Laura and Lee's Holiday Hijinks

December 8-15, 2002
Part 2

Wednesday, December 11 - Epcot, Resort Hopping

We woke up to a beautiful day!!! Not a cloud in the sky. Not terribly warm (about 72), but nice.

We walked into Epcot and had breakfast at the Fountainview - we sat outside on the terrace and watched the fountain. I got my cinnamon/pecan croissant this time - they didn't have them when we were here in April. We watched the Cast Member outside Ice Station Cool throw snowballs at passersby and try to entice them into the place - he probably was telling them that "Beverly" was the best drink there, too. :-)

***Did you ever notice that the floor in Ice Station Cool is really sticky??? Yuck.

They had refurbished "Journey into the Imagination" since we were last here, so we had to try it. It's definitely an improvement over the last version, but still not as much fun as the IS nice to see Figment back with a much larger role, though.

One of the things we like to do each year is tour the deluxe resorts and check out their Christmas decorations, so we took the monorail from Epcot to the TTC where we got on the resort monorail. First stop was the Polynesian resort - this is typically a bust as far as Christmas decorations go, and this year was no exception. Two years ago they had a really cool gingerbread village, though, so I was hoping for something else. Oh well.

Our next stop was the Grand Floridian, and it's always impressive. That tree in the lobby is huge, and so are the ornaments! There's also a full-size gingerbread house - that's a lot of gingerbread! The house is a shop, and after seeing all these gingerbread displays Lee was *really* hungry for some gingerbread, so he bought a bag of gingerbread cookies. Which were $13.50 for an 8 oz bag!!! And then we tried them, and they were horrible. Supposedly they were made at the Grand Floridian, but if so, the chef *really* needs a new gingerbread recipe - this one was awful. He'd obviously used some rather exotic spices. Gingerbread is supposed to be *comfort* food - it's not supposed to be exotic! We tossed the cookies - in the trash, that is. :-)

Back to the monorail again, and this time we disembarked at the Contemporary. They've changed their Christmas decor - it used to be that rather garish retro-modern style with lots of silver and day-glo colors, but now it's much more subdued and elegant - lots of poinsettias and deep, rich colors.

They actually had a gingerbread display this year - I think this is the first time I remember seeing one - though there was no particular "theme" - it looked like a number of people had just built different buildings according to whatever appealed to them. They still looked very nice, it was just different than the usual displays we see at WDW.

We took the boat from the Contemporary to the Wilderness Lodge - it was a beautiful day to be outside, and actually it felt good just to sit on the dock in the sun while we waited for the boat.

What can I say - the Wilderness Lodge is simply stunning at Christmas time. It's a more rustic look, but it's gorgeous. Unfortunately pictures just don't do it justice - it's a little too dark inside. In addition to a big wreath over the stone fireplace there were a number of smaller trees around the lobby that were decorated with hand-carved wooden animal figures - I would have loved to be able to buy one of the raccoon ornaments for my mom.

We walked next door to Wilderness Lodge Villas. This is a rather small lobby, but there was another beautiful tree, a fireplace, comfortable rocking chairs, and NO ONE ELSE around! We just sat and rocked for a while and enjoyed the peace and quiet. We may have to plan another trip to the Wilderness Lodge Villas - I like the villas themselves, but the Wilderness Lodge area is quite remote, and we're spoiled by having Epcot within walking distance when we stay at the Boardwalk.

At this point our decorations tour was over for the day, but since we're on the subject I'll talk about some of the other decorations that we saw at the Epcot resorts as we wandered through them at various other times on this trip.

The Yacht Club had a nice tree and a snowman display (which is pictured in Part 1 of this trip report), though I don't remember if the snowmen were made of gingerbread or not. One of my favorites, though, was the gingerbread merry-go-round in the Beach Club lobby. I thought the detail on the horses was really well done. There was a very pretty Christmas tree, and some nice wreaths, too.

***Did you ever notice that merry-go-rounds rotate clockwise, and carousels rotate counter-clockwise?

The Beach Club Villas had a nice tree in the lobby - it was more of an old-fashioned look, but it was very pretty. Good thing we liked it, since we walked by it several times a day. :-)

I think the Boardwalk still remains my favorite resort when it comes to Christmas decorations, though. They don't have a huge tree like some of the other resorts do, but instead they have several trees and large garlands that are just covered in those old-fashioned brightly-colored glass ornaments. It's probably overkill, but I really like the look. This year instead of a a display made of gingerbread they did an amusement park made out of *chocolate*. Oh my. It smelled and looked wonderful.

Back to our story...

A Disney bus returned us to Epcot and we went in search of lunch at the Wonders of Life pavilion. I had a turkey wrap and Lee had the chili - mine was ok, but I prefer the wraps at The Land - we never made it over there on this trip, though.

At 4:00 we met Jack Marshall at the International Gateway - we were doing the Candlelight Processional dinner package with him the next evening, and since the package entitles you to a 15% shopping discount at Epcot on the day of the package, he wanted his badge in advance so that he'd have all day to shop. :-) We hadn't seen American Vybe yet (one of the two acapella groups that perform in the American Adventure), so we walked over to do that - they were performing some holiday songs. Their "Santa Baby" number is very cute.

We watched "Cast in Bronze" perform - a rock band featuring keyboard, electric bass, drums, and a carillon. :-) Which is not an instrument typically found in a rock band, you must admit! I know I've stated this in past trip reports, but their version of "Carol of the Bells" is terrific. ***Did you ever notice that at Epcot some of the rock bands feature rather unusual instruments? In addition to the carillon in Cast in Bronze there's also the bagpipes in Off Kilter. And I'll leave it up to you as to whether or not you consider the belly dancer in Mo'Rockin to be an instrument. :-)

Jack left us to do some "pre-shopping" after that, and after we saw the Holiday Storyteller in Canada we went to watch the Epcot Christmas tree lighting. Cast in Bronze plays, and they start lighting the "Lights of Winter" arches and then light the tree. It's quite a nice ceremony.

We hustled back to the room for a quick change and got in the car and drove to Animal Kingdom Lodge where we met our friends Ilene and Paul for dinner at Jiko. We had a wonderful dinner - we started out with the sampler platter of appetizers - the lentil pastilla is still my favorite, though the firecracker duck eggrolls were good, too. I had the monkfish for dinner, which I've had before, and it's very good. For dessert I had something called the Chocolate Symphony - mmm, mmm, good!!! It had three parts to it - a white chocolate mousse, chocolate creme brulee, and chocolate banana bread pudding. The last I didn't care for, but the white chocolate mousse was wonderful (and I don't usually go much for white chocolate), and I thought I was going to have to fight Lee for the rest of my creme brulee I gave him a taste of it. :-)

It was a nice leisurely dinner - we probably sat at the table and talked for over two hours, but then we finally decided to take a walk out to the Savannah Overlook. There weren't too many animals out, but we talked to one of the Night Keepers for a while. She had a pair of night vision goggles that she was letting everyone try - wow, those are amazing!!! You can't see color, but there's sure a lot of contrast. It was very interesting talking to her - among other things, she told us that they are going to be starting a new safari tour for people who are guests at Animal Kingdom Lodge. This one will take guests out on the *Lodge's* savannahs rather than on the savannah at Animal Kingdom, and will hopefully give guests a more close-up view of the animals. There are still a lot of details to be worked out, but it sounded like it's definitely something they will at least be trying, and then they'll see how successful it is. She said that one advantage of doing it on their savannahs is that the keepers there *know* the animals personally, so the information should be much more personalized than over at the park. It sounds really interesting, and I hope we'll get a chance to try it!

We went back inside the Lodge and admired the HUGE Christmas tree and took a few photos. I think it was close to 11:00 when we finally said goodbye to Ilene and Paul (who were staying at the Lodge - lucky folks! :-) ) and went back to the Beach Club - it was a cool night, but clear and beautiful!

Thursday December 12 - Animal Kingdom, Epcot, Candlelight Processional

We started our day at Animal Kingdom with our typical "get a Fastpass for the Safari, have breakfast at Tusker House, then walk on to the Safari, gleefully ignoring the glares of the huge line of people in the Standby line who weren't smart enough to get Fastpasses". :-)

***Did you ever notice that despite all of Disney's attempts to educate the public on how Fastpass works (in the parks, resorts, maps, etc.) many people STILL think you have to pay extra for it?

Actually while we were eating at Tusker House (ooh, LOVE those wonderful yummy cinnamon rolls!!!) we saw Ilene and Paul again - they'd already been on the Safari and the Pangani Trail. They obviously got up a lot earlier than we did. :-)

Our Safari was relatively uneventful...I've complained enough in the past about the lame poacher story, so I won't go on about it here again. (I *heard* that!!! :-) ). We did see both of the lions, though.

***Did you ever notice that those ostrich eggs have been there for about 5 years now? Do you suppose they will EVER hatch? :-)

We walked through the Pangani Forest trail afterwards - it was *extremely* crowded! For the most part Animal Kingdom itself didn't seem crowded - I guess that's because everyone was on the Pangani Trail! We didn't even try to get near the hippo or gorilla viewing areas where people were stacked 6-8 deep. But one of our favorite areas is the Savannah overlook just after the hippo tank, where the meerkats, gerenuk, Corey bustards and marabou storks hang out. This time there were NO meerkats - it looked as though the heavy rain on Monday had flooded out their dens. I'm sure they were basking under a warm sun lamp somewhere indoors, though. :-)

***Did you ever notice that the grassy animal area under the Tree of Life brings together animals from several different continents? Kangaroos from Australia, birds from Africa, and Axis deer from Asia all cohabit the same enclosure.

***Did you ever notice the paths around the Tree of Life? You can see otters, capybaras (Rodents of Unusual Size, for you Princess Bride fans), Galapagos tortoise, and several types of birds, among others. Most of the time there aren't any other people there.

I wanted to see Voices of Liberty and this would be my last opportunity since they were not performing on Friday or Saturday, so we went over to Epcot. We got a really neat back-to-back treat - a set by American Vybe immediately followed by a set from the Voices of Liberty! (They were only running the American Adventure show once an hour instead of twice, but still had both groups scheduled.) It was starting to shower when we went in, and by the time the show ended it was coming down pretty good. I wanted to wait around and see the next back-to-back set, so I waited inside and wrote postcards and Lee went out and wandered around for a while before joining me for the second set.

I know I've said it before but we both really enjoy American Vybe and Voices of Liberty. (Lee prefers Vybe - I like them both.) Both groups feature wonderfully talented singers performing very complex and beautiful arrangements of music. This time they were mostly performing holiday music - we heard "Joy to the World", "The Dreidel Song", "Go Tell it On the Mountain", and "Santa Claus is Coming to Town", among others.

It had stopped raining by then...we grabbed a bite to eat somewhere before walking back to the Villa to relax for a while. After 4:00 we went back to Epcot and met Jack at the America Gardens Theatre for the Candlelight Processional. The weather was looking a little threatening but all the good seats under cover were taken, so we sat pretty close to the center, but a couple rows up from the cover. The guys were all set to blame me if it got wet...and we did get some sprinkles, but nothing worse than that. The seats were awesome - SO much better than we'd had for James Avery! This time Yolanda Adams was the narrator. I thought she was excellent, and had a very good speaking voice. She also seemed very excited and happy to be there, and sang along with the choir a little bit. It was a wonderful performance.

***Did you ever notice that people stand up during a performance of the Hallelujah Chorus? It is customary to do so, because tradition has it that King George II of England was so moved when he first heard it that he stood up - and of course if the King did it, everyone else had to do it, too. :-) I think it's a lovely tradition, though it seems that fewer and fewer people these days are aware of it.

Our dinner was at Le Cellier - as always, even though we HAD priority seating and arrived on time, we still had a 15 minute wait for our table. That restaurant is always busy. But once we were seated we had an excellent dinner. Our server seemed busier than usual, though - she still took good care of us, but didn't have the time to chat that they usually do.

***Did you ever notice that there's a chocolate moose on the Le Cellier menu? Ok, so it's actually on the kid's menu, but adults can order it too. It's a really good, and quite large, piece of chocolate mousse cake shaped like a moose head, and it has chocolate antlers!

When we walked out of the restaurant we discovered that the skies had opened while we were dining, and it was pouring down rain. Ponchos didn't help much, but were better than nothing...Lee and I still hadn't done any of our shopping with our 15% discount, so we said goodbye to Jack and slogged up to MouseGear and spent money, then spent a little more at the Christmas store. By then it was almost 9:00, and there was almost no one around...we knew we could get a primo spot for Illuminations if we were willing to hang around for another half an hour, but we didn't really feel like it, so we slogged back to the villa in the rain. It was wonderful to have the dryer in the villa so we could dry off our clothes!!! We did see Illuminations from our patio, though with all the rain in the air it was kind of fuzzy and indistinct.

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Tigger's Part of the Magic
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Text and photographs copyright © 2002, 2003 by Laura Gilbreath. All rights reserved.

Laura Gilbreath
Last updated 2/20/03