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Friday, June 8, 2012

Thanksgiving trip to Walt Disney World - November 1997 - Day 2

Day 2 - Thursday, November 27
Magic Kingdom Early Entry - Artist Point Character Breakfast - Epcot - Thanksgiving Dinner - My Birthday

Mickey, once again, dutifully called at 6:00. This time, however, I would be the only only getting up early. In addition to being Thanksgiving Day, this was my 40th birthday and I had a little birthday present in mind for myself. While Andie and the kids slept I pulled myself together and made my way to take advantage of the Magic Kingdom early entry. We would have 2 opportunities for early entry at the MK this trip, one being this day and the other Saturday. I figured since no-one else but me was interested in thrill rides, I would do Tomorrowland EE on my own and we would do Fantasyland EE together on Saturday.

T-shirt for the day: This day I chose to wear my exclusive Ceasars' Palace Las Vegas Disney Store T for no reason other than I think it's cool.

I had considered taking the boat to the Magic Kingdom but the CM at the registration desk was a little vague about when it would arrive so I decided to drive to the Ticket & transportation Center and catch a monorail. The drive to MK turned out to be an adventure unto itself. First, it appeared that you had to drive out of the MK area, make a U-turn and drive back in through the main gate. This seemed odd to me because, I thought, "what if there is a long line of cars at the main gate?" I soon realized that there was a place to make a U-turn before exiting the main gate, but, I would also soon discover, actually seeing that turn in time to make it was another thing.

Regardless, I drove back through the main gate and followed the signs to MK parking. I drove. And drove. And drove. Finally I saw a CM in the nearly empty parking lot and asked if I was going in the right direction. He said yes and assured me that if I kept going I would, eventually, get to the TTC.

I was the first one at the TTC waiting to get in. The gates to the monorail were closed. After a while two other families showed up and a CM working there assured us that they would be opening the gates soon. I must say that I was somewhat surprised by how informal the whole thing seemed. It was almost as if the CMs were surprised to see anybody at all. After about 15 minutes we were let in and we all went up to the monorail loading dock. Some more people showed up and we waited a bit longer. An empty monorail pulled in and departed, still empty. Finally another monorail showed up and we all boarded. By now it was nearly 7:30 and there were quite a few people on the monorail, but not a huge amount.

After stopping at the Polynesian and Grand Floridian to pick up more guests we finally arrived at the Magic Kingdom. Just as I was surprised by how few people there were to catch the monorail, I was surprised by how many people were now at the gate waiting to get in. I could see that the crowd by the monorail station was considerably smaller than by the boat docks, so I assumed that most people who chose to do MK EE either take a ferry or walk (if they are in the Contemporary or Grand Floridian). All worked out fine because the park had not yet opened, and I was among the first people in.

First on my agenda was the Alien Encounter. This was one attraction that I had never experienced and it was number 2 on my "must do" list (after TZToT). I got in to see the first show and only waited a few minutes. I have to say that I wasn't terribly impressed. Don't get me wrong, AE was, in my opinion, very well done and technically impressive. And I actually enjoyed it quite a bit while I was experiencing it. It just didn't feel "Disney" to me. All Disney attractions even those that are "thrill" rides have a certain optimistic quality that I felt was lacking with AE. I can safely say that, although I would gladly experience AE again, I would also be glad to skip it.

When I left the line was quite a bit longer than when I got there, so I was glad I experienced AE when I did. I had a slight desire to ride the Astor Orbiter, but, of course, Space Mountain was higher on my priority list. I had ridden SM at Disneyland many times in the past, but I had only ridden the WDW version once, or so I thought. The line was pretty long and the wait was about 40 minutes. As I waited in line and viewed different parts of the queuing area, many times I found myself thinking "I don't remember this…" By the time it was my turn to board I was certain that I had never actually ridden this version of the attraction. It was actually surprisingly different than the Disneyland version, with little of that rides tendency to always turn right, but, of course, the overall effect was pretty much the same. And a terrific ride it is.

By the time I was finished with SM it was about 8:40 (2 major attractions in less than an hour? Not bad…) so I assumed that the park was now open to the public. I also assumed that my plan to wait for the rope to drop at Adventureland and dash to Splash Mountain was squashed (surely the line would be huge within minutes of general opening). Regardless, I figured it was worth a try. I rushed to the Adventureland entrance from the hub to find much to my pleasant surprise that the rope had not yet been dropped. Waiting for the rope to drop gave me my first opportunity to take in some of the ambience of the Magic Kingdom. Obviously the Magic Kingdom is the one park at WDW that encourages the most comparison to Disneyland. Standing in the hub at the entrance to Adventureland I was mostly taken by how much more spread out the MK is than DL. On my first visit to WDW I was left somewhat unimpressed by the MK, I think mainly because it had too many fond DL memories to contend with. But standing there, admiring the arhitecture of Cinderella's Castle and the Crystal Pavilion, not to mention the graceful curve of the perfectly manicured lawn as it gently slopes down to the castle moat, I truly began to appreciate the MK for what it is and how its differences give it a unique character all its own.

As it would turn out, the rope wasn't dropped until 9:00 sharp and I was actually near the front of the crowd. Once we all got in I joined the sea of humanity in the "dash for the splash". I called Andie from my cel phone to let her know that I would be a little later than I expected and to have the kids ready to go as soon as I got there. After a mere 10-minute wait I was in my log, ready to be splashed. I found myself regretting the fact that Nat was just shy of 42 inches, as I think she would really have enjoy this ride with its wonderful music and colorful characters. She might even like the "big drop". Splash Mountain at Disneyland opened not long before I moved from Southern California, so I am not as familiar with it as many other DL attractions, but it seemed to me that the ride in both parks is pretty much the same.

After Splash Mountain I rushed out of the Magic Kingdom. I found myself regretting the fact that I had to move so fast, but we would visit MK twice more before the trip was over and would have more time to meander. I did, however, take the time to locate our brick in the Walk around the World. It's in an excellent spot (owing, I imagine, to the fact that I ordered it when they were first offered) right in front of the main entrance to the Magic Kingdom. It's brick # W02 032. I was about to board the monorail when I realized that there was an additional seat in the front pilot's section. I figured "why not?' and jumped in. I sat there enjoying the ride, listening to the family I was sharing the cab with discuss their plans to meet family at Fort Wilderness for Thanksgiving dinner. The pilot often cursed herself under her breath because an alarm warning her that she was going too fast kept going off. I could tell that, given the choice, she would have "put the petal to the metal". I disembarked at the TTC, received my "Monorail Co-Pilot" card, thanked the pilot and went to my car. With the parking lot now somewhat full I realized just how close to the station my car was.

I drove back to Wilderness Lodge, picked up Andie and the kids from the room and we went downstairs for our 10:00 seating at the Pocahontas Character Breakfast at Artist Point. The breakfast was buffet-style and not bad. Pocahontas, John Smith, Meeko and Radcliff were on hand to greet Nat and "ooo" and "ahh" over Charlie. Nat loved Pocahontas and Meeko, was a bit scared of Radcliff but later warmed up to him, and was altogether shy to John Smith. Charlotte played with Meeko's nose (when she wasn't sleeping, that is).

After breakfast we all headed over to Epcot. I knew that visiting one of the parks in the middle of the day during a holiday season (thereby foregoing the usual "come early - stay late" idiom) was risky, but my gut told me that Epcot wouldn't be too crowded on Thanksgiving. I turned out to be right. Epcot was far from empty, but it was even less crowded than I had anticipated.

We strolled right through Future World and paused to catch the end of a "Dancing Waters" show. Entering the World Showcase we picked up a Passport for Nat. Our first stop was the Mexico Pavilion. This is Andie's favorite and we lingered there for a while. Nat got her Passport stamped and we left.

We saw Donald standing outside next to the Mexico Pavilion and Nat wanted to stop, so we did. When it was her turn to see the Duck, Donald took Nat by the hand and simply started walking away with her. Nat turned to wave "good-bye" and off they went. I immediately flashed back to Disneyland, January 1994, when we were in California for my parents' 50th wedding anniversary. Nat was 6 months old and the cutest baby in the world. (no, I mean that) Andie and Nat were sitting in that little "foam rubber" park in Toon Town when Goofy walked up and started fawning over Nat, who was in her stroller. After a few minutes he just simply took the stroller by the handle and walked away. See ya, Goof. Anyway, Donald and Nat stopped walking after about 40 feet (Donald was trying to get the crowd to move in) and they posed for pictures. Just another fun moment.

We made our way to the south side of the World Showcase, stopping at each pavilion along the way to get Nat's passport stamped. Once we got to the American Pavilion time was running short so we strolled through the rest of the World Showcase without stopping to get Nat's Passport stamped, but she didn't mind. Neither Andie nor I are the type to rate the success of a trip to a Disney park by how many attractions we see, and we knew that we would miss a lot given the relatively short length of our stay. So we didn't let it bother us. We took the place in at the pace we felt comfortable with and saw as much as possible without killing ourselves. At Epcot I feel that the World Showcase is especially conducive to strolling. For one thing, it's not exactly "attraction oriented". The place is its own attraction. Future World is the exact opposite - you want to hurry from one place to another to get inside the pavilions to see their attractions.

As we were passing through FW on our way out I realized that we had a little extra time and also that the wait for Honey, I Shrunk the Audience was short. We decided to go for it. We weren't surprised, given its reputation, what a great show it was. What did surprise me, however, was the overall structure of the show. I didn't realize that it was produced to look essentially like a stage show. This is, in my opinion, one of the most creative uses of 3D movie making that I have ever seen, and the overall effect was very convincing (of course, actually feeling the mice scurrying under your feet helped with the effect).

We left Epcot and returned to the Wilderness Lodge. When we got to our room we were greeted by the little Winnie-the-Pooh stuffed animals Nat had purchased the night before neatly arranged on one of the beds and peeking over the pillow. This would be our one experience with the housekeeping staff's artistic side. Nat thought it was very cute.

We had 6:00 reservations for Thanksgiving dinner at Whispering Canyon. Upon checking in we were not surprised to find that there would be a wait. (A note of explanation for any reader not versed in the Disney way of restaurant reservations. You don't actually make a reservation but rather you get what they call "Priority Seating". This means simply put that you get priority over people who just walk in. As a result, you may have to wait regardless of reservations.) This was certainly no problem for us. Andie and I smuggled a couple of glasses of wine from the bottle in our room and enjoyed the amazing ambience of the WL lobby. Nat played with Lincoln Logs in the Whispering Canyon waiting area. Charlotte slept.

Our table became available and we were seated. Whispering canyon is not exactly what I would call a place for a relaxing dinner. All of the Cast Members have guns with blanks that they fire off whenever the mood strikes them. They also maintain a good-natured banter among themselves and any guests that seem willing to cooperate. Guests are also occasionally selected out to participate in somewhat silly and embarrassing stunts. At one point, as an example, it seems that every kid in the place between the ages of 10 and 16 was forced to don a tiny cowboy hat and ride around the lobby on stick horses. I got the feeling that this was something of a tradition at Whispering Canyon. One CM in particular seemed to exceptionally good at maintaining a fun atmosphere. He even made a knocking noise on the floor with the food tray stand that sounded just like a galloping horse. One funny decoration I noticed was a miniature outhouse that was occupied by a small stuffed Goofy who looked as if he had had several too many (et's just say he was "on his knees"). A bit later I looked again and noticed that the outhouse door was closed and the Goof was gone. He must have gone to sleep it off.

The food at WC is served in abundant portions on a skillet. As it was Thanksgiving the meal consisted of traditional holiday faire including roast turkey and ham, mashed potatoes, yams and stuffing. One unusual addition was a pretty tasty salad consisting of potato, tomato and mushroom in an oil and herb dressing. For dessert they served pumpkin tarts. Andie and I were somewhat divided over the quality of the meal. We agreed that it wasn't exactly fine cuisine, but I felt that it fit the role of traditional Thanksgiving dinner quite nicely and I rather enjoyed it while Andie found the meal to be disappointing.

After dinner we decided to go for a swim. Andie informed me that she had requested a birthday cake for me at WC but they apparently forgot. Oh well. Nat had been complaining that her knee bothered her, something we had written off as soreness from her fall at ASM, and we also thought a trip to the Jacuzzi would do her some good. There were two Jacuzzi's and, in typical Disney family-friendly fashion, one appeared to be somewhat cooler than the other. The pool at WL is nothing short of wonderful. The stream that starts in the lobby turns into a waterfall and eventually empties into the pool. The pool also has something of a current, especially near where the stream empties into it. Natalie loves pools, and after a little soaking in the Jacuzzi and swimming in the pool all thoughts of a sore knee were forgotten.

After our swim we were all pretty bushed so we decided to call it a night. Birthday cake or no, I must say that it had been a very good birthday over all. Too bad you can only turn 40 once.

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