Background: For those that 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 (9). 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
This trip, our fourth and final of 1999, was our fourth consecutive trip to Disney sometime during the first two weeks of December. We've made it a family tradition to visit WDW during the Christmas season to enjoy the park decorations, the Candlelight Processional, the Osborne Lights, Holidays Around the World and all of the other special shows and activities unique to this time of year. We enjoy the Christmas season at WDW so much that we decided to arrange for Susan's parents, Myra and JC, to join us for a few days so they too could experience some of the things that we're telling them about the last few years. They flew into Jacksonville and visited some relatives in northern Florida on Friday and Saturday and then drove down to WDW and checked into Port Orleans Saturday afternoon. On to the details!
Day 1, December 10th - Travel, Dinner at Polynesian
As with previous December trips, our plans called for me to drive down to WDW pulling our camper and Susan and the kids to fly down later. Having them fly cut in half the number of days the kids missed school. On that topic, we had requested permission from their school principals and teachers six weeks in advance for them to miss the two days (13th and 14th). In fact, before the kids left, they had completed and turned in most of the work they would miss. All they had to do was take a few make up quizzes when they returned. We've always found the principals and teachers to be very accommodating provided we're up front with them and make sure the kids do their make up work and turn it in.
I arrived at Fort Wilderness at 5:20 pm after a 10.5 hour drive and was surprised at the large number of campers waiting in line to check-in. Normally when I arrive this late most other campers have already checked in and are set up on their campsites. With the crowd, it took 20 minutes for me to get checked in, which wasn't that bad but it didn't give me that much time to get the camper set up and still make it over to the Polynesian where I had made plans to have dinner at 6:30 with family friends Lee Zimmerman and Laura Gilbreath and the Teixeira family. Jokingly, I had mentioned a week or so before to Pam Teixeira and Laura that I hoped they wouldn't mind if I showed up for dinner a little sweaty and smelly after putting up the camper. I fully intended on cleaning myself up but almost didn't have time!
As it turned out, I got there pretty much on time only to find that the rest of the group was waiting, beeper in hand, to be seated at the Kona Cafe. The wait gave us an opportunity to chat and for me to meet Pam's husband Fernando and their toddler, Mark. It was humorous to see Mark darting and weaving through the crowd with Fernando in tow trying to keep up. After about 20 minutes we were finally seated. I'd encouraged Lee to go to the check-in station and complain and it seemed to work as his beeper went off right after that. This was my first time dining at Kona Cafe and I found it to be pretty good. The decor leaves something to be desired but the service and food were good. Speaking of food, I had the herb crusted chicken with parmesan mashed potatoes, both of which were tasty. Our server, Diane, did a good job of keeping us happy...well most of us. Lee made the mistake of picking on her right off the bat and she stayed on him like white on rice from then on.
Pam and Fernando said their good byes after dinner so they could get Mark into bed and start packing up for their return to New Jersey. Lee, Laura and I stayed for desserts and then parted company. I had just enough time to stop by the camper to set the beds up before leaving to pick Susan and kids up at the airport. Luckily their flight was on time and we were able to get back to Fort Wilderness and in bed by 11:30 pm.
Day 2, December 11th - Magic Kingdom, MGM Studios (RADP Meet)
I didn't set the alarm but we still awoke fairly early (7:30 am) and were able to make our way to the Magic Kingdom (MK) by 10. Normally we don't go to the MK on Saturday but the way our itinerary worked out if we didn't go today we wouldn't be able to go at all. The weather was absolutely spectacular by the way. During the days we were there the high temperatures were in the mid to upper 70's with lows in the upper 50's to low 60's and it only rained one night, long after we'd gone to bed. Anyway, walking through the tunnel we stepped out into the MK and were surprised to find Town Square packed with Brazilian tour groups. I've been to WDW during the summer months when the tour groups are typically at their peak but I've *never* seen so many at one time. We picked our way through them, down Main Street, and then proceeded to Tomorrowland where we were pleased and surprised to see the lines were quite reasonable. Brian and I decided to do Alien Encounter while Susan and Katie did Buzz Lightyear. After linking back up using our Motorola FRS radios, we picked up Fastpasses for Space Mountain. The standby line was listed as 25 minutes as an indicator of how reasonable the lines were.
The kids wanted to do Pooh next but were deterred by the posted 30 minute wait. Instead, we headed for Mickey's Toontown Fair where we rode Goofy's Barnstormer (5 minute wait). While the kids got sprinkled in Donald's Boat, Susan and I checked out the renovated kids play area. It was not yet open but it looked like it soon would be and it looked cute. Afterwards, we toured Mickey's and Minnie's houses, both well decorated for the season. We then rode Teacups (5 minute wait) with the boys in one cup and the girls in another cup. I may be crazy but the Teacup spin seems more tolerable if we don't spin one way the whole ride. I tell Brian that we're "unwinding" when we stop and then spin in the opposite direction. :-)
By this time we were well within our Space Mountain Fastpass window so we headed that way next.
***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.
The queue has been modified with the addition of Fastpass such that the left side, previously used by disabled guests, is now designated for guests in the regular standby line. Fastpass guests are directed into the right hand queue. The queues come back together at control station where a Cast Member takes the Fastpass and tells guests to "choose either side". This Cast Member also serves as a traffic cop for the standby queue by limiting the numbers of guests let in so as to keep the numbers of guests in the inside queues in the loading area down to about two lines worth. That way, regardless of which side Fastpass guests choose, they won't have to wait more than 5 to 10 minutes.
It was now around 11:30 and we all agreed we we wanted to eat lunch at Pinocchio's Village Haus. Susan and I split their double cheeseburger special, while the kids had regular hamburgers. We were able to snag a table overlooking the It's a Small World loading area. The kids still get a kick out of waving to guests in the boat. Brian especially likes it when the pretty girls wave back at him. :-)
The park began to get pretty crowded but it didn't really matter that much to us as we weren't hard over on doing all of the main attractions. In fact, we really didn't have any plan and just let the kids pick out what they wanted to do. They decided they wanted to do Pirates of the Caribbean next so that's where we went.
***TIP***When given the choice, pick the left hand queue at PoTC. Even if the queue is full, the left side queue is shorter so you'll get on the ride faster.
According to the park map, Mickey's 'Twas the Night Before Christmas was showing at the Galaxy Palace Theater at 1:45 so we decided to begin heading that way. We stopped at the hub to take this photo in front of the Partners statue. After riding the Tomorrowland Transit Authority (TTA) we found seats in the theater that were in the shade - it was hot in the sun! The show was good and it's the same one they show during the Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Parties. We were so warm that we decided we needed to get some frozen refreshments so we made our way to Sunshine Tree Terrace for frozen yogurt and citrus swirls. While sitting in the shade at one of the tables nearby we were treated to an entertaining acrobatic show by Mapapa - the Adventureland Tumblers. This was our first time seeing these talented performers - it's a shame that Disney doesn't advertise their live talent anywhere in their park map.
***TIP***To find out what live entertainment is available at the MK (and all other parks for that matter) and schedules, visit Steve Soares' excellent web site at: http://pages.prodigy.net/stevesoares/index.htm
We finished off our afternoon at the MK with the special Christmas version of the Country Bears Jamboree - YEE HAA!
As we exited the park we realized we'd just missed the Fort Wilderness boat and we didn't see one headed our way so we instead boarded the Wilderness Lodge boat which was getting ready to depart. From the Wilderness Lodge we boarded the Boone bus which took us right to our bus stop at the 1300 loop. We just had time to pick up a few things at the camper before hopping in our Explorer and driving to MGM Studios for the Hunchback of Notre Dame RADP meet scheduled for 4:30 pm. (RADP is an acronym for the computer newsgroup I participate in - rec.arts.disney.parks). From left to right: Katie, Kevin, Bill Hamilton, Marta Metcalf, Lee, Brian, Kenny Cottrell, me, Susan, Julia Rose Abrams, Bill Abrams, Randy Berbaum, Diane Abrams, Dave Marx, and Bruce Metcalf. Laura Gilbreath was the "official" photographer. Thanks for the photo Laura. :-)
Here are links to the photos I took:
Marta and Brian admiring Kenny's "elite" pin collection
Laura perusing the neat RADP meet booklet Dave Marx and Jennifer Watson put together
Katie and Brian talking with their buddy Randy
Bill, Lee, Susan and Randy chatting
Lee, Susan, Randy, Dave and Bruce
Bill H. talking with Diane with Bill A.
We were able to snag pretty good seats on the right side of the theater and enjoyed Matt the Juggler's preshow. The HoND show itself was pretty good but a number of the main players (Quasimodo, Esme, Phoebus, Clopin) were not played by my favorite cast members. After the show, our plan was to wait around until the initial Osborne Lights crowd died down and then walk through so we passed the time chatting outside the theater. Amazingly, the crowd never seemed to slack off. Finally, after about 30 minutes, the steady stream dwindled to a trickle. Unfortunately for us, we had to say our good byes to the rest of the group as we had to pick up Susan's parents at Port Orleans (PO) and then make our way to Whispering Canyon Cafe for our 7:20 priority seating.
To save time, we called ahead and had Myra and JC meet us in the PO lobby and then valet parked at the Wilderness Lodge. We drove the in-laws rental car which was a big, brand new, leather upholstered, Mercury Grand Marquis land yacht. :-) We arrived on time and were seated in about 15 minutes. Katie ordered the kids grilled cheese with fries while Brian and the rest of us got the all-you-can-eat Grand Canyon Passage (BBQ skillet). Rob, our server, soon brought out our drinks and asked who wanted a "sissy stick" (straw) for their drink. Brian said he did and Rob proceeded to fling several at him like darts. The BBQ skillet dinner started with a tossed green salad with apple vinaigrette dressing which was good. Afterwards, Rob brought out the skillet filled with baked beans, roasted garlic toast, garlic red skin potatoes, corn on the cob, smoked pork ribs, beef brisket, apple rosemary chicken, smoked pork sausage and a smoked turkey leg. Cole slaw is also included and is brought in a bowl on the side. After examining the contents of the skillet, Brian declared he wanted *all* of the sausages so I filled up his plate. Rob noticed upon his return that Brian had all the sausages and decided the whole restaurant needed to know about it. "Everyone, may I have your attention please! Brian here has taken all of the sausages from the skillet so I think he deserves a big SOOOOEEEEEE!!" SOOOOOEEEEEEEE! Brian was so embarrassed he was trying to crawl under the table. We were laughing so hard we were crying. :-) Rob kept bringing more and more sausages to Brian to the point where Brian was sick of seeing them.
I found everything to my liking except for the turkey leg...ick! Rob came back later with a camera in hand and, pretending to take a picture, squirted Brian with water. Rob asked Brian if he'd like to try it and of course Brian said yes planning to get Rob back. Somehow in the transfer Rob adjusted the camera because when Brian pushed the button it squirted him in the eye instead of squirting Rob. :-) We ate and ate until we couldn't eat anymore and then said our good byes to Rob and thanked him for the fun time. We toured around the Lodge for a while showing Myra and JC the beautiful tree and the Gingerbread Village on display. We then dropped them back off at Port Orleans and then headed for Fort Wilderness to call it a night.
Tomorrow - Epcot and MGM Studios
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