Okay, finally a chance to post some details from our recent trip to Walt Disney World (WDW). Unlike our last trip (in May '05), we left the computers at home, and lived for two full weeks with no internet access whatsoever... I'm happy to report we all survived just fine! I'll have a few photos through this post, and hopefully I'll get more posted to my Flickr site later in the week (stay tuned).
This year's trip was for a full two weeks, as we had an extra week "banked" at our Kissimmee timeshare. One drawback we had was due to some work constraints, The Momma had to fly down one night later than Buster and I, and she had to fly home two days earlier. That basically sucked (especially her going home before us), but I must admit the couple of days this afforded me to hang at Disney alone with Buster were very fun and rewarding!
Buster and I flew down on Saturday, 9/30, and checked into our condo that afternoon. We did some grocery shopping to set up house as we'd be in the same unit for the full two weeks, which was a very stress-free arrangement! I've been an owner at this particular resort (Orbit One Vacation Villas) since 1987, and haven't missed too many years there in between. They've kept the place up very nicely (though still no broadband internet), and it's only one mile away from WDW's main entranceway.
The Momma's flight on Sunday didn't get in until 11pm, so Buster and I took that first day to go to the Magic Kingdom. Though Buster had made it very clear ahead of time he still didn't want to go on any thrill rides (with the possible exception of Splash Mountain), we still had a great time riding favorites such as Pirates of the Caribbean and yes, Splash Mountain. Buster's favorite part of the day there was probably the hour or two we spent on Tom Sawyer's Island, a sometimes-overlooked play-and-explore area that's a great place to get away from the crowds.
Later in the afternoon we hopped the monorail over to Epcot, our favorite park. We made our first visit to the Rose & Crown pub in World Showcase, which readers and friends know is one of my personal favorite WDW establishments, so that we could visit briefly with Pam Brody, the resident piano player there. Pam's been there for many, many years and prior to that had a very distinguished career playing on the Queen Mary, and playing for many celebrities. Pam again claimed to remember us (well, Buster anyway, who has sung with and danced for her in years past)... it's easy to think she's just being polite but she did recall that he was a singer! (Though this year he was too shy, despite her asking him several times... ah well!)
We picked up The Momma without incident, then spent the next day (Monday, 10/2) mostly arguing and bickering with the local Kissimmee CVS store trying to get a complicated prescription issue resolved (that had supposedly been all set up before we flew down). We also got a few hours in at the Liki Tiki Lagoon, a small water playground at another resort owned by the same group that ours is part of.
Tuesday was our first "real" vacation day as a family, then, and of course we spent it at Epcot! The highlight of this day was probably the fantastic lunch we had at the Coral Reef Restaurant, inside their Living Seas pavilion. This is one of the pricier restaurants there but it remains a favorite for the atmosphere, service and - of course - the food. And I don't even like seafood!
Wednesday was a water park day, we spent a few hours at Blizzard Beach before then returning to - where else? - Epcot that evening. I used to really enjoy the water parks before Buster was born, but admittedly I've found them a bit less interesting since he's still not interested in the bigger water slides and spends most of his time in the pre-teen area. They have a great one of these (for kids 5-10), but not much for me or The Momma to do. Still, Buster had a blast and we had fun, and didn't stay too long, so it was a good time.
Thursday we hit the Disney/MGM Studios park, one that I've liked more and more as they've expanded over the years. All of us had a really great day there. A highlight was again a great lunch, this time at the Hollywood Brown Derby restaurant, one we hadn't tried before. The place was terrific though, and I'm sure we'll be back! We also checked out the new auto stunt show there, "Light, Motors, Action!"... this had just opened the same week as our last visit but we'd never gotten around to seeing it. A very fun show, especially for a Blues Brother like myself... I'll know what job I'd want if I move to Florida, give me the wheel!
Friday was basically a rest day at the condo, though that night we made our first visit to Pleasure Island - and more specifically, to the Adventurers' Club, another favorite. Buster loves the place as much as I do, and is already a pin-wearing member. Kungaloosh!!
Saturday the 7th was a day for the whole family back at the Magic Kingdom, and Sunday back to - hmmm, I know - Epcot again! Both good days, Saturday the MK was open until midnight so we stayed through the fireworks, finally left around 11:30pm. Sunday another great Epcot meal, at Chefs de France in World Showcase, and our traditional family hanging-out in the lounge at the Japan pavilion, where The Momma enjoys her sushi and I enjoy my sake. Mmmmmm, sake... Also had another visit to the Rose & Crown that day of course!
Monday, another off day, spent lounging and swimming at the condo. Tuesday was Animal Kingdom day, a park we all really like... though this particular day was exceptionally crowded. Still, we had a great time, and got a lot done. I rode the new Expedition: Everest coaster twice, and really liked it... though the Studios' Rock'n Roller Coaster remains my favorite Disney coaster. As the AK closes early in the offseason (5pm), around 4:30 we left and again went back yet again to Epcot.
Wednesday we went to Typhoon Lagoon, and it was on this day that things changed a little... Buster decided to try the adult water slides, and loved them! Finally, something all of us could enjoy together, we must have gone down them a dozen times! He wasn't doing the enormous speed slides, mind you, but the "Storm Slides"... long, curvy slides that are very fun. We also enjoyed the family raft ride there and of course their lazy river is a favorite.
Alas though The Momma on this day came down with a very nasty cold, and by the time we left the water park she was in bad shape. We aborted our planned return to Epcot that evening and retired back to the condo so she could rest while Buster and I again hit the pools there. (Buster got this same cold the day after we flew home; I'm fighting it only now as I type this, over a week later.)
Thursday the 12th was a sad day... The Momma had to fly home that day so she could work Friday night. (Which never happened due to issues with the timing of the roof on our house being replaced while we were away... but that's another story!) Still feeling bad from her cold but better than the day before, we dropped her off at the airport that afternoon.
Buster and I, though depressed, headed back to the Magic Kingdom (Buster's choice) and got there around 2:30pm. We again had a great afternoon, but something else changed... Buster agreed, with some trepidation, to try the "kiddie" roller coaster in Mickey's Toontown. Called Goofy's Barnstormer, this is actually a pretty respectable steel coaster... not very long and no big drops, but still a lot of turns and fairly fast.
Buster loved it! After riding it a couple of times he decided he wanted to try Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, one of the full-size coasters there... and he loved that too! (Indeed, that ended up being his favorite.) So after almost two weeks, he decides on his next-to-last day that he likes coasters. Ah, if only that was on the first day! But it made for a very fun ending to the trip.
Thursday night he and I revisited the Adventurers' Club, as one visit there per vacation is simply not sufficient. Then Friday we went back to Epcot for our last vacation day, which was planned to be a relaxing day hanging out at all our favorite World Showcase spots.
Except, Buster now wanted to try more "big" rides! So he rode Mission: Space (the newly-tamed down version, with no centrifuge action), which he mostly liked but wasn't overly impressed with. Then while again sitting in the Rose & Crown he asked if I thought he'd like Space Mountain. I told him it was pitch dark and a lot scarier than what he'd been on so far so I wasn't sure he would, but after some thought he said he really wanted to try it. So, off we went to take the Monorail back to the Magic Kingdom... and after riding it, he said he loved it but it was "too short". Ha! I guess the next time we get down there the rythym of the vacation will be a little different now that he'll be into all these rides. We went back to Epcot and rode Test Track, which he also liked, then finally made it back into the World Showcase with only a couple of hours left in our day, and in our vacation.
We rode the River of Time ride in the Mexico pavilion again... this is a very slow, low-key boat ride but has, ever since Buster was about two years old, always been one of his favorites, and even with his new-found love of roller coasters this still remained true. We rode it a couple of times in a row that night as he was very sad to realize our time there was coming to an end (as was I). Then we hurried up to the Japan pavilion to spend our last remaining time there. I watched the nightly Illuminations fireworks show from there while Buster was inside the shops hanging out in their extensive Pokemon section... I think he was playing the role of docent to other kids looking around, he'd been a regular there for two weeks!
After the fireworks we sat down for one last urn of sake and a soda in the Japan lounge. Another trip over... another great trip! Saturday we flew home without incident, and it was back to the real world.
Highlights I'll remember -
Epcot Epcot Epcot! Epcot, and specifically, World Showcase, remains our favorite place to visit. Away from the thrill rides and with the crowds fairly diluted, this is why we return over and over to WDW for vacations and actually are able to relax there. Each country has spots where we love to sit down, relax with food or drink, and enjoy the atmosphere without getting overrun by it. Yay, Epcot!
The Food and Wine Festival. It's been a couple of years since we were here while this great festival was going on, but I love it. Lots of additional food, wine and beer choices from all over the world are available in small kiosks set up all around the World Showcase lagoon. As we were there for the opening weeks of the festival this year it certainly made for larger crowds, but it's a very fun and festive atmosphere. Yay, more wine and beer choices! (Oh, and food, yeah, that too!)
Special cast member moments. The "magic" of WDW comes from its employees more than it does from the attractions. While making a dining reservation one afternoon the cast member gave Buster, with some ceremony, a special "Citizen of Walt Disney World" pin, and he couldn't have been more proud... until later that day, while showing it off to our server at an Epcot restaurant, she gave him an official cast member "35th Anniversary" pin that *I* was jealous of! Later in the week another cast member gave him a neat "My 1st Visit to WDW" pin... but had to make quite the argument as Buster kept refuting the claim:
Buster: "Actually, I've been here before!"
Cast Member: "Well, it's your first time at Epcot this trip then!"
B: "No, I've been coming here for two weeks!"
CM: "Well, it's your first time in Disney World today!"
B: "No, we were at the Animal Kingdom earlier..."
He finally took the pin though!
Growing up. By far the biggest memory of this trip was Buster again showing new signs of maturity. Not only did he finally - and suddenly! - decide he would try and then actually like some thrill rides, but over the whole trip he showed more independence than we'd seen him display before. He frequently would go play in the play areas on his own while The Momma and I would do something else, or run ahead of us (when we'd let him) and meet us at a destination. This gave us some new-found freedom, and him new-found confidence.
And yet, that's sad too, isn't it?