Sunday, August 17, 2008

It's a Large Park After All

On July 27th, we woke up the children at 6 AM, packed our (carefully weighed to be as close as possible to 50 lbs) luggage into Kat's SUV and were chauffeured to the airport to catch our flight to Orlando International Airport.

Note to future travelers: the airlines' suggestion to arrive 2 hours before your flight is well-founded. Even though we got there over an hour early, I was worried we would not get through the amazingly-long check-in lines for United in time. Security (the primary reason for the 2-hour suggestion) went quickly - the rest was very slow. We were the very last people to board the plane (to the disappointment of the standby passengers) and they made it clear they were waiting only for us in order to take off, which was silly because we were still on-board 10 minutes early. A very nice lady volunteered to swap seats so Beta could sit next to me (all our seats were separated). Alpha was stuck sitting between two older women and apparently did not stop talking during the entire flight (to their apparent delight).

At this point, the children still had no idea to what state we were even flying (and missed the cabin announcements) and when we did land, "Orlando, Florida" did not mean anything special to them. They finally figured it out when we got on the Disney bus and started to get really excited.

The bus was freezing. We'll revisit that point many times.

We checked into the Polynesian resort without incident. It is a great hotel and my primary regret there is that we spent so much time at the Disney parks that we missed nearly every resort-based event.

It was still reasonably early in the day, so we dropped off our unnecessary gear and headed to the Magic Kingdom.

Not much has changed in this park - Disney seems to be putting most of the new attractions and upgrades into the newer parks. We spent the whole time in Fantasyland, hitting nearly every single attraction there, Mickey's Toontown Fair for the Barnstormer ride (not a favorite for Beta!) and Tomorrowland for the fun Buzz Lightyear ride. We saved the rest of the park for later in the week and retired relatively early to the resort.

One cool feature of the Polynesian - it has a perfect across-the-water view of Cinderella's Castle and the evening fireworks show. Awesome! (Our room did as well, but the first night we were on the beach to watch it and didn't realize that!) I spent some time fiddling with camera settings to try to get some good pictures of the fireworks with the kids in the very dark foreground. Very difficult (for me), but I managed a couple different passable shots, I think.

Day Two started with a family-style breakfast at the resort where the girls got to interact with Stitch (their favorite character) and Lilo before heading to Epcot for the entire, exhausting day. This may have ended up the least enjoyable day for us, although for different reasons. Sue's sneakers left her with really ugly blisters after the Magic Kingdom and, even though she had switched shoes, it was a painful day of walking for her. The kids were enthusiastic about the attractions of Future World but fairly bored with the World Showcase (oh well). We hit up "Spaceship Earth" (cool - even though the ride broke down in the middle and we were stuck inside for a while), "Ellen's Energy Adventure" (with Ellen DeGeneres and Bill Nye), "Nemo & Friends" and "Living with the Land." Alpha and I took two rides on "Test Track" (she screamed the entire way through the high speed section to the vast enjoyment of our carmates) and I headed alone to the very awesome high-G "Mission: SPACE" ride.

In the middle of all that, Florida decided to dump a month's worth of rain on the park (which totally emptied out the Nemo line for us - thanks, Florida!). Then it was off to our painful walk around the World Showcase, stopping to at least snap a pic of the girls in each country (and occasionally partaking of attractions or shows). Sue and the girls took a seat for a long rest break. While I delivered a halfway across the park, Sue took some artsy pictures. After chow, we grabbed a fairly excellent position for the cool evening laser/fireworks Epcot show. We were wondering if we were going to get hit by a nasty thunderstorm we could see beyond the far end of the lake, but it stayed distant for the whole show (and I missed all the coolest lightning pictures).

We got back to our resort in time to catch the fireworks over the lake.

Day Three took us to Hollywood Studios via another very cold bus (why do the bus drivers insist on keeping the temperature around 60 degrees? Differential is important and a 35-degree drop is FREEZING!). The girls again were not super thrilled with the place because it did not have a lot of rides (maybe we should have done Magic Kingdom - with all the rides - LAST). We did hit a lot of the attractions - Muppet Vision 3-D, Star Tours (Alpha and me), Indiana Jones live action adventure (much fun), Disney Animation (Beta and me), Little Mermaid (all except me), Honey, I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set Adventure (girls), Aerosmith Rock-n-Roller Coaster (ZOMG fun! Alpha and me, then Alpha and Sue), and the Beauty and the Beast show (:yawn: except for the cool opening 4-man a cappella act, 4 For a Dollar/Return 2 Zero). We wanted to see the evening show, Fantasmic, but it was already standing-room-only 45 minutes before the show even started, and no way were we going to spend an hour and a half (minimum) standing after that long day. We retired (via freezing bus) back to the resort in time to catch the evening fireworks once again (from our room).

The last full day, we split into two parts. First, we headed back to the Magic Kingdom to visit Frontierland. Alpha and I hit Big Thunder Mountain Railroad twice (I love fastpass!) while Sue and Beta did Aladdin's Magic Carpet ride. We all jumped on the surprisingly-empty Pirates of the Caribbean ride (updated with Captain Jack Sparrow) and caught a little street show with a Jack Sparrow and an actor who has Johnny Depp's Sparrow mannerisms down cold! I could almost believe it was the "real" character (i.e., Depp) there.

Then we headed over to Animal Kingdom for the remainder of the day and morning of the last day, catching Flights of Wonder, Expedition Everest (way cool, but I rode alone - couldn't even convince Alpha to join me), DINOSAUR (Alpha and me), TriceraTop Spin (Beta and Sue), Kali River Rapids (me - soaked! - and the kids) and the very cool Lion King Show. We wanted to see the new Nemo show, but it would have involved unreasonable line waits the first day and started too late to catch the second. However, the cruise line got us priority seating at the Lion King, which turned into VIP front-row seating once we got there (they have 4 VIP benches and only had 3 VIP passes present - and we were next in line - yay us!). It was just as exciting and entertaining as the last time we were here. The girls spent a lot of time at various moments playing in the Boneyard (an archeological-themed playground) and we caught the Killimanjaro Safari tour both days. The first day, we all went. The second day, I took the girls there while Sue waited up front we knew we'd have to hurry (to make the cruise bus) and she still wasn't up to fast walking. Little did we expect another super-soaking all-day storm to move in. The girls and I were swimming-pool soaked when we finally got to the front gates (the safari is at the back of the park), then we (all the cruise passengers) had what seemed like a half-mile walk in the downpour to get to the cruise buses, resulting in 100 or so extremely wet people boarding, of course, extremely cold buses.

For about an hour and a half, we sat there dripping and frozen until we got to Port Canaveral. When the welcoming lady came onto the bus at the port, she asked how were we all doing and was startled when the entire bus responded loudly with "COLD!" The girls were so uncomfortable, they could not even get excited about the cruise (which had also been a surprise until then) until after we managed to get warm.

Fortunately, boarding was relatively painless (we had already checked in back at the resort) and we began Phase B of our vacation.

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