Bruce's sister, Debbe, is a Disney Vacation Club member. Essentially, she has a time-share at Disney World (FL). In addition, she earns rewards points from various promotions, etc., throughout the year. So, Debbe suggested we take a Family Vacation together. She provided the housing with her time-share and used her rewards points to upgrade to a bigger unit.
That was part of the reasoning for the timing of the trip - many people asked why we were going to Florida at such a hot time of year weather-wise - we were using up rewards points before they expired! It also gave us the chance to roll-in celebrations of my birthday, Dad Loebrich's birthday, and Mom and Dad Loebrich's anniversary - all of which fall within May and June. Additionally, as it was our first complete extended family trip in a while, we called it a Family Reunion and celebrated that, too!
So we were at Walt Disney World, staying on resort property, for 8 days. The party was comprised of: Mom and Dad Loebrich; Debbe, Duncan, and Derek (our nephew, he's 4); and us. We all had Park Hopper passes so we could zip around to whichever park we wanted. Our hotel was within walking distance of The Magic Kingdom (aka Disney World). The monorail took us to Epcot. Buses to Disney's Hollywood Studios (formerly MGM) left from the front of our hotel regularly. It was a short drive to Disney's Animal Kingdom (primarily a zoo, although there are rides, characters, and shows - Bruce and I did not go to that). The girls also braved Orlando traffic and roads to go to Downtown Disney to shop, and later took Bruce with us even further off Disney property to go to the outlet mall.
Although it was danged hot - near or over 90 each day! - we had a blast!! We could see the Magic Kingdom's nightly fireworks show "Wishes" from the balcony of our hotel (we could sit and watch in our pj's!). The four of us "kids" also caught the show from the park one day, which was beautiful. We saw the IllumiNations fireworks show at Epcot one night - awesome! And took in the SpectraMagic Parade at the Magic Kingdom (replaced the Main Street Electrical Parade) another evening - it was also awesome, by the way!
We had a family character breakfast at the Crystal Palace in the Magic Kingdom to celebrate my birthday. Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore, and Tigger were all there to visit with their friends, and to occasionally lead guests in the Pooh-rade around the restaurant! This was one of the best meals we had in the park, it was a great buffet with all sorts of tasty options. I was also most pleasantly surprised when the waiter brought me a cupcake with a candle in it, had our table sing me happy birthday, and then presented me with a card signed by Pooh and all his friends!
We had a family dinner at Hollywood and Vine in Disney's Hollywood Studios one evening. This was also a huge buffet, but there are no characters at this event. Nonetheless, the decor is fascinating and it was a nice meal. Dad and I both got birthday cards at this meal - they were signed by Handy Manny and crew. After this dinner, we got priority seating at Fantasmic, which is Hollywood Studio's night-time show.
While Bruce and I were watching Derek in the Magic Kingdom one morning - the rest of the family was on It's A Small World - we were invited to breakfast at Cinderella's Royal Table by her highness' valet. I did not realize this was an actual deal, I thought he was just being in character, so I turned him down as we were supposed to wait at the castle for the rest of the family. Oops! Oh well, I'll know better next time and Debbe, Duncan, and Derek were having breakfast there the next day anyway.
Our final planned family meal was dinner at Chef Mickey's, which is in Disney's Contemporary Resort where we were staying. This was primarily a celebration of Mom and Dad's anniversary, although Dad and I got birthday cupcakes as well - which was okay since it meant extra cupcakes! All in all, the best part of this meal was meeting the Big 5 characters - Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Pluto, and Donald. Many of us missed Chef Mickey because we were in line for food when he came around to our table. We told his assistant and got to meet him later. He gave me a belated birthday kiss!
Easily the best family meal we had in the park was lunch at the Rose and Crown Pub in Epcot England. This was hilarious. The day had started out as sort of a free-for-all with Debbe, Duncan, and Derek going to Hollywood Studios for Star Wars stuff, Mom and Dad going to Epcot to take a more leisurely tour of the lands, and Bruce and me uncertain of what we wanted to do. Eventually, we decided we wanted to go to Epcot because there was this fish-n-chips cart in England and Bruce wanted to get some for lunch (I figured maybe they'd have fried chicken, too). So we called Mom and Dad, since they were in Epcot, to see if they wanted to do lunch. Turns out, Debbe and Derek were on the boat to Epcot to meet Mom and Dad to do fish-n-chips for lunch! Great minds, eh?
But it doesn't end there! Bruce and I got there first and discovered that all the fish-n-chips cart sold was, surprise, fish-n-chips (no, non-seafood). So we went to look at the menu at the Rose and Crown Pub next door. They had all sorts of stuff - including fish and chips - plus indoor seating which would also be air conditioned, huzzah! The fish-n-chips platter was huge and I hear it was yummy. I had the best pub burger ever, with malted ketchup for my fries which was delicious. Debbe got some fabulous potato soup. We had the greatest server ever, Gemma - who I want to say was from Scotland. She was so nice and friendly. We had been seated on the patio, which was actually quite cool with the breeze off the pond, but it was looking ominously like rain. Gemma told us she'd secured a table for us indoors and if we wanted to move due to the weather we only had to ask. When the winds whipped up, she came to get us before we'd even said a thing and helped us move our food, drinks, and sleepy nephew in his stroller into the restaurant. Then, at the end of the meal, she brought Dad a birthday card signed by the entire staff of the pub as well as a signed anniversary card for Mom and Dad, too. (I had stopped wearing my birthday button at this point.) Gemma totally went above and beyond to take care of us and was super sweet the entire time. That was a joyous respite in what had started out as a topsy-turvy day.
The other big to-do going on while we were at Disney was the Star Wars Weekends. This happens every spring as part of a deal with George Lucas (Master George), and was another reason for our scheduling our trip when we did. The event happens at Hollywood Studios and the entire park is filled with costumed re-enactors from a galaxy long ago and far away. In addition to Stormtroopers, Jawas, and Sandpeople, among many others, Jedi Mickey, Darth Goofy, Princess Leia Minnie, and Stormtrooper Donald patrol the park and greet fans. Star Wars music was playing on speakers everywhere, and there were tons of opportunities to get your picture taken with all the characters. As the big Star Wars geeks we kids all are, we had a blast!
When we weren't taking in big events, we were just hanging out and enjoying the parks. As Disney Club members, Debbe and her family are there frequently. They've even taken Mom and Dad a couple times in recent years. But Bruce had not been since they had last gone as a family when he was in junior high, and I had not been since I was 10. So we were more than thrilled to get to experience Disney Magic once again!
We pretty much rode all the big rides and saw most of the major stuff. I did not ride the Tower of Terror or the Rock and Rollercoaster, and since we didn't go to Animal Kingdom, we didn't ride the Expedition Everest coaster either. When I was a kid, I was afraid of Space Mountain and the Haunted Mansion, so I was determined to go on them this time - fun! I think probably my favorites were Mission Space and Star Tours. Derek really likes Toy Story Midway Mania, which is also a darned fun ride. We rode Cinderella's Carousel just because. The Carousel of Progress in Tomorrowland is fairly hokey, but I enjoyed it for the history of it, at least. Pirates of the Caribbean was fun - they've incorporated Johnny Depp as Captain Jack in a couple of places now, too! Although it's fairly obvious, the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular in Hollywood Studios is lots of fun.
There are about a zillion parades and shows in the parks. We joked that Disney could build a park solely for parades and have them running 24 hours a day easily! That said, they were fun, it was so cute to see the characters dancing and having fun. SpectraMagic, which replaced the Main Street Electrical Parade, was easily the best of the bunch - really great and gorgeous. I also highly recommend IllumiNations at Epcot, that is one great fireworks/laser show.
The best part about Disney overall, though, is the ambiance. It really is The Happiest Place on Earth. Everyone is so friendly and welcoming - from the housekeeper who came to give us fresh towels, to the Cast Members helping us on and off rides, to the other visitors you meet in the parks, and so on. You could just feel yourself getting happier just to be there. Plus the characters we all know are just walking about, so happy to see you and welcome you to their home. Minnie was always giving big kisses, it was so cute! Just delightful.
Some of my favorite memories of the trip are:
- Being unexpectedly chased by a Tusken Raider (Star Wars Sandpeople) in Hollywood Studios during Star Wars Weekend
- Riding the Test Track Rollercoaster with our nephew Derek and hearing him joyously and repeatedly shout, "Yeah, that's what I like, baby!!!" as the car whipped around the track at 75 miles per hour
- Getting a birthday kiss from Mickey at dinner at Chef Mickey's
- Seeing the Wishes fireworks show both from our balcony and in the park
- Meeting Darth Goofy and Princess Leia Minnie
- Having an amazing, totally unplanned, family lunch at the Rose and Crown Pub in Epcot England on a rainy Saturday