Thursday, January 03, 2008

WDW Trip Report - Afterwords

This was one of those trips where pretty much all those things that can go wrong and mess up a trip were blissfully absent. The flights were uneventful, on time and comfortable, ground transportation was on time, the room was in a great location wth a great view, there was little rain to cause problems and even the cool (and a couple of times cold) weather really wasn't an issue. The food was uniformly much better than just acceptable and while we didn't get to eat at all the places we originally planned to, the substitutes were all good. All in all, it was a great trip!

If there were any negatives, it was spending too much time focusing on the late night stuff (totally my fault) and still not relaxing and taking it easy enough to suit either of us. While I came out of the trip feeling pretty good (until the night AFTER we got home, when I got hit with the cold that dogged me through the rest of the holiday season), J started out pretty tired and finished up even more tired, so that's something we need to work on next trip.

Ah, the NEXT trip! While I think we were ready for a break after our last trip to Disney, six and a half years was too long to wait before going back. I think that led in part to trying to get everything in on this trip, rather than relaxing and thinking that we'd be back in a few months or at most a couple of years. I expect that we'll want to head back down there within 18 months or so - there were things we didn't get to despite some rushing around and certainly other things that we're going to want to do again soon.

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WDW Trip Report - Day 6 (Disney Studios, EPCOT, Departure)

Last day. We packed up and called the bellman to hold our luggage while we got out to do a little more park hopping. We started out by walking over the the Studios. We didn't have any plans for lunch but there was no line at the Brown Derby so we had a second terrific meal there, this one sitting outside on the patio. Thus fortified, we walked back to the Boardwalk and on to EPCOT for some last-minute shopping. The main thing was to relax and enjoy the last bit of the trip.

So we picked up a few things at Mouse Gears in Futureworld, grabbed a beer in Canadia and stopped off to hear a bit of Off Kilter's set before making our way back through England and back to the Boardwalk. We had a few minutes to rearrange our luggage and get things set before the Tiffany driver showed up (right on time) to whisk us back to the airport. The flight back was uneventful, except for my sympathy for the young father of two sitting a couple of rows ahead of us that spent the entire flight throwing up in the bathroom and didn't make it to the parking lot at RDU before hitting the barf bag again. I've rarely felt so sorry for anyone I'd never met.

Overall, it was a great trip and one that was long overdue.

Our room at the Boardwalk was the middle large balcony to the right of the star on the tree

JennySlash and lunch at the Brown Derby

The Fountain of Nations and Spaceship Earth

The rest of the photos from Day Six are in the gallery here.

Next: Afterwords

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WDW Trip Report - Day 5 (Animal Kingdom)

Wednesday did not start out well. Some of the bad vibes from the day before hung over and we started out a little grumpy. But we resolved to REALLY take it easy (not just say so and then run around at breakneck speed) and enjoy our last full day at WDW and so we did just that. This was the only day that we had to take a Disney bus to the park, but the wait was not too long. It was a little warmer but we decided up front that it was still too cool to ride the Kali River Rapids (you really do get drenched on that one - much wetter than Splash Mountain). We took a stroll past the critters near the entrance and made our way back to Asia where we got our first look at the new Everest ride. I'm used to Disney Imagineering but I have to say that I was blown away by the mountain they've built and the way they disguise the ride until you're standing right in front of it. Very nicely done! The single-rider line was short (as usual) despite the crowd in the park (all of the parks were more crowded than we'd expected but none of them uncomfortably so) so I jumped on in while J poked around the scenery. While I was in line, I saw one of the Cast Members actually take a couple of teenagers to task for trampling over some poor schmuck with a baby and then, when the delinquents jumped into the FastPass line, she let them wait through it before pulling them out and sending them to the back of the single-rider line again. Yay for her!! Too often it appears that the Cast Members are afraid to call out a guest, even when they are annoying or endangering other guests, so kudos to her! The ride was really good - it's a Big Thunder-type of mine train ride but much smoother (newer, of course) and the Disney touches are really well done. I highly recommend it and it more than made up for missing Kali.

We didn't have lunch reservations and had planned on just hitting walk-up somewhere, but J suggested seeing if we could get into the new Yak and Yeti sit-down restaurant. It was after 2pm (we got a really late start) and we were seated right away - on the second floor at a window overlooking the "street", which was great. The food and service were both quite good - definitely worth a return trip. Given how late we started and how early it was getting dark, we decided not to try to rush through lunch to make it to the African safari, so we meandered down the Maharajah Jungle Trek to look at tiggers and bats and wildebeests instead. And birds, including what looked to me like a Norwegian Blue (lovely plumage!).

The normal park closing time was 6pm but this was an Extra Magic day (planning!) so even though we had dinner reservations back on the Boardwalk at 8:30, we got our wristbands so that we could enjoy the park for at least a little bit after dark. We did a little gift shopping in Harambe and wandered back to the shops near the entrance, enjoying NOT rushing off to the buses like most everyone else. I missed Kali and I missed the safari and we didn't get to the Boneyard at all, but we had a wonderful, relaxing last day at the parks and enjoyed it thoroughly.

We got back to the room in plenty of time to get dressed up a bit for our dinner at Flying Fish. I had been looking forward to it for weeks and they did not disappoint. I'd stack them up against most restaurants around Chapel Hill and Durham (and there are some phenomenal restaurants around here). The other real treat was a big concert band (local high school maybe?) playing on the lawn at the Boardwalk - we stopped to listen to the Christmas music for awhile and then were able to open the doors to the balcony in the room and listen to their last set while we did a little packing. What a great surprise! Last nights can be a little sad but since we weren't leaving for the airport until after 3pm, we knew we had some time to do some more stuff on Thursday (including taking back the t-shirt J bought at the Rock'n'Roller Coaster since it didn't fit). So Wednesday turned out to be the kind of relaxing, restful day that we'd kind of intended them all to be.

JennySlash at the Animal Kingdom Christmas Tree


Here there be tiggers!

More Day 5 pictures are in the gallery here.

Next: Still some time before we leave

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WDW Trip Report - Day 4 (EPCOT)

We always seem to have one day on our trips to Disney where we're out of synch or out of sorts or tired or something and things don't go well. That was Tuesday at EPCOT. We both love EPCOT (although I'll admit that J is a bigger fan than I am), in particular the World Showcase, but sometimes how we want to enjoy it is out of synch with the other. But it was certainly not all bad. I managed to make it onto Test Track twice (the single rider line is REALLY fast) and rode Mission:Space for the first time, although I will admit that it left me feeling a bit queasy (which definitely added to the lack of cohesion with J) so I'm not sure I'll try it again next time. J and I also did Maelstrom together (it's SO cheesy!) but I couldn't convince her to do the revamped ride at Mexico (they've replaced the old "Rio del Tiempo" with something featuring the trio of fowl from "The Three Caballeros" - J had done a ride-along on-line and pronounced it unendurable). We had veggie burgers at the American pavilion and probably the best meal we had all week at the restaurant inside the Mexico pavilion pyramid. The food was terrific, the atmosphere of the small town fiesta was really cool and the Dos Equis were quite welcome, if not my favorite brew. I should note here that the old charms of beering one's way around the world at EPCOT are not what they once were. With the proliferation of really good microbreweries across the States, beer here has now far outstripped anything you're likely to get at EPCOT with the various national pavilions featuring their local popular swill. While there's not much better than a Harp's (England), a Blue from Canada is not my idea of great beer and most of the pavilions offer nothing much better. But that's not why I was there...

I'll be honest - I don't remember all that much about the day at EPCOT other than the great meal and discovering that there's a neat place near the end of the Innoventions West plaza to watch Illuminations. You can tell from the gallery that I didn't even take that many pictures (although the sunset when I went to drop some stuff off at the room was spectacular!). Next trip I want to make sure that EPCOT isn't the down day. I had fun, but not the big fun of the rest of the trip.

JennySlash in England

Test Track Pre-show

Sunset over the Boardwalk

There are a few more pics from Day 4 in the gallery here.

Next: A couple of Yetis in the Critter Kingdom

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WDW Trip Report - Day 3 (EPCOT, Magic Kingdom)

Got a slightly later start on Monday as we were planning to spend the bulk of the day at Magic Kingdom and with a regular park closing time of 10pm, we had the option of staying there until 1am with the Extra Magic Hours. We could have taken a bus over from the hotel, but one of the beauties of staying at an EPCOT resort and having a length-of-stay pass is the ability to use EPCOT as a staging ground. We walked over through the International Gateway and made our way through France and Morocco and to Japan for some sushi for lunch (our earliest dinner was scheduled for this day so we didn't want to eat too much). After a bit of shopping, we ambled on over past Italy and Germany to China and then on out through Futureworld to the monorail stop. The monorail gives you a nice ride over to the transportation hub, where we picked up a second monorail to Magic Kingdom (the route goes literally through the Contemporary resort, where we'd initially planned to try the California Grill - ah, well, maybe next time). As usual, we arrived in the park just as a parade was heading down Main Street, meaning we were not going anywhere for a few minutes. As the crowd cleared out afterwards, we were able to enjoy the Christmas decorations on Main street and the view of Cinderella's Castle, one of the iconic views of the Disney parks. I should point out that while it had gotten pretty cool the night before after the sun went down, it started out cool on Monday and threatened to get much colder after dark. I had jeans and a sweatshirt but it was definitely too cold to be hitting Splash Mountain!

We headed off to the Haunted Mansion first - again, the Standby line warned of a 40 minute wait but it didn't take us longer than 20 minutes to get through to the pre-show. (That was pretty much the pattern for the week - I didn't get a single FastPass, but the Standby lines were always half the wait that was advertised). They've done a really nice job of updating the Haunted Mansion - no major changes that I noticed but it's darker, the soundtrack is much better and much more in synch and the visuals are definitely spruced up. Next it was off to Pirates of the Caribbean, which has also undergone a makeover since the series of movies came out. The projection of Davy Jones onto mist warning us away to start was very well done, as was the additional of Captain Barbossa to the ship attacking the fort at the beginning of the ride. Even the insertion of Captain Jack Sparrow into about four different scenes was fun rather than annoying (the kid behind us was beside himself!). The biggest disappointment for me (not just on the ride but with all of the Pirates stuff) was the lack of Elizabeth Swann swag - if the ladies get their fill of Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom, why don't I get any Kiera Knightley, hmmm??

After Pirates it was already late enough for us to get our wristbands and then queue up for the Jungle Cruise. I was a little worried that we hadn't left ourselves enough time to get through the ride and over to the Crystal Palace for dinner, but once again the line moved faster than was obvious. The quality of one's experience on the Jungle Cruise is almost directly related to how good the captain/tour guide is and the kid we had was very, very good - we had a great time! So as the sun went down it was off to dinner.

This was our first time at the Crystal Palace and I was a bit apprehensive, particularly after we looked in through the windows while waiting for a table. The combination of buffet (usually not a harbinger of great food) and character dining (usually the harbinger of floors covered in sticky kids) didn't exactly fill me with anticipation. While we were waiting, they turned the spots off on Cindy's castle and turned on the lights that draped it, making it look like a huge ice sculpture - a MUCH better effect than when they turned it into a big damn birthday cake when we were there years ago. When we were finally seated, we found to our surprise that the food was actually some of the best we had on the whole trip and the enthusiasm of the little girl sitting at the next table (and that of her mom) for getting hugs from Pooh and Piglet and company was catching. It turned out to be quite an enjoyable dinner and I wouldn't hesitate to eat there again on a future trip. And I got a hug from my buddy Tigger!

After dinner we walked into Frontierland and found that folks were already lining up for SpectroMagic, so we found a spot near Splash Mountain, thinking that we were at the beginning of the parade. In fact we were at the end, so we had a long cold wait until the parade came by, but it was well worth it - I only recall seeing it once before and from a much longer distance away - we were up close and personal and it was very cool. As soon as the parade was over it was time for the nightly fireworks (over a very welcome cup of hot chocolate!), which we also watched from Frontierland rather than running over to Main Street and fighting the crowds. Before leaving Frontierland, I headed over to Big Thunder Railroad for a wild, cold ride - it's always fun after dark and tonight was no exception.

Phew - more rides to do!! I took J over to Peter Pan as we'd ridden it once before but she had absolutely no recollection of it at all. It's a little kid ride but it's kind of cute - she still didn't remember having ridden it before. Then it was back to Haunted Mansion for a second ride through before heading over to Tomorrowland to finish up the night. Oh, did I mention that by this time I was freezing my buns off? J had had the good sense to wear a jacket and bring gloves, but I was convinced that it wouldn't get that cold. Brrr!

First stop was the Buzz Lightyear ride, which is basically a moving shooting arcade. While JennySlash seems convinced that I "let her win", she kicks my butt every single time, usually doubling my score. This night was no exception. But it's a fun ride, the lines were short and we got a great picture at the end with J looking determined to knock off as many space baddies as possible. Then there was Space Mountain - I have a love/hate relationship with Space Mountain that lately has been leaning much more towards hate. This might have been my last ride. The queue area is wonderfully dated and goofy but the cars are too damn small and the ride has gotten so jerky that I invariably end up with a headache, as I did again on this night. While J was picking me out a hat to warm me up a bit, I tried Stitch's Great Adventure, which used to be the quite scary Extra-terrorestrial (which ripped off the alien from, well, "Alien" and turned it loose in the dark to feed on the audience - J would never do it with me). The pre-show is similar and the set-up inside is similar but now instead of a huge, black, slick-skinned monstrosity breaking out of containment and eating crew members in the dark, you had cute, cuddly, fuzzy Stitch breaking out of containment and eating crew members' chilidogs in the dark. The scariest part was the chili-dog belch coming at you from behind - I don't know how they synthesized chili-dog breath but it was damned accurate and stuck with me for the rest of the night. I did convince J to go do it with me as I did think it was cute (although I miss the scary) and I wanted her to get an idea of what the old ride was like.

By this time it was well after midnight so we headed back for the Disney buses to get back to the resort (which seemed to take a most circuitous route). I realized that due to the way the Extra Magic days had fallen, we'd done my two favorite parks first and J was pretty worn out before we even got to her faves. This was not a good thing and something we will not repeat on subsequent trips. Other than being (very) cold, I was in pretty good shape fatigue-wise, but the last few weeks of the semester had been rough on JennySlash and she was pooped!

Christmas decorations on Main Street

My princess!


There are more pics from Day Three in the gallery here.

Next: A rocky day at EPCOT

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WDW Trip Report - Day 2 (EPCOT, Disney Studios)

Sunday was the only day that we had to be anywhere at a particular time, which was a shame since although I'd slept very well, JennySlash had not and was a bit tired. We still didn't rush, taking the time to have a little bite of breakfast in the room and to do some unpacking before heading off to Disney Studios. It was much cooler and we were planning on a late night, so while I stuck with long hiking shorts, I did bring a sweatshirt for later. I'm sure most people staying at the EPCOT resorts take the Friendship boats from their resort to the Studios, but we generally prefer the walk along the canal up to the park (takes about 20 minutes from the Boardwalk). We had time to take a few pictures of the Christmas decorations on Hollywood Blvd and duck into a couple of shops before lunch/brunch at the Brown Derby. We were seated right on time and lunch was quite good (the food there has always been some of our favorite), as was the service. From looking at the folks at tables around us, we were obviously not the only middle-aged couple taking a pre-Christmas vacation for just the two of us! Side note: if you haven't been to Disney Studios in awhile, you may be sad to hear that the Catwalk Bar which was behind the Brown Derby and overlooked the theater with the "Bear in the Big Blue House" show is closed (it actually closed just before our last couple of trips). It's a shame as it was a great quiet place to duck out of the crowds and have a cold brew before heading on to the next adventure.

While J is not a ride fan, we did go do the Backlot Tour together before we split up for a bit. The group they pulled from the audience was very funny in the pre-tour part of the show and almost as amusing was the German family in front of us on the tram that reminded me of the way folks from other countries often talk about Americans - loud, pushy, dressed badly, doing everything against the rules. The one change to the ride that I thought was a shame wasthat the old ride through the "neighborhood" of houses from sitcoms (Golden Girls, etc) has been replaced as the staging area for the new stunt driving show, so there's little left of interest in the backlot tour itself other than Catastrophe Canyon. Bummer. Afterwards we walked through the backdrop area of the park that has been covered in Christmas lights for the Osborne Family lightshow - looked like it would be pretty spectacular once it got dark!

After the Backlot Tour, we split up a bit as JennySlash did some Christmas shopping and I headed over to the Tower of Terror. The park was relatively crowded (not surprising as it was Sunday) and I hadn't gotten a FastPass, but the wait time for standby was listed as 40 minutes so I went ahead (and it actually only took about 20 minutes to get to the pre-show). This is one of my favorite rides anywhere, in part for the attention to detail in the hotel lobby (how do you make those cobwebs?!) and the Rod Serling pre-show. As a single rider, I hopped in front of a few folks and we were off. I was on the front row and with the time of day and time of year, the first time the elevator doors opened, the sun smacked me right in the eyes - pretty good effect! :-) I was happy to see that they had brought back some of the real hotel-looking souvenirs to the gift shop that had been missing the last time we were there, so I picked up a couple of plastic hotel door keyrings and a Do Not Disturb sign to go with the handtowel, memo pad and reception bell I'd picked up years ago.

I hit Star Tours just as the parade went by (always a good way to get a short line!) and picked up a Rebel Alliance t-shirt and a couple of other Star Wars souvies in the gift shop. I tried to hit the Rock'n'Roller Coaster after that but it was down (that seems to happen more to that ride than any of the others) so I took my second ride on the Tower of Terror and then met back up with J. I had talked about running my camera gear back to the Boardwalk as it was getting dark, but we decided to both walk back and rest for a couple of minutes before coming back for the evening. We stopped to get our armbands for the "Extra Magic Hours" first, then took a slow walk back.

It was getting a bit cold by the time we headed back as the sun was going down but we were pretty comfortable. The light show for the Osborne Family thing was very cool - they had them synced up to Trans-Siberian Orchestra (of course) and some fake snow coming down and the streets were totally packed with people. Very fun! Then it was off to dinner at Sci-Fi Dine-in, which is always a hoot. We sat in the back of the restaurant in the backseat of the car and had a very nice meal, although we were a bit disappointed that the veggie burger that we'd ordered on previous trips was not on the dinner menu. We always enjoy watching the movie trailers on the big screen and marveling at the number of the old schlocky sci-fi/horror movies we've seen (and how many we actually own on DVD!). After dinner I hit the single-rider line at the Rock'n'Roller Coaster and bypassed about a million people - couldn't have waited more than 10 minutes tops. R'n'R is a really good dark-ride coaster - my only issue with it is that it is too short. But I love how it starts you out going from a standstill to zooming in seconds and NEVER slows down. J met me in the gift shop and she picked up a cool t-shirt while I eyed but ultimately decided against a pair of drumsticks (I'm a really bad drummer and they would only have gotten me into trouble). We did a little more shopping, picked up some pins from under the Sorcerer's Hat, heard that stupid song from High School Musical 2 at least a dozen more times, took a last ride on the Tower of Terror and then we walked on back to the Boardwalk at around 10pm. We didn't do the Indiana Jones stunt thing or the Muppet 3-D show (which I really like) or the new stunt driving show, but we decided before we came down that we wanted to relax and not rush so I was pretty satisfied.

Christmas decorations on Hollywood Blvd

The Tower of Terror

The Boardwalk at sunset

More photos from Day 2 are available in the gallery here.

Next: Late night with Mickey at the Magic Kingdom

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Wednesday, January 02, 2008

WDW Trip Report - Day 1 (Arrival, EPCOT)

Saturday finally came and off to the airport we went. Since we each had two checked bags plus a carry-on, we splurged and parked in the Daily parking deck between the terminals rather than heading out for the cheaper park'n'ride and having to shuttle in. We made it through security quickly and out to the gate with WAY too much time to spare, but that gave us time to pick up a couple of magazines (and, as a loyal Tar Heel fan, I was able to "flip the Weasel" (turn Duke's Coach K's book face-down) at the newsstand for the first time). I was unable to get us seats together, but we did have seats on consecutive rows on the single-seat side of the aisle. Since we last flew to Orlando, Delta had ditched their old Canadian Regional jets for Brazilian-made Embraers, with a single seat on the left and two on the right of each row. I'd gotten a lot of flight time in them both to Philadelphia a few years ago and every other week to DC this past year in my old job, so I knew they were noisy but quite comfortable. The flight was on-time and uneventful and we were promptly met by the Tiffany driver, who had our bags out to the Navigator and us on the road to WDW in a matter of minutes. No lines, no waiting, no hassles.

We arrived at the Boardwalk just after 3pm and were able to immediately check in and go to the room (check-in is officially at 4pm). The room was awesome - on the 4th floor (over Flying Fish) overlooking the courtyard of the Boardwalk resort and with a huge deck and a view of the Boardwalk itself. It was still in the 80s when we arrived (there was a cold front that was supposed to arrive that evening) so I ditched the jacket, grabbed the camera and we headed for EPCOT.

If you're not familiar with EPCOT, the main entrance is at the Spaceship Earth geosphere (which we were happy to see is now unadorned again, after a few years of it being surmounted by an absurd Mickey hand and magic wand), but there is a second entrance - the International Gateway - that opens out to the EPCOT resort area. For years, when we've been stressed and trying to think
relaxing thoughts, the walk from the resorts to the International Gateway and then on to the England pavilion has been our little "happy place", so we enjoyed our slow stroll up the path. We had a couple of hours before dinner, so we took a stroll around the lake, enjoying all the Christmas decorations, the huge tree and lighted archway where the Futureworld and the World Showcase halves of the park join and marveling at the number of people that were there. We should have anticipated that regardless of the time of year, it would be crowded on the weekend and there were a lot of people there, although it wasn't uncomfortable. Dinner at Marrakesh was wonderful (we've eaten there before many times but this was our best meal there!), the belly dancer and the musicians were good and we made it out in plenty of time to see the wonderful nightly fireworks (Illuminations) which had a special holiday tag of an extra five minutes or so.

By this time we were pretty pooped (that was probably the most tired I was on the whole trip), so we stopped off at the Screen Door on the Boardwalk for stuff for breakfast and a couple of beers for me (a mistake I won't make again - the single beer price was outrageous even for Disney standards), poked around at the clothes in the shop and then headed up to the room. It was still
warm, so rather than unpack, we hung out on the deck for a bit watching the folks on the Boardwalk (unfortunately they switched from the Christmas music they'd been playing all day to pop) and then called it a night.

JennySlash at the Canada Pavilion

EPCOT Christmas Tree

Christmas Lights at EPCOT

More photos available at the gallery here.

Next: Sunday at Disney Studios

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WDW Trip Report - Planning

The major planning decisions to make were when to go, how long to go for and where to stay. The when to go decision was made early on and agreed to with my new boss (it also got us just past the end of JennySlash's semester). By taking off the week before Christmas, I was making myself available to provide coverage at work while the rest of the management team was off (first time I was going to work that week since 1986) so it seemed a fair trade. We initially looked at staying 4 nights, giving us 3 full days and 2 partial days, but with 4 parks and wanting to be able to relax and get some rest, we decided on 5 nights and were able to get decent rates on Delta to fly down on Saturday, December 15 and back in the evening of Thursday the 20th.

Every time we've talked about Disney since Animal Kingdom opened, we've talked about wanting to stay at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. We've also tossed around the idea of trying the Contemporary or even the Grand Floridian. But when push comes to shove, we like the ability to walk to EPCOT and to Disney Studios from the EPCOT resorts. We looked at the reduced rates for that week at the Swan and Dolphin resorts (the only two "Disney" resorts that are not owned by Disney) and I'm sure we'll eventually stay at one of them, but it really came down to the Beach Club, where we'd stayed on three previous occasions, and the Boardwalk, where we'd stayed twice before (including our first trip down, right after it had opened). The Beach Club has an awesome pool complex it shares with the Yacht Club and it is right next to the International Gateway to EPCOT, but we assumed (correctly it turned out) that it was likely to be too cool to spend a lot of time in the pools. The Boardwalk, on the other hand, isn't much farther from the EPCOT entrance and is a much shorter walk to Disney Studios, so we went for the Boardwalk, with a water view room.

There are a number of different options to get from the airport to the resorts and back. Disney has a free bus service, Mears has shuttles, cabs are of course available and then there are limousine services. From past experience, we knew that Mears can take forever (and be a bit uncomfortable) and cabs are extremely expensive. The best compromise we've found is Tiffany Town Car, which doesn't cost that much more than Mears but is worlds more comfortable. So those reservations were made early on as well. By the end of October, the only thing left to do was to make dinner reservations, which I planned to do a few days before we left.

Another bit of planning revolved around park hours. When we were at WDW ten years before, they had recently started "E-ticket Nights" at Magic Kingdom. This was something that they didn't advertise very loudly and seemed in fact to be a little present to the repeat customers that contributed to the Usenet groups and mailing lists. If you were staying at a Disney resort, about one day a week you could get a pass at your resort that you could then exchange for an armband at the Magic Kingdom which would allow you to stay an additional three hours after park closing. The rumor was that they only gave out 5,000 for any of these nights, which meant there were no lines at all for popular attractions like Space and Splash Mountains and the Haunted Mansion. As we found when we started researching this trip, they're now doing extended hours at all of the parks (with, unfortunately, much less exclusivity in the number of people that can stay), so we (I guess I should say "I", as JennySlash was almost single-mindedly involved in her grad school class at this point) mapped out a rough schedule of at least finishing up with Disney Studios on Sunday, Magic Kingdom on Monday, EPCOT on Tuesday and Animal Kingdom on Wednesday. I also laid out a rough plan for dinner reservations that included some of our favorite restaurants like the Brown Derby, Coral Reed and Flying Fish - we planned to primarily do walk-up for lunch.

As we got to the week before the trip, we started getting an idea about the weather we could expect and sure enough, it was looking unseasonably cool for the first part of the trip (even downright cold some nights) with a gradual warmup before we left. That made packing a little more difficult than some trips, with the need to bring sweatshirts and/or jackets along with jeans, shorts, etc. Finally a couple of nights before we were to leave, I called the central reservations line to make dinner plans. The first night's dinner at Marrakesh in the Morocco pavilion at EPCOT was later than we'd hoped, but would still get us out in time for the nightly fireworks. But then things started falling apart. In spite of past assurances that this was a really quiet week, I was finding that all of the places we wanted to eat were either booked solid or we'd end up eating dinner at 3:30 in the afternoon. No Brown Derby, no Coral Reef, no Tony's. I quickly grabbed a couple of reservations just so that we wouldn't go hungry and then stepped back to do a little rethinking. J pointed out that a couple of the reservations I'd made would have us spending way too much time going from park to park just to eat and made a couple of excellent suggestions for how to do things a little more relaxed, so it was back to 407-WDW-DINE for the third time until we finally got dinners squared away, with the SciFi Dine-In (a favorite lunch spot) for dinner on Sunday, the Crystal Palace on Monday (LOTs of trepidation about this one), San Angel in the Mexican Pavilion in EPCOT for Tuesday and Flying Fish on the Boardwalk on Wednesday after returning from Animal Kingdom. We also snagged a table at the Brown Derby for brunch on Sunday, the only non-dinner reservation we made. Phew!

So now all we had to do was finish packing and get to the airport.

Next: Off we go!

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WDW Trip Report - Introduction

If you're not a Disney-phile, you may not know that it has been tradition, at least since the Internet age, to publish a trip report after your latest visit. We used to read the Disney Usenet groups with some frequency but I'm going to assume that most folks are doing theirs on blogs now.

Before our first trip to Walt Disney World together in 1996, JennySlash and I had been there separately once apiece. I had gone down late in 1979 as part of the UNC Marching Band the day after we beat Michigan in the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville. I don't remember much other than being severely hung over but enjoyed Space Mountain and the Haunted Mansion regardless. J had been much more recently, earlier that year in fact, when her mother and her mom's friend went down and J took her aunt's place when Auntie backed out. They had a wonderful time and J was sure I would enjoy going and indeed I did. I enjoyed our trip of September 1996 so much that we made a total of 7 trips to Disney between 1996 and 2001. The Studios were still pretty new at that point and Animal Kingdom opened during that period, so there were four parks to choose from. We primarily stayed at EPCOT resorts (Beach Club, The Boardwalk and the Yacht Club), although we did stay at a non-Disney hotel near Downtown Disney on one trip and at the Fairview when I was down for a business conference that afforded us a couple of nights at EPCOT.

That we stopped going after 2001 had to do with money, competing interests, J's lack of desire to deal with the hassles of post-9/11 commercial flight and other factors. But this fall, with a little money available and having not had a long vacation all year, we decided it was time to return. Okay, I guess *I* decided it was time for us to return (my constant out-of-the-blue reminders that "I want to go to Disney!" being a good giveaway) but JennySlash was not hard to convince. As I was in the middle of changing jobs, we chose the week before Christmas as that has historically been a low-attendance week (the week OF Christmas is supposedly a crowded nightmare!) and certainly our experience the week before Thanksgiving in 2000 was of a very uncrowded time. That being settled, it was time to start planning!

Next: Time to Plan

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