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Steve Russo -- January 2005 - Walt Disney World (BWVR)


Participants

  • Me - Steve - Disney fanatic and a DVC member. Planner, financier, luggage hauler and your humble narrator
  • Barb - my bride and fellow WDW traveler.
  • Michelle - Daughter #1. WDW vet.
  • Will - Michelle’s husband and our #1 Son-In-Law (so far). One trip, with us, in 2002.
  • Stephanie - Daughter #1A. WDW vet.
  • Stephen - Number One Son. WDW vet

BoardWalk Villas Resort

Planning
Our last ‘full family’ trip was in 2001 so we figured it was time. Michelle and Will came with us on a trip in February 2002. Stephen was with us for the 2002 trip as well as a trip in January 2003. He’s also taken trips in May and August 2004 with his girlfriend and her family. He’s really getting to use the Annual Pass (AP) we bought for him in May. Barb and I have taken three additional trips either solo or with friends. Stephanie has attended once since 2001 - a short business trip where she only had time for one evening at the Studios. This was a private affair with limited open attractions - but she did sprain an ankle while running for a ride on Tower of Terror. She’s her father’s daughter.

In February, we booked a 2-BR villa at the BoardWalk Villas Resort (BWVR). In late summer, I started scouting out airlines. We typically try for Southwest because they offer the only non-stop flights between Albany and Orlando. In mid-year, US Airways initiated non-stop flights on Saturdays so I checked with their web site and snagged 6 seats at $215 per. Southwest had cost Barb and me $247 each for our trip in November 2004. The only potential glitch came when US Airways again filed for bankruptcy protection. I read a number of articles speculating on the outcome - none of them painted a rosy picture - but, it appeared they wouldn’t expect any serious cutbacks in schedule or services until mid-February. We hoped for the best.

We had a brief planning session in October. The intent was to lay out a loose schedule so the ‘kids’ could buy Park Hoppers (PHs) in advance. Stephen had his AP from May and Barb & I had APs from our trip in November. Stephanie, Michelle and Will would need PHs. We decided we would spend one day at Universal Studios Florida (USF) / Islands of Adventure (IOA) and may attempt to hit both parks (USF and IOA) the same day. I’ve heard of a 1-day hopper that is only available at the gate. We’ll see. We figured we’d take one day of ‘down time’ (no parks) so it appeared that 5-day PHs would do the trick.

I thought we’d like to try the Illuminations Cruise. In 2001, we had taken the Fireworks Cruise at the Magic Kingdom (MK) and enjoyed that so… I vowed to call at 7:00 AM at our 90-day window and try to book one. On the first day (a Saturday), I forgot completely. D’oh! On the second day, I remembered at around 9:00 AM (even though I was up well in advance of 7:00) and learned they were already booked. Double d’oh! On day three, I called at 6:59, got through the menus quickly, and booked our cruise for January 10.

As we got closer to the trip, it was interesting to see the anticipation levels. Michelle, in particular, was ‘chomping at the bit’. She was really looking forward to the trip and couldn’t wait to go. Stephen was also anxious, but Steph seemed somewhat indifferent - neither up nor down. We’ll see if her attitude changes as we get closer.

About 60 days out, I called to make several dinner priority Seatings (PSs) - Teppanyaki, Boma, and the Liberty Tree Tavern. As she was booking the first one, the very nice CM asked me if we had any birthdays. I started to say “No” but then remembered that Stephanie’s was coming up soon. On our very first trip to WDW, we flew down on Steph’s 5th birthday. While you may think that a trip to WDW is a great birthday present for a 5 year old, I don’t recall us doing anything special to commemorate the day. We didn’t even visit the parks until day two. Not only did the CM note the birthday on all the PSs but she also arranged to have something waiting for Steph in our room upon check-in (Don’t hate me. Steph’s birthday is just a few weeks away). I thanked her profusely for being so nice and she said “I love doing things like this”. Steph may kill me but it will be worth it. It may take me 21 years to deliver on a birthday, but I get it done.

On December 2, the bomb fell. Disney announced the new ticket plan - Magic Your Way. I caught wind of it when I checked RADP after work and then visited MouseSavers and AllEarsNet to get details. It seemed very confusing at first but, as I got into it, I realized that Michelle, Stephanie and Will would be able to purchase the equivalent of 7-day Park Hoppers (without the no-expiration feature) for less than they would have paid for the 5-day PH. It seems unlike Disney to essentially drop prices like this but who am I to argue?

With a week to go we had our traditional ‘pizza party’ to handle last minute details. I had read some less than favorable reviews on Teppanyaki, especially since their menu change, and… the Jets (my team) would be in a playoff game on Saturday night, when we were booked for Teppanyaki, so I called and changed that PS to Monday at the Cape May Cafe. We made a few last minute scheduling changes to allow for the Jets game, and the addition of Extra Magic Hour (EMH) evenings. We’re almost ready.

I haven’t rented a car since our trip in 2000 - we’ve been using Tiffany Towncar with great success. However, we wanted to make the Universal trip and Tiffany had a price increase. It would cost $110 RT for a van to/from the airport and another $70 RT to Universal. Add on tips and you’re over $200. I used a code I got from Disney Visa and booked a minivan through National for $230 after taxes and other charges. I did a check on MouseSavers and found another code that dropped this to $190 - thanks MouseSavers.

On our trip in November, Barb and I were surprised that it cost us $55 to park at the airport for 6 days. The rates there seem to be going up frequently and considerably. We would need to park 2 cars so we’re talking $110 or more for the week. I scouted around and found a local shuttle service that will run us round-trip from my house to the airport for $75. We’ve never used this service before and I’m a tad nervous… they need to pick us up at 6:00 AM. We’ll see.

On January 2, Michelle called the Disney Store and was told that they were selling the Magic Your Way tickets. She and Stephanie went there but found that there was a ‘glitch’ in the system and they were not able to buy their passes. Steph stopped back on Monday, January 3, and the glitch was still there. I should point out here that Steph’s excitement level has increased quite a bit as we get closer to the trip.

I know, from experience, that the one thing you really can’t plan is the weather (particularly in January). I’ve checked AccuWeather and, I know you can’t rely on an extended forecast but, the highs for our week range from 78-82 degrees with no forecasted precipitation. My fingers and toes are crossed.

The last week dragged by as we attended to those last minute details: buy film; stop the newspaper and mail, etc. Barb has the task of dropping Gunnar at the kennel on Friday afternoon and she’s trying to enlist assistance because she knows she’ll be sobbing uncontrollably when she leaves him. As it turned out, Stephen was probably more distraught.

Day One - Saturday, January 8, 2005 - Turtles, Jets and broken toilets

The alarms were set for 4:00 AM but, true to form, we were awake at 3:30. We proceeded to get showered, dressed and caffeined. Stephanie showed at about 5:25 and Michelle and Will were there about 5 minutes later.

I was still worried about Northeast Shuttle but they showed 10 minutes early at 5:50. We loaded up the large van and had an uneventful trip to the airport. I paid the driver and gave 50% of the tip in the event we had a different driver on the return. He gave me a business card and wrote his name and cell number on the back - I was beginning to feel a bit more comfortable with these guys.

We went in to the airport and immediately saw a line of about 50-60 people at the US Airways counter. Barb and Will headed for the end of the line and we called them back to use the automated kiosks. I’d never used these before but Stephanie had. We waited for one group ahead of us and then I swiped my credit card and… no luck. I entered my name and flight and it mercifully found the reservation (I had a single reservation for the 6 of us which simplified things immensely). I’d printed out our boarding passes the day before so I just needed to confirm the travelers and enter the number of bags we’d be checking (6). A US Airways employee was behind the counter and he ticketed our bags, verified our IDs and we were on our way. Total elapsed time: about 5 minutes. I’m now a big fan of kiosks.

We rode the escalator upstairs and were greeted with the longest line at Security that I’ve ever seen. It stretched from the security tables, back through the queue, and across the bridge to the parking garage where it bent and circled all the way back to the terminal. I was thankful that: 1. the line was moving; and 2. we were early.

In about 25 minutes, we were approaching the x-ray machines. There was a mother and daughter (about 3 years old) in front of me. As she was one group away from the belt, she began pleading that she had a 7:00 flight. I glanced at my watch and it was 6:57. Unfortunately, the mom and daughter beeped as they went through and had to remove their shoes and go through again. This little girl did NOT want her boots off and she put up an admirable fight. I don’t know if they ever made their flight.

We found some chairs by the gate and chilled. The flight was overbooked (it is, after all, US Airways) and they were looking for volunteers to be bumped to a later flight. They were offering a free ticket but I had my doubts if US Airways would be in business long enough for someone to take advantage of it.

Once we boarded, I was reminded of one of the reasons I don’t like flying US Airways. My last several trips have been with Southwest. Southwest’s seats offer about 3-4 inches between my knees and the seat in front of me. US Airways must squeeze 1 or 2 more rows in their seating configuration because my knees are always wedged against the seat. And, naturally, the person in front of me ALWAYS reclines their seatback for the entire flight.

The flight left 20 minutes late (it is, after all, US Airways). We had some rough flying for the first 3rd of the trip. There was a lot of nasty stuff (thunderstorms, tornados) up and down the east coast yesterday. I suspected this was the culprit. It smoothed out some once we got south of Virginia and was relatively uneventful - as I prefer my flights to be. I did spend some time questioning my decision to get a minivan after seeing the 6 overstuffed suitcases and the myriad of carry-ons. Will it all fit?

We landed a bit late, hit the Monorail to the main terminal and waited about 10 minutes for all the bags. After the US Airways luggage fiasco over the holidays, I was just thankful the bags showed up.

We headed downstairs and toward the National counter - then across to the parking garage. We searched the lot and I found rows for Intermediates, Luxury, Specialty, Compact… but no minivans. I finally found an employee who told me the row for minivans was in the next aisle - labeled ‘Alamo’. Thanks, but they could have let us know or offered a sign informing us.

We saw a Montana and a Dodge Grand Caravan (brand new with 18 miles on it) side-by-side and decided on the Dodge. After several false starts, we finally figured out that the best way to load the luggage would be to lay it flat in the back (the largest one just fit this way) and stack the suitcases. After a few minutes, we had the van loaded but there was precious little room left. We had intended to make a grocery stop on the way and I said it may be better to do it after check-in. The group overruled me saying we could make it fit. I was skeptical.

I got us to the Publix, by the Premium Outlets, on International Drive. We spent about 20-minutes filling 2 carts with way too much stuff - breakfast cereal, bananas, apples, juice, milk, soda, beer, bagels, chips, pretzels, bottled water (a 3-gallon jug), cheese (more on the cheese later), etc. I had serious doubts if this would fit and was mentally deciding which one of my children I could leave behind. Maybe Will - after all, he’s not a blood relative.

Somehow, we got it all in the van and made the quick trip to the BoardWalk. I should mention that, as we left the Publix lot, I began to turn the wrong way. I mention this because my family really enjoys it when I make a mistake - which, obviously, I rarely do. This is my first one for 2005 and, actually, it was technically not a mistake because I corrected before actually making the wrong turn. Take that.

As we passed through the arch and first saw the purple road signs, I had Will (my co-pilot) begin shooting video. We pulled in front of the BoardWalk and one of the bellmen popped over and asked “Do you need a cart?” Uh, I think we may need three.

This guy was stubborn and had a bit of MacGyver in him because he patiently loaded all our stuff (27 bags including the groceries) on to a single cart. I was so impressed I videotaped it. While I was watching this artist work, Barb went inside to check us in.

Once inside, I noticed that the Christmas trees and decorated garland were still there but the display made from chocolate was missing. (During the week, we noticed Xmas decorations everywhere and watched as much of it came down).I joined Barb at the desk and got a “Welcome home” - I never tire of that. The CM asked for all of our names - he personalized each room card. This seems like a change because in the past they all had either my name or Barb’s. He also told us our room was ready. I did the happy dance.

Once I got the room numbers (our 2-BR villa was 4073 and 4075 - right next door to the 2-BR we had in 2001) I gave them (along with our luggage claim check) to Bell Services. They said they’d meet us there.

We found the room and, in about 10 minutes, the luggage showed up. The CM got the cart to the door but it would go no farther. He told me that when he found it in the luggage room, they had just finished unloading it (all 27 bags). He loaded it all on to a new cart and got it to the elevator when he realized the cart had a flat tire. Thank God we were only a short walk from the elevator. He got a little extra tip for his tribulations.

Before we left, I had purchased several of the new ‘TSA Approved’ luggage locks. They each have a number on them and the idea is that, from the number, Security can open the lock without destroying it. One of our bags had a broken zipper end thanks to TSA snipping off the last lock, so I had threaded a sturdy key ring through it, and used the TSA locks on both bags. Sure enough, on that bag, the key ring and TSA lock were gone. There was a note inside the bag that it had been ‘checked’, but no evidence of the lock. Sheesh!

We unpacked quickly, changed into shorts (it was sunny and 80) and headed to the ESPN Club for a late lunch. Lunch was a mix of sandwiches (The Dinger is Stephen’s favorite) and sodas/water - and a couple of Sam Adams for me.

After ESPN we headed into Epcot, via the International Gateway (IG). Michelle, Stephanie and Will had the new Magic Your Way (MYW) tickets and there were signs at each turnstile instructing guests on how to use them: 1. Insert your ticket; 2. Insert your fingers; and 3. Take your ticket and enter the park. I wondered if they really needed to include Step 3.

We walked through the UK and Canada and into Future World (FW). Our first stop was Test Track (TT), which had a 40-minute wait. We picked up FastPasses (FP) for 5:00-6:00 and headed for the Living Seas.

We don’t visit the Living Seas every trip and it certainly has changed over the years. Now, after passing through the queue, you are held in the circular room. Once there’s a big enough crowd, they instruct you to head to the right for the film or the left for the Hydrolaters. Why hold people here at all? It makes little sense.

We headed toward the Hydrolaters and endured the ‘descent’. IMO, this made sense when it was part of the show’s sequence - the film, the ride-through, the Hydrolaters, the aquariums, etc. Now, it’s just a nuisance.

We wandered around and spent some time with the newer Finding Nemo exhibit. The jellyfish tank is new and very interesting. We then found the ‘Turtle Talk’ room and waited about 5-minutes for that. It was nicely done and is definitely worth a stop - especially if you have young children. Crush is a very entertaining dude - er, guy - er, turtle.

We then went to Mission: Space (MS) which had a 20-minute standby. The kids rode. Barb and I felt a bit too full from lunch to risk it so we found a bench and a bottle of very cold water. The kids were off the ride in about 15-minutes. Only Stephen had ridden before and they all liked it a lot.

The FP window was open for TT so we entered and were in the pre-show in about 3 minutes. We all rode in the same car. We had it up to 64.8 mph on the outdoor run. Has anyone ever topped 65? After TT, we walked over to Imagination and entered the pre-show for Honey, I Shrunk the Audience (HISTA). The pre-show was, mercifully, almost over. I’m lobbying to bring back True Colors. We all enjoyed HISTA, as we always do.

Fatigue was starting to set in, so we strolled back to World Showcase (WS) through the Lights of Winter (that is the name for those arches, isn’t it?). I was surprised it was still up and, as I found out later in the week, it wouldn’t be up for long.

We walked back to the BW and to our room. Barb and Steph headed to the quiet pool for a swim and a Jacuzzi while Stephen and I settled in to watch our Jets take on the Chargers in a Playoff game. Just before game time, Michelle and Will indicated they were heading to Epcot to catch Illuminations - Reflections of Earth (IROE). Before they left, one of them had used the bathroom and informed me that there was a problem with the toilet - it flushed but the tank was not refilling. I fiddled with it a bit and speculated it was a faulty fill-valve so I called Maintenance.

The Jets game was an exciting one. They actually had the game won twice before finally sealing it with an overtime field goal for a 20-17 win. At several points during the game, I heard noise coming from the second bedroom and went over to find a female CM working on the toilet. She did need to replace the fill valve.

Unfortunately, the game took forever, finally ending at 12:30. Stephen, Steph and I lasted to the bitter end - true fans. Our day began at 3:30 AM Saturday and ended at about 1:00 AM, Sunday. A very long day. We retired for some much-needed sleep.

Things I Think I Think - I think Northeast Shuttle provides very good service - so far. I think US Airways planes are uncomfortable if you’re over 6’ tall. I haven’t rented a car in 5-6 trips (since 2000) but, as long as the rates are competitive with Tiffany, I think I like the flexibility. I think I never tire of hearing “Welcome home”. I think Crush is way cool, dudes. I think the Jets are still in it. I always seem to have a problem with BoardWalk toilets.

Day Two - Sunday, January 9, 2005 - The 75-minute bus ride, fudge and EMH Evening

Steph left a wake-up call for 5:50 so she could go for a run and a workout. Man, she’s tougher than I am. I was, however, awake at 5:00 but I waited until the wake-up call before venturing out to put on a pot of coffee. We typically have a light breakfast in the room (cereal, fruit, bagels, juice, and coffee) while we get showered and dressed. Everyone was ready by 8:10 so we headed out for Magic Kingdom (MK).

Today is the WDW Marathon and I know it runs throughout the property and, at various times, through all 4 major parks. I stopped at the front desk and asked a CM if we would encounter any problems bussing to the MK. She checked something on her computer and informed me there would be no problem. Like an idiot, I believed her.

We boarded a MK bus at 8:15. At 9:15, we were still on the bus making our way ever so slowly toward the Transportation and Ticket Center (TTC). We were sitting for 10-minutes at a time, then moving 50 feet, then sitting some more. I really couldn’t tell what the specific problem was but I could see runners, wrapped in those Mylar blankets, being bussed to a lot nearby. That front desk CM never said there could be delays nor did she say anything about being dropped at the TTC rather than MK.

We finally reached the TTC at 9:30 and were allowed to get off. A lady on the bus had mentioned walking to the Polynesian Resort to pick up the Monorail rather than fighting crowds at the TTC - which sounded like a good idea. We asked a CM and he pointed us in the direction of the path to the Poly and we made a quick walk there. Now, I should mention that our first activity upon entering any park is a restroom visit. More specifically, it’s a Ladies Room visit for the girls. These poor ladies were now about 1 hour overdue for this stop so, upon entering the Poly, it was a mad dash for the facilities.

Relieved (in more ways than one), we made our way to the Monorail for the quick trip to the MK. We stopped on Main Street and had a CM take our picture. One with the Castle behind us and a second one from an angle with the girls cupping their hands together in the middle - holding Tinkerbell, who would be pasted in later. The CM gave me a plastic card to check on the photo later. It also had a URL and number that would allow us to view them, and buy them if we choose, later from home.

Barb and Steph were looking for a coffee but the Bakery had a line of about 25 people. We walked, via the Plaza Pavilion, to Tomorrowland for a ride on Space Mountain (SpM). They only had the right side running but there was no line to speak of - it was really just a walk through the long queue and on to the ride vehicle.

We then headed to Buzz Lightyear where I attempted to recapture the glory of my last ride when I scored the maximum 999,999 points. Sadly, old age, a bum knee and an arthritic shoulder have taken their toll. I scored a feeble 35,000 points and was even beaten by (gasp!) Barb. The shame! Will championed the group with 155,000.

After Buzz we scored some coffee and juice from the Launch Pad and sat in the sun for a bit. This day was a mirror image of yesterday - sunny with an expected high of 81 - Beautiful.

Next up was Stitch’s Great Escape - new for all but Barb and me. I felt a little better about the attraction than I did after our first visit in November. If you don’t compare it to Alien Encounter, it’s OK. Not great, just OK. IMO, worth doing once and then see how your group relates to it. BTW, Steph hated it but she has an aversion to anything touching her during a show.

We took a quick spin on the WEDWay (Tomorrowland Transit Authority or TTA) and then headed to Fantasyland. There was a 5-minute wait for Mickey’s PhilharMagic so in we went. This is rapidly becoming a favorite attraction for me. As a matter of fact, Stephanie informed me later that it was her favorite.

In the second scene, just after Donald goes through the vortex (or whatever), the screen darkens and we see Donald’s eyes as he says, “Where’s my hat?” Just then, a candle lights and we see Lumiere as they launch into ‘Be Our Guest’. There was spontaneous applause from the audience, which I took as honoring Jerry Orbach who recently passed away. Very touching.

Time for lunch so we hit Columbia Harbour House for a mix of sandwiches, soups and salads. We took our trays upstairs where it was very quiet.

After lunch, we took a ride through the Haunted Mansion (HM). I rode with Stephen, intending to point out the third Hidden Mickey (in the Grim Reaper’s hand) but missed it completely. You really need to focus at the end of the ride or, like me, you realize it’s there just after you’ve passed it.

We walked back to Frontierland for a ride on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (BTMRR). The posted standby wait time was 20-minutes so we entered the line. Once inside and wrapping around the railings, they made an announcement that our wait time would be “slightly longer”. I never found out what caused this but it seemed to add about 5-minutes.

As you reach the area where the Standby line joins and merges with the FastPass line, there was a CM checking FP tickets. A family of 3 (mom, dad and 10(?) year-old girl) were in the FP line. The CM asked them for their tickets and Mom starting fumbling through her fanny pack. She turned and asked Dad, “Do you have them?” From his reaction, a grim smile and a slow shake of his head, it seemed to me that this was Mom’s idea of a way to shorten the wait time. “Let’s get in the FP line. They’ll never ask for the tickets and, if they do, we’ll just say we lost them”. It didn’t work. After rummaging through the 3 or 4 items in her fanny pack several times and coming up empty, the CM gave them directions on how to exit the building. As they were making their way out, I could almost hear the Dad saying “I told you it wouldn’t work”.

After BTMRR, the kids opted for a ride on Splash Mountain (SplM) while Barb and I decided to stay dry and find a bench in the waiting area. When the kids came out, reasonably dry, we decided it was time for the pool so we walked upstairs and boarded the WDW Railroad for a trip to the front of the park.

Once there, Will wanted to get some chocolate pretzels so we walked up to the Main Street Confectionery. I wandered inside and weakened when I saw the fudge. “I’ll take 4 pieces - one each from the second row”. A Chocolate, a Rocky Road, a Brownie, and a … can’t remember the 4th one. The CM informed me that when you buy 4, you get 2 free. I knew this, but hadn’t remembered it so a cartwheel was in order (and a happy dance). Six pieces of fudge and I’m in Hog Heaven. It was pretty funny watching Will order his pretzels - especially when he couldn’t think of the word ‘sprinkles’.

We got to the room and the 4 ‘kids’ immediately headed for Muscles and Bustles to work out and then take a swim in the pool. Barb just chilled for a bit with the TV and… I slept. Last night’s late game had taken its toll.

We had decided to hit the Disney-MGM Studios tonight for Extra Magic Hour (is it still called that in the evening?). The park would stay open for an additional 3 hours for resort guests. We headed out at 5:30 except for Steph, who was looking for a quick nap. She said she’d hook up with us later.

We walked over to MGM and picked up our wristbands by showing out resort IDs (room keys) to a CM just inside the turnstiles (off to the right, next to Oscar’s Service Station). The kids took a ride on Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster (RnRC) while Barb and I waited. Just as they were coming off the ride, Steph called on the cell and informed me she was approaching the gate. I gave her instructions on how to get the wristband and said I would meet her at the entrance to Fantasmic. I sent everyone else inside to grab some seats for us.

I waited outside Fantasmic and Steph showed in about 5-minutes. We walked in and, just as we were about to phone Michelle, we saw Stephen (all 6’ 4” of him) standing with his arm raised and swinging a white sweatshirt. We would’ve been able to spot that from a mile away. They had seats near the top in Maleficent - about the 40-yard line on the left side of center.

Fantasmic filled up quickly and there were a lot of folks in the standing area at the rear. It was, as always, a great show.

We let the crowds thin a bit, and then started walking toward the exit. We thought we’d get some dinner first (there were only 5 dining spots open late) and chose the Sci-Fi Drive-In Theater. While walking there I realized that, other than Fantasmic, this was the first time I’d ever been in MGM after dark. Weird.

We had a good meal of burgers (not on the dinner menu but available), salads, chicken, salmon and those killer Shakes. It was Stephanie’s first time here and she enjoyed it. It’s funny but, for Barb and me, the hokey movie clips and drive-in commercials are memories. For the kids, they’re jokes. They kept asking, “Was this really a movie?” “Were people really frightened by this?”

After Sci-Fi, we walked over to Star Tours and walked on for a trip to the Moon of Endor. Once again, we didn’t make it there. We sat in the front row for the first time where I discovered that it’s the row with the least amount of motion. I like Star Tours - a lot. I used to love it. Please, invest a few bucks, kiss and make up with George Lucas and get us a new film. It really needs it.

We headed back to Tower of Terror (ToT) and it was a walk on. We all were looking forward to riding this at night but I’m not sure if it really makes that much difference. Anyway, it’s a great ride. After ToT, the kids took another spin on RnRC while Barb and I waited on a bench. I’ve ridden RnRC several times and, while it’s not my favorite, I can handle it. Barb has ridden once and did not like it at all. She has an aversion to the inversion (how’s that for a phrase?) and has vowed to never ride again.

The kids came out of RnRC at 9:45 and decided on one more ride on ToT. Barb and I said we’d see them back at the ranch and headed out of MGM. How did I like the EMH evening? There were very few people in the park and most of them were at ToT and RnRC. If you wanted to spend the 3 hours hitting attractions, you could probably get through each at least twice, maybe 3 times. It’s also nice just to stroll the streets with no crowds - in some cases no people at all. It’s a nice benefit for Disney’s resort guests and one that I hope they will continue.

The kids got back to the room about 15 minutes behind us.

Things I Think I Think - I think you should not ride a bus to the MK during the Marathon (not sure about the other parks). I think that I will never again trust a front desk CM. I think Mickey’s PhilharMagic is very good and fast becoming my favorite attraction at the MK. I think you shouldn’t try going through the FP queue without a FP. I think that six pieces of fudge, for the price of four, is better then winning the Lottery (well, almost). I think EMH evenings is a nice perk for resort guests and should be continued.

Day Three - Monday, January 10, 2005 - Fast Track, a Cruise and Fat Monica

Steph left a wakeup call for 5:51 and she and Stephen went for a run and a workout. Will and Michelle went down and used the gym. Silly children. I drank coffee and had an English muffin.

We were out the door at 8:25 for Animal Kingdom. We were through security and the turnstiles at about 8:55 and took the right path through the Oasis. I had a purpose. We stopped at the area housing the Babirusa, that foul looking, fat, gnarly pig. My purpose was to get a picture of my lovely wife standing by the sign. Why? Babirusa… Babi Rusa… Barbara Russo. Get it? Now understand, I’m not implying that my bride has any similarities to this foul looking, fat, gnarly pig. Quite the contrary, she’s not fat at all. She’s a good sport (Barbara Russo, not Babirusa) and agreed to pose for me.

We got to the rope area by the Tree of Life just as they were concluding the opening ceremonies. Great timing. We walked up, watched 95% of the people there head straight for Kilimanjaro Safari (KS) while we took a right for It’s Tough To Be a Bug (ITTBAB). Steph has a general dislike of insects so this is not her cup of tea but, she bravely endured it although she remembered to sit forward for the bee sting and hover for the cockroach and maggot exit.

We next went to DinoLand, stopping first to view a single crocodile (or was it a gator?), for a ride on Dinosaur. I never remember exactly how rough this ride is. After bringing back the Iguanodon, we headed into that decidedly tacky area where Disney points you with an Exit sign. We stopped first in the gift shop where Steph purchased a Dinosaur toy for the child of a friend. She had it shipped back to the resort. We did take a ride on Primeval Whirl - a first for Michelle, Steph and Will. For some reason, the 3 girls decided they would ride together leaving us guys in a car to ourselves. I think the additional weight (in our car, not theirs) resulted in a ride with much more spinning.

We walked through Asia to Harambe, stopping quickly to watch DeVine do her thing. This is the first time I’ve seen her walking on the path rather than stuck into the foliage. She walked to a nearby tree and struck a pose kind of hugging the tree’s trunk with a leg stuck out behind her. I swear if I happened by, I would never have suspected it was anything more than a vine - but I guess that’s the point. I was videotaping as she walked by and I noticed that, despite the stilts and the green face, she’s a very attractive woman. So I gave her an instinctive “How you doin’?” I’m certain she was impressed. You know what they say: Once you go green, you never go back. I was trying to come up with a double entendre involving photosynthesis but came up empty. Sorry.

We picked up FPs for the Safari and ducked into the Tusker House for a late breakfast. We had a mix of sausage/bacon and eggs, cinnamon rolls, coffee and juice. Once finished, it was a restroom break and then into the FP line for the Safari.

While walking by scores of folks in the Standby line, I overheard a woman ask, “Where are those people going?” Her companion replied, “Oh. That’s the Fast Track system. I don’t know how much it costs but it gets you on the rides without waiting”.

We were put into the last 2 rows to board the truck when Michelle decided she wasn’t feeling well and started toward the exit. Being the good Mom, Barb went with her. The rest of stayed and had a very good Safari. The highlight was watching the 2 baby elephants playing in the mud together. They were rolling around and climbing over each other… a really cute sight. The lion was also out and, for the first time, awake. He was sitting out on Pride Rock and, while he was awake, he looked very, very sleepy. Apparently, he was also up late watching the Jets game.

After exiting, we caught up with Barb and Michelle. Michelle was feeling better but not 100% so we decided to head back to the resort.

Back at the BW, Stephen and I hit the gym for a workout. I went through double sets on most of the Cybex machines (the ones that wouldn’t cause further injury anyway) and decided to wrap up with 20 minutes on the treadmill before hitting the pool. Stephen was still lifting as I was trying to decipher the controls so I could get the treadmill going at a reasonable speed at a reasonable incline. Because of my 35-years in IT, it only took me 4 minutes to figure out the freakin’ controls and get the thing moving.

So I’m walking on this contraption, at a pretty good pace, when I notice that women occupy all the other treadmills. They’re all staring fixedly at something overhead so I look up and see a TV… tuned to a soap opera. Now at the risk of offending many women out there, and possibly some men, I have a firm belief that every minute spent watching a soap opera will destroy several million brain cells - and not just the weak ones that alcohol kills. Indeed, a steady diet of these things and one will find oneself watching, and possibly enjoying, a Jerry Springer show featuring ‘men who left their wives because they’re in love with transvestite bricklayers’. I lasted 10 minutes when I abruptly shut the machine down, fell awkwardly off the back and ran screaming out of the room. For Pete’s sake, it’s a gym… can’t we lock it on ESPN or a news channel?

I walked down to the quiet pool where Barb and Michelle were already in the water. I dropped my stuff on a table and started down the stairs into the pool where I promptly slipped and landed squarely on my butt. Probably payback for my diatribe against soap operas. Barb asked if I was OK and I indicated that the only thing bruised was my ego. She asked if I thought I’d have a bruise on my backside so I offered to give her a peek. At this point, Michelle let out an “Eeeewwww” and swam frantically for the other end of the pool. Children just don’t want to think of their parents seeing each other naked - at least I never did. Anyway, Barb’s always trying to sneak a peek at my butt but, after all, who can blame her?

We swam for a while, Jacuzzi-ed for a while and sunned ourselves. It was, once again, sunny and low 80s. After a bit, Will, Stephanie and Stephen joined us and we decided on a drink at the Leaping Horse Libations pool bar. Stephen passed (he’s only 19 but he could have had a virgin something), Barb had a frozen Margarita, Michelle and Steph had frozen Strawberry Margaritas, and Will had a Full House (? It was something with House in the name). I said I’d also have one of those. The bartender asked for ID from the 3 ‘kids’ - none of whom had anything with them. They’re all over 25 and he relented when he found out they were with ‘Dad’.

As he was mixing up the drinks, I glanced up at the menu and discovered the drink I ordered had 2 different rums and a Strawberry Daiquiri mix. Ladies and gentlemen, I do not drink Daiquiris. I like my booze to taste like booze and I consider drinking a Daiquiri akin to riding a horse sidesaddle. Nevertheless, we took our drinks to a table and I sucked through the straw like a co-ed on Spring Break. The shame! See what 10 minutes in front of a soap opera does?

We hit the rooms for showers when I had the great idea of grabbing some champagne for tonight’s Illuminations Cruise. I went down to the Screen Door and found that, while they had no champagne, they did have Asti Spumante so I bought a bottle. I wasn’t about to buy their flute glasses at $12 per so I pleaded with the CM for some Styrofoam cups. She entered the back room and came out with 6 for me. I thanked her profusely. Asti Spumante in Styrofoam cups - am I a class guy, or what?

Now back to the cheese I bought at Publix. Remember that the Fireworks Cruise is a surprise for the kids. In the weeks before the trip, I had suggested to Barb that, on the Cruise, we bring along a bottle of wine and some snacks. Cheese, crackers, you get the picture. When we had our pre-trip pizza party, we were coming up with our shopping list and I wrote down ‘cheese’. Barb immediately said, “Why do we need cheese?” She’s very forgetful and I give her one of those looks (you know, the one with one eyebrow raised) that says “I’ll tell you later”. She’s not satisfied and she persists “Why cheese?” Now I have to say, “Later, Barb. Please.” And now this has piqued the interest of the kids. They want to know what the cheese is for so I simply say, “It’s a surprise”. Now for the last couple of days, they’ve been waiting for the ‘Famous Cheese Surprise” which will now never live up to the hype.

Showered and changed, we head over to the Beach Club where I have a PS at the Cape May Buffet for 5:30. We’re early so we spend some time wandering around the hotel until it’s time to be seated. Our waitress is Kat and she’s great. She’s talkative, funny, and she takes very good care of us. We chow down on soups, salads, almond-encrusted salmon, clams mussels, prime rib, etc. We hit the dessert cart pretty hard and Kat comes over and says, “No one has an Oreo Bon-Bon?” She then runs back and grabs one and delivers it to the table. We share and it is very good.

The Cape May tables are covered with large sheets of paper. There are crayons on the tables as well and I’m sure that the little ones use this for drawing, coloring, etc. While we’re having coffee, Steph grabs a crayon and we embark on several games of tic-tac-toe. I then get an idea and offer a game of Hangman, with the answer being the ‘cheese surprise’ they’ve been asking about. I draw out the dashes for F-I-R-E-W-O-R-K-S C-R-U-I-S-E and we begin. I’ve just about got them hung when, in unison, they realize that ‘-IRE-OR-S -R-ISE’ is Fireworks Cruise.

Another interesting note… 2 tables away is a Birthday Party for Jacob. They bring out a cake, Kat takes a hit from a helium balloon, and they sing ‘Happy Birthday’. Stephanie starts complaining, in a humorous way, that we never did that for her 5th birthday on her first trip. Quite a coincidence. Her birthday was supposedly on this PS, but nothing happened here. I vow that I’ll double-check it for the room and our next 2 dinners.

We settle up with Kat (got the 10% DVC discount) and head back to stock up for the Cruise. We fill a tote bag with the Asti (which has been chilling in the freezer), beer, soda, and… the cheese. We grab some jackets, just in case it’s a little cooler on the water - the nights have been balmy, and hoof it over to the Yacht Club dock. Michelle and Steph head into the Yacht Club for a restroom break while the rest of us head down to the dock and I check us in. Our Captain, Scott, comes out and introduces himself. I explain we’re waiting on two that are using the ladies room. As Michelle and Steph walk up, Scott says loudly, “I don’t care what you say, we’re waiting for them”.

We load up and, at 8:15, Scott takes us out and down the lagoon toward MGM. Everyone’s in the front of the boat and I take a spot in the back, near Scott, for some video and photos. Scott asked where we were staying and, when he heard the BoardWalk, asked if we’d like to be dropped off there at the end of the Cruise. When we said “Sure” he indicated he could get us within 50 feet of the dock and we could swim in from there.

Scott is entertaining us with some facts about the Swan and Dolphin and also answering some questions. Michael Eisner hated the initial designs for the Swolphin and fired the architect. They were originally to be built near Downtown Disney but they signed a longer lease and Disney allowed them to build where they are now. The black areas on the side of each building are the areas where the Monorail will pass through - if it’s ever extended. The new architect (Graves or Grady?) had a different (humorous?) perspective and actually designed the Swan with the waves and the Dolphin with the grass on the buildings - dispelling the urban legend that the figures at the top were erroneously placed. He also addressed the common perception that the ‘Dolphin’ statues are really fish, not mammals. The figure is actually taken from how dolphins were depicted on old maritime charts. ‘Soaring’ will not include the ‘Over California’ designation so it can be changed in the future. He’s hearing things like ‘The Alps’ and the ‘Grand Canyon’. IROE costs $35k per night. Facts or not, Scott was entertaining.

I was chatting with him about his work on these cruises. He indicated that this was part-time for him. His full-time job was a manager for Parks and Recreation where he managed some 14 facilities around Orlando. Previously, he worked as a football coach at the high school and college level. This piqued Stephen’s interest and he moved back with us. We learned that Scott coached Tre Thomas, now with the Eagles, when in high school. As a 15-year old sophomore, Tre was 6 7” and 285 pounds. Yow!

At this point, Scott was positioning us beneath the bridge in Epcot. He had promised that, once we saw IROE from here, we’d never want to see it from anywhere else. I have watched IROE a number of times from the bridge so I was anxious to see the difference.

Scott also promised us a breakdown of the IROE phases so we could better understand the show. There are 56 phases of IROE. Scott walked us through the major ones such as the warming of the Earth, prehistoric man, forming of the continents, travel and population, etc. through those people that have shaped the world as it is today. It was very interesting and did fill in a lot of the blanks.

A Birthday Cruise boat pulled up alongside and Stephanie said, “Dad? For me? Thanks.” I’ve gotta get that done.

I popped the cork on the Asti and filled several of those Styrofoam cups. IROE began and we all agreed that this vantage point was special. I’ve always loved this show, and its previous versions, but this view was the best. We could also hear the narration and music much more clearly here. After the show, Scott waited a few minutes, then took us out into World Showcase Lagoon for a bit. We then took a leisurely cruise back to the BW. After debarking (unbarking? Did we ever really bark in the first place?), I tipped Scott nicely and thanked him profusely. The Cruise was great and he made it even better.

A quick word about the cost of the cruise: In 2001, we did the Fireworks Cruise at MK. When I booked it I was told the cost was $120 plus tax. When we paid, after the cruise, we were charged $120 including tax. When I booked this cruise, I was told the cost, including tax, would be $120.73. When I checked in, I was charged $125. Can anyone figure this out? BTW, I just read that the Cruise increased to $150 on January 4, 2005. I guess because I was already booked, we got the old rate. Just another example of the Carousel of Policy.

A lot of folks ask if the Cruise is worth the cost and it’s a difficult question to answer. Is it worth $150 to watch the show from under, rather than on, the bridge? No. Is it worth $150 to bring 5, 6 or more people on the boat for an hour, cruise the lagoons, be entertained and watch IROE from what is possibly the best vantage point available? IMO, yes.

We spent a few minutes on the BW. Do you know that Fun House mirror they have there? We discovered that Michelle is precisely the right height (I believe she’s about 5’ 9”) to look like a short, squat midget in that mirror. She was wearing Capri pants and the image made it look like her legs were about 8” tall and it compacted the rest of her. It was hysterical. She would stand back 10 feet and run toward the mirror. We even got her to do a little dance. Did you ever see the Friends episode where ‘fat’ Monica dances? That was Michelle. I know I’m not doing this justice with the written word but, if you were there, you’d have been laughing uncontrollably. Shoot - write me. I’ll send the video.

By the way, we drank the Asti but no one wanted any cheese.

Things I Think I Think - I think some folks should really do some reading before heading to WDW - at least read about the FastPass system. I think I shouldn’t poke fun at soap operas if I’m going to have a Daiquiri. I think I should leave Barb out of future ‘surprises’. I think the Cape May Buffet is very good. I think … nah, I know the Illuminations Fireworks Cruise is, too.

Day Four - Tuesday, January 11, 2005 - Bottle Sniffers, Birthdays and Burritos

I’m up at 5:30 and Steph heads out at 6:00 for her run and workout. At close to 8:00, I tell everyone I’m heading down to retrieve the car and to follow me down in 5 minutes. I stop at the front desk and verify that they have the information on Stephanie’s birthday. It’s on the reservation but, apparently, if you don’t call their attention to it, it goes un-noticed. The CM asks me who her favorite character is. Hmmm. Actually, I think it’s probably Sebastian but I offer up Goofy.

We pile in the Grand Caravan and it’s an easy 15-20 minute drive to Universal. We’re one of the first cars there and we park in Kong 107. It’s been a long time since I’ve had to pay ($7) to park and remember the character’s name for the lot in which I parked.

The ticket booths weren’t open yet but they do have automated machines that allow you to buy your ticket with a credit card. We used those and purchased six 1-day park hoppers - good at both Universal Studios - Florida (USF) and Islands of Adventure (IOA). The cost was $83 per.

The park opened early (about 8:45) and, in my experience, this has always been the case at Universal. We had decided to visit IOA first and take advantage of the empty park to do our favorites as quickly as possible before heading to USF.

The kids headed immediately to the Hulk. I videotaped a car with a single rider (a test run?) for a bit, and then Barb and I headed to Spiderman. We walked on to the ride twice before heading to a bench to wait for the kids. They were along in about 5 minutes after riding the Hulk 3 times. Stephanie had a run in with another patron at the lockers. There are several rides at USF-IOA where you can’t carry on any bags. They’ve located a bank of automated lockers nearby. The lockers are free for the 1st hour and you activate them (and retrieve your items later) by scanning and validating your fingerprint. Steph was in line behind 2 girls that were struggling with the fingerprint. The instructions say to place your finger on the pad for 2-3 seconds and then remove it. These girls weren’t removing their fingers so the machine couldn’t get a reading. After watching for a bit, Steph tried to explain what they were doing wrong and the girls got a bit snippy with her - “I can read you know”. Trust me on this… it’s not a good idea to get snippy with Steph when she’s in a hurry - or any other time for that matter. As I said, she’s her father’s daughter.

Anyway, the police didn’t have to be summoned and we all took a ride together on Spiderman. It’s a great ride but Steph was a little disappointed. While she thought it was good, I had probably over-hyped it to her.

Next, everyone but me took a drop on Dr. Doom’s Fear Fall. I had tried this last time and it’s a poor man’s ToT. No real themeing, just a drop… IMO it’s not worth any wait.

We started making our way toward Jurassic Park when we spied Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls. This is a flume ride on steroids. The kids headed toward the entrance but Steph and Michelle bowed out quickly leaving Stephen and Will on their own. The girls didn’t want to get wet and it proved to be a wise decision.

Looking at the ride, after the traditional drop there’s a straightaway of about 100 yards that undulates a bit. The logs seem to go very fast through this and there is lots and lots of spraying water. We waited and finally caught Will and Stephen making the drop. I videoed them all the way through and yes, they got pretty wet.

Next up: Jurassic Park. It’s a fairly good ride that follows the movie’s story line. At the end, you plummet down a flume to escape a T-Rex. The splash at the bottom throws a lot of water in the air but you really don’t get soaked - unless you’re me. In 2002, I survived the drop only to be blasted with a wave that came over the front of the boat, accelerated, and hit me square in the face. This time I was ready. I sat behind Steph and told her to sit as upright as possible. As we started down the drop, I hunkered down and ducked. Some spray, some mist, no wave. I think, in 2002, I was just unlucky.

We wandered a bit further, deciding against doing Poseidon’s Fury. We did this in 2002 and thought it lame. The kids took a spin on one of the Dueling Dragons. They thought it was just OK. A good ride but a bit slow compared to the Hulk. Barb and I split a coffee and sat in the sun while they rode.

It was now time to switch parks so we left IOA, walked through City Walk, and headed for USF. Our first stop was Terminator 2-3D but it listed the next show in 25 minutes so we passed until later. We headed for Back to the Future (BTTF).

BTTF was a walk on. I haven’t been to USF since 1998 or 1999. I remembered BTTF as a very good ride. It seemed to be lacking something and just didn’t meet my expectations. Not really sure why unless I’ve just become more jaded.

Next-door was Men In Black - Alien Attack (MIB) so we gave that a shot. This was one ride that does not allow carry-ons so a few of us did the locker / fingerprint thing. MIB is a good ride - kind of like Buzz on steroids. You sit 6 to a car and your laser gun is hand-held and resembles one of those neat guns from the movie. You shoot aliens for score and can also shoot other vehicles to make them spin. We were hit several times during the ride. We rode twice and everyone liked it. My only complaint is that they need to post the rules somewhere. Should you shoot all the aliens? Where do you need to hit them? Where should you aim at the other vehicles? I guess I should have done some research before visiting.

I scored a feeble 26,000 the first time through and, yes, Barb beat me again. On the second ride I was a bit better and hit 87,000, beating Barb (neener, neener). Will was once again our leader at over 200,000 on both trips. I think we’ve found his true calling.

By now, everyone was a bit hungry. We walked up past Jaws into the San Francisco area looking for someplace to have lunch. We saw a Burger sign ahead and thought we’d stop there. As we’re getting in line, the 3 girls decided they were going across the street for pizza and we should get our food and meet them there.

So we’re standing in line, waiting to order, and perusing the menu of burgers which is, essentially, the Big One for $6.99 with several variations. The Big One with cheese, the Big One with tomato, etc. There’s one guy at the counter and it’s taking a very long time. I’m guessing, and we proved it in a bit, that the kid taking the orders is the slowest service person I’ve ever seen. The guy has ordered one of those clear, alcoholic drinks (either Zima or the Smirnoff’s thing). The kid is now pouring it into a plastic cup. This takes about 45 seconds as he tips both bottle and cup and pours it ever so slowly. When he finishes, he hands the customer the cup and, just prior to tossing the empty bottle in the trash, he sniffs it. What’s that all about?

When it’s my turn, I order a “Big One with Swiss cheese, fries and an iced tea”. He says “Do you want cheese on that?”
“Yes, please. Swiss”.

“Any fries?”
“Sure. Why not?”

“Something to drink?”
“Ummm, let’s see. How about an iced tea?” Sheesh!

We guys grab our trays and head across the street while looking over our shoulders for the USF Police. I’m certain it violates some statute bringing food and trays from one establishment to another. This is also running a gauntlet of sea gulls but we make it, food intact.

We join the girls at a table as their pizza is delivered. In 6 seconds, I realize what a mistake we have made. The Big One is large but not very good. The pizza looks delicious. Oh, well- my second mistake of 2005.

After lunch we walk past Earthquake - been there, done that and it’s not worth a 15 minute wait. We head into the Mummy where it’s about a 30-minute wait. After about 20 minutes, I opt for the chicken exit. It was a combination of the Big One congealing somewhere in my digestive tract and the various warnings about rapid acceleration, forward and reverse. Seeing the Big One again was not something I was up for.

I waited outside and, as my group exited, learned I probably should have ridden. Everyone liked it and said the motion wasn’t too harsh. Kind of RnRC without the inversion - and you only go backwards once.

Next up was Shrek-4D. I loved both movies, loved the humor and thought Eddie Murphy’s ‘Donkey’ one of the best characters ever. I thought this film was good but it seemed to struggle for a story line. I also thought it spent way too much time on horse-drawn cart rides and the like that really didn’t take advantage of the 3-D potential. I also disliked the ‘4-D’ effects which basically made your chair move. Maybe it’s me but I thought most of the movements and the horse ‘clops’ (which sounded like a pneumatic air release) where unnecessary and, in some cases, annoying. It’s a good attraction but, for the reasons I mentioned above, I can’t give it a ‘great’.

Last stop: Terminator2-3D. Michelle, Steph and Will have never seen this. It’s been 4-5 years for the rest of us. It seems little has changed in the pre-show with our intentionally annoying hostess. In the show itself, one of the robots doesn’t come up all the way for the demonstration. I’m wondering if the flames from his weapon could cause a problem considering it’s now inches from the cover as opposed to out in the open. T2 is still a good show and everyone enjoys it.

This concludes our day at USF-IOA. I know I’m a Disney bigot but I just don’t enjoy these parks as much as WDW. With the possible exception of Spiderman, I don’t enjoy re-riding things. As a matter of fact, I think a visit here every 4-5 years is about right. I guess I’ve had too much of that Disney Kool-aid.

We walk the 37 miles to Kong 107 and find our car, pile in, and drive back on to Disney property. We’re walking to our room at the BW when a voice behind us says “Are you the Russo family?” “Yes, we are.” He then asks for Stephanie and presents her with a birthday card, with a signed picture of Goofy, attached to 3 balloons. He offers her a “Happy Birthday” and she blushes (considerably) and thanks him. I really don’t think she had any idea where this came from and I’m hoping she doesn’t think we were just reacting to her mock ‘whines’. This was, after all, planned months in advance. Goofy had signed the card with a “Gawrsh! Have a Happy 26th Birthday, Stephanie”.

Michelle and Will decide to head to the pool for a while. The rest of us just relax in the room for a bit. When Michelle and Will return, we spend some time discussing alternatives for dinner. Stephanie suggests eating in World Showcase, something she’s never done. Now this is a group of fairly finicky eaters. I know I can pick any restaurant in WS and probably get 4-5 ‘yes’ votes but I’d never get all 6. We kicked around a few possibilities and then someone suggested Mexico. Everyone seemed OK with it but I had no idea if we could actually get in without a PS. What the heck, let’s try.

We walked over and strolled through WS. We walked up the steps into the Mexico pavilion and back to the San Angel Inn. Everyone kind of spread out shopping and browsing when I asked the girl at the desk if we could get a table for 6. She needed to ask someone else what the wait time would be but offered me a pager anyway. I walked over to Barb and Steph and was explaining that we could have a long wait when the pager went off. Total wait time: 45 seconds.

We were seated at a table near the El Rio del Tiempo, which was shut down for a few days for rehab. The waiter gave us menus and took our drink order which was a combination of Cokes, Dos Equis and red wine. I did try a sip of Steph’s wine (a cabernet) and it was quite good although it’s a bit odd sipping out of those very thick wine glasses.

We perused the menu - or tried to. This was our first time here - is it always this dark? There’s a single light in the center of the table that illuminates about a 6-inch diameter circle around it. I was folding my menu and placing it under the light to read one item at a time. Michelle and I ordered the Plato Mexicano (Beef Tenderloin Tampiquena, chicken enchilada, and ground beef burrito, served with refried beans and rice). Barb and Steph had the Camerones Con Fideos (Shrimp marinated and grilled, served over angel hair pasta with tomatoes and chipotle pepper). Will ordered the Mahi-Mahi a la Veracruzana and Stephen had Filete Motuleno (Grilled beef tenderloin) - I think. I know he had something with beef, anyway.

Everyone enjoyed the meal and I think we’ll be back again, although next time I’m bringing a flashlight or wearing a miner’s helmet.

We left Mexico and strolled over to Future World (FW). I noticed that the Lights of Winter had been extinguished and only one of the arches still remained. We decided to take a ride on Spaceship Earth (SE). This is, traditionally and usually, our first ride on each trip. Here it is Day 4, and we’re just getting around to it. I rode with Stephanie and was telling her about the Hidden Mickey near the sleeping monk’s hand. I had never been able to find it. Just as we passed him she said she saw it on the upper right portion of his parchment. I looked back and, while I can’t be certain, it did look like a Mickey.

We weren’t really looking to ride anything so we just strolled through FW and caught part of the Fountain show. We walked back to WS when Barb and I decided to head to the UK to see if we could catch some of the British Invasion. As we turned down the street, I could hear them playing ‘Revolution’. I know the group’s members change but these guys, at least for this song, sounded a lot like the originals. Unfortunately, that was their last song of the set, and the night.

The kids caught up with us there. It was about 8:45 when we decided to head over to the bridge to stake out a spot for Illuminations (IROE). I noticed immediately that the wind had picked up and seemed to be blowing straight back toward the Beach Club. Sure enough, during the show the smoke was coming right back to the left side of the bridge - the folks in the boats below were catching the brunt of it. We had gotten lucky on our Fireworks Cruise last night.

We all (again) enjoyed the show. It was the 3rd night in a row for Michelle and Will. Will has been saying it’s his favorite.

We walked back to the BW and Barb and Stephen grabbed waffle cones from Seashore Sweets. I abstained and had a beer (OK, two) on the balcony before retiring.

Things I Think I Think - I think USF-IOA doesn’t interest me enough to be an every year thing. I think they should administer some type of testing to counter service personnel - and caution them about sniffing bottles in front of their guests. I think Disney will always come through on a request - even if they sometimes need to be reminded. I think I like the San Angel Inn. I also think they need a bit more candlepower at the tables. I think I would enjoy concluding every day, year round, with IROE.

Day Five - Wednesday, January 12, 2005 - Foliage, Afritude and Salsa Dancers

Up a bit later today at 6:20 - Steph was still sleeping, no jogging today. I think it’s finally catching up to her. We got our breakfasts, showers, etc. and headed out at 8:20 for the MK. I noticed, for the first time, that all the Xmas decorations at the BW were gone. No trees, no garland. I’m really not sure when this happened.

We’ve had very good luck with the buses this trip, excepting that marathon ride during the Marathon. This time we got one of the new buses. It was similar to the ‘old’ new buses - more seats facing inward for more standing room. On this one, the rear-most seats included 2 rows that faced each other and they were on an elevated platform area with a floor that sloped down to the rear exit door. Much easier to load and unload wheelchairs. And the seats were padded!

We got to the MK quickly, went through security and the turnstiles and were held just before the train station for the official opening. Once inside we headed to Adventureland (AL) because we hadn’t yet ridden our favorites there. Unfortunately, most of AL doesn’t open until 10. We even tried the Country Bears but they also open at 10. We settled for a ride on BTMRR - a walk on.

We walked from there up to Fantasyland for another viewing of Mickey’s PhilharMagic. After the show, Steph confirmed what I thought - this was now her favorite attraction.

We headed back to AL and the Jungle Cruise. We got there at 10:10 and the wait time was already 20 minutes. We got into the queue and found the wait time to be fairly accurate. We had a great Skipper on this trip that delivered all the same shtick along with some personal jokes. She was really good and she got Barb with the “Let me point out some of my favorite foliage”. I’m pretty sure we’d seen that before but, apparently, Barb didn’t remember it.

We next hit Pirates of the Caribbean (PotC) - always fun. From there we cut back to Frontierland for the Country Bear Jamboree. We haven’t done this in several years but Stephen had visited it last year with his girlfriend and her family and discovered a real fondness for Big Al. We were about 5-minutes before the next show so we took up some benches inside with a fairly small crowd. A CM was playing with a little girl, about 5, when she discovered it was the girl’s birthday. She had the entire crowd sing Happy Birthday to her as the little girl blushed and hung on to her Dad’s leg. I threatened Steph.

The show was better, more humorous and shorter than I remembered. The big hit, of course, was Big Al singing ‘Blood on the Saddle’. This was a mixed blessing because Stephen and Will serenaded us with this song every thirty minutes for the rest of the trip. They not only serenaded us but also anyone that shared our bus, Monorail, or was within 50 feet of us at the parks or the resort. I don’t want to say their singing is bad but they make Big Al sound like Pavarotti.

At this point, we were getting hungry for some lunch and Stephanie was apparently feeling guilty about not running this morning. She left to head back to the BW for a run and some pool time (this may be getting redundant but it was sunny and 80s again). The rest of us head to Casey’s for hot dogs, fries and cokes - except Will had a stop to make first. In the weeks before the trip, he kept talking about getting an emu - oops - turkey leg. Sure enough, he showed up at Casey’s munching on one. He did say later that he was disappointed. It had too much gristle and too many veins running through it.

We spent some time browsing the Emporium and headed into Exposition Hall where we took a few pictures using their ‘sets’. We caught the bus back to the BW (as Will and Stephen offered up several renditions of ‘Blood on the Saddle’).

Stephen headed off to the gym for a workout, Michelle and Will went out for a walk and Barb and I were heading to the pool. At the last minute, we decided on a walk around Crescent Lake first. From timing her runs, Steph has estimated the distance around at .9 miles. Barb and I headed off to the right, toward the Beach Club. We were walking at a brisk pace and about halfway around we ran into Michelle and Will - walking in the other direction.

After the walk (we were feeling less guilty about the hot dogs) we hit the quiet pool for swims, Jacuzzis, and just laying out relaxing in the sun. I actually think I may have dozed off once or twice while there.

Back to the rooms for showers and changes; we discussed the best way to get to Boma for our 5:30 PS. I suggested driving but Barb and Michelle reminded me that, if I drove, I shouldn’t have drinks while there. Good thinking. Stephen suggested a walk to MGM and a bus from there to the Animal Kingdom Lodge (AKL). I don’t know the distances but that’s probably close to a walk to and through Epcot for a bus.

We walked to MGM and found the AKL bus stop and waited… and waited… and waited. It took 15 minutes to walk to MGM and another 20 minutes for the AKL bus to show. I should have driven.

The bus finally came and we got to the AKL fairly quickly. The lobby was impressive as always and their Xmas tree was still there. We wandered out to the Savanna where we had excellent views of giraffes, zebras and wildebeests.

We headed back in a found a table and chairs in the Victoria Falls Lounge where Barb graciously went to the bar and secured drinks for us (Stephanie pitched in as the ‘serving wench’). We sat, chatted and sipped until 5:20 when we went downstairs to check in. I made sure they knew we had a birthday (it was on the PS in their system) and was given a pager. After about 5-minutes, the pager went off and we were seated and introduced to our server, Gilbert from Puerto Rico.

Gilbert did a nice job taking drink orders and explaining the buffet’s stations and turned us loose. We had a nice little feeding frenzy here and between the 6 of us, we probably sampled everything they offered. The 3 girls are light eaters and it’s debatable whether or not these ‘all-you-can-eat’ places are really worthwhile for them. However, I’m proud to say that the 3 guys made up for them. Will still chants “Boma, Boma, Boma” whenever he’s hungry. While most of the food is very good (the potatoes with Afritude are a personal favorite), the highlight is, as always, the desserts. Surprisingly, no one else shares my affection for the Zebra Domes (they said they were just OK) but the Caramel Cheesecake was a big hit.

After dinner, Gilbert brought out a small Mickey shaped cake on a plate that was decorated with ‘Happy Birthday Stephanie’ (in chocolate) and included a card that was signed by all the servers. Very nice. They don’t sing Happy Birthday because, as Gilbert said, there’d be a birthday at every table. Not to worry, Stephanie sang a very nice rendition of “Happy Birthday to me” for us.

We left Boma and walked out to the bus stops for a trip to Downtown Disney. Michelle had wanted to see Saratoga Springs and we were planning on visiting Pleasure Island for a while - mainly for the Comedy Warehouse (CW).

We strolled through the Marketplace and Michelle got a reasonable look at some of the Saratoga Springs buildings. We walked into Pleasure Island at about 7:30 and strolled through to the West End. I still had 3 old Park Hoppers from a trip that Barb, Stephen and I had taken in 2000, that had a total of 4 remaining Plus Features. Michelle, Will and Steph bought PI Passes at the booths by the West End. After DVC discount, they came to $13.80 each.

We tried to enter the Adventurer’s Club (AC) but it was closed until 9:00 for a private function. We just hung out watching some videos for a while (I guess the live entertainment at the West End Stage is now gone) until they started lining up at the CW for the 8:20 show.

The new policy at PI (I guess it’s not really new anymore) is that anyone can enter and they check your admission media at each club. I don’t like it one bit. As we were being let into the CW, a CM took my card and ran it through. I asked her if she preferred the old system when they checked your admission as you entered PI and she said she was new and only knew the new system which she thought was fine.

Anyway, the ‘kids’ were asked for ID as they got their hand stamps and wristbands (do they really need both?). When it was my turn, I said I was offended that they hadn’t asked to see my ID. The guy doing the checking then asked for my driver’s license - not to check my age but just to make fun of where I was from.

We stayed for 2 shows. Both were good but not great. There were some highlights. They play a rapid-fire game where they must provide rhymes for an audience member’s name while singing a very fast version of “Da-doo-run-run” (What’s the name of that song? I met her on a Monday and my heart stood still… never mind). Anyway, as they screw up the rhyme, or repeat one, the performer is eliminated until there’s only the winner remaining. It was fairly easy with names like ‘Dan’ and ‘Bob’. When there were 2 performers left, they asked for another name and got ‘Beth’. Try and come up with 3 rhymes for Beth in about 2 seconds (I got death and breath and…). I was shocked it went on as long as it did.

One of the performers was Mark, who was in every CW show I saw throughout the 90s. He then disappeared - I heard he went to California (?). He was back for these 2 shows and did a great Schmeopardy skit as a flamingly gay Salsa Dance Instructor.

A third highlight was when Jake came out as a Rap Poet. He indicated he had writer’s block and needed help. He asked for one word and got ‘spinach’. He then did a 3-minute ‘Rap-Poem’ on spinach that was hilarious and very impressive.

They closed the show by doing a skit that features an embarrassing moment from someone in the audience. A girl offered the story of being in a wedding where the reception had a lot of guests, but very few restrooms. She was with 4 of the other bridesmaids that were in the parking lot, peeing by the side of a parked car… when someone moved the car.

After the second show, we decided to leave PI and walked to the bus stops. The first bus to arrive was for the Yacht and Beach Clubs so we jumped on, rode to the Yacht Club and walked to the BW. We finished the night by coaxing Michelle into one more ‘fat Monica’ dance in front of the BW mirror.

Things I Think I Think: I think the Jungle Cruise is still a great ride if you get the right Skipper. I think I should have driven to AKL - but then I would have had to forgo the Manhattan. I think Boma is very good. I think I preferred the old process for gaining admission to Pleasure Island.

Day Six - Thursday, January 13, 2005 - Brazilians, Golf Shirts and “That was Wishes?”

I was up at 6:30, the others at 7:00. We had decided to go to AK today. Because Michelle hadn’t been feeling well on Monday, we’d missed a few attractions and she and Barb had missed the Safari. Steph decided to stay at the BW today. She was going to relax a bit and then get in her run and workout.

We arrived at AK just before opening. We had a CM take our picture again - this time with our hands cupped holding baby Simba. I gave him the card I got from the MK and he swiped it so the pictures will, presumably, be together for viewing.

They held us at a rope just past the Oasis while the opening ceremony took place. We were standing in a crowd of several hundred people watching Mickey, Minnie and Goofy go through the park opening performance. A couple of folks were behind Stephen and he realized they were trying to see over him, which, since he’s 6’ 4”, is no easy task. He stepped a bit to one side to afford them a view and… it happened. The guy behind him was the leader of a Brazilian Tour Group. He raised his flag and started weaving his way through the crowd until he was right at the rope. He was followed by 30 blue-shirted (Brasilia tee shirts) teens… followed by another tour guide with a flag and another group of 30-40 teens. They basically just pushed their way through until they were all at the front. Now we have several hundred people queued up waiting for rope drop and watching this show. What made these 2 groups think it was OK to just ignore them and move in front? Damn, this stuff makes me angry.

The ceremony concluded and the rope dropped. We made our way, with most of the crowd, to Harambe and the Kilimanjaro Safari (KS). Except… we needed to stop for a restroom break on the way. Stephen, Will and I waited out front and estimated that we just let about 150 people in line ahead of us.

We finally got to KS and walked through the queue. We had only a 3-4 minute wait before boarding a bus. For some reason, the CM assigned the 5 of us to a single row in the vehicle. We’re not overly large people and we fit, but barely. All the other rows had 4 and we would have happily split into 2 groups. I guess we should have said we were a group of 3 and 2.

The Safari was a good one although we only saw one of the baby elephants this time. Both the lion and the lioness were out in full view but, oddly, no giraffes were visible at all.

We exited KS and walked through the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail. I really like this because you can spend as much or as little time as you want with the various animals and exhibits. The gorillas were mostly moving through the brush toward the rear of the viewing areas. There was a large silverback that was sitting, with his back to the crowd, no more than 30 feet from us. He was simply sitting and staring at the rock in front of him. Do gorillas meditate?

We walked toward Asia intending to visit the Maharajah Jungle Trek (MJT) next but noticed that a Flights of Wonder (FoW) show would be starting in a couple of minutes. We started to head there until Barb and Michelle decided it was time for another restroom visit. I sent Stephen and Will in to grab some seats while I waited outside for the girls.

I’ve seen this show 3 times and, even though it changes little, I still enjoy it. Will had the honor of being picked to stand up and hold a dollar bill in his hand while a bird flew out to retrieve it. I did notice that the ‘condor-vulture’ thing that flies low over the crowd (and hit me in the head with his wing in November) has been changed to a smaller hawk.

After the show, we grabbed FPs for Kali River Rapids and then walked the MJT looking at bats and watching the tigers sleep.

Now it was time for a ride on Kali River Rapids (KRR). It was essentially a walk-on so we didn’t even use the FPs. I noticed (again) that while riding through the burning rain forest, you can clearly see the construction on Expedition Everest. It’s coming along nicely. You can see the metal grid framing and most of the coaster tracks (what appears to be the beginning climb looks very long and very steep). They’ve begun putting the ‘skin’ over the framing as well. My guess is that in a couple of week’s time, it will resemble a mountain.

KRR was fun, as always, but seemed to be missing something. Other than the one drop, it was a relatively calm (and fairly dry) ride. I recall a great deal more spinning, bouncing off walls and splashing water on previous rides. Maybe it’s me.

I stayed fairly dry but Barb and Michelle, particularly Michelle, caught a lot more water over the drop. Fortunately, it was in the 80s again, and sunny, so drying out should be no problem.

We left the park and the rode the bus back, exiting at the Swan - the first stop. From the Swan, we noticed a fire engine and EMT truck behind the BW, near a construction area. I suspected there might have been an accident on the site.

We walked back to the BW. As we passed Big River Grille we could see some commotion up ahead. There was a lot of water on the sidewalk in front of the Screen Door. Water was dripping off the balcony above and quite a stream was flowing out of the drainage pipe. There were CMs sweeping water out of the store. The lights in the store were out and it appeared that a large area had been roped off and a lot of the merchandise was wet. Upstairs, we noticed another fire truck and EMT vehicle parked in front of the hotel. I’m suspecting it was a second floor water leak but the presence of the fire equipment may indicate a fire and/or deployment of the sprinkler system.

We went back up to the room to get Steph and freshen up a bit. As long as we had the rental car, I wanted to make a shopping trip to the Belz Outlets to visit the Character Warehouse and Character Premier (is that name right?). I’d never been but had heard a lot about some great deals there.

I went down to retrieve the car but first stopped at Guest Services to verify the directions I had. The very nice CM went into another room and brought me a 2-page document with directions to Belz and a bunch of other malls, supermarkets, tourist attractions, etc. I asked about the BW water problem and he said “We’re aware of it”. I said I realize that but I was wondering about the cause. Was it the sprinkler system? He kind of shrugged. Was it a water pipe break? He said, “Yes. It was a water pipe.” For some reason, I wasn’t buying it. I’m still betting on a small room fire and a sprinkler deployment. And I can understand why CMs would not be eager to explain that to a guest.

I went outside to get the car. As I was waiting, two pickup trucks pulled up: One from the All Stars Resorts and one from Coronado Springs. One had 4 or 5 of those large blowers that are used to dry floors, the other 4 or 5 large shop vacs. Apparently, the Boardwalk had sent out the ‘Code Red’ on the water leak problem.

We piled in to the Grand Caravan, went up I-4 to 75A and found I-Drive. From there, we saw the sign for Belz but it took several tries and laps around the buildings to find the right 2 buildings that housed the Disney outlets.

We found the Character Warehouse first and I bought 2 golf shirts. One was grey with a black collar and armbands that has Walt Disney World on the chest. It sells in the parks for $39. I got it for $11.99. Woo Hoo. I also bought a Greg Norman, with the Disney/Mickey logo. In the parks it sells for $79.99, my price $24.99. We also picked up a globe ($12). There were lots of good buys, but not much in the areas that we were interested. We walked to the next building and found Premier but the selections were very similar. I still call the trip a success.

Stephanie had noticed a Coach store at the Premium Outlets and asked if we could stop there. I decided to take International Drive all the way down for some sight-seeing. Big mistake. I-Drive, which I haven’t seen in a number of years, is very, very tacky. What wasn’t tacky was swarming with the 100,000 people that were coming in for a Home Builders Show/Convention.

We hit the Premium Outlets and I gave everyone 35 minutes to do whatever they want. I wound up buying two t-shirts in the Nike Outlet. Will bought a Polo shirt. No one else bought anything. The girls visited Coach and found a 50% off sale but apparently the $450 list price for a purse scared them off.

We headed back to the BW and I stopped at the Hess station at the corner. Regular was $1.75 which is a bargain when you’re from New York. Gas up here is currently over $2 per gallon. I also noticed that the Hess price on soda (2 12-packs for $6) was less than what we had paid at Publix. Live and learn.

We were back in the room at 3:45, freshened quickly and back out at 4:15 for a bus to the MK. I had a 5:20 PS at the Liberty Tree Tavern (LTT) and we arrived a few minutes early. I checked us in and we were seated in about 5 minutes.

Our server was Raymond, from Puerto Rico (is this a trend?). We’ve eaten here several times before and I’ve always enjoyed it. The menu is family style - turkey, stuffing, flank steak, roasted pork loin, mashed potatoes, gravy and carrots. It’s also a character meal and we get lots of attention from Minnie, Goofy, Chip and Dale, and Pluto.

Just after we were seated, Raymond asked who Stephanie was and told her to leave the table. He didn’t ‘ask’ her, he ‘told’ her. It took me a while to figure out who he reminded me of but it finally clicked. His demeanor and accent were Hank Azaria’s character in ‘Birdcage’. Anyway, with Steph gone, he asked if we wanted to purchase a birthday cake. Sure, why not?

Steph returned and we enjoyed our dinner. Minnie took a particular liking to Stephen. He got a back rub, several hugs, and a bunch of kisses. I threatened to tell Mickey, but Minnie didn’t seem too concerned. As we finished dinner, several servers came over, rang a bell and announced Steph’s birthday to the room. She was becoming embarrassed by this but still gave us a bit of “Happy Birthday to me…” The servers don’t sing but they do recite something to the tune of Yankee Doodle Dandy. They rip through it so fast that I caught very few of the words.

The chocolate cake had a candle that Steph blew out and the cake was very good. I joked with Steph that with all these birthdays, she’s now 34 years old.

At one point during dinner, the table next to us cleared out. Raymond was there cleaning up and complaining. There was a fair amount of ‘debris’ on the table, seats and floor. He said he didn’t need to pick up like this after his own children and shouldn’t need to after someone else’s. While I agree with him, I don’t think he needs to be making these statements to other guests.

We finished dinner and walked across Liberty Square to snag a spot for viewing SpectroMagic. We found a pretty good spot at the beginning of the wooden deck that runs along the river to Frontierland. While there, we had 3 adults come by, hop the fence, plow through some shrubbery and take up a spot on the street. All that to avoid walking about 30 feet around a corner. When I’m in charge of Disney Security, I’m issuing stun guns to the CMs for these occurrences.

It began to sprinkle just a bit - our first taste of anything other than sunshine and 80 degrees. The forecast is calling for rain Friday (our last full day) and cooling temperatures.

We enjoyed SpectroMagic. I haven’t seen it up close in a number of years. When the parade ended, the rain had stopped but it was getting windier. We walked up through Fantasyland with the intention of finding a spot for Wishes.

Somehow, we wound up on the first bridge to the hub, not the Tomorrowland bridge. There were open benches which surprised me but we set up camp. Too late, I realized we were looking at the side of the Castle, not the front. We were also very close.

Tinkerbell did not fly tonight - probably due to the wind. Wishes was nice but our angle was bad. We were so close that all the fireworks were well to the right of the Castle. We were also so close that the fireworks were loud enough to obscure most of the soundtrack. I was not happy. I had built Wishes up and I didn’t think this was a sampling worth judging. Maybe we’ll try again tomorrow.

After Wishes ended, we waddled out of MK and caught a waiting, and uncrowded, bus to the BW. I settled for a beer on the balcony while I watched IROE. I couldn’t hear the music and I only saw the higher fireworks - but it was nice.

Things I Think I Think - I think some people (Brazilian Tour Groups) have no problem inconveniencing others as long as they are accommodated. I think they need to restrict the KS jeeps to 4 to a row. I think I’ll try and hit the Belz Outlets more often - there are some nice buys. I think I-Drive has gotten really, really tacky in some areas. I think I’m finally done with Steph’s birthday. I think I screwed up on Wishes and didn’t offer the first-timers a fair opportunity to judge it.

Day Seven - Friday, January 14, 2005 - Rain, Rainforest and Wishes as it oughta be

Last full day. Big sigh. The forecasters were right. I woke up at 5:55 to the sounds of thunder. When it got a bit brighter, I looked out the window and everything had a yellow tint to it. Very strange. It was teeming. It was raining as hard, or harder, as I’ve ever seen it rain. From our balcony, I could see a downspout peeking out of the BW building and the water was gushing out of it like a fire hydrant.

We decided to hang out a bit and hit Downtown Disney when the rain lightened. Will had also expressed interest in seeing the Wilderness Lodge (WL). Stephen decided to stay back and work out. He would meet us later.

The rain had softened a bit so we headed to DD at 10:00. Once there, we changed bus stops, attempting to stay dry, and caught a bus to the WL. When we got there, the rain had slowed to a drizzle. Everyone was impressed by the lobby. I had given Steph a mission to find the Hidden Mickey in the fireplace. As she was scanning it, a couple walked up, apparently intent on finding it. The guy said something about it being in the “pink part” and almost at once, we all found it. He asked if we were also looking for Hidden Mickeys and did we have the book (the Hidden Mickey book was selling prominently in every resort gift shop we saw). He and his companion were apparently using the rainy day to visit resorts to see how many they could find.

We walked outside a bit and stopped at the Overlook. The rain started to get heavy again so our time outside was cut short. We did a bit of shopping in the gift shop and thought about lunch in Whispering Canyon but it didn’t open again until 12 (it was now 11:30). I suggested the Rainforest Café (RFC) for lunch so it was back to DD.

On the bus, we called Stephen’s cell and found him at the BW bus stop heading to DD. We told him to check us in at RFC if he beat us there. We arrived, found Stephen standing outside and he told us they were holding our table. We were seated quickly in the Elephant Room and enjoyed a mix of burgers, salad, wraps, chicken, etc. We hit another 10% discount through DVC.

We shopped. Stephen bought a woodcarving from the outside vendor for his girlfriend. It’s a wall plaque with her name and several pictures of Tink (her favorite). We spent time in Team Mickey and World of Disney. We bought a couple of Tink globes and a new photo album (to match the 2 we already have). The kids also picked up a number of items. I left them to check out and went outside with Steph. Barb came out later and said it was a good thing Stephen was there. She got a 10% discount using his AP - I had hers, with mine, in my wallet.

We walked back to the bus stops and the rain started to increase in intensity again. Our bus stopped at the Swan, Dolphin, Yacht Club, Beach Club and BoardWalk and this time we rode all the way due to the downpour.

If the weather cleared, we were hoping to hit MGM and Epcot tonight. As luck would have it, it stopped raining about 4:00 so, at 4:30 we headed to MGM. Steph stayed back because she wanted to go directly to Epcot. We rode the boat to MGM, just in case it started pouring again.

Once there, we checked ToT but the wait time was 45-minutes and all FPs were gone. RnRC had a similar wait so we walked up to see Muppet Vision 3-D. We caught about half the pre-show and then enjoyed the “Tribute to all countries but mostly America” once again.

After Muppets, we were trying to decide what to do next. Michelle said she really wanted a ride on ToT so I said we should go for it. Barb and I will be back soon (the beauty of DVC) but it may be a couple of years or more before Michelle is here again. We walked back to ToT and I sent everyone on while I hunted up a cup of coffee.

I had resigned myself to a Nescafe (that’s all they were offering) and paid $1.89 for a small cup. I was at a table behind Toluca Turkey Legs, attempting to open a creamer, when Barb and Stephen showed up.

Me: “What happened to ToT?”

Barb: “The wait was too long and Michelle and Will wanted to see Wishes again so they’re off to the MK”

Me: (In a whiny voice) “But I wanted to see Wishes.”

Off we go. We catch Michelle and Will just outside the gates. The option is bus stop 11 for a bus to the TTC. Just as we pass the Contemporary bus stop, a bus pulls up so we backtrack and jump on.

At the Contemporary I suggest taking the walking path to the MK. Barb asks if I know where it is. “No. But I’m sure I can find it.” She doesn’t buy that and we head to the Monorail, make 3 stops and arrive at the MK.

We head in and it’s surprisingly empty - I’m guessing the rain has kept everyone away. We call Steph on the cell and tell her of our change. She’s at Epcot searching for a mug as a gift for her boyfriend. (Oops, she may read this. He’s not really a boyfriend, yet. Just a guy she’s seeing. Casually. Very casually. That should save me some grief.) Anyway, she’s at Epcot and will stay for IROE. We say we’ll meet her because Wishes is at 7:00 and we should make it there by 8:00.

We find several open tables outside the Plaza Restaurant. I grab a coffee for Barb and me - I had to dump the Nescafe I bought at MGM. Will grabs a Casey’s hot dog, Stephen a chocolate sundae. At 6:55 there’s no one around. I worry. I ask the CM by the patio if Wishes is cancelled. Nope. On schedule for 8:00. 8:00? Yep. Man, did I screw up. No wonder all the tables are empty.

We call Steph and I apologize profusely. We won’t be able to join her at Epcot. The new plan is to forsake dinner and hit Beaches and Cream for a Kitchen Sink. I’ve always wanted to do that and I think the 6 of us can polish it off (Stephen and Will are my secret weapons). We agree to meet Steph on the bridge to the Beach Club around 9:00.

I ask the group what they’d like to do for an hour. Will suggests Mickey’s PhilharMagic (my new favorite). Off we go. They’re putting up ropes in Fantasyland, presumably to keep the area free from guests during Wishes. It’s confusing but we find we can still get into the next show. We enjoy it yet again.

Michelle, Will and Stephen take another ride on Space Mountain while Barb and I wait. When they come out, it’s 7:45 so it’s time to head back down to Main Street.

The area by the Plaza Restaurant is more crowded but not terrible. However, Main Street doesn’t look too bad so we head there and take up a spot right in the center (actually we were about 8” to the right of center which really ticked me off). We watched Wishes from there and it was perfect. All the fireworks were centered around the Castle and we could hear the soundtrack perfectly. Michelle is the sentimental type and she admits getting a bit teary-eyed at IROE. I’m not sure if this got to her or not but I expect it did. I told her that last night, from our very bad vantage point, “you saw fireworks. Tonight you saw a show”. The only thing that detracted from it were several dozen people trying to make their way out of the park, by heading down the center of Main Street during the show.

After the show, we strolled out and quickly boarded a surprisingly uncrowded BoardWalk bus. We walked to the BW and up toward the Beach Club where we met Steph. I felt a bit guilty about abandoning her during Wishes, and wished she had been able to see it with us, but she was fine on her own. She’s probably the most independent of the three and she enjoyed her time at Epcot and did buy a mug from Germany.

We walked over to the Beach Club. As we passed a strolling family, I overheard them discussing the surrounding resorts. ‘Dad’ said that “That’s the BoardWalk hotel” (pointing toward the BW) and “this is the BoardWalk suites” (motioning toward the Beach Club. ‘Grandma’ said, “No. This is Old Key West”.

We needed to take a circuitous route to Beaches and Cream, due to come construction for the rehab of parts of Stormalong Bay. When we got there, I checked with the podium and was told it would be a 45-60 minute wait for a table. No one was comfortable with that so we hoofed it back to the BW, stopping on the bridge briefly to watch some of the fireworks from IROE. We ‘settled’ for waffle cones from Seashore Sweets - not a Kitchen Sink but very good. Oh, and I split a warm pretzel with Steph. And Will had some pizza from Spoodles take out window. Not a gourmet meal but very satisfying.

We hung out on the BW for a bit and spared Michelle from the ‘fat Monica’ dance. I think she was getting a bit tired of it. We returned to the rooms to begin packing. It’s home tomorrow.

Things I Think I Think - I think I need to read the Park Schedules better. I think everyone should see Wishes once from the center of Main Street. I think I may need to arrange another whole-family trip just so we can order the Kitchen Sink. I think I’ve now seen PhilharMagic 4 or 5 times and I can’t seem to get enough of it. I think I hate packing for the trip home.

Day Eight - Saturday, January 15, 2005 - “Where’s my luggage?”

We were up early again. We packed up the final things, showered, dressed and headed to Spoodles for breakfast. Steph decided to have breakfast in the room so she could keep up on her oats intake. I swear her diet consists exclusively of tuna and oats.

Spoodles was good although the prices were a bit higher than your typical Denny’s.

Back to the room and we now had our receipt under the door. We wheeled all the luggage to the door. I said I would head down to retrieve the car from Valet Parking and everyone could follow in 5-minutes. Just as I was leaving, Barb shouted from the other room that the toilet had overflowed. This was the same one that caused a problem on our first night. I ran in, took off the tank cover and lifted the arm to stop the water flow. With my other hand I reached down and turned off the input valve - which took about 25 turns. The water was stopped but I was standing in about ½ inch of water on the bathroom floor. I told Barb to throw all the towels on the floor and call Maintenance to come and take care of it. Then I went down to retrieve the car.

We loaded everything up and had an uneventful ride back to the airport. It was noticeably cooler today (high in the 60s - we really timed this trip right). It was also a bit breezy.

We turned in the rental car and the invoice exactly matched the estimate. We went inside and walked all the way to the left end of the terminal for the US Airways counter. They have nothing but automated kiosks with several clerks to assist you. The process was quick and painless and the agent tagged our bags. We then had to wheel them ourselves to a central area where a couple of workers were loading them onto conveyors for a trip through the x-ray machines. First time I’ve seen that but we’ve been using Skycaps on our last several trips.

The flight left 30 minutes late but landed 30 minutes early. Must have been a pretty good tail wind.

We landed in Albany and made our way to Baggage Claim. Stephen’s girlfriend was there to greet us (well, him actually). A different Northeast Shuttle driver was at Baggage Claim with a sign that said ‘Russo’. I was very impressed. I sent him to his vehicle and said we’d be out after we retrieved our bags.

Now for the fun part. We shuffled from carousel to carousel as flights changed. Nothing. We landed at 2:30. At 3:05 they made an announcement that people waiting for bags from Flight 612 will need to be patient. They were short-handed and hadn’t yet got them off the plane.

At 3:30, the bags from our flight began coming around - one hour after landing. We grabbed them, took them outside and apologized to the shuttle driver for keeping him waiting so long. We made good time getting home.

Once in the house, Michelle presented us with a couple of gifts from the kids (a Mickey picture frame and bottle opener) for taking them on the trip. That was a very nice and much appreciated gesture.

Another trip in the books.

Final Thoughts - We had a great time. We couldn’t have asked for anything better weather-wise.

We’re lucky in that our children live close to home and we get to see them at least weekly. It was nice to have them around again full-time, if only for a week. I was wondering about Stephanie’s level of excitement but I needn’t have worried. She got right back into that Disney frame of mind. She was back at our house the following day to do laundry - her normal Sunday thing. I came back from an errand and found her watching ‘Beauty and the Beast’. She’s had the Kool-aid.
Michelle, Stephen and Will had all been looking forward to the trip and I think they all enjoyed it immensely. We didn’t do everything we had wanted or planned but that just gives an excuse for going back.

I think our next 1 or 2 trips will be just Barb and I but I’m certain we’ll pull off another of these ‘full family’ trips in the near future. At least we’ll try.

One last thing… If I don’t hear ‘Blood on the Saddle’ again for a while, that will be OK.

Thanks for reading.

Steve Russo
srusso@nycap.rr.com


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