Friday, January 02, 2004

We had a great trip to Florida. Here are some of the highlights in roughly chronological order:

- Late Friday afternoon we headed over to the Contemporary in advance of our reservation at Chef Mickey’s. The kids love riding the monorail as much as any other ride in the theme parks, so we got there early to go for a ride. We rode over to the Grand Floridian to see the full sized gingerbread house. So we go over there and check out the gingerbread house (which was very cool) and bought some extremely overpriced gingerbread ($7 for two cookies?). Then we headed up to the monorail stop and I noticed that the front of the monorail, where the operator sits, was empty. I asked the attendant if we could sit up front and he told me to ask the operator. She says, “I can only take four of you.” I say, “There only are four of us!” So we get on.

The front of the monorail is, by far, the best place to sit because the operator has this huge window and can see out the front, not just to the sides. I hadn’t sat in the front of the monorail since 1980, on my first ever trip to Disney World, so I’m not sure who was more excited - me or the kids.

The trip ended as we returned to the Contemporary and met my parents and my brother and nephew for dinner. Unfortunately, my niece was sick so she and my sister-in-law didn’t make it. The kids had a blast meeting up with Mickey, Minnie, Donald Duck, Goofy and Chip & Dale. The food at Chef Mickey’s is quite good. It’s served buffet style and there were lots of good choices. My favorite is the parmesan mashed potatoes. The deserts are good, too. They’ve got a make-your-own sundae bar. J. and R. decided to bypass the ice cream and just fill their bowls with the candy toppings!

- Saturday morning brought a trip to Downtown Disney. We stopped at the Lego store first. J. is very into Legos and, in fact, any building toy. One of his favorites is the Bionicle series. Bionicles are robots that you can put together and have adventures with. There was even a direct-to-DVD movie earlier this year that J. has watched about eighty times. We had promised them each a souvenir, so J. got more Bionicles and R. purchased another stuffed horse. The Lego store has a play area out front with a play structure and big bins full of Legos to play with, so we hung out there for a while.

We moved on and A. did a little shopping while the kids and I investigated the answer to a question that had bothered us for quite some time: why are Donald Duck’s eyes blue and the rest of the Disney characters eyes white? Nobody actually knew the answer, so we had been planning to ask at the Art of Disney store at Downtown Disney. We go up to the counter and ask the Cast Member standing there our question. It turns out that he doesn’t know! I’m going to have to write to the Disney Animation division or something. There has to be a reason, right?

The kids played around a fountain that shoots up water at random intervals for a bit and then we went to lunch. Our first thought had been Planet Hollywood, but we were right near the Rainforest Cafe and we thought we’d see if there was much of a wait. There wasn’t - they could take us right away. So we were led to our seats. The Rainforest Cafe is themed like, well, a rainforest. There are plants and fish everywhere, along with animatronic animals scattered about. A. and I both had salads, which were huge and quite good, while the kids had chicken nuggets. The only thing that was a small drawback is that the Rainforest Cafe has a “thunderstorm” break out every so often. R. doesn’t like thunder and lightning so there were a few moments of stress, but she recovered quickly.

From lunch we headed over to the marina to rent a boat. This is one of my favorite Disney World activities. We usually get a 10-person canopy boat and take a little trip up the river. The river leads to the Old Key West resort, where we stayed last year. It’s an incredibly relaxing time and I really love driving the boat around. It was a bit windy, so the boat was a little harder to control than usual, but we all had fun.

To end our day, we took the kids on a couple of rides they have at Downtown Disney. First was a carousel. R. has “adopted” one of the horses and named it Diggety, so she was very excited to get on the ride. In fact, once the carousel came into view she started shouting “Diggety, I’m coming!” After the carousel they went on a little train ride. A. checked out the pin shop and picked up a gift for our friend who watched the cat for us when we go away. We then stopped at Ghiradelli’s for an afternoon ice cream break and headed back to Mom & Dad’s.

- Saturday night gave us our one grown-up outing on this trip. Mom and Dad watched the kids while A. and I headed back to Downtown Disney to catch a movie and have dinner. We saw “Cheaper by the Dozen”, which stars Steve Martin as the father of a family of 12 (!) kids. It was a cute, amusing movie. Steve Martin was great as usual. There aren’t many actors around who do physical humor as well as he does.

We then tried out the House of Blues for dinner. This was another place we had never been. They told us there was a 40 minute wait, so we decided to go wander around a bit and come back after a half hour. We had just come out of the Virgin Megastore when the beeper went off after 20 minutes. We walked quickly back to the restaurant and got seated. The service was very good, the beer was cold, the music was smooth and the jambalya was hot. I’d definitely recommend it.

-Sunday was our one day in a theme park. We went to Epcot, which is my favorite Disney park. The kids hadn’t been there before. We decided to split up for a bit, since J. and I wanted to go on a couple of the thrill rides. R. and A. weren’t interested and headed for the Land. We tried to see how Test Track and Mission: Space looked. Things weren’t promising; both rides had 2+ hour waits and all the Fastpasses for the day were gone, so I said to J. “Let’s try Body Wars”.

The one good thing about the massive lines at Test Track and Mission: Space was the fact that they seemed to drain the crowds from the rest of the park. Except for the 45 minute wait the girls experienced for The Land, we didn’t wait more than 20 minutes for anything else the rest of the day. J. and I practically walked onto Body Wars - the last time I rode it a few years back I waited more than an hour. We waited less than 20 minutes for Living Seas, Mexico and Spaceship Earth. We also saw an incredible acrobatic show at the China pavilion. The highlight was this one kid who had 16 spinning plates going at once. People focus on the rides at Epcot, but some of the live entertainment can be as good as any ride.

We had dinner at Le Cellier, a steakhouse in the Canada pavilion. This was, by far, our best meal of the week. The steak was as good as any I’ve ever had and was cooked exactly the way I like it. The cheddar cheese soup and pretzel breadsticks were very yummy. Our server, Ellissa, was terrific. She was very attentive, extremely friendly and did everything we asked. She established a great rapport with the kids. The priceless moment was when she asked R. if Santa had come to her house. R. says, “No.” Ellissa, looking confused, says, “No?!?” So R. with the perfect pause to let her confusion increase says, “Hanukkah!” A distinct look of relief came over her; I’m sure she was wondering if she had touched some nerve with us. She was great, and I left her a big tip in appreciation.

We would have liked to stay for Illuminations, but the kids were exhausted by that point (we were pretty tired, too). J. actually fell asleep in his stroller as we were returning it. We might have planned things differently if we were staying at Disney, but with the ride back to my parent’s house it wasn’t possible.

- Monday was our last full day, and a non-Disney day as well. We took the kids to the Central Florida Zoo for the afternoon. It’s a nice zoo, and the kids had a great time walking around checking out the animals. It’s certainly no match for the Roger Williams Zoo in Providence, but it was a fun, low-key outing, which we needed after Epcot on Sunday. We then hooked up with Mom & Dad, my brother and his family and my cousin and his family at a buffet restaurant called Sweet Tomatoes. This was a nice reunion with my cousin, who lives and North Carolina. The kids all got on great and it was wonderful to have everyone together. After dinner we took a walk around a nearby lake that had a display of Christmas lights. The kids ran around like maniacs and burned off some energy while the grown-ups had a chance to talk. It was a nice way to end the trip, and our only chance to see my niece and sister-in-law, both of whom had been sick during our visit.

All in all, we had a great trip. It broke up the holiday school break nicely, and I think we’ll do it again next year. Hopefully, everyone will be healthy!


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