Laura and Lee's December Digression

December 6-13, 2000
Part 1

Ah, where has the year gone? Here it's December already, and time for our annual Christmas trip to Walt Disney World! I didn't have the chance to do a somewhat live trip report this time, so this one is all Memorex, I'm afraid. But you know, I did turn 40 this year, so the Memorex isn't what it used to be, and this report might be a little shorter than usual. (I *heard* that!!! :-) )

Who we are, in case you've just arrived...(sit down, pull up a chair, and make yourself comfortable!)...Laura and Lee, two 40 year old kids at heart, and our travelling companion Tigger, who always has much more fun than we do. We live in San Diego (America's Finest City, you know), and are both computer scientists at the Navy's premiere Research and Development Laboratory. (No, really! They don't just pay me to say that!)

We're members of Disney's Vacation Club (DVC), and this time split our stay between two of the DVC resorts at WDW - we were at Old Key West (OKW) for 3 nights, and BoardWalk Villas (BWV) for 4. We had a one bedroom villa at each place, each of which has a full kitchen, dining area, living room, master bedroom with king sized bed, and bathroom with jacuzzi tub! Way more room than we really needed, but it was SO nice! We were spoiled by several experiences on this trip - our lodging was just one of them.

There are two major reasons we love going at this time of year...#1: the parks and resorts are beautifully decorated for Christmas, and feature many special holiday shows and events, and #2: many of the people we know from the rec.arts.disney.parks newsgroup (aka RADP) gather in the parks and there are many different meets and other activities. It's always great fun to put faces to names you only know from the computer screen. This year was the fifth such gathering - aka RADP-V. (Hey, does this mean we have as many sequels as Rocky now??? Though we still have a ways to go to catch up with Star Trek...)

The other major reasons for going this time of year are reason 2 1/2: the parks are relatively uncrowded, and reason 2 3/4: the weather is usually very comfortable and dry.

So enough of the we go...

Wednesday, December 6 - Fly, Shop, Epcot

We flew Southwest Airlines from San Diego to Orlando - we had a direct flight with one stop in New Orleans. I've not been a fan of Southwest in the past (and I still don't like not having a reserved seat), but I may have to revise my opinion - our plane was very comfortable, left on time and arrived *early*, and it was always entertaining listening to the flight crew's spiel. :-) They didn't really feed us, but we were prepared for that, and besides, we arrived in Orlando before 4:00 - which was only 1:00 our time - no worse than just having a late lunch. This flight also got us in about an hour earlier than we usually arrive.

We rented a blue PT-Cruiser from Dollar (Lee enjoyed getting to drive that around) and were on the road about 30 minutes after arriving in Orlando.

We checked in at Old Key West, and went to our one bedroom vacation villa. These things are *huge*'s almost 1100 square feet! (When we originally bought into DVC 4 1/2 years ago the thing that sold us was the one bedroom villa, but this was the first time we'd ever stayed in a one bedroom by ourselves - we've stayed in a two bedroom, which is a one bedroom with an attached studio, but it's not quite the same as having ALL of that room to yourself!) We were in a handicap accessible room on the first floor, and that was a little odd, because the bathroom had a roll-in shower with a fold-up seat in it, and the kitchen counters were at a lower height. The shower was bigger than the normal OKW shower, though, so that was nice!

After we unpacked a bit we went over to Downtown Disney to eat and shop. We had dinner at Wolfgang Puck Express - they have WONDERFUL butternut squash soup. (It looks sort of yucky, but it tastes great!) And we split an order of garlic mashed potatoes and a salad. We did some shopping at the Days of Christmas, Art of Disney, pin cart, and World of Disney Stores. (I had pins to buy, you know. Mostly for other people. Like Lee. No, really!)

We drove over to the BoardWalk area (behind Epcot) and parked, and walked into Epcot via the back entrance, aka the International Gateway. Lee's AP was rejected by the biometric reader, but they let him in anyways. (Evidently his fingers have changed size, because this kept happening until they eventually let him reset his biometrics the next day.)

First stop: BEAVER TAILS!!! We'd heard that they'd changed the way they are made, and we needed to conduct a taste test. (For those not familiar with them - Beaver Tails are found in the Canada pavilion at Epcot (it's a franchise in Canada), and they sell a pastry made of whole wheat dough that is stretched into the shape of a long flat beaver tail, then fried, and then covered with the toppings of your choice - cinnamon/sugar, chocolate hazelnut, strawberries & cream, apples & cinnamon, or powdered sugar and lemon juice.) Beaver Tails had been our very favorite snack at WDW, and one of our rules was "Never pass up the chance to have a beaver tail". (The other cardinal rules are: "Avoid the TTC", and "Always go left".)

Unfortunately I must report that the Beaver Tail rule has been dropped from the list. The "new" Beaver Tails are NOT made on-the-spot - they are pre-cooked, and then reheated. Lee and I both got the cinnamon sugar one (our favorite), and the first half was just ok, but as we got to the second half and it cooled down, it was like cardboard. Yuck. It was extremely disappointing, and we didn't have another Beaver Tail for the rest of the trip.

After our Beaver Tail disappointment we wandered into Future World and did some "pre-shopping" at MouseGear - we'd be coming back on Friday armed with our 15% discount (courtesy of the Candlelight Processional Package). :-)

Last year we never managed to get to the countries on the left side of World Showcase, so this time we walked back that way, and watched Reflections of Earth (the nighttime firework/lights/water show) from an area in front of Italy. It's ok viewing from there, but I think our usual spots either next to the America Gardens Theater or in front of the temple in Japan are better.

We walked out the International Gateway, and for the first time in several years I *didn't* run into anyone that I knew there! :-) It seemed rather odd, actually...

Back to our *spacious* one bedroom villa (we are SO spoiled now!), and we went to bed.

Thursday, December 7, Animal Kingdom, Magic Kingdom

We both enjoyed sleeping in for the first time in *days*. (Things had been really hectic at home lately, and we both needed a break.) We headed over to Animal Kingdom - the weather was sunny but a little cool, and the sweatshirt and long pants felt pretty good. Even though we'd gotten a late start and didn't arrive there until 9:30, there weren't too many people around.

We got Fastpasses for the Safari and then had breakfast at the nearby Tusker House. After breakfast we got in the "Fastpass Return" line for the Safari, and just breezed past *all* those people in the Standby line, many of whom glared at us. One man asked us if there was an additional charge for Fastpass, and we told him no. It's always rather surprising how many people *don't* know about it when Disney has signs up, has a description in the guide maps, has Cast Members there to explain it...but I guess people figure it's too good to be true. Or they don't bother reading the information.

Even in the Fastpass line we did have to wait several minutes (oh, horrors!), but eventually got on our safari vehicle. We had a very good driver, who mostly ignored the lame "poacher" story line in favor of telling us about the animals, though unfortunately we didn't *see* very many animals, though we did see a number of elephants, one cheetah, and a lion. Oh, and there was this very strange creature poised on a rock overlooking the mandrills... :-)

The exit of the Safari comes out right at the entrance to the Pangani Forest trail and we walked along that. We saw quite a few gorillas, including several of the bachelor males. After leaving Africa we wandered around the Tree of Life and visited the animals who have their habitats there - like the Capybara - World's Largest Rodent. At some point we actually found the "Secret Path" between Africa and Asia - but if I told you where it was it wouldn't be a secret, now would it? :-)

Lee was wearing a shirt and pants that must have made him look like a Cast Member, because several people asked him questions. I think he even has the "two finger point" down. (Of course he used to BE a Cast Member at Disneyland 20 years ago...I'm sure there must be some saying about "Old Cast Members never die...")

Eventually we ended up over in the Asia area and did the Maharajah Jungle Trek. This is a beautifully themed area - you seem to be walking through temple ruins inhabited by bats, tapirs, blackbuck, and, the main attraction, tigers. The tiger murals on the walls are gorgeous. The tigers weren't doing much, but we learned that they occasionally release live prey in the enclosures so that the tigers can practice hunting. (Sorry, you may NOT volunteer unruly children for this activity.)

We had chicken satay at the Chakrandi chicken shop - they have changed the menu here a bit since we were here last year, and the chicken skewer now has bell pepper (yuck) and pineapple on it as well as chicken. On this particular day they didn't have any peanut sauce...can you call it chicken satay if you don't serve it with peanut sauce? :-)

While we were eating, a very sweet Japanese lady saw my pin lanyard and asked if I wanted to trade. After we were done she returned to her table and then came back with a gift for me (a silk scarf) to thank me for the trade. I was happy just with the pin, but that was a very nice surprise.

We drove back to OKW and made a quick stop at the room so that I could pick up some pins I was delivering to someone, then took the bus to Magic Kingdom. As you may recall, one of our cardinal rules is "Avoid the TTC", and so we almost never drive to the MK - it's much easier to take the bus. We only waited a short time, and I think there were only 3 of us on the bus!

The Magic Kingdom is not our favorite park (too many people/strollers for our taste), but we do think the castle is gorgeous - the Disneyland castle always seems so small after we've seen the WDW castle. Lee says he has "Castle Envy". :-)

We'd arranged to meet my pin-trading friend at the Partners statue at 3:00, not realizing that that was the time of the 3:00 parade. Oops. Still, it worked out fine, and we talked and traded pins as the parade went around us (the center of the hub does not have good parade viewing, so we weren't in the way, nor getting shoved around).

We'd gotten Fastpasses for Buzz Lightyear before meeting Jenn, though the standby line actually wasn't that long. I still have no idea how I did this, but I maxed out my score about halfway through the ride, which makes me a Galactic Hero! Woo hoo!!! Lee was jealous. :-)

After my triumph we walked all around the Magic Kingdom (which takes quite a bit longer than it does at Disneyland!), just looking around - we can't help but compare it to Disneyland. Other than Main Street, we were rather disappointed in the lack of holiday decorations - Disneyland does a much nicer job. We tried an eggroll from the cart in Adventureland - that was surprisingly good.

Eventually we took the bus back to Old Key West and got the car and ended up at the Yacht Club resort where we had dinner at the Yacht Club Galley - just walked right in, no Priority Seating required. The menu didn't seem quite as interesting as it has been when we've dined there before, and our server was rather indifferent. DVC members get a 20% discount on dinner there, and he forgot to deduct that the first time he brought us the bill, even though I'd shown him my DVC card and mentioned it to him when we first sat down.

After dinner we walked all around the BoardWalk area (the walk around Crescent Lake is about a mile), then drove back to Old Key West to have dessert at Olivia's, the restaurant there. We'd had some awesome chocolate chip pecan pie when we were there last March, and wanted to see if they still had it. They did. :-) We had a delightful server, who was wonderful even though we were only there for dessert, and we enjoyed our warmed up pie (it doesn't need ice cream to be good!). I really ought to ask for the recipe next's wonderful pie.

And no day which includes a trip to Animal Kingdom is complete without a few flower photos... :-)

Friday, December 8 - Epcot, Resort Hopping, Candlelight Processional

I think we got a somewhat earlier start this day, and drove to the BoardWalk to park again, then walked through the International Gateway into Epcot. The World Showcase part of Epcot does not open until 11:00, but you can still enter Epcot that way - they just have Cast Members stationed to keep you from going into most of World Showcase. You still get to walk by the United Kingdom and Canada pavilions, and even though nothing is open, it's still nice to browse through the gardens or take pictures without too many people around.

We had breakfast at the Fountainview - I got to have my usual cinnamon pecan croissant. Mmmmm. Lee ordered a mocha latte, which he's gotten there before and thought was ok, but this one was pretty bad, and he threw most of it away and got coffee instead. (Well, if you want to get technical about it he got a little bit of coffee to go with his sugar and cream. :-) ) We watched the fountain "dance" to some music, then went out the front gate to pick up our Candlelight Processional package.

The Candlelight Processional is a wonderful musical show which tells the Christmas story with music, song, and narration. They perform 3 shows a night from the end of November through December, and it's free with your admission into Epcot, but to get a decent seat (or sometimes even to get a seat at ALL), you have to arrive at least an hour early. The Candlelight Processional package lets you bypass that waiting thing, and includes dinner at one of the Epcot restaurants, then access to a reserved seating area for the Processional, plus a 15% discount on most merchandise you purchase at Epcot that day. You pay a fixed price according to what restaurant you select (the price includes tax and tip), and order off the restaurant's usual menu - you are prepaid for appetizer, entree, dessert and non-alcoholic beverage.

Anyway...where you pick up everything was at the Guest Services desk, so we went there and stood in line for about 10 minutes. This year in addition to the various vouchers, they gave everyone a special Candlelight Processional pin lanyard and a special pin - it's very cool. (And of course Disney sells even MORE pins that way, because the lanyard is VERY off-balance with only one pin, so you need to buy a few more...I'm sure it has gotten people interested in pins who would not have been interested otherwise.)

After we went back into the park we took advantage of our 15% discount at MouseGear, and had our purchases sent back to the International Gateway so that we could pick them up later. You can also have them sent directly to your resort, but since we were switching resorts the next day, that would have complicated things - it was easier just to pick them up ourselves, since either way you don't have to carry them around with you! Package pickup and resort delivery can be done at ANY of the theme parks, but make sure you mention it to the cashier at the start of the transaction so they know to perform the additional steps that must be taken.

We had gotten Fastpasses for Test Track so we did that - maybe the novelty of this attraction is wearing off now that it's been open for a couple of years, because even the standby line wasn't horribly long. We actually got stopped for several minutes while we were on the ride (NOT in one of the environmental tests, fortunately!), but it didn't take too long to get us out on the high speed track! Speeding along at 64.9 mph is really a lot of fun. :-)

We went to the Millennium Village for lunch - we're going to miss the Food Court there, as the Village closed on January 1, 2001. Love those chicken empanadas and vegetarian spring rolls.

After lunch we drove over to Port Orleans to meet my friend and IRC reminder partner Debbie Koma, who had just flown in from Virginia. And was enjoying the MUCH warmer weather. (It was definitely in the upper 70s that day.) After we admired the Christmas decorations at Port Orleans (like this tree and this very colorful wreath), we took off to some of the other resorts to view their Christmas decorations. All of the Disney resorts do some holiday decorating, though some (generally the more expensive resorts - gee what a surprise) are far more extensive than others.

First stop was Wilderness Lodge, which has a HUGE tree in the lobby - it's always one of our holiday favorites. There was a lovely wreath above the fireplace, also. This year we were surprised to see that they did NOT have any type of "gingerbread village" set up - in past years they have had something pretty elaborate. But we found that most of the resorts had cut back on their decorations to some extent this year. According to one Cast Member, the actual resort decorating had been outsourced to a private company this year, and Disney was cutting the resort decorations somewhat in favor of doing more in the theme parks (though I can't say that the parks appeared more decorated to me.)

Wilderness Lodge Villas is the newest Disney Vacation Club property, located right next to Wilderness Lodge. We went to see what their decorations might be like, and were able to tour one of the new units. It's VERY nice...but we had to get out of there before we decided that we needed to buy more DVC points. :-) We already have a reservation to stay there for our March trip, though, and are looking forward to that. But it's only in a studio...

Then it was on to the Polynesian resort - Deb and I wanted to visit the chocolate dragon in the Kona Cafe. The guard at the entrance tried to convince us that he had eaten it, but we didn't believe him. :-) We have been disappointed with the holiday decorations at the Poly in past years, but this year they had a wonderfully whimsical gingerbread depiction of Santa's workshop - with an island theme. :-)

Here's an island elf and Christmas tree
and elves and fireplace

Our next stop was the Grand Floridian. NO sign of any budget cuts in the resort decorations here! The lobby has a HUGE 4 story Christmas tree, and then there's the life-size Victorian gingerbread house - which is also a shop that sells (what else?) gingerbread cookies and ornaments. Up on the mezzanine was another gingerbread village, with a couple of trains going through mountain peaks and tunnels.

From the Grand Floridian we went to Coronado Springs. This is one of Disney's "moderate" resorts as opposed to the deluxe resorts, but I think it has by far the nicest holiday decorations of the moderates. They have a large tree in their domed lobby that is quite lovely, and their bakery had a cute gingerbread display. Though they did not have a large gingerbread display near the food court like they did last year.

This is a large resort, and we walked around a little to what's called the "Dig" area, which is where their themed pool is. None of us had realized that there's a themed play area back behind the pool, with swings and slide and lots of sand - it looked like fun! I played on the swings a little bit.

It was getting late in the afternoon, so we drove to the Beach Club and saw their tree and the wonderful gingerbread carousel, then said goodbye to Deb as she headed for the Studios, and we went back to Epcot to find seats for the 5:00 Candlelight Processional. It was still 30 minutes before the show was supposed to start, and the non-reserved seating was already pretty full. Our reserved seats weren't great, but they were better than last year.

While we were sitting there, a woman came up and asked me where I'd gotten my hat. I was wearing a green and orange stocking cap with Tigger ears on it, which Lee had made me buy at Disneyland the week before. I fully expected to find them at WDW, but evidently they weren't for sale there, because over the week I had at least 20 people ask me where I'd gotten my hat. This woman was SO disappointed that you couldn't get them at WDW, but I told her Disneyland has a mail order service (Disneyland DelivEARS, 1-800-760-3566), and that she could probably get one from them.

Joe Mantegna was our narrator this year, and he did a nice job. We saw James Avery last year and he was just awesome - we JUST missed him this year, since he'd finished the night before we arrived.

The Processional was a wonderful show - I was happy that they did perform "Do you hear what I hear" this year - last year they did not, even though it was on the program. The music is great, but I've now heard the same music 3 years in a row, and I wish they would change it a little.

The Processional finished just in time for us to get a prime spot for the Tapestry of Nations - right next to the gate at Morocco where they come out. There are 3 separate segments to the Tapestry of Nations, so we got to see the one that originated at Morocco and finished at Germany, and the one that originated at the UK and finished at Morocco. Many of the participants in this parade are carrying/wearing 15' puppets, and it is great fun to watch them interact with the guests - especially the kids. I thought I'd *finally* gotten the Tapestry of Nations music out of my head, but writing this brings it back again...sigh. It's almost as bad as That Other Song.

As we were watching the parade we commiserated with the poor Cast Member near us who was trying to do crowd control and get people to cross the parade route at the designated crosswalk, instead of wherever they wanted to cross. Disney does a great job of having Cast Members stationed all along the parade route pointing out where people should be walking, but a lot of people just ignore them.

After the parade we walked over to the Canada pavilion to the Le Cellier restaurant, which was the restaurant we'd selected for our Candlelight Processional package dinner. We always enjoy the food there. I had the maple-glazed salmon, and Lee had their signature stuffed mushroom filet, and the cheddar cheese soup. Their bread is really good, too. For dessert we both had the creme brulee - which has carmelized MAPLE sugar on top. It was a great dinner. Our server Claire was wonderful, too. We've always had very good service at Le Cellier - the servers don't seem to be as swamped as they are in a lot of the other restaurants, and always have time to stop and chat a little bit.

After dinner we watched the "Lights of Winter" arches and the fountain - they had been choreographed to various Christmas music selections. We left the park via the International Gateway again, and as we walked through the Beach Club lobby we ran into Meli and John Emmons, whom we know through the RADP group. I didn't know that they were coming, and it was nice to see them. We chatted for a few minutes until they had to go into Cape May for dinner.

Part 2
Part 3
Tigger's Florida Festivities
Lee Rocks Around the World
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Text and photographs copyright © 2000, 2001 by Laura Gilbreath. All rights reserved.

Laura Gilbreath
Last updated 1/5/01