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 4
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 4, December 14th - Epcot, Magic Kingdom
We slept in this morning, which was a good thing for me since I was up late listening to the screamers in the pool last night. Overnight, a cold front came through so we were greeted by temperatures in the mid to upper 40's instead of the mid 60's...it sure made it feel more like Christmas. :-)
We were one of the first cars in the Epcot parking lot so we were within easy walking distance of the turnstiles. We arrived at 8:20 and I was bit surprised that we were able to go right in but as it turned out we were held up at a rope in front of Spaceship Earth. Hmmm...that's the first time I'd ever seen Disney handle entry like this at Epcot. We listened to the Jammitors until it was time to drop the rope...an anticlimactic event since there were only about 50 people there waiting. After rope drop, we followed a castmember who walked through the Innoventions West breezeway. All along the way he tossed out these red, green and white fuzzy balls...kind of like dropping crumbs...which of course our kids chased all over as they blew across the pavement. We had an 8:45 am priority seating for breakfast at the Garden Grill so the Land pavilion was our first destination. There were lots of castmembers outside the pavilion and just inside the door...we must have been greeted 20 times. One CM personally escorted us over to the Garden Grill. :-)
We were seated immediately at an outside table (our request) and our server was there immediately to take our drink orders and explain how the breakfast was served (family style). For those of you not familiar with the Garden Grill, the tables are positioned on two circular levels. The entire restaurant moves in a counterclockwise fashion and passes through the some of the areas you see when riding the "Living with the Land" boat ride. The food included biscuits with apple/cinammon butter, white sausage gravy, cheese grits, scrambled eggs, sausage, grilled ham, fruit, fried potatoes and coffee, juice and milk. The characters in attendance were Chip, Dale, Pluto and Farmer Mickey. At one time Minnie was here but that's no longer the case (from our server). The breakfast was a big hit! The food was yummy, the characters lively, the service was excellent and the atmosphere was neat. The cost for adults is $14.95, kids 3-9 are $8.25. Total bill - $56.50.
We checked the wait time for Food Rocks (less than 5 min) so we chose that to do first. Here's another WDW attraction that, in my opinion, is louder than it really needs to be. Still, the kids like it and Susan and I think it's OK so we usually do it once. The Living with the Land boat ride was next. There was no line at all for this but we still had to wait for several minutes while they sent 3 or 4 empty boats through. Some find this attraction boring but we all like it and I recommend it.
We skipped the Circle of Life movie and visited the Living Seas pavilion next. The water seemed as clear as it had been on previous trips so apparently Disney has corrected any problems they might have had with the tank earlier. We stayed for a dolphin program they had scheduled at 10:35 which centered around a study of the dolphins ability to communicate with humans using a large touch keyboard in the tank. The keys on the keyboard apparently had symbols on them, and when pressed, would cause a human voice to say a word or phrase. Words included locations within the tank where divers had placed fish treats for the dolphins to find. So, for example, a diver could press the keys corresponding to "fish" and "navy bell" and theoretically the dolphins would hear that and go get the treat at the navy bell. It was interesting and provided the best view we've ever had of the dolphins at the Living Seas. After seeing the manatees, the kids were ready to go so we headed off to the World Showcase.
We really wanted to focus our time this trip on the unique things Disney does for the holidays. With that in mind, we began our trek in Mexico, intending to listen to the Holiday Storytellers at each country as we went. Things started off right as the The Three Kings were a hoot! Not the story itself mind you (it was good), but their antics as they signed autographs and posed for pictures afterwards. Continuing in a clock-wise direction we came to Norway next. As we arrived, a walk around band began to play traditional Christmas tunes. As Susan and I listened, Katie and Brian took the opportunity to explore the Norwegian ship next to the pavilion. It's set up as a playground of sorts and I thought it was nicely done. When the band saw me getting my camera out they dragged Susan into the picture. I'm not sure of the significance of her getting a plunger to hold. :-) The Norway pavilion itself was decorated nicely. We found this to be the case at most of the pavilions. After a ride on the Maelstrom (no wait) and bypassing the movie, we came out to catch the end of Julenissen, the Norway storyteller. My son wanted to know why he was so skinny. Julenissen replied that not all Santas were as plump as our Santa. :-)
China and the Monkey King were next. This was my favorite storyteller of all. Lots of crowd involvement and it was clear this guy was really enjoying himself. The story goes that the Monkey King was sealed in a mountain by Bhudda after stealing a magic staff from the Dragon King. Luckily for the Monkey King, a monk convinces Bhudda to release him. Needless to say, the monk and Monkey King become buddies. :-)
We stopped at Germany to watch a Christmas puppet show featuring Kasperle, a servant to a princess with the attitude of Miss Piggy. Another main character (I can't remember the name) looked like the Rasputin character in Anastasia. Anyway, the show was entertaining but COLD! The little theatre was outside and, unfortunately the winds were blowing from the northwest across the World Showcase lagoon right into the theater...BRRRRR! We took out a rain poncho and wrapped it around us but we were still cold. We also ran into Jen (Sundew) from Australia who was at the RADP meet on Saturday. Hey again Jen! :-) The show closed with the Germany storyteller, St. Nicholas, who then led the audience over to the fountain area in the main plaza of the pavilion. This was fine with us because the wind didn't seem to be as bad. St. Nick talked about the Christkindl (Christ child) and Tannenbaum (the Christmas tree). I liked it when he made the kids form an orderly line for autographs and pictures. I especially liked it when he declined a mom's request that he let her child move up from the back of the line because they were in a hurry. He said something to the effect that it wouldn't be right to show the child that pushy behavior gets you what you want. Go Santa!! :-) We passed this lovely manger scene in Germany on our way to Italy.
We skipped Italy as we had heard La Befana, the good-hearted witch, tell her story last year. On to the American pavilion, which had a beautiful Christmas tree out front. Just outside we ran into and chatted briefly with more RADP'ers - Judy Lewandowski and Bill and Diane Abrams. A pattern seems to be developing here. :-) Anyway, normally we enjoy the inside of this pavilion because we can cool off but in this case we were glad to be able to warm up! We took up our usual spots just outside the pink circle in the middle of the floor.
**TIP** For a front row seat and the best sound for the Voices of Liberty, take a seat on the floor just outside the pink circle. Once the show starts, a VoL castmember will ask you to do this anyway.
The VoL are very talented singers and not-to-be-missed in our opinion, whether it's during the holidays or any other time of year. Their set included traditional Christmas carols as well as a Hanukkah song or two.
We skipped the American Adventure show and continued our Worldly trek. Even though it was time, we didn't see the Japanese storyteller, the Daruma Seller, so we kept on moving. Maybe it was too cold for her. Arriving at Morocco, we were just in time to hear the Taarji Drummer tell his story of Ramadan, the Islamic month dedicated to the memory of the prophet Muhammad. At the end of Ramadan, a period of fasting and praying, Moroccans celebrate Eid-Ul-Fitr, the "festival of breaking the fast". As a demonstration of how they celebrate, we were entertained by the Festival Marrakesh. Party time! Music, traditional dance and a belly dancer to boot! ;-)
It was still cold and windy so we all decided to take refuge in the Patisserie at France. What a lucky choice - not! It was planned all along - we love the pastries and treats they have there. After enjoying eclairs, a chocolate moose and some hot chocolate we were ready to go again. We exited to find France's storyteller, Pere Noel doing his spiel but a quick look at the entertainment schedule revealed Off Kilter's first show was coming up in 2 minutes....hmmm...Off Kilter...Pere Noel...Off Kilter...sorry Pere, maybe next year. :-) While waiting for Off Kilter we saw yet another RADPer - Barb, aka gardenia. We chatted with her briefly before the show started. OK was great as always. Brian insisted that we buy their CD from the Trading Post nearby and then have it autographed. Sounded like a good plan to us. I snapped this photo of Canada's Christmas tree on the way over. As you can see from the photo, Jaime the bagpipe player was there and doing his usual outstanding job. The band hangs around after each performance and is happy to chat with guests and to autograph their CD if you buy it.
Who should appear next but - you guessed it - Santa Claus! I liked this Santa's red and white plaid shirt...kind of reminded me of Al Borland on "Home Improvement". :-) Susan and the kids went off to do some shopping while I sat on a nearby bench and caught up in my little notebook on what we'd been doing the past two days. As I was writing, I heard a voice say "Taking notes for that trip report 'eh?" Looking up I saw yet another RADPer - Chuck Strom! Man, we're all over the place. :-) Chuck was there to videotape OK's next performance. He and I chatted while waiting for the next show and were soon joined by Susan and the kids. It's kind of funny, my kids have met so many RADP folks and they've all been so nice that as soon as the kids find out I'm talking to another "computer friend" they act like they're family. I'm sure Chuck found out a lot more about the Spencer's than he really wanted to know. :-) Lucky for Chuck, the show started pretty soon thereafter. Afterwards, we decided that we'd done all we really wanted to do at Epcot and all agreed that we really wanted to visit the Magic Kingdom again and see it after dark.
We drove back to Fort Wilderness and took a boat from the FW marina to the MK. Picking up a park schedule in the tunnel, we noticed that "Mickey's 'Twas the Night Before Christmas" was being shown in 15 minutes at the Galaxy theater in Tomorrowland. This is a fun, entertaining show and I highly recommend it. The kids insisted on another ride on Buzz Lightyear so we caved in. The wait was about 15 minutes but the line moves steadily. We again had a good time with Katie getting 210,500 and me 651,000+. I have to admit the ride stopped for a short period and Katie and I took advantage of it to run up our scores. All's fair in love and galactic war right? ;-)
We all really wanted to do Big Thunder at night so that was our next destination - unfortunately it was broken down. BAH!! We settled for a sail on Pirates of the Caribbean instead but it just wasn't the same. We had 6:30 pm priority seating at the California Grill so we were quickly running out of time. We finished off our time at the MK with a stroll down Main St. We ducked down the two side streets, first to take our picture in one of two sleighs there and then across the street to visit with Donald Duck at his Christmas tree lot. Donald seemed kind of lonely back there - it was actually kind of hard to spot him behind all the trees. Speaking of the trees, they were real and they smelled *so* good. :-)
We waved goodbye to the MK and boarded the resort monorail for a quick trip to the Contemporary. We browsed around in the shops and admired the monorail toy set up in the lobby ($55 each) before catching the elevator up to the California Grill. We *really* like the CG restaurant. The kids immediately asked our server whether Sebastian still worked there (for the story of Sebastian, see our Spring trip report). Unfortunately for the kids (but fortunate for Sebastian) we were told he had "moved up" and was now working in a higher position at Chefs de France - congratulations Sebastian! Susan and I had our usual entrees - the grilled beef filet with tamarink barbecue glaze, tuber crush and stir fried greens for her, the grilled pork tenderloin with polenta and balsamic smothered cremini mushrooms for me. My mouth is watering right now just thinking how good that pork tenderloin is...yummy! Towards the end of our meal, the lights were lowered and the music was piped in for the Fantasy in the Sky fireworks at the MK. The kids and I walked out outside to watch from there so as not to block anyone's view up next to the window. Susan opted for the lesser, but warmer view from inside. :-)
I've seen others mention in RADP the lighting they've started doing on Cinderella's castle but really couldn't appreciate what they were talking about. Now I can - it's beautiful! One moment the castle is awash in blue, the next minute pink, then orange...it's great! During the fireworks they changed the colors pretty quickly at one point - awesome! Another great California Grill experience. :-)
After dinner, we rode the resort monorail around to the Grand Floridian. We wanted to see the Christmas decorations there but also wanted to meet up with another RADPer - Jen Miller - who is on Disney's College program and working at Gasparilla's Grill, a combination snack and game room at the GF. The resort's decorations were once again amazing. The first thing we saw as we entered the lobby was this cute gingerbread house with surrounding scenery. Notice the monorail toy track around the outside? And then there was the tree - WOW! The picture doesn't do it justice but it was the best I could do. Next was the carousel made of cookies, icing and all kinds of sweet treats. The detail is amazing - it must have taken a long time to make. We found our way to Gasparilla's and found Jen. As you can see, Brian and Katie took to her right off. We chatted with Jen for a while and then decided on some frozen yogurt for dessert. Jen opened up a register and took care of us - thanks again Jen. ;-) It was now getting kind of late and we'd had a long day (as evidenced by this long part 3) so we said good-bye to Jen and made our way back to the monorail platform. Our pattern of running into RADPers continued as the kids saw Laura Gilbreath and her husband Lee dining at the Grand Floridian Cafe. Of course the kids plastered themselves against the window and tapped to get their attention - aaaahhhh! We have tried to teach them better, I promise. :-)
Anyway, we rode the monorail back to the TTC then transferred to the Boone bus, which dropped us off at the 1300 loop. We were amazed to hear folks swimming in the pool with the temperatures in the 50's. Must have been from up north. :-) It didn't bother me though because the steady hum from our heater was more than sufficient to drown them out.
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