Day 3, June 2 - MGM, Epcot
I haven't mentioned it yet so I'll mention it now. I, the planner of the family, had decided to test a different touring strategy this time around. Instead of utilizing our early entry (EE) privileges as resort guests, I decided to skip EE for the most part, and instead tour the parks that were the EE park the day before. Today, Monday, is EE day for the Magic Kingdom (MK). Instead of going there, we went to MGM first thing as MGM was the EE park on Sunday. The logic being that folks won't want to go to the same park two days in a row. This strategy was an overwhelming success! We got to sleep an hour more each morning and we found the parks to be much less crowded! I highly recommend this strategy to everyone. And while I'm at it, I'll also mention that we purchased a case of Zephyrhills water at Sam's Club for about $7. This is the exact same water sold in the parks for $2.50. Each time we left for a park, we would take a cold bottle of water from our cooler along with granola bars and peanut butter crackers. This worked really well for us and will become part of our routine from now on.
We entered the turnstyles at MGM at 8:45am and headed directly to Star Tours (ST). My kids *hate* Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, otherwise, we would have made this our first stop. We were able to walk right on ST with no wait either time. We love this ride; however, I'll be glad when they add a new destination besides the moon of Endor. A little variety is always nice. Something we'd missed during our last trip and a definite *to do* this time around was the Animation Tour during working hours. By the way, it seems animators are late risers. Many don't come in until around 10am so plan accordingly. We really enjoyed this tour. The movie clip with Robin Williams and Walter Cronkite is great. An addition since we had last done the Animation tour was a session with a real animator. The audience sits in a semi-circle on the floor around the animator while he describes the basics of animation. There are four or five cameras positioned at different angles overhead that capture what he's doing and the video feed is played on large monitors above his head. This was very educational and entertaining.
Next was the Backlot Tour. After 5 minutes, we were escourted into the special effects water tank area but missed the show due to technical problems. The tram part of the tour is pretty dull except the part where you go through Catastrophe Canyon. We saw a Hidden Mickey as the tram pulled away from the rear of the set. You must be sitting on the left side of the tram to see it. Strangely enough, there's a also skull molded into the fake stone. We made our way over to the Brown Derby for lunch. It was our first time there and the consensus was that we would come back again. The interior of the restaurant is beautiful, lots of wood and brass. Susan and I had the Caesar chicken sandwich, Brian had the pizza rounds with fries, and Katie had the pasta parmesan. The kids meals also came with a dish of ice cream for dessert. Our servers were Robin and a waiter-in-training Roger. Both were attentive and friendly. Total with tip was $37. Next we made our way down Sunset Blvd. to the Beauty and the Beast stage show. I nearly have to drag the kids down Sunset as they become intimidated quickly by the looming presence of Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. The show was good as always, but in my opinion, it's just too short. HoND still rules!
We exited the park and drove back to Fort Wilderness. While Susan took the kids to the pool, I took a load of towels to the laundry. As they were washing, I rode my bike around the campground to gather info for the Fort Wilderness FAQ located here. We had seen several Wilderness Homes (WH) parked near the Kennel so I went to the Front Desk to ask Randy, a very helpful Cast Member (CM) what was up. He said they were in the process of changing out all of the homes on the 2400 loop and that this was part of a plan to refurbish all of the homes. A ride over to the 2400 loop confirmed what Randy had said. Also, I confirmed that some of the bus route info located at the bus stops is wrong. It says the Chip and Dale buses stop at the Gateway Depot, but they actually stop at the Fort Wilderness Depot. The Gateway Depot is used exclusively to pick up and drop off non-FW guests visiting Discovery Island and River Country. I finished up the towels then joined the family at the pool. After our swim, we all hit the showers. We've discovered that taking our showers in the late afternoon/early evening saves us lots of time in the mornings and fits well with our afternoon swimming. Also, the showers can get crowded in the mornings and late evenings.
We packed up our backpack with WDW survival gear and headed to Epcot. The plan for this evening was to tour rides/attractions that aren't open during Early Entry (EE). For folks that don't yet know this, the attractions in Future World are almost always walk-ons in the evening hours. Spaceship Earth was no exception so we rode it first. We really looked hard for Hidden Mickeys here and we did confirm a few others had seen. We then cut through Innoventions East to Ellen's Energy Adventure but found it to be operationally-challenged. We continued to the Wonders of Life pavillion to see Cranium Command, which is a family favorite. Don't miss this show folks. None of us were interested in riding the wallowing Body Wars so we skipped it. The Land pavillion was our next stop. The Sunshine Terrace Food Fair is one of the better places in all of WDW to get a good, reasonably priced lunch or dinner. The kids had the PB&J kids meals, Susan had a baked potato with chili and cheese and I skipped dinner. What can I say, I wasn't hungry. Total for dinner was $12.12. After dinner we watched the Circle of Life movie and did the Living with the Land boat ride. We confirmed several more Hidden Mickey's and even found a new one in the sign above the Garden Grill. We exited the park and drove back to the campground. We walked over to the Meadow Trading Post to get ice cream for dessert. Interestingly, we found Mickey Bars are only $1.25 in the campground but $1.75 in the parks. We took our ice cream over to the campfire program and watched the Goofy Movie while we ate. We were in bed early because we planned on doing EE at Epcot tomorrow.
Day 4, June 3 - Epcot, Magic Kingdom
We arrived at Epcot at 7:45 am. As usual, most of the crowds were flocking to Spaceship Earth, which we bypassed on our way to Honey I Shrunk the Audience (HISTA). We just missed the cut-off for the first show but that was o.k. because I'm one of the few that likes to watch the Kodak preshow. HISTA was great as always. Katie my 7 year old was afraid of this show at one time, but now she loves it. We exited and made our way around to Journey Into Imagination (JIA). We confirmed quite a few Hidden Mickeys (HMs) here. We turned the kids loose in Image Works while we continued our quest for HMs. We decided to do Ellen's Energy Adventure next. This is a great show. The only part I don't like is when the theater cars enter a room where it's dark except for the rotating disco-type lights accompanied by what is supposed to be a radio-like monologue. It seems like they could have done something more with this section. Next was Horizons, which we all like. We'll be sad to see it go if/when it closes. It was now nearing 11 am so we began heading over to the World Showcase to make our dash to the Maelstrom. On the way over, we stopped at the Test Track pavillion to register for a new car. Brian and Katie got a kick out of climbing around in the half a dozen or so vehicles parked out front. After Maelstrom, we headed over to the German pavillion for lunch at the Biergarten.
Some of my net friends (you know who you are) tried to scare me off of this place but I'd heard so many good comments from others that we decided to give it a try. I'm glad that we did. The theming and atmosphere of the restaurant was pleasant, the entertainment was nice and the food was plentiful and good. Featured on the buffet were various sausages, chicken, cabbage, spatzle, gravy, red potatoes, sauerkraut, a salad bar, rolls among other things. Our total with tip was $44. We finished our stay at Epcot off with a visit to the American pavillion to see the American Adventure. This is a great show and it never fails to stir my patriotic spirit.
We left Epcot for our afternoon swim at Fort Wilderness. It really is amazing how relaxing a swim can be after trudging around the parks all morning. We showered and changed then headed for the Magic Kingdom via boat. Tonight was the night we had planned to stay up late to see both Spectromagic and the Fantasy in the Sky Fireworks. We arrived at about 6:30 pm and were amazed to see folks already staking out spots on Main St. for the 8 pm parade. What a waste! We first rode Pirates of the Caribbean then rode Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (BTMRR). Did I mention earlier that my kids are insane? On previous trips Brian has loved riding on BTMRR and claimed it as his favorite. Katie, on the other hand, has been somewhat leery of BTMRR. Well, on this trip they must have swapped bodies or something because Katie was riding it with her hands up! and Brian was scared to death. We decided to visit the Haunted Mansion next and on the way stopped to snag some wonderful churros. Those things are great! Another tip on navigating the park, make use of the rope walkway along the water that runs from Frontierland to Liberty Square. While the paved walkway can be packed, the rope walkway usually only has a handful of people on it. We walked right on the Haunted Mansion, which is easy to do in the evenings by the way, and enjoyed the ride. It was now almost 8 so we began looking for a spot to watch the parade. We found a great spot too, right in front of the Hall of Presidents entrance.
While we were waiting, a Cast Member (CM) came around looking for volunteers to help turn out the lights on Liberty Square. Brian jumped up but Katie was too shy. There were about 8 kids total and the CM took them through several little drills and games while they were waiting. When the time came for the lights to dim the CM had the kids raise their hands. On the count of three they all dropped their hands and magically the lights went out. Pretty cool. The parade, as always, was fantastic. The kids (and us) enjoy sitting on the front row so we can interact with the characters as they come by. One of my favorite sights at WDW is the look of awe and wonderment on the kids faces as the parade passes. After the parade, we headed to Fantasyland to ride a couple of rides and watch the fireworks. As we were boarding the Carousel, the CM asked us to get off because he could not run the ride during the fireworks. A look at my watch revealed it was 9:45 pm, still plenty of time I thought. Not so. Inexplicably, the fireworks began early and ended early. Since it still wasn't 10 pm, the rides began running again. We rode the Carousel and then rode Snow White. We took our time exiting the park and made our way to the marina to catch the boat back to Fort Wilderness.
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