McDonald's run. I don't think we'll use this exit again. It's the one for the Atlanta Motor Speedway. Rich claimed it was so I could smell the tracks (we will be at the NASCAR race in October). It's very congested with stuff and the McDonald's showed that customer service is definitely slipping. Very simple order - cheeseburger Happy Meal for me and the two cheeseburger meal for Rich - but ketchup and pickle only. The special request must have made someone unhappy because no one told us our food was ready. Rich saw it sitting on the counter. Grr.

I took advantage of Rich's good intentions because he drove all the way to Valdosta. I asked if there would be a problem if I napped and he said "why should you stay awake". I married a good guy! We got to the Days Inn around 10:30 which was fairly good time. This is a strange place and one I had never stayed at before. The Days Inn lobby shares space with a Burger King on one side and a Stuckey's/Dairy Queen on the other side. There's a Citgo gas station in the same parking lot as well. But at least we had a room.

The hotel was packed. And the room was a room. Two double beds with one of them missing a headboard. We had no remote for the TV. It wasn't quite a dump but it wasn't our normal Days Inn. I know this chain of hotels is a bargain basement chain. I've just stayed at better Days Inns before. This will do in a pinch, which this was. And it was cheap too.

While we were unloading the car, I thought I was imagining listening to our kittens meowing. I timidly asked Rich if he heard that noise too, thinking I was going insane with fatigue or something. He said "oh, those are frogs". I guess there's a bog next to the hotel and the amphibians were calling to each other. Rich tried vainly to see some green blob in the darkness. Nature Boy at his finest.

We watched TV for a while - mostly Nick at Nite sitcom reruns and then lights out a little after midnight. I set the alarm for 7:00 so we could be on the road by 8:00. Long, long week - long, long day.

Day Two - Saturday, July 3, 2004 - "No, you can't play, you're the guy from Scotland"

Unfortunately, the alarm was a good one and it went off right at 7:00. I knew I was extremely tired because I hadn't changed positions all night and the covers were still tucked in on the sides. I made Rich get ready first with the excuse that I still needed to get all those checks together to be mailed. I finished that up after getting ready myself. Now I don't have to worry about it anymore.

We checked out and wandered around Stuckey's for a little bit. We thought maybe they would have discounted NASCAR stuff. It was that kind of a place. Well, I know NASCAR is gaining in popularity and so are the prices. I don't pay $20 for a Disney World hat, not paying it here.

We left a little after 8:00 and just went down the road to fill up the car before crossing into Florida. Rich was driving again. I offered to drive today but he said he was fine. We headed for Ocala and the Disney Information Center. Nothing much to say about the drive since there's really nothing on the way. I did call my dad and stepmother to let them know about Marlie. I hadn't even had time this week to send them an email with the news. By Ocala, Rich was really dragging. I could tell since he stopped whistling to the radio and didn't even grunt when I would say things to him. I took over driving after our stop.

Now it was Rich's turn to snooze so I plugged in some of my favorite CDs and took us to Disney World. On our drives, we were very careful to do the speed limit. Georgia was enforcing their "100 Summer Days of Safety" program and the cops were out in force. Not sure what they do for the other 265 days of the year. And Florida was enforcing their "Click It or Ticket" program. But they put up a couple of signs on the turnpike to let everyone know. I guess they don't think that a tourist who gets pulled over would make sure he had on a seatbelt by the time the cop got out of his car. Oh well, we made it without incident. But we did see lots of people who probably didn't have a very good start to their vacation.

We pulled into Pop Century around 11:30. This was our first time here and I was surprised at how nice the entry driveway is. I had to show my driver's license at the security booth and my name was approved. I always hold my breath while they are checking. I don't know why, I've never have had a problem. It's just the whole security thing gets me antsy. Of course, the chance that there is another Sheri Niklewski out there is between slim and none. Rich's comment when we finally saw the main lobby area - "Looks exactly like any of the All Stars". Yeah, but it's new.

I found a space in the fairly crowded check in parking lot. This is not a user friendly lot at all. I was surprised to see no line for check in. All the available Cast Members were assisting other guests, though. But I would be next. I was helped within a minute. Whoo hoo! Now, let's just hope that room is ready. I had faxed in a request for non smoking and a king size bed if available. Our Cast Member was "earning his ears" but he could probably take that tag off because he was great. About the only thing he didn't do was to give us a resort map. The room was not ready but that's OK. I really didn't expect it to be but it would have been nice. I got the number to call back and then asked for a map. Kind of needed that so I would know where the room was located.

With our check in completed, we thought about taking a walk through the resort. But we both were starving (no free continental breakfast at the Days Inn so double negative points there - our "preferred" one has at least mini muffins and cinnamon rolls) so decided to get some food at MGM. We had plenty of time before meeting Larry at 3:00. I got us over to the Swan and grabbed our kind of overloaded bag for the day. Rich had two T shirts to change into, I was wearing a T shirt but had a halter style shirt in case it was warm, we had the ponchos, we had washcloths in a Ziploc to cool down if needed. We normally don't travel like pack mules.

We took a bathroom break at the Swan and I used the opportunity to change shirts. I still wanted the T shirt in case it did rain and I got damp or cold. Rich headed for the boat to MGM. His knee was bothering him. Something like this almost always happens on a Disney World trip. I told him it was all mental and that it would clear up this time around July 6. But then I suggested the Spoodles takeout window at the Boardwalk for pizza and a nice sit along Crescent Lake. Rich said he was thinking about a soft pretzel at MGM. My concern was the crowd level and the long fast food lines. I had mentioned maybe ordering a delivery pizza at Pop Century that night so Rich didn't want pizza twice (go figure). But it was only a mention - there was no telling what we'd be doing that night.

Rich was going with me getting relaxed so we ended up over at the Boardwalk. Have got to love the man. We had our slices and beverages (total somewhere between $15 and $20 - Rich always pays and didn't keep the receipt) and timed finishing up when the boat docked at the Boardwalk. This is the slow way to get to MGM but it was warm and Rich had that knee issue. He is on daily medication for this problem but it wasn't working while at Disney World.

MGM was not that crowded at all. That was nice for the day. We checked out FastPasses for Twilight Zone. It was around 1:15 and the return time was 2:30-3:30. But over to Rock N Roller Coaster. Return time 3:30-4:30. That wouldn't work with meeting Larry. Twilight Zone it was. We could fill in the next hour or so with other things. Which turned out to be Sounds Dangerous. I know, this is kind of lame and we've seen it dozens of times. But Rich really likes it. He was being so nice to me so in we went. We had to stand outside in the waiting area for a while and they still have old trivia on the screens. Really old stuff. We knew all the answers and had a good time listening to other people playing along. But Disney - if you can't redo the Sounds Dangerous film, at least redo the trivia. Heck, I'll give you tons of ABC trivia. About the only relevant thing up there was "who wasn't in the original episode of ‘All My Children'?"

There were a lot of first timers for this show and I ended up enjoying their reactions. And no kids were upset with the seven minutes of total darkness. I did notice that they even darken the Exit signs. The only bad thing here was there was a fairly large audience. With the instructions to move down the rows. We entered a row where a large family just HAD to sit in the middle. I pardoned myself as best as I could, ended up stepping on one guy's toes since he didn't bother to move, and went down the row. Rich was carrying the bag and he's bigger than me so that family was bothered even more. And then another family followed us so the first family was really bothered. Hehehehe. Sorry, but the Disney theatres are designed so just about every seat has a good view. Sometimes, common sense just isn't used.

After the show, I suggested a couple of beers at the Backlot Express right next door. A show of Indiana Jones had just emptied out and it was the classic "after lunchtime" scramble for food. The lines inside were kind of long - the right ones were way long. The one all the way to the left had one person in it. Guess which one we chose? The Cast Member here took the order of two beers and told Rich that he was fine but I couldn't get one because I wasn't 21 yet. Chuckle, chuckle. Earlier, the CM had addressed another guy as Young Man and his daughter. They were older than me!

The counter Cast Members were flying all over the place getting the orders out. None of them ventured towards the beer. Not again - our ticket was lost somewhere out in Disney cyberspace or something. We finally got someone's attention after people behind us were served before us. Two beers - is that so hard? OK, Sheri, relax.

We enjoyed our drinks in the outside seating area looking towards Star Tours. That music sure gets to you after a while, doesn't it? I used the time to call Pop Century to see if the room was ready. Nope, still not ready. I hoped that was because we were getting a king bed room. Rich said he needed to stand or something because his knee was bothering him. So we walked (well, Rich hobbled) back over to Twilight Zone (walking didn't affect Rich - it was the sitting). We got to the Hollywood Hotel right at 2:30. The Cast Member at the beginning of the FastPass line gave me a yellow card in a lanyard and asked me to give it to the CM who loaded us in the elevator. To see how long the wait really was. Standby time for this attraction was 40 minutes and we went by everyone and right into the area for the library. FastPass is a great tool but you have to know how to use it. I did play up the fact that I had that yellow card on a lanyard. It was silly but I had a long week and I was at Disney World. I acted like a rock star.

The last time we were on Twilight Zone was last year when we brought The Kids here. Chandra was really scared of it and I teased her endlessly in the months leading up to the trip. And then she rode it and thought is was wonderful. I always got apprehensive with this but didn't this time. We had a great drop sequence and survived nicely. I think having the seat belts instead of the lap bars is great for me. No hang time at all. Of course, the people on either side of me cannot use their handles because I take complete hold of them.

It was getting close to 3:00 so we headed to Who Wants to be a Millionaire, Play It! to meet with Larry and everyone. Rich and I got FastPasses for the 3:45 show thinking we'd do that with Larry and the gang. I didn't recognize Larry at all - I saw his wife, Jill, but surely that can't be Larry! Last time I saw him, he had a thick beard. He's shaved it and looks about 20 years younger. And I knew he lost weight but now who is this good looking man from Scotland? Larry was also visiting with his friends, Tom, Leanne and Kim and their kids. So we were quite a crowd. I didn't realize it but a Millionaire show was just letting in Standbys so we all headed in there after Larry's group took FastPasses for the next show as well.

Here's the deal with Larry and Millionaire. Just about every member of his group has been in the Hot Seat at one time or another. It's like a Wilmot Badge of Honour. Rich and I do trivia quite well and store useless bits of information in our heads. We wanted a Wilmot Badge of Honour. Our group took up an entire row of seats for the show. Rich and I hadn't done this for quite a while. The show is just like the one on TV but everyone plays along the whole way. The Fastest Finger question was first and the top ten were shown on the board. Each person has a seat number next to their keypad so you can see if you or one of your neighbours is the Hot Seat person. Someone in our row was number one - Larry's son Greg! Another Wilmot Badge of Honour. Just not for a Niklewski.

Greg did very well for being a high school junior. Of course, he's had this experience with his parents and the entire group. He did use up his lifelines but I have to say this - Greg is from Scotland. A lot of his questions were about America. He did his Phone a Complete Stranger about a question on the name of an American city. The four choices all had the two letter state abbreviation with them. Greg didn't know what they were. We Americans take that for granted. We depend on those abbreviations. The host helped Greg out with that one. After Greg used his lifelines, he started to guess. After three straight guesses and three straight right answers, the host told Greg he should go to Vegas. Greg made it to the 32,000 point question, got that one right and then lost on the 125,000 point question. Way to go Greg!

Rich is going to make me put this in here. The reason that Rich wasn't even up on the Leader Board (they show the top ten after the 1,000 and 32,000 point questions) is that his keypad malfunctioned and he had to move after the first three questions. He pouted the entire game about it.

After the show, we lost Larry and his gang. Greg had come out and said that he needed a parent to sign for the winnings. We did meet back up with everyone for the next show. Greg showed us his loot. He got ten pins (one for each of the levels he reached), a cap and a polo shirt. Extremely nice. Of course, the Wilmots had seen all this stuff before. Very cool. In for the next show and we again took up one whole row. Same host and crew as the first show and we got ready for the Fastest Finger question. Only to have a computer malfunction so they had to fill up the time by chatting with kids in the audience. I think the computer needed to be rebooted but we were up and running in less than ten minutes. Probably threw off their schedule for the rest of the day. I used the time to throw on my T shirt from our bag. This air conditioning was on the level of Artic.

I totally blew the Fastest Finger question - I knew the answer and instead of taking a little longer, I just punched the keypad without thinking. The scores were shown. Some one in our row was going to be in the Hot Seat! It was that damn Greg again! The host was so funny. He saw who it was and said "you can't play, you're the guy from Scotland". Greg knew he was ineligible for the next thirty days so didn't even attempt to play.

For this show, since Greg couldn't play again, the next highest person on the Leader Board went up. This was funny as this young woman worked for a car dealership and the host asked her if the salespeople were as sleazy as everyone made them out to be. She said an enthusiastic "YES!" Glad I don't have to buy a car anytime soon (I hope). When the Leader Boards were shown this game, someone from our group was always up there. I don't know if that's something to brag about or not.

When we left the seating area, we wondered why everyone was clogging up the exit. It was pouring outside! Our group stayed inside since Rich and I were the only ones equipped with ponchos. But even with those, I think we would have been wet. Unfortunately, where you exit for the show is also where you enter with the FastPass for the next show. Those people were lined up and we all were in their way. A large amount of us from the last show. Disney did a good thing here. There was a roped off area to the side. A Cast Member opened that up and then announced that he wasn't going to make us go out into the rain but if we all could move over so that the other people could enter the theatre, he'd appreciate it. Sure, no problem.

In between shows, I had called Pop Century again and our room 7403 was now ready. I had the resort map with me and saw we were in the 80s section. Larry and his family were in the 70s. Rich and I decided that we would go back to the room and unpack. So we chatted with everyone while waiting for the rains to let up or, heaven forbid, totally stop. Larry did tell Greg that he was sure I'd put something in the trip report about the Millionaire show. Darn right I did! Unfortunately, Larry won't be doing a report for his trip. He did one for the last visit and he said it was too much work. It really would be since they spend a fortnight at Disney. And Larry is just as verbose as me so there's lots of information in his reports. He's a heck of a lot funnier than I am though and I'll miss his sense of humour. Damn, that British stuff is worming its way into this report. Out, out - didn't we beat the stuffings out of you 228 years ago?

And here's the shameless plug for the trip report. Leanne writes historical romances and her website is http://www.leanneburroughs.com. Since she was nice enough to look at my family pictures, I will gladly put her website out there for anyone's enjoyment.

The rains let up and we parted with Larry. He says they aren't doing Disney World for another two years. But they are looking at going to the original park next year. I'd love to read a Wilmot Disneyland report so maybe we can hope for one of those. Rich and I debated about walking back to the Swan or taking the boat. The line for the boat wasn't that bad - just past the overhang. So we went over there. Glad we did. We were just under cover and it started to rain harder. Anyone not in the line and under cover went over to the exit line area and stood there. We really could have fit more people in the line but the folks at the very front of the line didn't want to close their gaps. The only bad thing here was these kids whose parents were in the line about halfway down. But the kids were out in the rain (with ponchos on) feeding the ducks. And they would run out of quarters for food and shove by us to get to their parents. And when the boat did come, Dad had to go by us to tell his kids to come up to them. The boy did. The two girls didn't. The boy went back to get the girls. The boy came back. One girl came back. She had to go get the other girl. The two girls came back. All the time, Dad is yelling at the kids to hurry up. Rich and I weren't wet when we started out but having those kids go by us a zillion times in wet ponchos was enough.

We cruised back to the Swan and the rains had let up quite a bit. I had to lean out to use the room key at Pop Century to get through the security check point. There was plenty of parking available but I really didn't know where our room was so I just took a chance on a space. At first, we were just going to take in lighter and smaller items but once we looked at everything, we realized we could take everything. Except for the checks I needed to mail. I left those in the back seat. Oh well, there are plenty of mailboxes around.

Our room was on the fourth floor so we had to go to the middle of the building for the elevators. I thought we'd be all the way at the other end of the building but our room was on the other side fairly close to the ice machines. We overlook the computer pool and the other 80s building. Nice and no parking lot view. We did a double take because there were two towel animals sitting on the sill looking out at us! Was this room occupied? Rich's key worked and there was no luggage anywhere. What a nice treat. Animals (well, one was a baby doll) to greet us. And we had the king size bed. Total whoo hoo!

I'll do the room description here. We had a nice bedspread with memories of all of the five decades. The sink was outside the bathroom which was nice in the mornings. There was an ironing board (and an iron but you can't use one without the other, can you?). We didn't have the soap dispenser but regular Mickey soaps and shampoos. I had been concerned about that but asked the newsgroup the week before - Rich just can't deal with body wash. He needs a bar of soap. There was no hair dryer and no laundry bag. We could request either one but didn't bother. My hair can dry on its own and I always travel with a Disney laundry bag. We do have handicap access but it's limited. We have a tub and the bars for the toilet are pull down ones. If you are requesting a handicapped accessible room, make sure you tell Disney World your exact needs.

We got set up in the room and began to just chill for a while. Our plan was to take a walk around the resort and then decide what to do for the evening. We watched sports on TV and had some wine to relax. We had the curtains to our room open and had these two little girls keep looking into our room. We had left the towel (more like washcloth) guys on the sill so we figured they were looking at those. Or seeing if maybe there were kids in here that they could play with. Rich started waving to them and they started waving back. My tolerance level with kids has risen now that Marlie is in our lives. It had started to rain again so these girls couldn't really play anywhere. Their room was two up from ours and their parents were keeping an eye on them. Rich went to get more ice and talked to the girls. They said they got towel animals too. But not like ours.

I did take the time and looked through all the resort information that we got upon arrival. It's Saturday and I didn't think we'd have the Epcot entertainment schedule for Sunday. Those are usually printed and distributed Sunday morning so we wouldn't know Off Kilter's "official" schedule until tomorrow. But since July Fourth was a holiday, they had a special entertainment listing. Total whoo hoo! Yes, Off Kilter is on for five shows tomorrow at the same times as last week. I just wait and hope for Sundays. Rich was amused at my reaction - I couldn't have gotten this information if we were staying offsite. I made sure Rich knew that.

By 7:00, we knew that a walk around the resort wasn't going to happen. It was still raining steadily. Not hard but steady. But we needed dinner so a trip down to Classic Hall was in order. We mapped out a route that would keep us relatively dry. On the way out, we met the girls and their parents. The Mom apologized if the girls were bothering us. We said they weren't. And they really weren't. The girls said they liked our new towel friends. One girl said she liked the baby doll one since they didn't have that one. Well, they do now. The Mom was very appreciative. We kept the little bird, though.

I think we took the long way to Classic Hall but that was fine as we saw some of the resort. Pop Century is different in that the store and the food court are all kind of together. Plus, there's an indoor bar here. Very unusual for a value resort. The food court has the several stations and you pay for everything on the way out. Rich spied the Total Sloppy Joe and fortunately, that was on the same menu as my choice which was the Moms TV Set dinner of buttermilk fried chicken. Rich ordered his and then another CM took my order. Rich couldn't believe how sloppy that joe was! He said he would definitely need a knife and fork. And I looked at what the heck was going on my plate. Two huge pieces of chicken - a drumstick that looked like it came off a turkey and not a chicken, and one of those huge Disney World chicken breasts. I swear there's a Disney chicken farm somewhere that feeds the birds a steady dose of steroids. And then I got a good helping of mashed potatoes and then green beans with onions. We took our "to go" orders intending to go back to the room and watch the NASCAR race that night. As we were leaving the area, my server came up to me. I had forgotten my roll. Good lord - that's a lot of food. Rich's "sandwich" was $5.99 and my dinner was $8.99.

We found a much shorter way back to our building and were primed and ready for the race. Hey - it is the Pepsi 400 at Daytona on Fourth of July weekend. Geez, last year at this time, I could have cared less. Now I'm pathetic. Verdict on the food, BTW - very, very good. Rich said his sandwich was good and he had my roll which was big and very fresh. The mashed potatoes and green beans were wonderful. And I had plenty of chicken left over.

The rest of the night was very hit and miss. Since it was raining here, why did we think it wasn't going to be raining just an hour and a half away at Daytona? The race was delayed over two hours so the track could dry. Hindsight is 20/20 but if I would have been thinking, we could have gone to Epcot for those two hours instead of staring at a TV screen and listening to a bunch of car talk. It was so bad the commentators started repeating themselves. I tried to work on the report but got so relaxed and tired that I gave up and hoped the race would start soon, please. I ended up dozing and sleeping throughout the whole race. I must have some NASCAR gene though - I woke up for the last ten laps. Rich, Chris, Chandra and I have this little fantasy NASCAR league that we started this year. Nothing on the line except Niklewski Pride. One of my drivers - Jeff Gordon - pulled it out. It was a good race but I missed most of it thanks to fatigue. If you're interested in our Fantasy League, the website is http://www.geocities.com/nevernextel/index.html. I'm pathetic but someone has to finish last, right?

Day Three - July 4, 2004 - "Happy Birthday America"

Last night, Rich and I decided that we would just sleep until we woke up and then make a game time decision on whether or not we'd keep the priority seating at Cape May Buffet for breakfast. I was awake at 7:00 since I had all those naps last night. I waited until 8:00 and then got up to work on the report. Rich mumbled something and I told him to go back to bed. I had thought about it - the breakfast was $17/adult and that was $34 we could spend elsewhere during the day at Epcot. I tapped away on the laptop and I thought Rich was snoozing. By close to 10:00, I nudged Rich and asked if we could get going some time in the morning. He said he had been ready to get up but didn't want to disturb me working on the report. Oh well, we have a good morning routine and were ready to go by 11:00.

On the way over to the Swan, Rich asked if we were actually going to do anything at Epcot that day. Sure, the five Off Kilter sessions. Well, besides that. Yes my dear - we can check out Gary Sinise at Mission:Space. We again were prepared with our overloaded bag with extra T shirts and cool down things. We certainly would need them today. I did take the digital camera so I had a bag while Rich took the bigger one.

Upon arrival at the International Gateway, we were greeted with plastic American flag pins. We took two and Rich carried his on the bag while I wore mine on my shirt. Since then, I've worn mine every day. I want to honor our country as much as I can. I know - quit the patriotic stuff but it was July Fourth.

As much as I worried about crowd levels, it wasn't necessary. Very uncrowded conditions at this time. We walked from the International Gateway way over to Mission:Space to check out FastPasses. This wasn't a great way to do this for the day. They had the FastPass Distribution lines over to the right again. The problem with that is they never tell you what the return time is. You enter to get your FastPasses from behind the machines and the clock for the return time is in the front. Plus, they had a Cast Member holding people back so the machines weren't mobbed. She waited until a machine was cleared before letting the next party go through. That meant for Rich and me, we had to wait to even get to a machine and then go around that machine to look up to see when the return time was to even think about whether or not we wanted to get the FastPasses. Way too inefficient. In this case, the return time was 1:30-2:30 so that was fine for making it for the Off Kilter sets for the day. But if it hadn't worked out, we would have wasted a lot of time and held up other guests while we figured it out. Disney - re-think this whole experiment. We've had this happen before except for getting held up by a Cast Member. Entering a FastPass distribution area from the back just doesn't work.

With our FastPasses now in hand, we had some time to kill. Of course, food was mentioned and the Niklewski Food Debate started. Rich and I really have opposite opinions of what we like to eat. Rich has always been a meat and potatoes kind of guy. I guess he was just a couple of decades ahead of the Atkins Diet. Me - I like meat but will edge towards the veggies and non-meat things most of the time. Rich said we should get a snack. I agreed. I said I was craving the beef fried rice from the Lotus Blossom Café. Rich said he wanted a double bacon cheeseburger. Ugh! We exited Future World via Mouse Gear and the air conditioning. The heat was cranking up big time.

While walking clockwise around World Showcase, we talked and came up with a game plan. We stopped at Norway for a beer for Rich. He was astounded to see that they don't have the Norwegian beer anymore (Ringes) but have Carlsberg which is from Denmark. OK - still Scandinavian but not Norwegian. Oh - they have Bud Light though. I guess the Busch family has some Scandinavian roots? And then we went totally wacky since they had good old American California Beringer white zinfendal for me. This whole beverage cart has lost its heritage big time. But Disney still got our money so they are probably very happy.

Onto The Lotus Blossom Café which was as crowded as I've ever seen it for lunch. Which meant I had to wait for one person in front of me. I got the Beef Fried Rice and knew it would be packaged so I could carry it with me. I was delayed a bit because the person in front of me turned out to be ordering for about a crowd of twenty. While waiting, Rich picked up napkins and about ten packets of duck sauce for me. I grabbed the container of my food and immediately had to put it down. It was steaming hot! I wrapped it in napkins and we continued on to America.

Rich had said he was content with a soft pretzel and we thought maybe they had them at the turkey leg cart. I got us an outside table at the Liberty Inn while Rich checked out the pretzel situation. Nope, just popcorn and turkey legs. Just where have all the pretzels gone in World Showcase? Are they limited to Germany? Rich came back and suggested we go inside and air conditioning. I had just set up to start to eat so I wasn't a happy camper. But the air conditioning did sound nice. In we went.

Ah - blessed cool. Rich left me at the table and went for his grub. He claimed he would be satisfied with a pretzel but he devoured his bacon double cheeseburger complete with fries. That would be enough for him for the rest of the day. My beef fried rice was very good but I think beef might be an endangered species in China since I only had one big piece of it in there. We were satisfied for the time being, though.

Our time for Mission:Space was getting closer so we finished and continued our walk back to Future World. We checked at the Canada pavilion and our friend, Janis, wasn't there yet. She comes to the Off Kilter shows most Sundays and we have formed a friendship with her. I didn't have a chance to email her to see if she would be there today - we saw her last at Memorial Day and it was so hot she vowed not to come back all summer long. Since today was a scorcher, I wasn't sure she'd be here.

We got to Mission:Space slightly before our FastPass time. So we waited and checked out the huge moon display that showed where America and Russia had landed rockets. Humm… I learned something too. Russia never deployed a manned rocket to the moon. Rich did ask, jokingly, "where's Apollo 13?" I make him watch that movie all the time when I'm in a Gary Sinise frame of mind. It was just a few minutes since my FastPass had a time of 1:36. Once that time was displayed, I motioned for Rich that we could go in. He said that it wasn't until 1:39. No, that was the time we could get another FastPass. I showed him my Pass. He showed me his. Even though he was immediately behind me in the FastPass Distribution, his Pass was for 1:39. Oh well, we can wait three more minutes.

1:39 was finally on the board so we went in. Standby time here was a whopping 105 minutes with Singles Rider line being 20 minutes. So glad for FastPasses today. And the right time. We had to wait, oh, about two minutes before being led into our little space pod groupings. I had a clear view of Mr. Sinise so I was happy. Once we were "assigned" our roles, Rich and I switched because I had never been the Commander before. We went on our trip to Mars with a father/son combo who were rookies. The look on that little kid's face was enough to make the trip worthwhile. Oh, and checking out Gary Sinise wasn't a time waster either.

After this, we headed out towards Canada for basically the rest of the day. I'll do a weather report here. Hot, followed by more hot, followed by increasing temperatures, followed by lots of hot. The relatively short walk from Mission:Space to Canada left us wheezing. We were prepared with lots of options, though.

Our friend, Janis, was in "our seats" (Larry knows what I'm talking about) and we met up with her. She wasn't sure we'd be there and we weren't sure she'd be there. We griped about the weather but it's Florida, it's July, what are you going to do about it? At least we weren't at work.

Off Kilter was great as always for the first set. Since they were doing five shows, there wasn't a lot of time between the first two sets so we just stayed put and visited. I had Chris' and Chandra's wedding pictures to show Janis. She had met The Kids last year and she said that Chris "cleaned up nice". Yep, he sure does! Disney friends are some of the best.

By now, Rich and I were almost melting with the heat. We had the water bottle and the water fountain right by the Off Kilter stage got a great workout. At one point, Rich filled up the bottle, I took one drink from it, gave it back to him and about three minutes later asked for it back. It was empty! Our rule for the day was if we stopped sweating, we needed more liquids. I don't think Noah's Ark saw as much water as we did today.

The second Off Kilter show was great as well and then we had more time for the third show. With the heat, I didn't think our normal walk around World Showcase was going to happen. Janis escaped and went for air conditioning. Rich used the time to go to the bathroom and wash down and change T shirts. I took off my shoes and aired out the feet. More water breaks were needed. We also moved the benches around so we were under the limited shade of the umbrellas.

And we were treated. Larry, Jill and their son Edward came for the third set of Off Kilter. Great surprise. I didn't even know they were coming to Epcot for a visit. They had planned for MGM and their fireworks. We introduced Janis to the Wilmots and then started talking about trip reports. I had to ensure Janis that I don't say anything negative about anyone. But Rich was concerned again about just what I write in these so he might start reading them in the future.

I had to compliment Jill on wearing red, white and blue today. Pretty bold for a UKer. Which led Larry, in his great humour to make some hilarious comments on the international situation of years past and of today. Had me in total laughter. Rich was impressed as well. Going to miss that Wilmot trip report for this time. Edward was bored so Larry took him to the exit of Mission:Space so he could play in that interactive area whilst (more British speak) the adults enjoyed the show.

For the third set, the clouds were really rolling in and Janis and I didn't think we'd get to see the show. Off Kilter does not perform if there is a thunderstorm in the area. They just have too much electrical equipment to guarantee a totally safe show. We hoped, especially since the Wilmots were here. The guys came out and since Rich was being a good boy, Janis did the honours and went up to request "Scotland the Brave" for our friends from Scotland. Jamie, the bagpiper, asked Larry exactly where in Scotland he was from and Jamie said he's been there many times. Larry wanted to know what the heck for? No one wants to go there.

This set was shortened due to the impending storm. But Off Kilter did "Farewell Nova Scotia/Scotland the Brave" with the second selection so we honoured Larry and Jill and their kind friendship for this trip. If you have any doubt that there are truly nice people in the world, you fears will disappear once you meet Larry and Jill (and their sons are going to turn out just perfect too). Once again - thanks Larry and Jill for meeting up with us on your trip.

This time, the Wilmots were prepared with raincoats so they donned those and went off to collect their son. Unfortunately, they had to get back to MGM and the only way we thought that was doable was the Friendship boats. Which are in the opposite direction from where Edward was. At last check, Larry and Jill decided to just catch the first available resort bus and then transfer to a MGM one from there.

The storm really wasn't that bad by Florida standards. Janis, Rich and I stayed dry under the umbrella at the seating area. We used one of our ponchos to cover our bench from splashes. Things had cleared up by the time for the fourth show so it looked like our marathon was going to be completed today. At least with the brief storm, the heat had abated a little so we were a lot more comfortable for the fourth and fifth sets. I'm not going to get into everything Off Kilter played but they do a terrific "Summer of ‘69" that Bryan Adams would be proud of. Rich had to ask Janis just how Off Kilter determines what current pop songs they can do on bagpipes. Anything without flats or sharps. It's just amazing to see something like "Johnny B. Goode" played by five guys in kilts.

We said goodbye to Janis and we'll see her again for Labour Day (damn that British stuff!). She was heading home and fearing that she'd run into a storm since it looked bad towards that way. Plus, we had seen a lot of airplanes being diverted very close to Disney World. Since Janis lives by the airport, she would probably get a ton of activity on the way home.

The goal now was Illuminations. American Vybe was performing at the American Garden Theatre and I thought we could take that in for the last show at 8:15. But while walking back there, I noticed that people were already staking out their places for Illuminations at 10:00. Two hours beforehand. I have to be hard pressed to get a spot an hour before so this was different. And I really wanted to see Illuminations especially for the Fourth. So, sorry to American Vybe, I'm sure you were great but we bypassed them to get to Germany and our favourite spot (Larry, quit it!).

We wanted a couple of beers for our wait and Rich insisted on getting them inside Liberty Inn. Because they are cheaper than the outside carts. I warned him about lines. I was right. It took us fifteen minutes to get two drinks. At 8:00 PM. People were still trying to get dinner too. Frustrating but I tried to shrug it off. We were later getting to Germany than I wanted but we got the last two spots on "my" overhang.

I felt bad for Rich to have to be here for almost two hours waiting for a show he thinks is "OK". Rich just isn't the whole "show" kind of guy. But he was fine with it. We used the time to observe all the other people. To our right was a family that had a stroller. Which they parked lengthwise along the rail. Which precluded anyone from enjoying the show along the rail. No one was even in the stroller - everyone was kind of strung out along the overhang. Across the way, there were three or four girls playing patty cake but in a different language. One that neither one of us could identify. Rich thought maybe they had their own code. Later, we heard them conversing with the adults in their party in fluent English and we realized that, yes, these girls had their own language.

We did have great spots for the show and it was difficult for just the two of us to maintain our space with having bathroom breaks and just general "have to walk around for a while" things. A couple of guys set up cameras next to us and tried to get into the space that Rich had just vacated for a break. I politely explained that I just wanted one more spot and it was hard with just two people. They agreed so our little corner was content. No one tried to squeeze in at the last minute which was kind of nice. Maybe everyone was just feeling a bit American patriotic that night?

The Magic Kingdom fireworks were visible at 9:00 and we could hear the MGM ones as well. It was a long wait and I hoped it was going to be worth it. Finally, the announcement - "Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls, in just a moment, Illuminations:Reflections of Earth will begin". All right! Let's celebrate my nation's birthday!

It was the usual showing of Illuminations which I didn't expect - I thought it would be different. But I love the show so I went with the moment. I was a tad emotional with the day. And then right after Illuminations, another announcement that there would now be a special fireworks display. And what a display!

There was patriotic music, of course. But the fireworks! Rich thinks they took every single firework in the state of Florida and put them in the air at once. It was loud, over the top and extremely wonderful! Now I was so glad I was spending July Fourth at Disney World. Everything was worth it. Everything. I honestly don't think any place else (except home sweet home) does holidays better than Disney World. It would have been great experiencing this with more family but it's just Rich and me right now so that's our little family. I thought about Chris and Chandra and how they were dealing with Marlie's broken leg. They were in our hearts today. I thought about our parents who will probably still be going strong well into the next decade. Rich thought about the cats, I'm sure.

After the show, we started walking back to the Swan. It was a long way but it was great. The song being played was "This Land is Your Land". I was singing along to it and so were a lot of other people. It was a mob scene getting out but I didn't care. To heck with crowds, to heck with everything. I was at Disney World and I'm living in a country that I love. And I guess I'm with a husband that I love too!

It took us almost until 11:00 to make it back to the car. Along the way, we could hear the 10:30 showing of Fantasmic over at MGM. I convinced Rich to step up our pace just a bit so we could clear the area before the mobs from that show were let out. From the Swan, the way back to Pop Century is right in front of MGM so I wanted to be out of there before Fantasmic ended. We were getting into the car when the finale was going off. Rich was driving and other than having about a zillion Disney buses going into MGM, we were fine and back to Pop Century within about ten minutes. No problem with parking and we were back in the room without incident. Totally great day!

We were still keyed up from the day. It was a long one, a hot one, but a great one. I guess a lot of other people were still celebrating because the noises from outside continued in bits and pieces until about 1:00. Not that we minded since we were still up and watching TV. We usually need a few hours of unwinding before we can comfortably sleep. No alarm was set for the morning. It's check out and we have until 11:00.

Day Four, Monday, July 5, 2004 - "Take, Take Me Home"

My body did its normal "hey, it's 7:00 AM, why aren't you up yet?" deal. I tried to reason with it but the brain lost so I was up by 8:00. I worked on the report as quietly as I could but just kept imagining Rich was hearing the "tap, tap, tapping" like in the classic poem "The Raven" by Edgar Allen Poe. He was up and getting ready to go around 9:00. I did some packing but there wasn't much to pack. We hadn't even bought one souvenir. That might be a Disney World record.

We still hadn't done a resort tour so after we loaded up the car, we set off to do that. I had the digital camera but realized at the last minute that I had almost completely filled up the memory card. I still had room but it took forever to get the camera reset. It's not even our camera - we lent our friend a chain saw which he uses more than the camera so it was a nice trade. Problem is, we really don't have all the instructions for it. Oh well - I'm sure we'll be back at Pop Century.

I did see these huge birds at the lake. They were calm and right by the walk way. Rich, being Nature Boy, just about died. Sandhill Cranes! They aren't endangered anymore but are highly on the threatened list. We lived in Nebraska for 12 years and these guys make it a point for about two weeks in March/April to stay in that state. Why they heck these guys were here, I don't know. But they were. I took many pictures of them. They didn't even falter if I got closer to them. They were perfectly content with where they were. Maybe Disney World can become a bird sanctuary. This was a great Nature Moment for Rich and me.

And we will be back at Pop Century because we totally fell in love with the place as we walked around. Yes, it's a value resort, yes, there are lots of kids, yes, it has over the top icons, yes, it can be "tacky". But I loved it. We were in the 80s section and they had the Pac Man symbol all over the buildings. I couldn't go outside without making that stupid "whaaca, whaaca, whaaca" noise from the game. Everything that we saw, we commented on. And we made our way to the display area in the lobby. This place was really crowded this morning with check ins and check outs. Lots of people were camped out in front of the displays waiting for someone in a line. We didn't care. We just pointed to things and laughed and shared memories and stories. Lots of "ohmygod, I HAD one of these!" or "I remember that!" or "Oh man, my mother/grandmother used that!" A Barry Manilow 8 track that I used to own. Real vinyl albums. Just standing there looking at the things we grew up with took about 20 years off our lives. I felt like a kid again. Certainly I'm not a grandmother now, am I?

We went back to the car and reluctantly left the property. Another Disney World vacation comes to an end. We gassed up on Route 27 with some decent prices - these Florida prices are enough to make you think twice about coming to Disney World. Yeah, like that would affect my life! Rich took the first leg of the drive and we had some disagreements about what to do for food. Rich can handle a very late lunch or just a snack in the early afternoon. I need food a little bit earlier than that - like lunchtime. Plus, I don't mind fast food but since we weren't in any hurry to get home, kind of thought a nice sit down meal was in order. Especially since we had fast food all weekend long at Disney World. We're only two people - I'm shuddering to think what could happen at Christmastime with our whole family (more on that later).

We had a total meltdown with me needing a rest area. The first one to be reached after I realized "my need" had the facilities closed. There was a little sign saying that but the entire area was open EXCEPT for what was really needed. Lots and lots of people stopped only to be denied by the closed doors. Total Ugh. At the next rest area, which wasn't that far away, we had a total mob scene since the other one was closed. It's Fourth of July weekend, Florida didn't realize that people would be driving? Lots of buses, lots of cars, almost no parking spaces. We just bypassed this one too. Sheri was not a happy camper. Rich offered to stop at a fast food place but at this point, we had made two drive bys at what should have been easy rest stops and got no where. I wasn't in the best of moods.

A compromise was reached with going to Cracker Barrel just across the state line into Georgia. I know my friend, Adrienne, would be proud as this is her favorite restaurant/store. I've only been to one in my life but we were both satisfied with the choice. I was totally surprised when we were asked "smoking or non-smoking or first available". After doing the total smoke free Disney World food options and living in a county that does not allow smoking in restaurants, I just wasn't prepared. We got the last small table in the non smoking section - right near the kitchen area and very close to the next table. Oh well, I was hungry.

After going through the unfamiliar menu, we finally made our choices. The poor server had to come back several times to see if we were ready. Rich decided on the pork BBQ which was Atkins friendly with the meat and no bun. Not like he's on that diet but we just get a kick out of going anti-Atkins whenever we can. I really threw Rich for a loop. I had the four vegetable platter with corn, green beans, applesauce, and the hash brown casserole. Excellent. Rich had biscuits with his meal (there goes the Atkins) and I chose the corn muffins so he could have variety. I've never been a bread person.

With our stomachs settled for the rest of the day, we perused the store but didn't get anything. Then I took over driving and did the mind numbing drive from Valdosta to Macon. I always seem to get this leg of the drive and it's just boring, boring, boring. I needed another bathroom break (lots of water at Cracker Barrel) so we hit the last rest area before our house. Which is two full hours from the house. There's a warning if you are traveling through Atlanta on I75/I675/I285/I85. You go about 150 miles without a rest area. Rich took over driving to get us home. Traffic was non existent. We listen to a radio station that actually broadcasts traffic reports 24/7 so we knew the commute would be a breeze.

Once home, we had the report from the cat sitter. She said she thought the four male cats were having parties every night. Little Belle was fine locked up in our room but she did want a change of scenery. We unloaded the car and vowed we'd unpack the next day.

Final Thoughts and Overall Impressions

Early July can be hotter than heck! The temperatures each day were in the high 90s unless there was a storm. And the storms didn't last that long before the heat rose again. We were prepared with extra shirts and other clothes that we needed. I used the washcloth and the water fountains to wash down and that helped immensely. We both wore ball caps and sunglasses and didn't get any ill effects. We really monitored our water intake and made lots of use out of our one water bottle. Even though we didn't really use our ponchos, taking them in weather like this was highly necessary. We do have an advantage in that we live relatively close so our weather is similar to what we could expect.

We didn't do a lot of food options but I recommend if people in your party have different food preferences, you make ample use of the To Go option at the counter service places at World Showcase. I got what I wanted at Lotus Blossom Café, Rich got what he wanted in America and we enjoyed it together. We've done something similar with our son getting his nachos in Mexico and carrying it to China where we all ate together.

The only attractions we did were Sounds Dangerous (some might say that a snoozer but it makes Rich happy so then I'm happy), Twilight Zone, Millionaire, and Mission:Space. But the entertainment, which is always a huge hit with us, did not disappoint yet again. The special Illuminations and fireworks for the Fourth were amazing. We wanted to see something on Saturday night but the weather and fatigue prevented that. Off Kilter, once again, proved to be an amazing group of guys. I thank them for doing "Scotland the Brave" for the Wilmots. They did many requests so we weren't the only ones familiar with their play list.

Pop Century was a huge hit with us. It might not be for everyone but it sure as heck was great for us. It brought back so many good and happy thoughts and Disney sure nailed the atmosphere in that regard. The one meal we had at the food court was great and I really like that its right there with the gift shop and an indoor bar area. Something for everyone. Rich and I wanted to take the framed poster from our room home with us. Unfortunately, it was nailed to the wall and the gift shop didn't sell them. And I have one suggestion if Disney ever puts hot tubs at the value resorts (that's a pipe dream maybe but it's my report). They could easily theme the hot tub over at the computer pool to be a mouse - a computer mouse, not the Mickey kind.

This was all sealed a week after getting back. A friend asked us "so how was your trip to Disney World?" Rich went off on how wonderful Pop Century was. The Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head. The Twister game. The Foosball game. He remembered more things than I did. It's a winner for us.

The best thing out of this trip was meeting up with friends. Of course, Janis is a given with Off Kilter. We keep in touch throughout the year via emails and she knows we'll be down there for Labor Day. We'll meet up with her again then.

A very, very special thanks to Larry and Jill for taking time out of their vacation to visit with us. We IMed and emailed each other to set things up but it worked out since each party was pretty flexible with their schedules. Larry did say he didn't want to spend the day at Epcot taking in 32 shows of Off Kilter, though! Experiencing Who Wants to be a Millionaire, Play It with the whole group was great. We're all pretty trivial so we enjoy the show. And seeing Greg in the Hot Seat was fantastic! I felt like I knew a celebrity or something. (And I've since found out that Greg was selected for the Hot Seat two more times after our visit with them. Damn kid knows more than most adults!)

There's really nothing like meeting new people just because of Disney World. There's a common bond right there. Larry lives a half of a world away but we all meshed very well. Once I recognized him! The power of the internet is tremendous. It made the It's a Small World thing really happen. And not just this time. I have many, many Disney World friends. There's a sense of community and harmony that all begins with a certain little Mouse.

BTW - Rich's knee is fine - it was fine when he woke up on July 7. I was off by one day. He claims it's not mental but I wonder.

The next trip is for Labor Day weekend. Then we're going for Thanksgiving. And my in-laws have offered to pay for us and The Kids to be there for Christmas. The in-laws will join us for a time as well. They've also included my dad and stepmother in the plans. Right now, I'm really excited about getting two rooms at Pop Century for everyone and a campsite for my dad and stepmother. If a great rate for a Fort Wilderness Cabin comes up, we'll go with that. If I get a chance to spend Christmas (my favorite holiday) at Disney World (my favorite place) with my entire family (my favorite people), well, life can't get any better than that, can it? Just four years ago, my mother-in-law thought going to Disney World was a waste of time. She's been there three times with us now and she's the one that suggested this trip. I'm turning my family one by one.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to send me an email with questions or comments. Please put "trip report" in the subject line so my filters don't flush you away. Have a great day.

Sheri Kiklewski


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