Trip Report – Pop Century, Star Wars Weekends (June 2009)

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

Introduction and Travel

This was a somewhat impromptu trip. Thanks to JetBlue and their charge card, we had a free flight. The unfortunate part of the TrueBlue program is that as soon as you earn sufficient points, they issue you a certificate for a free flight – that expires in 12 months. You can’t save them up (Edit: This has since changed). So we had a free flight we needed to use, with no plans to go to Disney for over 18 months (out of DVC points).

Well, DD#1’s ninth birthday was coming up, and she has been getting into Star Wars, especially with The Clone Wars having come out. So I had this thought – what about as a birthday present I took her down for just a weekend for one of the Star Wars Weekends? Of course I had to pass it by DW, as we really couldn’t afford a full family trip again so soon – the plane tickets for the last trip were expensive, and the final bill was horrendous…but I could get a little more mileage out of my AP and Tables In Wonderland card, and only had to secretly upgrade DD#1’s MYW ticket to an AP on the April trip.

I called and asked what room rates were available for June 5th-7th. I have never received any sort of PIN codes, AP rates weren’t out yet and generally didn’t include weekends, and I didn’t want to use any more points (saving for 2010). The CM asked if I had any discount code, and I said no but I was a DVC member/AP holder/etc., so if there were any discounts for that I’d like to hear them – especially since we were looking to go cheap. He “found” a 40% code that worked, and we got Pop Century (which we have never stayed at before) for $75/night.

We totally surprised DD#1 on her birthday. We “told” her by giving her a custom made T-shirt (thanks to the kind folks at the Creative DISigns forum on the DISboards – we got many good comments about the shirts – including from Lou Mongello of WDW Radio and even from a Cast Member asking “Did we design that?”) that said “Star Wars Weekends With My Daddy”. It was so unexpected she wasn’t sure what to make of it for a bit…

Of course it killed us not to spill the beans ahead of time…

If you are going to a Star Wars Weekend, you best do a little homework on what is going on, and how you should do each thing you want to do. For instance, for the guest stars of the weekend, if you want their autograph, you need to get a Fastpass first thing in the morning – and people line up REALLY early for that. Someone told me that they had lined up at 10pm the night before for David Prowse and Jeremy Bulloch! We didn’t plan on those autographs so we weren’t too concerned with it. But we wanted to see all the shows, and get pics/autographs with the characters at least.

Best part of the travel this time – no checked bags! I won’t have to deal with the chaos of checked bags, overweight bags, etc. at Orlando (the only thing I really don’t like about MCO – that and the JetBlue area is FAR TOO SMALL to deal with it). I was able to do online check-in for the flight down as well, so we could head straight to the gate. We left at 6am, even though our flight was at 9:35am – wait too long and traffic into Boston on a Friday can be horrible. Even though there was a bit of a snag in traffic for some reason, we got there in plenty of time. Had I known, we could have made the 8:15am flight, but we didn’t want to be in a rush. Grabbed a bit of breakfast from Burger King – they have these sort of breakfast “sliders” – little breakfast sandwiches in little hamburger buns, two or four to a pack. I asked for the ones with bacon…wait…wait…got them, sat down and opened them to see they were sausage instead. I brought them back to the counter, and said that I asked for the bacon ones, and I looked at the receipt, which seemed to refer to something completely different that had both bacon and sausage. I pointed that out on the receipt, and the person looked at me puzzled, and then said she’d ask the manager. They actually seemed to have a little conference for a time, and then she came back to me and said that they couldn’t put more than one meat on them!!! I wasn’t asking for more meat, I was asking for what I ordered! She then got the idea, and got me the right order.

Eventually we head to the gate for our flight, with the plane waiting for us – “Blues Brothers” was the name on it. There was a bit of rain moving in, so they got us boarded quickly and even took off a few minutes early. The flight was uneventful and we got in early, although we had to wait 10-15 minutes for our gate to clear because of it.

No bags to pick up, so we headed straight to the Alamo rental counter. I went with Alamo this time because Payless, who we rented from several times now, did not have rates posted – unless the rates really were $500/day for all car classes, plus we had several coupon codes for Alamo and figured out which ones worked for us. The bonus is that the cars are right at the airport, in the garage, and we could go right out to the south exit and take route 417 straight to Disney, which would take us closer to where POP was. I didn’t realize that it is actually a shorter trip as well, although the tolls are double from the Beach Line road.

For the car I went Economy class, since it was just two of us with carry-ons. They confirmed that a “Chevrolet Aveo or similar” was enough (trying to upsell), which it was. With Alamo, they tell you where the cars are, and you just pick from what is in that class. There were no Aveos, but there were a bunch of Toyota Yarises, so we took a nice grey one. It is definitely an economy car – nothing special about it, but no issues either – except the trunk didn’t like to close on the first try, instead it would just bounce right back up. And the instrument panel is in the center of the console, and I decided I really didn’t like that as I’d have to look down and to the right to check my speed, etc. I also hit my head several times as I couldn’t figure out a way to lower the seat.

Arrival at the Pop Century Resort

“If there’s a bright center to the universe, you’re on the planet it’s farthest from.”

The decor of the resort is pretty much as you see in the pictures. Bright pastels on the buildings, Getting to POP from 417 was pretty easy. We parked at the check-in parking area right at the main hall (called the “Classic Hall”), and went in. I hadn’t made a room request, so it was kind of pot luck what we got. Well, the room couldn’t be much further away from the main hall. Room 2436, fourth floor, in the 50s section. It was at the extreme end of the T of the furthest building away. Well, OK, the 80s/90s may have a few rooms more distant from the main hall than this, but certainly in this direction it was as far as you could get. But, it was close to the parking lot – a quick descent down the bowling pin right nearby, and we were mere feet from our car for the most part.

The decor of the resort is pretty much as you see in the pictures. Bright pastels on the buildings, matching icons at the end of each wing for all buildings in that decade, and a unique icon at the center of the building. Ours was a giant version of a tabletop jukebox. Around the outside at various points it was decorated with transistor radios and records, silhouettes of 50s dancers and some 50s phrases around the top.

Sandwiched between the three 50s buildings is the Bowling Pin pool (also the icon of the 50s buildings). Behind the main hall is the Hippy Dippy pool, and at the 80s/90s buildings is the Computer pool (which I never saw).

If you went around the corner from our room to the stairwell, you could also see the “unfinished” part of POP – two guest buildings, unadorned, and even the main hall for the “Legendary Years” part of Pop Century. Construction on the second half halted shortly after 9/11, and never resumed, although there have been periodic reports of work being done over there. There is no indication beyond rumors of them ever completing it however. I’m sure it will be some day, but no one knows how soon, or what form it might take.

The room itself was spartan. There wasn’t anything in particular that screamed 1950s to me. The bedspreads appeared to be generic to all Pop Century buildings. There was a poster on one wall that was labeled “Fifties” and appeared to have various Disney items from the period. The border around the wall seemed to be 50s themed much like the outside of the building. But that was about it.

Now you know why the Pop Century resort only covers 5 decades…

Time to go hang with Darth Vader…

Day 1 – Star Wars Weekend at Hollywood Studios, Magic Kingdom

Since we would have missed any morning festivities, and only had essentially one full day and two half days, our plan was to hit all the late SWW stuff including the Hyperspace Hoopla, then grab some dinner and head to MK for the evening Extra Magic Hours. We’d come back to DHS in the morning for all the SWW stuff we missed.

We got to DHS a little after 2:00pm, but we waited in the car for a while because it had started a heavy rain. As soon as it let up we booked it to the tram and got to the entrance. After picking up a times guide and realizing that none of the SWW stuff was listed, I asked where to get the SWW guide and map, which could only be found at the inside Guest Relations just to the left as you enter. The first scheduled show was “Behind The Force” at 3:35pm at the Premiere Theater (inside the backdrop of San Francisco), and we didn’t want to chance missing it, so we headed straight there, but at a leisurely pace. There was no line at the entrance when we reached there, which I thought was strange, until I asked – and the line was actually hidden away across the road, alongside the Muppetvision building. They had taken a portion of the Muppetvision queue and used that a holding line for the theater. At least a portion of it was covered from the potential rain.

The show was a talk and demonstration of how the voiceover work for The Clone Wars was done, hosted by Ashley Eckstein (the voice of Ahsoka Tano), with a brief introduction by SWW host Jay Laga’aia (who did not stick around). For this weekend, she was joined by Matt Lanter, the 90210 actor who also voices Anakin Skywalker. Ashley sure seems into the whole Star Wars Weekend thing – she has a backpack which has the baby Hutt which her character had to carry around for an episode, and she seems to ALWAYS be wearing it. She and Matt talked a bit about the show, did a little skit where their characters are in a high school, and did a sample voiceover. Then they did a bit of audience participation, where some guests got to imitate some characters, and one girl was chosen to go up on stage and do a voiceover of a battle droid.

After that we went over to Wicket’s Warehouse, where they were doing photo ops with Darth Maul and Darth Vader inside (due to the rain), and also Queen Amidala, Boba Fett and Jango Fett just inside where Sorcerer Mickey used to be, next to Toy Story Mania. There is a single line for the last three, although they are not all out at the same time – the Fetts appear to trade off, with Amidala taking occasional breaks. It was Amidala and Boba when we got in line, but both took a break and we just waited for a bit. Jango came out, and by the time we reached him Amidala was back as well. Both were in front of simple backdrops, but Boba Fett pictures included a life-sized Han Solo in carbonite.

Just outside there was a number of roaming characters – a number of stormtroopers, plus you’ll also find some bounty hunters like Aurra Sing and Zam Wesell. The problem here is that everyone wants pictures with them, and a few autographs – but there are no character handlers, or lines – it is very haphazard, and when the characters are fully in character, you can’t actually tell what they are going to do. Aurra Sing often made it difficult to get a picture with her, preferring to stare you down. If you want a picture, you just have to try and wait your turn and duck in, but since there is no line no one knows (and some don’t care) who is next. Aurra Sing also made a little girl cry when she came up, autograph book opened and pen ready, and Aurra just stared down at her, making no indication that she would sign the book. The girl started to tear up and turned away while Aurra continued to stare. Her mother encouraged her to try again, and the girl went up to her again, only to be met by the cold stare again, until the girl started to cry and leave. At no point did Aurra make any indication of signing the book, and a lot of people in the crowd made comments like, “That’s not right”. Had there been a CM nearby I would have said something. We saw Zam Wesell the next day – again no handlers, but a nice line had formed and we got in it. A boy went up to her for an autograph. She took the book, but then starts walking fast while signing it – away from everyone, heading towards Wicket’s Warehouse and backstage I think. I didn’t even see the boy get back the book, who had to chase after her.

We went back towards Star Tours, and caught part of the Padawan Mind Challenge which is sort of a quiz show for kids done on the Jedi stage, where Ahsoka was helping judge with two “original” characters as the Emcees. We then rode Star Tours (pretty much a walk on – which was surprising), and when we got out we saw Luke and Leia next to the Fastpass kiosks. But while we were in line, Leia left, but Luke stayed. A short time later, R2-D2 came rolling by! We got pics with them together. And yes, I saw R2-D2’s “handler”. You might think he was just a creepy guy standing nearby if you didn’t know what he was doing.

We milled about a bit more, and then tried to make sure we had some space for the Hyperspace Hoopla, which is a do not miss event that closes the Star Wars events for the night.

The problem is that the Hoopla also takes place at the Jedi stage, right after a Jedi Training Academy Session. So there is already a crowd around the stage, some of which will be leaving afterwards, while an even bigger crowd gathers around in a FAR TOO SMALL area. The result is that unless the kids are in the front, or on someone’s shoulders, they aren’t going to see anything at all. DD#1 managed to get one of the few spots to the side where she could at least see over some people. I was very intent on being courteous but in a position so I could videotape. After the Jedi Training Academy, the CMs managed to get the crowd to move up in a very controlled manner – although it generally didn’t help much. I ended up with a couple behind me with two kids, who kept telling their kids to push on up all the way to the front, but the kids were obviously reluctant to do so and be separated from their parents, but also weren’t willing to wait until the start of the show to sit on their shoulders, so they were constantly moving around me in both directions as the parents kept telling them to push their way around, but in the end still ended up behind me. When it came time to start, they both took a kid on their shoulders – and I started to get bumped from behind while I was taping.

To make matters worse with the close-in crowd, Sandpeople and Jawas would walk in amongst the crowd – I had a Tusken Raider come right up to me (got a REAL closeup pic when I turned to see who was bumping in to me now!), and then moved on past in front of me towards the stage – and the couple behind me followed him, so I ended up trying to tape from right between them, limiting my field of view, and they also started swaying and swinging to the music, bumping me left and right. In addition, the dad had a non-small backpack on, and he kept turning around and hitting me with it. I was getting really aggravated and the video is all bouncy, which makes me more aggravated because I am in general a very good cameraman (I’ve used professional equipment many times). I eventually got all my video without causing an international incident though.

The show itself was really funny. Think Star Wars characters dancing to big hits. I understand the songs change from year to year, but this year featured Darth Vader and the Stormtroopers dancing to “U Can’t Touch This”.

Disney REALLY needs to reconsider the location of the Hoopla. My first thought was to use the big stage they used for the High School Musical 3 number in April right in front of the Sorcerer’s Hat, which had a much greater viewing area but apparently had been removed and they were back to using the portable stage. Still, Disney may want to consider doing something there instead.

After this, DD built her own lightsaber, and we picked up a couple items for gifts at Wicket Warehouse. DD got herself a shirt and a Jedi Mickey hat. Of course the $50 total gave her pause (it was her spending money).

Then we went for a quick (well, as quick as the standby line gets – around 60 minutes) ride on Rock’n’Roller Coaster, and then went back to POP for dinner.

From descriptions I had read, I imagined the Pop Century food court to be bigger. There was certainly lots of seats, and a nice set of choices though. For this quick dinner DD had just some nachos with cheese sauce (nothing special, but she’s easy to please), while I had a cheesesteak wrap which was pretty tasty.

After the quick (and late) dinner, we decided we would take the bus over to MK for Extra Magic Hours. We arrived a little before 10pm, so that Wishes began just after we came out of Casey’s where we grabbed a large Sprite (sort of an EMH tradition for DD and I). Then we just worked our way clockwise around the park, hitting the attractions we wanted to: Jungle Cruise (which, strangely, had the Fastpass machines open for EMH, but it was a walk-on ride), Pirates Of The Caribbean, Splash Mountain…we skipped Big Thunder Mountain, as the “30 minute” standby line was out onto the main paths, I believe because of the large influx of post-Wishes guests. We then did Haunted Mansion (very short wait), and we would have done Peter Pan but the wait was almost an hour. It also was using Fastpass (the only other attraction that seemed to) and the return times were post-12am already. The only other attraction we did was Indy Speedway (another short wait), and then we worked our way out of the park. We stopped for ice cream at the Plaza Ice Cream Parlor, and took our time going back to the bus stop.

Of course, then you remember why you don’t like taking the bus…especially to a Value resort – the line. I’ve seen them worse, but still, it was several busloads of people, and it wasn’t quite midnight yet (EMH ran until 1am). However, the Disney Transportation was smart about this, and they were doubling up the buses, loading two at a time for POP. We had to wait for the next pair, which was about 15 minutes, while we talked with another family from Massachusetts, but we were able to get on the next pair and even sit down. We got back to POP close to 12:30am (after what seemed like the longest red light ever taking the left towards POP), and DD was asleep pretty much as soon as she laid down, and I did not long after.

Day 2 – Star Wars Weekend at Hollywood Studios, Epcot

Our first (and only) full day would be spent at DHS doing all the Star Wars Weekend stuff we didn’t get to do before, and then spending the rest of the night at Epcot.

If you hope to get the autographs of that weekend’s stars, word is you need to get there EARLY. I was told people lined up at 10pm the night before! They set up Fastpass machines outside the gate, and a separate line for each star. You would get in the line for the star you want to see first, get a Fastpass, and then you could get in another line and try and get another Fastpass. If they run out, they give some “standby” Fastpasses, which don’t guarantee you an autograph but if that person finishes before the session is over, they will start signing for standby people. We didn’t concern ourselves with the autographs so we just went to the park entrance.

For the park opening at DHS on Star Wars Weekends, a special treat while you are waiting in line is the Stormtroopers. Two of them will be stationed on the roof over the turnstiles, and they will speak and point to the crowd, making sure no one gets past them. Try to position yourself towards the back of the area in front of the turnstiles, in the center of the rectangular opening in the roof so you can see both clearly. It is a very funny show.

After entering the turnstiles, the rope drop was much further up than usual, right in front of the Sorcerer’s Hat. This may have been to draw the larger crowd in. We were right up front, but there wasn’t a rope drop show as usual – again, possibly because of Star Wars Weekends. From there was the usual large crowd making their way to Toy Story Mania. We decided we would only ride it once, so we skipped the Fastpass chaos and went straight to the standby line and nearly walked right on. I don’t seem to be able to improve my scores beyond the 150k-200k range though. And the arm gets tired fast.

After that, we got in line for a Darth Vader photo op near the Backlot Tour. The line was fairly long, and Darth Vader took a few 5 minute breaks. It took about 35-40 minutes before we got up to him. DD remembered her autograph book this time, so got his autograph and we both got pictures with him.

Along the way near the Singing In The Rain umbrella there was also a Stormtrooper standup where someone can stand behind it and look like a Stormtrooper who took his helmet off.

Next up was an area right by Casa Della Tires (where Mater and Lightning McQueen hang out). On one side was an enclosed plexiglass area with a Clone Trooper motif, in front of which was Ahsoka. On the other side was a photo op that alternated with Anakin and some Jedi Masters (Mace Windu, Kit Fisto and Shaak Ti). We got in line for Ahsoka, but a handler announced that she would be leaving and Captain Rex would take her place. They swapped before we got up to the front, but I asked the handler and he said that Ahsoka would be back shortly. So we got pictures with Rex, and turned around and got right back in line, and got pictures with Ahsoka as well a short time later.

Also in the area were some wandering Jawas and a Tusken Raider that people were taking pictures with.

Since we were right there, we rode Star Tours again. The standby time was listed at 20 minutes, but the CMs were saying it was only 10, and that was about how long it was. I also noticed that the hands on the Fastpass Return clock (which is not digital!) were broken off…rode in the exact same simulator as well, in the same seats!

Next up was the Celebrity Motorcade, which had all of the stars of that weekend riding along, with the characters, and members of the 501st Legion helping fill out the ranks. We looked for a spot right by the ABC Hall Of Fame, and had a decent spot considering the time standing behind the wall, with some people sitting on the wall and would not be in our way. Or course that would change when a father stuck his son standing on the wall right in front of me, making it impossible to get any head-on pictures so all I got was side and back shots.

The motorcade started a bit early because of the threat of impending rain. Afterwards we were ready for something to eat, but I noticed it strangely get dark suddenly from an already overcast sky, so I suggested that we move closer to the shed area by the Backlot Express – which was jam packed. We then got under the shed as it started to sprinkle, but not all of the shed was covered, so we managed to squeeze our way to a better position – and was thankful because it then started to downpour, and where we were standing was being hit by a gush of water that was rolling off the roof.

We never got in to the Backlot Express, instead we grabbed a bag of chips and a soda. We went back for the Star Of The Saga show, which would be starting in about an hour, so we got in the line across the road again and waited. While we waited, the two characters who were doing the Padawan Mind Challenge (and I assume the Hoopla) today came through the line, and handed out some slips of paper for people to fill out questions. We didn’t get the chance to get one, but they indicated some of the questions would be asked on stage. We finally got in and got a bit better seats this time. A few minutes before the show though, 4 Stormtroopers enter and start getting upset because they were supposed to be handling crowd control and people were already being let in. This led in to a whole show in itself, including references to the infamous scene in Star Wars when the stormtrooper hit his head on the door, a dancing stormtrooper, and several sulking stormtroopers. It was hilarious.

The show itself was basically an interview/talkshow format, with Jay Laga’aia first introducing and talking with Jeremy Bulloch (Boba Fett), and then David Prowse (Darth Vader), including clips of them from Star Wars and even other shows. There were hints that Bulloch was a singer, but apparently would sing in Sunday’s show, not this one. They only asked one of the questions gathered from the people in line, which I believe was aimed at both guests, “How hard was it to act while being completely hidden in the costume?” In Jeremy’s case, he found that his character was better if he didn’t make exaggerated movements to indicate the character was speaking. David Prowse, on the other hand, said that hand gestures were important, especially in certain scenes because he couldn’t hear what the other character (like Luke in The Empire Strikes Back) was saying, and the other actor couldn’t hear him, so the gestures were key to the communication between them.

At the end, Jay picked up an acoustic guitar, and had them sing along to the Mickey Mouse Club farewell song, with David singing the “See you real soon” line (very well I might add) and Jeremy singing the “Why? Because We Like You!” line (even better).

After the show, we decided we would start working our way out. First, we found where Jedi Mickey and Leia Minnie had their photo ops, with Leia Minnie currently in place. But while in line of course she left, replaced with Jedi Mickey. We both got pictures, with DD getting a shot holding a lightsaber.

From there we shot over to Tower Of Terror, which had a 30 minute wait. Inside in the library room there was a guest who was obviously a little too into it – he was showing off his ringtone – the Twilight Zone theme song, and when the room went dark at the end of the pre-show he screamed loudly. I made sure to put some distance in between us and him.

From there we left the park to head to Epcot. Normally we’d probably just walk or take the Friendship boat, but we had brought the car to get to the park quickly, and didn’t want to have to come all the way back for the car, so we drove over to Epcot and parked there, getting there around 4pm. We had reservations at Restaurant Marrakesh at 7pm, and DD wanted to do more Kim Possible missions, so we went directly to the main location on the World Showcase bridge and got assigned to the International Gateway station for 4:45pm. Since we had time to kill, we went over to Mission: Space where the orange side was a 25 minute wait, but the green side was 5 minutes, so we rode the green side.

After we came out, we made our way towards the International Gateway, stopping at the Rose & Crown for drinks – Sprite for DD, and a Black & Tan for me. We then got our Kimmunicator at the station, and started with the UK mission. At one point we needed to go in the Sportsman’s Shoppe, which reminded me that I wanted to look again for a short sleeved Liverpool jersey, which they didn’t have last time. This time they did – at $70! But it was my gift to myself. And I learned that DD’s soccer team (for which I was assistant coach) won their game 8-2 earlier that day, and I wanted to wear an authentic jersey to the games.

We completed the mission, and decided to do another. Whereas I was pretty sure that previously you could choose another mission from a list, we were only given one choice – Mexico. That was fine, so we went over there and explored. We noticed that the Kidcot station was now in the lobby, with a small jewelry store in its place. I didn’t notice, but I’ve heard that on the opposite side one of the areas where the jewelry store had been has been walled off – perhaps the tequila bar that was supposed to be open a year ago will finally get built?

We still had time for one more mission, and we were again only given one option – Japan – which was fine with me, as I like the Japan pavilion and it was right next to Morocco. We went through that mission and it was about 6:30pm. Interestingly, we weren’t given an option for another mission. They may limit it at three.

I think the Kim Possible missions is a good thing in general. One drawback is the number of people that are going around and you hear the Kimmunicators all over the place. But it gives the older kids something to do in the World Showcase, which has long been a problem (Epcot was not considered “kid-friendly” for many years), and it gets people into the shops and exhibits that they may have never even noticed before. They got an extra $70 from me!

I can foresee the adult version – the Kim Possible Drinking Adventure.

We checked in early for dinner at Restaurant Marrakesh. We didn’t wait long, but there seemed to be some confusion. It sounded like they called our name, but another couple (who definitely had been there before us) stood up, so I figured I misheard it. We waited a bit longer, and they came out and called for another party of two, who weren’t there. They looked puzzled, asked my name, looked puzzled again, but then led us in. I think it WAS my name they called originally – but no problem for us.

We had a table for two towards the inside, where DD could have a good view of the floor if the dancer came out while we were there. We looked at the menus – DD wanted some kefta, and the AllEars menu had a kefta hamburger on the kids menu – but this only listed a plain hamburger. I asked our waiter, Rachid, if it was in fact kefta, and he said it was a regular hamburger. DD opted for the ubiquitous chicken tenders instead, and I didn’t think anything at the time but Rachid mentioned that they were chicken nuggets, which meant that they weren’t the white meat tenders we used to get at various places. I ordered the Lamb Meshoui (at his recommendation – I was undecided between that and the Shish Kebab) and we ordered some Beef Brewat rolls for an appetizer. I also ordered a Marrakesh Express to drink, while DD had Diet Coke. DD liked the brewats (she had some at Food and Wine, although I believe they were chicken).

When the entrees arrived, we saw the chicken nuggets – and we both had the same reaction. They were not appetizing to look at at all. She tried them, but they really didn’t taste good. But she had a taste of my lamb and loved it. When Rachid returned, I explained that we didn’t realize the chicken nuggets were that poor a quality (“tenders” to me generally mean a better piece of meat), and if they had any way of making a kids portion of lamb. He wasn’t sure but understood, and said he’d talk to the chef. After a bit he returned – with nearly a full serving of the lamb, simply taken off the bone already, with french fries (DD wasn’t daring enough to try couscous). As she ate it, her comment was “meat from heaven!” It was very delicious and we both cleaned the plates. While we ate, the musicians and the belly dancer did come out for a brief time (perhaps one song?), and the dancer picked a few kids to go out to the floor and dance with her for a few minutes.

We had considered a dessert (there were a couple that looked interesting), but DD decided she really wanted a Kaki Gori (Japanese shaved ice) instead, so I gave my gratitude to Rachid and the chef, and we stopped at Japan for the melon Kaki Gori, on our way to Norway to take a ride on Maelstrom.

DD and I didn’t get to ride Maelstrom in April as it was closed due to maintenance issues, although DW and DD#2 did on their “two girls day” while we were at Universal Studios, so we wanted to try and ride it again. It was listed as only a 20 minute wait. But apparently that included about 15 minutes of automated announcements of the ride having shut down and for people to stay in their boats. We were in line not moving for at least 20 minutes, and people were leaving. We waited another 5 minutes, and now it was getting close to 8:20pm and we wanted to definitely see Illuminations, so we decided to skip out. We climbed over the railings to get out. The interesting part was the woman, back near the entrance, making snide remarks about the people leaving, saying she was just told by the CM that it was just down for a few minutes because someone needed help getting off a boat. Uh…it doesn’t take 25 minutes to help someone on or off one of those boats…and regardless that is no reason to be making snide comments. You should thank everyone who is leaving as you get to ride so much sooner.

DD suggested instead going over to Mexico and riding the Gran Fiesta ride, but I reminded her that counting the actual ride time it would be close to if not after 9pm and we might not be able to get a good viewing location, and just for once I’d like to see something without having to look around people. So we managed to grab a GREAT spot, right in front of Norway, next to one of the VIP viewing areas. We were against the rope separating the VIP area, so there was no one to our right (even at show time the VIP area wasn’t crowded, and most of them were sitting down). We just had to wait a while, watching the boat crews checking everything out. One boat skipper saw my DD waving, so did a little gun-and-turn to produce a wake wave that lapped up on the shore, which surprised a few people but didn’t actually come anywhere close.

We haven’t seen Illuminations since 2006 (we are usually too tired), so the globe had been updated and it does seem to me like they’ve increased the resolution of the LEDs on it to make the images clearer, which was a plus. As usually the show and the music were spectacular.

Then there was the march with everyone else around the World Showcase out to the parking lot…we didn’t seem to have to wait long to actually get out of the parking lot though…and definitely glad we weren’t taking a bus or the monorail…

DD and I did run over to the main hall to refill our mugs before turning for the night. We leave tomorrow…

Day 3 – Animal Kingdom, Epcot

We had no particular plans for the day…our flight back wasn’t until nearly 6pm, and DD wanted to get one of those round stuffed yeti dolls they sell in the shop at Expedition Everest, so we went to AK first thing in the morning, but packing up and getting everything in the car made us just get there in time for rope drop, fairly far back compared to where we usually are – I could just see over the crowd to see Mickey rise up by the Tree Of Life. We then went straight to Everest via the Dinoland route, which worked well for us previously, but today was a different story. They had routed the standby line to the left of the entrance, to the inside of the Fastpass kiosks, such that those coming from the Asia path would end up right in the line, and there was a large crowd around the Fastpass area. We walked a fair ways to get to the end of the line. It moved pretty well though once it got going, and the wait was no more than 15 minutes. Alas, the Yeti is still in “B mode”, where it doesn’t move at all.

After DD bought her Yeti, we decided there really wasn’t anything else we wanted to do at AK this time, so we instead ran over to Epcot to try and get a few more things we didn’t get to do last time done. I also stopped at the Hess station near the Boardwalk to fill the gas tank before returning the car at the airport.

We got to Epcot around 10:15am, and went straight to Test Track. It was advertised a 30 minute standby wait and an 11:25 Fastpass return time, so we just got in line. However, if they didn’t start the Fastpass return times until 10am, the effect of Fastpasses on the standby line would have only started – and it was painfully obvious that there was an effect. We ended up waiting more than 90 minutes, and the Fastpass line reached all the way to the door from about 20 minutes in for most of the time. This also may be due to a Sunday crowd level, but it seems apparent that they need to work on how the loading is done to not impact the standby line so poorly. Not sure what could be done, but it seems something does.

After we finally rode (and despite GMs situation, the concept car in the show area has apparently been replaced with something that looked like it was closer to a production car), we walked over to Mission: Space again as DD wanted to ride the orange side, but the wait for it was 55 minutes, and even 30 minutes for green – the longest I’ve seen in years, so we skipped it. A short time later I noticed it up to 110 minutes.

By then it was a good time for us to grab lunch, so we went to the Electric Umbrella, where I don’t think I’ve stepped foot inside in a decade. There was a fair crowd already around the cashiers, with two stations not even manned. It seemed to be moving OK to a point, but unfortunately opposite me was a couple using the Disney Dining Plan, who wanted to get just one meal, but an extra drink, and the woman seemed convinced that there was no way that the cashier understood what they wanted, even though she, and I, and pretty much everyone else waiting did. Even after it was rung through, the woman was still unsure it was done the way they wanted, despite having gotten the receipt with their remaining credits, and the receipt for the extra drink that they paid for…

DD got some chicken tenders (the good ones this time!), while I got a toasted turkey sandwich which was really quite good, although (like everything) expensive for its size.

We walked over towards The Seas, stopping at Club Cool for some quick free drinks, and DD piped up that we should do Journey Into Imagination, since there was never a line – and sure enough there wasn’t. We walked right in and rode it. Of course, she hates the Smell Lab part of the ride. There was a girl in the seats in front of us that was definitely scared at the start of the ride to the point of crying, but once we passed the Sound Lab she was fine.

We tried to find one of the Kodak picture stations where we could send a picture to DW, but I couldn’t find one that wasn’t being used by people making freaky pictures and the keyboard actually worked.

We then went over to The Seas and passed The Land where the wait for Soarin’ according to the times board outside (which isn’t always up to date) was listed at 50 minutes. At The Seas, the clammobiles were pretty much a walk-on, after which we hung out and checked out pretty much all of the tanks, only skipping Turtle Talk.

Finally, we decided to take one spin on Spaceship Earth before we left WDW. For those that haven’t been there in a while, there is a point just as you go into the tunnel where they take your picture for use with the animations on the downhill part of the ride, so we both took our hats off for the pic. After which I put my hat back on, but DD didn’t. After we rode, we left right away and walked all the way to the car while it started to rain a bit, at which point I realized that she didn’t have her hat – the one she bought on Friday! So we hurried back to Spaceship Earth and went in the exit area and spoke to a CM, who checked but said that no one had seen it. She said to go to Guest Relations right next door, which we did but I knew it would be too soon to have shown up there. The CM there gave me the card with the central Lost and Found number on it. We were leaving shortly, but the CM said they would send it to you free of charge. I didn’t have much hope for it though. As we walked back to the car, DD asked me if I was upset she lost her hat – I said no, she paid for it with her money, so it was hers to lose. She still had the other things she bought, so she seemed OK with it.

We took 417 back to the airport without issues, although it seems like you circle around the entire airport before reaching the car rental return, and then there is a sharp sudden turn – almost missed it.

Our flight home was on the “Blue Yorker”, and despite rain moving in to Orlando (and radio reports of potential tornadoes somewhere) it went pretty much without issues and landed ahead of schedule. We took the Silver Line bus to South Station and the Red Line to Alewife where DW picked us up and took us home.

Update: I called WDW Lost and Found the next day. After a fairly long wait on hold, I spoke to a CM and described the hat. I thought it was blue, but the CM said there was a black one. I then described how on the bill of the hat the lines were done to look frayed, and she said that was the one! She sent it USPS the next day, and we had it two days later!