The Spencer Family's July 1999 Trip

July 17th - 24th, 1999

Part 4

Background:  For those that haven't read any of our previous trip reports, the participants are myself, Jeff (39), a NASA aerospace engineer, Susan (38), also a NASA aerospace engineer, and our two kids Brian (11) 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 WDW.  One reason we're able to do that is we are the proud 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.  Over the years we've come to love visiting Fort Wilderness - to the point where it almost seems like our home away from home.  When we first started camping there several years ago we found there was little information about Fort Wilderness on the Internet.  Deciding to rectify that situation, the family began researching other sources, asking questions around the campground and taking pictures.  That effort culminated in the Fort Wilderness Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ), which we faithfully try to keep up to date.  We couldn't do it alone though.  Luckily we don't have to as there are many other Fort Wilderness fans out there that are constantly sending me updates.

Day 7, July 23rd - Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Typhoon Lagoon, MGM Studios

Big Thunder Mountain RailroadAfter a pretty slow day (by our standards anyway) yesterday we were ready for some serious park touring and we began our day at the Magic Kingdom.  We passed through the turnstiles just after 9 am and decided to take the train to Frontierland instead of walking.  It didn't turn out too bad as we were still able to ride Splash Mountain after only a 15 minute wait.  Brian, not being a Splash fan, instead rode Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (he said it was a walk-on).  We linked back up using our Motorola Family Service radios and then went back to Big Thunder to ride again.  This time we had a 10 minute wait but that still wasn't bad.

One of our primary goals for today was to ride the new Pooh ride so that's where we headed next.  We were able to ride after just a minute or so and I must say we thoroughly enjoyed it.  Those that claim Pooh is just cheap cutouts and not much of a ride are not being fair in my opinion.  One can see from the pictures that many of the characters are indeed three dimensional, that there's lots of color and there are some neat special effects tossed in.  The Spencer's give the new Pooh ride a thumbs up.

Kanga, Roo and Rabbit
Heffalumps and Woozles
Piglet and Friends
Pooh in His Element
After riding we shopped in the Pooh shop and bought two Tiggers, one for Katie and one for a friend.  We continued through Fantasyland stopping to ride the Teacups.  This time, Brian and I rode together because he said I was chicken to ride with him.  We had a spin-off so to speak and I think he got the worst of it though I wasn't feeling too stable myself.  :-)

We ducked into Mickey's Toontown Fair and rode Goofy's Barnstormer (3 min wait), a cute little coaster that's excellent for easing kids into the idea of someday riding Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain and Rock 'N Roller Coaster.  We then made our way to Tomorrowland where we rode Buzz Lightyear (10 min wait), the Tomorrowland Transit Authority (no wait) and then did Carousel of Progress (10 min wait).  CoP doesn't open until 11 am and even after it did, at least on this particular day, they were only loading every other theater.  I tried taking some pictures inside but they didn't turn out - one has to have an awfully steady hand to take low light photos without the aid of a flash or tripod.

It was now getting close to noon so we left the park and caught a boat to the Wilderness Lodge where we had a 12:30 priority seating for Whispering Canyon Cafe.  We had one of the livelier wait staff in the form of M.T.  She stayed on Brian most of the meal, which of course he loved since he always wants to be the center of attention.  The restaurant wasn't that busy so M.T. stopped by several times to chat with us and tell us about her boys.  In terms of food, Susan and I both settled on the Doc Willis Delight, a yummy grilled chicken breast sandwich topped with BBQ, Tillamook cheese and bacon served on a potato roll.  The sandwiches were accompanied by mesquite french fries.  We didn't write down and can't recall what the kids had but it was something off of the kids menu which isn't on Deb Wills' site.  It was an excellent meal and we highly recommend Whispering Canyon Cafe.  Total for our lunch was $53.85.

Animal Kingdom EntranceWe rode the Boone bus from the Wilderness Lodge to the Settlement Depot, where we picked up our bicycles and rode back to the camper.  We got a fresh, cold bottle of lemonade, refilled the kids soda bottles, traded our bikes for the Explorer and were off to the Animal Kingdom.  The main thing we wanted to do here was the new Tarzan Rocks! stage show, which recently had replaced the Jungle Book show at Dinoland's Theater in the Wild.  The show didn't start for about an hour so we decided to check out "It's Tough to Be a Bug", the 8 minute long 3-D show in the base of the Tree of Life.  Brian opted not to stay and walked through the theater, taking a radio with him so we could link back up later.  This show is loud and can be very scary for some kids (and adults) especially those that abhor bugs and spiders.

We made our way over to see Tarzan and were happy to see that Disney had constructed a shaded walkway outside the theater and put in some misting fans to help guests tolerate the extreme heat.  Even with these we quickly finished off our drinks and bought more sodas.  Oh wait...I've forgotten to mention my #1 all time tip to beat the heat at WDW!

***TIP*** The best way I've found to stay cool at WDW is to put 4-5 pieces of ice in my Donald Duck ball cap and then put it back on my head.  This takes some getting used to as the ice can obviously make your head pretty cold but it was a life saver for me.  Brian and I were able to do this and we both found we were much more able to tolerate the heat than without it.  Try it!

TarzanBack to Tarzan Rocks!, we were able to find seats towards the front of the theater down on the left side.  The show started out pretty much like a concert with (I think) 3 singers (1 male, 2 female) backed up by a fairly standard band.  This went on for about 10 minutes and I couldn't help but think "This is it?"  Finally, the "monkey" skaters came out and livened things up with some jumps.  Later there was some type of aerobatic thing going on in the far back of the stage but we were unable to see it as the large metal pipe tree on our side of the stage completely blocked our view.  Very poor staging by Disney here.  Finally, Tarzan himself appeared, soon followed by Jane.  There was some interesting aerobatics by the two, reminiscent of the bird sequence in the Lion King show.  The big finale involved a microphone-equipped Turk who led the cast in the singing of some Tarzan song that escapes me.  There was more of the roller-blading monkeys jumping about and then it was over.  All in all, the show was fair I suppose but I don't know that it's necessarily an improvement over the Jungle Book show.

We all agreed afterwards that we wanted to go swimming so, after returning to the camper to get our swimming gear, we headed for Typhoon Lagoon.  We arrived around 5 pm so there was no problem finding chairs to leave our stuff on.  We did all of the usual stuff and then Susan and I just relaxed in chairs we pulled up to the edge of the water while the kids continued to play in the wave pool.  You see all kinds of folks at the pools and on this particular occasion three stood out.  The first two were an elderly couple (had to be in their 70's) who came strolling by - he in his Speedo and her in her bikini.  Hmmm...just when we began to get over that sight we were treated to #3 which was a guy in his 30's I'd guess who decided he'd change from his swimming suit into his shorts right there on the beach!  Yikes!  Definitely more than I wanted to see.

Recording StudioWe stayed until about 8 pm and then headed back to the camper for showers.  Still feeling pretty good, we decided we'd go to MGM Studios to ride Rock 'n' Roller Coaster and see the late showing of Fantasmic!  First was RnRC and we breezed right through the queue (including the recording studio in the photo) up to where one sees the limos zoom off and then it happened - the ride broke down.  A misfire resulted in the last limo train being stuck halfway up the first inversion!  It was interesting watching them unload the guests and things seemed to proceed fairly quickly towards getting the ride going again; however, once they did restart the ride they ran some 20 tests with empty limos before they let guests board again.  In all it took about 1.5 hours for us to actually ride.  :-(  We finished up the evening by walking into the Hollywood Hills Amphitheater 15 minutes before Fantasmic! and finding a good spot in the third section from the far left a little over halfway up.

***TIP*** If at all possible, when there are two shows for Fantasmic! see the second show to avoid long waits.

After the show we were led backstage and came out at the locker/stroller rental place.  We drove back to the camper and were in bed just after midnight.

Day 8, July 24th - Animal Kingdom, MGM Studios, Epcot

We were up by 8 am and made to Animal Kingdom by 9:30.  Today was our last day, which for us means park hopping to see our favorite attractions and anything we may have missed along the way.  Susan and I planned to do Countdown to Extinction (CtX) first while the kids played in the Boneyard playground but we were met by an enthusiastic Cast Member (CM) on the bridge to Dinoland encouraging us to see Tarzan Rocks!  "Plenty of room" she proclaimed - don't miss it!  OK, we weren't planning on it but what the heck - we decided to see it again.  When we arrived outside the theater we were held up well short of the entrance by another CM who told us we might get in but we would have to stand - no thanks!  I mentioned to the second CM that he might want to send someone to tell the other CM on the bridge to stop sending guests over.

CtX Fastpass EntranceWe went back to our original plan and left the kids at the playground with a radio so we could call them when we were finished CtX.  We noticed upon arriving that Fastpass was now in full operation.  The way it was set up was Fastpass holders entered on the left of the queue where the CM is standing in the photo while those in the regular queue went to the right.  The Fastpass machines themselves were located way to the right at the end of the covered outside queue.  The wait time for the regular queue was posted as 10 minutes but we walked right in to the preshow and then were able to board a vehicle with no wait.  This was more than 2 hours after park opening during the busy season.  I still contend that CtX doesn't need Fastpass.  After the ride, I walked over to the Fastpass machines to check things out and talked to the lonely CM operator.  As it turned out, today was her first day on the machines and she'd only been there for 15 minutes.  I asked her how the machines worked and she showed me.  When asked how she thought Fastpass would work she said others had told her it had been working OK the previous couple of days but that she personally wouldn't like it.  "Too much structure for me" were her sentiments.  I thanked her for her time and we headed back to the Boneyard to pick up the kids.

Kali FastpassNext up was another Fastpass attraction - Kali River Rapids.  When we arrived we found a lot of chaos.  People were clustered around the Fastpass machines with CMs trying to explain what was going on.  This was to be expected though as the system had just come online.  Someone asked on the newsgroup about Fastpass themeing.  You can see in the two photos that the Fastpass signs are themed to the attraction but the machines themselves are not.  The Fastpass queue entrance on Kali is under the red sign on the left (right side of photo) and the regular queue is under the blue sign.  Also on the blue sign is the regular queue wait time.  When we picked up our Fastpasses the posted wait was 40 minutes for the regular queue with our return time being in 45 minutes.

Jungle Trek MuralWe took advantage of the time by strolling through the Maharajah Jungle Trek.  While there, in addition to looking at all the wonderful animals, we spent time around the tiger viewing area to pick out Hidden Mickeys in the wonderful wall murals.  Do you see the Mickey in the photo?  :-)  How about in this photo?  By the time we finished the Trek and I had changed film in the camera we were within 5 minutes of the opening of our one hour Fastpass window.  We decided to go over and see how closely the CMs were keeping track of time and sure enough they would not let us in even a minute early.  While waiting, I noticed the CM was constantly turning away people whose time had not yet come.  Some people who had just gotten their passes were trying to get into the queue as well.  All in all, it was more than enough to keep the CM busy.  At the time we boarded the regular queue wait time had increased to 50 minutes - yikes!  A Fastpass had to be shown for each person but the CM did not collect them at the head of the queue.  We found out as we proceeded to the ride that the Fastpass line bypasses the best part of the Kali queue - the inside part.  The two queues come back together just as you're leaving the building and it was at that point that another CM collected the Fastpasses and held up those in the regular queue to let us board.  It took us only 2 minutes to get on a raft so we were very happy with our first Fastpass experience.

The Kali ride itself was OK.  Once again, the logging truck was not doing its thing and the ride actually halted for a couple of minutes right as we were perched at the top of the big drop.  For those of you that have ridden Kali you know that's also where the big log is burning - talk about HOT!!!  We broke out the Squeeze Breeze but it was terrible.  Good thing it finally got going or we would have been scorched!  It seems like Disney ought to consider some type of automatic cut-off there for the fire when the ride stops to keep from toasting their guests.

Birds of WonderNext we walked into the 10:45 Flights of Wonder bird show where "Guano" Joe learns all about the characteristics and special abilities of several different types of birds.  I was "lucky" enough to be picked to be a part of the show.  I was asked up on stage where I was seated facing the back.  Out came a beautiful owl that flew right at me and then swooped just over my head.  I tried taking a picture but waited too late and just got a blur of brown and white feathers - doh!  This show is really good and now that the theater is completely covered it's much more guest friendly in terms of the heat.  We stayed afterwards to take pictures of some of the birds, which the trainers bring out at the end for photo ops.  It's also an excellent opportunity for everyone to ask questions about the birds or the trainers.

Next we did our second Fastpass attraction - Kilimanjaro Safaris.  We arrived at about 11:30, picked up our Fastpasses, and then retreated to the air-conditioned comfort of the Tusker House for lunch.  The posted regular queue wait was 20 minutes and the Fastpass wait was 45 minutes.  One thing to note here...we got four Fastpasses that had two different times on them.  We asked a CM about when we should go and we were told that if a group gets different times (only 5 minutes difference in our case) the group can all go at the earliest time, which for us meant 12:15 versus 12:20.

CirikliOn the Tusker House, this was our first time eating there so we really didn't know what to expect.  Note that the Tusker House does offer the 10% Magic Kingdom Club discount so remember to ask!  Katie, Brian and Susan all had the hot chicken, ham and swiss cheese sandwich combo.  I, thinking there was no way Katie would eat her sandwich, got the kids macaroni and cheese plate, expecting that I'd be switching with her.  Well, as it turned out I wasn't so smart - Katie loved her sandwich and ate the whole thing.  I was left with the kids meal - d'oh!  Looking out the window, I noticed the Cirikli (sp?) walking by so I stepped out to take their picture.  I've been known to put on a pretty serious face but the guy (trainer?) up front can scowl better than I can.  :-)

I backtracked and joined up with the family and we headed for the Safaris.  The entrance to the queue was a madhouse with a single CM trying to answer questions and police the Fastpass queue - he was overwhelmed.  I noticed that people were walking in whose Fastpass windows didn't open for another 20 minutes.  For the Safari, the normal right side queue was for Fastpass, the left side for the regular or standby queue.  As we walked past the regular queue I heard several rude comments and noticed several people ducking under the rope to join us in the Fastpass queue.  Unfortunately for them, as with Kali, there is a CM at the end of the queue to collect the tickets to verify guests are indeed Fastpass holders.  The Safari setup seemed pretty good.  The regular queue continued to move as it was being funneled into the left loading platform.  The Fastpass queue was being fed into the center platform and the right platform (handicapped loading area).  Our safari was a good one.  We saw the baby hippo and most of the other animals - some *really* close up.

ArmageddonPark hopping being the plan, we left the AK for MGM Studios.  Want to guess what our first attraction was to be?  That's right - Rock 'n' Roller Coaster.  Unfortunately, it was once again experiencing technical difficulties.  Instead, we opted for the Backlot Tour, which we had skipped earlier in the week.  This time the wait was only 5 minutes - life is good!  We recently had rented the movie Armageddon so the kids were excited to see this vehicle out of the movie.  We also spent about 30 minutes looking at the neat exhibits in the American Film Institute area at the end of the tour.

After getting slushes at Peevy's Polar Pipeline to cool us off, we once again checked on RnRC - it was up again!  We were able to ride (our 5th time) after a 25 minute wait and this time Katie and I rode in the front car - woo hoo hoo!  We (Susan and I) followed that up with a ride on Tower of Terror (5 min. wait) while the kids stayed in the gift shop to browse.  By the time we made it back to Hollywood Blvd the Mulan parade was starting so we parked ourselves nearby to watch.  I finally got to see the dragon!  Either I'm losing my mind or the MGM version of the dragon is not very much like its counterpart at Disneyland.  Regardless, the MGM version is nowhere near as good (in my opinion) as the parade at Disneyland.  That was the case too for the Hercules parade.  Why is it that MGM gets the cut down versions of the parades?  Hmmm....

Garden GrillAfter showers back at Fort Wilderness, we headed to our third park of the day - Epcot.  We really only had two things in mind - dinner and Test Track.  For dinner, we opted for the Garden Grill in the Land pavilion.  The Garden Grill features all-you-can-eat type meals served family style and the characters farmer Mickey, Chip, Dale and Pluto.  If you want good food and interaction with the characters the Garden Grill is hard to beat.  Chip and Dale especially really cut up.  In the photo, the kids and Chip (or Dale? - who can tell from the backside?) look over the rail at the scenery from the "Living With the Land" boat ride.  Chip also decided the crayon container made for a cute hat for Brian.  :-)  Total for an enjoyable meal was $60.65.

We finished up the evening by riding Test Track, once again by taking advantage of the singles line.  I know that some don't like Test Track but it's a family favorite for us.  The ride is fun and the kids really get a kick out of sitting in all the new cars at the end of the ride.

Well guess what?  That's it!  Finally, the end of this long and late trip report.  If you have any questions or comments feel free to email me at any time.  I enjoy hearing from other Disney fans.  Adios!

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