Jane Chiodo -- May 2005 - Walt Disney World (CR)
“Are we getting fired? Why would the boss call a company wide meeting? He never calls meetings!” Little did everyone know, it was a fake meeting designed to scare everyone into thinking something really bad was about to happen, when in fact it was something really great. The boss was taking the company employees, along with their families, to Walt Disney World to celebrate 15 years in business.
Now, my boss is a Disney nut and so am I. It was his plan to take our small company to Disney, but it would fall to me to make it happen. Needless to say, this was a big challenge. All in all, there were about 60 people that were going to be making their way to Florida. We worked out the flight details and then worked with Disney Group Sales to arrange a block of rooms at the Contemporary resort for Memorial Day weekend. Disney Group Sales then put us into contact with a representative at Convention Services at the Contemporary. This representative was our designated contact as far as setting up any events, special requests for rooms, and arranging transportation from and to the airport. We had about 4 months to plan, but it seemed that we were planning straight through until about 2 days before our trip.
Here were the details of the Disney portion of the trip:
Seems simple enough, right? It really wasn’t. The Convention Services representative did her best to accommodate my needs and answer all of my questions. She really was a big help. But, you really can’t plan for everything.
This report will be a play by play of our long weekend jaunt to The World. As I can’t speak for the other (58) guests, it will mostly be a recounting of our experiences.
Day 1 – May 27, 2005 – Travel Day - “What a nightmare!!”
Upon landing at the airport, we did not have to pick up our luggage as we had used the DME tags. We found the DME representative in the main terminal and followed her to the check-in counter. I figured that I would be able to check-in for each person using a spreadsheet list that I had created. Nope. Wrongo! Even though the families were in the DME computer system, they still needed vouchers to ride the bus. This meant that I had to collect all the packets back. At the same time, we had to keep a running count as to how many bags each family had. This took quite a while. We had many young children that were already WAY past their bedtimes, and it was showing. Finally, we got that part sorted out. Next, we had to wait in line for a bus going to the Contemporary resort area. DME had thought ahead and had called a bus specifically for our large group. But, for some reason, they thought that two of us would not be able to fit on this bus. So, I thought that this would be a good opportunity for me to get ahead of the group. I took off on a separate bus with my husband, Rich.
The bus that the rest of the group took went straight to the Contemporary. The bus that Rich and I were on did not. Our first stop was the Polynesian (Poly). Uh-oh! We hatched a plan to take the monorail from the Poly to the Contemporary to try and beat the other bus. <Sigh> I love the monorail. It really lets you know that you’re FINALLY there, in the Happiest Place on Earth. I mean, I wasn’t so happy at the time, but it did have a calming effect. We made it to the Contemporary and ran down the two flights of stairs to the lobby. The group was already there! My boss was already checking in and he was making a scene. I ran over. “What do you mean, I can’t check in for the whole group?!” Now, I don’t know why he thought this. I told him that each family would have to check-in separately so that they could present a credit card to link to their room. The kiddies were REALLY cranky now and the parents were quickly following suit. I managed to get everyone in line. Upon my check-in, I received the Magic Your Way passes and a gift of Disney Dollars for each family. At least that was right! As an added bonus, everyone had to reiterate their special requests, as they were not in the front desk computer system. UGH! Finally, by about 1am, everyone was checked in. <Phew!> I thought I was done……
Next thing I know, the boss stormed his way back into the lobby. “They messed up my connecting room AND we have no luggage!” We went up to the front desk to ask about the luggage situation. The cast member at the front desk explained that the luggage was about two to three hours behind us. So, I trudged my way upstairs to deliver the bad news. It turned out that bell services called at 1:45am and the luggage was delivered to everyone by that morning. Yikes, what a first day!
Day Two – May 28 2005 – “What kind of insects do they have on the Moon?”
Rich and I started out pretty early for having not gotten to sleep until about 2:30am or so. We had an 8am seating for Ohana over at the Poly. We arrived with time to spare and enjoyed our “family style” character breakfast for two. There were plenty of eggs, biscuits, sausage, bacon, pineapple/coconut bread, and my all-time favorite Mickey waffles. Dale came over for an extended visit and all the worries of the night before vanished into thin air. Now, this is what I came here for!! We bid farewell to our “Cousins” (everyone calls everyone “Cousin” at Ohana) and we were off to Epcot via the monorail.
Ahhhhh. There it was. The “Big Ball”. It had been a while. The Flower and Garden Festival was in full bloom and the park was gorgeous. The topiaries that were scattered about really were incredible pieces of art. The first thing on the list was getting Fastpasses to Soarin’. Rich ran over to get us two while I moseyed about between the Innoventions pavilions. He finally reappeared, and then it was off to dreaded Misson:Space. Now, I am not a huge fan of thrill rides. I had read SO much about Mission:Space that I was completely freaked out by it. Was it really as bad as people said it was? Are there really “barf bags” in the ride? Well, it was time to find out.
There was no wait at all and we practically ran through the queue. It was too bad though, because the themeing was great. I remember that we walked by what looked like a control room with REAL people working at the counters. That was pretty cool. Into the briefing room we went. Low and behold there was good ole Gary Sinise (BigMac from CSI: NY or Lt. Dan, if you prefer). We listened to the spiel and then it was time for our flight. I could not stop shaking. They reiterated the warnings so many times throughout the ride that I think they brain washed me into thinking that I would not be able to handle it. We were ushered out into the hallway and had to stand in spots that coordinated with different “job” responsibilities during the flight. There was a pilot, a commander, a navigator and an engineer. Rich and I were lucky in that we were the only ones in our capsule. We switched up so that he could be the pilot. I was stuck in the commander spot.
Into the capsule we went. Oh jeez, there they are, the “barf bags”. It was true. We sat down and pulled the shoulder restraints down. The air conditioning was on full blast and it was making me shake even more, as if that was possible. Slowly, the capsule closed bringing us within inches of a small screen placed directly in front of our faces. We could access all the buttons, switches and the joystick of the control panel. Rich was like a kid in a candy store. He must have hit every button the capsule. A voice piped in telling us to prepare for liftoff. The screen I had been looking at had a landscape on it the entire time we were sitting there, but now it showed us being lifted up to get into launch position. My brain could not keep up with the screen, if that makes any sense at all. I felt very disjointed. The take off was even worse. My brain said, “This isn’t really happening”. My eyes said, “But the screen shows us lifting off”. My senses said, “Well, I don’t know about you guys, but it certainly feels like we’re taking off!” I really had to concentrate during the lift off lest I lose concentration and end up losing my breakfast (there was NO way I was going to give up my Mickey waffles). The lift off and the subsequent weightless feeling were amazing. There were parts during the flight in which you as the pilot, commander or whatever had to interact by pressing buttons at a specific time. The entire time Rich was pressing buttons, piloting the ship with the joystick and having a great time. The G-forces didn’t seem to affect him at all. I think I managed to press my buttons at my designated time, but it took extreme effort to let go of the shoulder braces. This was a one of a kind experience. It seemed short, but I think I was happy that it was.
It was good to get out into the fresh air. Did you ever notice that Disney World has a smell? It’s like sun lotion, heat and cotton candy all rolled into one. I know, I’m weird. It was HOT. I’m guessing that it was about 90 already and it was only about 10am. We had a while before our Fastpass return time to Soarin’. We decided to check out Innoventions East. They had this neat area where you could do stress testing on different products, like smashing doors closed and hitting TV screens. There was also this game where you could open your own business and sell things using an interactive map on the floor. The building was pretty much empty. Soon, it was time to head to Soarin’ and the newly refurbished Land pavilion.
I thought that The Land pavilion looked great with its new modern design. I was happy to see the hot air balloons were still hanging from the ceiling and that they had been nicely repainted. The color scheme also had a very relaxing feel to it. There did seem to be a traffic flow problem though. The stairs and escalators seemed to jam at the tops and bottoms because people were trying to figure out where to go within the new layout.
Since we had Fastpass, we again didn’t get to spend much time in the queue. We walked through pretty quickly, but I did notice the distinct airport feel that it had as well as announcements for flight boarding and such. There were huge landscape murals that were quite beautiful. Finally, it was time to ride. We got a pre-boarding speech from “Patrick”, our captain (Patrick Warburton, most commonly known as “Putty” from Seinfeld). Before the ride began, we were lifted into the air so that our feet were dangling below. The ride is supposed to make you feel as if you are hang gliding through California’s different landscapes. The screen was about IMAX size and the video was awe-inspiring. Not only did I feel like I was flying, there were also smells - specifically evergreen and oranges. I think that I had tears streaming at one point (it was the wind, I swear). I didn’t want it to end. Rich was not that excited about it. He is more of a thrill ride type guy. Oh well. In case you haven’t guessed by now, I liked Soarin’ a lot. What a completely different set of attractions in one morning! I went from being extremely whacked out to extremely relaxed in the space of 2 hours. Hmph, that’s Disney for ya!
We decided to head for Innoventions West. I wasn’t really impressed with what was in there. They did have a section where you could run through a house and locate fires, but we decided to move on. Next, it was a stop at Ice Station Cool for some tasty and not-so- tasty beverages. The face Rich made when tasting Beverly was priceless. I passed on Beverly this time – once was enough. We moved on to visit Minnie’s Butterfly garden. Rich chose to wait outside. Bugs are not his thing. The garden was great and there were hundreds of butterflies, but to my disappointment none of them wanted to land on me. I got a great picture of a butterfly and it was time to move into World Showcase for lunch.
We headed straight to the Japan pavilion. We had visited the country in September of last year and were jonesing for some traditional food (well, as traditional as we could get). The Yakitori House did not open until 11:30, so we wandered the pavilion and picked up some snacks that had kept us alive while we were in Japan (Japan Travel Tip: It’s NOT a good place for a picky eater). For me it was Pretz Salad. I really don’t know how to explain the snack, but it is not a pretzel as its name would have you think. Rich picked up a green tea drink. The restaurant opened and we were the 2nd customers of the day. The food was good and filled the craving that we had. We wandered the gardens to appreciate the bonsai trees. Some of them were 60 years old! Amazing. We decided that we would head to Disney MGM Studios (MGM) to check out the Star Wars Weekend events.
We slowly made our way over to MGM via the International Gateway and Friendship boat service. As we headed towards the MGM entrance, we could hear the Star Wars music playing <yay!>. I don’t think that I have ever seen MGM so crowded. Our plan was to head back to the new Lights, Motors, Action! Stunt show first. It took us FOREVER to make it back there because of the sheer amount of people. When we finally made it, we encountered a huge stand-by line for a show starting in about 15 minutes. I stood in the stand-by, while Rich went to check out Fastpass for the next showing. While he was there, the Fastpass attendant said while pointing at the poor stand-byers, “You see all those people in that line over there….they’ll never get in.” So, it was decided. Fastpass it was. We would have to return at around 3:30.
It was time to return for some Star Wars goodness! We headed back to the Star Tours area. Not only were there different Star Wars good guys (Ewoks, Chewie, Clone Troopers, etc.) hanging out for Meet-and-Greets, there was the Jedi Training Academy (more about this later) happening on the stage at the same time. Since the show was going on, we decided to head onto Star Tours for a quick ride. The line was next to nothing. Star Tours is a favorite and I think that both Rich and I have memorized the ride pattern after all these years. Poor Capt. Rex, will he ever learn how to fly the transport? Jeez. After Star Tours ended, we were let out into the hallway that leads to the merchandise store. Usually, this is a quick walk through. Not this time. There was a slight back up to get into the store. I started to get a bad feeling about it (wink, wink). We finally made it into Tatooine Traders and it was PACKED. There wasn’t even room to walk. The lines for check out were huge and snaked their way around the store in all different directions. We decided that maybe we would come back at a later time to pick up our goodies.
We made a (semi-) quick exit out of Tatooine and decided to head towards Mickey Ave. This was where the Star Wars baddies were hanging out. For some reason, I have a soft spot for villains and I was very excited about the photo opportunities here. This area was not as crowded and I was able to get fantastic shots of some less well known bounty hunters (Aurra Sing specifically), StormTroopers, a Gramorian Guard, Boba Fett, some Tusken Raiders and even the Emporer. We had a really good time watching the baddies scare all the “younglings” that were about <insert evil laugh here>. I was really shocked at how many Star Wars characters were out and how excellent they all were about staying in character. It was really cool. We left dark side infested Mickey Ave. to head to the theatre next to Sounds Dangerous for the Behind the Force presentation. This was a film about the making of Episode III, Revenge of the Sith. The film was well done and entertaining, but most importantly the theatre was air-conditioned! They had a bit at the end with outtakes and bloopers that us Star Wars Super-Fans eat up. Finally, it was time for the Stunt show.
We headed back towards the Streets of America and encountered another HUGE line. This time it was the Fastpass line. After standing around for about 15 minutes, they began to let us into the theater. The heat began to get to me. Standing in the sun for those 15 minutes was brutal. As we sat down, someone across and a couple rows down had to have the paramedics help them out. Finally, the show began and what a show it was! The small stunt cars were driving so fast in such an enclosed space, it was incredible. One little mistake by any one of them and….well, I don’t wanna think about it! There were also motorcycles, plenty of gunfire, a couple of explosions and some surprises. The show was great – fast paced and exciting the entire time. Rich loved it. He wanted to go out and buy one of the little stunt cars.
It was pretty late in the afternoon and we decided to head to Downtown Disney for our Cirque du Soleil La Nouba performance at 6pm. With the help of the cast member at the Bus Information counter at MGM we were able to get to Downtown Disney by about 5:30pm. The pick up time for our tickets was at 5:45 and we had to run clear across Downtown Disney, from the Marketplace all the way through the West Side. Man, it was tough. On the way, we stopped for some Wetzel’s Pretzels to tide us over until after the show. We picked up our tickets and were seated 10 minutes prior to show time. We had never been to a Cirque show before. What we saw was amazing and well worth the price of admission. Rich admitted to me that he was a little skeptical at first claiming that it was a bit too much theatre for him in the beginning. But, as soon as the first act came out, it was obvious that this was something special and we both sat with mouths agape for an hour and a half. The talent that these people had was awe-inspiring. I’m really glad that we went to see this show.
The show let out at about 7:45pm and we had to find something to eat. It was my bad planning not to make an advanced seating arrangement at a West Side restaurant. We could not find a place that was taking stand-by’s! We decided to head back to the Contemporary to see if we could eat at the Concourse Steak House. We made it back and were told by the hostess that they were no longer taking any stand-by’s either. Wow. I had never experienced this in all my trips to Disney. Where were we going to eat? The plan was to eventually head to the Magic Kingdom (MK) to do Splash Mountain (Splash) and Mickey’s Philharmagic. We decided to go there right away, because there were more eating options there.
We got into the park at about ten minutes ‘til 9pm, right before the first Spectromagic parade of the evening. The park seemed crowded, but not un-manageable. We tried Tony’s Town Square – no luck. What to do? There was no way that Crystal Palace would be available if Tony’s wasn’t and we didn’t want ‘grease’ that late at night. I wracked the portable Disney Database that is my brain thinking hard on all the dining options available. “I know! Let’s go visit Sonny Eclipse!” Rich had no idea what I was talking about, “Who?”. I tapped into my internal Magic Kingdom compass and directed him to Cosmic Ray’s for a little lounge lovin’. Ray’s is great for non-fast foodies, in that there are multiple “Bays” to chose from – chicken, burgers, salads and sandwiches. We both got the roasted chicken (it was a little dry, like Sonny’s jokes) and sat down to enjoy the greatness that is Sonny Eclipse. This lounge singer/alien entertains the guests at Cosmic Ray’s day in and day out, with the help of his trusty invisible Space Angel back up singers. In case you were wondering what kind of insects the do have on the moon – that would be lunar-tics. BWA-HAHAHAHA. A real knee slapper, straight from Sonny (well, I thought it was funny).
After our late dinner, we bid farewell to Sonny and headed to Mickey’s Philharmagic. There was absolutely no line, as everyone was out fighting for their primo viewing spots for the fireworks show. The screen was absolutely huge and it was good to see Mickey & Co. holding down fort in the park for the first time since I had been visiting. The movie followed Donald chasing Mickey’s sorcerer hat through many classic Disney films. It was funny and combined popular Disney songs with spectacular 3-D effects, as well as surround sound and smell (yep, smell). The whole audience seemed to try to reach out at points to touch the flying objects, and I know we were all singing along. Rich’s favorite part was during the “Be Our Guest” song. The film showed many cakes and pies and wafted in the smell of them. Yummy! The whole experience was wonderful.
We were ushered out of Philharmagic to the sound of Goofy’s voice wishing us well, “Uh-hilt! Gorsh! Thanks for stoppin’ in!” Fantasyland was just plain empty thanks to the impending fireworks show. We started to make our way towards Splash. In my opinion, a trip to any Disney park is not complete without riding this ride at least once. Suddenly, I found myself drawn to It’s a Small World. According to news on the web, the ride had recently undergone a substantial refurbishment and I wanted to see what all the hoopla was about. Rich hates this ride…but oh well, he had no choice. The poor guy. The ride looked spectacular. They had repainted the load and unload areas sparkling white and gold and added a clock that chimed every fifteen minutes (just like the Disneyland version, as I had read). All the paint on the scenes inside had been redone and the costumes were as pristine as ever. What a feast for the eyes. Even if you absolutely hate the song (as Rich does) it is worth going one more time just to see what the ride should have always looked like.
Yipeee! It was off to my all-time favorite, Splash Mountain. I don’t know what it is about this ride, but I just love it. I love the music, I love the characters, I love the logs and I love that drop! The fireworks were just beginning as we were making our way over. I realized for the first time that there were many places throughout the MK to watch the fireworks, not just the Hub. Just because the Castle isn’t there doesn’t mean the fireworks aren’t still spectacular. Our wait for Splash was about 20 minutes. “How do you do? Mighty pleasure meetin’! How do you do? Sayin’ when yer greetin’!” Ahhhhhhhhhh. The ride was great, as usual. Poor Rich had to listen to me sing the whole way through. Well, except for the drop. What a way to end the day. We had to make it back through the park before the 11pm Spectromagic parade began and decided to head out through Adventureland. There was one last thing that I wanted to do before leaving the MK. I wanted a Dole Whip, a pineapple soft serve ice cream creation that I had read about online. There was no line whatsoever. Wow, pineappley-goodness. It took me the whole walk back to the Contemporary to finish it. It was time to collapse in preparation for another crazy day.
Day 3 – May 29 2005 – “I have to breath out of my mouth?!”
We made our way down to the Concourse Steakhouse for breakfast at 7:30am. The food was very good and the service was excellent. It was a nice alternative to the craziness of the character breakfasts. Rich had decided that he wanted to hit the gym for a morning work out. In the meantime, I hit the Contemporary gift shops. We met up at the room at about 9:30 and headed out for the day. We were scheduled to take part in the Living Seas Aqua Tour at 12:30 that day, so we ventured out to Epcot once again.
We headed over to Test Track first. The board stated that the stand-by wait time was 35 minutes and we decided to go for it since we had some time to kill. This ride is one of our favorites. Of course, the best part was the track ride on the outside of the building. They sure do make you feel like your going 100mph out there. We made it through the braking, swerving, environmental and speed tests with high marks and were on our way to find an early lunch. We headed over to the Electric Umbrella in Innoventions East for a quick bite. I had the roastbeef/provolone sandwich and it sure was tasty. The bread was toasted. For some reason, I didn’t expect that. I’ll admit it; I wiped off the mesquite mayonnaise that came on it. Give a picky girl a break. After lunch, we headed to the guest services desk outside of the park to meet our Aqua Tour guide.
Our guides name was Todd and he was very friendly and informative. The first thing of note about the tour was the walk backstage. What a difference. I had gotten used to seeing the flowers and the meticulously manicured lawns of Disney property. In contrast to that, backstage looked like a desert (never mind the garbage smell from the dumpsters)! After stopping to take a look at the huge aquarium filters and the fish holding tanks, we entered the Living Seas and got a quick tour of the facility. We saw the area that they used to take care of the manatees as well as a peek into the veterinary clinic. We saw the offices of the people that work there and then we were taken out onto the Living Seas floor (AKA Sea Base Alpha) to look at the aquarium we would soon be swimming around in. Before entering Sea Base Alpha from backstage, we stopped in a little room that was dark and was lit only with a blue light. The purpose of this room was so that the guests could not see backstage and so the cast members would know to put on their “Smiles”. We went backstage once again and watched a video about the aquarium and its inhabitants. We also had a quick talk about the equipment we would be using. It was called an SAS – Snorkle Assisted Scuba device. This would allow us to float on top of the water, just like snorkeling, but we would be using a re-breather instead of the snorkel. We signed our waivers (“we won’t sue if something bad happens” bla bla bla). It was explained to our group that we could not touch the fish, the fish could touch us and the giant sea turtle was completely off limits to all touching. We learned that it is actually illegal to “molest” sea turtles. Hmph, who knew? We headed to the locker rooms to change into our wetsuits.
In the lockers rooms, the wetsuits had been put into bags with our names on them (Todd had taken our sizes before we began the tour). We all met in the hallway after squeezing (and I do mean squeezing) into them. Now, I must admit, I began to get nervous. I am not a swimmer by any stretch of the imagination. I was a little apprehensive at the thought of having to rely on equipment to breath. What happened next was unexpected. In order to get to the top of the aquarium, we had to walk back through Sea Base Alpha! It was like we were on parade. All of the guests were staring at us as if we were rock stars. I guess this might make you a little uncomfortable if you were body-conscious, but really it kind of made me feel like I was a super hero – chest out, suck that gut in! We made our way up a spiral staircase, with a wickedly blowing fan, to the top of the aquarium. I had never imagined that it was THAT big. Todd had said that you could take Spaceship Earth and put it inside the aquarium with room to spare, but I just couldn’t picture it. Now, here it was staring me in the face. Wow, it was big. We were going to be allowed to swim in three quarters of the total space of the aquarium. The one-quarter that was off limits was where the unpredictable-territorial-love to smash divers in a playful way-wild dolphins hung out.
I was first in line to go down into the water to put my gear on. Todd was there taking photos of everyone and there were two dive masters assisting us with our gear. It seemed very rushed and I was very nervous that I didn’t know what I as doing. I remember that I cleaned my mask off in the water and then put it on. The first thing I did once I had it on was to try to breathe through my nose. Mistake. The mask covered my nose. The mask sucked onto my face and I gasped for air out of my mouth. Uh-oh, I’m a nose breather. The only time I walk around breathing out my mouth is if I have a cold. I realized that I would have to force myself to breath through my mouth. I finished putting my flippers on and my life jacket type vest with the air tank attached. There was a gauge on one side showing how much air was left (we would have to return if our tank got down to 500 PSI) and then there was a demand valve (the thing you put in your mouth to breath). I put the mouthpiece in and tried to breath regularly. It seemed like I couldn’t get enough air in. I began to take deep breaths and to exhale with purpose. That was better. The sound was very Darth Vader-ish. I sank down into the water to cover my mouth but kept my eyes above water. As soon as I was comfortable with this, I decided to push off of the landing we were on out into the aquarium. I had to really concentrate not to freak out about the breathing. I began to swim.
What an experience. I had never done anything like this before. I was able to meet up with Rich a couple of times. The fish were all over. A lot of the sea life stayed at the bottom of the tank, for example, the sharks, the sea turtle, and most of the large schools. But there were some that came right up to say hi. These included some huge sparkling silver fish that swam in threes and the stingrays. I have to say that my favorite part was interacting with the guests. The guests in Sea Base Alpha could see us swimming. The children and adults would wave and take pictures of us. It was like we were becoming part of their vacation memories. I spent a lot of time near to the tank windows so that I could wave at the kids. It was great to see them get excited that a diver had waved back at them. Soon, we heard a loud alarm sound and I headed back towards the entry area. The dive was already over. It lasted about 20 – 30 minutes, but seemed like only 5.
We got all our gear off and headed back down the stairs. Man, that fan was harsh! Again, we paraded back through Sea Base Alpha. Again, we got stares all around. We headed back to the locker rooms. The locker rooms had hot showers with soap, shampoo and conditioner available and it was much appreciated. We all met outside and went back up to the meeting room. Here we received our photos, were offered some beverages, got our t-shirts and had to fill out a quick survey. All in all, the program was great. It actually made me interested in a diving certification so that I could go back to get to the bottom of the tank! Some parts of the program were a bit rushed, like when we were putting our gear on. I thought a little more time should have been spent with the people that were new to the gear. Still, I had a really good time. If you are looking for something new and exciting, this might be it. I mean, who can say they swam in the Living Seas aquarium?
We were escorted out of the Living Seas by Todd and reentered Epcot. The Aqua Tour program lasted 2 and ½ hours and we had to meet at MGM for a 4pm group dinner at the Brown Derby. We tried to visit Turtle Talk with Crush, but we had just missed the seating. I really wanted to see this show, but it was too late and we had to get to MGM. We made it with about 2 minutes to spare. Many in our group were already there and the hostess did a great job getting us seated and organized for our dinner. Kudos to the Disney cast members at the Brown Derby, they did an excellent job. Dinner at the Brown Derby was great, as always. I find the food there to be good each and every time we visit. Dinner lasted a good hour and a half. Each family received vouchers for the 9pm Fantasmic! seating that evening. Our group split up once more to continue their visit to MGM. Rich and I decided that we would head back over to the Star Tours area to check out the Jedi Training Academy and the Hyperspace Hoopla closing event.
The Jedi Training Academy was a joy to watch, if only to see the kids faces when they fought Darth Vader. Yep you heard me, they fought Darth Vader. First, the children were brought on stage and trained by a Jedi master in the use of the light saber. Then they got the chance to fight one on one with Darth Vader to test their skills. After the show, we headed to the Hasbro toy area where we played with some neat Star Wars toys and games. It was practically empty so we had the run of the place. After getting our fill of action figures, we parked ourselves outside for the Hyperspace Hoopla show. Set as a variety show, they had many Star Wars characters as special guests. These characters also wandered the crowd. There were many inside jokes that only a die-hard Star Wars fan would get and I laughed hysterically at many of them. Yeah, I know, I’m a dork. I thought the whole thing was hilarious. All the actors seemed like they were having a great time (even though it felt like it was 100 degrees) and they were all high energy. They brought out the Mos Eisley cantina band for a couple of numbers (with one surprise where they danced to a popular dance tune). They had a question and answer session with Chewie. They ended it all with a follow along Star Wars inspired dance number that included audience participation. It was really a great show and a wonderful way to end the Star Wars weekend day.
After the show, we sat near Echo Lake to relax before our seating to Fantasmic. Tonight also happened to be an “Extra Magic Hour” night at MGM leaving it open until 1am. Before entering the Fantasmic theater, we stopped to pick up our “Extra Magic Hour” bracelets by showing our resort IDs. After securing the ‘coolness’, we entered the ‘secret’ Fantasmic entrance at about 8:15. The theatre was already well on its way to being full. Wow. Soooooooo many people. We managed to secure enough seats for a small group of our much larger group to sit together. We also saw many other families from our group spread out around the same general area. The ‘wave’ was in full effect before the show. There were many children in our group that had never seen Fantasmic before, let alone been to Disney World. It was really a treat to see them get so excited during the spots in the show when the characters made their appearances. The show was wonderful as usual. The only hitch seemed to be the torches on the canoes that come out during the Pocahontas segment. Two of the canoes had no lights. Oh well. Everything else was spot on. The show ended to thunderous applause from the crowd and it was time to get out of Dodge. Since most of our large group was spread out amongst the reserved seating section, we were able to pick up most people as we got to the top of the theatre. The plan was to meet outside of the Rock N’ Roller Coaster (RnR) so that we could all ride as a group. It was slow going to get there. But, eventually we were able to bring everyone together.
Since the stand-by line at this point was about 50 minutes, we decided to go for Fastpass. It was about 10pm and a huge line had already formed for Fastpasses. They soon started distributing them for 10:30 and beyond. The boss and I gathered all the park tickets we could from the group and decided to feed them into the Fastpass machine one after the other. We ended up with about 25 Fastpasses for a return time of 11pm. It worked out great. Rich and I wanted to head back to Star Tours guessing that the store lines would have diminished as most of the park had cleared out. Our guess was right. We rode Star Tours one more time and then were able to pick out some cool Star Wars gear. As we exited the store and were making our way back to RnR, I heard the finale music for the second showing of Fantasmic! There would be no way to make it back to RnR in time for 11pm if Fantasmic let out. We decided to run for it. I was sucking wind big time, but we made it before the mad rush.
We piled into the Fastpass line and made it through in no time flat. As we arrived at the load area the cast member asked us, “How many please?” “18” “You’re kidding, right?” “Nope, 18.” She asked us to step aside until she could plan it out just right. In the meantime, we had one of the employee’s daughters check her height. She made it with inches to spare and the entire line gave her a round of applause. Believe it or not, the cast member was able to get us all into one car. For her to do that for us was just above and beyond the call of duty. 4-3-2-1 <VROOOOOOOM>. The ride was awesome. I had forgotten just how fast it was! I even had to ask Rich if they still played the Aerosmith music because I was screaming the entire time. It felt like I blinked and the ride was over. There was one woman in our group that had never been on a roller coaster like that before; actually I think she mentioned to me that she had motion sickness. What drove her to ride this ride I will never know, but she looked absolutely horrible when she got off. She was pale and shaking and had to be escorted by her boyfriend from the unloading area. Meanwhile, the rest of us were yelling, laughing and carrying on like little kids. The boss asked one of the cast members to take our picture. The picture came out great with of all of us with huge smiles on our faces (one of the cast members actually jumped in too), and in the background the poor lady can be seen hobbling out of the unload area! She told me that it took her a couple of DAYS to get over the ride. And you know what, even though she was scared to death, she told me that she would ride it again - someday.
After that, Rich and I were through. It had been such a long hot day and we had had enough adrenaline pumpage. We decided to call it a night, as much of our group did. We were starving, so we stopped and picked up a turkey leg for the bus ride home. Boy, it hit the spot. As is custom for me on our last visit to a park, I waved goodbye before exiting through the turnstiles, “Bye Mickey. Thanks and see ya real soon!”
Day 3 – May 30 2005 – “Where’s the boss?”
Today we had a 7am group breakfast down at Chef Mickey’s. Rich decided that we would roll out of bed and go right down to visit the Mouse. I know, not very polite, but what are you going to do? I actually managed to get up a little earlier and squeezed in the quickest shower I think I have ever taken. I had to go back to work with these people the next day, I didn’t want to go to breakfast all skanky.
Again, the hostesses at Chef Mickey’s handled our large group with ease. We were all seated by about 7:15 and it was time for some good fun and lots and lots of food! If you have never been to Chef Mickey’s just imagine tons of not-so-good-for-you food, characters, singing, dancing, and napkin twirling chaos. It really is a sight to see. The kids all loved the interaction with the characters, as well as the singing. I don’t even know if some of them ate, they were so busy getting autographs and running around the place. I made an absolute pig of myself. It was our last real Disney meal and I was going to make the most of it. Plenty of Mickey waffles, a dab of ‘Nilla wafer pudding, a sample of chocolate dirt w/ gummy worm pudding, a spoonful of ambrosia, strawberry sauce with bananas in it along with the requisite eggs and bacon….oh YUM. I passed the word around to everyone in the group that if anyone was interested we were going to hit the pool and possibly rent the little two person speedboats. This would begin at 9am. If not, check out was at 11am and everyone should be in the lobby at that time with their luggage.
Rich and I decided to head for the pool after we made quick work of our packing. I didn’t go in, but he enjoyed swimming around and taking a turn down the water slide. Next, it was to the speedboats. Again, we had a pretty decent sized group and we ended up taking over about 10 of the boats. We had a great time laughing and racing (I know ‘Not Allowed’, but who could tell we were racing at the slow speed they go). We actually all ended up returning at the same time. It was comical because we looked like a small fleet pulling into the bay at the same time. The best part was trying to get everyone into the corral at the end of the bay. One of us ended up in the sand bar and had to be rescued by the dockworker, one ended up backwards, and there were a couple of close calls. In all the commotion, our boat stalled and Rich had to pull the start rope (like a lawnmower) to get us back up and running. It was downright hilarious. I think the dockworkers were glad to see us go.
It was 11am and our group was slowly (and I mean SLOWLY) making their way to the lobby with their luggage. It was important that they show up promptly as we only had an hour to take advantage of the remote airline check in and baggage check service. This was a pretty stressful time as I tried to corral all the families into this line. The skycap needed to see the entire family in order for them to get their boarding passes. I give them credit though; they worked hard but maintained their sense of humor through the whole rush. It was about quarter to 12 and the boss and his family had still not shown up. I was downright lunatic at this point, because 12:00 was the cutoff. Finally, I found him wandering the lobby and sent him out to the line. The DME bus showed up promptly at 12, and besides some tense moments with three people missing, we pulled away five minutes later. The return to the airport was a lot less complicated than the check in. It went very smooth and was a great way to end the weekend.
All in all, the trip was a great success – as long as you don’t count our horrible Friday night experience. Once past Friday night, I had a great time. Rich and I were able to enjoy most of the new attractions and shows that had become available for the “Happiest Celebration on Earth”. We also had great fun enjoying Cirque du Soleil for the first time and swimmin’ with da fishes in the Living Seas. As much as we go back to Walt Disney World, for some reason I never become bored. I love the fact that I can go on vacation to a familiar spot where I don’t have to worry about transportation, if there are any ‘bad’ locations and where to find something to eat. Not having that “unknown” factor makes me able to relax that much more. We’ll go back, we always do – but maybe not with 58 other people!