Cast of characters: me - Jeff (38), a NASA aerospace engineer, my wife Susan (36), also a NASA aerospace engineer, our son Brian, (10) and our daughter Katie (8).
Resort: Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground (where else?) - camping in our Coleman Utah pop-up
Occasion: The May 8th wedding of Laura Acker and Dave Scribellito at Disney's Yacht Club. I had met Laura on Internet Relay Chat (IRC) in the #radp-friends chat room back in the summer of 1997. I later met Laura and Dave in person at Disneyland back in September 1997 (see Jeff's, Laura's Lee's and Pam's Disneyland Trip Report) along with some other rec.arts.disney.parks (radp) newsgroup and chat friends. Laura and I have been friends since then and stayed in touch via the internet. I was thrilled when Laura invited me to her wedding...I think she might have expected me to say no...surprise! ;-) She not only got me, but the rest of the Spencer clan too! Thanks Laura and Dave for allowing us to participate in such a happy time in your lives.
Day 1, May 6th - Travel
Since the kids were still in school, we wanted to minimize the time they would miss. We were lucky in that each of them had a day off (unused weather day) on either side of the weekend (Katie on Friday the 8th, Brian on Monday the 11th). We decided that I'd drive down by myself pulling our camper and that they would fly down a day later and I'd pick them up at the Orlando airport.
The drive down wasn't bad at all. I left at 7:30 am CDT after dropping the kids off at school. We live in Madison, Alabama, which is a suburb of Huntsville, located in the north central part of Alabama. We've tried a number of routes to Orlando but have found that I-65 south to Birmingham, I-20 east to Atlanta, I-75/475 south to Wildwood, FL, then Florida Turnpike to I-4, to be the quickest route. Since I was alone and only made three short stops, I arrived at Fort Wilderness at 6:15 pm EDT - less than 10 hours! Arriving later in the evening had its advantages - I was the only vehicle in the registration line. A cast member named Jeff checked me in in just a few minutes - assigning me site 1303...woo hoo! Our favorite site again! Things were starting out right. :-)
***Tip***When making your reservations at Fort Wilderness, if you have a loop preference make sure to let the reservationist know. Also, if you're camping and would like to be near a comfort station and/or bus stop, let them know that too and they'll note it on your reservation. If you *don't* want to be near a bus stop (it can be noisy and bothersome if you're a light sleeper) let them know that too.
I had my cell phone and had told Laura Gilbreath (another radp friend and wedding invitee) to call me after she got checked in if she felt like getting together to eat dinner and/or doing something at a park. She called as I was setting up the camper so we made plans to get together later for dinner at Beaches and Cream. After a much needed shower (setting up a camper alone in 86 degree heat is sweaty business), I was off to Beaches and Cream. I had my usual nutritious meal - a wonderfully greasy cheeseburger and fries, with a *very* chocolatey milk shake...mmmm...mmmm. :-) Laura only had strawberry shortcake...they must have fed her well on the airplane. After dinner, we walked around the Boardwalk. It was kind of eerie at how quiet it was, but that may not be unusual for a Wednesday night. We were both a bit tired after traveling all day so we made plans to meet at Epcot in the morning and called it a night.
Day 2, May 7th - Epcot, Wedding Rehearsal Dinner, Airport
Laura Gilbreath is *not* an early riser...I think she blames it on the time difference between the East and West Coasts...how convenient. Anyway, I had some time to kill in the morning so I arranged things in the camper to get ready for the arrival of the rest of the family later in the evening, including making out the kids' bed, storing groceries, fishing out the kids' pajamas, etc. It looked like the cabin on site 1205 was empty so I rode an internal bus up to the Reception Outpost hoping to find a cast member that would let me in to take some pictures but everyone was too busy. :-(
I met Laura at Epcot's International Gateway at 11 am. Our focus was on the beautiful topiaries and flowers that were on display as part of the International Flower and Garden Festival. The first we came across were those in the UK. I'm a big Eeyore fan so I was tickled to see Eeyore out front with his tail wagging back and forth. We took the path back into the garden behind the UK and saw the Piglet, Tigger, Rabbit and Pooh topiaries too. Rabbit's garden was especially impressive.
The gardens beside Canada, which are modelled after Buchart Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia, are always very pretty but they were even more beautiful for the Festival. After some indifferent debate (where do you want to eat lunch? I don't care, where do you want to eat? I don't care...) we somehow decided on San Angel Inn. I had the chicken enchiladas with red sauce...Laura had a salad with cactus in it...ewww, no thanks. ;-) Total, with tip, was $26.
Exiting through the side door of the pavilion, we admired the beautiful orchids on either side of the walkway. There wasn't much to see at Norway and we really weren't interested in riding Maelstrom so we continued on to China. There we saw a cool dragon topiary made of bromeliads...very impressive. In the Outpost area there were neat topiaries of the Lion King characters including Pumba and Timon, Rafiki holding the baby Simba, and Scar. We eventually made our way back to the UK pavilion in time to catch the World Showcase Players. Laura had been hoping to see them do Romeo and Edna but they were doing King Arthur and the Holy Grail. (Grail, grail, grail...uhhh!) :-) We sat on a tea shop window sill, in the shade, near an open door (air conditioned air pouring out...ahhhh) and were enjoying the show when two women walked out of the door. One turned briefly, looked at me, then took up a position *right* in front me...how rude! I didn't say anything though since I'd already seen the show and Laura could still see. Her buddy, apparently not satisfied with her position though, moved right in front of Laura. OK, that's it! I politely pointed out to the ladies that we couldn't see and they moved on...no apologies, nothing. What turkeys!
We finished up the World Showcase and made our way to Futureworld to find the coolest bug sculptures. They are called "Big Bugs" and were made by a fellow named David Rogers. There are 15 in all and they range from a giant praying mantis to a beautiful butterfly. Laura and I rode Horizons and Spaceship Earth before deciding we'd better head out and get ready for Laura and Dave's rehearsal dinner.
I went back and showered and decided on a short nap...that was a mistake. I didn't set my watch alarm and when I woke up it was 6:30 pm - time for the rehearsal dinner...dang! I hustled over to the Beach Club but was still about 20 minutes late. The dinner was held on top of the snackbar next to Stormalong Bay, which turned out to be a great place. There was a nice cool breeze blowing and we could watch what was going on around the pool while chatting with one another. Being late, I missed the introductions, but I did get to meet Laura Acker's mom. Lee Zimmerman, Laura Gilbreath's hubby, had arrived earlier in the afternoon and they were kind enough to invite me to sit and eat dinner with them. Laura and Dave had quite a nice spread of food for the dinner, which included bbq pork, fried chicken, baked beans, and huge chocolate chip cookies. There was a lot of other stuff too, I just listed what I ate. Oh, and there was a bar too. ;-)
I had to leave at 8:30 to pick up Susan and the kids at the airport at 9:15 pm, so I thanked Laura and Dave again for the invitation and headed off to the airport. Unfortunately, upon arrival, I found out that their flight had been delayed and wouldn't be in until 10:20 pm. At 10, a Southwest gate employee announced that the flight was still on the ground and probably wouldn't arrive until 12:10 am...ugh! I was sure Susan was having fun entertaining the kids in the airport...not! Not being a patient person, I decided to drive back to Fort Wilderness to rest for an hour and then I'd drive back to pick up Susan and the kids. It sounded like a good plan at the time. I called Southwest when I got to Fort Wilderness to check on the flight's progress, expecting a further delay. Instead, I found out that the arrival time had been moved up to 11:37 pm...sheesh! I hopped in the Explorer and found them at the gate with bags in hand when I arrived. We didn't get into bed until 12:30 am. So much for our plans to get up early to tour the Animal Kingdom. :-(
Day 3, May 8th - Animal Kingdom, Wedding
After going to bed so late, I didn't even think about setting an alarm to wake us. The kids got us up at 8:30 am, which wasn't too late, and we were able to make it to the Animal Kingdom by 9:45. We could tell from looking at all of the cars in the parking lot that we weren't going to be walking into an empty park, as I had read AK might be in the radp newsgroup. It was *really* strange for me to be in a Disney park that I didn't know like the back of my hand. Having to use a map for something other than figuring out show times felt really weird! Of course we blended right in with hundreds of other people that didn't know where they were going either. :-)
We somehow made our way around the Oasis entry area and caught our first clear view of the Tree of Life...WOW! I'd read all about it and even seen some pictures but believe me, pictures do not do it justice. It truly is a work of art. As we walked further into the park we were greeted by cast members that were trying to herd folks to Dinoland for Countdown to Extinction and to "It's Tough to be a Bug!". We decided to go for the latter and wound our way through the queue that twists around the Tree of Life. We took our time, pointing out different animals to each other as we went. "It's Tough to be a Bug!" is a continuously running 8 minute 3D show that takes place in a theater inside the Tree of Life.
***TIP***The ITtbaB theater has continuous bench-type seats with strips that define each seat position. To be sure you experience all of the effects, be sure to sit between the strips, not on them.
Be aware that certain effects in this show may be frightening to some children. My 8 year old daughter was crying when she left because one effect hurt her (really surprised more than hurt). I won't spoil it for those that haven't been yet, but if you want to know what it was email me and I'll tell you.
We then headed for Camp Minnie-Mickey to see "Colors of the Wind, Friends from the Animal Forest" show at Grandmother Willow's Grove. On the way we noticed Daisy Duck and her nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie out for a hike. A nice thing about this show is that kids are seated first in the front two or three rows to ensure they get a good view. Pocahontas is the star of the show, along with Grandmother Willow and several live animals, including a raccoon, skunk, turkey, rabbits and a porcupine. We all thought the show was cute and definitely worth seeing. Our plan was to see the "Festival of the Lion King" next but we encountered an extremely long line upon exiting the Pocahontas show that wound all the way back past the bridge into Camp Minnie-Mickey. We decided to move on and do Lion King later or on another day.
The kids began chanting that they wanted to visit the Boneyard playground in Dinoland so we headed that way instead. On the way, I noticed that the we could make the next "Journey into the Jungle Book" show, so I detoured the kids that way. The Theater in the Wild, where the show is held, is big and seems to be very similar to the Theater of the Stars (Beauty and the Beast) at MGM Studios. Disney is making a ton of money selling ice cream, popcorn and sodas before the show. Overall, we really liked the Jungle Book, especially the scene with King Louie where he's kidnapped Mowgli and is trying to learn the secret of man's fire. The props used to animate Shere Khan were neat too. The only thing we didn't like was Baloo's strange blue/purple and white costume. To me it looked like something out of the Broadway show Cats.
Upon exiting the Jungle Book show we encountered the same crowds and chaos that we ran into when leaving the Pocahontas show. The design of the AK is such that the Tree of Life and surrounding gardens are the "hub" of the park with Camp Minnie-Mickey, Dinoland U.S.A., the Oasis, Africa and Asia being at the end of "spokes". Right now, the scheduling of the shows is such that the exiting crowds are being dumped into the narrow "spoke" walkways that are also being occupied by lines of guests waiting to get into the next Lion King or Jungle Book show. Compounding the problem with the Jungle Book show is the fact that strollers are being parked right outside the exit. Disney crowd management folks hopefully are taking note of the situation and will change the show schedules and/or put up some barriers to better control the people flow.
Boneyard! Boneyard! Katie and Brian were not to be denied any longer so off to the Boneyard we went. At first glance, I thought the Boneyard was similar to the Honey I Shrunk the Kids play area at MGM Studios but after checking it out, I prefer the Boneyard. The area is more open so it's easier to keep up with where your kid is at any given time. We gave them 20 minutes to play and then we were off to Countdown to Extinction. Katie was wary of this ride but went anyway. She may never go again. She was scared both by the darkness and the loudness of the ride. Brian was less scared but still kept his eyes closed most of the time. I think CtX is a good attraction and has potential but right now it is just *too dark*. The ride itself uses the same technology (motion simulator on wheels) as Indiana Jones Adventure at Disneyland (my favorite Disney ride), but I like Indy much better. Susan agrees.
We had lunch at Restaurantosaurus in Dinoland, USA. Susan had a grilled chicken salad, Brian and I had the quarter pound hotdog meal, and Katie had a chicken nugget kid's meal. I've seen the complaints about McDonald's in Disney parks but I don't see what all the fuss is about. It's not like McDonald's is the first corporate sponsor or anything. Anyway, the inside of the restaurant was cool, the theming was nice, there were plenty of seats available and they had a well-stocked condiment bar. Total for the meal was $23.66. After shopping a bit in nearby Chester and Hester's Dinosaur Treasures, we wandered into a pleasantly cool attraction named 1998 Dinosaur Jubilee. Here we found quite a few dinosaur skeleton casts and a few actual dinosaur fossils on display. This isn't spectacular but well worth a look, especially if you have kids. I've yet to meet a kid that isn't interested in dinosaurs. While waiting for Brian to take a bathroom break, we got a chance to see a real live scorpion. A cast member brought it out in a terrarium and gave us and others an interesting talk about their habitat, how poisonous its sting is, etc. A very nice little presentation. :-)
With their Boneyard desires satiated, the kids began chanting for the Kilimanjaro Safari. I tried to explain to them that I had heard the animals weren't active in the heat of the afternoon (and it was hot) but they wouldn't listen. After thinking about it, I decided it would interesting to see for myself how active the animals were in the afternoon versus the morning (we were planning to do the Safari again Monday morning). We rode the Discovery River Boats from Safari Village to Asia and then walked from there to Harambe in Africa. A word or two on the River Boats. First, it's quicker to walk, by far. Second, the guides on the boat need some kind of script. Listening to our guide was like listening to the Animal Kingdom equivalent of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. She couldn't seem to decide if she wanted to be a serious Marlin Perkins type (from the old Wild Kingdom show) or a Jungle Cruise skipper. We did get this great view of the Tree of Life before docking.
We walked right onto the Kilimanjaro Safari with no wait...there's one advantage of going in the hot afternoon. Despite what we had heard, we actually saw lots of animals including hippos, zebra, giraffe, antelope, kudu, crocodiles and rhinos. The rhino wallowing in the mud bog was the highlight of the safari in my opinion. We walked down the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail afterwards and found that the trail isn't just about gorillas. There are lots of pretty birds to see at the beginning, naked mole rats and the hippo pool in the middle, and the gorillas at the end. We only saw a brief glimpse of a single gorilla but that was no big deal as we had seen gorillas at several zoos before. It was now about 4 pm, so we decided to head back to Fort Wilderness to get ready for the wedding at 7 pm.
It was kind of funny to be walking around in Fort Wilderness dressed up. Not that campers don't/can't dress up...heck, lots of the folks there are driving motorhomes and recreational vehicles that cost tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars. We did seem to stick out a bit though. :-) We drove to the Beach Club and walked to the Yacht Club wedding gazebo, arriving about 20 minutes before the wedding. We listened to a nice trio of musicians while waiting for the ceremony to begin. Laura Gilbreath and Lee Zimmerman barely made it before the ceremony started but how were they to know that the wedding would start *early*. I've been to a few weddings and I've never seen one start on time, much less early. Laura and Dave must really love each other if they couldn't wait that extra 7 minutes. I must say too that Dave was as calm and cool a groom as I've ever seen. I don't know if I could have been that calm knowing I was about to be married to Laura - I'm kidding!. ;-)
The ceremony was short and sweet...I wish mine had been that short. There were only 40 or so invited guests but many more people watched from the surrounding balconies. There were also several ducks that seemed intent on hanging around despite the Disney folks best efforts to shoo them away. After the ceremony, there were the obligatory pictures (click here for a list of the rest of the wedding pics we took) and then we followed the bride and groom to the Yacht Club dock to board one of the Friendship boats. After we got underway, the captain said "I normally tell folks to remain seated at all times but this is your boat tonight so you can get up and move around all you want". "This is so cool" came to mind the first of many times that night . Katie had a cute little white hat that went with her blue dress, unfortunately she couldn't wear it since it was so windy. After we got on the boat, an envious Laura Gilbreath tried it on for size...and it fit. :-)
Our boat circled the World Showcase Lagoon as the captain talked about each of the countries represented in the World Showcase, and then docked at Morocco. We all paraded behind the bride and groom, who received applause from well-wishing guests, to a place called the French Arm (outdoor park area on the France side of the bridge) for cocktails and an excellent view of Illuminations. There was shrimp, crab claws, cheese and other goodies to eat, plus plenty of champagne, wine and other spirits. We were fortunate in that the considerable wind we had was blowing in the opposite direction making for a very enjoyable view of Illuminations. After the park cleared out a bit, we again played follow the bride/groom to the Italy pavilion for the reception. Once there, we were greeted by a rather dapper Mickey and a lovely Minnie dressed in their finest formal wear. There were lots more pictures taken while Mickey and Minnie made the rounds greeting the wedding guests. I can't even begin to list all the food we had but it was wonderful! Laura and Dave had a beautiful wedding cake that was topped with a white chocolate replica of Cinderella's Castle. I'm surprised Brian and Katie didn't take a bite out of one of the spires (at least I don't think they did). :-)
After dinner, the dancing and partying started in earnest. I guess it took that long for the liquor to kick in. ;-) We had been worried about Katie and Brian going to sleep on us, but when the music started Katie looked over at Lee and said "Come on Mr. Lee, I'm ready to dance!" True to form for everything that entire evening, the bands Laura and Dave had selected too were fabulous! There were two bands...the main band that played on stage (mix of different types of dance music) and an Italian group, I Cantanapoli, that played while the main band was on break. Brian turned into a party animal...dancing with as many as three women at once! I was happy with just one...usually Susan or Katie, but I did dance once with the lovely bride. :-) The partying continued until 1:30 am, then we were escorted behind the American pavilion to a waiting Disney Cruise Line bus, which took us back to the Yacht Club and dropped other guests off at their resorts. It was neat to drive behind the scenes and see what was behind the various pavilions. It really did make me realize that everything park guests see is "on stage" with cast members being exactly that. We thanked Laura and Dave for inviting us and said our farewells before heading back to Fort Wilderness. We didn't get into bed until 2:30 am. For another view of the wedding and lots more photos, visit Laura Gilbreath's and Lee Zimmerman's Vacation Page.
Day 4, May 9th - Epcot, MGM Studios
We didn't wake up until after 10 am and didn't arrive at Epcot until almost noon. We entered the park via the International Gateway and began our tour at the UK. If you've read any of our other trip reports, you know my son Brian is a major Pooh fan, so we always visit the garden behind the UK pavilion to see Pooh and his friends. In addition to the Eeyore topiary out front, there was a cute bubble-blowing Piglet topiary outside of the tea shop, with Pooh, Rabbit and Tigger topiaries back in the garden area. We continued past Canada and took the rose-lined walkway to Journey Into Imagination where we rode JII...Katie is a big Figment fan. Our next stop was Futureworld East to see the amazing bug sculptures by David Rogers. While trying to frame the spider I banged my knee into a wall - Ouch! We then made our way (me hobbling) back to the World Showcase Hub to take pictures of the Sorcerer's Apprentice and Fantasia topiaries. It was a pretty hot day so we ducked into the Mexico pavilion to cool off and ride Rio del Tiempo (River of Time). We continued around the World Showcase, taking pictures of the amazing dragon topiary outside of China, Snow White in Germany, and Beauty and the Beast in France. We stopped at the American Gardens Theater so the kids could watch the character show and we could rest, then we visited Japan, Morocco and France.
We left Epcot and drove to MGM Studios, where we were to meet Laura Gilbreath and Lee for the 4:05 Hunchback show, followed by a 5 pm Tower of Terror (ToT) RADP meet. We stopped in at the Backlot Express for lunch and much needed rest before meeting Laura and Lee. Total for lunch was $23.59. On the way over to Hunchback we stopped in at the Goosebumps souvenir shop where I found a new way to punish Brian for harrassing his sister. The Hunchback show was good as always...it's just hard for me to believe that we only saw it once on this trip...definitely a record! Lee is very popular with our kids - the fact that he gives them piggy back rides has a lot to do with it, I'm sure. He did so again on the way over to the Tower of Terror. It's always interesting for Susan and me to see our children manipulate other adults. ;-)
The ToT meet was fun. I got to meet Amy (Improvgal on IRC), Bruce (Bruce on IRC), Bill and Larry for the first time. I had met Rusty and Brian Martsolf before, but it was certainly nice to see them again too. Amy had bravely and kindly volunteered on IRC to stay with Brian and Katie while Susan and I rode the ToT with the group. Thanks Amy! After the ride we found Brian, Katie and Amy down the street at a souvenir cart...Brian was trying to convince Amy to buy him a ToT eyeball...yet another adult to be manipulated! After lining up for the group photo, most of the folks went back on for a second ride but I stayed with Brian and Katie and talked to Amy and Bill's mom, Rosemary. After some more chatting, we said our goodbyes and snuck in one ride on the Great Movie Ride before park closing at 7 pm.
We drove back to Fort Wilderness and decided to have pizza at Trail's End for dinner. After being kicked out of Crockett's Tavern on our last trip, I decided to boycott them, so I walked over to the Settlement Depot to buy beer and soda to drink with the pizza. Actually, it was a good idea as it cost about half of what they charge in Crockett's. Total for the beer, sodas and sausage pizza was $21.15. After dinner, we went back to the Settlement Depot to buy t-shirts and souvenirs and then went to bed early.
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