Laura and Lee's Almost-Like-Being-There Trip Report

Hello! Thanks for joining us for our mostly live trip report. We've never tried to do this before, so we'll see how it goes. In addition to the laptop, Lee is bringing his digital camera, so we hope to have some photos to share with all of you, too.

Wednesday, Jan. 28

landl_totem.jpg (21094 bytes)I know I've said this before...but why do vacations have to start so darn early??? 7:00 flight, which means we have to leave the house by 5:30...yawn. Oh well, at least we get to fly out of the new terminal at the San Diego airport for the first time - it just opened a couple weeks ago - just in time for the Super Bowl.

Both of our flights were uneventful, and we even arrived in Orlando a few minutes early. As usual, Lee's bag made its appearance well before mine did - some things never change.

We got our rental car, and it was off to the World! :-)

We checked into the Wilderness Lodge - this is truly a beautiful place. We have visited it briefly on our last two trips, but this has been our first opportunity to actually stay here. So far, we think we're going to love it here. We have a room on the 5th floor with a view of the woods, and at 7:00 tonight we also discovered that we can see the fireworks from the Magic Kingdom, too! Woo hoo! :-)

After the fireworks we headed off to Downtown Disney - we had tried to visit it back in December, but during our dinner at Planet Hollywood a torrential rainstorm developed outside, and we practically had to swim back to our car. No such problems tonight, though - clear skies with lots of stars, but it's breezy and rather chilly outside - definitely not t-shirt and shorts weather.

After walking around for a while we decided to have dinner at Wolfgang Puck's. We put our name in, and were told to expect a 20-30 minute wait - they gave Lee some sort of beeper that lit up rather than beeping - but it would only work inside the building. While we were waiting Lee enjoyed going through the HUGE Virgin Record store, and bought a few CDs, while I shopped for gifts at a couple of other stores.

We both arrived back at the restaurant 20 minutes later - just in time for them to seat us. We had a very nice dinner - Lee had the pad thai noodles, and I had some spring rolls and the tortilla soup - which was good, but just a little hot for my taste.

firework.jpg (17071 bytes)They are building "Disney Quest", and "Cirque du Soleil" over on the west side, which are both set to open later this year. There certainly will be plenty of things to entertain people down there. We checked out the movies at the AMC 20 - we may try to see a movie later this week.

When we got back to the hotel we checked at the front desk to find out the details about the times for the Wilderness Lodge tour, and when Stan is giving it. A very helpful CM (quite appropriately named Walt!) told us all about the tours, and went off to find out which days Stan would be working.

At 10:30 we heard more fireworks - guess there were two fireworks shows at the Magic Kingdom tonight! We watched this one from our balcony, too.

Tomorrow we plan to take a tour of the Lodge and go spend some time in Epcot, which we love - it is definitely our favorite park.

Stay tuned! :-)

Thursday, January 29

landstan.jpg (19645 bytes)Lee had some work to finish, and got on the computer only to find that it was misbehaving, and had lost most of the work that he had done on the plane yesterday.   Uh, oh. 

I got up just in time for us to make the 9:30 Lodge Tour - which talked about the architecture of the Wilderness Lodge, when it was built, and lots of other details.   We had been advised to go on a day when Stan was giving the tour (as he was today) and he is *excellent*.  Very knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and friendly.

Stan pointed out many of the artistic details, such as the teepee lamps, the carved animals atop the poles, the totem poles, the iron work, the significance of the layering in the fireplace chimney, but, most importantly, the difference between Disney posts and beams, and real wood posts and beams (it's tough to tell them apart!).  We went outside and saw the pool and the geyser, and learned that even though the same water source seems to feed the stream, waterfall, pool, and geyser, it's actually multiple different water systems.  We also learned that the geyser's height is controlled by an anemometer, and when the wind is blowing too hard in the wrong direction (where the spray would get the guests too wet), the geyser's height is lowered.  Only Disney.   :-)

After a quick lunch at Roaring Forks (the snack bar), Lee came back to the room to try and wrestle the errant computer back into shape, and I took my book and found some nice (relatively quiet) places to read - there are quite a few of those in the Lodge - several of them with gas fireplaces. 

Our room is right above the Whispering Canyon Cafe - though we were starting to wonder why the NOISIEST restaurant on Disney property has the name "Whispering Canyon".   :-)  It's a themed restaurant, where guest participation is *required* - they had guests doing the hokey-pokey, cheering the kids on while they do hobby horse races, etc.  Fun, but loud.  Be sure to ask for ketchup if you go there.  :-)

Lee got his work finished in time for us to do the second part of the Wilderness Lodge tour, called "A Taste of the Lodge".  This tour (also conducted by Stan) focused on the restaurants at the Lodge, and we talked to a chef at Whispering Canyon, and then went back to the "Blazing Oak Smokehouse", where the meat they use in the restaurants at the Lodge is smoked.  Despite the name, oak is NOT used in their smoking process - they use hickory, apple, and cherry wood.  We got to sample some of the pork ribs - excellent.  Then we went to Artist Point restaurant, and got to hear about all their wonderful cuisine, and try some of the salmon - which is flown in fresh from the Northwest every day.  It melts in your mouth.  We are very much looking forward to our anniversary dinner there on Saturday.

landl_roof.jpg (17445 bytes)Stan had two trainees, Eric and Carrie, with him, and we enjoyed talking to them about their experiences working for Disney.  After the tour we hung around talking with all three of them for a while, and Stan took us all over to see the Cub's Den, where parents can leave their kids for the evening - not a situation we intend to have to deal with, but we can tell our friends about it.  :-)  Stan told us if we'd meet him in about an hour he'd take us up on the roof for the flag lowering - going on the roof used to be part of the tour, but then they decided there was too much potential for lawsuits so they stopped the practice.  So we were happy to have the opportunity! 

In the meantime we walked over to Ft. Wilderness, since we'd both been inside much of the day.  The weather was cool, but a brisk walk felt good.  We made it back to the Lodge just in time to meet Stan, and, as promised, he took Lee and me up to the roof.   There's a terrific view from up there, and Stan pointed out the sights, including the Tree of Life over in the new Animal Kingdom park (which should be open on our next visit in May).  It was sunset, and it was *gorgeous* - lots of red and pink and orange clouds over the Magic Kingdom and the Grand Floridian.  Stan allowed us to lower the American flag and fold it up, and then we headed back downstairs.  It was a wonderful experience - the view from the roof is great, and we really enjoyed talking to Stan.

landl_sea.jpg (17595 bytes)After that we *finally* headed away from the hotel and to one of the theme parks - Epcot, of course.  :-)  We parked at the Beach Club and walked in via the International Gateway, and decided to see if we could get in to the Coral Reef for dinner.   The promised 10-15 minute wait was actually more like 5 minutes, and we had a great table very close to the aquarium.  I had the salad and grilled swordfish, and Lee had the salad and teryiyaki tuna.  The salad had a wonderful raspberry vinaigrette dressing - we enjoyed that the last time we ate here.  Our dinners were good, and we enjoyed watching the sea life in the aquarium - a huge sea turtle and several rays were having a good time eating the heads of lettuce that had been dropped into the tank for them.

After dinner we went to watch the fountain dance, and then got a beavertail from Canada to eat while we were walking back out to the car.

Then back to the hotel room to update this page, of course!   :-)

Tomorrow's plan is the Backstage Magic tour (which will take most of the day), and then over to the Magic Kingdom to see the Spectromagic parade in the evening.

Friday, January 30

The alarm went off at 7:30, since we were supposed to meet at Epcot Guest Relations at 8:45 for the Backstage Magic Tour.  We grabbed a quick breakfast at Roaring Forks and were on our way.

tour_leaders.jpg (18182 bytes)There were  17 people in our group, along with our guide, Taunya, and our bus driver, Rich.  Both of them were absolutely super people, and we enjoyed their company - good thing, since we were with them for almost 8 hours!  We each got special "Backstage Magic" buttons with our names on them - and Tigger got a button of his own, too.  :-)

One unfortunate (but understandable) thing is that we were not allowed to take pictures in most of the areas that we were in. Oh well.

Our first stop was backstage at the American Adventure, where we got to see how all the audio animatronics are queued up go to on-stage - it's sort of "elevators on a railroad track".  Then we drove over to The Living Seas, where a Marine Ecologist took us through and showed us the manatee tank and some of the food they feed the marine life - those are some well fed fish, let me tell you!  They get strictly restaurant quality foods.  We also learned that the Hydrolator actually does move - all of about .5 inches.  :-)  He also told us that the reason that the dolphins aren't in the tank with all the other marine life is because they are just too playful, and had too much fun playing "Spin the Sea Turtle" and "Flip the Ray"...  :-)

Our next stop was over at Body Wars, where we saw one of the motion simulators in action.  The simulator has 6 degrees of freedom, and it *really* moves around.   No wonder the ride feels as real as it does.  Taunya told us that they had to modify the ride and take some of the motion that had originally been programmed into it out, because it was making too many of the guests sick.

We actually saw a car on Test Track, and were told that the major issues they are dealing with now have to do with the number of cars on the track - it works great with 6 or so, but not with 20, which evidently is the operational specification.

At that point we left Epcot and headed towards Disney-MGM Studios.  Our first stop was the Animation department, where Tom gave us a lesson on drawing Goofy and Pumba.   For the Goofy drawing, we all drew part, and then passed it to the person on our left, did a little more, then passed it again.  The second drawing, of Pumba, we all had to do on our own.  I'm not sure why, but I was the one who got Tom's drawing of Pumba, which he autographed for me...maybe the booby prize for having the worst Pumba drawing?  :-)  This was not a part of the tour that I had been looking forward to, since I can't draw at all, but it was ok (her Pumba was not THAT bad - Lee).

After that we headed over to Creative Costuming, and saw lots of drawings of costumes they are working on for Animal Kingdom and the Disney Cruise Line, as well as costumes they were making.  They prototype half the costume in muslin, then when its right they digitize it and use a computer aided manufacturing program to generate the patterns in all the various sizes and with optimal use of fabric.

Outside the building we saw a choreographer working with the costuming department on some headgear that will be worn in a new show/parade at Animal Kingdom in something called the Korean Head Whip Dance, and evidently the performers will be dressed as bumblebees.     Okay...  :-)

After visiting Costuming we went to have lunch at Mama Melrose's.  Lunch was served Family Style, and there was lots of different (and good) foods to try.   Definitely no excuse for going away hungry!  For dessert they brought out a tray of different things for us to sample - I had a piece of chocolate cake which I loved.

At lunch we were joined by some woman named Sylvia - dressed in an obnoxious pink outfit, complete with turban, who attached herself to our group.  She likes singles cruises, and was going to a weenie roast that night.  :-)  She decided we needed to have a Trivial Pursuit contest, and asked us all questions.  Lee and I both got 2 right, but Len was the amazing one of our group, and got *8* questions right!   Including some that he pulled right out of the air, as far as we could tell - we thought he was reading Sylvia's mind.  Someone at the next table got 3 or 4 right, so Lee and I tied for third, and we had to have a tie-breaker, which I, of course, won.   :-)  My prize was a bag of Animal Crackers.

Speaking of animals...Rich was sitting at our table, and we heard quite a bit from him about Animal Kingdom.  He says Countdown to Extinction is an incredible ride - similar ride technology to that used on the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland, but of course a different story.  He is going to be a driver on the Safaris, which actually will take a "jeep" with 30 guests in it out onto the plains with the animals.   He said there are no barriers between you and the animals, so sometimes you actually have to stop the jeep to let a giraffe or zebra or whatever get out of the way.    There's also a story interwoven with the ride, concerning poaching.  It sounds pretty interesting. Rich has been to the cast previews and says that the Tree of Life is spectacular and that the movie that goes along with it is going to be really great. Animal Kingdom sounds like it is going to be the ultimate in "edutainment." The first three-quarters of the park open on April 22nd (which is ahead of the original schedule). Asia, the remaining quarter of the park will open in December '98.

Taunya had warned us not to get into a food fight (she actually had a group once that did!), but that didn't stop Lee from flinging a couple of ice cubes at Rich.  Which wasn't really fair - Rich was wearing his employee badge, and he had to be nice.  But it became a running joke between the two of them for the rest of the day.  (Taunya had already accurately pinpointed Lee as one of the trouble makers.  :-) )

Sylvia decided to accompany us on the bus, and as were driving in the Backlot Tram tour area she pointed the pond out to us, and told us it's a mosquito pond - Disney breeds them and then scoops them all up and dumps them over at Universal Studios.  :-)  Once we reached a backstage area Sylvia told us her real name is Alison, and she's one of the Streetmosphere players at Disney-MGM - when she's not terrorizing backstage tour groups she normally she plays a gossip columnist named Claire E'clair.  She's a very funny lady, and really enjoys her job.

lee_art.jpg (18359 bytes)Our first stop after lunch was back at the Animation Department, where Rosaleen taught us how to paint cels.  This was not a part of the tour I had been looking forward to, but both Lee and I enjoyed it a lot. As a troublemaker, Lee had to sit at the "Teacher's Table" with Rosaleen, but he was well-behaved and did a very good job.  We had 3 choices - Cruella deVil, dalmatian puppies, or Mickey Mouse.   Mickey isn't normally available, but Rosaleen had asked for and gotten permission to do him.  Lee painted Cruella, and I painted Mickey.  We didn't quite have enough time to finish, but we get to take our paints home with us to finish when we get the chance.  Rosaleen showed us a preview of "Mulan" and raved about how great it's going to be - the animators gave themselves a standing ovation when they saw the nearly completed picture recently. "Mulan" is the first feature animation made at the Florida studio. We left the cels there to dry.

Next we headed for the Magic Kingdom.  First stop was the Production Center, where they were setting up for the Remember the Magic Parade, and we saw the floats, costumes laid out, and even a couple of the characters getting ready.  We got a fairly good close up look at a couple of the Spectromagic floats, and Taunya told us that there are 650,000 lights used in the parade, and 100 miles of fiber optic cable. 

Next stop was the Central Shops, where the motto is "We're the Can Do People".  The Imagineers maybe able to dream it, but it still takes LOTS of people to actually make it happen.  We saw some audio animatronics that were being built, and saw quite a few things in progress (signs, floats, etc.) that look like they are destined for Animal Kingdom. It is amazing the stuff that they can build here. They built two of the new monorails for WDW, built the new parking lot trams for Disneyland, they even make the fiberglass bodies for the Autopia cars.

Then we were off to the Utilidors.  As I know has been published in lots of other places, the Magic Kingdom is actually the *second* floor of that area, and the first floor is a series of corridors called the utilidors where the employees get their costumes, eat, travel from one "land" to another, etc.  Really an interesting area. We visited the Wardrobe and Cosmotology (Makeup) departments while we were down there to get more of an appreciation for all the work that goes on backstage to make the various attractions and productions work.

While we were down there, I passed by an employee I thought I recognized, and saw her name tag - it was Valerie Kay, whom I "know" from the rec.arts.disney.parks newsgroup, but had never met!  I introduced myself, but we only a a minute to talk, since our group was on its way elsewhere.  Just goes to show you never know who you might meet.  (And don't *anyone* start singing that song right now...   :-) )

We headed to the parade control center next - the Remember the Magic parade was starting, and it was fascinating to see the computer system that controls the parade (it's powered by Unix, woo hoo!!!!).  Taunya had to drag most of us away - we were really interested in hearing Wampy talk about the system and what it does.  They track all the floats in real-time so they know how the parade is flowing and so they can match the right music to each float. We both loved this part and wish it had been longer.  Just before the Lion King float went on we heard over the radio that Simba had a zipper down or showing...oh no!  :-)

We walked through the utilidors over to Main Street and up into a backstage area.   Rich was there with our bus and an ice chest full of drinks - he told Lee his drink would be $2.00, and Lee gave him a handful of ice.  :-)  Then we slipped onto Main Street right near the circle, and watched the Remember the Magic parade.  That music is almost as insidious as that other tune whose name I won't mention.  :-)

After the parade we left the MK, and swung by the Studios to pick up our cels - which still weren't quite dry, so we had to be careful with them.  Then it was back to Epcot, where we had started the day.  Taunya had us fill out surveys to help the Disney Institute (who now runs the various educational tours) figure out what changes to make in the future. The Backstage Magic tour has grown from one day a week to six sold-out tours a week with no advertising. They are considering adding a second version that does different things or creating a tour for each of the parks. We told them we definitely want more opportunities to appreciate what goes on "behind the scenes." We said goodbye to Taunya and Rich, and told them how much we had really enjoyed ourselves.  It was really a great tour, and we had a wonderful day.

One thing we hadn't realized is how much "loot" you get on this tour - we got our name badges, stickers from the Living Seas, our Goofy/Pumba drawings in a nice folder, a costume sample from the Costume Department, the cel we painted (and the paints, too), and the 25th anniversrary lithographs.  Not bad, huh?  :-)

peacock2.jpg (24789 bytes)Tonight we took the boat from the Wilderness Lodge over to the Magic Kingdom and found a spot in front of the Liberty Tavern for the Spectromagic Parade.  It was especially interesting since we  had seen the floats and the costumes on our tour this afternoon.  Everything looks a whole lot more impressive when it's all lit up, though!  This is definitely a very cool parade.

After the parade we had a quick dinner at the Columbia House restaurant, and then walked back out to the boat dock.  The boat that was just leaving was already full, but for part of the time we waited for the next one we were entertained by the Electrical Water Parade - we saw those floats this afternoon, too.  The sea serpent looked especially good.

So, we've now been at Walt Disney World for 2 1/2 days - and we still haven't ridden even one attraction!  That's got to be some kind of record...  :-)

Tomorrow's plan: Sleep in, and then go to either Epcot or the Studios (we'll definitely ride some attractions tomorrow!).  Tomorrow evening is our anniversary dinner at Artist Point.

Go to Part 2
Go to Part 3

Text and photographs copyright 1998, by Laura Gilbreath and Lee Zimmerman. Feel free to link to this document, but you may not redistribute it in any form without the express written consent of the copyright holder.

Laura Gilbreath,
Last updated 2/4/98

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