Thanks for checking out my trip report for our latest adventure to the happiest place on earth! The following adventure took place from 8.18.11 to 8.29.11.
[Skip to the bottom if you hate reading, like me.]
This was the first time going to Orlando, where we decided to drive down. With 11 of us going: Yvonne, Don, Matt L., Lisa, Bryan, Matt D., Justin, Breanna, Drew, Melissa, and I. We needed to take three vehicles for all of the people and luggage we would be taking to our first All-Star Vacation home.
We were expecting to drive right through the night, leaving from our house at 3 PM Thursday afternoon. We had setup early check-in for our house so we could be in the house around 9 AM. We stopped at the Wawa right around the corner from our house and we were on our way. The vehicles we took for this trip were a Rav 4, Sequoia, and a BMW x5 diesel.
In the x5 that I was driving, was Matt L, Matt D and Melissa. We had a lot fun listening and singing to mixes from DJ AM, Askillz, Madeon, DJ Z-Trip, and Robin Skouteris. We didn’t hit any traffic through Baltimore but by the time we got to DC, the traffic was at a stand still at times.
When we arrived in North Carolina, we stopped off for gas and to get some dinner at Wendy’s. They apparently didn’t know that they cook and serve food there, because they seemed a bit overwhelmed for having us stop in around 8 PM. We started to discuss how much further we wanted to drive and if driving straight through was a possibility. I was in support of driving straight through, but almost everyone was thinking we should stop in South Carolina or Savannah, Georgia. We decided to just keep driving and see what happens.
After a few more hours of driving, it was starting to get late. We stopped off at a rest stop, Melissa switched out to drive in the Sequoia in place of her mom. That left the two Matt’s and I in the x5 as we crossed into South Carolina.
While riding through South Carolina, Melissa came across a family of raccoons crossing the highway. She accidently hit one and sent it flying into the air, according to Lisa and Bryan behind them. Their rear passenger tire started shaking the car, so they called us and said to pull off an exit so we could get a room.
At this point it was 1 AM and everyone wanted to take a break and get some sleep. So we pulled off and tried to get a room at a Hampton Inn, it was booked up. So we walked around the block to a Hilton, where we were able to get three rooms. Melissa and I shared a room with both Matts. The first room key we got, led us to a room that was heavy with smoke, so we asked for another room which have the heavy smoke air in it, thankfully.
We all were downstairs by 8 AM, and ate breakfast in the lobby. Yvonne called AAA to have them come change the tire earlier in the morning. By around [9:30] PM we were back on the road. Fortunately, she has a spare and not a donut, so we didn’t have to wait to find a shop that had her tire and have it put on. The tire did have a giant gash in it, but wasn’t leaking air.
We wound up stopping one more time right before Florida. The rest stop on i-95 that has to be one of the worst bathrooms the whole trip. They were not very clean and smelled really bad. I let Melissa take over the driving in our car for the rest of the way before hitting the road.
About 30 miles out, we were starting to hit some traffic. Matt L had to pee really badly, and apparently couldn’t hold it any longer. So after a long, failed attempt at trying to pee in a cup. And even with his shirt off, he couldn’t get himself to go. So finally Melissa decided that we would pull off the highway and find a bathroom for him. A CVS about 15 miles away from our destination was the location. When we got back on the highway, we had passed most of the traffic.
We finally arrived at the check in building at about 5 PM. The other two cars beat us to the building because of our bathroom adventure. I requested to get my early check-in fee refunded due to the tire incident. The guy at the counter said, he would talk with his manager and get it refunded. There were only a couple of things I had to sign. So, finally we were on our way to our new vacation home!
Being our first time in a vacation home (1-7976 SP-FG, www.allstarvacationhomes.com) everyone was really excited to check it out! Everyone went from room to room checking each one out, and deciding who was staying where. Melissa and I took the front most room with a bathroom. Which also doesn’t have much sunlight shining in the window in the morning, as we found out.
The first day was pre-decided to be a relaxing day, after our long drive. We were all very hungry so we went to Cici’s for the endless pizza buffet. I had never been to one before and was very impressed with the toppings, the price and efficiency of the operation. Though overall, without the toppings, the actual dough wasn’t very good. But overall, for the price I would recommend it.
The next morning, we didn’t have anything planned except to hang out and relax. The ladies of the house decided they wanted to go to the outlets, and do so by using the International drive trolley. For four dollars a day, it’s not a bad deal if you are staying on International drive, and don’t want to or can’t drive. It gave us a good idea, as to what else there was to do around Orlando when you have a car. This is something that I don’t get to experience very often as we usually stay on Disney property. For the most part it turned out to be exactly what I thought it was, food and shopping. While there were some small amusement parks, nothing really seemed worth the time being next to Universal and Disney World.
I wasn’t excited at the idea of passing the big outlet center on the highway just to take a trolley back to it. We bought tickets from a little hut that also sells tickets for the parks at half off, if you are willing to sit through a time-share deal. We could see the coasters of SeaWorld, as we were only down the street from SeaWorld. It took up a lot of time going through the rest of the stops, which included Sea World, Aquatica, and Wet n’ Wild. The bus was very hot. Apparently the air conditioning wasn’t working, so at Wet n’ Wild they had a bus waiting for us to transfer to. That bus had air-conditioning and drove past the convention center and many hotels. Not much really caught my eye, except for the many souvenir shops that seemed never ending.
Speaking of the souvenir shops, I really don’t understand how so many of these can exist every 50 feet and they all make money. At least enough money to stay in business, I find it mind boggling that many people stay outside of Disney/Universal property and actually stop and shop at these places. It’s actually pretty impressive.
Another neat thing that I realized, and still find staggering, is the amount of hotel and motels in such a small area. I can’t believe that many people come to the area, and not just come, but stay off property. Seeing all of this really impresses me with how an area not near a beach can be such huge success.
We, finally, wound up at the outlets at the far end of the route, and did a little shopping. The premium outlet complex is very large, and is pretty neat for being an outdoor mall. It’s very clean and pretty well laid out, with two complexes to host all of the stores. Unfortunately, most of our group wasn’t interested in spending money, so we didn’t stay here very long.
Once a bus finally stopped for us, the driver got out and said he had to “unload”. He started to “run” to the taco bell, a good quarter mile away, but after about a quarter of the way he started walking. After about ten minutes, he was finally back so we could be on our way. Everyone wanted to stop at a sports store called Sports Dominator. As it turns out, it was going out of business so a lot of things were already gone from the store. We were about to head back to the car, by the bus, because it looked like it was going to rain. Everyone was hungry so we stopped in at Buffalo Wild Wings across the street for some late lunch, which became dinner.
I had never been to a Buffalo Wild Wings before, wound up ordering a sandwich, which was pretty good. What I really enjoyed was the nachos that I ordered, and would recommend. There, they have Texas Hold’em setup on TVs in the restaurant so you can watch as people there compete from their smart phones, or a hand held that your server can bring you. The players on the TV were all playing from the same restaurant. For not playing in a long time, I did very well in running the table and had a great time.
We didn’t have to wait too long for a bus. But when we finally travelled past thirty stops to get back to the car, the driver didn’t stop at our stop. He dropped us off at the next stop, which was at least a mile or more away. So we had to cross the busy median, and wait nearly fifteen minutes for another bus. Thankfully it didn’t rain while we were out there, but still looked like it would be at some point in the near future.
Apparently, you can sell back your used passes to get a couple dollars, as the passes are good for thirty-six hours. But unfortunately, the ticket place was closed, so we just got in the car and left.
We finally went home to hang out in the pool and play some wiffleball. During that time a decision was made to skip a Clearwater Threshers at the Lakeland Tigers baseball game, and go to Hollywood Studios instead. That would give us four days in the parks vs. three, two at universal and two at Disney. So the ladies went to Downtown Disney to pickup our tickets and the rest of us hung out at the house.
Later that night after the ladies got back, we hung out in the living room and played Quelf. None of us had played it before and had a really great
time. Melissa and I wound up winning by a pretty large margin thanks to not having cards that prevented us from moving forward on the board. It’s definitely a great party game and can be enjoyed by just about anyone.
During the game, Melissa and I had to lick our teeth and recite, “Mmm.. Willie Wonka has arrived.” Every time it was our turn to pick up a card, after moving on the board. Other notables included both Matts wearing lipstick, a necktie made out of socks, as well as something else around their neck at the same time. Also, every time a phone rang we had to yell, “pizza party!”
The next morning we all got up early and made it to Hollywood Studios before it opened by about 20 minutes. Getting in the parks for the DeRossi’s was a bit of a problem for some reason that we didn’t know yet. They were able to get in eventually with some help from cast members. Utilizing a touring plan, both Matts went to Toy Story Midway Mania to get fast passes. The rest of us headed to Rocking Roller Coaster to get in line. Using the game plan for rope drop outlined by Matt Hochberg, in a recent WDW Today podcast episode. We stayed off to the left at rope drop to make for the best path into rocking roller coaster. Though the rope drop wasn’t all that packed, we were able to reasonably navigate our large group quickly through it.
It was Breanna’s first time willingly riding the coaster, so she wanted to sit next to me. After the pre-show I made sure to keep her head turned away from the launch. She really enjoyed it after the launch, but of course her picture came out with her head down into the shoulder harness. After all of us rode the Rocking Roller Coaster; we waited for both Matts to ride, because they were behind us from getting the fast passes. So, while waiting, we found out that the DeRossi tickets were all demagnetized, which is why they had trouble using their tickets to get in the park. Matt D found this out when he went to get fast passes for Toy Story and they cast members very graciously gave them six fast pass only tickets to use for the day, but told them they had to get the tickets replaced at some point before we went to use them for the second day. So Bryan took all of their tickets to get replaced. By the time both Matts got done riding, Bryan was already back with new tickets for the DeRossi’s.
Heading over to the Tower of Terror, there was only a fifteen-minute wait, so we decided to jump on and all ride. Breanna and Melissa were brave enough to put their fears aside and ride. The picture showed that both of them were leaning into their mom’s shoulders to hide their head.
Next up was the Great Movie ride, which is always a classic show and ride. We got the gangster version, which is what I mostly find myself getting. Rarely do I ever get the cowboy version. Both of the cast members did a pretty good job with the script. Afterwards our Toy Story fast passes were ready, so we headed over to ride.
Even with the fast passes you wait a pretty long time to get on the ride. It did cut out about an hour wait though. Matt D’s score blew everyone out of the water, though I can’t recall what his score was. Melissa was able to pull out a win at the very end of the game, against me.
While waiting for Matt D to get us Star Tours fast passes, we stopped to get something to eat. I remembered that Matt Hochberg of WDW Today was in the studios on Sunday’s, taking pictures for studioscentral.com. So I posted on his Facebook to look for a big party of people, all with Phillies shirts on.
We were sitting on benches eating a snack, across from the Voyage of the Little Mermaid; when Melissa said she thought Matt Hochberg was walking across from us heading towards the Sorcerer’s hat. I called out to him and he walked over, so we introduced ourselves. We talked for a while about our trip and plans for the week. And then Matt stunned me by asking if we knew the shortcut to Animal Kingdom from our All-Star Vacation home! Animal Kingdom, the least complete park in Disney, and his least favorite. Matt told us that Len was in the parks somewhere doing research and to look for him with his head down in a book, writing. So for the rest of the day we were on the look out for Len. One thing I regretted, is I forgot to ask for a picture with Matt, hopefully we will get one at Reunion 2011!
Once Matt D rejoined us, we headed towards the Back Lot Tour. This attraction has quickly become my least favorite attraction in the studios in recent time. I used to not mind it, but now I think it’s just a waste of time. Even having Drew who has never been to Disney, I just feel like it’s a big waste of time. Right after, we stopped off at the Backlot Express, that had some good choices for food to eat a small lunch since dinner wasn’t too far in the distance. Then, we headed to the Muppets 3D, which is my favorite 3D show in Disney and possibly one of the best attractions in Disney.
Both Matt’s weren’t interested in seeing the Muppets so they headed over to Pizza Planet to check it out. I warned them that they’d be disappointed with what they saw, and when we got back together they admitted that it was.
When we got there, it turned out that it was closed for the time being, and we weren’t able to get in. Once it finally opened, we actually had to stand in a line that I didn’t even knew existed, down the side of the building. A lot of interesting parody posters, staring the Muppets, were along the wall. If you get a chance to check them out, I would, as they are pretty funny.
The one new thing that we got to experience was Star Tours 2. Breanna was chosen to be part of the show. I don’t want to ruin it for anyone who hasn’t seen it. But they did a great job of upgrading a classic ride!
Some of our group was hungry since not everyone had eaten yet. So, they decided to stop in at ABC commissary while Yvonne, Melissa, Don, and I decided to go take a walk over to One Man’s Dream.
On the way over there, we walked past someone in a black running shirt and a hat. I thought to myself that that could be Len Testa; I turned around and called out ‘Len’. He turned around and I walked you to him saying, “See here’s the thing Len.”
We got to talk with him and meet his friend and TouringPlans blogger, Laurel. We talked about our trip, the vacation home, and the sampler meal at 50’s Prime Time Cafe. Also, about how we have used their tip, just to have reservations for at least two but you can show up with as many as you want. We have done it successfully many times now. We also talked about the impending hurricane heading our way. Also, how he is living the dream come September 2011, getting to work for TouringPlans full time!!! He showed us some of the work that he is doing in a Disney autograph book. Finally, before we had to say goodbye, Melissa and I got to take a picture with him.
Touring One Man’s Dream is always a favorite of mine to do, and I really enjoy the movie. But this time we didn’t stick around for the movie. We decided to head over to the big boat across from American Idol to get some milk shakes. They are so thick that you really need spoons to eat them, but they were relatively cheap. Midway enjoying our milk shakes, our group came up on us, and we headed into see American Idol.
The show was decent, as usual. I still think that is filled with a lot of fluff, but can be a great show if the people you get to watch are at least decent at singing. Whatever finally replaces this attraction, better be as entertaining if not more entertaining.
We decided to pop in, about halfway through the Indiana Stunt Show. Unfortunately just after we sat down, Indie injured his hamstring during the stunt show and it had to end early. Never seen that happen before, but they definitely make it look easier than it is.
We decided to show up to 50’s Prime Time Cafe with eleven people, but the reservation was only for two. I showed up about two hours before our reservation to tell them we would have eleven. Without any trouble the lady at the front desk changed our reservation to eleven.
So to kill some time, almost everyone decided to go shopping up towards the front of the park. Breanna and I wanted to ride Rocking Roller Coaster at least one more time before we left the park. We went ourselves to give it another ride; our wait in line was less than fifteen minutes. Breanna made the same exact pose again for the camera, head into the shoulder harness.
When we arrived for dinner at our scheduled time, we only had a thirty-minute wait, 10 more minutes than what our reservations was for. Upon meeting Uncle Byron, we were treated to one of the rudest (best) experiences I’ve ever had at the Prime Time Cafe. We got to see Uncle Gary, who was our great waiter last year when we ate there. Cousin Jason helped us out by passing out some passes to not eat our veggies, having our elbows on the table, and tattle on the adults. When it came time to ask what we wanted for dessert Byron was quick to read off a bunch of the options, finishing with s’mores, which he sang at the top of his lungs. Eventually, Jason made fun of Byron by trying to sing “s’mores” the way he does. Byron told Jason he “didn’t sing good.” So I took it upon myself to stop him and let Byron know that, “Jason doesn’t sing well.”
Byron went ahead and took my drinks away. Jason was laughing so hard as he walked away and came back with a pitcher of water with an extra long straw just for me. We had a great experience and can’t wait to get to see them again!
The next morning we woke up a little bit later, and headed to Islands of Adventure. It was the first time for a lot of the people we were with, to be there. Also the Harry Potter ride had not been rode by anyone, so it was definitely exciting to get to try something new.
We got there forty minutes after opening, so we headed straight for the Harry Potter land. I got to admit that I was pretty impressed with layout and theme. After got into the line, which was 120-minutes, the staff told us that by 5 PM it would be well under sixty minutes. So we made a quick decision to come back later and head to the Marvel land.
Once there, we rode Spiderman and then found out that the Hulk was closed for the time being. So some of the group rode the Doctor Doom ride. After that we jumped in line for Hulk, which is still one of the best coasters I’ve ever ridden.
Soon after we headed to Toon Lagoon and for the first time I got to experience the Popeye ride. Popeye is a large twelve-person raft ride. It is easily the best raft ride I have ever rode. It was both the longest, and wettest. Melissa and I were the driest, but still very wet to say the least.
After that we headed to the Dudley Do Right log flume, but it seemed to be broke as the line didn’t move for over twenty minutes. So, as a group we decided to take the time to stop and get some lunch.
We ate at the restaurant next to the entrance to Toon Lagoon, closest to the Marvel Land, where they offer the all you can eat bracelet. With the lines being so slow, I was only able to get two plates of food; effectively costing more than if I paid outright. What’s worse, is the fact that it wasn’t until later that I realized there was only 3 locations I could use it per park. And I couldn’t use it for snacks.
I did get the unlimited refill cup, but found out that you can only get that refilled for free at the locations that offer the bracelet. Otherwise you have to pay for each refill, and I paid more for it than if I had gotten the normal cup where you pay for every refill no matter what. It’s a huge disappointment on both ends.
Our group decided to skip over the Jurassic Park ride, as no one really wanted to get wet again. We also found out that the Jurassic Park flyers ride is only for kids. So we moved back onto the Harry Potter land.
After all of that disappointment, we got back to Harry Potter to find the line was still about an hour. So we decided to head onto the Dragon Challenge, which only had a fifteen-minute wait. The queue line for that feels like it almost never ends. Melissa, Yvonne, Matt Lewis, Breanna, and I rode the red one first, and then Melissa, Matt and I rode the blue one.
Once we were done with that, Harry Potter’s line was down to forty minutes. The queue line seemed to double back on itself forever, but once inside it was like being in a different world. Universal did a very good job with the design and theme. Once we actually got to the ride, I didn’t know what to expect. It was pretty awesome, and rivaled if not surpassed Spiderman in many ways.
It was only after riding Harry Potter, that I realized that the layout of land is very unforgiving. There is very little shade in the land by the afternoon, with the exception of the sitting area in the middle of the land, which was very packed even though it was a light crowd for the park.
After Harry Potter, we decided that we were going to head back to the vacation home before coming back for our [7:30] dinner at Margaritaville. When we got back home, there was just enough time to get a shower and get in the car, and head back to City Walk.
Having eleven people in our group and on our reservation, we made sure to show up early, but of course they weren’t able to sit us for another twenty minutes after our reservation. The gift shop connected to the restaurant had some unique clothing and items for sale. They had shirts costing upwards of over 100$! Pretty crazy for 100% cotton apparel if you ask me, that will shrink the first time in the drier (if you use it). The gift shop was a good way to kill some time while we waited to be seated.
Walking around in the restaurant was a pirate on stilts making balloon creations. I say creations because he created everything from hats to shark masks out of balloons. Once we got seated, we were treated to some of the best food we had the whole trip. I ordered nachos, and the mahi-mahi both of which I would recommend, even though both were a little bit pricey. Towards the end of our meal, a cover band came on stage, and played lots of classic and new rock tunes. They seemed to fit in with the atmosphere, and were very good. I would definitely recommend Margaritaville to anyone.
When we got home, everyone wanted to play a game. Though everyone was wiped out from two days, in the parks with a third on the way. Thanks to the talk about Hurricane Irene coming our way. We decided that we were better off having the parks done by Thursday.
Morning seemed to come very quickly, with the TV on spilling the news on, the now hurricane, Irene. At the time it was possibly going to slam into Florida as a possible category two or three by Thursday or Friday. We ate breakfast and headed back to Universal for a day in the Studios.
By the time we got to the park, it was already open for about thirty minutes. We opted to head to the right, it was just about 10 AM and Terminator 2 wasn’t open till 11 AM. So we continued on our way through what seemed a very empty park. When we got to E.T. we found out that the children’s area that it’s located in wasn’t open till 10 AM, about five minutes away. So we decided to use the bathrooms and wait.
As soon as the land opened, there was a cast member in front of E.T. telling everyone it was broken down right now, and to come back later. So we continued on our way to The Simpsons ride. When we got there, a fifteen-minute wait was in front of us, so we waited.
Soon after we did MiB which had a fifteen-minute wait; and then headed over to Jaws, which had a forty-minute wait. We passed on Jaws and headed to Disaster. Only had to wait for the next show to get in, where we were treated to a nice surprise.
Matt D was picked for the explosion scene, for being a ‘hunk’. I was able to get the casting call and scene shoot on his video camera for him. I would love to say he did a great job, but all he had to do was flail his arms and shake his head screaming.
After the show was complete we headed to the Mummy for another fifteen-minute wait. It was the first time for a lot of people in our group and they didn’t know what to expect. Everyone really wound up enjoying the Mummy ride, and after wanted to head back to Jaws before having some lunch.
We walked back to Jaws and got in with a fifteen-minute wait. Our captain wasn’t very good with the timing of the show. Which sadly takes away a lot from the ride.
While making a decision on lunch, some of the group decided that burgers weren’t good enough. So we went to Lombard’s Seafood Grille across from Disaster heading towards Jaws. The seating was quick, and the food came very quick; which was surprising for everything we ordered. The soup was good, and my crab cake sandwich was very appetizing. One thing I didn’t like was that the chips from my spinach artichoke dip were stale. Though the dip was still pretty good, as was the bread being hot and fresh. They brought dessert shooters to the table which were only 1.75$ apiece and were decent for the price. I would recommend this place for lunch and probably dinner, if you want a nice sit down meal in Universal Studios.
One big thing that occurred during our lunch, when we sat down everyone was checking Facebook. We all saw the same types of statuses, that an earthquake had hit Virginia and was felt well past New York, a 5.9 on the Richter scale. So, we all got to miss our first earthquake back home.
After a late, big lunch we headed to Twister that had no wait for the next show. The cast member in front of the attraction turned out to be from Vineland, NJ. So, the group talked for a while about different things back from home. Then we hurried over to see the Monster Make Up show across the park. The Monster show was excellent as usual, and updated with the latest movies which is always a plus for live shows. Everyone really loved it; it’s one of the best live shows you can see in Orlando.
Once we got out of the show, it was down pouring so we hung out in the gift shop for a little while. We found out that the next showing of Terminator 2 was about to start so we headed over there as soon as the rain let up a little. Once over there, we had to wait about fifteen minutes before we could get into the preshow. After all of the years, I think the Terminator show still holds up very well.
Afterwards, there were only three more things for us to do, and it didn’t sound like the Rockit coaster was running. So, we decided to head back towards E.T. and get that done. The sign reported a thirty-minute wait; I think we waited around twenty. Most everyone gave different names other than our real ones; mine was Kim.
We walked over to Rockit, but a cast member in front of the line said that it was closed and not sure if and when it would reopen. So unfortunately, I missed out on riding it, again. We also skipped Shrek 4D with a long line that doesn’t warrant the ride. I was also disappointed to see the Jimmy Neutron ride had been closed down for a new ride, Despicable Me 3D. So, we decided that we should just head back to the house and rest up since the next day was the Magic Kingdom.
When we got back home, we watched the news and learned that there was a good chance that Irene would miss Florida and head towards our homes in the North East. This created a whole new level of complication as it was going to possibly be hitting North Carolina on Saturday, the day we leave. So we were starting to devise plans for what we should do in case we weren’t able to leave on Saturday morning.
Later that night, we headed over to Downtown Disney to see Cirque Du Soleil. Only about half of the group seen it, or even remembered the show. So, for the most part it was like a brand new show for most of our group. This is the third time I’ve seen La Nouba, and I am still not disappointed by the acts. This time, there were a few acts missing, and a couple new acts. As usual, the kids with the diablos stole the show. But everyone deserves just as loud of applause. After the show, Matt L and Drew decided to buy diablos, and continued to practice with them through the rest of the trip.
Wednesday morning, we all got up a little bit late. Combined with a lot of news watching in the background, we got ready for a day at the Magic Kingdom. According to the news, Irene was definitely heading north and missing Florida, but there was still rain forecasted for Thursday and Friday. So, it appeared that we had made the right decision to hit all of the parks right away. Though we still had a big decision ahead of us, on whether to leave early or stay till Sunday morning.
When we got to the Magic Kingdom, we parked and walked to the T.T.C. Hopped on the monorail, and headed into the park towards Space Mountain. We were once again following a touring plan, to try and maximize our time in the park, but we got a forty-minute late start. So, I decided we’d stick to the plan for as long as it continued to work for us.
Space Mountain was only a ten-minute wait; I don’t think I have ever waited such a short time for it. Then we headed over to Buzz Lightyear, which Melissa destroyed me with her really high score, as usual. Right after that we headed off to Fanstasyland to ride Pooh.
We ended up waiting fifteen minutes for Pooh, but it gave everyone a chance to enjoy the queue line upgrades that Pooh had gotten. After, we headed to Snow White, which had a thirty-minute wait that we were not hanging around for. Peter Pan had a forty-five minute wait, so we hit Small World, for less than five minutes.
Haunted Mansion was up next for us, and the new upgrades for the queue line and ghosts were a lot of fun! The musical instruments in the graveyard queue were a lot of fun to mess around with. And the upgrade they gave to the ghosts going home with you is a great touch to a classic attraction!
Splash Mountain was next, which I got fast passes for, since the wait was forty-five minutes. Around the corner, Big Thunder Mountain had an equally long line, which no one was up for staying around for. So we decided to head towards Pirates.
When we got to Pirates, there was forty-minute wait there as well, so we decided it was a good time to get some lunch. Most of us got our food from Pecos Bill’s, but some wanted nachos from Tortuga Tavern. The reaction to Tortuga Tavern’s food was that it wasn’t all that good. And some of our group feels they too should’ve gotten their taco salads from Pecos Bill’s, as the fixings bar wasn’t as big at Tortuga Tavern.
Once done lunch, we walked back over to Pirates and seen it was a ten-minute wait. So we jumped in line, but the line was definitely more than ten minutes. At one point in line we could see the loading area, but the ride had broken down for what seemed like ten to fifteen minutes. While waiting for it to start, Drew got into a drumming battle with a couple of little kids across the way that could be seen through the barred windows. It was pretty funny because the kids who were trying to keep up, but couldn’t. Eventually, we were able to get on, and enjoy us some Pirates.
After that, we headed back to cash in the Splash Mountain tickets while I ran up to get fast passes for the still forty-minute wait of Big Thunder Mountain. I decided not to ride Splash with a few other people in our group, mostly because we didn’t want to get wet. By the time the rest of our group got off Splash, we only had a ten-minute wait for Big Thunder, which most of us road with the fast passes.
We headed back towards the Hall of Presidents, and of course that was made harder thanks to the parade coming through. Though it wasn’t the worst parade I had ever navigated, just tough with ten people following you. Just as we got to the Hall, they were just about to start the show.
When the show was over, we headed back towards Fantasyland to see if Peter Pan was any shorter of a wait. It wasn’t and neither was Snow White, so we jumped in line for Mickey’s Philharmagic. We started talking about what we wanted to do for dinner since we didn’t have any reservations. I started using my phone with the mobile site for booking dining reservations in Disney. When that failed to come up with anything that we wanted. I called the reservations number to see if they could help us out, while walking back towards Tomorrowland. The number ended up being a big waste of time, as the lady couldn’t find anything that I couldn’t already find on my own. In fact it was less help because she would only look for our party size, not less as we have done several times.
Our final plan for dinner was to try and eat at Chef Mickey’s and then head back for the fireworks since some of us really wanted to see them before we left. So I threw out of the idea of going to Ohana’s and then watching the fireworks on the beach. So, we decided to try Chef Mickey’s first and if they couldn’t sit us right away we would head to Ohana’s.
On the way back to Tomorrowland from Fantasyland, some of us needed to use the bathroom. While waiting for everyone, I popped into Auntie Gravity’s for a smoothie. Their smoothies are pretty good and reasonably priced, and made in a Blendtec blender. Blendtec is known for their “Will it blend?” videos online, I suggest you check them out if you have never seen one before.
Before we would be on our way out of the park, a ride on the TTA, see Carousel of Progress, and then the Laugh Floor. I got to admit, the Laugh Floor is very underrated, I think it’s always a good time and worth the time to see it! After, we headed to the monorail to head to the Contemporary hotel first.
When we got to the Contemporary, they told us it would be at least an hour or more wait. We decided that Chef Mickey’s is nice, but not worth an hour wait. So, we got back on the monorail and headed to the Polynesian hotel to try our luck at Ohana’s or Kona.
First, Kona who told us it would probably be over an hour wait for us. So, we decided to try our luck at Ohana’s and see if we could get in there by chance. We were told that at Ohana’s the bigger your group the faster you would get in to eat. After about forty minutes of waiting, our Kona pager went off but at that point everyone decided that they really wanted to eat at Ohana’s and that we would wait for a table to open. Fortunately, it only took another twenty minutes for a table to open up for us to eat at.
Ohana’s is a restaurant I will definitely be going back to in the future. The food was great, the atmosphere was great, and we got to watch the fireworks from our table. Even if there is a well-placed tree right in front of where you can see the fireworks, it’s still a great alternative to the California Grill. Pricing wasn’t bad either for the amount and type of food you get. Also, the dessert and the bread were top notch too.
After dinner we still had to take the Monorail back to the T.T.C. We decided to skip the tram since there was a long line, and walk back to our cars. We went home and played Pictionary for a while before we went to sleep. Melissa, Yvonne, Don, and I were on a team and unfortunately couldn’t get very far in the game. I was having a hard time staying awake, but wanted to enjoy myself like everyone else was.
Thursday we decided to hang out around the house till dinnertime at Whispering Canyon. Everyone was tired, so no one really was interested in doing much of anything. Both Matt’s, Drew, Justin and I decided to have an iron man competition of Madden 11, NHL 11, and the champion would be crowned through MLB 11: The Show. It was a double elimination that would take place Thursday and Friday.
At this point, it was pretty much determined that Irene was going to hit North Carolina on Saturday morning. We were concerned because it would still in North Carolina by the time we were going to be driving through it’s path. So we had a meeting to figure out if we were going to stay and leave Sunday morning, right rather Saturday. Ultimately, the decision was to stay till Sunday morning, and leave by noon. At this point, I knew I had to make some phone calls and make sure that our backyard stuff was brought into the garage. I reached out to some close friends of mine, and my sister to make sure this was taken care of properly.
Since we had a reservation for six at 8 PM, we decided to show up early so we could get our eleven in before it got too late. Some of us went up to the counter to find out if we could check out a Grand Villa for next year. That’s when we found out that Saratoga Springs has models of a lot of the villas and grand villas for DVC purposes.
After, Melissa and I walked through the giant gift shop that they have at the Wilderness Lodge. We continued out to the right of the resort, checking out the, nearly, hidden beach. It’s nice how much privacy you can seemingly have out at there at night. Though, I still don’t think I would stay at the resort due to the noise, and the expense of a Magic Kingdom resort without the benefit of the monorail. Eventually, the pager finally went off and we made our way back to the lobby.
It only took a few minutes of being at Whispering Canyon for our waitress to realize I drink a lot water. She gave me two giant jars of soda and water. The food was good, but as it turned out no one really ate much, I guess everyone snacked a bit too much over the course of the day. Making up for only eating breakfast as our only other meal for the day. Our waitress was nice, but not as good as the one we had the prior year. While there, Drew wouldn’t stop singing “s’mores” at the top of his lungs, reminiscing of Uncle Byron. I would definitely recommend this restaurant to anyone, especially first timers. Though we couldn’t get Drew to ask for ketchup this time around.
The next morning, everyone got up pretty late. We were all very tired from being in the parks for four days, running around trying to get everything in. We all hung out till around noon, when we decided to head Saratoga Springs to check out the grand villa’s for next trip, and Downtown Disney to do some shopping.
We parked at Downtown Disney, and took a boat over to Saratoga, which you can only get from Pleasure Island. When we got there, we learned that they couldn’t show the model rooms, which they have there without taking an hour-long tour. After some discussion, we decided that we weren’t that interested in DVC to go along with an hour-long tour. But at this point we had made up our minds that next year we were definitely staying on property again, for the convenience and dining plan.
Once back to Downtown Disney, we walked down the West End to stop in a few stores, and then back to the Marketplace. While in the West End, the rest of the guys who didn’t get a diablo, went back to the Cirque Du Soleil tent to buy one. On the way back we decided to see if we could get reservations for T-Rex, but found out it was a first come first serve basis. I also learned that my Explorer’s card isn’t good for anything above six party members, and that the discount would only work for the four highest entrees. I definitely recommend getting that card, as it can turn a two-hour wait into ten minutes.
After a few hours of shopping, we headed back to T-Rex to get a table; they sat us right next to the fish tank bar. Overall, I think the food was pretty good, but the nachos weren’t all that great, they used something that tasted like cheese wiz, which I’m not a big fan of. I would definitely eat there again, the atmosphere is a lot better than Rain Forest, and the food is right up there.
We wanted to save room for dessert at Beaches and Cream. So in order to help with that, we decided to go to Fantasia Gardens before getting ice cream. Both Matt’s, Drew, Justin and I played on the fairways, which I thought was a chip and putt, but isn’t. You only putt across the course, with sand traps, and lots of rolling hills on it. I had a lot of fun playing on this course, and would probably do it again, but it does take longer as we started before the rest of our group on the mini golf course, and they finished way ahead of us. We were kind of rushing to finish too.
By the time we got to Beaches and Cream; we still weren’t very hungry. Which was disappointing because Matt L, Matt D, Drew, Justin and I all were going to order kitchen sinks (eight scoops of ice cream, every cake and every topping in the house served in a mini kitchen sink). When we got there, they had to split up our group, five at the bar, and the rest at booth. Which was fine since we just got in about twenty minutes before they closed. I wound up getting a No Way Jose, and only ate a little over half of it. I don’t think anyone finished the ice cream they got, actually.
Saturday, we decided to take it easy at home, till dinnertime. We were able to finish our iron man tournament with the winner being Drew. Matt D made it to the finals out of the losers bracket, but couldn’t overcome Drew and his crappy Yankees in the first game. We also enjoyed the private pool, and the ability to hang out in the living room and play board games. Something that the vacation home can afford you, that Disney can’t.
For dinner we were able to get reservations at Maggiano’s by the Orlando Convention Center. Most of us had never eaten there before. With a group our size we had to order family style, which is nice because they bring all you can eat for one price. All of the food choices were very good, and I would definitely consider going back there if I had the chance, by our house.
During and after dinner, we were following all of the news as it came in about Irene as it had hit North Carolina around 7 AM. The affects were already starting to be felt back up at home, but wasn’t going to hit there till 2 AM Sunday morning. We were all very worried about our families back at home. Around midnight, we started getting the reports of tornadoes touching down all over South Jersey. It was probably just as scary for us, as it was for them to actually be there. We even started to have discussions about going shopping before we went home to get water and food items since we had heard most gas stations back home were empty, and the stores were empty.
When we woke up in the morning it had turned out that things in South Jersey weren’t so bad. But the worst was to come for North Jersey, New York and even further north. We felt comfortable riding home, knowing that things weren’t great, but well enough along i95 to get us home. That was thanks to all of the 511 sites through all of the states were heading through.
By about noon, we had the cars packed and were on our way. We weren’t sure if we were going to be driving straight through, or if we would be stopping half way. About sixty miles to South of the Border we decided that we would stop and eat dinner and stay the night in Fayetteville.
Both Matt’s, Melissa and I decided to stop off to use the bathroom at South of the Border. It’s definitely a creepy place, and not somewhere I will be stopping again, the bathrooms were pretty dirty, the hand drier didn’t work very well, and the fireworks were pretty expensive. So, we drove around real quick to see the rest of the area after we got done with the bathrooms. Apparently they have their own convention center there, and two dive motels. It’s definitely more built up than I recall from when I was a kid, but still pretty crappy.
We were able to get rooms at the Hampton Inn in Fayetteville, our car was about forty miles ahead of the other two, and so we got some fuel and then went to check in. Walking out to a car to get a couple things to head up into the room, some guy with a University of North Carolina shirt came up to us from the gas station (next door). He was asking for a couple of bucks to help him get a room for the night. So I decided to give him some money to help him out.
The first room we walked into, was full of smoke. So we got another room and got settled in while we waited for everyone else to get there and check in. Once they got their stuff together, we headed next door to Ruby Tuesday, which told us we would have to wait for at least an hour. So, we decided to head down the street to Cracker Barrel.
Cracker Barrel was going to close in about thirty minutes. We got sat pretty quickly and were taken care of by two waitresses that did a pretty great job. Unfortunately, nearly everything we asked for, they were out of which was pretty disappointing, but it was also just before closing. The food that we were able to get was good, as expected.
We got back to the room, Matt L and I played the demo of Madden 12, and he won by a field goal. We got ready for bed, watched a little TV and went to sleep. The next morning we ate breakfast and started driving towards the end of our vacation. On the way home through North Carolina and Virginia there wasn’t much in the way of visual signs that an earthquake and a hurricane had just ripped through in the same week.
Everyone drove back to our house before heading home, to use the bathroom and so both Matt’s could swap into the other two cars to get home. While at the house, we all agreed that we weren’t driving again, no matter what.
We all enjoyed the luxury of the All-Star Vacation home, but Bryan figured out afterwards. For just a little bit more money, we could have stayed at the Beach Club, got the dining plan, and flew. So, ultimately nothing was saved, and even Lisa admitted that she feels like she needs a Disney vacation after the vacation we just had. The Disney magic isn’t there around you 24/7 with everything taken care of. It’s nice, but I probably would only rent a house again if we flew and rented a car down there.
Upon arrival back at home, I got to listen to the following two episodes of WDW Today. Episode 920 and episode 921, where we were mentioned in the openings. Thanks for the shout outs guys, I can’t wait to meet you again at Reunion 2011!
Thanks for reading, or not reading and cheating to the bottom of the report. It’s ok if you did, I probably would.
To sum it up:
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