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...