Christmas Trip Day 5

Whoever invented the word “bittersweet” was obviously getting ready to depart for a Disney park on the last day of their vacation. Leaving your room that last day brings with it a whole slew of emotions. Obviously you are excited and happy to be going to a Disney park: It’s the early morning, the sun hasn’t fried your eyebrows off yet and the screaming children in triple-wide strollers are still making their parents’ lives miserable, but in the comfort of their own room. At the same time, you know you have to leave for home later that day and return to real life. Boo.

Ashley and I will both tell you the same thing: knowing we were going back to Disney in May made it a LOT easier to leave on this trip. It probably sounds both asinine and childish to say that we didn’t want to leave, even though we had been for eight days in August and four days in December, but it really was hard to leave. Going from this fantasy-land back to real life is hard. Leaving in May will probably be harder than our two previous trips since we won’t know when we will return; it won’t be for a while, I can tell you that.

Anyway, the last day of our trip consisted of a visit to EPCOT. While touring with the dining plan we grew to love the place. The rides are sufficient, World Showcase is always fun to walk around, but the food; the food is amazing. Now, having to actually pay out of pocket for this food isn’t amazing. BUT, when we had “free” dining we could eat practically anywhere we wanted and order whatever we wanted. But I digress…

Once again, we arrived prior to the park opening and waited to enter the park. This time though we noticed a section of turnstiles all the way to the right that weren’t turnstiles. Instead, they were gold poles with a globe on top adorned with the silhouette of Mickey’s head. They have them arranged in a “V” shape with the point sticking toward the crowd. Apparently this must allow better traffic flow.

Much to our chagrin, we were informed that only those with their park tickets on their KTTW could use that entrance. Those of us with paper tickets had to use the normal entrances. Because of the new entrances being constructed, there were fewer of the normal turnstiles.

WELL THEN! I see that Disney really values those that pay extra money to enjoy their parks YEAR ‘ROUND. You can get 20% 10% off merchandise and get a little better deal on your room but you have to wait longer to enter the park. Also, you have to continue to stick your finger on the green light that never reads it correctly the first time. Unfortunately  you can’t use the new RFID technology to enter the park. Unfortunately, you can’t use the newer, nicer, quicker entrances.

After I got over myself we made our way toward Tron Track. We had good luck a few days prior going there first thing so we tried again. This time, however, the line had already started entering the ride so, even though we went single rider, there was already a line forming in the loading bay. We still only waited about 74 seconds before getting on the ride. One ride was enough for us as we were even less impressed with it than the first time we rode it. Like I said before, my next post will be about the differences between Test Track and Tron Track. It’s not really called Tron Track but it’s an easy way to distinguish between the two.

After leaving Tron Track, we headed toward The Land and made it to Soarin’ before the crowds got crazy busy so we snagged FASTPASSes and got in the regular line. We waited the shortest amount of time we have ever waited to ride. We walked through the empty queue, got to the part where the attendant tells you to go right or left, went left, walked down the hallway, turned toward the loading bays, walked to the last one, told the cast member “two” and were directed toward the last two seats in the front row. We did all of this without stopping once. About 30 seconds later Patrick Warburton showed up on screen and gave us our instructions.

Every time I ride Soarin’ I like it even more. This flight was especially memorable because a very young girl, maybe four-years-old, was two seats down from me. She had her grandfather to her left (next to me) and her grandmother to her right. She was SO scared to ride. She wasn’t putting up a fight but clung to them like the ground was molten lava. They got her strapped in and she assumed the position: legs tucked into her chest, right arm wrapped around her grandmothers and left armed wrapped even tighter around her grandfathers.

Take off.

I heard a little squeal and murmurs of reassurance from the grandparents as we wooshed forward and up. Moments later we were soarin’ over California and the awestruck look on her face was priceless. If only I could feel the way she felt in those few minutes I would be the happiest man on earth. It almost melted my heart how adorable it was.

Side Note:I can be an emotional guy but I don’t throw the word “adorable” out much. This was ADORABLE.

I’ve read of somebody’s face “lighting up” but never experienced it first hand. THIS is an example of why I love going to Disney;  I could just see a memory being formed that she would remember for the rest of her life: The first time she rode Soarin’.

After I reconfirmed the meaning of life we hopped on Living with the Land. We got to sit in the very front row which was actually really cool. It may be slow and boring when you are a child but I appreciate Living with the Land now. Honestly, I’d rather ride it than Tron Track.

Feeling too good about life, I resolved to becoming a hypocrite by eating breakfast at Sunshine Seasons and dragged Ashley down with me. Neither of us ever understood why you would get to EPCOT before it opens, walk to The Land with the herd of people and immediately eat breakfast. What a waste of park time.

Well, we had about 20 minutes before our FASTPASS for Soarin’ was good and didn’t have much else to do before World Showcase opened so we got a couple small things and joined the Sunshine Seasons Breakfast Club. It wasn’t anything special but it wasn’t bad either. While deciding what to get for brunch we also perused the menu to see if we could find anything we would want for lunch. I really want to like Sunshine Seasons but can never find anything on any of the menus that looks appetizing.

We actually waited longer to ride using our FASTPASS than we did 45 minutes earlier going through the standby line. Even with the longer wait it was probably only 10 or 15 minutes.

Once we left I convinced Ashley to ride Imagination even though she isn’t too crazy about the ride. Compared to our Honeymoon ride, this one was MUCH better. The cast members operating the ride didn’t look like they wanted to kill themselves and there were other people in our ride train; overall, not too shabby.

The only place more colorful than Imagination is Art of Animation.

The only place more colorful than Imagination is Art of Animation.

There are a bunch of dirty things I could say about this but I'm not feeling it today.

There are a bunch of dirty things I could say about this but I’m not feeling it today.

This is the best picture I could get of Figment.

This is the best picture I could get of Figment, which isn’t saying much.

After getting off the ride we really didn’t have anything to do until World Showcase opened so we walked around to the back – or side depending on how you look at it – of Imagination to use the restroom. It’s actually a peaceful place back there. Since it was sometime between 10 and 11 a.m. the park wasn’t busy yet and because not many people ride Imagination, the area behind it was even less busy. There are a couple of benches situated with a nice view of Spaceship Earth.

If you are looking for a place to unwind a little at EPCOT, try the bathroom area behind Imagination.

If you are looking for a place to unwind a little at EPCOT, try the bathroom area behind Imagination.

There is also another guide animal bathroom area back here. If I'm counting right that's three of them at EPCOT: Imagination, Tron Track/Mouse Gear/Norway pavilion.

There is also another guide animal bathroom area back here. If I’m counting right that’s three of them at EPCOT: Imagination, Tron Track/Mouse Gear and the Norway pavilion. There are two that I know of at the Magic Kingdom: Tomorrowland bathrooms and the walkway between Storybook Circus and Tomorrowland.

We did a decent job of killing some time before World Showcase opened and only had to wait a couple of minutes before rope drop.

Like taking pictures of the Monorail for instance.

Like taking pictures of the Monorail for instance.

Since we had toured all of the countries from Canada to Germany a few days prior we didn’t spend a whole lot of time at any of them. We still had to go through China, Norway and Mexico and had to be back at the hotel in time to finish packing, eat lunch and be at the Magical Express bus stop before our appointed pickup time.

I had enough time in the United Kingdom to take this picture of the phone booths. They actually work. They also remind me of the TARDIS a little.

I had enough time in the United Kingdom to take this picture of the phone booths. They actually work. They also remind me of the TARDIS a little.

As we walked past Japan we decided to go back to the Mitsukoshi Department Store and grab a few more snacks. Ashley got these coffee hard candy things that she loved. I got a variety pack of fruit flavored gummies. The name is in Japanese (I’m assuming) so I can’t tell you what they are actually called but the name appears to be two Japanese symbols and “100.” They are horrible. They definitely aren’t Hi-Chews. We got some of those and loved them.

Candy, candy, candy, candy, candy.

Candy, candy, candy, candy, candy.

I looked at the description of this candy bar, at least the English portions, and didn't see anywhere on it saying it would actually get you crunk if you ate it. Disappointment immediately set in.

I looked at the description of this candy bar – the English portions at least – and didn’t see “Will get you crunk” anywhere on it. Disappointment immediately set in.

We continued our speed walk around the countries…

Festive Italy.

Festive Italy.

When I said we still had to tour China I meant we still had to walk past it slower than we walked past the first eight countries. We got to see Mulan though!

Let's get down to business.

Let’s get down to business.

I actually felt bad for Mulan. She was standing there with her photographer waiting for children to come up and get pictures taken.

Three tween girls came running through the pavilion and the photographer asked them, “Would you like a picture with Mulan?”

They though about it for a few seconds.

“No,” they all answered and continued running. OUCH!

She may not know it but I got a picture “with” her. All I need is Photoshop.

We continued on to Norway with Maelstrom (and money, obviously) on the mind.

Apparently buildings really are this colorful in Norway.

Apparently buildings really are this colorful in Norway.

Maelstrom is easily the best ride in World Showcase, which isn’t saying much. Compared to the Gran Fiesta Tour it has a drop, backward movement and trolls; that’s hard to top that no matter how you look at it. Going as soon after 11 a.m. as possible will leave you with virtually no wait. We have been there around 2 p.m. before and the wait was 20 or 30 minutes. It’s a fun ride but not that fun.

I’m not sure if my brother actually loved this ride when he was a kid or if my dad played it up so much that he convinced him to like it but he always wanted to ride it. He’ll get to ride it for the first time in a while in May.

There are even a few polar bears inside.

There are even a few polar bears inside.

Maelstrom exits into one of my favorite gift shops. I know, I know; it’s a shock that a Disney ride exits into a gift shop but this one has some nice, non-Disney merchandise. Of course, most of it is meant for a Norwegian climate which is drastically different from Central Florida’s climate but you can always plan for the winter. Or just buy stuff because it looks cool, that’s what I do.

Mexico was the only pavilion left on our agenda. We love the atmosphere inside and the Gran Fiesta Tour is a fun way to spend 10 minutes.

The best picture I could squeeze out of the ELPH.

The best picture I could squeeze out of the ELPH. It’s SO cool inside. I want to live here.

We perused the shopping kiosks a bit but didn’t come away with anything. Before leaving the pavilion we hopped on Gran Fiesta Tour to find Donald-o.

The Mayan pyramid/volcano.

The Mayan pyramid/volcano. Once again, maxing out the ELPH.

Gran Fiesta Tour is very lively, I will give it that.

Gran Fiesta Tour is very lively, I will give it that.

It's basically a Mexiaon it's a small world with a hunt of a duck hunt.

It’s basically a Mexican it’s a small world with a dash of duck hunt thrown in.

My life motto.

My life motto.

Here's the dash of duck hunt I was telling you about.

Here’s the dash of duck hunt I was telling you about.

And then there's this...

And then there’s this…

And that’s about it for Mexico. We left the pavilion and headed toward the park entrance. At this point it was around noon and the Magical Express was coming to pick us up around 2:30 from POP Century. As we made our way to the front of the park we thought about hitting Spaceship Earth one last time. After looking at the line we laughed and continued on.

This was when fear struck. We left our bags in the room knowing we would be back to pick them up, eat lunch and wait for the Magical Express. What I didn’t think about was the fact that check-out was at 11 a.m. and our bus pickup was a few hours after. At that moment, we were still in EPCOT and were supposed to have checked out over an hour prior. OH NO.

I freaked out, told Ashley what happened and practically ran to the bus stop for POP Century. I couldn’t tell if she was trying to reassure me or was upset about my brain fart but she seemed much more calm than I. Luckily, we only waited a couple of minutes for our “motor coach” and departed shortly after. The whole ride I couldn’t stop my legs from shaking.

What if they move our bags? What if they charge us for an extra night? What if we can’t get back in the room to get our bags? 

Every possible scenario was running through my mind. When we got back to the hotel Ashley suggested letting the front desk know and seeing if we could get any help. After arguing with her about it I finally agreed and told the cast member at the desk what happened. He said he would radio somebody to let us in. We walked to the room to wait outside.

Since I didn’t have anything better to do I tried our room key, figuring it wouldn’t work since we had “checked out” at 11. To my surprise, it worked! We got in our room, quickly packed our stuff and as we were finishing the guy he radioed showed up and I told him our key worked. He didn’t seem surprised and walked away. We got all our stuff and carried it to the food court.

We found an empty booth close to the gift shop and set all our belongings down. I sat with them as Ashley went and got us both cheeseburgers and fries. Since it was our last meal at Disney we went all out and got dessert too. I got my favorite: Mickey ice cream bar. I don’t know how much cocaine they put in those things but apparently it’s enough because they are absolutely delicious beyond words. Ashley found a cupcake she had read about on the Disney Food Blog: The King cupcake.

Chocolate cupcake with banana filling, peanut butter frosting and candied bacon bits on top. She liked it but said the candied bacon was strange. I tried some and agree.

Chocolate cupcake with banana filling, peanut butter frosting and candied bacon bits on top. She liked it but said the candied bacon was strange. I tried some and agree.

We sat around for a little while longer until moving to the Magical Express pickup area and waiting 15 more minutes. When it arrived we boarded and bid farewell to Disney. The rest of the trip to the airport was inconsequential. We made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare, found our terminal and gate and found two seats next to each other.

Our path home went through Baltimore. We quickly found out that the flight to Baltimore before ours was delayed due to severe fog. Our flight was schedule for 4:30 p.m. so we weren’t too worried yet. We started waiting.

About 30 minutes before our flight was to board they announced that the flight to Baltimore before us had been cancelled. There was a collective groan and lines started forming to the various Delta podiums in the area. We both started to worry. More waiting.

A Delta employee came over the speaker and said something to the effect of: We don’t know if you flight will be delayed or cancelled or not but we have to board the plane as if it were on time. We may end up having to remove you all from the plane if it does get delayed or cancelled but we have to board you as if everything is on time. More waiting.

We boarded the plan: Very last row. More waiting.

This, how do I put this, shrew of a woman brought a paper dress on the plane and was fussing about it not being wrinkled in the overhead compartment. The dress was her daughters who appeared to have been in some sort of pageant show in Florida. I’ve never seen any of the reality shows about child beauty pageants but I imagine this woman was a typical pageant mom. She bossed her battered and beaten husband around. Her daughter was a princess (read: brat). And she was the loudest, most annoying, most selfish vixen/spitfire/wench/hellion I have ever had the displeasure of witnessing.

She started arguing with the flight attendants about where to put the dress. They kept telling her it was a full flight and that the overhead compartments would most likely be full so it may be unavoidable. She kept saying it couldn’t be ruined. Eventually she threw a fit, cut off her nose to spite her face, and ordered her husband to “move it somewhere. I don’t even care anymore.” She was a real treat. More waiting.

The same Delta employee from earlier walked onto the plane, “Remember when I told you we might have to remove everybody from the plane? Well, it’s happening. Sorry” Another collective groan, this time with more complaining. We were in the back so everybody in front of us got to depart first. More waiting.

Once we finally grabbed our bags and exited the plane we heard the tail end of the announcement saying all flights to Baltimore that night had been cancelled. Crap.

We made our way to a podium to find a new flight. The best they could find was a non-stop from Orlando to Grand Rapids at 10.am. the next morning. OK, I guess that will do.

We take our new tickets and wander around. Neither of us want to stay the night nor do we want to pay for a cab and a hotel room. We go to another podium to see if maybe there was still a way to get into Detroit or Chicago that night. More waiting.

Finally it was our turn. We asked the lady if there were any flights to Chicago or Detroit and she immediately said “No” without even looking. Instead, she was looking at Facebook or something on her smart phone. So, we walked away and stood around some more. After contemplating our options we got in line at another podium. More waiting.

This time, the Delta employee, while short tempered, was helpful and found us a flight to Detroit through Atlanta that night. I quickly checked with my brother that picking us up in Detroit around midnight instead of in Grand Rapids around 11 would be OK. He said yeah. Hallelujah!

We had a couple of hours to waste now as our flight to Atlanta didn’t leave until after 7 p.m. so we got McDonald’s. We finished eating and went over to our new gate. More waiting.

We boarded the plane with no incident, took off, landed in Atlanta and only had to walk five or six gates down before waiting for our final flight into Detroit. As I was watching the Sunday Night Football game Ashley told me to look behind me. I asked why.

“Look at what that guy is eating,” she said. I turned around and immediately spotted the gentleman with a Chick-fil-A sandwich in his hand. A present from the fast food gods! I immediately stood up, asked her if she wanted one (to which she replied yes) and walked out into the terminal. I had no idea where I was going but I have a sixth sense for Chick-fil-A so it wasn’t long before I saw the glowing red box with the white chicken outline beckoning me. It was a Chick-fil-A Express so they only had sandwiches but I’ll be dipped if that wasn’t the finest chicken sandwich I have ever consumed.

After everything that happened that day – almost losing our luggage (which probably wasn’t going to happen), boarding a plane, un-boarding a plane, getting our flight cancelled, changing flights two times, waiting for almost five hours in the airport, knowing that we wouldn’t be home until probably 3 a.m. and knowing I had to get up as 6 a.m. for work – that little slice of Heaven was the redemption I was seeking.

With my belly full and spirit revived we waited a little while longer, boarded the plane, flew to Detroit, found my brother and rode home.

Our journey definitely encountered the most difficult travel situations we have ever had to deal with. Little did I know that Ashley forgetting her ID at the airport in Grand Rapids would be one of many travel hardships yet to come in those five days.

Going to Disney around Christmastime is something everybody should do. Disney and Christmas both possess magical qualities themselves. Put the two together and it’s blissful. I don’t know when we will be back to Disney at Christmastime again but I assure you it will happen. It’s hard to resist two of your favorite things in one package.

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Christmas Trip Day 4

Our last full day began with an early morning “motor coach” ride to the Animal Kingdom. The turnstiles all the way to the left were completely wide open when we arrived around 8:30 a.m. so we jumped on the opportunity and were one of the first people in the park. Of course this didn’t matter because they roped us off in front of the Tree of Life for 10 more minutes until the park actually opened at 9 o’clock but it still felt exciting.

This was the tree from our waiting spot.

This was the tree from our waiting spot.

After an agonizing amount of time the rope walkers led us to Kilimanjaro Safari where we boarded the third truck of the day. I’ve always been with people who want to go on the safari first thing in the morning so I don’t how the rides would vary as the day goes on. I’ve heard its better in the morning and evening because it’s not as hot. As far as I can tell, the animals are active and pose for pictures well in the morning so I’ll stick to that.

Like this rhino. He's chill.

Look at this rhino. He’s chill.

I wonder if they are all named Nigel.

I wonder if they are all named Nigel.

One giraffe.

One giraffe.

Two giraffe.

Two giraffe.

These guys are always hiding in that group of trees. They should really branch out.

These guys are always hiding in that group of trees. They should really branch out.

A Little Red impostor.

A Little Red impostor.

How much grass does this guy have to eat to weigh that much?

How much grass does this guy have to eat to weigh that much?

Reminds me of my (read: Ashley's) two kitties.

Reminds me of my (read: Ashley’s) two kitties.

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Sleepy kitty. I'm glad he's keeping the male reputation strong.

Sleepy kitty. I’m glad he’s upholding the male reputation.

Probably the best picture of a lioness I have ever taken.

Probably the best picture of a lioness I have ever taken.

The zebras were present this time.

The zebras were present this time.

They were moved to the end of the ride. There is still no theme to the ride.

They were moved to the end of the ride. There’s still no theme.

On both this trip and our Honeymoon we had a woman driver/guide. Now, I definitely don’t have anything against women but either 1) the guides aren’t as good as they used to be (or I remember them being) or 2) female guides aren’t as good as male guides. Both times our guide wasn’t animated nearly enough; it’s like she didn’t care about her job and would rather be at home (which I can respect). There would also be long pauses of no talking. At least turn on the Swahili jams or something. The last time I remember have a male guide he talked a bunch, was very informative and was so energetic I was afraid he was going to jump right out of the truck and hug a giraffe. Maybe he was just an exceptional tour guide and maybe the last two were bad; probably.

After getting off the Safari we neglected to head to either animal trek. I’ve seen them before and Ashley wasn’t too interested so we didn’t waste our time. Because we had been on Expedition Everest a handful of times two nights prior, we also skipped over that and headed to Dinoland. We had BIG plans to eat at Flame Tree BBQ as soon as it opened so we wanted to stay in the Dinoland/Discovery Island area until 11 a.m. It was harder than we thought.

This ride is too rough, even for two 20-somethings. Yikes!

This ride is too rough, even for two 20-somethings. Yikes!

We rode Dinosaur a couple of times and meandered around the rest of Dinoland before heading to It’s Tough to be a Bug! to enjoy the 3-D spectacular. We didn’t see it on our Honeymoon and had a while before Flame Tree opened so we figured “why not?”

Dug and Russell were meeting outside the entrance to It's Tough to be a Bug! This was my attempt at taking a picture without invading somebody else's family picture time. As you can see, the ELPH didn't handle it too well.

Dug and Russell were meeting outside the entrance to It’s Tough to be a Bug! This was my attempt at taking a picture without invading somebody else’s family picture time. As you can see, the ELPH didn’t handle it too well.

It’s Tough to be a Bug! is actually quite scary. If you have small children I would advise you NOT to see it. There are MULTIPLE times where children started crying or screaming during the show and I don’t blame them. Spiders fall from the ceiling, Hopper busts out a couple of times and just looks scary, you get thwacked with a fly swatter, you get “stung” (which actually hurts and is why I don’t sit back during the show) and there are many times where the entire room is pitch black. I was a pretty big sissy when I was a kid so I’m surprised I never had to be escorted from the show.

After the show we browsed the giant gift shop across from It’s Tough to be a Bug! and Flame Tree BBQ.

I found these bad boys. Unfortunately, they aren't scented.

I found these bad boys. Unfortunately, they aren’t scented. Well…they aren’t scented like turkey legs when you buy them, let’s put it that way. I can’t guarantee they won’t be scented after you wear them a couple of times.

Because we were on a strict budget we didn’t buy anything from Island Mercantile. Instead, we saved our money for onion rings at Flame Tree BBQ!

So much vegetation and color.

So much vegetation and color.

Yes, I'm lazy and use the "Super Vivid" setting on my camera.

Yes, I’m lazy and use the “Super Vivid” setting on my camera.

Boy do they put on the show when Flame Tree opens. Workers come out and grab somebody in line to lead it all. The guest yells, the workers yell back and bang trays on the metal counter. The guest yells again, they yell and bang. This continues for a couple of minutes until everybody has yelled and banged a tray on some solid surface. Then, they open.

I can’t speak for Ashley but, food wise, Flame Tree BBQ is easily the best quick service restaurant. Of course if you don’t like BBQ you probably won’t enjoy it but, if you do, you HAVE to eat here. Because we are creative, free-thinking humans we ordered the EXACT same thing we did last time minus one drink and (free) dessert. Ashley discovered “bark” during this meal. It’s funny because we were just talking about it the other day but she had never eaten ribs with a true “bark” on them. Turns out she likes it!

That's a half rack of ribs, baked beans and slaw in front of Ashley. A pulled pork sandwich and slaw to the left and a nice portion of delicious onion rings to the right.

That’s a half rack of ribs, baked beans and slaw in front of Ashley, a pulled pork sandwich and slaw to the left and a nice portion of delicious onion rings to the right.

Going right at opening afforded us the opportunity to sit wherever we wanted. I knew exactly where I wanted to sit…

It may be far away from the actual restaurant but the eating pavilion closest to Everest provides breathtaking views. Too bad my picture-taking skills don't convey this.

It may be far away from the actual restaurant but the eating pavilion closest to Everest provides breathtaking views. Too bad my picture-taking skills don’t convey this.

Zoomed in.

Zoomed in.

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Is there a difference between this picture and the one above? You know as much as I do.

Is there a difference between this picture and the one above? You know as much as I do.

There are somewhere between six and 10 pavilions to eat in around Flame Tree BBQ. This could be a downside if it’s a hot July day. At least they are all covered and have operational fans. As far as I could tell, every pavilion is essentially the same. The only differences are the size and view.

I think those are dragon koi fish.

I think those are dragon koi fish.

The structure in the front is the condiment station. They have two kind of BBQ sauce, ketchup, napkins, paper straws (yup), salt, pepper, etc. here. Most pavilions have one.

The structure in the front is the condiment station. They have two kinds of BBQ sauce, ketchup, cups for BBQ sauce and ketchup, napkins, paper straws (yup), salt, pepper, spoons, forks, knives, mustard (?), etc. here. Most pavilions have one.

Another great aspect of Flame Tree is the wildlife trying to steal your food. Obviously there are signs up telling you not to feed the animals and obviously nobody pays them (the signs, that is) any attention. I paid for my vacation, darn it, so I will do as I darn well please. COME AND GET IT BIRDIES.

Is that Blue Steel?

Is that Blue Steel?

He likes to play innocent, but I know...

He likes to play innocent, but I know…

After our meal we left the park. I don’t remember what happened between then and getting to the Magic Kingdom but apparently we stopped at Downtown Disney???

The only reason I know this wasn't when we went a couple days earlier was because it was dark by the time we arrived on that day. Maybe Ashley remembers how we ended up here.

The only reason I know this picture wasn’t taken when we were there a couple of days earlier was because it was dark by the time we arrived on that day. Maybe Ashley remembers how we ended up here.

After seeing this picture it started to come back.

Another child lying on the ground! Parenting win.

We wanted to do a little more shopping Downtown and figured mid-day would be less busy than at night. Well, we were wrong. I’ve NEVER seen the World of Disney as busy as it was when I took this picture. It was wall to wall people and walking around was a struggle. Obviously these people didn’t know to get out of our way. Obviously they didn’t know how much we paid for our vacation…

After saying “screw this” we made our way to the Magic Kingdom. Once again, I don’t remember how we did this. I think we stopped at POP Century to grab something from the room. Makes sense.

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Our first stop at Magic Kingdom was Main Street Bakery. The scuttlebutt on the internet was that the bakery was changing into Starbucks. We had read a lot about the place so we had to try a few things.

Which doesn't explain the picture of the holiday cupcake.

We split a cinnamon roll earlier in the week. Must have been on day 2. This is a holiday cupcake.

Being our last night in the parks we wanted to get the most out of the evening. What better way than to enjoy a Dole Whip in Adventureland? And I’m not talking about the Dole Whip Float. I mean a real Dole Whip: vanilla and pineapple ice cream (or frozen yogurt or whatever it is) swirled. No pineapple juice. No funny shaped cup.

To our dismay, the pineapple/vanilla machine was BROKEN. Yeah, I know. I waited 15 minutes behind a smelly grandma to get my Dole Whip and the machine is BROKEN!? I had to settle for either all pineapple or pineapple and orange swirled. If we had been thinking I would have got all pineapple while Ashley got all vanilla. Like I said, if  we had been thinking. Instead one of us got all pineapple and the other orange and vanilla swirled. Convenient that the orange/vanilla machine works but not the pineapple/orange machine, eh?

This was after we enjoyed our ice cream.

This was after we enjoyed our ice cream.

Since we were walking past it we went on Pirates of the Caribbean. We skipped the Jungle Cruise, Swiss Family Treehouse,  Dumbo: Aladdin-style and the Tiki Room on this trip. We went on the Jungle Cruise and the Treehouse during our Honeymoon. We haven’t gone on Aladdin or the Tiki Room in a while. Aladdin is a waste compared to Dumbo and the Tiki Room, while a gem in my eyes, does not resonate as well with Ashley. I haven’t actually seen it since they changed it back to the version from my childhood, finally nixing the New Management/Iago fiasco.

A little love for Willow.

A little love for Willow.

Since we hit all the big attractions two mornings prior we spent our evening going on the less popular rides and generally doing whatever the heck we felt like.

It doesn't look so scary when the colors are blown out.

It doesn’t look so scary when the colors are blown out.

We got to walk through the normal line this time. Take that FASTPASS+

We got to walk through the normal line this time. Take that FASTPASS+

This puppy must be close to  opening by now. Josh has up-to-the-minute updates.

This puppy must be close to opening by now. Josh has up-to-the-minute updates.

While in the Frontierland/Liberty Square area I convinced Ashley to see The Hall of Presidents (YES!). Afterward we ate dinner at Columbia Harbour House. I wasn’t too crazy about the place as our last dinner at Disney but fish did sound good and Ashley was ready for a lobster roll so we bellied up. The fish was very good while the “chips” left a lot to be desired. I have definitely had better Disney fries in my life. Ashley’s lobster roll was good but a bit runnier than the one she had on our Honeymoon. We both left full and satisfied but wanting a little more.

This should give you a good idea of what the inside looks like in case you have never been.

This should give you a good idea of what the inside looks like in case you have never been.

We continued around the park in our clockwise fashion…

And just to prove it's not only children that lay down at Disney...

And just to prove it’s not only children that lie down at Disney…

By the time we got to Tomorrowland it was starting to get dark, which meant the Christmas Party was starting soon, which meant we would be coaxed out of the park. After sampling most of the attractions Tomorrowland has to offer, we decided on the TTA as our last ride that evening. It was perfect, as ushe.

Blurry.

Blurry.

Blurry.

Blurry.

Since we had to be out by 7 p.m. we decided to tour the Monorail resorts and check out the Christmas decorations. First, we hopped on the monorail and headed for the Contemporary Resort. They don’t get crazy Christmas-y here but they do enough. The gingerbread display was one of the best.

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Close-up of the gingerbread "bricks"

Close-up of the gingerbread “bricks”

They had little white chocolate monorail cars. They were VERY pricey.

They had little white chocolate monorail cars. They were VERY pricey.

The monorail station was packed with people trying to get to the Magic Kingdom for the Christmas party. The guy standing next to us while we made our way to the Polynesian was watching the Steelers/Cowboys game on his iPhone. I was envious. Except for the fact that he was at Disney with his family, who were at the Christmas party, and he wasn’t with them…except that part.

The Polynesian also wasn’t as Christmas-y as I was expecting but it gave us a new-found appreciation for the resort. The first time we visited neither of us really like the place because it was so darn loud. Well, this visit it wasn’t raining so we walked outside a bit. WOW, what a big difference. While the main building can be loud and hectic, walking around the resort as night is very peaceful. I still doubt we will ever stay there because of the price but I don’t dislike it as much as I did in September.

Random hanging garland.

Random hanging garland.

The volcano pool.

The volcano pool. It’s much smaller than we were expecting.

They have a freaking Dole Whip machine in the food court (Capt. Cook's) here. Notice there is no spout for pineapple juice.

They have a freaking Dole Whip machine in the food court (Capt. Cook’s) here. Notice there is no spout for pineapple juice.

We were getting tired and still had the Wilderness Lodge to go so we skipped the Grand Floridian. Neither of us regret it. When we exiting the Monorail outside of the Magic Kingdom we made our way to the boat dock/launch for the Wilderness Lodge and waited. And waited. And waited a while longer until the boat finally showed up and we were off.

This was the resort I was most looking forward to seeing decked out for Christmas. I had heard rave reviews of the place at Christmas and couldn’t wait.

Not as festive in January.

Not as festive in January.

This tree is gigantic. I've never seen the Rockefeller Center tree but this thing but be just as pretty.

This tree is gigantic. I’ve never seen the Rockefeller Center tree in person but this thing must be just as pretty.

It's beautiful inside and out.

It’s beautiful inside and out.

The place definitely didn’t disappoint. If we have $300 a night to spend on a hotel the next time we visit Disney during Christmastime I would love to stay here. If you want REAL pictures of it at Christmas, check out Tom Bricker’s review of it.

Through some concoction of “motor coach” rides and stops we made our way from Wilderness Lodge to POP Century before collapsing in our room. Four days of Disney touring with no breaks was rough. The only thing left to do was a morning at EPCOT before heading home. We had no idea what was in store for us the next day.

Christmas Trip Day 3

After two straight nights of holiday delight, we were ready for a big day full of EPCOT fun. It wasn’t until day three that not taking a break in the afternoon really started to effect me. Right around 3 p.m. I was almost sleep walking. But, before all that we had plenty to do!

The haze surrounding the ball would have looked much better had somebody who knew what they were doing took this picture.

The haze surrounding the ball would have looked much better had somebody who knew what they were doing took this picture.

The night before at dinner Josh had enlightened us to the fact that the single rider line at Test Track was significantly shorter since it’s renovation. The reason being that people in the normal line have to take five to 10 minutes to design their ride vehicle before actually getting on the ride. In the single rider line, you can skip that whole part and go right to the loading dock. With this in mind, we headed straight for Tron Track when the park opened 15 minutes early, right on cue.

There’s nothing quite like being at a Disney park when it opens. There is inspirational sounding music blaring from the speakers throughout the park. Cast members are smiling, dancing and waving. The park is still mostly empty and the intense Florida sun hasn’t honed in yet. The best part, though,  is all of the people running. I never get tired of watching a family run, trying to keep everybody together as their backpacks and sunglasses bounce and fall off, yelling and screaming at each other like they are running from mortar shells, only to see them three groups in front of us in line for the ride everybody and their brother is heading to.

This morning Tron Track must have had a few issues because by the time we made it back to that area the regular line hadn’t started moving yet. Because of this, the line extended all the way out to where the JAMMitors play outside of the “tunnel” between Innoventions East/Electric Umbrella and Mouse Gear. I think this helped us in the long run.

As we headed toward the single ride entrance I snatched Ashley’s annual pass and got two FASTPASSes. I grabbed the passes and joined her as she was heading into the single rider line.

The new queue inside Tron Track is sleek and modern. All of the fake auxiliary tests and car parts are gone. There are no more royal blue pyramids sticking out from the walls. Instead, there is a lot of stainless steel and a few concept cars on display. While it looks at lot more modern, it’s not as fun as it used to be.

This is the only decent picture I have of the new queue. I was hurrying through the line so I'm going to call this one an "action shot."

This is the only decent picture I have of the new queue. I was hurrying through the line so I’m going to call this one an “action shot.”

We didn’t get to see much of it as the single rider line peels off to the left quickly after entering the building. You walk through a few hallways and through the design lab for single riders where you can creep-ily peer down on the normal line people creating their vehicle. Ashley and I plowed through this room and headed to the loading bay.

To our surprise there was no line. NONE. We kept going forward and were sent right to numbers 4 and 5. The couple in front of us had 1 and 2. Our vehicle arrived, looking very much like the old ones with a few Tron-like decals glued on, and we hopped in. We didn’t know it at the time but we, and the couple in front of us, were the first ones on the ride that morning. Crazy stuff.

This is the RFID reader by the loading docks. You scan the RFID card storing your custom car so the ride knows which vehicles NOT to display as you go through the ride.

This is the RFID reader by the loading docks. You scan the RFID card storing your custom car so the ride knows which vehicles NOT to display as you go through the ride. This was from another time we rode, when we weren’t the first ones on the ride.

The only real difference inside the vehicle is the screen in front of the middle seat of both rows; they show you different stuff than before. As far as differences with the ride, there really are too many to go into great detail here. Ashley gave me a great suggestion: Once I’m done with all of the days of our trip, I’m going to write another post about Tron Track and the changes from the old ride, hearkening back to the original idea of this blog.

For now I will say there is a lot less going on in the ride and a lot of neon lights. The outside speed run is essentially the same.

They redesigned the show room at the end to include a ton of interactive games you can play using the car you designed at the beginning. There are still a good amount of Chevrolet cars on display and an even greater amount of Chevrolet/Disney merchandise for sale.

You may have noticed there aren’t many pictures of Tron Track. Well, I didn’t take a ton because the ride itself is either dark or shaky. Some parts are so dark the only real light comes from the neon Tron lights, and a picture with my poor little ELPH would look terrible. Other parts you move around so much that, even though there is enough light, the picture would still be terrible. I’m sure you can find better pictures on other Disney websites. Kenny the Pirate has some great ones.

After Test Track we headed toward Soarin’ via Mouse Gear. We got to Soarin’ and the line was already 30+ minutes and FASTPASS was over two hours out. We knew we would be back in a couple of mornings and could do it then so we left and headed for The Seas with Nemo and friends before going to Sum of All Thrills.

The manatees were very active that morning.

The manatees were very active that morning.

Our Honeymoon was the first time on Sum of All Thrills for either of us so we were both excited to go on it again. This time, we designed the most insane rocket ride we could. We always picked the most intense option and it turned out just as we wanted. I don’t know about Ashley but I felt a little queasy afterward. For some reason I can’t remember what we named our ride this time. All I remember is that the ride was crazy and the teenage boy behind us in line kept TOUCHING ME. He obviously had no feel for person space because he was all up in mine. Apparently he even bumped into Ashley a couple of times. I was about to whoop some ass.

Hidden advertisement at it's finest.

Hidden advertisement at it’s finest.

At this point we still had over an hour until World Showcase opened and had already hit the three main attractions. Since we were right by it we went on Ellen’s Energy Adventure. It’s obviously not the most exciting ride but it’s inside, you sit down for most of it, it’s dark and it’s a great place to rest for 45 minutes. Because of this, and our lack of enthusiasm for the new and improved Tron Track, we never used out FASTPASSes.

We got off Ellen with almost half an hour to spare but we made our way toward World Showcase anyway. They let you walk into World Showcase as far as the bridge between the UK and France on the one side. I’m not sure how far you can get past Mexico on the other side. We had a reservation at Biergarten around 1 p.m. as part of the Candlelight Processional Dining Package so we knew exactly how much time we had to get from the UK to Germany.

The UK pavilion. Rose and Crown is behind me.

The UK pavilion. Rose and Crown is behind me.

Looking back at UK with the colors blown out.

Looking back at UK with the colors blown out.

To waste 15-20 minutes we sat on a few benches, watched a squirrel run back and forth across the walkway, checked out the gift shop by the International Gateway and laughed at all of the people coming from the Yacht & Beach Club, Boardwalk and Swan & Dolphin resorts.

My family has always understood that to effectively tour Disney you have to arrive before the park opens, stay until early afternoon, go back to the hotel and take a break until evening, then go back for a while. Well, these people don’t get it. They are rolling in around 10:45 a.m. and wonder why the lines for everything are so long already. Naive cluelessness I suppose.

From "across the pond"

From “across the pond”

Right at 11 a.m. the incredibly dorky cast member decked out in Perry the Platypus gear lowered the rope and the stampede toward France began. Since we had a late lunch we stopped at the bakery and split a ham and cheese sandwich. Per usual from the bakery, it was delicious. Fairly soon after our trip ended they expanded the bakery. Now it’s HUGE! Check out the Disney Food Blog review of it.

It was so much nicer going right at 11 when there weren't 500 people cramming into the little building.

It was so much nicer going right at 11 when there weren’t 500 people cramming into the little building.

After our brunch we soldiered on. First, we made a pit stop at the infamous bathrooms of Morocco. I couldn’t muster up the courage to go in (actually, I didn’t have to go). Instead, I took pictures of flowers!

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From outside the bathrooms in Morocco.

From outside the bathrooms in Morocco.

The big tower in Morocco.

The big tower in Morocco.

At this point we hadn’t spent any significant time in any of the pavilions. This ended when we arrived in Japan and headed for the Mitsukoshi Department Store. We experienced the joys of the food market in the rear last time and had to go back to get more intriguing goodies.

The glowing aura created by the sun in a lot of my pictures annoys me. I have no idea how to fix it. I haven't done that much research on it though so I'm really the only one to blame.

The glowing aura created by the sun in a lot of my pictures annoys me. I have no idea how to fix it. I haven’t done that much research on it though so I’m really the only one to blame.

And now begins a showcase of the many treats available in the department store.

This was a "cookie"

This was a “cookie”

"Potato treats"

“Potato treats”

I'm assuming the look on the rabbit and gorilla's faces are how you are suppose to feel after eating these.

I’m assuming the look on the rabbit and gorilla’s faces are how you are supposed to feel after eating these.

If that same rules applies to this snack I would avoid it.

If that same rules applies to this snack I would avoid it.

And a kitty mug for good measure...

And a kitty mug for good measure…

The Slayer of Vanity. Reminds me of a Metallica song.

The Slayer of Vanity. Reminds me of a Metallica song.

One our way out of Japan I took an obligatory shot of the ball.

If those damn trees weren't in the way it would be a better shot.

If those damn trees weren’t in the way it would be a better shot.

Soon after we went to our homeland, The American Adventure. And boy was it ever an adventure…

I had convinced Ashley to see The American Adventure inside The American Adventure but the stupid thing was having technical difficulties and wasn’t running yet. Since we had plenty of time to waste before lunch and were only a couple pavilions away, we perused.

They had a Hanukkah exhibit. If you can call it an exhibit. I don't know a lot about Hanukkah but judging by the picture it must have been either the sixth or seventh day of it.

They had a Hanukkah exhibit. If you can call it an exhibit. I don’t know a lot about Hanukkah but judging by the “candles” on the menorah it must have been the sixth day.

They also had a small museum of sorts on the right side of the room as you walk in. It highlights a handful of important people in American history.

They had a Purple Heart on display. HOW COOL IS THAT!

They had a Purple Heart on display. HOW COOL IS THAT!

We spent a good 30 minutes in The American Adventure without actually seeing The American Adventure. Heading toward Italy we still had an hour or so to kill.

I think I said this when I wrote about our Honeymoon but Italy just doesn’t do anything for me. There are a few (I’m assuming nice) restaurants and a few small shops that sell expensive Italian goods. My dedication to my feeble blog led me to take some pictures though.

A big tower. I'm sure it has a proper name.

A big tower. I’m sure it has a proper name.

We both want to eat here. The giant pizzas look AMAZING.

We both want to eat here. The giant pizzas look AMAZING.

A view from the other direction. Everybody looks WAY too tan.

A view from the other direction. Everybody looks WAY too tan.

At this point we were done with Italy and still had too much time before our reservation with only Germany ahead of us. Luckily, Germany had enough things to do or look at to eat up 20 minutes or so. Right as you enter the Germany area from Italy there is a huge model train set. This thing is incredible.

There were two people in ECVs riding abreast taking up the entire path I was on. It took almost 10 minutes to walk from one end to the other when it should take a couple.

There were two people in ECVs riding abreast taking up the entire path I was on. It took almost 10 minutes to walk from one end to the other when it should only take a couple.

Most of the pavilion.

Most of the pavilion.

Proudly presented in Vista Vision.

Proudly presented in Vista Vision.

After looking through the shops and scoping out what to get at the Karamell-Kuche later in the evening, we got in line for Biergarten. After probably 10 minutes we got to the podium, received our buzzer and waited for our hostess to seat us.

I would like to have a beer garden in my backyard some day.

I would like to have a beer garden in my backyard some day.

Ashley and I fell in love with this place. The theming inside is absolutely stunning. I’ve never been to Germany but I imagine this place is very similar.  It feels like you are sitting in the middle of a small German village at night, enjoying a giant buffet with hundreds of your closest friends. At first it was a bit awkward because you sit at the same table as people you don’t know but after a few minutes of awkwardness it goes away. If you have a party of eight though you get your own table.

You can't see much because of the picture quality but this place is so cool.

You can’t see much because of the picture quality but this place is so cool.

Underneath the garland and doorways is where the buffet is. There are two sides with the same stuff.

Underneath the garland and doorways is where the buffet is. There are two sides with the same stuff.

We got a table way down at the bottom, close to the stage that halfway into our meal turned into quite the spectacle. The band was surprisingly entertaining and played a special show because it was so close to Christmas.

Polka!

Polka!

Riiiiiiiiicolaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa

Riiiiiiiiicolaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa

Everything about this place is pure awesomeness. The food is good, not great, but it’s a buffet and a cheap Disney buffet at that. They have almost a dozen different cold salads, a giant vat of beer cheese soup with pretzel bread rolls to dip in it (DELICIOUS), an assortment of pasta and potato dishes and the finest assortment of meat I’ve ever seen. Seriously, if you like meat and potatoes, eat here. Even if you don’t, there are PLENTY of other things to choose from, including decadent German desserts. I wish I could eat there right now!

The atmosphere, food and entertainment make this place a no-brainer if you are looking for a family buffet. I wouldn’t hesitate to go back here in future trips. And to think, we completely looked over it when deciding our restaurants during our Honeymoon: silly us!

After rolling out of the buffet we breezed right past the other three countries, knowing we would be back in a couple of days to explore them, and headed to the International Gateway.

Some World Showcase action.

Some World Showcase action.

In lieu of a mid-day break we spent the few hours between lunch and the first Candlelight Processional by wandering around the EPCOT resorts looking at Christmas decorations. We had toured the resorts a few months earlier so there wasn’t a whole lot of new stuff to see except the Christmas decorations. This time though the weather was much more pleasant.

Beach Club light post garland.

Beach Club light post garland.

Fully operational, gingerbread carousel. Crazy.

Fully operational, gingerbread carousel. Crazy.

And a little gingerbread tower to go with it.

And a little gingerbread tower to go with it.

The Boardwalk resort from Beach Club.

The Boardwalk resort from Beach Club.

Stromalong Bay.

Stromalong Bay.

More garland.

More garland.

Winter train set.

Winter train set.

Reverse angle.

Reverse angle.

And a Christmas tree with boats on it! How festive!

And a Christmas tree with boats on it! How festive!

Once again, we walked past Swan and Dolphin but didn’t get anywhere near them. At one point during our trip we did stop at one of them to change buses though.

By the time we got to the Boardwalk I was soooo pooped. We had to sit on a bench for a while.

By the time we got to the Boardwalk I was soooo pooped. We had to sit on a bench for a while.

This little guy kept slipping on the rail when we were sitting on the bench. Every time it happened he had a mini-freak out but regained his composure. Animals are so cute.

This little guy kept slipping on the rail when we were sitting on the bench. Every time it happened he had a mini-freak out but regained his composure. Animals are so cute.

I guess you could call this the courtyard area?

I guess you could call this the courtyard area?

After our quick Christmas tour we trekked back to EPCOT and wandered aimlessly for an hour or so. Aimless wandering lends a hand to mediocre picture taking.

Big Christmas tree between Future World and World Showcase.

Big Christmas tree between Future World and World Showcase.

So much color!!!

So much color!!!

Another guide animal bathroom area. This one is between the bathrooms by Test Track and the entrance to Mouse Gear on that side.

Another guide animal bathroom area. This one is between the bathrooms by Test Track and the entrance to Mouse Gear on that side.

As the sun started to set we made our way toward The American Adventure via Canada, UK, France and Japan.

As the sun started to set we made our way toward The American Adventure via Canada, UK, France and Japan.

After a lot of wondering we found the line for the Candlelight Processional. It was HUGE. Luckily, about five minutes after we got in line, which was about 40 minutes before the show started, they started seating people. I can tell you one thing for sure: the benches surrounding the stage are not particularly comfortable.

Finally, the show started and it was so spectacular. There are multiple choirs up on stage, full of color, holding a single candle. The narrator for our show was Lea Salonga, the singing voice for Jasmine and Mulan. Everything about the show is magical. The Christmas carols themselves are magical. The hundreds of children and adults on stage singing in unison are magical. The soft glow of the fake candles is magical. Magical, magical, magical.

This was the only decent picture of the show I got.

This was the only decent picture of the show I got.

By the time the show got to the last few songs I was on the verge of crying again. It was very emotional. The only thing I didn’t like was, because we went to the 5:00 show, it didn’t get dark until the very end. BUT, it would have cost a lot more to have dinner with the package instead of lunch so we took it in stride.

After the show we stopped at the Karamell-Kuche and got some treats. I don’t remember what either of us got but we both loved it!

Since we had visited the resorts that afternoon, instead of after the show like I had planned, we didn’t have much to do after the show. We wandered around a bit and ended up leaving shortly after the Processional ended.

You can still see a bit of daylight on the horizon. This was probably 30 minutes after the show ended.

You can still see a bit of daylight on the horizon. This was probably 30 minutes after the show ended.

The awesome light-up sidewalk around Spaceship Earth. I want a driveway like this someday.

The awesome light-up sidewalk around Spaceship Earth. I want a driveway like this someday.

We may have gone on Spaceship Earth before we left. I know we went on it at some point that day. It’s my fault for waiting so long after the actual trip to write about it.

So pretty.

So pretty.

We ended up catching a “motor coach” to the Caribbean Beach Resort to check it out since we didn’t want to go back to our resort at six at night. We got off in Jamaica and walked across the bridge, around the island in the middle, around the pool and through the main building. I must say, the food court here is very cool. The theming, as usual, is stunning. As we were looking at stuff Ashley noticed that Animal Kingdom was open later than usual that night. So, we ran out to the bus stop and got on the next “motor coach” to Animal Kingdom.

We arrived with about 45 minutes until the park closed. We managed to ride Expedition Everest five times and Dinosaur once in that amount of time. AND it was the first time I had been in Animal Kingdom at night: it’s beautiful. I can’t stress enough how EMPTY Animal Kingdom is at night. If you are sitting at your hotel around 5 p.m. with nothing to do, pop over to Animal Kingdom for a couple of hours and hit as many rides as you can. On a future trip I’d like to go on the last Safari of the day to compare it to the early morning ones.

I can’t remember if we did anything after leaving Animal Kingdom or not. I doubt it since it was somewhat late. Our third day was VERY productive and, as usual, I was more tired than usual at Disney because of the lack of a mid-day nap. This short Christmas trip was shaping up to be one of the best ever.

Christmas Trip Day 2

The second day of our trip started out like any other at Disney: waking up earlier than we wanted, getting ready and making our way to the bus station. The plan was to go to the Magic Kingdom even though we had been there all night the previous night because it was the most recommended park by Josh. As soon as we walked out the front doors of the lobby I immediately doubted him. There were WAY too many people waiting to board a “motor coach” to the Magic Kingdom. On top of that there was a caravan of ECVs waiting to board as well.

After three buses and a whole lot of waiting around for the ECV people to navigate their scooters up the ramp, turn the corner, pull forward, back up into the spot, miss, pull forward again, hit a seat across the aisle, back up and miss again, pull forward and hit a different seat closer to the front of the bus, back up so far they run into the half-wall separating the upper seats, pull forward and go halfway up the aisle, back up slowly as not to hit another seat, miss the spot again, give up, get out of their scooter, ask the bus driver to park it, sit down in the seat they hit with the scooter moments before, and watch the bus driver park it in precisely four seconds, we were on our way to the Magic Kingdom.

My faith in Josh was restored once I realized we were walking through the turnstiles as the Mayor, Mickey and his gang were opening the park and there weren’t that many people in front of us. By the time we squeezed through the bowels of the train station and bobbed and weaved through the hub it seemed even less crowded than it had before. Since we had seen and/or done most of what we wanted in New Fantasyland the evening before we skipped it this morning and headed straight to Peter Pan.

We both got a FASTPASS and got in line for the ride. The young boy in front of us reminded me of myself as a child, mainly because of all the screaming and squalling (I cried once getting on Peter Pan because I wanted to sit next to my mother but somebody else was, so I threw a fit). He did NOT want to go on Peter Pan and he was letting his mother know it. By the time he boarded his vessel he was clawing at his mother and trying to abandon ship. As the cast member at the end of the conveyor belt was lowering the lap bar he was screaming “Save me! Save me!” I didn’t really feel that bad for him; everybody has to do something they don’t want to every now and then. Fifteen seconds into the ride and he was fine. He did look a little bitter when he got off though, giving his mother the stink eye.

Next we headed to Frontierland and rode both Splash and Thunder Mountain with minimal wait. When I say minimal I really mean no. We walked through the queue for Thunder Mountain and didn’t stop until we were the next to board a train. I believe this morning was the only time we rode “the wildest ride in the wilderness.” After the two mountains we hit Pirates real quick before making our way back to Retro Fantasyland to use our FASTPASSes. On the way we hit up Haunted Mansion and were forced to walk through the graveyard part of the queue since the regular part was being used for FASTPASS+ which was annoying. One thing to note about Haunted Mansion on this particular trip: The creepy doll lady at the end said “Hurry baaaaaaaaack” every time our Doom Buggy rolled under her. We hit the audio loop at the right time every time.

It was a few minutes after 10 a.m. by the time we exited Haunted Mansion. Since the plan was to eat at Be Our Guest right at 10:30 a.m. and we wanted to get in line prior to that, we found a young couple and their daughter and gave them our FASTPASSes. I forgot to mention earlier but when I got our FASTPASSes that morning there was already one sitting in the machine so we had three. I was actually surprised at how easily we gave away our FASTPASSes that morning. During our Honeymoon in August I tried to give them away multiple times and never succeeded. The family seemed excited but confused: I had to explain to them how FASTPASS worked. After a few moments they got in the FASTPASS line instead of the regular one (like they had tried initially) and were on their way to Neverland.

After my heart grew three sizes we followed the crowd to New Fantasyland. By the time we got in line for Be Our Guest there were at least 100 to 150 people in front of us.

This was our view of the sign from our spot in line. The line went around the sign, across the bridge and almost up to the front gates.

This was our view of the sign from our spot in line. The line went around the sign, across the bridge, through the front gates and almost up to the doors.

They started letting people in a few minutes before 10:30 a.m. and the crunching began. People started scooting closer and closer to each other until we could smell each others breath. Once we made it onto the bridge it got less crowded.

This is the view from the beginning of the bridge. As you can see, there are quite a few people in front of us.

This is the view from the beginning of the bridge. As you can see, there are quite a few people in front of us. Somebody was thinking because they rope off the left side of the bridge for those exiting the restaurant. Otherwise they would have to climb down the mountain, forge the moat and scale the other side.

This poor gargoyle and his buddies have to hold up all the lamp posts along the bridge. He doesn't look too happy about it either.

This poor gargoyle and his buddies have to hold up all the lamp posts along the bridge. He doesn’t look too happy about it either.

Another picture of the entrance. I went a little overboard here.

Another picture of the entrance. I went a little overboard here.

The entrance is straight ahead. The door to the left is the exit.

The entrance is straight ahead. The door to the left is the exit.

Close-up of the mosaic work above the entrance. They let a handful of groups in at a time then close the doors for a few minutes.

Close-up of the mosaic work above the entrance. They let a handful of groups in at a time then close the doors for a few minutes.

We only waited for 15 or 20 minutes before being granted access inside the castle. I was impressed with how quick and smooth things went. The detail on the outside was amazing so we were pretty pumped to finally step inside.

A blurry picture of a Minotaur holding up the entire restaurant.

A blurry picture of a Minotaur holding up the entire restaurant.

This is your view as you first walk in the doors. To the left is the exit. To the right is the corridor leading to the ordering room. Straight ahead is the ballroom. If you walk past the Minotaurs then turn left you will find the restrooms.

This is your view as you first walk in the doors. To the left is the exit. To the right is the corridor leading to the ordering room. Straight ahead is the ballroom. If you walk past the Minotaur(s) then turn left you will find the restrooms.

The corridor leading to the ordering room. The doorway at the end leads to the ordering room. The knights on each side of the rooms talk and have conversations with each other. There are electronic menus posted on a couple pedestal screens in the middle.

The corridor leading to the ordering room. The doorway at the end leads to the ordering room. The knights on each side of the rooms talk and have conversations with each other. There are electronic menus posted on a couple pedestal screens in the middle.

Once you walk in they make you choose one of two lines. As far as I could tell neither was any faster than the other. If you are in a big hurry, you may get frustrated as it will all come down to how quickly the people in front of you can figure out the electronic ordering system. Unfortunately for us, the two couples ordering before us most likely got AARP The Magazine delivered to their home. And you don’t get a choice in the matter either. After you get your RFID rose you wait for a cast member to tell you which ordering station to go to. You can’t scope out the room and get behind the youngest looking people there.

After a few (or 10) tense minutes it was our turn to order. I know my family wants to go here in May but some of them may have a hard time finding something they like. It’s not that the menu is  outlandish but it’s definitely not hamburgers, chicken strips and fries. I went with the Croque Monsieur and Ashley, after much deliberation, chose the Grilled Steak Sandwich.

After what seemed like five minutes (which was probably more like 10 or 15 since I was busy taking terrible pictures) a “waiter” came out with a cart full of meals and guess what? Ours were on it!

Mine was a fancy grilled cheese with some ham on it but was very yummy. Ashley’s wasn’t bad but I was expecting a little more from this godsend of a restaurant. We ended up splitting our sandwiches and eating half each. I took pictures of our food but the quality is so bad even I am embarrassed  Also, as we did with most meals this trip, we shared a drink as there are unlimited refills here: One definite perk of this place. Enough of the food though because really, who cares? It’s all about the AMBIANCE PEOPLE.

Here is an absolutely terrible picture of the ballroom. I love my little point and shoot but it does NOT do well in low light situations and Be Our Guest is most definitely a low light situation.

Here is an absolutely terrible picture of the ballroom. I love my little point and shoot but it does NOT do well in low light situations and Be Our Guest is most definitely a low light situation.

It snows outside the giant windows at the end of the ballroom which is very magical.

It snows outside the giant windows at the end of the ballroom: magical.

Here's the room from the other direction. We didn't sit along the edge of the room but still got as close to the windows as we could.

Here’s the room from the other direction. We didn’t sit along the edge of the room but still got as close to the windows as we could.

After we gobbled up our meals we explored the place a bit. There are three dining rooms and, unless you move your half eaten quinoa salad, you can only eat in one. First we visited the West Wing.

The West Wing. I thought the Ballroom was dark. Holy cow this place is hard to see in. As usual though it is expertly themed.

…and I thought the Ballroom was dark. Holy cow this place is hard to see in. As usual though it is expertly themed.

I think we all feel like tearing up portraits of ourselves every now and then.

I think we all feel like tearing up portraits of ourselves every now and then.

The enchanted rose and magic mirror. There was a big line to take a picture here.

The enchanted rose and magic mirror. There was a big line to take a picture here. Being an arrogant American I didn’t wait and pushed my way to the front. I paid for my vacation and I’m going to get my money’s worth damn it!

On the other side of the Ballroom is the Rose Garden. If you like to eat in light places this is the room for you. It also seemed more family friendly for some reason.

The left side of the Rose Garden room.

The left side of the Rose Garden room. This was easily the least busy of the three dining rooms.

Belle and Beast adorn the center of the room with their beautiful dancing.

Belle and Beast adorn the center of the room with their beautiful dancing.

On our way out we stopped to check out the bathrooms. There is also one more gem waiting for you right before you leave.

Tale as old as time.

Tale as old as time.

By the time we left the restaurant it was almost 11:30 a.m. and the park was starting to get busy. We decided to head toward the exit via Tomorrowland. On our way out we hit a couple Tomorrowland staples: the TTA and Carousel of Progress. The TTA Peoplemover has always been a family favorite. As they say on the ride, “The Peoplemover is great for people watching.” As they don’t say on the ride anymore, “Paging Mr. Morrow, Mr. Tom Morrow. Your party from Saturn has arrived, please give them a ring.”

Ashley has grown to like this ride. I always have. It's one of the rides still left at Disney that makes me feel like I did when I was a child. It's like Walt is still behind the controls, making magic like he dreamed.

Ashley has grown to like this ride. I always have. It’s one of the rides still left at Disney that makes me feel like I did when I was a child. It’s like Walt is still behind the controls, making dreams come true with his magic.

She really gets to the core of the apple.

She really gets to the core of the apple.

Besides, it's not going to rain today. My lumbago isn't acting up.

Besides, it’s not going to rain today. My lumbago isn’t acting up.

Our dog Rover over here keeps the water in the drip pan from overflowing.

Our dog Rover over here keeps the water in the drip pan from overflowing.

Hey everyone. I'm done programming our new voice activation system.

Hey everyone. I’m done programming our new voice activation system.

Don't worry dad. Someday, everything will be automated. You won't even have to cook another Christmas turkey again.

Don’t worry dad. Someday, everything will be automated. You won’t even have to cook another Christmas turkey again.

Oh no! You're not going to tell us about the old days when you didn't even have a car phone.

Oh no! You’re not going to tell us about the old days when you didn’t even have a car phone.

After our journey through the decade we left the park with no incident. As we were walking to our bus stop a “motor coach” was sitting at the Art of Animation stop and the Pop stop was empty. We didn’t get to explore much the last time we visited AoA because I was bitter and we could simply walk across the Generation Gap bridge to get back to our room: let’s go!

The guard stand.

The guard stand.

The Art of Animation is similar to Pop Century in a lot of ways. Obviously it is themed differently but the bones of the resort are practically the same.

We've seen this before but it's still SO COOL.

We’ve seen this before but it’s still SO COOL.

Christmas tree in the atrium.

Christmas tree in the atrium.

The staircase covers for the Finding Nemo building.

The staircase cover for the Finding Nemo building.

We headed toward the Lion King section first. If you walk out of the food court towards the back it is to your left.

Asante sana, squash banana.

Asante sana, squash banana.

The log is higher up than it looks. You can see the entrance to one of the buildings below it.

The log is higher up than it looks. You can see the entrance to one of the buildings below it.

At the end of the Lion King section is the Little Mermaid section. Well, not really at the end. Once you leave the Lion King area you have to walk a couple of minutes THEN you are in the Little Mermaid section. Poor Ariel is so far from the main buildings; we didn’t go visit her because we are lazy.

Instead, we doubled back and headed for the Cars section. Oh, my, gosh; this place is crazy. It is easily the best themed section and if Cars Land in Disneyland is anything like this sign me up!

Most of the section in one view.

Most of the section in one view.

Seems safe to me.

Seems safe to me.

Why wait in line at Hollywood Studios to see inanimate cars when you can see them anytime at Art of Animation?

Why wait in line at Hollywood Studios to see inanimate cars when you can see them anytime at Art of Animation?

The cozy cone pool. One of the "quiet" pools at Art of Animation.

The cozy cone pool. One of the “quiet” pools at Art of Animation.

Each cone is a cabana. In the summer I imagine you would have to stake one of these out pretty early. It was in the 60s this day so there were plenty available.

Each cone is a cabana. In the summer I imagine you would have to stake one of these out pretty early. It was in the 60s this day though so there were plenty available.

The cozy cone motel actually exists. Unfortunately, all it seems to be is a covered walkway to get into the pool.

The cozy cone motel actually exists. Unfortunately, all it seems to be is a covered walkway to get into the pool. There could be more to it that I didn’t notice. Maybe pool towels are stored here?

It's OK though, they have no vacancy.

It’s OK though, they have no vacancy.

Another entrance to another building. Tow Mater annoys me.

Another entrance to another building. Tow Mater annoys me.

Of all the sections of the resort, the Cars section makes you feel like you are in the titled movie the most. It’s incredible how well themed it is. I don’t remember ever feeling so immersed in a movie, even when we ate at Be Our Guest earlier that day. We walked through the Finding Nemo section on our way to Pop Century.

Mr. Ray is so colorful. Everything in this section is so colorful.

Mr. Ray is so colorful. Everything in this section is so colorful.

The kiddie pool. I'm guessing the urine content is higher than chlorine content here.

The kiddie pool. I’m guessing the urine content is higher than chlorine content here.

When we walked into one of the buildings I was immediately turned off. Ashley agrees with me that indoor corridors just don’t feel like Disney. There’s something about walking outside to get to your room in 90 degree heat at 10 o’clock at night that feels like Disney to us. Something about opening the door to your room and immediately getting smacked in the face with 100 degree heat that feels like Disney. This place just felt like an extremely well themed hotel that could be located anywhere. It’s nice to have that extra 30 seconds of air conditioning I’m sure but still prefer outdoor corridors.

Finding Nemo section from the Pop side of the bridge.

Finding Nemo section from the Pop side of the bridge.

We took a very short break before heading out again. This time Hollywood Studios was our destination. I never realized it before but I NEED that mid day break. Not only is it nice to avoid the crazy crowds and crazy heat but my poor little body needs a nap while at Disney. I was really dragging during the afternoons this trip, deprived of my nap.

A big Christmas tree outside Hollywood Studios.

A big Christmas tree outside Hollywood Studios.

Our main objective at Hollywood Studios was to see the Osborne Lights. We skipped Rock ‘N’ Roller Coaster, Tower of Terror and Toy Story Mania this trip. It was the afternoon so lines were long and FASTPASSes were either gone or for later in the evening when we would either be looking at the lights or already gone for dinner at Downtown Disney.

Looking good.

Looking good.

While checking on FASTPASSes for Rock 'N' Roller Coaster I came across this young man. He was pitching a fit and nobody in his family seemed to care (which I commend). He would cry, look up, see that nobody was paying attention, think about it some, then cry again. I took a picture because I found it not only hilarious but commendable parenting as well.

While checking on FASTPASSes for Rock ‘N’ Roller Coaster I came across this young man. He was pitching a fit and nobody in his family seemed to care (which I commend). He would cry, look up, see that nobody was paying attention, think about it some, then cry again. I took a picture because I found it not only hilarious but commendable parenting as well.

Even though we didn’t go on any of the BIG rides at Hollywood Studios there was still plenty to do. We checked out the Magic of Disney Animation for the first time which was cool. There are lots of things to look at, a BUNCH of characters to meet and a little show in one spot staring Mushu. I know, I was surprised too. I love him but never see him at Disney.

Fix it Felix arcade game. I don't believe you can actually play it.

Fix it Felix arcade game outside the Mushu show. I don’t believe you can actually play it.

After the little tour we headed for another: The Great Movie Ride. Our journey through the movies was the busiest I remember in a long time. They used BOTH CARS. I know, it was crazy. We even got to see the Western bank robbing scene too. I was getting bored with the gangster one. I had to laugh because Ashley didn’t know the Western scene existed. I had almost forgotten about it myself. In fact, the ride was so busy we even had to stop a couple of times to let the cars in front of us finish the movie at the end. At least we got to hang out in Oz longer than normal.

Oh, it's definitely spectacular.

Oh, it’s definitely spectacular.

Follow the yellow-brick road.

Follow the yellow-brick road.

Emerald City looks so nice. I might consider moving there.

Emerald City looks so nice. I might consider moving there.

My only complaint about the ride this time was that the bandit who stole our ride vehicle was so short she couldn’t reach the gem in the Indiana Jones section. Now, how is she going to be killed by the gem if she CAN’T EVEN REACH IT. Horrible casting on Disney’s part there. That should be the number one requirement for bandit/gangster on the Great Movie Ride: tall enough to reach the glowing stone in the Indiana Jones section. My golly.

We walked around for a bit after the ride, making our way through Pixar-land where we laughed at the people in line for Toy Story Mania.

To improve Hollywood Studios I think Disney should expand on the Pixar area. Heck, why not make the entire park Pixar themed?

To improve Hollywood Studios I think Disney should expand on the Pixar area. Heck, why not make the entire park Pixar themed?

In our continued meandering through the park we walked through One Man’s Dream. While there I saw another kid lying on the ground pitching a fit! BONUS. What a great day for children at the park.

Not even a parent in sight: brilliant.

Not even a parent in sight: brilliant.

Oh, Horizons. Horizons....Horizons.

Oh, Horizons. Horizons….Horizons.

We didn’t see the show at the end because I didn’t want to cry. Actually, I don’t know why we didn’t see the show but if you are an “emotional” person, you may just cry during the video presentation. At this point it was getting close to lighting time so we made our way to the Streets of America. We saw Pizza Planet on the way.

I may have said this before but I am not a fan on this place. It's cool and all but it's the same pizza you can get anyhwere else on Disney property, it;s always busy, it's always loud, there are always children screaming and running around and it's not exactly cheap.

I may have said this before but I am not a fan of this place. It’s cool and all but it’s the same pizza you can get anywhere else on Disney property, it’s always busy, it’s always loud, there are always children screaming and running around and it’s not exactly cheap.

You remember when I talked about crying a few seconds ago? Well, I honestly was on the verge of crying when they lit up the Osborne Lights. It’s so overwhelming and so magical that the waterworks almost turned on. But, I’m a man so I held them down. I have a video of the lighting ceremony that I will add later. The lights are stagnant some of the time and synchronized with music the rest of the time. If you go to Disney around Christmas time you HAVE to see them.

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“Tilt shift” just for good measure.

And a picture of us to boot.

And a picture of us to boot.

After gawking at the lights for a half hour or so we made our way to the park exit and headed to Downtown Disney. We took the Port Orleans bus to make our transfer in hopes of seeing more Christmas decor at the resort we adored on our Honeymoon. Other than some trees and wreaths they don’t do a whole lot. This, coupled with the fact that the Downtown Disney “motor coach” was loading people up, meant we got on the Downtown Disney “motor coach” and headed there for our dinner date.

Since our buddy was late because he forgot to charge his camera, we had some time to roam around. We bought a ton of merchandise on our Honeymoon, plus we only took carry on bags, so we didn’t buy very much stuff this trip. Downtown Disney is nice during Christmas too. Everybody is all decked out in Christmas decor and the spirit is more jolly than normal. We made our way down to Splitsville to check it out from the outside since it wasn’t open at the time. I’m sure it’s extremely expensive but I’m also sure it would be a lot of fun to hang out there for a night.

A Christmas tree of Mickey heads outside Fulton's Crab House.

A Christmas tree of Mickey heads outside Fulton’s Crab House.

Eventually Josh made it and we decided on Earl of Sandwich since we were already in the area. The line was incredibly long but they are incredibly efficient so it couldn’t have taken more than 15 minutes to order our food. Because there were people playing Uno at booths – For real, they had NO food, they were just playing cards at a table inside a busy restaurant, some people – we had to sit outside. Besides the cackling wench sitting somewhere behind us it was a very pleasant meal. I once again ordered the Full Montagu. Ashley went with the Earl’s Club. Josh had the holiday surprise (not its actual name). It had turkey, gravy, cranberry sauce and other holiday favorites all wrapped up in a toasted bun.

Sitting there for a couple of hours talking was actually very relaxing. We had a short trip so we were on the go the entire time. These couple of hours were a little respite for us. Also, talking with my wife and Josh was pleasant, definitely less awkward than our last meal with him when we were strangers. Well, I suppose we are still somewhat strangers now – I read his blog, comment on it, email him when I have questions and we have eaten two meals together: we’re practically dating!

After a cast member asked us what time it was we got the hint and left. Josh had to catch the last bus out of town as well so it worked out. Ashley and I went to Goofy’s Candy Co. so she could get a custom Mickey crisped rice treat. Once acquired we headed for the bus station. Our “motor coach” arrived and we went back for a good night’s sleep. As with day one, day two was quite eventful and tiresome.

Christmas Trip Day 1

The first day of out trip was a real whopper; I almost cried twice but for two very different reasons.

After successfully packing everything in all of our carry-on bags (thus avoiding baggage fees), we managed to pile into my grandparents van by 8:03 a.m. only three minutes past deadline. We made it to the airport with a little over an hour before take off: perfect. Self check-in at AirTran was super easy and we were off to security in no time. Grand Rapids is a fairly small airport so there were only 20 or so people in front of us. The TSA dude pacing back and forth was giving everybody helpful hints to speed up the security process.

“Make sure your bag of liquids is in a separate bin,” he said. Check.

“Make sure everything is removed from your pockets including any belts and shoes,” he said. I didn’t wear a belt and left my shoes untied – double check.

“Make sure you have your boarding passes and IDs ready,” he droned. Easy enough, I thought, and retrieved my ID from my wallet. I was ready to go, ID in one hand, boarding passes in the other.

“I didn’t bring my wallet,” Ashley said.

“What do you mean?” I ask.

“I didn’t bring my wallet so I don’t have my ID,” Ashley clarified.

“WHAT!?” I exclaimed. “What are we doing to do? We can’t go anymore! How did you forget your wallet?”

“I didn’t even think about it,” Ashley replied. I usually drive when we go places and we have the same credit card and share a checking account so she rarely brings her wallet – Something that has changed a bit since this incident.

At this point I was freaking out. My hands were shaking, I was fighting back tears and my mind was racing as to what to do with the situation. I had heard of people’s “heart dropping” when they heard bad news but had never experienced it myself. I know it sounds silly because its just a trip to Disney and many, many people have it far worse than me but in that moment my world was rocked. Cooler heads (Ashley) prevailed and we were headed back to the AirTran counter as I was in a daze of anger and disbelief. Ashley talked to the people at the counter while I called my mother. Looking back, I don’t know why I did this; there wasn’t anything she could do about the situation.

She suggested I call my grandparents to see if they could somehow get the ID to us before we left. It was an hour before our flight and it took us an hour to get to the airport so it seemed possible. If my brother could run to our apartment, grab her wallet and meet my grandparents half way, it just might work. Luckily we left a key with my parents in case we needed them to get into our apartment while away. After a slew of phone calls and “Oh, no” and “How did she forget that?” and “Drive fast but not too fast” the plan was in action.

Ashley went back to security, waited in line and informed the TSA agent about her situation. They ran a background check, asked her some questions and somehow we got through security. Ashley asked me to call my grandparents and have them mail her ID to us instead of racing to get it to the airport in time but I still thought we had enough time. After a tense 20-30 minutes of waiting we had five minutes to board the plane with no grandparents in sight. I called them back, realizing they wouldn’t make it in time so I thanked them for all of their crazy efforts, asked them to mail it to us instead and boarded the plane with two minutes to spare.

Whew!

Two and a half hours later and we were walking off our plane in Orlando. The Magical Express took us to POP Century and fun time was upon us.

Christmas tree as you first walk in from the "other" entrance.

Christmas tree as you first walk in from the “other” entrance by the Magic Express drop off/pick up.

Once again, we opted for online check-in so it took all of two minutes to get our KTTW and head to our room, after taking some mediocre pictures of course!

Big Christmas tree in the middle of the lobby.

Big Christmas tree in the middle of the lobby.

POP Century doesn’t go too crazy with Christmas decorations but you can definitely tell the difference between a normal day and a day in November or December. POP has become our favorite value resort. The rooms are comparable (if not better) to the All Star rooms but having a dedicated bus service to just that resort is invaluable. The food court is also a lot nicer than the All Stars and there aren’t droves of football players or cheerleaders reeking havoc on the grounds.

We only took about 10 minutes to settle into our room before splitting (read: inhaling) a turkey ciabatta sandwich at the food court and grabbing a “motor coach” to the Magic Kingdom for a little fun before the Christmas Party. We arrived around 4 p.m. so we had a solid two to three hours before the festivities began.

The Hub all decked out.

The Hub all decked out.

Main Street U.S.A. really is sigh to see around Christmas.

Main Street U.S.A. really is a sight to see around Christmas.

Our main objective during these couple of hours was to check out New Fantasyland. When we went in August only half of Storybook Circus (double Dumbo and Goofy’s Barnstormer) was open so there was a lot to take in. Ashley and I agreed that it was weird yet exciting to see new things at Disney World. It’s weird (especially for me) because we have been a lot and are used to things that are there so new things shake it up a bit. Obviously its exciting because everybody likes new stuff and anything Disney does in their parks are usually top-notch. We set out for Storybook Circus first.

We saw Pooh and Tigger leaving their post on the way. This was the beginning of experimenting with different settings on my camera. I don't know what this one is called but it's trippy.

We saw Pooh and Tigger leaving their post on the way. This was the beginning of experimenting with different settings on my camera. I don’t know what this one is called but it’s trippy.

This sign is gigantic. It also lights up a night. Well, at least some of it does.

This sign is gigantic. It also lights up a night. Well, at least some of it does.

The large crowd to the left of the picture above were watching the clown band. They probably have a proper name but I think clown band is fairly self-explanatory. We didn’t stop to watch but they looked quite entertaining. If nothing else it’s probably a good way to spend a few minutes of your time in the park.

The gift shop in Storybook Circus.

The gift shop in Storybook Circus.

Inside the shop is awesome. There are spot lights and the coolers and some shelving are themed like train cars.

Inside the shop is awesome. There are spot lights and the coolers and merchandise shelves along the outside wall are themed like train cars. Unfortunately, you can’t see any of them very well in this picture. They are along the back wall to the left of Big Top Treats.

Inside Big Top Souvenirs is Big Top Treats. They have the normal treats you would find at other Disney locations: cookies, cupcakes, etc. After not buying any souvenirs or treats we headed for the newest part of New Fantasyland.

Here's a look at the construction of the Seven Dwarfs mine ride. The footprint of this thing is ridiculous.

Here’s a look at construction of the Seven Dwarfs mine ride. The footprint of this thing is ridiculous.

Beast's Castle. When we saw it in August it looked small but we were quite a ways away. Now that we got closer to it, it still looks rather small BUT impressive nonetheless.

Beast’s Castle. When we saw it in August it looked small but we were quite a ways away. Now that we got closer to it, it still looks rather small BUT impressive nonetheless.

We didn’t get anywhere near Enchanted Tales with Belle since the waits were routinely 60+ minutes every time we walked past. The little village Disney has created is quite charming however.

The fountain outside Gaston's Tavern.

The fountain outside Gaston’s Tavern. To the left is the tavern, directly behind the fountain is the walkway to the appropriately themed bathrooms and to the right is the gift shop which probably has a proper name.

The decor is very...manly.

The decor is very…manly.

A wonderful antler chandelier.

A wonderful antler chandelier.

Although it’s a quick service location there aren’t many choices when it comes to food. Your two choices are pork shank or cinnamon roll. That’s it. The pork shank could be a substantial snack or possibly a meal. I’m guessing it’s a sister act to the ever-famous Turkey Leg. The drink of choice in the Tavern would be LeFou’s Brew: a frothy, apple-infused, semi-frozen drink. Ashley described it best saying the “head” of the brew tasted like the fluoride treatment you get at the dentist: YUMMY! Once you get past that though it’s a very refreshing drink. It’s hard to describe the consistency of the drink. It’s frozen but not like a slushie. Instead, it’s very creamy. Whatever it is we both enjoyed it. I still like Butter Beer better though.

Two straws because we ain't swapping spit.

Two straws because we ain’t swapping spit.

I'm not sure if this is THE chair or not but it was large.

I’m not sure if this is Gaston’s chair or not but it was large.

After getting a good buzz going at Gaston’s we went next door to the gift shop. It’s kind of small but they have a good assortment of Beauty and the Beast themed merchandise. I didn’t take any pictures inside but things of note would be the beautiful china and glasses with gold detail along with the awesome, light-up, plastic, crown shaped goblets. I meant to buy one but forgot. It’s okay, I’m sure there are better things I can spend $17 on.

We saw this bad boy on the way to Eric's castle.

We saw this bad boy on the way to Eric’s castle.

The only new ride since our last visit was Journey of the Little Mermaid. If you like constant, slow-moving rides with lots of animatronics, color and music surrounding you, this is the ride for you! Somehow we managed to arrive when there was a meager 15 minute wait so we hopped on.

Eric's castle. The faux rock work is incredible.

Eric’s castle. The faux rock-work is incredible.

My Canon Elph 300 HS has a "Miniature effect" setting on it. I think it's an attempt at  tilt-shift photography with higher saturation.

My Canon Elph 300 HS has a “Miniature effect” setting on it. I think it’s an attempt at tilt-shift photography with higher saturation.

Close up of the rocks.

Close up of the rocks.

There is a waterfall in the outdoor portion of the queue. I can imagine it will get very, very hot during the summer months.

There is a waterfall in the outdoor portion of the queue. I can imagine it will get very, very hot during the summer months.

We both enjoyed the ride. If nothing else it’s fun and air-conditioned. It won’t wow you like other rides or get your heart racing like “The Mountains” will but for kids it’s great and even for two 20-somethings it was a good one. Granted, a good portion of the ride reminds you of The Seas with Nemo and Friends if you removed “Nemo” and replaced it with “Ariel” but at least Scuttle is in this one!

We all know he is better than the "Mine" seagulls in Finding Nemo.

We all know he is better than the “Mine” seagulls in Finding Nemo.

The clam-mobiles.

The clam-mobiles.

I took a video during the big room scene of the ride and it was dark for the majority of the rest of it so I didn’t take many mediocre pictures of the actual ride. I know, I know. I’ll add the video into the post soon though.

Looks like she could use some straps on that gown of hers.

Looks like she could use some straps on that gown of hers.

And 90-X King Triton saves the day. Seriously, I didn't take a picture of it but King Triton is RIPPED in the ride.

And P90-X Triton saves the day. Seriously, I didn’t get a good shot of it but King Triton is RIPPED in the ride.

Between Journey of the Little Mermaid and Storybook Circus is Ariel’s Grotto. It’s where she now meets guests. We didn’t venture over that far because the walkway between the two areas wasn’t open (because it apparently wasn’t busy enough to warrant opening the gates). Insulted, we left and went to Retro Fantasyland. Peter Pan was too busy to ride and it’s a Small World is silly so we continued walking.

Rapunzel’s bathroom and stroller parking area are coming along nicely. I anticipate this will be open when we go with my family in May and I can’t WAIT to urinate here.

Unfortunately, I didn't see Pascal anywhere.

Unfortunately, I didn’t see Pascal anywhere.

We spent the next little bit riding Splash Mountain and Pirates of the Caribbean and just enjoying the atmosphere of the Magic Kingdom. Thanks to Josh I knew there was a spot by Stitch’s (Abomination of a ride that should be bulldozed immediately) Great Escape where we could get our wrist bands for the party without having to go all the way to the front of the park by the entrance. This was extremely helpful since there were maybe 10 people getting theirs in front of us while there were hundreds getting them at the front of the park.

I wore mine the entire trip hoping to sneak back in another night but, alas, they change the color of them frequently.

I wore mine the entire trip hoping to sneak back in another night but, alas, they change the color of them frequently.

I think we rode Space Mountain before heading back to Storybook Circus to see the non-Christmas lights and actually ride Dumbo.

It's way better at night than during the day.

It’s way better at night than during the day.

More "shadow" effect. Not as good as the Pooh and Tigger picture.

More “shadow” effect. Not as good as the Pooh and Tigger picture.

I also discovered I could take long exposure pictures with a point-and-shoot. Marvelous!

I also discovered I could take long exposure pictures with a point-and-shoot. Marvelous!

This one is better. I learned to take the picture right at the end of the ride where it forces your dumbo-craft to raise all the way up for a few seconds.

This one is better. I learned to take the picture right at the end of the ride where it forces your dumbo-craft to raise all the way up to the top for a few seconds. You can even see the second ride in the left side of the picture. I tried to take pictures while on the ride but it…. well, yeah; it didn’t work out so well.

We also moseyed over to Casey Jr.’s Splash Zone for a hot second. It wasn’t as wet as I remember it being in August. Makes sense I suppose.

The overhead string lights add to the circus theme.

The overhead string lights add to the circus theme.

Here's another built-in effect. I'm not sure how I feel about it quite frankly.

Here’s another built-in effect. I’m not sure how I feel about it quite frankly.

At this point it was getting close to party time so we took the super secret passageway behind Goofy’s Barnstormer to Tomorrowland and continued towards Main Street. I found yet another guide animal bathroom area on this trail. So, if you have a guide dog, cat, camel, etc.  make sure you stick around Tomorrowland. There is one bathroom area by the human bathrooms and a second area on the path to Storybook Circus.

Got a decent nighttime picture of Space Mountain.

Got a decent night-time picture of Space Mountain on the way.

And this is the whole reason we went to Disney in December: Cinderella Castle all lit up!

It really is breathtaking.

It really is breathtaking.

When will my reflection show, who I am inside?

When will my reflection show, who I am inside?

They make it snow on Main Street. While it is magical, being from Michigan it's not the same. I'm sure people from the South enjoy it because they don't see much snow but this stuff is a little soap-y for my liking. Still, it's magical in the moment.

They make it snow on Main Street. While it is magical, being from Michigan it’s not the same. I’m sure people from the South enjoy it because they don’t see much real snow but this stuff is a little soap-y for my liking (literally, it’s soap). Still, it’s magical in the moment and it wouldn’t be the same without it.

Here's the "tilt shift" effect again.

Here’s the “tilt shift” effect again.

It turns colors throughout the night. This is while waiting for the Celebrate the Season stage show.

It turns colors throughout the night. This is while waiting for the Celebrate the Season stage show.

As close as I could get without the quality being worse than it already was. The lights are a series of gigantic nets draped over the castle.

As close as I could get without the quality being worse than it already was. The lights are a series of gigantic nets draped over the castle.

The finale of the show. My camera isn't the best at night time pictures. The show was great though. Lots of Disney characters couple with classic Christmas songs.

The finale of the show. My camera isn’t the best at night-time pictures. The show was great though. Lots of Disney characters coupled with classic Christmas songs.

The show was the first real part of the Christmas Party we experienced (since we missed the lighting of the Castle, whoops ). There are a TON of characters strewn throughout the park meeting guests but we didn’t stop to see any of them. If we go back with kids somebody I’m sure we will. Instead, we actually rode a handful of rides during the party if we happened to be walking past them since most had five-minute (non-existent) waits. Splash Mountain was particularly fun during the party because you could see everything all gussied up for Christmas while at the top.

After the show we headed for Tomorrowland as we wanted to avoid the entire area between Main Street and Frontierland because of the first parade shortly thereafter. On the way we stopped for cookies and hot chocolate. The choices were chocolate chip and snickerdoodle. You can get two of either kind or one of each. I opted for one of each every time we got cookies. I enjoyed both kinds. They were soft and chewy and weren’t wafer thin: they had some heft to them. Also, the hot chocolate was quite possibly the best I have ever had. It was extremely rich and chocolate-y and always the perfect temperature: not burn-your-entire-mouth hot or this-tastes-like-bad-chocolate-milk cold. I was impressed with both the cookies and hot chocolate. We were planning on seeing how many we could eat but stopped at six a piece. Or maybe it was four. Or maybe Ashley had four and I had six. I know we got them at Tomorroland Terrace and Columbia Harbour House but after that it gets a bit fuzzy.

Club Tinsel was bumpin'

Club Tinsel was bumpin’

On our avoidance trek we popped into Club Tinsel (Cosmic Ray’s) for a little bumping and grinding. At first I was appalled because Sonny Eclipse had been lowered into the stage and a real, live DJ was imposing on his space. But then I saw Santa Goofy and Pluto poppin’ and lockin’ and I was instantly satisfied. For real though, they had some moves. I think I might apply to be the “Dancing Santa Goofy at Club Tinsel” next year.

They had these projections on multiple buildings throughout the park. This one was on Mickey's Star Traders.

They had these projections on multiple buildings throughout the park. This one was on Mickey’s Star Traders.

We dilly-dallied around for a while before watching the Totally Tomorrowland Christmas show. It featured Buzz Lightyear, Mike Wazowski and Stitch (I booed when they introduced him). It wasn’t anything special but it was entertaining and fun watching the children dance around and be happy, unless that sounds creepy than that wasn’t the case. Compared to the show in front of the castle is was high school musical caliber but since it costs upwards of $60 to go to the party you may as well see everything you can and get your money’s worth.

After the show we bolted over to Main Street for the Magic, Memories and You castle projection show and Holiday Wishes. We got a spot right in the middle of Main Street between Casey’s Corner and the Ice Cream Parlour: it was perfect.

Looking behind us towards the park entrance. It was a wee bit busy.

Looking behind us towards the park entrance. It was a wee bit busy.

The Magic, Memories and You show was revamped since August and obviously had a few special holiday sections added just for the party. It’s an entertaining show and since Wishes comes five minutes after it there really is no excuse not to see it. Seeing different things projected on the castle is pretty cool and reminiscent of the 25th anniversary birthday cake castle that I actually got to see in person. I took the best pictures I could.

Wreck it Ralph

Wreck it Ralph

Ashley's boyfriend, Walt

Ashley’s boyfriend, Walt

I'm not sure what this one is. Gumdrops maybe?

I’m not sure what this one is. Gumdrops maybe?

Gingerbread castle.

Gingerbread castle.

After the first show I popped into Casey’s Corner to get an order of mini corn dogs on Ashley’s instruction. It actually wasn’t that busy and I only missed the first minute or so of Wishes. Holiday Wishes is definitely better than normal Wishes, especially the finale where Disney practically surrounds you with fireworks. Throughout the show there are a few other times where perimeter fireworks are used.

After the fireworks we headed towards the exit to snag a spot for the parade. We had a good hour between Wishes and the parade so I was planning on seeing Minnie and Mickey or shopping or something but we didn’t end up doing any of it. Instead, we trudged up the stairs to the balcony of the train station and shivered for 45 minutes. I mean it was COLD. We had been in Michigan that morning but I swear it was colder in the Magic Kingdom. We both had sweatshirts on and I could have used a coat and gloves. Ashley ended up hiding behind a lamp post as best she could until the parade started.

One thing this spot did allow for was a great angle for mediocre picture taking.

Our view. I hate how my camera turns lights into blurry lights with an aura around them.

Our view. I hate how my camera turns lights into blurry lights with an aura around them.

Main Street U.S.A - "Tilt Shift"

Main Street U.S.A – “Tilt Shift”

Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade was a good one. There are a ton of floats with common and rare characters, plenty of goofy vehicles, Santa and the best part of all, a toy soldier marching band. I have a video of them performing that I will upload shortly. I managed to take a few salvageable photos of the parade itself. Even with the “Night time” setting the pictures are still more horrible than normal.

The Toy Story float. You can see the toy soldiers coming up behind it.

The Toy Story float. You can see the toy soldiers coming up behind it.

Scrooge

Scrooge

Chip and Dale have possibly the coolest float. They get to skate around and throw "snowballs" at the crowd.

Chip and Dale have possibly the coolest float. They get to skate around and throw “snowballs” at the crowd.

Why wait in line to see the Seven Dwarfs when you can take a picture of them during the parade and Photoshop yourself in later?

Why wait in line to see the Seven Dwarfs when you can take a picture of them during the parade and Photoshop yourself in later?

Snow White and Prince Charming, looking lovely as usual.

Snow White and Prince Charming, looking lovely as usual.

Cinderella and her enterouge. The mini horses pulling it must be to keep the forced perspective of Main Street in check.

Cinderella and her entourage. The mini horses pulling it must be to keep the forced perspective of Main Street in check.

Then there is this behemoth. We have Beast on the far left, I think Belle is behind him, Eric and Ariel in the middle, Jasmine and Aladdin behind them and Fairy Godmother at the end.

Then there is this behemoth. We have Beast on the far left, I think Belle is behind him, Eric and Ariel in the middle, Jasmine and Aladdin behind them and Fairy Godmother at the end.

Although we had about 45 minutes before the party officially ended after the parade, we were wiped from a long day of heinous travel so we packed it in for the night and headed for the bus station. We ended up getting on the second “motor coach” out so that wasn’t bad. I think we ended up in bed by midnight so we were happy about that.

We were both pleased with the Christmas party but agreed that if we go to Disney during November or December again before we have kids we probably won’t pay the money to go to it again, especially since it gets more expensive every year. We could go again and see more characters since that was the only thing we didn’t do but I still don’t think it’s worth it. We saw all the shows, went to the Tomorrowland dance party (we didn’t go to the Frontierland dance party but figured it would be about the same just different characters), saw the parade, ate lots of free cookies and hot chocolate, marveled at the lights around the park, marveled at Cinderella Castle dressed in her Christmas sweater and even rode about a dozen rides.

Not going to the party would mean we’d miss out on five extra hours at Magic Kingdom but for the money I don’t see it happening again until we have children.

I would still encourage anybody thinking about going to attend though: it’s definitely something you need to experience at least once upon a Christmastime at Christmas.