Narrative Trip Report
following trip report for our December 2010 visit to Disney World was
originally posted on the Mouseplanet web site in
January 2011 and is available here in its original
Cast of Characters
- Arnold, 60 (trip reporter) -- 15 WDW trips since 1973 and 1 Disneyland trip in 1985
- Helena, 61 (wife) -- 14 WDW trips since 1982 and 2 Disneyland trips in 1972 and 1985
Prior Mouseplanet Trip Reports
Because my favorite rock and roll band, The Ventures, wasn't returning to Epcot for the 2010 Flower Power Concert series, we had decided not to be make a Spring visit to WDW this year. Instead, we would just return for our now-annual visit in December. But this would be a non-family visit by just Helena and I, because our daughter Selene, her husband John, and their daughter Jaidyn had made a family visit to WDW in May for one last use of annual passes (APs) we had given them last year. Complicating matters for Selene and family was also the fact that Jaidyn is now in kindergarten with a full-time class schedule and couldn't miss school to make it in early December, when we would be going.
I began planning this trip by calling DVC customer services on February 10 to reserve a one-bedroom villa at our home resort, Saratoga Springs Resort (SSR), for December 5 through 12. That way, we had some form of lodging locked in. But, at the 7-month mark in May, I put in a waitlist request for Animal Kingdom Villas (AKV) for the same dates. Happily, this waitlist request was confirmed for AKV's Kidani Village on June 10. This will be the first time, since we became DVC members in 2005, that we'll be staying at a DVC resort other than our SSR home.
On June 5, I saw a discussion thread on MousePad about a glitch in Disney's online dining reservation system that was allowing people to make Advance Dining Reservations (ADRs) a few days before the start of the 180-day window. I took advantage of this glitch and was able to make ADRs three days early for each of our planned days at WDW. Except for our check-in day, our ADRs are all for lunch around 1:30p.
The rest of the planning for our trip came together quickly in June. First, Selene's in-laws had invited Selene and us to join them for a week at their Wyndham timeshare in Nashville. This was scheduled for Thanksgiving week, and will be something different and exciting for all of us. But it also meant that Helena and I would be away from our island home for six weeks rather than our usual four-week December vacation.
The next order of business was to lock in our travel dates and airline reservations. I kept checking American Airlines' fares from St. Thomas to Miami and, on June 21, I saw the roundtrip fare drop to $368 per person, including taxes. That was actually $83 per person less than the fares we paid for travel in December 2009! Of course, there will be additional baggage fees when we check in, but those fees were in effect last year also.
Next was to reserve a rental car for our time on the mainland. In discussions with Selene, we had all decided that the side trip to Nashville during Thanksgiving week would be too expensive to go by air, so we would instead rent a minivan and make it a road trip between Port St. Lucie and Nashville. John and I will share the driving duties. Once we get back to Florida, Helena and I will return the minivan and get a sedan for the rest of our vacation time in Florida. I made those reservations with Hertz on June 22.
That same day, I also locked in some other timeshare reservations using RCI exchanges through a Bluegreen Vacation Club timeshare that we also have. First, we got a reservation at the Sheraton Vistana Resort in Orlando for a non-Disney week from November 28 to December 5. We plan to visit the Kennedy Space Center during that week and also see some of the other sights around the Orlando area, including Helena's "must see" -- the Florida Mall. After our week (December 5 to 12) at Animal Kingdom Villas, we'll be heading south for a week in the Deerfield Beach/Boca Raton area for our annual medical checkups and a visit with my sister. For that week, we'll be staying at Bluegreen's Gulfstream Manor resort in Delray Beach. Then, the last two weeks of December through New Year's Day, we'll be staying with Selene and family at their home in Port St. Lucie. We'll be flying back home to the islands on January 2, 2011.
The last bit of planning was to purchase new APs for Helena and I, taking advantage of the $100 per ticket DVC discount. I did this on July 26, after reading on MousePad that a WDW ticket price increase was expected to go into effect on August 1. The total cost for the two APs, including tax, was $829. I received the AP coupons in the mail a few days later. On our check-in day at AKV, we'll go to one of the parks and pick up the actual APs and also purchase a Tables in Wonderland (TiW) discount card.
All that was left to do now was to wait for our St. Thomas to Miami travel date to arrive. Here's what our final itinerary looked like.
- Sun 11/21: AA Flight from St. Thomas to Miami, Drive to Port St. Lucie
- Mon 11/22 to Sat 11/27: Drive to Nashville, Wyndham Nashville Timeshare with Selene & Family
- Sun 11/28 to Sat 12/4: Drive to Orlando, Sheraton Vistana Timeshare, Orlando Sightseeing
- Sun 12/5: Animal Kingdom Villas Check-In, Dinner ADR at Jiko's
- Mon 12/6: Epcot, Lunch ADR at Le Cellier
- Tue 12/7: Animal Kingdom, Lunch ADR at Yak & Yeti
- Wed 12/8: Magic Kingdom, Lunch ADR at Liberty Tree Tavern
- Thu 12/9: Hollywood Studios, Lunch ADR at Hollywood Brown Derby
- Fri 12/10: Epcot, Lunch ADR at Teppan Edo
- Sat 12/11: Magic Kingdom, Lunch ADR at Tony's Town Square
- Sun 12/12: Animal Kingdom Villas Check-Out, Downtown Disney, Lunch ADR at T-Rex
- Mon 12/13 to Fri 12/17: Drive to Delray Beach, Gulfstream Manor Timeshare, Medical Appointments
- Sat 12/18 to Sat 01/01: Drive to Port St. Lucie, Christmas Holidays with Selene & Family
- Sun 01/02: Drive to Miami, AA Flight to St. Thomas
I picked the specific days we'd be going to each Disney theme park so as to avoid being at the parks that have Extra Magic Hours (EMH) or Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party (MVMCP). We don't expect to be at the parks before their normal 9:00a opening times on morning EMH days nor stay extra late on evening EMH days. We also didn't plan to participate in the MVMCP events this year. Hopefully we'll be avoiding the larger crowds at the parks by following this strategy.
One concern that I do have about this upcoming trip is that we're going to be at WDW the same week as the Pop Warner Championships. Back in February, when I was deciding on the dates for our visit, I had checked the Pop Warner website to see when their championship games were going to take place. They were originally scheduled for the week beginning December 12, so I chose the week beginning December 5 for our stay. Unfortunately, sometime after our DVC reservation had been locked in, Pop Warner moved their championships back a week to now coincide with our schedule. I just hope the majority of the participants will be tied up with the games and won't be flooding into the parks while we're there!
What Actually Happened
Sunday, November 21
The Plan: AA Flight from St. Thomas to Miami, Drive to Port St. Lucie
The day before our travel day was pretty hectic, as we had some last-minute chores to take care of. To make things even worse, my 16-year old Ford Escort decided to die on me that afternoon. Getting it repaired is something we're going to have to deal with when we get home. :-(
We finished up our packing and finally went to bed around 1:00a and were up to the alarm at 5:00a. We ate a very light breakfast, got dressed, and waited for my brother to pick us up in his car at 6:00a. We were at the St. Thomas airport by 6:30a to find a couple dozen people already at the American Airlines check-in line. Because I had done online check-in the night before, we already had our boarding passes, but we still had to check our two suitcases. This is normally a quick process using the self-service kiosks, but today they weren't working properly. So, it took a good half hour to go through the line and have the bags checked manually. The baggage fee was $25 per bag, for a total of $50.
The security check was a breeze, and we were soon relaxing at our gate, waiting for boarding time. We boarded without incident and the plane left the gate right on time at 9:00a. The flight was completely smooth and actually seemed to go by quickly, as Helena and I read our books (Helena on her new Kindle). After landing, we had another pleasant surprise in that the Miami airport had added a monorail to the main terminal since our last trip to Florida, which greatly reduced the distance we had to walk with our backpacks. After getting our two checked bags off the luggage carousel, we headed outside to catch the rental car shuttle, only to be surprised by another change at Miami airport ... all rental car agencies are now located in a central facility just outside the main terminal. After a short ride, we were at the Hertz area, only to find a rather long queue line. After about a 15 minute wait, we were finally at the desk. We were assigned a Chrysler Town & Country minivan, which we picked up on a lower level of the facility. It was equipped with the NeverLost GPS ("Hi, Sarah! Remember us?") and Sirius satellite radio (which we didn't request and for which we didn't have to pay extra).
We were soon on I-95 headed north to Port St. Lucie. There was a light sprinkle of rain on the way, but at least the Sunday afternoon traffic wasn't too heavy. We made a short stop in Deerfield Beach for a quick lunch at Burger King, and then hit the road again for the rest of the 2-hour drive to Selene's home. It was nice seeing Selene, John, and Jaidyn again. Jaidyn has really grown up, and is much more articulate in her conversations. We were also impressed by her ability to read quite a few words ... "sight words" as they're called in kindergarten. We also enjoyed visiting with Selene's cats, ol' miss Delilah and newcomer "T.C." (the name given to him by Jaidyn). Little T.C. is a really cute and rambunctious grey tabby kitten who has a genetic variation with 6 toes/claws on each front paw. I think this characteristic makes him part of the "Hemingway" breed. We also enjoyed a hearty dinner prepared by Selene, and just visiting.
Monday, November 22 to Saturday, November 27
The Plan: Drive to Nashville, Wyndham Nashville Timeshare with Selene & Family
Monday, Nov 22: By the time Helena and I got up in the morning, Jaidyn was already at school. After breakfast, we headed out to buy a few toiletry and breakfast items we'd need on our road trip and stay in Nashville. Selene and John helped us pack up the minivan with the luggage and food items, and then we waited until Jaidyn got home from kindergarten. By the time she had freshened up and gotten ready, we were on the road by around 5:00p.
We headed out to the Florida Turnpike, with me taking the first shift at the wheel. Nashville, TN was about 720 miles away. The first leg to Orlando went by completely trouble-free. We made a slight detour to the Orlando Airport so that we could add John as an additional driver on the Hertz rental agreement. (Unfortunately, the late hour of the day meant that there weren't any Hertz offices open closer to Port St. Lucie.) The whole detour took about a half hour, and we were again on the road. I ended up doing a 4-hour stint and then we stopped somewhere in northern Florida for gas, a rest stop, and to switch drivers. John also drove for about 4 hours before our next stop somewhere further north, now in Georgia. I took the next shift and drove for about 2 hours, including through the heart of Atlanta on I-75. John then finished off the marathon drive with a 3-hour stint at the wheel, which included a scary section of winding mountain roads in Tennessee jostling with a bunch of big rig trucks that seemed to be racing each other, and then a driving downpour of rain through the heart of Nashville.
Tuesday, Nov. 23: We finally arrived at the Wyndham Nashville Resort around 6:30a, picked up the key for our 2-bedroom suite from John's mother (who had arrived in Nashville on Sunday), and unloaded the minivan. We then drove a short distance to a nearby Bob Evans for breakfast (Jaidyn ate all her chocolate chip pancakes plus one of Selene's french toast slices!), and then headed back to the Wyndham to sleep most of the rest of the day. In the afternoon, we met up with John's mother, stepfather, and brother for dinner at Rafferty's, followed by an in-room celebration of John's brother's birthday, which also included an early exchange of Christmas gifts. Later in the evening, we drove to the nearby Gaylord Opryland Resort to see the elaborate and beautiful outdoor Christmas decorations. (Their "Ice" show wasn't opened yet for the season.)
Wednesday, Nov. 24: We had breakfast in our room and then headed out to the downtown area to look around. We first stopped at the Adventure Science Center, a science museum filled with hands-on displays geared toward children. Jaidyn had a great time going around and trying everything out. We later had lunch at the Nashville Hard Rock Café and, in the evening, went to see an NHL hockey game between the Nashville Predators and the St. Louis Blues. The Blues won 2-to-1 in an exciting double overtime, sudden death shootout.
Thursday, Nov. 25: We slept in late on Thanksgiving Day, and basically had a quiet day with John's family that included a great traditional family-style turkey dinner at Buca di Beppo, a popular Italian restaurant about 20 miles outside of Nashville.
Friday, Nov. 26: Helena was a bit under the weather after picking up a mild stomach virus. So Selene, John, Jaidyn, and I went ahead to the downtown area to visit Centennial Park and the magnificent full-sized replica of the Greek Parthenon that sits prominently in the middle of the park. The structure was originally constructed of wood and brick in 1897, and was completely reconstructed of more permanent materials in 1921 through 1931. After touring the park, we had a quick lunch at a local restaurant called Alexander's, and later spent a couple hours touring the Country Music Hall of Fame. The exhibits here were very interesting, and I personally enjoyed seeing the displays for some of the country music artists that I have in my music collection. Helena and John's parents and brother joined us for dinner at an Asian restaurant called Susie Wong's House of Yum. After dinner, we headed over to the Ryman Theater for a great musical review of the Grand Ole Opry. Among the performers was the granddaughter of country music legend Hank Williams. Unfortunately, we had missed Carrie Underwood by a week.
Saturday, Nov 27: John and Jaidyn went out after breakfast to check out some of the businesses near our Wyndham resort, braving the 40 degree cold weather that had set in. One of their stops was a local hangout called Cooter's, after the character of that name from the old Dukes of Hazzard TV show. John was fascinated by this place and would call out "Cooter's" each and every time we drove by. Later in the day, we all went to a local Applebee's for lunch before packing up the minivan, wishing thanks and farewell to John's parents and brother, and then heading out on the road around 4:30p. John took the first 4-hour driving shift, followed by me driving for the next 4 hours, and John again for a couple hours. When it was my second turn at the wheel, we were in southern Georgia, and passed Valdosta and into Florida. By this time, the tiredness was getting to me and I let the right side tires of the minivan slip onto the shoulder of the road. That woke everyone up and was a sure sign that it was time for John to take over the driving. Helen says that I fell asleep in the front passenger seat shortly after John started back on the road.
Sunday, Nov 28: John finished up the last leg down the Florida Turnpike and into Port St. Lucie. We arrived at Selene's home just around 6:30a. After unloading the minivan, we all had a light breakfast and then hit the sack to catch up on our sleep. Helena and I slept until around 1:30p and then prepared to head back on the road for our stay in Orlando.
Sunday, November 28 to Saturday, December 4
The Plan: Drive to Orlando, Sheraton Vistana Timeshare, Orlando Sightseeing
Sunday, Nov. 28 (continued): Before getting on the Florida Turnpike, Helena and I stopped at Burger King for a quick lunch, and then headed north. The drive was completely uneventful, and we arrived in Orlando around 4:00p. We easily found the Sheraton Vistana Resort, which is located a very short distance from the Hotel Plaza Boulevard and Downtown Disney. We quickly checked in, but got sidetracked with being required to sign-up for a timeshare presentation later in the week. With that out of the way, we drove to our building, unloaded the minivan, and headed to our room ... only to find that it had not been cleaned up after the previous guests had left. So, we had to take everything back down to the minivan and drive back to the check-in building to have a new room assigned. The clerk apologized profusely and added a $50 credit to our account for the inconvenience. Then it was back to the same building, but a different room. This time it was all neat and clean. By this time, it was 5:30p, and we had been scheduled to exchange our Hertz minivan for a sedan at the Orlando airport several hours ago. So, we headed right out to the airport and took care of the exchange, getting a Mitsubishi Gallant with the NeverLost GPS. Finally getting back to the Vistana around 7:00p, we unpacked our suitcases, showered, and went straight to bed. It had been a frustrating afternoon.
Monday, Nov. 29: We slept in until 11:00a and then dressed and headed out to a nearby Denny's for a hearty breakfast. On the way back to the Vistana, we stopped at a Walgreens and the Goodings at the Crossroads Plaza to pick up some breakfast and toiletry items that we needed. Then it was back to our room to just relax for a while. By this time, Helena and I were nursing head colds that we had picked up while we were in Nashville. The sniffles and scratchy throats just don't seem to want to go away! Later in the evening, we head out to an Olive Garden for a nice, relaxing dinner.
Tuesday, Nov. 30: We got up at 8:30a, ate breakfast in our room, and reluctantly headed out for our scheduled (and dreaded) timeshare presentation. The main Sheraton representative was a young man who was a disabled veteran (injured during a deployment in Somalia). He showed us around the new Vistana Village complex on International Drive (just across the street from our own Bluegreen Vacation Club's Fountains Resort) and explained the benefits of the Sheraton/Starwood timeshare program. He handed us off to another rep who gave us some financial figures, but at least didn't try to give us any hard sell. We explained that we already had two timeshare interests and didn't need and couldn't afford a third one. End of discussion. It still was two hours we'll never get back, but at least it wasn't the like the horrible high-pressure sales pitch we had gotten from the timeshare sales team at the Vacation Village property we had stayed at in Weston, FL (southwest outskirts of Ft. Lauderdale) last December. Today, we were given $50 by the Sheraton sales team for our time and headed back to our room, where we relaxed for a while watching great old films on the Turner Classics Movies channel until later in the afternoon. We went to a TGI Fridays at the Crossroads Plaza for dinner. A cold front was forecast to pass through Florida during the night, bringing highs in the 60s and lows in the 40s for the next few days. Today's high was in the 80s.
Wednesday, Dec. 1: We were up by 9:00a and, after an in-room breakfast, headed out to Helena's favorite amusement park in all of Orlando ... the Florida Mall. :-) We made the rounds of the entire mall, but only made purchases at J.C. Penney. We had lunch at a Ruby Tuesday in the mall, and later in the day had dessert at Cold Stone Creamery before heading back to the Vistana. Today was a "tidy" day at the resort, so we got back to fresh towels and emptied trash. The high temp today was around 65 degrees.
Thursday, Dec. 2: We were originally planning to go to the Kennedy Space Center today, but Helena had a bad night with nasal congestion and didn't get much sleep. So, we just relaxed in our room most of the day. We did head out to a nearby post office to mail home some important documents for Helena's family business and, later in the afternoon, went to a Black Angus Steakhouse for dinner.
Friday, Dec. 3: It was another tough night with our colds, and we ended up sleeping ‘til almost noon. After we finally got up and had breakfast, we went to a Super Target on US-192 to pick up a few things and then back to the Vistana. We later went out for dinner at Chili's. Hopefully we'll be feeling well enough tomorrow to actually get out to the Kennedy Space Center.
Saturday, Dec. 4: We and the weather were ready for a short road trip to the Kennedy Space Center today. We left the Vistana around 8:30a and were at KSC within an hour, but boy do they get you with those highway tolls coming and going! Overall, we had a great day at KSC, taking in the standard bus tour, checking out all of the historic displays, catching an IMAX 3D movie about the Hubble Space Telescope, and (only me) riding the Shuttle Launch Experience. We were back at the resort by 5:00p and shortly afterwards visited the nearby Olive Garden again for a fine dinner. Back at the Vistana, we started packing, including washing a couple last loads of laundry, for our move over to AKV tomorrow.
Sunday, December 5
The Plan: Animal Kingdom Villas Check-In, Dinner ADR at Jiko's
We were up by 7:00a, had breakfast in our room, and checked out of the Vistana by 9:30a. We stopped at a 7-Eleven to top off the gas tank in the rental car and then got on the Osceola Parkway headed to AKV. We (with help from "Sarah") found Kidani Village without any problem and went in to check-in although it was not yet even 11:00a. Cast member (CM) Ryan gave us our Keys to the Magic cards and check-in package within a few minutes and took our cell phone number to send us a text message when our room was ready. We moved the car from the temporary parking to the long-term parking lot, locked it up, and walked back to the Kidani Village bus stop area. We had decided to visit the Animal Kingdom park (not originally on our plan for today), and the bus was along within 10 minutes. We first stopped at Jambo House for another pickup stop before heading out to Animal Kingdom.
We arrived at the park within 15 minutes, and were through the security check in a breeze. Next it was to visit the "will call" booth to pick up our annual passes (which I had pre-purchased way back in July). This took about 10 minutes, followed by a good 15 minutes to get through the turnstiles!!! We had picked the only one without a long line, and that was a big mistake. The family ahead of us had no clue how to insert their tickets and scan their fingers, on top of which, there was a language barrier. But by now, us switching to a different line really wasn't an option, so we had to just wait it out as the line grew longer behind us. Talk about frustrating!!!
Once we were through the turnstiles, we headed through the Oasis and stopped on the bridge for a few Photopass pictures with the Tree of Life in the background. It was now almost 11:45a, so we headed over to Camp Minnie-Mickey to catch the noon showing of Festival of the Lion King. We were in the elephant section (a first for us, I think), and thoroughly enjoyed the show. I know I've said this before, but I think this is my all-time favorite live show at Walt Disney World. We did notice that many of the actors were new faces, especially the four main actors who introduce the show to the audience ... maybe just a different shift of CMs. After the show, we stopped at a snack shack near where the Pocahontas show theater used to be and got a couple of hot dogs and drinks, cost $15.
We then headed over to Africa, where the standby time for the Kilimanjaro Safari was posted as 20 minutes. We got in the line and were actually on our safari vehicle in about 10 minutes. This turned out to be one of the most interesting safaris we've ever experienced, with many animals out and about. We were even stopped on the road by two Ankole cows who decided they weren't in a hurry to get out of the way. It so happened, that there were also several giraffes at the same location, so that was cool. Later, we had an ostrich decide to charge our truck, but it didn't get too close.
After the safari, we went on the Pangani Forest Trail, where we had fun watching the gorillas. This included the family unit by the viewing area, which included the male, female, and a baby. There was a large crowd watching there, and we stopped for a while before moving on to where a large silverback was sitting and just watching us as we humans watched him. I wonder what he thinks of all of the gorilla gazers?
On our way over to Asia, we spotted DeVine, and watched her for a while before moving on to the Maharajah Jungle Trek. Unfortunately, only one female tiger was out, pacing back and forth. The CM in this area told us that the other tigers were in their underground enclosure and that she was waiting for this female to join them before letting them all come out. (I'm not sure what that was all about, but anyway ...) The CM said that the female who was pacing had once been frightened by a snake in the enclosure and since then has been hesitant to enter it.
By now, it was around 2:30p, and the 3:00p showing of the Flights of Wonder would soon be starting. So, we got in line for what was a fun show. The actor who plays the bird-phobic tour guide was one we had seen before. I especially enjoyed the green parrot who sang "How Much Is That Doggie in the Window" and "Yankee Doodle Dandy." Of course, seeing the bald eagle at the end is always a treat.
When the show was over, we started heading towards the exit. People were already lined up for the 3:45p parade, but we decided to skip it today, because we were tired and knew we would be returning to Animal Kingdom later in the week. As we were exiting the park, a CM stopped us to ask if we'd be willing to fill out a survey about our visit to the park. She took my email address and said that we'd receive an email with a link to the survey in a week or two. By the way, did I mention that a cold front had passed through Florida the night before and that the high temp was only 65 today?
Thankfully, the AKV bus arrived within 10 minutes of our getting to the bus stop, and we were soon at the Kidani Village check-in desk. Although it was now after 4:00p, we had not yet received a text message telling us that our room was ready. The CM at the desk checked with housekeeping and was told that, in fact, the room was NOT ready yet. He was at least able to find us another room that was ready. This was room 7619, on the same floor as the Kidani lobby. After getting that squared away, we moved our rental car to the underground parking garage near an elevator and made two trips to bring everything up to our room.
We were impressed with the theming of the room, but did find everything to be quite dark, certainly much darker than the rooms at the Saratoga Springs Resort. The room we were assigned turned out to be a handicap accessible room, with a zero-entry shower with a wall-mounted bench inside. It took a while, but we finally got everything unpacked and put away. Not to sound negative, but we did find that the drawers and closet areas in this room were very limited, resulting in us having to leave a few things in our suitcases.
It was already 5:00p when we realized that I had misread the time of our dinner ADR at Jiko. I thought it was at 5:50p when, in fact, it was for 5:20p. We rushed to get ready and out to catch the bus over to Jambo House, arriving about 15 minutes late. Even so, we were seated within a few minutes. We had a great welcoming dinner. We both had the filet mignon with fingerling potatoes and fresh green beans, with Helena also having a BLT salad and I a Jiko Salad. Desserts were a chocolate mousse for Helena and the creme brulee for me. I know that Jiko is an upscale restaurant, but I had sticker shock. At $167, including 20% gratuity, this was the most I have ever paid for a meal for Helena and I. And remember, we're not alcohol drinkers. All we had to drink was iced tea! But I must admit that the food was very good, and the service from Oscar was outstanding.
After catching the bus back to Kidani Village, we finished unpacking a few items and Helena got ready for bed while I downloaded the day's photos and typed up a few trip report notes to jog my mind for later. We were both in bed by midnight.
Monday, December 6
The Plan: Epcot, Lunch ADR at Le Cellier
We awoke to the alarm at 6:00a, but stayed in bed an extra 1/2-hour to catch the news and weather. It was actually going to be even colder today (high 50s) than it was yesterday! We dressed accordingly, with longjohns and lined leather jacks on. Even so, the short walk to the bus stop and the 15-minute wait for the Epcot bus were very uncomfortable. How can people be walking around in shorts with temperatures like this?
We arrived at Epcot right at 9:00a. and Helena had problems with the finger scan today. Once through the turnstiles, we made a beeline over to the Land pavilion to get Faspasses for Soarin'. The crowd ahead of us was overwhelming but, luckily, most of them bypassed the Fastpass (FP) distribution and went directly to the standby line. We got FPs with a return time of 10:09a. From there we went over to the Imagination pavilion and took in Captain EO with about a dozen other people. We had first seen this 3D production when it first appeared back in the 80s, and it shows its age. But even so, it was nice to see again after all that time. Does anyone else think that the galactic ruler and her minions look a lot like Star Trek's Borg and Borg Queen? I wonder which came first?
We took a few minutes to take some pictures of the leaping fountain and the other waterworks near this pavilion before heading back over to the Land. We first took a leisurely boat ride on Living with the Land and then got in line for our FP ride on Soarin'. We were in the top row and a little right of center, so the view was great. I actually was able to get a few reasonably clear photos of scenes from the film. After coming out of Soarin' we stopped at the food court for a couple bottles of orange juice, and then went over to the Seas with Nemo and Friends. After the little ride, we were planning to take in the Turtle Talk with Crush show, but skipped it when we saw the crowd waiting to get in. We did stop for a few minutes to watch an exhibit of the diver in the lockout chamber.
We then went across to the other side of Future World, where I did a quick trip on Test Track using the single rider line, followed by a flight to Mars on Mission: Space in the green section. Those two trips actually took less than a 1/2-hour all together. Helena doesn't ride either of these, so she waited for me on a bench reading on her Kindle. We still had some time before our 1:20p ADR at Le Cellier, so we next took in Ellen's Energy Adventure. That was a nice relaxing time in the warmth of the Energy pavilion.
We took a leisurely walk over to Canada and checked in at Le Cellier, where we had about a 15-minute wait. We were finally seated in the New Brunswick section, where Jackie took good care of us. Helena and I both ordered the Canadian cheese and steak sandwich, and I also had a mixed greens salad and a maple creme brulee. The sandwiches were huge, and neither of us could finish them. We usually go for the filet mignon at Le Cellier, but after the ones at Jiko the night before, thought better of it today. Including a 20% gratuity, lunch was $64.
From Canada, we headed over to Mouse Gear, stopping on the way to listen to the Christmas music by the Joyful! gospel singers. At Mouse Gear, we picked up a few little items for Jaidyn (our granddaughter), a photo album for me, and a visor and a bag of licorice jellybeans for Helena: total cost $72.
We were feeling tired from the Nashville colds that we were still nursing, so we decided to call it a day. We covered most of Future World, and would be returning to Epcot later in the week to do World Showcase. Our last stop on the way out was at Spaceship Earth, where we selected "health" as the topic for our personalized cartoon at the end of the ride. We exited Epcot around 3:15p and got to the bus stop just as the AKV bus was arriving. Talk about perfect timing!
We were back at AKV by 4:00p and stopped in the gift shop to pick up a couple 1-liter bottles of water. The rest of the afternoon and evening, we just relaxed, watched some TV, and I took time to write up yesterday's and today's trip report notes. Since we covered most of the Animal Kingdom park yesterday, for tomorrow we plan to sleep in a bit and not revisit Animal Kingdom until around 10:00a. The main goals are to catch the Nemo: The Musical show and Mickey's Jingle Jungle parade. We'll also have lunch at Yak & Yeti and probably also try to do the Kilimanjaro Safari again.
Tuesday, December 7
The Plan: Animal Kingdom, Lunch ADR at Yak & Yeti
In a word, today was COLD!!! We got up at 8:00a, ate breakfast, and decided to go back to bed for a few more hours before heading out to Animal Kingdom. According to the TV news, the current temp was only 31 degrees with the wind chill making it feel like 29! We figured we'd let it warm up a few degrees before going outdoors. Even so, we were all bundled up in longjohns, lined hoodie windbreakers, and leather jackets on top. It was still cold.
We caught the Animal Kingdom bus around 12:20p, after a 15 minute wait, when two buses showed up at the same time. Entering the park was a breeze today and, overall, the park was less crowded than it was on Sunday. We headed directly to Asia and checked in at Yak and Yeti. Although our ADR was for 1:30p, they seated us by 1:10p. We always enjoy eating here, and today Helena had the honey chicken with jasmine rice, and I had the sweet & sour chicken with brown rice. We tasted each other's and both were good, although the honey chicken was drier (less sauce on the chicken). Our server, David, took good care of us, and recommended the wontons with pineapple and ice cream, a serving of which we shared. The total cost was $63, including 20% gratuity.
By the time we exited the Yak &Yeti, is was almost 2:30p, and we made our way slowly through Asia, past Expedition Everest, and over to DinoLand for the 3:15p showing of Finding Nemo: The Musical. There wasn't anyone in line yet, so we just sat on a bench and relaxed until it was closer to showtime. We were let into the theater about 15 minutes before the show was scheduled to start, and scored great seats in the lower section on the left side of the stage. Most of the main characters were performed by actors that we recognized, except Nemo, who was someone we hadn't seen before. This is another great musical production by Disney and, as always, we enjoyed it immensely.
After the show, we continued walking through DinoLand, hoping we weren't too late to catch Mickey's Jingle Jungle Parade. As it turned out, we were right on time, and caught the parade right in front of the entrance to It's Tough to Be a Bug. We were several people deep, but still had a good enough view. After the parade, we followed other visitors who went in to the Bugs movie. We were let into the theater for the show within 5 minutes of arriving at the staging area. Flik and friends entertained as usual.
By now, it was about 4:40p and we headed to the exit and the AKV bus stop, only to find a huge line of people already there waiting for the bus. Luckily, within 10 minutes two buses arrived, and we got on to the second one for the short ride over to AKV. We had wanted to stop by the gift shop to pick up some breakfast items, but for some reason it was closed, even though the sign said that they're open until 11:00p. Well, we'll just have to pick up those items tomorrow. We headed to our room, where Helena put a couple loads of laundry to wash and I downloaded the day's photos, checked email and Facebook, and wrote up the trip notes. After watching a little bit of TV, we hit the sack by 10:00p. Tomorrow's going to be an early day, with the Magic Kingdom on tap. It's also supposed to be even colder than today, with the morning low reaching just 30 degrees! Really not looking forward to that. Are we really in Florida?
Wednesday, December 8
The Plan: Magic Kingdom, Lunch ADR at Liberty Tree Tavern
We awoke at 6:00a but stayed in bed an extra 1/2-hour watching the TV news and weather. We then dressed and ate breakfast, and were out the door to the bus stop by 8:00a. Today we had about a 15-minute wait for the Magic Kingdom bus, and two scooters needed to be loaded before we could board. We arrived at the Magic Kingdom about 8:45a and went through security and the turnstiles. Today, I had problems with the finger scan, and I'm beginning to wonder if the cold weather is at fault.
The opening ceremony started about 10 minutes after we arrived, and we followed the crowd through the tunnel under the railroad station. Once on Main Street USA, it was like being home again. We took a few minutes to take some pictures of the Christmas tree and some of the Main Street vehicles that were in that area, then headed over to Main Street itself. We stopped for some PhotoPass pictures, and continued up towards Cinderella Castle. We stopped at the Partners statue for some more PhotoPass shots, then headed over to Adventureland.
One of the CMs was just under the sign on the bridge leading to Adventureland, dancing to the African music that was playing and waving to incoming guests with a big white Mickey glove. By 9:20a we were the very first guests in line to board the Jungle Cruise. Within a few more minutes, the boat was filled, and we headed out on our "2-week cruise." Some 15 minutes later, we were riding another boat, this time through Pirates of the Caribbean. We next headed over to Frontierland, which was a virtual ghost town, with hardly anyone in sight. We stopped at Splash Mountain, and I took yet another boat ride, this time to Brer Rabbit's laughing place. Helena waited for me near the exit. I was in the second row of the log and just got a few sprinkles on the big splashdown. I also was able to get a pretty decent photo right at the top of the big hill as we started the descent. Cinderella Castle and Space Mountain are clearly visible in the shot. Big Thunder Mountain had almost no line, but I didn't ride because I'm just not a roller coaster lover.
We stopped at Pecos Bill's for a couple orange juices, then went over to see the Country Bear Jamboree. (I still very much miss the Christmas version!) From there, we went to the Hall of Presidents just in time to catch the 11:10a show. The theater was barely half-filled, and we sat at center stage in the third row of seats. This is the closest to the stage that we've ever sat, and this gave us the opportunity to more clearly see all of the minute movements being made by the "presidents" throughout the show. For example, as each past president was introduced, President Obama would turn left or right to look in their direction.
When we exited the Hall of Presidents, the Main Street Orchestra was playing nearby, and we stopped to listen to them until they ended their show. We next went over to the Haunted Mansion, for another walk-on. When we were close to the boarding area, the ride stopped for a few moments and a family of four who were in front of us continued behind a yellow line and boarded the next two Doom Buggies that would have come up to the boarding area. The CM scolded them for crossing the yellow line and made them come back to the queue area until the vehicles started moving again. Other than that incident, this was another fun ride through the mansion.
We continued around and into Fantasyland, where we rode "it's a small world." The entry and exit ramps for this ride have been reversed from what they were before. I'm not sure why this change was made, but it didn't really impact us at all. Peter Pan had a huge line, so we passed on riding there and instead went to see Mickey's Philharmagic. Up to this point (around 12:45p), the Magic Kingdom was very empty and every single attraction was a complete walk-on. But we could tell that the crowd was now beginning to build.
We had a 1:30p ADR for Liberty Tree Tavern, but decided to go ahead and check-in early at about 1:00p. We were summoned to our table within 10 minutes and had a nice colonial-style meal that consisted of the traditional turkey feast for Helena and the pot roast for me. Helena had the apple pie with ice cream for dessert and I had the toffee gooey cake (delicious!). The cost for lunch was $73, including a 20% gratuity for our server, Christine, who was totally delightful and right on the ball.
By the time we were finished lunch, it was after 2:00p, and we were getting tired although we wanted to see the Main Street Electrical Parade and Wishes this evening. So, we decided to head back to AKV for a few hours rest. We headed down Main Street and exited the park around 2:35p. A bus arrived within 10 minutes. We just relaxed in our room at AKV and later took the bus back to the Magic Kingdom, arriving at just about 5:30p. We stayed in the hub area in front of the Exposition Hall (which was undergoing renovation) and waited the 90 minutes for the 7:00p showing of the Electrical Parade.
We completely enjoyed the parade, which we haven't seen since December 1989 at Walt Disney World. It was so wonderful hearing that special music again and seeing those classic floats, including the patriotic finale float with the flag and bald eagle. I also love SpectroMagic, but seeing the Electrical Parade again was really special. After the parade ended, Helena and I staked out some standing room next to the Christmas tree to have a vantage point down Main Street to Cinderella Castle for Wishes. Doing this would put us closer to the exit once the fireworks were finished. We were really beat by this time but, even so, Wishes was just as spectacular as ever.
When we arrived at the bus stop after exiting the Magic Kingdom, we encountered a huge line of people waiting to board a bus that was already there. There was no way we would all fit on that bus, but luckily, a second arrived within a few minutes. We got on this second bus, but had to stand for the 25-minute ride back to AKV. Once back in our room, I downloaded the day's photos and jotted down some notes for the trip report. But I left the detailed writeup for tomorrow. Lights were out by 11:30p.
Thursday, December 9
The Plan: Hollywood Studios, Lunch ADR at Hollywood & Vine
Today was another 6:00a wake-up, but we hit the snooze button and slept in until 7:00a before getting up for breakfast and to get dressed. Even so, we arrived at the bus stop by 8:30a and got to the Hollywood Studios by 9:05a. Today neither Helena or I had a problem with the finger scan at the turnstiles, and we were soon on Hollywood Boulevard getting PhotoPass pictures taken. Our first stop was at Toy Story Mania, but it already had a 70-minute standby wait and the FP line was all the way up to the building for the Voyage of the Little Mermaid.
Instead, we ducked into One Man's Dream and took some time looking at the updated exhibits. We didn't stay for the film at the end because we had just missed the first showing and it would be 15 minutes until the next one. We went back to Toy Story Mania, where the FP line was almost non-existent, and got FPs for 1:55p. We then headed over to see the Little Mermaid show, which was just about to begin. We sat near center stage in the third row back, and enjoyed the musical show, as we always do.
Next, we went to the Magic of Disney Animation building for the little show with Mushu and to view some of the new exhibits, which included concept art for "Tangled" and a gallery of art from "Snow White." We also saw Lotso Huggin'Bear, but didn't stop for a meet-and-greet.
We were next going to head over to the Great Movie Ride, but stopped for a while to watch a showing of Disney Channel Rocks, which was already in progress. By now, it was around 11:00a, and we made our way into the Grauman's Chinese Theater for the Great Movie Ride. This was the most crowded that I've seen this attraction in a long time but, even so, we didn't have a very long wait before boarding our ride tram. There were a couple times when the tram stopped for a few moments, but that didn't impact our enjoyment of the ride in any way. We had a female gangster take over our ride vehicle.
After the movies, we headed over to the American Idol Experience for the 12:00p show. When we first arrived, there were barely a dozen people in the pre-show area, but little by little the crowd grew. Unfortunately, though, when the theater doors opened, we were way down in front with everyone behind us, and we ended up at the far left end of the fourth row back. This meant that we didn't have a good "head-on" view of the show. Even so, the show was enjoyable, and the three singers, a young man and two teenage girls, were all very good. The third singer, named Katrina, won the audience vote.
The Idol show lasted about a 1/2-hour, and we next headed over to the Streets of America to take in the Muppet*Vision 3D movie. I remember reading on MousePlanet or MousePad that the film had been remastered (possibly digitally?), and I could tell that the image being shown on the screen was prestine and bright. When we exited the Muppet theater, Lightning McQueen and Tow Mater from "Cars" were out for meet-and-greets, so we stopped by for a minute to get closeup pictures of both. Again, however, we didn't stay for pictures with the two character cars.
By now, it was 1:10p and we had a 1:40p lunch ADR at the Brown Derby. We went over to check in, and had to wait about 15 minutes before being called to a table. Even so, we got in before our ADR time. Raul was our server, and he was very attentive throughout. Helena and I shared a baby greens salad, each had the 6 ounce filet of beef, and shared a "Chocolate Three Ways" dessert. The filets were quite expensive, and the cost, including 20% gratuity, totaled $123.
After lunch, we headed over to Toy Story Mania to use our FP. We both enjoyed the ride, but I ended up beating Helena with a score of 118,600 to her 95,100 – and I have a photo of the score screen to prove it! I beat her last December too, so I think I can blame my frequent losses to Helena on Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin to the fact that I always steer the ride vehicle in that game, but don't have to do it on Toy Story Mania.
We next headed up Sunset Boulevard for the 4:00p Beauty and the Beast stage show. We sat behind the control booth and had a pretty good view from center stage. The only drawback was that the heads of the two control CMs sometimes got in my line of view for taking pictures. The show lasted about 30 minutes, and by the time we exited the theater, we saw that there was already a big crowd lined up for the 6:30p showing of Fantasmic. We reluctantly joined the line a full 2 hours before show time. Thankfully, they let us into the theater at 5:00p. We still had a 90-minute wait, but at least we were able to sit.
Before the show, a large group of teenagers from a South American country (I overheard someone mention that they were from either Argentina or Chile) began chanting and cheering. They went absolutely wild when a group of about six young men entered the theater and passed the area where they were sitting. A group of Brazilians sitting in front of us, started booing at the others. At least this didn't last very long. The Fantasmic show was fabulous, as always.
After the show, we joined the huge crowd as it slowly made its way back to Sunset Boulevard. Thankfully, the majority headed for the park exit, which let Helena and I go over to the Streets of America to enjoy the Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights for a little while.
We exited the Hollywood Studios around 7:30p, and had a short wait for the AKV bus to arrive. We were among the first to board, and had a relaxing ride back to AKV, arriving around 8:10p. Helena checked email and did a load of laundry before getting ready for bed. She was alseep while I downloaded the day's photos and wrote up yesterday's and today's trip report notes. I was in bed by 12:30a.
Friday, December 10
The Plan: Epcot, Lunch ADR at Teppan Edo
Since we were planning to only hit the World Showcase section of Epcot today, Helena and I decided to sleep in until 9:00a. After getting dressed and having a light breakfast in our room, we got to the bus stop by 11:00a. The Epcot bus arrived within 15 minutes. It was apparent that the Pop Warner competitions were now over and the participants were hitting the parks. The security and turnstile queues were filled with teenagers (mostly girls), many of them in matching t-shirts or jerseys. We entered the park by 11:45a (I had problems with the finger scan again) and headed directly to Canada. We stopped there for a while, listening to the Christmas storyteller narrate his story about the Canadian traditions for the season. We then took our time walking through the other countries on the west side of World Showcase.
At the United Kingdom, Helena wanted to go to the tea shop to check out their selection of teas. At France and Morocco, we stopped to study the posted restaurant menus and decided that we should try eating at both countries on our next WDW trip. We also noticed that Belle (not "Gorgeous Belle" - see note below) was doing meet and greets in France, and Jasmine and Aladdin were doing so in Morocco. At Japan, we browsed through the Mitsukoshi store, where Helena bought two decorative fabric lipstick holders. We had a 1:40p ADR at Teppan Edo, but it was now only 12:40p. So, we continued on to the American pavilion and were lucky to arrive just as they were letting guests into the theater for the next showing of the American Adventure show. I just love this patriotic presentation!
[Note: Last December, Helena and I caught the Celebrate Dreams Come True parade near the Liberty Tree Tavern, and I found the cast member who played Belle to be particularly attractive, and I commented to Helena and later to Selene and John (who were with us that trip). Ever since then, Helena and I have had a running inside joke about "Gorgeous Belle."]
We got out of the American Adventure around 1:25p, and headed back to Japan to check-in for lunch. We were seated within 10 minutes at a hibachi table with a couple from Ohio and their 16-month baby boy, a lady from St. Louis who was going to see her cousin sing in the Candlelight Processional this evening, and another couple from South Florida and their ‘tween daughter. Our main server was Kasumi, but she was helped during the meal by at least two other servers. Our chef was James (not a typical Japanese name), who expertly performed the usual cookery tricks and gags. Helena and I started with a garden salad with sesame dressing. She had the chicken dinner, while I had the steak and chicken combo. I also had a chocolate layer cake for dessert. The meal was up to the standard we always expect from this eatery, and the total cost, including 20% gratuity, was $93. We were finished by 3:00p and headed out of Japan.
Passing by the American Gardens Theaters, we noticed that there were a few people already lined up for reserved dinner plan seating for the 5:00p showing of the Candlelight Processional and literally hundreds of people lined up in the standby line!! Whoopi Goldberg was tonight's scheduled narrator. We stopped to watch the drum and bugle corps do their little show in front of the American pavilion and then headed on to Italy, noting the new pizzeria, which we'll have to try out on a future trip. We continued on to Germany, where Snow White had a long line for meet and greets, and then to China, where the acrobats were performing.
Next up was Norway, where we got in the posted 30-minute standby line for Maelstrom. The wait turned out to be only about 15 minutes. We (and a couple sitting behind us in the boat) were surprised by how short that ride actually is! We haven't ridden Maelstrom in several years, so I guess we just forgot. I certainly wouldn't want to wait more than about 15 minutes in line for this ride. At the end, we joined other riders (who about half-filled the theater) to watch the short film about present-day Norway. We then continued on to Mexico, where we enjoyed the Gran Fiesta Tour with Donald and friends.
By now, it was almost 4:30p and the air was beginning to get nippy again, and both of us were getting tired. To make matters worse, the park was really beginning to get filled up. It was our intention to leave now and rest for a couple hours at AKV and then I'd return alone to see the 9:30p showing of Illuminations. But I could see that, since tonight was an Extra Magic Hour evening, the park was going to get very, very crowded by 9:30p. I decided to pass on Illuminations tonight and try to make it tomorrow night instead. That would be a great way to end this WDW vacation.
We began heading towards the exit, stopping on the way at Edy's ice cream shop near Club Cool for a couple of hot fudge sundaes. Just as we exited the park, a CM stopped us to ask if we'd be willing to fill out a survey about our visit. We told him that we had already done one a few days before at Animal Kingdom, but he said this one would be specifically about our visit to Epcot, so we agreed. Like the lady at Animal Kingdom earlier in the week, he took my email address and told us we'd receive an email about the survey within a week or two. When we arrived at the bus stop, we found just one other guest there, and within 10 minutes the AKV bus showed up. It was a quiet and relaxing ride back to the resort. Overall, it was a nice day, but Helena and I continue to be plagued by the colds that we had picked up almost 3 weeks before in Nashville. We're both still coughing and have sniffly noses. These colds just don't want to quit!
We took it easy back in our room, checking email and Facebook, and watching TV. I downloaded the day's photos and finished writing up these trip report notes by 9:45p. Tomorrow will be our last day at the parks, and we want to get an early start for a final day at the Magic Kingdom to tour Tomorrowland and Fantasyland and catch the 3 o'clock parade. After that, we'll head back to AKV and I'll make an attempt to go to Epcot to catch Illuminations later in the evening.
Saturday, December 11
The Plan: Magic Kingdom, Lunch ADR at Tony's Town Square
We had set our alarm for 6:00a today, but were a bit sleepy and stayed in bed an extra hour until 7:00a, when we got up to get ready and have breakfast. We were at the bus stop by 8:45a, and the Magic Kingdom bus arrived within 10 minutes. We were at the Magic Kingdom by 9:25a, but were held, along with everyone else, away from the monorail track while monorail green was towed away from the nearby station. Once it was past the entrance area, we were allowed to continue to the security check and the turnstiles.
The park wasn't as crowded as I had expected, and we made our way up Main Street. Two young women saw me with my camera and offered to take our picture with Cinderella's Castle in the background, and I took one of them. We then continued over to Tomorrowland. A PhotoPass photographer was near the overlook to the Castle just before the Tomorrowland entrance, and we had a few pictures taken. She also offered to take a couple pictures with our camera.
We were planning to go directly to Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin, but we noticed that the Monsters Inc. Laugh Factory was just about to begin. So, we made a stop there and enjoyed the show much more than we had on the one previous time we had seen it (several years ago). "That guy" happened to be sitting right next to Helena, but neither of us realized it until we all started to exit the theater after the show. That's an indication of just how observant we are! :-)
When we finally arrived at Buzz Lightyear, the standby line was posted at almost an hour, so we stopped for FPs with a return time of 10:55a. We then headed over to the PeopleMover and had a nice ride, although it was pretty chilly with the cold temperatures today. I noticed that the "calling Mr. Morrow, Mr. Tom Morrow" announcement was back in the soundtrack.
Next up was the Carousel of Progress, which we always enjoy. I reminded Helena that the father's wife is named Sarah, and I think of the GPS system in the Hertz rental car as being her voice. We next stopped at the Starlight Café for some orange juice and then returned to Buzz Lightyear for our FP ride. As usual, Helena beat me handily, with a score of 507,300 to my 396,200. I took a snapshot of the ride's score display and of the ride picture as it showed up on the monitors, but didn't actually purchase a copy.
We then continued around Tomorrowland, past the Indy Speedway, and headed over to the Toontown Country Fair. We toured Minnie's house. (I'm not sure if we had ever done this before, because the displays didn't seem familiar to me. I know that we have seen Mickey's house several times.) We continued over to the Railroad Station and rode for a full circuit of the park. When we arrived back at the Toontown, it was almost noon.
By now, the park was beginning to fill up, and we just walked through Fantasyland without trying to visit any of the rides. We finally arrived in the area of the Hall of Presidents and, since we still had some time to kill before our lunch ADR, decided to see the show again. Here is where we heard one of the most outrageous comments we've every heard anyone utter at a Disney theme park. A woman standing next to us in the queue area inside the building said, in reference to President Obama: "The worst thing that ever happened to the country. They found a way to kill Kennedy, but haven't killed him yet." As I posted on Facebook later in the day, that is one sick mind. I don't care what your political persuasion is, wishing that any President of the United States was assassinated is treason in my mind!
After the Hall of Presidents show, we took the nearby bridge over to the hub area in front of Cinderella Castle and stopped to watch the Move It, Shake It, Celebrate It parade. The lively show was over by 1:00p, and we headed down Main Street to Tony's Town Square for lunch. We were seated on the front balcony overlooking the Main Street hub area. It was a bit warm out there with the hot afternoon sun shining down on us, but otherwise was a pleasant change from an inside table. Pinocchio was doing meet and greets right in front of us. Our server, Jennifer, was attentive despite being responsible for all of the tables on the balcony. Helena isn't a big Italian food fan, so she had a Caesar salad with chicken, and I had a small garden salad and the chicken parmesan. The total cost for lunch, including 20% gratuity, was $53.
By now, it was around 2:20p, so we staked out spots in front of the Main Street Railroad Station to catch the Celebrate Dreams Come True parade at 3:00p. I was surprised that the parade started at this end of Main Street instead of in Frontierland, but was happy that we had a much shorter wait for it to reach us. Unfortunately, the CM who portrayed Belle today wasn't "Gorgeous Belle."
After the parade ended, we went back up Main Street and had double-scoop ice cream cones at Edy's Plaza Ice Cream shop. Simply delicious! We then headed to the exit, reaching the bus stop around 3:55p to find a bus already there waiting. We were back at AKV by 4:20p
Back at Kidani Village, we started to pack for our departure tomorrow. Helena had a couple loads of laundry to do, so she took care of that also. I was planning to go to Epcot later in the evening to catch Illuminations, but Helena didn't feel like going out again. So, I went alone, getting to the bus stop by 7:00p. Again, there was no wait for a bus, and I was soon at Epcot, walking over to World Showcase.
I arrived at the lookout area in front of Germany (my favorite spot for watching Illuminations) by 7:30p, and got ready for the long wait. A family from the U.K. joined me around 8:00p, and we just braved the chilly breeze coming in from the lagoon until 9:30p. By show time, several other people had joined us, but no one tried to squeeze us out of our viewing spots. As usual, Illuminations was spectacular, and the Christmas add-on was as thrilling as ever.
After the last fireworks fizzled away, I started the slow walk back to the park exit. I was at the bus stop by 10:15p to find a long line of people, including two scooters. Luckily, a second bus arrived within a few minutes and most of us were able to board, although it was standing room only. I was back at AKV by 10:35p. I helped Helena finish the packing, and we were in bed by 12:30a.
Sunday, December 12
The Plan: Animal Kingdom Villas Check-Out, Downtown Disney, Lunch ADR at T-Rex
We awoke at 7:00a to have the last breakfast in our room, loaded all of our bags and stuff into the rental car, and walked around the resort taking a few pictures. We drove away from AKV sometime after 11:00a, headed to Downtown Disney. By the time we arrived there, it was beginning to rain lightly because of an approaching cold front. We parked directly behind the AMC multiplex and headed into the West Side section.
We noticed that a showing of "Tangled" was going to begin in a few minutes, at 12:45p, and we definitely wanted to see this new Disney Studios animated feature. We both enjoyed it (in 2D). I think it is one of the best Disney Animation Studios feature films in a long, long time. I'm hoping to see it again later in the month with our granddaughter.
I canceled our T-Rex reservation and, after the movie, we walked across the plaza to Gloria Estefan's Bongos, and had a nice Cuban meal. Helena and I both had the same thing, the garlic lemon chicken breast with fried plantains and black beans & rice. Dessert was their traditional vanilla flan (custard). Sasa was our server, and the total cost was $65, including 20% gratuity.
After lunch, we headed back to the car, and we were on the road (Osceola Parkway and Florida Turnpike) by 3:30p. It was still raining lightly at least for the first 45 minutes of the 2-hour drive to Port St. Lucie. We arrived at Selene's home by 5:30p and unloaded everything from the car. We had a nice, quiet evening with Selene and Jaidyn.
Monday, December 13 to Friday, December 17
The Plan: Drive to Delray Beach, Gulfstream Manor Timeshare, Medical Appointments
Monday, Dec. 13: We re-packed some of our essential items in the rental car and took I-95 from Port St. Lucie down to the Deerfield Beach area for the first of our medical appointments for this week. Our eye exams went well and we got new eyeglass prescriptions. We ordered new glasses at Lens Crafters and the went to a nearby Chili's for lunch. Later in the afternoon, we checked in to our Gulfstream Manor timeshare in nearby Delray Beach, and settled in for the evening. Tomorrow morning the temperature is forecast to drop into the 30s and possibly even 20s for much of the Florida peninsula!
Tuesday, Dec. 14: Another COLD day in Florida! We visited with my sister, brother-in-law, and nephew for most of the day, including just hanging out and sharing family news and old stories at their home in Deerfield Beach. We also had a fine, relaxed lunch at Olive Garden with them.
Wednesday, Dec. 15: We had two medical appointments today, with Helena's breast cancer specialist and with my lung doctor for a lung function test. Helena's exam showed no issues to worry about, and my lung function test showed a small improvement since last year. We also took some time to tour the Town Center mall in Boca Raton, and have a nice lunch at TGI Fridays.
Thursday, Dec. 16: Today was my consultation with the lung specialist. He confirmed that the lung function test I had yesterday shows a small improvement since last December, and he gave me a new prescription to continue using Symbicort. He also wants me to use Nyquil at bedtime every night to help relieve a chronic case of sinus allergies and nasal drip that I have. In the afternoon, Helena and I visited a few stores at the Pompano Citi Centre mall, and had lunch at Boston Market and dessert at Cold Stone Creamery.
Friday, Dec. 17: We checked out of the Gulfstream Manor timeshare by 10:00a and drove up I-95 to Port St. Lucie. We'll be spending the last two weeks of our time in Florida with Selene and family over the holidays.
Saturday, December 18 to Saturday, January 1
The Plan: Drive to Port St. Lucie, Christmas Holidays with Selene & Family
Saturday, Dec. 18: We spent a quiet day at home with Selene and Jaidyn. I took the opportunity to unpack our clothes and to proofread the trip report up to this point. It was a rainy day, so it was good that we didn't have any activities planned.
Sunday, Dec. 19: This was another quiet day at home. I went through over 1,300 photos I had taken so far and posted some to Facebook and began putting together a DVD slideshow using Roxio Creator software.
Monday, Dec. 20: Helena and I went out during the morning to do a little bit of shopping at the Treasure Coast Mall in Jensen and, later in the afternoon, we all went out for dinner at Chili's. The Chocolate Chip Paradise Pie dessert was to die for.
Tuesday, Dec. 21: Another quiet day at home, with dinner at Stevie B's pizzeria, where they have a wide variety of unusual but delicious pizza combinations. Ever had a "Loaded Baked Potato Pizza"? That's Helena's favorite. Jaidyn and I spent some time coloring and playing with "Cars" cars.
Wednesday, Dec. 22: Helena had a medical appointment scheduled in the morning at nearby St. Lucie West in followup to elevated liver function readings she's been having over the past few months. Her doctor back home had systematically taken her off of most of her regular meds in an attempt to find out if she was having a negative reaction to any of them. Unfortunately, the liver function tests were still showing elevated readings. Therefore, he recommended that Helena see a doctor up here and get a CT scan of her liver. The doctor at St. Lucie West had her take a new liver function lab test and referred her for the CT scan. In the evening, we all went to Bonefish Mac's Sport Grill for a nice dinner.
Thursday, Dec. 23: We got the lab results back on Helena, and her liver function readings are still high. The CT scan has been scheduled for Monday, December 27. Some bad news from home about the settlement of her mother's estate had Helena even more upset than she already was about her liver problem. There's always some one in the family who makes unreasonable demands, isn't there! :-(
Friday, Dec. 24: Today was a quiet Christmas Eve at home getting ready for Santa. John had to work today, so Helena and I went to dinner at Chili's and brought home take-out for Selene, John, and Jaidyn.
Saturday, Dec. 25: Merry Christmas!! We were all up by 7:00a and gathered around the Christmas tree to exchange gifts and to see what Santa had left for Jaidyn. The goodies included a mechanical puppy (they already have two real kitties) and a LeapFrog educational toy. Selene and John surprised me with a framed printout of the finished cover art they had put together for my soon-to-be-published book on the history of ships named "Enterprise." Helena gave me a collection of CDs by Sergio Mendes and Brazil ‘66 that I have been wanting for a long time, and I gave her an iPod Nano loaded with some of her favorite music. In the afternoon, one of John's brothers and his wife, who live about an hour away from Port St. Lucie, came over for a big family dinner cooked by John and Selene. Of course, I took some time out to catch the Disney Christmas Parade on ABC.
Sunday, Dec. 26: Another quiet day at home. John's trap caught a pesky raccoon early in the day, and he took the critter out in the countryside to let it loose. Jaidyn played with some of her new toys, and the rest of us just took it easy. Selene and John have bought many of the Disney animated DVDs, and Jaidyn loves to watch some of her favorites over and over again, often memorizing the dialogue and/or songs. Some of these include Cars, Wall-E, Toy Story 3, Lilo & Stitch, and Beauty and the Beast.
Monday, Dec. 27: We were up early for Helena to get ready for her liver CT scan today. She couldn't eat anything after 8:00a and had to drink a barium sulfate concoction at 12:00 noon in prep for the CT scan at 1:00p. The CT scan went fine, although we have to wait 24 to 48 hours to get the results. I was on the floor at home for quite a while with Jaidyn playing with her "Cars" cars and "Toy Story" character dolls and also playing "Go Fish" and "Crazy Eights" with her. In the evening she asked if Helena and I were going to live there permanently, because she likes playing with us. Helena has been reading a couple "Aesop Fables" to Jaidyn most nights before she goes to bed. Selene also reads a short story to her every night as part of their bed-time routine.
Tuesday, Dec. 28: Helena and Selene went out early for some girl-time shopping and getting haircuts. John and I stayed home with Jaidyn, and I played with her as we watched "Cars" and "Toy Story" again. Later in the day, Helena and I went to Chili's again for dinner and then we took care of Jaidyn while Selene and John went to dinner at a sushi/hibachi restaurant and to the movies to see "Little Fockers."
Wednesday, Dec. 29: We all drove down to Deerfield Beach to visit with my sister and brother-in-law. They hadn't seen Selene and family in several years. We had a nice time together. Selene and John also had a chance to revisit where they lived and some of their hangouts when they lived in Deerfield Beach when they were first married. Helena and I also took time to stop at the Town Center mall in Boca Raton to pick up our new eyeglasses, which we had ordered back on December 13.
Thursday, Dec. 30: I woke up with a severe pain in my chest and went to the Martin Memorial emergency room in St. Lucie West with Helena. They immediately did a work up on me and admitted me to the main Martin Memorial hospital in nearby Stuart. Overnight they did additional blood tests and continued to monitor my condition to determine whether the pain was from the heart or the stomach.
Friday, Dec. 31: I had a somewhat restless night because of all of the sleep interruptions. But the doctor came in around noon and said that all the tests showed that I did NOT have a heart attack. He said he believed I had a severe acid reflux attack, possibly complicated by a hiatal (stomach) hernia that I have. I was released around 2:00p with the recommendation to followup with my gastro-enterologist back home. Later in the afternoon, I was feeling well enough to join Helena, Selene, John, and Jaidyn for a New Years Eve dinner at Olive Garden. All I had to eat was a bowl of minestrone soup and some of
their fresh salad.
Saturday, Jan. 1, 2011: Today was packinjg day for us. While Helena did some laundry, I packed up the things we had bought over the weeks we were in Florida, and Selene went online to set up a U.S. Postal Service priority mail pickup of the boxes for Monday. We then tackled the always daunting task of repacking our suitcases and backpacks. For some reason, it always seems like the things we brought with us don't want to fit in the same suitcases when we're ready to go back home! With that task finally done, Helena and I went for a last meal at Chili's (there isn't one back home). We brought take-out for Selene and John. By 5:30p, we said our goodbyes (almost to the point of teary eyes all around), and headed over to the Holiday Inn Express at St. Lucie West. We usually don't stay at Selene's on our last night because we're usually up at the crack of dawn on travel day for the long drive down to Miami. Selene always tells us we don't have to stay at a hotel that last night, but we always feel badly about waking them up too early as we're dragging our bags and ourselves out the front door.
Sunday, January 2
The Plan: Drive to Miami, AA Flight to St. Thomas
We got up at 6:30a, showered and dressed, repacked whatever we had taken out of our bags during the evening, and went downstairs for the Holiday Inn's complimentary breakfast before checking out. We were on the road to Miami by 7:50a. Traffic was very light on I-95, and we arrived in the Deerfield Beach area within an hour and a half, stopping at a Burger King for some orange juice and a quick rest stop. Then it was on to Miami. The traffic down into Miami was at the usual hectic pace, but still much lighter than it would have been on a weekday. We found the new central rental car facility at the Miami airport without an problem and dropped off the rental car.
The shuttle bus ride to the airport terminal went by quickly, but we were greeted at the terminal by a madhouse at curbside check-in. There are apparently new procedures in place at curbside, and it was a mess. In the past, curbside check-in has been our preference because it was usually hassle-free and we bypassed the long lines at the counters inside. But this was totally different! We decided to take a look inside and eventually used the self-service kiosks to check our two suitcases and get our boarding passes. The baggage fee was $50 ($25 per bag) and we decided to pay an additional $9 per person to be placed in "Group 1" for boarding. This later turned out to be a godsend, and we definitely think the extra $18 was worth getting aboard the plane in the first group.
The line at the TSA security check was very long, but at least it kept moving along. I ended up being guilty of holding up the line when I kept "beeping" at the metal detector. I had forgotten that Helena had given me her cell phone to hold for her, and that was the culprit. Once past security, we had a short monorail ride to the gate area. We got there about 45 minutes before the posted boarding time but, for some reason, they started boarding 20 minutes early. Even so, we ended up taking off about 10 minutes late.
The flight itself was uneventful, and we arrived at St. Thomas pretty much on time at 3:55p (Atlantic Time). My brother met us at the airport in his car, because mine had some unknown mechanical problem back before we left. We stopped at his home for a quick dinner before heading home to our place. Our 6-week trip was the longest we had ever been away from home, but we had a great time in Nashville and Florida. Unfortunately, when we got home, we found that our water pump (most houses don't have city water service and rely on underground storage tanks for rain water) wasn't working properly. So, I had to call a plumber to come take a look at it on Monday. We felt like just getting on the first flight back to Florida!!!
Overall, we had a great time at Walt Disney World, even though we were still suffering the after-effects of lingering colds and the weather was unusually cold for this early in the month. (In fact the local weather reports said that December 2010 was the coldest December EVER in Florida!) We got to visit the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and Animal Kingdom two days each, which allowed us to approach the parks at a rather leisurely pace. We certainly got to see or ride all of our favorite attractions and to also experience all of the night-time spectaculars. We had wonderful meals each day, although some of them were rather expensive. Because of my forgetfulness, I never did purchase a Tables in Wonderland discount card, so the meals were all at full price. In total, we spent $585 for table service ADR meals (plus about $117 in gratuities). Assuming that all of the restaurants we ate at would have accepted the Tables in Wonderland card, in effect, the 20% discount would have offset the $117 in gratuities. But since the card costs $75, we would only have saved a net amount of $42 had we gotten the card.
We were very pleased with our room at AKV/Kidani Village, although we did find the furnishings and floor colors to be a bit dark – especially since we usually had to keep our window curtains closed for privacy because we were on the ground floor. The room itself was very spacious and comfortable. Bus transportation to and from the parks was quite adequate, with waits for a bus never being more than 15 minutes. It also helped that the bus route picked up and dropped off at Kidani Village before going to Jambo House. The trip to all of the parks, except Animal Kingdom, was usually at least 20 minutes each way, but that's to be expected, given AKV's location within the Disney property. We did notice that there were many more guests in wheelchairs or scooters than I'd noticed in the past. In fact, almost every bus ride had at least one wheelchair or scooter rider. Without wanting to sound insensitive, this obviously slowed down the boarding process for everyone. But Helena or I could find ourselves in that situation in the future as we get older, so I can empathize. We also noticed a large number of family groups with those oversized strollers that take up so much room on the bus. Overwhelmingly, there were more babies and toddlers in the parks than there were ‘tweens and teens (except for the Pop Warner groups later in the week). I assume that was because schools were still in session.
Lastly, except for the outrageous comment made by that lady at the Hall of Presidents, we really had no "rude guest" encounters. We didn't see any line cutters, or people who stopped in the middle of the rows of seats when the CMs asked that we move all the way to the end, or anyone who tried to crowd us out of our parade or fireworks viewing spots.
Just being at Walt Disney World again and being able to experience all of our "must do" attractions, usually without long waits.
Seeing the Main Street Electrical Parade for the first time since 1989.
Seeing Wishes, Illuminations, Fantasmic, and the Osborne Lights for the first time in at least a couple years.
Not having any rude guest encounters.
Having no rain during our days at the theme parks.
Beating Helena at Toy Story Midway Mania.
Having our lingering colds while at the parks.
Encountering the unusually cold weather most of the week, with highs in the 60s and lows in the 30s.
Forgetting to purchase a Tables in Wonderland card and having to pay full price for all meals.
Losing to Helena yet again at Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin.
As of right now, we have no specific plans for our next Disney vacation. However, our APs don't expire until December 5, 2011, so we have plenty of opportunity to use them again. We have never visited Disney World during the Fall, and would love to experience the Food and Wine Festival and the parks dressed up for Halloween. Unfortunately, that would mean traveling in September or October, which is the height of the Atlantic hurricane season. We like to be home at that time of year so that we can secure our home if a hurricane threatens the island. So, we'll have to consider the pros and cons for a Fall 2011 trip.
Another possibility we've been considering is a 2012 visit to the new Aulani resort in Hawaii with Selene and family. That would require us to bank and borrow points in order to secure a 2-bedroom suite. In that case, a visit to Disney World in 2011 would be impractical. We'll just have to see where our finances stand as time progresses. Stay tuned.
You can see photos from our December 2010 visits to Nashville, the Kennedy Space Center, and Walt Disney World on my Facebook page at the links below. You don't have to be a member of Facebook or sign-up in order to view the photos, so feel safe taking a look even if you're not on Facebook. The links will take you to thumbnails of all of the photos in each album. Click on the first thumbnail to see it full sized, and then click on each full-sized picture to go to the next one.
Kennedy Space Center
Walt Disney World
You can also see a selection of the some of the Walt Disney World photos right here on SandcastleVI at this page:
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