Background: For those who haven't read any of our previous trip reports, the participants are myself, Jeff (40), a NASA aerospace engineer, Susan (38), also a NASA aerospace engineer, and our two kids Brian (12) and Katie (10). We're premium annual passholders and even though we live in north Alabama, we still find a way to make 3 or 4 trips a year to Walt Disney World (WDW). One reason we're able to do that is we are the owners of a Coleman popup camper which we pull down to WDW with us on every trip. We always stay on Disney property at the Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground, typically at a discounted rate of about $34/day. Over the years we've come to love visiting Fort Wilderness - to the point where it almost seems like our home away from home. When we first started camping there several years ago we found there was little information about Fort Wilderness on the Internet. Deciding to rectify that situation, the family began researching other sources, asking questions around the campground and taking pictures. That effort culminated in the Fort Wilderness Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ), which we faithfully try to keep up to date. We couldn't do it alone though. Luckily we don't have to as there are many other Fort Wilderness fans out there that are constantly sending me updates.Go To Part 2
Day 1, March 25th - Travel, Water Park, Epcot
As with previous trips when the kids are out of school, either during holidays or during the summer, we all drove down to WDW together in our Ford Explorer pulling our Coleman popup camper. Sometimes we drive part of the way down and spend the night in a hotel but this time we decided to leave home around midnight and drive straight through to WDW.
We arrived at Fort Wilderness just after noon, along the way having to stop twice for Katie who got a touch of car sickness...yuck! Check-in went smoothly and quickly and we were soon on our way to site 821, which, as we requested, was very close to the Comfort Station on that loop. We quickly set up the camper and then prepared lunch, which consisted of sandwiches, chips and dessert. Our itinerary called for a visit to one of the water parks so after lunch we gathered our swimming gear and headed off to Typhoon Lagoon. We all had Premium Annual Passes; however, they were scheduled to expire on March 28th. Looking ahead to the rest of the 2000, we were only planning one more visit in December so we decided when we renewed that we would get Regular Annual Passes instead of Premium. Having made that decision, we'd set up our itinerary with water park visits early in the week
Arriving at Typhoon Lagoon, we were surprised and disappointed to be told that the water park had been closed due to crowds reaching capacity and we directed to River Country. I was perplexed to discover that Blizzard Beach was closed. I inquired of the Cast Member as to why the other main water park was closed when it was obvious that crowds were so large and I was told the crowds were "unpredictable". Give me a break! We reluctantly drove back to Fort Wilderness and rode our bikes to River Country. Don't get me wrong, we enjoy River Country; however, it's not a Typhoon Lagoon or Blizzard Beach. I took quite a few photos while there intending to put them up on the Fort Wilderness FAQ (still haven't gotten around to doing that yet). While Susan relaxed on the beach, Katie and I made our way to Whoop 'n Holler Hollow to ride the two water slides. We also tried a relatively new addition, the floating wood planks, also in Bay Cove. These are very similar to the floating ice bergs in the Ski Patrol Area of Blizzard Beach.
***TIP*** The "landing area" for the three River Country water slides that dump into Bay Cove is fairly deep (about 5 - 6 feet) and the current is fairly strong so swimmers should be comfortable in their swimming abilities before trying them.
All in all, we had a good time, as we always do at River Country, but as we made our way back to our campsite I decided to stop at Guest Services to express my displeasure at Blizzard Beach being closed during such a busy season. I waited in line as a half dozen or so people attending the first show of Hoop-de-Doo checked in at the Guest Services window even though the next window was clearly marked for Hoop-de-Doo check-in. After finally working my way up to the window I was told by Cast Member Peggy that she was closing for the day and had announced that fact several minutes earlier. Looking down at my watch and seeing it was still 5 minutes before closing time I pointed out to Peggy that there were more than 100 people milling around outside waiting for the Hoop-de-Doo show and given that fact, I couldn't hear a thing. I also pointed to the clock on the wall behind her and reminded her that closing time wasn't for another 5 minutes (5 pm). Peggy said something back but I still could not hear because of all the commotion outside so I asked Peggy if I could speak with her supervisor. She asked me why I wanted to talk to a supervisor and I told her about our experience at Typhoon Lagoon earlier. She told me that I should have complained at Typhoon Lagoon earlier and that they couldn't do anything about what happened at Typhoon Lagoon. I pointed out to Peggy that we weren't even allowed to park at Typhoon Lagoon so we *couldn't* complain there. Getting a bit frustrated, I again asked to speak with her supervisor and Peggy finally relented and called Cristin. In contrast to my experience with Peggy, Cristin politely listened to my complaint and apologized for any inconvenience. That's all I wanted.
After showers, we drove to the Yacht Club for our 6:30 pm priority seating at the Yachtsman Steakhouse. This was our first time dining here but it won't be our last. Susan ordered the spiced filet, Katie, the linguine with marinara, Brian, the kid's strip steak, and me, the 16 ounce Admiral's Cut prime rib. The food was delicious, if a bit pricey, but that's the case for pretty much all of the restaurants at Disney World. Susan, our server, did an excellent job of tending to our every need so we give Yachtsman Steakhouse a definite thumbs up. Total for the meal, including tip, was $91. We walked to Epcot via the International Gateway and made our way to Millennium Village. The kids first did putt-putt golf in Scotland and then we all had fun playing electronic soccer in Brasil. We also did the walkthrough of the four "eggs" that each house one of the four seasons as it is experienced in Sweden. We finished the visit with a round of the World Culture Game in the Marketplace area. Brian and I teamed together against Susan and Katie and a half dozen or so other teams. Multiple choice questions are flashed up on a large screen and points are given for correct answers with bonus points for being the fastest. Neither of the Spencer teams won but we didn't do too badly either. :-)
We finished out the evening with desserts at Beaches and Cream (milky way cake, raspberry smoothy, brownie sundae) before making our way back to Fort Wilderness. Upon arriving, we noticed an envelope stuck in our door and were pleasantly surprised to find four one day passes for any Disney water park good for one year. Thanks Cristin! :-)
Day 2, March 26th - Magic Kingdom, Epcot
I actually took this picture back in December but how better to start a trip report section on the Magic Kingdom than with a picture of Cinderella's Castle? After breakfast in the camper, (cereal, bagels, milk, juice) we rode our bikes to the Fort Wilderness marina where we then hopped on the boat to the Magic Kingdom. We stepped through the turnstiles just after 9 am and made our way to Tomorrowland where we immediately got Fastpasses for Space Mountain (return time at 9:40 am). We then rode Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin (2 minute wait), Astro Orbiter (5 minute wait), Buzz again (2 minute wait), Teacups (3 minute wait), and then waited a few minutes until Mickey's Toontown opened. While waiting, Susan picked up more Fastpasses for Pooh (it was now past 9:40 so our 1 hour window had opened on Space Mountain).
***TIP*** For details on Fastpass including how it works and what attractions currently have Fastpass, visit Deb Wills' WDW Information Guide. This link will take you directly to the Fastpass section.
Our next attraction was Goofy's Barnstormer, which is a fun little coaster that younger children can "cut their teeth on" before moving on to Big Thunder Mountain or Space Mountain. Afterwards, we let the kids get a little wet in Donald's Boat and spent some time shopping in County Bounty and walking through Minnie's and Mickey's houses. We then took the "secret path" behind the Tomorrowland Speedway back to Space Mountain where we used our Fastpasses to ride after a short wait of about 10 minutes. We walked slowly back to Fantasyland arriving just at the opening of our Fastpass time window for Pooh. Unless one is not a Pooh fan, it's hard to imagine someone not liking this attraction. Those that are Pooh fans will appreciate the special effects and whimsy the Disney Imagineers have included in the attraction...those that are Tigger fans have a special treat in store for them. :-)
We continued through Fantasyland with no particular plan or strategy and were drawn into the Legend of the Lion King after noticing they were about to start the preshow. We noticed that television monitors had been added in the preshow area so folks not tall enough to see Rafiki on stage could see him on the TV monitors. Legend of the Lion King is a nice attraction that skillfully utilizes puppetry, layered scenery and some special effects to re-tell the story of one of the most popular Disney animated features. Our next stop was one of the Magic Kingdom's feature attractions - the Haunted Mansion. Even though it was late in the morning we were still able to ride after only a 10 minute wait. The plan was then to pick up Fastpasses for Splash Mountain (we did) and then ride Big Thunder Mountain Railroad but we soon discovered that BTMRR was down - oh well. To pass the time, we instead made our way to Adventureland where we happened upon these acrobats. Talk about how low can you go - this guy had no spine and balance that would make any cat envious!
Our next stop was the Enchanted Tiki Room - Under New Management, which was revamped not too long ago to add Iago and Zazu in an attempt to liven up the show. Some park "traditionalists" don't like the change but our family, who are fans of both "Aladdin" and "The Lion King", give the changes a thumbs up. It was now lunchtime and the 1 hour window on our Splash Mountain Fastpasses had just opened so we picked up new Fastpasses for the Jungle Cruise on our way to our Plaza Restaurant priority seating at 1 pm. As we approached the restaurant who should we see but fellow RADP'er Debbie Koma, her husband Brian and son Alex. :-) They were relaxing outside the Plaza Ice Cream Parlor as Alex enjoyed an ice cream cone. We checked in at the Plaza restaurant and then chatted with the Koma's. Apparently Debbie had taken a "no commando touring" pledge, much to the liking of Brian who prefers a considerably slower pace.
Our name was soon called so we said our good byes and had lunch. As with the Yachtsman Steakhouse, this was our first time to eat at the Plaza Restaurant. Susan ordered the cheese steak sandwich, Katie, a hamburger, Brian, grilled chicken and me, a reuben sandwich. The food was very good - Brian declared his grilled chicken "the best he'd ever had". Prices at the Plaza Restaurant are high (approximately $10 for the reuben) but the portions are large. One could easily split one of their sandwiches with a family member/friend and still have plenty to eat. Total for lunch was $46.75.
It was now almost 1:40, which also happened to be the time our Splash Mountain Fastpasses "expired". We quickly made our way to Splash and rode after a 16 minute wait. Brian decided to skip Splash, still having a fear of the "big drop". Even though we arrived about 10 minutes after our Fastpass window had closed the Cast Member said not to worry. They don't allow guests to arrive early but arriving late isn't a problem. We finished our day at the MK with a ride on Jungle Cruise followed by Dole Whips at Aloha Isle. Katie decided she didn't want a Dole Whip and instead did the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse walkthrough. We exited through the turnstiles at 3 pm and rode the boat back to Fort Wilderness. I was worn out so I napped while Susan took the kids to the swimming pool.
After showers, we loaded up into the Explorer and drove to Epcot, where we planned on meeting several of our RADP friends (Laura Gilbreath, Lee Zimmerman and their friends Walt and Barb, the Koma family and Kenny Cottrell) at the Canadian pavilion. We snacked on Beaver Tails (yummy!) and chatted while waiting for Kenny to show - he never did - oh well. The rest of us made our way to the Japan pavilion to watch the second showing of the Tapestry of Nations (ToN) parade and then Illuminations 2000. Kenny eventually did arrive - apparently there was miscommunication on the meeting time. He and Laura launched into pin trading, which was kind of interesting given there was very little light and it was almost impossible for either of them to see. Once the parade started, Alex Koma and Katie stood along the parade route and interacted with the large ToN puppets as they came by. ToN is a wonderful parade in our opinion and it is unlike anything that Disney has ever done (at least as far as I know). We closed out the evening by watching Illuminations 2000 - Reflections of Earth. I can't say enough about how good this show is. The fireworks and special effects are intricately choreographed with the wonderful music to create a truly amazing show. It is definitely not to be missed!
Day 3, March 27th - Blizzard Beach, WWoS (Atlanta Braves Spring Training)
We've discovered from numerous visits to WDW that when we stay out late (to see Illuminations or
the MK fireworks for example) that it's best for us to plan to sleep in late. With that in mind, our itinerary called for us to begin the day at Blizzard Beach (BB), which didn't open until 10 am. Mother Nature tried to put a kink in our plan by tossing in some rain and thunder but luckily it didn't last too long. We arrived at BB at 11:15 and found an almost deserted water park - woo hoo! :-) Our first order of business was to store our stuff in a locker and then buy a refill sticker for our Blizzard Beach refillable mug.
***TIP*** If you have a refillable water park mug, take it back to that park and purchase a refill sticker for $4.59 versus the $8.49 cost of a new mug.
After applying sunscreen, the kids went off to play in the Melt Away Bay or Cross Country Creek (I don't know which) while Susan and I did the Runoff Rapids tube slides. The enclosed slide is *really* dark and really fun. :-) After lunch at Lottawatta Lodge (cheeseburgers, spaghetti for Katie), we all ascended Mount Gushmore and rode the family raft ride - Teamboat Springs. What a blast! It was so much fun we climbed right back up and did it again. After setting up a meeting time, we split up with the kids again. I talked Susan into doing Slush Gusher, one of the speed slides - I think once was probably enough for her. ;-) We left the water park at 3 pm to get ready for the Braves game at 7 pm.
We took showers and then visited with a co-worker of mine, David Harris, who also was staying at Fort Wilderness. We arrived at Wide World of Sports at about 6:00 pm and had a good time even though the Braves once again lost to the Houston Astros (they lost to the Astros in the game we watched here last year too). The baseball stadium has a big league feel to it but is small enough (seats around 10,000) so you feel really close to the players. We made our way back to Fort Wilderness and were in bed by 10:30 pm.
Tomorrow - MGM Studios, Magic Kingdom
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