EPCOT Candlelight Processional

If you are spending any part of your holiday season in Disney World, this is a not to be missed event that will have you wishing you could come back to Disney every year at Christmas time.  This is a very popular, celebrity hosted event, and there are two ways to get in to see it.  Anyone who purchases a ticket (any ticket – annual pass, seasonal pass, park hopper, single day ticket) into EPCOT center, can go to see one of the three nightly performances that takes place from the day after Thanksgiving up until the day before New Year’s Eve.  There is no extra charge to go and see this spectacular holiday event.  HOWEVER…

Disney sells what are called Candlelight Processional Dining Packages.  These packages include your dinner at one of the participating restaurants and reserved general seating for one of the three shows.  The packages are sold at three different price levels, depending on the restaurant you choose.  For example, Tier I is about $30 per adult (not including tax or gratuity), and you are limited to the Garden Grill restaurant or the Biergarten.  Tier II is about $39, and includes restaurants like the San Angel Inn and the Rose and Crown Pub.  Tier III, the most expensive at about $46 per adult, includes the most restaurants.  With that package, you can dine at Chefs de France, the Coral Reef, and Le Cellier, and a few others.  The meal includes an appetizer, an entree and a dessert.  Alcoholic beverages are not included, and park admission is still required – this price does not include your admission to EPCOT. 

With the package, you will be able to enter the American Gardens theater, and everyone who has purchased a package is escorted in first.  There are no reserved seats, just the guarantee that you will have a seat in the theater.  As the line of package purchasers begins to dwindle, they then allow those people who have not purchased packages to file in to the theater.  People line up at least 30 minutes prior to the start of each show to get standby seating, and closer to Christmas, I have seen people waiting an hour or more.  You are NOT guaranteed a seat if you do not purchase the dinner package.  If you have your heart set on seeing a particular celebrity perform this event, I HIGHLY recommend the package.

The show itself is a 150 member choir, providing the music that weaves together a retelling of the story of Christmas.  The story is told by a celebrity narrator, and in the past, the narrators have included Gary Sinise (Forrest Gump, CSI:NY); James Caviezel (Passion of the Christ); Rita Moreno (Broadway); and other stars of stage, screen, TV and music.  The music is beautiful, the story is, of course, beautiful, and the experience is one of the best for your money at Disney World. 

If you plan on doing a dinner package, book it as soon as possible once the packages are available.  They do sell out, as the restaurants book up quickly.  You DO need to make an advanced dining reservation when you purchase the package.

And look for the CD of the Candlelight Processional when you leave.  We find ourselves listening to it at all times of the year!

Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party

The beauty of living in Orlando was having the opportunity each year to enjoy the festivities at Disney World during the Christmas holidays.  There are spectacular things going on there, if you have never been, and one of them is Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.

As if by magic – Disney Magic – Main Street in the Magic Kingdom is transformed into a Winter Wonderland.  The snow is falling, the Christmas tree stands tall and bright, the street is adorned with garlands heavy with beads and baubles.  The sights and the sounds bring Christmas spirit like you have never known.

A hard ticket event – meaning if you want to go, you have to buy a special ticket – Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas party takes place several evenings between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Included in the price of your ticket – which for the 5 hour party is around $40 – is the special holiday entertainment, including a fabulous Christmas parade, holiday themed shows (Country Bears Jamboree, Diamond Horseshoe Revue, and Mickey’s Night Before Christmas stage show), a fantastic fireworks display, complimentary cookies and hot cocoa, complimentary family portraits – you might even have them waiting for you in the mail when you get home! – and Christmas carolers. 

The event does sell out some nights, so if you know you want to go, I highly recommend purchasing your tickets in advance.  Many people deck themselves out in holiday sweaters, t-shirts, Santa hats, etc., which make for a nice, festive holiday photo. 

Can you visit Disney during the holidays and not do this event?   Absolutely.  You will still be awed and amazed by the beautiful and plentiful holiday decorations.  Does this make the trip and the holidays a little more special?   Without a doubt.

Tour Guide Mike Review

If you know my family, you know that we have probably been to Walt Disney World more times than the Disney family themselves.  We have gone at every time of year, gone for different events, gone at various times of day and with various crowds ahead of us.  I have never before felt like I needed help in planning my trip – except for utilizing the awesome and amazing tips offered by the veterans of The Mouse For Less.  This time, I was going with my four month old daughter, during some of the hottest weather of the year, and I wasn’t sure how many days I would have to spend at the parks or if I would be purchasing an annual pass that would encourage me to come back again soon.  I got nervous about how this trip would go.  Yes, I worked at Disney World.  Yes, Jim worked at Disney World.  Yes, Russell worked at Disney World.  It’s not like I had no insider information.  But hearing some of the praise from the members of The Mouse For Less email list about the benefits offered when you purchase Tour Guide Mike, and being nervous about making the most of this trip, I broke down and spent the money on Tour Guide Mike.

Tour Guide Mike can be purchased for a fee of $21.95 (there are discounts available through www.themouseforless.com which brings the price down to $18.95).  What I THOUGHT Tour Guide Mike would do for me was give me a plan of attack, spelled out very clearly, guiding me through how I should spend the time I had while in Disney World.  I thought, based on the days I would be traveling, I would have been given an itinerary similar to what you might get through a cruise director or travel agent, that told me how to make the most of my vacation – seeing as many sights as I could, taking in as many attractions as I could, telling me which days to go where and why.  But, in addition to having all of this information, I wanted it spelled out before me, easy to access, easy to remember, or simple to cart with me. 

I want to start by saying I did not puchase Tour Guide Mike until about 2 weeks before my trip.  Assuming, as I had, that it would be a very specific itinerary for me and my family, I did not anticipate the volume of information that would be available at the site.  Nor did I anticipate that it would not be as easy to find as I expected it to be.  I immediately felt overwhelmed.  There was no way I would have time in the two weeks leading up to the trip to read everything that was available.  There is also a community there where you can join others who are traveling the same month you are traveling.  You need approval from the community leader before participating, and I did not get my approval until a few days before we left, so the community that was discussing my month was of completely no value to me. 

When you sign up for this service, you put in a few pieces of basic information – like the ages of the people you are traveling with, when you are going to Disney World, whether or not you are staying on property – and based on that information, you are guided to a series of articles that Mike has written that may or may not pertain to your party.  There are a ton of articles.  With the amount of time I had remaining before my trip, there was no way I was going to read through all of the articles.  I did my best to read through the express versions of the articles, but every article I clicked on seemed to be related in some way to another article that I should read, and then I wouldn’t get back to where I started and I would feel overwhelmed all over again.

Finally, I was able to piece together some information that pertained to us by going to the sample itineraries.  The thing is, because we have been so many times to Walt Disney World, many of the tips he provides are things we have figured out long ago.  And, they are tips that you can find by asking cast members at the theme parks, checking the boards with the wait times and show times.  While you may not know the questions to ask if this is your first or even your second trip to Disney World, you will have figured it out if you have already been there a few times.  And if you are reading this as you are planning your first trip, you know now that the tips Mike is offering you for $22 you can get for free from many of the CMs at the theme parks.

I ended up printing out nearly 100 pages of stuff, most of which I did not use, because as I found time to read it during our drive down to Florida from New Jersey, it was information I already knew.  And when I put the dates in for my trip, I indicated that we would be there from August 24th through September 2nd, but I could not figure out any way at all to access the information for September.

The things I got the most use out of from the pages I printed out were the opening and closing times of the theme parks and the days the parks had their Extra Magic Hours.  But all of that information is available for FREE at the Disney website, at the front desk of any Disney resort, at the theme parks, and at a variety of other websites.  Had I not printed it all out, I would have just looked it up online. 

I want to emphasize that there might be tremendous value in Tour Guide Mike IF:

 – this is your first trip to Walt Disney World

– you have plenty of time to read thoroughly all of his articles with the tips and information he provides

– you want to go to Disney with your day planned out pretty much to the minute with little flexibility

– you have never been to the theme parks when they are at their most busy and you are looking for tips to avoid the lines and you don’t want to do the work yourself to figure out how to do this.

For my family, having been to Disney numerous times, knowing our way around as well as we know our own home, and already possessing much of the information provided by Tour Guide Mike, I could have spent the money on a t-shirt instead.

Oh, one last thing, Tour Guide Mike does offer a satisfaction guarantee.  Once you are signed up, you no longer see any information about the guarantee, but on the page that tells you how much to pay to sign up, it is there.  We contacted him by email telling him we were not satisfied with our purchase, and we were told that a refund would be granted, and we are the first people since he began his business in 2002 to request a refund.  I think that may be because many people will dismiss the $20 as money down the drain, or once they have gotten their log in information, they no longer see that there is a guarantee.  It could be that people just are too embarassed to request the refund.  I know others who have purchased this and been disappointed in what they found, so even though we may be the only ones to have gotten our money back, I’m sure it’s only because my husband was brave enough to ask.

Cinderella’s Royal Table for Lunch

For the longest time, the hardest meal to get into at Disney’s Magic Kingdom has been breakfast at Cinderella’s Castle.  It was the only character meal there, and featured Cinderella, Prince Charming, and the other familiar characters from the Cinderella story.  Recently, Disney has added the nearly as popular character lunch.  Having a 4 year old daughter, and not willing to go to the extremes necessary to get the Cindy breakfast, I booked the character lunch for our recent trip to Disney World.

I want to start by saying I am not a fan of the character meals at the castle.  I have been to breakfast there with only adults, and I took my oldest when she was about 4 or 5.  The character interaction at this meal is minimal in my opinion, and the food at the breakfast has always been just so-so.  Aside from the fact that it is a sight to remember watching your princess infatuated daughter go goo-goo eyed over seeing her heroines in person, there isn’t much to the breakfast here that I can recommend.  I was more optimistic about the lunch, but not so optimistic that I was going to set myself up to be disappointed if I ended up with an opinion similar to the one I have for the breakfast. 

We arrived at 2:40 for our 2:45 “reservation”.  Here’s the thing about Disney dining reservations – they are not true reservations.  Formerly called Priority Seatings and now called Advanced Dining Reservations, basically all it does is guarantee that when you walk up to the podium, you will be given the next table available for your party size.  There is not a table in the restaurant being held for you, but if another party your size walks up without an ADR, you will be given priority over them when a table becomes available.  We were not seated until nearly 3:15, and by that time, Eilis was really antsy and the baby had woken up from her nap.  When the bells finally chimed and our name was called, Eilis and I were in the potty and we missed it. 

We are sent upstairs to the castle dining room, where we are escorted to our table.  There is an elevator if you need one.  As soon as our butts are in the chair, they are asking us for drink orders, so we ordered without checking out the menu.  Had I waited and been given the chance to look at the menu, I would have seen that there are some specialty drinks available that offer a souvenir mug.  I would have ordered that for Eilis instead of the diet Coke she ended up with.

Before our drinks are served, a waiter brings us our appetizers.  These are pre-selected, and there is a different selection for the children and the adults.  Eilis’ platter arrives with fresh grapes, an assortment of cheeses, carrot and celery sticks, and a ranch dip for the vegetables.  She is way too busy enjoying seeing the princesses to appreciate her appetizers, but she eventually eats everything but some of the cheese.

The adult appetizer varies, so you cannot expect the same items we had on our recent visit.  The platter is prepared based on the number of adults at your table.  Our platter arrived with two slices of buffalo mozarella; two fried wontons; two pieces of cold, grilled chicken, and something else neither Jim  nor I can remember.  I’m not a fan of the buffalo mozarella, and the restaurant was not winning any awards with the cold grilled chicken.  The fried wontons were tasty, and since I cannot remember the last appetizer, I am going to guess it wasn’t a memorable dish either.

Eilis chose chicken strips, which came with more grapes, and she enjoyed them very much.  Jim had the Major Domo pie.  This was shredded prime rib surrounded by a puff pastry in a thick sauce with strips of sauteed vegetables.  Inside the pastry, there were creamy mashed potatoes.  Jim declared it “alright” – not great, not terrific, not incredible and I must eat it again.  I had the pork tenderloin.  Very tender, the pork was presented in several large chunks, drizzled with the same cabernet sauce that surrounded the Major Domo pie, and positioned around the cheese grits, which were topped with thin, crispy onions.  It was really very good, although the portion was a bit on the smallish side, as we were eating this lunch very late with only a small breakfast behind us.  It was a nice size portion if this was genuinely lunch, but by the time we are served, it is 3:30. 

Dessert arrived before they could even clear the dirty dishes from lunch.  Jim and I were each given a blueberry buckle cobbler, topped with a lemon ice cream and raspberry creme fraiche, and served with two strawberries.  Having not had a blueberry buckle before, I didn’t know what to expect.  It looked similar to a blueberry muffin, but it was much more moist than a muffin.  The lemon ice cream was fantastic – I wish I had a whole bowl of just that – it was so cool and refreshing!   This was a great dessert.  The dessert that they gave to Eilis was a bowl of vanilla ice cream topped with a chocolate Cinderella crown.  She was really too full to eat it, but she nibbled a bit at the crown.

Lunch here is $23.99 per person for adults (which is anyone over 9), and for children 3-9, the meal costs $12.99.  In my opinion, this is a bit steep for what you are getting, although you are really paying for the look on your daughter’s face, which  is priceless.  But, if it doesn’t matter to you which character you are seeing, consider doing the Crystal Palace for lunch.  You will get much better character interaction, a buffet of all you can eat delicious food, and a bill that is about $4 cheaper per person.  I’m glad we did this meal once, for the photos I have of my daughter, but I would not go back again.  That works to the advantage of the many people who spend hours on the phone trying to book this meal.

Oh – one other thing – when you book this meal (as with the breakfast at the castle), you will pay a deposit of $10 per adult and $5 per child.  This will be deducted from your final bill.  If you do not show up for the meal, and have not cancelled 24 hours in advance, you will forfiet this deposit. 

If you MUST eat with Cinderella, I would suggest trying 1900 Park Fare at the Grand Floridian for their all you can eat buffet dinner with the Princess.

Trip Report, Day 4, The Magic Kingdom and Sheraton Safari

Friday, August 26th

We wake up early this morning, and are just in time to listen to the giraffes talking to each other outside our window.  It’s so amazing to stay at this resort and have this awesome benefit!

We are checking out today, and it’s a big day for Eilis!   She got an invitation under the door this morning from the Princess herself!   Cinderella has invited her to lunch at the Castle! Eilis is beyond thrilled, and so glad to see that Cinderella thinks she has been well behaved enough to go (thank goodness for clip art and pre-planning!). 

We pack up quickly, and I am secretly happy not to have to trudge back and forth to this room anymore – although I have found shorter ways to get where I needed to go, so if I was staying longer, I would not risk any further weight loss from the strenuous exercise I have been doing.  Nice to know I’ll maintain my girlish figure (hey, Mama Cass was a girl, too!!). 

Our arrival at the Sheraton Safari is well before the 3 PM check in time, but I wanted to make sure I got there and checked in, since I booked both rooms in my name and wanted to make sure my brother wouldn’t have any problems when he arrived from the airport.  The lady at the desk is soooo nice to us!   I expected her to hand us a bucket and mop and work to pay for that $1.13 rate we got on the rooms, but she is very pleasant.  She tells us our rooms are not ready, but we are welcome to change, use the pool, use the arcade, relax in the bar, whatever we want to do.  Our oldest is meeting her grandparents today to shop for her birthday gift, so we just unload the bags, leave them with the bellman, and head out to Poinciana to drop Brighid off.

This has nothing to do with Disney, but can I just say, why is it that everything in FL is so far away from everything else?   Even when we lived here, it seemed like it took 30 minutes to get everywhere.  The mall?   30 minutes.  The parks?   30 minutes.  The grocery store?   30 minutes.  Either traffic or distance always seemed to make every trip 30 minutes long. 

We arrive at Solavita and check in at the gate.  The security guard tells us that Russell will meet us at the gate since even though we are inside Solavita, they must live on the Alabama border portion of the subdivision.  Yes, they are that far from the gate!!   After dropping Brighid off and agreeing to meet for dinner later this evening, we are headed back to the Magic Kingdom with Eilis and the baby.

There is one thing I said so often during this trip that I wanted to tattoo it on my forehead.  The phrase was WWW.ONESTEPAHEAD.COM.  I purchased two clip on fans for the baby’s stroller, and EVERYWHERE I went, someone asked me where I got them, or commented on what a great idea it was to have the fans.  Today, being a little hotter than yesterday, we got twice as many comments.

We arrived a little early for our lunch at the castle, so we head over to Buzz Lightyear, the ride Eilis has been talking about since we arrived across the border into South Carolina.  (my kids never say “are we there yet”, but they do say “can we ride….. when we get there?”)   If you can stand the heat, this is really an awesome time to come to Disney World.  I grab fast passes for Buzz, because Eilis is distracted by the Stitch ride, but the fast pass time is only about 45 minutes away.  Jim and Eilis ride Stitch (Jim’s review – don’t bother, especially if you’ve done Alien Encounter; Eilis’s review – “great!”), and then we go to the People Mover (okay, I know it’s not the People Mover anymore, but dang it, I like the People Mover better than the Tomorrowland Transit Authority).  The baby so loves this ride – she is  turning her head around from side to side so quickly, we are mobbed by people who want to remake “The Exorcist” and cast my beautiful daughter as the evil, head spinning Regan.  Next, we go to Buzz.  Jim and Eilis are going to ride together, and I am going to ride with Gracie Face.  I’m not saying my husband is bad at the Buzz Lightyear challenge, but I will point out that while holding the baby in one arm, and controlling the vehicle and aiming the gun with the other hand, I managed to outscore him.  And Eilis.  Put together.  Go me.

And now it’s time!   Our late lunch with the princess has finally arrived!   Jim heads off in front of me to snag a fast pass for Philharmagic, and I check us in at the castle.  Eilis is amazed, and when I ask her to sit on the throne and have her photo taken, she tells me that the throne belongs to Cinderella, and no one may sit in it!   She seems a little disappointed when some of the other little girls who gather to wait show up in princess costumes, but you will never catch my kids in the theme parks dressed up like that unless it’s Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party.  It’s way too hot, way too uncomfortable, and I think it’s a little unsafe in terms of getting on and off the rides. 

We waited a long time to be seated.  Our Advanced Dining Reservation (ADR) time was for 2:45, but it is about 3:15 when they seat us.  Eilis is in such awe, I cannot even capture it in words.  We are seated, and over the course of the meal, Eilis is visited by Princess Aurora (Sleeping Beauty), Snow White, Wendy from Peter Pan, and, of course, Cinderella herself.  Jim and I have done castle meals before, by ourselves and when Brighid was small.  I know I am in the minority when I tell you that I do not like the meals here.  It has little to do with the food, but everything to do with character interaction.  It may stem from the fact that all of the princesses are skinny, cheer leader types, and I have had a huge bias against them since my own chubby childhood, but in all honesty, if you go to just about any other character meal on property, you will find the characters more endearing and offering more time.  The princesses every time I have eaten here seem to have only enough time to take a photo with very little interaction.  Snow White did tell Eilis she loved her hair style and thought she might try it herself, but that was really all she said before turning Eilis around to pose for the photo.

On the way out, Eilis watched another family take turns taking pics in the throne, and she could no longer resist the temptation.  She sat in the chair with Gracie and we took their picture. 

There is just enough time to head over to Mickey’s Philharmagic before heading to the Sheraton to officially check in and meet the in-laws for dinner.  What a great show.

We end the day with dinner at the Marriott World Center – delicious!   We finally get our room at the Sheraton Safari, and I am pleasantly surprised that it is not the janitor’s closet!   The room is large, comfortable, and has a ton of toiletries.  We have a pool view with a balcony.  And the beds and pillows – oh, man, are they comfortable!

Walt Disney World Trip Report, Days 1-3

Trip Report Day 1 and 2

Tuesday August 23rd and Wednesday August 24th, 2005h

 

Cast of Characters for this part of the trip:

Anna (mom, 40)

Jim (dad, 29 – in dog years)

Brighid (DD, turning 14 August 24th)

Eilis (DD4)

Granuaile (aka Gracie, DD 4 months, FIRST TRIP!!)

 

Mom said lets pack the car Monday night, and get on the road no later than 9 AM, which will help us avoid any chance of rush hour traffic on our drive from South Jersey to Orlando.   Dad said lets just lay everything out, pack the car Tuesday morning, and leave around noon.   We compromised.   Mom packed everything and got it ready Monday night; Dad loaded it in the car Tuesday morning, and we left at 11:45.   Okay, no compromise, Dad wins.

 

The plan was to drive until late at night, decide if it is worth stopping in a hotel when we are both too tired to drive, and take it from there.   The only thing we didn’t count on was rain, which prevents Dad from driving.   We drove to Fayetteville, NC when a pretty big rain storm came upon us, so we stayed at the Fairfield Inn in Fayetteville.   Yay, more Marriott points for more FREE STAYS IN DISNEY!!

 

So, its 8:30, we’re in the hotel, and the plan is to leave by 4 AM.   DD4 decides it’s a hotel, it must be party time, and we cannot get her to fall asleep until 1 AM.   DD4 months decides to join the party, and she finally drifts off at about the same time.   But, determined to win this round, Mom gets up at 3:45 and having showered the night before, we are in the car by 4:15.   (Happy 14th Birthday, Brighid!   Her birthday is today).   Of course, I am falling asleep by 7, so after his 3 extra hours of sleep, Dad drives until the next rain squall.  

 

We pull up to the security gate at the Animal Kingdom Lodge at 1:30.   Our total drive time from New Jersey to our hotel – 18 hours, and that includes stopping to eat and use the bathroom and change the baby.

 

I drop Dad off at the door to check in, and I am going to pull around to self parking and start unloading the bags with the kids.   I packed just an overnight bag since we are only staying here two nights, so I think it will be easy to carry the overnight bag, the baby in her car seat, two large diaper bags – one filled with bottles and formula and one filled with diapers and wipes, one small diaper bag – to transfer the stuff from the larger bags into in small doses to take into the parks daily, the snack bag, and the laptop bag.   I have everything unpacked out of the car, and I am getting ready to head over to the desk to see if we are checked in yet, and it downpours so heavy, not only am I soaked in literally seconds, but so is the overnight bag, the baby in her car seat, two large diaper bags – one filled with bottles and formula and one filled with diapers and wipes, one small diaper bag – to transfer the stuff from the larger bags into to take into the parks daily, the snack bag, and the laptop bag.   Oh, and the other two girls as well.   I pack everything back into the car, since there is no sign of dad yet, and decide to pay the $7 to park it with the valet.

 

Once the car and the bags are safely in the hands of our trusty and reliable valet, I head in to find Dad nearly finished the check in process.   He takes the baby in her car seat (if you have never carried an infant in one of those infant car seats, my 13.6 pound baby now feels like she was 72 pounds and my arm is beginning to ache, so I am glad for the relief), and I get the room keys and we head off to our room – it is room number 2380.   We trek the distance of the entire African Continent – okay, the distance half way across – long ways – and we find our Savanna view room.   Uh, hello?   Savanna view?   I have just walked with three crabby, soaked children from Orlando to Zimbabwe and I have a fence and grass.   We have stayed once before in a savanna view room, and we had a rather large span of beautiful landscaping and a large viewing area where we could watch the animals frolic and play.   If anything bigger than two dung beetles are going to frolic and play here, they are going to knock the fence down and join us for breakfast in the morning.   Because we are at the very far end of the building, at the very back, the view we have is excruciatingly small.   I phone the desk, tell them I will not be able to visit the theme parks because I am a fat woman with a fat husband who just carried a 72 pound infant from Jersey to Swaziland and I am three seconds from a heart attack.   The only comfort I have is that I can be buried with the animals on the savanna, but that dying wish is taken from me when I open the curtains to see that the only animals that fit in my piece of the savanna are two stink bugs and the front half of a termite. The front desk will change my room, but I have to walk back to the United States to have the room changed.   I ask if they will send an ambulance to meet me half way.   They are not amused.

 

They tell me on the phone which room is my new room, so I send Dad with the 72 pound infant to the new room to wait.   I grab some water bottles, check my map, and prepare for the journey back to the front desk.  I get the new room keys, and head once again back to find the room.   Thank goodness, it’s only 2/3rds as far – there it is!   And there is the Savanna!   The WHOLE Savanna, not just the arachnid section J

 

We get all settled in, the baby gets fed, and we phone the grandparents who live in Solavita in Poinciana.   They are coming over for dinner at Boma to celebrate Brighid’s birthday.   Dinner is at 5, figuring we will be in bed early after our long ride.   We all shower and change, and then the grandparents call to say they are in the lobby.   We send Brighid, who is young, thin, and a dancer with excellent stamina.   She comes back with her grandparents.   Her Grandmother, who is handicapped, comes in beet red, huffing and puffing, and collapses right away into a chair.   We cannot leave for dinner until she can breathe again and she complains that we have chosen to stay at a hotel who’s lobby is in Orlando and who’s rooms are in some far off nation.  

 

We head down to dinner at 5, and we are waiting for them to open.   I will review Boma in another report.   After dinner, we head back to the room, which is really not that bad of a journey from Boma, and Grandmom has to sit for a while to rest.   Pop-pop sits on the balcony with Brighid, completely amazed at the animals.   After the grandparents leave, we watch a few of the bedtime stories, and we all are in bed with lights out by 10.

Day 3, Thursday, August 25, 2005

 

We are awakened bright and early by our very own peeing and pooping alarm clock (the baby)!   The 6:45 wake up call enables us to open the curtains and enjoy watching the zebras and the giraffes have their breakfast.   We shower and dress and decide no one is hungry enough to eat breakfast yet.   The decision is made to go to Animal Kingdom.   We figure that with this being the baby’s first day in the Florida heat, we don’t want to push our luck and make this a long day.   We are at the park at 8:50, and we head up to the ticket window to get our annual passes.   We had decided not to get them, since Brighid is going to be in high school and we don’t feel like we can have her missing days to indulge my Disney habit, but when we got her school schedule, I started planning trips around her school holidays.   That made it necessary to get the annual passes J

 

Once inside the park, we send Brighid to get fast passes for the Kilimanjaro Safari ride while we go get in line for the first show of Festival of the Lion King.   This has to be, easily, the best show on Disney property now that my all time favorite Hunchback of Notre Dame show is gone.   I am so pleased to see that there is no line, and we are just going in when Brighid gets back with the passes for the safari.   The baby cannot take her eyes off of the colorful dancers and acrobats, and Eilis is beyond thrilled to be asked to help with the show.   She also gets big kisses from Timon and some playful tweaks from a “monkey”.  

 

When we are done here, it is time to use our fast passes at the safari.   The heat is barely a factor so far, since there is a small hurricane brewing in South Florida, and we are benefiting from the breezes and the clouds.   We have a great time on the safari, and once we are off, the whole skipping breakfast thing we did is catching up with us.   Brighid volunteers to go get Fast Passes for Kali River Rapids while the rest of us go pick up lunch at Tusker House.   It is still very early for lunch at just after 11 AM, but the place is packed.   We feel resigned to having to share a table and splitting up when I spot a free table in the back corner.   We enjoy a leisurely lunch, stop in the restrooms for a diaper change, and head over to the Kali River Rapids ride.   We have four passes for the ride, and since one of us has to wait with the baby anyway, Jim gives up his pass so Brighid and Eilis can ride twice.   That works out great.   Jim and I wander over to see how the new attraction is coming along and get back just in time to see the kids coming under the bridge after their first ride.  

 

After the two rides, we decide not to push our luck with the rain clouds and the baby, and we decide to head back to the hotel.   The kids decide to do one of the activities that is available for kids and Eilis ended up with an adorable homemade rag doll J   We try to decide what to do for dinner, and Brighid graciously offers to watch her sisters so her father and I can go to Jiko.   We have never been, and are thrilled to find out when we call that we can have any time we want, as they are not busy at all for the entire evening.   We chose an early dinner – 5:30, right as they opened – so that we can get back and get dinner for the girls.

 

Dinner was wonderful, and we headed back up to the room.   The kids decide the food court is just what they want, so it’s pizza and fish and chips from The Mara for them.   After the kids eat, we head down to the pool.   I love the zero entry, and so did Eilis.   The kids swam for about an hour, and we headed back up to the room for bedtime snacks and bedtime stories.   It wasn’t a busy day, but it was a great vacation day in that everyone got to relax.   The baby has done exceptionally well and I would definitely recommend taking a child of this age to anyone (so far).   Eilis has had her up and down moments, but that’s how Eilis always is.   Brighid has been a huge help J


Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party

It may seem odd to post information and memories of this event now, when it is only July, but you will find it useful when I regale you with my MNSSHP stories.

The main reason for posting this now is because the tickets are on sale now!   Halloween night is ALWAYS a sell out, and you will find many other nights, especially the weekends, sell out as well.  This is what is known as a hard ticket event at Disney World.  The party takes place at the Magic Kingdom on select nights in October.  Even if you have park hopper tickets, season passes, annual passes, multi-day park tickets, you will need to purchase a ticket for this event.  No other ticket or pass will get you in except the Halloween party pass.  The event runs about $37 for adults (which in Disney terms is anyone over 9 years old), and about $30 for children between 3 and 9.  If you wait until the day of the event and purchase at the gate, the price goes up to $42 for adults and $35 for children.  Remember, some nights do sell out so this may not even be an option for you.

The Magic Kingdom closes early on the days of the party and is transformed into a not too spooky but definitely Halloweeny fantasy land.  As you arrive at the Magic Kingdom, you will be given a trick or treat bag so you can collect the many goodies that await you, but the goodies here are not just in the form of sugary delicious treats. 

One of the best events during the party, and it is so good it happens twice during the evening, is the Boo To You parade.  If you show up about 10 minutes early in front of the Liberty Bell, you can hear Mr. Knickerbocker retell the story of the Headless Horseman.  By the time the story has been told, the Headless Horseman rides down the parade route, basically clearing the way for dozens of Halloween themed floats and characters, all of whom are wearing their Halloween costumes. 

During the evening, you can take a Halloween riverboat ride, where you will be treated to story tellers telling Halloween favorites, strolling musicians, and again a character or two in Halloween costume.  This is a run ride and nothing like what you experience at other times at the park.

There are mask making stations for the children, face painting, fortune tellers, and a complimentary family photo of your little ghouls dressed for the event.  And do dress for the event – you will not be out of place, as grown ups and children alike dress for the festivities. 

Instead of Tinkerbell ringing in the fireworks, a Halloween edition of Fantasy in the Sky is introduced by a witch on her broomstick.  You will also find Halloween storytellers at various points throughout the park.

There are conflicting reports on Halloween candy during the party.  We have been every year for the past 10 years, and we have never walked away feeling we didn’t get enough candy.  Towards the end of the evening, most of the treat stations are literally putting fistfulls of candy into your bag.  At last year’s party, we had our 3 year old in a stroller (which they provided for free the night of the party!), and while in line for our photo, Disney castmembers were taking turns trying to get as many pieces of candy into the stroller as they could from varying distances.  Some of the candy is not “awesome” candy – we did get  a number of jaw breakers last year – but there is always chocolate and other good candies.  You will find in Toontown, the treat stations are all very close together and you can collect not only quite a bit of candy, but quite a few character photos, as many of the characters are out and about.

Oh, and one more thing – if you can, as soon as you have your tickets in hand, call and get Advanced Dining Reservations for Liberty Tree Tavern.  I will tell you all about the restaurant in another post, but it is one of our favorites, and if you make your ADR just before the party starts or early in the evening, you can step right out of the restaurant after having an all you can eat meal surrounded by Disney characters in Halloween costumes, and get an awesome spot for the parade and the Headless Horseman. 

Most of the attractions are open during this event.  It’s a definite must for our family.

Getting Ready to Head to Disney World!

There is no place on earth I am more fond of than Disney World.  I have a lot of happy memories there.  My first trip, with my dad, my sister Bean, and my grandmother was one of the best vacations ever.  We stayed at the Contemporary Hotel in a garden wing and did things like the Luau, stayed up to watch the fireworks, ate dinner late in the evening like “grown ups”. 

My first real vacation with Jim was to Disney World, about a year before we got married.  We were young, thin, and excited enough to make the trip from South Jersey to Orlando in about 16 hours.  We honeymooned in Orlando, and had a few romantic days at Walt Disney World.

We have gone at Christmas time, enjoying Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas party and the “snowflakes” falling on our nose and eyelashes as we wandered down Main Street.  We try to go at Halloween every year for Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween party, something we have enjoyed since our oldest daughter was just a little girl.  For the first time, we even went at Easter last year. 

It is my goal to stay at every Disney World resort hotel, and in recent years, after staying many times with my in-laws, and usually at a Marriott owned hotel, we have begun making my dream come true.  We have enjoyed visits to the Pop Century resort, Caribbean Beach resort, All Star Movies, and especially memorable stays at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, where we enjoyed a savanna view room and the Contemporary, where we had a tower room over looking Cinderella’s Castle at the Magic Kingdom, and I had an incredibly magical experience.  I am currently trying to finagle a stay at another of the hotels for one or two nights in the early stages of our next trip.  Maybe Port Orleans?

Another goal – much harder to accomplish – is eating my way around the world.  We have enjoyed so many wonderful meals – and some not so wonderful – and there are so many more meals to be had!   We have hardly scratched the surface in terms of the culinary delights that abound at Walt Disney World.

In just a few weeks, we will be headed down to Disney World again.  This is the first time we are going without Annual Passes, which we will not purchase because we have a daughter starting high school, where she will be unable to take as many vacations as we have in the past.  I’m so sad by this, I can’t tell you.  Convincing my husband to take a trip to Disney World has always been a matter of just saying “But we already have the passes, it will only cost a few dollars for a hotel…”   I don’t know what it will take now. 

Over the next few blog postings, I am hoping to share my tips and my experiences at the most magical place on earth.  I will talk about my favorite restaurants, my most magical moments, and some hidden treasures that you might normally overlook.  I am looking forward to reminiscing 🙂

Trip to Ohio and the Columbus Zoo

Okay, long trip to go to the zoo, and I wish Jim had been able to spend at least SOME time with us.  He spent his whole time at the convention center for the gaming convention, and didn’t make it back to the hotel until late in the evening.  That left me pretty tired, having to deal with all three kids in an unfamiliar area for three days.

The Columbus Zoo was awesome!   I absolutely loved it.  The weather was perfect, at about 80 degrees and sunny, and there were lots of shady trees to help keep it cool even in the sunshine.  The zoo is broken into areas like “Australia”, “North America”, “Pachyderms”, etc. and the environments of the areas where we visited seemed very natural.  Admission was much cheaper than the Philadelphia Zoo, where we usually go, and it was $9 for adults to get in, $5 for kids 2-11, and free under 2.  Once inside, there were things you could do that required additional tokens, which were sold for $1 each, but everything we did was only $1 – like the boat ride, the carousel, and the nectar to feed the Lorikeets.

We missed some of the zoo, so I really think if we get to go again, we will plan to be there as the gates open at 9 AM.  We went right to see pachderms, since Eilis wanted to see them, and as a result, missed the whole North America section.  There are two sections being renovated as well – including the Gateway to Asia, which looks like it will be nice when it’s finished. 

Included within the zoo is the aquarium.  Not huge, like the Baltimore Aquarium, this was just the right size for the family.with smaller kids.  They had some beautiful, colorful fish, manatees, sea turtles, and some nice displays.  Again, not extensive, but a nice taste of an aquarium. 

We ate lunch there, and we didn’t see too many tables outside, but we were lucky to find one shaded in a nice area outside of the food court.  The lines were a little long at the food court, but I got through okay.  I can’t comment too much on the fare – we had the basic hot dogs and chicken nuggets with fries.  Not much can go wrong with that!  

On the way out, they gave us $5 off a visit to the Six Flags Wyandot Lake park right next door.  It seemed like it had a lot of water rides, something Eilis is too little for yet, I think.  Maybe on a return trip.

We stayed at the Springhill Suites in Gahanna, Ohio.  I like Springhill because you do have more room to stretch out than in a regular hotel room.  I was VERY impressed with the breakfast.  They advertised it as a continental breakfast, so you figure you will get bagels and muffins and doughnuts.  This buffet though had make your own waffles, and for the low-carbers, there was sausage patties and eggs each morning.  Bad thing – no cold water to drink, although for $1.25, you could buy a bottle in their “market”. 

The housekeeping left something to be desired.  I ended up coming back each evening having to wash the dishes in the sink – with no dish soap.  But they never replaced our drinking glasses.  They also insisted on only giving us 3 towels for a room full of 5 people.  That sucked.  I hate when they skimp on towels.

Again, overall, a nice trip, but I would have rather had even a few more hours with Jim.  The kids would have loved it if he had gone swimming with them.