The Spencer Family's December 1999 Trip

December 10-15th, 1999

Part 2

Background:  For those that haven't read any of our previous trip reports, the participants are myself, Jeff (40), a NASA aerospace engineer, Susan (38), also a NASA aerospace engineer, and our two kids Brian (12) and Katie (9).  We're premium annual passholders and even though we live in north Alabama, we still find a way to make 3 or 4 trips a year to Walt Disney World (WDW).  One reason we're able to do that is we are the owners of a Coleman popup camper which we pull down to WDW with us on every trip.  We always stay on Disney property at the Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground, typically at a discounted rate of about $34/day.

This trip, our fourth and final of 1999, was our fourth consecutive trip to Disney sometime during the first two weeks of December.  We've made it a family tradition to visit WDW during the Christmas season to enjoy the park decorations, the Candlelight Processional, the Osborne Lights, Holidays Around the World  and all of the other special shows and activities unique to this time of year.  We enjoy the Christmas season at WDW so much that we decided to arrange for Susan's parents, Myra and JC, to join us for a few days so they too could experience some of the things that we're telling them about the last few years.  On to part 2!

Day 3, December 12th - Epcot, MGM Studios

Susan and I woke up around 7 am and, as usual, left the kids to sleep in a bit longer while we got ready at the Comfort Station.  When we returned we found sausage boy (Brian) moaning about his stomach.  He said he wasn't going to eat any more sausage for a week.  :-)

We drove to Port Orleans (PO) to meet up with Myra and JC.  We left our Explorer there and rode the PO
bus to Epcot.  The bus showed up quickly and it didn't take long at all to get to the park.  However, once we got there we found out the drop off point is the farthest away from the park entrance of any stop.  We would have been better off driving to the park, parking in the parking lot and taking the tram.  We had to stop and rest about halfway to the entrance as JC's calf muscles started cramping up.  After a few minutes he was OK and ready to continue.  For admission, JC and Myra used complimentary one day park hopper passes Disney had given us back in the Spring of 1997 to compensate us for an un-Disney experience.  They worked like a charm in the turnstiles.

Epcot ECVOur first stop was the ECV rental place where we picked up an ECV for JC.  The cost per day is $30 plus a $10 refundable deposit.  It was about 9:30 and there was still no line for Spaceship Earth (SSE) so we made that our first stop.  We left the ECV out front by the strollers and walked on.  We noticed that Disney had redone the Global Neighborhood (exit are for SSE) but we didn't stop to do try anything out.  Next up was Innoventions East which had been down for refurbishment for some months.  I like what they did with the place.  Instead of being a confusing conglomeration of exhibits they've now revamped it to where each exhibit is a stop along "The Road to Tomorrow".  Additionally, there are brochures available at the entrance to both Innoventions East and West which have maps and explanations of each exhibit.  Innoventions East has 7 exhibits (which start at 8 as Innoventions West also has 7 exhibits numbered 1 through 7):

8 - Forests for Our Future - Interactive forest.  Learn how technology is being used to sustain forests.
9 - Innoventions Internet Zone - Interactive shows and play stations for kids.  Video e-mail.
10 - Communications Dream Forum - Experience freedom through communications.  HDTV.
11 - The House of Innoventions - Tour tomorrow's smart home.  Neat gadgets, robotic pet dog.
12 - Web Site Construction Zone - Build your own homepage.  Check out the internet.
13 - Future Cars - cars powered by fuel cells and electricity.
14 - Look Into the Future - See how technology can enhance everyday products.

Brian and Katie immediately went to the Innoventions Internet Zone while the adults waited for the next Communications Dream Forum to start.  Outside there's an animatronic robot called Starnac which seems to be looking into a crystal ball.  Frankly we weren't sure what the show was but asked the attending Cast Member and she told us the real show was in the adjacent theater.  Once the doors opened we were treated to a high energy, high volume exhibition shown on a huge high definition TV.  Afterwards, we made our way to the House of Innoventions (formerly the Honeywell House of the Future).  This guided tour, sponsored by Panja, was similar to the old tour but several things have been added.  The robotic dog, the programmable sewing machine, and the gyro-stabilized wheelchair were among the additions.  JC was able to drive his ECV through all of the exhibits.

Imagination PavilionNext was Ellen's Energy Adventure.  JC and Myra later said this was one of their favorites things to do on the whole trip.  We decided that Test Track might be more excitement than JC or Myra could stand so we headed over to the west side of Future World.  Our first stop there was the new Journey Into Your Imagination (JIYI) attraction.  I have to admit I enjoyed the ride more this time than when I'd ridden it previously - probably because we had no wait versus the 20 minute I had before.  The revamped Image Works has some good stuff in it but it's not quite up to the old version in my opinion.  I always thought the blue (or was it green) screen exhibit in the old Image Works was neat for kids.  You know -  the one where they were projected into some adventure with either a giant or some Wild West shoot out.  I also like the tunnel that you went through that changed colors as you walked.  Next we did Honey I Shrunk the Audience.  It's always fun to do this attraction with people that haven't experienced it before to see their reaction to the 3D show and the other "effects".

It was now about lunchtime so we made our way to the Land pavilion.  Unsure as to whether or not an ECV was allowed inside, JC parked his outside with the strollers.  Later we saw that indeed ECVs were OK.  Since there was a short line, we decided to do Living With the Land before lunch.  We were sure Myra and JC would enjoy this attraction because they have a big garden back home.  Myra took lots of pictures along the way.  We split up and all found something to our liking in the Sunshine Season Food Fair.  I used the coupon Dave Marx had given me at the HoND RADP meet the night before to get 50% off my lunch.  :-)  Thanks Dave!

We finished up our day at Epcot with a viewing of "The Circle of Life" movie.  We turned in the ECV and received the $10 deposit back along with a receipt.  We were told that when we arrived at another park we would present the $10 with the receipt and, depending upon availability, we could get another ECV.  We also were told to call ahead to check availability.

After resting for a couple of hours we met back up with Myra and JC and drove to MGM Studios - no more buses!  Following the Epcot ECV CM's advice I had tried to call ahead of time to check on availability at MGM but as it turned out there was no way to do that despite the best efforts of a Disney operator.  As luck would have it there were no more ECVs but JC said he thought he could make it OK if we took it slow and didn't have to walk too far in a single stretch.  We tried to let him set the pace.  We made our way back to the Backlot Theater to see the 5:35 Hunchback of Notre Dame show.  I was happy to see the "regular" cast back and they did their normal superb show.  Quasimodo's rendition of "Out There" was fabulous.

Muppets Fire TruckWe let the crowds thin out and then made our way to MuppetVision 3D.  On the way, we stopped to take this photo at Kermit's fire engine.  We made the mistake of letting Katie carry our backpack and she ended up leaving it on the fire truck.  We went back right after the Muppet show but it was already gone.  I checked in the nearby shop but no one had turned it in.  :-(

We had priority seating reservations at 50's Prime Time Cafe so we made our way there.  While we were waiting to be seated, I decided to go back to stroller/wheelchair rental to see if an ECV had been turned in yet.  After dinner, we planned to see the Osborne Lights and I didn't want push JC too hard and wear him out the first day.  Just as I got there a lady drove up to turn her ECV in - woo hoo - we were set!

For dinner, Susan and Myra had the special, which was stuffed bell pepper.  JC opted for the chicken caesar salad.  I had Uncle Giovanni's pasta with Italian sausage, Brian had a steak (the boy is definitely a meat eater) and Katie had the kids pasta.  Everyone gave their food a big thumbs up.  For dessert, Susan and Katie split a cheesecake and Brian and I split a *huge* sundae.  Both were yummy.  :-)

Osborne LightsIt was now almost 8:30 pm, official park closing time, so when we left 50's Prime Time we found the park to be very uncrowded.  We made our way to the Osborne Lights and were able to enjoy them without having to worry about lots of other people.  I always intend to bring a better camera and tripod with me to take these night shots but never remember to do it.  I try to make due by turning off the flash and resting the camera on something solid.  Sometimes it works OK, other times it doesn't.  Here are a couple more that turned out pretty well.

Osborne Lights #2
Osborne Lights #3

***TIP***If you want to see the Osborne Lights, the best time is right before park closing if you want to avoid the crowds.  On this particular night, the park map stated the Lights could be viewed from dark until one hour after park closing.

We turned in the ECV and checked at Lost and Found for the backpack - nothing.  We filled out a form and called it a night.  After dropping Myra and JC off, we were in bed by 9:45 pm.

Day 4, December 13th - MGM Studios, Epcot

MGM TreeWe started the day back where we left off last night - MGM Studios.  A quick check at Lost and Found for the backpack yielded the same result as last night - nothing.  We were consoled to some extent by the fact that there really wasn't anything terribly valuable in there beyond a half dozen or so rolls of film, some snacks and the Band-Aids, Tylenol and other first aid type stuff we always carry.  Luckily Susan and I both had been wearing our fanny packs in which we had the camera and Motorola FRS radios - whew!  JC said he was feeling pretty good and wanted to try going without the ECV so we bypassed the stroller/wheelchair rental place.

Susan, Myra, JC and the kids did the Great Movie Ride while I went back to the fire truck to look around some more and to check again at the nearby shop.  Still nothing.  We met back up using the radios and then made our way to the 10 am Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular.  I tried hard but wasn't loud enough or wild enough to get picked to participate as an extra in the show.  Katie and Brian were disappointed - I breathed a sigh of relief.  :-)

Continuing with the shows, we crossed the park to the Theater of the Stars to see Beauty and the Beast.  While waiting for show time, I took our park passes over to Rock'n Roller Coaster and picked up six Fastpasses.  After the show, we split up with Brian, Katie and I doing Rock'n Roller Coaster twice while Susan, Myra and JC did the Animation Tour.  There wasn't any real standby queue to speak of so we were able to ride twice *very* quickly using our Fastpasses - almost walking right on to the ride both times.  Knowing the Animation Tour takes about 40 minutes, the kids and I decided to squeeze in a ride on Star Tours too.  The wait time for it was really short as well.  Again using the Motorola radios we linked back up with Susan and her parents and decided to have lunch back at the Port Orleans food court

After resting a couple of hours we met back up and drove to Epcot, arriving just before 5 pm.  I didn't let JC talk his way out of an ECV this time knowing how big Epcot is.  We'd done everything we wanted to do in Future World yesterday so our plan this evening was to see as much of the World Showcase as possible.  We started at the Mexico pavilion by looking around the plaza and riding El Rio del Tiempo.  I was disappointed that after just coming off a rehab the ride's sound wasn't working properly.  As we exited, Huitzilin (scantily clad male dancers) were starting their show.  I think Myra was content to stay and watch but we didn't have time.  :-)

We really only had time to just walk by Norway, China, Germany and Italy as I wanted to make sure Myra and JC got to see the American Adventure.  JC was able to drive his ECV right into the lobby and we were later taken up to the second floor in an elevator.  When we were let into the show, we made our way all the way across the theater and sat right next to the exits.  I really had done a poor job of thinking ahead and planning things out and as a result our dinner priority seating at Chefs de France was going to be just about the time the American Adventure show was over.  On top of that, Tapestry of Nations was going on which made it all the more difficult to get there - d'oh!  As it turned out, we were able to weave in and out of the parade (using the marked crossing points) and made it to dinner only a few minutes late.

ToN ClockWhile waiting to be seated, we were able to watch the rest of the Tapestry of Nations parade.  The 18 foot puppets are fun to watch, especially as they interact with the guests along the parade route.  Once seated, Susan and I ordered the beef tenderloin, Myra had french onion soup and salad, JC had a huge stuffed pork chop, Katie had the kids chicken and pasta and Brian had the kids fish.  The food was very good, the atmosphere, which is typical of Chefs de France, was a bit noisy.
JC *really* liked his pork chop.  He was just short of picking up the bone and gnawing on it.  ;-)

It was now getting close to time for the last showing of the Candlelight Processional (CP) so we began making our way there.  The wait lines were set up differently this year as guests with the CP package were all lined up on the Japan side of the theater and the non-package guests were lined up on the Italy side.  From the grumbling I overheard it was apparent some guests believed that getting the package meant they didn't have to wait in line but in fact, if you want the best seats, you *do* have to wait in line.  As it turned out, there were still quite a few seats still left even at show time.  The guest narrator was James Avery, an actor with a background in TV doing both live characters and voice-overs.  Looking on the Internet Movie Database, I found that he was the voice of Shredder, the villain in "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles".  :-)   We've seen quite a few guest narrator's at the CP but James Avery was definitely the best.  We had a bit of a distraction during the early part of the show as there was a couple of oriental ladies behind us gabbing away.  At first I just turned around and looked at them but they kept right on chattering so I finally turned around and asked them to "please shut up".  I don't know if they understood English or not but the tone of my voice combined with glaring look was understandable in all languages.  ;-)

We finished up the evening by watching Epcot's new Millennium nighttime spectacular Illuminations 2000:  Reflections of Earth from the rail near the Japan pavilion.  This version of Illuminations is *so* much better than its predecessor!  The music is powerful, the fireworks and special effects are synchronized to the music, the visual effects are impressive - it's just a great new show.  Definitely do not miss Illuminations 2000.

Tomorrow - Character Breakfast at 1900 Park Fare, Epcot

Go To Part 3

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