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Friday, June 8, 2012

Walt Disney World "Daddy/Daughter Jaunt" - October 1998 - Day 2

Day 1
Day 2
Day 3

Part 1:

Saturday, October 3 - Keep running

That pesky mouse.

Why is it, on every trip I have made to WDW that same mouse calls so darned early in the morning and shakes me out of a deep sleep? Does he get some sadistic pleasure from it? Oh well, I'm up now.

As soon as I moved I realized something was amiss. Perhaps it was pushing Nat around all day in a stroller when she's really too big for it. Perhaps it was that wild and woolly ride on CTX. Whatever it was, something had made me strain my back. No big deal, mind you. I could tell it was a muscle problem, not a spine problem, but I was very stiff nevertheless. I dragged myself out of bed, took a shower and got dressed. It was easier to wake Nat than it usually is at home. (Now why do you suppose that is?) We strolled to the food court for breakfast. For those who are not familiar with Disney's All Star Resorts, they have a food court as opposed to any restaurants. I have found these food courts to be, in general, very convenient. They have a nice variety and the prices are reasonable (by Disney standards, at any rate). Nat had a bagel, I had cereal and we shared a fruit bowl.

The plan for the day called for us to go to the Magic Kingdom and make use of the early (7:30) opening available to on-site hotel guests. I can almost hear a bunch of WDW veterans out there screaming "Are you NUTS? The Magic Kingdom on a Saturday? It'll be wall to wall humanity!" Well, I know. My original plan was to do AK again Saturday morning and the Magic Kingdom Sunday morning. Unfortunate that plan was stymied exactly 60 days ago. Nat wanted to do the character breakfast at Cinderella's Castle. This particular character breakfast is the most popular and difficult to get reservations for. I called 60 days in advance as soon as I could for Saturday - just in case. Then the next day I called to make Sunday reservations. Except I forgot. Forgot until 11:00 in the morning that is. That's right, you can start making reservations at 7:00 AM 60 days before you plan to go, and by 11:00 they were already sold out. Thank goodness I thought to make the Saturday reservations. So there we were, headed to the Magic Kingdom on a dreaded Saturday. At least we could get in early.

Even though we had a car I decided it would make more sense to take the bus to the Magic Kingdom (MK). I had learned from our previous trip that driving to the MK is not a good idea. The parking lot for the park is actually located quite far away at the Ticket and Transportation Center (TTC). This means that if you drive you must park at the TTC and take a monorail or ferry to the MK. If you get there when it's crowded you have to park, take a tram to the TTC, and then a monorail or ferry. It's a real hassle. If you're staying on-site you have Disney transportation available, sometimes by ferry or monorail but usually by bus. It is much easier.

The bus to MK pulled up right on time at 7:00. The bus driver on the way over was quite funny. At one point she said "The use of cell phones and pagers on this bus is prohibited. You're on vacation for cryin' out loud!" That got a good laugh from her passengers. In general I have found the bus drivers at WDW to be among the funnier employees.

We pulled up to the main gate at the MK at about 7:10. One thing I had learned from my many years as a Southern California resident and frequent Disneyland patron is to never get in line at the first gate you see. The lines at the MK gates are fairly evenly distributed because people are arriving from many different areas, but the longest lines were still the ones on the side where the bus dropped us off. So I led Nat to the other side, where the lines were considerably shorter. As luck would have it, this took us over to the area where our brick on the Walk of Fame is located. We took a few minutes to look for the brick and it was actually Nat who spotted it.

We got in line and a few minutes later we were in the park. It was another beautiful day with blue skies and puffy white clouds. Unfortunately, it was still very hot. Even at 7:30 in the morning I was sweating.
I had toyed with the idea of taking Nat on Space Mountain. I know a lot of people would think it's a bit much for a 5 year old, but Nat loves roller coasters and has been on some that are actually more radical than Space Mountain. Of course they weren't in the dark. I also recalled that the seats in Space Mountain only held one person, so I wouldn't be right next to Nat. I couldn't recall if she would sit directly in front of me, which would be OK, but I didn't want to chance it. So off we went to Fantasyland instead.

The lines in Fantasyland were pretty short. I assumed that Nat would want to ride Dumbo and I figured that should be our first stop, but she was not interested. OK, we did Peter Pan's Flight instead. We loved it, as usual, although Nat was a bit scared (also as usual). I noted the plywood up in front of the old Mr. Toad's Wild Ride which has been closed in favor of an upcoming Winnie-the-Pooh ride. Too bad it wasn't open yet, I'm sure Nat would love it.

After flying with Peter Pan, Nat and I agreed that a little culture was in order, so off we went to It's a Small World (IASW). Now, IASW is not my favorite attraction at WDW (that song! That SONG! THAT SONG!) but I have started to enjoy it more since becoming a father. I missed it on our last trip (Nat and Andie went on), but we all experienced the Disneyland version in '97. Floating on that boat with Nat, seeing the look of wonder on her face with all the lights and bright colors reflecting in her eyes really brought home to me why I enjoy these kinds of experiences so much with my kids. As a Southern California native I grew up loving Disneyland and I'm now enjoying introducing my kids to the same joy. Oh sure, there are lots of other experiences I have enjoyed with my kids in the past and intend to enjoy in the future, but going to a Disney park is something that brings out the kid in me (not that I need that much help) and makes me feel like I'm sharing part of my own youth with my kids.

After IASW we did the Carousel. I was a little leery of the Carousel because I wasn't sure if I could lift Nat on to a horse with back in pain, but Carousels are a must for us whenever we travel to someplace that has one. And of course Disney's are among the best. It turned out not to be a big problem - Nat was able to climb on the horse with little assistance and getting her off the horse after her ride took little effort. In fact, climbing into the boat on IASW caused more pain.

There was nothing else in Fantasyland Nat wanted to go on right then ("Are you sure you don't want to go on Dumbo?" "Yes." "How about Snow White?" "No." "The Teacups?" "Not right now." "OK...") There was still plenty of time before the park would open to the general public, so I figured we could go to the Timekeeper in Tomorrowland.

We had never seen the Timekeeper before. It's one of Disney's patented "Circlevision 360" movies with a twist. Instead of your run-of-the-mill travelogue kind of adventure, the Timekeeper sends you on a trip through time. Your guides are The Timekeeper, an impressive audio-animatronics robot voiced by Robin Williams and Nine-Eye, another robot with 9 eyes through which the audience gets to experience the adventure. I found it to be quite an enjoyable show. Nat liked the robot, but she seemed to fluctuate between being bored and frightened by the film.

After the Timekeeper it was time to head over to the Adventureland gate in order to get wet at Splash Mountain. Nat had been on a log flume on our trip to Wildwood Beach and she loved it. I figured she would really go nuts for Splash Mountain. We waited for a few minutes at the Adventureland gate, then they dropped the rope. The first thing I noticed: no more "dash for the splash". CMs now lead you in an orderly fashion to the most popular attractions. I for one think it's a great improvement.
As we made our way to Chickapin Hill Nat spotted a cart selling Cowboy hats. I told her we would pick one up after riding Splash Mountain (SplM). Nat was excited about SplM until she saw the big drop. Then she demurred. "I don't want to go on it". Now, I am not one to force a kid to do something they don't want to do while on vacation. Sure I wanted to ride SplM, but I wasn't going to force Nat to ride it if she was scared. Regardless, I talked her into it because I knew for a fact that she would love the ride. I told her "If you still don't want to get on when we get through the line we won't do it". The wait was only a few minutes so I figured it was worth the risk.

The portraits of the cartoon characters in the cheery queue area seemed to calm her nerves, so we boarded. All fears were immediately washed away. While we were riding I realized that the reason she was scared was because she thought you went under water after the big drop (anyone who has seen SplM can understand why she thought this). I assured her that, no, you don't go under water. After floating around experiencing the cheery Song of the South vignettes and a few small drops, the music turned scary, the mood somber, and our "log" started descending to the big drop. "Here we go!" Then Whoosh! Splash! We were back at the bottom of Chikapin Hill. "Let's do that again!" Nat squealed. Obviously, Daddy knows best. I told her that we couldn't go on again right then because we had a breakfast date with some princesses. Maybe later.

On our way out of Frontierland we bought her that bright red cowboy she saw on the way in. She was absolutely thrilled.

We had 9:30 reservations for character breakfast at Cinderella's Royal Table (CRT) in Cinderella's castle. While we were waiting in the lobby I realized that, for some reason, the flash on the camera wasn't working. Disaster! It's Andie's camera and I recalled her telling me that the flash stops working when the battery gets low. I asked the CM at the reservation booth for the location of the nearest camera shop. Luckily it was right around the corner. The man at the camera store (booth, actually) tested the battery and said it was fine. That could only mean there was something wrong with the camera. I couldn't chance it so I bought a disposable camera with flash ($17, thank you very much). Then, after we were given our slip ("royal invitation") to be seated Nat realized that we left her autograph book at the camera store. Disaster again! I explained our predicament to the same kindly CM and we dashed back to retrieve it. Camera and autograph book safely in hand we joined Cinderella for breakfast. As a side note, the camera later worked fine. Oh well.

Andie and I had been to CRT on both of our previous trips, Thanksgiving 1997 and March 1992 (when it was still King Stephan's Banquet Hall. Why the restaurant in Cinderella's Castle was named for the King in Sleeping Beauty was a mystery that had been perplexing Disneyphiles for years.) In 1992 we were there for dinner, and last year for lunch (Nat was able to greet the characters in the lobby before lunch). I don't recall the food from that first trip, but I think we were unimpressed. The food for lunch the year before was downright awful. Well, now that we've done breakfast there, all I can say is that Cinderella definitely knows how to do breakfast. Nat had a waffle with eggs and bacon (OK, I ate the bacon), I had eggs, bacon, potatoes and custard stuffed French toast. The eggs were good and the bacon nice and crispy. The potatoes weren't to my taste, but the French toast was awesome! It was the only thing I ordered seconds of. Unfortunately it was so filling I could only eat one of the two extra pieces I got.
The characters on hand were Peter Pan & Wendy, Belle (I wanted my picture taken with her ;-), Snow White and, of course, Cinderella. The cast was, as always, wonderful. Our server Judy was friendly and efficient. All in all, the character breakfast gets a big thumbs up from me. If you have kids, especially a princess-loving little girl (aren't they all?), it's an absolute must. Remember to make those reservations 60 days in advance, and call first thing in the morning!

We were done with breakfast about 10:30. According to my plans we needed to leave the MK by about 11:30 and the park was getting crowded, so we had enough time for one good attraction. I suggested the Haunted Mansion (HM). Nat had never been on HM, but she loves Pirates of the Caribbean so I thought she would love HM as well. In my mind I never thought of HM as being all that scary, but Nat was actually quite scared by it. Not screaming at the top of her voice "Get me out of here!" scared, but rather hide your head in Daddy's lap for most of the ride scared.

Andie and I rode HM on our trip in 1992 but we didn't ride last year so I didn't recall what the WDW version was like. The exterior of the building is, of course, very different. I have read comments on the Internet by people claiming that the HM at MK is virtually identical to the one in Disneyland, so I was surprised by how different they are. I have to say that the HM at WDW is slightly better.

I didn't want to have to rush out of the MK so we started making our way out after HM. We strolled and weren't in any great hurry. We were just enjoying a wonderful moment together. When we reached the south end of Main Street I noticed that the stable was open. Now, Nat absolutely loves horses, so I figured we could drop in and visit. The horse (whose name I forgot) seemed to take an immediate shine to Nat (maybe it was the cowboy hat) and the CM in charge of the stable was very nice. I don't know if he was just trying to be kind, but he said that the horse rarely takes to people with the gusto with which he seemed to take to Nat. After bidding a reluctant farewell to the steed we left the MK.

Part 2:

We walked to the MK monorail station and rode it to the TTC. From there we hopped on the Epcot monorail. We had never taken the monorail to Epcot before, and I have to say it is a fun ride. The train actually goes into the park and loops around the signature "geosphere" before depositing you outside the main gate. Our destination for the afternoon was not Epcot, however, but rather Crescent Lake which is walking distance from Epcot. We made our way through Futureworld and the World Showcase to the International Gateway. I'm sure that ours was one of the shortest Epcot visits in history. In reality, the route we took was very likely the fastest way to get from MK to Crescent Lake with or without a car.

360 Panorama

[The panorama no longer works and has been removed]
Crescent Lake is surrounded by The Yacht Club and its sister resort The Beach Club on one side and the Boardwalk on the other. Just beyond those resorts are The Swan & The Dolphin. The night before we had strolled along the lake on the Yacht & Beach Club side; today we were headed for the Boardwalk. The Boardwalk has a regular resort as well as a Disney Vacation Club (DVC) Timeshare resort. Both resorts share a lobby as well as an old fashioned Boardwalk lined with shops, clubs and restaurants (hence the title). We had purchased a small interest in the Boardwalk timeshare and had a 1:00 appointment with Judy, my DVC representative, to get a tour of the property. I wanted to give us enough time to look around the Boardwalk some, but we actually had less time than I would have liked. Of course we did have enough time to stop at the Sweet Shop for ice cream, however.

We found the DVC preview center and went in. The air conditioning was very welcome. Nat decided to make use of the playroom while Judy showed me models of the studio, 1 & 2 bedroom suites. Since my back was really bothering me I must say that the Jacuzzi in the bathroom looked very inviting. It would not be easy to return to our little old ASM room. Judy also showed me some miniatures of the other DVC properties at WDW, Vero Beach and Hilton Head. All look great. I was hoping they would have something about the new property being built adjacent to the Wilderness Lodge, but no such luck.
After the tour we retrieved Nat from the playroom and Judy showed us the pool. The pool at the Boardwalk, with its water slide made to look like a roller coaster, looked way cool. We then walked through the lobby, which looks great - whimsical and elegant at the same time. Judy put us in a DVC van and we were driven back to our hotel.

We hit the Piano Pool again. Nat expressed a desire to try the Guitar Pool, but when it came down to actually leaving one musical instrument to try another, she balked. After the pool we tried to nap. Well, at least I tried to nap. Nat was wide awake. This of course kept me awake too, so at about 5:00 I gave up and we decided to get our evening started. We showered, dressed and headed out. During dinner at the food court (Pizza for Nat, she liked it but I had a bite and thought it was awful, beer and a salad for me) I looked at my watch and realized it was nearly 5:00, not 6:00 as I had thought. The clock in the room was an hour fast.

Part 3:

After supper we boarded the bus back to MK. Nat, who had refused a nap while in our room, was dead asleep five minutes into the ride. I had toyed with the idea of leaving the stroller in the room as I suspected it had something to do with my back being sore, but had decided to take it after all because I needed something to lean on as I walked. Good decision. When we got to MK, Nat was out cold so I put her in the stroller and spent the next few hours walking around. A few times she stirred and I tried to see if she was interested in any attractions, but she would just shake her head and go back to sleep. No problem, I was really enjoying the time just strolling around the park.

Nat finally awoke at about 7:00. We went to see the Enchanted Tiki Room just as the skies were beginning to threaten rain. The Tiki Room has changed the show - it's "Under New Management" - and now includes the parrot Igo from Aladdin and the hornbill Zazu from the Lion King. It was interesting to see the original 1963 audio-animatronics figures compared to the vastly improved new figures of Iago and Zazo (not to mention a very cool Tiki Goddess). The show was fresh and funny, but I admit that I pined for the original.

As we left the Tiki Room it was starting to sprinkle. We went on Pirates of the Caribbean, and when we exited the ride it was raining a bit harder. In retrospect, I should have picked up a poncho right then and there, but we had Nat's slicker with us and I thought "A little light rain isn't going to hurt me". Spoken like a true non-Floridian. As we were heading through Fantasyland on our way to Toontown it started to downpour. I mean the sky really opened up. The lightning and thunder were spectacular (so who needs fireworks?) We were just able to duck under the shelter of the Mad Tea Party teacups (very thankful for the fact that this attraction, unlike its counterpart in California, is covered). Well, we’re here. Let's spin a cup. Nat loves this ride. I told her that I couldn't make the cup spin because of my back, but Nat did a commendable job on her own.

After our spin, we huddled under the shelter hoping to wait out the rain. After a few minutes it seemed to subside somewhat, and we were a short distance from Cosmic Ray's, an eatery in Tomorrowland, so we made the dash. Once we got inside I knew it was a mistake. Although we would have been perfectly content to sit at a table and watch Sunny Eclipse, and alien lounge singer who is sort of a cross between E.T. and Wayne Newton, the air-conditioning and our slightly soggy clothes made for a very cold combination. It was still raining fairly hard and we were now in Tomorrowland - in the opposite direction of Toontown.

Luckily the rain tapered off some so we dashed for Toontown. We went through Minnie's house, one of Nat's favorite places, then we to the Town Hall for character greeting. While there I finally broke down and bought a poncho. First we met with Minnie, Pluto and Goofy, the we went to the 100-acre Wood section and met with Eeyore and Tigger. Pooh was gone for the day which seemed to upset a few people, but Nat didn't seem to mind. It was then time to meet the big cheese himself. One really cute thing - remember that we had seen Mickey the day before at AK as well - while we were waiting for Mr. Mouse he must have overheard me calling Nat by name. When he signed her autograph he wrote "To Natalie: I love you, Mickey Mouse". Well, Nat was absolutely beaming. "Daddy, he remembered my name!" It was perhaps the sweetest moment of the trip.

The main reason I wanted to go back to MK that evening was so we could see the fireworks. During this time of year, WDW has the Fantasy in the Sky fireworks display at MK on Saturdays only. The same is true of Spectromagic, the nighttime light parade. For this reason the park was really crowded - obviously most of the people vacationing at WDW that week would be in MK that night to see the parade and fireworks. Knowing this, as much as we would have loved to see the parade, I decided to skip it. People were lining the streets at 6:00 to be in good position for the 8:00 parade, and I just didn't want to deal with it. Instead I figured we could go to Mickey's Toontown Fair during the parade - it's on the side of the park opposite the parade route - and watch the fireworks from there.
As it turned out, we weren't the only ones to miss the parade. With all the rain and lightning the parade was canceled. Was I ever glad we hadn't been waiting on the sidewalk along Main Street since 6:00! If that weren't enough, Toontown was nearly empty and the CM at Minnie's house recommended a good spot to watch the fireworks. Was he ever right! They were spectacular! Of course we missed the effect of seeing them explode over the castle, but I would venture that our view of the fireworks was superior to what you would see from Main Street. It was absolutely great.

But then we had to leave.

It was actually almost surreal. When we started our trek out of the park we were practically by ourselves. The crowds grew in Fantasyland. By the time we made it through the hub into Main Street it was a veritable sea of humanity. It took quite a while to get out and then we were greeted by what was to be by far the longest line we would wait in on the trip - over an hour waiting to board the ASM bus. Eventually we got on a bus and were on our way back to the hotel. Nat had a mini melt-down when she realized she would have to stand for the ride, but a kind soul stood and let Nat take her seat. We were soon back in our room. Nat immediately crashed out and I stayed up for a while to pack and get ready for the trip home. I was in bed a bit past 11:00.

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