Our Spring Break, 2002 trip to Walt Disney World began on a sunny, but cold, Friday. Lisa and the boys put in a half-day at Apex Elementary, arriving home shortly after 11:00 AM. As luck would have it, that was almost immediately after Abby and I arrived home from Jersey Mike's with a bag full of "subs" in hand. After eating lunch and finishing up a few packing chores, we pulled out shortly before 1:00 PM.
The ride down was mostly uneventful, with traffic not too excessive (at least not by I-95 standards), and no lengthy construction delays. There were an amazing number of psychotic drivers that were weaving in and out of traffic at insane speeds, nearly clipping bumpers, etc. A special "highlight" was the motorcyclist that decided to "pop a wheelie" and ride on his back wheel doing about 75 or so down the interstate. In other words, it was a normal day by I-95 standards.
There was one thing worth recording for future reference, and that was the noteworthy condition of the South Carolina and Georgia Welcome Centers, on southbound I-95. "Noteworthy" in this case is a euphemism for small and crowded, with deplorable standards of cleanliness, even by public restroom standards.
About 7:30, we arrived at the Embassy Suites in Brunswick, Georgia. Check-in was fast and easy, and the room was comfortable and in good condition. After settling in to the room, we proceeded to the food court in the attached mall and had a simple dinner of pizza (kids) and Chik-Fil-A (Lisa and me).
After stopping in K-Mart for a couple of last minute supplies, we went back to the room and called it a night.
We got up about 6:45 and went down to breakfast about 7:45. The full breakfast included as part of the Embassy Suites room rate was very good and very efficient, and we were soon ready to pack the van and hit the road. By 9:00 AM, we were once again on the way to Disney World.
In theory, Brunswick should only be about three-and-a-half hours from WDW, but despite minimal stops, it took us quite awhile longer due to extremely heavy traffic much of the way, especially in Jacksonville and downtown Orlando. In the past, we have avoided the loop (I- 295) around Jacksonville, since it is definitely longer, but after this trip, we may have learned our lesson. I-95 through downtown Jacksonville has been a mess for years and it shows no signs of getting better anytime soon.
We arrived at Port Orleans-Riverside (the resort formerly known as Dixie Landings) at 1:45. One of our connecting rooms was ready, and the Cast Member told us to call later to check on the readiness of the other room. Since we normally stay in Alligator Bayou, we were slightly concerned that we had been assigned rooms in the Plantation Manor section. However, we ended up being quite pleased with our rooms in the Magnolia Terrace building. We were right beside a "quiet pool", and relatively convenient to the food court and a bus stop.
With the help of Bell Services, we soon had our stuff in the room, and proceeded to the food court in the Cotton Mill for a long overdue lunch. After a meal of pizza, we went back to the room and called the front desk. Our other room was ready, and they activated the keys we had to work on both rooms. We moved the boys' stuff into the second room, and then changed into our swimsuits for a dip in the pool. The kids had a great time at the pool, despite the fact that the air temperature was a bit cool for swimming. (It had become cloudy during the afternoon.) After awhile, we decided Abby had probably had enough, and I took her back to the room to warm up, while Lisa and the boys stayed a bit longer. Finally, after everyone was cleaned up we headed back to the food court for dinner to finish our day off.
We got up at 6:30, and by 8:15 we were passing through the gates of the Animal Kingdom. After stopping a couple of times to hear Cast Members discuss some creatures that they had in cages they were carrying, we purchased pastries and muffins from a stand near the Tree of Life, and sat down for a quick breakfast. From there we split up: Lisa took Alex and Abby to get Fast Passes for Safari, while Scott and I headed to Asia for a ride on Kali River Rapids. After riding it once and only getting moderately damp, we rode it a second time and managed to get pretty much soaked. Scott and I then found the rest of the family and we proceeded over to Safari. This ride on Safari was the best we've had, as there were very many animals out, with quite a few very close to the road.
Next we decided to check out Dinoland. We were pleasantly surprised to find that the newest ride, Primeval Whirl, had already soft-opened. (It was not supposed to open until the end of the month.) The standby line was only 15 minutes, so we rode it, using the "kid swap" option. "Kid swap" works differently from ride to ride, but for this one Lisa and Scott rode the ride, while the rest of us waited in a "holding area." When Lisa and Scott finished, Lisa went into the holding area, while I rode the ride with Scott. It was a pretty cute ride, a Disney-themed variation on the "Wild Mouse" style coasters used at the state fair. Next we all rode Triceratops Spin, which is similar to Disney's Dumbo ride, but utilizes dinosaur-themed ride vehicles. Abby really liked this ride. After Triceratops Spin, we decided to get Fast Passes to ride Primeval Whirl one more time, and then went to catch the "Tarzan Rocks!" show. I thought this was a really good show, and the kids certainly seemed to like it. It is probably not quite as good as the "Festival of the Lion King" show at the Animal Kingdom (which is Disney at its absolute best in my opinion), but it is well worth a look. By the time Tarzan was over, we were into our Fast Pass window, so it was back to Dinoland to ride Primeval Whirl again. With the temperature rising and it now past lunch time, we decided to take a soft-serve ice cream break, and then let the kids roam through the Boneyard for awhile. By this point, the crowds were getting pretty thick, so we decided to return to our room for a short break before our 5:00 priority seating at Chef Mickey's.
Arriving at the Contemporary well before our 5:00 seating, we found a long line waiting for check-in at Chef Mickey's. Despite the crowd, we were seated shortly after 5:00. We have always enjoyed this character dinner, which includes visits from Mickey, Minnie, Chip, and Dale. I must admit that this time we were slightly less enthralled with it than we have been in the past, with the food only mediocre, and the character visits seeming a little more rushed. However, the kids enjoyed it, especially the napkin-waving and the dessert! After dinner, the boys wanted to ride on the monorail (which they had been observing passing through the Contemporary concourse), so we took one trip around the loop. We needed a couple of items from the grocery store, so we made a trip over to Goodings. I'm not particularly fond of that store or its congested area, so I think in the future we may look for an alternative for our off-site shopping. With our grocery stop complete, we returned to Riverside and called it a night.
We arose at 7:15 and left about 8:30 with the plan to be at the gates of the Studios when they opened. I was somewhat amazed at the long line of cars (backed up to the entrance gates) going in, as well as the number already in the parking lot. Likewise, the throng at the turnstiles was very impressive. (This would be a theme in the coming days as the crowds at the parks would be the worst that I have ever seen, much worse than those I saw when we went last year during the week before Easter.)
Once we got in, I split off and went over to get Fast Passes for the Rock-n-Roller Coaster. I then met Lisa and the children at Star Tours where we once again employed the "Kid Swap." Scott and I rode first, and then Abby and Alex joined me while Lisa rode with Scott. We leisurely worked our way over to RnRC, where Scott and I entered the Fast Pass line. After the pre-show, Scott decided to take the exit through the gift shop and meet up with Lisa and the other two kids. (This ride is very intense for children.) I hopped in the limo and took my ride, then went to the gift shop to wait with the kids and let Lisa have her turn. RnRC is probably now my favorite ride at WDW. From the catapult launch during which you can't even catch your breath, through the various loops and corkscrews in the dark, this ride is an absolute thrill. It's too bad it's over so fast.
After RnRC, we had some McD's french fries and then wandered over to Star Tours to let Scott ride one more time (with Lisa). We had lunch at the Backlot Express, and picked up some soft-serve from Dinosaur Gertie's, and then headed for the exit.
We next took the walkway from the Studios to the Boardwalk area, where we went to the Disney Vacation Club office to take the tour. I had been considering DVC for well over a year, and with the availability of the new Beach Club Villas, I was strongly leaning in that direction. I had done enough research that I didn't learn much new on the tour, but we did get to see the models and get a few last questions answered. So…We are now DVC members, with BCV as our home resort!
During our DVC tour and paperwork (which took about two hours), Abby stayed with Lisa and me while the boys visited the supervised "fun center". After we left the DVC office, we walked over to the Beach Club, where we looked around, both at the existing facilities and the BCV construction. The boys both loved Stormalong Bay and are looking forward to our first visit there! We then wandered back over to the Boardwalk where we got dinner from a street vendor (hot dogs, etc.) and I picked up a couple of "Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookies" from the sweet shop. We took the boat back from the Boardwalk over to the Studios since that was where the van was parked, and then returned to our room.
This was our day for an early breakfast with Pooh, so we arose about a quarter before six, and left for the bus stop just before 7:00. A bus picked us up shortly after our arrival at the bus stop. It was fortunate that we had an early start because much to our surprise the bus (which was labeled "Magic Kingdom") took us not to the MK, but to the TTC. We then had to hustle to catch the monorail around to the Magic Kingdom. By the time we cleared security and reached the gates, the turnstiles were already open.
We proceeded to the Crystal Palace where we waited in a non-trivial line to check in. However, we were seated fairly quickly. The buffet breakfast was actually quite good, and included an omelet station. However, as foreshadowed by the line outside, the lines to get the food were quite lengthy. Of course we weren't there just for the food...We were there to see Pooh (Abby's favorite)! Pooh, Tigger, and Eeyore all made stops at the table, and while Abby was still a bit a bit timid around them, I think she really enjoyed their visits. Overall, it was a good experience that we would definitely repeat.
By the time we finished our meal, the rope had long since dropped, so many of the attractions already had long lines. Making as judicious use of Fast Passes as possible, we were able to ride Space Mountain (again doing the "kid swap", with lucky Scott getting to ride twice), Buzz, the TTA People Mover, It's a Small World, the Carrousel, Pooh, and Pirates. By that point, it was about 2:30, and we were exhausted due to the unseasonable heat and throngs even worse than those the previous day at the Studios. So, we returned to Riverside. Abby fell asleep on my shoulder on the bus ride back, and I was able to get her to the room and onto a bed without waking her. (This is quite unusual for her and was a tribute to how exhausted she was.) Lisa stayed in the room with Abby while she napped, and I took the boys to the pool (which they enjoyed about as much as the MK).
We returned from the pool, and about 5:30 we ordered pizza from Sassagoula Pizza Express. It was delivered promptly and was enjoyed by all.
We had a later start this morning, rising at 8:00 and leaving at 9:30 for the 10:00 Epcot opening. Lisa rushed ahead to get Fast Passes for Test Track while I went to exchange a defective "Magic Moments" game that I had purchased at the Emporium on the way out of the Magic Kingdom the previous day. (The Magic Moments game is an electronic game machine about the size of a Gameboy that has a number of games corresponding to different rides in the various theme parks. Each of the games is activated by carrying the game unit near the corresponding attraction. At a price of $20, it is probably one of the better WDW souvenir values, especially considering that it provides entertainment for the kids while in the lines. I had purchased a game unit for each of the boys, but Alex's was not working. Fortunately, the CM at MouseWorks was happy to exchange it.)
When Lisa returned with our Fast Passes (which were already well into the afternoon, despite having gone to acquire them right away), we went to the Electric Umbrella for breakfast. This stop was actually a very pleasant surprise. They had an interesting menu, including breakfast pizza, french toast sticks, and breakfast burritos. It was also amazingly uncrowded, and made for a nice respite from the throngs.
After breakfast, we headed for the World Showcase which was just opening. We went to Norway first and rode the Maelstrom. We then worked our way around to the American Adventure and enjoyed that always uplifting show. After the show we made the short walk to Japan and picked up a few Kaki-Goris. (Lisa opted for a funnel cake from a stand in the American Pavilion instead.) We then returned to the American Gardens Theatre and listened to the "Voices of Liberty." By this point, we were coming into our Fast Pass window, so we returned to Future World to ride Test Track, once more employing the "kid swap." The ride was having its problems as Scott and I boarded. We ended up stopping at least three times, including a fairly extended wait where the "braking tests" are done. Nevertheless, it was a fun ride.
After Test Track, Lisa wanted to do a little shopping, so she took the boys to MouseWorks while I strolled Abby over to Canada to catch a performance of "Off Kilter", a bag-pipe-playing rock band that I wanted to see after hearing good things about them. We only stayed for a little while, but both of us enjoyed the performance. Afterwards, we met back up with Lisa and the boys and decided to ride Spaceship Earth before heading back to Riverside.
We enjoyed our day at Epcot. While it was probably about as crowded as the Magic Kingdom, it seems better able to deal with large crowds due to its expansive layout.
Back at Riverside, we had a 6:00 priority seating at Boatwright's. We've always enjoyed Boatwright's, and while the meal this time seemed a little more mediocre than those we've had there in the past, I still think it is a good choice for a family dinner. After dinner, we stopped by the food court to pick up cookies and ice cream for dessert, and then returned to the room.
For our last day at WDW we were returning to the Magic Kingdom. We once again got an early start, getting up about 6:00 and arriving at the bus stop about 7:15 in order to make it to the turnstiles by the 8:00 opening. (This time the bus took us directly to the MK instead of dumping us at the TTC.) We decided to split up to improve our chances of accomplishing all we wanted to before the crowds built up. Lisa took Scott and waited for the Adventureland rope drop, while I took Alex and Abby and headed for Fantasyland. When the rope dropped, Alex, Abby, and I went straight for Peter Pan. Abby was not too fond of Peter Pan, perhaps due to the darkness of the ride. She then wanted to ride the "horsies", so we hopped on the Carrousel, which we had almost to ourselves.
In the meantime, Lisa and Scott picked up Fast Passes for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and then rode Splash Mountain. Since Alex, Abby, and I had not arrived from Fantasyland yet, they then waited in the very short standby line for BTMR. As Alex, Abby, and I walked up, Lisa and Scott were just exiting the ride, so Scott and I took a turn, again using the relatively short standby line. While waiting for our Fast Pass window, we (Scott and I) decided to ride it yet again. By the time we finished that ride, the standby line was really growing, but we were now in our Fast Pass window. So, we used our Fast Passes to ride yet again, first Lisa and Scott riding, and then Scott and me (making a grand total of 5 times for Scott)! At this point, the BTMR/Splash area was beginning to get really crowded, so we worked our way towards Liberty Square. Lisa took Scott and Alex in the Haunted Mansion while I waited with Abby in the Columbia Harbour House (which is where we planned to eat lunch).
By the time Lisa and the boys returned from the Haunted Mansion, I had already bought our lunch. We always enjoy the Harbour House. It is always cool, usually relatively uncrowded, and the food is pretty good (especially for a fried fish lover like myself).
After our nice lunch we headed for Tomorrowland, where Lisa and the boys rode the Autopia, while Abby and I found a shady spot to sit and watch them drive by. Next was a ride on the TTA, followed by a stroll over to Toontown where we caught the WDW Railroad to the Main Street station. Having accomplished all that we wanted to do, and ready to escape the massive crowds, we returned to Riverside (about 2:00).
After a short rest period in the room, we caught the bus for Downtown Disney, arriving there about 4:00. We ate dinner at Planet Hollywood and then headed for the shops. We browsed in the Lego store for awhile, with Scott getting a small set, and then went to the "World of Disney" where we picked up a number of items (shirts for Lisa and me, a stuffed Minnie Mouse for Abby, and a Buzz Lightyear gun for Alex). We then took the always enjoyable boat ride back to Riverside. Our captain was a real "card", providing a non-stop stream of humor (like the old "What does Epcot stand for?"…"Every person comes out tired!") and Disney information ("Do you know the real reason Fast Passes were created?"…"To keep people in the park longer so that they will shop more!"). With our boat ride over, we returned to our room to begin the depressing task of packing for the return trip the next day.
We arose about 7:00, got ready and loaded up fairly quickly (for us), checked out, and were on the road by about 8:30. Just before I-4 merged with I-95, we saw a message board that traffic on I-95 was stopped. We had just enough time to digest that before we were at the last pre- I95 exit point, so we exited and took back roads (passing through Daytona Beach) to a point further north on I-95. I think that snarl was a really bad one, and we were lucky to avoid it, but it was just the first of many traffic problems we would see that day. In particular, we were in long traffic backups in Jacksonville, as well as for most of the way from Jacksonville to the Georgia state line. And it only marginally improved from there. This was, I believe, the worst day of constant traffic congestion that I have ever seen, and cemented our vow to forever avoid traveling during the week adjacent to Easter.
We did have a nice lunch at Sonny's Barbecue near St. Augustine (about 11:15). We went through drive-ins at McDonald's and Wendy's in Lumberton, NC about 8:00. From that point, traffic finally began to relent a bit, and we arrived back home about 9:45, exhausted and thankful to have arrived home safely.
As always, our WDW trip was wonderful. The phenomenal crowd levels (especially at the Magic Kingdom) and the horrendous traffic on the way home have convinced us that we will try to avoid major holidays for our next few trips, but all in all it was a great vacation.
'73 (offsite) - '76 (offsite) - '80 (Cont) - 12/87 (offsite) - 5/89 (Cont) - 5/90 (GF) - 6/91 (Cont)
6/92 (DxL) - 12/94 (DxL) - 12/97 (DxL) - 5/99 (DxL/GF) - 2/00 (OKW/DxL) - 4/01 (DxL) - 3/02 (DxL)