May 31, 2008: Off to Disney World!

Scott and Dominica’s Disney 2008 Flickr Set.

I was awfully tired this morning after having worked until eleven thirty last night and then having the alarm go off at four thirty this morning. I actually woke up three minutes before the alarm all on my own which at least saved me from being jolted awake by the alarm itself.

No matter how much work we do ahead of time to get ready for traveling there is always way too much to be done at the last minute like packing my CPAP, laptop, getting the plants ready, etc.

We got a taxi at six to take us to Newark-Liberty International. The went smoothly and we were at the airport with plenty of time to kill before our flight. We got through security and relaxed until it was time to fly. We grabbed a breakfast at a steak place that did big egg and cheese on sub rolls just before flying.

I starting reading “Dreaming in Code” this morning. That’s the only book that I am taking on the trip with me. That and a few back issues of Baseline that I haven’t had a chance to read yet.

We flew Continental to Orlando which was a nice change as the flight was direct and about an hour shorter overall and less expensive too. The flights went quite well. Dominica has been nervous about flying because she gets motion sickness and can’t take Dramamine anymore but she use SeaBands and they actually worked wonderfully for her (although personally I think that it is a placebo – but hey, whatever works.)

We landed in Orlando and took Disney’s Magical Express to our hotel. The Magical Express is a Disney chartered bus operated by Mears (who does all of the good Orlando area transportation) that takes you directly from the airport to the hotel and deals with everything for you. It is really a nice touch for people staying at a Disney resort and it is free which helps to mitigate the cost of a Disney resort versus staying outside of the park. It also helps to make the experience more integrated so that you feel like you are in Disney World from the moment that you step off of the plane. (From a business perspective it also allows Disney to completely cut you off from any of their competitors in the area keeping you completely focused on Disney activities and curtailing the desire to sample other parks or resorts – which is actually good, I think, because people who do that always dislike the region, in my experience – they ruin it for themselves and then confuse the cheap touristy stuff in the Orlando area with Disney stuff.)

The Magical Express dropped us at our hotel, Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, which is located in the Magic Kingdom resort area but is not on the monorail. The Wilderness Lodge is located on Bay Lake very near the Contemporary Resort but its principle access to the Magic Kingdom is via a water ferry that takes you right up to the main gates very quickly. We decided to take care of our own bags rather than to have the Magical Express check them through for us. That is a nice service that allows you to go straight to the parks without even thinking twice about your hotel stay, but most of the time we prefer to have our bags and access to them right away. If the Magical Express deals with them then they take an additional three hours to get to your room because they come on a separate bus and you don’t have access to them right away.

We got checked in and were into our room, a pool view room on the inside of the courtyard on the second floor, around one in the afternoon. We relaxed for a little while. We decided that because it is so hot today that we were going to skip going into the parks today and just take it easy and do some resort activities instead. We come to Disney more than often enough to have little drive to get in and do things in the parks themselves.

Around three we took the water ferry over to the Magic Kingdom and from there took the Animal Kingdom Lodge bus to the AKL as we had five thirty dinner reservations at Boma – which since we have started promoting it has become an insanely busy restaurant which is nearly impossible to get into anymore. Reservations are a must and if you want any choice of times you need to think about it weeks in advance even during moderately slow times of year! What used to be a niche restaurant in a niche resort is now one of the Disney hottest commodities.

As always, the bus service to the AKL took forever. Disney hasn’t figured out how to deal with the far-flung resorts that are accessible only by bus yet and it can easily take an hour to go from the Magic Kingdom to the lodge which is a major problem. Disney has started putting tons of great restaurants and activities out in their resorts – which is great – but because of this the transportation system is strained beyond capacity and getting around the parks can be a major hassle even for Disney resort guests at deluxe resorts who never leave WDW!

We weren’t too early getting to the Animal Kingdom Lodge – our timing was quite good, in fact. Dinner was awesome, as always, although several of our favourite items were not on tonight’s menu so there were several things that we were left wanting. But everything that they had was awesome. Our server was Lindsay, from Buffalo, who was also our server last May when we ate at Boma! You know that you eat at a restaurant at Disney a lot when you start knowing people.

Zebra and Antelope at the AKL

After dinner we went outside to look at the savanna for a few minutes but it was incredibly hot and we decided not to stay for any length of time.

We took the bus over to the Disney Hollywood Studios because, again a major problem with Disney transportation, there is no direct route from the AKL to the Epcot Resort area with the Boardwalk where we wanted to go. So we went first to Hollywood Studios and then down to its boat docks where we could catch the ferry that runs between the Swan, Dolphin, Beach, Yacht, Boardwalk, Epcot and Hollywood Studios. Sounds incredibly indirect but it is the best means of which we are aware of traveling between the AKL and the Boardwalk.

On the bus ride over people were starting to talk about the large fire that could be seen not too far away. No one seemed to know what it was but there was a massive smoke cloud beginning to rise above the trees making the sky fairly dark even though it was not overcast.

We just missed the boat for the Boardwalk so we had about twenty minutes to sit and wait at the docks. From the Hollywood Studios boat launch looking due east the fire was huge and appeared to be not too far past the woods there. There was a helicopter or two circling the fire as well. The fire was so intense that even where we were the whole area was getting covered in ash as it started to fall from the sky. It was really weird. We could only barely smell smoke as the smoke itself was going far above us but the debris was coming down and was all over the ground and our clothes. Really large pieces of ash were coming down and it was constant. I have never seen anything like it. No one ever figured out where the fire was, though.

I took a careful look on Google Maps from where we were standing and the direction that we were facing it had to be somewhere around Disney’s Caribbean Beach resort, Typhoon Lagoon or Disney Downtown. The distance didn’t seem to be that far so I think that that is about as far as it could have been but it is impossible to gauge. There are many resorts right after Disney Downtown and then outside of the park that is a heavily populated area so there is a lot out there that could have been burning. We have been unable to find any news sources confirming this massive fire which is really, really strange.

Disneys Boardwalk

The boat ride was nice and pretty quick. The captain informed us that if we rode all the way to the Boardwalk that it would take an extra ten to fifteen minutes but if we disembarked at the very first stop, the Swan and Dolphin Resorts, that the footbridge lead right onto the Boardwalk and that it would only take two to three minutes. So we chose to do that instead. In reality it appears that the Boardwalk dock should just be combined with the Swan and Dolphin as it is incredibly close. I have no idea why they bother to have the separate one unless it just isn’t clear enough how to get to this “hidden” one that lies deceptively behind the Boardwalk rather than in front of it.

We took a walk down the length of the Boardwalk. This was Dominica’s first time ever actually on the Boardwalk although she had seen it from the Yacht and Beach Club resorts across the lake in 2005 when we had taken a bus to those resorts and then walked into Epcot from the world showcase entrance. We stopped at the Boardwalk Bakery and picked up some food for tomorrow morning and then we got some ice cream at the creamery there and sat out enjoying it on the Boardwalk itself.

We didn’t stay for very long as there isn’t very much to do on the Boardwalk if you don’t feel like drinking and even then you really need to be prepared to stay out pretty late, and staying out late on the Boardwalk leaves you with the issue of how to get back home as this is a large area with no late running transportation back to the Disney resorts even though it is a prime spot for Disney nightlife. Again, a major transportation oversight with the potential to leave deluxe resort guests stranded while still on Disney property!

We hopped the boat back to the Hollywood Studios and from there caught the bus back to the Wilderness Lodge. It was quite early for going back to the hotel but our day started very early and we needed to catch up on some sleep desperately. So we just hung around the resort for the evening. We took a walk down by the geyser and along the Silver Creek that flows through the resort. There isn’t a lot to see but it is worth a walk around. We did a little window shopping at the Mercantile as well. Then off to an early bed. We have a long day ahead of us tomorrow.

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