Laura and Lee's Magical
Mystery Tour

Christmas time at Walt Disney World! This particular trip was planned because of the rec.arts.disney.parks newsgroup, and the big meet at WDW the first weekend in December. Back in May, Debbie Wills (of WDWIG) asked me if I would consider being a "Mystery Guest". I couldn't make the Saturday meet because of a prior commitment, but decided that we could make the meet on Sunday...so Lee and I made plans, and kept our secret for 5 long months. :-)


Saturday, Dec. 6

After my annual cookie baking extravaganza, my friend Lauri drove us up to L.A. so we could catch our 11:00 p.m. flight to Orlando. The plane was only about 2/3 full - Lee was able to snag an entire row of 5 seats and stretch out - despite the grumblings of the people sitting behind me, who thought they should have gotten it. Hey, you gotta be fast!

The flight was pretty short - only about 3 hours, 40 minutes, so we didn't get a lot of sleep.


Sunday, Dec. 7

The airport is pretty empty at 6:00 in the morning! We got our car and braved the chill Orlando morning - it was in the low 50s - very un-Florida-like! It was great to drive onto the Walt Disney World property, and we headed for the Dixie Landings Resort. We were hoping that we'd be able to get a room immediately, but no such luck - they told us to check back after 2:00. I got the 25th Anniversary pressed quarter that was in the lobby, and we headed back to the car. As we were sitting in the car trying to decide our next course of action I realized that in my less than awake state I had left the envelope containing our airline tickets, room reservations, and Candlelight Processional tickets on top of the quarter machine! Oops! Fortunately it was still sitting on top of the machine. Ok, so I don't function at my best on only three hours sleep...

None of the parks were open yet, so we decided to resort hop a little, see the Christmas decorations, and collect some more of the pressed quarters - my goal was to have all 12 when we left (there's one per resort). Our first stop was Coronado Springs. It was chilly and breezy outside, but Lee insisted that we walk from the lobby over to the "Dig Site" for a closer look at the themed pool. And who should we meet but Andrea McKenna - one of the radp'ers we were expecting to meet later! She was very surprised to see us. After chatting for a while we went our separate ways - Andrea was supposed to forget she ever saw us, but we later learned she spilled the beans to a couple of people. :-)

We had some really good pastries from the bakery at the Pepper Market for breakfast (one of the better cinnamon rolls I've had in a while), though Lee's cafe mocha was very disappointing.

Next stops were the All Star Sports and All Star Music Resorts to press more quarters, and then on to the Caribbean Beach Resort to get the quarter there. As we were walking around the Old Port Royale area we found some unoccupied double-sized hammocks. Nap attack! We snuggled up together on a hammock - the sun was warm and it felt really good to take a short nap.

Somewhat refreshed, we made our way over to Epcot Center, where we purchased our very first Walt Disney World Annual Passes! Woo hoo, now we have both Disneyland and WDW Annual Passes! We still think there should be one AP that works in BOTH places, though.

Our first stop was to watch the fountain dance, and then we had lunch at The Land food court and saw the Circle of Life movie. We rode Journey into Imagination and then went up to Image Works. We love playing in the "Light Music Room" and also conducting the orchestra. It wasn't mobbed with kids, so we big kids got to play for a while. :-)

We walked up towards the World Showcase lagoon, and saw the Disney characters perform their "12 Days of Holidays Around the World" show. It was very cute.

We went back to Dixie Landings and got into our room and crashed for a little while before showering and heading off to Disney/MGM Studios for the Tower of Terror meet.

We got there as others were arriving too, and the hugs and greetings began. It was great seeing everyone - especially my fellow mystery guests Eureka, Meli, and Karen. There were so many people that I got to meet face-to-face that I had previously only emailed or chatted with on IRC. I only wish that I could have had more time to spend with everyone. Lee thinks I had a little *too* much fun hugging all the RADP Bad Boys - Chad, Jeff, Jim, Kenny, Paul, Rob, Rusty, Sam... :-)

We finally got about 30 of us in line to ride the Tower of Terror. Or at least I think that was the final count - Kenny counted us at least 3 times. :-) I had never ridden it before, but Deb and Pam and I had ridden it virtually (we even have a picture to prove it! :-) ), and here was our chance to do it together for real. The line moved quickly and before I knew it we had a whole elevator full of radp'ers, and I was in the back row between Deb and Lee. Woo hoo! It was a little scary, but fun, and I enjoyed it.

After that we headed to the Brown Derby restaurant for the major event of the day - the RADP dinner. I think there were 54 of us.

We sat with Pam (my fellow virtual ToT rider) and Larry Kratz, and enjoyed talking to them. Deb Wills was flitting around everywhere (I see where she gets her nickname!) taking pictures and doing prize drawings (Lee won a Beach Club pin and pen). And in this picture she gave Lee a nice "lap hug". :-) (I think that after this I shouldn't be hearing anything more about me and the "Bad Boys"... :-) )

Dinner was very good and we posed for lots of pictures, as many people made their way through with cameras. (Here are the four Mystery Guests for the weekend - Meli, Eureka, me, and Karen.)

After dinner we had intended to meet over at Epcot to watch Illuminations, and meet some other people there who were NOT at dinner, but dinner ran late and we didn't arrive until after the show had started. We found the Spencer family and spent some time with them - Lee and his baby Pegasus beanie were a big hit with Brian and Katie.

We went back to Dixie Landings and I got on IRC for a little while (I had to tell everyone where I was! :-) ), before we crashed. It was a great day, though, and I'm really glad that we did it.


Monday, Dec. 8

A night's sleep felt very good. We had arranged to meet John and Melanie Emmons for breakfast, and we had a wonderful time visiting with them - we had also met them at the D.C. radp meet in October. Meli had threatened to throttle me if I ended up being the Mystery Guest, but she forgave me. :-) All too soon Meli and John needed to check out and leave, so we said our goodbyes.

Lee and I made our way back over to Epcot - it's definitely our favorite place. It was a beautiful sunny day - much warmer than Sunday. Our first stop was (where else?) the Fountainview, where we ran into fellow radp'er Norm, who was visiting from England! After visiting with Norm and enjoying the dancing fountains, we went back into World Showcase to see some of the "Holidays Around the World" presentations. At each of the 12 countries they were featuring a short talk on the holiday traditions and celebrations of that country.

Our first stop was Canada, where we saw a Santa Claus wearing a red-checked flannel shirt, and learned that he gets his new, not previously owned reindeer from "CANADA!", and whose first stop, because it's so close to home, is "CANADA!" :-)

At the Mercantile Lee talked me into getting matching hats - that's us at the top of the page - aren't we just too cute for words? :-)

At the United Kingdom pavilion we were just in time to see the "World Showcase Players" perform their version of "A Christmas Carol". We both enjoy watching the street theater groups. They got a couple good "volunteers" from the audience, and the audience (especially Lee) was pretty enthusiastic. Right after that we got to hear Father Christmas talk about the origin of Christmas cards and other customs.

We hotfooted it over to Germany to see St. Nicholas talk about the first Christmas tree. Then it was back over to the UK to see the World Showcase Players again - with a stop along the way for a funnel cake. We created our very own snowstorm with all the powdered sugar. :-)

We got to see the World Showcase Players perform "King Arthur and the Holy Grail". And what did we think of it? "Rubbish!" :-) Lee thought McKenzie, one of the performers, was a babe. :-)

Continuing on our "Holiday Around the World", we saw Pere Noel in France, and then to Morocco for "Tales of the Taarji" - a story-telling drummer who talked about the Feast of Ashoora. At the end he poured rosewater on our hands and instructed us to make a wish - but not to tell anyone or it won't come true!

We wandered into Italy just in time to hear the end of "Rondo Veneziano". It's a bit hard to describe, but picture a group dressed in 17th century clothing (including wigs) playing electric guitar, synthesizer, clarinet, and violin. Techno-classical music? Sounds weird, but it was very good - Lee bought two of the CDs.

While he was doing that I saw Le Befana - the friendly witch who rides her broom (lots of frequent flyer miles!) in search of il Gesu Bambino. She was really funny.

Just a note...all of the actors who portrayed the various holiday characters did a very good job, and seemed to really enjoy what they were doing. At the end of their little presentation they always posed for pictures and signed autographs for the kids.

We had a quick (late) lunch at the Japanese fast food place before seeing the American Adventure. As the show let out the Voices of Liberty singers were performing in the Rotunda, and we caught the tail end of their show. They were singing various Christmas songs - they were really good.

On our way out of the park we saw the holiday presentation in China - "The Legend of the Monkey King". He was fun, though he made fun of our matching hats. :-)

We went back to the hotel for a short nap and then grabbed a couple of pieces of pizza at the food court before driving over to the Magic Kingdom for Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party.

It was "snowing" soap bubbles on Main Street, which was pretty crowded. On the advice of those who had been there before we made our way back towards Adventureland where it was less crowded, had our picture taken, and rode Pirates, Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain with little or no wait. We were in line for Big Thunder right behind the McKenna family, and we enjoyed seeing them again.

Instead of seeing the first parade we went over to Tomorrowland to see "Mickey's Twas the Night Before Christmas" show. Along the way we ran into Pam and Larry Kratz and said hello to them. We enjoyed the show - it was cute. After that it was time to meet fellow RADPers by the Liberty Bell to say hello, pose for pictures and watch the fireworks.

After that a group of us rode Splash Mountain and Thunder Mountain together - woo hoo! I really enjoyed sitting next to Deb on the way to her "Laughing Place". :-) Most of the rest of the group headed up to ride Space Mountain, but we wanted to see the next Christmas parade, so we said our goodbyes to everyone.

We got our complimentary hot chocolate and cookies (the hot chocolate was good, the cookies were inedible), and had no trouble getting a very good viewing spot for the parade, just inside the entrance to Liberty Square. After the parade we saw the "Every Day's a Holiday" show, and then rode Space Mountain. The Space Mountain at Disneyland is WAY better, this one is pretty dull in comparison.

It was almost closing time (1:00 a.m.) so we took a nice leisurely ride on TTA - something we had never done.

We enjoyed the Christmas party, though we didn't have time to do all the shows or ride very many rides. But we were able to do the things that we most enjoy with short lines, and that made it worthwhile to us. This was the only time we got to MK on this trip - it's so much more crowded than the other two parks that we tend to avoid it. And even though this particular MVMCP was sold out, we didn't find the crowds to be excessive at all.


Tuesday, Dec 9

We didn't get to bed until 2:00, so we didn't get up until almost 10:00. It was a beatiful warm, sunny (but humid) day. Shorts and t-shirt weather! We walked over to Port Orleans for breakfast - we wanted to try the beignets. Unfortunately they were NOT fresh, and were a little rubbery and disappointing.

We drove over to Disney/MGM Studios and took the boat over to the Yacht and Beach Clubs to see the Christmas decorations and get the pressed quarter. The Yacht Club had a really terrific train set/ski mountain set up in the lobby. Obviously a lot of work.

We walked from there to Epcot via the International Gate, though we didn't have much time to spend there. But we had time to see the holiday story in Japan "Tales of the Daruma Seller". Performed, appropriately enough, by a gal named Micki. She was a tiny little thing but full of energy, and was very entertaining.

We also were able to see the entire show by the Voices of Liberty. Unfortunately it's only about 10 minutes long - they are so good that we could have listened to them a lot longer than that.

We finally made it to La Patisserie in France - one of our usual stops - for lunch. :-) Then we took the boat back to the Studios, where we were to meet Jeff Spencer. *We* were 10 minutes early, and he was a minute late. :-)

We rode the Tower of Terror - we let Jeff pick the line and of course he chose the slowest one. (See the September Disneyland trip report for an explanation.) You'd think we would know better by now. :-)

Our main objective for the evening was to see the Osborne Lights, but we still had some time until sunset, so we rode the Great Movie Ride (and we *finally* got the Western side!). Jeff pointed out the "Hidden Mickeys" in the ride.

We threatened to make Jeff sit through the Beauty and the Beast Christmas show (my revenge for subjecting me to It's a Small World on multiple occasions), but we opted for the Animation tour instead. We went into the lobby of the building before we were supposed to and they kicked us out. :-)

Even though it was almost 6:00 there were still lots of people at work - more than we had ever seen. Their current project is Mulan, and they are very proud that it's the first animated movie to be done almost entirely at the Florida studio.

After the tour we went up to the back of the park to see the Osborne Lights. They have 3 million lights set up at the end of New York Street and on Residential St. Anything that can be covered with lights is covered - including bicycles, barbecues, tire swings...even underwater vehicles! (Barb, this picture is for you. :-) ) Definitely the "anything worth doing is worth doing to excess" mentality. We still enjoyed seeing it, though.

We got there about half an hour after the display opened for the evening and had no trouble wandering through - we had heard that if you arrived right when they open it that it's mobbed with people, and you just have to flow with the crowd.

We made arrangements to meet up with Jeff again on Thursday, and headed for Downtown Disney. We decided to try Planet Hollywood for dinner, and had about a 30 minute wait before being seated. It is VERY loud in there.

The food was good but the entire experience is not something I'd do again. All the noise and all the activity on the video screen made it way too overstimulating for me, and for the last 10 minutes we were there all I wanted was to get out of there.

When we finally left, we discovered that it was pouring down rain outside! So much for touring Downtown Disney. We were parked relatively close, but still got pretty wet just getting to the car.

I got on IRC for a while - quite a few people I'd seen on Sunday were back home and were also chatting, which was nice.


Wednesday, Dec. 10

VERY cloudy and dark this morning, but at least it wasn't raining.

After breakfast at the Food Court we got in the car and started resort hopping - we wanted to see the holiday decorations in the remaining resorts.

Our first stop was the Wilderness Lodge - it's just gorgeous. We're staying there in January - I can't wait. The tree was huge and beautifully decorated. And the fire felt kind of good. They had a gingerbread village which was (oddly enough) themed after The Little Mermaid - it had things like Ariel's Landing, Sebastian's Bait & Tackle, etc. But my favorite thing was the chocolate moose. :-)

We thought maybe we'd get to see the geyser, but there were people out there working on it. A geyser that needs repairs??? Only at Disney. :-)

We drove to the Contemporary and parked, and used the monorail to hop between the Contemporary and the Polynesian. The decorations at both were a bit disappointing - especially at the Polynesian. It has so much tropical decoration already that I guess it's hard to make it look very Christmassy.

We walked between the Polynesian and the Grand Floridian. The Grand Floridian was lovely - a beautiful tree and a gingerbread house that was even furnished and decorated on the *inside*. Not a place that we think we ever want to stay though - the clientele was largely older folks wandering around in dresses and resort wear - not the t-shirt and jeans crowd that we prefer.

We took the monorail back to the Contemporary and picked up the car and headed for (where else?) Epcot. First stop was Ellen's Energy Adventure, which we enjoy watching. On the way over to The Land for lunch, we caught "Future Corp's" show - contrary to what some people have tried to tell us, they aren't any better than the band at Disneyland - we enjoy both of them.

As we left The Land Pavilion after lunch it was starting to rain, so we headed into Centorium to do some shopping. This was the day of our Epcot Candlelight Processional, and we had a 15% discount all day. I found several Tigger shirts, and Lee and I both got a WDW 25 polo shirt - yes, matching outfits. Isn't that just too cute? :-)

It had stopped raining by then, so we arranged for package pickup later, and headed into World Showcase to see the two holiday shows we *hadn't* seen - Norway and Mexico.

Julenissen, the gnome from Norway, was first. He hangs out in hay barns, and has a goat that butts naughty children. It started to pour down rain not long after that, and we took shelter outside the Kringla Bakery until it let up a little, and then ran down to Mexico. Fortunately almost everything there is inside the pyramid. They moved the presentation by "Los Tres Reyes Mangos" inside. It was nice to be out of the rain, but it was noisy - and there was a group of foreign teenagers who insisted on singing inside the building. (We ran into groups of "singing teenagers" several times - it was ok as long as they weren't singing at inappropriate times.) The Three Kings talked about Las Posadas, the Christmas celebration in Mexico.

The rain had stopped again, and we wandered up the way - just in time to see the bridge between China and the African outpost go down! We hadn't even realized it was a bridge, much less a drawbridge. They lift it up to allow the barges for Illuminations to pass under it. That was interesting to see.

We went to the American Adventure in time to see The Voices of Liberty again - and it was a completely different group than the one we had seen the day before. They are just wonderful. After that it was time to scope out seats for the 6:00 Candlelight Processional - with the weather the way it was, we wanted to be sure we were under cover. They had already opened the seating area, so we were seated in the reserved section right away, but had about a 45 minute wait until the show.

The Candelight Processional features Christmas music interspersed with the narration of the Christmas story from the Bible. The vocals feature a massed choir made up of the Cast Member's choir and multiple guest choirs - the sound of over 400 voices in a massed choir is almost indescribable.

Most of the music was rearrangments of traditional Christmas carols such as Away in a Manger, Joy to the World, and Silent Night, etc., but there were a couple of less familiar pieces, and the finale was the Hallelujah Chorus. That always gives me chills - it's such a powerful piece of music.

Angie Dickinson was the narrator the night we were there, and did a nice job.

We really enjoyed the show. We were seated a little bit too close to the stage so the music mix wasn't quite as good as if we had been a little further back. But, it started to rain about halfway through the show, so we were very grateful to be under the cover.

After the show we headed over to Morocco for our dinner at the Marrakesh restaurant. Neither of us had eaten there before, but I'd read good things about it on the newsgroup. We had an excellent meal - I would have been happy with just the appetizer and dessert!

The entertainment was a belly dancer and two musicians. The dancer had fun pulling kids out of the audience to come dance with her - a couple of the pre-teen boys actually did pretty well!

The rain had stopped by the time we finished dinner, so we found a spot for Holiday Illuminations - there was still LOTS of available viewing space. The show is ok, but the regular Illuminations is better.

We walked out of the park but stopped to enjoy the fountain and the lighted gateway arch for a while - both of them were choreographed to the holiday music that was being played. We could have sat there and watched and listened for hours, but decided to pick up our packages and head back to the hotel.


Thursday, December 11

Woke up to rain, rain, and more rain. Why does it always seem to rain on our last day at WDW? Sigh.

We packed our bags, checked out, and had breakfast, and then headed over to Disney/MGM Studios. As we were parking and walking in there were some VERY close lightning strikes - a couple that looked like they were at the back of the MGM lot. It was raining pretty hard, so we hung out in the shops for a while before heading towards the back of the park where we were supposed to meet Jeff Spencer at 11:00. And we absolutely couldn't be late, or we would never hear the end of it! :-)

As we cruised by Pizza Planet Jeff yelled our names - he was sitting in the covered patio area outside. We chatted for a while and drank hot chocolate before going to the theater to see Hunchback of Notre Dame. We hadn't seen any of the stage shows at MGM except the Indiana Jones Stunt show, and Jeff had offered to be our guide for the day. Before the show the stage manager apologized for the weather and warned us that with the wet weather they might have to stop the show to dry things off so the wet stage wouldn't be a hazard for the actors. Only Disney would apologize for the weather...

For a while the rain was positively torrential, and they did have to stop the show for about 5 minutes. We thoroughly enjoyed the show, though - it's much better than the Festival of Fools show at Disneyland.

We were also very entertained by "Matt the Juggler's" pre-show. We could tell Jeff had seen this a few times, because he was yelling out the joke answers to many of Matt's questions. :-)

It was still raining as we made our way to the Muppet 3D show. That's always great fun to watch. The rain had let up when we went into Voyages of the Little Mermaid. That was cute, though the last thing we needed with the wet weather was more mist and humidity *inside*. But when the show finished, the sky had brightened considerably, and it had stopped raining! Woo hoo!

I wanted one more ride on Tower of Terror, so we got in line - just in time for it to break down. Sigh. So we stood outside the theater waiting to go in to the Beauty and the Beast show. The pre-show here was a singing group called "Four for a Dollar" - they were excellent. The show itself was ok, but we've seen the Broadway version of BATB, and this just doesn't compare. And the guy they had playing Gaston was skinny, and had fake muscles - didn't have the right voice, either.

We had a late lunch at Mama Melrose's, and then it was time for us to leave for the airport. We said goodbye to Jeff and were on our way. By the time we returned the car and checked in they were boarding our flight. Kind of a weird route - we had a stop in Salt Lake City, but we arrived home safely.


Text and photographs copyright © 1997, 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, email: lgil at lgil dot net
Last updated 12/22/97

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