Hi all. The cast of characters for this trip were Jeff (39), a NASA engineer, wife Susan (37), also an engineer with NASA, son Brian, (11) and daughter Katie (8). This was my sixth trip to WDW this year and the third for Susan, Brian and Katie. We are all annual passholders and all big time Disney fans.Go To Part 2
This was our third trip in a row to WDW in December and I'm quite sure we'll do it again next year. The holiday decorations in the parks and resorts are simply beautiful, the weather is typically wonderful, the crowds are very small and the special shows and events Disney puts on during the Christmas season are not to be missed.
Day 1, December 11th - Travel
Logistically speaking, we stayed on-site at the Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground (big surprise there, right?) in our Coleman popup camper. I took off Friday, Dec. 11th, and drove down to WDW from Madison, Alabama (northern Alabama, near Huntsville) while Susan and the kids stayed and went to work and school respectively. They flew down later Friday evening on Southwest Airlines from Nashville, TN to Tampa, FL. I'd gotten a great $94 round-trip fare off of the internet for them about two months prior to the trip. We often find much better deals on airline flights from either Birmingham, AL or Nashville, TN on Southwest than what we are able to book on Delta or American out of Huntsville, AL.
We took the kids out of school for two days, the 14th and 15th, and had coordinated this well in advance with their teachers and their school principals. They had no problems with them missing the two days and gave the kids their work to do and turn in before they left.
The drive down took me just over 10 hours. Typically I drive I-65 through Birmingham, then I-20 over to Atlanta, GA, then I-75 south to Wildwood, FL, then the FL Turnpike to I-4 west, then I-4 to WDW. This time, I took I-65 through Montgomery, then HW 231 through Dothan to I-10 east, I-10 to I-75 south and on into WDW as before. This latter way was definitely a shorter way to go, was faster, and I avoided the seemingly never ending construction on I-75 in south GA/north FL.
I arrived at about 6:45 pm, was checked in quickly by Bruce and was on my way to campsite 1321 in less than 5 minutes. I had requested site 1303 and was disappointed not to get it but at least we were going to be on our favorite loop. When I turned into the 1300 loop I was surprised to see 1303 vacant! D'oh! I should have asked back at check-in and not assumed it was occupied just because I didn't get it. I thought about driving back to talk to Bruce but decided that I didn't have time. I needed a half hour at least to set up the camper before leaving to pick up Susan and the kids at the Tampa airport and I would be cutting it close as it was. Site 1321 was on the other side of the loop from the comfort station and just across a canal from the main swimming pool in the Meadows recreation area. I could throw rocks in the pool from our campsite we were so close. I would be sorely tempted to do so later in our trip. I got the camper set up, drove to Tampa (got there in plenty of time, by the way), picked up Susan and the kids and got back to the camper by 11 pm. We were all in bed and snoozing by 11:30 pm.
Day 2, December 12th - Epcot, TTC (RADP meet), Magic Kingdom, Epcot
We were so late getting to bed last night that I didn't even think about setting an alarm for the morning. We all awoke about 8 am, took showers and were off for our traditional first WDW meal at Trails End Buffet in Fort Wilderness. We've done the lunch buffet many times but this was our first time doing breakfast...it won't be our last. The selection rivaled most character breakfast buffets we've been to and the food was as good. They had fruits, eggs, bacon, sausage, grits, Mickey waffles, french toast, breakfast pizza, biscuits, rolls, bagels, doughnuts, pastries and more. Coffee was served in a mason jar glass and we also had milk and juice. The price for adults is $7.95, $4.95 for kids, what a bargain! Total for the meal was $31.50. We ate so much at breakfast that we only needed a light snack in the afternoon to tide us over to dinner. We caught the Dale internal bus back to our campsite then drove to Epcot.
We were late arriving and were somewhat surprised by the size of the crowds at the turnstiles. At most turnstiles there were lines of folks back to the ticket windows waiting to get in. We went to the far left turnstile where the line was much shorter.
*Tip* When entering a park look at all the turnstiles to see which has the shortest line before getting in line. Typically, folks get into the first one they come to such as at the MK when they pile off of the monorail and form long lines on the left side while the right side turnstiles are empty. At Epcot, the right side turnstiles, where the tram, monorail and buses drop guests, typically have the longest lines.
The poinsettia Christmas trees at the entrance of Epcot were beautiful. We passed those on our way to our first ride - Spaceship Earth, which we got on after a 5 minute wait. Our next stop was a new thing for Susan and the kids - Ice Station Cool. We had gone to Atlanta a few months back to attend an Atlanta Braves game and had taken time to do the World of Coke (WoC) as part of the trip. The WoC also gives out "free" soda and the kids thought that was so neat. They were really looking forward to Ice Station Cool. Of course I had told them how *good* the Beverly was too...hehehe. As we walked out the door we were almost blown away by the start of a musical set by a group called Cast in Bronze. The group was great but they were LOUD! Later in the day we heard them playing clearly waaaay over at the American pavilion...what is that, about a quarter of a mile away? Sheesh! Loudness seemed to be a common thread through this trip. Are Disney sound engineers are all deaf? It seemed that many shows and attractions had some part in them that was unnecessarily loud, at least in our opinion.
With our fingers in our ears, we crossed in front of the band and took refuge in the Centorium. We were delightfully surprised to find a series of dioramas on display there from "Mickey's Christmas Carol". They were really cute and something we'd not seen before. Stepping out on the East side of Innoventions we soon found out why the park was more crowded than normal - they were having a Cast Member preview for Test Track. Wait times were 2.5 hours according to a CM I talked to...ack! We ducked into Horizons for what will likely be our last ride. We ran into Deb Koma (dcdeb) and her family (husband Brian and son Alex) as we were getting into our Horizon vehicle. Has anyone ever leaned over the front of their Horizons vehicle during the Imax portion and looked down? I did and was surprised how far down the floor was...wow! I read on the newsgroup rec.arts.disney.parks (RADP) that Jan. 9th has been set as the closing date...what a shame. Hopefully the building won't turn into another 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. We chatted briefly with Deb and her family before heading over to the Wonders of Life pavilion to play on the hands-on exhibits and see Cranium Command. We love Cranium Command but it's another attraction that is on the loud side. We finished up our brief morning in Epcot's Futureworld by walking into Ellen's Energy Adventure, yet another loud but still enjoyable attraction.
We rode the monorail over to the TTC where we met up with fellow newsgroup posters/readers and friends from internet relay chat (IRC) at the big 3rd annual RADP meet. I met so many folks that I couldn't begin to remember all their names (though I did remember quite a few). There was a mix of old friends (not chronologically old necessarily, well...some *are* old <grin>) and new. We were given name tags by Diane Abrams, registered for the prize drawing and then we waded right into the group. We soon met up with Judy Lewandowski (judylew) a sweet lady and friend I'd met last year at WDW and have chatted with on IRC for some time. She had presents for the kids...glow in the dark maggots for Brian and a Minnie Mouse thing for Katie. She also had Disney character Pez candy and dispensers. Mine was Donald, my favorite character - woo hoo! Needless to say, my kids loved her. Thanks again Judy. :-)
Bill Abrams collected many of the kids, including mine, by asking who wanted to play Disney trivia...yea Bill! We then chatted with Deb Wills, gardenia, our family friend Laura Gilbreath (tigger), Jim Freeman (czarjim), his wife Eureka (Czarina), Lisa Shepard and her husband Chuck, Sam Ault (Bartender Sam), Kenny Cottrell (Kenny), Rob Olsan (Rob), Alison (Paragon), Jack Marshall (Ace67/JackM), Brenda Bowden, Carol Kelly (scoutmom) and Dixie, Deb Koma (dcdeb), Jen from Australia (Sundew) and her friends, Don Jennings and his wife Laurie, Jan Bordelon (Praline), Lori Wilson (Rose) and her family, Beth Eloheimo (Beth), Charlotte and John Johnson, Brian Martsolf (BigBrian), Gloria Konsler (gloryk) and her husband Gary, Bill Hamilton (matson), Randy Berbaum, Suzy Bennett (kmom), Gene Baral (Wastemaster), Debbie Scuderi (sixcats), her husband Joe and kids Laura and John, Bill and Lorelei Levesque (aristocat), Steve Preskitt and Rob Steere. We talked to several other folks too but I wasn't able to catch their names. :-( Hopefully I didn't forget anyone's name...if I did, just smack me the next time you see me. :-)
We began lining up for the photograph at about 1:30. Luis, a Disney photographer did an outstanding job getting us all set up and keeping us entertained at the same time. Just as he finally got us set up properly a ferry boat from the MK emptied out so we had to wait a few minutes for the folks to stream by. Seeing the faces in the picture makes me realize how many people I didn't get to meet and talk to...phooey! Well, there's always next year! :-) Also, here's a link on Laura Gilbreath's page for the official meet photo where she's numbered each person's face and identified many of them. Stop by and help her identify the rest.
Here's a page of photo links for the rest of the pictures we took at the big meet.
My kids are big fans of N'Synch, a top 40 pop band, and we had seen on a TV commercial back home that they were supposed to be in the Mickey's Christmas parade show on Christmas day. We knew that ABC was taping the parade today (they had the Met Life blimp circling overhead) so we tossed out the touring plan I'd made up calling for us to return to Epcot and instead headed for the MK. We'd missed the 12 noon taping but found good seats at the end of Main St. near the hub. There were cameras everywhere and a set for the parade hosts, Caroline Rhea (Sabrina, the Teenage Witch) and Richard Kind (Spin City), set up next to the MK Christmas tree. I saw some queue cards with "President Clinton" on them so I expect that the President will have taped holiday wishes to offer during during the show.
We were witness to some Disney CM magic while waiting for the parade to begin. Mark, a young CM (no older than early 20's I'd guess) spotted a child crowded up on the curb with his family with a not-so-good view of the parade route. Mark noticed that the child obviously had been undergoing cancer treatment as most of his hair had fallen out. Mark, bless his heart, took the child's hand and led him out onto the street, along with the child's Mom and sister, and sat with them right next to the parade route. Atta boy Mark!
My favorite float in the parade was the float with Chip and Dale baking gingerbread. The smell wafting from it was soooo yummy! The kids were disappointed not to see N'Synch and we kept wondering what happened to them. I read in the newsgroup the after we got back that they had actually recorded their part of the show back in October...d'oh! As the end of the parade passed us we got the idea of following it out to avoid fighting our way down Main St. It worked out perfectly and we actually felt like we were part of the parade!
We rode the monorail to the TTC then changed over to the Epcot monorail. Again we were greeted by long lines at the turnstiles...Test Track strikes again. We had early priority seating at Chefs de France at 5:10 pm with plans to eat quickly and then hustle over to get in line for the 6:30 pm showing of the Candlelight Processional. We speed-walked our way through Futureworld and checked in at Chefs at 5 pm. While waiting to be seated we were entertained by one of the Living Statues. If you've not seen them before, make sure to check them out for a fun time. Dinner was very good. Chefs de France is one of our favorite restaurants at WDW. Susan had the onion soup, followed by sautéed chicken breast with wild mushrooms on a basil potato purée. I had the lobster bisque, followed by the grilled tenderloin of beef with a red Bordeux wine sauce served with the original potato gratin of Savoy. The children had sliced breast of chicken served with pasta. Ordering can be fun, especially when you get a waiter whose English isn't so good. "Lobster bisque" in southern-accented English was almost to much for our waiter to handle. That's where pointing at the menu comes in handy. For dessert, the kids had a dish of ice cream (included with the kids meal). Susan and I split a raspberry cheesecake...yummy! Total bill, with tip, was $83.
As it turned out, the extra time we spent getting dessert almost kept us from getting into the Candlelight Processional. When we got in line we were way back past the red arch in front of the Japan pavilion. I had my doubts and even suggested that we give up and go stake out a stand up spot outside the theatre. Susan stood her ground and said we'd wait, so guess what? We waited. Fifteen minutes before the show started we had hardly moved. Five minutes before the show we finally were getting close but the line stopped! We kept edging our way forward until there were about 30 people in front of us and it appeared we wouldn't get in. About a dozen folks bailed out in front of us...the kids started complaining...the Disney orchestra began playing...we weren't getting in...bummer. And then it happened! After the choir members filed into the theatre, a CM came forward and let us in, taking us all the way down to the fifth row...woo hoo! We'd never been this close to the stage before and we had a great view! Susan's stubbornness paid off. :-)
The show was excellent as always. After the show, we made our way to the Centorium in Futureworld to do some shopping, then headed back to Fort Wilderness. We were in bed by 9:30 pm.
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