Our Most Magical (and Tiring) Trip Ever

We began packing for the trip a few days in advance, as that always seems to get me excited about the upcoming trip. Sarah and I prepared an array of checklists, and tediously cross-checked them to ensure that we weren’t leaving out any essential item without which our vacation might be ruined. Having a 9:25 a.m. flight out of Midway the next morning, and living a good distance from Midway, we went to bed at 10 p.m. the night before our trip.
The next morning (if it can be called as much) we woke up at 3:45 a.m., 15 minutes before our alarm was set to go off, because neither of us could sleep. This early awakening would typify two themes of the trip: excitement and sleep deprivation. We arrived at the South Shore Line (train) station at 5:08 a.m. for the 5:16 a.m. train—cutting it close, I know, but in my meticulous planning, for some reason I thought the train departed at 5:25 a.m.

The South Shore Line arrived in Chicago at 6:45 a.m., and we quickly made our way to the CTA, which departed at 6:50 a.m. We finally arrived at Midway at 7:30 a.m., where we checked our bags, and began the long wait for our plane by reading Around the World with Disney. As we were flying Southwest, we did this on the ground at the front of the boarding “group A” line (as I wanted to be in the front of the plane so we could get off as quickly as possible).


Aboard the plane, I continued my series of photos of my Figment plush’s travel experiences (above). Prior to this, our flight was running slightly late, so the pilot “made up some time” in the air, which caused our flight to arrive in Orlando slightly ahead of schedule.


We raced to the Disney Magical Express counter and boarded our bus bound for Saratoga Springs Resort (after some confusion). Our bus driver had quite the sense of humor—already we had a taste of the great experiences to come with Cast Members.


Sarah and I were supposed to meet our friend Nick, a friend of ours doing the College Program at Space Mountain, when we arrived at SSR, but we got there twenty minutes early, so we spent the time taking pictures while we awaited him. When he arrived, we checked in, and made our way to the room, which, unbeknownst to us, had been upgraded for free from a studio to a one-bedroom room.

When we entered the room, a towel art…dog(?) greeted us. We were floored by the beauty of the room. Quite simply, the room was one of the nicest resort rooms any of us had ever seen, definitely the nicest we’d enjoyed at Disney World.

After gawking at the room briefly, we made our way to Downtown Disney. There, we grabbed a quick bite at Sandwich of Earl, and perused Art of Disney, making sure not to touch anything, for free of breaking something and being indebted to the Disney Company for life. Since we had 6 p.m. reservations at California Grill, and still had to return to our resort to change clothes, we left Downtown Disney.

We arrived at the Contemporary and were seated almost immediately. Having never been to California Grill, I was amazed by the view, and enamored the all the windows. Not content to gaze out the window by which we were seated, I roamed the restaurant like a small child, taking numerous pictures from either outdoor balcony while we awaited our sushi and main course.



Dinner was amazing. I had a sushi sampler, salmon, and chocolate dessert. For the three of us, our bill would have been over $260 if we weren’t on the Disney Dining Plan. When we informed him of this, we had yet another encounter with an accommodating Cast Member. It turns out that two of the sushi plates we ordered were not covered on the DDP. He told us that normally we would be charged for them, but he overrode that on the computer.



We had told him we had just arrived at the start of the meal, so I think he understood we hadn’t any experience with the DDP. He kindly told us that in the future, we may want to let the server know we’re on the DDP ahead of time, so they can inform us of any items not included on the plan.
Upon leaving, all three of us made our way to the balcony/catwalk on the Magic Kingdom side, where we took some more pictures. As it was getting late, we made our way home, where we changed and headed out to Pleasure Island.

We went to a couple of clubs at Pleasure Island, most notably, the Adventurer’s Club. After hearing the rave reviews about it here, I tried some Kungaloosh, which was fairly decent. Nick was called forward to participate in the maid’s performance, which Sarah and I found amusing, although we regret not having a camera handy to catch a photo of him. We didn’t stay out too late, knowing we would be getting up early for a full day of park hopping the next morning.



Baffling common sense and science alike, I awoke at 6 a.m., an hour before our alarm was set to go off, too excited to sleep. No one else shared this excitement with me, so I decided to take my tripod and get some pictures of Saratoga Springs at sunrise.




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Shortly after I returned, we headed off to Animal Kingdom. We quickly made our way to Everest, stopping only a few times for “necessary” pictures. After Everest, we experienced DINOSAUR!, Kali River Rapids, Kilimanjaro Safaris, It’s Tough To Be A Bug, Finding Nemo: The Musical, and of course, Everest a few more times. In between we had lunch at the Flame Tree BBQ, where we all opted for the (delicious) BBQ Ribs. You may lament the loss of Tusker House, but at least the Flame Tree still has those wonderful BBQ ribs!



Everest is easily my favorite attraction at Animal Kingdom; the queue is incredibly detailed, the thrill is intense—the summation is a great E Ticket. However, it edges out Dinosaur by only a little bit. I love the idea of the Dino Institute—an organization that seems to cut corners to accomplish its tasks (or has employees who do so, at least)—oddly, it reminds me of Alien Encounter. Am I the only one?



We (Sarah and I, by this point, Nick had to leave for work) also thoroughly enjoyed Finding Nemo: The Musical. We did not have time to catch this last year, so it was our first time seeing it. Although I had seen glimpses of it many times before on Travel Channel specials, the affect was so much greater in person. I could barely separate the performer from the character. Truly one of the best stage performances I have ever seen at WDW. This was the first of several Pixar attractions we saw for the first time that were of this caliber—maybe I should rethink my stance that management needs to ease up on the “Pixar Invasion”.


After catching Mickey’s Jammin’ Jungle Parade, we headed for the exit, ready to conquer the Disney-MGM Studios. Although I was sad to be leaving the park so early (4:30 p.m. or so), I felt we had accomplished everything we wanted to in the park. I can’t wait for the day when Rivers of Light begins performing and the park gets a couple more attractions to make it an all day experience (then again, I can’t wait for anything that gives me a reason to extend my trip). On the way out, we caught a couple of character pictures with conservationist versions of the Fab Five.



[/FONT] MGM was far less crowded than DAK, with waits of 15-30 minutes on both Tower of Terror and Rock ‘n’ Rollercoaster when we first arrived. Here we would have to do our best time management acts, as we only had from 5:30 p.m. until the start of Fantasmic in MGM. With the least of the four parks (in my opinion) in the way of quality attractions, we were able to accomplish this task, with a couple exceptions.



We experienced Great Movie Ride, Star Tours, MuppetVision 3D, Tower of Terror, and Rock ‘n’ Rollercoaster. We also spent a good amount of time walking around, taking in the atmosphere and looking for CMs with good pins to trade. Regrettably, we missed Voyage of the Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast: Live on Stage, but I was pleased that we were able to accomplish so much, and still see Fantasmic.

Overall, Tower of Terror remains my favorite attraction at MGM. It has all of the same positive qualities as Everest, but gets bonus points for the Twilight Zone tie-in, and for the even-better back story (and execution of that back story on the attraction). MuppetVision is still a favorite of mine, and I scratch my head at how it has stood the test of time so well, especially compared to HISTA, which clearly shows its age, and now is something we altogether skip.


After MGM closed, we attempted to set up the tripod to get a couple pictures of us in front of the hat at night time. Unfortunately, I had been over-zealous earlier in the day (apparently) and the batteries to both our cameras died as we attempted to set them up for pictures (ironic, eh?).
Not wasting time wallowing in sorrow, we hopped the bus for Magic Kingdom. Or should I say, we waited and waited, while multiple buses passed for other destinations (you’d think Mears would understand that on nights with EMH, extra buses are going to need to be allocated for MK) and “handicapped” individuals cut the line with large entourages that were also allowed to board the buses with them without waiting in line (if I seem bitter, you should have heard several other guests who voiced their disgust after waiting over an hour and having a “handicapped” individual show up and immediately board an MK bus—sorry, but being handicapped shouldn’t preclude you from having to wait in line).

Not wanting to let the long wait sour our experience, we started our time out at MK right—with a trip around Tomorrowland on the Tomorrowland Transit Authority. Always a relaxing attraction, I love riding at night. It is simply beautiful then. I only wish they would add a little more content (aren’t there rumors that the Timekeeper AA is backstage somewhere?). After that, we decided it was time for a bite at Cosmic Ray’s. Being on the DDP and needing to conserve credits, we split the Chicken and BBQ Ribs Combo (to all those who may think price equals better option on the DDP: the Double Bacon Cheeseburger is infinitely better!). After the quick pick-me-up on TTA and food from Cosmic Ray’s, we were ready to enjoy everything else the park had to offer.

I really don’t recall what else we experienced that evening in MK (being there four days made it blur together somewhat), but I do know that our first experience with Splash Mountain reminded us why we love the attraction so much—singing AA greatness—while our first experience with Space Mountain showed us a ride that had deteriorated exponentially in only a year. I thought it was in a need of a refurbishment last year, but after riding in a near well-lit “space”, seeing a projection of earth that looked like it had been struck by several meteors, and having the most jerky ride on it in a long time, I strengthened my opinion that when Space Mountain goes down (be it in January or whenever), it needs a thorough refurbishment.

Not surprisingly, we fell asleep on the bus back to SSR, and fell asleep again as soon as we arrived home. Suffice to say, the next morning I would not be waking up an hour before my alarm.



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That morning marked the start of Typhoon Lagoon and Pirate and Princess Party day. Sarah and I were each looking forward to the day for different reasons (she for P&P Party, me for TL…well, and P&P Party). When we arrived at Typhoon Lagoon, we took some pictures, then made our way to Crush ‘n’ Gusher, which, luckily, did not yet have too long of a line. Crush ‘n’ Gusher was fun and well themed, if not a little too short. I also thought it could use some more landscaping and theming in the outer perimeter of the attraction, you can tell TL just sort of ‘stops’ at the outer perimeter of the attraction.



We found the PhotoPass photographers at Typhoon Lagoon to be more actively involved; one took several pictures of us as we exited the tunnel and hit the bottom pool, and another set up a series of great action shoots with us in the wave pool. I was thoroughly impressed with their efforts especially since I honestly did not expect to see any PhotoPass photographers there. Apart from this and Crush ‘n’ Gusher, which was new to Sarah and me, nothing about our trip to Typhoon Lagoon departed from your run-of-the-mill Typhoon Lagoon experience.



After a brief interlude to change clothes and shower at Saratoga, we boarded the bus to MK. We arrived at MK at 4 p.m., right as they opened admission to Pirate and Princess Party guests. We made our way over to the Crystal Palace, where we had reservations for 4:50 p.m. Dinner was fabulous, we got a ton of pictures with Pooh and friends as they came by, and I even participated in the parade that took place (one of the few ‘older’ kids in it). We had never eaten at the Crystal Palace, and I was very impressed by the food—none of it tasted old or reheated, and many items had really good flavor compared to your typical bland all-you-can-eat fare.


My only regret about dinner was that we took almost all of the pictures on Sarah’s camera, which we later lost due to a transfer error. We obviously will be able to go to Crystal Palace again to get similar pictures, but the pictures we’d later lose from the parade and with Captain Jack were much more unique, and their loss was much more of a disappointment.
Dinner took about an hour and a half, so by the time it concluded, the Pirate and Princess Party was about to start.

We made another quick pass on TTA, after which we hit Space Mountain, then a Big Thunder and Splash; by the time we got to Splash, the park was almost empty, and the attraction was walk on. This would be commonplace during the party—the longest we waited for an attraction was five minutes, and that’s only because it took five minutes to walk through the Splash Mountain queue.


We did not, however, utilize this time to see attractions that we could ride any time (albeit with longer waits). We went around to all the dance parties, watched young children dance, danced ourselves sometimes, and enjoyed the general ambience. I had never seen the park so empty (except for an hour after closing), and it really was great just to take it all in. So many people had unique costumes that one might have confused it for the Orlando Area Idiot’s Convention. I say that not because dressing up is a bad idea, surely those people had a lot of fun and added to my enjoyment of the event, but because it was 95 degrees with a heat index in the triple digits—even at night. I guess it was all in the name of fun, so it wasn’t as noticeable or unbearable for them.

We decided to watch the first parade; I had heard so much about it that we figured if we really liked it, we could watch it again at 10 p.m. We got to our place in Frontierland about twenty minutes before the parade began. This wasn’t really necessary since everyone could have a front row if they wanted, but we decided to grab some water from Pecos Bill’s and set up the tripod. I had the camera configured to take a series of pictures at an interval, so I had about 100 pictures of the parade upon conclusion. Sadly, these pictures are all now lost.


After the parade, we quickly made our way to the Captain Jack Meet and Greet. A Cast Member outside informed us the wait would be about an hour, but once inside, we waited nigh ten minutes. Although this picture, too, was lost when the pictures were lost, we luckily purchased the PhotoPass discounted package, so at least we have a tangible copy. Luckily I also know how to override “right click disable” in Firefox, so I have been able to save some PhotoPass photos that were taken that evening.


The fireworks are the one thing I did not lose from the P&P Party. My camera takes better fireworks photos, so it was utilized for the fireworks. Setting it up the same way I set up Sarah’s during the parade, I captured a lot of pictures of the fireworks. In all my years of going to WDW, this was the best fireworks show I have ever seen (that I can recall). Everything about it—from the soundtrack to the choreography—was done perfectly.
After the fireworks, we continued moseying around the park, watching various dance parties and hitting a couple of rides here and there. At one point we got in line to get our pictures taken with Pirate Mickey and Donald, but the line actually was an hour long, and entirely outside. We quickly reevaluated that decision, thinking we’d find time closer to park closing. We never did find time (isn’t that how a WDW trip is: you have all these grandiose plans, only half of which you ever accomplish?), something I regretted for the rest of the trip (although arguably it wouldn’t have mattered, unless we took the pictures with my camera).


Around 11:30 p.m. we made our way to Main Street, where the Emporium was a madhouse of people waiting to get Party-specific pins and discounted PhotoPass pictures. Since we were interested in both, we added to the hysteria. Upon making our purchases, we headed back to SSR, content to call it an “early” night, knowing we had a busy itinerary the following day.


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We began the next day at EPCOT, and decided to first hit the attractions in Future World. We started out by grabbing the obligatory Soarin’ Fastpasses, then we proceeded to Livin’ With The Land. Despite being on his second College Program, Nick had never been on the attraction; Sarah and I were both EPCOT Center vets, so we gave him a little background about the attraction. After that, we headed over The Seas pavilion, where we boarded clammobiles and searched for Nemo. Sarah and I had never been on the attraction, and really enjoyed it. The queue was also very neat, albeit lengthy considering the short wait for the attraction itself.


After that we headed towards my favorite pavilion: Imagination. Although I am hardly satiated by the current infusion of Figment the dull attraction has been given, I still get Figment Fever whenever I see him. We spent a good deal of time at Imagination—getting pictures with Figment, riding the attraction, taking pictures outside the pavilion, and of course, buying any Figmentdise I could find that I did not yet have. One thing to note: there was a wait for Journey Into Imagination With Figment! You read right; we had to wait fifteen minutes to board the ride! After that we continued around Future World, experiencing everything of interest before heading to World Showcase.



To preface our voyage around the World Showcase, for Sarah’s birthday, I gave her an all-expenses paid trip around the World Showcase. She had turned twenty-one, so I was going to buy her drinks at each country she chose. While we didn’t dare do a “world tour” like some, we had a number of wonderful drinks that afternoon and evening in the World Showcase.


(I'm really not an alcoholic, I just couldn't keep my eyes off the drink for some reason).


The Gran Fiesta Tour was definitely the highlight of the World Showcase for me. Granted, the American Adventure is still my favorite attraction there, with Maelstrom second, but I was quite amazed at the life the Three Caballeros pumped into a previously dead attraction. I’m still not sure the World Showcase is the place for character attractions, but this was tastefully done, and I figure if it’s going to be done, at least it’s being done with a film that was part Disney character flick, part geography class.


We had dinner at Les Chefs De France that evening, and although the food was good, I felt sick throughout the meal, which really quashed our enjoyment of the restaurant. I also thought it was a little crowded (the tables were practically on top of one another) and not what I expected ambience-wise from that caliber of restaurant. I also was a little perturbed that I was charged for a Sprite (I ordered it hoping it would settle my stomach) after originally ordering a Coke with my DDP drink. Not a big deal, but it stands to reason (to me at least) that if you are allowed free refills of your soft drink, it shouldn’t matter what that refill may be, as long as it is another soft drink. Oh well, not a big deal, just the principle of the matter. Dinner also took an exceptionally long time (so much for servers rushing you through dinner if on the Plan) which forced us to skip Maelstrom so we could get a good viewing location for Illuminations: Reflections of Earth.



The spot we chose to view Illuminations definitely was a good choice. I managed to get some great pictures by using the tripod. After Illuminations concluded, I could tell the sickness in my stomach during dinner was ready to make its way out of my body. I rushed around the World Showcase, searching for a bathroom. I finally found one in the United Kingdom, and after making a stop there, I felt rejuvenated, and ready for some nighttime pictures of EPCOT.


We shot a few pictures, then headed over to the MK for evening Extra Magic Hours. I specifically planned the trip for these dates because there were EMH in MK on two of the nights we were there (and the Pirate and Princess Party in between); in retrospect, we were even more pleased with this decision than we expected. There is nothing quite like eating a Dole Float and going on Splash Mountain each day of your WDW trip. There is always time for sleep after the vacation is over.


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The next day, our final in the parks, was solely dedicated to Magic Kingdom. It was a little anti-climatic, since we had already experienced so many attractions, and had so many Dole Floats. This didn’t stop us from packing as many attractions into the day as we could, and regrettably, nor did it stop us from seeing Dream Along with Mickey, for the first time. The show itself wasn’t atrocious, but the story seemed a little lacking. Enough criticism has been levied at this show, so I won’t bother with the details, but something better should be expected from Disney. If there was one memorable thing, it was the animated faces of the characters. It is certainly a cool feature, but not something that substantively improved the show.



(okay, so this is from a different day...I just thought it was cool, and I had 10 pictures in each other post).

We saw the Monster’s Inc. Laugh Floor for the first time, and despite them not doing my joke (what has four “I’s” and sleeps in a waterbed? The Mississippi River), we were quite pleased with the quality of the show. If it’s true that the show is still evolving, I can’t wait to see it in a couple of years. Much better than the abomination that is Stitch’s Great Escape, but the current state of Tomorrowland (especially compared with 1996 Tomorrowland) is really disappointing.


We spent more time going to shows and other attractions that aren’t open during evening EMH, but not too much else out of the ordinary. Aloha Isle was a frequent stop, as we had a plethora of snack credits (somehow) that we needed to use up. We also saw Spectromagic for the first time in full (that trip), and had a pretty good view with the castle in the background, until the people in the front row who were sitting when we arrived decided to stand up. I found this a little rude as they didn’t bother to tell me they’d be standing during the actual parade as I set up my tripod; by the time they stood up, the parade was starting, and the streets were far too packed to find a better vantage point. Still, I made due and thoroughly enjoyed the parade.


We saw Wishes for the first time (that trip) from Main Street after jockeying around to find the best vantage point. Ultimately our choice wasn’t the best, but it still was a magical show that will always give me goose bumps. The park closing at 10 p.m. was disheartening after being spoiled with 2 a.m. closing times, but we compensated by getting a ton of pictures after park closing. We planned on getting even more, however, we were unaware that they start closing off more rear portions of the park as people leave them (or at least they don’t let more people in); had I known this, we would have started our picture taking in Frontierland instead of Tomorrowland.





As we left, Nick presented me with a Pirate Mickey plush as we had our final picture taken. He said, “at least I can get my picture taken with one Pirate Mickey,” which was incredibly thoughtful and indicative of the service-oriented experience he’s had at Disney, I suppose. In any case, it was extremely touching, and something that I will always remember.


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The final morning of our trip we got up early, packed up, dared to peck into our express check out bill, and made our way to the Polynesian for the Ohana Character Breakfast. The breakfast was wonderful, as was the interaction with the characters; we were really glad to do the breakfast, as we had planned on doing the Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show, but that was nixed in favor of the California Grill. After the breakfast, we meandered about the Polynesian property, which convinced me that we needed to stay there in the near future.



As we were leaving the Polynesian, we happened to stop at the DVC kiosk to see if the Cast Member there had any pins we’d like to trade. She did not, but she convinced us to hear a DVC spiel in exchange for gift cards. Having ordered information from Timeshare, Inc., I knew that when finances allowed, we would be buying into DVC (via that resale store). The information I had obtained in my research helped keep the entire session under 45 minutes, as the CM at the kiosk noted that we were primarily interested in seeing the Animal Kingdom Villa rooms. After seeing those rooms and staying in the luxury of Saratoga, I’m even further convinced that we need to buy into DVC as soon as possible.



With our trip winding down, we headed to Downtown Disney once more to make last minute purchases. After that, we headed back to the airport to fly back home, where we, unfortunately, are today. Overall, the trip was the best we’ve ever had. Having the Dining Plan was a nice luxury, but something I wouldn’t necessarily need again at this age. We don’t typically leave the parks early, so we want to use our table service meals on days we don’t go to the parks (the days we arrive and depart). Saratoga was also a considerable upgrade from All Star Sports (last year’s resort) and others that we’ve stayed at separately in the past. The trip was so magnificent that it added to my love of Disney even more, so much so that we’re already planning for a return trip this Christmas.


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Thanks for all the nice comments; I'll try to post some more random pictures later today that didn't make it into the intial report!
Loved your report and all your gorgeous pics!!

glad you mentioned the dining issue!! I had no idea about that and may have done the same thing. Guess I would've assumed that they would've marked the menus somehow if something wasn't allowed. Good to know we need to speak up when we get there.


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Awesome trip report and loved the pics! You guys definitely exude that WDW magic for sure! I really like that Space Mountain pic and will have to try for one like that on my next trip. :sohappy:


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Great trip report! The quality of your pics are outstanding, especially the nighttime ones. What camera do you use?

BTW one last comment...how in the world did you two manage to wear flip flops everyday! Weren't your feet killing you two?


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Original Poster
Nice report!!
I live in Valpo too!
I think I may have noticed before,
but not sure if I ever said anything...

I don't think you've ever commented on it; if you have, I don't recall either! I'm a student at Valparaiso University School of Law; are you a VU alum?

Great trip report! The quality of your pics are outstanding, especially the nighttime ones. What camera do you use?

We each had our own cameras; I use a Exilim...shoot, I can't remember the model, and she uses a Canon SD1000. Although the camera type is a little irrelevant, I took a tripod and that is what made the difference. (If you want a recommendation for a compact, yet full size tripod, check out the Sunpak Travellite: http://www.bestbuy.com/site/olspage.jsp?skuId=7302821&st=travellite&type=product&id=1118842310364 I carried it everyday in my backpack). Also, I am very meticulous, so for every good picture you see here, there are probably 3 'lesser' ones that you don't see. All told, we took around 2,000 pictures.

BTW one last comment...how in the world did you two manage to wear flip flops everyday! Weren't your feet killing you two?

In a couple of the pictures, you may notice bandages on my feet. Those are a result of wearing Hollister flip flops the day we went to AK. DO NOT WEAR Hollister (or any AnF Co. brand) flip flops to WDW! The rest of the days I wore my Croc sandals, which were so much more comfortable. They didn't undo the damage from the first day, but they didn't exacerbate it, either. I made frequent stops to the first aid building by Crystal Palace.

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