A Truly Jolly Holiday
This past weekend I spent again at one of my favorite places on the planet, Walt Disney World. Yes, as some of you know, I was just there the weekend prior for the running of my second Disney 5K. However, I was unable to do many rides and attractions due to numerous scheduled ADRs and meets over the course of the weekend. I did manage to squeeze in a few rides with a friend from high school and her family, as well as one of my favorites: TTAP (Tomorrowland Transit Authority Peoplemover for the uninitiated).
When I found out that several friends were going to be around MLK weekend and I could get a decent AP rate at a moderate resort, that sealed the deal for another quick trip, driving up Sunday morning with hopes of making rope drop at Epcot, and then coming home sometime Monday evening. I set my alarm to get up early (for me) at 7am on Sunday to get a shower and hop in the car to try to make it to Epcot by 9. I was a little behind schedule, but still made good time getting there by 9:30ish.
I really didn’t have any specific plans with anyone to meet at a particular time, but was hoping to run into Ryan and Sally Kilpatrick and their kids, as well as Jackie Gailey and her family, both groups were down just for a quick weekend trip to WDW, and several other friends who are locals. As I entered Epcot, I was a little apprehensive about the crowds I would encounter as I saw no fewer than 5 flags for Brazilian tour groups before I even got through the ticket turnstiles.
I figured I would hit the bathroom for a quick pit stop before entering one of the long lines with the masses. Coming out of the restroom I ran into, almost literally, Sally and her daughter Lorelai. I went outside and met up with Ryan and Connor who were waiting for the girls. This was the second time I had accidentally run into friends at Epcot in the restrooms that I was trying to meet up with (first time was Nicole, John, JL and Todd back in November). Hmm … kind of odd.
Anyways, I spent a lovely morning with the Kilpatricks hitting several Future World attractions and then we grabbed a bite to eat at La Cantina. They had gotten FPs for Soarin’ and I had said I was going to mosey along WS before heading over to catch a boat to the Studios to see the new Pixar Pals Countdown to Fun Parade, which was to start at 3pm.
I was hoping to catch up with some more friends there later, but was kind of just going with the flow (insert FNtM song here). Strolling along, I stopped into the Karamel Kuche and was amazed to find it empty. I have been in there four or five times, and ever time the line is practically out the door. Taking advantage of the lack of crowds, I got a nice snack of caramel corn and was once again on my way.
I decided to try to see a showing of the American Adventure since I hadn’t seen it my last few trips. My friend Shelley sent me a message she was on her way over to meet me and then would go to the parade with me. We met right before the AA show was to start and then hustled over to try to get a boat from Epcot to DHS in order to make it for the parade.
This was the plan anyways. It didn’t exactly work out that way. We missed the boat leaving the IG dock by a couple minutes and decided to hoof it to try to catch it at the Beach Club. Along the way we joked that we would commandeer one of the unoccupied golf carts along the route or jump on the back of one of the maintenance carts as they drove by. Shelley was such a good friend that she ran ahead to flag down the captain as the boat was docked and looking like it was ready to leave. Alas, her efforts were wasted as the CM was not too kind and waved her off as he pushed off without us.
Just as we were about to give up hope of making the 3 o’clock parade (what time is that again?), a golf cart transporting guests pulled up to the end of the dock in front of the Yacht Club. I asked the CM, Janice, if we could hop a ride and she asked where we were going. We told her to DHS and that we were trying to make the parade by 3 (at this point it was 2:35). She said she was heading to the Boardwalk, but she would take us as close as she could to the pathway leading to the Studios. If it weren’t for this kind soul, we never would have made it on time, and our feet would have been a whole lot worse off than they already were.
Thanks to Janice going above and beyond the call of duty, and out of her way, we made it to DHS with about 15 minutes to spare. This allowed us time to grab a quick adult beverage (we earned it) at the Tune In Lounge, and then to meet up with friends like the Gailey family, the Hochbergs, Mike, Glenn, Scarlett and her boys, the Perlmutters, Erin, the Kilpatricks, Shawn and Katie, Shelley’s husband Dave and daughter Zoe as well as others who had gathered to see the inaugural performance of the Pixar Pals Countdown to Fun Parade.
Now I’m not going to go into a lot of detail about the parade, because honestly there isn’t much to tell. I was very underwhelmed by the performance and clocked it in its entirety at just under eight minutes. The floats are mostly recycled from the superior Block Party Bash and there were two songs alternated repeatedly for the soundtrack. The costumes appeared to be the same as the BPB ones, and the characters were mostly the same (okay – swap out a few like the green army men from Toy Story for Carl, Russell and Dug from Up and that’s about it).
After experiencing the “parade,” a group of us went to Babycakes at DTD for some tasty baked goods. I had been in the building and looked at the cases with skepticism since I don’t usually partake in gluten-free food, but had never tried anything. I was very pleasantly surprised with the toasted coconut donut that I had. It was moist and flavorful. It was almost falling apart to the point where it may have been easier to eat with a fork, but I would definitely get it again.
I hitched a ride back to the BC with the Caran family and enjoyed the nice walk back to the International Gateway entrance of Epcot with the sun just beginning to set. Once I made it in the park, I met up with the Kilpatricks again in France. They were going to be eating small counter service options and drinking a few adult beverages around the World Showcase and kindly allowed me to once again join their family.
We experienced a highly enjoyable Impressions de France. At least it was for me, Sally may have been a bit annoyed with my play by play for Lorelai. Since she kept asking if it was in 3D, I would tell her no, but it feels like you are flying, or on a boat, or skiing, or on a train, etc., but would do so as each scene was coming up. Yes, I know this movie well enough to tell you when each cut is, a different piece of music, and can even do a decent portion of the narration, but I won’t do that for you, unless you want me to. Ryan went to stand in the long line for the patisserie, while I hung out with the kids while Sally went to procure a couple of Grey Goose slushes for us.
Traversing the WS counterclockwise brought us to Morocco where Ryan and I decided to grab a light dinner and beer. Back in December when I met the Kilpatricks at Reunion 2010, they had told me about Casa beer in Morocco’s Tangerine Cafe, but it was not meant to be that trip as the cafe was sold out of the prized beer. So this trip I made sure I tried one, if only to humor my friends. 😉 Now you may be saying, but wait, didn’t you just get a Grey Goose slush in France? Why, yes, in fact I did, and no, I didn’t down it during the short walk from France to Morocco (only in the WS can one say this). This is what resulted in the double fishing (or fisting as it is more commonly known) picture seen here.
The next thing on the Kilpatricks to do list was AA, but since I had already experienced it earlier in the day, I opted to wander around and take a few pictures across the WS lagoon and of the American pavilion. Not realizing what time it was, I heard a few booms and crackles in the distance and was giddy with delight when I looked at my watch to see it was time for Wishes at the Magic Kingdom. Another wonderful thing I had discovered during Reunion (aside from the many many new friends I made), was that Wishes can be seen pretty well from the far side of the lagoon on a clear night. Why I hadn’t noticed this prior to December, we will never know, but I guess I will just chalk it up to bad timing or bad weather. Regardless, Sunday night was one of those clear ones where you could see Wishes beautifully from just beside the America Gardens Theatre. I was able to catch a good portion of it before the Kilpatricks emerged from the AA.
We continued along grabbing a few more snacks and drinks along the way until they made their way onto the Maelstrom, sorry, not one of my favorites. After Norway, we headed to catch a quick ride on the Gran Fiesta Tour featuring the Three Caballeros. I especially looked forward to experiencing this ride as Ryan had just hosted a tweetwatch (www.disneyfilmproject.com) of the movie earlier in the week and I wanted see some of the similarities and nods to the film in the ride. It was a practically perfect way to finish the night. As we said our goodbyes, the Kilpatrick family headed off to try to catch one final ride on Test Track and I decided to stick around for Illuminations since I am sucker for fireworks.
When Illuminations ended, I opted to take my time leaving the park for a change. Yes, I was tired, and I hadn’t checked in to my hotel yet, but I like the feeling of almost having the park to myself. I stopped in Mouse Gear to get a sweet track jacket celebrating WDW 40th Anniversary that I had seen the week before. Then slowly walked to the front of the park, snapping pictures along the way. After a long day of almost 14 hours in the parks, I finally made it to my room at Coronado Springs around 11pm.
I had only stayed at CSR once before, about 2 years ago, and was not really keen on the decor (think Fiestaware plate colors), but it was available and the least expensive room with only a couple of days notice for a holiday weekend. When I got to my room I was pleasantly surprised, as I was unaware that the rooms had undergone refurbishment since I was there last. They are now much more appealing to me with a clean look of dark wood, white linens, turquoise accents, but still with the Fiestaware colored drapes and shower curtain. I really like how they changed the curtain separating the bedroom and bathroom area into a nice set of large sliding doors.
Monday morning I woke up to a very drizzly and gray day. Despite the slight rain, I decided to walk over to El Centro to grab some breakfast, instead of taking the bus. Not the best decision I made all day. When I got about halfway in to the almost 10 minute walk, the heavens let loose. Then the wind started, and the thunder, and finally the lightning. This was not a particularly fun walk, especially since I was wearing flip flops with no traction and my brand new track jacket, not my rain jacket. Epic fail on my part. However, I will say that the track jacket did keep me sufficiently dry to where my camera I had zipped inside the jacket and my t-shirt stayed dry. Woo hoo!
Breakfast at the Pepper Market was a little bit of a different experience than what I am used to at WDW. Normally I will go for the counter service option just to get the kids meal of Mickey waffles, grapes, a side of bacon and a small bottle of water, all for about $4. The Pepper Market is kind of a combination between table and counter service. You enter the gated restaurant, which is setup kind of like a small supermarket with different areas – bakery, meat, fruit, eggs, etc., and are given a ticket. After choosing what you want, you proceed to whichever station serves that item, tell the CM what you would like, hand them your ticket, they mark the ticket with your order, and then they give you your food. Once you have your food, you proceed to seat yourself at a table, where a server then comes and takes your drink order, if you didn’t get one already. When you are done, you take your ticket up to one of the registers posted by the exits and pay for your meal. I was a little disappointed that the kids meal didn’t include the bacon, so I had to pay for it separately, but I did get about four strips for $3 as opposed to the usual two that come with the kids meal, so it wasn’t horrible.
While I was sitting enjoying my Mickey waffles, I got a phone call from my mom suggesting that I come home early due to the nasty storms (60 – 70 mph wind gusts, t-storms and tornado warnings) in the area of WDW and most of the central part of the state. I told her I had arranged for a late check out at 1pm and would keep an eye on the weather and then make an informed decision. This is one of those days I was really glad I didn’t take my mom’s advice. I decided to wait out the rain as much as possible and spent a highly enjoyable late morning listening to my friends Ryan and Todd and friend I haven’t met yet, Brie, in the second episode of their podcast.
While the previous day was filled with friends pretty much from start to finish, this day was shaping up to be a solo day. I left Coronado Springs at 1, arriving in the MK at 1:30pm to rain and gray skies. Fortunately for me, the storms had scared off many people, leaving the park practically deserted. Typically, when I get to the park this late in the day, I resign myself to the fact that I will get to do a few rides with minimal waits and then see mostly shows to occupy my time.
This was not to be the case on this truly magical day. I made my way up Main Street USA, ducking in and out of shops, thoroughly enjoying the music after two months of Christmas music. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love Christmas music, and I am one of those people who listens to it from November 1 to December 25, but I like my traditional music on Main Street. I stopped at the tip board to formulate a plan since the storms were messing with my phone Lines wasn’t working.
I could hardly contain my excitement when I saw these wait times. Most everything was below 15 minutes, with the longest at 35 minutes for Peter Pan. At this point in the day, the wait for PP is normally 60 – 90 min. Now the practical thing to do would have been to hightail it to the mountains, but I am at the parks often enough where I won’t wait in line longer than 10 – 15 minutes for anything. So I figured I would take things in stride and just go in order geographically and see what happened.
Jungle Cruise was the first ride I decided to check out and was shocked to find the wait time to be listed at five minutes, but in actuality it was a walk on! I came off hoping that this trend would continue. Next up was Pirates which showed a ten minute wait, but was also a walk on! This was just unreal. I knew it was raining, but this was an indoor ride. Thinking this couldn’t go on, I went to a ride that almost always has a wait over an hour this late in the day. My hopes weren’t high, but I was willing to give it a shot at Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. The posted wait was 15 minutes, but I was in a car in four minutes!
I was just amazed that I had basically walked on to my first three rides in less than an hour. Pushing my luck even further, I opted to forgo the Country Bears and cruised on up to Haunted Mansion. Again, a posted wait time of ten minutes, but was a walk on.
Although I didn’t want to stop the magic, my body needed fuel. I stopped in to Columbia Harbour House to try the infamous Lighthouse sandwich. If you haven’t tried this yet, you really need to. It is one of the best sandwiches I have had on property. Made with multigrain bread, hummus, broccoli slaw and tomatoes, the lunch came with a side of the Disney kettle potato chips. I don’t normally finish my entire meal, but this seemed really well proportioned and I was hungry.
Fantasyland held much of the same magic when I walked onto It’s A Small World. I checked Peter Pan and saw it still listed as 35 min, so I went ahead and got a fast pass. I looked at the line for Dumbo and saw it didn’t even fill the queue area at now after 3:30pm. I hopped in line and found it to be a very quick 10 minute wait for one of my favorites. I thought I would sneak in a quick show at Mickey’s Philharmagic as it is my favorite show in the Magic Kingdom, but it was down and had been most of the day.
I switched gears back to rides and had a less than five minute wait for Snow White. Next was something special for me. I have ridden the carousel many many times, but have never been able to find and ride Cinderella’s horse (signified with a gold ribbon around the tail) before someone else got to it. This was my lucky day! I looked frantically, hoping that none of the other twenty or so people on the ride found it before I did. I can only imagine how my face must have looked to passersby when I got so excited to find a particular horse on the carousel. Oh well, it was magical to me.
By this time, I was beginning to formulate a goofy idea in my mind. Since wait times were still so ridiculously low, why not try to do all of the rides in the park? The rain had all but completely disappeared now, so I was really enjoying the comfortable (60s) temps, even though it was still slightly overcast. I checked back at Philharmagic to see that it was still down on my way to Peter Pan. As I showed my FP, the CM said “have a nice ride princess” to me. Now this may not seem like a big deal to anyone else, but it really made me feel special for some reason and I genuinely thanked the CM for her kindness. (I know, I’m a sap, but what can I say, I like to pretend I really am a princess sometimes.)
I rode Peter Pan, and even had time to snap a picture for my friend Scott and sent it to him, since I know it is his favorite ride and he had been having a snowy week in Pennsylvania. The CM who was supposed to be collecting the FPs forgot to get mine, which always makes me smile. Not because I would use it again, but so I could keep it as a souvenir to help me remember this extra magical day.
After exiting Peter Pan, I was apprehensive of what I would find at Winnie the Pooh. The sign said 20 minutes, but the line didn’t look nearly that long, plus I wanted a chance to play in the new queue area. I had been on the ride before since the refurb, but only right after rope drop when they send you through the FP line. The wait ended up being a whopping 12 minutes, my longest wait of the day so far, but I didn’t mind since I got to play with the hunny walls. 🙂
From Pooh I walked onto the Mad Tea Party and even attempted to stream the ride. Let me just tell you, it is not an easy undertaking to spin one of those tea cups with one hand while trying to hold a phone steady to take video, but someone’s got to do it. I still need to go online to watch the videos I took throughout the day. It was so wet out when I first arrived at the park, I didn’t want to take out my DSLR, so all pictures and video throughout the day were taken on my phone. Check out the videos here.
Having completed the rides in Fantasyland, and after failing to meet up with my friend Shalon despite several attempts on both of our parts, I headed into Tomorrowland. I saw that she had posted a walk on at Space Mountain, and decided I would try the ride again even though it is not one of my favorites. I have been on it twice before, but not since they finished the refurb and added the new Starryophonic sound effects. When I got to SM, I was mildly relieved that the ride was down, thinking that I would get a pass and it wasn’t my fault it wasn’t operational.
I hustled over to TTAP to see if I could get inside SM and see what was going on. I don’t know about you all, but I am not a fan of getting back on a ride right after it has broken down. Something just worries me about it. Oh well. When I was on TTAP and went into SM, the lights were on, but just after we passed the space shuttle, the lights went back off. The ride wasn’t going, but the lights went out and the music came on, which was kind of weird and eerie without the ride vehicles making the whooshing noise all above your car.
As I came down the ramp from TTAP, I looked over to see if SM was back up yet and it still wasn’t, so I headed to Buzz, which showed a 10 minute wait. I timed it at just over two minutes and they didn’t even have a CM there taking FPs at the inside queue like they usually do. Happily, I can report I maxed out my score at 999,999 way before the last room. The last five times I had played, I didn’t even come close, I think 650,000 was the next highest I had had in the past few months. I even thought ahead to do a funny pose with my hands folded behind my head like I was relaxing, and it was a great picture, but the battery on my phone died before I could take a picture of the picture. Next time.
I marched over to SM, determined to give it one last shot. If it was down, I was not coming back, and now I had it in my head that I was going to all the rides before the park closed at 9pm come Hell or high water. Of course the ride was back up again, so I filed into the long tunnel leading deep into the inner sanctum of the mountain. To be honest, I almost chickened out, but thankfully I survived the ten minute wait. Did I mention, I really don’t like this ride? The best I can relate to you is that it is too herky jerky for me. I just don’t enjoy it, but since they had done the refurb, I felt I owed it to the hardworking imagineers to not skip out on something that perhaps had been improved. Yeah, not so much for me. I felt like a rag doll that had been thrown in the washing machine. It is just not my cup of tea, and it will probably be years again before I ride SM, but I did it for the sake of completion.
Another ride that I am not too fond of, and one I had only done once previously, was Astro Orbiter. The first time I rode it someone told me it was just like Dumbo, except cooler because you could see the castle and more of the park since it was up higher. That person was a big fat liar that I think just wanted me to be miserable because Astro Orbiter is NOT, I repeat, NOT the same as Dumbo. Yes, I suppose the general mechanics of the two rides are similar, but you could say the same about a paper airplane and a hang glider. One of these things is not like the other. With AO, the first time I rode, I felt like it went completely sideways and that I was going to fall out. I did it this time anyways. I didn’t have the falling out sensation that I did previously, but it was the coming down that seemed way faster than before that made this not nearly as enjoyable as my beloved flying elephant.
I felt like I needed a reward after braving SM and AO, so I went to another one of my favorites at the MK, the Carousel of Progress. I technically consider it a ride since you move, not the stage. So again, for the sake of completion, it was on the list. Here is where I send a shout out to another one of my friends I haven’t met yet, Monina, one of the new Moms Panelists for this year. This is her favorite ride, so I send her a pic each time I go on it now. A nice slow revolving show was exactly what I needed to recharge my batteries after the two previous rides.
At this point, I started to do the math to see how many rides I had left and how much time. I don’t usually pick up park maps unless they have recently added something or are special for the holidays, opting instead for just a times guide to give me show info. It was after 7pm and the sun had set, after a few brief moments of sun even! Now I was racking my brain, and asking my Twitter friends (or pocket friends as someone affectionately dubbed them) for a list of all of the rides in the MK. I didn’t want meet and greets, didn’t want shows or parades, just rides. I knew I still needed Tomorrowland Indy Speedway, so that’s where I headed next.
My heart sunk a little when I walked up to the queue for TIS and saw a 25 minute wait time. If you’ve been paying attention, up to this point, the longest wait of the day had been 12 minutes, and that was for Winnie the Pooh, a ride I actually enjoy. It isn’t that I don’t like TIS, but there are many many rides that I like better, and again, I pretty much refuse to wait for more than 15 minutes. I think part of my motivation was a little Mojo (Mary Jo Collins) on my shoulder whispering that this was almost like a mini afternoon only ultimate touring plan. Okay, maybe reading my twitter stream about friends planning to do an ultimate touring plan of the MK during Wine & Dine weekend this year may have had something to do with it, but Mojo was the instigator. So to make a long story short, too late, I know, I got in line.
While in line, I have to say thanks to Sally Kilpatrick and Steve Bassett, I had one of the most enjoyable waiting experiences by myself ever. The night before, Sally and her kids and I had been running lines from one of our favorite movies, Clue. This was much to the chagrin of her husband Ryan, since apparently there is a little bit too much Clue the Movie in his life and he says he would prefer a little variety. I love the spice of life, but I love Clue more. 😉 So fast forward to Monday night in line for TIS. Apparently Sally was needing to be entertained in the car on the ride back to ATL and took to twitter to run the lines of Clue. Steve and I happily assisted and a fun time was seemingly had by all. Now I don’t even want to know what the people in line around me thought as I was literally laughing out loud and repeating the lines under my breath, but it sure was the fastest 15 minute wait I’ve ever had and I was just happy it wasn’t 25.
Realizing the clock was working against me, I quickly walked to Toontown to ride the Barnstormer since I knew this would probably be my last opportunity to ride it in its current incarnation before the New Fantasyland changes take place. I was prepared to have to wait for this, but to my delight, it was a walk on and I got the front car, so I got to pilot the plane. I almost had the entire coaster to myself, but a father and son walked up to the back car just a few seconds before we were to take off on the wild and crazy ride.
As I came off the Barnstormer, I recognized that I had made an error in my calculations for completing all the rides of the MK. The train just pulled into the station and I tried to run for it, but missed it by a few seconds. I forgot to take into account that the Liberty Belle Riverboat and the railroad do not run until park closing, but typically close at dusk. I was slightly disappointed at my forgetfulness, but realized I had to soldier on since I had missed the Magic Carpets of Aladdin back in Adventureland before this whole crazy plan came about.
I knew I wanted to see Wishes at 8pm and it was now creeping up past 7:30, but I had to get to Aladdin. Another thing I forgot to factor in to my travels across the park was the Main Street Electrical Parade. From Toontown, there really is no easy way to circumvent the parade that starts at Main Street and progresses through the hub to Liberty Square and ends in Frontierland. So as I came across the bridge from Fantasyland towards the hub, I resigned myself to the fact that I was just going to have to wait out the parade before crossing in to Adventureland and I would just have to hope I could get on and off quickly enough to get a decent spot from which to watch Wishes.
Realizing I hadn’t eaten in several hours, and knowing that I wanted to get dinner at Captain Cook’s at the Polynesian before I headed home, I decided to add an extra step tothe challenge and see if I could grab a dole whip for a snack after Aladdin and before Wishes. Again, the tiki gods were with me on this day. Aladdin was an absolute walk on to where not even all the magic carpets were in use. Maybe Genie was looking out for me since he knew I was hungry. I also encountered three waiting CMs at the window of Aloha Isle, all just waiting to sell me a dole whips. Now this is the stuff dreams are made of.
I headed back over the Adventureland bridge with my dole whip in hand to try to find a spot for Wishes. I almost ran when I saw an empty bench 50 feet in front of meet on the castle side of the bridge. Sometimes it is something as simple as a nice place to rest and people watch while enjoying a treat for a few minutes that makes all the difference in the world. This was a practically perfect way to finish the night. I didn’t need the straight on view of the castle from the hub as I had watched the fireworks from there the previous Sunday night. At that stage in the day, I needed a seat and a mostly unobstructed view.
Wishes, as always was magical. Tink flew, music soared triumphantly along side volleys of fireworks, and I was as gleeful as I could be. I didn’t want to leave, but knew I had a long drive ahead of me and could see fog rolling in across the Seven Seas Lagoon as I boarded the boat to the Polynesian. I took the peaceful boat ride through the dense fog to reflect on my truly amazing day in the Magic Kingdom.
I had done more rides in one 7 hour stretch than I probably had in any entire day before. In case you can’t tell, I’ve never done an ultimate touring plan. I am one of those people that goes often enough where I don’t get too upset if I can’t do any one ride or show in particular, and therefore don’t wait for any period of time. I can always do it next time. This was one of those days I will never forget. Not for the usual reasons like the great performers in the parades or because of the company I kept, but for the complete freedom and ability to do everything I wanted and to actually accomplish something at the end of the day, that I never would have dreamed would have been attainable coming in at 1:30 in the afternoon. Dreams really do come true at the Most Magical Place on Earth, even sometimes dreams that you didn’t even know you had.