[This is a trip report from December 2007, being included as a new post as part of the site redesign]
Introduction and Travel
December 1-8, 2007
As always, I may use abbreviations that you may not be familiar with, like SSR for Saratoga Springs Resort, or DW for “Dear (or Disney) Wife”, etc. Here is a reference list if you need it.
This trip report may not be as detailed as the previous one…I didn’t take notes each day (relying on memory and pictures), and Mothering I’ve since gotten lazy, not completing it for quite a while, so the memory may have faded in areas.
This was our first trip with the kids since joining Disney Vacation Club. We also brought along DW’s parents, so we got a two bedroom villa at Saratoga Springs Resort and Spa. We had wanted to stay at either Beach Club or Boardwalk, to be close to Epcot for my father in law, who had suffered a broken femur some years ago and has some trouble getting around. He considered renting an ECV, but didn’t really want to, so being a short walking distance to the World Showcase would have been good, but it is too hard to get those places at popular times. That’s OK – we like being close to Downtown Disney, and this was our first stay at our home resort.
This was also the first time any of us would be at Disney during the holiday season. We’ve seen it on TV (boy, I’d love Samantha Brown’s job…), and we really wanted to go during that time, and being DVC members it was much easier. Yes, we had to take the kids out of school for a week, and I don’t plan to do it often, but it was worth it. There is just something different about Disney at Christmas.
We had tickets to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party (an event at the Magic Kingdom that requires separate admission), and reservations for dinner as part of a Candlelight Processional package (or so we thought – more in the report), and we made reservations for the Undiscovered Future World and Yuletide Fantasy tours for the in-laws. We also were having breakfast at Cinderella’s Royal Table, so we had all sorts of events lined up.
Naturally, since I’m a “let’s not waste a day, let’s get down there early” kind of cheap nba jerseys guy, we had a 6:50am flight out of Boston on JetBlue – which means we wake up around 3:30am, get the remaining bags, in-laws and kids in the car, and go to the airport. Note: all of our stuff fits easily into the in-law’s Ford Windstar van. This will become important later on.
We get there with what seems plenty of time – except a LOT of people are arriving as well, and the line for JetBlue stretches all the way out the door. Since I had the electronic itinerary already, we went in to the automatic kiosks instead of waiting in the long line, which was for the ticket agents. Only problem is that the kiosks didn’t seem to be working. We instead had to get in another line (the one for baggage of electronic check-in people, except that it was pretty long because they had to do full check-ins at the counter), and wait a while.
We finally get through that, and head to the gates. More lines as usual at security, but we plod on through. Dealing with shoes, items, a laptop, and two kids is a pain at these things because they try and rush you through, but it takes time to collect everything and get your shoes back on.
However, my father-in-law runs into an issue. He has a titanium rod in his leg from his broken femur, so had trouble with the metal detector. Shouldn’t normally be a problem – except no one has a handheld wand at the checkpoint! How does that happen? So he has to wait while they call someone to bring it. We head up to the gate in the meantime, and rotate bathroom runs. It seems to be getting awfully close to boarding time, but they aren’t making any announcements, and the screen behind the desk doesn’t say they are boarding yet, so we wait. I notice at one point that the agent at the desk started to make some announcement, but aborted it to say something to another employee going down the hall, and then it looked like she recorded an announcement, but it never played. I didn’t think anything of it.
Finally, my FiL arrives through security so we are at last altogether, but its about 6:40am and they haven’t said anything, although I now notice that people are going down the jetway. I said to the family that I think we are supposed to board, so we go up and I mentioned to the agent that we didn’t know we were supposed to board yet. She got all mad and said “I’ve only made a bunch of announcements!”, and I said we never heard one and we were right there for 20 minutes. She pretty much ignored me, scanned our four passes (the in-laws held their own), handed them back to me, and myself and DD#1 walked down the jetway. I then notice that DW and DD#2 are not right behind, and I hear something behind me – apparently the agent was asking for their passes, even though I gave her ALL FOUR. As I started to head back, she finally let them through before I could lose my temper with her. I have to say, this is the ONLY problem I’ve had with JetBlue’s service. They are otherwise quite helpful and even fun to deal with.
The flight down was uneventful. I believe our plane was called “Major Blue” (JetBlue names their planes with a theme based on the color blue). Having the TVs is a godsend for two kids on a trip.
We get down to Orlando on time, get our luggage, and find the van for Thrifty Rental and get to the rental center, which is over near some hotels off the airport property. We had a minivan reserved – should be big enough, right? After all, that’s what we got to the airport in. Well, the agent thinks because of our luggage, a bigger vehicle would be good, saying what we had reserved was considered smaller. I agreed, and we upgraded to a Dodge Durango. I also got talked into “pre-paying” for gas, at a much cheaper rate than the local stations were charging. After the flight, I must not have been thinking straight, and I thought that I would be paying for the gas I actually used – NO! After the fact I realize that I agreed to pay for the entire tank of gas, which on a Durango is pretty big! I’m only going to Disney and back, and driving around the area (and to the parks instead of the bus most of the time). If I was driving to Tampa, MAYBE. Stupid. But I didn’t have to get the tank filled before I turned it in at least. I probably should have siphoned it off and sold it to others.
Well, the Durango didn’t seem much bigger. We had a child seat, which can take a lot of space depending on the seating configuration, wholesale jerseys but we only had 6 people, and it seats 7, so there should be plenty of room – but we had a LOT of trouble fitting the luggage in (I think the in-laws bags were larger than they need to be). We tried all sorts of positions, angles, and finally got it all in but with people holding bags, stuff under their feet, etc. – not a comfortable ride for anyone but me, since I was driving. Fortunately we weren’t that far away.
We head down the Beach Line, and got off at International Drive, and got a look at the continuing construction of Sea World’s Aquatica park. Didn’t look much different from July. I took I-drive all the way down to 536, and then went up 535 to head up to the entrance closest to SSR itself, and I also wanted to familiarize myself with what was in the area since I hadn’t been up that road in 8 years. Left in to the World, over to SSR and check-in while everyone stretches their legs.
The Crocs Saga, Episode 2
If you read my previous trip report, I extolled the virtues of Crocs, and how they helped prevent my blisters from getting worse. Unfortunately this time, I had hoped they would prevent them from forming. Well, I still ended up with some nasty blisters, and I haven’t figured out why yet. The difference was that I could still walk reasonably well. So this time, I went to the store at Artist’s Palette at SSR and got some “moleskin”, which is a material kind of like thin felt on one side, and an adhesive surface on the other. You cut it to size and shape and put it over the trouble spots. That finally seemed to stop them from getting worse – but its a slow process every morning.
Day 1 – Arrival at Saratoga Springs Resort and Spa
On checking in, I found out that neither of my area requests (Grandstand or Congress Park) were granted, and we were out in the Paddock, on the far side (only Carousel is further away from anything), but our building is right by the bridge over the pond that leads to The Springs area and the front of the resort. This didn’t turn out so bad – it was pretty quiet except for the rare loudspeaker from the Reedy Creek Fire Department building nearby. While there, I ask to have my in-laws park hopper passes added to their room keys – that way they only have one card to worry about. This didn’t go so well as you’ll see later.
I drove over to the Paddock while some walked over (to avoid squeezing in to the car again) and began the process of unloading the car. Our room was on the 4th floor at one end, overlooking a small pond. It is what is called a “dedicated” two bedroom villa – that is, there is a common entrance, with one bedroom (similar in size to a typical “studio” room) off to one side and a livingroom/kitchen area and master bedroom to the other. Other two bedroom villas are called “lockoffs”, which are in fact a separate 1 bedroom and a studio unit that have a connecting door between them, and can be booked separately or as a two bedroom unit.
The kitchen area is nice. At first, you would think “What would I need a kitchen for at Disney?” But I can tell you it can be pretty useful. You don’t need to eat out at every meal – you can buy food at a local supermarket and make yourself a meal, especially if you have one or two “down” days where you just relax at the resort. Or make a quick breakfast on your way out the door. We knew there was a Winn-Dixie just a little further north on 535 so we made a quick run to pick up various supplies and a couple of pizzas from Papa Johns before starting out on our day. On our return, I discovered that my mother-in-law packed things like cookies, crackers – all sorts of things we could have easily gotten at the store. No wonder the bags were so big! And the other nice thing is the washer/dryer. No need to pack clothes for every day – you can wash and reuse your clothes!
The master bedroom has a semi-shared bathroom to the living area. There are several doors that can be locked allowing the large whirlpool tub to be locked off from the toilet area.
There were only two problems we found with the room. In the second bedroom, the folding closet door wasn’t hinged right, and kept falling out. I managed to fix it myself as it just needed the hinge post pushed upward into the hole at the top – apparently the spring wasn’t forcing it up on its own. The other was the bar across the door of the fridge that holds things on the door shelf – it kept falling out! Fortunately nothing broke when it happened. We called maintenance, but later on managed to figure out that they had put it in UPSIDE DOWN, and were able to fix it ourselves again. At least it wasn’t another three trips from maintenance just to clear a drain like last time.
SSR is a very large resort, rebuilt from the former Disney Institute. If you like walking, this is the resort for you. There are two places to eat in the resort – the Turf Club Bar and Grille, which we didn’t get to try other than a couple drinks at the little bar in the “living room”-like area, and the Artist’s Palette, a counter service not to be confused with Artist’s Point at the Wilderness Lodge. Artist’s Palette has easels and drawing pads on the tables for kids, and acts as a combination counter service and resort store. Although we’ve never found it crowded I understand at breakfast time it can be impossible to get in. For other options, Downtown Disney is right next door and has all the options you can dream of.
The bus service at SSR also seemed reasonable. There is a designated stop for each of the 5 areas of SSR. The one for the Paddock was also right near our building, in front of the quiet pool. There are a few buses that stop at each location and then go to their destination, and there are a couple (I don’t remember which, perhaps Animal Kingdom and the water parks) that stop at only The Springs I think, which is the most central location. We never really had to wait too long for a bus.
There is also a water taxi service that services both SSR and Old Key West from the Downtown Disney Marketplace dock. We took it once, as it wasn’t terribly convenient and brings you to the main building at SSR, which is clear on the other side of where we were staying.
The main pool, towards the front of SSR, is the “High Rock Springs” pool. It’s pretty big, with a zero-entry area, a small kiddie water slide, and a larger one for the older kids. They often have activities in and out of the pool, and on some evenings they play movies on a giant inflatable screen.
The Grandstand area also has a largish pool area, although I didn’t get over there to see it. There is a water play area with a race horse theme there. The Paddock and Congress Park also have “quiet” pools.
Overall, we were quite pleased with SSR, despite it often being spoken of as the “least favorite” of the DVC resorts.
We decided that from SSR we would head straight to Epcot, enjoy some attractions, some of the holiday storytellers, and then check out the Christmas lights. I would have liked to get to all the storytellers, but that is harder than you might think, given limited appearances. Even going to Epcot twice we only got a handful.
The adventure of complications for this vacation started at the gate. Everyone went through except my father-in-law and myself (holding up wholesale jerseys the rear). He used his room key (which was supposed to have his park hopper on it), and it kept coming up invalid. Tried a number of times to no avail. The CM says there is no entitlement on it. So we go over to Guest Relations and talk to the helpful CM there – I believe her badge said she was from Norway. She checked the card, and said there was no entitlement on it at all, except for room access. I explained that I had the Park Hopper transferred to the card at SSR, and she said we’d have to get that taken care of back there. I asked “But what are we supposed to do now?”, and she gave us a single-day pass so that we could at least go to the park and not have to go all the way back again. I’d take care of the pass issue when we got back.
After spending some time in the Futureworld area and hitting some of the attractions (not Soarin’ though – Fastpasses were pretty much gone) we started heading over to the World Showcase, to at least Canada and United Kingdom from what I remember, and of course we stopped for some drinks in the Rose and Crown.
It started to get dark, so we headed back to the front of the World Showcase and grabbed some space under the trestle work for the tree lighting ceremony. There already was a fair crowd, so we ended up pretty far back. For the tree lighting they had a ceremony with cast members from each country on stage with Mickey, Minnie, Donald, and Pluto, along with Chip & Dale (those chipmunks are everywhere), doing a little stage show. Goofy shows up dressed as Santa, talking about setting a new tradition for lighting the tree, and they start singing some carols in various languages. Then the tree and the trestles were lit while singing “Silent Night” (the new tradition), with the lights of the trestles dancing with the music.
From there we went around the World Showcase. The only storyteller we managed to catch was Father Christmas in the United Kingdom. But by the time Illuminations was to start, we were tired enough from our early morning to call it a night.
We went back to SSR, and I walked (I enjoyed the walk from the Paddock across the bridge to the main building) to deal with the park hopper issue. I brought the original cards as well, and explained the situation to the CM. She checked, and sure enough the room key did not show any entitlements – but neither did the original. While poking around, she said something to the effect that the entitlement had somehow ended up on a DIFFERENT card! I have no idea how that could have happened. What I SHOULD have checked is whether possibly both entitlements ended up on my mother-in-laws card instead, but its too late to check that now – I don’t think we have the card any more. The CM went back to the office, and after a bit came out and said that they couldn’t reverse what had happened, but instead issued a new 7-day Park Hopper in its place, on its own card – which looked unfortunately just like a room key but printed with “Park Hopper” on it instead of the guest name, etc. – even worse than what I was trying to avoid by getting it moved to the room key in the first place. We’ll just have to deal with it. Someone’s got a free 7-day hopper on a card somewhere – you’re welcome…
Back across the bridge and to bed.
Day 2 – Downtown Disney, Disney-MGM Studios and the Osbourne Spectacle of Lights
Our second day was focused on the Osbourne Spectacle of Lights at MGM, but of course those wouldn’t be lit until nightfall, so we had a whole day to spend in the park in the meantime. No real plans, no ADRs.
Since we knew we would be staying late at MGM, we took our time, had a little breakfast in the room (advantage of having a villa – food and drink in the fridge), and walked over to Downtown Disney for a little early shopping and looking about, snapping pictures along the way.
Right by the entrance of the Downtown Disney Marketplace (where the bus stops are), they had some winter-styled statues of some of the classic characters, done in an icy blue-white color and given some holiday decorations. Plus, more towards the World of Disney store, they had a Christmas tree set up, with snowflakes and Barrel Full of Monkeys monkeys encircling it, and various board games laid out like presents underneath it.
We stopped by the Ghiradelli fountain shop for some ice cream, and set our sites on returning later in the week to try some of the holiday oriented desserts.
When we visit MGM, we often find ourselves going back and forth across the park, and we wanted to try and avoid that this time. I don’t think we were terribly successful, but we were only there for a partial day. We did a few of the standard attractions (with the in-laws bowing out of Tower of Terror and Rockin’ Roller Coaster), and at one point we split up with DW and DMiL taking our youngest to see Beauty And The Beast, while DFiL, myself and our oldest checked out the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular.
After a while, we went to see Fantasmic (no dinner package this time – and we got much better seats because of it). We sat third row left of center, and got to see things much more clearly than the extreme right side seats reserved for the dinner package people.
After Fastasmic, it was time for the lights – The Osbourne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights. This is something you really have to see. It may sound like Disney has just dressed up the Streets of America area with some holiday lights…but it goes far beyond that – think “Christmas Vacation”, but better. Millions of lights light up the streets, with large areas of them set in sync with music. Angels float over the courtyard in front of LMA. And “snow” (really, fine soap bubbles) falls over the guests. It was unbelievable.
Day 3 – Animal Kingdom, Polynesian, Grand Floridian, Raglan Road
On Day 3, we headed over to Animal Kingdom for morning Extra Magic Hour. Of course, we headed over to Expedition Everest first for a ride. We also hit Kali River Rapids – and pretty much everyone was soaked afterwards – we ended up buying DD#2 a new outfit. We then headed over to the Safari before it got too late in the day to see most of the animals. We also saw DiVine for the first time. If you are walking around, and there seems to be a crowd looking at something where there doesn’t appear to be anything, look closely at the trees – one of them probably isn’t a tree…
By 11:30 it was time for our reservations at Tusker House, newly converted in to a buffet. The food was great, with a wide variety. The trouble is trying everything, without ending up with a ridiculously piled high plate. The selections were kept well stocked, except for one dish that always seemed empty, although I can’t remember what it was now. Certainly worth doing again.
We then hit a few more attractions, and had hoped to see Finding Nemo: The Musical, but the timing wasn’t great so we opted for Festival Of The Lion King instead. A little later, we staked out a spot for the Holiday version of “Mickey’s Jammin’ Jungle Parade”, called “Mickey’s Jingle Jungle Parade”. It’s basically the same parade, but the characters are in some winter and holiday outfits and the music is a bit different. Prior to the parade beginning, DD#1 got chosen for a “wish” and got to help with crowd control during the parade – they gave her a cast member shirt to wear (temporarily – not to keep), and afterwards gave her one of the Tinkerbell pins given out as part of the “wish” program. After the parade we headed out.
Rather than go back to the resort right away, we decided to stop and take a quick tour of the Polynesian and Grand Floridian to see the holiday decorations. In addition, we had recently purchased a brick as part of the Walk Around The World program, and hadn’t seen it yet. “Wait!” you say – the Walk program closed several years ago, so how did we get a brick? Well, as it turns out the program re-opened briefly in 2007 to try and fill in some of the blank bricks in various locations, especially in front of the Magic Kingdom. The price had also increased to $300 from the original $95. We filled out the form, sent it in, and then the program abruptly closed. At first I was told I would not get a brick, and couldn’t get any information as to why it suddenly stopped (the CMs who worked to re-open the program weren’t told). Then I heard I would get a brick, and it would be located near the Poly (by request – that was the first Disney resort we stayed at as a complete family). So finally we could see our brick in person.
The brick had a location code of “P1A” (which gives what section it is in), and it would be right by the Luau Cove, which is the extreme end of the resort towards the Grand Floridian. So we walked over there, looked around…and around…and around…and it wasn’t there. There was no “P1A” section! I walked halfway to the Floridian and back to no avail. I knew there were some Poly bricks on the path to the TTC, but those were a different location code. Eventually, we gave up and I would ask at Guest Relations at the Magic Kingdom when we were over there. In the meantime, we checked out the decorations and hopped the Monorail to the Grand Floridian to check things out there. There was a big gingerbread house, which included a little store inside. Then it was back to the resort.
For dinner, we went back to Downtown Disney, and managed to get a walk-in table at Raglan Road, which we enjoyed before. I was dismayed to see Kevin’s Heavenly Ham was no longer on the menu, so I opted for the Paddy’s Pork, which was delicious. I forget what everyone else had, but we were generally pleased with the food, although the service was pretty slow, and we had a booth near the entrance so it was pretty loud with a lot of traffic. My FiL and I did the beer flights. No dessert this time…too full from the food.
A little more shopping, and then we retired to the resort. On the way back on the bus from DTD, we stopped at The Springs stop before the Paddock. I overheard a daughter tell her mother that she left her denim jacket on the bench at the bus stop. The mother figured it was lost at that point. I said that since I was getting off at the Paddock, I would walk over to The Springs, and if the jacket was there, I’d bring it over to the front desk. Sure enough it was still there, so I dropped it off at the desk, and then began the long trek back to the Paddock (even with all that walking, I don’t think I could come close to working off the calories gained during the week) and some rest.
Day 4 – Epcot, Concourse Steakhouse, Magic Kingdom/Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party
On Day 4, we had two things scheduled – lunch at the Concourse Steakhouse (before it closed forever) at 1:30pm, and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party that night at the Magic Kingdom. Our morning was free, so we decided to hit Epcot for a bit.
Of course, we hit Soarin’ first, and a quick bite at Sunshine Seasons. Beyond that, I don’t remember much else, as we weren’t there very long.
We then scooted from there over to the Contemporary Resort for our lunchtime reservations at Concourse Steakhouse. I don’t recall what we had, but I was pretty unimpressed. It was fairly empty (possibly because of its impending closure in a couple of months), and perhaps coupled with the knowledge of the closure, made it seem kind of dismal. I would have rather been over at Chef Mickey’s.
While we were there, we checked out the decorations at the Contemporary. There they had a sculpture – not sure if it would correctly be called a chocolate sculpture, a pastry sculpture, or what – of Pinocchio and Geppetto, with plenty of Hidden Mickey’s to spot.
After lunch, we went over to the Magic Kingdom. I first stopped at Guest Relations outside and inquired about the Walk brick. The Cast Member said that it was in fact over on the TTC side of the Polynesian. The location code was in fact not a real location, but apparently just used for fill-in bricks in random locations at the Poly. So at least I know where to look now, and there aren’t that many bricks over there.
We then did the usual at Magic Kingdom, hitting all the major rides. We had dinner at Cosmic Rays (our now traditional stop for food at MK), and basically killed time until the Christmas Party. Before then, as it began to get dark, there was the lighting of Cinderella’s Castle. If you think you’ve seen it before, you haven’t. New for 2007 was a whole new way of lighting the castle, with thousands of tiny lights that give the impression of glowing ice all over the castle, with the Fairy Godmother providing the magical power to light it.
Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is a separate charge event at the Magic Kingdom. Essentially, the Magic Kingdom “closes” for everyone except those with Party tickets (at 7pm in this case, not sure if its always the same time). You get a wristband much like with Extra Magic Hours, and if you are not wearing a wristband you are not admitted to attractions and are directed to the park exit. In spite of this, it is still very crowded. You have cheap jerseys all the major rides still open for Party guests, plus there are all sorts of extra events happening all around the park. Now this is where Disney gets you to come back and spend more money – I don’t think it is possible to see EVERYTHING thanks to lines and schedules, so if you want to see everything, you need to attend two Parties.
First up was the Mickey’s Once upon a Christmastime Parade, which is a somewhat typical Disney parade but with a Christmas theme, done in the dark, which made taking photos a bit troublesome. The parade concluded with Mr. and Mrs. Claus.
We also saw the Celebrate the Season show in front of the castle, which is a stage show with the Princesses along with the core characters, and the holiday version of Wishes fireworks. There was also some dancing at Cosmic Rays (which we skipped), and Mickey’s ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas at the Galaxy Palace Theater, which we also skipped as there was a long line to wait in and we wanted to do other things.
There are various photo opportunities, including Santa Claus (off Main Street), Santa Goofy, and other characters – we caught Stitch outside Space Mountain.
There is also free juice, cocoa (eh) and cookies (yum), if you can fight your way through the crowds to one of the serving stations.
After a while, we decided to call it a night about an hour before closing, and we can sleep late (well, some of us) for our “day off” the next day.
Day 5 – Wilderness Lodge, Polynesian, Adventurers Club
Day 5 was a day off of sorts. My in-laws had a scheduled “Undiscovered Future World” tour scheduled in the morning, so I dropped them off and returned to the resort. Our plan was to tour some resorts (we had already been to several resorts by then though), do some shopping, and check out the resort pool.
Since we had already been to several of the deluxe resorts to see the decorations, and would at least stop at Beach Club later in the week, we decided we’d head to Wilderness Lodge first, which we had never been to before. Now we are hoping to stay there for our April 2009 trip.
The first impression I got walking up to the Lodge was of a mountainside lodge. It felt weird, because I KNOW I’m in Florida which is incredibly flat – but for some reason, I had a sense of altitude.
Inside, you see the immense lobby. Four or five floors, all with the appearance of a log cabin style, with an immense Christmas tree in the center, and an 80-foot fireplace to one side. If it was colder, I’d think I was at a ski lodge, and I should be defrosting my toes in front of a fire with some cocoa.
We took a walk outside, following the Silver Creek Falls, which starts as a bubbling geyser inside the building, down into the pool outside. We also walked around to the Wilderness Lodge Villas, which are adjacent to the Wilderness Lodge but not connected, and looked at the foyer area with its tree and sitting area.
Since we were there, we decided that we would check out the Whispering Canyon Cafe for an early lunch. If you are unfamiliar with this place, this is a little different than your typical dining establishment. If you don’t like being teased, this is not the place for you. Shirt, shoes and thick skin required.
The servers are all in character, and will generally be gruff with and tease the guests – vocally so, so that everyone around you can enjoy it at your expense. If you are lucky (assuming you don’t crave that sort of attention), someone at another table handled by your server will be more appetizing to their humor. We didn’t get too much aimed at us, but at a table next to us was a large group, and after an exchange one man mentioned that he worked as a restaurant manager. That’s like trying to put a fire out with jet fuel. At another table, someone asked for a refill on a soda (which is served in Mason jars), and out came the waiter with another soda – in a giant Mason jar. It had to be at least 2 gallons. I think the person had a few sips of it before leaving. They also periodically do group things with the kids, like galloping around the room on those old horse-head-on-a-stick-with-a-wheel toys.
Our server was OK, but the one handling the large table was funny. We noticed that her name badge said, “Patriot, MA”, which we knew didn’t exist, so we asked her about it. She said that she was from Florida, Grynszpans but they allow anything to be put on the badge, and someplace other than in Florida would sound more interesting. She was a Patriots fan (who were in the midst of their 16-0 regular season), so she had that put on her badge. We chatted on and off through the rest of our meal.
After that, we stopped at the Polynesian again to find our brick. We finally located it on the short path from the Poly that leads to the Ticket and Transportation Center. It is easy enough to spot now – we have the only brick in the area – and perhaps in the entire Walk Around The World – that is rotated 180 degrees from all the surrounding bricks. I have no idea why, although it does make it easier to read since its up against the wall of the pathway. We then stopped inside Captain Cooks for a quick Dole Whip. For Dole Whip fans, this is the only other place on property you can get it aside from Aloha Isle in the Magic Kingdom, although they don’t offer it as a float. For those who don’t know what a Dole Whip is, imagine pineapple-flavored soft-serve ice cream, except its non-dairy, and very yum. It’s especially refreshing on a hot summer day as a float in pineapple juice.
After that, we went back to the resort, and we checked out the High Rock Springs pool, which is the main pool located behind the main building at Saratoga Springs. It had a zero-entry area, a small and large water slide so both kids were covered, and there were regular activities handled by cast members. At night a couple times a week they will show a movie on an inflatable screen poolside.
There is another active pool area in the Grandstand section which is fairly new, but we didn’t get a chance to check it out.
After that, the in-laws kept the kids at the resort and DW and I headed to Downtown Disney to the Adventurers Club. If you are unfamiliar with it, you can check out Day 2 of our July 2007 Report. Being the holiday season though, some of the elements are a bit different. In particular, the Radiothon show is replaced with a Holiday Broadcast, with the characters singing various songs, such as “Dominick the Christmas Donkey”, so we were glad to catch this show. And interestingly, although the cast members have changed over the years, I’m pretty sure the maid this time was the same maid we had seen several times when we first found the Adventurers Club 8 years earlier. Also, the part of Otis T. Wren was played by the same actor who played Hathaway Browne when we were there in July.
[Alas, this is very probably the last time we will be able to go to the Adventurers Club, as Disney has announced that all the clubs of Pleasure Island will close and be replaced with more shops and restaurants – a mere week before we are able to get down there again. This is very sad, as this is probably the most uniquely Disney establishment in all of Downtown Disney, and the last thing they really need down there is more shops and restaurants. Fans are hopeful, however, that the AC will be spared, or perhaps rumors are true of it being relocated and part of something bigger…]
Day 6 – Magic Kingdom, Cinderella’s Royal Table
Today was a totally Magic Kingdom day for the most part. Other than breakfast with the entire family at Cinderella’s Royal Table, nothing was especially planned for the day.
Our ADRs were for 8:15am, so we were able to get into the park early, and it is a bit surreal. There are very few people in the park, mainly people who also have early ADRs. But you can take pictures along the way, and there are plenty of Photopass photographers to take your picture in front of the castle.
Cinderella’s Royal Table (CRT) has changed a little bit since we went in 2003. Back then, the Fairy Godmother greeted you downstairs, and Goes Cinderella was among the princesses who worked the room upstairs. Now, Cinderella greets you downstairs, with a full Photopass setup where you get the picture package while you are dining (the basic package is included with the price of the meal). Upstairs, we were visited by Aurora, Snow White, Belle and Jasmine (note that the characters may vary on occasion).
Also new is that the children receive “wishing stars” (small light blue translucent plastic stars) and either wands (for the princesses) or swords (for the princes) which they get to keep. At times they will ask them to wave their wands/swords and say some magic words while they make a wish.
The food was decent, but perhaps nothing special. It is a buffet, but it is brought to you. You initially get a plate with a bit of everything, and then you can ask for more. The fruit cups were good. Most of the rest was acceptable, with nothing standing out either way.
This was our second CRT, which we wanted to do special for both daughters and their grandparents. More likely in the future we will be looking at other princess meal options, perhaps the Storybook meals at Akershus in Epcot, or something over at the Grand Floridian.
One odd thing I noticed when we came out, and were waiting for some who had stopped in the (quite nice) restrooms, is that the exit door and stroller parking is right in one Studios! of the “smoking zones” where people are allowed to smoke. I think there could be a better location than right where everyone exits and will be loading their young children into their strollers.
One thing we did that we had never done before is ride on the Liberty Square Riverboat. Now we can cross it off the list. It was OK, but nothing terribly special. It slowly goes around Tom Sawyer Island, and it takes a while.
We did take the in-laws on the Jungle Cruise for their first time. Our skipper was not quite as funny as last time – sometimes I think they just do it for so long it becomes too routine and the delivery suffers. Last time, the skipper even used the fact that he had 5 more hours to go as part of his routine.
We also got to see the new and improved Haunted Mansion. I was very impressed with some of the new effects – the Escher staircases with footsteps appearing, the floating Madame Leota, and whatever the ghost bride room is called. They did very well with this update without really changing the character of the ride itself.
We stopped at Cosmic Rays for lunch for a bit, did a few more rides, and by mid afternoon we were ready to head out. While we were waiting to regroup with my in-laws we waited upstairs in the train station overlooking Main Street. To our surprise, as the Family Fun Day Parade (a small parade that families can voluntarily take part in and simply march the parade route and then dance around the town square), Snow White invited both daughters to stand with her and Dopey and watch the parade take place.
After that we headed back to our villa.
After a bit of rest we spent some more time at the Downtown Disney Marketplace. Myself and my father-in-law split off and went back to Raglan Road for some beers and some Bread and Butter Pudding, and everyone called it a night.
Day 7 – Epcot, Coral Reef, Candlelight Processional
Day 7 was a Totally Epcot day. The in-laws had a Yuletide Fantasy Tour scheduled which started and ended at Epcot, so we all went and the rest of us did the Soarin’ Sprint for another ride and another breakfast at Sunshine Seasons, and we did the rounds for the various other attractions. We also stopped by the Disney Visa Meet&Greet for some photos with the kids.
Once World Showcase opened, we hoped to be able to do a lot, if not all, of the Christmas/Holiday storytellers. However, this seems to be fairly difficult due to their schedules. We managed to catch Pere Noel in France early on, along with Santa Claus and an excellent storyteller explaining Kwanzaa over by American Adventure. We also stopped inside American Adventure not only for the show, but for Voices of Liberty, quite simply an amazing a capella singing group who do an incredible job year round, but because of the holidays they did Christmas carols which were superb.
We also made a little side trip through the International Gateway to the Beach Club, to look around at the holiday decorations, but also introduce our daughters to Art, the Greeter at the Beach Club, who I mentioned in our July 2007 Trip Report and we’d promised we would bring the kids by next time we were there. We didn’t see him around, and we asked a Cast Member if he was working. She asked Vic, another of the greeters, and he was out sick that day. I later learned that he suffered from a bad case of pneumonia and missed quite a bit of work. Fortunately he has since recovered, and our next stay in October 2008 will be at the Beach Club, so we definitely should see him again.
For decorations, the Beach Club had a rotating merry-go-round made of gingerbread (2007 pieces, I assume for the year), complete with 4 horses I believe made of modeling chocolate. It even included characters like Mickey and Donald, but also 8 Hidden Mickeys! For some reason some of my pictures came out blurry though. Congrats to the Yacht and Beach Club Bakery and the Engineering Team that built it.
For the evening, we had booked a Candlelight Processional dinner package when the packages were announced, which would give us guaranteed seating for the Candlelight Processional, with Monique Coleman from High School Musical doing the reading, so DD#1 was thrilled. However, this almost turned in to those “they screwed up and I lost out” stories. You know those stories from people who change their reservation times for an ADR but for the same day, only to find out they don’t have a reservation on that day any more? That happened to us this time.
We originally had ADRs for Coral Reef at 1:30pm on 12/7, prior to the CP packages being announced. When they came out, I switched it to a CP dinner package at 4:00pm, same day. When we arrived around 3:45pm – they don’t have me listed at all! I give them the reservation number, and they have me listed for 12/11! We’re leaving on 12/8, why on earth would I make a reservation for 12/11?
I probably turned white, and then very quickly red (after all, how would they be able to seat me, and get my CP passes, this late in the game? I knew it was sold out), but before I could say more, they got a manager. Well, major props for Moroccan manager Alicia, who came out, was able to get us seated very quickly, and was able to arrange for our passes, only we had to get them at the booth near the theater since they only had as many as they had reservations on hand. A fortunate success story.
We got seated in the first row of half-moon seats, so we had an excellent view of the tank – not bad for people who apparently didn’t have a reservation. Our server (who’s name I’ve since forgotten) was also excellent, very engaging, and even gave us an extra lobster bisque because he grabbed the wrong soup from the kitchen, and didn’t feel like bringing it back!
The meal itself was excellent. After having made the reservations, I started hearing more and more people being disappointed in Coral Reef, so I was a bit apprehensive, thinking I should have played it safe and gone with Rose & Crown or Biergarten. Buy I also firmly believe that we should find out things for ourselves instead of basing decisions on opinions posted online. I was glad we stuck to it, as everyone agreed that it was our best meal at Disney this trip. It was also the most expensive, beating Cinderella’s Royal Table by a significant margin. I don’t remember what everyone had, but my father-in-law and myself had the grilled mahi-mahi which was delicious. And the Bailey’s Mousse was wonderful.
After dinner we strolled back over to the World Showcase and while passing Norway managed to catch their storyteller who told the interesting story about Julenissen, the mischievous Christmas gnome, who kept playing tricks on her while she was telling the story. DW also ran over and got a video of the storyteller in Germany.
We headed over to pick up our passes and get in line for the Candlelight Processional at 6:15pm – and it was already all the way to Morocco right in front of Mo’Rockin (which was kind of loud…)! Fortunately the CMs allowed my father-in-law to sit and wait for us inside since he wouldn’t be able to stand that long. I think the line extended almost to France before it started moving. But on the other side, the standby line was at least that long, probably longer.
The line entered in pretty quickly, but once in, there was very little direction as to where to sit. Most people just went like lemmings following the person in front of them. Eventually we found seating that we were allowed to sit in probably 10 rows from the back, on the stage right side, with a (July couple of trees between us and the stage – fortunately they weren’t that obtrusive, and I used the tree to try and steady the camera for some pictures, but they didn’t come out very well.
The “passes” this year were in fact stickers (think “My Name Is…” stickers, except with the show time on them), and a lot of people stuck it on their chests – but they don’t stay on. At least two people lost them on the way in, and they will NOT let you in otherwise. You can see the stickers on the ground on the way in. Fortunately at least one of the people found theirs – or at least one that was lost…We kept most of ours on the paper they came on, although some people were told they had to put them on.
Voices of Liberty were joined by a large choir (I’m afraid I don’t remember where they were from), and they all did an incredible job with the singing. Monique Coleman did a decent job with the reading, although her delivery was just as if she was reading it.
After that we were pretty much tired out, and headed back to the resort. On the way out, we found out that some of the walkway area by Innoventions has LED or fiber-optic lights embedded in it, producing swirling shapes and colors. We had never seen this before, and the kids were fascinated. It took a bit of effort to get them away from it.
Day 8 – Disney/MGM, Hollywood and Vine, Going Home
Day 8 was our departure day, but our flight wasn’t until 7:30pm, so we planned a half day at Disney-MGM Studios (which had morning Extra Magic Hours), with Hollywood&Vine booked for lunch (DD#2 is a big Little Einsteins fan).
But of course, we have travel troubles. We tried doing the remote check-in desk again. As it turns out, there appears to be a problem with the fact that we have an apostrophe in our last name. They couldn’t print our boarding passes, but they could for my in-laws. The apostrophe apparently would be taken by the check-in interface, but since the reservation had the apostrophe they couldn’t just omit it. Same thing happened last July, although the relatively inexperienced people at the desk then didn’t pick up on what the issue Yasur might have been. This time, however, they were able to at least check in all our bags so we didn’t have to transport them with us and have all that fun like we had getting to the resort. I complained to JetBlue – although they hadn’t heard other reports of this problem (they never do…), they would forward it to the “appropriate team”.
We still made it for rope drop, although we weren’t very far up the road. We did our usual Tower of Terror/Rockin’ Roller Coaster run to start while the in-laws occupied DD#2.
Our first major item this time was to bring the in-laws to see Lights, Motors, Action. We had no problem getting in, and the show was good – but pretty much the same as what we saw in July, so a certain surprise in the show just wasn’t surprising to us. This is something that if you’ve seen it before, you can skip it again. I did get some good action shots again, including the stunt person on fire and some mid-air shots…I like the new camera so much more than the old one.
Then it was time for our character lunch at Hollywood & Vine, with Leo and June from Little Einsteins, along with Jojo and Goliath. H&V is generally a rather simple buffet served in a diner-like atmosphere, but we like it. The characters make their rounds, and periodically the characters and other Cast Members will do a song-and-dance number, inviting the kids up to join them. DD#2 loved this so much, at one point she just got out of her seat and started dancing around several tables – even though they weren’t doing it at the time.
At one point, Leo came to our table and was trying to sign the autograph book, but was having trouble getting the pen to work. I let slip, “I thought Leo was the smart one…” Trust me, these characters can give you a nasty look, even though they can’t blink. But it was in good fun. At least it was after I apologized.
After lunch we caught the holiday version of the Stars and Motorcars parade, which also was led off by Princess Giselle from Enchanted. Many of the parade characters and/or their vehicles were dressed up cheap nba jerseys for the holidays. One unusual item is that the parade still featured Bear In The Big Blue House and PB&J Otter characters – even though they had been dropped from Playhouse Disney programming for some time.
After the parade, some of us went to One Man’s Dream, an exhibit on Walt Disney that we hadn’t actually been to before. There are all sort of exhibits of things from Walt’s childhood, things he created, and models of plans for Walt Disney World. There was a movie as well, but because we had split up and needed to meet up again we skipped it – it is on our list for next time though. Leaving there, we caught a couple of the Little Einsteins and grabbed pictures with the kids.
After that, we went to the Magic Of Disney Animation, and went through the whole exhibit. Afterwards we got pictures with Emile of Ratatouille (Remy had disappeared) and the Incredibles, and talked with a cast member who was from the Massachusetts area. He told us something interesting. When you are on the tour, and you are in the small theater where the animator speaks, look all about the room. There are all sorts of things on shelves…some are obvious (like a Woody doll), but others you might wonder about. One is a picture of the late Tom Yawkey (although it may not still be there), who had owned the Boston Red Sox. Why would there be a picture of Tom Yawkey in a Disney exhibit? According to the CM (who I apologize for not remembering his name, but too much time has passed), the CMs who work there are allowed to bring in personal items to decorate that room. His was a picture of Tom Yawkey. When he was a young kid, the Yawkeys were friends of his family, and did a lot for them.
At this point, it was time to go home.
It was a relatively uneventful ride back to the airport, except for some nasty looking clouds. Sure enough, weather delays started to happen. I don’t remember what time we took off, but we got to Logan airport around midnight – when the airport is mostly empty. And Terminal C is eerie when it is empty.
Since we had lots of bags, I grabbed a baggage cart near the gate, loaded it with our carry-ons, and head out of the gate area to the baggage claim. Now, the problem is that our plane got in pretty late. The security gates were closed. The only way they had to baggage claim which was on a lower level was a set of stairs/escalators – you can’t take a heavy duty baggage cart down those. Two security guys just kind of stood there. I asked one of them if they could let us out via the door with the cart so I could take the elevator down, and he seemed incredibly annoyed at such a request! Uhhh…planes and people are still arriving, why is the door closed?!? He opened the door, but when I had to stop because a bag fell off the cart and I picked it up, he started yelling that I couldn’t stop because the alarm would go off! What was I to do, leave it behind? He was just a total jerk about it, considering that the door shouldn’t have been locked in the first place AND it is his job to deal with it.
But we were able to get our bags (always a good thing given that US Airways lost ours the year before – that trip report has yet to be written), and we packed up the van and went home, ending our first ever (and we do not plan it to be our last) holiday adventure at Walt Disney World.