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Carolyn Ritchie -- December 2004 -- Walt Disney World (YCR)


The Cast of Characters

  • Hank -- 46, veteran (Disneyland in 1989 and 1990; Walt Disney World in October 2001, March 2002, December 2002)
  • Carolyn -- 39, wife of Hank (Disneyland in 1970 and 1983; same WDW trips as Hank), and trip report writer

The Planning

The idea for this trip was born during our December 2002 trip to WDW. Actually, we had hoped to make this trip in December 2003 but I started a new job at the end of July 2003 and was somewhat uncomfortable about taking a lengthy vacation right around Christmas. I have since gotten over this discomfort and we are now looking forward to our December 2005 trip. Anyway, my sister and her husband had accompanied us on the 2002 trip and we had hoped that they could join us this time as well. My sister’s work obligations intervened, however, so it would just be Hank and me.

The details of the trip (e.g.: dates, lodging, airfare…) came together pretty late in the year. I (again) was being wishy-washy about taking time off from work and delayed in putting the trip on my calendar and filling out my employer’s vacation request form. Around early November I finally realized that time was getting away from me and that I’d be kicking myself big time if I didn’t make this trip happen. So I got on the phone with the Central Reservations Office to talk about room rates. At some point during the planning, I had decided to buy annual passes for Hank and me for three reasons: (1) the possibility of lower room rates; (2) the incentive they would create to take a few shorter trips during the next year, something we had tried to do in 2004 without success because of high room rates; and (3) cost savings for a work-related trip to WDW that I have scheduled in February 2005 -- Hank can join me for all or part of that trip and already have his park admission paid for.

Central Reservations (CRO) was quoting standard-view room rates well over $200 per night for the Epcot deluxe resorts and $199 per night for the Wilderness Lodge. Neither the Epcot resorts nor the Wilderness Lodge had annual pass discounts available. I went ahead and booked the Wilderness Lodge, which is Hank’s favorite resort (when the bellman out front says “Welcome home!” Hank takes it seriously), for December 6 through 11. While on the line with CRO, I took a quick look at Yahoo.com and confirmed that we could get cheap fares for nonstop flights from Dallas to Orlando on American Airlines for those dates. In fact, we ended up paying only $182 for each roundtrip ticket even without a Saturday stay-over. I called CRO a few weeks later and learned that the Yacht Club, Beach Club, and BoardWalk Resort each had Passholder rates of $199 per night available during our stay. I had always wanted to stay at one of these resorts not just because of the deluxe accommodations but also because of their proximity to Epcot and Disney-MGM Studios. Hank was open to trying something new (as long as I promised that we would stay at the Wilderness Lodge at some point during 2005) so we changed our reservations to the Yacht Club, standard view, at $199 per night. I also bought a dinner package for the Candlelight Processional so we would have guaranteed admission to the show and wouldn’t have to spend even more time waiting in line.

I promised Hank that I would try to take a more leisurely approach to this vacation, perhaps with a greater emphasis on seeing some of the World’s live entertainment. Alarm clocks and all-day park touring were hallmarks of our first three WDW trips, but this time I wanted to focus as much on just being there as I did on the attractions. After all, it was Hank’s vacation too and he likes things a little more relaxed. Finally all that was left was to find someone to take care of our two cats (our friend Kevin generously offered to do this at no charge) and count down the days to departure. The time went by quickly and before we knew it, it was . . .

Day 1 - Monday, December 6, 2004

We grabbed a quick breakfast at the DFW Airport (Dallas/Fort Worth). Our flight left Dallas on time at 9:36 a.m. and arrived in Orlando around 1:00 p.m. We skipped the in-flight movie (Elf) and instead watched Finding Nemo on our laptop. This seemed both appropriate and made the flight go much faster. Maybe a little too fast as we had to shut down our computer with about 5 minutes of the movie remaining. Once at MCO (Orlando International), we retrieved our bags and bought our Mears shuttle tickets. We had to wait about 30 minutes for the shuttle and then made stops at the Wilderness Lodge and the All-Star Sports before we got to the Yacht Club at 3:00, two hours after our flight arrived. The long travel/wait time led to our first conversation about alternatives to Mears - a conversation we renewed during our Mears shuttle ride back to the airport at the end of our trip. Anyway, we checked into Room 3126, which was on the first hall off the main elevator lobby. The Yacht Club is a long and winding resort so we were pleased with our room location. Our room was a “standard view” but some tall trees nicely screened the parking lot. The room had two very comfortable queen-size beds and two sinks at the marble vanity outside the bathroom. It also came with a free refrigerator, which came in handy since we had planned on eating cereal in our room for breakfast each morning and now had an easy way to keep a half gallon of milk cold. We had also brought some chardonnay for the special occasion.

We decided that Epcot would be our first park of this trip. We walked over to the International Gateway (it’s about a 10-minute walk from the Yacht Club) to exchange our annual pass vouchers for the real thing. We were surprised that the passes were paper, not plastic. Also, I’d thought that you didn’t need the paper pass once you had done the biometric thing. Not so - you need both. Anyway, at the ticket window, we heard the woman next to us ask a cast member “how do you get to Disney from here?” Hank and I laughed at that, but I know that I asked some pretty clueless questions on my first trip to the World (example: I once asked a cast member at Epcot whether Illuminations was “worth sticking around for”). The cast member at the ticket window hadn’t given us any directions on how to actually use the pass so getting through the turnstile the first time was tricky. I had trouble with the biometric machine and it took me a couple of attempts to get through.

By this time it was around 3:30 and we were both hungry so we decided to walk to Sommerfest in Germany. We have eaten there on each of our previous trips and really like the sausage and sauerkraut. Hank enjoyed a Lowenbrau with his meal. We ate our lunch while sitting on a bench facing the World Showcase Lagoon. It was a nice respite from the hustle and bustle behind us. We sat for a while and then decided to go to El Rio Del Tiempo, which we had never ridden before. I knew from reading other trip reports that it would be important to keep our expectations low so that we would not be disappointed. The ride was fine but certainly not worth standing in line for (we hadn’t - it was a walk-on). After the ride, we shopped a bit in the jewelry store inside the main Mexico building. We ended up buying four pretty but very reasonably priced bracelets for use as Christmas presents.

After Mexico, we walked over to watch the fountains by Mouse Gears since I am such a sucker for visual treats (water, lights, fireworks, you name it) set to music. We also took a quick tour through Mouse Gears, but didn’t buy anything. The Times Guide indicated that an Off Kilter show wasn’t far off. I had seen Off Kilter on our second WDW trip but Hank hadn’t seen them (he was watching the Canada movie at the time). I thought Hank would enjoy the group so we decided to walk over to the Canada stage. As we waited for the show to start, I took a look at my personal trip planner (a one-page listing of pertinent info such as park hours and parade and show times for each day of our trip) and noticed that, because of scheduling conflicts with our Candlelight Processional dinner package and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, this would be the only night we could see the Wishes fireworks show and SpectroMagic. Neither Hank nor I wanted to miss those so we decided to catch Off Kilter some other time (we never did, though) and took the Monorail to the Magic Kingdom.

By the time we got to the Magic Kingdom, people were already lining up for SpectroMagic. We found a spot two-deep near the main hub and waited about 30 minutes for the parade to reach us. While we waited, I realized that we would have plenty of time to catch Illuminations, my favorite thing in all of Walt Disney World, on the way back to the Yacht Club. Hank slumped a little when he heard about this new agenda item. He was tired and, I learned later, was secretly wondering if my new kinder, gentler approach to Walt Disney World was actually going to materialize. In any event, the parade was great, and I noticed for the first time that the lights go from multi-colored to all-white in time with the music. After the parade, we waited another 30 minutes or so for Wishes. We had a good viewing area near the hub. The music must not have been particularly memorable as I can’t remember whether it was Christmas music or a Disney original. The fireworks were good but still a distant second to Illuminations, in my opinion. Magic Kingdom closed at 7 that night so we began the cattle drive down Main Street immediately after the show. We were able to board the second Monorail to Epcot. Once there, we went to our usual Illuminations viewing spot near the Rose and Crown and settled in to wait. We were well back from the fence so I was not thrilled with our location. Having seen the show several times before, however, I decided not to let it bother me. Illuminations was thrilling. The show included a special holiday ending set to the song “Let There be Peace on Earth” that was more fireworks than I think I’ve ever seen before. Just great. After Illuminations, we walked through the International Gateway along with lots of other people. By the time we got to the Yacht Club, however, we were pretty much on our own.

Hank loves soaking in a hot tub after a day at the parks so we decided to check out the hot tub situation. The tub at Stormalong Bay was closed and I was really fretting that Hank was going to have my head for booking us at resort with no late-night hot tub hours. Fortunately, the cast member at the registration desk told us that the hot tub at the smaller Yacht Club pool is open 24 hours. Whew! We decided to change into our swimsuits and then find some liquid refreshment to take with us to the hot tub. Really, Hank just wanted a fountain drink. Beaches and Cream was packed so we decided to keep walking to see what we found. It turns out the Yacht and Beach Club does not have a quick-service snack bar like Roaring Rapids at the Wilderness Lodge and Mara at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. They also don’t have an easy-to-use refillable mug program. As I understand it, you can use the mugs at Hurricane Hanna’s, which didn’t appear to be open in the evenings, and at Beaches and Cream, which is a bit of a walk from the Yacht Club and always seems to be very busy. Anyway, we finally bought three 16-ounce bottled Diet Cokes at the store at the Beach Club and got ice in plastic cups at the bar at the Yacht Club. It was a lot of walking for a couple of sodas. We hiked back to the hot tub and settled in. The water was HOT. The maximum posted temperature is 104 degrees and it was every bit of that. It felt good, but we couldn’t stay in it for long. The weather wasn’t too cool so it was comfortable to just sit on the side of the tub and dangle our feet in the water. While at the hot tub, we admired the architecture of the Yacht Club and Disney’s ability to make the huge complex feel cozy. Hank astutely noted that the buildings and wings are situated in such a way that you only see smaller sections at a time so you don’t have the sense of sprawl. After 30 minutes or so at the hot tub, we returned to our room and got ready for bed. It was lights out at midnight.

Day 2 - Tuesday, December 7

We slept in until 8:45 this morning - the first time we have ever done that at Walt Disney World. Usually, I like to set an alarm for 7:00 and be at the park when it opens. But last night I announced to Hank that I was not going to set any alarms for this trip. And I didn’t. So there is hope for others who usually tour the parks as if they are competing in a Disneyworld version of the Amazing Race and Survivor.

We ate a quick breakfast in our room (this was an excellent time and money-saver). Before heading to the dock to catch the boat to the Disney-MGM Studios, we stopped off at the concierge desk to pick up our tickets for the Candlelight Processional dinner package. We were on the boat at 10:15 - an inexcusably late start but who’s counting? As we exited the boat (de-shipped?), we got a call from Kevin, who was making his first stop at the house and had a few questions about the alarm system. We had no false alarms this trip, so that was a big improvement over our last trip (in December 2002) when we had several (and a medical emergency for our dog).

As is our custom when we arrive at Disney-MGM Studios, we first went to Tower of Terror. After a short wait that included once again marveling at the detail and themeing in the queue area and hotel lobby, we boarded the freakish elevator. I really like the randomness of the drop sequences. Next we walked over to Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. The ride was down, however, so we just took a couple of FastPasses instead. From there, we walked down Sunset Boulevard with the idea of trying our luck at Who Wants to be a Millionaire - Play It. By the time we got there, however, a show had just started so we decided to kill some time with the Studios Backlot Tour. We had not been on this attraction since our first WDW trip in October 2001. As other trip reporters have mentioned, it has been scaled down because of the cutbacks and other changes occurring in the production studios and the Pearl Harbor movie tie-in is awfully tired (though we did think it was appropriate that we were visiting this attraction on December 7).

Our Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster FastPass window had opened by the time we were done with the Backlot tour so we skipped Who Wants to be a Millionaire - Play It and trekked back down Sunset Boulevard. I was developing a taste for chicken strips -- a craving that I have found is satisfied with just part of one order of chicken strips per WDW trip - so we decided to eat at Rosie’s All-American Café once we were done with Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. Hank enjoyed the ride very much while I had a brief moment of dry-mouthed panic that I might not make it out without refunding my breakfast. The moment passed and I was still hungry after the ride nonetheless, so we went to Rosie’s. Hank ordered a veggie cheeseburger but also helped me with my chicken strips. Of course, we had to have dessert so we stopped at Scoops for some ice cream. Hank was disappointed they didn’t offer toppings there so we stopped in one of the stores on Sunset Boulevard to buy a Hershey bar to break up into small pieces for his ice cream. We then just sat on a bench by the street and people-watched for a while, eating our ice cream, and soaking up the sun and atmosphere, including an older man with one red and one green Converse high-top tennis shoes with bells that jingled with every step he took. His wife or significant other must have nerves of steel to put up with that for more than a few minutes, it seemed to me.

Once done with our ice cream, we decided to go to The Great Movie Ride. We have ridden this attraction three times now and have always gotten the “gangster version” so I’m starting to wonder if the “cowboy version” actually exists. From The Great Movie Ride, we headed to Beauty and the Beast, which we’d never seen before. We were in time for a little bit of the pre-show entertainment - a quartet of male singers singing Christmas tunes. Before Beauty and the Beast started, however, one of the singers announced that there was a couple in the audience who had had a really rough time the day before because the man had lost his wallet. The singers gave the couple a gift (I can’t remember if it was a CD or something else) and then the man said that he wanted to thank WDW for being so great after such a bad day (he was a police officer and had lost his badge). Oh, and he wanted to ask his girlfriend to marry him. She said yes, and the crowd cheered and clapped. It was a very sweet moment. We enjoyed the show as well.

We were about ready to leave Disney-MGM Studios but decided to wait to see the special Christmas version of the Stars and Motor Cars parade (I can’t resist a parade!) from a vantage point along Hollywood Boulevard not far from the park entrance. The parade was fun. Hank took a lot of pictures and was impressed with the attention to detail on the cars. We laughed at a Toy Story green soldier who had an untied boot and was also in danger of losing his pants. He must have been late to the pre-show preparations.

After the parade, we were off to the boat dock to return to the Yacht Club. This was another first for us - a midday break from the parks. Although I know the guidebooks all recommend this, we had never before returned to our hotel until we had put in a full day at the parks. We didn’t linger long in the room - just 45 minutes - before it was time to walk to Epcot to catch the Monorail to the Polynesian Resort, where we had priority seatings for dinner at 6:30. The walk to the Monorail was longer than either of us had remembered but we knew we could always use the exercise so that was some consolation. Travel to the Polynesian from the Yacht Club was fairly efficient. We left the Yacht Club at 5:10 p.m. and were checking in at ‘Ohana just 50 minutes later. The hostess gave us a pager, advising us that it worked anywhere on that floor of the hotel. We took a quick look around and then spent the remainder of our wait relaxing in the lounge. Our pager went off at 6:45 and we were off to dinner. We liked the appetizers (stir-fried green beans and onions; salad with honey lime dressing; shrimp and vegetable wontons; honey coriander chicken wings; and stir-fried rice) and were just about full before the waiter brought the big skewers of pork, shrimp, beef, and chicken to our table. We tried a little bit of each (actually, I think Hank passed on the shrimp, which probably was just as well because I found it to be a little mushy) and were beyond stuffed when it was time for our dessert of pineapple chunks dipped in caramel sauce. We pressed on, however, and found that the dessert was a nice, not-too-rich finish to a very good meal. During our dinner we were entertained by the kids doing hula hoops and coconut races. We really liked the atmosphere at ‘Ohana and would recommend it to others. After dinner we toured the other floors of the hotel’s lobby and the grounds. The pool is quite large and its volcano slide obviously is a big attraction to the kids. It was around this time that Hank received a call from his son, Chris, who was in the middle of final exams and having trouble with an assignment to write a three-page essay about marriage. Hank and I both tried to give him ideas but, frankly, I don’t think marriage is a topic that easily lends itself to such brevity, except to just say that it’s not for the faint of heart! Next we went to the bus stop to wait for a bus to Downtown Disney. This was our first bus ride of this trip and I have to admit that I find something oddly comforting about seeing those big ol’ Disney buses working so diligently to get people where they want to go. We waited 15 minutes or so for the bus, our longest wait of the trip. We didn’t do much at Downtown Disney - just went into the Christmas store to buy two ornaments for ourselves (a Mickey Mouse one and a medallion with a drawing of the Yacht Club and “2004” on it) and one for my best friend, Shelly, who needed to replace an ornament that her daughter had broken not long after their family’s first trip to WDW in October 2003. Our travel time back to the Yacht Club was just 30 minutes. We changed into our swimsuits and relaxed at the hot tub until about 10:45. While there, we visited with a nice young couple from Albany, New York who were Disney Vacation Club members.

Day 3 - Wednesday, December 8, 2004

We woke about 8:30 a.m. without assistance from an alarm clock and with plans to visit the Magic Kingdom. Today Hank and I were being a little nerdy and wearing matching Texas A&M t-shirts. Our clothing-coordination efforts were rewarded when a man on the bus commented that he liked our shirts. I’m pretty sure he wasn’t making fun of us! Once at the Magic Kingdom, we walked down Main Street and made our habitual right turn into Tomorrowland. We first saw Stitch’s Great Escape, which is a better-natured version of Alien Encounter. After Stitch we walked over to Carousel of Progress, which we’d not seen before. A woman standing near the entrance was trying to interest her kids in seeing the Carousel of “Progression” without success. The Carousel was a nice diversion and felt a little bit like finding an archeological artifact. Hank recalled seeing a similar show at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York City when he was a boy. In fact, after we returned home I did a little bit of research and confirmed that Walt Disney had debuted Carousel of Progress at that World’s Fair so perhaps Hank was destined to become a WDW fan. Anyway, after Carousel Hank was ready for a brief soda break so we bought a Diet Coke at a nearby stand and sat at a table overlooking the Indy Speedway track. Next we rode Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin. Hank beat me handily, scoring 387,300 points and achieving Space Ace honors while I remained a lowly Ranger First Class with only 77,500 points.

We were now ready to use our Space Mountain FastPasses, which we had gotten when we first arrived in Tomorrowland. We enjoyed this classic ride, as always. From Space Mountain we headed to Fantasyland for our first visit to Mickey’s PhilharMagic. I had read very positive reviews of this show and was not disappointed. The 3-D effects and music are first-rate. The crowds were thick, in and near the line for Mickey’s PhilharMagic, so Disney had kindly assigned a sax quartet to provide additional entertainment in this area. They were quite good. After the show we shopped briefly in Sir Mickey’s before heading to the Columbia Harbour House for lunch. Hank had fish and chicken strips and a piece of pumpkin pie while I ate a vegetarian sandwich with hummus. We were seated at an outside table right near the Haunted Mansion so that ride was a logical next choice. The Haunted Mansion is Hank’s all-time favorite and is certainly in my top three. After the Haunted Mansion we rode Peter Pan’s Flight, which is my all-time favorite ride.

By now it was 1:30 p.m. and time for a snack so we decided to walk over to the Main Street Bakery for cookies and bottled water. There was no line, unlike our last visit in 2002 when we and everyone else waiting for the parade had the same idea to visit the bakery. We took our purchases to a lakeside table near the Plaza Restaurant. The yellow- and white-striped umbrellas over the tables provided some needed shade and we enjoyed a nice respite from the crowds as there were only a few people in this fairly large seating area. Hank used his new mini-tripod to take a great picture of us with Cinderella’s castle in the background. This was one of many breaks we took during our trip. I really appreciate the fact that the parks have so many hideaways where you can just sit quietly and recharge.

Our next stop was to get FastPasses for the Jungle Cruise before heading to the Pirates of the Caribbean. After Pirates we walked toward Splash Mountain. It was quite crowded here, the lines were fairly long, and we weren’t eligible for additional FastPasses so we decided to take a cruise on the Liberty Belle. The ride was relaxing, though I would have appreciated a seat with a back to it. After the Liberty Belle our plan was to ride the Jungle Cruise and then leave the Magic Kingdom. On our way to Jungle Cruise, however, we saw that the Share a Dream Come True Parade would be starting shortly. I couldn’t pass up a parade so we decided to find a spot to wait. Our selected location was less than ideal though, as we were at the boundary between Frontierland and Liberty Square and the parade music seemed out of synch between the two lands. Still, we enjoyed the parade. After the parade we used our Jungle Cruise FastPasses before walking down Main Street toward the park exit.

Before we left the Magic Kingdom I wanted to take a picture of Hank sitting on the bench with the bronze statues of Roy Disney and Minnie Mouse. An older couple and their grandson were there first and we waited for them to take their pictures. We were shocked at how verbally abusive the woman was to her husband, who apparently wasn’t posing correctly or for long enough. The husband finally just grabbed his backpack and walked off. If she’s that mean to him in public I can only imagine what he puts up with at home. In any event, I got a cute picture of Hank and we walked to the bus stop to find the Yacht Club bus waiting for us. We were back at the Yacht Club at 4 p.m.

We relaxed in our room until 5:10 p.m., when we left to go to Chefs de France for our 5:30 priority seating. We were seated right away in the main dining area and enjoyed a relaxed meal. For appetizers Hank ordered an endive salad with walnuts and I had a delicious pastry topped with gruyere cheese, bacon, and onions. I drank a glass of the waiter-recommended Chenin Blanc, and Hank had a glass of merlot. Our entrees were beef tenderloin for Hank (he thought it was a little fatty) and a chicken dish for me. For dessert Hank ordered an upside-down apple tart with vanilla ice cream and I had a meringue dish with caramel and vanilla sauce. We both had coffee as well. Both desserts were yummy. At this point it was around 8:00 p.m. and we had some time to kill before we needed to line up for entry into the 8:45 showing of the Candlelight Processional. We took the boat to the other side of World Showcase Lagoon and shopped briefly at Mouse Gear. Although I had picked out a few things to purchase, the lines at the cash registers were quite long and I was concerned we’d be late to the Candlelight Processional. So we put our merchandise back on the shelves and headed toward the American Pavilion.

We could not believe the long line for people with dinner packages. The end of the line was not visible from the front of the line and I frankly wonder whether anyone without dinner packages actually made it into the theater. We had not seen this show before and were impressed with the quality of the musicianship and singing. Actress Marlee Matlin was our narrator. Actually, she used sign language and her interpreter spoke the words aloud. There also was a sign language interpreter near the front of the stage. This woman signed the words to the music and was quite compelling to watch. The show ended at around 8:45 so we had 45-minute wait for Illuminations. The show was wonderful, of course,

We returned to the Yacht Club at 10 p.m. While Hank got ready for the hot tub, I made a quick call to my sister and brother-in-law, who originally had hoped to join us on this trip. I gave them the rundown of our first three days and I could tell they were glad we were having fun but probably also a little sad that they weren’t here too. The hot tub was busy tonight. There were 10 people already there when we arrived. We were back in our room at 10:46, ready for sleep.

Day 4 - Thursday, December 9, 2004

I awoke around 8:15 a.m. but could tell that Hank remained deep in slumber. I didn’t want to wake him or just lie around in bed so I decided to throw on some clothes and go downstairs for a cup of coffee. I found a rocking chair on the porch facing the water and read our complementary USA Today while drinking my coffee. After I finished my paper, I just sat for a little while longer, soaking up the sun, before taking a more detailed tour of the Yacht Club lobby. This brief time away from Hank made me realize that I would be miserable on a solo vacation because I was continuously finding things that I wanted to share with Hank (e.g., the details on the train set in the lobby and the Christmas trees showing in the windows of some of the Yacht Club rooms - wonder how much you have to spend per night to get one of those!). I went back up to the room around 9:00 to find Hank awake and already out of the shower. I got myself ready and we were at the bus stop at 10:10. The bus to Animal Kingdom arrived just three minutes later. We were at the Animal Kingdom at 10:30.

As is our custom, we headed first to Kilimanjaro Safaris. The line was daunting so we decided to get FastPasses and spend the waiting time on the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail. The gorillas, which I find absolutely fascinating, were taking mid-morning naps close to the window that separates them from the public. We were able to get a good look at them but decided we would come back later for a second look while they were active. The guide told us the gorillas probably would be napping for another hour so we planned to return after our safari.

We saw the usual suspects on the safari - elephants, crocodiles, hippopotami, giraffes, zebras, gazelles - all of which were a treat to see. Hank got a great picture of a white rhino and another one of a lioness - she was stretched out, sound asleep on a big rock not far from our Jeep. After the safari we went back to the Pangani Trail. This time the gorillas were awake and active and we spent quite a bit of time watching the gorilla family as well as the “bachelor troop” which, if I recall correctly, includes six males. We lingered at several of the other exhibits, even the bats, before deciding that we were ready for a lunch break. We decided to try Flame Tree Barbecue. I have seen generally positive reviews of this restaurant but it has been closed on each of our previous visits to Animal Kingdom. I ordered a shredded pork sandwich while Hank had a chicken sandwich. The lunch was filling and tasty and we appreciated the secluded seating areas for Flame Tree customers.

Next we were off to DinoLand and FastPasses for Primeval Whirl. While waiting for our FastPass window to open we shopped a bit and ate ice cream sundaes. It was around this time that Hank realized that he had lost his sunglasses. We retraced our steps in DinoLand but came up empty. We decided to check with Lost and Found and also to revisit our table at Flame Tree (we later forgot to do this). We exchanged text messages with our friend Kevin before taking a ride on Primeval Whirl. We had ridden this on our last trip and I had forgotten how much spinning is involved. As I had on Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, I once again had one of those sick-to-my-stomach false alarms that cast a pall over the rest of the ride. After Primeval Whirl, we decided to take a different route back to Discovery Island. First I sat for a bit just to regain my equilibrium, and then we passed the under-construction Expedition Everest.

Our next stop was the Maharaja Jungle Trek to see the tigers. They are beautiful and so graceful that they appear to move in slow motion. Two of the tigers were hissing and growling at each other and even got into a physical tussle. One of the other tourists on the trail informed us that there are six females in the exhibit so they must not have been fighting about a man! The Elds Deer on the other side of the tiger enclosure looked at us intently and seemed completely unaware of the meat-eating danger just around the corner. After the Jungle Trek we decided to see Flights of Wonder, another first for us. A cast member was in the waiting area with a great horned owl. She asked the crowd to guess the owl’s weight. I guessed eight pounds but he actually only weighs about 2.5 pounds. The handler told us that the owl is almost all feathers and has extremely light bones. In any event, we enjoyed Flights of Wonder.

The parade was set to start in about 30 minutes so we staked out a spot not far from the entrance to Flights of Wonder. Once again, the parade was a holiday version of the usual parade. This one was named Mickey’s Jingle Jungle Parade. We spent some time shopping after the parade but didn’t buy anything. The park was about to close so we walked over to Lost and Found to check on Hank’s glasses. The cast member brought a large bin with probably close to 30 pairs of sunglasses in it, all of which had been lost and turned in earlier that day. Alas, Hank’s glasses were not among them. The cast member gave us the number for the central Lost and Found at the Transportation and Ticket Center. We called it a few days later but Hank’s lost sunglasses didn’t fit the description of any of the found ones.

We arrived back at the Yacht Club at 5:30 and freshened up a bit before departing for the Wilderness Lodge at 6:15. Our transit time was an hour (we took the bus to the Magic Kingdom and then transferred to a bus to the Lodge). Our priority seatings were at 7:30 so we spent the waiting time with drinks in the Territory Lounge. We reminisced about our two previous stays at the Wilderness Lodge, and Hank commented that he wished he’d brought his overnight bag so he could just stay there for the night. After an appetizer of soup for me and endive salad for Hank, a dinner of cedar plank salmon for Hank and pork chops for me, dessert of crème brulee and apple tart, two glasses of wine, and two cups of coffee, we did a little shopping at the Wilderness Lodge’s Mercantile store. We bought two WDW t-shirts to wear the next day and a 2004 WDW pin. We are not into pin trading but we do like to collect them on a limited basis and pin them to our waist packs or hats. We took the boat to the Contemporary Resort with the idea of touring the resort. Based on what I saw, I have no interest in staying here. It is not particularly inviting, although the Monorail feature is neat and you can’t beat the location. We walked to the Magic Kingdom bus stop just eight minutes away, waited 10 minutes for the bus, and were back in our room at 10:45. No hot tub tonight, just straight to bed.

Day 5 - Friday, December 10, 2004

This was our last full day at WDW. Darn! We slept in again. We showered, dressed, ate breakfast and then began the short walk to Epcot at 10:00 a.m. The World Showcase was almost empty when we arrived. We were wearing the shirts we had bought at the Wilderness Lodge and wanted to get a picture of us in them. As we were scoping out picture spots near Great Britain and looking for other visitors who might be willing to take our picture, a passing cast member offered to do the job. He took a great picture of us in front of one of the very quaint buildings in Great Britain (I think it was the back side of the tea shop).

Since World Showcase was not yet open, we decided to walk over to Future World and Mission: Space. As we approached the fountains near Mouse Gear, I suggested to Hank that we stop in at Ice Station Cool. We hadn’t been here before but I’d read about Beverly in other trip reports. I couldn’t resist tricking Hank. We started with a few of the other flavors and then I casually mentioned that I’d heard that the Beverly was the best one. Hank filled up one of the little cups. He put the cup to his lips and it looked like he was going to drink the whole thing in one swig. My conscience got the better of me so I told him to “be careful.” He took a sip and pronounced it “bitter!” I started laughing and right away he realized he’d been had. Luckily, he forgave me. I took a sip too and definitely agreed with Hank’s assessment of the taste.

Next we proceeded to Mission: Space. I was feeling a little unsteady and really was not up for a spinning ride. Hank was interested in riding but first we stopped a pair of young couples who were just exiting the ride to ask them about their experience. They all praised the ride. When I asked about the likelihood of getting sick, one of the women said that she felt sick after the ride but that she gets carsick really easily. Then she said that it was her second time on the ride. Frankly, that didn’t make sense to me but whatever. We also confirmed with a cast member that I could take a chicken exit for an early departure. There was no wait in line so we entered right into the pre-show area for the Gary Sinise intro. When the doors opened, I was ushered out first and pointed to the exit while Hank and his crewmates went to the next step. Between the ride and the gift shop is a play area with various video games and jumping/climbing things for kids. I waited there until Hank returned from Mars. It seemed like it took a long time before he finally appeared. He looked none the worse for wear and said that he had been his crew’s engineer. Like others, he commented on the many warnings about motion sickness along the way. He thought they were a bit overdone and even made him not want to go through with the ride. He decided to press on, however, because his crewmates (a father, son, and daughter) had ridden it before and told him it was a lot of fun. He reported that the ride was “pretty intense,” especially the lift-off, but that the ride “didn’t live up to all of the hype.” He did comment that he would ride it again and might it enjoy more the second time now that he knows what to expect.

Before leaving Mission: Space, we stopped to send a few video postcards to friends and family back home. There was no line at the computer terminals. We did not realize at first that the postcards don’t have audio so we must have looked pretty silly as we talked into the recorder. It was a fun interlude in any event. It was pouring rain when we were ready to exit the building so we waited a bit for it to lighten up. Then we put on our ponchos and walked over to Fountain View Bakery for a mid-morning snack of a blueberry muffin and a fruit cup. We sat outside at first but then the rain started again so we had to move our meal inside. I checked the showtimes and saw that American Vibe would be performing soon near the Epcot Christmas tree. We walked over there only to learn that the show had been canceled because of the weather.

We decided to ride the boat to Morocco and go to the USA pavilion to hear Voices of Liberty instead. We had a little bit of time before the show would start so we toured an African-American art exhibit in the pavilion before grabbing one of the benches to wait for the show. Before Voices of Liberty appeared, we heard a 10-minute talk on the history of Kwanzaa from one of Epcot’s storytellers. The Voices of Liberty show consisted of well-known Christmas carols. I can’t say that I’m a fan of this group - the presentation was pretty treacly. I was not disappointed that we had to leave early to make sure we were on time for our 1:30 priority seating at Le Cellier.

At Le Cellier we had to wait quite a while to be seated. We started off waiting outside but had to move inside when it started pouring again. A family of four took the table next to ours as we were perusing our menus. They placed their drink orders and then inexplicably got up and left without telling their server. She soon appeared with a tray full of drinks only to find an empty table. Hank and I weren’t sure what the problem was but it had seemed like the teenage son was acting up a bit. Maybe that was his punishment, but they still could have shown the common courtesy of telling the server they had to leave and paying for the drinks. Our lunch of cheese soup, prime rib sandwich (for Hank), chicken sandwich (for me) was good. Unfortunately, I forgot that annual passholders get 10% off lunch at this restaurant.

We returned to the Yacht Club around 3:00. When we entered our room we found a man inside talking on a cell phone. He was wearing a Disney uniform but I think it was an All Stars uniform, not the distinctive blue and white outfits for the Yacht Club staff. No doubt he was surprised to see us. He quickly left, first asking us if everything was okay. Hank and I were surprised too and didn’t have a chance to question him about what he was doing in our room. We took a quick inventory to confirm that all of our belongings were still there and then called the front desk to let them know about the incident. We heard nothing further about it.

We napped until 4:45 and were at the boat dock at 5:15 with plans to go to Disney-MGM Studios to see the Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights. We waited 15 minutes for the boat. Once at the park we headed straight back to New York Street and began what I call the Osborne Family shuffle. It was very crowded, though I read on various message boards after we got home that we were lucky to have arrived when we did because the crowds and waits got much worse as the evening progressed. We enjoyed the lights but had almost no success in spotting the numerous Hidden Mickeys. Next we shopped for a bit - Hank was looking for an “I’m with Grumpy” t-shirt that he had seen somewhere (he couldn’t remember where) earlier in the week. We struck out on that but did end up buying a small ceramic Mickey Mouse figurine for my office.

The boat wasn’t at the dock when we exited the park so we decided to walk to the BoardWalk rather than wait. The walk took only 15 minutes and we arrived there well ahead of the boat. We toured the lobby of the BoardWalk Resort. It is beautiful and, in my opinion, has the Yacht Club and Beach Club beat, hands down. I really would like to stay here sometime.

We got some ice cream and fudge at Seashore Sweets and sat at one of the tables on the Boardwalk to eat our ice cream (the fudge was for the next day). We stayed there until about 7:25, when we walked back to the Yacht Club for an early evening. At around 9:15 Hank suggested that we watched the Epcot fireworks from the dock. We did, and of course I was kicking myself for not having just gone ahead and walked over to Epcot to see the entire show. What was I thinking?! After that, it was back to the room where we watched TV for a while. We had priority seatings for breakfast at Boma the next day but decided to call and cancel those to give us a little more time for packing in the morning. We made priority seatings at the Yacht Club Galley for 9:30 instead.

Day 6 - Saturday, December 11, 2004

Departure day. We started off with a very average breakfast in the Yacht Club Galley before returning to our room to pack. We were out of the room at 11:30 and dropped our luggage at Bell Services for pick up later that afternoon. Then we broke all the rules and went to the Magic Kingdom at noon on a Saturday. We shopped a bit on Main Street, finding a nice photo album for only $10.00. Actually, we decided to buy it later so that we would not have to carry it around as we toured the park.

Next we went to Fantasyland (which was a madhouse) to get FastPasses for Peter Pan’s Flight. While waiting for our FastPass window to open we rode Haunted Mansion and then walked back to Main Street (I know this is very inefficient park touring!) to buy the photo album and visit the Art of Disney store near the park entrance. It turns out that the store is no longer there - so that was a disappointment. Our stomachs were growling so we headed to Cosmic Ray’s for lunch. The place was jam-packed and we waited a long time before we could even order our meal (a veggie burger for Hank and a hamburger for me). We ate our lunch on a bench outside because it was such a noisy zoo inside the restaurant and the weather was quite nice. After lunch we rode Peter Pan’s Flight and then headed to Main Street and the exit. We stopped in at the Emporium and I bought a really cute pair of tennis shoes with a Mickey Mouse comic strip pattern on them. At this point I think our Visa cards were about to melt from all the activity. We took the bus to the Yacht Club and arrived there at around 2:30. Hank bought a Yacht Club t-shirt at Fittings and Fairings, and then we waited for our Mears Shuttle to arrive at 3:30.

The shuttle made stops at the Swan and Caribbean Beach Resort before heading to the airport. Our driver kept up a non-stop patter of trivia about everything from the cost to assemble the Swan’s Christmas tree, shopping centers along the highway, and the doorless garages (not the same thing as a carport, he pointed out) in one of the townhome developments we passed along the way. This was only slightly less unnerving than the driver’s uneven acceleration - first floor it, then back off, then floor it again, then gun it, etc. My nerves were shot by the time we got to the airport. Our flight was not until 7:30 but we managed to walk right on to the 6:30 flight. We didn’t even have time to sit down in the gate area so that worked out perfectly. The in-flight movie was Elf (again). We started watching it but couldn’t get into it so we watched a few episodes of King of Queens, which we had on DVD. We arrived home by 10:00 to find everything as we left it and our cats well-fed. Shockingly, they appeared not to have noticed our absence.

Conclusion

This was another wonderful trip to WDW. Combining my two favorite things in the world - being with my husband and being at WDW - is a surefire winner. I enjoyed our more leisurely approach to the vacation. Just sitting and soaking up the atmosphere is, for me at least, almost as much fun as the attractions. We also enjoyed seeing the many attractions that were new to us. The crowds were manageable, the customer service was very good, and the parks and resorts were beautiful in their holiday finery. Except for Friday when it rained quite a bit, the weather was very nice. Although Hank and I both had cringed when we learned that the Pop Warner football and cheerleading championships coincided with our trip, we hardly noticed the participants and certainly didn’t see an increase in crowd levels as a result of the competition.

Disappointments - I can’t think of any major disappointments. We miss the 100 Years of Magic ice cream bars that we enjoyed on each of our previous WDW trips. Also, we didn’t get to see Off Kilter, and we never got a good opportunity for a photo with a character.

Highlights: Illuminations, the parades, Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights, the gorillas at Animal Kingdom, Artist Point and the Wilderness Lodge, Haunted Mansion, Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, and spending time with my sweet husband.

Thanks for reading!

Carolyn Ritchie

gotthemagic2001@yahoo.com


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