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Monday, September 3, 2012

20th Anniversary Trip, pt. 1: Disney

Last summer, Bruce's sister Debbe called to tell us that Star Wars Celebration VI - the world's largest Star Wars fan convention - was being held in Orlando & started the day after our wedding anniversary. She proposed that we take a trip to Florida & combine visits to Disney World & the convention to celebrate- we readily agreed! So last month we spent 9 days in Orlando with Debbe, Duncan, & Derek - & our friends Wayne & Abby - as we marked our milestone 20th anniversary.  It was awesome!

First, some logistics. We stayed at Disney's Coronado Springs Resort, because early research had indicated that would be the Disney partner hotel with the convention. It wasn't. In the end, Disney decided not to be a convention partner, but we didn't find that out until we got there & we had been on a deadline to book our rooms in order to get the convention rate. Coronado Springs is near Animal Kingdom & is accessible to the rest of the Disney community by bus. This made getting to parks & meal reservations tricky to time. It was also difficult to connect up with friends & family since we couldn't easily predict when we would arrive anywhere. Disney opting not to be a convention partner, also meant there were no shuttles to the convention & we had to rent a car - that was an additional expense we were not counting on.

That said, Coronado Springs Resort is a nice place to stay. The theme is "Old Spain/Mexico" & it has a lot of quaint southwestern/pueblo-type decor. Our room was very comfortable & sufficiently appointed. The staff was very gracious & always helpful. Our fridge spontaneously defrosted itself the first night we were there & maintenance was quick to respond & replace it. The concierges went out of their way to help us figure out convention shuttles (obviously there were none) & other transportation needs. Our room was very close to one of the "quiet pools" & a short walk from the very cool family pool. Plus, we were right next to the guest laundromat - I was very happy when I found that since I had been washing our clothes in the tub up till that point (the tub had a clothesline for just that purpose, too).

Coronado Springs Resort is very spread out. The lobby, gift shop, & restaurants are in the main building. The rest of the guest buildings & pools are situated in a loop around a small lake.  We had to walk past 3 other buildings & across a bridge to get to the lobby from our room. The Disney buses actually loop through the property - there are four bus stops so that guests can get off at one closer to their building, as necessary.  We were stop #4 & our unit was very close to it, so that was convenient.  But on the morning we were aiming to make Early Magic Hours at Animal Kingdom (remember, that's the closest Disney park to Coronado Springs) we waited 40 minutes for a bus & missed half the early hours.  If we'd known Disney was not going to have a partner hotel for the convention, we would have chosen a more centrally-located/convenient place to stay, but Coronado Springs is not a bad place in general. If you do choose to stay there on your next Disney visit, you'll be comfortable & well-treated - allow extra time for the buses, & be sure to get pizza at the Rix Cafe in the main building, it was the best pizza we had the whole trip!

OK, so we flew down on Saturday, August 18th, arriving about 10:30am. We met the Magical Express & got shuttled to our resort. Debbe & family had flown down from Columbus that morning, too, arriving about half an hour before us. They were staying at the Boardwalk for the first part of the trip, though, so we had to coordinate meeting up, which was tricky. Thunderstorms grounded the boats from the Boardwalk, so they went to the Magic Kingdom, but we were already heading to EPCOT to meet our friends Wayne & Abby.

So we revised our plans & opted to spend time with our friends before meeting up with Debbe et al at our dinner reservations. We had a great time with Wayne & Abby riding Spaceship Earth, Soaring, and watching Turtle Talk with Crush - one little girl got up to ask a question of Crush & she was so nervous she just said "the sun goes down at night & the moon comes up" & Crush replied, in totally surfer dude speak, "True," now every time we say that, we say it like him! We also went to Soda World, where you can sample colas from around the world, & completely unexpectedly ran into Princess Aurora (Sleeping Beauty) in the hallway. She had a Disney Photopass photographer with her so we got a picture! It had been raining off & on most of the day, so we think they just moved inside to stay dry since that back hallway is not a normal character spot!

Then we hustled to make the Disney bus system work to get us to Downtown Disney to meet Debbe & the gang for our dinner at T-Rex Cafe, which was lots of fun! After dinner, we went back to EPCOT, intending to meet back up with Wayne & Abby, but they were at their own dinner reservation & Derek really wanted to go to the Magic Kingdom, so that's what we did.  The Magic Kingdom has this new interactive game called Sorcerer's Quest where kids get collectable cards & then have to go around the park & unlock special messages from Merlin & try to save Ariel with the spells on their cards. That's what Derek wanted to do. We opted to just get ice cream & then go back to our room because our travel day had been tiring.

We spent the next day at Disney's Hollywood Studios. We finally managed to get the whole group together: us, Wayne & Abby, & Debbe, Duncan, & Derek. We rode Toy Story Midway Mania & Star Tours several times. We met up with Pooh Bear at his character spot in the Art of Animation exhibit! We had a fabulous lunch at the Sci-Fi Drive-In. Then we split up so Derek could get some rest, & Bruce & I stayed with Wayne & Abby at Hollywood Studios. We rode the Tower of Terror & the Rock & Roller Coaster, & Star Tours & Toy Story again. We watched the Voyage of the Little Mermaid & the Beauty & the Beast shows. Then we wrapped up the day with a fabulous dinner at the 50's Prime Time Cafe. Our waitress Quinn was an absolute hoot, we loved sitting in her section, she was so friendly & funny. The meal was yummy & best of all was spending some quality time with friends we hadn't seen in far too long.

The next day, Monday, was the day we attempted to make Early Magic Hours at Animal Kingdom. Even though we got there with only about 20 minutes left before the park officially opened, that was still enough time to ride Expedition Everest while the lines were short. Wow, that is a rough ride! It was fun, but I am thinking I am getting too old to get jostled around like that. What a sad commentary! We went on the Kilimanjaro Safari Expedition & saw lots of amazing animals. Then we went to Pooh's character spot & saw Pooh Bear, Eeyore, & Tigger. We also went to Camp Minnie Mickey & got our pictures taken with Safari Donald & with King Louie & Baloo from The Jungle Book. After that, Debbe & Derek went back to the hotel to rest while Bruce, Duncan, & I took in the awesome Flights of Wonder free-flight bird show. During which, my camera died. I managed to get pictures of most of the gorgeous birds, though. Then we went to meet Debbe at the hotel, eat our left-overs from T-Rex, & figure out getting a rental car.

On Tuesday, we went back to EPCOT. Bruce & I had a lunch reservation at Le Cellier in the Canada portion of the world showcase. Before we headed there, we rode Journey into the Imagination with Figment, went on Mission Space, browsed some shops, & watched the Canada movie. Lunch was fantastic! We have a tradition of having steak on our anniversary, but we'd planned a different meal in the Magic Kingdom, so we squeezed our tradition in a day early. The staff at Le Cellier is incredibly cool, the food was fantastic, the couple at the table next to us said they always go there for an early meal & then walk it off in the park in the afternoon. After the meal, our waitress brought us a tray with a piece of white chocolate on it that had Happy Anniversary & a Canadian maple leaf printed on it. So sweet! After lunch we walked through the World Showcase looking at the shops & the sights, rode the Maelstrom in Norway & the Three Caballeros in Mexico, & then met up with Debbe & family to play a little in the Innoventions Pavilion before dinner. We had a family meal reserved at the Garden Grill in EPCOT, which was awesome. Farmer Mickey, Pluto, & Chip & Dale all came by to say hi & pose for pictures. Our waiter was hilarious, when he saw how much we liked the steak, he brought us more, but we were all stuffed. He told Bruce if he ate it, he could have dessert. Bruce managed to finish all but one slice, so the waiter gave him a special kids dessert to go!

Wednesday was our anniversary - 20 years, hard to believe! - & we spent it in the Magic Kingdom. First was breakfast at the Crystal Palace - easily one of the best breakfasts in the park - with Pooh Bear, Eeyore, Piglet, & Tigger all stopping by to say "hi." Pooh Bear gave me a kiss, & Tigger saw our anniversary pins & applauded us while bouncing happily. The waiter brought us an unexpected dessert of chocolates & a strawberry cut like a rose with a dancing Pooh Bear painted on the plate in chocolate!

Breakfast was a family event, but afterward Bruce & I went off on our own. We rode the Haunted Mansion, the Enchanted Tiki Room, Pirates of the Caribbean, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, & Splash Mountain before taking the train back to the front of the park where we had booked lunch at Tony's Cafe. They had decorated our table with streamers & confetti, our waiter Casey was super nice & took pictures of us - especially when we shared spaghetti & meatballs just like Lady & the Tramp! The chef even made us gelato sundaes for our anniversary.

After lunch we rode the people mover & strolled about the park before getting back on Pirates of the Caribbean. The Disney Photopass photographer who took our picture outside the ride tipped us off that a parade was going to be starting so we watched that & then met up with Debbe & clan for a bit. They rode the Tea Cups while Duncan & I took pictures, we did a bit of the Sorcerer's Quest, then we all rode the carousel.

After that, Bruce & I headed into the castle for our dinner at Cinderella's Royal Table. It was awesome! We had a brief audience with Cinderella, who congratulated us on our anniversary & posed for photos with us, then we were seated up in the dining room. We dubbed ourselves "anniversary corner" since the family at the table to our right was celebrating the grandparents' 36th & the family to our left was celebrating their 14th. Our waiter Gustavo was funny & helpful, our food was excellent, & we got a magic wand & a sword to take home with us. Plus Snow White, Princess Aurora, Ariel, & Belle all stopped by to say hello & offer congratulations (& the nice family next to us graciously took our photos with all of the princesses so we could both be in the shots)! After dinner, we strolled a little bit, had our pictures taken a couple of places, & then Bruce said "I'm ready for the Carousel of Progress." This was a bit of a joke since it's a ride where you just sit still, in air conditioning, & watch an animatronic show for 20 minutes - it was the right ride at the right time after all that food!

We wrapped up the night with reserved seating at the Tomorrowland Terrace for the fireworks. Yes, our 4th sit-down meal of the day was an all you can eat dessert buffet! Oh my, it was tasty, but we were already so stuffed! I was content just to have decaf tea & melon, but I did try a little of the chocolates, too. There's a Photopass photographer staffing the fireworks dessert buffet, so we also got our picture taken there. But the best part was definitely the shows! The Magic Kingdom has added a new show called "The Magic, The Memories, & You" which runs before the fireworks. They take hundreds of pictures taken by the Photopass photographers in the park that day & project them onto the castle in time to songs from the movies - it's absolutely awesome, a breathtaking creation & fantastic use of technology to really share the Disney Magic! The "Wishes" fireworks show followed & was fabulous, as always. The best part was that I found out Tinkerbell is really in the show. No, seriously! I always thought it was just a firework aimed to fly over the castle like she does at the beginning of Disney movies, but she came right out of the tower spire & flew over the Tomorrowland Terrace & we could see her smiling & waving as she went right over our heads! (You may say it's just a girl in a Tinkerbell dress sliding on a wire, but I say it's really Tink, they just put her on the wire so she doesn't get caught up in all the excitement & fly the wrong way! Clap your hands if you believe in fairies.) As we were riding the bus back to our hotel, Bruce said, "This was truly a magical day."

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