I figured it might be helpful to start off by saying where this trip came from. My nephew (my brother John’s oldest son)
decided to get married on the Beach in Florida. We had been saving for a camping trip to the national parks
(Yellowstone, Badlands, Mt. Rushmore, Devil’s Tower) for summer of 2007, but Amy was not the slightest bit enthused.
When we learned of the wedding in Florida, I really wanted to attend, but knew we could not swing both. When I
mentioned going to the wedding instead of camping to the national parks Amy was much more interested. I then
suggested that since we have one day’s worth of Disney tickets left over from our last trip, we could spend a day there as
well. Amy felt four days was more appropriate since Matthew was too young to remember much of the last trip.
I had planned on camping at Disney in order to better meet budget, but when I went to book the campsite… it was full.
Also full was the All Star Resorts (least expensive on site hotel) that we stayed at and enjoyed last time we went to
Disney. As we’re required to book two rooms, the next step up for on site rooms put us WAY over budget. I searched for
alternatives off site and found on Hotwire.com a “three star condo” for $70 per night (per room.) That sounded good to
Amy and me so I made the reservations. Once booked, I checked the website of the condo(s) and it was only one
Interstate exit away from Disney and looked quite nice. We also booked a room at a Days Inn in the Tampa area for the
couple days we’d need to be near the wedding. It was about an hour away from the wedding, but any closer was all
booked for that week, and the Tampa area was near my grade/high school friend Brenda Veldman so I’d be able to visit
Ken – 42
Amy – 43 (yes she’s older)
AJ – 17
Chelsea – 15
Gretchen – 14
Lindsey – 12
Matthew – 8
Theresa – 5
Danny - 2
To get going on time, I took the entire day off. Good thing I did because it took all morning to get final preparations done
for the trip. Chelsea took the entire day off of school as her teachers had arranged to finish her finals by Tuesday, while
AJ was taking his last three that morning. As the wedding was on Friday morning, we had to pull the grade school kids
out mid-day to meet our goal of leaving the house by 1:00. In spite of hitting the Indy area around rush hour, we got
through there just fine and stopped for late supper at a Ponderosa just south of Louisville. During supper was when IT
started. Really had no warning except for some liquid diarrhea from Danny at his last diaper change before we left the
house. Suffice it to say Theresa ralphed all over the dinner table and the bathroom floor. Since we had been at the tail
end of supper, I didn’t suspect motion sickness, but rather something more viral, so we got back into the van after having
her change clothes (for the first time.) We got past Nashville when Amy announced she was done for the night and
wanted to stop. Found a Knights Inn and ALL laid down in one room (Gretchen taking the two table chairs.) Danny’s
diarrhea had clearly not left since he soiled the bed, Amy, and Theresa in the middle of the night. New clothes for all and
a bath and we were somewhat ready for a second day of driving.
After a drive through breakfast at McDonalds (crackers only for Danny and Theresa) we were on our way. We got into
Georgia when just north of Atlanta, Theresa had a diarrhea accident. A new outfit for her and we were back on the road.
We got through Atlanta with no real slow downs and made it to Macon for lunch. Chick-Fil-A had a playground so we
decided to make a full stop. All the kids seemed to be feeling much better as they were playing on the equipment. Once
back on the road, we ran into quite a bit of construction that slowed us down. That was when Lindsey decided to join the
crowd by hurling. As opposed to our last trip, she gave us a bit of warning and we were able to empty the cookie bowl for
her to fill. This time, instead of taking any chances, I gave Lindsey and Theresa both some Dramamine. During that stop,
I had Gretchen give Theresa some 7-up to sip as well. Unfortunately, the physics of filling a closeable pop top water
bottle with a carbonated beverage has not yet clicked with either of them. While stretching our legs, the top of the bottle
blew completely off, flew about 20 feet and drenched Theresa with soda pop. After changing her into her FOURTH outfit
of the trip, we were back on the road.
Got across the Florida state line before Lindsey barfed her second time. The stack up of construction slow down and the
stops to clean out the bowl formerly reserved for cookies (now used exclusively for tossing them) meant we weren’t going
to make Clearwater for suppertime. I called Brenda to let her know we’d be late. Back on the road and not too long
before Lindsey was yet again yawning in Technicolor. Another stop for clean up and a visit to DQ for everyone else and
we were back on the road. We arrived about two hours late at the hotel. After checking into our two rooms we
designated one “sick room” and the other the “healthy room. I was then able to meet up with Brenda at a local sports
bar… got good and caught up. When I got back to the hotel, Gretchen was now driving the porcelain bus. She got
moved from the “healthy room,” to the “sick room.”
I got up early with AJ for he was supposed to continue his daily swim workouts, and we didn’t want him to swim alone. In
spite of it being Florida, I was not going to get into the pool for the temp was mid-sixties at best. He, however, had little to
no choice on the matter and got through the bulk of his work out. Some judicial use of the Continental breakfast provided
by the hotel got most of the rest of us fed. Neither Gretchen, nor Lindsey (however) was in any kind of shape for getting
back into a van and going to a wedding. We made the decision (with their approval) to leave them in the hotel for the day
while the rest of us headed out.
The wedding on the beach was VERY nice. The chairs were set up about 100 yards from where we parked. The bridal
party all walked up individually and when they took their seat they picked up a percussion instrument which they started
playing. By the time it was time for the bride to make her march, there was a full compliment of instruments playing.
Instead of making the short walk up through the chairs, she made her entrance from the parking lot for a nice march in.
Ceremony completed, we all went to a reception at a vacation house that much of the bridal party had rented. They had
an in ground pool and the kids were anxious to get in. Since I had been having some stomach grumblings and was
therefore cringing every time I passed gas, I opted to not swim. So, Amy, AJ, Chels, Matthew, Theresa and Danny all got
into suits. Danny is used to swimming with a floaty suit (one of those trainers where a toddler can float on their own and
don’t have to constantly be held up) so he was quite squirmy to get away from Amy. She tired of this activity and decided
now was a good time to give him a lesson in sucking down a mouthful of water. As expected, he surfaced coughing and
hacking, and then (hmmm checking with the thesaurus for yet another way to say this) yakked all over Amy and down her
swimsuit. Pool was conspicuously calm for the rest of the afternoon.
We took a bit of a scenic route back to the hotel and got the kids McDonalds for supper. Amy and I opted for something a
bit nicer and had some dishes delivered from a nearby restaurant. Had it not been for the delay of delivery making the
food not straight from the chef fresh… it might have been the best meal of the trip. As it turned out, it was (for Amy and
me) the second best meal of the trip.
The constant of the trip (thus far) was not to be spoiled, though. AJ was up in the middle of the night with severe
headache and nausea. As he was one of only three left in the “healthy room,” we decided that such designations were
now obsolete. A couple of Advil’s later he was sent back to bed with strict instructions to get to the bathroom if he has
to… well… you know.
Those of us with an appetite ate again in the hotel for free. We cleaned them out of frozen French Toast. We loaded up
the van, checked out of the hotel and headed for a day in Clearwater before going to our hotel in the Orlando area.
Clearwater beach is essentially an island strip just a few hundred yards off the mainland coast. Very touristy. I’m told
Tom Hanks lives there. Brenda told us she chose to live in the area just because of Clearwater beach. It was quite
picturesque. First we visited an aquarium on the island. It was a small operation compared to many aquariums we’ve
visited, but its main function is to rescue stranded animals (fishing nets and the like.) One dolphin they have lost its tail fin
to lack of circulation after being tangled in crab traps. Animals that have been injured severely enough remain at the
aquarium for life. Others are released after rehab. This particular dolphin has been fitted with a few different prosthetics
to replace the missing fin. Chelsea paid $20 out of her spending money to have her picture taken while interacting with
the dolphin(s). She got about five minutes of touching and feeding while Amy and I filmed and shot pictures. It was the
highlight of her trip.
On the island, we found a local dive/diner to eat at. Amy said it was the best chili dog she’s eaten in a long time. We
walked to the beach where AJ parked himself on the blanket and laid down. The girls, Matthew and Danny all sampled
swimming in the gulf. The overall impression… cold. Just not quite swimming weather in December, and it was overcast
so the sun wasn’t available to warm things up. Amy got the girls to start shell hunting and brought back a bag full.
Gretchen found one shell with what looked like the remnants of a very recently alive mollusk. Amy said it would dry up in
time so it was put in the bag too. Yes… it now smells… a LOT. I walked around and took lots of pictures.
We left the beach and headed for Orlando. Our condo was in Lake Buena Vista. Before checking in, we stopped at a
Steak and Shake to get some supper and found a 71 Indiana license plate. For those uninformed on the intricacies of the
license plate game, we’re not just out to get all 50 states in one trip (a goal unfulfilled again on this trip.) We also look for
how far away from home we find a 71 Indiana plate. A 71 Indiana plate means the person/vehicle is not just from Indiana,
but from our county… and possibly South Bend. We couldn’t get much further away on this trip than the parking lot in
Lake Buena Vista. Additionally, we found two plates from San Luis Potosi (about dead center of Mexico) as well as
Puerto Rico. Final score of this trip… all but three states.
We got to the condo and had a bit of a problem checking in. I had booked through Hotwire.com, but the local hotel could
only find one reservation (instead of two rooms) for me. They cautioned me that as it was the holidays, they were fully
booked and had no spare rooms. I said that if push comes to shove, I’d be more than willing to put all nine of us in one
room as these rooms were quite large. They contacted their main office and did find our other reservation. We didn’t get
rooms right next to each other, but were in the same building on the same floor with only two rooms between us. Nice
rooms for $69/night doesn’t begin to describe these rooms. It’s not that they were overly ornate or luxurious, but rather
simply large and accommodating. Amy’s and my apartment when we first got married was smaller than each room even if
only one bedroom was accounted for. Each “room” had a full kitchen (full size refrig/freezer, microwave, oven/range,
dishwasher, stocked cabinets etc) dining nitch, living room with TV/VCR/DVD, master suite with full bath, closet, and TV,
second bedroom with two twin beds, closet, TV, secondary full bathroom, and the couch was a fold away bed. As we had
two of these rooms, that meant everyone but Danny had their own beds to sleep in. Given that we share quite a few beds
in our own home… the kids were quite excited about this aspect. After unloading the van, we all crashed for the night.
We chose to visit Disney’s Animal Kingdom for our first day of park visiting this trip. None of us had been to Animal
Kingdom before. Additionally, it wasn’t an early opening park for on site staying visitors… so we figured it wouldn’t be one
of the more crowded parks of the day. Frankly, it being the week of Christmas, we expected the parks to be absolutely
packed. Amy had done all the research on the most popular attractions and had planned on getting to those first thing in
the morning before the big crowds had arrived. So we got up and out of the condos by 6:30. A drive through McDonalds
breakfast got us to the park gates before 7:30. We actually had to wait a bit for the gates to open. We got in, rented a
double stroller (worth every penny of the $18.00 rental fee as it allowed us to not have to carry around our provisions for
the day) and set off for the Kilimanjaro Safari ride. Of course the kids have been to many zoos before, but never a safari
ride. They seemed to enjoy it quite a bit. We then jumped on the train to the petting zoo. Gretchen continued in keeping
her distance from goats so she simply looked through the shops. Lines for pictures with Pocahontas, Rafiki and Jiminy
Cricket were very short, so we took that opportunity for some snapshots. We then listened to a woman give a
presentation on a particular type of lizard. My kids cleaned up in Q&A category. Then again, by shear numbers they
didn’t give many others much of a chance to answer questions.
From there we did the jungle trek. The kids (especially AJ) really enjoyed attempting to find every bird species on the
provided printed guides. Lindsey wanted to jump on the river rapids, but we said we’d do that later in the day after it
warmed up more.
We then made our way over to the Lion King show. Again, short lines got us in quite quickly. The show was VERY good.
I had been anticipating actual parts of the stage play, but it was a quite a bit different. More of a circus show set to Lion
King music, with costumes made to match the theme. Singers had great voices.
We skipped the Pocahontas live show as we had just seen the lizard presentation and went straight to the Bugs Life
show. We forgot to warn the kids of the 3D and other live effects of such shows, so Matt panicked a bit when the bugs
crawled under our seats and he felt them on his butt. Took us a little while to calm him down.
By this time, we were getting hungry so we hit a snack bar called Yak & Yeti for burgers and nuggets. Given the tone of
our trip so far, I took to calling it the Yakking Yeti. Since we were so close, we then attended the bird show. I was
particularly engrossed by the bald eagle that was presented. From there, the kids wanted to head towards DinoLand. On
the way we saw the wait for Nemo the Musical. AJ and I decided to hold a spot in line for the next show while Amy took
the rest of the kids to the TriceraTop Spin (Dumbo ride with Trikes.)
The Nemo show was, in my opinion, the highlight of the day. It was what I was expecting the Lion King show to be.
Essentially like the Lion King stage play, it was the movie (significantly shortened) set to a musical where all the
characters are very elaborate puppets so that they move very much like the real animal. Particularly impressive were the
jellyfish and manta ray. Amy said she couldn’t stop grinning through the entire show.
Chelsea kept saying she wanted to go on the Dinosaur ride, so we took all but Gretchen, Theresa and Danny over there.
For some reason, I hadn’t made the connection of Dinosaur the ride with Dinosaur the movie (with Aladar.) Once we
made that realization, we cautioned Matt that this ride would have a lot of the scary scenes from the movie (i.e. the
Carnotaurs and the asteroid collision.) With him properly prepared we entered the ride. It’s a “transport” back in time to
observe and bring back a live sample. When the final carnotaur made his strobe light flashing, ear pounding appearance,
Matt was back in panic mode. Unlike the last trip to Disney and other parks, this was to be his last time reacting with fear
to an attraction. AJ and I were disappointed that the actual asteroid collision wasn’t part of the ride.
It was now getting late by Animal Kingdom standards. Also, Chelsea and Matt were reaching break down stage. We still
had the River Rapids and Expedition Everest rollercoaster to go on… so we compromised and opted for just the
rollercoaster. We sat Gretchen down with the little kids and Chelsea (at the Yakking Yeti) while Amy, AJ, Lindsey and I
made our way to the line. Again after a short wait we were on. Interesting coaster in that the track is ripped apart by the
Yeti, so the ride ends up having to go backwards through a goodly portion. AJ was still in a weak enough state that when
Amy and Lindsey announced they wanted to go again, he and I opted to go back and join the others at the snack bar.
When they got done with the ride, Amy called me and told me Lindsey had thrown up on the ride. I announced it to the
rest of the group… who all groaned. By that time, I had caught on to Amy’s joke. The rest of the group took a little longer
to catch up. Park was closing soon (8:00), so we headed out and planned a little different strategy for what would be a
VERY long day at Magic Kingdom the next day. Turned in our stroller and carried both Danny and Theresa to the car.
Theresa is quite a little chunk now and I actually was worried about springing a hernia.
Back at the condo, we decided we’d save a little money by making French toast in our rooms and bypassing the McD’s
drive through. We pretty much followed that strategy for the rest of the stay at Orlando.
Breakfast completed in room, we had decided on Magic Kingdom for Christmas Eve. The Jonas Brothers (from Disney
Channel) were to be in the MK parade in the evening… according to Gretchen. So, we parked in the lot at the
Transportation Center and got on the monorail to the park entrance. The ferry boat had a shorter line, but Gretchen
apparently has a fear of anything ending in “oat.” Boats much more so than goats... so monorail it was.
We decided to start with the right side of the park this trip, in Tomorrowland. Last time we had started in Adventureland.
This tack settled and stroller rented… I left the group to grab fast passes to the Stitch show. When I got there, though, all
the lines in Tomorrowland were so short… fast passes weren’t necessary. This proved to be true for the bulk of the trip
against all expectations. It’s not that we didn’t use ANY fast passes, but rather we had hit all the major attractions at a
time when they weren’t necessary. The Stitch show was completely revamped from our last visit when it was Alien
Encounter. Much more tamed down and not as entertaining in Amy’s and my opinion. Then again, it was a better show
for kids. Since neither Theresa nor Danny was tall enough to see Stitch we had to split attending. I took the first crowd
through while Amy sat with the little ones. Afterwards, she took a few back to the show while Chelsea, AJ and I took the
little ones on the Buzz Lightyear shoot em up ride. I took high score while holding Danny. Once Amy, Gretchen and
Lindsey got done with Stitch we got on the Buzz ride again (short line again) and I took high score again. Amy protested
she had to hold Danny and was therefore handicapped. Next it was on to Monster’s Inc. Comedy Club. The kids enjoyed
it along with Amy. I expected it to be funnier, but it WAS entertaining to see the computer animated characters actually
interact with live audience members. This was to be repeated at Epcot with Crush (more on that later.)
From there we grabbed fast passes for Space Mountain and passed the time delay by going on the Indy Car ride. It WAS
a challenge coming up with who was going to ride with who, as AJ insisted on driving in spite of the fact that he drives a
real vehicle every day. That meant AJ and Chelsea each drove a passengerless car, while Theresa rode with Amy,
Lindsey rode with Gretchen, and Danny and I rode with Matt driving. Matt started by doing all the driving himself, but his
leg got tired pretty quickly so I worked the gas pedal for him. After the cars, we still had some time before fast passes to
Space Mountain, so I suggested the rollercoaster in Mickey’s Toon Town that looked tame enough for Matt to try. He
agreed so it proved to be a good warm up to Space Mountain. From there it was all down hill for Matt and rollercoasters
(pun intended.) He loved it, and went on every other coaster we sampled. I wouldn’t say that he’s ready for some of the
biggest coasters at say Cedar Point or Six Flags, but he certainly mastered everything Disney had to throw at him.
After a little more visit with Toon Town, we backed up to Tomorrowland for lunch where we could also see the show at
Cinderella’s Castle. Nice shady spot to watch the show and have an extended relaxing lunch. Afterwards, we cut through
the castle to deliver on the promise to let Theresa ride on Dumbo. Chelsea and Amy decided to stay behind near the
castle to watch the parade, and AJ and Matt opted to go on the Toon Town coaster again. We had about an hour long
wait for Dumbo as it’s not a Fast Pass attraction. It turned out to be the longest wait of the trip. While in line, the cell
phones kept us connected on working on a next step strategy. Once AJ and Matt were done with the coaster, they
scoped out the shortest lines and best fast pass opportunities. AJ suggested Mickey’s Philharmagic, but was over ruled in
favor of another long wait for the Pooh ride. While in line for Pooh, AJ and Matt passed the time with a game of hand
slaps. I began to notice that the 17 year old was giving the 8 year old no leeway… so after a while and for a lesson I
challenged AJ to the game. When AJ’s hands were turning red I finally missed and it was his turn to have a go at me. He
missed on his first try, so his swelling flesh got no respite. Others around us were so enjoying watching us that many
games of slaps started through out the switch backs. Particularly entertaining was the one that broke out between Matt
and the ~ 8 year old girl in front of us. Even her parents were enjoying the show.
After Pooh we split up again. Amy took Danny and Theresa on It’s a Small World, while I took the rest to the Haunted
Mansion. Amy said the little ones really enjoyed the show and that it seemed a bit different than the last time we were
there. The Mansion also had its share of changes… including a relatively short break down mid ride.
We reunited and opted for supper (more burgers and nuggets/strips) and planned to scope out spots for the SpectroMagic
parade. This is when we expected to see the Jonas Brothers. Alas, they were in the Christmas DAY parade, not the
Christmas EVE parade as we had been informed by the female teeny-boppers of the family. Still, we found a GREAT
spot for the parade and sat down to rest. I, for one, hate parades as my mom and dad would take us to many as kids and
force us to watch the whole boring thing. This parade, however, was VERY entertaining. I videoed the whole thing (which
I’ve always complained my dad did) so I’ll have to do some judicious editing. Fireworks were to follow, so we moved to
grab some quite good spots in front of the castle. The castle was done up in lights to make it look like the roofs were
covered and over flowing with snow. Very cool looking. I took some (well… more than some) pictures to assure I’d have
at least one GOOD shot.
We had planned on staying until past midnight, but Chelsea and Matt were both starting to shut down as it was now past
10:00. So we decided to do a quick ride on Pirates of the Caribbean and Thunder Mountain and call it a night. Matt,
again, could not have had more fun on Thunder Mountain, and I FINALLY got to ride on it. That task done, we headed
“home” for the night. Little did we know that in spite of heading out before 11:00, we’d still be on Disney property to
The lines for the monorail were SO long that Gretchen said she was willing to try to ignore her fear and get on the ferry
boat. Once on the boat and heading to open lake, I think she regretted her decision as panic and subsequent break down
set in. The rest of the family, however, thanked her for her decision. However, the optimism proved to be a bit premature.
When we got to the tram lines, it was clear we were going to be there for the better part of an hour. I sat down with
Theresa to keep from injuring myself and mid-night passed while waiting in line to cheers from the crowd. Before one
advises that we should have stayed on Disney property, and therefore would have used the buses… keep in mind that the
buses had equally long lines. Second day of Disney was done although much later than we expected.
A day to sleep in was capitalized on by all. As an early riser, I was up first and got on the task of finding a Catholic church
for Christmas mass. What I found was, “Mary, Queen of the Universe Shrine” less than 5 miles away.
The church was built exclusively on the donations from Catholic theme park visitors. It is huge. I’d guess it seats around
2000, and roughly 500 were standing for 11:30 mass. It’s not a parish, but rather a shrine built to cater to Orlando visitors.
The idea came from several priests who had been celebrating masses in hotels on and off Disney property. We decided
to stay after mass to study the stained glass windows which depicted a history of Christianity. Their nativity scene was
near life size and filled a room about the size of a standard classroom.
After mass we went to lunch at a Chinese buffet. No… there was no whole, roasted, smiling duck… trust me, I checked.
Still, the variety and food was VERY good. Amy and I deemed this the best meal of the trip. AJ and Gretchen were much
less impressed. Following lunch we went back to the condos. Everyone had an agenda, but we settled on playing putt
putt together. Watching Danny play was certainly entertaining. After putt putt, Amy bailed on me to take a nap, while I
took the rest of the kids swimming. I had the kids take Danny into the pool while I lounged in the hot tub to try to settle
some of the muscle aches earned over two days of park touring.
We thought we’d try Golden Corral for supper, but the line was so long we chose not to even get out of the car. Next
option was someplace in Downtown Disney. Again, finding the first two parking lots full and closed, we decided to try
somewhere else. We ended up doing drive through at McD’s and called it a night early.
Today was going to be a full day trying to get through as much of Epcot as possible. First on the agenda was Mission
Space. This is a space flight simulator that had some good vehicle dynamics. Not quite as good as Spiderman at
Universal, but good nonetheless. I got a bit queasy from the spinning and never got back to 100% the rest of the day. I
thought about sitting out Test Track (the GM sponsored vehicle test simulator), but found that it was actually quite mild. I
commented during the “rough road” simulation that our proving grounds durability course makes this road feel smooth.
Next up was the Finding Nemo aquarium. I’m still not sure how this attraction fits in with Epcot, but still it was pretty cool.
The kids and Amy found the computer animated but fully interactive Crush (the surfer dude sea turtle from the movie) to
be particularly entertaining. I did think it was funnier than the Monsters Inc comedy club, and the technology is certainly
After going through the Ellen Degeneres Energy show (where she is given a history of energy so she can better compete
with her high school rival on a dream sequence Jeopardy show) we headed for the back side of the park for the World
Showcase. For those that miss the original Ethnic Festival in South Bend, this is the place to be. Shops, crafts and food
from 11 different nations surround the lagoon. We stopped at Morocco for lunch then toured the shops. The kids were
MUCH more enthused after touring the shops. From Morocco we toured the Japan exhibit. In the shop, AJ found a $200
sword that interested him, but he admitted was way too expensive/valuable. He said he was looking for something more
than a plastic Pirates of the Caribbean sword, but less than a rare jeweled ninja sword that should only be on display
(certainly not when he shares a room with an 8 year old.) After more searching he found exactly what he was looking for
in a letter opener. For $15 (including shipping since selling and carrying wasn’t allowed in the park) he got an authentic
looking ninja sword. Later in the day (in China) he found another authentic sword for $55 (after shipping) that he still
found inappropriate for his stage in life. Gretchen made the kill of the trip at this same shop. They had a tank of oysters
that for $15 you could pick one and get whatever pearl was inside. Gretchen picked one that yielded a quite large and
brilliant blue pearl that was a steal for fifteen bucks. The cast members made a point of making a big deal that blue pearls
were the rarest as well. Gretchen picked a charm to have the pearl set in and we were on our way to The American
The main show at American Adventure was a multi-media, animatronic history of the USA “hosted” by Ben Franklin and
Mark Twain. The animatronics was MUCH better than I remember the Hall of Presidents being and the presentation was
engaging even for Matthew or even Theresa. Right outside this show was an outdoor set up for a full orchestra and choir.
Apparently, every Christmas, Disney presents a reading of the nativity story by celebrities while area musicians and
vocalists perform. Christmas night had Gary Sinise doing the reading, while the night we were there, Rita Moreno would
be performing. I was in the mood for seeing the entire show, but the line was too long. Instead, while the others toured
some of the other exhibits, I walked the two little ones in the stroller in an attempt to get them to nap some and see some
of the show. Didn’t work, but I did get to see a very small portion of the performance (before Moreno started reading. )
Chelsea and Theresa ate at China, while rest toured the shops. We stopped at the McDonalds by Canada to get most of
the kids nuggets and fries. Amy and I waited to eat Fish and Chips at the U.K. exhibit. Gretchen and Matt wanted to eat
at the American section, so we armed them with a cell phone and off they went. While at the U.K. section we watched a
Beatles imitation group called British Invasion. Not the best tribute group I’ve seen, but entertaining nonetheless. Their
best line was, “the more you drink, the more we sound like Beatles.” Following their show, Father Christmas came out
and gave a little talk and led some British carols. We then started to tour the U.K. shops. First one was exclusively
Beatles memorabilia. Walking around a bit more, I spotted the Tigger, Pooh and Eyeore characters taking pictures with
visitors. The line was VERY short, so since Pooh is a family favorite, I hustled everyone into line. I then called Gretchen
and Matt to RUN from where they were eating to join us. We let two families get in front of us so we could get a whole
family picture. After I took a couple shots, the Disney photographer volunteered to snap our pic with my camera. I was
ready to kill the guy when he took my camera and rotated it to portrait position to snap a picture of my nine family
members plus three Disney characters. Still, it was an opportunity that I’m glad we didn’t miss.
Leaving U.K. we headed for a quick tour of France before finding a spot for the fireworks show over the lagoon. Amy
found some WAY too expensive French pastries that in the long run were worth every penny. The fireworks show
(IllumiNations) was well worth the wait. Keep in mind that last time we were at Disney, we didn’t get to see ANY of the
night time shows due to thunderstorms. The rotating globe in the center of the lagoon was lit up with video of scenes that
I couldn’t quite make out. Hopefully my video will show it a bit better than my corrected eyesight.
The final day of Disney was to be one of putting our single day of park hopper passes to use. We decided we wanted to
see more of Epcot, and Magic Kingdom. We started at MK with the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse and the Jungle
Cruise. Best line of the Cruise was when the boat “driver” reminded parents to take their kids with them, for any that
remained would be taken to the It’s a Small World show and their feet super glued to the floor and put to work. She said
her 37 years of performing there was the most boring thing she’s done since the watching the show at Hall of Presidents.
After the cruise we went on Aladdin’s Magic Carpet ride (Dumbo on carpet cars instead of elephants.) While in line for
that ride, our family was taken aside and all given special blue and white Mickey ear hats to celebrate their year of making
dreams come true. I was actually dreading that we’d be given something like a vacation for four (where we’d then have to
buy vacations for five more.)
After the free ears and carpet ride, we hit the Tiki Room and a second round of Pirates of the Caribbean since Theresa
had been asleep for it on Christmas eve. She didn’t want to join us on Splash Mountain, so she missed the Brer Rabbit
and other Brer animals show along that ride. We then all went to explore Tom Sawyer Island for some exercise before
lunch. We let Matt be the leader in a follow the leader style exploration (much to the chagrin of AJ.) A checker game
broke out in the Miller’s Fort between Amy and Matt, but AJ and Chelsea seemed to take over to battle it out to a draw.
When we left the island, the parade was going through so I hiked up to Mickey’s PhilharMagic for some fast passes.
During the waiting period, we all at lunch. The PhilharMagic attraction had always had a short line, so we figured it was
too lame to bother with. We found we were quite wrong. It was a panoramic/wrap around movie of Donald Duck chasing
Mickey’s Sorcerer’s hat through many different Disney movie musical numbers, that were re-animated with computer
graphics and 3-D effects. As we had been listening to Disney music in the van quite a bit, the music was fresh in our
minds and the new animation was quite impressive and entertaining. Danny still talks about Donald crashing around us.
We decided we were pretty much done with MK so we headed for the gates, but Amy wanted to make a stop on Main
Street USA for some souvenir shopping. Of course there are many different shops on a side of a street, but they are all
connected inside into essentially one block long store interior. We all worked our way through, and on the far end had
gathered all our stuff to check out. It was then we noticed that none of us had seen Matthew for a while, so we sent AJ
and Lindsey to walk the length of the store to search for him. After a full sweep, they didn’t find him. Amy and Gretchen
decided to join their search while everyone else stayed with me. Two sweeps came up empty, and we announced to cast
members that he was officially lost. They asked if we had a meeting place and we confirmed that we were to meet on the
steps in front of Cinderella’s Castle. They put out the word of a lost boy, Amy went outside to search the crowd gathering
for the parade, while AJ headed towards the security office where lost children are sent. I stayed behind with everyone
else. It was AJ who came across him first. Apparently, Matt HAD gone outside to see what the crowd was gathering for,
but when he returned we had moved on and he couldn’t find us. He concluded that he was lost and headed straight for
the meeting place. Once he sat down on the steps, another visitor asked him if he was lost and he confirmed that he was.
The other visitor fetched a cast member who started to escort him to the security office where free video games were
going to be his entertainment until we were reunited. Unfortunately (for him) AJ and the and the cast member met up on
the way there… so he got gypped out of his video games. We all congratulated him for doing EXACTLY what he was
supposed to do.
We left MK, boarded the monorail for the transportation center, and caught another monorail to Epcot. We had an agenda
of seeing a few attractions we had missed in Future World then spending the bulk of the evening in World Showcase.
First we saw the Honey I Shrunk the Audience show in the Innovention attraction. I pretty much had to hold Theresa’s
eyes closed for the entire show (especially when the big snake came to eat us.) Next it was back to another visit with
Crush the surfer dude sea turtle from Finding Nemo. By the time we got done with all of that, we were getting hungry so
we stopped for supper. More burgers and nuggets and we were refueled but still exhausted from so much park touring.
We decided we’d do Spaceship Earth (the big Epcot ball) and call it a night/vacation. After about a 20 minute wait in line,
the show went fine until the ride broke down while we were pretty much at the top of the ball. We sat there a good 15-20
minutes before they re-booted and got us moving again.
We left to a much shorter monorail waiting line than the first night at MK and drove back to the hotel saying goodbye to
Disney as we exited the grounds.
Our agenda for Friday was to get to Nashville in time to visit with some co-workers for supper. I think I’ve decided that
trying to meet someone for supper is just a bad idea. We had done the Ken Cyr patented vacation breakfast bar in order
to save time later in the day, but saving time just wasn’t in the cards. Construction, accidents, and a little bit of weather
slowed us down to where meeting for supper just wasn’t possible. So we crashed in the Nashville area at a Motel 6 and
agreed to meet the Francesckina’s for breakfast on Saturday morning.
Francesckina’s joined us for a leisurely breakfast at Cracker Barrel just a few blocks from our motel. We told them all
about the trip down (no one was eating grits) and talked a lot about Harry Potter and recent movies. Then it was time to
get back on the road.
As we had abandoned any hope of getting home for a 2:00 pm Notre Dame Women’s basketball game we had tickets for,
I thought it might make a nice stop to visit Mammoth Cave. Exiting the highway and finding the tour center was quite easy
and I went in to scope out the situation. If we had planned for such a visit a little better, we probably would have taken a
tour, but Mammoth Cave isn’t too conducive to two and five year olds, plus the guided tours would have kept us there at
least another three hours (meaning we wouldn’t get home until 9:00 or 10:00. Maybe next time we’re in the area, we’ll
take a tour (and when Theresa and Danny are a bit older.)
We got back on the road and got home at about 6:30.
A couple general observations:
It may have just been me, but I felt the Christmas spirit at Disney quite a bit. Cast members are, of course, paid to be
VERY friendly and happy to visitors. However, visitors also felt (to me) like it was a special time to be there and seemed a
bit… well.. cheerful about it. I don’t remember encountering a cross word with anyone while at the parks.
I was surprised how much the weather/sundown affected me. Of course I’m used to warm weather during our summers,
but I wasn’t ready for warm weather where the sun goes down so early and it’s DARK by 6:30. I needed some extra
caffeine to keep me awake for even the nights when we weren’t trying to stay in the park until mid-night.
Also, the crowds were not nearly as bad as we expected. It certainly wasn’t empty, but again not the nightmare I had
th th th
planned on. The 23rd and 24 were what I’d call a normal crowd, while 26 and 27 were what I’d call busy. It seems
many stayed home on Christmas, then flocked to the parks after the actual holiday. Additionally, I saw many people
wearing shirts that made it obvious they were in Florida for the various bowl games.