Hi all. The cast of characters for this trip were Jeff (38), a NASA engineer, wife Susan (36), also an engineer with NASA, son Brian, (10) and daughter Katie (7). This was the fourth trip to WDW for Susan and me this year and the third for Brian and Katie. We had purchased annual passes late last year and since that time, felt it necessary to spend a great deal of time at WDW. In fact, in the last 365 days, I have spent 35 days at WDW. I'll also mention that I'm an annual passholder at Disneyland and have been there at least 5 times this year as well...woo hoo!!
Last year, we took the kids out of school for a full week for our December WDW trip. We decided this year that that was just too much time for them to be out, so we altered our plans this year. Additionally, we wanted to attend the 2nd Annual RADP activities on Saturday, Dec. 6th and Sunday, Dec. 7th so we had to factor that into our plans. Finally, my wife plays french horn in a local community band and their Christmas concert was scheduled on Dec. 6th. The planning that came out of all of those factors was that the kids and I would drive to WDW, leaving on 12/5. Susan would fly down via Southwest Airlines out of Birmingham, AL and arrive separately on Sunday, 12/7. Susan and the kids would then fly back via Southwest on 12/9, which would mean the kids would only have to miss two days of school. Airfares were very reasonable. Susan's round trip ticket was about $125. The kids' one-way fare was $63 each. A final note. As I mention people I met, if they are participants on the RADP Internet relay chat (IRC) channel #radp-friends, I put their IRC nicknames in parentheses.
Day 1-2, December 5th-6th - Travel, Epcot (RADP meet), MGM Studios, Epcot
We had packed up the Explorer and our pop-up camper the night before so we were ready to go right after work/school. I picked up the kids from school and we were on the road by 3 pm. The drive from Madison, Alabama to WDW is about 675 miles. We stopped just outside of Atlanta, GA for dinner then drove to Valdosta, GA and spent the night in a nice Quality Inn ($39/night). We awoke at 7 am Saturday morning and had continental breakfast at the hotel (included) and were back on the road by 8:15 am. Interstate 75 slows at the Florida -Georgia state line due to construction, which continues to the I-75/I-10 interchange. The speed limit is reduced from 70 to 55 mph, and there were numerous police along the route to enforce the speed limit.
We arrived at Epcot at 11:30 am. I was hoping to be able to take the kids on one or two rides before the RADP meet to keep down their whining but by the time we were in the park it was just too late. We made our way to the Fountainview Cafe and as we approached, we saw a mob of RADP'ers clustered around. One of the first people we saw and recognized was Eureka.
We had all met Eureka back in June at another RADP meet and my kids just loved her. She surprised us all by pulling out wrapped presents for Brian and Katie. They, of course, were tickled to death! We also were finally able to meet Eureka's husband Jim Freeman (czarjim). I don't think I ever saw Jim at any time that he didn't have a smile on his face. I was also able to meet up with Pam Koskovich and her husband. Pam is one of the more helpful people on the RADP and I had been looking forward to meeting her for quite awhile. I then met up with some of the mystery guests of the meet...first Melanie (MistressMeli) and John Emmons and then Karen Harland (LadyLurker). I had suspicions that Meli and John were coming but Karen was a complete and pleasant surprise to me. There were *so* many people there it was amazing! I continued to mingle and met up with Larisa O'Donnell (MissBianca) and her parents Brian and Lucy. Like Eureka, Larisa too made my kids happy by giving them presents. My son Brian latched right on to Larisa...I think he had a crush on her.
I then met up with an IRC friend of mine Pam Kratz (Scrappy). Susan and I had met Pam and her husband Larry back in August and were happy to see her again. I also met and chatted with Brian Martsoff (bigBrian) and his wife Carmella and the Ladybug man himself - Craig Wingerson. I also met Deb Koma (dcdeb), her husband Brian and son Alex. Deb and I had been chatting and picking at one another on IRC for awhile so it was great to finally get to meet her and give her a big hug. I got to meet Patt Sheehan's daughter Jenn, as well as Rob Olsan (Rob), and Gene (GenieEFL). I finally got to meet Rusty Wyatt (ECfan) too for the first time, which was a pleasure. I also got to meet Andrea McKenna's (Tigerlily) husband Paul (Kodaly) and their cute daughter Holly. Others that I had met before that were also at the meet were Sam Ault (Bartender_Sam), Kenny Cottrell (Kenny), Andrea McKenna, gardenia, and Deb Wills (jasmine). I'm sure I am leaving some folks out...that's always a hazard of trying to name names of people you meet for the first time. It's also tough to remember when you put off writing your trip report for a month. I apologize to anyone that I may have missed. I was so busy meeting and chatting with folks that I never did fill out a card to enter the drawing for door prizes. Soon, folks began gathering for the RADP meet photo. I decided to play photographer instead of worrying about being in yet another picture, so after taking some shots of my own, I climbed up on the Fountainview patio to help two Disney CMs take photos. There had to be at least 30 cameras up there!
After about an hour and a half, I decided that the kids had gone above and beyond the call in being patient so we said our goodbyes and headed to Journey into Imagination. Brian had talked Larisa into going with us and I asked Pam Kratz to go too. Pam became the adopted "Mom" for the day, even to the point where Brian asked if he should call her "Momma". You never know what kids will say or do. Afterwards, we all went to the Mexican Cantina for lunch. I bought Pam that margarita that I had been promising her for months...it was pretty funny us drinking frozen margaritas when it was 50 degrees outside but hey, we were on vacation, right? Pam went with us back to Fort Wilderness so we could check in and drop off our camper. Check in was very efficient and we were assigned site 1303. This is the best site we've every had! The 1300 loop is our favorite and site 1303 is right across from the comfort station...woo hoo!
After dropping off the camper, we drove over to MGM Studios with our main goal being to see the Hunchback of Notre Dame (HoND) stage show...my favorite show at WDW. To see some photos from the show, click here. We arrived at 3:30 pm so we had some time to kill before the 4:50 HoND show. We rode the Great Movie ride and I and the kids pointed out several of the Hidden Mickeys to Pam. Next we headed over to HoND, arriving 30 minutes before showtime to assure we got a seat up front. The show was good as usual but I did notice quite a few new cast members...Quasi, Clopin, Phoebus, Esmeralda, two of the three gargoyles were new faces. The new Clopin, Brian, was fantastic! Russell, the usual Clopin is great but I think Brian is my new favorite. The new Quasi wasn't nearly as good as the previous Quasi's though and the new Esmeralda didn't have as good a voice as most of the previous Esme's we've seen. We had to leave after the show so Pam could meet her early curfew (6 pm). Actually, she had to meet her husband Larry back at the Wilderness Lodge and we actually got "Momma" there on time...woo hoo!
The kids and I went back to Fort Wilderness to set up camp then had a budget dinner at Taco Bell at the Crossroads. The kids decided they wanted to do Spaceship Earth and Honey I Shrunk the Audience so we stopped by Epcot and did those before closing. We were back to FW and in bed by 9:45 pm.
Day 3, December 7th - MK, MGM Studios(RADP Meet #2)
As a check on the "dreaded" FW transportation system, I timed how long it took us to get from our site to the turnstyles of the MK. We left the site at 8:24 am and arrived at the MK at 8:50 am...26 minutes. We took an internal bus to the Settlement Depot bus stop (10 min), walked to the marina (2 min), then took the boat to the MK (14 min). Not bad at all and this was representative of our experience throughout our stay. It was a bit chilly in the morning but warmed up pretty nicely as the day progressed. We went to the rope at Fantasyland and queued up for the rush to Dumbo. I had decided before hand that I would let the kids pick what rides/attractions we did today so that was our "strategy". We were in the third group to ride Dumbo...woo hoo!
If you or your child wants to ride Dumbo, ride it first! The lines only get longer as the day goes on. Next, we rode Peter Pan three times in a row with no wait. Katie pointed out something I had never noticed before...as you're leaving the fly-over of London, if you look at the moon you'll see silouettes of Peter and the children as they fly off to Neverland! Also, Brian pointed out a second Tinkerbell that I had not seen before. Just as you leave the children's room, and are flying over Nana, look back over your right shoulder and you'll see her hanging...er...uh, flying there.
We then did my friend Laura Gilbreath's (tigger) *favorite* ride of all time - It's A Small World! I can't help but think back to that magical Disney moment in September when I saw Laura smiling and singing the IASW song...I think there was even a tear in her eye she was *so* happy. We then proceeded east doing Snow White, both sides of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride and the Teacups. Following our usual strategy, we then went to Mickey's ToonTown and it was deserted as usual. We did Goofy's Barnstormer 3 times...riding in the front, middle and back. Goofy's is a great little coaster for kids that are unsure about riding Space or Big Thunder to build up their confidence. I recommend doing Goofy, then Big Thunder, then Space Mountain. My kids have nearly all of the characters autographs so we skipped the character greeting area and backtracked to Fantasyland to ride Cinderella's Carousel.
Next up was the Haunted Mansion where we were able to see the recently added horse-drawn hearse...cool! We did this with no wait then went to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (BTMRR) and rode it with a 10 minute wait. We were able to all ride in one car for those that might be wondering. We used to rope walkway to get to the Country Bears Jamboree which had it's special Christmas show going. This is a not-to-be missed attraction on my list. If you go see it, clap your hands and stomp your feet and get into the show. It's much more fun if you do that.
The kids decided they wanted to go to Futureworld so off we went. We rode Tomorrowland Transit Authority (TTA), Takeflight, and Carousel of Progress in succession. My kids love all of these, as do I. Sure they aren't high speed thrill rides but they are all part of the Magic Kingdom experience and we don't feel right unless we do them. We were to pick up Susan (wife) at the airport at 3:50 pm and it was now after 2 pm but the kids talked me into a last ride on Pirates of the Caribbean. Actually, they didn't have to do too much coaxing but by the time we left it was after 2:30 pm. All in all, we had done 15 separate attractions, some more than once, for a total of 20 rides/attractions...not bad for 5 and a half hours. Sunday is a good day to visit the Magic Kingdom.
The drive to the Orlando airport via SR 535 was straightforward and quick taking about 30 minutes. Susan's flight actually didn't arrive until about 4:00 pm but we made it back to MGM Studios in plenty of time for the 5:00 pm pre-RADP meet Tower of Terror (ToT) drop. As we approached the end of Sunset Blvd., we could see that quite a few RADPer's had already arrived. Included in the group was Laura Gilbreath and Lee Zimmerman (pegasus), the two mystery guests for the 6 pm RADP dinner at the Brown Derby.
I was tickled to death to see Michele Warner and her family. Michele and I have emailed back and forth since last year when we missed meeting up at the first annual RADP meet. She was wonderful enough to volunteer to watch Katie and Brian while Susan and I both rode ToT. RADP folks are a great group of people, what else can one say. Katie and Brian hit it off really well with Michele's kids Patrick and Katharine. I introduced Susan to many of the folks I spend so much time chatting with on IRC and emailing with as we waited in the queue. The ride was great as always. Deb Wills (jasmine on IRC) asked me beforehand *not* to put my hands up in the picture because she didn't want me to block her in the photo and I *promised* that I wouldn't. Well guess what I did...yep...raised my arms. You might notice in the photo that I no longer have a left arm...that's the price you pay for not listening to Deb Wills!! ;-)
Deb and gardenia did a great job of coordinating the RADP meet at the Brown Derby. For lots of photos and descriptions, see Deb Wills' WDW Info Guide. We were able to meet Mary Rogers and her family but weren't able to sit with them or near them as I had hoped. In fact, we ended up sitting in a small back room with a few other tables of RADPers. We really didn't have a feel for what was going on with the rest of the folks but that is fairly typical of large gatherings at sit down restaurants. I prefer the meets where you can move around and chat with folks. The service was very slow ...it took us over two hours to finish our meal, which was very taxing on Brian and Katie. I had planned to meet Deb Koma and her family at Epcot to watch Holiday Illuminations and had gotten Lee and Laura to commit to go as well. Our dinner took so long that we barely had time to get over there and didn't arrive until just before the show and only were able to do that by parking at the Beach Club and using the International Gateway. We didn't find Deb and later learned that she had gotten sick and didn't make it. Soon after the fireworks started, we saw Lee and Laura arrive so we watched the show with them from the Japan pavilion. Katie took a liking to Lee's baby Pegasus and later to Lee himself. Lee seemed like a natural with kids. He ended up carrying Katie out of the park on his neck and giving Brian horseback rides. Susan and I were sure he'd regret it in the morning...I know I would have. We stopped in the lobby of the Beach Club to admire the beautiful Christmas display they had set up, complete with a working train that was circling the beautiful tree. After saying our farewells to Lee and Laura, we drove back to Fort Wilderness for some much needed rest.
Go To Part II
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