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

December 5-11, 2004
Part 2

Tuesday, December 7 - Segway Tour and Epcot

Woo hoo! It was our day to ride Segways and terrorize tourists! :-) Ok, so maybe that's not really the Disney spirit.

Back in February Disney started doing the "Around the World at Epcot" tour which gave guests the opportunity to ride a Segway (and haven't most of us seen cast members riding them and wanted to try it?) around Epcot. We didn't do our spring trip to Walt Disney World this year, so this was our first opportunity to do the tour - I signed us up back in September. It's a two hour tour...a two hour tour. ;-)

We met our tour guide, Mary Ann, at Epcot Guest Relations at 9:15 - she was a bit concerned because our group had 12 and not 10, and the earlier group also had 12 so they needed to find a couple more Segways. She took us over to "Segway Central", which is behind the old Pizza Piazza restaurant. The earlier tour (there is one at 8:30 and one at 9:30) was just finishing their training and about to leave for their World Showcase tour. Our first step was to select a helmet that fit - that can be harder than it sounds! Then another of our guides, Larry, showed us a film about the Segway and showed us the basics - how to turn it on/off, how to get on, how to go forward/back, and how to turn.

Then it was time to don our helmets and select a Segway. By that time we had two other guides, Janice and Rita, to help. The first time they didn't want us to get on unattended, so one of them stood with us while we got on and found our balance - it's a little different than you expect. The Segway keeps you balanced and won't let you fall, but you need to figure out your balance point - that place where you can stay still without moving either forward or back.

Then we learned the basics - how to move forward and back and turn - and in just a few minutes they had us slaloming around a series of cones they had laid out in an oval around the room. The cones were less than 3 feet apart, but it was amazingly easy to maneuver around them.

Next they taught us how to get off the Segway and move it up and over an obstacle - it turns out that they do NOT go over things like hoses very well, and since we would be out in World Showcase before it opened, there was the possibility that we would encounter cast members out watering or performing other maintenance.

Our last training exercise was to go up and down a long ramp. We were told to move our feet forward on the Segway going up, and move them all the way back going down, as that would help our control.

After a short break it was time for our tour of the park itself. Mary Ann led us out single file and took us back into World Showcase, and we were the envy of all the other guests. Once we got to China, where the park was not yet open, she led us in some fairly complex maneuvers - in the garden in front of the Temple of Heaven there's a ramp with a 90 degree turn at the bottom, and then a little bridge we had to go up and over, and then turn and duck under a branch. But that was no problem - by this time we were feeling very secure on the Segways and controlling them was becoming natural - we didn't have to think so much about what we wanted it to do.

The Segways will go 12 miles per hour but these had an inhibitor that limited them to 5. If we tried to go fast that would kick in and make the Segway ride a little straighter as it fought against itself - that felt a little weird.

In Italy we did a "column slalom" (which is why they'd had us practice back in the room - cones bend and columns don't!). Then we had a few minutes of free time in front of Italy where we could ride around on our own and take pictures and just enjoy the experience. We still had to stay within a defined area, so couldn't go off on our own like we wanted. At the end of our time I was getting a little bored and ready to move on.

At the American Adventure pavilion we got to navigate the brick paths in that little garden off to the right of the gift shop - it was narrow and there were several tight 90 degree turns but it was really no problem - those Segways are very easy to control!

Next in Japan we got to go up into the garden by the Yakitori House - more up/down hill and tricky bridges. No problemo. :-) We actually rode through some of the shops in Morocco, but fortunately the cast members there seem to have gotten a kick out of that.

By then it was past 11:00 and World Showcase was open so we had to go back to riding single file. And avoid guests who weren't paying attention. We made our way back to Segway Central where we rode our Segways back down the ramp and placed them up against the wall where they could be recharged, and turned them off. Playtime was over. Sigh.

This is the first Disney tour I've done where there was NOT a survey at the end. We each received an "Around the World at Epcot" Segway pin, and were free to go. Lee and I talked to one of the CMs (who seems to be in charge of the Segway tour program) and said we thought there should be a more advanced tour for those who had done this one. He said they'd thought about it, but it didn't seem practical - mostly due to issues of determining who was qualified for the advanced tour.

But we learned that he has been talking to people at Disneyland in CA, who are interested in setting up a tour there at DCA. That would be fun! Wonder who we need to contact to volunteer to be test subjects? :-)

We had a great time on this tour, and are very impressed with the Segway's ease-of-use. I was quite comfortable on it after a very short time, and riding it got more natural the longer we spent - while it doesn't read your mind, your natural small changes of position communicate the forward/back/speed thing to it very well. I'd read trip reports from other people who had taken the tour and many commented that their legs got tired from standing in place for so long, so I was careful to shift position frequently and even rode standing on one leg from time-to-time. :-)

It doesn't seem quite fair that you can't rent/ride Segways in the parks, and given how careful they are with the Segways we think that they should require training for anyone who rents an ECV - those are way more prevalent and way harder to handle than Segways!

Still I don't really think I'd want to tour the parks exclusively by riding a Segway - it's still easier to go where you want, when you want, on foot, but it would be fun to do for a day.

After the tour we met our friend Laura S - she and her husband moved to Florida recently - just in time for the hurricanes! I hadn't seen her in almost two years so it was great to have a chance to spend some time with her and catch up. She's really a lot of fun and she cracks me up with some of her observations.

We quickly decided that it was lunch time and went to Le Cellier. Laura had never been there and Lee hadn't been there for lunch. We were seated very quickly even without priority seating, and had a good meal. Lee had the 5 oz filet mignon, Laura had the French dip sandwich, which she pronounced the best she'd ever had, and I had the Vancouver chicken sandwich. And we all enjoyed the pretzel breadsticks.

We dragged Laura off to see Turtle Talk, which she also enjoyed. (Ok, so we didn't really have to *drag* her...she wanted to see it.) Some of it was the same, but the kids asked some different questions and the actor did/said some different things. Dude! It still totally rocked!

We wandered around World Showcase after that - got frozen margaritas in Mexico. Yes, I had a margarita - I had the "Fiesta" margarita, which was layers of strawberry, mango, kiwi, and "regular" margarita. It was really good. We saw a performance of Epcot Vybe in their new location at World Showcase Plaza - right now they perform on the stage set up for the Christmas tree lighting. It's a bit different hearing them with amplified sound (they all had microphones) rather than under the dome inside the American Adventure, but we still enjoyed their show with its upbeat versions of holiday songs like Santa Claus is Comin' to Town, Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree, and White Christmas.

We also saw a performance of the Voices of Liberty, and watched Le Serveur Amusant in France - that's the chair balancing act. Lee says it makes him nervous. :-)

Laura had to leave after that and we walked with her back to the Boardwalk. We really enjoyed spending the afternoon with her, and look forward to seeing her and Dave when we are back here in January.

After a short break in our room we walked over to the Studios to see the Osborne Lights at night. We had to do a little bit of the "stop and shuffle" getting onto Streets of America but after that the crowd thinned out and we could walk where we wanted.

We'd heard mostly negative comments about the lights in their new location but we really liked it. We always thought the lights on Residential Street, with their overabundance of lights on *everything*, was rather tacky...but in the new location the display actually seems to be carefully designed and laid out, and we think it looks a lot better. It also seems to spread the people over a wider area so the crowds don't seem so bad and it's easier to move. Or maybe we just hit it on a less crowded night.

The "cover everything with lights" mentality still exists - there were bicycles and other things like that - and even the decorated BBQ grill made its way in. :-)

Here are some more pictures:

We walked back to the Boardwalk and had dinner at the Big River Grille. It was a beautiful warm night outside but there were no available tables so we ate inside, where it was freezing. Lee enjoyed his meatloaf dinner - the meatloaf was lightly grilled after it was sliced, and he liked that. I had a cup of their beer cheese soup and a house salad. The salad was good-sized and had carrots and sunflower seeds and other yummy additions. For dessert we got a couple of chocolate chip cookies at the stand on the Boardwalk and took them back to our room to eat later.

We again watched the Illuminations fireworks from our balcony. We really like the location of this room!

Wednesday, December 8 - Magic Kingdom, Resort Hopping, Downtown Disney, Animal Kingdom

We started our morning by taking the bus back to Magic Kingdom to do some of the things we missed doing on Monday. We arrived just after opening and saw the first Mickey's PhilharMagic show. It's very well done, though it's a little strange seeing the characters as computer generated characters rather than traditional drawn-and-painted. They just look a little different.

Since Lee had no desire to get trounced on Buzz again :-) we wandered through the park and did Thunder Mountain and Pirates, which were walk-ons. We'd done three attractions in just over an hour so we were getting pretty tired. :-) We headed out of the park, though we did a little shopping at the Emporium, where Lee got a Santa Stitch shirt. Stitch is *everywhere* this year!

Then it was time for our Christmas Decorations Tour of the monorail resorts - we enjoy visiting various resorts and seeing their Christmas decorations each year.

The gingerbread houses at the Contemporary were a bit disappointing - they were nice, but nothing on a very grand scale. The graham cracker houses that some of my girlfriends made at my cookie party this year (here's Janet and Lauri's, and here's Kristina's) were a lot more creative...though they didn't manage to top last year's "North Pole House of Ill Repute" - Visa and Mastercard accepted. ;-)

But I digress, dude. ;-) Sorry, couldn't resist. :-) I found this wreath at the Contemporary - it seemed like it would have been more appropriate at the Polynesian, except I guess the weird green alien egg things made it futuristic.

The Polynesian had a very nice gingerbread display decorated as one of their longhouses. Santa was out windsurfing. :-) There were also large chocolate figures of Lilo and Stitch in the Kona Cafe. I'm always a bit disappointed in the decorations at the Poly, though...they have this wonderful waterfall area in the lobby, but all they ever do is throw some poinsettias in there. It seems like they could come up with *something* more creative than that.

The Grand Floridian had their usual life-sized gingerbread house - we knew better than to buy any of the cookies sold there, though. :-) We've tried them in previous years and they've been horrible.

We continued on the resort monorail back to Magic Kingdom and then took a bus back to the Boardwalk. They have *finally* changed the bus route so that all five Epcot resorts no longer share the same bus - though the Boardwalk still shares with Swan and Dolphin. But it was the *first* stop instead of the last...back when all five shared we'd get off at the Swan (the first stop) and walk to the Boardwalk (last stop) - it was faster than taking the bus all the way to the Boardwalk.

The next item on our "New Things" agenda was to try out the new Earl of Sandwich place in Downtown Disney. We hoped that during the day Downtown Disney wouldn't be so crowded but it was a zoo - don't those people know they were supposed to be in the theme parks???

The Earl of Sandwich had a pretty long line but it moved quickly. I wanted to try the Caprese sandwich I've read about in Sue's trip reports, and Lee got the Full Montagu. I made a quick stop in the Ghirardelli store but then we took our sandwiches back "home" to eat. We didn't do any other shopping and didn't actually go to World of Disney at all on this trip! I hope Disney doesn't revoke our APs or anything like that...

My Caprese sandwich (mozzarella cheese, basil, and tomatoes) lived up to my expectations, and Lee enjoyed his (roast beef and turkey with cheddar and swiss cheese, lettuce, and English mustard), too. And at $4.95 each the prices are certainly reasonable! I'm sure we'll be going back on future trips.

After lunch we relaxed for a while (yes, we took an afternoon break!) before driving over to Animal Kingdom to meet our friends Paul and Ilene. We met back at Tusker House and sat and talked for a while before getting a spot on the bridge for a New Thing: Mickey's Jingle Jungle parade. It was cute - they had taken the existing floats and puppets and dressed them up for Christmas. My favorite was Minnie's float - they turned the bathtub into a huge cup of hot chocolate (with marshmallows), and as it went by I could smell chocolate! I also liked the crocodile reindeer (reindile? crocodeer?) float - the crocodile had a red harness, antlers, and a red nose.

We went back to the Pangani Forest Trail - it was as empty as I've ever seen it. But not empty of animals...the big silverback male very cooperatively posing, and we saw several of the bachelor males as well. The meerkat-in-charge-of-surveillance was doing the most low-effort surveillance I've ever seen - and was paying no attention at all to the Killer Rabbit that had invaded the meerkat enclosure. It's so hard to get good help these days! :-)

We just missed getting on the last safari at 4:30 so went to the Maharajah Jungle Trek instead. The five tigers were all waiting outside the door into their backstage area. In the meantime they were chasing each other or getting in the water, or other entertaining things. We stayed and watched them until the CMs came and shooed us out - the cats couldn't go in until we left!

Paul and Ilene had their car in the Animal Kingdom lot, too, so we told them we'd meet them at Boma, where we were all having dinner. The Boma waiting area is usually packed but this time there were very few people waiting - it was nice! We didn't have to wait too long for a table, either. While we were waiting we were able to admire Boma's chocolate village - they usually do a good job, but I thought it was especially nice this year.

What can I say...Boma is our favorite restaurant on property, and the food was really good, as usual. I tried the carrot ginger soup, which I've read so many raves about and it was very good - not overly gingery, which was fine by me! I had some of the nut-crusted salmon and that was also very good. Usually their fish entree is buried under peppers which makes it inedible to me, so it was great to be able to enjoy it this time. And of course we had to have zebra domes and chocolate mousse crunch for dessert. I was pleasantly full but not stuffed.

After dinner we went out to the savannah overlook - there were a few zebra and wildebeest out, and one eland. Unfortunately the mosquitoes were out, too. The repellant I'd put on earlier had worn off and I got several bites. I have a horrible reaction to Florida mosquito bites - I get huge welts and they itch for days. Cortisone cream doesn't help at all though I discovered on this trip that ice does.

We went into the lobby and talked for a while before saying goodbye to Paul and Ilene - they were staying at Animal Kingdom Lodge, so all they had to do was go upstairs. :-)

Back to the Boardwalk - where we again watched the Illuminations fireworks from our balcony. The holiday finale is still spectacular, even from a distance.

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Text and photographs copyright © 2004 by Laura Gilbreath. All rights reserved.

Laura Gilbreath lgil at lgil dot net
Last updated 12/17/04