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Jynohn O'Connor -- January 2004 -- Walt Disney World (CR)


Who We Are:

  • Me (31): 9th trip Author of this report and obsessive planner.
  • Rich (34): My patient husband, who tolerates Disney, but frequently reminds me that there are other places in the world that we still haven't visited.
  • Zachary (11): This will be his third trip. He’s already at the age where he claims that WDW is "babyish" and insists that he doesn't want to come this time. There must have been a mix-up at the hospital, since he can't possibly be mine.
  • Madeline (3): This is her first trip. We're really looking forward to seeing everything "for the first time" through her eyes.

The planning:

This vacation has been a long time in the making. We saved in advance quite a bit by using a change jar, and by buying Disney dollars at the Disney Store every time we went to a mall. This really worked out great, and by the time we left we already had enough Disney Dollars and change saved to pay for all of our passes, plus put aside some spending money for souvenirs and meals.

Since we’re a military family, we were eligible to stay at Shades of Green for a little over $70 per night. We've stayed there twice before, including our honeymoon, and loved it. We were even more excited since we'd be arriving just two weeks after the scheduled completion of their renovations. Well, we experienced the first glitch in our plans in mid-July, when we received a letter from Shades of Green telling us that the renovation was taking longer than expected and would not be complete in time for our trip. As an alternative, we were offered a room at the Contemporary Resort for the same price.

I know we should have been thrilled to stay at the Contemporary for such a great price, but to be honest we were pretty disappointed about the change in plans. We’d seen photos of the rooms on-line and they were just not our taste. Somehow, this resort seems a little too sterile and some of the areas reminded me more of a hospital then a resort. I hope I'm not offending any Contemporary fans, but I just couldn't get excited about staying there. Admittedly, it would be a great convenience to be so close to the Magic Kingdom and be right on the Monorail, but I still couldn't help but be let down. I eventually made a reservation at the Wilderness Lodge for $139/night with an AP rate, but sometime later, we realized that if we stuck with the $78 rate at the Contemporary, we'd be saving over $600 for the ten nights. That money could buy a few more nice meals, and more souvenirs. So after going back and forth for several weeks over what to do, we decided to give the Contemporary a try.

Timing:

I’m not one for heat and humidity, so we decided the weather and crowd level would make January an ideal time to plan our trip. We expected that it would be crowded until a few days after the New Year, but hoped that it would thin out after a couple of days. I had also registered and planned to run in the Walt Disney World Marathon on the 11th, but work got in the way of my training and we were concerned about Zach missing too much school, so I decided to postpone the marathon this year.

Transportation:

Originally we had planned to drive down, because we actually like road trips and we wanted to have our own car with us, but my parents had frequent flier miles and offered them to us for a Christmas present. At first we declined the offer, since we had already planned to take a few extra days on the way down to visit Washington D.C. and to go back to the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC. But on second thought the idea of driving home after a long trip didn't sound nearly as much fun, so we decided to take my parents up on their offer. Since we'd be saving at least 4 days in driving time, we decided to leave on Jan. 1st instead of Dec. 26th. That way we'd still have 9 full days in Disney, and wouldn't have to rush around and would be able to enjoy the holidays at home (and hopefully avoid most of the Christmas/New Year's crowds-more on that later…)

Meals:

We really love trying out all the different Disney restaurants, so this would be a big part of our trip. We planned to do a few character meals, and Rich's one request this time was to go back to ’Ohana's so we'll do that, along with the Hoop-De-Doo Revue. Madeline is only just starting to get into the princesses, so we decided to have dinner at the castle instead of trying for the much-coveted breakfast. Our priority seating (PS) for Hoop-Dee-Doo was originally for New Year's Eve, but since we now wouldn't be arriving on time, I called to cancel. At this point it was the beginning of November so I was sure that I wouldn't be able to get new reservations, but I was very surprised that not only were reservations still available during our stay, we also had our pick of dates and times. I made a lot of priority seatings this time around, because I wasn't sure of how the crowds would be and didn't want to risk not getting in somewhere that we really wanted to eat. I figured that it would be better to have them and cancel them later if we decided not to use them. Rich thought I was crazy and more than a little obsessive-compulsive in planning our meals three months ahead of time, but as it turns out he was thanking me later.

Other Planning:

I had hoped that we'd have a few days of down time on this trip, but we ended up shortening it by a few days because of school/work schedules. Since we wanted to visit all four Disney parks, including two days for Magic Kingdom and Epcot, plus we had tickets for Sea World, Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure already purchased, that pretty much ate up all 9 non-travel days that we had. So this trip was going to be a bit more commando then originally planned, but we figured we'd do the best we could and take a break if and when we felt we were nearing a melt down. I made a general itinerary for what parks we would visit on which days, and vowed to be flexible and not get too stressed out if things went astray. Easier said then done, but that was the plan at least.

With the background stuff out of the way, hopefully you're still interested enough to read about how our trip went!

Thursday, Jan. 1st--New Year's Day
The Plan: Arrive at MCO 2:45PM, Check-in, tour monorail resorts and dinner at 'Ohana

Actual:

The alarm went off at 6AM and I leapt out of bed. The only time I'm ever that motivated in the morning is the day of a trip to Disney! Since we'd packed just about everything the night before, we got out the door pretty smoothly. We had taken my father-in-law's car so that we could drive to his house with the luggage already packed and he could drive us right into Logan airport. We said goodbye to our dog, Cricket, and piled into the car, everyone excited and anxious for the trip we had planned and dreamed about for so long to finally begin.

At this point I'll mention was to become a major damper on my vacation. I have always had ear problems and two days prior to our leaving I started to get an earache. I should have taken care of it then, but I played the martyr and assumed that it would go away on its own. Unfortunately, when I woke up the day before our trip my ear was much worse and I knew that I'd have to get it checked out. I called for an appointment, but it being the holidays, the doctor was unavailable. The physician's assistant on call was able to call in an antibiotic for me, but at that point I was in terrible pain and couldn't hear a thing out of my right ear. I was concerned about how it would affect my vacation, but most of all I was worried about how I would get through a plane ride. Determined not to let it ruin the trip, I just took some Sudafed and Tylenol as suggested by the pharmacist and hoped for the best.

We arrived at Logan at 9:30AM for our 11:35 flight, and here's where things really started to fall apart. A little background first...I raise Great Danes, and one of our puppies was going to a show home in Florida. Since we were flying to Florida anyway, we decided that it would be better if her new owner met us at MCO and we would fly along with the puppy. I called Song ahead of time to make the reservation for her and also checked the website to make sure there were no additional requirements for her to fly. When shipping puppies in cold weather you need a certificate of acclimation from your vet stating that the puppy can be exposed to certain temperatures. However, the Song website stated that I only needed this certificate if I was shipping the puppy as cargo, not if we were going to be on board the plane as well.

We arrived at the airport and everything was going great until we got to the counter where we check our bags. I told the agent that we would be flying with the puppy and she asked me if I had a certificate of acclimation. I told her that we didn't, since we were flying with her and the website made no mention of needing it. The agent then informed me that the puppy couldn't fly without the certificate. I tried not to get too upset, despite the fact that I wasn't feeling well, our ride had already left so we were now stranded at the airport, and I had two anxious children who were afraid that we couldn't go to Disney World. I knew it wasn’t the agent’s fault, so I tried to stay calm despite all of this, and in return, she was very nice back and did everything in her power to help us. First, she offered us to use the phone so we could call our vet and have him fax the certificate. Unfortunately, this didn't work since it was New Year's Day and the vet's office was closed. We then offered to sign a waiver that we would not hold the airline responsible if something should happen. She checked with her manager who said we couldn't do that. At this point, I was getting more and more panicked since it was getting close to our flight time and with the heightened security, the line to get through the checkpoints was very long.

The agent asked us where we were traveling to, and when I told her Orlando she said she would check on something. She looked up weather reports and then talked to her manager again. They both ended up agreeing that the weather would be warm enough for the puppy to fly. I can't tell you how happy and relieved we were, but unfortunately, the story didn't end there. We got the puppy checked in and finally went to join the long security line when I heard my name paged over the intercom. I had a sinking feeling in my stomach when I went back to the Delta counter, wondering what had gone wrong this time. It turns out that the manager on duty felt that the crate the puppy was in wasn't large enough for her to fly in. We had bought the crate the week prior to our flight, and anyone who knows Great Danes know that the puppies grow VERY quickly! I was a little annoyed because I knew the crate was plenty big enough for the 2 1/2 hour trip, but after how accommodating everyone had been before I didn't argue.

The question was, how were we going to get another crate about 45 minutes before our departure time??? Again, the personnel at Delta bent over backwards to help us. They looked in their own terminal for an extra crate and when there were none available, they started calling around to other airlines. It turns out there was a crate available at the United terminal and instead of just telling us where to go to get it, one of the agents walked down with my husband to help him find it. While they were gone, Zachary was getting more and more anxious that we were going to miss our plane, but the other agents kept talking to him, asking him about Disney World and reassuring him that they'd make sure we got there no matter what.

Well the crate ended up costing us another $100, which unfortunately had to come out of our trip budget, but at that point we were relieved to finally be on our way! The original agent who helped us then offered to escort us to the beginning of the security line since it was getting so close to our flight time. The reason for this very long story is I think Delta really deserves a lot of praise for how they treated us this morning. They could have easily told us there was nothing they could have done for us, and probably would have if I had gotten rude with them like the people on the Airline TV show yelling at agents. Instead, I tried my best to keep calm, and in return they really went out of their way to help us out of a desperate situation. You can bet that Delta got a letter from us praising the agent and all her co-workers when we got home!

After all that, we got through security with no problem and arrived at our gate only to discover that Zachary had left a backpack back on the security belt. Worst of all, that bag contained all of our park passes! Rich sprinted back to the security area, and thankfully retrieved the backpack with all of the tickets still inside. Another crisis averted.

Rich finally got back and as soon as he did they started boarding the plane. Talk about cutting it close. Good thing we gave ourselves plenty of time this morning. We arrived over two hours early, thinking that we were going to be killing a lot of time sitting around by the gate, but it turned out we just barely made our plane. After all the drama we’d been through, we didn't truly begin to relax until we were actually in the air. Only then did we breathe a sigh of relief and realize that we were finally beginning our vacation!

Our flight was thankfully less eventful than the rest of the morning and we landed on time at MCO. Rich went to baggage claim while I stayed on the lookout for the puppy's new owner. Luckily she was easy to find since she brought another one of her Danes with her. A full grown Great Dane in an airport terminal is hard to miss! We met with her for a little while, sent the puppy off with a big hug and a few tears, then we went to find the Alamo counter. It was easy to locate, but we were horrified to see the line that had formed. I decided to stay with the kids while Rich stood in line. It was at this point that Zach asked me if I could put him back on another plane home and have my mother pick him up at Logan. Needless to say that was not the right thing to say at that point in time and I was having some not so magical thoughts about my son.

After 45 minutes in line, it was finally Rich's turn at the counter. He accidentally gave them the wrong card, which I had cancelled, and when it was declined he tried to call me over to the counter. I couldn't hear what he was saying, so he started calling out, "the card was declined!" loud enough so that I (and the other 50 or so people in line) could hear. Humiliated, I went over to the counter to try to straighten things out. I gave them the correct card and got out of there as fast as I could. We picked out our car, a Saturn Ion, and were mercifully on our way!

When we got to the Contemporary, Rich thought it would be easier if I waited in the car with the kids while he checked us in. Since we had been paying the balance before we arrived, it was a great feeling when he came back to the car and told me we only owed $1.70. That I could handle! Since we were staying through Shades of Green, we were assigned to the North Garden Wing. We parked the car and began the long trek to our room. Seriously, we kept walking and walking for what seemed like forever. I don’t think we could have been any further from the main building if we tried. My initial impression of the hotel was that it wasn't as bad as I had imagined, but I still don’t think we would have chosen to stay here if it weren't through Shades of Green. The hallways in the North Garden Wing were in pretty rough shape. The walls were all scuffed up and there was peeling wallpaper here and there, something I didn't expect from a Disney hotel. It was pretty banged up, and did not leave a good first impression.

When we finally got to our room, I was happy to see that it was clean, but we had a few minor problems in there too. There were two knobs missing off the bathroom vanity, the door on one of the cabinets kept falling off, and one of the lights didn’t work properly. Since the room was clean, these problems weren't enough for me to complain about. Plus we were so tired at this point that we didn't really care. I will say that for the $78/night that we spent here the room was fine, but if we had paid the regular Disney rate, I would have been pretty unhappy and would have asked to be moved.

By this point it was about 5:30 and close to our PS time at 'Ohana, so we freshened up quickly and began the trek back to the main building and the Monorail. Since we hadn't really eaten anything all day, we were really looking forward to this meal. It didn’t disappoint. Rich and I had been here twice on our last trip without the kids, and it was his favorite meal of the trip. Our PS was for 6:30, and when we arrived, the lobby was packed. When Rich took one look at the line to check in, he finally admitted that he was glad I was such an obsessive-compulsive planner. We were finally seated at about 7:00, and got a wonderful table right next to the window and the fire pit. The hostess told us that we should take our time with the meal so we could stay for the 9:00 fireworks, but with two tired kids, we knew that two hours for dinner would be pushing it.

We were greeted right away and brought bread and appetizers. The salad with lime vinaigrette dressing was delicious, but I didn't really care for the wontons this time around. I thought they tasted a little too fishy. I also remember from the last trip that we had salmon wrapped in banana leaves, but they weren't served this time. The meat spears came soon after, and everything was absolutely fantastic. Rich and Zach loved the steak and ordered several more. I thought the turkey was very tender and delicious. Madeline actually ate quite a bit too.

Soon it was time for the coconut races and hula hoop contest. Madeline had a blast, and cried when she had to come back to the table. Rich and I thought that the Hawaiian singer was the same guy as from our last visit 6 years ago, and we also thought that he seemed a little worn out and less than enthusiastic this time around. I guess 6+ years of singing the same songs over and over again can do that to you. Everyone loved the pineapples and caramel, especially Madeline, who got a lecture from her brother on double-dipping. All in all, this was a great first meal, and a wonderful start to our trip. Total including tax and tip was $88.

After dinner we decided to make it an early night and went back to the hotel. Zach and Rich headed to the pool for a quick swim, and I got Madeline ready for bed. We were all in bed by about 9:00pm, and surprisingly, the kids fell asleep right away. Madeline is usually a very light sleeper, so I thought that we were going to have a tough time getting her to bed each night with all of us in the same room, but it turned out that she was so wiped out every night that it was never a problem.

After everyone else fell asleep, my ear problems really started up again. Despite all the medication I was taking, as soon as I would lie down the pressure would build up in my ears again and the pain was excruciating. I took some Tylenol PM and propped myself up on pillows so that I was practically sitting up. Just as I was finally drifting to sleep, a family returning from the parks came down the hallway and woke me up. This turned out to happen quite a few times. While I never heard any noise from the rooms on either side of us, the noise from the hallways could be quite loud at times. Anyway, I was wide awake again when I heard the music from the Electric Water Pageant so I jumped out of bed to see if I could catch a glimpse. Unfortunately, the view from our room was only a tiny corner of the lake so I didn't get to see it, but we did hear the music every night. I tossed and turned for the rest of the night and finally got to sleep around 2am.

It was a long day between the problems at the airport, the wait at the Alamo counter, and the ear infection, but tomorrow was the official start to our vacation and we couldn’t wait!

Friday, Jan. 2nd
The Plan: Magic Kingdom, Breakfast at Crystal Palace, dinner at Cinderella's Royal Table

Actual:

It seemed like I had just fallen asleep, when I heard Rich get up and start rustling around. I looked at the clock and it was 5am. When I asked him what he was doing he told me he wanted to go for a jog. I could have killed him. So he got up and went running, and when he returned he put the TV on very low, but it was still enough to keep me awake. Normally, I would be the first one out of bed on a Disney trip, but after last night, I just wanted to sleep for a little longer. I stayed in bed until 7:15, when it was time for us to get ready for the Magic Kingdom and the Crystal Palace.

We all got ready and decided that we'd take the pathway over to the Magic Kingdom. This was a nice walk, but I missed that excitement and the first glimpse of the castle and train station that you get when you arrive on the Monorail. As soon as we arrived, we knew it was going to be a crowded day. We've always gone during the off-season, and this was the most crowded I think I've ever seen the entrance. I got my annual pass activated, and we stepped under the train station and onto Main Street for the first time.

Sigh. Do you ever get over that feeling of complete contentment and happiness that comes over you when you step onto Main Street for the first time on each trip? The only thing that was disappointing was that they were still playing Christmas music, so I missed all those wonderful nostalgic songs that they play. I was quickly over it when I saw how many characters were out this morning. We didn't want to be late for breakfast, so we didn't have much time for pictures, but we did stop for a quick one with Pinocchio, one of Madeline's favorites, before rushing off for breakfast with Pooh and his friends.

When we arrived at the Crystal Palace, Rich had to swallow his pride and admit that my obsessive planning paid off once again. It was mobbed! We were seated within 10 minutes, and the Crystal Palace is as beautiful as I remembered it to be from my last visit with my grandparents as a little girl. It was very bright and sunny, and a perfect way to begin our first day in the park.

I expected this restaurant to be loud and chaotic from all that I've read on the boards, but we didn't think it was that bad. Full of excited children of course, but no yelling and screaming. Character interaction was nice, if a bit rushed, and the service was wonderful. There was a very nice variety of food for a breakfast buffet, and we all found something that we enjoyed. I especially liked the puffed french toast, and Madeline loved the breakfast pizza. We enjoyed this restaurant and will probably make it a tradition on all of our trips. Total including tip was $65.

After breakfast we headed towards Tomorrowland. Space Mountain had over an hour wait, so we grabbed some FastPasses and went on the Tomorrowland Transit Authority (TTA) as our first ride of the trip. Admittedly, not a very exciting way to start off, but we figured it would be a good way to introduce Madeline to the rides with something tame. We mistakenly figured there was no way that she could be afraid of that ride. Sure enough, she got very nervous when we went through the tunnel parts in the dark, and we were afraid that it wouldn’t bode well for the rest of the vacation if she got upset so easily. Luckily for all of us, she quickly adjusted to the rides, and by the end of the trip, nothing fazed her, including the “scary” ones like Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.

After the TTA we headed over to Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, which had a 45 minute stand by line. I wasn’t thrilled about the idea of waiting so long in the sun, but Zach really wanted to ride it so we waited. After Buzz we headed towards the Indy Speedway, again at Zach’s insistence. I was wilting quickly in the heat, my ear was really hurting, and Madeline started having a meltdown due to being overtired and the beginning of a cold. We decided that after the Speedway, we’d use our Space Mountain fastpasses, get a snack and head back to the Contemporary for a nap.

I was really frustrated by this point because even though I expected there to be some post-holiday crowds, they were really overwhelming today. I don’t remember ever encountering crowds like this before. It wasn’t just the fact that there were long lines everywhere, but it was even hard to walk around without bumping into people and it all just felt very claustrophobic. One of the CM’s commented to us later in the week that WDW had had record attendance over the holidays, and judging from the crowds that still remained, it wasn’t hard to believe. On a positive note, the parks were noticeably cleaner this time around then they’d been on my last visit, which I’m sure was no easy feat considering the amount of visitors they had.

After our ill-fated tour of Tomorrowland, I decided that the perfect way to raise our flagging spirits was to have a Dole Whip! No one else had tried them before, so I assured everyone that they were in for a treat and we headed off to find them. These really saved the day. We sat down on a bench in Adventureland to eat and finally started to relax and soak in the atmosphere. Afterwards we felt much better, and Rich is now officially added to the ranks as a new convert to the famous Dole Whips.

Refreshed and in a much better frame of mind, we battled the crowds waiting for the Share a Dream Come True Parade and headed back to the Contemporary, where we took a much needed nap.

We had PS that night for Cinderella’s Royal Table, and we called to see if we could push it back another hour so we could nap longer, but we were told there was no availability. We asked for a wake up call and woke up feeling much better after about an hour and a half. I gave Madeline a quick bath, and we rode the Monorail back to the MK in a much better frame of mind. We were cutting it close at this point, so we had to rush down Main Street and straight to the castle.

I wasn't expecting much from this dinner except a nice atmosphere, but we were very pleasantly surprised. Of course, the highlight was eating inside the castle, but the food was excellent also. Rich and I both got prime rib, which was done perfectly. The root potatoes were very salty, but I like salt so it didn't bother me. Both the kids got hamburgers, which were nothing special, but they liked them. Service was excellent, and of course the ambience was incredible. The only low point of the dinner was the family behind us who watched their daughter run around the restaurant uncontrollably while calling out loudly for her to come back to the table. She visited our table quite a few times, which stopped being cute after the first couple of encounters. Mom finally started chasing her around the restaurant after a few near misses with the servers. Dad happily continued eating while Mom followed her around from table to table for the rest of the evening.

Other than that, dinner was much better than we expected and we'll definitely be back! Total with tip was $90 and worth every penny. The best part of the night was when we were finished eating and who but Cinderella herself was downstairs greeting families. Madeline was in awe and waited her turn to meet her. This Cinderella did an excellent job. She spent a lot of time with the kids, talking to them and asking them questions. When she was saying goodbye to Madeline, she gave her a kiss on the cheek, which Madeline proceeded to hold onto for the rest of the night. It was definitely a magical moment for us.

After dinner we rode some of the rides in Fantasyland. When we went on “it’s a small world” we unfortunately got stuck in front of an obnoxious family who spoke very loudly in another language throughout the ride. As we passed different countries, one of the men in particular would shout out the name of the country, and the others would repeat it over and over again. That ride is barely tolerable as it is, and sitting near this family made it even less so.

When that experience was finally over we noticed that they were roping off Fantasyland for Wishes, which we hadn’t seen yet. We made the mistake of staying in Fantasyland instead of going in front of the castle. As a result, we missed most of the effects and had to keep turning around in different directions to see what was going on. Still, it was a beautiful show, and we looked forward to seeing it later on in the week when we could get the full view from the front of the castle.

After Wishes we rode a few more rides then headed to Main Street to watch SpectroMagic. After the parade, we grabbed some ice cream at the Plaza Restaurant ($15.25) and headed back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep!

Saturday, Jan. 3rd
The Plan: Epcot, lunch at San Angel Inn, dinner at Teppanyaki

Actual:
Unfortunately, I was up all night again with my earache, so 8am came much too soon. Since we had planned two big meals in Epcot today, we decided to eat breakfast in the room. We had brought some pop tarts and powdered donuts from home, so it was nice to save a little time and money this morning instead of eating out.

We arrived at Epcot around 10am and there were still a lot of crowds today, but not as bad as yesterday. The weather was around 80 degrees, and a little bit humid. I know it sounds crazy, but I was hoping for it to cool down a little later in the week. (I would regret that later when the temperatures dropped down into the 40s.)

Since there was no line, we made Spaceship Earth the first ride of the day, followed by the Universe of Energy. We all enjoyed that one, but it sure does eat up a good chunk of time doesn’t it? By the time we were done with that, it was already almost time for lunch, so we grabbed FastPasses for Test Track and headed over to the world showcase for our priority seating at the San Angel Inn. Rich and I ate here on our last visit and really enjoyed it. Being from the Northeast, we don't have many authentic Mexican restaurants and have nothing to really compare it to, but we thought the food was great.

Of course, the atmosphere is wonderful, very quiet and relaxing and a perfect way to get away from the crowds and unwind for a while. Rich and Zach ordered the beef tacos, which Rich enjoyed, but Zach didn't care for. He's used to Taco Bell, so didn't really appreciate the onions and peppers etc. that came in his tacos. Rich ended up eating most of his, and Zach ate his sister's chicken fingers. I got the Plato Mexicano, which was excellent. It came with a taco, burrito and quesadilla, and it was so good I ended up eating long after I should have stopped. While we were eating a band came into the pavilion and started singing. It made for a very nice accompaniment to our lunch. For dessert we shared the chocolate chimichanga, which unfortunately sounded better than it actually was. That didn't stop us from finishing it all though! Service was great too. Total including tip was $60.

After lunch we headed over to The Land pavilion, because it was the last day that Food Rocks would be open. It was a cute show and I’m glad we got a chance to see it one last time, but I agree that it was time for something new. We then rode Journey Into Imagination With Figment, which was fun, but again nothing special. By this time, everyone was starting to feel pretty grumpy again, and Zach was really anxious to just ride Test Track and Mission: Space and had no interest in anything else. As a result, we kind of ended up sprinting through the World Showcase. I think on our next trip I’m definitely going to arrange for some alone time so I can look at things at my own pace!

Soon it was getting close to dinner time and our PS at Teppanyaki. We shouldn't have scheduled another full meal after our big lunch, but Rich really wanted to try Teppanyaki since he's never been here before. I've been on my last visit with my sister, but to be honest, I didn't have as good of an experience this time around. Dinner was good, but no different than the Japanese steakhouses that we have at home, and of course at a much higher price. Our chef was also good, but not very entertaining. The table next to us looked like they were having a lot more fun. The family sitting next to us at our table ate in silence, so it made for a rather quiet and awkward dinner. We didn’t necessarily expect them to talk to us but they didn’t even talk to each other. Rich and I had the Tonosama dinner (chicken and NY sirloin), Zach had the kid's chicken dinner and Madeline shared with all of us. Total including tip was $105. We may return in the future, but we have other restaurants we'd like to try first.

After dinner it was finally time for Rich and Zach to ride Mission: Space. I was still afraid that my ear would cause me problems, so I told them to ride it without me and tell me how it went. While they rode, Madeline and I browsed through the giant store (sorry, the name escapes me) that’s by the Epcot entrance. They had some really nice things there, but it was hard to navigate because it was so mobbed. We stayed for about a half hour and then went back to Mission: Space to find the boys, who quickly declared it the best ride of the trip so far.

After that we decided to call it a night and headed back to the resort. Zach and Rich went swimming, while I gave Madeline a bath and put her to bed. When she fell asleep I updated this report and enjoyed some alone time before the boys came back. Another long but fun day…

Sunday, Jan. 4th
The Plan: Sea World, breakfast at Chef Mickey's, Hoop-De-Doo Revue

Actual:
We had a 7AM PS at Chef Mickey’s this morning, but decided last night that we wanted to sleep in a little later. We called Disney Dining to see if we could make a later PS, but they told us they were completely booked. So we dragged ourselves out of bed, and went to Chef Mickey's at opening. There were already quite a few people when we arrived, but we were seated right away. The food here was ok, but certainly nothing special. I was disappointed in the french toast, it looked much better than it tasted. Character interaction was very rushed here, and the little napkin twirling thing they do seemed pretty half-hearted to me. Maybe it was too early in the morning for the characters and wait staff too. I'm glad we went here just to say we've done it, but I don't think we'll rush back any time soon. Total including tip was $68.

After breakfast, we headed towards Sea World. Unfortunately, this was probably the biggest mistake of our trip. We had a good enough time, and we certainly had no complaints about it, but I just think our time would have been much better spent if we’d taken a day off from the parks or did a half day at one of the water parks instead.

Sea World is definitely a beautiful place, but we were just hot and tired and didn’t really enjoy ourselves as much as we thought we would. It’s also very difficult to plan the day because it’s mostly shows, so you really have to stick to a schedule if you want to see everything. By mid-day we were all getting pretty impatient with one another, and started looking for a place to cool down and eat. We didn’t have much luck finding a place that we could all agree on. Since we had plans for Hoop-Dee-Doo that night, we didn’t really feel like a big sit-down meal, but the fast food choices weren’t all that appealing. We eventually settled on something, but I can’t remember much of it now so it couldn’t have been worth writing (or reading) about.

After lunch we decided that we’d call it a day at Sea World and just go back to the hotel and rest up before the Hoop-Dee-Doo later that night. We ended up leaving at around 1:30, which was upsetting, because I feel like we wasted $200 and most of our day. Oh well, a lesson learned for our next trip.

We went back to the hotel a little disappointed with our day, but after a nice nap we woke up ready and excited for our night at the Hoop-Dee-Doo. This was one of the highlights of our trip! I've been many years ago on a family trip when I was a kid, but didn't remember much of the show. I have to admit that I was a little reluctant to spend the money ($148.75) since I didn't know if my family would enjoy it or not, plus we were already tired from all the touring we'd done, so we considered canceling. I'm really glad that we didn't.

We arrived at Fort Wilderness about an hour early for our 7:30 show and walked around the campground. I wanted to check out the cabins, so we took a tour around some of the loops for a while. Many of the sites were decorated for Christmas and some of them were pretty ornate! From the looks of many of them, it seemed as though people spent quite a bit of time here rather than a week long vacation. We really liked it there, and Rich almost has me convinced to stay in the cabins on a future trip.

We all loved the atmosphere at Hoop-Dee-Doo, and it really made us feel like we were "on vacation." The food was pretty basic, ribs, fried chicken, salad and corn, but it was tasty and there was plenty of it. The only thing I was disappointed in was the strawberry shortcake for dessert. As far as I'm concerned, if it's not chocolate, it's not dessert. I was afraid the humor would be a little too corny, but all four of us laughed out loud the whole time, including Zach, who tried to be "cool" and not laugh but eventually couldn't help himself. Rich even found a new girlfriend, Claire De Lune, who picked him out of the crowd to sit on his lap and sing him a song. (something about him not telling her he was married!)

All in all, this meal was worth every penny and Rich commented that it was one of his favorite parts of the trip. I don't know how much his new girlfriend had to do with that though. I definitely recommend this one, even if you think your family may not get into it, it may surprise you. We'll make this show a "must do" on every trip from now on.

After dinner we took the ferry boat back to the Contemporary. It was a little cold, but a nice ride. We were back at the hotel by 9:45, watched a little CSI and went to bed.

Monday, Jan. 5th
The Plan: Disney-MGM Studios, lunch at Sci-Fi Dine-In, dinner at 50's Prime Time Cafe, Fantasmic

Actual:
We woke up on our own at about 7:45 and just had doughnuts and juice in our room. We ended up leaving the room at about 9:00. We decided to take the bus rather than the rental car this morning, and had about a 15 minute wait.

We got to MGM at about 9:30, and were pleasantly surprised when the CM just waved Madeline in. Before anyone gets angry at us, we bought a ticket for her and had it out and ready to present at the gate, but the CM just let her through without it. Nothing like that has ever happened to us before, and we were pretty happy to save the day on her ticket. Another reason to return soon J

When we entered the park I was again disappointed that the Christmas music was still playing. Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas music, but by the time the holiday is over I’m ready to move on. Not to mention that I really love those old Hollywood tunes (Hooray for Hollywood!) that’s normally played in this park. On a brighter note, we were once again impressed by how many characters were out today. It seemed like on this whole trip we noticed significantly more characters out and about, which is a welcome change. The character meet and greets were also much more organized then they’ve been in the past, when it was basically parents pushing mobs of children in front of the character and no one paying any attention to who was there first. Now they have a nice, orderly line where everyone waits their turn and things go much more smoothly.

I was surprised that the crowds today were still pretty big. I had really thought that they would have died down by now, but I guess with the way the holidays fell this year people were staying a little longer. We got our FastPasses for Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, then Rich and Zach rode on Tower of Terror which I opted to sit out since I’m afraid of heights. After TOT was Muppet Vision 3-D, which was fun as always, but after seeing it so many times, I’m thinking that an update would be nice. We missed the showing of Beauty and the Beast that we had planned to see, so we headed over to Playhouse Disney so Madeline could see all of her favorite characters from TV. This was something that we’ll be glad to skip the next time around, but it was nice for Madeline to do something just for her after all the times she was “too little” for other things on this trip.

By now it was time for our PS at the Sci-Fi Dine-In, which we were really excited about. I know that this restaurant gets mixed reviews, but we really enjoy it here. This is the 4th time I've been, and I've never been disappointed. I think the key is to go at lunch (dinner menu is different and too pricey) and stick with the basics like hamburgers and fries. Everyone is busy watching the movie reel, so other than the sound of the show, it is very quiet. It's also cool and dark, so it's a great place to go to recharge your batteries after a long, hot morning.

We got an order of onion strings, (very good!) burgers, and a hotdog for Madeline. I also got a coke float, and the kids got sodas with the electric ice cubes. Our meal was great, for what it was, but I should have split a burger with Zach. They were very big and he and I both only ate half of ours. Total was $78 with tip, pretty expensive for lunch, but hey, it’s Disney.

I wanted to see One Man’s Dream, so we headed over after lunch and I really enjoyed looking around. The only thing we didn’t like was that there was some sort of movie or presentation at the end that we didn’t want to stay for since we were pressed for time. It seemed like we’d have no choice since there was no exit nearby to escape, but we ended up walking all the way back to the beginning of the exhibit and slipping out the front door.

Next up was Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, which none of us had ever been to before. Zach was really worried that we would end up getting on the board and begged us not to press the buttons. You know how embarrassing parents can be to an eleven year old. Turns out that Zach had nothing to worry about, since we never did make it on the board. One of the guys who did make it to the hot seat though was extremely nervous. So much so that it was uncomfortable to watch him. He ended up doing ok though and while we enjoyed the show, it’s probably enough to say we’ve done it once.

Next we went to see Beauty and the Beast, which Madeline really enjoyed. Again, we thought it was enough to see it once, and it seemed to eat up a lot of time, which was now running short. I had wanted to see the Haunted Mansion attraction, but it was already time for our PS at the 50’s Prime Time Cafe. We said we’d come back to it later, but unfortunately we never did get a chance. Seems like the reasons to come back keep piling up! We were still pretty full from lunch, but I didn't want to miss out on the Prime Time Cafe, so we kept our PS. We headed over to the restaurant, which I was really excited about since I had told my family all about what a great time I had on my last visit with my sister. Unfortunately, the meal ended up being a real disappointment this time around.

I had planned to get a chicken sandwich, but it was only on the lunch menu so I just got an appetizer instead. Rich got the pot roast, which he said was very good, and Zach and Madeline split the fried chicken. Madeline also got the PB&J shake (I tried it and it was good, but not as great as I'd imagined) and Rich got a hot fudge sundae for dessert. While we had no complaints about the food, our server was a complete dud. She didn't do anything wrong, but had absolutely no interaction, which is the whole reason why we came here. She seemed to have missed the whole point of this restaurant. She spoke in a monotone, and didn't joke around with us at all. The worst part is that I saw the wonderful server (Anas?) that my sister and I had from last year and saw how much fun everyone at his tables were having. I really wished that I had known he was still there or I would have requested his section. After we got back I actually saw him again on the Disney Unwrapped show on the Travel Channel. His customers looked like they were having a great time then too! I guess the lesson learned is if you go here looking for lots of fun and interaction, make sure you request a lively server at the podium. My family had heard me go on and on about how great the Prime Time was, and they were a little puzzled as to what all the fuss was about. Total with tip was $60.

After dinner I wanted to go on the Great Movie ride, but when I asked the CM at the entrance if he thought we’d have enough time to do that and still get seats for Fantasmic, he told us that he thought we’d be cutting it very close. We ended up skipping the movie ride (see, another reason to come back!) and heading toward the Fantasmic theater instead. We ended up getting there about one hour prior to the show, and didn’t have any problem finding a seat, although it did seem to fill up shortly after we arrived.

I think I must have built Fantasmic up too much in mind, because although I enjoyed it, I guess I expected a lot more. I thought that there were parts that were really intense for children, and while I don’t expect everything to be watered down for the little ones, this I thought came close to going over the top. Madeline did ok, but she didn’t really enjoy it. I thought the finale was great, but I’m not sure if it was worth losing an hour and a half of park time to see it again. I am glad that I saw it though, if nothing else but to finally see for myself what I’ve been reading about for all this time.

After the show was over, we left MGM feeling a little disappointed that we didn’t get a lot done, but it was still a fun day. We got back to the hotel by 8:30 and the kids wanted to go swimming so we went for a short time. My ear was still hurting and I was afraid to get it wet, so I only went in for a few minutes and Rich stayed with the kids for a little while longer while I went back to the room. We all went to bed by about 10:00, another long and tiring day.

Tuesday, Jan. 6th
The Plan: Epcot/Animal Kingdom, Princess Storybook Breakfast, dinner at Whispering Canyon

Actual:
This morning was the day of our princess breakfast in Epcot, so we had to get an early wakeup call in order to be there on time for our 8:30PS. The call came at 6:45am, which is much too early to get up while on vacation, but since we’re in Disney World no one seemed to mind as much as we do when the alarm goes off on a school/work day.

We were running a few minutes late for our seating when we finally arrived at Epcot. Because of that, we ended up sprinting our way through the world showcase over to Norway and didn’t really get a chance to enjoy seeing everything first thing in the morning with no crowds. We only ended up being 5 minutes late, but I had read that they didn’t hold your time for very long at this breakfast. We arrived hot and out of breath, but very hungry and ready to meet the princesses!

Restaurant Akershus, where this breakfast is held, is very beautiful. I’m glad we got a chance to go this morning because I don’t think we’d care for their regular menu but wanted to get a chance to look around inside. Our server, Linda, was very nice but a little too shy. It probably was because English was her second language, but as a result she was very quiet and didn’t really interact with us very much. The food was as we expected, hot and plentiful, but nothing really extraordinary. That’s ok though because we were really there for the atmosphere and of course, the princesses.

There were 5 princesses here this morning, Belle, Snow White, Jasmine, Mulan and Aurora. Madeline ended up being very timid when they came around. She just couldn’t believe her eyes that they were in front of her and really “real” and I think she was shocked into silence. All of the princesses were great with her though and made comments about how she must have “lost” her voice. We took some nice pictures, but Zachary steadfastly refused to pose with any of the princesses. Rich was happy to step up to the plate though. All in all, this was a fun breakfast, with my only real complaint being that the tables were pushed very close together. It made us feel uncomfortable when we stood up to take pictures because we felt like we were standing too close to people while they were eating and disturbing their meals. Other than that, we had a fun time but probably won’t do it again unless Madeline requests it on a future trip. Total with tip was $75.

After breakfast we made our way out of the park because we had planned to go to Animal Kingdom. When we got there we noticed that the paths all seemed very crowded, but despite that the lines were not too bad. We also noticed a lot more foreign tour groups than we’d seen in other parks but as it turned out, they were all very polite and we didn’t notice anyone cutting in line, chanting or being overly loud like I’ve read about online. Just people like us having a lot of fun with friends and family.

Animal Kingdom is my least favorite park, so I don’t remember too many details of this day. I do remember that we didn’t see too many animals on our safari this time around, and that Zach and Rich were really disappointed in their lunch. They had some sort of Thai beef salad and Chicken Stir Fry at one of the stands ($21). Madeline and I weren’t hungry, so we decided to save room for an ice cream bar later!

Zach and Madeline thought that DinoLand USA was great, but I agree with most of the other opinions that I’ve read and thought it was tacky. I will admit, however, that Primeval Whirl was a lot of fun. There was no line, so Zach and I rode that twice before we decided to call it a day at 2pm.

The temperature had dropped very suddenly, so we decided to go back to the hotel for sweatshirts. We had a 5pm PS at Whispering Canyon Cafe, but we thought that we’d try to get in early, not knowing that they didn’t open for dinner until 5:00. We took the boat over to the Wilderness Lodge and as soon as we got there I remembered how much I loved the Wilderness Lodge and wished that we had decided to stay there after all. Everything was so beautiful and relaxing, and I could just picture myself spending my nights there just soaking in the atmosphere unlike at the Contemporary, which we thought of as basically just a place to sleep.

We got to the podium at Whispering Canyon and found out we couldn’t get in early, so we asked if we could change our PS to a later seating so we could head to the Magic Kingdom for a while. The hostess said they weren’t busy that night so it wouldn’t be a problem. We took the bus over to the Magic Kingdom, and I’m happy to say it was much less busy than it had been the past couple of days. Since it was so un-crowded, I wanted to spend some time walking slowly down Main Street and enjoying the atmosphere, but Rich and the kids were anxious to get moving. I made a mental note again to make sure to schedule some alone time for myself on the next trip so I could go at my own pace instead of rushing from attraction to attraction.

We got to see the show going on at the forecourt of the castle, then Madeline spent some time with Suzy and Perla before we headed over to Adventureland for the Swiss Family Treehouse, the Tiki Room and Pirates of the Caribbean. Then we decided to give Pooh a try before it was time to head back to the Wilderness Lodge for our 7:30 PS at Whispering Canyon. We got caught in the middle of SpectroMagic while trying to leave the park, so we thought we’d be cutting it close, but arrived on time and were seated right away at 7:20.

This meal was Zach’s favorite of the whole trip. Again, we had a very quiet server, but this was fine because we still got to enjoy the antics at all the other tables, while not having to be embarrassed ourselves. Zach laughed out loud watching all that was going on between the ketchup and the horse races and the servers making some of the grown ups get up and sing. Our meal was great too. We had an adult skillet, a child’s skillet, a strip steak, milkshakes and 2 kid’s sundaes for $88. The best part of all was that the hostess didn’t charge us for Madeline, even though we told her that she was three and we had planned on paying for her. We thought the price was pretty reasonable for the amount of food (and entertainment) that we got, and we’ll definitely be back again.

After dinner we took the boat back to the Contemporary. It was raining and freezing cold (even for us Northerners) so luckily it was a quick ride. We were back to the room by 9:30 and went straight to bed.

Wednesday, Jan. 7th
The Plan: Breakfast at Kona Cafe, Universal Studios, dinner at Hard Rock Cafe

Actual:

We decided to skip the Kona Café this morning so we could sleep in a little later. We were up by 7:15 and left the room at 8:30 for our day at Universal Studios. It was COLD outside (mid forties). We drove to Universal Studios in the rental car, and the CM’s at the front desk of the Contemporary were more than happy to give us directions with no comments about going off property and betraying Mickey. We stopped at an IHOP outside of Universal Studios and had a huge breakfast for $35 including tip.

We had a great time at Universal, and I think our only complaint was that there are so many simulator rides. We didn’t care for Jimmy Neutron or Back to the Future and didn’t feel like they were worth the 30+ minute waits in line. Other than that, we found the park to be very clean, and the employees were very friendly and helpful.

At lunchtime I wasn’t feeling hungry yet, so I stopped at Schwab’s Pharmacy for a coke float while everyone else got hotdogs at one of the stands (~$15). We then moved on to Shrek, which was really cute and MIB, which we all really liked. I cheated and read the secret about getting the bonus points in one of the guidebooks without telling Rich or Zach, so they were duly impressed when I got the highest score.

After about 4:00 there were no lines at all in the park, so we had a great time going from ride to ride and just taking it all in. I hadn’t been to this park for several years, so I wish that we had more time here. The park closed all too soon at 6pm so we never did end up getting to see any of the shows, and Zach also missed out on the Nickelodeon Studios tour. We’ll make a point of coming back again on the next trip and I think that next time we’ll spend more than a day.

After the park closed, we decided to have dinner at the Hard Rock Café, and again were pleasantly surprised that there was no wait. We were put in an out of the way room with not as many fun things to look at, so that was a little disappointing, but otherwise we had a great meal. We split an order of onion rings as an appetizer. For dinner Zach and I had buffalo tenders, Rich had some sort of big salad with chicken and Madeline had a hotdog. We also split a sundae and chocolate chip pie for dessert. Total with tip was $70, which we thought was pretty reasonable for the amount of food we ate. Maybe Disney had just finally worked its evil spell on us enough that we thought we got off cheap.

After dinner we drove back on property and decided to stop by Downtown Disney. We looked around World of Disney, which was extremely crowded, and then I went next door to check out Basin. This looked like a fun store, but I didn’t really get a chance to look around much with the kids, who were getting tired, so we decided to call it a night. We were back at the Contemporary by 9PM and were fast asleep soon after.

Thursday, Jan. 8th
The Plan: Breakfast at Grand Floridian Cafe, Islands of Adventure, dinner at Margaritaville

Actual:

We were up this morning at 7AM, and instead of going to the Grand Floridian Café for breakfast as we had originally planned, we decided to eat at Kona Café instead. I had been craving blueberry pancakes, so instead of getting the Tonga Toast that I’ve been dying to try for so long, I got the pancakes. They were nothing special, and I later regretted not getting the Tonga Toast. I don’t remember what everyone else ordered, but they seemed to enjoy their meals and we left very full for $45.

After breakfast we headed over to Islands of Adventure. We were really excited to see this park as none of us had ever been before. Before we went in, I checked the lost and found at Universal for the Tinkerbelle hat that Madeline had lost the day before at Universal, but unfortunately no luck.

Islands of Adventure was very pretty, but we were struck by how much more commercial it seemed then the Disney parks. Don’t get me wrong, I know that Disney is just as eager to get you to part with your hard earned vacation dollars, it just seemed more obvious at IOA with all the carnival-like stands, etc. On the positive side, there were no lines today, so we got through the park very quickly and were done by 1:30.

I left feeling a little disappointed in IOA after all the build up that I gave to it. I just didn’t like it as much as I expected I would. I don’t have any specific complaints, and actually we enjoyed the Spider Man ride very much and considered it one of the best rides of the whole vacation. At the risk of sounding cliché, it was just missing some of that “magic.”

After IOA we were feeling hungry and decided to have lunch at Margaritaville. Again, there was no wait and we were seated right away. Zach had the Cheeseburger in Paradise, Rich got the fajitas, and I got coconut shrimp. Everyone split their meals with Madeline. Lunch was ok, but I don’t think we’ll be in a rush to come back. There were too many other interesting places on CityWalk that we’d like to try someday. Total with tip was $65.

Rich and Madeline were ready for naps after lunch so Zach and I decided to walk around Downtown Disney while they went back to the hotel to recharge. I had a few little arguments with Zach over what he could buy, but all in all we had a nice time with just the two of us until Rich and Madeline met up with us again at 4:45. I had been wanting to see Cold Mountain (love Jude Law!) and to be honest, I was needing a little alone time by this point in the trip, so Rich agreed to take the kids back for a swim while I saw the movie. After the movie, which was great, but a little too depressing for a Disney trip, the rest of the family met me outside of the theater, we grabbed a quick dinner at McDonald’s, much to my unhappiness, and we were back at the Contemporary by 9:00.

At this point we were in desperate need of clean clothes, so I decided to do a few quick loads of laundry while the rest of the family slept. Little did I know how useless the dryers at the Contemporary would be. I was up until after midnight reading my book in the Laundromat when I finally decided to give up. $15 later, I still had damp clothes, but at least they were clean.

Friday, Jan. 9th
The Plan: Magic Kingdom, lunch at Plaza Restaurant, dinner Liberty Tree Tavern

Actual:

Mickey woke us up this morning at 7:45 and we turned on the weather channel to see that once again the temperature this morning would be in the 40’s. We dressed warmly and headed over to the Magic Kingdom, which was much less crowded than it had been all week. Since we hadn’t eaten yet, we decided to give the Main Street Bakery a try. We’d never eaten breakfast here before and regretted that we hadn’t discovered it earlier. Everything looked so good, so we ended up buying a lot more food than we really needed, but all 4 of us were fed very well for $25.81.

Since all of the tables inside the bakery were taken up, we brought our food outside and ate at the tables near the Plaza restaurant. While we were eating we got a pleasant surprise when a little mini parade of dancers/singers came by. They sang a few songs (The Trolley Song, etc.) and it only lasted about 10 minutes, but it was just one of those little extras that are so great at Walt Disney World.

After breakfast we headed over to Toontown where there were no lines and TONS of characters out. We had them practically to ourselves and got pictures with at least 10 different characters. It was great! After meeting all the characters we decided it would be fun to take the train around the park, which ended up being very relaxing and a nice way to get off of our feet for a few minutes. We got off again at the Toontown station, and then went to wait in line for Madeline to meet Ariel. The posted wait was 30 minutes, but actually we got through the line in less than 10.

After riding some rides in Fantasyland, Rich was already hungry for lunch so we headed over to Pecos Bills Cafe. Madeline and I weren’t really hungry yet, so we just picked at the boys’ french fries. Total for a cheese burger, bacon double cheeseburger, two fries and three drinks was $21.88.

After lunch it was time for the Haunted Mansion. I was nervous about bringing Madeline on this one, but she took it all in stride and wasn’t scared at all. We then spent some time on Tom Sawyer’s Island. This was fun since I come from a very commando family and on all my trips growing up we never spent any time here. It was nice to get away from the crowds for a while and let the kids explore the caves, bounce back and forth on the bridge and just have fun running around without worrying about crowds or them getting lost. We were also able to see the parade go by from a distance. It was an obstructed view, but still a nice way to see it without standing in the crowds.

After spending at least an hour on the island, we headed on over to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and we were surprised to see that Madeline was tall enough to ride. Actually, I think she was just slightly under the line, but the cast member waved her in anyway. Again, we didn’t know how she’d handle this one, but she loved it and asked to ride again. Big change from the little girl who just a week ago was afraid of the People mover!

After Big Thunder, Splash Mountain and the Country Bears it was time for our dinner at Liberty Tree Tavern. Our PS was for 5:00 and we were seated right away. We came here for our last dinner on our honeymoon trip and were really excited about coming back. To us, the food is just ok (except for those delicious rolls with cinnamon butter!) but we really enjoy the atmosphere and the great character interaction. This time was no different. We had wonderful service, and the characters each came around 3 times when while we were eating. By the third time we were actually laughing because there are only so many pictures you can take and things you can talk about with a character who can’t talk back! The total for our meal was $80, but we left happy and satisfied and we thought it was well worth the price.

It had poured out while we were eating, despite clear skies when we went inside. As a result, Madeline’s stroller as well as our sweatshirts were soaking wet when we finished with dinner. Just another example of the unpredictability of Florida weather, and our own fault for not being better prepared.

After dinner we headed over to Fantasyland, where we waited in our longest line of the day for Peter Pan (35 minutes). There were no FastPasses left, and we were going to skip this one but we didn’t want Madeline to miss it if we didn’t get a chance to come back later. We then saw Mickey’s PhilharMagic for the first time, which was excellent! This was a great addition to Fantasyland and Disney should be proud of it.

After PhilharMagic we noticed that the fireworks were starting. We wanted to get a better view than the one we had last time in back of the castle, so we hurried through the park and watched it from Main Street Here’s where we had one of the most memorable moments of the trip for me. Rich will deny it to this day, but when I looked over at my soldier husband, watching Wishes while holding his daughter in his arms and with his arms around his son’s shoulders, he had tears in his eyes. Definitely Disney magic at it’s best and I think we have a new convert!

After the parade we did a little shopping in the Emporium since Zach had some Disney dollars that were burning a hole in his pocket. We had a little argument there because Zach wanted to buy a train set that I thought was too big to bring home on the plane, plus I knew he would lose interest in it as soon as we got home. I didn’t want to see him waste his money, but Rich took me aside and reminded me that it was after all his money and he should be able to spend it however he wanted. We finally came to a compromise and Zach agreed to wait until the next day to decide whether to buy it or not.

After that little unpleasantness we needed a little lift so what better way then to head over to the Main Street Bakery to get some more of those chocolate chip cookies that the kids and I had grown to love over the course of the trip. The line was insanely long, but we could not be deterred and got our cookies ($5.89) before taking the pathway back to the Contemporary and getting back to our room by 8:15. We watched the rest of Joan of Arcadia (my new favorite show) and called it a night by 9:00.

Aside from the rain getting our things wet, this was just about a perfect day.

Saturday, Jan. 10th--
The Plan: Epcot, lunch at Restaurant Marrakesh, dinner at Garden Grill

Actual:

This was our last park day and we all woke up feeling a little sad. We got up at 8am and after getting ready, headed over to the Food and Fun Center. I hated this place. I thought the décor and atmosphere could use a major overhaul. I know it’s only supposed to be a cafeteria, but after all this is Disney, couldn’t they have added a little more cheer? We had an unremarkable meal (bagels, an egg and cheese croissant, children’s pancakes with bacon, three oj’s and chocolate milk--$30) and headed upstairs to catch the Monorail. The Monorail was really crowded today and the hotel was filled with marathon families. It made us really sad that we didn’t stick with our training and run ourselves this year.

The crowds didn’t spill over into the parks today, at least not into Epcot. Probably because it was FREEZING cold out! We got there at 10:00 and there were tons of characters at the entrance. We took lots of pictures and then Zach and Rich reminded me it was time for my appointment with Mission: Space. I was really apprehensive about riding this, especially because of my ear problem, but knew I would regret it if I went home without trying it at least once. While I was waiting in line I started feeling really nervous and my stomach was in knots. It got so bad at one point that I actually thought I was going to throw up. I blame this on all the ominous announcements they give ahead of time, plus everything I’d read online before the trip about people being sick on the ride. I made it out alive however, and I have to concede that the build up beforehand is much worse than the ride itself. I was a little dizzy and lightheaded for a few minutes afterward, but it didn’t last long. All in all, this will probably be a once per trip ride for me.

After Mission: Space we walked around World Showcase, which we noticed still had very light crowds, although we did see lots of marathoners out and about. We had PS at Marrakesh today, and when we arrived at Morocco we thought it was interesting that there was a stand out front with a menu from the restaurant and photos of the food. It was like a recruitment booth for Marrakesh! When we went inside we could see why they felt the need to drum up business. It was almost completely empty.

After eating here, I now understand why it was empty. This was very disappointing, and without a doubt the worst meal of our trip. I had really been looking forward to eating here, and I don’t consider ourselves to be picky eaters by any means, so I was pretty surprised that we gave it a unanimous thumbs down. First of all, it was kind of unsettling just how empty the restaurant was, and this was during peak lunch hour (around 12:30). It was the kind of feeling you get when you go out to eat near closing time and you feel like you have to hurry through your meal because the servers are all waiting to go home.

In addition, the service here was very unfriendly. Our server never cracked a smile and spoke in a monotone. We felt like we were inconveniencing him, although we never made any unusual requests and were certainly not difficult to deal with. He never came back to check on us during our meal, and just dropped the check off on our table without asking if we were interested in dessert. When we told him that we had planned on ordering dessert he acted very put out that he now had to recalculate the check. I wish I could remember his name, because I’ve never had such poor service at Disney.

Most importantly though, the food here was a huge disappointment. Zach and I had split the Bastille Appetizer for two, and we made barely a dent in it. Rich got the Shish Kabob and was also unimpressed. For dessert we ordered the Crepes Casablanca, which sounded fabulous, but again, we were all underwhelmed. Our meal total was $68, which was a complete waste of money, because we walked out of there hungry. Oh well, at least I can say I’ve been and that’s one less decision I have to make the next time I’m trying to decide between world showcase restaurants!

After our disappointing lunch we were happy to see Genie standing all alone outside the restaurant. The kids got to spend lots of time with him, and he gestured to us that Jasmine and Aladdin were inside the store. We walked inside and saw Jasmine, Aladdin and another CM just standing around having a regular conversation and not staying in character at all. It was an awkward moment when they realized we were standing there. Aladdin recovered quickly and got right back into character. Jasmine, however, seemed slightly annoyed that we had interrupted her conversation. She smiled tightly in the pictures, and just acted like she couldn’t wait for us to get out of there. It was really uncomfortable, and again, a disappointing moment. Luckily, the server at Marrakesh and now Jasmine were the only two cast members we ran into on this trip who were rude. All the others were fantastic as usual.

After our disappointing travels in Morocco, we headed over the American pavilion where a wonderful and friendly CM at the shop there more than made up for the last two run-ins. It was really cold at this point, so I bought a sweatshirt that I had been eyeing all trip ($59) and wrapped it around Madeline in her stroller. At this point we decided to call it a day at Epcot and headed over to the Magic Kingdom for what would be our last time this trip.

When we got there we were still hungry from our unsatisfying lunch so we decided to get a sandwich. We wanted to eat inside someplace warm so we thought we’d give the Plaza Restaurant a try. It was already closed for the night and it was only 4:50. When did they start doing that??? Disappointed, we trudged on over to Pecos Bill’s again. This is not what we had in mind for our last meal at Disney, but oh well. Total was $30.25 for hamburgers, french fries and drinks for all of us.

We sadly went on a few last rides and then it was time to start heading back to the Contemporary so we wouldn’t miss the Patriot’s playoff game. On the way up Main Street we just had to stop at the bakery one last time for those chocolate chip cookies Zach and I had come to love so much this week. The line was huge, but there was no stopping us. Rich had on his Patriot’s sweatshirt tonight, and we got to talk to a lot of other fans in line who were also excited about the big game and heading back to their rooms to watch it.

We got our cookies and milk ($11.50 total) and just as we were heading back up Main Street, Wishes started. We were all really sad to be leaving, and I had tears in my eyes, but Rich turned to me and said, “Don’t worry, we’ll be back next year.” Victory!!!!

We took our last ride on the monorail and when we got back to the Contemporary Rich and Madeline went back to the room while Zach and I went to the gift shop where he bought the train we had argued about a few days before. ($68) and I bought a Donald Duck coffee mug for Rich and a Cinderella’s castle address book for myself ($27.69). We then went back to the room where we watched the Patriots win another playoff game on the way to their second Super Bowl victory!

Sunday, Jan. 11th
The Plan: check out, lunch and shopping at Downtown Disney, flight home.

Actual:

Well all good things must come to an end and sadly this was the last day of our adventure. I didn’t take notes for this day (too depressing) so I’m going from memory here.

After checking out of the Contemporary, we decided that we’d go to the Boardwalk to have some lunch at the ESPN club. On the drive over we noticed tons of discarded clothes lining the sides of the road from where the marathoners had passed by. Apparently Disney gathers all these clothes up at the end of the day and donates them to shelters. It was an interesting sight to see though!

When we got to the Boardwalk there were still many runners passing through. They all looked very worn out, but determined to finish. It made me regret even more that we decided not to run this year. We cheered on the runners for a little while before getting in line for the line that had already formed for the opening of the ESPN club. When it did open, we were seated right away. This was the first time we had eaten here, and we enjoyed it very much. It was typical pub-food, nothing you can’t get at home, but the atmosphere was great and I imagine that it’s a lot of fun when there’s a game going on. We made a note to return here in the future.

After lunch we walked around the Boardwalk for a little while before heading back to the car. We realized we still had a little time to kill before heading to the airport, so we drove over to Ft. Wilderness so we could check out the horse stables and the petting zoo. Madeline had a great time feeding the goats and taking her first pony ride. We also wanted to check out the cabins again for a possible future trip, but sadly it was time to head back to the airport and to reality.

We returned the rental car without incident and our flight was very smooth, aside from the obnoxious girl I sat next to, but that’s a story for another day…

Disappointments:

  • My ear infection and the scare we had in the airport on the way down
  • The Contemporary North Garden Wing seemed pretty run down and in major need of a rehab. We don’t think we’d stay here again.
  • The heavy crowds at the beginning of the week when we thought the holiday crowds would have already left
  • Making the mistake of going to Sea World instead of spending the day relaxing at a water park
  • Getting a boring server at the 50’s Prime Time Cafe
  • Lunch at Marrakesh-worst meal of the trip by far.
  • Jasmine acting annoyed that we interrupted her conversation.
  • The Plaza Restaurant closing at 4:30
  • Not doing the marathon

Highlights:

  • The parks seemed much cleaner this time around, with lots of fresh paint and none of the trash piling up like I saw on my last trip.
  • With few exceptions, the cast members were friendly, polite and seemed happy to be working for Disney. Another big change from my last trip.
  • The amount of characters out and about and the improved organization of the meet and greets.
  • Dinner at ‘Ohana
  • Cinderella’s Royal Table and seeing Madeline’s face when she got to meet Cinderella after dinner
  • Hoop-Dee-Doo (well worth the money and a new tradition for us!)
  • PhilharMagic
  • Watching Wishes and Rich finally admitting that he’s a new Disney convert!

If you’ve stayed with me this far, thanks for reading. It was fun reliving my trip while writing this report. I already have the next trip planned for January, 2005 when I’ll finally complete that marathon! Rich is deployed in Iraq now so he won’t be able to join us the next time around. Instead I’m going with the kids, my parents, my sisters and my nephews, which should make for an interesting trip. In the meantime, Rich has already made me promise that we go back to celebrate his homecoming in January 2006!

Jynohn O'Connor

Jynohn@powercareers.com


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