Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Trip Report

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We started our trip in Tampa -- Seminole, FL to be exact, only 5 minutes from Redington Shores beach. We swam in the pool, visited with relatives, made sand castles, and floated in the Gulf. We also got to visit one of our favorite attractions, the Lowry Park Zoo. It's a spectacular place with lots of animals and great theming.

After four days of sun and sand, we were headed to WDW!! On Monday, August 10th we started at an ungodly hour – 4:50am – after a very restless night. We were out the door around 6:20am, quick stop at Dunkin Donuts for live-saving caffeine, and mercifully didn’t hit any traffic or construction. The girls watched a Veggie Tales movie so it was a quiet ride until we reached near Disney, when it was all “I see a Disney sign” or “Look at the big Mickey ears!” Katie had me smiling when she said, “We’re going to Disney World where if you have a dream, it will come true.” That's my girl!

We pulled into the Wilderness Lodge at 8:15am and stopped at the security shack for our parking pass. The lady who was working there had “Xxxxx, CT” on her nametag – our home town. Turns out she grew up down the street from our house!! She still has relatives that live in town… knows my step-father-in-law… and attended the same school that my husband teaches at. We took this as a good sign at the start of our vacation.

We drove up to the hotel, thinking valet parking. We unloaded our bags and went inside to the Concierge check-in desk. We were taken upstairs to the 7th floor and given our tickets etc. by the staff. We took a quick look around – noticing the fantastic view of the lobby from the 7th floor and the yummy breakfast items available in the lounge!

NOT SO MAGICAL BUS TIME #1 (more to come): After happily checking out our new ‘home’ we headed out to the buses for Epcot. After waiting for a bus for about 10 minutes with a slew of other people (with no buses in sight), we quickly decided that it would be a better idea to use the car. So, off we went to retrieve the car.

PRETRIP REPORT PREDICTION #1: DH will have to remind me (AKA the park commando) at least 5 times that we are not in a rush to get anywhere.
FALSE. It only took me one bout of rushing about to realize this vacation was going to be slower paced than normal.

When we got to Epcot I ran over to Soarin’ to get FPs. After I scored those I ran over to TT and realized that running was NOT in the plans for this vacation. It was too hot to be running and in a hurry. No more of that. After a 20 min wait, we took the girls onto TT for their first ride of the trip. Julie (my Cars girls) loved it of course and Katie was fine on it! She sat next to me and really enjoyed it I think!

First in the series of catching performing groups at the right time: the Jammitors!

This was a good theme on our trip, seeing lots of performing groups. These guys are very cool and talented. Nemo was a hit with the kids. We checked on Crush but the show was just starting and was full. So it was off to Soarin’ for our FPs. We decided to wait an extra 10 minutes so we could be in B1. It was worth it – the kids LOVED it. Katie was chattering away through the whole ride – “I’m gonna have to tell Julia (her friend at school) about this!” I admit this is one of my favorites too. The theming, the music, the smells… what an awesome experience. All this and Patrick Warburton.

After Soarin’ we got lunch at Sunshine Seasons. It was our first time using the dining plan as a family, so it took some coordination between Tim and I. Unfortunately at the checkout it seemed like it was also the first time for the guy at the register. It must have taken him 10 minutes to ring us up. We had sandwiches (ham and salami foccacia for me – YUM), water, strawberry shortcake, and crumb cake. The girls had mac and cheese with grapes and applesauce.

After lunch we did Imagination which impressed NONE of us (the only thing that impressed me was the 10 minute wait – when does that ever happen??). We had some fun in the labs afterward. The kids liked the part where you jump on the sounds. Tim and Katie saw “Honey…” while Julie and I made an impromptu bathroom run and played in the fountains. After that we did the long march out to the call, otherwise known as ‘sweating profusely under the hot Florida sun’. It was brutally hot and humid the first three days of our trip. After that it was still hot but the days were broken up with clouds and showers which seemed to help a little.

We got to the hotel and found out that our room wasn’t ready – so the kids laid down on the couch by the big screen TV. I had some business to take care of. Long story short – two of our reservations had been wrongfully cancelled the week before our trip, including the girls’ all-important BBB ADR. BBB was booked, so the concierge staff got us a Pirate’s League reservation for Saturday. Throughout the week we found that the concierge was VERY helpful in all matters – and had a good sense of humor (especially the two guys on the evening shift).

When our room was finally clean, we found it didn’t have our requested bunk beds. I talked to the desk but they said they were full up and couldn’t find us another room. No big deal, it just meant that we would be dealing with some “She’s on my side!” or “Stop kicking me!” from our lovely children. So anyway, we unpacked while the kids perked up in the coolness of the room and bounced on the bed. The only drawback to the room was the solid balcony, which blocked a beautiful view and more light coming in the room. The room itself was immaculate and we even had some towel animals throughout the week.

About 4:30 we went back to Epcot and hit World Showcase first. The girls thoroughly enjoyed the Gran Fiesta Tour. We stopped in China for a Mango Green Tea Slushy which was perfectly horrible – too mango-ey. Dinner was at Yakitori House and that was just okay, not as good as previous visits.

Second in the series of catching performing groups at the right time: the Japanese taiko drummers! I teach a unit on Japanese music to my students and it was great to see it live. We did just miss Voices of Liberty on our way around World Showcase but did hear Off Kilter in Canada. To the girls delight (and thanks to our second set of FPs) we rode Soarin’ again (C1, inside). Everyone loved it just as much as the first time! After that it was back to Nemo where the girls sat together in a clammobile. They did this a bunch of times during our trip – which left me and my hubby to ride together! Aww.

This time Crush was only 10 min away so we stayed for the show. Julie was happy that he picked her to ask a question – “how do you swim so fast?” We all learned some cool turtle facts. After the show Katie was upset that she didn’t get to talk to Crush, so we had her tell the CM to tell Crush “I Love You”. Awww.

We went back to the hotel early and found three lovely surprises! Our travel agent had sent Disney Florist treats… Mickey plush with folder, pen, and basket… a chocolate ‘hat’ with other treats, and a canvas WDW bag with snacks. What a nice surprise and a great way to end our first day.

Tuesday, Mon 11

Up and at ‘em! No sleeping in on this trip! Actually I had trouble sleeping – so when 5:45am came, I was happy. No trying to get to sleep anymore. Plus I was excited for the day ahead of us. This was our first day at the Magic Kingdom!

We started at Chef Mickey’s at 7am. Our favorite was Pluto – the girls scratched his ears and he loved it. We left the Contemporary around 7:55am and made the short (but Tim went off for Splash FPs while the girls and I went to the Pooh ride. After that we already hot) walk over to the Magic Kingdom. hit Small World (ride #1), Haunted Mansion (not their favorite), and then Thunder Mountain. We actually rode with some friends of ours from home – what a surprise to see them there waiting in line with us!

We made a detour over to Adventureland for the Magic Carpets (short line) and the Tiki Room. The girls were unimpressed with the Tiki Room – too loud. Everyone was starting to drag in the heat, but we wanted to use our FPs for Splash! The girls loved it and we all agreed that we’d have to do it again.

We headed back to the Lodge and had lunch at Roaring Fork. We all enjoyed some quiet time in the room before leaving for the Magic Kingdom again. This time we were headed for a special treat – a private photography session in the rose garden.

Of course, we were running late. We left the WL at 3:45, hoping for a boat going to the MK. There was only one going to the Contemporary, so we figured the quickest way to get there was to get on the boat, go to the CR, and catch the resort monorail. Not quick (especially since the boat went to FW first!), but the best plan of action available. I called my TA on the way and she managed to get a message to the Disney photographer.

Turns out we had not one but two photographers who were going to take pictures of us! We were let into a gated grassy patch and not two minutes later, Lou Mongello snuck up behind us with his video camera going. We said a quick hello and then proceeded to have pictures taken of us for the next 30 min or so, in different locations around the castle. It was quite an experience, having professional photogs taking our pictures. The only drawback was the heat. I’m not sure what we’ll all look like (Katie’s face was red!) but we’re getting a proof book of all of them, and there must be some good ones.

We then stood and talked to Lou by the BatB show and then started over to Splash Mtn as promised to the girls. I got to sit with both girls while Tim sat in the back with Lou. We got wet, thankfully, in our fancy dresses and all! The water cannons hit us good. Katie was all smiles.

After that we went back to the hotel and spent the evening there, relaxing, cooling down, and reflecting on the trip so far.

Wednesday, August 12th

To be titled:
The bad, the ugly, and the good
I’m smiling so much my face hurts
What did I do to deserve all this?

Let’s try the first title. This morning we had the bad and the ugly, although there was a bunch of good in there too. We got up at 6am (and yes, strangely enough I was awake before the alarm) and had breakfast in the lounge. We met up with our party (Tim’s extended family – 2 brothers, Mom, and assorted niece and nephews) and got on the bus for AK EMH.

So far, so good. We got into the park and sent the boys to get FPs for Everest while us womenfolk walked up to the Safari. Upon arriving at the Safari I mentioned to a nearby CM that we were waiting for the men to come back from getting FPs, and she said “you know the tips board? You can get FPs at the front of the park.” DUH. I was just mentioning this to Tim the other day.

Oh well, they met up with us pretty quickly anyway. 15-20 min wait for the Safari and we were off. Some of the animals were eating breakfast and rather active. We then decided to go to Dinoland and rode Triceratop Spin (2x without stopping). After some shopping we walked over to Everest. Everyone except Tim’s mom and our girls wanted to go on. So she took them to get drinks. Everest was AWESOME. Tim’s brother and I got to ride a 2nd time with the leftover FPs. By then it was 10:20ish and believe it or not, we were all ready to leave the park. It was H.O.T. I had heard people say that AK was hot, but now I believe them. There are very few air conditioned spots to hide in. Plus you’d think the shade would help but no. It was brutal. We walked out to the bus stop (melting) and waited (NOT SO MAGICAL BUS MOMENT #2) about 30 min for a bus. Bus stopped at Blizzard Beach, then WL. We got lunch at RF. After 2 days of watching our girls eat (or not eat), we finally got smart about ordering counter service. Sharing meals worked great for us and allowed us to use our extra credits for some extra meals on our last day at WL.

We changed into our swimsuits and got in the pool, oh blessed relief. The water was warm but at least the air didn’t feel so hot – plus some clouds came through and helped cool things a little. The pool slide was a big hit with both of the girls (and me). We stayed in until 2pm when we headed back to the room for a shower. A quick boat trip got us over to the Contemporary Resort arcade. $20 and 45 min later we had two happy kids with trinkets and two cool parents. The boat ride was very pleasant too. When we got back to the WL there was a beautiful breeze signifying a change in the weather.

Now for the best part of the day. We left our girls in the capable hands of my mother-in-law and headed to the Boardwalk in the car. We walked over to Epcot through the International Gateway. I’ve never been this way before… it’s a nice entrance. Quiet. Plus there was full cloud cover by now (and a disappearing sun) so the weather was bearable.

Here’s where “I’m smiling so much my face hurts” comes in. We stopped in France for drinks – champagne for me and a Grand Marnier Slush for Tim. We strolled over to Japan for our dinner with Lou. Tokyo Dining was crowded but we only waited about 10 min for our table. The sushi was FANTASTIC. I was surprised at how good it was, for a theme park. Volcano Roll (very spicy – lots of orange spicy sauce), Dynamite Roll, and 2 spicy tuna crunch rolls. YUM. I had a cherry blossom martini that was okay (the plum wine martini at the Ginza in Bloomfield, CT is way better.)

We had lots to talk about – including Lou’s interesting day at the Richard Petty Driving Experience, being parents, and food (of course). At about 8pm we walked outside to rain. It wasn’t too bad but enough that we needed to duck under cover of the Japanese snack tent. Here we found wasabi peas and other assorted foreign treats. After ogling the dried fish and buying some more yummy looking treats, we found the rain had basically stopped. I asked where we were going and Lou said, “this way”.

Turns out we walked to England, right by the fish and chips stand. We had a private table down on the Rose and Crown patio, away from all the others. Dessert -- mini ├ęclairs, cannollis, fruit, and other delicacies. Coffee, tea, water. And our own attendant. WOW. We sat and talked until Illuminations. The view was stunning, as if the fireworks were being done just for us.

It was at this point that I literally said to Lou, “My face hurts from smiling.” Sitting, looking over the water at all of the pavilions, it all caught up with me. I really felt like the luckiest girl in the world. What did I do to deserve such a wonderful experience? It finally hit me, how special this trip is.

Of course, now I’m spoiled for life.

Well, all things must end, so we headed out via the International Gateway, only to run into Glenn Whalen and Ashley Fisher (another prize winner in the contest who is now working at WDW). We swapped a few stories and walked together over to the Boardwalk. I didn’t want the night to end but I did want to keep it the way it was, so we said goodbye and headed back to the hotel.

When I was a kid I envied the families that got to stay at the WDW hotels. We only ever came for a day to the MK… ate bologna sandwiches in the car… I used to look at the brochures of the couples drinking wine over candlelight, of families arranged in their hotel rooms, and dream of what that might be like. And for years, I’ve tried to figure out how to make that dream come true. How was I to match such an idealized image of a vacation with my reality?

And I think, finally, that night matched or exceeded my dream. We walked hand in hand to a great restaurant, had drinks, and a lovely dinner. Then we were surprised by a private viewing spot for Illuminations. Great company. And got to return to our beautiful hotel and happy, sleeping children.

How blessed I am.


Thursday was supposed to be the Princess Day. We originally had 10:30am reservations for Julie, Katie, and my niece to get transformed at the BBB. Key word: HAD. Turns out the week before we left, this reservation and one other were inexplicably cancelled. My travel agent was livid when she found out and had Disney Reservations pulling tapes of calls. Turns out that there was a guest with a name very similar to mine (staying at WL for 4 nights during our trip) that cancelled her trip and all her ADRs. The reservationist didn’t look and cancelled these. And it was impossible to get back into BBB as it was booked.

But it worked out okay in the end. We had breakfast at the WL lounge and took the boat to the MK at 7:30am for EMH. The rest of the family was still in bed, so we took off without them. We arrived just as the opening ceremony was finishing. Off to Peter Pan but it was closed so we went to Snow White (not a big hit). After a spin on the Tea Cups, it was almost 9am. We waited at the Tomorrowland rope drop and had the brilliant idea of doing the Indy Speedway right away. I’m not a big fan of this ride but Julie (my Cars lovin’ girl) was all over it. I rode with Katie and she was an awful driver and we crashed many times – hee hee! But much fun was had by all, I must admit!

Then off to Buzz Lightyear. We rode two times and I won the 2nd time!!! It helps that the girls rode together. It’s hard to get a high score when the driver is a 4 or 6 yr old. By this time the rest of the family was awake and around, so we all met up at Small World and rode together (count: 2 total). We also saw Philharmagic with everyone and used our Peter Pan FPs (as a family).

Princess time was near, so we stopped in Tink’s treasures to let the girls pick out some accessories for their outfits. Our travel agent had dropped off $60 of gift cards to use so we splurged on all of the girls, including my niece.

Okay. Lunch at Cinderella’s Royal Table. I was glad to see that we met Cinderella immediately. She was very gracious if a little rushed. Our pictures came out great. We climbed the stairs to the large dining room (something I’ve always wanted to see!). We were seated on the side towards the back… not a great table but hey, there’s not much to see anyway.

I had the pasta primavera which was tasty. The princesses were very quick with their visits – as if they didn’t have time to talk to the girls. It was “hi everyone”, hugs, picture, “bye”. The wishing ceremony was cute (Katie had her eyes closed real tight). Overall I have to say it was a fun experience but not one I’d do again. It’s a “did it once, don’t need to do it again” kind of thing. I thought I would cry seeing the girls meet the princesses, but to be honest it wasn’t as special as I thought it would be.

On the way out of the park we had a great treat. The Dapper Dans were singing by the Main Street bakery and had just started their set. They sang my favorite barbershop song, Lida Rose!! (I’ve acted in 2 different productions of Music Man…)

After a quick boat ride back to the hotel, everyone napped from 3-4:30. We had a light dinner in our room, with pbj, cheese, crackers, some pork tenderloin, and corn chowder courtesy of the lounge. It was still raining when we left to return to the MK, so out came the ponchos and stroller covers. Tim’s mom came with us and we had a good time despite the light rain. We rode Pirates (one of Grandma’s favorites). After that we had to buy a pin as Julie had lost her 3rd tooth the night before and I had promised her a pin. We then saw Country bear jamboree and Pooh. It was getting late and we had the dilemma of staying for the parade or going back to the hotel. By the time we got to the train station, it was 8:50, so we found a spot by the right entrance and waited for the parade. Staying for the parade was a good call. The girls loved the lights and all of the characters. It is a beautiful parade and the effects are stunning. Because of our position close to the main entrance, we were able to make a quick exit and catch the first boat back to the Lodge. Tim and I were more tired and cranky than the girls were.

Friday, August 14th:

Yup, you guessed it – we were up early again, despite the late night beforehand. It was hard to wake up the girls, but they were soon ready to get going. We had breakfast at the lounge and then met everyone in the lobby. BIL and family were off to Tampa, so we said our goodbyes. Tim’s other brother and mom stayed with us and we took the bus to the Studios.

We arrived at the Studios 8:15ish and immediately went to get FP for TSM (return time 11am). Unfortunately we were planning on leaving the park around 10:30, but we used the FPs another day, so it all worked out. We went to Muppets (which made me think that I need to find some of the old Muppet shows on DVDs… my kids are not familiar with this classic series!). We walked past the AI audition area and Tim was playing with the idea of auditioning. I checked to see if my friend Jason was working that day – unfortunately he was but he was busy.

We then waited about 20 min to ride GMR. The kids were scared by the bank robbery scene (I made sure they closed their eyes for the Alien scene) but liked the ending with the Munchkin Village. They are HUGE Wizard of Oz fans, so that was a read treat. “Look mom, there’s Dorthony!”

Then we had to see Little Mermaid as Katie loves Ariel. I love this show -- it’s so well done with the puppets, especially the “Under the Sea” song. Katie immediately wanted to see it again and we promised to try another day.

Now here’s where it gets funky.

We left the park at 10:30am with the intention of getting a bus to DTD. You veterans are thinking – Duh, there is no bus to DTD from the theme parks! Okay, I realized this as soon as we got to the bus area. No problem, we’ll take a taxi. So we walked all the way to the taxi stand, only to see a taxi pull away. Hey, why don’t we go to the bus information booth and see if they can order us a taxi? So that’s what we did. The booth called a taxi and said it would be there in 3-5 min. So we trekked BACK out to the taxi stand (couldn’t figure out which was the actual taxi stand – there was a drop off and another spot). As soon as we got out there, we saw another group of people standing there… and a taxi pulled up… and took them away. They stole our taxi.

Please remember this is all being done under the beating hot Florida sun.

So. By now it was about 11:15am. A nice bus driver noticed our distress and had her get on her bus to the Yacht Club, which I knew was the right option. So we went to the Yacht Club, got off the bus, and proceeded to wait for a bus to DTD for 25 minutes. We finally arrived at DTD around 12pm, but thankfully T Rex didn’t mind that we were 30 min late. We were seated immediately in a round booth by the sea section. Julie was in her element! The food was good too… we shared a bunch of dishes amongst the adults and everyone agreed it was all tasty. The kids menu was almost identical to the RFC menu, but the kids were happy. I’ve heard lots of comments from people about how loud this restaurant is --- and they’re right. It’s like a nightclub. Music, roaring dinosaurs, meteor showers every 20 minutes… everything should be turned down a notch and it would be more pleasant. The animatronics were fantastic but I’m glad we didn’t sit in the ice cave portion of the restaurant – the lighting came from the changing colors of the cave. How do you see what you’re eating?

We made a stop at the gift shop for Build-A-Dinos for the girls. Julie was planning on this ever since she found out that there was one. Katie chose to get one too. I was hoping to get back to the shop by myself as I could have done a bunch of Xmas shopping but time never worked out.

So we left the restaurant around 2pm, walked over and waited for another bus. It took us 40 minutes to get back to the Wilderness Lodge. Tim took the kids to the pool (where Julie came in 4th in a game of musical paws) while I did some laundry. When we were getting ready for dinner, Julie said her tummy was hurting but thankfully it was a false alarm. My mommy nerves kicked in, but weren’t necessary, hallelujah. Plus I had a good diversion --- California Grill.

We haven’t been to California Grill since I was pregnant with Julie in 2002. I forgot what a stunning view it has! The food was fantastic – I had the salmon, we shared the sushi and desserts. The only thing I missed was being able to share the dinner with my hubby who was all the way across the table while I was sitting between the two girls, keeping them occupied. Thankfully I had remembered to bring some new coloring for them.

We went out on the balcony after dinner and the girls were pointing out all of their favorite landmarks. Katie even pointed out that you could see the logs going down Splash Mountain. The BLT is beautiful. Has anyone noticed the huge amount of crows that congregate around the CR? Rather Hitchcock-ian.

After that we went back to the WL for more laundry and a treat – internet! I was dying to check my email (5 days without email… too long…). Then it was to bed early, as we had another early morning ahead of us.

Saturday, Aug 15th:

This morning was our family tradition – breakfast at the Crystal Palace before park opening. We got to the MK via boat around 7:50, had someone take our picture on a very empty Main Street, and checked into CP. We were the 5th or 6th family in. I love this breakfast. The Pooh characters are always great to meet and the food is always tasty. I love the look of the restaurant too – a place I always wanted to go to when I was a kid.
We missed Piglet in lieu of getting out of the restaurant before the rides opened.

The kids wanted to do Dumbo, so we headed there --- but wait! Ariel was in her grotto and there was no wait. Katie’s one request for this trip was to meet Ariel. Of course when we met her Katie was as shy as anything! But Julie did talk to her and she was very gracious to both of them.

Peter pan was next. This time Katie showed me all of the characters on the ride “look Mommy we’re in Wendy’s room”, “look there’s the mermaids!” Then we rode the carousel and small world (ride count: 3) while Tim went to Splash for FPs… gee, wonder why he didn’t want to go on small world again…)

We walked over to Toontown. It was 9:45 and I was surprised to see that it was open, as it usually opens at 10am. We went to the tent and saw that the Fairies already had a 45 minute wait! The CM explained that they opened Toontown early and all the people waiting had made the 45 min wait. Geez, I didn’t know the Fairies were so popular.

Thankfully my girls weren’t that invested in meeting Tinker Bell. So we let them ride Goofy’s Barnstormer 3 times. The last two times they didn’t need to get off the ride, just went on it again. I found the stand by the exit had unsweetened ice tea (not easy to find in the parks at CS), so I was happy. We walked through Minnie’s house (where the kitchen was once again a hit) before deciding to take the train around to Frontierland.

We arrived in Frontierland just in time for the girls makeovers at the Pirate’s League. All of the CMs kept in character from the minute we checked in to the minute we left. Some were better than others but they all stayed in character. Julie’s pirate, Erin, was fantastic. She had a story for everything – how she got her name, stories about Capt. Jack, and how to be a real pirate. It was a real experience – the girls first had to receive their pirate names (by rolling dice in a chest), then they were taken into the pirate room. They sat in chairs and received their makeovers with accompanying pirate booty. After learning how to hold a pirate sword, they were taken into a secret pirate room (can’t tell you about that!). It was expensive but totally worth it. The girls were a little overwhelmed with all of the attention (and didn’t totally enjoy the feel of the makeup on a hot August day). They got a lot of attention from CMs and guests alike as we traveled back to the WL!

I think we had lunch back at the room while the kids watched some of Wall-E. Tim went to pick up our rental car, as his brother had taken the car that we had borrowed from the in-laws in Tampa. We rented from the Car Care Center and it was very easy. They sent a shuttle to the WL to pick him up and he was back pretty quickly.

After a nice cool break in the room, we went off to Epcot for our 5pm dinner at Teppan Edo. This was not one of my favorite dinners from the trip. The food was good and we all enjoyed the entertaining chef… but the room was hot, noisy, and crowded. The kids were flagging at that point too, and weren’t happy with having to sit for any amount of time.

We knew that it was a good idea to get the kids to bed early that night, so we only did Spaceship Earth on the way out of Epcot. Julie really enjoyed it. I miss Jeremy Irons.

We went back to the hotel and the kids watched the rest of Wall-E before collapsing in bed. I had a little more energy, so I took the car to Downtown Disney. Unfortunately I didn’t realize that it was a Saturday night and all of Orlando was interested in going to DTD. I rode through the parking lot and drove back to the WL without even getting out of the car. For whatever reason, this really upset me and by the time I got back to the WL I was in tears. I think it was because it was the only night I had by myself and I was wasting it by driving around looking for a parking spot! (Ironic… I should have taken a Disney bus….) But the night was not lost. In fact it turned out okay. I caught the boat to the MK and did some shopping at the Emporium. It was getting close to 10pm and Wishes, so the plan was to finish shopping right before 10 and walk out into the street to see the fireworks. But at about 9:50pm everyone started coming into the stores. It was pouring! I didn’t want to get stuck in the stores (silly me) so I walked outside the stores hoping to get a place to stand by the Plaza Restaurant. I only made it to one of the umbrella tables before it started pouring. Me and 3 other girls stood there and chatted for about 10 minutes while the rain got worse then better. As soon as it let up, I said my goodbyes to my new friends and walked up to the popcorn stand in the hub. I found an unobstructed view under cover and waited for Wishes. It was postponed about 15 minutes. What a beautiful show. I have to admit though – the only place to see it is standing directly on Main Street. I’ve now seen it from about 4 different spots and that is definitely the best one.

After a quick ride on the Haunted Mansion (figured I would do it now as the girls had no intention of doing it again!) I headed back to the hotel on my favorite ride, the WL boat. Whenever I get stressed out here at home, I remember that boat ride and how cool and beautiful it is. 

Sunday, Aug 17th:

We actually slept in this morning – 6:30am! No EMH or character breakfasts… just normal park opening at DHS. We had breakfast in the concierge lounge (can I just tell you… I LOVE the lounge. How am I going to get my husband to splurge on concierge next trip so we can have the convenience of the lounge…)

We arrived in the DHS parking lot at about 8:50am… which unfortunately got us into the park a little after opening. By the time we got to Toy Story Mania, it had a 40 min wait. So we shrugged our shoulders and decided to try and use our FPs from Friday a little later. We walked around to Star Tours and rode… Katie thought it was too loud and the robot was ‘a bad driver’. We started towards Muppets and Tim walked ahead to see what else was in the area. We quickly discovered the Cars meet and greet area, with one family waiting in line and a CM about to introduce Lightning and Mater! Julie was in awe – she’s a huge Cars fan. We got our pictures taken and enjoyed watching Julie smile. :)

After that we headed over to Playhouse Disney, which was just okay. In the past this has been one of our favorite shows, as the girls loved the characters, the music, and the bubbles. But this time we were seated so close to the stage that we couldn’t see the characters. Who designed this stage? There must be a better way to do this so kids can actually see.

Time for our 2nd viewing of Little Mermaid, just for my Katie. We sat in the very first row and got quite wet! You know how you feel a little mist during parts of the show? Well, the first few rows get doused, not misted. Ariel’s singing was a little behind this time… we couldn’t decide whether she was trying to be artistic (must be hard to sing the same stuff day after day…) or if she was just plain behind. Either way, we still did enjoy the show – and Katie’s smiles. That’s what it’s all about, right?

Lunch was at Pizza Planet! The kids liked the fact that we were eating in Buzz and Woody’s place. Tim and I enjoyed the pizza and the Mickey head rice crispie treats for dessert. I don’t know why this place gets knocked… I think the pizza is pretty tasty, and we had a fairly quiet table upstairs.

But if the girls thought eating at Pizza Planet was cool…. They were about to be really impressed! We walked back to Pixar Place for our attempt to ride TSM when we noticed that the Buzz and Woody meet and greet had NO line. When we had walked through that morning there were tons of people waiting… so this was a real treat. We really lucked out with meeting characters on this trip. I think I was as excited as the girls to meet ‘the guys’.

And we got lucky at TSM --- the CM took one look at our overdue FPs and let us in. I breathed a sigh of relief and silently promised to make it up to someone, someday. TSM was AWESOME. I love how fast paced the ride is… how it spins you around from screen to screen… and the theming! So COOL! Disney really hit it out of the park on this one.

We left DHS after that, as we had a special treat waiting for us. We drove over to the Yacht Club as Capt. Mike Scibetta had graciously consented to take us out on Breathless II!! Lou had arranged it with him for us. We took our time and looked around the Yacht Club beforehand, and my husband said, “Can we stay here next time?” I agreed with him as it is a beautiful resort.

Unfortunately we never got our ride on Breathless. We did get to meet Capt. Mike, who was the nicest guy. Breathless was having some mechanical problems but we did get to climb in and get a closer look (and some pictures). I hope we get a chance to try her out on our next trip!

To make up for the missed boat ride, we walked over to Beaches and Cream for ice cream, all the while looking longingly at Stormalong Bay. We were all very happy for the cold ice cream and the beautiful surroundings.

We took a break at our hotel after that. The kids watched some of Aladdin on TV while Tim and I started packing. We were moving over to the AKL the next day… I was so sad to see this part of our stay end! But we were all interested to see what AKL had in store for us.

One last treat before we left WL though… a short boat ride over to Fort Wilderness for Hoop-Dee-Doo! I had never been over to FW, or seen the show. We arrived a couple minutes late (as we had to wait for a boat) but in plenty of time for the show. Our table was in the 2nd row directly in front of the stage. The room is not big, so all the seats look like good seats, but I was glad we had paid for Category 1. Nothing like being right up front! We started off with drinks, salad, and very yummy cornbread. The ribs were a bit tough but the fried chicken was delicious! Everyone in the family agreed that the show was fabulous. The girls laughed so hard at Six Bits’ antics. It was a pleasure to see, all around – I myself haven’t laughed that hard in a long while!

We returned to the WL for some pool time (Tim and the girls) and packing (me!). After the kids went to bed I took a long walk around the resort, trying to take everything in. It had been our home for a week and who knows when we’ll be back here again. It is such a gorgeous resort – the lobby with its high rafters… the water flowing from the lobby to the pool… the pool itself… the view of Bay Lake…

Monday, August 17th:

We actually made it out of the WL (with bags packed in car) and got to Epcot before opening! I ran ahead of Tim and the girls to get FPs for Soarin’… and they ended up catching up to me at the central fountain where the CMs had the rope up. After they let us through, Tim headed over to The Seas while I followed everyone else to Soarin’. Moo. The kids rode Nemo and we all met in the near deserted post-ride area. It was only 5 minutes until Turtle Talk, so we took pictures with Bruce and watched the rays in the tank. Julie got to talk to him again so she was in heaven.

The kids wanted to do the Nemo ride again and since we had some time to kill before our Soarin’ FPs, we did it. I love that ride, especially Peach at the end. She’s good. But Soarin’s better! We waited for our turn on B1 again and it was as good as ever!

After Soarin’ we cut across Future World to the entrance of World Showcase. It had just opened up. We stopped to see the Mariachi band at Mexico and then headed up to Norway. We hadn’t been on this ride yet. The girls didn’t like it too much (too scary, I guess… with all the trolls… yeah, I have two girls ;)). We skipped the movie at the end in favor of playing with the Viking hats in the gift shop. I got some great pictures of my hubby in a Brunhilde hat and him picking the big troll’s nose. Yes, this is my husband. I love his goofiness. :)

We walked over to America and decided it would do for lunch. We actually had a good lunch at the Liberty Inn – for some reason I was craving a hamburger. The one we got – a double cheeseburger – could have fed our entire family! We also got a chicken wrap and some nuggets for the kids, plus one each of the desserts.

We then got to see one of my favorite performing groups – Voices of Liberty. They didn’t sing “When you Wish upon a star…” which inevitably gets tears streaming down my face. They had some great selections though, and I’m glad the girls got to hear them.

We went back and looked for Donald on the Mexico boat ride. I think I’m finally okay with this redo. I do miss the music but I love that they kept some of the previous elements of the ride, like the cliff divers. :) We spent some money in Mouse Gear (two t shirts for me) and thought about doing Spaceship Earth, but the line was too long. So we went off to the AKL to check in. As we were walking into the lobby, who else but our friends from home were walking out! They were ending their stay as we were just beginning.

What a beautiful resort!! Our room was not ready, so the kids ended up watching cartoons in the lobby for about an hour. (they were happy!) Tim and I took turns walking around and dozing on the couch. Just as we were taking the girls to see the pool, I got the message that our room was ready – 4383, almost at the very end of the Kudu trail. We were overlooking the main savannah, and saw giraffes, antelope, zebra, and ankole cattle. Every night we could see the ankole cattle, who had bedded down in a dirt patch right outside our balcony. Both of the girls absolutely LOVED seeing the animals outside our room. The only thing I would do differently next time is ask for a 2nd or 3rd floor room, as we were a little high up and ended up looking through the trees a little. My husband was more impressed with our AKL room and the entire resort than with WL. Our room was sparkling clean – I think they had just steam cleaned the carpet as it was a little damp when we got into our room. I would definitely stay here again… what a unique hotel!

We took the girls to the pool for swimming, even though the sky looked like it was about to drop buckets of water on us. It was a nice pool but we all agreed that the pool slide was slower than the WL one. (we have to get Julie to one of the water parks sometime… she wouldn’t want to leave!) After showers in the room, we had dinner at the Mara (spicy chicken flatbread) and used our leftover snack points to get muffins, cereal, and milk for our last 2 breakfasts. We also browsed through the Zawadi Marketplace, which has a great variety of items! Tim took the kids to the arcade but was disappointed to see most of the games were for older kids. (They kept asking for the Contemporary Resort arcade… I like that one too!)

We called it an early night and fell asleep with the cattle keeping us company outside. :)

Tuesday, August 18th:

We are breakfast in the room, said good morning to the animals outside our window, and caught the bus to the MK for EMH. Tim took the rental car over to the Car Care Center, and almost beat us there! And of course, halfway there I realized that I had left my cell phone in our hotel room, so I had to go to Town Hall and ask to use their phone. Tim joined us maybe 2 minutes later.

There were LOTS of people in the park for EMH. I attributed it to Free Dining crowds. We went and got FPs for Splash, took pictures of the girls in the stocks, then went to Snow White. Here’s how crowded it was – Snow White had a line! We went over to Tomorrowland for the rope drop and ran right to the Indy Speedway. We were the 9th and 10th car to go out! I got to ride with Julie this time and she was as bad a driver as Katie was. :) We were headed for Buzz Lightyear but noticed that Astro Orbiter had no line! The girls had seen this one before and asked about it, so here was our chance. This is not one of my favorite rides… I think I closed my eyes for most of the ride! All the spinning and being up in the air… ugh!

At Buzz Lightyear I broke 300,000 and beat everyone in the family. Found a good new target, hee hee. Storytime with Belle was next. What a nice, quiet spot, especially in the morning. We got there about 5 min before the show and there were plenty of seats. Belle came out with her two helpers… and told us her story. But there was no audience participation. I had heard that she chose people to help act out the story, but not this time. The girls did get to meet her afterwards.

One more showing of Mickey’s Philharmagic (my absolute favorite) and then we went to Adventureland to get FPs for the Jungle Cruise. On the way through the shops Tim met Dennis, a CM that he worked with back in the 90’s! Dennis has been there 19 yrs now.

We used our Splash FPs (didn’t get too wet!) and then went on the Jungle Cruise. Boy, when you have a good skipper this ride is so much fun. I love all the puns!

It was starting to rain (and we didn’t have our ponchos) so that meant it was time for lunch. We took the monorail over to the Poly for lunch at Capt Cook’s (Hawaiian flatbread, pork sandwich, grilled cheese). They have the new touch screens for ordering, but it took about 10-15 minutes for lunch to come. The girls were freezing with the air conditioning and the rain that we had walked through.

Our return trip to the AKL was very easy – quick monorail back to MK and a lucky bus back to AKL – just sitting there, waiting for us to get on. Everyone took a 2 hr nap in the hotel room, then Julie and I walked around the resort, picking up water, snacks, and getting a look at the pelicans by the outlook. We did some drumming in the small library off of the lobby and then went back to the room for a fancy dinner of PBJ and salad while the girls watched Martha on PBS.

For our last night at WDW, we split up! Tim knew that I wanted to go do Toy Story Mania and the ‘adult’ rides at DHS. The girls were asking to go back to Epcot for Imagination and Spaceship Earth. So off we went. They had a good time at Epcot – took in Figment, Dame Judy, and Ellen (Universe of Energy). Oh, and yes, another ride on Nemo. (Hmm… I think we rode that one more than small world…)

I went to DHS on the bus and headed right over to TSM. I still had two out-of-date FPs from Friday, so I used them to ride twice. I scored about the same each time – ‘beaver’ level. I was hoping to do ToT and RnRC when Fantasmic started at 9, so I had some time to kill. I went to the Magic of Disney Animation, something I do not remember ever experiencing. It was really cool! I even stayed for the Animation Academy (although I had to sit for about 20 minutes as I just missed the previous show). It was worth the wait, though. 20 minutes of almost Zen-like drawing in absolute silence. I drew Pluto. Me – who usually does stick figures poorly. I will do this again.

Unfortunately the park was still packed when I finished at the Animation building. I thought the waits would be down but ToT and RnRC still had hour waits. There was a later Fantasmic show that night so I guess a lot of people were waiting around. I caught a bus back to the hotel and started packing , as the next day was to be our last in Florida… :(

Weds 19th

Our last morning at Disney… we got up early to pack. Thank goodness I had brought an extra empty duffle bag – we had new stuffed animals to pack, souvenirs, and candy! The kids were grumpy getting up but after a light breakfast on the balcony with the ankole cattle, they were feeling better.
Bell services came and got the bags but not before I popped something in my back. I said ‘ow’ and my husband just looked at me. He has a bad back and just knew I had done something. I laid down on the floor for a little and found it was just a really tight muscle. It ended up hurting for about 3 days and then thankfully disappeared.

We said goodbye to the cattle, zebras, and antelope and headed out for our last morning in the parks. We got to see the opening ceremony at the Magic Kingdom! It was a little bittersweet as it was our last day. Thunder Mountain was our first stop – the girls and I went over there while Tim took a detour and got FPs for Peter Pan. As we’re walking up to BTMRR, Tim met another CM, Edward, that he had worked with! We talked for a while and then walked on to Thunder. Katie loosened up and really loved it – even raised her arms a few times.

We did some of our must-dos after that – the Carousel, where we took our yearly picture of Tim and the girls… we have pictures on the Carousel dating back to when Julie was 6 months old. Some day I’m going to frame them all together so we can see how much they’ve grown…

Okay, the Carousel – Julie rode Cinderella’s horse, the one with the gold ribbon on the tail… Tim and Katie went for one more ride on… you guessed it… small world (count: 4, but it felt like more) while Julie and I twirled our heads off on Tea Cups and visited Pooh. Buzz Lightyear where I was once again victorious (360,000)… ran into PUSH the talking trash can (the girls LOVED him)… and then lunch at Columbia Harbor House.
Lunch was good, but we couldn’t understand why there was a CM constantly ringing a bell right outside the door. We had to listen to it for the entire time we were there. I felt worse for the poor girl who had to ring it the whole time…

Our last ride was on Pirates, where we got to sit in the front of the boat. We slowly walked towards Main Street and finally caught the ragtime piano player! It wouldn’t have been a trip to Disney without hearing him play. After that… I splurged and bought myself a new watch to commemorate the trip… and we all shared chocolate chip cookies in the bakery.

Now usually I would have been bawling on my way out of the MK, but I was distracted this time – by the ‘Move It! Shake It! Celebrate It! Parade’. My apologies to those of you who like this parade, but I’m unimpressed. To me it’s too loud, bubble gum pop cheesiness. It was moving down Main Street as we left and I found myself looking forward to the cool interior of the AKL.

We had enough time back at AKL to get our free Photopass pictures printed and collect our bags. Part of the prize package was round trip transportation to and from the airport. We hadn’t been able to take advantage of this on our arrival (as we flew into Tampa). However we did get a ride to MCO – in a stretch limo! What a great surprise to walk out of AKL and see a long black car, waiting for us! The girls were floored, and excited that they could watch a movie all the way to the airport. :) Tim and I agreed it was the most comfortable ride we’ve ever taken to MCO.

Last post coming: final thoughts

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