Arnold van Beverhoudt Jr. -- December 2004 -- Walt Disney World (CSR)
Cast of Characters:
Prior Mouseplanet Trip Reports:
Helena and I went into 2004 refreshed from our Christmas 2003 vacation in Florida, which included 10 days at Disney World and a week visiting with our daughter, Selene, and son-in-law, John. But the summer of 2004 really wore us out. Between some medical problems and close calls with Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne, we felt that we needed another dose of Disney magic to close out the year. We would be in Florida again in December for annual medical checkups and some family time with Selene and John, so we decided, "What the heck!" That was the beginning of our planning for a short (4-night, 5 day) visit with the Mouse.
Since this was going to be a short visit, we decided to try something new this time out. Towards the end of September we made reservations at the Coronado Springs Resort (CSR), breaking our tradition of staying at the Caribbean Beach Resort. The cost of the Dream Maker package was $1,145, or $114.50 per day for each of us, including the cost of Ultimate Park Hopper passes. This ticketing option gave us the flexibility to basically go anywhere within Disney World that the mood took us. (As it turned out, we didn't do any park hopping or visit Disney Quest, so we actually could have saved some money if we had used a more restrictive park ticket option.)
Airfares on American Airline's nonstop flights between St. Thomas, Virgin Islands and Miami were pretty constant all summer long at $511 including taxes and fees. With the threat of prices going up the nearer we got to the peak Virgin Islands tourist season (as had happened for our Christmas 2003 trip), we purchased our tickets in early October. We also made reservations with Hertz for a mid-sized car at $302 per week for the almost 4 weeks we would be in Florida. This was a step up from our normal compact car rental, but we would be doing a lot of driving this year and wanted something more comfortable than a small compact model.
Following our usual custom, we made priority seating (PS) reservations for late lunches on the days we would be at the theme parks: Crystal Palace/Magic Kingdom on December 18, Le Cellier/Epcot on December 19, and Brown Derby/Disney-MGM Studios on December 20. We also made a dinner PS at the Maya Grill at CSR for December 17, the day we would be checking in. On December 21, our check-out day, we would try to spend some time at Downtown Disney and have lunch at either the Rainforest Cafe or Planet Hollywood.
Our full trip itinerary looked like this:
Sat 12/11: AA flight from St. Thomas to Miami
What Actually Happened:
Saturday, December 11:
The itinerary for the pre-Disney segment of this trip mirrored closely that of our Christmas 2003 trip to Florida. But we learned from our prior trip and were able to limit our packing to one large suitcase (instead of two) and a small carry-on. On travel day we got up at 5:00 am, got dressed, had a light breakfast, and drove to my brother's home. He took us to the airport, where security check-in was a bit more rigorous than the year before, but still not overwhelming. We were at the gate with an hour to spare for our 9:40 am flight. The flight was uneventful except that we ran into a bit of turbulence about a half-hour out of Miami, caused by a cold front that had passed through earlier in the day. After landing, we had almost a half-hour wait for our bag to come off the plane and then took the shuttle to Hertz's parking complex.
They had a limited number of cars available in our reserved price range, and gave us a choice of a Ford Mustang, a Toyota Celica, or a Toyota Solara. I would have dearly loved to get behind the wheel of a Mustang, but that would have defeated the purpose of getting a larger car for our expected many hours on the Florida highways. So, we settled on the Solara. It's a pretty fancy and comfortable car, but I found the rearward visibility to be very restricted -- especially when trying to back out of parking spaces. We got onto I-95 headed North and were at the Comfort Suites hotel in Deerfield Beach in less than an hour. (My sister who lives in Deerfield couldn't accommodate us this year because she had other family staying with her.) This was our first time staying at a Comfort Suites, and we were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the room and the convenient location of the hotel. The room was pretty comparable to what we were accustomed to at Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort.
Sunday, December 12 to Thursday, December 16:
We did some Christmas shopping in the Deerfield Beach area on Sunday and took care of our medical appointments on Monday and Tuesday (everything checking out okay). On Monday morning, I faxed a room request to CSR, asking for priority placement in either the Casitas 1 or Cabanas 9B buildings to keep us as close as possible to the food court because of Helena's chronic knee problem. (I had also made this request at the time I made our CSR reservations.)
On Wednesday, we did some more shopping, this time for clothes and other personal items, and boxed everything up for mailing back home. We also had the opportunity to visit with my sister and brother-in-law, including a very nice dinner at Little Havana II, that Cuban restaurant on US-1 that I mentioned in last year's trip report.
Then on Thursday, we drove up to Port St. Lucie -- about an hour and a half drive -- to spend the night with Selene and John before continuing on to Disney World on Friday. Much to our delight, Selene and John had a big surprise for Helena and I. They announced that Selene was pregnant and that we could expect to become grandparents in late July 2005. What a great Christmas gift!
Friday, December 17:
We loaded up the rental car and headed out from Selene and John's home around 10:00 am, enroute to Disney World. As last year, we took the Florida Turnpike up to the Osceola Parkway. Both times that has proven to be a traffic- and stress-free route. Tolls totaled $10.20. With a stop at a Turnpike rest area for a Burger King lunch, we arrived at CSR around 1:00 pm.
My initial impression of the entranceway to CSR was that it was very cramped and crowded in comparison to the driveway up to the Customs House at Caribbean Beach Resort. We were lucky to find one of the last empty parking spots in the check-in parking area near El Centro -- the main building where the resort lobby, food court, and gift shop are located.
Surprisingly, despite the filled parking area there was no line at the check-in stations, and cast member (CM) Annette took care of us quickly and efficiently. In fact, when she noticed on the computer that our assigned room wasn't ready yet, she made the extra effort (without our having to ask) of finding us another suitable room that was ready. It was room 1322, on the third floor of the Casitas 1 building. Because CSR's buildings have elevators, the third floor room wasn't a problem.
We then drove over to the Casitas parking area and set out to find our room -- no easy task given the somewhat confusing layout of the Casitas buildings. Once at the room, though, we were satisfied to find it very comparable to what we had become accustomed to at the Caribbean Beach Resort. The main difference was that the CSR room was a little bit narrower, so the bath vanity area had only one sink, as compared with the two sinks at the Caribbean Beach. We also found that a small in-room refrigerator was standard equipment and that the Southwest-themed color scheme of muted greens, brick reds, and tans was quite pleasant and appealing. We can truly say that our only negative in-room experience was a set of noisy neighbors on our first night who were into slamming doors and letting their children run up and down the outdoor balcony at late hours of the night. Gratefully, they must have checked out the next day, because we never heard any more disturbing noises for the rest of our stay.
After dropping off our bags, we went right out to catch the bus to Animal Kingdom. A quick review of the resort map showed that the closest bus stop to the Casitas 1 building was Bus Stop 1 at El Centro. So, that's where we headed. We had a 15 minute wait for the Animal Kingdom bus, while buses to all of the other parks and to Downtown Disney made their arrivals first. But we were glad to finally be on the way for the few remaining hours before Animal Kingdom closed for the day.
Our first stop was at the Kilimanjaro Safari, where the line was quite long with a wait of more than 30 minutes. So, we picked up Fastpass tickets with a return time of 3:20-4:20 pm. We then headed over to Camp Minnie-Mickey, where we got swirl ice cream cones at a stand just outside the Festival of the Lion King theater. Unfortunately, they wouldn't let us in for the show with the ice cream, so we (and several other people) had to really chow down the ice cream before the next show started. You'd think they would put up a sign near the ice cream stand stating that food isn't allowed in the theater! When we finally went inside, we got seating in the lion section and thoroughly enjoyed the show.
Next, we headed over to Discovery Island for It's Tough to Be a Bug, and our timing was just right for a walk-on to the show. By the time this was finished, it was just about time for our Fastpass at the Safari, but we also wanted to see the afternoon parade, which for the first time this year had a Christmas overlay that included holiday decorations and music. We knew we had the option of coming back to Animal Kingdom on our check-out morning for the Safari, but wouldn't be around that afternoon for the parade. So, we decided to forgo the Safari and stick around for the Mickey's Jingle Jungle Parade. Ultimately, we made the right choice. After the parade, we headed for the exit and soon were on the bus back to CSR.
We went straight to our room, unpacked, rested a bit, and then freshened up for our 7:00 pm dinner PS at the Maya Grill. We were served by CM Grace, who was quite attentive. We both had filet mignon, which had decidedly spicy seasoning and equally spicy sides. Overall, the food was good and the dining experience was very relaxing. The cost, though, was pretty steep at $96 including tip.
After a short stroll back to our room, we watched the Christmas episode of JAG (we've been fans of that show since it's beginning some 10 years ago) and went to bed shortly after 10:00 pm.
Saturday, December 18:
We got up a 6:00 am to begin the first of what would turn out to be three "marathon" days at the other three theme parks. We weren't in commando mode in the sense that we were rushing through the parks from one attraction to another -- we actually were quite relaxed in our touring and had only a short list of "must see" attractions. But, we spent long 12-14 hour days at the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and Disney-MGM Studios. It's a pace we were able to maintain because we would be at Disney World only for three full days. But we never would have survived the pace if our visit was any longer.
This morning was our first experience at Pepper Market, CSR's food court. As others have commented in their trip reports, the operation of this food court is somewhat unique in that you're seated at your table by a CM who gives you a menu of the food options and brings your drinks to your table for you. Also, you get a card stamped at each food station and then pay for everything (plus a 10% service charge) when you're leaving. Some have complained about the service charge, but I had no problem with that aspect. What Helena and I did find a bit frustrating was that the food stations weren't clearly marked by signage that matched the names shown in the menu. Therefore, we had to hunt around for the food stations we were interested in. We ate breakfast at Pepper Market two of our four mornings and on our check-out day for lunch, and found the food to be quite adequate and in huge servings. We suppose that some of the differences we noted in the Pepper Market food court are attributed to the fact that CSR is a convention resort and caters mainly to business travelers. That being the case, we can understand the set up of the food court with limited table serve, cloth napkins, real (not plastic) flatware and plates, more formal food platters, and the need to pay only once upon leaving, not at each food station.
In any case, Helena and I both had scrambled egg platters, with hash browns and bacon, and decaf coffee. The total cost was just under $20. We didn't bother with getting refillable mugs on this trip because our stay was going to be so short.
After finishing breakfast, we went back to our room, grabbed our backpacks, and headed to the bus stop. Today we had one of the longest waits for the right bus to come -- more than 30 minutes. We noted throughout our stay at CSR that there were an inordinate number of early morning Downtown Disney buses in operation. I really don't understand the logic, there were very few people going to Downtown Disney at 8:00-9:00 in the morning. A Magic Kingdom bus finally arrived and we were at the security station by about 9:30 am. It was immediately obvious that the attendance at Magic Kingdom was going to be tremendous today. It was like night and day compared to the small crowd we had encountered at the Magic Kingdom on the equivalent date in our Disney World visit last year. We could only suppose that because Christmas fell on a Saturday this year, many more locals were taking the opportunity to start their vacations today. But even with the unusually large crowd, we really didn't have any long wait times during the day.
Two of our "must see" attractions at Magic Kingdom were the new Stitch's Great Escape and Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin. We got Fastpasses for Stitch with a return time of 10:30-11:30 am and then went to Buzz, only to find it down for some technical problem. So, we went to ride the Tomorrowland Transit Authority. By the time we got off of that ride, Buzz Lightyear was back up and running and we were walk-ons. I hate to admit it, but my marksmanship sucked, and Helena beat me soundly with a score of 141,800 points to my measly 18,300. The ride picture was hysterical, with a look of utter concentration on Helena's face, so we got an 8x10 print.
Our return time for Stitch was still a ways off, so we headed to Fantasyland and were walk-ons to the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. We then backtracked to experience the new Stitch attraction. I found the Stitch overlay to be somewhat underwhelming compared with the old Extra-Terror-estrial attraction, but this new version is definitely more kid-friendly. By the way, I can still smell Stitch's "burrito burp." LOL
Then it was back to Fantasyland for Mickey's PhilharMagic, with a 10 minute wait for the earlier showing to finish. Then on to the Haunted Mansion. We got a laugh there at the expense of a couple about our age who asked me to take their picture with the Mansion in the background. Unknown to them, one of the Mansion CMs came up and stood directly behind them in full character attitude. I hope they'll be pleasantly surprised when they get their film developed back at home. The ride itself was as much fun as ever.
By this time it was approaching noon-time, so we stopped at the Columbia Harbor House for a bite to eat. Helena had a salad and I had chicken fingers, cost about $18. Those chicken fingers were huge -- almost the size of small chicken breasts. I had a bit of a misadventure here, because Helena had gone to find us a table while I got in line for the food. Well, here I was with filled tray in hand going all through the dining area to try to find Helena. I went upstairs, downstairs, outside, inside -- all the while juggling the tray of food and two drinks. Finally, I set the tray down on an outside table and asked a kind lady to keep an eye on the food for me while I went back in to find Helena. I finally found her seated at a booth that was hidden in a little corner of the dining area calmly reading her always-handy paperback novel.
After lunch, we headed to the Country Bear Jamboree for the Christmas show. We just missed the show and had to wait about 20 minutes for the next one, but seeing the bears and their antics again was well worth the wait. Next up, we headed over to Pirates of the Caribbean, where the wait was posted as 15 minutes but the line kept moving continuously and ended up being less than 10 minutes.
From there, we battled the crowds to the circle near City Hall to stake out a spot for Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Parade. We ended up in the same spot as last year, but this year the parade started at this end of Main Street, so we didn't have the extra wait for it to get to us from Frontierland. After the parade, we headed over to the Enchanted Tiki Room and then back to the Crystal Palace for our 5:00 pm dinner PS. CM Tabitha was our server. Although Pooh, Tigger, and Piglet passed by our table, they didn't stop for photo opportunities. But Eyore did come by and I got a great shot of him with Helena. I gave him a big "thumbs up" and he extended his paw to shake hands with me before moving on. As expected, the buffet choices were all delicious -- especially the desserts -- and the meal ended up costing $59 including tip.
By now the sun had already set, and we headed over to the Jungle Cruise with a 15 minute wait. This was our first ever ride in the dark, and I have to agree with other trip reporters who have said that it's actually more exciting this way. To enhance the experience even more, our skipper (sorry, I didn't get his name) was really into his part. He was the most enthusiastic Jungle Cruise guide I've ever experienced. Unfortunately, he was playing to a boat filled with a dead audience who just didn't get into the spirit of his antics. At least Helena and I enjoyed his act, and we gave him a big applause at the end.
Next, we went up to the castle end of Main Street and staked out a spot on benches around the Hub right at stage center for the 7:00 pm edition of the musical show on the stage in front of Cinderella's Castle. We saw this show last year during Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party, and enjoyed it even more this time than we did then.
Because where we were located was also a perfect spot for the Spectromagic parade (at 9:00 pm) and the Wishes fireworks show (at 10:00 pm), we just stayed there and people-watched. The crowd around us really built up by the start of the parade, but we were able to stand on the benches to see over everyone's heads.
After Wishes, we followed the crowd to the exits and ended up having a 30 minute wait for the CSR bus to arrive. The ride back to the hotel was uneventful and after I updated my trip notes, I joined Helena in bed around 1:00 am. This was a marathon 14 hour plus day at the Magic Kingdom, and we slept like babies.
Sunday, December 19:
Today was Epcot day. We were up by 6:30 am and headed over to the Maya Grill for their $16.95 (per person) breakfast buffet. The spread was just amazing, and would be a delight for someone with a huge appetite. We really didn't get our money's worth, but enjoyed the quiet ambiance and some breakfast options that weren't available at the Pepper Market food court. When we headed out to the bus stop, we were lucky that the Epcot bus was just arriving, so that was really perfect timing.
At Epcot, our "must see" list consisted of Mission: Space, Test Track, and the new Turtle Talk attraction at the Living Seas pavilion. Helena wasn't going to do Mission: Space, so I got a Fastpass for myself and then we headed over to Test Track, which we were able to ride with only a 10 minute wait. Then it was back to Mission: Space, where I was assigned as the pilot for our flight. As last year, I thoroughly enjoyed both of these rides, but for some reason found them to be more intense this time around. I was a bit apprehensive about getting sick on Mission: Space, but I was worrying over nothing. The ride was as awesome as ever. On Test Track, the outdoor speed runs were perhaps enhanced by the chilly wind that was blowing today.
Next up, we went on Ellen's Energy Adventure with a 10 minute wait and then on the Spaceship Earth ride with another 10 minute wait. The line here was actually quite long, but it kept moving continuously and we were on the ride in no time.
We then headed over to the Living Seas and had a 15 minute wait for the prior showing of Turtle Talk to finish before it was our turn. Although you know that there's a live CM off stage who can see and interact vocally with the audience, it's still fascinating how the on-screen character of Crush the Turtle from "Finding Nemo" reacts in perfect synchronization with the CM's voice. There must be a lot of computer power behind the real-time interactivity of this attraction. It's a simple concept, but very entertaining. I highly recommend that you don't miss it.
It was now almost time for our 1:30 pm lunch PS at Le Cellier in Canada, so we headed in that direction and were soon seated. Our server was Fraser, who's from Ontario. We again had filet mignon, this time with cream cheese mashed potatoes, and creme brulee for dessert. All of the food was great, although we found the $76 cost, including tip, to be a bit high for the lunchtime serving sizes.
When we emerged from Le Cellier, Off Kilter's 2:30 pm show was already in progress, so we joined the crowd that had accumulated in front of the stage to enjoy the great music. I always wondered what it was about this musical group that attracted so many Mouseplanet regulars to literally camp out in front of the Canada pavilion to watch all the daily showings. Now I can understand the appeal. They are great musicians and showmen.
After the show, we took a leisurely stroll around World Showcase, stopping at the Japan pavilion to hear the Christmas storyteller, and then moving on to the American pavilion, where we were entertained by the Voices of Liberty before heading upstairs for the main American Adventure show. It was our intention to try to get in to see the Candlelight Processional, but the standby line was so long -- clear past the Italy and Germany pavilions -- that we just gave up on that idea. Instead, we found ourselves a bench in front of the American pavilion where we could see glimpses of the stage and enjoy listening to the wonderful Christmas music.
After the 5:45 pm edition of the Processional, we continued our leisurely stroll around World Showcase and eventually worked our way back to the Germany pavilion, where we found a picnic table right at the water's edge with a perfect view for Illuminations. Although the temperature was in the mid-30s with a bitingly cold breeze, we toughed it out and were soon joined by a Japanese family for Illuminations. Those of you who read my trip report from last year know that I said I wasn't too impressed with the music for the "Reflections of Earth" version of Illuminations, which I heard last year for the first time. Well, I bought the music CD last year and have played it many times since then. I'm now a big fan of "Reflections of Earth" and find the music both stirring and emotional. Also, our vantage point in front of the Germany pavilion put us much closer to the action than our Japan viewing spot last year. So, the overall effect was that we enjoyed Illuminations much more this time around. It was certainly worth the long, cold wait.
Although the park was filled and there was a large crowd now heading for the exists, everyone was in a positive frame of mind and the walk to the bus stop was rather relaxed. Best of all, a bus was there just waiting to take us back to CSR. We were in bed by 11:00 pm.
Monday, December 20:
We were up again by 6:30 am and had breakfast at the Pepper Market food court, cost about $22. We also did a bit of shopping in the Panchito's gift shop, totaling $88. This morning our wait for the bus to Disney-MGM Studios was about 5 minutes and we were at the park shortly after 9:00 am. The bus driver (unfortunately I don't remember his name) made for one of the most entertaining bus rides we've ever had at Disney World. He had every family group tell him where they were from and he made comments accordingly. (Coincidentally, he's originally from Puerto Rico and had lived several years on St. Croix, the sister island to our home island of St. Thomas.) He then involved everyone in a series of trivia questions with some of the most hilarious puns as the correct answers. He truly had the Disney "spirit" and enjoyed what he was doing, and he passed on his enjoyment to his passengers.
Our first stop was the Great Movie Ride, for which we had a front row seat in the ride vehicle. This made for a somewhat different experience of the movie scenes than we had in our prior rides. The mobster took over the vehicle this time around. From there, we took in the Little Mermaid show with no wait to get in. I was a bit disappointed, though, that the laser effects which give you the illusion of being underwater weren't in operation today.
Next stop was the Magic of Animation tour. As last year, this began with a presentation by a CM playing against a pre-recorded video of Mushu, the dragon from "Mulan." Then we went through a small animation gallery that included drawings and clay mockups of characters from "The Incredibles" and the upcoming "Chicken Little," then it was through a meet-and-greet with The Incredibles themselves, followed by the opportunity to try some hands-on exhibits. Most of the exhibits were in use, but Helena and I tried our hands at dubbing short dialogue for scenes from "Beauty and the Beast" and "The Lion King." The results were hilarious.
We then got in line for the next showing of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire - Play It. When we entered the building, we were selected to sit in the fastest fingers seats, Helena in seat 9 and I in seat 10. We were able to participate in two rounds of hot seat contestants, both of whom got to the 32,000 point level before answering incorrectly. A big thrill for me was making it to no. 5 on the last tally of the top 10 board! After Millionaire, we visited the One Man's Dream exhibit and sat through that wonderful movie at the end. As I've said before, Walt Disney was a true visionary, and the movie highlights some of his accomplishments.
It was still too early for our lunch PS, so we went to see if we could get into the next showing of the Muppet*Vision movie, but the line was just tremendous. So was the line for Star Tours. We ended up taking in the Sounds Dangerous show with Drew Carey. After that, we went to the Brown Derby for our 1:40 pm PS.
The reception area of the Brown Derby was just packed, but we were seated after a wait of about 15 minutes. We also had a bit of a wait before our server appeared, but once CM Donna did show up, she was quite friendly and helpful. Apparently she had been delayed in coming to our table while attending to David Cassidy, of the Partridge Family, who (unknown to us) was just a couple tables away. We both ordered the Brown Derby's signature Cobb Salad and weren't disappointed. Helena had a creme brulee and I had a chocolate macadamia nut cheesecake for dessert. Total cost for lunch was $57 including tip.
After lunch, we stopped by Star Tours for Fastpasses and then went to find a spot for the Hollywood Holly-Day Parade. I had remembered reading on one of the Disney web sites that the steps in front of the old ABC Soundstage show building was a good spot, so that's where we ended up. The only negative was that it was quite breezy and chilly today and we were in the shade, which didn't afford us the warming effect of the sun.
After the parade, we got in to see the next showing of Muppet*Vision 3D and then headed over to Star Tours for our Fastpass ride. This time we were seated in a middle row and found the ride to be much smoother than what we experienced last year in back row seats. I suppose that's because this time we were closer to the center of gravity of the ride vehicle.
We noticed that by this time lines of people were heading over to the Fantasmic amphitheater, so we thought it best to also head in that direction to make sure we got good seats for the evening's only showing. We were lucky to end up right at stage center and about half way back from the front row. Helena and I agreed that our view of the live action scenes was much better than we had last year when we did the dinner/show combo and had reserved seating on the far right side of the amphitheater. After the show, we followed the crowd until we could break for the exits and were soon on the bus back to CSR. Because the park was scheduled to close after the Fantasmic show, we just didn't think it was worth the effort to try to see the Osborne Family lights -- maybe next time.
Back at CSR, we went to Pepper Market for a light dinner snack, cost $9, and then to Panchito's to buy some more souvenirs and gifts, cost $173. We also stopped in at the arcade and had some fun playing classic games like Galaga and Ms. Pacman. Then it was back to our room for the night.
Tuesday, December 21:
Today was our "flex" day in that, after checking out, we could either spend some time at Downtown Disney or return to Animal Kingdom to finish off "must see" attractions that we had missed on our check-in day. We took the second option.
After breakfast at the Maya Grill, we packed our suitcase and other gear into the rental car then headed out to catch the bus to Animal Kingdom. The wait was a short 5 minutes. The first order of business was to get on the Kilimanjaro Safari. The wait was posted as 15 minutes, but it was actually closer to 10. Many animals were out and about, including the rhinoceros, a couple giraffes who came right up to the safari vehicle, many elephants including two infants, a male lion, and a cheetah.
Then it was on to the Pangani Forest Trail, where the gorillas were playing with towels that had been placed in their habitat. Two gorillas in the "bachelor" section were playing, chasing each other around and generally being rough and tumble, but in good fun. From there, we went to the Maharajah Jungle Trek, where the tigers were equally active. One was pacing rapidly back and forth right up at the viewing glass, and two others were stalking and chasing each other around.
We then took the new bridge over to Dinoland, passing by the under-construction Mt. Everest Expedition roller coaster on the way. We arrived just in time for seating at the next showing of Tarzan Rocks -- a great musical show as always. After Tarzan, we headed back to CSR for a quick lunch at Pepper Market, cost about $20, and then took a leisurely stroll around the full perimeter of the central lake at CSR, taking some pictures along the way.
By now it was after 2:00 pm and we got in the rental car and headed out of Disney property. I took the wrong exit off of the Osceola Parkway and had to backtrack to Disney World in order to get back on the parkway and to the correct Florida Turnpike exit. With the wrong-way detour and a stop along the way for gas, we finally arrived at Selene and John's Port St. Lucie home just about 5:00 pm. The Disney World phase of our Florida vacation was officially over.
Wednesday, December 22 to Tuesday, January 4:
Selene and John were scheduled to fly up to Massachusetts on December 22 to spend a week with John's family over the Christmas holiday. We drove Selene and John down to the Ft. Lauderdale airport that morning for their flight, and Helena and I house- and cat-sat for them while they were away. My sister had invited us over to her home for Christmas dinner with her children and many grandchildren, so we drove down to Deerfield Beach for a very nice family get-together -- especially since we hadn't seen some of them in several years. Selene and John got back from Massachusetts on December 29, and we again drove down to the Ft. Lauderdale airport, this time to pick them up. We spent the next week with them, including having a quiet dinner at home on New Year's Eve and going to a local (Port St. Lucie) Olive Garden and to the cinema to see "Meet the Fockers" on New Year's Day.
On January 3, Helena and I drove down to Miami and stayed overnight in a Holiday Inn that's just a few minutes away from the airport. The next morning we returned the rental car and took the Hertz shuttle to the airport. (Incidentally, we had put 1,530 miles on the rental car, which is equivalent to a year's worth of driving on our little St. Thomas island and almost the same distance as the flying distance between St. Thomas and Miami.) Curb-side check-in and security clearance went smoothly, and our 12:30 pm flight to St. Thomas went off without a hitch. My brother was waiting for us there to take us home. It was now back reality -- catching up on the bills that were waiting for us, getting our cars registered for the new year, and the inevitable necessity of going back to work.
This trip to Disney World was unusual for us because it came just 1 year after our prior visit. Over the previous 30 years, we had averaged a Disney World trip only once every 5 or 6 years. A big advantage was that we didn't feel compelled to see it all and do it all. Instead, we toured each park leisurely and just concentrated on a few "must see" attractions. We had some marathon 12-14 hour days at the parks, but because of our leisurely pace, we weren't completely wiped out by the end of the 5-day visit.
Back in October 2004, Helena and I had discussed with my brother and his family the possibility of a joint 2-week trip to Disney World in July 2005. But given the great news that Selene is pregnant and Helena and I will become grandparents sometime in July, it now looks like the van Beverhoudt family trip to Disney World will have to wait for another time. But look on the bright side -- Helena and I are going to have a built-in reason to visit Disney World much more frequently in the future!
In closing, thanks for reading this trip report, I hope you enjoyed it as much as I've enjoyed putting it together. You can view a series of Disney World photo tours, including pictures from this trip, on my SandcastleVI web site at www.sandcastlevi.com/travel/disney/2004-wdw-dec1.htm
Arnold van Beverhoudt Jr.