Monday, September 15, 2008

Walt Disney World® Day 01: Around the world in 10 minutes

Well, our day began bright and early at 6:45 AM.  Enchanted Rose got a lovely case of returned karma in the fact that they were overstaffed and they sent her home at 11PM.  That meant that she was able to ensure all her stuff was packed correctly and we were in bed at a better time than if she had worked.

Unfortunately, that still meant we were only getting 3 hours of sleep.

We made it from our house to our gate in something like 30-45 minutes and we really felt like it a vacation was beginning.

We were flying Southwest Airlines so we had several stops to make before getting to Orlando.  The first one was Houston Hobby.  At this destination we had to change planes.  We only had 30 minutes between flights so we weren’t waiting long.

The next plane stopped in Birmingham, Alabama before moving onto Orlando.  Enchanted Rose fell asleep on the flight to Birmingham and managed to stay asleep till halfway to Orlando.  That meant she missed the excitement that occurred while trying to take off from Birmingham to Orlando.

There was someone in the back of the plane that refused to turn off their Blackberry because he said it was in “airplane mode” and therefore was safe to keep on.  I think 3 flight attendants went back there to talk to the passenger.  I was sure that the authorities were going to have to get involved because this just seemed to go on forever. 

This “discussion” made our time to take off seem to drag on forever.  For those who are familiar with flying with Southwest, they manage to land a plane, disembark load and take off with the speed and efficiency of a NASCAR pit crew.

I don’t think they had the guy convinced when we took off because they were still talking to him as the plane taxied down the runway and took off.

It was funny when we landed because when they asked us to turn off our electronic devices, they flight attendant said, “Like iPhones, Blackberries, iPods, Blackberries, portable DVD players, and did I mention Blackberries.”

We did have a somewhat annoying passenger across the aisle who had a portable DVD player.  They had a young child of around 3 or 4 and were playing TV shows for him on it.  Instead of having him wear headphones (which I understand may be difficult to get a 3 or 4 year old to keep them on) they had the thing blaring loudly.  You know it’s loud when you can hear the audio blaring over the pressure in your ears of being really high up in the sky and they were across the aisle and several seats away.

It didn’t take long to get from landing to our luggage and then to our rental car.  But at this point, things got interesting.

I brought along my Navigon GPS unit to help getting from Orlando Airport to Animal Kingdom Lodge.  But, just to be safe, I got verbal instructions from the guy behind the rental counter.

Well, the guy told us to go 528W to 4W and then follow signs to Walt Disney World.  But that didn’t seem to work out.  We couldn’t blame the GPS because it was still trying to lock in on a satellite.  When we got out of the parking garage, there were no signs for 528W.  Just a sign for 417 and to take it to get to Walt Disney World.  So we took it.

We had a wallet full of $1 bills to pay for tolls.  We were zooming along when we got to a toll that was for $.50 and the toll booth that allowed you to get change was closed and all that was available was the Sun Tag and Exact change lanes.  We dug in Enchanted Rose’s purse and all she had was $.40 cents.  At this point we didn’t know what to do.  So we threw in the $.40 and went.  There was a line behind us and we didn’t know what to do.  Oh well, there was a $100 fine that was going to increase the cost of our trip.

Well, at this point the GPS unit was active.  It told us to take an exit we couldn’t get to because there was a barrier between us and it.  Then it started recalculation and had us go around our butt to our preverbal elbow.  This meant another toll and GUESS WHAT????  Same situation… The booth was closed for those without Exact Change.  This time we had no loose change.  I saw something that looked like a credit card reader so we tried that but it didn’t work.  So we had to go through it too.  For those keeping count, that is $200 in fines.  So this rental car is getting expensive.

At this point we are both yelling at each other.  We pride ourselves in our ability to communicate with each other.  Unfortunately, that communication is sometimes very loud.

At this point, we were on our way and things started looking familiar.

We got to the Animal Kingdom Lodge and parked the car.  We walked to the lobby and checked in.

We were on the 4th floor.  I forgot how big this resort really was.  We were walking for what seemed like days to get to our room.  We were told that most standard rooms overlook a parking lot.  We got lucky and our room overlooked some kind of holding pen for animals.  By the looks of the animals we saw, they might be sick or recuperating from something.  The barns were to the left.  It was a very interesting view of the back-stage area.  I’m surprised a resort lets you see such things.

Enchanted Rose doesn’t feel comfortable until she unpacks.  So she accomplished that and then we decided to head to EPCOT.  But first we needed to get something to eat.  We only had a muffin since we got up.

So, we decided we were going to try the Quick Service establishment at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, The Mara.

We thought it would be quick to take the stairs and since they were right near our room, we gave it a shot.  We knew The Mara was on the first floor so down we went.

Well, the first floor took us to an Emergency Evacuation Tunnel.  So back up to the second floor we went.  Then we walked, and walked, and walked until we go to the Victoria Falls bar.  From there we knew where we were and walked down to Boma and then outside to the path that takes you to The Mara.

There was only one family in The Mara.  We decided to split a serving of Chicken Breast Nuggets and a bottled water.  We knew we needed a vessel to store our water during our adventures in the parks so that would get us covered.

We quickly ate and then headed back toward the car.  On our way out, it dawned on us that the Animal Kingdom Lodge was now a DVC resort so we might be eligible for free valet parking.  Why look for parking if we don’t have to.

So we asked at the valet station and found out it was true.  This was probably going to be the last time we parked our own car at the resort.

We headed on out.  This time, the GPS unit was staying in the glove box and we were going to give the signage a shot.

We decided EPCOT was where we wanted to go.  So we point the car in that direction and drove.  It didn't take long to get there.  We got great parking (AMAZE 37) and were able to walk right into the park.

It was dead near Spaceship Earth so we decided to give this great attraction a whirl.  We really are still not sold on the second half of this attraction, but love the first half.  I'm still not loving Dame Judi Dench as the narrator.

After getting off the attraction, we sent ourselves a postcard from the future and headed outside.

It was lightly raining now.  This was the after affects of TS Hanna narrowly missing the central Florida area.  We donned the raincoats we brought for just this eventuality.  We headed to the restrooms and then to the Guest Relations desk to get my Birthday Button. 

It was now time to head to the World Showcase to see what we wanted to get done.  We contemplated trying to weasel our way into Le Cellier, but when we passed by, you could tell it was busy and that wasn't going to be a possibility.

We kept on strolling and stopped in France.  Tim Devine's wife got Enchanted Rose hooked on the makeup sold here.  I took some pictures while she took care of business.  There are some great pictures to be had in this shop because of all the elaborate glass vessels in the shop.

After her transaction was done and she filled out the paperwork to have it sent to our resort, I told her about a nook that Tim and a few of the other The Magic in Pixel forum members have shot pictures of called "Belle's Library".  I wasn't sure where it was, but it couldn't be far.  There weren't many shops here.  Well I saw a sign that said something about Library and we went it.  Sure enough, I recognized the spot from the pictures on Tim's forum and we were here.  It was the first place we looked!

So, I took a lot of pictures.  Especially of the "stained glass" windows because Enchanted Rose felt these might become nice patterns for some quilt ideas she has.

After feeling like I got all the pictures my lens could squeeze out, we decided to exit France and hang a right.

Next we stopped at Japan.  The drummers were performing.  Since Enchanted Rose is a percussionist at heart (was on drum line in both high school and college), we always stop when they are banging their sticks. 

I love a good drum line as well and they make great pictures.  You could really tell they love their job.  They were having fun with each other.

After their show was done, I wanted to take some pictures of things we haven't looked at since I got my Nikon D80.  So we walked around the Koi Pond and took some pictures.

After Japan we decided to keep walking and maintained our counter-clockwise path.

The next stop was Germany, but I took pictures along the way.  A lady stopped me in Italy to admire my camera but her husband told her to keep on walking because she'll have to wait awhile to be able to afford it.  I told her the new Nikon D90's were coming out soon which should mean the D80's were going to see a price drop.  Her husband told me to not encourage her (he said it with a laugh).

In Germany, we decided to hit the Quick Service joint to get a giant soft pretzel, which we shared.  I love this place.  I'm afraid to get the Bier though.  They are some large servings and I've been on the wagon a bit since doing the bodybuilding thing and am afraid that I'll be puking my way around the world if I couldn't handle it.

We left Germany through the candy shop.  Enchanted Rose asked if I wanted to split a giant chocolate chip cookie.  At this point, we knew we were going to go to Beaches & Cream for dinner.  I told her that it would have no room for dinner if we ate sweets around the World Showcase.  I would find out later that this was not a smart move on my part.

When we passed Norway we decided that we should do Maelstrom.  Well, when we got there, the sign said it had a 30 minute wait.  We couldn't believe this since there was no one in the park.  We walked up and found out that it was 101 and that was that.

We made our way to China.  Outside China I got a call from Tim Devine.  I chatted a bit with him.  I was having problems with my pictures either being blown out or too dark and couldn't figure out what I was doing wrong.  All his suggestions I was already doing, so I'm just stumped.  I guess it may just be the fact that it was 7PM and the light was not my friend and I don't have a very fast lens that works well in low light situations.

In China, my wife loves to play a game she made up called, "See who can find the most frogs".  The frogs in this pond are gigantic BUT hard to find.

I found zero and she found a good dozen.  She has an eye for spotting 2 things:  Frogs in China, and Hidden Mickeys...LOL

She would have me use my zoom lens to certify her finds across the pond.

After China, we stopped at Mexico to take a spin on "Finding Donald".  The wait was outrageous here too so we skipped it.  I'm guessing that since it's getting close to IllumiNations that people are hanging close to those places that afford them the best view.

We had a quick discussion on what to do for the next hour before IllumiNations.  It was decided that we'll knock Test Track off our list because it's the closest attraction to China.

We made our way in our usual Olympic Power Walking style and slid right into the line.  We just walked right into the pre-show video.  After the video there was a bit more of a line.  We got to have a nice gentleman formerly from Florida but now residing in Kansas City join us from the Single Rider Line.

As luck would have it, the ride broke down right before the barrier test.  Not only did it break down, but all the lights shut off except for the emergency lights that stay on in a power failure.  I think we were there for a could 20 minutes before we slowly crawled to life.  It was worth it because the last speedy zoom around the bin makes it all worth the wait.

When we got to the end of the attraction, a cast member told us that we could stay on if we wanted to make up for us being stuck on the ride.  Who are we to turn down a free cut to the front of the line and we stayed on.

This time we were able to complete the entire trip without breaking down.  We like to do silly things for the pictures.  This time we did our favorite, "the dead car".  That is where we pretend to be dead when the picture is taken.

After getting off Test Track we had 20 minutes to get to wherever we were going to watch IllumiNations.

We headed back to the World Showcase via the path that runs by the abandoned Odyssey  restaurant.  We caught the glimpse of an Extra Magic Hour wristband distribution line and got our bands since we hadn't gotten ours already.

Then it was back to the World Showcase.

When we hit Mexico, the overhead announcer said that we had 10 minutes to go.  We decided we wanted to try and watch from the Japanese Torii gate.  Since I figured the entire circuit was a bit over a mile and we both walk something like a 10 minute mile, we'd have no time making it.

It never fails when you are in a hurry to get somewhere at the Walt Disney World Resorts, everyone gets in your way.  We really had to pull out or best skills in shooting the gap in order to get around the world.

By the time we got to the American Pavilion we started to notice that there were very few gaps along the railing.  Concerned that we’d get the Japan and not be able to find a space we decided to stop here because we found a gap that we could squeeze into.

Before coming on this trip, we knew from reading posts on Twitter, that the globe was down for refurbishment.  So we were expecting things to be different from that standpoint.

What we weren’t prepared for was how much it was altered to accommodate for the missing globe.  First, for some reason, the torches that blaze while the narrator does his opening spiel about telling stories around the campfire, we not aflame.  So when he made the blowing sound, like blowing out candles, it really didn’t make sense.

Then it seemed like there was a lot more fire coming from the barge.  The fireworks seemed toned down and when it came time for where the globe would make an appearance, the entire piece of the score was spliced out. 

Being that IllumiNations is my favorite evening attraction, I was really disappointed and wish I hadn’t wasted the time to try and see it.  But, it’s not a permanent change and it’ll be back to it’s regular glory soon.  For those who aren’t that experienced with IllumiNations, they’d never notice that something was “wrong”.

After IllumiNations, we started to talk about food.  This is when I found out just how bad of an idea it was to tell my wife to not eat that chocolate chip cookie.

Apparently, so much time had gone by from eating that she had developed a migraine from the lack of food.  We wanted to go to Beaches & Cream and we were near the International Gateway.  But we had a problem.  It was Extra Magic Hours and we knew the park would be open when we were done at Beaches & Cream, but we didn’t know if the International Gateway would be.  The last thing we wanted was to find out we couldn’t get back into EPCOT since we needed to get to our car.

So, we decided we’d drive over.  That meant that we needed to get all the way back to the parking lot.  The amount of people that were leaving was amazing.  I guess everyone was either a off-site guest or just didn’t care about staying at EPCOT for Extra Magic Hours.

We followed the signs to the Yacht Club.  Enchanted Rose was sure that the Yacht Club was a DVC resort and we could valet park for free.  It’s a good thing we asked or we would’ve had to pay.  We were told that the free DVC valet service was at the Beach Club next door.

So, we drove back out, hung a right and made our way to the Beach Club. This time we were set for the free DVC valet parking.  We let the valet do his thing and we headed on over to Beaches & Cream.

Enchanted Rose theorized that the joint would be packed with all the people leaving EPCOT to grab a bite to eat.  As we rounded the corner we didn’t see the usual site of people sitting at tables waiting to get inside.

As we walked up we noticed that the place was empty except for a few people at the counter.  We got lucky.

We were sat at a booth and waited to order our food.  We both got the cheeseburger and a double-scoop sundae.  I got 2 scoops of vanilla with chocolate syrup and Enchanted Rose got a scoop of butter pecan and a scoop of mint chocolate chip with hot fudge.

When our burgers came, my wife asked for her pickle.  Our waitress informed us that few week prior the pickles were removed due to “budget cuts”.  Enchanted Rose was a bit disappointed.  She loves pickles.

After getting our fill of cheeseburger and ice cream, we headed back to the car.  It sure is nice to valet park.  That is a wonderful perk of the DVC membership. 

I tipped the valet and we were off back to the Animal Kingdom Lodge to get some much needed sleep.

We had an early morning because we were doing the Crystal Palace the next day for our traditional Character Meal to celebrate our birthdays.

We took our showers and crawled into bed for what we hoped was a sound night’s sleep.

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Tuesday, September 9, 2008

So sad to say goodbye!

Anyone want to buy me this for my Birthday?

Bendele Tower Playset

Greatest pin ever!

Hitting the shops before we leave

Good morning zebras

(wish I could zoom with the Iphone)

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Friday, September 5, 2008

Greetings from the future!

Towel Mickey greeting us at AKL

Walt Disney World 01: On our way

Can you tell Enchanted Rose worked last night and only got a couple
hours of sleep? Now that's what I call dedication to Disney

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Walt Disney World® Day 00: The Countdown is winding down

Well, Monday, September 8 is my 37th Birthday.  As a fantastic birthday gift, my wife surprised me with a trip to Walt Disney World Resort® for a quick 5-ish day trip (I say “ish” because we really have a partial day on the 1st and 5th day).

She was assisted in the planning by Jana Smith, Owner of Main Street Travel Company and co-host of the Let’s Talk About Disney Podcast.

So, it looks like we’ll be staying in one of our favorite Deluxe Resorts, Animal Kingdom Lodge.  We decided to give up the Savannah View room in order to be able to afford to stay at this wonderful resort on such short notice.

Some of the ADRs we secured are:

  • Crystal Palace – An annual tradition to celebrate our birthdays with a character meal.  To top it off, we have an 8AM ADR so we have a chance to be leaving shortly before/after rope drop
  • Whispering Canyon Cafe – This is a new place for us.  I’ve been told to ask for the Catsup, but I’m not stupid and think I’ll go without the sweet, sweet tomato food enhancer.  I’m interested in trying out the bottomless milk shake
  • Jiko – Another establishment we are trying for the first time.  It’s in our resort so the fact that they prefer a more upscale dress (translation polo & khakis) isn’t that big of a deal.  We can pop upstairs and change before going anywhere else
  • Boma – A favorite breakfast choice of ours.  It’s an added bonus that it’s in the same resort.  I have a feeling we may eat here

There will be other places that we plan on going but will play it by ear (such as Beaches & Cream).  Being that we planned this less than 30 days out, we knew that our chances of getting our favorite restaurants was going to be slim with the Free Dining going on at the same time.

I’m really hoping that I can get the trip reports flowing again this time.  I apologize for dropping the ball on my June trip but I was just burned out and found that if I don’t write the trip reports as the trip was progressing, they’ll never get done.

I have configured my wife’s iPhone to be able to send posts to this blog and I had mine configured before MagicMeets.  So, there is the slight possibility that Enchanted Rose will be doing some micro-blogging as we go around and do things.

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