The Spencer Family's WDW Christmas

December 11th-16th, 1998

Part 4

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.

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 5, December 15th - Animal Kingdom, Epcot

After a breakfast of cereal in the camper, we were off to the Animal Kingdom to meet up with Laura Gilbreath and Lee Zimmerman.  Iit would make it easier for me to write these trip reports if Laura had taken Lee's last name when they were married - that way I could just say Laura and Lee Zimmerman or the Zimmermans.  ;-)

CirikliAnyway, we arrived at about 8:40 and there were no crowds to speak of.  After entering the turnstiles I happened to think about having lunch at the Rainforest Cafe so I circled back through the Rainforest exit to check on reservations.  I was told they don't make same day reservations - oh well, no big deal.  We'll do it some other time.  I had trouble getting the turnstile to let me back in though - I kept getting the dreaded "access denied"each time I put in my annual pass.  The Disney system that protects against misuse of passes was kicking in.  I had justs entered the park minutes ago, how could I be entering again?  The CM opened her gate and let me in.  :-)

We were to meet Laura and Lee at 9 at the entrance to Camp Minnie-Mickey so we had 15 minutes to kill, which we did by looking at the animals in the Oasis area and in Safari Village.  We saw kangaroo, flamingos and cute little otters.  All the while we kept looking for Lee and Laura but they were no where to be found.  Oh well, they are notoriously late...hehehe.  Finally, Brian saw them sitting on a bench about 50 yards down the path to Camp Minnie-Mickey.  As we were deciding on what to do the Cirikli (stilt birds) came along.  It's really fun to watch people's reactions to their encounters with these "creatures".  Flipping open the AK map, I noticed they had completely redone its format and I like it much better.  Instead of finding the shows in their individual sections on the map (Africa, Dinoland, etc.), Disney has consolidated the shows and showtimes into an easy-to-read table.  They also label the attractions right on the map instead of giving them letters which you have to decipher.  The Conservation Station area is now shown clearly as well.  Another improvement is better color coding.  Previously, the Land names and attraction identifying letters were color coded.  Now, the pathways are color coded too.

Animal FightWe finally decided that Kilimanjaro Safaris (KS) would be our first stop and we were off.  Even though the park had been open for an hour the wait for KS was only about 5 minutes.  As Laura wrote in her trip report, this safari was definitely a good one.  We saw rhinos, giraffe, elephants, ostrich, the female lion, crocodiles, hippos, sable and much more.  If you click on some of the animal photo links you'll see I had no trouble getting pictures.  The animals were close, the weather and lighting were good and most importantly, the driver was excellent.  She would slow down when we were presented with a good photo opportunity.  I really do wish that Disney would do away with the poacher story line and just let guests enjoy seeing the animals.  Oh well.  It was interesting near the end of the safari to see this rhino and antelope (or whatever it is) going at it.  Talk about a David and Goliath match!

Christmas DinoWe thought about doing "It's Tough to be a Bug" next but somehow decided on Countdown to Extinction (CtX) instead.  We were going to let the kids play in the Dinoland Boneyard while the adults went on CtX but Brian and Katie decided that they wanted to ride with "Mr. Lee".  There was no wait, in fact we walked right into the preshow with only a few other folks.  I like CtX but what I think most when I get off the ride is how much better it could have been.  As many folks know, CtX employs the same ride technology as the Indiana Jones - Temple of the Forbidden Eye attraction at Disneyland.  Indy is an awesome attraction - the best Disney has to offer in my opinion.  When I ride Indy I feel like I'm *in* the Temple.  There are cobwebs, skeletons, bugs, booby traps and wide open spaces.  When I ride CtX, I feel like I'm on a dark track on a thrill ride, not back in the middle of a jungle in the Cretaceous period.  Too bad.  Anyway, back to the ride...Katie didn't like it once again but since she was with Mr. Lee, seemed to tough it out ok.  Brian assumed his usual eyes closed, head down posture and survived it.  He made us get him a t-shirt later attesting to that fact.

We said our goodbyes to Laura and Lee as they had other plans for the rest of the day and made our way over to the Dinosaur Jubilee.  As you can see, even the fossils had the Christmas spirit.  ;-)  We spent a little time looking around before backtracking to the Boneyard.  On the way, Brian ran into some "brothers".  We often tell him he climbs around on things like a monkey so I guess that's where that statement came from.  Susan and I relaxed while the kids climbed and scooted down the slides.  Kids seem to get rejuvenated by running and playing while adults like to sit and relax.  The Boneyard fits the bill for both.  After some discussion, we decided to see "Flights of Wonder" next.  This was our first time to see this show which features various types of birds in "free flight".  We all gave the show a thumbs up and would definitely go see it again.

The kids really wanted to do Kilimanjaro Safaris again so we went there next, despite the fact that we were seemingly joined by the entire crowd of the "Flights of Wonder" and "The Jungle Book" shows.  The wait was about 30 minutes but the line moved steadily.  We saw most of the same animals as we had earlier in the morning including the lioness sitting up on the rocks.

Giraffe PenAfterwards, we took the Wildlife Express (train) to Conservation Station.  The trains run every 5 minutes and on the way give guests a look at what goes on behind the scenes, including the enclosures (like this one for the giraffes) where the animals are kept in the evenings.  Folks should be aware that after the train ride you've still got a bit of a walk ahead of you to actually get to Conservation Station.  Once there, we looked around at the examining rooms the vets use to care for the animals and saw a couple of animals that were there to get their check-up.  Next, we visited the sound booths to hear what it would sound like to be in a rainforest - too cool!  The chambers are similar to those at MGM Studios.  Katie stopped briefly to chat with Pocohantas and get her autograph and then we all went outside to the Affection Section (petting zoo).  There were sheep, goats, a donkey - the same types of animals that they have at the Fort Wilderness petting zoo.  Disney provides convenient hand wash stations at the petting zoo exit.  It was now getting close to noon and we were getting hungry but discovered there's not much to choose from food-wise at Conservations Station.  There's a hot dog stand but that's it.  We opted for Mickey ice cream bars to tide us over.  :-)

MeerkatA short train ride later we were back in Harambe and on the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail.  The hippos were quite active and were swimming right up next to the viewing window.  Our favorite things to see on the trail are the meerkats and gorillas.  We'd not been too successful at seeing the gorillas on previous visits but that wasn't the case this time.  We saw the big silverback male along with several others.  It amazes me how stupid some people act around monkeys and gorillas.  What is it that makes these folks think that the gorillas would be interested in seeing them beat on their chests?  And they expect the gorillas to turn for a picture when they holler "hey gorilla" - sheesh!

Our stomachs were beginning to growl so we headed to Pizzafari for lunch.  The pizzas there were filling but honestly left plenty to be desired in my opinion.  I took one pizza back because it was basically crust with a small dab of sauce in the middle and 1 pepperoni.  The one I got in exchange was only slightly better but I could see that the others coming out were the same so I took it.  The pizzas at Pizza Planet at MGM Studios are much better.  Total for lunch was $23.11.

Tree of LifeOur last attraction was "It's Tough to be a Bug".  The kids made sure they were *not* sitting with their backs to the holes where the "stingers" come out.  :-)  We all like this show but I can easily see where it could be terrifying to younger kids as there are several shocking effects.  Afterwards we spent some time looking at the Tree of Life.  We finished off our day at AK with some shopping for souvenirs and then left at 3 pm.

I drove Susan and the kids to the Tampa airport, saw them off and then fought Tampa rush-hour traffic to get back to WDW.  As it turned out, their flight back to Nashville, TN arrived before I could drive 60 miles back to WDW - d'oh!  Rant mode on...what is it about Florida drivers and their phobia against driving in the right lane?  I have never seen anything like it before.  Drivers would cruise in the left lane even though there were *no* cars in the right lane and wouldn't move over to let faster traffic pass.  I saw this not only on my way back and forth to Tampa but also on my drive down to Orlando and back...gee whiz!  Rant mode off...I feel better.  Anyway, I parked at the Beach Club, which had a lovely tree set up in the lobby and entered Epcot through the International Gateway.  I arrived just in time to catch the last performance of Off Kilter - woo hoo!

Candlelight ProcessionalMy luck continued as I was able to walk right in to the 8 pm showing of the Candlelight Processional.  There were plenty of seats to be had as there usually are during the weekdays in the weeks leading up to Christmas.  The guest celebrity narrator was Joseph Marcell, someone I'd not heard of before, but he did a good job.  I finished off the evening with a slice of black forest cake and a capuccino at the Fountainview Cafe - yummy! - as I watched the Fountain dance and the Lights of Winter arch twinkle to classic Christmas songs.

Day 6, December 16th - Travel

Not much to report here.  I packed up the camper and drove back home constantly moving over to the right to pass those Florida left lane cruisers.  :-)  Other than that, the drive itself was uneventful.

Final Thoughts

We had a great trip!  The holidays are my favorite time of year to visit WDW.  The RADP meets were fun - I just wish there was more time to visit with everyone.  What would we do differently if we had the chance?  Probably we'd plan to visit the Candlelight Processional on a weekday instead of a weekend to avoid the long lines.  We'd also make sure we never get a campsite within earshot of the main swimming pool.  On future Christmas visits we'll also try to book the Birmingham or Nashville flights to Orlando instead of Tampa.  With all the work on I-4 between WDW and Tampa the drive is just too big of a hassle, even if we have to pay more.  That's it - I hope anyone reading got something out it.  :-)

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