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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