Laura and Lee's 2004 New Holiday Stuff
at Walt Disney World Vacation

December 5-11, 2004
Part 1

It's December...must be time for our annual Christmas trip to Walt Disney World!

This year we planned to stay in a one bedroom unit at Boardwalk Villas and do our usual flight and car rental, and we had plans to spend time with several friends during the trip. I'd also made arrangements for us to take the Segway Tour at Epcot one morning.

Garland at Seashore Sweets
Garland at Seashore Sweets
About a month before the trip I got home to find a phone message from Delta Airlines, that there had been a "change in your itinerary" and I needed to call them. "Change in your itinerary" would be airline speak for "we cancelled two of your flights". Our original plans called for us to connect through Dallas but Delta is cutting their Dallas flights and no longer using them as a hub. We ended up with flights through Atlanta instead, but the problem was on our return: I'd originally had a 6:00 p.m. flight on Saturday which would give us time to attend the RADP and MegaMouse Meets that day, but our new flight was at 2:00, so we'd just barely have time to make the 11:30 RADP meet. Sigh.

But there was good news...we'd been having unseasonably cool temperatures in San Diego for about two weeks - getting into the 30s at night and not even getting to 60 degrees on most days. (Yes, I know that's balmy winter weather to many people, but it's *cold* for us!) I checked out the Orlando forecast a day or two before we left and it called for lots of sun and highs in the low 80s almost every day! Woo hoo!!!

And there were a number of new things for us to see/experience on this trip: attractions, shows, parades, and holiday displays, so we were looking forward to that!


Sunday, December 5 - Fly, Epcot

My dad picked us up at about 5:45 (thanks, Dad!) and took us to the airport. We had plenty of time to check in and pick up something for breakfast.

The flight to Atlanta was on a 757...the rows on a 757 are *really* close together...not much leg room at all. The movie was Elf, which was appropriate at this time of year...Lee watched and enjoyed it.

We had almost a two hour layover in Atlanta, so on our way from Terminal A to Terminal E (we walked rather than taking the train) we stopped in Terminal C and had lunch at the Atlanta Bread Company - our friend Barb had recommended that. And it was good.

The flight to Orlando was on a completely full 777...I had the middle seat with the stupid video box underneath so had to put my backpack in the overhead - seems pretty silly to me for 1/3 of the seats on the plane to have no underseat storage.

As usual, at baggage claim Lee's bag came out first...though mine was only two behind this time.

I'd gotten a good rate on a Budget rental car (so good the guy at the counter commented on it!), and we ended up with a sort of funky looking (but new) Chevy Malibu. V6, so not underpowered like normal rental cars are - that made Lee happy. :-)

lights of winter
Epcot's Lights of Winter
Once we got in the car I turned on the radio trying to find the score for the Chargers/Broncos game - it was actually on national radio so we were able to listen to it. Unfortunately, about as soon as we turned it on the game started going downhill - the Chargers' lead went from 20-7 to 20-14 to 20-17. Denver was driving with 8 minutes left in the 4th quarter when we arrived at the Boardwalk. I didn't want to listen any more. :-)

The parking lot was *packed* - we ended up in one of the last spaces in the outer parking lot, despite the sign that said parking was reserved for Boardwalk guests only.

We checked in and went to our assigned room, 2123 (which, as usual, was near the end of the hallway), but it was a *smoking* room, and it reeked. No way were we staying there!

We lugged our bags back to the lobby only to be told there were no non-smoking one bedroom units available. As I had made the reservation 11 months in advance and my ONLY request was non-smoking, which is supposed to be guaranteed, this was unacceptable. Lee started to do his Dr.-Jekyll-and-Mr.-Hyde-unhappy-customer routine and they finally brought out a manager (Alfredo). He set us up in a non-smoking studio for the night, credited our DVC account with the point difference, and told us we could stay in the studio the next day until our new room was ready at 4:00. We went up to our new room, 4106, which was fine - it was non-smoking and looked over the quiet pool. But the move the next day meant there was no sense in unpacking.

At least we were able to turn on ESPN and find out that the Chargers had actually held on to win the game! (Hey, this is a big deal - the last time they went to the playoffs was in 1995, and the win gave them a 2 game lead over Denver in the division.)

It was about 7:30 by then and we were hungry...we walked to Epcot and got a new Annual Pass for Lee (his expired last December). That took all of 5 minutes. :-) We had our usual first night dinner at Tangierine Cafe (can you tell we really like that place?) and wandered around World Showcase. The night was a bit chilly - we were both still wearing pants and a jacket - and the park was not too crowded. We stopped in World Showcase Plaza to watch the Lights of Winter - this year Lee built a very small-scale version of it for our Christmas display at home, and he was studying (there *will* be a test!) how they did some of their "light choreography" and transitions. Now he just needs to find some time to do some of the programming on ours.

We noticed that they added some red lights to the display this year - the extra color is nice.

The first item on our "New Things" list for this trip was the new Illuminations "holiday finale" we'd read about. We watched it from our favorite spot in front of Germany. They haven't changed the show itself at all, but they've added about 5 minutes at the end where they play "Let There Be Peace on Earth" with some additional narration by Walter Cronkite. And they light up the sky with fireworks. My response at the end of it was: "Wow!" :-) We think they used almost as many shells in the finale as in the rest of the show combined!

But does anyone else think they're sending a mixed message in celebrating "Peace on Earth" by shooting off hundreds of pounds of explosives? :-)

Anyway...it was VERY impressive, and we really enjoyed it. After the show we noticed there were lasers writing messages on the side of Spaceship Earth - things like Buon Natale, Season's Greetings, Bonne Nuit - as well as phrases in Arabic, Chinese, and Japanese characters that we couldn't read. Which we assume were messages of peace and good will, though for all we know Disney was advertising Hong Kong and Tokyo Disneyland! :-)

As we were walking back around World Showcase Lagoon we noticed that we could see some of the Magic Kingdom's fireworks in the distance. We went back to our room via the Boardwalk Bakery, where we got one of their yummy fudgey brownies for dessert. Mmm. Back in our room we were just in time to see some highlights of the Charger game on ESPN. And I promise, no more Charger talk for the rest of the trip report. :-)

At about 10:30 we saw fireworks over Disney-MGM Studios! (We found out later that it was a special performance of Sorcery in the Sky because of the big Pop Warner/Cheerleader competition going on at the Studios.) Three fireworks shows in one day - wow!


Monday, December 6 - Studios, Epcot, Magic Kingdom

I got up around 7:30 and went running - I'm training for the WDW half marathon in January. Lee is also registered, but hurt his knee in August and won't be able to do it with me. :-( We think he has torn cartilage but Kaiser is taking its own sweet time deciding that he needs surgery. %-] His knee bothers him but nothing seems to make it any worse...so he toughed it out with all the walking we did on this trip. But we didn't walk quite as fast as usual, and couldn't weave in and out of crowds like we usually do!

We packed what little we had unpacked but left our stuff in the room and walked over to the Studios. It was not at all crowded and Tower of Terror was a walk-on. We got a drop sequence that was new to us - a lot of fairly short ups and downs. We wandered around and checked out the big "Chicken Little" (isn't that an oxymoron?) on top of Playhouse Disney and went to the animation shop, which has really changed since our last visit. I didn't see any cels for sale and they've changed the layout of the store. It's more "artsy" now.

We did the Backlot Tour, which we haven't done in years. We haven't missed much. :-) We did get to cruise by the area where the new Stunt show will be...the guide said that they have been practicing, and there were lots of skid marks on the pavement!

From there we wandered around the "Streets of America" which is the new home of the Osborne Lights since Residential Street was demolished to make room for the aforementioned stunt show. We were looking forward to seeing it at night but it was kind of cool being able to get a close look at it during the day - which you couldn't do when it was on Residential Street, since they didn't allow people in that area during the day...I suppose keeping people out of the way of the Backlot Tour trams was a good idea. :-)

Anyway...since we do a pretty decent light display at home Lee was looking around and critiquing their workmanship - he was not terribly impressed. :-) He pointed out a number of light plugs that had open sockets - he always covers his with electrical tape. But of course it *never* rains in Florida! :-) There were lots of uncut tie-wraps, too. Tsk, tsk. Of course maybe you have to cut them a *little* slack...the sign says that there are 5 million lights and a million tie wraps, and it took 18 electricians 14 weeks to set it all up!

After we saw Muppet Vision we were ready for a break - three attractions in one morning! We were exhausted! :-) We had lunch in the Sunset Ranch area - in all our years coming here we'd never eaten there before. I'd heard that the hot dogs at Rosie's were good - except that Rosie's no longer has hot dogs - instead they serve them in the kiosk next to the ice cream place. That evidently confuses people because Lee had several people ask him where he got his hot dog. Lee said Costco's hot dogs are better...and a lot cheaper! I had a veggie burger, which was ok. At least it was better than the Commissary - I've never had anything there I liked.

It was an absolutely gorgeous day - sunny and warm, ~82, but not TOO warm. We were really enjoying being able to wear t-shirts and shorts, and we had a very nice walk back to the Boardwalk along the canal. At Seashore Sweets we ordered chocolate shakes - I asked for "nice and thick", and the CM did an excellent job.

Kwanzaa Storyteller
Kwanzaa Storyteller
Even though it was only 1:30 we decided to check and see if our new room was ready, but it wasn't. We got our new room keys, and were told our new room was "close" to the other. We were also told that we needed to vacate our studio, even though that's not what Alfredo told us the night before. We went up to the room intending to relax a little while before going out again, but got a phone call from Housekeeping telling us to leave. I told her that we'd been told we could stay until our new room was ready at 4:00, and she was supposed to verify and call me back in 15 minutes but that didn't happen. We eventually left around 2:15 and schlepped our bags back down to the lobby and left them at the Bell Desk. What a hassle.

On to our second park of the day...Epcot. We went to the American Adventure where the New Things were the Hanukkah and Kwanzaa storytellers - they conveniently had them scheduled back-to-back, followed just a few minutes later by the Voices of Liberty who were doing their holiday songs. I still think they need to come up with a different Hanukkah song...I would think they would get tired of performing the same song at each show. And I know there is at least one other Hanukkah song, because my high school choir performed one!

From Voices of Liberty we heard a new arrangement of Carol of the Bells, which they said was a Ukrainian song. I hadn't heard that before, so I looked it up on the web. It was composed by Ukraininan composer Mykola Dmytrovich Leontovvych, and was part of his choral work called Shchedryk (someone buy that man some vowels!!!). In 1936 Peter Wilhousky, a composer who worked for Toscanini, adapted it and added the lyrics we are familiar with today.

According to William L. Simon, ed., Reader's Digest Merry Christmas Songbook (1981): "There is a legend that at the stroke of midnight on the evening when Jesus was born all the bells on earth suddenly began pealing joyously together of their own accord--and there was never a sound like it for majesty and grandeur. 'Carol of the Bells,' based on an old Ukrainian motif, probably springs from that legend, as it tells of the 'sweet silver bells' that pealed joyously in unison. Traditionally, the 'Carol o/the Bells' is sung quietly in the beginning, grows louder and ever louder as each voice adds to the tintinnabulation, and finally dies away to a pianissimo as the pealing gradually ceases."

Don't you think tintinnabulation is a cool word?

Our next stop was The Living Seas, where Lee tortured me by making me sit through the movie. "It rained...and rained...and rained..." Once we finally made it through the hydrolators (why do they make it so difficult to get into this place???) we found a number of new exhibits - most of them an outgrowth of Finding Nemo. Bruce's shark exhibit was cute, and there were several clownfish and "Dory fish" (I don't remember their real name) in the reef tanks.

But what we'd come to see was a New Thing - "Turtle Talk with Crush". DUDE!!!! It was totally awesome!!! For those who haven't had a chance to see it...they put you in a theater that holds about 60 people. On the wall is a big screen, where it looks like you're looking underwater at Crush's reef - animated in the "Finding Nemo" style. Crush swims to the window, and a cast member with a microphone takes questions from the kids in the audience.

It was amazing...the actor portraying Crush could obviously see and hear the audience (he'd say things like: "You, in the red shell"), and then respond immediately to the question. His character was animated in real-time, too, and would swim around, move his flippers, bob in the water, etc.. Even the movement of his mouth was a good approximation of what he was saying. We're really curious about how they did that - some kind of motion-capture sensor array on his face? You almost forgot that he was an animated character.

The actor was also quite skilled at improvisation...at one point a kid in the audience asked: "How many stars in the sky?" Crush didn't know and swam up to check, came back, and said "Dude! There's only one but it's like really, really bright! I don't recommend looking at it without these!" Then his character pulled out a pair of sunglasses and put them on. :-)

It was a fascinating, and very entertaining, show...though I won't say we learned a great deal about turtles. :-) We did learn that the most important word in the turtle language is, of course, "Dude!" :-) Which we went around saying for the rest of the trip.

Dude! After we had, like, totally hung out with Crush, we visited some of the rest of the Living Seas' exhibits. And guess what, dude? We were there at just the right time to see one of their dolphin sessions. The trainer dudette was outside the tank, but Rainier, the dolphin, could see her and respond to her hand signals. Though she's a bit new, so he was like trying to see if he could get away with doing less than the full behavior. Typical dolphin dude. :-)

We left Epcot and took the monorail over to the Magic Kingdom. Du-uu-uude...that's really the only place where we saw much evidence of the hurricanes that went through a few months ago...there were still lots of fallen trees visible, and missing shingles on the roofs of the hotels.

We arrived at the Magic Kingdom just in time for the tree-lighting show, which we'd never seen before, dude! The deputy mayor, with help from Mickey and Minnie and some young guests, lit the tree. It was ok, but I miss Epcot's tree lighting with Cast in Bronze...

Next on our list of New Things was Stitch's Great Escape - aka Disney Capitalizes on Stitch's Popularity and Attempts to Create a Friendlier Version of Alien Encounter. We'd heard so many negative things about it that we were actually pleasantly surprised - it's still not a great attraction (but we never cared much for Alien Encounter), but it was ok. Not something that needs to be done again and again and again, though. And the line was short - we only waited about 5 minutes.

We had dinner at Columbia Harbor House - they were way behind on food orders. If you'd ordered fish you were ok, but if you wanted chicken strips or a salad you waited a long time...I think we stood at the counter for over 10 minutes waiting for our fish and chicken meal and Galley salad. Bummer, dude. I do like the salad - in addition to the mixed lettuce it has spiced pecans and pineapple.

We'd planned to see Mickey's PhilharMagic but because of the upcoming fireworks they had closed off much of Fantasyland. So we went to the Pooh ride instead - only a short wait to get on, but once we got in the Heffalumps and Woozles room we got stuck for 5-10 minutes. Dude! I haven't seen pyschedelic colors like that since the 60s...

I trounced Lee twice on Buzz Lightyear - even though the second time I let him do all the steering and choose where he wanted to sit. :-) That Zurg dude definitely required some major attitude adjustment.

We made our way through the crowd to Main Street to get a spot for the Wishes fireworks. Actually the park was NOT horribly crowded, and we got a good spot with a straight-on view of the castle less than 10 minutes before it started.

It's still a totally awesome show, dude!!! Though the Illuminations holiday finale has a greater concentration of fireworks.

We took the monorail back to Epcot and walked all the way through and back to the Boardwalk - though we did stop at La Patisserie in France to pick up some pastries for dessert - apple turnover for Lee and pralinege (chocolate cake with hazelnut filling) for me.

And then it was time to see if we actually *had* a room at the Boardwalk...we did, and it was just down the hall from where we were before (4109 instead of 4106). We got our luggage from Bell Services and went upstairs. Ahhh...clean air in the room! And, even though it was a "standard view" room that looked out over the Boardwalk's entrance, we were far enough down the hall that we could see into the back of Epcot - as it turned out we had a perfect view of the Illuminations fireworks! Awesome, dude...we really scored! We ate our desserts, watched the fireworks, and Lee put up some Christmas lights on our balcony. Home at last. :-)

Dude...aren't you glad the day is over and don't you hope that I won't be doing turtle-speak for the rest of the trip? :-)


Other Links

Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Tigger & Stitch's Holiday Escape
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Text and photographs copyright © 2004 by Laura Gilbreath. All rights reserved.

Laura Gilbreath lgil at lgil dot net
Last updated 12/16/04