Trip Report – Animal Kingdom Lodge, Port Orleans Riverside, Flower and Garden Festival (April 2009)

[This is a trip report from April 2009, being included as a new post as part of the site redesign]

Introduction and Travel

April 19-27, 2009

We had been to Disney during the Flower And Garden Festival once before, in 1999. We remembered how nice everything looked and were eager to see it again, although it wasn’t totally a focus of this trip, like with Food & Wine. We planned to just do everything we wanted, especially now that DD#2 was tall enough to ride everything but Rock’n’Roller Coaster. Unfortunately, Space Mountain would be closed for rehab – starting the day we arrived. And since this is our last full trip for a while, she will have to wait.

Once again we booked with JetBlue for our flights. However, it was much more expensive this time around – about $400 per person, round trip – and they weren’t even direct flights. We had to connect via Richmond on the way down, and JFK on the way back. After booking, they kept changing the flight times on our downward leg as well, to the point that we had a four hour layover in Richmond – and looking at the map of the Richmond airport, was going to be exceedingly boring and troublesome as we’d have to leave the secure area to get some food. Fortunately, JetBlue gives you some leeway if they change the times enough. I called, and managed to get a direct flight in its place, at no extra cost. Except now my new flight leaves at 6:10am from Logan – another really early morning! But we get to Orlando around 9am, so we have a full day to enjoy!

This trip we are also doing a first – a split stay. To conserve some DVC points, we are staying the first 6 nights in a DVC 1 Bedroom, and the final 2 at a regular Disney resort. I originally booked Saratoga Springs for the DVC stay, but when the 7-month mark rolled around I gave DD#1 the choice of other locations. Originally we were thinking of Wilderness Lodge, but Animal Kingdom Savanna View was available, and she jumped on that. So we would be staying at the Animal Kingdom Lodge (now called Jambo House) for the first part of our trip. Closer to trip time, I put in a request for an Arusha Savanna view. I was concerned over lingering effects of the Kidani Village construction and that the animals would only be reintroduced to the Sunset Savanna the week before we arrived. You’ll hear more about this later – this did not work out at all…

For the second part, I originally booked Caribbean Beach, but for a small savings later on I switched to Port Orleans Riverside with a water view. I made a request for Oak Manor, the Manor building closest to the central building with a river view. I had some hopes of maybe switching back to Caribbean Beach or up to a deluxe with discount code or AP rate, but apparently this weekend was blacked out and pretty busy.

So to make the 6am flight and our experience with the early flight in December 2007, we were up and out by 3:25am. We get in to the terminal, and there is a big line – for the “all services” side. I did online check-in, so we don’t need to stand in line there, just check our bags. And there is NO ONE in that line. Of course, its early – and there is no one at the counter either. But we only had to wait a short time and we were first up.

Unfortunately, Logan Airport’s security checkpoints remain annoying. For whatever reason the checkpoints still weren’t open when we went down there, although they seemed to be fully manned just standing around. When they did finally open, we still seemed to be incredibly rushed through – people barking orders, telling you to remember this, take off that, put this there,hold on to your boarding pass and ID, take off your cell phone, blah blah blah…in the process, I dropped my boarding pass in one of the containers, and when I went through the metal detector to the other side, they asked for my boarding pass, which I realized was now in the machine. They start barking about “boarding pass check” repeatedly, while I wait for the stuff to come out. The boarding pass had fallen out of the container and was lying on the belt – and in danger of falling through the rollers. I just barely managed to catch it and pull it out and show it to the guard – who seemed annoyed with ME! We were among the first through, and they were in horrible moods already as if we were disrupting their morning. Orlando is 1000 times easier. Please, JetBlue – add some Manchester-Orlando flights!

After that, our flight down was uneventful…our plane name was “Parlez Bleu”. The only “problem” was that for some reason Nickelodeon didn’t work on the TVs, but DD#2 was satisfied with some of the other choices.

On arriving in Orlando on time, our bags were among the first off the plane, so we were able to grab them and head for the rental car van. I used the courtesy phone to call Payless and make sure they were running (it is probably not necessary, but I don’t know if they take breaks when they are not expecting people), but found the van right outside, just pulling out – I was able to flag the driver and he stopped for us – the van was empty anyways. So we were quick to Payless, and second in line as well (which was a first for us – its always been a long line). At this point the first “problem” shows up – somehow when making the reservation online, I ended up confirming a Sebring Coupe. Not exactly a family car with space for luggage. I don’t know how it happened as I certainly wouldn’t have chosen it – it should have been an Intermediate level sedan, but sure enough my reservation said Sebring. So I had to switch to a Nissan Altima at $100 more than planned.

The Altima was a real nice car. Push button ignition with a proximity key. I almost had to turn around though, because as I was driving off the transmission appeared to be some form of manual – but after pulling over and checking a few things, I found that it is an automatic transmission with a “bump shift” manual mode – I had slid the shift over into the manual position. I played with the manual mode a bit, but for the most part just used the automatic mode.

Now it was off to Disney!

Arrival and Issues at the Animal Kingdom Lodge

We shot down the Beach Line Expressway as usual, although we didn’t take our usual side trip down I-Drive this time. We went all the way to I4 and took that south to get to the resort a bit quicker, so we could have as full a day at a park without staying too late given our early morning. I originally thought of stopping at the new Publix that’s a stones-throw away (but you have to drive a lot further to get to it), but given how early we were now arriving and the high probability our room would not be ready I didn’t think it would be a great idea.

When we got down to the Animal Kingdom Resort area, I made what it appears to be a common mistake now – I went straight when I should have turned right towards Jambo House, but it is very unclear by the signage whether you should turn or not. Going straight leads to Kidani Village, which was not open yet. I doubled back and made the turn, while I watched several other cars fail to make the turn as well.

I dropped everyone off with the luggage and parked the car, finding a fairly close spot (which would not happen again…) and walked up to the lodge. The lodge itself is surrounded by foliage – you actually don’t get a good look at it from up front. Even the walkway up is jungle-like. The front is nice, but not terribly impressive – but you are not seeing much of the resort from the front.

Inside, the lobby is HUGE, similar in some ways to the Wilderness Lodge. It is somewhat dark, owing to the dark wood finishings, but with an enormous picture window at the other end that looks out towards the Arusha Savanna overlook area. Off the lobby area is the marketplace and an open stairway down to Victoria Falls lounge, which itself has an open stairway down to Boma on the first floor. The lobby also has an indoor 360 degree fireplace, and is decorated with African items, several in display cases.

We went to check in, and of course our room was not ready. The CM did issue our Key To The World Cards and was able to tell us approximately where our room would be, but not the room number, and gave us a number to call to find out the room number when it was ready. In the meantime Bell Services would hold our bags. But the room was not an Arusha view – it was a Sunset view. I knew requests are not guaranteed, but I asked that since I had to wait for the room anyways, and I had concerns over the Sunset view, couldn’t I wait for the Arusha view instead? The CM left, and after a while came back and said that it would be possible, but made it sound like I was somehow inconveniencing someone else who hadn’t checked in yet by doing so. Uhh…if room requests aren’t guaranteed, and all else is equal, why am I inconveniencing someone else? I am already inconvenienced by having to wait. The room still wasn’t ready, but she re-entered the information, issued us NEW KTTW cards (no idea why), and then pointed out the room would be … in the exact same area as before. I know the AKL is described as a necklace, but I think of it more like a cup or chalice, with the lobby at the center base, and the Arusha Savanna within the bowl of the cup, Sunset to the left side and Uzima to the right. The “building” she kept pointing out was an offshoot of the left side of the cup, sticking out into the Sunset Savanna. I’m not familiar with the corridor and room layouts, so I questioned her – were there rooms there that overlooked the Arusha Savanna, and she said yes. OK, fine, they know more than me. At least I thought so.

So we went off to the Magic Kingdom in the meantime. (seeย Day 1ย for that part of the report)

We finally got our room assignment – 5271. So when we arrived back at the AKL and headed to our room, when we look a left, heading AWAY from the Arusha side, I knew something was wrong. Not only were we not overlooking the Arusha Savanna, but we were in fact just about as far away as we could be from it. Now, I probably wouldn’t have cared that much – it’s still a savanna view – except this particular room may in fact have the absolute worst view of a savanna of any room classified as such. It faced back towards the lobby and Ostrich Trail buildings, basically at a small cove of the savanna. There is a large fenced area close by (where there was never any activity, so I have no idea what it was for) further reducing the area that animals might be, and to our immediate right was an outdoor stairwell that stuck out further than our balcony, which while open pretty much completely obscured any possible view towards the rest of the savanna. Plus there were lots of trees and being on the fifth floor they formed an effective canopy over most of the remaining area. Angle-wise, because of that staircase, any of the other rooms closer to the lobby would have been able to see more savanna.

Immediately to the right of the end of the Ostrich Trail building was the beginning of Kidani Village, which had quite a few very large HVAC units (at least I assume that’s what they were), with a fair amount of noise coming from them. Although the noise could not be heard when the doors were closed, it was quite noticeable from the balcony.

I went back to the lobby, because this appeared to be the room we were first assigned, and not the room that we were supposed to be in. The CM went back to check what happened. She was gone for quite a while, and when she came back she was very apologetic but there was nothing else available. We could switch to an Arusha room on Wednesday – half way through our stay we’d have to pack up, give our bags back to bell services because again the room would not be ready, get them back, all on a day for which we already had plans. What was upsetting me more at this point was that the CM who checked us in either made a large mistake, or was plainly dishonest with me, even when I questioned the “updated” room placement. The CM I was talking to could only offer apologies. We left it as is at that point.

DW found her way down to Mara to grab some dinner for her and the kids. In the process she picked up refillable mugs for everyone – the first time we’ve used them. They are a great deal if you are convenient to the refilling station and can get your money’s worth, but not so much if you are far from the refills. They don’t actually hold a lot. Mara was a bit hard to find. You take the elevators down to the first floor, and go past where Boma and Jiko are (they are across from each other), and outside past the pool to where Mara is. It is a nice counter service location – a couple different stations with some permanent options and some daily specials. DW got a grilled chicken ceasar salad that was incredibly good (the chicken was amazing). When I went down later I got a bacon double cheeseburger, which was better than the one I had at Pecos Bill’s earlier in the day. DD#1 kept talking about the Zebra Domes for dessert, and I’ve read about how good they are but didn’t know what they were – we later discovered they contained alcohol, so she was pretty disappointed but found solace in other things ๐Ÿ™‚

I finally went to Publix after our day at Animal Kingdom the next day to get some supplies. I discovered there was a SuperTarget across the street from it as well. The Publix was nice – bigger than the Winn-Dixie we had been to before, and no need for a discount card. After getting back, I decided to call DVC Member Services about the room, as I remained disappointed in the view – there are no zebras on the Sunset savanna, which is one of the things the kids REALLY wanted to be able to see, and we NEVER saw a single giraffe from our room the whole stay. Our animals were limited to a solitary Eland who never moved while we were looking (we only knew he moved because he was laying in a different spot near the pond), and he even disappeared on the 4th day, and an ostrich who mainly kept behind the trees. For a brief time there was a second ostrich. From the staircase we could see a LOT more…why does a staircase have a better view than a paid-for room? In fact, I could easily see more animals from the windows in the hallways which had narrow angles of view than I ever saw from out room.

I did learn something from calling MS – they actually released the animals back to Sunset about a month early, so they should have been fully acclimatized to the changes. But I pointed out what little we had seen at that point and my concerns with the CM (who the MS CM agreed did things improperly) and she would pass it on to the Satisfaction team.

We explored the resort a bit afterwards. There are some nice savanna overlook areas – especially the Arusha overlook which extends from the lobby building out towards the center of the savanna. You could very easily see giraffes, zebras and Ankole cattle with their huge horns. In fact, one of the Ankole appeared to have a problem, with his head turned to one side as if one of the horns was far heavier than the other.

There are a lot of staircases, and not all lead to where you want to go. It seems to be a generally good idea not to go below the third floor unless you are going to Boma/Jiko/Mara/Pool, and then in general head to the lobby first, or go to the main elevators off the lobby (which come out right next to Boma/Jiko). We also could get drinks to go at Victoria Falls or sit in, so a couple nights DW and I took turns. The Tables In Wonderland card is good for a discount there as well.

When we got back the phone rang. It was Alfredo, one of the AKL managers, saying he was contacted by a DVC manager to check on what the issue was. I explained it all again to him, starting with the original request, the “change” in room and the CM not even double checking when I questioned it, etc. He reiterated that the animals had been reintroduced early and often saw the giraffes from his office window, but I also pointed out that he has a better view that we had to begin with, and it was partly that and partly the fact that the CM was either dishonest or made a mistake and compounded that by not double checking when questioned. He said that there was often confusion with some of the room numbers and even said that when he heard what room we were in couldn’t understand why I was saying we weren’t in an Arusha view room. Even still, he agreed that the CM should have double checked when I questioned it.

In addition, I remembered that while I was waiting for the CM to check us in, another person next to me was checking in and asked whether he could upgrade to a Savanna View room (regular resort, not DVC). The CM said that they didn’t have anything at that level exactly, but that they had rooms that looked out over the Sunset Savanna but due to the construction of Kidani Village they could offer him one of those rooms at the standard price, so he wouldn’t have to pay for it. Now why would they offer something like this if there wasn’t really an issue any longer?

He offered to move us to an Arusha room the next day, but again we already had plans and we were now fairly unpacked and didn’t want to have to deal with packing, bell services, etc. again, although he said that they would help take care of all that (of course, I’d have to tip bell services again). I declined, I just wanted to put a bug in DVC’s ear that they are charging SV points for a room that in my opinion did not deserve to be called that, and that I wasn’t looking for anything in return. He insisted on doing something, and offered to credit on our room charge $200 so that we could enjoy a meal at Boma (which ironically we were headed to afterwards) or something, and after a bit further discussion I accepted.

As an addendum, although I considered the matter settled, on returning I sent email to DVC Member Satisfaction so they at least had a further record of the problem and resolution. A few days later I got a call back from Member Satisfaction, and we discussed it a bit. They certainly wanted to know our opinion of the room, and said that if they got further complaints they would certainly think about reclassifying the rooms. I’m not sure how that would work since they are already declared in the inventory, but she said that if they needed to it was possible. She thanked me for all the information I gave and said that they would make sure we would not have any such issues with our requests going forward, implying that they would watch our future reservations closely and make sure they are taken care of. Too bad we are out of points for a while…

To clarify, here is an image of the Animal Kingdom Lodge, with the view from our room shaded. The problem was the adjoining external staircase, which blocked our view to the right. So there was very little grassland visible. Even rooms closer to the “necklace” could see further to the right than we could.

Day 1 – Magic Kingdom

After checking in at Animal Kingdom Lodge, we headed over to the Magic Kingdom. Given how early we were up this morning, we weren’t going to make it a very late day. We got to the park around 11:30am.

We started off by grabbing a Dole Whip at Aloha Isle, and the first attraction we rode was Pirates Of The Caribbean, which had a short wait, perhaps 10 minutes. We then realized we were actually hungry so we ate at Pecos Bill’s for some burgers. Somewhat typical Disney burgers – mediocre taste, stingy on somewhat flavorless bacon, but a toppings bar that at least had a few choices. It looked like some people were making “meals” of the topping bar though.

We continued our “tour” clockwise, hitting up Big Thunder Mountain next. We were going to skip Splash Mountain this early as we didn’t want to get soaked too early, and especially as we didn’t have our room or luggage to go to yet. The standby wait at BTM was 60 minutes. It didn’t look that long – but they really do a good job of hiding that fact from you. It was pretty much 60 minutes as well. Between being the tail end of a busy week and Space Mountain closed, these were the longest wait times in general we’ve seen in quite a while. It was also an evening Extra Magic Hour as well, so that may have contributed as well.

After that we decided to stake our claim on the parade route so we could see the new Celebrate A Dream Come True parade, which we did up near the Liberty Square river boat. While we waited, I ran up to grab Fastpasses for Peter Pan’s Flight which was right around the corner – and the Fastpass return time wasn’t until 6pm.

So we watched the parade, which perhaps has a bit more energy than the previous one, and once it cleared we went to Haunted Mansion (20 minute wait) and up to Fantasyland and hit a lot of the attractions there while waiting for our Peter Pan Fastpass time. Mad Tea Party, carousel, Snow White’s Scary Adventures, PhilharMagic, and It’s A Small World were all relatively short waits, at which point it was time for Peter Pan. Per discussions on the DISboards, yes, they did indeed change the mermaids such that the one on the rock is, or at least heavily resembles, Ariel.

After that we returned back to the Animal Kingdom Lodge to find out our room wasn’t where it was supposed to be (per the precious part of the report…)

Day 2 – Animal Kingdom

We started off by grabbing a quick breakfast at Mara, and out to Animal Kingdom for an early Extra Magic Hour. One nice thing about the Animal Kingdom Lodge is you don’t have to get up early for an AK EMH.

There appear to be two dashes that take place at rope drop. Half the people bear left, heading towards Kilimanjaro Safari, while the other half bear right for Expedition Everest. I was looking at some maps, and there are actually two paths of roughly the same length. Most keep straight, past Discovery Island at the center, and then turn right towards Everest. But you can also turn right through Dinoland U.S.A. and follow it around to Everest from the other direction. The advantage of this other way is that less people seem to go that way. DW and DD#1 went ahead to get Fastpasses for Everest (9am return time) while I caught up with DD#2, and when we arrived we all rode Everest via the Standby line (DD#2’s first ride – it is now her favorite ride).

From there we doubled back to ride Dinosaur. There was pretty much no line – but just as the people started boarding ahead of us, it was noticed that someone had gotten sick ALL OVER the floor of the vehicle. The CMs had trouble getting the vehicle out of the way for maintenance as well, and had to wait for some maintenance CMs to come and help override the system. The crowd – and the smell, had started to build up.

After that DW took DD#1 on Primeval Whirl (DD#2 still too short, and neither DW and I care for it). I noticed that all the Fastpass kiosks were covered, and given that it is not on the Birthday Fastpass list either I have a feeling that Fastpass is dead there. By then it was time for our Everest Fastpass.

The one thing we REALLY had to do on this trip was Finding Nemo: The Musical. For various reasons we had not had the chance to see it before – either time-wise we just couldn’t catch the show, or as with out last trip we skipped AK all together. Now we are mad we didn’t see it before – this show is GREAT. The music is incredible, the actors were all wonderful. In case you haven’t seen it, the actors are on stage, but are holding the characters like puppets. They are in full view, and they are as much the character as the puppet. In some cases, several actors combine for larger parts, like Bruce or Mr. Ray – and an actor who might be the voice of Mr. Ray might be the flipper of Crush, or the tail of Bruce. You MUST see this show when you can. Before the show begins, keep an eye on the “bubbles” to either side of the stage as well…

After the show, we took a quick detour to Rafiki’s Planet Watch, which we hadn’t yet done with DD#2 – the train ride can eat some time. DW took the kids to the petting zoo, and inside we saw all sort of animals, including live surgery on a crane to repair a broken wing.

On return, we went to Kilimanjaro Safaris, where there was only a short wait. After that we broke up for lunch. DW took the kids to Pizzafari, while I went to Flame Tree BBQ. There were a lot of people waiting at Flame Tree, and the lines weren’t moving. Bad enough that you know those red timing cards they give out at attractions to track how long it took you to go through the line at an attraction? They gave one to the guy behind me! I’ve never seen one used – ever – at anything other than an attraction.

I decided to try out the Mixed Green Salad with Barbecue Chicken. It wasn’t bad, but I liked the salad from Mara far better. I sat at a small table outside but mildly shaded, which I thought would be fine. Except just before I finished, it poured like crazy – for 60 seconds. I ducked under one of the covered seating areas for a few seconds, which was around the time that DW came looking for me – they had ordered and eaten and come to get me in the same amount of time that I had ordered and mostly eaten – and the DDs are not fast eaters.

We decided we were pretty much done on this pass, and we had dinner reservations at Boma, we decided to hop on Kali River Rapids before heading back to AKL. As usual, DD#2 got soaked, along with DW, as the wave cleared over the people on the lower end of the raft. Fortunately it was warm enough that everyone dried pretty quick.

On our way out, they were filming something involving a family on one of the bridges, showing the father and son apparently splitting up with the mother and daughter and going in different directions. None of the CMs would say what it was for (and I believe several simply didn’t know).

After returning to AKL, I ran back out to the Publix as mentioned before to get supplies. On returning, the film crew was now out in front of AKL, with racks of wardrobe I can see divided by name, so this did not seem to be a “follow a family” type shoot, but something more like a promotional shoot with actors. We ran into the production AGAIN in the lobby on our way to dinner at Boma as well. Unfortunately the production was pretty obtrusive, taking up the central staircase and blocking people from getting from one side to the other. They also had some people acting as extras, walking around in the background – some of them frankly, looked completely hammy, pretending to take pictures of the lobby. If they showed up on camera, I hope they shot the scene again…still no idea what it was for, although one CM believed it was for a Travel Channel shoot.

We went down for our dinner at Boma. Boma is nice if a bit crowded. It is a buffet dinner, with a decent selection of different styles of food, similar in nature to Tusker House with a lot of the same foods. There was a beef loin that was in general medium rare – if you wanted it done more it had to be put back on the fire. DD#1 didn’t particularly like it on the rare side – it was too chewy for her. But there was chicken, couscous, some nice soups, potatoes, and mac and cheese for the kids. The dessert selection was nice as well – that’s where we learned that the zebra domes have alcohol in them. It was a nice, filling dinner. Funny our stomachs don’t seem to be as large as they used to be.

We also started to notice that some of the drinks at the various restaurants and lounges are all the same…the Pina Colava (a Pina Colada with raspberry rum and raspberry puree added), which I thought may have been unique to AKL, was on every menu I found – it seems that even the drink menus have become “generic” across all of WDW.

Day 3 – Epcot

Given that two of our last three stays have been at the Beach Club Villas, we weren’t used to rope drop from the front of the park. There were long lines waiting to get through the turnstiles, but a CM named Elton did a great job keeping everyone in good spirits while handing out the times guides. And guess what was filming right inside the turnstiles? Yup, that same film crew and family – blocking the turnstiles. In the way again…this time I got from a CM that it was something being filmed for the web site.

When we got inside for the true rope drop, we stayed over near the “Soarin’ Dash” crowd, which meant that we really couldn’t see the rope drop festivities. I caught glimpses of Mickey, Minnie and Goofy as they were led to and from the Character Spot. Interestingly, the electronic times board showed standby waits of 30 minutes for Test Track and 20 minutes for Soarin’ – and the park hadn’t opened yet.

After the rope drop, it was the dash to The Land where we picked up Fastpasses for Soarin’ (9:48 return time), then proceeded on to the ride (10 minute wait – I have doubts that those times boards are actually linked in to the system). I think once, in all the times we’ve been on Soarin’, we’ve probably been on the Concourse 1 side once. Sure enough, we go to Concourse 2. After a quick ride, we have are usual post-Soarin’ breakfast at Sunshine Seasons, and instead of going right back on Soarin’, we hit Living With The Land first as there was no wait. Some of the plants are quite interesting – but I didn’t see the Mickey pumpkin around. After that our second Soarin’ run (yep, Concourse 2 again), and I could see that the Fastpass times for Soarin’ work advancing at about 3 times real time (that is, for every 30 minutes of real time that passed, Fastpass return times advanced by 90 minutes), but we were off to some other attractions.

We grabbed Fastpasses for Test Track and rode Mission Space – DW and DD#2 via the Green side, and myself and DD#1 on the Orange side. Took about the same amount of time with little wait. Interestingly, it’s the first time that I can say I noticed the rotational motion during the takeoff. We still had a little time to kill, so we toured Innoventions West for a bit. We didn’t see anything special there, but there was the new IBM “Thinkplace”, but we decided not to stay to check it out at the time. Instead we headed back to Test Track for our Fastpass time. Slowly but surely pieces of Test Track are dying. The ABS demonstration still doesn’t show the video of the “ABS Off” side, the contrast between the hot and cold rooms has gone down (they used to be much hotter/colder), and the heat scan at the end is so washed out it pretty much doesn’t work. Even the onboard display screens, although they work, don’t seem to show anything relevant to the movement of the cars any more – they at least seemed to reflect speed in the past. Now they just seem to be there to show one of the GM nameplates to distinguish the cars (which look nothing like any production vehicles). I have concerns over the future of this attraction if GM pulls out.

After this it was time for our lunch reservations at Le Cellier, which is our first time ever eating there. We took the Odyssey path over to the World Showcase and then over to Canada. We had a short wait outside, and we could see that rather than calling out names, they apparently had some guest descriptions so the seaters would come up to you and ask you to come in – a nice, quieter approach so long as it doesn’t get too crazy outside.

As the name implies, it is meant to be a cellar steakhouse, but it is actually larger than I thought from descriptions, and nicely decorated for a “cellar”. Our server was from Montreal – when she asked where we were from (Boston area), she groaned – the Bruins were up three games to none against Montreal in the NHL playoffs, so we had some fun with it. By the end, the kids were looking to trade pins with her, but she outright gave them a pin each!

To start, DD#1 had the Bacon Cheddar Cheese Soup (she had some of the cheese soup at the Food & Wine Festival and loved it), while DW and I shared the Chicken and Chipotle Sausage, which was on top of roasted corn polenta and some sweet onion jam. DW had never had polenta before so didn’t know what to expect, but we both loved the dish.

For entrees, DW had the Shaved Prime Rib Sandwich, which was tasty with a spicy horseradish sauce, but the ciabatta roll was heavy. I had the New York Strip steak, which had a nice butter on top and roasted potatoes which was great – I must put butter on my steak more often. DD#1 had the kids steak, which she liked, and DD#2 had the kids pizza which she completely ate up. For desserts, DW and DD#1 split the Chocolate Moose – a chocolate mousse covered in toasted chocolate crumble, and antlers made of maple sugar. I had the Maple Creme Brulee, which was delicious – but very, very sweet. It isn’t a ton, but it probably would have better been split with someone to prevent sugar overload.

To work off the sugar, we headed out the International Gateway to the Beach Club to see if the kids could finally meet Art, the greeter. DW and I had met him in July of 2007, and our two subsequent trips with the kids he was either ill or had time off. We did see Vic, who sometimes fills in for him, and he said he’d go find him. A short time later Art came in to say hello and finally meet the kids. I reminded him of when we met before and how DD#1 made us ask if he still had the pin that he traded with Samantha Brown on the Great Hotels episode. We took some pictures of him with the kids and they traded pins. I also mentioned about the Beach Club Anniversary pin he gave us. He then talked about having just one of those pins left, lying around for a long time because the box was lost and it gathered dust, but that he finally had given it to a couple a while back after he gave it a good cleaning – and that couple was us! We had forgot to bring it with us on the trip however. He said he was doing well again after being sick for a while, which was good to hear. Art is simply the nicest man at WDW, and a true Disney treasure. We bid him farewell and hoped to see him again on a future trip.

My feet had begun hurting pretty bad. As usual, my feet had started developing blisters, especially dead center on the small toes. I swear, my feet become sore as soon as the plane lands in Orlando. I had already switched to wearing my Crocs (barefoot, since some people think wearing “socks with crocs” are an affront to humanity ๐Ÿ™‚ ), and this helped alleviate the pressure but now the tops were wearing on the tops of my feet and essentially burning them. So I said enough is enough and humanity can deal with my socks, and we stopped in the BC Marketplace for some socks – but the only ones they had were the slipper-like below the ankle style, and my manhood would have taken far too great a hit on that one. ๐Ÿ™‚

We returned to the World Showcase but kind of whipped around due to my feet. We first doubled back to the UK so I could look for a Liverpool jersey, but I didn’t see one I liked. We did get pictures of the kids with Alice, Mary Poppins, Pooh, Tigger and Eeyore though.

We saw Aurora in France, but she was just leaving, and Belle and the Beast were out near the lagoon, but their line was closed already. The Genie was by Morocco, but his line was very long, and in Germany Snow White was just leaving. It was like driving straight down a street and hitting every red light.

While zipping through France, our favorite film crew was there as well, along with all their wardrobe, equipment, etc. Although they were taking a break at the time. This would actually be the last time we would see them.

We stopped for a bit at the American Adventure to look at some of the Flower and Garden merchandise, and the CM there happened to be from Leominster, MA, so we talked with her for a while. Also, just as we were passing by Italy, the World Showcase Players came out a back door – and one of them was Karl, an actor from the Adventurer’s Club – he seemed to play Otis T. Wren often and also Hathaway Brown, and I believe he was Otis on the AC’s final night when he finally won the Balderdash Cup! The other gentleman I believe also performed there – I believe we once saw him as the butler. So we stayed for the show. I was going to give a loud “Kungaloosh!” as they made their exit, but they went the other way.

Maelstrom in Norway was closed due to technical issues, but we stopped in the Kringla Bakeri for some snacks – yummy school bread! Then a brief stop in Mexico for a margarita (and a Congo for DD#1), and we started to head out.

On the way, we stopped by the Butterfly Garden set up for the festival. If you have problems with bugs, or things flying close to your face, you probably don’t want to step foot in there…the butterflies are not bashful. They did have a large variety of them with excellent colors. On the other side there was also the Pixie Hollow garden, with tiny topiaries of the pixies…and sometimes even some live residents as well – we found some rabbits.

After that was a quick stop at Spaceship Earth, and then out. Due to my blister problems, we drove from Epcot to the new SuperTarget so I could get some new socks and see if they would help (and they did to some level). We also found some Disney shirts and other souvenirs for a lot less than would be found in the parks.

After that it was back to AKV, when we went to the Uzima pool for the first time. DD#1 loved going on the slide over and over again, but unfortunately a breeze moved in as soon as the sun dipped behind the building and it got very cold, so we headed back to the room, and DW and I took turns stopping at the Victoria Falls lounge bar.

Day 4 – Universal Studios, Epcot

Today was something different – we were going to a non-Disney park. We haven’t done that (with the exception of Kennedy Space Center) since 1997 on our very first trip where we we staying offsite, the Animal Kingdom Park didn’t exist, SeaWorld was a lot different, and Universal Studios was just a single park.

Our original plan was for all four of us to go to SeaWorld – until I saw what the recent ticket prices were. At that point we said forget it…but DW had an alternate suggestion. I would take DD#1 to Universal Studios (where she was tall enough to ride everything they had there), while DW would take DD#2 to the Disney parks of her choice for a “two girls day”. So there are two parts to this day.

Universal Studios Florida

Universal Studios Orlando Resort now consists of two full parks – Universal Studios Florida, the original park, and Islands Of Adventure, which they were just starting to construct (as in pushing the dirt around) when DW and I were last there in 1997. While IOA had more coasters, Dueling Dragons was closed during the construction of the Harry Potter section so we decided that we would go to USF for the day, and if we got through it quick enough and decided to go on, we’d upgrade our tickets and go over to IOA as well. The hours were only 9-6 anyways, so it didn’t seem likely. I did look at the Express Pass, the Front Of The Line system they have which you pay extra for. They vary the price depending on day and season it seems, and this would have been the cheapest – but it also said to be that on a Wednesday after most schools have already had their spring breaks it wasn’t going to be crowded. If I thought there was a better chance of hitting both parks, I would have done it, but it didn’t seem necessary – and it wasn’t.

We arrived at 8:50am for the 9am opening – and there wasn’t a line in sight. First – remember where you parked. There are two garages, and six different sections to those garages, with multiple levels. We’ll get back to that later.

We walked right in through the turnstiles, and the first thing we stopped at was Shrek 4D. There was a little wait before the pre-show began, but it didn’t take long to get going. The pre-show features some animatronics and a video screen of some of the characters, and then you are lead into the theater for the main show. Obviously it is based on Shrek, but it was comparable in nature to Honey I Shrunk The Audience, and generally better done with all the 3D and physical effects.

From there, we walked straight up to The Mummy – and straight on. Along the way we noticed that anything that appeared to involve live actors would not open until at least 10am, and in some cases later.

The Mummy queue was well themed, although the theming could be “broken” with the occasional TV monitor showing some making-of type shorts. The ride itself is short, but pretty intense. I thought it was a roller coaster, but it isn’t really a full-blown coaster. At first, the ride vehicle made me think of a Dinosaur-type ride system, but it did in fact ride on rails and moved like a coaster – but it would stop at points, change directions, etc. I have a feeling the track itself is fairly short, but the length of the ride in time is probably comparable to other rides. The fire effects can get very hot as well – and I always came out with a wet face when running through the mist.

We left the Mummy and it was still not even 9:30!

Next open attraction we found was MiB Alien Attack. Here we encountered a few people using an Express pass (the resort kind), and it looked like we’d actually have to wait, as if the cast member (is there a different term for them here) were going to let them go through the pre-show on their own – and then let us in anyways. The pre-show in in a small little area where it appears they are going to show you a little video – but then it stops, the cast member says “change in plans!” and a semi-hidden “elevator” opens up and you step inside. Shortly afterwards the opposite door opens, and you are in the MiB headquarters, and are heading into their “training area”.

The ride itself is similar to Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, except each vehicle holds 6 people, acting as a team. Two vehicles are generally loaded side by side for a competition of sorts, but since the crowd was light they were only using one side. The guns are not mounted but freely held. As you travel through you shoot the aliens, and their eyes change to mark a hit (as well as an indicator on your gun). However the simulation ends because an alien has crash landed and now you need to go after him. Since you are in competition with another team, there is an “exhaust port” on the back of each vehicle. If you shoot it when lit, your opponent’s vehicle with spin around for a second or two, making it more difficult for them to shoot the aliens.

Next up was the new Simpsons attraction, which replaced Back To The Future. DW and I remembered NBTTF well – we both hated it for its violent movements and me hitting my head repeatedly on the side. The new ride is themed as an attraction at Krustyland. As with the old ride, there are numerous lines where they seem to split you up, going to various loading levels. Then you go inside where they further break you out into several other lines – these lines don’t seem to have any specific loading order though. There are several monitors in here where various Simpsons characters appear as if manning booths at Krustyland, saying various things.

From there you are further assigned to a particular small room, up to 8 people, where there is another video. An then at last you you get to enter the ride vehicle. Watch your head if you are tall – the doors swing upward, and you probably want to sit in the front row if possible – there are two rows for 4 people each. You are then lifted up to begin your “ride”. This was a MUCH better ride than BTTF, better themed to the source material. However, because all the ride vehicles are in the same projection area (which is a large Omnimax-style screen), guests in the vehicles to the outside may notice a fairly large curved distortion.

Disaster replaced the old Earthquake attraction. It is still fairly the same, but updated. We thought we arrived in time for the 10:30am show, but for some reason we had to wait until 11am – our first wait of any substantial time. The new version is themed around shlock disaster movie director Frank Kincaid needing extras to complete his newest movie, “Mutha Nature”. You start out by meeting the assistant director, who picks some extras from among the cast to do specific parts, and then everyone moves into another room where you “meet” Kincaid (played by Christopher Walken). They did an excellent job with this, where they integrated the assistant director (live actor) and Kincaid (projection) fairly seamlessly. From there you enter a soundstage where they film some “stunts” with the chosen extras. Lastly, you enter trams where you go to another stage which represents a subway station for the penultimate disaster scene. Stuff happens on both sides of the tram, but I think the better stuff happened on the opposite side from us. Interestingly, the star of Mutha Nature is Dwayne Johnson – who seems to be Disney’s favorite actor of late.

This did eat a fair amount of time, so we decided to stop for lunch at Richter’s Burgers. I got a double cheeseburger (which had a special name that I forget), and it came on a far-too-small bun and was horribly put together – but it was a tasty burger.

Next we waited to catch Beetlejuice’s Graveyard Revue. I remember there being a Beetlejuice show back in 1997, and was a bit surprised it still existed although it has been updated. This was pretty corny, although in a good way – it featured Beetlejuice, Frankenstein, Frankenstein’s Bride, Dracula, and the Wolfman, along with Hip and Hop, a couple of cheerleaders. They then sang a bunch of 80s rock standards, including Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen.

Twister’s next show wasn’t for a bit, so we opted to ride Mummy again. At this point it was shown as a 10 minute wait, but it wasn’t much longer than before. It does take a while just to walk the queue. The second time I was noticing how easy it would be to turn it into a Stargate-themed attraction if they wanted ๐Ÿ™‚

Now it was time for Twister. We only had a short wait. The effects were neat, but I wasn’t sure that all the effects were working. For instance, a fire hydrant that was knocked over didn’t gush water.

On one of the side streets we saw a character photo op (the only one we happened to see) with Shrek, Fiona (in human form) and Donkey. Donkey was fully interactive looking out from a stable door, talking to people with a spot-on voice.

While walking around towards Terminator 2: 3D, there is a small magic shop, and they were outside asking people to come in for a little magic show. Of course, the point of it was to sell merchandise, but they performed some close-up magic that was very neat. DD even volunteered a $10 bill for one part. I know how it is supposedly done, but I still couldn’t see the “trickery”, right in front of my face. I wasn’t going to shell out $33 for the kit though.

We finished making our way to T2:3D, but it had very limited times, so we decided to skip it. Instead we went back to ET. The pre-show of this ride seems to have changed. We were given “passports” and asked for our names, but I didn’t see any reason for it. I went to spell DDs name for them, but it was obvious they didn’t care about the spelling anyways. They collected the passports before getting in the boarding lines. I’ve read that an animatronic ET is supposed to thank you by name, but I don’t remember that happening, nor do I know how they would have done it at that point since they already took the passports long before that.

The ride itself is on “bicycles” mounted on a platform 4 across (two or three rows), with the handlebars also forming the lap bar. You then fly over the landscape while dodging the police and government agents, going higher and higher until you are transported to E.T. homeworld, where you need to help save them.

After that, we rode Simpsons (longer wait by then) and MiB again (this time with both sides in operation), and then did Jaws, with a fairly minimal wait. That ride hasn’t changed at all – sort of a humorless Jungle Cruise.

We would have ridden The Mummy again, but it had a 35 minute wait posted. The Blues Brothers show had just ended a short distance away and probably stuffed the line.

Our last attraction was Jimmy Neutron. Here it is a theater full of individual motion simulator cars in front of a projection screen. It wasn’t in 3D, but it was a fun, funny ride.

At this point it was about 4:30pm, so we decided to head on out back to AKV and rendezvous with DW and DD#2 for dinner. Now we knew we were in the Jaws section of parking, and I thought I knew where we parked, and DD thought she knew where we parked, and they weren’t the same place. I didn’t remember taking an escalator, but she did. So we checked one floor – nope. We checked the next floor – nope. It’s pretty hard looking for a car you rented! So I decided to try the panic button – and I could hear it – somewhere else. It wasn’t on the floor we were on, but it was somewhere…it turned out that it wasn’t on either floor! It was one floor up! Finally we made our way back…without much help from the street signs which weren’t very helpful coming out of the garage, but we eventually found our way back to I4.

Two Girls Day at Epcot

(DW wrote the following, so “I” refers to her…)

So after breakfast at Mara, DD#2 and I headed out to catch the bus to Epcot. Today our focus was going to be getting as many autographs as we could and taking photos of all the topiaries. This was DD#2’s first time walking the entire time and she was really excited about them. We hoped to fill her book. We were in no rush to do anything in particular.

After entering Epcot I took some photos of the topiaries as we headed towards Spaceship Earth. We noticed a line and saw Daisy and Stitch so we stopped to take some photos and get autographs. This took about 10 minutes and the characters were fun. Our next stop was to pick up the scavenger hunt form for the topiaries. It was more like a quiz and we had noticed most of the things the day before.

As we headed towards Test Track we noticed that there didn’t seem to be many people at the Character Spot. I remember when this place used to be just for Disney Visa card members. The CM said we were smart stopping there early as it would be a long wait later on. Mickey was first, followed by Pluto and Minnie Mouse. Donald Duck is my dad’s favorite so we made sure to get both of is in the photo. Goofy was the BEST! He was joking around with DD#2 and putting his ears over his eyes. DD#2 was laughing so hard I thought she was going to get sick. She has the best laugh and everyone gets a kick out of her when she’s laughing.

Now for our first ride of the day. DD#2 absolutely loves Test Track and that’s all she had talked about on the way to Epcot was riding on Test Track first. We usually do Soarin’ but had done it twice the day before and didn’t want to have to wait. Test Track was a walk on. After that we headed over to do Mission Space, another new favorite of hers. This was her first time being tall enough. We stuck with the Green side as I usually feel quite dizzy for awhile after doing orange. Maybe on our next trip we can do the orange.

We next headed over to Ellen so we could cool off and sit for a bit. We walked in and sat on one of the benched along the side. The show started and only 2 or 3 of the screens were working. They quickly stopped the show and showed us the way out while they repaired the projection system. DD#2 was upset but I promised her we’d do it on the next day we would be at Epcot.

So we decided to head over to Nemo and Friends. We took some photos outside and then took the long winding walk through the dunes to the clam shells. Very little wait so it was a quick trip.

We then headed through the butterfly garden and made our way towards World Showcase. We stopped and took more photos of the many topiaries along the way. We then headed into the Mexico pavilion to ride the Grand Fiesta ride. Once again there was no wait. We were really lucky not having to worry about crowds and with it only being the two of us we could take our time and enjoy it.

Next stop was Norway and Maelstrom. No wait again. We had to wait longer at the end of the ride to get into the theater which we walked right on through as I’ve seen the movie many times.

We took a detour back towards Mexico so I could get a margarita as it was approaching noon and getting quite hot. Made another stop to get DD#2 a raspberry iced tea.

We next made it to China and saw Mulan leaving. I was getting hungry so I decided to go and get some potstickers while we waited for Mulan to return. The potstickers were DELICIOUS! I finished eating and then we waited with a few other people to get a photo and autograph with Mulan. She was very sweet with DD#2!

On our way around we saw people waiting for Snow White near Germany. I checked the times guide and decided to head all the way over to France to see Aurora. We had the time and there was very little line. We then made our way back to Morocco to wait for Jasmine and Aladdin. I had a special request for Jasmine. I asked her to sign a postcard for the wife of a former co-worker of mine who will be visiting in August. She thought that was a neat idea!

The one character we didn’t seem to be able to meet up with was Belle. That was one that DD#2 really wanted but time was not on our side. We planned to head over to MK by 2 and then meet DH and DD#1 back at AKL.

DD#2 practically lives on chicken nuggets and applesauce so we headed over to the Liberty Inn for her lunch. She ate quickly and then we hit the rest rooms and then continued our way around WS. I decided that it was now time for a Grey Goose slushy before stopping at the Yorkshire County Fish Shop for my lunch of Fish and Chips. This is a must for me each trip. They are the best fish and chips that I’ve ever had. We couldn’t sit at a table so we sat on the ground near the check in for the Rose and Crown. There were some people around us participating in the Kim Possible Adventure that we planned on doing during our day on Friday at Epcot.

We then made our way back to the front of Epcot and stopped at Spaceship Earth before hopping on the monorail to head to MK. Once again no wait!

We walked to the monorail and were at MK in no time. We walked down Main Street and decided to cut through the garden area near the Plaza. We’d never walked this way before and the flowers there were beautiful.

OK, now I decided despite all the negative things I head heard to go on Stitch’s Great Escape. We waited about 5 minutes outside and then sat in the front row. NEVER AGAIN! I got squirted right in the face almost immediately when the ride started! I think it was worse than the old ride!

We then walked over and got in the line for Buzz Lightyear. Line moved quickly and we were on in about 15 minutes. We then decided to go do the Laugh Floor which we really enjoy. There was about a 15 minute wait but well worth it.

We strolled around for awhile and then got a text that DH and DD#1 were heading back to AKL. We stopped to get a couple raspberry lemonade slushies behind the castle and then strolled down Main Street to catch the bus back to AKL.

It was a very LONG ride back. Traffic was quite heavy and we kept stopping and starting. Finally we came up to a lot of police cars and along the side of the road was the frame of a burned out bus. Now there had been reports of brush fires in the Orlando area but we hadn’t noticed anything. One of the bartenders at AKL said that it was the bus for the kids from Africa who work at AK. The bus had somehow caught on fire but everyone escaped safely.

We got back shortly before DH and DD#1 did.

Two Girls Day was a success for DD#2 and me as we got all the autographs we wanted (except for Belle) and took pictures of most of the topiaries.

Day 5 – Hollywood Studios

As usual, a day at Disney’s Hollywood Studios starts off with the Toy Story Mania dash. Of course we get there a bit early for rope drop. The little act they did for rope drop seemed changed a bit from last trip, but culminated the same way with everyone surging forward but lead at a brisk pace by the cast members towards Toy Story Mania so there is no running, not cutting through short cuts, etc.

DW went with DD#1 to get the Fastpasses while DD#2 and I caught up. Unfortunately DW ended up behind someone who had all the tickets for a cheerleading group, so our FP return time wasn’t until 10:15am! There was already a 30 minute standby wait as well. We got in the standby line which reached down the street. It only took us a few minutes to reach the entrance (it was 9:09 at that point), and the standby time was up to 55 minutes, and the FP return time was 10:45! Just to get an idea how fast Fastpasses went for TSM today, at 11:25 the return time was already 6:30pm, and at 12:40pm it was 7:55pm and a standby wait time of 70 minutes. We really didn’t expect it to be so crowded – but we had picked one of the few days that week that had a Fantasmic show – which makes the park much more crowded. If you aren’t planning to go to Fantasmic, you are better off going on a day where they don’t have one.

After riding TSM the first time, we stopped for some breakfast food at Starring Rolls Bakery, which we had never gotten food from before. The food items were good, but it was rather confusing as to how you are supposed to get drinks.

Next we did Tower Of Terror, and then on the way out grabbed Fastpasses to ride it again – actually the first time we’ve really grabbed Fastpasses with the intent of using them after the return window on them – which you can do 99.999% of the time…from there it was time for our TSM Fastpass, so we did that again.

We went into The Magic Of Disney Animation, so the kids could get their pictures taken with Bolt and Rhino. The Incredibles and Frozone were there too, but we skipped them. Before that we went through the little presentation on animation, and I remembered the story a cast member told me a couple years before about former Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey (you can read it asย part of my December 2007 trip report), and snapped a picture of what I believe is the photo of Mr. Yawkey. I didn’t see the cast member that day though.

We then stopped for lunch at the Backlot Express, and headed towards the Jedi Training Academy. We got there early enough that DD#1 was able to stand right up at the line, towards the left side of the stage but not far down from the front. On our last trip, she really didn’t try hard to get noticed, but she really wanted to do it so she knew to show enthusiasm (plus a brightly colored shirt helps). What we completely didn’t expect that DD#2 might want to do it as well – she was just 4 1/2 years old, and hadn’t really said anything. Even waiting for the show to start, she stood back with us behind DD#1. When the Jedi Master came out and began the selection of kids, DD#1 raised her hand and jumped up and down a bit. While she was doing that, DD#2 ducked under her arm, poked her head out and raised her hand as well – and they BOTH got picked! I wasn’t sure how well that might turn out – she can demand the attention of someone. Not in a bad way – but if she has something she wants to tell you (that SHE thinks is important!), she will tell you. But I was very surprised to see that she took the instruction well and did a great job, along with her sister!

The Jedi Master was good – I’ve seen pictures of him going back to last year so I don’t know how long he has been around, but we was very good with the kids, especially for one young boy who seemed to suffer from a bit of shyness once he was up there, constantly swapping the boy’s lightsaber (which he never figured out how to extend) for the Master’s “lucky” lightsaber. All the kids got to battle against Dark Vader and did well, although it looked like one boy swung and hit his fingers against Vader’s lightsaber and hurt them slightly as his own lightsaber went flying across the stage, but he picked it up and continued.

I now have two official Jedi Padawans – and we hadn’t even told DD#1 yet that her birthday present was a trip to Star Wars Weekend in June…

Note that Photopass is handled differently here – it would be near impossible for the photographer to track photopasses for every kid, so instead they will give you a tag with a number of the JTA session. You can then go to the Photopass kiosk near the front of DHS (I forgot the name of the shop, but if you are heading out, it is one of the last ones on the right before you get to the courtyard where the stroller rental is) or any other kiosk (I believe most Deluxe resorts have them now), and they will call up all the pictures of that session and you can pick and choose which ones go into your Photopass. This can take a bit of time though.

After that we did Star Tours and then the Backlot Tour. The Backlot Tour is a fraction of what it used to be, and bit by bit it seems to be dwindling further. The “tunnel” you go through where the costume shop seems a bit less interesting now – most of the area on the right is now tire storage for Lights, Motors, Action. Recently they also installed an automated audio system so the cast members don’t need to describe everything, but it also means that the one “acting” part they did for Catastrophe Canyon has also been cut.

We then caught the High School Musical 3 show on the newly built stage in front of the Sorcerer’s Hat. It would be nice if they could tell you where you can sit/stand a bit earlier though – we (along with a lot of others) were trying to stay out of the sun and waited a while, only to be kicked out of where we were to move behind some imaginary lines that the cast members didn’t seem to want to tell you about at that point, because apparently most of it takes place in FRONT of the stage, not on it. They eventually put down tape lines for people to attempt to stay behind. As for the show itself, we’ve seen it – won’t need to again.

We figured we finish the day with Rock’n’Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror again – DD#2 is still too short for RNRC, so the plan was that DW would take DD#1 on RNRC while we got a Rider Switch pass, and I would take DD#2 on Tower of Terror in the meantime. Plus, we still had 4 Fastpasses to use at TOT. At 5:00pm when we got there, the standby wait was 55 minutes, and Fastpasses were gone, so we figured we’d all ride TOT together first, which we did, hoping the wait time on RNRC would go down a bit. We we wrong though. At 5:20pm, the wait time was now 80 minutes! DW and DD#1 got in the standby line anyways and DD#2 and I went back to TOT, rode, and came out – and they hadn’t even made it up the ramp yet. Shortly after they rounded the bend and went inside, it was now up to 110 minutes – and it seemed even longer. In the meantime, because we had planned to be back at the resort to grab dinner, I took DD#2 to get something to eat, grabbing some pizza from Catalina Eddie’s nearby. And we still had to wait. Finally they came back out, and DD#1 and I used the Rider Switch pass, and we still had to wait a bit to get in. However we were able to make it back out before DW and DD#2 got through TOT again.

Lastly we took a spin on the Great Movie Ride, and then headed back to AKV with a quick dinner at Mara.

Day 6 – Epcot, Simba’s Cubhouse & Parents Night Out

As usual we started our day with a quick breakfast at Mara. These are starting to add up…

It was back to Epcot until at least mid-morning – today was a split day, with the kids spending the evening at Simba’s Cubhouse, and DW and I having a dinner alone and perhaps a few drinks around the Seven Seas Lagoon.

We didn’t hurry to Epcot so we missed Rope Drop, but we weren’t planning on hitting Soarin’ today so it wasn’t a big deal. We went to Test Track first (before the lines got long), and then we all rode Mission: Space together on the green side.

We all then went to Ellen’s Energy Adventure, and this time it was working. However, at one point, when entering the large room, a man hopped out of one of the vehicles and then lifted his kid out and carried them to an exit door and left. I was expecting that the ride would shut down completely when that happened – it is EXTREMELY DANGEROUS to exit a moving ride – even if it is still at the moment, and doesn’t move fast when it does. But the ride went on.

We then walked over to the Kim Possible Adventure station on the bridge to the World Showcase, to get our “assignment”. What you actually get is a Fastpass, in a sense. It tells you a time and a location to be at. Ours was Italy at 12:15pm.

Since we had time, we finally saw Honey I Shrunk The Audience for the first time since 1999. DD#1 had kept saying before the trip that she didn’t want to see it, but she finally relented, and may have been prepared after seeing the similar Shrek 4D. The last time we saw it, the pre-show was an incredibly long rendition of the song “True Colors”, with photographic images. Great rendition of the song, but after that you’re hearing it your head for a month. Now, there were a bunch of small screens and they do a presentation about the Imagination Institute. It is a large, open amphitheater like area, but with absolutely no seats, and you are repeated admonished not to sit on the floor, but it can be a long wait. For the actual show theater there are seats though.

After that, we decided to make our way towards Italy for our Kim Possible Adventure a bit early. When we reached Canada I said I’d go ahead and get drinks for DW and I at the Rose & Crown, and picked up the pace. Unfortunately the wait was pretty long to get the drinks (Guinness for me, Welsh Dragon for DW), and when I came out, the family was nowhere to be found – the beginning of some miscommunication that resulted in our first and (hopefully) last lost child experience.

I tried calling on the cell phone but got no answer. I waited a few minutes to no avail, so I started around the World Showcase with drinks in hand, drinking mine as I went. By the time I got to Japan I had finished my drink and had a hand available and called again. DW answered, and she asked me, “Where’s (DD#1)?” Uhhhh…wasn’t she with her? She met with me – apparently DD#1 said she’d wait for me, but after DW left, suddenly realized that she didn’t know where I went – she looked around for me in Canada because she thought I was somewhere there, but didn’t see me anywhere. A woman sitting on a bench noticed and got a CM for her, who took her over to where the First Aid station is at the Odyssey restaurant.

DW backtracked to where she would have been, where a CM on a Segway noticed her looking around, and said that he had just seen a CM taking her to the first aid station. DW went there, and apparently DD#1 wasn’t alone…this probably happens more often than you’d think.

They met us in Italy (now well after our KP mission time, not that it matters that much), and we began our KP Adventure.

You receive a “Kimmunicator”, which is a Verizon cell phone but with special firmware installed (don’t bother snatching one – it would be useless outside Epcot), and an RFID tag attached. You take it and you’ll hear from Kim’s friend Wade, who will explain what your mission is. You then proceed to the appropriate country (in our case, Germany – I believe be default they give you the closest one, but if you’ve done it before they can assign you another), and you need to perform some task or find some object based on the clues. For instance, you need to find the singing beer steins in one of the Germany shops, and when you push the button on the Kimmunicator they will sing for you.

Once you are done with a mission, you have the option to do another mission, or if you are done, it tells you where the nearest hidden location to drop off the Kimmunicator is.

The adventure was interesting – it gets you in and out of the shops, and gets kids interested in the World Showcase. The one drawback is the potential log jam of adventurers at the same location which can perhaps spoil the adventure of finding things yourself, but also if you are not taking part all these people looking at cell phones that keep playing the Kimmunicator ringtone over and over everywhere…

We opted to do just the one adventure this time as we had already had our own adventure, and we needed to make sure we were back at AKL in time. So we headed out, stopping for some Photopass pictures in front of the fountain, and a quick ride at The Seas (we didn’t stay at all to look around), and then another photopass right at the entrance before we left. The photographer had issues reading our Photopass card, so he took a picture of it, and told us to make sure to stop at a Photopass kiosk later with the time and location to be sure they made it on to our account. There is one right at AKL, so I chercked there any everything was OK.

We then brought the kids over to Simba’s Cubhouse at 4:30pm. We’ve never used one of the kids clubs before, and had no idea what to expect, but the kids were looking forward to it. We met a few other couples also dropping their kids off (and at least one couple like us had never done it before). Simba’s Cubhouse is behind the Uzima pool, on the first floor of the building. There is a small entrance area, beyond which parents aren’t actually allowed – you drop your kids off and you pick them up and that’s it. You do need to fill out some paperwork, give contact numbers, let them know who is authorized to pick them up, and you’re done. There were two CMs, Robyn and Tim, who would be in charge.

DW and I had early reservations (5:30pm) at Narcoosees, and decided to take the bus. We had never eaten there, and DW wasn’t too sure of the menu that she read, but she decided to try anyways. Narcoosees is located at the Grand Floridian Resort, right on the water with a picturesque view of the Magic Kingdom – it must be a prime spot during Wishes similar to the California Grill. There aren’t many seats, however, and they are tiered with the inner seats higher up, in a semicircular fashion since it is in round building in which it occupies the water-side half.

Apparently there was some confusion over the seating arrangements, as we were brought to a table for two and told who our server would be, but it was someone completely different – and there was confusion elsewhere. Apparently the seater was new and didn’t understand which table was which.

The menu appears to change frequently at Narcoosees, so be prepared that the menu you researched is not the one you see.

For an appetizer we chose the Crispy Duck Roll, which came with a spiced apple chutney and a soy chili glaze. It was similar to an egg roll but with duck meat, and it was delicious, as was the chutney (I don’t often eat the side stuff). For dinner, I chose a lamb/tiger shrimp combo with couscous, all of which was quite delicious – I’d say more but I think I ate it too quickly to remember…DW had grilled swordfish with a pesto rice and marinated mushrooms, with some pancetta on the side. She never had swordfish before, but was glad she tried it. She says it was the “best meal of my life!” The flavors were all perfect, without being too strong.

For desert, I had the Key Lime Creme Brulee, which was very good but VERY sweet – I would eat this slowly with some drink to cut the sweetness. DW had the Warm Valrhona Chocolate Cake with a blood orange sauce, which was “heavenly.”

After dinner, we decided we would take the boat launch over to the Poly, walk around a bit to walk off dinner, and grab drinks at the Tabu Lounge. We then walked over to the Transportation and Ticket Center (visiting out upside-down brick on the way) to hop on the monorail for the ride all the way around to the Contemporary Resort. We managed to get to ride up front the whole way around, speaking with the monorail driver – I forget his name now, who was from the London area so we were talking about about the England, the Premiere League and such, as well as how one of the monorails had broken down earlier.

When we finally arrived we checked out the recently reopened Outer Rim Lounge, which I believe was slightly relocated due to all the construction on the 4th floor for Chef Mickey’s. It isn’t a big place – a bunch of seats along the windows on the Bay Lake side, with a small bar at one end. Reminded me more of an airport bar. The view was nice, although there was a loud hum as if from a nearby HVAC unit.

After a drink there, we walked over to the Magic Kingdom (after losing the path to it in the dark and cutting across the parking lot) to catch a bus back to AKL and pick up the kids before it cost us another $22 (the kids clubs are generally $11/hour per child)…

When we arrived to pick up the children, they didn’t seem all that interested in leaving – they acknowledged us, but continued on as if we were not there – they enjoyed it so much! DD#2 was even voted the CMs favorite kid ever! Apparently she knows how to fool people who aren’t familiar with her devilish ways…the kids did eventually succumb to our leaving, along with all their drawings and stuff.

Day 7 – Port Orleans Riverside, 1900 Park Fare, Magic Kingdom

Today we are moving to Port Orleans Riverside as part of our first ever “split stay”. I had gotten a good deal on a “water view” room, although never having stayed there I didn’t know what to expect. Fellow DISers on the DISboards recommended requesting a River View room in Oak Manor, relatively close to to the central building.

Upon receiving our bill for AKL, I noticed that the credit that we had been promised had not been applied to the bill, so I had to stop at the front desk yet again, and Carlos managed to get the credit appropriately applied. It was in the system, but apparently the bookkeepers didn’t process it.

We packed our bags in the car and drove to POR and entered the main building. It was nicely designed, with a very large check-in desk and a separate concierge desk. I walked up to handle our check-in, which went very smoothly and quickly – and our room was already available. It wasn’t in Oak Manor as requested, but was in the actually closer building 14 in the Alligator Bayou section. Our room was on the second floor, 1445, with an inside corner room with a river view.

Unfortunately, going from villas to a typical studio room is a bit of a shock. The room is very small, with the two beds, the bathroom sink area with a “privacy curtain”, and a small bathroom. Other than the mini fridge I’m not sure what else it would have that a value room wouldn’t, other than perhaps the nicer grounds. It was a short walk along the river to where the Riverside Mill Food Court was (at the main building), a lot closer than where we were to Mara (probably half that distance). We had a quick lunch, and the kids played at the playground near the pool for a while to kill time before our 4:30pm reservations at 1900 Park Fare.

After a while to rest, we drove over to the Transportation and Ticket Center, and took the monorail over to the Grand Floridian. We were there early, and the doors to 1900 Park Fare weren’t even open, so we looked around a bit. I also asked at the concierge desk if they had a Magic Kingdom times guide, which they happily printed up for me.

At about 4:00pm, they opened the doors so we could at least check in and also get pictures with the Photopass photographer. We were second, behind a rather large family, so we still had to wait a while. While waiting, a cast member of relative importance (I don’t know what her role specifically was, but it seemed to be manager level) named Juliana was chatting with our kids, and and asked if they would be willing to help open the doors to the restaurant when it was time. Of course they agreed, and after a short wait she took them to in front of the main doors, and announced to everyone gathered that the “Princesses from Massachusetts” would help open the restaurant. And then with the words “Bippity Boppity Boo”, both of them turned the handles and opened the doors, to see Cinderella and Prince Charming coming to greet them! Cindy and Charming took them by the hands and brought them in, and we were able to get a couple quick pictures alone with them. Then we were seated at our table, which at first blush was right near the kitchen and didn’t seem to be a great spot, but the waitress said that we’d have the “best seat in the house” – because as it turns out as each character is announced and enters the room, they do so from the kitchen door, briefly walk around to the center of the room, and then come back to our table first. First up was Prince Charming, then Cinderella, Lady Tremaine, Anastasia and Drisella. All of which were totally in character. Lady Tremaine can make these incredibly condescending bug eye looks at you, Anastasia tries to be all cute, and Drisella is just snobby. This is the only place currently that you can find the latter three on a regular basis as well. Occasionally all the characters will be out and there will be a dance or something with the kids.

The meal is a buffet – similar foods to other buffets around WDW. The “main” proteins were a Roast Beef and a Pork Steamship Round, with a creamy horseradish sauce for the meat which was quite tasty. I think the pork was better than the beef. There was a very tasty chicken marsala as well. There was a small selection of dessert items including Chocolate Mouse cups, as well as a couple of soft serve ice cream dispensers – but they had issues and the ice cream wasn’t coming out very solid.

After dinner we hopped the monorail again to the Magic Kingdom, where we rode Buzz Lightyear, saw the new stage for Stitch’s Supersonic Celebration which wouldn’t open for a couple more weeks (Update: This closed just six weeks later), and for the first time ever for any of us, we rode the Tomorrowland Speedway since it was only a 20 minute wait, with myself and DD#1 in separate cars and DD#2 riding with DW. I still think it is nothing different than a typical gas-powered car ride at other amusement parks, not terribly interesting, plus we were stuck behind someone who seemed to have a problem keeping their car going.

From there we checked the line at Pixie Hollow, which was 60 minutes so we decided to skip it for now (we’d be back in the morning), so we just rode Goofy’s Barnstormer – a first for me as I’ve never actually ridden it. Then it was a quick ride on the carousel and Haunted Mansion, and then we attempted to get on Splash Mountain, making it all the way to the loading area before it shut down for apparently the second time that day. We were willing to wait it out, but there were cast members running around pretty crazily, including going up and down the line of guests. They kept unclipping and clipping the ropes to get through, and at one point two CMs crossed by each other. I believe on of them thought the other would re-clip the rope, but it just got caught on one of them and then snapped back like a bungee cord, which could have been dangerous. They seemed to be more interested in running around as if they knew what they were doing than be concerned about the guests waiting or giving any information. We waited a while before we gave up and left.

We decided we’d just start heading out, stopping off at Pirates for a quick ride, then out to the monorail for a ride back to our car. We asked about sitting in the front, but there was only room for two – DW agreed that DD#1 and I could ride up front.

Then back to POR for our first night in the little, tiny room ๐Ÿ™‚

Day 8 – Magic Kingdom, Downtown Disney

Our eighth day started off with a quick breakfast at The Mill, then to the Magic Kingdom for rope drop, with a focus on seeing Tinkerbell and her friends at Pixie Hollow. We drove over to the TTC and parked, and while walking from the car DD#2 suddenly coughed up some phlegm and the juice she had drunk, but was fine afterwards (she had reflux issues when younger, so it wasn’t exactly new to us).

From rope drop we went straight back to Dumbo and caught Ariel early before Toontown opened, and got to the Pixie Hollow line not long after opening, but the wait was about 30 minutes. Pixie Hollow is in the main Toontown Fair “tent”, right next to where the Princess meet and greet is. You wait in the line there, then you are brought in through another corridor where you are made to “shrink” down to the fairy’s height. Then you wait for a bit longer there before you finally are brought in to meet the fairies. There are typically three fairies set up like other multi-character meet-and-greets, where you first meet one, then another, well controlled with multiple groups there at a time but not crowded or rushed. First up for us was Iridessa, the yellow fairy, then Tinkerbell herself, and lastly Rosetta (DD#2’s personal favorite). Each of them chatted with the kids and didn’t hurry at all. It was really well handled.

After that we chose not to go through the Princess line as well, instead opting to to hit other attractions and think about lunch. We first stopped for a quick ride on Pooh, and decided to try Columbia Harbor House for some chicken nuggets and fried fish. Then we hit Haunted Mansion, Big Thunder Mountain and Splash Mountain (working this time!) Before we got to Big Thunder Mountain, DD#2 began complaining that she had stomach cramps, but after BTM she said she was fine (Disney rides do have medicinal value!)

That changed after we started riding Pirates Of The Caribbean though. About halfway, she complained about the stomach cramps again, and shortly before the end, she threw up – on her pants, and on her sister’s pants as well, and on the floor of the boat. Fortunately, the two women in front of us, despite the Swine Flu scare (which had nothing to do with this), were more concerned about DD#2 than anything else, and as soon as we got off the boat I told the CM who didn’t even bat an eyelash and did whatever they needed to take the boat out of operation. Of course we now had two whimpering kids to deal with so on the way out we made a quick pit stop in a shop for new outfits, and an exit back to the car via the ferry.

We drove back to POR to finish cleaning up, and head over to Downtown Disney for a lunch reservation at Raglan Road. DD#2 seemed OK but needed to go to the bathroom several times before we left.

We took the boat launch to Downtown Disney, which stops at Port Orleans French Quarter, passes the hold Treehouses that have now been converted into the Treehouse Villas, and Saratoga Springs before docking at the far side of Downtown Disney. Along the way DD#2 fell asleep in my arms – whatever she had seemed to wipe her out. She needed to go to the bathroom again after docking, and we stopped in the $10 Store before landing at Raglan Road.

This was our first time at Raglan Road for lunch. We started with a Dalkey Duo, which are small sausages battered and fried with a mustard dipping sauce. Even DD#1, the generally picky eater, liked them! For entrees (beyond the typical chicken tenders for the kids), DW had a sirloin steak (and unfortunately she doesn’t remember much about it – nothing bad though), while I tried the Keen Eye For The Shepherds Pie, which was good and even for a lunch portion was big. I’m not sure the savory flavors used were necessarily for my liking in general, but I also come from a family where Shepherds Pie is hamburger, some onions, and a mashed potato topping – not exactly strong tasting stuff.

After another bathroom stop for DD#2, we decide that I’ll take her back to POR with me while DW and DD#1 make another stop at a shop and follow us. Partway back DD#2 needs to use the bathroom again, so we make a stop at POFQ and a quick run to the bathrooms at the pool there, then back to the next boat to finish the ride to POR. DW and DD#1 were on the boat after that. We decided to just hang out at the resort for the rest of the night, preparing for our checkout in the morning. DD#2 was pretty much fine at that point – it really seemed more like a reaction to something (she is not unknown to take a drink from something that has been sitting around too long) more than any sort of illness.

Day 9 – Animal Kingdom “Everest Marathon”, Going Home

Our checkout from POR was pretty quick – no need to stop anywhere, just pack the car and go. The bill was a bit less of a shock, since it included half of the room charge.

Our outbound flight wasn’t until after 3:30pm, so we decided to head to Animal Kingdom for an Extra Magic Hour morning. This being a Monday after all the April vacation weeks were done, the park was practically empty. We head immediately after rope drop through Dinoland towards Expedition Everest and get Fastpasses – but the Fastpass isn’t good until 9am. We immediately ride standby and walk right up to the loading area and ride. After we leave, the standby line is still non-existent, so we ride again – and it isn’t even 8:30am yet. We decide to take a break, and instead had back to Dinoland. DD#2 isn’t tall enough for Primeval Whirl, so DW takes her to ride Dinosaur again while I take DD#1 on Primeval Whirl. The wait time was a little longer than advertised, and I still don’t care for the ride. It doesn’t seem quite as jerky as when I rode it in 2006 (I have heard that they’ve slowed it down somehow), but it just isn’t that interesting. DD#1 likes it though.

We meet back up and go back to Everest to use our Fastpass, and the standby line is STILL short, so we go and ride it again, with only a very short wait – it still took longer to walk through the queue. So we ended up riding it 4 times in less than 90 minutes, and that included a 30 minute break at other attractions. We could have continued riding it if we wanted, but we wanted to at least hit a couple other things before we needed to leave.

We walked past the Flights Of Wonder stage, where there was a show about to begin and a cast member was displaying a (I believe) Great Horned Owl. We’ve never seen the actual show, so we stayed and got some good seats. It is actually a pretty good show, with a bit of humor to it. Guests help take part as well, tossing grapes for a bird to catch in flight…although sometimes the tosses are pretty poor. DW got hit by one.

After the show, we started to head towards the front of the park, and stopped in to see It’s Tough To Be A Bug, and then had lunch at Pizzafari before leaving the park.

Our drive back was uneventful, dropping off at Payless and managing to hop right on the courtesy van to the airport. As usual, MCO check in/bag drop is completely crazy. Despite trying to make sure it wasn’t a problem, our largest bag was over the 50 pound limit. The JetBlue person suggested that we could redistribute stuff in our bags – uhhhh, where exactly? You can barely walk around as it is. We pay the fee, and then we still have to bring our bags ourselves to the security drop off through the crowd of confused people. Please JetBlue/MCO, FIX THIS!

We get some drinks/snacks and wait outside security for a while, and then we enter through security, which is so much more relaxed than at Logan. There is a family line, and they will also shift you around to open checkpoints as well. They don’t seem to get too backed up at any point.

Our flight back is a connecting flight through JFK, so we will get to see the new terminal that JetBlue just had built. Our first flight is on “As Blue As It Gets”, and pretty much runs on time. The new terminal at JFK is nice, with a food court and shopping area that seemed more like a high-end mall than an airport. Our plan for the short hop back to Boston was “Bravo Lima Uniform Echo” (i.e. NATO phoentic alphabet for “blue”), and was a nice short ride home.

Alas, we have no plans as a family to return until late 2010…but DD#1 and I will be making a short trip for Star Wars Weekends.