Disney: Going Above and Beyond

Spaceship Earth

Spaceship Earth

For over a year, my husband and I had been planning to return to Animal Kingdom Lodge, Kidani Village in Walt Disney World, Orlando. What? We’ve been there before? Yes and I never got around to writing about it – sometimes I’m too lazy for words! I’ll talk about that another time, because I want to share about this trip and something that happened there.

As I said, we were planning to return for over a year. My husband had a convention to attend, so I decided to accompany him and take one of my sisters – Laura – along to run through the parks with me. Our older sister, Debi, another Disney fan, had been there with her whole family the previous summer (June 2012), but her cancer came back with a vengeance and she passed away at the end of May, 2013. Before she died, I asked her if Laura and I could take some of her ashes to Disney World with us and leave them near one of her favorite places in EPCOT.  She agreed. A little internet research had shown me that this wasn’t an accepted practice at the parks, but we determined that we could be discreet and most likely avoid being kicked out.

Outside of The Land at EPCOT

Outside of The Land at EPCOT

Debi’s favorite restaurant was The Garden Grill in The Land of EPCOT. Neither Laura nor I had ever eaten there so we decided to find a spot near the restaurant to place her ashes and have dinner afterward. We scoped out the area and found that there wasn’t an exterior entrance to the restaurant, so we decided to put her outside the building in one of the garden areas along the walkway leading into the building after dark, before our dinner reservation.

British phone booth pictures.

British phone booth pictures.

We walked all around EPCOT World Showcase, shopping and taking photos. We both decided we needed to stop at the red British phone booths and take pictures. Naturally, they were posted immediately to Facebook to keep Debi’s family involved in our escapades. We were taking a break from all the walking and sat on a bench, checking Facebook to see if our photos had elicited any responses. It had. Our brother-in-law had posted a picture of Debi in a strikingly similar pose from their last trip. Spooky!

As we slowly made our way to the restaurant, we passed a character “meet & greet” that had a stand-by wait time of 5 minutes. We looked at each other and decided, “why not!” What a score! We got to see Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, and Goofy! And we got autographs and photos with all of them!  We hardly had to push any little kids out of the way, either.

It was dark when we left that area, so we went up to the Land and determine where we’d put Debi’s ashes. We sat on the short wall lining the walkway and took turns pouring the ashes from our containers. We took a few photographs of the spot and a man passing by offered to take our picture together.

The characters come right up to the table at the Garden Grill!

The characters come right up to the table at the Garden Grill!

The Garden Grill has a slowly revolving floor and a variety of Disney characters wander around to the tables, visiting with the diners. Food was served family style at each table. Interesting! We told our waiter, Felipe, that we were eating there for a particular reason – to celebrate our sister Debi’s life and told him a little bit about her struggle with cancer. He stopped us and said, “Wait – this story sounds familiar. Was she here in the last year or so with a large group?” We said that she was and showed him a photograph. He recognized her face! It was an amazing coincidence! Felipe made sure he was nearby every time a character stopped at our table so that he could take photos for us. Before he brought us our desserts, he gave us a card signed by all the characters for us to give Debi’s family. Naturally, we burst into tears! It was a very touching and meaningful gesture – one that we will never forget!

A card for our sister from all the characters!

A card for our sister from all the characters!

Heading Home

carpet in our room at Disney's Grand California

Can you spot the hidden Mickey on the carpet in our room?

Our flight was not until 6 pm and, with Don once again in meetings (continuing education, actually), I was left to my own devices until 3:30ish when we’d have to catch our bus to the John Wayne International Airport. I went on the power walk through Disney California and found myself accompanied by one of Don’s colleagues at Harborview in Seattle. Teresa was on her own due to a mix up in registration (for the meeting) so I offered to leave her my Disney Guidebook so she could plan out some time at the parks. It was a chilly morning – our breath was clearly visible – but one of the women was from Ohio and in shorts. It’s all a matter of perspective, isn’t it? An interesting note about being in the park before it opens: the Grizzly Rapids Run is completely emptied of water every night. Who knew?!?
I had decided that my last breakfast would be at Catal – they had a brioche French toast that sounded delightful. It was good, but not as good as the Mickey Waffle – sad to say! After breakfast, I went back to the room to pack up before the late check out (noon). The Bell Captain kept our bags for me in their holding room until we were ready to leave – most convenient! I had used up my 3-day Park Hopper ticket (sigh), so my day would be spent Christmas shopping in Downtown Disney.
I managed (somehow…) to accumulate several purchases and still had time before I needed to meet Don back at the resort, so I approached the Disney Vacation Club booth to find out more about the program. We had looked into it a bit previously and – of all the time share possibilities out there – I was interested in learning more. I whisked away on a tram (bliss! my feet were so tired!) to the offices and chatted with Bruce who discussed scenarios, answered questions and gave me a tour of the model units from the Grand Californian. I would dearly love to someday have a family reunion or do Christmas at Disney World (specifically, Disney’s Animal Kingdom with a view of the “Savannah!”) and buying into the Vacation Club would help bring that dream to fruition. Plus, it’s Disney and I can count on them to do it right. The prices seemed reasonable to me and the program is fairly flexible regarding destinations and “point accumulation.” Perhaps, someday…
I was once again whisked away in the tram and back to the Grand Californian to collect our luggage and Don so we could hop the bus to the airport. I had just enough time to dash back into Downtown and buy some huge soft pretzels for our plane ride home before the bus was to arrive. Don returned to the resort just ahead of the Disneyland Express bus. Our airport experience was uneventful – no pat downs or body cavity searches – and our plane was fully loaded before our scheduled departure time. I believe we actually took off a few minutes early. The charming toddler behind me didn’t kick my seat the entire time, so the flight seemed quick and we were once again in rain swept Seattle. Home again, home again – jiggety-jig!

Disney World Trips

In late September of 1998, Don had a meeting in Key West, Florida, so we decided to meet him in Orlando at Disney World. A hurricane brushed by Florida that year, so his meeting was canceled, but he didn’t find out until he got there! It was a weird trip: I took Don to the airport early that morning, returned home to get the kids off to school and pack and then load up the car to get to the airport again to make our red-eye flight to Orlando. By the time we arrived, I had been awake for most of 24+ hours so we dropped our luggage off at the hotel – it was too early to check in – and grabbed a shuttle to Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. We immediately got onto the Pirates of the Caribbean ride so mommy could have some cool darkness to rest her eyes…We found Don in the hotel when we returned – early because of the cancelation –  and Don took the kids to the hotel pool so I could have a much needed nap before we headed to Epcot. The kids and I hit all the parks which included Disney’s MGM Studios (now called, “Disney’s Hollywood Studios”); Don joined us when he could. One of the highlights of that trip was that I was chosen to be one of the participants in a “special effects” show in the MGM Studios Park. I was given rain gear and placed in the wheelhouse of a “boat” to be doused with a huge “wave.’ It was fun! I think that trip cemented my preference for Disney World over Disneyland – so many choices – including the newly opened Animal Kingdom!

In the year 2000, Don’s annual convention was scheduled for Orlando in early December so we arranged to pull the kids from school and I took the time off from work to go along. This time no red-eye flight and we were all together which was much more enjoyable! Most of the time, it was just the kids and I in the parks, but, again, Don joined us when we could.  Animal Kingdom had added some additional attractions and we decided it was our favorite park. We also gave Universal Studio’s Island of Adventure a try this time (shhh! Don’t tell Walt!); we enjoyed that quite a bit, too! In fact, my favorite ride is the Spiderman 3-D Adventure because of all the technological elements that are included to make it feel as real as possible. There were a number of 3-D movie/experiences in most of the parks this time, but Jonah was not thrilled with the Bug’s Life 3-D (Animal Kingdom) because of the spiders coming down from the ceiling! It was pretty cute, though, with pokes and squirts that helped you feel the bugs were really there. It was inside the Tree of Life which is an amazing sculpture with intricate animal designs worked into the “bark” all the way up and down the tree. Very beautiful and it is the centerpiece for Animal Kingdom. All the parks were all beautifully decorated for the holidays and we were in (mostly) summer clothes – it was great!

Five years later found us back in Disney World in December again – this time without Andrea. She was in college and could not get away for the trip. Jonah and I hit all the parks together – Don was tied up in meetings and joined us when he was able. Needless to say, we saved going on the Peter Pan ride until Don could be with us – and Jonah was in a separate “ship!” I have to say that Jonah was a good sport about being my companion – not many 15 year old boys would willingly hang out with their mom! I began to dream of having a family Christmas at Disney World – perhaps even staying in the resort – something we had yet to do…

kids & dopey

Andrea & Jonah pose with new pal, Dopey

Taking the Kids

Taking Andrea: My husband (Don), daughter (Andrea) and I had just moved from Groves, Texas to Seattle, Washington in 1987 when, through some miracle, Michigan State University was chosen for the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day, 1988. We were in the same time zone, we had a 4 year old kid and Don’s boss had tickets to the game she didn’t want. This confluence of events was perfect timing to go to Disneyland, too! I finally was able to go on the rides I had missed out on when I was a teenager and loved every minute! Don and I discovered that the Peter Pan ride was an opportunity for some quick smooching and we have been fond of it ever since! We took Andrea on the beautiful Carousel just inside Fantasyland and tested her potential as the right-wise King of all England on the Sword in the Stone (the first Disney movie I remember seeing in the theater!) She wasn’t, by the way. We gleefully rode Dumbo and spun ourselves nearly sick on the Tea Cups. Andrea shyly met Mary Poppins and had her picture taken Mary and with many other characters that day. A new Disneyphile emerged in our family…

Taking Jonah: As a family, our vacations tended to revolve around going to Michigan (and other points Mid-West) to see extended family or were in conjunction with a business trip for Don. It came about that in June of 1996 Don had a convention in San Diego – just a hop and a skip away from Disneyland! It would be a first visit for our son, Jonah, who was six and a half. Don scheduled a free day so we could experience the park together. It was a long-ish drive up, but well worth it! This time, we were able to experience everything through Jonah’s eyes. It’s always fun to see a child experience Disney for the first time! There were new rides to encounter – most notably the Indiana Jones ride – which Jonah was just tall enough to go on, as well as others we didn’t try out because Andrea was too small the last time. I believe we hit the Matterhorn and Space Mountain on that trip – screaming all the way! We now were a solid block of four Disneyphiles…

Waiting for Indy

An Introduction

Watching “The Wonderful World of Disney” (or was it “The Wonderful World of Color”?) was one of the mainstays of our family’s viewing line-up. I remember when we got our first color television (yeah- do the math; I’m that old!), the first show my dad wanted to see was the Disney program. They always showed fireworks at the beginning in front of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle in Disneyland.This instilled in me a desire for all things Disney – going to the movies, owning Disney merchandise (I’ve worn a Mickey Mouse watch most of my life) and going to Disneyland (and, later Disney World).

We never went to Disneyland as a family; we lived in Michigan and California might as well have been on the other side of the moon – Disney World in Florida came later, but never seemed to be an option. I am not sure if it was finances, logistics (there were 7 of us including my parents) or some sort of combination.

My first visit was to Disney World between my sophomore and junior years in high school (1975?) which only had the Magic Kingdom and Epcot at that time. I went with a friend who had grown up going to Disneyland in California, and her family. When my friend asked me to go, I was pretty sure my folks would say no, but her mom called my mom and somehow talked her into it! I have no idea if my folks subsidized my trip in any way or if my friend’s family picked up the tab – probably the later. This was the first time I remember taking an extended trip without any of my family. We drove down from Michigan, taking about 3 days, I think. What I remember most is being disappointed that my friend didn’t want to go into Fantasyland in the Magic Kingdom because she had been so many times in California. So my first Disney Park adventure did not include the Tea Cup Ride, Dumbo’s Flight, or the Peter Pan ride, but – for whatever reason – we did go on the Small World ride. I should have been scarred for life after that and I wasn’t – I wanted to see Fantasyland! It was quite a long time before I was able to do that…