August 5, 2008

What To Do On Departure Day

It's Departure Day.  Should you go to a park before leaving?  Have a special breakfast?  Do some shopping?

We decided to go reserve our partial day for Animal Kingdom, and here's why.

As I said many, many posts ago, we drove our own car all the way from Texas to Walt Disney World.  This proved advantageous in many ways, one of which was a flexible departure time.  Although, we had to check out of our beloved Old Key West by 11am, nobody said we had to vacate Disney property altogether.  Since Animal Kingdom closes early anyway, we figured we'd stay until shortly before closing, then point our transport toward Tallahassee where we'd stay for the night.

Since the ole SUV was loaded down with luggage, we decided we'd leave it at Old Key West and use the Disney bus system to get to and from Animal Kingdom.  The kids were excited since they think of the bus ride as another attraction.  There were very few people on the AK bus at this time of day (late morning) and it was a relaxing drive.

We piled out of the bus, did the turnstile boogie, and entered into the wha-?  What is this heat?

We had entered the rain forest!  Complete with humidity so thick you could cut through it with a machete!

Seriously, I looked around to see where they were pumping in the water vapor.  It was crazy hot.  But no time to tarry.  We only had a few hours.

This was our first visit to AK ever so we found it rather difficult to decide what we needed Fastpasses for and how to navigate through the park.  My people looked to me to make this decision.  Seriously, didn't I tell them I had not studied up on this stuff so as not to be made fun of?  This is a huge park and there's no hub and spoke layout here.

But never let it be said that I can not rise to the occasion.  I thought it best to split our tickets between Expedition Everest and Kali River Rapids, knowing we'd Child Swap on both so we'd get the "free" Fastpass for a second ride.

Our first attraction would be Kilimanjaro Safari.  The line was quite long, and, well, scratch that.  We only had about a 30 minute wait, but it seemed longer because we weren't familiar with the twisty turny queue and the heat.  It made the line seem so much longer.  Finally, we glimpsed this monster.

I'm familiar with the NahTahZu saying regarding AK and I agree.  It's not.  There's so much more.  While Kilimanjaro is an attraction in which you will be looking at wild animals, it also puts you in a poacher-chasing adventure across the savannah, all the while looking at wild animals which, and I'll be honest, is kind of like a zoo...of which I am NahTahFan.  There, I said it.

But I will queue up for that attraction again because it's not just looking at animals.  Those Disney geniuses have put us in the middle of a story and it's a smidge different each time because you never know what those animals are going to do or which ones you're going to get a glimpse of.  Genius.

Just around the river bend we entered Asia for our whitewater rafting adventure.  We had FM#3 measured just for grins and they let him through!  We donned our trusty ponchos and literally walked onto this ride.

Double E, Expedition Everest, was next.  Me and CB rode it first so we could report back to FM#1.  He just wasn't too sure he wanted to ride it.  Let's face it.  That climb up into the mountain looks daunting.  Don't we all assume there's a steep drop on the other side?  And that whole "going backwards" thing.  Yeah.

Well, a less than 5 minute queue landed us in our little train and I was a bit nervous.  Remember that rapid pulse I mentioned prior to boarding the Tower of Terror?  But, again, what we do for our children.  But I was glad I did because the ride was fantastic!

I'm a HUGE Big Thunder Mountain fan, and Space Mountain fan, and Splash Mountain fan.  So I couldn't not attack this mountain as well.  Yes, I just used a double negative to make a point.

We reported to FM#1 that Everest was like Big Thunder on steroids, so he decided to give it a go.  Queuing up a second time, we saw just enough of the queue to want to see more, but the line moved too quickly.  And as we were standing there behind that little gate, the next ones to board, FM#1 decided to unqueue.  He just couldn't do it.  He tried, but he just wasn't ready.

But CB and I couldn't let being 'next' slip away, so we let FM#3 find MawMaw and the brothers out front and we chased the yeti again.  Awesome!

From there we wandered around not really knowing what to do next.  We noticed the ropes were out for the parade and people were starting to scope out their spots, so we ducked into It's Tough To Be A Bug.  It was just a short wait until the next show started.

This attraction is so clever, so fun.  I can just imagine being on the team that was given the task of designing this one.  I'm such a sucker for 4D animation.

There was unanimous love for the bugs until we got sprayed and the lights went out.  That's when FM#3 let out a scream that probably scared Hopper.  The older boys loved the surprise at the end, especially that it was so unexpected.  I'll just leave it at that.

The only thing that makes me sad is that we didn't find out until after we got home that the entire attraction is under the Tree of Life!  How could we have missed that?  Honestly, there's so much to see in Animal Kingdom and the pathways wind and twist and the park looks like it's been there for decades.  Although you could tour the park in a day, you could spend numerous visits discovering the architecture, the pathways, the textures.  And we didn't even scratch the surface.

It was about 3:30pm so we meandered in and out of a couple of shops, FM#2 & 3 buying the softest Eeyore and Mickey.  When we made it back to the front of the park, I realized this was it.  We were heading home now, leaving Walt Disney World behind.  WAIT!

I hadn't bought an souvenirs for myself!  Can you imagine getting all the way home and realizing you hadn't bought anything to remember your trip?  Thankfully, there was one last shop at the park entrance.

We all looked around the shop - and around and around - not rushing to get on the bus.  Thinking back on it, maybe we were all taking it in one last time before heading home.  My souvenir?  The entire trip I had looked for a white visor with classic Mickey on it, but hadn't been able to find it anywhere.  Only ones with Minnie. So I decided on some charms for my Crocs.  Not a big splurge, but I figured they would make for some fun conversation starters.

As we turned toward the bus stop, we saw Donald walking by.  Oh, no!  He looked like he was leaving.  FM#3 was going to miss him again.  But then he stopped.  What?  CB and I looked at each other and realized at the same time that good ole Donald was just getting in place for his meet and greet!

Magic Moment #15 - FM#3 finally got to see Donald Duck up close and personal.  We were the first people to meet him and FM#3 was intrigued by his safari outfit.  He was quite pleased that he met the Donald Duck.  You can tell by the crossed-armed cockiness.

And this chance encounter, literally the last possible moment, right before boarding the bus, was the perfect end to a wonderful vacation.  The planning was great fun, calling the Mouse everyday, looking at websites, and pictures, and talking to people about their past trips, and sharing it with MawMaw, and getting to ride the attractions we had only heard about, and getting to see our children's faces as they experienced all this for the first time.

We had no definite expectations for this vacation, yet we were blessed with more than we could've imagined.  I can read back over these many blog posts and look through our photographs and replay every day back in my mind.

So Many Magical Moments!

August 2, 2008

Last Full Day

Our last whole day at Disney World.  Ah, drink it in.

The plan was to spend the first half of the day at Downtown Disney and then take advantage of evening Extra Magic Hours at Epcot touring World Showcase which we missed earlier in the week.  More on that decision later.

We headed toward Mexico for our la comida de la noche (evening meal, in Spanish, maybe?).   La Cantina de San Angel fit the bill.  The meals were of decent size, and best of all, we got a great table along World Showcase Lagoon.

The sun was just starting dip on the horizon, but there was plenty of daylight left.  Our waterfront view allowed us to decompress a bit after a busy morning.  Our need for a little respite was obvious because FM#3 was sound asleep by now in MawMaw's arms.  He stayed asleep throughout dinner and beyond.

As we left the Cantina, what character do you think was just taking his place off the walkway next to Mexico?  Who can you normally find in Mexico?  Donald Duck!  This was FM#3's must-see character!

Although he had gotten to see Donald in the parade at Magic Kingdom, he had hoped he would see him up close and personal at the Epcot Character Spot, but Donald was not there. Donald had proved to be very elusive to us thus far.

So, here we were practically walking right up on Donald and Jose!  We were the third family in line so we didn't have much time to rouse our sleeping child.  Alas, he was having none of that.  He slept right through our Donald meet and greet.  The older two boys posed for pictures, and no, we did not mention this to Sleeping Cutie.

Continuing around World Showcase, we spent a few minutes outside Norway, posing in front of the Viking ship.  Good thing, too, because it was slated to be dismantled within the year.

Sniff, sniff.

Ships are cool.  Wooden Viking ships are especially cool.  And how cool would we be if they reassembled that bad boy in our backyard?

No visit to Norway would be complete without a ride on the Maelstrom.  Why is that line always so long?  Oh, well, good thing they have that huge mural to look at.  Hidden Mickey fun!

After drooling over the sweaters and rosemaled plates in the gift shop we found a bench out front from which to view Illuminations.  CB disappeared for a while and returned with a big ole soda and light up Mickey ears for the boys.

Boo yah!

Now, a little tidbit about World Showcase and evening Extra Magic Hours.  Truth of the matter is, World Showcase doesn't exactly do EMH.  The pavilions weren't running at 100%, but we didn't let that stop us.  We toured China, saw the American Adventure, and played in those bright red phone booths in England.  There were very few people back there which was nice.  We were dragging which explains the lack of pictures I have from that portion of the day.  The Cast Member from the America pavilion offered to take our picture in front of the fountain, but I will not post it for two reasons (1) we were dragging and it was obvious, and (2) my Mom would not like me to post that picture of her.

However, Mental Note:  an empty World Showcase at night would make for great pictures.

Kind of like icing on the cake was Soarin' at the end of the night.  We did the Child Swap since FM#3 isn't tall enough so we each had some time to relax in that lounge area where the Fastpass machines are.  And let me just say, everyone should be able to ride Soarin' right before bedtime.


July 23, 2008

Laid Back Day 7

Our plan today was to spend the first half of the day at Downtown Disney and the second half at Epcot.

After getting to bed so late the night before, we slept in a bit the next morning and took some time to feed the birds.  Tuppence a bag.

Magic Moment #13 - Since we were on the first floor and were near a pond, the boys had numerous opportunities to feed all the birds.

This picture doesn't do justice to the amounts of ducks and birds that would come up to our patio.  Once they realized we had food, word spread like wildfire!  There were so many different kinds.  The white, long-beaked ones were so aggressive!  Once the bread was gone, they waddled back to the pond.

Downtown Disney was great fun if only for the Lego Store!  It was our first destination and the only one the boys were focused on.  After well over an hour, we were finally able to get the Legomaniacs out of there!

Italian ices and Ghirardelli chocolate did the trick.  FREE Ghirardelli chocolate!  It's great to walk into that scrumptious boutique and be offered that scrumptious square.

We thoroughly - very thoroughly - enjoyed the World of Disney.  World of Disney had so many interesting displays, obvious and not so obvious.  Coupled with all the different shopping areas inside that one store and the fact that my family was spread out amongst them, there was no way I could concentrate on all that was going on in there.  Must. Go. Back.

And how many times did I go around and around and around looking at all the pins at Pin Trader's?!

Upon leaving the parking lot, one of my boys spotted our Magic Moment #14, a Hidden Mickey in the clouds.

There's that side profile I told you would come up again!

July 22, 2008

I Love Beans!

On tap for the afternoon was a nice rest back at OKW.  We had a late night dinner planned for Hoop Dee Doo and we knew we'd need a nap.

It was dark by the time we started getting ready.  And it was raining heavily.

We kept hoping it would slack up, but it didn't.  We checked the local weather report on TV while we were getting ready and there was a tornado spotted in a nearby town.


We made it to the parking lot of Fort Wilderness in driving rain.  Upon opening our doors, we realized we weren't going to be able to wear our shoes as the parking lot was flooded.  CB decided we weren't going to try it anyway and hoped we could get into the lot that was closer to the bus stop.

So back out onto the main road we went.  When we got to the security gate, the guard would not let us in.  CB explained the situation and told him all the wanted to do was drop us off and then he'd come back out and park in the other lot.  The guard relented, thankfully.  It's not a pretty sight when CB is being nice and the other person is being irrational.

He dropped us off at the bus stop and by the time he got back to the other lot, it was only sprinkling.  After what seemed like a long time of waiting, the bus to Pioneer Hall finally arrived and we boarded with everyone else who had booked a late night dinner.

We had great seats two to three tables back a little to the left of the stage. The dinner was yummy and the entertainment was superb, if you like corny - and I do.

FM#2 loved the ribs and he and his brother were serenaded by Sixbits.

Yep, Magic Moment #12.

July 21, 2008

Top 7: A Study in Humor

Some of you, okay, maybe one of you, might remember a few posts back when I mentioned the kids' favorite channel while we were at Disney World -- the Top Seven! Well, I've spent a lot of time this weekend reading Disney blogs and websites and rediscovered

The guy who runs Netcot and his sister spoofed Stacy and her Top Seven Must Sees with this video below. Not only is it funny, but some scenes are filmed at Old Key West.

That video makes me chuckle. And it's got some great music, huh? One of my favorite lines is:

There was so much progress on that ride I nearly lost my lunch!

Although this totally spoofs the real Stacy's Top 7 ("Yummy, yummy, yummy, yummy!"), I have to say I agree with them about the Monorail, except it should be #1 on the list of Top 7 rides at Disney World ("Zoom! Zoom!). And I actually enjoy Living with the Land. Call me kooky!

Rock On!

July 3, 2008

Magic Kingdom Revisited

The skies were promising this day. Perhaps too promising as we decided to leave the ponchos in the car. Giving it further consideration, CB turned back to retrieve them as the rest of us headed for the Monorail. We'd meet up at the stroller rental.

Magic Moment #9 comes to us courtesy of the Monorail.

While my companions were waiting for the monorail I went to find a Cast Member to inquire if anyone was waiting to ride in the front compartment. The attendant said, "You are!" So I jogged back to retrieve my party and share the good news. Unfortunately, only four people can ride in the front compartment. It does not matter how large or small they are. Four. Only four. So MawMaw sat in the compartment behind us.

It never occurred to me that people were allowed to ride in the front compartment and I never would've known to ask if not for the Unofficial Guide! [Love that book! It's sitting beside me right now!]

Here we are going into the Contemporary. This further confirmed my love for the Monorail. When we arrived at the Magic Kingdom, the Monorail driver gave the boys official Monorail licenses.

We met up with CB, got FM#1's chariot, and embarked on our hot/sunny/humid day. But to that we were accustomed. We're from Texas, after all.

Due to the improved weather from the previous day, the crowds had increased a bit, plus this day had Extra Magic Hours.

Our park rotation started in Adventureland again because we wanted to ride Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, and Pirates. Today we started out with the Magic Carpets of Aladdin.

While waiting in line we noticed that, to go along with the Arabian theme, jewels were embedded in the concrete. Oooh! Aaah! This ride was similar to Dumbo except not only can you make your magic carpet rise and fall, you can make it tilt and pitch. And there's a camel that will spit on you.

Right across from Aladdin are tikis that squirt water. The boys enjoyed a bit of refreshment and then we headed to Pirates! While they were in the Pirates gift shop - again! - trying oh so hard to make their way to the queue, I ran down to Splash Mountain and Big Thunder to get Fast Passes. On my way, Woody and his friends were just wrapping up their parade through Frontierland so I paused for that.

He's the rootin-est tootin-est cowboy in the wild, wild west!

Knowing not everyone would ride both Splash and Big Thunder Mountain, I split our six tickets, 3 and 3, between the two Fast Pass machines and ran back to the Caribbean. We had a longer wait this day because of the crowds, but it wasn't too bad. The people behind us kept trying to squeeze in front of us, but we spread out shoulder to shoulder. Don't mess with Texas.

The boys got another adventure through Pirate land and noticed new and different things this time around. Again, back to the gift shop. CB wanted to surprise the boys at Christmas with a gift from here since they loved it so much. FM#1 got a flag which is hanging in his room. FM#2 got a set of metal jail keys that he uses as part of his various costumes. And FM#3 got a sword set that came with sound effects, a dagger, an eye patch, and a parrot.

We bid farewell to Pirates ("the coolest ride ever") and walked quickly (much to the disapproval of my party) to Splash Mountain where CB and I were the only ones wanting to ride. I donned my rain poncho because I just wasn't in the mood to get wet on such a hot day. Good thing, too, because when we got to the bottom of the Big Drop, a huge sploosh of water kerplunked on me at the bottom of the hill before rounding the corner. (I was sitting on the right side of the log, if anyone is interested.)

From here we trotted next door to Big Thunder Mountain where three of us jumped aboard. We not only used our Fast Passes, but we got a Child Swap so we could Fast Pass it again. On our way out of the ride a lady handed us each a packet and said something about Year of a Million Dreams.

Yes, Magic Moment #10! When we got outside we saw that we had received Year of a Million Dreams trading pins and matching lanyard. Cool! Little did we know when sitting in Pinocchio's Village Haus Restaurant the previous day oohing and aahing over that family's perpetual Fast Pass, that we'd get our own surprise in the Year of a Million Dreams.

Now we'd have to start getting pins.

At this point we had convinced MawMaw that Big Thunder Mountain wasn't a roller coaster and that she should definitely ride it so me and FM#1 took her on it using the Child Swap pass. She wasn't amused. As we zigged zagged along the track I kept looking back at her and she would say, "This IS a roller coaster!" She clearly does not know what a real roller coaster is like for Big Thunder is not one. She survived anyway.

From here we went to a MawMaw favorite - Country Bear Jamboree! She loves these corny bears. We enjoyed the respite, A/C, and goofy show and exited across the breezeway for lunch at Pecos Bill's Cafe. Bill serves up burgers and taco salads, but what is unique about this place is that they have a fixin's bar. You can add the usuals to your burger, but they also have sauteed onions and mushrooms and salsa. Yum.

Magic Moment #11. Upon exiting the restaurant we stepped out onto the sidewalk and the afternoon parade was in full swing. We had a front row seat. What timing! And FM#3 got to see Donald Duck! So many things would come together during this vacation.

As the last float went by we found our stroller amid the sea of blue and pointed ourselves toward the Haunted Mansion, Round Two.

From this picture all you can see is Gracey Mansion. If you look at aerial maps of Disney World...what?

You've never seen Disney from the air?

Wh-, wh-, I just don't understand. Don't you spend inordinate amounts of time looking at the Wonderful World of Disney on Is it just me?

Well, when you go there - and you will - use the Bird's Eye feature. You'll see that what is in the picture above is only a facade. The actual Haunted Mansion ride takes place in a huge warehouse type building. Does that spoil the magic? Not for me! It's fascinating how they have filled your field of vision with only what is necessary to create the illusion. You are completely convinced that this ride is inside that house! Or at least I was!

After picking up our Ghost Host we threatened the boys with It's a Small World. Mua ha ha! Aren't we fun parents? But their begging and pleading for Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin was more than we could bear.

Once in Tomorrowland, CB and the older FM's wanted to try Stitch's Great Escape. My Unofficial Guide strongly recommended to pass up this attraction. When it first came out it was too scary so they toned it down. Now it's apparently just bad. Or 'lame' according to FM#1 and 2. Stitch burps on you at one point and they said it smelled horrible. Not a funny horrible either. Gross, oniony kind of horrible.

So on to Buzz where there was no line! Again, the bad thing about not spending any time standing in the queue is that you miss the little nuances along the way. We did spot a Hidden Mickey and took a picture of it while several people went around us. Can you spot it?

We walked back up Main Street; gazed lovingly at the Crystal Palace where we had enjoyed a yummy breakfast the morning before; peered into the shops; gathered our packages at Package Pick-Up; and headed for the Monorail. Again, we asked to ride up front. This time CB and the boys got the front row seat.

A good end to a good day. But was it the end?

Hint: The Hidden Mickey in the Buzz Lightyear photo is right in the middle. It's not the typical three-circle silhouette; it's the side profile silhouette.

Remember this side silhouette. You'll see it again, Mouseketeers!

May 22, 2008

Cinder Rindle's Castle

We toured two parks before ever stepping foot in the Magic Kingdom. Can you believe it?

The day started out very gray. And wet. When we got out of the car we immediately put our ponchos on. We were parked only about three rows back in the front lot so we decided to skip the tram and walk to the Ticket and Transportation Center (TTC).

Down and around the row of hedges, under the bridge, and up the hill to the Bag Check and ticket turnstiles. By now we were quite skilled at:

1. taking off our fanny packs
2. unzipping them and holding them open to be inspected
3. zipping them back up and putting them back around our waist
4. getting out the tickets while walking to the turnstiles
5. feeding the tickets through the card readers while sending the appropriate person through with their
    matching ticket

I kept all six tickets in my fanny pack. MawMaw's Annual Pass was easy to spot as it was the only paper ticket. All the others were plastic like credit cards. Durable, yes, but they were only distinguishable by the different Disney characters on them. It was very confusing the first couple of days, especially because the tickets didn't have names on them. We didn't commit our characters to memory (because we didn't know we needed to), plus we really didn't think the finger scanners were that accurate. I still don't think they are.

This is the way it works. The first time you use a ticket it's marked as an adult or child, depending on the finger scan, apparently. Every time after that, an adult has to go through with an adult ticket and put their finger on the finger reading thing. Children's fingers aren't scanned. Supposedly the finger scanners are smarter than they appear.

Going through the turnstile and matching up all our adults with cards emblazoned with the Seven Dwarves, Mickey, and Cinderella became a real trick. But leave it to CB to learn that we could get our tickets put on our room cards which have each person's name on them. Keys to the World.

Our first official ride was the Monorail. My favorite. I've always loved the monorail. I think we should use monorails in our own towns. So what better way to start the first day at Magic Kingdom than the monorail? This route took us clockwise along the rail, past the Polynesian and Grand Floridian.

Once we got to the front gate, we boogied down Main Street to the Crystal Palace where we had 8:15am breakfast reservations with Winnie the Pooh and Friends. We only waited for a couple of minutes before we were called in and seated at the first table in the dining area on the left.

Our waitress was great! The minute we sat down she poured coffee and orange juice. I needed the coffee that morning! She told us it would be a good time to visit the buffet as Eeyore and Tigger were in the other dining area and it would be a while before they came over. That was very important information as you certainly wouldn't want to be at the buffet just as Pooh comes to your table!

The breakfast buffet was yummy. I love breakfast buffets. CB kept joking that we were eating Piglet. Bacon and sausage. I highly recommend breakfast with Pooh at the Crystal Palace. It's a great way to start the day.

Soon after we had our food, Eeyore and Tigger came over. As usual, FM#3 was so excited to see them and acted as if they were old friends. I discovered that my little FM#2 was becoming quite skilled at posing for pictures and FM#1 wanted to make sure he got his picture taken with Pooh and Tigger because they truly are old friends.

Before breakfast ended they passed out flags and the kids marched around the restaurant in a Pooh parade. FM#3 wanted to march so his big brother took him around. What a good big brother he has.

I could've stayed at the Crystal Palace another hour, but Fun was waiting and the rain was in a holding pattern. We made a mad dash back to Town Square to get the stroller and found 20-30 people waiting in line to get their strollers! As I queued up, a Cast Member spotted the Length of Stay rental ticket in my hand and ushered me out of line, right to the front, where - viola! - stroller. Love it! We were off, but first spotted these guys from Pinocchio who are apparently seldom seen.

The CM attending these guys told us children had to take off their rain ponchos when they visit with the characters. I'm sure this is to keep the costumes in the best possible condition. Wet children hugging you for 20 minutes can really mat up that fur! We nicely declined a visit since we had just gotten our ponchos back on. However, even though FM#3 was fully ponchoed, the characters graciously acknowledged him.

We spied Gepetto around the corner in front of City Hall, but passed him up, too. Next time I'll pause and at least take pictures.

We then trudged back down Main Street toward the Castle and opted for a clockwise rotation through the park starting with Adventureland. Can you spot the monkey?

We started with a tour of Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse. The fauna provided a nice canopy to protect us from the sprinkle. Having just read Swiss Family Robinson, FM#1 was critiquing how wrong Disney's movie version was. He's such a purist. But both boys loved the treehouse and wished they had one in their backyard.

As we ambled over to Jungle Cruise, we noticed that there was hardly anyone in the park. We walked down to the loading area and had only to wait for the next boat to pull up. The rain had served as a deterrent! We had ponchos, so as far as we were concerned - let it rain!

We got a hilarious boat captain. His jokes were corny and we all had a great time. Our rain ponchos were long enough to keep our backsides dry when we sat down in the boat. I had fallen in love with my poncho.

Poncho. That's fun to say.

The rain had slacked up so we stopped at the remote control boats next to Jungle Cruise. And NEXT...


The long anticipated ride! Only a slight wait. As we snaked through the queue, how many times did I hear, "This is so cool!" My scurvy dogs loved it! Since they had already seen the first two movies they could pick out the scenes from the movies that were in the ride. Me, I hadn't seen any of the Pirates movies so I had no idea who Davy Jones was. Of course, now I am well-versed in Pirates.

We spent much (much!) time in the gift shop deciding what to buy. FM#1 got a Jack Sparrow hat. I got Pirates Dice.  Fun game, easy to play. And instead of having our purchases sent back to our room we opted for package pick-up. They send your packages to the front of the park and you pick them up on your way out.

This is what I did to them for spending so much time in the gift shop...

We meandered to Frontierland and got right on Splash Mountain. MawMaw stayed with FM#3 while the rest of us walked - again - right down to the loading area. Although it was no longer raining, I think I kept my poncho on. This was a log ride after all. Somebody was going to get wet and I didn't want it to be me.

Splash Mountain follows the story of Br'er Rabbit. It's a peaceful ride and quite lengthy, too, as you float through to the song, Zip-a-Dee-Do-Da. FM#2 was dreading the big plummet. Around every turn or incline he'd ask, "Is this it?" When it finally approached he was wishing he hadn't gotten on this ride. It scared the bejeepers out of him. My, oh my, it was not a wonderful day! Both boys for some reason had a fear of hitting their head. They had this fear on other rides, too. Needless to say, there was a bit of whimpering from the middle one and a vow to never ride Splash Mountain again.

Next up, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. I love this one! I can't remember if we Fast Passed it or not, but MawMaw kept the younger two on this one. I think this ride is my favorite. We ended up riding it three times during our stay.

Then on to Liberty Square and the Hall of Presidents. Thanks to our history co-op, I understood and appreciated this attraction much more this time around. Again, a gift shop visit, where Mom bought me a Mickey snowman for Christmas.

After a little sustenance we rounded the corner to the Haunted Mansion! Another of my favorites. It had just undergone refurbishing so - whew! Glad it was open this time around!

The boys thought the invisible horse was cool and got a kick out of the animated tombstones outside the door. Once inside it was just how I remembered it with the stretching pictures on the wall and everything. The Cast Members working this attraction are very somber as they escort you onto the moving walkway and into your Doombuggy. I love those moving walkways! And I love the detail on this ride. There's so much to look at you can't possibly see everything the first time through. As I ride through I can't help thinking how they do things like make those doors bend and bulge as zombies try to get out. The kids were amazed at all the things on this ride and FM#3 didn't find it the least bit scary.

Our next ride was It's a Small World. The adults were looking forward to it because it would be a nice, slow, cool, relaxing ride. The older boys were NOT looking forward to it and had already convinced themselves that the song playing over and over would drive them nuts.

Fantasyland, Schmantasyland. They tolerated it just fine.

Is FM#2 about to cry? I think that boy needs some lunch. Exiting Small World we noticed a ridiculously long wait for Peter Pan so we grabbed Fast Passes and headed for lunch at Pinocchio's Village Haus.

At this point we hadn't done a lot of eating in the parks. A super late dinner at MGM our first night, breakfast this particular morning, and now lunch. We each ordered a meal and found the servings to be huge. I had the biggest turkey panini and a ton of fries! From this point forward the younger boys would share a kids meal and MawMaw and I would split a meal.

During our lunch, we noticed a family sitting near us had some sort of Disney tag hanging around each of their necks. Upon closer examination, and trying not to stare, we realized it was a Year of a Million Dreams Fast Pass. They had to but show the card and they were permitted into the Fast Pass line of every FP attraction for the day. We were a bit jealous of this fortuitous wish granted to this family and wondered just how they received such a treat.

Right outside of our lunch venue, was Dumbo so we decided to give it a whirl before using our Fast Pass for Peter Pan. The line wasn't long, but the wait was, simply because the ride is not continuous loading. Plus in addition to the visible line, there are four queued up groups waiting - two on each side. Dumbo was fun, even though it's a "kiddie ride". I'm not good with heights so it gave me a head rush which was fun.

From here we did Peter Pan and Snow White. CB really liked Peter Pan because we were flying in a ship. Snow White wasn't as scary as it historically has been. Decades ago it scared my younger sister to death and she screamed through the entire ride. No screamers this time around.

We also decided to Fast Pass Winnie the Pooh so we ventured to Tomorrowland until our Fast Pass window rolled around. We started with the Tomorrowland Speedway. FM#2 has a need for speed and was so excited that he would be able to drive in a car all by himself.

From here we rocketed over to Buzz Lightyear which all would agree was great fun. Yes, even MawMaw.

Me, CB, FM#1 & 2 rode Space Mountain. Walked right on! My recollection of this roller coaster was that it was ultra tame, too tame. My experience this time around was a bit different. It was still tame, but for this 43 year old body, it was rough! I was tossed and jerked around in that roller coaster rocket! I had to brace myself with my legs and expected to have bruises the next day.  It was still fun!

We then backtracked to the Mad Tea Party. Everyone wanted to ride this one - except me. I throw up when I get dizzy. So the Untrustworthy Ones rode together - the older two and CB. I rode with MawMaw and FM#3.

When we sat down in our little teacup, FM#3 put his sweet little hands on the steering wheel and thinking it was a table said, "Let's have a tea pahty." He didn't realize the table made the cup spin until halfway through the ride and even then he gently turned it. Give that boy a smooch!

Winnie the Pooh was sweet. It replaced Mr. Toad's Wild Ride and let me just say that the only thing they did was add Pooh scenes and honey pots to ride in. I do believe the track was the exact same track as Mr. Toad - twisty, turny with doors that open suddenly. This was a very low cost transformation.

Gift shop visit again where FM#3 wanted a lollipop...

...or two or three or eighteen. He got one bunch which had six Pooh-shaped lollipops. In fact, he just finished the last one a couple of weeks ago! The older boys got those huge coiled lollipops and they were gone before bedtime.

We walked back through Fantasyland and rode Cinderella's Carousel and saw Mickey's Philharmonic, another fun Disney 3-D. The boys had some fun while waiting for the next show...

We strolled past Cinder Rindle's Castle, down Main Street. Gazed fondly upon the Crystal Palace, home to our delicious breakfast hours earlier. We located the package pick-up building, got our goodies, and returned the stroller.

With bags in tow and a mist in the air, we opted for the quiet ferry across Seven Seas Lagoon.

Back at Old Key West, I had the concierge put our tickets on our room cards. We played Pirates Dice that night.

May 1, 2008

Aaah, Home

Back home at Old Key West.

We stopped at the Hospitality House to pick up our packages from the previous day's shopping at MGM to find that only 2 of the 3 gifts were there. The one child who was eagerly awaiting the arrival of his X-wing was about to be horribly disappointed. CB was the bearer of the bad news and while FM#2 was crushed, in true Storm Trooper fashion, he would shake it off and forge ahead. Besides, there was swimming to be done!

We were starving. While everyone rested back in the room, CB and I went up to the Hospitality House to grab lunch at Good's To Go - OKW's counter-service restaurant.

While waiting, I overheard a lady asking whether certain items on the menu were included in the Dining Plan. There were a lot of people using Disney's Dining Plan during our visit. Disney had a promotional offer earlier in the year -- if you booked your September/October vacation by June, everyone in your party got free dining plans. That's free food, folks.

The dining plan includes one free full-service meal, one free counter-service meal, and one free snack. Did you notice all those free's? We would've loved to take advantage of this offer, but to book a vacation that far in advance is metaphysically impossible for us.

By the time lunch was over, FM#3 was asleep and MawMaw and I were close behind. The other two were jumping up and down to go swimming so CB suited up and took them. Bless that man's energy level - and his commitment to his children.

They had a great time! They said the slide was super fast!

When they returned we headed back to EPCOT...

...where we cashed in our Fast Passes for Soarin'. By now the wait time was about an hour and a half. The Fast Pass line was about 15-20 minutes.

I 'heart' Fast Pass.

Unfortunately, halfway through the line we discovered FM#3 was not tall enough to ride. CB elected to sit out this round and wait for us. This allowed us to experience the Child Swap feature.

With Child Swap, one adult can stay with the child while the rest of your party rides. When your party returns, you swap the child, take your Child Swap Pass, and go directly to the Fast Pass line. Yes, this still requires your party to wait in line twice, but the pay-off is that you get to use the Fast Pass line PLUS the Child Swap Pass allows you to take (I think) up to three additional people with you on the ride. So when we got off the ride, CB took the older boys with him and they got to ride again!

As for the ride itself, Soarin' is so peaceful and relaxing. You sit in what closely resembles a 7-seat hang glider. Your glider then takes off, and depending on which row you're in, rotates up several (many) feet off the ground and suspends you in front of a giant movie screen. (Leave your flip-flops on the floor. They're likely to drop off during the ride.)

The story is that you're hang gliding through various locations - white water rapids, Grand Canyon, ocean, golf course, orange groves. The glider, of course, tips and pitches to simulate the actual feeling of soaring. And it all comes complete with wind, smells, and epic Disney music.

MawMaw could've stayed on Soarin' for the rest of the trip.

We then made our way to Test Track where we used those Fast Passes CB picked up earlier in the day. FM#2 was apprehensive about this one because of the speed. I really don't understand his trepedation. He rides in the car with me, after all! But we managed to get him on and!

Late breaking news...Young red-headed boy says Test Track is "The most awesomest ride ever!" He liked it better than Mission: SPACE and Star Wars and the stunt shows.

CB liked it, too. I enjoyed it, too. There just seems to be a lot of time devoted to storytelling. Maybe I need to ride it a few more times to get a better perspective. Once our ride vehicle exited the building and began building up speed, it was terrific! Just not long enough.

In the showroom, we enjoyed the fancy GM cars and spent way too much time in the gift shop.

Exiting Test Track we were right next door to Mission: SPACE and FM#2 wanted to take MawMaw on it. She chickened out earlier in the day because she was afraid the ride would make her motion sick. After riding it ourselves, we assured her that wasn't the case. Of course, the repeated offers to exit the ride before it actually began did freak her out a bit..."Are you sure this doesn't spin around?"

Don't worry MawMaw. Just wait 'til we get to Magic Kingdom!

But she hung in there and had a ball! What a trooper! FM#2 thought it was pretty cool that she rode it, too.

It was becoming early evening and we were slowing down. The boys played in a car wash water spray outside Test Track then we made our way over to the Imagination pavilion hoping to enjoy it, but it was closed. However, the boys played in the jumping water.

And FM#3 made a friend.

Good night. Until tomorrow...

April 30, 2008

EPCOT (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow)

We got to EPCOT an hour or so after it opened. The relaxed mornings would result in less tired vacationers, but in the end we weren't able to see everything at EPCOT. However, thanks to super-low attendance we were able to enjoy our favorite attractions multiple times. Super low attendance. This was Value Season!

Our hotel wasn't very far from EPCOT so it didn't take us long to drive over. As for driving, we could've used Disney's free transportation system - the bus - but it was much quicker to take our own wheels. And because of the aforementioned low attendance, traffic wasn't an issue.

I loved Disney's roads. There's an entire road system within WDW. Serious infrastructure is another thing that fascinates me about WDW. Directions to the parks were marked clearly on Disney's own purple, red, and yellow road signs. Too often we found these signs did not give directions far enough in advance to make lane changes. Again, good thing there wasn't a lot of traffic!

Interesting factoid: Gasoline prices inside Disney were cheaper than outside Disney.

During the planning phase of this vacation, we decided that taking our car to the parks would give us more flexibility because we planned to come back to the hotel for lunch and a rest. Day 4 EPCOT was the only day we actually did this.

During Value Season, the parks close earlier so rather than take a break in the middle of the day, we stayed at the parks and left a bit before closing time. This day we decided to tour Future World (the part with the big ball) with a midday break for lunch back at the hotel.

Stroller: check. And away we go!

It was hard to get my bearings at first and I could feel my party's eyes staring at me - all ten of them - waiting for direction. Remember, I was the Compass, the Rudder. But it had been sixteen years after all and I had not done my map study homework or devised a touring plan.

Spaceship Earth, aka The Ball, was closed for construction during our visit so we had to maneuver to the left of it around the construction barriers. We came out in the middle of the Innoventions hub and stopped to look at the leader board. Placed here and there in Future World are these electronic boards that list the rides and their wait times. Brilliant!

What to ride first...?

I was excited about two things in particular this day. (1) Going to the GE pavilion to ride Horizons and (2) going to the Wonders of Life pavilion to ride Body Wars. I had told FM#2 that Body Wars was like Star Tours in MGM so he was excited, too.

When I was gainfully employed, my job involved programming control (SCADA) systems for the pipeline. We used GE Fanuc equipment. As GE customers, Texaco employees received GE Executive Club cards that allowed us to get GE's travel discount when scheduling Disney vacations and access to the Executive Club at GE's Horizons pavilion.

Flash back sixteen years ago when CB and I were at EPCOT. We walked up to GE's pavilion and went around the outside to a door that read, "GE Executive Club." The hostess took us to an elevator which emptied out in the lounge area at the top of the pavilion. You could relax on comfy couches, enjoy ice cream. You could also control a camera that was mounted to the top of the pavilion and view a significant panorama of WDW.

When we went back downstairs, the hostess escorted us through a couple of doors and into what might be called a pre-boarding area. We stepped into the car, or Omnimover, that was moving along the conveyor. We were on the ride! No waiting in line! The car went through automatic doors where everyone else was standing in a long line waiting to board. Nice!

Check out this Omnimover I found for sale online.

The GE ride was my kind of attraction. It involved robots doing housework, holograms, and the fresh crisp smell of oranges. Nothing like involving all of the senses!

I remember one portion of the ride took us through space or a night sky. As far up and down and to the sides as I could see was starry sky. I even leaned over the front of our vehicle and could see more stars. I love that.

Flash forward sixteen years and the GE pavilion is no more. GE discontinued their sponsorship and the building was demolished to make room for Mission: SPACE.

As for Wonders of Life and its Body Wars ride, it was closed when MetLife did not renew its sponsorship. Bummer. The pavilion was cordoned off with barriers this trip and sat empty and alone.

Add to the closings - General Motors World of Motion pavilion. It was repurposed into Test Track. You might remember the round shape of the original building as your car speeds around the outside of it. Upgrade!

Back to the present: as we stared at the leader board we found Soarin's wait time was already long so we opted to Fast Pass it. Obviously, people make a mad dash to the more popular rides. A 'long' wait time for us was 30 minutes or more. Why wait when you can Fast Pass? We were really getting spoiled by these low crowds.

We cut straight through the Innoventions hub which used to be called Communicore. Sixteen years ago CB and I went into one of the Communicore buildings first thing in the morning to schedule our dinner in Germany. We talked on a phone to a woman we could see on the computer screen - and we thought that was real fancy!

Needless to say, things have come a long way! Making a dinner reservation the day of the dinner? That's just taking chances. Nowadays folks call months ahead to make reservations. And they can be made online, too. Garsh! That's fancy!

We crossed to the polar opposite side of the park to ascend to Living with the Land pavilion, home of Soarin', to get our Fast Passes. What were they thinking? To get into this building you have to scale a seriously steep hill. Hey, it's steep when you're hot and tired.

Once inside you have to go to the ground floor via stairs or escalator to get to Soarin', Living with the Land, and the restaurant. Guess which is quicker? Yes, so I trotted downstairs to the Fast Pass machines; fed our tickets in; got the Fast Passes and dashed back upstairs. Whew!

I was in high gear at this point because we were wasting precious time. We had been in the park quite a while and had yet to ride anything! My people did not like the pace I was keeping. They were lagging behind.

It's hard to remember what we rode and in what order because we criss-crossed the park a few times. See what happens when I don't prepare?

I think we started out with Mission: SPACE. Again, my Space Ranger was all googly about riding this. FM#3 wasn't tall enough to ride this one and MawMaw heard about the dizzy factor so they sat this one out. CB and FM#1 chose the Orange Team which was more intense and me and my Space Cowboy went with the Green Team.

We walked right on. No wait.

Of course, the Cast Members were all decked out in space mission outfits. Gary Sinise briefed us on our mission from overhead monitors and we were given multiple chances to exit the ride if we had changed our mind. Then we were moved into a hallway and lined up in groups of four. What number you were standing on determined your role in the mission: Commander, Pilot, Navigator, Engineer.

As they announce what position you will be, a light shines down on you. Depending on your role, there are certain things you'll have to do during the flight. So pay attention! I think they even gave us another chance to get off at this point. They're really serious about this space stuff.

Then we boarded. We walked through a doorway into this small compartment.

I am not claustrophobic. I am not claustrophobic.

Stowed loose items below and pulled this big huge roller coaster-like harness down over ourselves. (The kind of harness that should've been on the Tower of Terror!) I think there was a barf bag, too.

I will not get motion sick. I will not get motion sick.

The door closed. Countdown began.

4-3-2-1. Earth below us. Drifting. Falling. Oooh, I don't like that song either.

But Mission: SPACE was cooool! The virtual effects Disney creates along with the storyline is most excellent. Each person has a video screen in front of them that shows what your 'shuttle' is apparently doing.

The video showed the shuttle tilting back to lock onto the liftoff tower and this simulator moved in such a way that it felt like that was exactly what we were doing! Then when the shuttle took off it really felt like we had the force of gravity pushing against us. How do they do that?

And again, looking at my little astronaut, he was totally into it! He took his role very seriously and we landed safely.

Funny thing about this ride is that going into it, everything is about the illusion. When you get off of the ride, for some reason Disney chose to expose the illusion. We exited the simulator on the side opposite of which we entered and were in what looked like a warehouse. Strange choice. Why didn't they continue the illlusion?

We then went on to ride Nemo so FM#3 could have some fun, too. There was a bit of a wait, but we liked watching the robotic birds on the rocks outside. My wee one loved it. It was just his speed. Where's Nemo?

We hung out quite a while in The Seas Pavilion. We got our picture taken with the shark from Nemo and watched a diving demonstration.

When going through Innoventions we spied the EPCOT Character Spot and decided FM#3 would enjoy that. He really wanted to see Donald Duck, but Donald wasn't at this character event. However, once he spied Mickey Mouse through the window he couldn't wait to get inside.

We waited in line for at least 45 minutes, maybe more. This was our longest wait at EPCOT - getting pictures taken with Disney characters. Go figure. I was amazed at the number of autograph hounds in the crowd. Yes, those seeking autographs from fully-costumed four-fingered mute Disney characters.

While we stood in line, CB decided to get Fast Passes for Test Track. It was still fairly early in the day and we heard that Fast Passes for certain rides like Soarin' and Test Track can run out by midday. So he zipped over to the attraction and, while he was there, discovered they had a Single Rider line. The wait was short; he had the time; so he decided to 'test' out the ride for us.

The Single Rider line is available on some rides. They use it to fill single empty seats. So if you're riding alone or don't mind splitting up your party, go Single Rider! It could mean the difference between an hour wait and a 5-10 minute wait.

As we inched closer to the front of the line, FM#3 started getting really excited. When it was his turn he yelled out, "Mickey Mouse!" and literally took a running leap into the mouse's arms! Mickey welcomed him heartily. He pulled back to look at him and went in for another hug. My mom and I couldn't believe this kid! It was like he and Mickey were old friends and hadn't seen each other in forever! A lot of kids are scared by these big characters when they see them up close as opposed to their TV screen, but FM#3 put on quite a show. The other folks standing around got a kick out of watching him, too.

He saw Mickey, Goofy, Chip 'n Dale (the Chipmix), Minnie, and he even danced with Pluto. Get down with your bad self! Even Pluto is surprised at his moves!

After all that excitement we decided to head back to the hotel for lunch and a nap.

April 29, 2008

MGM Part 2

It was a very pretty drive to Wilderness Lodge. Nice to get away from the theme park atmosphere for a while and in the heat of the day.

We arrived at Wilderness Lodge. Wow! That place was huge! The restaurant was to our left. It was elevated from the main floor and ran practically the whole length of the lodge. We were seated almost right away.

When I made our dining reservations, the girl told me Whispering Canyons was a great choice, super fun and interactive. We would have a great time! She said to be sure and have one of the children ask for a spoon and ketchup.

As I looked over our table that afternoon, there were at least 12 assorted spoons scattered from one end to the other. And we were to ask for more? Okay, I'll give it a go.

I told my eldest to ask our waiter for a spoon to which the other adults at the table started to question my sanity because there were already SO MANY DARNED SPOONS ON THE TABLE!!! I tried not to give it away and insisted he grab the waiter. More resistance. So I asked the waiter for a spoon myself.

What funny thing would happen? What would he bring me? This is so exciting, isn't it?

He brought me just what I asked for. A spoon. Isn't that hilarious?

I had spied a boy at the back of the restaurant marching around his table with a giant fork. You know those big wooden ones that hung in many a kitchen back in the 70's? That kind of giant fork. I suspected our waiter was supposed to bring us a giant spoon. Was he seriously off his game or was it because an adult asked and not a child (as the reservation girl instructed)?

Lesson #4: Children, do as your mother tells you. Husbands, go along with your wife.

As the kids finished up their dirt and worms dessert, the waiter entered into some sort of routine involving bird calls and even though he talked way too fast to completely understand, his routine involved some disturbing rant about his mother-in-law and then he kicked over a chair.

I kid you not.

We just stared at each other, paid the bill, and went out to enjoy Wilderness Lodge's lobby. Which was beautiful! Everything about it screamed "LODGE!" Light fixtures, totem poles, log railings. There was even a "hot spring" that bubbled right up into the lobby. The boys thought this was really neat, especially the "steam" that rose from the water.

We even contemplated staying at Wilderness Lodge in the future. They have villas there, too!

Now, back to MGM! Where we headed straight to the back for the Lights Motors Action Extreme Stunt Show. This was a full-throttle adrenaline rush for the boys. They loved it! Lots of tire squealing and car exhaust fumes.

By the time this show was over, evening was closing in. We ventured over to the Backlot Tour. In addition to the wall of water, fire, and explosions that this ride includes, the boys got to see prop vehicles from Star Wars and the bone cages from Pirates of the Caribbean.

It was getting late and we were starting to slow down so we meandered back to the front of the park. On the way we saw the Power Rangers; the boys played in the rain which was an umbrella that rained water from underneath (Singin' In The Rain); and we got pictures with Herbie from Love Bug.

It wasn't quite 5:30pm, but we made our way to the front of the park for the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular! It was the same show they did 16 years ago. But still good. Action, fighting, explosions, gun fire. What more could a boy want?

Unusual for us, we arrived at Indy's show early. Way early. I hate waiting. CB took advantage of this void of time to get our wristbands for Extra Magic Hours.

Lesson #5: Two things are needed for Extra Magic Hours. (1) Your body and (2) your room card. For every wristband issued, there must be a body and an accompanying room card. That way they know you're a Disney resort guest and Extra Magic Hours are only for resort guests.

Wristbands are only given out at certain locations within the park. When CB got there, he only had his room card. The rest of ours were back in the room! And all of our bodies were sitting at Indiana Jones. Neither was where they needed to be! What to do?

After the show we trekked back to the front of the park to Guest Relations to have them check that we were resort guests and issue our wristbands. We were a little bothered by this lack of communication -- how could we not know this? Maybe if I paid a little more attention to Stacey and her Top 7. Or The Unofficial Guide should've alerted me to this. But the Cast Members at Guest Relations were so nice and it was air-conditioned!

At this point, FM#2 wanted desperately to ride Star Wars again and this time he wanted to ride it with MawMaw! Maybe FM#3 was asleep or maybe he needed a snack, but CB stayed behind with him and the four of us ran across the park to Star Tours.

It was dark by now and I think everyone had migrated to the other side of the park to see Fantasmic because we walked right onto Star Tours. This is good because there's no waiting, but it also prevents you from noticing the details of the scene they've created in the queue. The part that puts you in the frame of mind for embarking on a space ride! But we were still okay with jumping right on!

MawMaw loved that ride and FM#2 was thrilled to share it with her!

Now it was time for the Tower of Terror!

Throughout the day FM#1 kept asking me if I was going to ride the Tower of Terror. Quite frankly, I just didn't know. I'd figure it out when it was staring me in the face.

After we rode Star Tours, we met up with CB who took off to test the Tower by himself. We needed him to test it out and report back to those of us who were skeptical.

As we waited for him, hoards of people streamed out of Fantasmic for what must've been 15-20 minutes.

Finally, CB came off the ride with a huge smile on his face. He said it was fantastic and that we just had to ride it.

Well, there it was. Staring me in the face.

FM#1 would only ride it if I would. Great.

I really didn't want to. Let's face it. Freefalling isn't my favorite. I don't even like the song by Tom Petty. But I knew I had to ride it. I didn't want to regret NOT riding it and we were only going to be at this park for one day. So off we went.

I was extremely nervous. I kept checking my pulse which, I should probably say now, has been an ongoing concern. It tends to be high.

Aren't these the kinds of things that keep you from getting on rides like this?

Aren't these the kinds of rides that people have had heart attacks on?

Yet here I was. Too late to turn back. The things we do for our children.

The first room you go in is fairly small. It reminded me of the elevator at the Haunted Mansion. It is here that you watch a short clip hosted by what I suppose was a Rod Serling impersonator.

You exit to the boiler room which doubles as a queue. Much pulse checking here.

Once we reached the "I'm next" point, CB told me to sit on the back row - less scary there. So the somber Cast Member put us on the appropriate number for the back row. The elevator doors opened and the rows of theatre style seats stared at me.

I guess I'm really doing this. There's no turning back nowWas this a smart thing to do? We'll see.....

I moved toward the back of the elevator all the way to the right. I buckled myself in and grew instantly concerned that there was no shoulder harness. I expected some shoulder harnessing here!

Why is there no harness?! All I have are these lousy straps to hang onto?!

This was not going to be good.

Once the elevator started to move, it snaked through hallways, past scenes as the story was told. Extreme apprehension and anxiety filled my body as I didn't know when the doors would open and we'd plummet to the bottom of this ding-dang tower.

When the scary part of this ride starts, there is no mistaking it. Thankfully. I don't like surprises like that. Metal doors open and you enter into utter darkness. You know it's about to start. Brace yourself.

Honestly, the dropping wasn't my favorite, but in short bursts isn't too bad. Screaming helps.  Seriously, go for it. Scream your head off.  It'll make for a great attraction photo.

And when you're catapulted back up the shaft you feel like you're floating which is totally wicked cool awesome!  You vascillate between AHHH, ahhh, AHHH, ahhh.

At some point the doors open and you're looking out over the park. I couldn't tell you much about this, folks, because my eyes were closed almost the entire time! I opened them once and darned if we weren't overlooking the whole bloomin' park!

Oh no! I'm afraid of heights. I'm gonna puke! Quick, close your eyes again!

The last drop is the biggest and about the time I was ready for it to stop dropping, we dropped even more. But it was over and I DID IT! FM#1 and I were very proud of ourselves. What a relief and a surge of adrenaline at the same time!

We bought our picture on this ride. All of our expressions are priceless.

Will I ride it again?

The Magic 8 Ball says, "Ask again later."

After all the lead-up and anticipation and excitement of having conquered the Tower, we were starving! We stopped at the counter-service restaurant, Rosie's All American Cafe, and had dinner outside. FM#1 spied a Hidden Mickey there.

We visited a shop on Hollywood Boulevard and drug our weary happy bodies home to rest up for a second day.

April 28, 2008

Back to our regularly scheduled programming

We got up early, but not as early as I wanted. I wanted to be there when the park opened. My hoving lusband needed to sleep in a bit. He was on vacation after all.

Everybody was up and excited and wearing their Color of the Day: Maroon. MawMaw had to go with white as she didn't have anything maroon. But we let that slide since she prepared a yummy breakfast of scrambled eggs and toast to fuel us up for MGM.

Everybody got sunscreened and we were ready for the Tower of Terror. Star Wars. Indiana Jones. Muppets 3-D. And a few lessons learned.

We drove our own car. Disney's bus transportation was an option, but The Unofficial Guide referred to wait times at bus stops one too many times for me. Sure the buses drop you off right up front, but I figured driving our car would make up for wait times and any other stops the bus might make. Besides, we couldn't miss the tram ride!

Once again on MGM property, we found ourselves parking in the front lot. Where were the crowds? Not here!

Although we didn't need to take the tram to the front, the tram is one of my own personal Top 7 Must Sees at Disney World and I didn't want my companions to miss it either. Nothing like the smell of diesel exhaust in the morning!

 At the entrance we needed to do two things, one right after the other. First, have our bags checked by security. Second, make it through the ticket turnstiles. This is easier said than done.

Prior to leaving on this trip, MawMaw and I discussed the different ways we might carry our belongings through the parks. Whatever we chose had to hold numerous necessities, it couldn't be cumbersome, and our hands had to be free.

I looked online for a backpack purse, but decided against it because I'd have to take it off when I got on a ride and I wouldn't be able to get into it without taking it off. I considered a messenger bag, but my sister said that would get in the way. MawMaw and I decided on fanny packs. I found a lovely model in black and MawMaw borrowed a camo one from Mark and D'Anna.

We had also purchased rain ponchos at Target. Blue for the adults and yellow for the youngsters. We'd need something to carry these in, too. We owned several nylon drawstring backpacks courtesy of CB's employer and these would fill the bill nicely. Nylon would be perfect for storing wet ponchos and the backpack would keep hands free.

Now I can not go any further without detailing our fine fanny packs. These weren't your average butt bags, folks. Nope. They were serious tourist waist pouches. They held sunglasses, maps, camera, a couple of diapers, wipes, extra shorts in case FM#3 leaked, hand sanitizer (MawMaw's), snacks, i.d.'s - the list goes on. Folks, they even had a cup holder and loops for an umbrella.

Oh yeah, we were sexy.

 Told ya! And it made a nice arm rest, too.

It took us a few times of manuevering through the Bag Check/Turnstile routine to get good at it. The first attempt was a little crazy. All bags had to be opened and placed on the table for inspection. I took off my fanny pack, unzipped it, and got past security. Now to get the tickets out, zip the fanny pack up so all the numerous necessities don't spill out and block traffic, distribute tickets, feed them through the card reader, get each child's finger scanned as he goes through the turnstile, and collect tickets to be safely stowed.....good grief!.....somewhere!

The first time through was utter chaos. We'd need to get better at this.

Lesson #1: have tickets out and ready before approaching the entrance gate.

With the madness behind us, we veered right and headed for Oscar's Service Station, home of the stroller rentals. While CB handled that, the FM's spotted a souvenir shop just inside where they tried on goofy hats. And by that, I mean, Goofy hats. Where souvenir shops are concerned, my boys are like moths to a flame.

 CB got the Length of Stay stroller rental so FM#3's super cool stroller cost a mere $8/day. Now I must say a lot of people prefer to bring their own stroller. I can understand the reasoning, especially if you have a very young child. Babies can't lay down in Disney strollers. Disney strollers must be returned before exiting the park and a stroller would surely come in handy while trudging to your car at the end of a long day. There are no stroller rentals at the resorts and I'll bet it would be nice to have one when you have a considerable hike to your resort pool.

We decided to rent because we didn't want to pack a stroller nor did we want the hassle of loading and unloading a stroller into the car, onto the tram, etc. Besides, FM#3 is a trooper. He could walk if we needed him to, and if not, he's light as a feather.

I give two ears-up for Disney strollers because:

1. They were easy to push. The back wheels were big, like those on a jogging stroller, allowing for easier pushing and a comfortable ride -- important for the amount of ground you'll cover.

2. They were made of molded plastic - no padded fabric seats. It had a nylon cover that extended down the sides which helped to block the sun. Plastic and nylon is crucial when you encounter those afternoon Florida rainshowers. If the stroller gets wet, just wipe it dry. A cloth stroller would be soaked if you didn't remember to cover it.

3. It was equipped with a brake that you could operate easily with your foot.

4. Disney provides you will a big card on which to write your name and place in the plastic pouch on the back of the stroller. This helps you identify yours easily amid the sea of look-alikes.

5. There's even a cargo net on the back and, if memory serves me, a cup holder.

6. The stroller was shaped so your child's legs were out in front, not bent like when they sit in a regular stroller. I think this is a more comfortable position and a comfortable child is more likely to stay in the stroller.

FM#3 was in his chariot, we got maps and a showtime schedule, and headed directly for Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular only to find the first show didn't start until 11:30am. What do we do until then? If we go forth into the park to do other things, we get farther and farther away from Indy. Then to have to turn around and trek all the way back to the front? Ugh. But we had no choice.

Lesson #2: Show times will greatly influence your park routes.

I must pause here and say that something was developing. My crew had looked to me to tell them where to go next. I was unprepared. CB had ridiculed me about touring plans - which rides to ride and when. So I didn't plan.

Now everyone was looking to me. "Where do we go now?" they implored. Although I did not plan on being in charge, I took the bull (and the map) by the horns. Some would grow to regret this.

Onward! To Sounds Dangerous with Drew Carey. This attraction is almost completely in the dark. The Dark. Pitch Black. We were unsure as to how FM#3 would handle this, but with the sound coming from the headphones to hold his attention and the light from Daddy's cell phone, he did just fine. I think I might be a Foley Operator when I grow up.

Opposite Sounds Dangerous was a restaurant, the Backlot Express. The smell of food wafted across. This wasn't bacon and eggs I smelled. It was the grilled goodness of burgers. And people were already eating. I saw a couple of people slurping on huge ice cream cones. At 9:00am!

Already sweating, we headed to Star Tours. FM#2 was ultra-excited about this. He had been looking forward to the Star Wars ride ever since I told him about it. This kid is a Star Wars nut! He's watched all six episodes countless times and he is quite adept at using a light saber. Outside the ride was a full-size AT-AT which totally sent him into orbit.

 MawMaw kept FM#3 outside. In we went. Hardly any line. Both boys loved that it was just like Star Wars! Just like the inside of a Star Destroyer! Complete with droids. R2-D2 and C3PO! During the ride I looked at FM#2 who kept saying, "This is soooo cooool!" You could've peeled him off the ceiling.

Then he really got revved up in the gift shop. Moths to a flame. Courtesy of MawMaw, FM#3 got a Star Wars transformer, FM#2 got an X-wing big enough for his action figures, and FM#1 got a patch.

One of the perks of being a Disney resort guest is the ability to have your packages sent back to your hotel. So we wouldn't have to lug them around all day, we did just that. While checking out, we learned the gifts would not arrive at our hotel until after 4:30pm - the next day! It was too late to turn back. We had already filled out the paperwork on one of the gifts and the machine was in motion.

Somehow we pried all three boys out of the gift shop and posed for pictures on the speeder bike.

Lesson #3: Do not have packages sent back to your hotel. Eager children who are excited about the souvenirs they bought will want them as soon as they get back to the room. Even if it is midnight.

We explained this to the boys. We were especially worried about FM#2 as Star Wars is his thing. He understood. What a trooper. And now the anticipation would build for the next afternoon when he could get his X-wing!

I think at this point we wound our way back to Indiana Jones. Everyone else had the same idea because a Cast Member told us it was Standing Room Only. While we were deciding amongst ourselves whether to stay or not, she offered to put our names on a list for VIP seating at the 5:30pm show. We went with that.

"Where to now?" they asked. Back to the map. And more backtracking.

Follow me! Let's go, people! Move it! Move it! Did I hear someone complain about how fast I'm walking?
My executive decision was to see Muppet Vision 3-D. As we were waiting for everyone to take a bathroom break, we saw two Disney characters, a boy and girl, go skipping hand in hand through the crowd. They are what Disney calls "face characters" because their faces are exposed. However, since these characters are known in their animated form, it was hard to recognize them. FM#1 figured it out -- Kim Possible and Ron Stoppable.

As for Muppets 3-D, Disney has the BEST 3-D I've ever seen! FM#3 kept reaching out to grab the little bird character. "Gimme hug!"

Making our way to The Great Movie Ride we spied Scully from Monsters Inc. FM#1 & 2 thought this ride was "so cool". They especially liked that a gangster girl carjacked us. They still talk about it. It was pretty fun, I must say.

FM#3 liked it, too, except for the part of the ride that pays tribute to Alien. The alien falling out of fog from overhead scared the bejeepers out of him. Blood curdling scream!!!

If memory serves me correctly, we had to leave the park for lunch about this time. I scheduled lunch at the Whispering Canyon restaurant at Wilderness Lodge.

Again, I was called upon for my map skills. I got this covered.

April 1, 2008

In the name of all that rocks, let's hit it, dude!

It didn't take the kids any time at all to turn on the TV and find the cartoons. However, they discovered that, very wisely, Disney does not broadcast Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, or other competitors. It's all Disney, baby!

There was also a channel that broadcast this spunky girl going from park to park riding rides, having a rip roaring, good time at Disney World. It was on a continuous loop so it played over and over and over on the same channel.

I couldn't remember the name of it so I Googled it - Top Seven channel. Most of the comments were my sentiments exactly, like this one:

The Top Seven channel features a goofy woman named Stacy giving you a quickly moving tour of theme park highlights. I love love love Stacy. She is simultaneously fun, annoying, energetic, crazy, weird, wild, and completely compelling. I'm completely addicted and watch her at least a dozen times each trip.

Strangely enough, my boys were addicted, too! The Top Seven channel was their favorite. At first it was, "I'm going to ride that!" Then it became, "We rode that!" The older two would stand right in front of the television many a morning while getting ready and wait for their favorite parts. "Hey, Mom! Watch this! Remember that?" It was such fun to watch them and Stacy is annoyingly addictive.

I couldn't get the original video to work, but this is a 9 minute montage. Take a peek...

Triple Mountain Whammy. Wham! Wham! Wham!

Enough lounging, we soon decided to load everyone back in the car and go get MawMaw's Annual Pass. Friendly Cast Members told us MGM's Guest Relations would be the best choice since the parking lot is fairly close to the entrance.

Indeed. We parked only a few rows back. Didn't even need to take the tram.

By the time we got there it was dark. We could see spotlights casting beams into the sky. This was a sight we would see every night and look upon with delightful familiarity. I think because it meant something exciting was happening somewhere.

We got the Annual Pass and headed back to the car. The boys were so excited about the next day. Their anticipation was at a particularly elevated level since the next day we were scheduled for MGM! (A few months after we left, the name was changed to Disney's Hollywood Studios.)

Exiting the parking lot, we decided to hit the grocery store for a few necessities. The closest was Goodings just outside Disney property to the east. We drove past Downtown Disney, snaked through the non-Disney hotels on Hotel Plaza Boulevard, and exited Disney property crossing over Apopka-Vineland Road into the Crossroads shopping center.

Our grocery list consisted of milk, oj, soda, cheese, cereal, bread, eggs, and butter. You know, the basics. Due to their captive audience, the prices were steep, but you pay for convenience. We paid over $5 for a half gallon of orange juice and over $3 for store brand cereal. We were aghast at the prices, but CB didn't flinch.

Although fully stocked with food, we weren't particularly keen on cooking dinner back at OKW and since we were visibly road-weary, we weren't suitably dressed for a sit-down restaurant. After circling Crossroads' offerings we settled on Taco Bell. Our order totalled $17. I chuckled and announced in my airline pilot voice that this would be our cheapest meal the entire week!

The next day would be MGM! Since Rockin' Roller Coaster was closed during our visit, CB was focused on the Tower of Terror.

"I don't know if I'm going to ride that," said FM#1.

My sentiments exactly.