Thursday 30 October 2003 – Day 1
There was the typical mad rush to get stuff done before leaving for what has become the annual trip to Orlando with my youngest Bro, SIL, and Nieceling. Where I work, you get punished twice for daring to take vacation time. The days before I go, when word has leaked out that I will be leaving for a week or so, everyone wants a piece of me. So I stay up until some ridiculous hour fulfilling their requests the night before I leave, and then turn my attention toward MY stuff, like packing, stopping the mail (you can do this online now, the night before, yippppeeeee!), doing the online banking, putting out the trash, etc. At that point, I usually either fall into bed bleary eyed and exhausted at 3:00 am or thereabouts, or I just jump in the shower, make breakfast, and head for the airport, because I am afraid that if I try to nap for a few hours, I will miss both the alarm and the plane.
Then, when I return, there's something like 4,578 unread emails at work, all marked URGENT, that must be attended to while trying to get back into the swing of the normal work routine. At both points (the torture before the vacation, and the torture after the vacation), one thinks to one's self, "This is SO not worth it - I'm never going on vacation again!" But it's that time in between, the time that becomes memorialized in trip reports, when all the day to day crap is put out of one's mind, that one truly feels free and realizes, "THIS is the reason I work so damned hard!"
Usually, I leave Long Island on the first flight out, 7:00 am. However, this time, I was to deliver Niece to her parents, whose vacation was already in progress. They'd spent a week in Clearwater doing nothing on the beach, and arrived in Orlando last night. Niece is second grade now, too old to take out of school for two weeks at a clip. So she stayed a week with Grandma, who dutifully took her to school and cheerleading practice/competitions and all that other stuff that tends to over-book a 7 year old's time these days, and was probably greatly relieved to hand her over to a woman who'd never done air travel with a child before. That would be me.
Since Niece needed to be in school this morning, for reasons heretofore unknown to me, we booked a 2:45 PM direct flight from Long Island to Orlando ($140 apiece, round trip!). For one, brief, shining moment, Niece was the coolest 2nd grader on the planet. Not only did she leave school early with her very cool aunt, she did so for the very best of reasons on the whole face of the planet - she was going to Disney World!
Although they did examine my credentials with all due diligence, the ladies in the school office did not give me too hard a time, once they realized who I was - before her retirement, Grandma (my mother) had taught kindergarten in that very elementary school for many years. One of the ladies in the office remembered me because I'd sung for her daughter's wedding at some local church many years ago. I've frankly sung so many weddings in my day, I didn't remember her, but pretended that I did.
After chatting up the ladies in the office, and practically signing my name in blood (this is a good thing), Niece finally arrived from her class, quite beside herself with excitement. Grandma met us at the school and we exchanged the school satchel for the flight bag. I rummaged through it to achieve some level of assurance that there was nothing sharp, pointy, and metal in it, and learned what things are most important to a 7-year-old. There was a change of clothes in our favorite, favorite, most bestest favorite color (Pepto Bismol pink), Baby (a doll she's had since forever, and the poor thing looks like it, too), a change of clothing for Baby, coloring book and crayons, story books, bottle of water, liquid decongestant (alas, Niece has inherited the same tiny ear canals as Auntie, and her sinuses and ears bother her badly on flights), the new special edition Lion King DVD, and a Gameboy Advanced, in rather stylish carrying case, with four cartridges. Also, one tape dispenser. Ah, ha! Confiscated.
And so we were off to the airport, and went through bag checks and security with the minimum of fuss, and a lot of questions, some of which are very hard to explain to a 7-year-old. I've given up on telling my nieces that soldiers, Army helicopters hovering, wanding, and the removal of shoes is not normal. This is the new definition of normal. I ended up telling her that all this stuff is done so that the bad guys, who might want to sneak bad things onto the plane, will be more likely to stay away.
We ate grilled cheese and fries in the airport restaurant, and I actually let her have a coke (what else would a cool Auntie allow - kids are normally Sprited to death!). And then it was time for the medicine, and I saw for the first time with this one the obstinacy of a very self-confident only child. Such a time she gave me over it! Ugh, glad I don't have to do that on a regular basis. I finally had to tell her how close she was to cancellation of a planned shopping trip to Downtown Disney, and she quickly downed the medicine. Hours later, she asked if I was still mad at her. I'd completely forgotten the incident, but I think she realized that we were getting ever closer to her parents, and that I might tell on her. Of course, I didn't. Cool Aunties do not tell.
On the flight, Auntie had to admit that she messed up - I'd intended to slip the DVD drive into my laptop before packing it, and in my 3:00 am stupor, I forgot it. That I remembered to pack my new DVD of Treasure Planet, but forgot the drive, is astounding to me. So, there was no in-flight movie. We did play some word games that came in a little activity book that Southwest gives to kidlets, and she taught me how to play the Lilo and Stitch game on her Gameboy. Auntie is a complete dork, for she caused Stitch to expire on numerous occasions. Soon, we landed.
Woo hoo, I'm in balmy Florida for 8 days!
We arrived in Orlando half an hour earlier than scheduled and sat outside waiting for Bro and SIL. Niece regaled me with cheerleading routines while we waited, and was the first to spot her parents driving up. After a tearful reunion, we took ourselves to the Hard Rock Hotel to eat at a restaurant there and check out the hotel for a possible stay next year. Unbeknownst to us, there was a Velvet party going on. Someone told my Bro that Velvet is the nightclub there where live celebrity bands play on the last Thursday of each month. This month, the Velvet Party fell on the day before Halloween, and what we walked into was a madhouse of regular guests, some decidedly better dressed than the average Disney crowd, and some in funky Rocky Horroresque costumes, mixing it up with celebrities. The place was positively crawling with MIBs - security guys all dressed in black with chic headphones. Uncle Crocker and the Fixx were playing, and we saw Sammy Hagar on the way out, signing autographs and having his pic taken with people. No wonder every third song they played during our dinner by the pool was Van Halen. Not that I minded!
The Hard Rock Hotel reminds me of the album cover for the Eagles' Hotel California - it's that sort of welcome-to-the-chic-LA-mesa type of architecture. After having the car whisked away by the valet, we boarded the elevator to the left of the lobby, and descended two floors to the pool level. The name of the bar and grill at poolside is The Beach Club. We ordered the artichoke dip with colorful tortillas, some paninis, and the walnut turkey salad. Food was pretty good, a bit pricey, but the salad was quite drowned - I didn't remember to say "dressing on the side, please".
Niece had a heart attack when she saw the pool with the huge, twisting water slide, and immediately demanded that her father go and fetch her bathing suit, said request being soundly denied. She pouted, she insisted she wanted no dinner, and was generally sulky. Also, over-tired and over-excited. Then, the waitress said she could go in the pool with her clothes on! My goodness, we weren't even guests at the hotel, just there for dinner and to check the place out. Well, that didn't go over very well with Miss Niece, and we were treated to another round of pouting. Meanwhile, Auntie went to investigate the slide. You go up some wide cement stairs. And up some more stairs. And up still more stairs, until you get to the top, where there is a guard sizing up the little ones and determining whether they needed a life jacket. Hmmmm.
Moments later, I climbed the stairs again, this time with a small hand in mine. We were only going up there to check it out, honest. Just going to look. I saw the gleam in her eye as she tore off back down the stairs to her parents. Next thing you know, she's in the pool, fully clothed, playing like a little otter. We watched her while we finished dinner. She came back to the table and cleaned her mother's plate. And then I took her up, up, up again and got her into a life jacket, and away she went. After the first time, I didn't bother escorting her any more. She went down several times.
The pool area is quite beautiful. It is kind of randomly shaped, and surrounded by several rows of lounge chairs. One side is all cement and the other side has "beach", with a slope down into the pool. There are several hot tubs, as well as a kiddie wading pool. There are also a few canvas cabanas, each containing a table and chairs, and some containing a TV as well. Some of the cabanas are decorated for Halloween, and there is a mock graveyard outside one of them. The bar and grill wrap around a portion of the non-beach side of the pool, and is surrounded by tiki torches. Some very clean, nicely appointed rest rooms complete the picture. Some of the trees in this area are wrapped with sparkly white Christmas lights, and it just reinforces the whole glittery LA feel to the place.
Most everyone in the hotel was inside digging the celebrities, aside from the kids using the pool, and so the Beach Club Grill staff didn't have a lot to do. They were quite willing to chat with us for half an hour about all things Universal and Hard Rock. Bro thinks he wants to stay there a couple of nights next year, but SIL seems like she wants to veto it. The place is LOUD. I love rock, but I don't like having to shout over dinner, so the background noise would get to me after a bit.
Finally, we wrung out the rug rat and fought our way through the crowded lobby, all standing around celebrity gawking, waited for the car while listening to The Fixx, and sped off to the local Walgreens for some supplies. Then it was off to the Quality Inn International, This is the "cheap" leg of the trip. The Quality Inn is only $34 per night under some mileage deal that Bro got through one of his corporate credit card accounts, and we all have our Universal APs from last year that don't expire until next weekend. Frankly, the price of most everything went up this year, but my salary didn't, so in this rough economy, one of the Universal hotels was not in the cards this year. I'll take a clean bedroom and bath, with a coffee maker, mini fridge, and microwave, for only $34 per night, and then spend the bigger bucks on a Disney hotel. Tomorrow we go to Universal Studios and check out the new Shrek and Jimmy Neutron attractions.
Friday 31 October 2003 – Day 2
No one was feeling much like a commando today. I arose naturally (what a concept!) at about 7:30 AM, made some coffee, and sat kind of comatose while waiting for it to kick in. Bro called at about 8:00 AM and we settled on a time to leave for breakfast. It was not long before I heard the slap-slap-slap of little flip-flops on the cement leading up to my door, followed by a little voice trying to sound ominous. "Land shark!" is our buzz word, because she is too short for me to see her when I peek out the peephole, and when the situation is reversed, she is too short to see out her own peephole.
We did a hearty breakfast at the IHOP, and then cruised about three minutes to Universal Studios, where we dumped the rent-a-car in E.T. 464 and did the loooooooonnnnnnggg trek over to the park entrance. Man, I hate that trek. I hate it in the morning, and I hate it worse when we are leaving. This is a major, major drawback of the Universal parks, as compared to the Disney trams.
We headed directly to Nickelodeon Studios, because Niece is on a mission to get slimed. This was her fifth time at Slime Time Live, and she did unfortunately did not get picked again. A cute little three-year-old named Kyle was chosen, and he was so excited, he could not keep still. We were the red team, and I am sorry to report that the adults on the blue team cheated unmercifully on the Sponge Bob game. I was watching the whole time, and they did not pass the sponges from person to person, row by row - they tossed them around to maybe ten people, and that's how they won. Then, the CMs then had the nerve to tell the adults on the red team, "You cheated, and you still lost." Harumph.
We stopped for a couple of photo opportunities, such as when the slime machine outside was ready to blow, and also where the kids can pretend they are on a roller coaster ride with characters from the Nick lineup (Rug Rats, etc.). Then we booked around the corner and did Jimmy Neutron, which was very good. The seats in the theater bump around as a big screen shows Jimmy and his wussy pal Whatshisname try to save all the Nick toons from those green egg alien things.
From there, we proceeded across the street to Shreck, which was very well done. The pre-show has the three little pigs and Pinocchio held in various torture chambers, with the CM cracking jokes. The piggies are in separate chambers made of sticks, straw, and bricks - what a hoot! A TV screen on the right shows the Gingerbread Man (my absolute fave from this film) on the "dungeon cam", struggling to free himself from the cookie sheet, and a screen on the left is Mirror Mirror. The Gingerbread Man finally tears himself from the cookie sheet, warns us that "He's back!" and runs away. It turns out that the ghost of Lord Farquaat has captured the characters and is torturing them to discover the whereabouts of Fiona.
The CM then lets us into the theater, where we don our 4-D glasses and get to see Shreck and Fiona's honeymoon become temporarily interrupted by a very satisfying mini-adventure. The attraction dumps out into the inevitable merchandise area, and of course, I require a Gingerbread Man of my own. I am disappointed that he's got all his limbs, but I figure at Christmas time, I can display him in my home with one leg taped up, leaning on a candy cane.
We then went to Mel's diner for lunch, where I found the veggie burger to be disappointingly tasteless. But the chocolate shake was really good, and the tunes were excellent. Niece always stares strangely at me when I know all the words to "obscure" songs like "I Want You Back", said chestnut being from the era when Michael Jackson was actually cute.
Off to E.T. we went. I'd heard it was going to shut down, and wanted to do it one last time. We talked to a CM about it, and she said that the one in California did shut down, but she'd heard nothing about the Orlando attraction being eliminated. What a relief! I love this little ride. Niece and I were fortunate enough to get the first row for our vehicle, where we had E.T. himself in the basket in front of us with the blanket thrown over his head. I like when E.T. thanks us in the end, by name. After E.T. we had to do the Woody Woodpecker, as this is one of Niece's favorite roller coasters, and then we headed over to MIB.
I've never done MIB before. I thought it was pretty cool. We got a whole car to ourselves, and I had a ray gun in both hands. SIL and I both got the bonus by hitting the "whatever you do, don't press the red button". It was now time to leave, since we wanted to go back to the hotel and rest up for a bit, then change into our Halloween costumes and go to Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party.
I had hit the end of summer sales at Macy's a few months ago and picked up a white embroidered Ralph Lauren tunic for a song ($14, orig. $70), which has long bellish sleeves and I thought would make the perfect beach cover-up. I also thought it would make the perfect lady pirate blouse, with a red sash and black jeans. However, I soon realized that what is perfect with a bikini top under it is not so perfect as street clothes, and realized that the plunging neckline was a bit obscene for a Disney theme park with lots of kidlets running around. SIL decided I should look for an appropriate pin immediately upon entering the park. Originally, Bro, SIL, and I were to wear the kerchiefs with the skulls on them that SIL had made, and Niece was to wear a pirate hat with her costume. However, Niece preferred the kerchief, so we swapped. Completing our outfits were eye patches, which we ended up turning up onto our foreheads and eventually discarding altogether. They were exceedingly annoying, especially for loss of peripheral vision. We girls had big, single hoop earrings. Niece was especially darling in her scarlet wrap jacket with the frilly cuffs and golden tassel cord tied at the waist.
When we got to the TTC, we decided to take the ferry over - first time for them ever, first time for me since 1985. It was a bit chilly on the crossing, and we were delighted that the electric boat parade had been parked on the lake for our enjoyment. Once in the park, we presented our passes, and were issued purple wrist bands and orange Trick or Treat bags. There were already CMs hovering by the gates, doling out the treats. It was definitely the year to be a pirate - we saw lots of them in the park, and greeted one and all with a resounding "Aaaaarrrrrrgh!" - some even returned the greeting!
Everywhere in the park, the sky was dotted with big, orange, helium balloon pumpkins, which told you where the Trick or Treat stations were. We made a beeline for the Exhibition Hall so that I could get a pin. I wound up getting the Pirates of the Caribbean pin that shows the little dog with the key dangling out of his mouth (you know, that dog that gets around - he's in CoP and also in Living with the Land, and probably shows up in a bunch of other attractions, as well). That particular pin actually has two spears on the back of it, so it was very effective at holding my obscene blouse closed. There is also a series with some of the princesses on round, stained glass type discs, and I got the Tink one (naturally). Also picked up two of the new Magical Moments pins, on which you can play games, either solo or with another person that has the pin. It was in this shop that I saw the grasshopper playing the violin, from the early short "The Grasshopper and the Ants", which was one of the shorts I'd written a paper about (work ethic). I would later regret not having purchased it immediately, but we were in a rush to get out of there and I was already checked out when I saw it. We didn't want to miss the beginning of the parade, and we were all hungry.
We came out of the Exhibition Hall just in time to see the Headless Horseman make his way around the town square, to much cheering, holding a jack-o-lantern under one arm. The crowds were already lined up along Main Street, and the ropes were coming out to contain them, so we fought our way across to Casey's for some hot dogs and snagged a table right up front for the parade. A bunch of inconsiderate people with video cameras decided to stand right in front of us, but we still saw a great deal of the parade. Can anyone confirm that those were actually real, live Dalmatians in the cage that rolled by? It was hard to tell.
When the parade had passed, we Trick or Treated our way to Pirates of the Caribbean for a quick ride. There were lots of candy stations along the way. One complaint: the kidlet was definitely given more candy than any of us adults combined. Were we not cute enough? Did we not say, "Arrrrgh!" with enough conviction? Hey - didn't we pay to get in same as the Niece? What gives, Disney? Harumph!
After Pirates - "oh look, there's the doggie on your pin!" - we Trick or Treated our way to the Haunted Mansion. During the ride, I started a spontaneous game of "werewolf" - you just howl, and then someone howls back in the darkness, and pretty soon, you've got a bunch of giddy Disney crazed people in costumes all howling in the dark at each other. I like the way it echoes in there. I also had a chance to compare this attraction to what I recall of it's French cousin, and I have to report that I like the French one better. It does a better job of telling the story of the bride, and in the French version, she has a little "ah ah ah" solo to sing that is very pretty and haunting. Also, the French version does a better job of integrating the attraction itself into Frontierland as a part of the community.
We apparently missed the brief fireworks during our foray into the Haunted Mansion, but that was ok by us. We continued to Trick or Treat our way into Toon Town, which I haven't visited in a dog's age. There were photo ops at the end of Minnie's house and at the end of Mickey's house. We road Goofy's Barnstormer, too. At every attraction in Toon Town, there were Trick or Treat opportunities. We spent a lot of time in Toon Town, including in the shop where we assembled a frightening Ms. Potato Head for Niece (it was, after all, Halloween!).
By this time, we were pretty much all tuckered out, and decided to Trick or Treat our way out of the park, which took longer than a park exit normally takes. The CMs were all looking pretty tuckered too, and were by this time giving the candy away in great handfuls. Niece still got the largest haul by far. We took the monorail back to the TTC, trammed it back to the car, and drove back to the hotel. I was quite wiped out and didn't even bother to fire up the PC to work on my paper. Lights out, bed.
TOMORROW: Islands of Adventure
Saturday 01 November – Day 3
Universal Islands of Adventure
We breakfasted at Perkin's and then headed out to Universal's Islands of Adventure. I decided to spring for the valet parking - there was some sort of discount, I believe, for AP holders. When you do the valet thing, they direct you to a traffic circle outside the parking garage, and you check the car with the valet. Out we popped and Bro handed over the keys, and away we went up the escalator. Ah, much better than the infernal trek - we were practically delivered to the doors of CityWalk (well, not really, but it eliminated several moving sidewalks worth of trek).
Upon entering IoA, we veered to the right into Seuss Landing, and the first thing we did was Cat in the Hat. I just love this little ride, zipping along to the familiar story of what happens at home while mother goes out for a bit. I especially like it in the end when the Cat suddenly springs 17 million arms with which to right the place, just before Mother steps back in the door. After two go-thrus, I make a mental note to purchase Thing 1 and Thing 2 for a SIL who is at home, and we proceed to One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. I stood on the ground snapping pics, while Niece and her parents went aloft and got faces full of fish spit. From there we proceeded to If I Ran The Zoo, the interactive play area with all the neat ways to get soaking wet. We like the spongy ground covering in this area, which sucks up the water right away, and is so kind on the feet. We wish that every theme park on the planet consisted of such spongy ground covering, but alas, think of the cost. Still, it would be an effective way to reclaim rainwater and reprocess it for consumption. Hmmmm.
We then turned around and proceeded to Marvel Superhero Island, making straight for Spiderman. I can't say enough about the Spiderman experience. It is the most superb 3-D attraction ever created. We just love it and went through several times. We're getting to the point where we are starting to notice the little things, like the villain who jumps on the hood of the car and does a Gene Simmons with his tongue. Eeeewwww.
On to Toon Lagoon and Dudley Dooright for a really proper soaking. We think they changed the seats in the vehicles - I don't think they used to have the dividers between riders. We managed to snag the front of a vehicle. Niece is still really scared of the drops but insisted on the front seat. I rode behind her and wrapped my arms around her to keep her from getting too much air time - that really scares her. Poor little heart was going ten thousand miles a minute, but she still came off dripping saying that she loved it!
Now that she was reasonably finished with the soakings, Niece could get her face painted by one of the nearby artists, and she chose the unicorn face. I love watching these people do their thing, with the face painting, hair braiding, and temporary tattoos. She looked so cute as we strolled through the park, and of course she had to stop at every reflective surface to admire her bad self. We made a pit stop to play for a while on Me Ship, The Olive. The Bilge Rat Barges were not running - it was down for rehab, and drained, so there weren't too many people on the deck of the Olive. There are water guns up there so you can soak the rafters as they go by. There are also squirters on the nearby bridge, but they are coin operated. Imagine paying to soak someone! You don't have to do this at Disney - the soakers on the bridge over Kali River Rapids in Animal Kingdom are free. Harumph.
By this time we were hungry, and Bro was eager to introduce me to the delectable wonders of the Enchanted Oak Tavern for lunch. This round restaurant in the Lost Continent section is shaped like a giant oak tree, and has a beautiful stained glass roof over the center of it! Next time you go in, look up as you cross the center - just stunning. The smells wafting from the kitchens were both maddening and intoxicating. We got ribs and corn on the cob, with those little corn breads and salad too. To say that we sucked them down in record time is an understatement. OMG, those are the best ribs I have ever, ever had! I am forever a fan now. If Hawkeye Pierce had ever tasted ribs from the Enchanted Oak Tavern, then Adam's Ribs across from the Dearborn Station would have been promptly forgotten. Pure ambrosia on a bone - you really must try them!
Bro headed to the men's room, and to check in with his business, so we girls trotted ourselves into the little shop across from the Tavern, where I bought Niece one of those little ceramic hearts on a chain. It had a pic of a unicorn on it, and also her name. Her father bought her a little stuffed unicorn too, which was way beyond soft, and really nice to pet. We also visited the little photo booth nearby, but could not get the unicorn border on our pic, as the selector was stuck. We got a CM to give us our money back, and she unplugged the machine and put it out of service.
Truly stuffed, and wanting to try something on the tame side, we ambled over to Poseidon's Fury, but had just missed the show. So we trotted back to the little Flying Unicorn roller coaster and gave that a couple of turns. I went once, and then watched once - Niece nearly tumbled forward out of her seat on a very abrupt stop, which made my heart invade my throat, but she caught herself on the bar before pitching completely out of the car. Woa.
We went back through Jurassic Park to try the Pteradon Flyers, but there was a 40 minute wait and no Express access, so what could we do but go back to Marvel Superhero Island and do Spiderman a couple more times? We found a photo booth there, no unicorn border, but Niece was able to get her pic made into a postcard to send to her cousins back on Long Island. Woo hoo!
Niece and Bro wanted to go back and swim in the hotel pool a bit, and I saw that as an opportunity to make a big push and get more of my paper done. So we did that, and then SIL and Niece came down to my room in their PJs so we could do some planning for the rest of the week. I had purchased the old Passporters for myself and SIL - actually, they were free, as they are last year's stock (but close enough for government work, as the saying goes), so all I paid for was the shipping. We pored over the pages, deciding what to do on what days for the rest of the week, including the planning "Shop Till We Drop" day for me and the Nieceling. She recently had a birthday, and I always give them a choice of what they want - either presents or an experience with Auntie. This sly little thing wanted both - a shopping trip specifically in Downtown Disney, followed by a sleepover at Auntie's hotel. Done deal, we booked that, and picked the rest of our activities for the rest of the week.
They went back to their room around 8:30 PM, and I kept working on the paper until I could no longer see straight. Lights out, bed.
Tomorrow: Oh no - not Universal AGAIN!
Sunday 02 November – Day 4
Oh, no, not Universal again
Finally, it's the day that I check out of the Quality Inn International, and into the Boardwalk Villas. I pack up my stuff and load it into Bro's rental car. We scoot off to Denny's for breakfast. And a disagreement ensues, hereinafter to be referred to as the Denny's Disaster.
According to Bro, the schedule called for too much Epcot. His reasoning was that their tradition is to end up at Epcot every single night of the Disney leg of their trip for Illuminations, and that a whole additional day while I was down there was unnecessary. My reasoning was that it was my vacation too, they were staying longer than I was, and that the fact that he chose to take his family to Illuminations every single night was not my problem. So, ya got a big sister who is this big freakin' deal Wall Street manager type, and a li'l Bro who owns his own business, arguing over the schedule before anyone has even had their morning jolt yet, and someone's gonna walk out in a huff. It wasn't me. I have five years more experience staring someone down than he does.
So SIL, Niece and I finish our breakfast and go back to the International, which is really just a stone's throw from ol' Denny's, and we eventually coax Bro out of the room and back to the fambly unit. Auntie Tink *~*~* makes some adjustments to the schedule as a compromise, and away we go to the Universal parks - again.
SIL and I are sorta sick of Universal already. The fact is, it's only two parks, and we've had enough of the repeats already. But Bro likes Universal better than he likes Disney, so there we are. This time, we opt to try for the other parking option, the one in between the free parking for AP holders, and the Valet parking. It's four dollars, and we get to park in the very first section of the garage, closest to the CityWalk entrance.
We walk into IoA and Seuss Landing again, for Nieceling's ritual soaking, and I buy churros for Bro's breakfast, as a peace offering. By now, it is actually closer to lunch, and he gets a hot dog, too. After the soaking, we walk directly into the Lost Continent and do the Flying Unicorn a million times while waiting for Poseidon's Fury time.
The queue for Poseidon's Fury is rather leaky and mildewy smelling, and I realize that during the Denny's Disaster, I forgot to take my Clarinex. I am allergic to mold and mildew. My eyes are getting all hot and itchy. There's a guy in the queue that is stamping in the water and getting everyone all wet. I'm not amused at the prospect of getting that foul water all over me, or near my eyes. I give him my best Madame Vice President glare, and he quits it. He was a grown adult too, maybe in his mid thirties. What a jerk. I'm not liking Poseidon's Fury, and we haven't even gotten in yet.
The CM for the pre-show was really cool - he had the part of the inept, hapless excavation volunteer down pat. I was much happier when we finally got out of the dank, dark, moldy queue. This attraction, in general, is over-air conditioned. But the FX are very, very well done. I liked the "secret writing" in the ante-chamber, and I liked the fire and water effects during Poseidon's fight with the bad guy. But I really, really liked the delicious warmth and humidity of the water tunnel! Niece is saying, "how do they get the water to stick to the walls?", but it is really loud in there, so no one answers her.
Done with Poseidon, niece initially says that she doesn't want to do the Jurassic Park River Adventure, so she and I go to Camp Jurassic to play around. We are both pretty much done getting wet (stay tuned, she's 7, and her moods change swiftly). She leads my 40+ year old self on an odyssey over the rope bridges, etc. Then we get to this little part where there are guys in front of us with squirters who are squirting at guys on a bridge above us with squirters. We want to pass through. So I ask the guys to hold their fire, and they do. Only the little twirp on the bridge decides to fake us out, and starts using us for target practice. Patently not fair. I'm not happy with him and I go up to find his mother. He scrams. Niece takes control of his squirter. Hah!
We go down and wait by the bridge for a few minutes, and there go Bro and SIL, down the big drop and into the "river". The boat is quite full, and everyone gets soaked. Suddenly, Niece has a renewed interest in getting wet. See, I told you to stay tuned! So we go to the ride exit and meet them and Bro gets back on the ride with her. Really what happened is that she doesn't like the part where the dinosaurs in the lab try to eat you, but she does like the soaking part. And seeing her parents do the drop clinched it. She would just hide her eyes from the dinos and live for the soaking. Kids.
We make our way back to our favorite Spiderman and give it a couple of turns, then cross over back to Universal Studios to try and improve our scores on MIB. My best was only 375K, but Bro got a 581K and decided to buy the photo, since they print their scores (he later broke 600K, but he'd already bought the other photo).
Soon, it was time to go and check me into the Boardwalk Villas. We got some Starbucks mocha fraps on the way out and sucked them down, then hopped into our conveniently close car and sped away to Disney. Ah, Disney property. Wide open spaces, calming palm trees, green jungle like surroundings. No resemblance to Las Vegas whatsoever. I'm beyond excited as we pull into the Boardwalk, as I've never been there before. We drag out my bags, and the valet takes the car. We walk into the graceful Victorian style lobby with shiny wood floors and the biggest back porch you've ever seen, overlooking the boardwalk itself. We turn left to the front desk. There's only one person checking in ahead of me. I walk up to the CM and he puts my name in the computer, smiles, and says, "Welcome home". Ah, I'm here!
I get room keys for the whole family, even though they will be going back to the International tonight, just because I can. And I thought they should have the convenience of having a "just in case" place to run to in the event that someone needs a nap or a swim or whatever, while they are at MGM or Epcot. My room is 2047, on the same floor as the lobby. We cart my luggage over there and enter.
The room has a small, lighted entrance hall. There is a tall person's keyhole peeper, and a small person's keyhole peeper. I initially think it is for a child to peep out (no "Land Shark!" necessary here), but as I look to the left, and go into the very perplexingly spacious bathroom, I realize that this must be a disabled access room. The bathroom door slides open and disappears into the wall. The shower is level with the floor, and there is a seat in there that folds up, as well as "oh, shit" bars installed on two of the three walls. There is tons of room to swing a wheelchair in there.
Outside the bathroom is the studio "kitchen", with a sink, microwave, toaster, coffee maker, and small fridge. The cabinets above the sink have frosted glass doors, and contain two blue Fiestaware coffee mugs, two tumbler glasses, and are also stocked with paper plates and plastic cutlery. There is complimentary coffee and sugar packets in a little seashell shaped basked on the counter, as well as a dishtowel, new sponge in the wrapper, and dishwashing liquid.
Entering the main room, we see one big bed with a nightstand, and the standard round table with two chairs, painted blue (they even have these same round tables in the Disneyland Hotel in Paris). The armoire contains TV, dresser drawers, shelves, and hang-up space, which is currently occupied by the vacuum cleaner and ironing board. There is an iron on one of the shelves. There's a pull-out couch too, with a torchiere lamp near it. And there are terrace doors.
I fling open the curtains and open the door, and the whole Boardwalk spreads before me. Across the lake, I see the Yacht and Beach Clubs. Directly below me is Joe's coffee kiosk. I would later come to realize that my room was the one right above the general store, called The Screen Door. I was just above the "SCR".
Far to the left, I can see the Dance Hall,
and the Swan and Dolphin hotels beyond, with their great big swan and dolphin
sculptures atop them. I look to the right, and I see Spoodles restaurant, where
I know I want to dine at some point because I've read that the food is really
good there. And in the distance to the right, I see the bridge over to Epcot,
and the glowing geosphere itself.
There's no time to waste, for we've got a 6:20 PM reservation at Boma at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. We want to get there before dark, because I want Niece to see all the animals on the savanna out back of the lodge before we go in to dinner. So we dump my bags and off we scoot. I am beyond myself with happiness to be at Disney World once more!
We saw many animals grazing on the savanna that evening, the most startling of which were what I thought to be humming birds. They were small and brown, only about thumb-sized, and they hovered all over the place drinking nectar out of the flowers planted around the savanna viewing area. But they didn't make a humming noise! I thought to ask the CM back there, but she was busy with some small children at the time, so I just stared in wonderment as the busy little creatures flitting to and fro.
We went inside and checked in at the desk, a bit early, actually, and proceeded upstairs to Victoria Falls to get some drinks. I had to have a Mt. Kilamarita once more. No sooner had we sat down, then the pager started buzzing. Bro took Niece downstairs to claim the table, while SIL and I collected the drinks and paid the tab. Naturally, the meal was a marvel. We had a fabulous waiter, who spoke very seriously to Niece about how her teacher had called to check and see if she was keeping up with her homework. Only, this kid is a whippersnapper, and immediately called him on how he had weaseled the name of the teacher out of her! I tried to be very conservative at the buffet, only taking a small spoonful of everything, small because I do mean everything! There is just so much delicious new African food to try here, you can really get yourself into trouble if you try to take too much of one thing. I really admire the use of fruits and spices like cinnamon and nutmeg in African foods - it makes everything taste like dessert! For dessert, I selected one zebra dome, and some of their delicious banana bread pudding topped with vanilla sauce - outstanding. We ate and ate and ate until we could eat no more. Then we toured the facilities, such as the pool area and the other two eating establishments down there, and I was driven "home" to the Boardwalk. We said our farewells, and planned to meet for lunch in Downtown Disney on Tuesday.
I entered my darkened room and immediately made a beeline for the terrace door. As soon as I set foot on the terrace, I saw a shooting star, right over the Yacht Club! How cool was that?!?! Quickly, I shut my eyes and made my "when you wish upon a star" - and no, I won't tell you what it was, for I want my dreams to come true!
Suddenly, the geosphere darkened, except for the tiny, red flasher that tells airplanes, "hey, I'm a geosphere, don't crash into me", and I realized that Illuminations was about to begin. Sure enough, BOOM, there went the fireworks. The view is partially obstructed by the rest of the hotel and the ESPN restaurant, and there is a period of time where nothing happens at all (that's the time during which the Earth is making it's slow way into being over the lake at Epcot). But nearly the full glory of the higher fireworks was visible for the end part, and the music swelled loud enough to hear it in the distance. Wow!
I shut the door and unpacked, did some work on that infernal paper that was due Wednesday. Lights out, bed.
Tomorrow: Epcot/Magic Kingdom/Epcot again - solo!
Monday 03 November 2003 – Day 5
Epcot and Magic Kingdom
I let myself wake up naturally, and greet the day by sipping coffee on the balcony, watching and listening as the Boardwalk comes alive. There are boats going off to the parks, joggers pounding the boards, and early morning risers sitting out in front of the bakery with their own coffee. And where there are people eating out of doors, there are also the inevitable, very aggressive birds looking for crumbs.
After showering and dressing, I head off to the bakery myself for a blueberry muffin and some juice. Making quick work of these items, I power walk it over to the International Gateway. Armed with my Disney Club card, I go ahead and do it - I purchase an Annual Pass. There. I've gone and done it. I've made the commitment. I now simply HAVE to come back within a year, in order to get my props.
Today originally was supposed to be my private Magic Kingdom day, but since the Denny's Disaster and the ensuing compromise, I now have to do the stuff in Epcot that I wanted to do, which the kid just won't tolerate, on this day too. After doing the fingerprint thing, I breeze through the Gateway and emerge in Epcot, smack between France and Great Britain.
First stop, Impressions de France. In all my years coming to WDW, I've somehow never sat through this film. I am greatly impressed, for the France they show on the film bears little to no resemblance to the place I visited in February. Granted, most of my brief time in France was spent at Disneyland Paris, but I did also have an afternoon wandering in the bowels of their subway system, surfacing in a busy part of the city of Paris. Impressions de France makes that country seem to be all shining palaces and tranquil provincial scenes, gothic churches and majestic mountains. That's the France I'd like to visit someday.
Morocco is kind of boring, but I stopped by anyway. I do love those tangerine trees, or whatever they are, right out front of the pavilion. The leaves are citrony-fragrant, and they were bearing reasonably sized, dimpled, greenish fruits.
Japan and the mesmerizing koi pond - I could stand there for hours, just listening to the water babble and watching the fish swim round and round.
Ah, the American Pavilion - I hadn't heard the Voices of Liberty in quite some time! The rotunda is truly a special place for such a group to sing. Ever since 9/11, an unusual phenomenon occurs with me - I actually start to cry when I hear the Star Spangled Banner. I think I'm still really pissed off at the irrevocable changes that incident made to our country - we can never, ever go back to the America I grew up in. The American Adventure is still quite wonderful, and brought back memories of my Backstage Magic tour. It doesn't spoil it for me at all, knowing that the animatronics are run by a couple of DECs. In the proper lighting, they still look mighty realistic to me. I liked not having seen the film in a long time - they've added people to it that weren't quite famous Americans yet when last I saw it. Just some small changes, but enough to notice. After the film, I stopped in and bought some fresh fruit to knosh for a mini-lunch
Italy kind of depressed me, because there were only ugly handbags, so I didn't have any excuse to spend any money there! Also, no live entertainment was going on as I cruised through the shops, so I didn't linger.
As I approached the Chinese pavilion, I stopped to wander in their gardens and pools. They don't have koi, they have goldfish. Also, little lizards, "natural citizens" of the area where Walt built his dream, were running rampant among the rocks and streams. I saw one poor little fellow with no tail, and guessed that someone had tried to capture him - I've heard/read that the tails detach as an escape mechanism. Still others had these weird orangy-yellow fringes that would protrude from under their chins - wonder what that is all about? I'll have to scrounge around the net to find a picture and find out what the function is. I lingered in China's gardens for quite a while, enjoying the peace and tranquility, and barely made it into the theater before the doors closed to catch my first glimpse of the new 360 surround film, Reflections of China. It is a very beautiful country. I'm looking forward to a proposed business trip to Hong Kong in 2004 - never been to this part of the world. It should be very exciting! The China pavilion has one of the bigger attraction merchandise areas in the whole of Walt Disney World. However, I must confess that Asian art, pottery, etc. does nothing for me, so I was not at all much tempted to whip out the hotel charge key (backed, of course, by my Disney Visa!)
I wandered past the rest of the World Showcase and made a beeline for Innoventions. I messed around with some of the computers in the IBM section of West, and then went into East to see what was up over there. Lo and behold, there was a display of a cochlear impact! "Hey!" my brain exclaims, "I know someone who has one of those!". I was amazed at the piece of hardware that my pal has in her skull, and now when she writes about putting on and taking off her processor, I know what da heck she is talking about. Woo hoo!
OK, so now it is time to get my Magic Kingdom fix. This is rough, because I had initially intended to spend the day exclusively at MK, but the schedule change forced me to be a little choosy about what I did there. I exited Epcot and took the monorail to the TTC, then picked up the Magic Kingdom monorail from there. When I entered the park, I completely forgot to stop at the Exhibition Hall and look for the Grasshopper pin that I'd seen there on Halloween.
Instead, I decided I deserved to have a hot fudge sundae. Five minutes later, I was sitting on the side of the ice cream parlor, watching the stage show in the distance, and feeding one of those little brown bunnies crumbs from the waffle cone dish. I sat down at the table, heard a rustling in the bushes, and there he was, on a quest for whatever people had dropped. So I decided to make it easier on him.
Ice cream finished, I figured I had enough time to do one attraction and then stake out my spot for Wishes. I hemmed and hawed for five minutes while the stage show wound up. Brand new, never before seen attraction, vs. old favorite that is hardly ever open any more...hmmmm. Well, which do you think I chose?
About 30 minutes later, I was headed back to Casey's with "It's A Great, Big, Beautiful Tomorrow!" repeating in my head in an endless loop. I figure, next time I come to the World, Mickey's Philharmagic will still be there, but Carousel of Progress might be shut down again. I can't imagine a world permanently without the CoP - it has been in my life since the 1964 Worlds Fair in Queens, NY, and was probably responsible for my life-long obsession with Disney. Of course, at the time, I didn't know it was Disney. I can still remember vividly the rush of pleasure I felt sitting in the audience during my first visit to the World in 1985, when I started having deja vu flashbacks, and realized that CoP had been at the World's Fair. I can't imagine how I will feel when it is finally gone for good.
At 6:00 PM, I took my Casey's hotdog and climbed the steps to the viewing area adjacent to the railroad station. There were many wrought-iron chairs lined up along the railing, and I selected one slightly off-center to the right, so that the flagpole would not be in the way of my viewing pleasure. This is really the most excellent seat in the house for watching the castle changing colors as the sky darkens, and also for watching the fireworks. When I arrived, there were two men to the right of me with two chairs in between them, laden with shopping bags. I guessed they were holding seats for their wives. There were initially two blank chairs between us. Soon, a man with a very professional looking camera sat to my right and began snapping pics of the castle. Eventually, he put the camera away and just watched. Immediately to my left was a couple maybe in their early forties. All of the chairs were spaced about half a foot apart. I tell you this to emphasize that when I got there, there weren't many people up there, but when it started to get crowded, you'd think that it was the NYC subway system. I am constantly amazed at the people on this planet who have no sense of the rudeness of invading someone's personal space. I am speaking of latecomers who shoved their children into the six inches between the people sitting on the chairs. Adding insult to injury, they were small, screaming types of children, who kept fighting with their siblings over the same six inches of railing! I know that everyone wants to see the fireworks/parade/whatever, and everyone paid to see it, but really, if you want to have a good viewing spot, get there early and quit insinuating your kids, who by the way are wider than six inches, practically into my lap.
OK, rant over. Wishes is a great new fireworks display, themed along the lines of Disney characters who have been known to utter, "I wish...." Jiminy Cricket does the narration. Surprisingly, I was not able to find a single Jiminy Cricket plush in the entire World. One would think that Disney would rush right out to capitalize on ol' Jiminy being in the spotlight. Next time I'm in the World, I will probably try to view Wishes from somewhere closer to the castle, just so I can get a better look at Tinkerbell as she flies from the castle. She was very bright and shiny. I want to see if she really was wearing a green version of the Robert Redford costume from "Electric Horseman"!
As soon as Wishes was over, I flew out of my seat and down the stairs to the monorail. Back to the TTC, change for Epcot. I'd had a taste of Illuminations from my balcony the night before, and I wanted more! I cruised up the west side toward the International Gateway. I stop in at the little town square in the United Kingdom pavilion to listen to The British Invasion. I sit on the steps of one of the town houses (can't call it a stoop, this is Great Britain!), and watch as they pull some Granny up front and regale her with their version of "Today is your birthday....". Soon, I know I must stake out a spot along the lake. Just after Canada, but before the United Kingdom, there is one of those "indented" viewing areas, obscured by a little island of bushes, and where there are benches and a railing. There are several trees along the shore on the other side of the railing. Just past the first tree, I parked it on the pavement with a toll house cookie from a nearby Food and Wine Festival kiosk. I passed the time chatting with some folks from New Jersey sitting nearby, and digging the tunes. I love the music that they play in this area just before the show. I think it might be a group called Barrage that I heard play on the stage in the USA pavilion one visit - great, Celtic-tinged fiddle music. Finally, the torches and the geosphere darken, and the show begins with that familiar whistling of the first rocket that explodes to represent the birth of planet Earth.
A duck suddenly takes to the sky, outlined against the smoke and the lights, as he makes his escape. That's the first time I've seen that happen - I always thought that part of the function of the patrol boats that circle the lake before Illuminations was to clear any wildlife off the lake???
I am shocked when a rocket explodes from the ground about six feet from where I'm sitting. Something stings my eye, but I gamely keep on watching the show. When it is over, I stop in at the nearest ladies room, and there are several other women in their from the area where I sat, all washing out their eyes. One woman had it really bad - her eye was terribly bloodshot, and I urged her to go to the First Aid station. I also wrote an email to Disney about it. Maybe they should move that rocket launcher, as it apparently spreads debris that gets into the eyes of those who sit there. A shame, since it is a pretty good spot from which to view Illuminations.
I had intended to walk back to the Boardwalk, but there was a ferry loading just as I passed, so I figured, what the heck. It was faster than walking, but only because it was loading just as I passed - if you have to wait for those Friendship boats, it can take longer to get back to the Villas than if you just walk it.
Back at the room, it is bite the bullet time. Tomorrow is Shop Till We Drop day with the Nieceling, followed by a sleepover. The paper is due Wednesday. So I have no choice but to make the big push and finish it up and email it to the professor. I finally finish it, and plug my modem into the data port. I launch my ISP's traveler software, and I get an operating system error message. Fortunately, I have the executable tucked away in my Executables directory, so I uninstall and reinstall. Nada - the damned thing gets a dial tone, and then aborts. OK, I will email it in the morning from the business center at the Boardwalk.
It is 2:30 am. Lights out, bed.
Tomorrow: Shop Till We Drop, and Slumber Party!
Tuesday 04 November 2003 – Day 6
It’s Shop Till We Drop Day!
Morning – ugh!
The sun is invading the room, from around the edges of the thick drapes. It’s morning – ugh! Owing to the late night finishing up the dreaded paper, I feel like something with tread marks on it. I feel like the night after a really tearing good drunk, without the benefit of having had fun getting this way. I stumble to the coffee pot, and soon I am on the balcony overlooking the Boardwalk, paging through to see if there are any unanswered calls on my cell phone.
I’ve yet to stay in a Disney hotel that allows my cell phone to function properly without being right next to the window. Sure enough, someone at a Wall Street phone number has been trying to reach me all morning. I listen to the message with dismay. It says that I urgently must attend a 3:00 PM conference call on Thursday the 6th. Phooey. That’s Animal Kingdom day for us. I’m going to have to leave the park and get to a land line in time for this call. Well, I figure I can make the inquiry at the Boardwalk’s business office, when I head over there to email the accursed paper to my professor. There is probably a similar business office at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, and I can probably call from there, rather than trying to come all the way back to my room at the Boardwalk.
I drag the laptop over to the Boardwalk Inn conference center and inquire about internet access. Yes, they have a DSL line and it is $5.00 for 15 minutes – yikes! I’ve since heard that Disney is planning on installing broadband in all their resort rooms, with the same $9.95-all-you-can-eat-in-a-24-hour-period deal that every other hotel in the world already has. Well, it is about time, is all I can say.
There is a woman in the room with the DSL line, on the phone. They ask her if it is ok if I just sit there and use the line, and she says sure. I connect and download email, send the paper to the professor, and peek at a couple of my regular haunts. Then I drag the laptop back to the room, and head out for the bus stop.
Very soon, my family arrives to pick me up and we head to Downtown Disney for lunch at Puck’s little express place. The tables are outside under an awning, which really should also be enclosed in screen or netting. The damned birds are even more aggressive here than they are at the Boardwalk, and we have a tough time fending them off. Also, we had to hunt for a table and four chairs that were not marred by birdie poop. Eeeeew.
Nieceling and I then said goodbye to her parents, who were off to take a “down day” by the pool at their hotel. For her birthday a month before, Nieceling had stated that she wanted a shopping trip in Downtown Disney, and a sleepover at my hotel, so that day had arrived. We proceeded to shop till we dropped. I gave her a spending limit, and we toured World of Disney and Once Upon a Toy picking up lots of little items, like pins and pens and such – you know, 7 year old stuff! She very generously sacrificed $8 of her budget on presents for her parents – Mickey and Minnie antenna toppers! I was equally generous with myself, getting a new Tinkerbell watch, the Nemo and Lion King DVDs, and an Alice in Wonderland pin. I also replaced my lost Maui Jim sunglasses with a new pair. I have this long and painful history with sunglasses, with which I will not bore my gentle readers at this time. However, a search of the Usenet group rec.arts.disney.parks for my spring 2002 trip report will give you one such episode in that long and painful history, should you care to research it.
Nieceling spent a fair amount of time listening to the Hillary Duff CD in Once Upon a Toy, and also to some Kim Possible soundtrack thing. We also pumped quarters into the kibble machine outside of Cap’n Jack’s restaurant and tried to feed the fishes, but the damned birds kept grabbing the kibble right out of the air before it even hit the water. So we decided to try and fake the birds out. We put away the kibble and walked calmly away, whistling and looking about in an unconcerned, carefree manner. When we felt it was safe, we stopped randomly along the lake and unobtrusively tossed a few kibbles over the railing. After the third or so, a fish would come along and then another and another. But always, the damned birds came eventually, and we would have to make another charade of it until they’d forgotten about us in pursuit of some other hapless victims. It is not unusual to witness folks screaming and fleeing from these hoards of voracious pests, as they attempt to extract the very food from one’s lips. Eeeeew.
Now it was time for our swim. It had begun to rain fitfully, spitting a little, then stopping, then spitting, “rinse and repeat”. We walked to the bus stop and it was a long ride back to the Boardwalk, with a stop at Typhoon Lagoon. One family that got on was dripping wet, and not from the rain. It was only sprinkling. They must have just come off an attraction, or out of the pool. I began to feel sorry for the poor, unsuspecting Guest that sat on those seats after them, and resolved that in the future, I would always check the seats before sitting on a bus that had done a pickup at Typhoon Lagoon.
We went to the room and got Nieceling into her suit. The pool at the Boardwalk is in a spot at the resort called Luna Park. It is themed as a typical, old-fashioned Northeastern amusement park. The water slide infrastructure is built to resemble a wooden roller coaster, and the rider pops out of the mouth of a giant clown face in the end, before plopping into the pool. While the kidlet was doing that, repeatedly, I went to the grill and ordered a pina colada. Mmmmm.
I watched and admired Nieceling’s technique for meeting and playing with strangers in the pool. She is an “only”, so this is a skill she has developed for social survival. She targeted a group of girls roughly a little older than she is (hard to tell, she is short for her age). She was doing some sort of cheerleader walk-over move in the pool, and it looked pretty cool. She would get closer and closer to them each time she did it, and eventually one of the girls broke from the group and spoke to her. Soon, she was showing all the girls how she was doing what she was doing. Ah, the old “I have something you want” routine – very effective! I mentally applauded her, as the freakin’ enormous pina colada led me the way to the land of Feelin’ Like A Million Bucks, Relaxin’ and On Vacation!
I walked away to the trash can for a moment to toss the empty cup, turned around, and she was gone. Like, gone from the pool area, completely. My heart stopped. “Oh, Bro, sorry to bother you on your down day, but I seem to have misplaced your child…”. I stopped myself from panicking, and noted that the other girls were gone, too. Ah, a child-type mission has been undertaken, en masse. I sat down and waited. She came scampering back in a few minutes. Apparently, this generation of chilluns has been taught that it is rude to pee in the pool, and so they all went to the ladies room together.
Well, it was time to do something about dinner. I wanted her to have a “young lady” dinner, and she’d brought several dresses from which to choose. We went back to the room, and showered and changed. She had great fun in the disability access shower, with the little seat - thought it was a total novelty to shower while sitting.
Let me tell you something about 7 year olds who have spent the day shopping till they dropped, then swimming in a pool – particularly about 7 year olds who have long hair. Their hair is the knottiest rat’s nest on the planet, and with much chagrin, I exterminated it with copious quantities of some of Auntie “Only Salon Products Will Do” Tink’s *~*~* rather expensive conditioner and a wide tooth comb.
After we were all neat and pretty, we conducted ourselves sedately to Spoodles, where we were seated outside, by request. I ordered another pina colada. The kid demolished a personal pizza, and half of my filet mignon. I smell a growth spurt coming, which will not please the cheerleading squad people, as Nieceling is the tiniest and therefore the one they pitch around during their routines.
We were entertained by a juggler during dinner. I do love these little street performer acts that come out on the Boardwalk. There is even a guy on a bicycle with a piano attached to it. He rides along playing those two bass notes that signify that Jaws is approaching – what a hoot! Nieceling decided instantly to be a juggler when she grows up.
After dinner and the juggler had moved on, we cruised the shops. I bought some of that canned hot chocolate mix that comes in different colors – pink and blue princess hot chocolate. We then proceeded back to the room, where we flipped on the Disney channel and opened the pull-out couch. Well, I attempted, Nieceling actually did it. So easy, a 7 year old can do it. I was, again, chagrined. We then got into our jammies and had a loverly pillow war. During the war, I glanced out the balcony door window and saw the lights go out on Spaceship Earth. We scampered out to the balcony and watched the beginning of Illuminations. Then comes the part that is happening on the video, which we could not see from our balcony, so the battle of the pillows continued. We watched the end of Illuminations, and then I tucked her in and set the timer on the TV. I read for a while, The Forest House, by Marion Zimmer Bradley, but my eyes were seriously talking on a life of their own, and demanded to be shut. Nieceling was already in la-la land. Lights out, bed.
Tomorrow: MGM, the hard way
Wednesday 05 November 2003 – Day 7
MGM, the hard way
When last we saw my trip report from 5 months ago (!), the nieceling and I had spent a pretty fine day together - shopping, swimming, dining, pillow-fighting, and generally being silly. Come morning, I discovered something about the little varmint – she’s just as much of a grouch in the morning as I am, complete with walking into walls. I made coffee and made her some of the pink Princess hot chocolate, which she promptly spit out. Huh? I followed the directions to the letter. I tasted it. Ugh, it IS horrible. Don’t anyone buy that multi-colored hot chocolate – it doesn’t even remotely taste like hot chocolate. What a disappointment. I gave her juice and cereal, and we tidied up the room, packed her little bag with the spoils from our shopping excursion, made ourselves all neat and pretty, and headed over to the Boardwalk Bakery, where I bought the poor child some REAL hot chocolate.
We sat on the Boardwalk, and there was a crinkling in my pocket – ah, the bag with the fish kibble from yesterday, which we never used up because of the overly-aggressive aviators that kept plucking it out of the air before it ever hit the water. Furtively we crept toward the railing and surreptitiously made a couple of test drops over the side. After a bit, the fishies came, and we slowly emptied the bag without any incidents of the aviary interception variety.
Bro and SIL soon arrived, and we boarded the boat to Disney-MGM Studios in the bright sunshine. I really wanted to walk it, especially since the boat had to make two other stops, but the others preferred to ride. Bro went to customer relations to pick up a disability pass for SIL (she of the steel pin in her ankle), which we tend to use only when there is a huge line and she’s in pain already. The rest of us headed immediately over to the Rock-n-Roller Coaster. Upon arrival, it was discovered that Nieceling is still too short – maybe next year! - so Auntie Tink *~*~* went on by her lonesome. Bro still wasn’t back from customer relations, so we trotted over to Tower of Terror. Nieceling was feeling brave, and SIL elected to wait for Bro. The pic (which we did not purchase) came out like many of the pics taken of us on this trip – Nieceling burying her head against the nearest adult. It makes me laugh that she goes on these scary rides, but never sees any of them!
Bro joined us as we exited the ride, and I discovered that they had slept in and really hadn’t had breakfast. So we headed over to the ABC Commissary for a little chow, then cruised over and did Star Tours. I have never been on this ride in Orlando, only in Paris. It was fundamentally the same, except there was no need for English subtitles! When we were done, we started walking over to Indiana Jones.
And then the deluge began. One second, there was brilliant sunshine, and the next moment, torrents of rain were sheeting down from the sky. The drainage system could not handle it all, and soon MGM was one massive puddle. They decided to take Nieceling into The Voyage of the Little Mermaid, but I wasn’t into sitting in an over-air conditioned theater while drenched to the bone, so I sprinted across to the Brown Derby, where I found shelter under a little overhang near the smoking section over there. Bored out of my skull, I decided to spring for a Mickey poncho and do some shopping until they came out of the show. Immediately upon purchasing the poncho, the rain stopped, but the sky remained gray. A bunch of guys with enormous push brooms came out and attempted to clear the water out of the plaza, pushing it toward the storm drains, which were already backed up. I walked over to the big pin store under the BAH (Big Ass Hat, the iconic Sorcerer Mickey hat in the middle of the park) and bought Alice and Jiminy Cricket. I tried not to collect pins, really I did…
I figured they would be coming out of the theater soon, so I trudged back over there, my sneakers squishing uncomfortably as I walked. And the skies opened up once more. I quickly bought three more ponchos and waited by the exit. The doors opened, and a river of people began to pour out, but balked when they saw the downpour. The counter at the shop with the ponchos became very busy, very quickly, and I could not find my fambly in the logjam of folks. The CMs were trying to move everyone along, when suddenly, without warning, a little girl projectile hurled, and the crowd scattered. Poor tyke, she really knew how to clear a room. One of the CMs began to frantically shout, “Bio spill! Bio spill!”, and someone came from behind the poncho counter with a little can of something that looked like cedar shavings and sprinkled it on the barf. A woman near me, apparently a teacher, commented, “Oh, I could use a can of that in my classroom!”
Eventually, via the miracle of modern technology (cell phone), I found the fambly and gave them their ponchos. We were slowly wading through the plaza, trying to figure out what to do next, when there came an announcement – “We regret that due to inclement weather, the parade is cancelled.” Shoot. I like the motor cars parade. Well, what a bummer. As if with one mind, we all four of us turned and made for the exit the park. We decided to go over to the Dolphin and check it out. We do like to check out hotels in our fambly.
Nieceling was shivering as we waited for the boat. Fortunately for us, there was no crowd yet when we got there, so we were able to huddle under the canopy by the dock. Soon there was a long line, and no boat. We saw people walking the path back to the Boardwalk in droves. Finally the boat arrived and we were on our way to the Dolphin.
We wandered the beautiful hotel for a bit, checking out the shops, and Bro bought a sweatshirt with a hood for the shivering Nieceling, a coupla sizes big so she would grow into it for future trips. She looked real cute with the hem dangling around her knees as we finally headed toward Tubbies Buffeteria, where we had a very late lunch/early dinner in the deserted dining room. Hey that food is not half bad! When we left, we decided to skip the boat and hoofed it back to the Boardwalk. They came to the room to get Nieceling’s bag, and then they went to check into the All Stars Movies, as they had checked out of the hotel near Universal that morning.
I took a hot shower to warm myself up, and wrung out and hung my clothing in the bathroom to dry, all the while trying to figure out what to do for the remainder of the evening. My sneakers were soaked, so clearly they needed to be dried. I had other shoes with me, comfy walking flats, so I put those on and headed down to the laundry room, where I was pleased to find that DVC members and guests don't pay to use the washers and dryers. In the sneakers went, making that horrible racket that sneakers make when they are in the dryer. A woman came in sheepishly with her entire family's sneakers in her hand, and we both burst out laughing and had a nice chat together while our sneakers dried.
Not wanting to cook them completely, I took them back to the room after about a half hour and stuffed the toes with paper towels. I tied the shoelaces together and hung them over the chair to finish drying.
I remembered the Grasshopper pin, and now I was a woman with a mission.
I sped through Epcot to take the monorail to the TTC, stopping at every pin cart on the way to search in vain for the Grasshopper. I also stopped in Mouse Gear. No luck. I reckoned Magic Kingdom would be closed by time I got there, so I went to Downtown Disney and scoured all the pin carts and stores there – no luck. Dejected, I returned via bus to the Boardwalk, where I read in my room until 2:30 am. Lights out, bed.
Thursday 06 November 2003 – Day 8
My cell phone NEVER works inside a Disney hotel, but it worked this morning. RRrrrring! It woke me up. I let it go to voice mail. It was someone telling me that the 3:00 pm conference call I was supposed to dial into was cancelled – whoo hoo!
I did the bakery breakfast thing and went down to the bus stop to wait for the fambly to pick me up. It was silly that they drove all the way up from the All Stars to come and get me, only to have to turn around and go all the way back down to Disney’s Animal Kingdom, but that’s my brother for ya. Our first stop was the build-a-pin station, where you can select components and have one of the safari-clad CMs solder it together for you to make a pin. Since the November trip is a combo birthday-anniversary trip for my Bro and SIL, Nieceling decided to do a Minnie-and-Mickey get married pin. We then hurried up the path for Festival of the Lion King, which I’ve never seen before.
Wow, this show is awesome – and this is coming from someone who has seen the original on Broadway. Hey, I want to know why there are no female tumble monkeys, huh? I loved the tumble monkey characters – they were awesome! I also like the Cirque du Soleil-esque bluebird character – she has great form.
It was only lightly misting when we exited, and we all had our ponchos, so we made a visit to Pocahontas and Her Forest Friends. The crowd was small, which gave more opportunities for the kids who were there to talk to the cast afterward. Pocahontas was great with the kids, really paying attention to them and engaging them.
We wanted to do Dinosaur and all that up in that direction, but as we were passing the Flame Tree BarBQ, more deluge started. I noted that there were still a few tables left under the canopy, so SIL and Nieceling went to snag one while Bro and I went to get food. As we climbed up the stairs to the table, we arrived in time to thwart a rather persistent man who, seeing two empty chairs at our table, was trying to wrest them away from SIL. Harumph! People can be so freakin’ rude and pushy.
This was when we discovered that there is a world of difference between Disney’s b-b-q ribs and those at the Enchanted Oak at Universal IoA. Universal wins, hands down. There is just no contest when it comes to the ribs.
Finally, the rain let up and as we began to put on our ponchos, two separate families approached us to ask if we were leaving the table. We had barely risen and collected our things and they were putting their trays on the table and demanding we clear ours. I looked my brother in the eye, and began to take my sweet-ass time, completely ignoring the vultures hovering as if over a carcass. He got the message, and he too began to dawdle. We are from New York, and we don’t take any crap from anyone, so don’t even THINK about messing with us. This infuriated the one father, until he figured out that the other father fully intended to have the table for HIS family. At that point, I thought it prudent to get the hell out of Dodge, and so we did.
Dinosaur was awesome as usual. When we exited, the rain had completely stopped, so we headed off to Priveval Whirl, where we discovered that Nieceling was just under the height requirement. And she threw a snit. A full-out snit. We went across to TriceraTop Spin, where she was uncooperative and sulky. Her father decided no TriceraTop Spin for her, and no ice cream, either. Tears ensued as we walked over to the Tree of Life to see It’s Tough To Be A Bug. When she stopped crying, he gave her the ice cream he’d been hiding behind his back.
As we were entering It’s Tough to Be A Bug, a man shouted at us, “Do you MIND? I’d like to sit with my family!” and we let him pass us. We had no idea there was someone behind us who’d been separated from his family. It happens all the time at theme parks, and there is no need to get all huffy about it – you just tap someone on the shoulder and say “excuse me, that’s my group in front of you” and they always let you pass. Really. I think the rain was getting to everyone and putting them out of sorts.
The show starts, and pretty soon, the kids in that very family in the row next to us started screaming with fear. They were little, maybe 3 and five years old. Screaming the whole time, “I don’t want to be here!”. The man, who was so concerned with being with his family, totally ignored them. At minimum, some comfort was in order. At maximum, remove the kid from the theater, for his own sake as well as that of the other patrons. Sheesh. We exited into brilliant sunshine, and the daughter, being carried out by the father, looked at him with huge, tear-soaked, reproachful eyes, and said, “Why did you do that to me?”
The remainder of our day at Animal Kingdom consisted of the Maharaja Jungle Trek, which is always a delight, Kali River Rapids, and a turn around Discovery Island. Normally, I believe firmly that if you are going to do a water ride, you should do the water ride and be prepared to get wet. However, the clouds were back, and there was a nip in the air, and I really wasn’t into being soaked yet again, so out came the poncho. At Discovery Island, we saw a keeper CM feeding and playing with these itty bitty teeny tiny monkeys with red fluff on their heads, and we spied on a pile of sleeping otters, hopeful that they would awaken and begin to play. Alas, on they slept. We left the park before the parade, mostly because we all agree that as parades go, this one sucks. Also, the pathways at Animal Kingdom seem narrower than at the other parks, and this makes the parade really close and really LOUD.
Off to Epcot we drove, snagging a very good, very close parking spot. We had a PS reservation at the Garden Grill, another first for me – character dinner! First we did Living with the Land, then we did dinner. As the restaurant slowly turns, displaying various farm life tableaux, I saw that darned dog again. I don’t know how he travels around the parks so quickly, playing the multiple roles he has. He’s in Carousel of Progress and Pirates of the Caribbean at Magic Kingdom, and he is in both Living with the Land (sitting on the porch) and in the tableaux at the restaurant. Nieceling agrees with me – he must be magic to be able to play four roles simultaneously, and we speculated about how he can manage such a thing.
The food at the Garden Grill is outstanding – good, plain, down-home vittles, and plenty of them, served family style. We had lots of character action, a steady stream of them visiting our table. Goofy, Mickey, Chip, and Dale all made several appearances apiece. Everything was just awesome, but the salad and the bread were the best. I like the idea that we were eating stuff grown right there in the Land pavilion. I still want to try hydroponic gardening someday.
After dinner, we all hit the rest rooms to prepare for our evening touring Epcot. We were waiting a long time for Bro, and when he came out, he said he wasn’t feeling well and wanted to go back to the room. He took the car, and we ladies proceeded to Mexico for a turn on El Rio Del Tiempo (River of Time), where I had a moment of silence as I entered the boat, for the sunglasses that I lost there in the river the last time I rode with Penny (see trip report from March 2002). After that, we went on to ride Maelstrom in Norway, and headed over to the American pavilion because we’d read that The Fifth Dimension was playing there in the theater that night. The theater was already full, so we got some hot chocolate and snagged a table outside the restaurant to listen. Well, they were dreadful. I guess old age may be finally catching up with them. The accompaniments were disorganized, and the vocals were embarrassing. I bet they don’t get booked there again. It was sad, in a way, to hear the people that brought us such gems as “Up Up and Away” and “Age of Aquarius” mangle them beyond the worst amateur cover band, but that was what happened. A real shame.
It was time to snag a spot for Illuminations, and this time we had ponchos to spread on the concrete while we finished sipping our hot chocolate. Same general area, except I steered the family clear of that rocket launcher that had spewed particles into people’s eyes a few nights earlier. Illuminations never disappoints. After the show, we said goodbye at the International Gateway, and SIL and Nieceling ambled back to the busses. I cruised a few shops and bought a darling pair of chino shorts with Mickey embroidered discreetly on one leg, then strolled in the starlight back to my room at the Boardwalk. I was walking behind a group of folks who were happily singing the Parade of Nations song – “way la oh way la way la…”, and I could not have been a happier camper, until I realized I was headed back to pack my bags. And pack I did, after which I made bullets for this trip report, gazed out on the Boardwalk and Crescent Lake from my balcony for a time, and read for a little while. Lights out, bed.
Tomorrow: Bug out mode, Mission Space! and the journey home.
Friday 07 November – Day 9
Bug Out Mode, Mission Space! and the Journey Home
I was up and at ‘em and ready to go pretty early. Well, for me. I just don’t do commando when I am on vacation. Part of vacation, for me, means SLEEP! If I want to get up at 6 in the morning and do commando, I’ll go to Wall Street.
Much to my chagrin, express checkout didn’t happen. So I had to do the line to check out, where the CM told me, “Oh, you were supposed to have express checkout – I wonder what happened?”. Me too. And then there were an impossible amount of people at Bell Services, checking their bags. They were all British, so I’m guessing there is a flight that gets into MCO from the UK pretty early in the morning, and since they cannot check in to their rooms yet, they leave their bags with Bell Services and go play in the parks.
By time I started hoofing it over to Epcot, they were calling my cell phone wondering where I was. We met up in front of Mission Space, and got some fast passes, then went over to see Ellen Degeneres and Bill Nye The Science Guy at Universe of Energy. By time we got out of there, our Fast Passes had come due, and we proceeded to the part of the trip we’d all been waiting for – Mission Space!
With some trepidation, we witnessed a teenager hurling all over the sidewalk as we walked into the plaza in front of the attraction. We’d heard stories about the centrifugal force of the ride making some folks nauseated, but this was living proof. As we skirted around her, with her mother holding her hair back from the stream of vomit, some little voice in my head was going, “Bio spill! Bio spill!”, and I managed to stifle the inexplicable giggle that began to rise.
This is one exciting ride. There is plenty of interest to see in the queue. The CMs we had all took their “NASA” roles as our trainers/guides very seriously, and soon we were ready to board our capsule. I was nervous that I would not push the right button at the right time, and that our capsule would crash or something. Interestingly, and much to my surprise, I found that the G-forces caused a bit of pain on the side of my face where I sometimes have TMJ pain! Don’t know what that was all about. But overall, a positive and exciting experience for me.
Not so for Bro. Since the night before, he’d not been feeling well to begin with, and now he was feeling really, really sick. I thought it best to get him out of the sun – as gray and chilly as it had been the day before, today it was blazing hot and, by this time, high noon. So we took him over to the restaurant with the talking garbage can, and in the cool air conditioning, with his head down on a table, he slowly began to recover. I never did get to play with all of the cool stuff after exiting the ride. Oh well – next time.
Meanwhile, I noticed that the concert at the enormous fountain was starting, so SIL and I left him at the table with a Coke and Nieceling rubbing his head, and we headed outside to watch. This fountain, with it’s jets timed perfectly to the music, is one of the best pieces of entertainment Disney ever came up with, and there was wild applause at the conclusion of the show. It is even better at night, when colored lights enhance the action. Even if you are not close enough to hear the music, you can watch it from across the lake and still be mesmerized.
Finally, Bro was able to go on, and we headed into Innoventions East, where Nieceling made her own paper, and sat busily coloring it while I tried all manner of gizmos and watchacallits. I’m really disappointed that there was no opportunity to actually test drive a Segway. I have seen the CMs using them, directing traffic in the parking lots, and they look like fun.
Now it was time to go to the airport. Bro drove me, leaving SIL and Nieceling in the park (later, I found out that they did Mission Space several more times while waiting for him to return – they loved it). We scooted over to the boardwalk to get my luggage, and then at the airport I did my typical routine – check my bags at the curb, hang out in the sunshine as long as possible, change into my “north” clothing in the ladies room, and board the flight. The plane took off 45 minutes late due to some circumstance of which we were not informed.
Upon deplaning on Long Island, it was a shock, as always, to feel how freakin’ cold it was in comparison to Florida. I fished out my car from the long term parking and drove the 15 minutes home. I had given orders for the post office to hold my mail, yet there was something sticking out of my mailbox. It was a nastygram from my landlady, one in a series which eventually led to my giving her 30 days’ notice and moving out of a wonderful place where I’d lived for 6 years and had plans of living for at least 3 more while finishing school at the college less than a mile up the quiet, country road.
Nice welcome home, huh? Well, it was a great trip anyway, and I can’t wait to go back!
Thus endeth the November 2003 Orlando Trip Report!
My family came home about 5 days after I did, and when they arrived, they told me the tale of How They Managed To Snag A Grasshopper Pin For Auntie Tink *~*~*.
Nieceling had pinkie-sweared that she and her mother would stop into the Exhibition Hall at the Magic Kingdom and hunt for the Grasshopper pin. Alas, they searched and searched. The CMs there searched and searched. No one could find one, although at least one of the CMs thought they knew it existed. Everyone else thought I’d dreamed it.
And then one day, they decided to have Nieceling get her feet wet with pin trading. She had a few pins I’d bought for her on our Shop Till We Drop day, and she approached a CM. She examined the CMs lanyard, and let out a whoop. And she traded that CM one of her pins for that CMs Grasshopper pin, and came home and gave it to me.
Ain’t she sweet?