Epcot World Showcase – Our favorite (free!) things

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I’ve heard people say they enjoy the food in World Showcase, but besides that, they think it’s just a bunch of shops. On first blush, it does seem like the place is packed full of merchandise and not much else, but given some time and a mildly adventurous spirit, you’ll find some incredible hidden gems while exploring the countries.

Add this to the long list of free live entertainment that is available all day long in different locations around World Showcase and you can see how it is easy to spend a few days in this park and still not experience it all.

Here’s a list of our favorite shows and other lesser-known places to explore in each of the countries. Everything listed here is free (except for that expensive park ticket you already bought!):


Three Caballeros Ride – Similar to It’s a Small World, but on a much smaller scale. Cute and fun.

Watching the Glass Blower work in the shop just outside Three Caballeros Ride (there is also a glass blower in the German pavilion).

Live Entertainment: Mariachi Cobre – Traditional Mexican Mariachi band.

Viva Mexico – Live traditional music and dance.


Maelstrom, a short and fun ride similar in tone to Pirates of the Caribbean.

If for some reason you’d like to see a really dated movie about Norway (think 1970’s facial hair on the guys), but you don’t want to ride the ride, ask one of the CM’s if you can go in the exit door and watch the film. It’s just a regular film that you sit down on uncomfortable chairs for. Really, it’s not that bad, it’s sort of funny because of what the people are wearing – very “mod” 1970’s!

The first large building you see as you enter the Norway section is the Stave Church, inside is a small museum with some neat old weapons and information on Vikings. Small and cool enough that even young boys will enjoy it.

Troll photo op. Inside the gift shop as you exit Maelstrom.


360-View Movie – even if you aren’t going to see the movie, walk into The Temple of Heaven and look up – the ceiling is awesome!

Xi-An Tomb Warriors – a smaller scale recreation of those incredible clay warriors, each with a different face. The horses are my favorites.

The dancing waters bowl – I’m such a dweeb for this thing. They move this around frequently, but you will find it somewhere in one of the two China gift shops. Rubbing the handles with lightly wetted palms of your hands in a slow and gentle back and forth motion (hands moving in opposite directions) will create a harmonic in the bowl and cause the water inside to dance and the bowl itself to “sing”. Very cool if you can make it happen, very frustrating if you can’t!

Live Entertainment: Jeweled Dragon Acrobats – very well-done show featuring different acrobatic acts.


Clock in the outdoor central square does its thing at the hour – not super exciting, but there ya go.

The trains. I love seeing the real lizards hang out on the buildings looking like Godzilla taking over a Bavarian Village.


Nada – well, except the Ducati shirts, which probably don’t excite many people. The shops in here all have an overly heavy perfume smell to me, so I don’t spend too much time wandering. Your results may vary.

Live Entertainment: Sergio – Juggling act with audience participation.

The Ziti Sisters – Live comedy with audience participation.


The awesome American Adventure show with animatronics that look nearly real to me, and that Mike has never successfully stayed awake through (very comfy seats here). Of note, the show does cover the Civil War, and has a song that talks about two sons going to war on opposite sides, one dies and one comes home. On the screen there are a few black and white photos shown for a few seconds each of battlefields, not gory, but you see human bodies if you’re paying close attention.

If you choose to not see American Adventure, still be sure to try and catch the Voices of Liberty singing group, they are wonderful, and the acoustics of that room are amazing.

There is a small but very interesting collection of historic artifacts covering everything from some of the first Edison movie cameras to items that went to the moon on the Apollo missions. Enter the building and look for an open archway to the right to access the displays.

Live Entertainment: Voices of Liberty (see above).

Spirit of America Fife and Drum – 15 minute show that will either make you proud to be an American, or a bit embarrassed.


The store here is a miniature version of Japan’s largest department store chain, and definitely worth a look. Don’t miss all checking out the weird candy and other foods sold here.

Bijutsu-kan – Currently a beautiful and captivating display of artwork that shows how Japan’s ancient fairytale beasts are now used in Anime. Just outside this building are my two very favorite big huge sentinel horses flanking the fake drawbridge.

Live Entertainment: Matsuriza – Japanese Taiko Drummers.

Miyuki – An artist in sweet stuff, Miyuki creates beautiful sculptures from candy.


Hidden beauty everywhere here. Directly across from Tangierine cafe (looking across towards the fountain) is a door that you are welcome to open. Inside is a cool display of jewelry and ancient weapons. The building’s craftsmanship alone is worth a look. Next to this room is a tiled and quiet area called the Fes House.

Continue on around the back side of Tangierine Cafe and explore. The shops are well positioned and neatly designed, easily making you feel like you’re visiting a real market place.

Live Entertainment: MoRockin – Arabic rhythms and instruments with a modern flair, also includes some belly dancing and audience participation.


Impressions de France. Some people say Disney got the idea for Soarin’ from this movie. I can believe it. Gorgeous, simply gorgeous. All set to a score of classical music. I swear, some sections of this film feel like they have wings.

Live Entertainment: Serveur Amusant –  Incredible acrobatic balancing act involving a waiter and chairs.

United Kingdom

Walk through the back section of the formal garden, it’s really pretty. Also, walk inside and see if Pooh is hanging out in his special place inside Christopher Robin’s room – even if he’s not there, take a look at the room it’s so nicely detailed (including some real antique toys!). Continue into the other sections of the shops and be sure to look up – this area is designed like a castle and has some very neat details which most people don’t notice. Many of the things hanging on the walls or sitting on shelves are actual antiques.

Live Entertainment: British Revolution – Live Music with a focus on Brit-Rock from the 60’s to the 80’s. World Showcase Players – Live improv play with plenty of audience participation.


360-view movie – O Canada!. Really fun, with Martin Short. If you decide to skip the movie, at least walk to the very back of this country, walk down the stairs and check out the cool rock formations and waterfall in the hidden grotto. Very cool – literally!

Live Entertainment: Off Kilter – Rock with a Canadian flair, bagpipes, and kilts.

This is just a short list of our favorites, but I know you’ll find your own special things while you’re there. Do not be afraid to wander and explore. Go around nooks and crannies, if a door doesn’t say “Cast Members Only” and it’s unlocked, it’s meant to be opened by you. Look up often when you’re inside the stores – most of the cool and original antiques and other neat things are high up out of reach but within easy view.

Live Entertainment Schedules

Entertainment and character greet schedules change depending on the season, how busy it is, and other factors. The best resource for current schedules is http://www.wdwent.com/schedule.htm this is updated weekly (Disney doesn’t release schedules sooner than that).


Busch Gardens Planning Guide

Before our trip to Florida in February, I had a heck of a time finding any information on Busch Gardens. Look for planning info for Disney World and websites, blogs and books jump out at you from the woodwork. Do the same for Busch and you hear crickets.

I purchased the single book I could find that had any information at all about the park, and was disappointed that in a large publication, the section about Busch was a few measly pages.

Heading to the internet, I was able to dig up a bit more information, but not nearly enough to create a smart plan that would let us experience the good stuff without wasting time with mediocre attractions.

Because I was frustrated, I figured there were probably a few other people out there that felt the same way, so I started compiling all the information I had painstakingly dug up, plus our own touring experience and photos, and created a booklet titled Busch Gardens Tampa Bay – Touring Plan Guide. Really snappy title, huh?

Well, the title might not be that exciting, but I think the book itself turned out pretty good.

Anyway, if you’re planning a trip to Busch Gardens, you’ll be spending quite a bit of money while you’re there, here’s a $3 investment that could save you some of that money and lots of time.

You can get it on Amazon here:

Busch Gardens Tampa Bay – Touring Plan Guide

Or in PDF format here:


Florida – Day 10, February 13 (part 2) – Busch Gardens Tampa – Sunset Safari

Busch Gardens has a variety of upcharge adventures for you to choose from. Running the gamut from $20 to $250, it can include anything from a behind the scenes tour of a roller coaster to being an animal keeper for a day. Prices are quite cheap in comparison to similar offerings by Disney.

After checking out all the options, I decide to book the Sunset Safari. This $40 per-person excursion is offered only once the late afternoon, and because they serve beer, is only open to those 21 and older.

We check in about 15 minutes before the tour starts, and there’s only 9 other people in the truck, so we have all the time we want to interact with the animals. The driver is on no real schedule, so he will stop and allow us to take tons of pictures.

First up, we are attacked by giraffes:

Gah! They’re coming at us from all sides! Good thing they’re not carnivores.

Each couple gets plenty of time at the front of the truck all alone for great photo ops:

So, maybe I’ll use this as our Christmas card photo instead of the one from Spaceship Earth. What do you think?

And what do we have here at the other side of the truck? An eland!

I love their smiling faces and twisty horns, and here we are giving one ear scritches. So cool!

Their horns feel like crusty old toenails, and I’m a little tentative about getting too close to them, as I can imagine one twitch of their head could turn these into human bone-breakers.

But he’s happy to hang out and get some lettuce:

Yep, this is totally worth the extra $$.

Then we get to see just how happy and relaxed the animals are out here on safari. We’re treated to a little zebra lovin‘ (posted as a link in case you’d rather not be subjected to R-rated safari action)

We drive on into the sunset, stopping every so often for photo ops:

I love that the coasters are visible while you’re on safari. There’s something a bit surreal about it.

The wildebeest look like they’re ready to bed down for the evening:

Zebra with Montu in the distance.

We didn’t have time to take the train, but it would definitely afford some good views of the savanna:

We finished our last beer and it was time to head back. With our remaining 45 minutes I rush to get in a few more rides on Cheetah Hunt, which I think is about the sexiest looking coaster on the planet:

…then do my impression of the worlds’ fastest shopper as I run through gift stores and get presents for my brother’s family (they’re our taxi ride to and from the local airport), and my boss who has been taking care of the cats while we’re gone.

Before we know it, shops are closing and it’s 6pm. We’ve barely scratched the surface of this park, and could have easily added at least another day to our time here. We missed out on so much, from the train and skyride, to many of the animal exhibits. There were two coasters I didn’t ride (mainly due to choice – I made sure to hit “the best of the best”), and two water rides we also missed out on.

If you enjoy Animal Kingdom or your local zoo but don’t really like coasters, then this would be a one-day park. The same for people who aren’t really into animals but love adrenaline-filled rides. However, if you love rides and animals, this place is packed to the gills with way more fun stuff than you can fit into one day.

The one thing that Busch fails at in comparison to Disney Parks is when you’re talking families with younger children, Busch Garden’s selection of children’s rides is pretty much relegated to those flat rides you see at your local fair. At least they do a good job of having plenty of them placed near the “big kid rides”, but you won’t find anything like Pirates of the Caribbean that everyone in your family will experience together. Not that there isn’t anything for the young ones to enjoy here, it’s just not really a ride park for them. Then again, Animal Kingdom doesn’t really have that many little kid rides either.

For me though, given the choice between two days at Animal Kingdom and two days at Busch Gardens, I’d definitely choose Busch, hands down. I can’t wait to go back!

Florida – Day 10, February 13 (part 1) – Busch Gardens Tampa

Last Day.


But a new park to explore, yea!

So, why are the cheapskates spending a bunch of extra money to go to a different park for just one day? Well, here’s how the whole thing transpired:

I’d been watching airline fares for three months prior to our trip, and prices were okay for our outgoing flights, but the return flights on Sunday the 12th were astronomical. I went ahead and bought our outbound tickets with Southwest since they were darned cheap, but held off on the return. I tried every airline out there, and nothing was within the price range I was comfortable paying. Then, at 4 weeks out, the prices jumped UP instead of dropping like everyone said they should! Great.

But the prices for Monday the 13th were half that of Sunday the 12th, so why not stay an extra day? Except Pop had no rooms available. Well, what about one of the All Stars? Nope. Okay, what if we moved offsite? Well, that would mean either renting a car or using a taxi and then paying our own ride to the airport – not cheap. So, what if we added TWO days, rented a car, and went somewhere else? Ah, Disney Math at its finest!

Then we thought about Busch Gardens. Mike asked if Southwest flies out of Tampa, and yes they do, and flights are half what they cost from Orlando the same day. Score!

Rental car was next, we’d be picking up at the Car Care Center and dropping off at Tampa Airport, with a coupon code from UPS, $80 was cheap enough for me.

Busch Gardens tickets. Well, this place is only cheap if you want to go two days or more – in fact, you can purchase a one day ticket and get a free entry for the following day. Unfortunately, we were only going one day (in hindsight, we should have just taken another extra day). Another issue is that Busch Gardens says they don’t allow outside food and drink (except water). So, no sack lunches. Hmmmm. After checking all the options, the two cheapest were buying tickets direct from Busch online, or from AAA which offers a one-day ticket with lunch for only $4 more. We went with AAA.

Then, there’s those special safaris. Busch offers upsell Safaris which includes some relatively rare animal interactions. Daytime safari is $34 per person for a 30-minute experience. The sunset safari is $40 each, is also 30 minutes, but includes beer and is only open to the over-21 crowd. Since we don’t have kids, I thought the evening option sounded cool. But $80 for 30 minutes and the possibility of hand-feeding giraffes? Well, if you look at what Disney offers that is similar, with less animal interaction, for over $100 per person, then this would be a smokin’ deal, am I right? Score another point for Disney Math!

Our final good deal was the hotel room at $43 a night for two nights.

So, in order to save about $250 on airline tickets we have spent approximately:
$100 Room
$160 Park Tickets
$80 Special Safari
$85 Car Rental

I think this is within the “cheap” range when you consider how much extra fun we get out of the deal. Watch me justify my expenditures!

Okay, enough of the number crunching, on to the fun stuff!

Park hours are a measly 10am to 6pm, so we’re really going to have to cram a bunch into our one day. We get to the gates by around 9ish, and there are only 2 other cars there, we are first in line on our side of the pay booth.

Mike does his usual rant to me about the price of motorcycle parking, which SHOULD be half the cost of cars. Blah, blah, blah, yes dear, I’ve heard it all before, and I do agree with you, but most couples ride on ONE motorcycle together so the price isn’t so bad, I know we’re different and this would be expensive for us, but we’re not on a motorcycle, we’re in a rental car. Sigh. Fortunately he calms down before the attendant takes our money at 9:30, or the poor guy would have been subjected to Mike’s dissertation on how “motorcycles take up half the space and should be charged accordingly”!We ride the first tram from our front-row parking spot to the park entrance (across the street). We have e-tickets, which need to be exchanged for regular tickets. Only two booths are manned, and we choose the one who unfortunately has computer problems, they are finally sorted out and we have tickets in hand, we go through security which does make someone throw out a bottle of soda, so I’m glad all we have is water.Park entrance is similar to DW, with a ticket scanner which some people simply cannot figure out. They only have one worker manning about three scanners, so when there’s a hitch it doesn’t get taken care of as quickly as it would at DW, but it’s still a decently quick operation.

Walking through the gates, our first order of business is to figure out the map, the signage, and where the heck we are in comparison to where we want to be. This would be much simpler if Busch used the names of their “lands” on the signs, instead of specific rides. With the ride names I end up having to try and find the ride name on the map and then figure out where it is in comparison to where we want to be. Pathways are winding and the park is really beautiful – but not easy to navigate for first timers.

Wandering through, we come to the hyena exhibit. Busch does an AWESOME job of getting you right up close and personal with the animals, and we are both amazed at how big these guys are. For some reason, I’d always thought they were about the size of a regular dog, but when they’re standing right next to you with only a pane of glass in between, you can see why these strike fear into people’s hearts in the wild.

We turn around and see an aardvark on a leash!
We find out now just how different Busch Gardens is from Animal Kingdom. They encourage you to interact with these animals, yes, petting is allowed! The handlers are very professional, friendly, and knowledgeable. We find out that aardvarks don’t have soft fur, they feel as bristly as they look.
Our first stop on my plan (yes, I’ve done a plan just like Disney World of course!) is Rhino Rally. Unfortunately we find out this particular ride and section of the park doesn’t open until 10:30 – information that is not available anywhere that I found online. So, we walk back towards the front of the park and I get to ride a few of the biggies while Mike waits (sorry Mike!).
I ride Montu and I think Kumba, both of which are fun, but don’t really pack much of a punch.

But they’re a REAL looping coasters that go fast enough to bring tears to my eyes, so I’m a happy camper.

Ride load procedures at Busch are radically different than DW. They have one worker at the front of the line, but all he does is keep the area from getting too congested. You enter and pick your own row. I got really good at doing head counts in each row of the more popular rides so I could get in the shortest line. Obviously front and back are the most popular. Avoid these and during the slow season you can get in tons of re-rides in a very short time.

Re-rides are also allowed, but only if there are fewer people in line than there are seats on the car. So, you have to exit and wait until the ride fills, then re-enter if there’s room. Ride operators don’t really do much but keep a semblance of order. Controllers all look bored and not exactly professional, but better than the average carnie. Every one of them was cordial and professional when I spoke to them, but they won’t go out of their way to smile and be “on stage” like Cast Members at Disney.

What I am amazed at is how beautiful this park is, and it looks much more effortlessly gorgeous than Animal Kingdom. The grass is green, even in the animal enclosures (unlike Animal Kingdom, where they seem to struggle to keep grass growing in some areas).

We get back over to Rhino Rally, which is Busch’s version of Kilimanjaro Safari’s. The start is nice, the driver makes punny jokes like you’d hear on Jungle Cruise, and there’s some good animal interaction – then suddenly it’s over. I mean, the ride is less than 5 minutes long. Until last year, this was actually quite the complex experience, including a water section, but the water portion was always problematic from a maintenance standpoint, and was removed when the new coaster Cheetah Hunt which opened in 2011.

If you are there on a busy day, this one is not worth even a 10 minute wait. I think the train or sky ride will give you similar interaction and a much longer experience.

Busch Gardens really focuses on the “garden” side of beauty, although the buildings are beautifully painted and well-themed, there is not the attention to detail like you would see at Animal Kingdom.

Here’s the entrance to the Timbuktu area at Busch:

Contrast with a door in an out-of-the way spot in Animal Kingdom:
Although I’m liking Busch better for the animal interaction and verdant beauty, I’ll always give the nod to Disney Imagineers for their complex theming and design.

Next up, Tiggers! I love me some tigers, and the Busch display is supposed to be one of the best.

Oh my, yes, these guys are right there in your face:
With the way they set up the ground on either side of the glass, it is nearly impossible to tell where tiger space ends, and human space begins:

Here kitty, kitty, kitty:

There are some great photo opportunities here too, including a pop-up bubble where tigers sometimes lay on top and your buddy can get a shot of you with a tiger hat:

(not my pic)
Another option could make for a very cool family photo:(this is my pic, but not my family)
We are totally impressed with this exhibit. The cats seem very happy,
and have tons of space to roam, much of it in areas that aren’t accessible by guests, which is nice because you feel the tigers are making a choice to hang out and watch the humans.We get to the elephant exhibit just in time to catch the keeper interaction

Busch is the first park in the country to utilize positive re-enforcement exclusively with their elephants (no hooked canes). The experts here are very committed and excited about their program, and are excellent to talk to.

We got to watch them do a blood draw on two of the elephants, which was accomplished without any kind of restraint, just a little “sweet” reward for good behavior:

Everyone working this exhibit was friendly, professional, intelligent, and had answers to all our questions. They were thrilled to be here and show the work they are doing. We were VERY impressed.

Next up, Mike tries to get bit by a flamingo:

But fails.We spend some time checking out Jambo Junction:

(I have no idea what this thing is)

Jambo Junction includes smaller animals and also any babies that have been recently born or introduced to the park. If you’re going, be sure to see what’s new here so you don’t miss any cute and cuddly babies.

Next, we headed back to the front of the park so I can ride Cheetah Hunt. Mike enjoyed watching the cheetahs in the Cheetah Run exhibit so much that he didn’t even take a nap!

Cheetah Hunt is one uber-awesome coaster with the world’s slowest load times. The workers seem to have their feet stuck in molasses, and since no one really has any feeling of urgency, visitors take ages loading and unloading while I stand and stew and think of better ways to get more people on this ride. Once you’re strapped in, oh boy oh boy oh boy!! This ride uses LSM launch system three separate times to boost the coaster to its 60+ mph speeds. The air time is sooooooo sweet on this coaster. The twisty sections in the canyon are fast and silky smooth, with great transitions and no head-banging pain. Oh, I could ride this one all day long. Sooooooo fun!!!

I’m dragged away from this incredible coaster only because my poor hubby is waiting, and we have a show to catch. The new Icesploration, which opened the day before our arrival. This 30-minute show incorporates ice skating, acrobatics, animals and a few other tricks to show how a young boy learns about how more fun reality is instead of his video games.

It is a cute show, and well done, but just doesn’t pack that extra special oomph that only Disney seems to provide. I’d recommend it if you’re there for more than a day and would like some time off your feet and inside an air-conditioned theater.

After Icesploration, we head to the Garden Gate Cafe for lunch. When I started doing research on Busch Gardens, I was surprised by their lack of vegetarian offerings. They literally have NOTHING vegetarian (except dessert) at many of their restaurants. Finally, I decided on the Pizza and Pasta buffet at Garden Gate, hoping they would have a decent salad.

This is actually a very good deal at $10 per person and includes non-alcoholic beverages. Pizza is decently good, pasta is pretty basic but does include a whole wheat option. Available sauces were red, red with meat, and alfredo. Salad is pretty much that cheap bag version with no condiments to speak of. Well, it was good enough and Mike was satisfied, which is a very good thing!

After lunch, it’s time for Critter Castaways, which is a 30 minute show similar to Sea World’s Pet’s Ahoy, but with a few more exotic animals, like this guy:(I have no idea what this is)

The show is well done, includes some singing, and the actors all are well cast. The animals are extremely cute, and it is definitely worth your time if you like cute.

If you don’t like cute, go ride Cheetah Hunt instead! But one added bonus at the end of the show is that when they bring the animals out to the edge of the stage like they do at Flights of Wonder, you don’t just get to look at them, you get to pet them!
Yes, I got to pet this guy:(the owl, not the dude!)
We’re ready for a little more animal interaction, so we head over to Walkabout Way to check out the Kangaroos and Wallabies.

They do rock the topiary thing here, that’s for sure.

This area is another beautiful spot in the park, you walk past a formal garden, then over this bridge:

towards an enclosure that’s playing all-Australian music. So, get ready to groove along to INXS, Men At Work, and all your 80’s Aussie faves while you interact with these little guys:

And no, they’re not all in cages:

This wallaby was so incredibly cute. He would grab your hand and sniff it, or move it to where he wanted to be scratched:

Although here I think he’s stealing Mike’s watch.The roo’s enjoyed lazing in the sun and belly rubs were welcome:

Mike must have rubbed this guy for 5 minutes, and the roo had such a relaxed expression on its face the entire time. So much fun!!

I was petting one of the kangaroos when it grabbed my hand and moved it to a different spot on its side. I started scratching there and a ton of loose fur came off. Yes, I am paying for the privilege of being a personal roo groomer.

Hmmm, yea, that’s the spot mate!

As we’re leaving, Mike decides to try his luck with an ostrich:

And comes away with all fingers intact. I swear, he has crazy stupid luck with animals.

Next up for me is Sheikra.

Words and photos cannot express the awesomeness that is Shiekra. This B&M Floorless Dive coaster takes you up 200 feet, then stops you at the lip of the first drop, just as you begin to roll forward, you stop again – over the edge of the drop! You’re hanging there for what seems like minutes before suddenly, swoosh – you’re dropped STRAIGHT DOWN. Yeeeeeeeehaw!!!!! What a rush. Your butt is off the seat and your shoulders are against the restraints, not from negative G’s, but simply because you are falling straight down. Got my adrenaline pumping, for sure.

The ride is baby smooth, and includes some nice loops and a second near-vertical drop just in case you didn’t soil yourself on the first.

Oh, please, let me ride again and again and again!!! I am so lucky we’re here in the off season, I’m able to re-ride a few times before I start to feel guilty about Mike doing his “homeless on a bench” impression.

Oh dearest Sheikra, I’m a cheapskate, but I almost think you’re worth the price of admission alone. I LOVE this ride!

Sadly, we are running out of time. Our Safari starts at 4:45 and we need to be there by 4:30. I get done with my last ride on my new love and wave goodbye with tears in my eyes (wind, really, it was the wind) and we head to the other side of the park, but are stopped because there’s this sloth we need to pet:

Squeeeeee! Omigosh he is so flippin’ cute.

Okay, focus dudes, we’ve got to get to the Safari! But one second for another picture of the awesomeness of this park:

See; train, elephant topiary, a coaster peeking out of the trees in the distance, lonely paths at a time when every park at DW would be crammed full of people, shaded picnic tables. This may not be Disney, but I’m figuring out that not everything has to be Disney to be its own brand of incredible.

Next up, is it worth $40 to have a giraffe slobber on you?

Florida – Day 9, February 12 (part 3) – Henry B. Plant Museum – The original Tampa Bay Hotel

Driving down a road lined with laundromats, liquor stores and coffee shops, with modern skyscrapers in the distance, something like this is pretty much the last thing you’re expecting to see:

This Moorish-revival design with an astonishing combination of detailed woodwork, red brick, and stainless steel minarets is the original Tampa Bay Hotel, built by railroad magnate Henry B. Plant in 1888 at a cost (then) of over 2.5 million dollars. Dang.
The hotel covered 6 acres, held over 500 rooms, and is 1/4 mile long. It was equipped with the first elevator ever installed in Florida, which is still in use today. Every room had electric lights and telephones (another first for the state). Many rooms even included private baths, complete with full-size tub.

Sometimes bigger is not better, and unfortunately for Mr. Plant, although Florida would become a mecca for easterners searching for winter warmth, those same easterners had some troubles with their financial situations in the 1920’s, and the massive hotel became too expensive to run after the stock market crash, and closed in 1930.

Even before the Depression, although the hotel housed many well-known celebrities, it was rarely full. Mr. Plant had a brilliant idea in 1898, convincing the US Military to use his hotel as a base of operations for the Spanish-American War in Cuba. Generals and high ranking officers stayed in the lavish rooms, while the enlisted men camped on the surrounding acreage. Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders were there, with Roosevelt retaining a suite of rooms which he shared with his wife in the evening, spending the day leading his men on battle exercises on the lawn.

The Generals would gather on the wide veranda, sip lemonade, and discuss strategy.

Many people, disdainful of the lavish surroundings, began to call the conflict “The Verandah War”.

Walking on these wide and shady verandas, I can imagine these guys all dressed in seersucker suits and straw hats, sipping a gin and tonic and so removed from life and death amongst an infantry already battling yellow fever before they ever saw the enemy.

But that was almost 150 years ago, and how did this behemoth survive all these years? Thank the University of Tampa. Back in late 1933, the fledgling Tampa Bay Junior College was looking for a home, and was allowed to move into the hotel. Because of the large amount of space, the college was able to expand, eventually becoming the University.

In 1941, the city of Tampa signed a 99 year lease with the University for $1.00 a year, excluding the southeast wing of the building which would then house a museum.

Because this all happened very shortly after the closure of the hotel, most of the original artwork and furniture was still intact. This is amazing to us, since most of the historic homes we visit usually are filled with a few “original” pieces, and the rest of the stuff is simply “period correct”. And boy does this place have stuff. Every room is crammed to the gills full of unbelievably beautiful statuary, artwork, pottery, mirrors, furniture, it really is difficult to take it all in.

Admission is $10 for adults and only $4 for kids under 13. You are each given a hand-held device which gives an audio tour, and there is a short movie which covers the basics of the hotel’s history.

The artwork is amazing, and although some of the items are original bronzework, the Plant family wasn’t above a little deception to save a dime here or there, some of the statues are actually cast iron which are stained to look bronze.

Rooms are set up in vignettes, some, like this bedroom (part of a suite), are near-original condition:
I think this room looks like heaven. Well, in the winter. Summer would be more in the opposite direction.

The doorways into each room also have a grand Moorish design

The frosted panes of glass in the doors were originally fabric-covered panels, but the top windows are original.The outside doors carry on the same motif:

The exterior of the building is very well preserved, with very little evidence of any changes due to its use by the university.

I can’t believe this is all stainless steel. The cost would be astronomical if you tried to re-create this today.

This is me getting all artsy with my photography skills (or not).

The Plant Museum is a very neatly preserved capsule of early life in Florida, and definitely worth a few hours of your time.

There is also the 8-acre Plant Park adjacent to the museum, which houses some historic sculptures, and actually does have plants! It’s a nice grassy area to enjoy a picnic lunch or just let the kids run around. We didn’t take time to check it out, since I was really tired and was very ready to check into our room and just relax.

So, where are we staying for the next two nights? Keep in mind we are cheap. Also keep in mind that I do not want to be so cheap that we’re staying in a No-tel Motel in a bad section of town.

Well, Priceline really came through for us. I’d been plugging away at Name Your Own Price for a few weeks prior to our vacation, and finally hit the jackpot with a $43 bid which was accepted by Hyatt Place! Yep, serious score. Regular discounted rooms there are $144 a night. Here’s what our big-spending hundred bucks got us for two nights:

Out of the picture and to the left are the desk, wet bar, and refrigerator. Sure was nice to stretch out and have a sofa to sit on after spending a week at Pop Century in a 260 square-foot room!

By 7pm I climbed into bed with a book, and promptly fell asleep.

Tomorrow morning, Busch Gardens!

Florida – Day 9, February 12 (part 2) – Ybor City

Ybor City was really the start of Tampa. Founded in the 1880’s by a cigar manufacturer nambed Vincente Martinez Ybor.

You can read more about it at Wikipedia:

Ybor City (/iːbɔ̹r/) is a historic neighborhood in Tampa, Florida located just northeast of downtown. It was founded in the 1880s bycigar manufacturers and was populated by thousands of immigrants, mainly from SpainCuba, and Italy. For the next 50 years, workers in Ybor City’s cigar factories would roll millions of cigars annually.
Unfortunately, the area saw great declines in population during the Depression and WWII, leaving many buildings abandoned. In the 1970’s Tampa and the federal government decided “renovation” was in order. Inexplicably, their idea of renovation involved dynamite and the wrecking ball, and many of the historic buildings were destroyed. Locals got together and a push was made to create a Historic District, so the rest of the area was saved.The Ybor City Museum is a small museum which documents the history of the area with plenty of great period photos and a nicely done film. At $4 a person, it’s definitely within our parameters of “cheap entertainment”.

We enjoyed an hour or so here, reading about history and basically waiting until it was warm enough outside so we could wander around without freezing to death.

The museum also included some original worker housing, one of which is open and also has artifacts from the era:

We usually spend more time at museums no matter what they cover, but tobacco and cigar production are decently low on my list of “interests”. I really hate the smell of the things, my asthma doesn’t appreciate them either, and I’ve lost a decent chunk of my family and friends to lung cancer….so, this one was a hard sell for me. That said, I realize I can’t look at yesterday’s pastimes through today’s eyes, and it is a very well-designed space, worthy of a visit if you’re in the area.

Ybor City now is a conglomeration of vintage buildings, the occasional homeless person, a cool city trolley system, brick streets, tons of bars and nightclubs, head shops, and some very awesome vintage clothing stores. I can imagine walking through this place at night would be a vastly different experience than what we’re enjoying at noon on a Sunday.

Old and new play well together here. The newer buildings have been able to keep a similar feel to the originals, without going all “Victorian Cute” on the place.

I thought this was especially appropriate for my Trip Report

This is from one of the awesome vintage clothing stores which did a great job of melding authentic old with new stuff that has a vintage feel. I am not a shopper, I worked retail for years and I used to love fashion, now I loathe spending time in stores (sorry, I know I am very strange, please don’t hate me!). Anyway, vintage clothing was a major part of my life when I was younger, and I would have killed to have a store like this nearby.

Back out on the street, Mike does a little “over the shoulder” peek to see what’s in the news:

Even though it’s near 1pm, the wind is still cold, and we’re keeping all our layers on.

We hear a rooster crow. Well, that’s not something you’d expect to hear in the middle of a city, so we go searching and find these guys:

I’m thinking they’re a holdover from the Cuban emigrants, but I could be wrong. I’m sure there’s a story here somewhere!

One last view of Ybor, and we’re off to the Plant Museum (not about plants).

Florida – Day 9, February 12 (part 1) – Frozen Florida and a little regroup

We woke up this morning about an hour earlier than normal so that we can get everything else packed up and to baggage hold before we head into the park. Our tentative plan is MK, but since everything is green today, I told Mike it’s his choice.

The weather report shows last night’s low of around 30 degrees, and today’s high of in the 50’s. We dress warmly and head to the food court for our final breakfast at DW (waaaaaaaah!!!! sniff, sniff). The walk is absolutely frigid. We are used to cold, but not with high humidity. The wind is blowing and it is brutal.

Not helping is the fact that I’ve got a cold that I’ve been ignoring for most of the week, and today I just feel like crud.

We finish our leisurely breakfast of sanka-evil and bagels, then head back to the room to grab the luggage. The walk back feels even colder. Mike says “I don’t think ANY park will be fun with it this cold.” I say, “we’ve done parks when it’s colder”. See, our “tough people” persona’s are battling with our “just be smart and don’t give yourself pneumonia” adult voices. For once, the adult voices win. Mike asks if we can call the car rental company and get the car earlier, I call and they say “sure, can you be in front of Pop at 8:20? It’s about 7:45 now, so heck yes we can!

We do a final idiot check of the room, grab all our stuff, and we get to do the Walk of Shame – carrying our luggage and heading home. Sigh. I hate the Walk of Shame. Fortunately this time the blow is softened by knowing we’ve still got two days of fun ahead in Tampa.

So, the DW portion of our trip ends, not with a bang but a whimper. I am so very glad we decided to brave the crowds and see Wishes last night!

We pick up our car (Ford Fusion with only 2,000 miles on it), and head down I-4 towards Tampa. But, we now have an entire day to blow, and no plans. What to do? We stop at a Starbucks for some REAL coffee and get out the laptop to see if Tampa offers any interesting INDOOR museums or activities.

One of the baristas tells us about Ybor City, which looks cool (we love old buildings), and they have a museum there too. The second item that catches our fancy is the Henry B. Plant museum (which has nothing to do with plants). So, we have a plan, we are warm and our belies are full of good coffee, we’re ready to roll!

Disney World 2010

Day 1, Saturday January 30th:

Mike uses his time before our flight wisely, studying Spanish!

Up at o-dark-thirty for our 8am flight, everything is smooth sailing and we arrive at Magical Express around 8pm just as a bus is getting ready to leave, we load our luggage and hop on board. We’re at Pop Century by 8:45, I’d used online check-in and only had to wait for one person in front of me.

We got our favorite lakeside first-floor 60’s section, and 15 minutes later the gal from WeGoShop turned up with our food.

I can’t say enough about this service, it was so easy and worked flawlessly. We’d used Sunray in the past and done the grocery stop, but utilizing ME (Magical Express) and WeGoShop saved us nearly $70. I did miss that special feeling of being picked up at the airport by our own private driver, but the savings was enough to pay for dinner at Boma, so this time it was worth it.

After putting away our groceries, we donned bathing suits and headed to the pool. This is our third stay at Pop, and our FIRST time in the pool! Told you we’re weird. Washing away the tension and airplane smell was sure wonderful, although the walk back to the room was brisk!

Early to bed, ready for Animal Kingdom rope drop tomorrow (Rope Drop = Gate opening, or second “ceremonial” rope that Disney has in all parks every morning).


Day 2, Sunday January 31st:

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Darned alarm went off at 3am, well okay it SAYS 6am, but my brain is still on Pacific time. Old bones move slow, and it takes us awhile to get in the groove, I get snacks and sandwiches packed in our backpacks, a bagel for breakfast and we’re off to get some coffee-like-substance at the food court. Mike brings Folgers singles and adds them to the mix, I just make a conglomeration of Disney hot chocolate, creamer, and that coffee stuff.
Even with a slow start, we’re first in line at rope drop. They’ve changed the morning show, having the truck with Minnie and friends greet us at the park entrance instead of at second rope drop after the bridges onto the island. I miss the old ceremony, always thought it was cool.

Animal Kingdom Opening Ceremony

We grab FP (FP=Fast Pass) for Safari, then ride. Our safari driver is awesome, had so much information I’d never known before. One thing he asked, “does anyone know the name for a group of Cheetahs?”, one quick fellow answered “Poker Players!” Real answer? Coalition.
My favorite though is a Bloat of Hippos!

Hippo Yawn. Ducks Unimpressed

Tiger yawn on command!

I asked the Tapir to yawn and all she did was stick out her tongue at me.

Since Mike has motion sickness, I’ll do EE (Expedition Everest) using the single rider line later in the day. This trip I wasn’t as into the big rides as I normally am, but enjoyed doing things as a couple more. Don’t get me wrong, I still got in multiple runs on all the mountains, just not as much as years past.

Focus Dude! It's Crush.

Focus Dude! It's the Crush man.

Finding Nemo the Musical is our favorite show in Disney World. Don’t miss it – even if you think a musical with puppets about fish sounds completely stupid, it’s really quite neat. We caught the first show, then I made the Mike watch FOTLK (Festival of the Lion King) which for some reason he says just isn’t that cool to him – weird since he loves Cirque Du Soliel, and this show has that same feel to me.

Festival of the Lion King

I consider AK (Animal Kingdom) the prettiest of all parks in the daytime. Unfortunately the freeze earlier in the month had really taken a toll on the plants, there were no flowers and many dormant trees. But leave it to Disney to make everything still look beautiful, if we hadn’t been before, we’d never have noticed the difference. Besides the foliage, the buildings here are just so amazing, the detail that went into park design is astonishing, and I notice new things every time we go.

Animal Kingdom Art

Old or new? Imagineers are so darned good at this stuff

We stayed at AK until close at 5pm, then hopped to HS (Hollywood Studios) just to catch Fantasmic!. It’s been 3 years since we’ve seen this show, mainly because we just didn’t want to deal with the crowds. This time with cooler weather, plus 7 and 8:30pm shows we figured we’d do okay.

I’d planned on wandering around until we got in line for the 8:30 show, but we decided to check the lines for the 7pm show, and ended up walking right in and sitting down at the back in the center, perfect!

We both really enjoyed F!, Mike didn’t remember it at all, and was surprised at how much he enjoyed it. I love it because they haven’t taken the evil completely out. There’s something much more satisfying about goodness and light when it’s juxtaposed with dark evil dragons and lots of fire and brimstone!



You’ll probably notice I’m not mentioning where we ate or what we had – mainly because I figured you’re not that interested in my reviews of Nutra Grain bars, PB&J sandwiches, almonds and dried fruit. We bring our own food into the parks – not to say we don’t “supplement our diet” with Disney treats though!


Day 3, Monday February 1st:

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EPCOT rope drop! Routine is getting easier, and we made it to the park gates waaaaay too early, oh well. Better early than late.


Met the neatest CM at second rope; Norm was funny and had some cute tricks up his sleeve, keeping the kids and adults entertained while we waited. Soarin’ stampede, Mike goes to grab some FP’s and I get in standby line. After he’s done his FP duties, my motion-sickness-prone hubby heads to a soft bench and takes a little nap while I ride.

At around 10am, the skies open up and it POURS rain. We’re ready and our Columbia raincoats do their job. I LOVE these coats. They’ve been everywhere with us, Alaska, Newfoundland, Florida, they pack small and never leak. Super comfy and well-vented enough that I don’t feel like I’m stewing in my own juices after wearing them awhile.

This is the very first time we’ve experienced rain at a Disney park (crazy, huh?), and what the experts say is right, the place clears out! The rest of the day is so quiet it’s a little spooky.

After watching Miyuki make a beautiful candy dragon, we head to Morocco and the Tangierine Cafe for dinner.

Miyuki creates fantasy candy and lots of laughs


We get our spot in front of Germany for Illuminations about 15 minutes before showtime and not a single soul is standing around us. Nada.

It's quiet, too quiet!

I can see maybe 200 people standing by Norway, and that’s it. It’s like this until maybe 5 minutes to showtime. It was cool not being smushed in by crowds while watching fireworks, definitely a rare treat!


Day 4, Tuesday February 2nd:

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Magic Kingdom Rope Drop. Weather report says clouds AM with showers likely, so we pack the raincoats again. As the train pulls into the station during the opening show, the clouds rip open and drop buckets of rain on us; it has gone from light clouds to POURING rain in two seconds! Abdool, the CM who’s guarding the rope moves under the arch and yells at us to follow him, we cram probably 200 people in and watch the rain pound deserted Main Street beyond. Countdown done, we duck and head into the deluge.

Quiet streets, except for the sound of pouring rain!

After grabbing Fast Passes for BTMRR (Big Thunder Mountain Railroad) and NOT riding it (to heck with touring plans, it’s pouring rain!), we go looking for indoor entertainment. At 10am the rain has lifted and we take the first raft over to Tom’s Island to see if there are any paintbrushes laying around. Sure enough, those lazy fence painters have dropped ‘em all over, so not wanting to leave any litter behind, we pick one up and hand it to a cast member. He’s so darned proud he gives us a certificate good for two Mickey Bars ;)

The park stays way below normal crowd levels until late in the afternoon, so we hang out and enjoy BTMRR and everything else with no waits at all. Our competitive streak comes out and we end up riding Buzz Lightyear a bunch of times, trying to beat each others score.

Two crazed middle-aged kids!

Afternoon brings blue sky and warm weather, an amazing change from this morning’s monsoon.

Cinderella's castle and blue sky, perfect!

By 2:30 we decide to hop the boat to Grand Floridian (really nice boat captain, we had fun joking about his “Mickey Mouse” captain’s credentials) and then on to Downtown Disney. We grab some gifts for friends at the $10 and under store, then let our inner child out at Disney Quest until around 10pm, then back to the room for some well-deserved sleep.

Downtown Disney sunset


Day 5, Wednesday February 3rd:

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Halfway through our vacation already, Noooooooooooo!!!

After getting over my crying jag and depression that we’ll be leaving the Mouse behind in a few days, we headed to the food court for breakfast. At 8am one of the CM’s came around with those ubiquitous “Do The Twist” signs to drum up a likely cast of characters. This is so much fun to watch, especially when the kids con their parents into joining in.

C'mon Baby, do the twist!

On an “adult” level, I try to analyze why so many people enjoy returning to Disney World time and again, and why so many different types of people are happy here. I think the main reason is Disney knows not all things suit all people, and they offer a massive variety of entertainment to suit these multitudes of tastes and age levels. If the Twist isn’t your thing, then maybe tea at Grand Floridian will strike your fancy.

Another thing Disney does better than anyone else is to somehow keep relatively low-paid employees feeling like what they do here makes a difference. We’ve met so many caring and dynamic Disney team members over the years it’s amazing, and really does add something very special to our memories of this place.

This morning we’re off to Hollywood Studios and our very first attempt at Toy Story Midway Mania (TSMM). I’d avoided this new ride last year because I was afraid it would be too much for Mike’s motion sickness, however, after reassurance from all my awesome Tour Guide Mike buddies, we decided to give it a try. We fared pretty well in the stampede, got Fast Passes, and then got in line.

Mr. Potato Head

Get ready for a really BIG trip down memory lane.

I LOVED the ride, and it didn’t bother Mike’s motion sickness at all. Mike was less thrilled about it, still lovin’ Buzz Lightyear more. I’m like “What! Really? No Way!” After 3 more rides, he likes it better, but still not as much as Buzz, says he feels that TSMM doesn’t require as much skill.

I’ve never taken Mike through the Standby lines at Tower of Terror or Rockin’ Rollercoaster, so this time he goes with me to see the theming. He’s very impressed with Tower, especially since he loved Twilight Zone growing up. Of course, before we actually load in the ride car, Mike tells a Cast Member he decided not to ride and gets to see the “Chicken” exit. After the ride, I find him talking to an older CM at the photo booth, which I’d never really looked at before, but is full of radio and transmitter equipment from the 1930’s. Amazing stuff, and this sweet CM even shows us a hidden Mickey. So neat!

Can you find the Hidden Mickey?

Of course, the only thing Mike is interested in with Rockin’ Rollercoaster is the vintage Triumph motorcycle in the load area. I give him the camera and he gets some nice shots of it before exiting. Shallow person I am, I’m just in it for the music and the loops.

Mike's trying to figure out a way to get that headlight.

Most people look for Hidden Mickeys at Disney World, my husband looks for Hidden Motorcycles.

Today is beautiful, sunny and warm. Hollywood Studios has beautifully detailed theming, but it’s easy to miss. Subdued and carefully crafted to reflect the nostalgic era of the golden age of movies, little touches are everywhere if you have the time to stop and look around.

Reflections on a sunny day

The weather is warming up, and we’re ready for some waterpark action. Although the cast member from Jamaica thinks we’re crazy, we don our suits and head for one of the world’s largest wave pools. Although many people think Blizzard Beach is better, we love Typhoon Lagoon, mainly for this great wave pool.

The wave pool is one place where Mike works harder at having fun than I do. When he stops paddling, he sinks like a lead weight. I, on the other hand, have my own er…. “floatation devices” and bob like a cork without expending any effort. I could float here for hours, so relaxing….until that horn sounds and you hear an ominous rumble and suddenly a 7’ wave is rushing towards you. Wheeeeeeee!!! Gurgle, gurgle, cough, cough…again!!!!

Happy in the sunshine at Typhoon Lagoon

Another super-fun thing at Typhoon Lagoon is Crush N’ Gusher, the water coaster. Unless you like the feeling of your rear getting beat by rolling pins, lift your bottom up while you’re going through the uphill parts. Other than that, this is quite a kick, with some neat unexpected air time and twisty hairpin turns.

There’s so few people here today it’s a little eerie, one of the tube slides is so dry I had to push myself forward a bit until I got a wave going ahead of the tube, which splashed just enough water on the side walls to keep me going.

Weather is maybe 75 degrees with a very slight breeze, and we’re both comfortable and not chilly. We hang out until 4:30, hit the showers and then it’s off to Magic Kingdom for some fireworks.

We haven’t seen Wishes in a few years, again mainly because of the crowds. Fireworks start at 8pm, so we play until nearly 7:30 then head to the flagpole. This is our compromise between a good viewing spot and Mike not having to wade through crowds after the show. We end up front and center, and have a great view. Both of us really enjoy Wishes, more than I remember. There is something very special about the nostalgic soundtrack playing, paired with awe-inspiring fireworks exploding over that beautiful castle lit with an ever-changing rainbow of colors.

Main Street after dark

Fireworks over the castle

A perfect ending to a great day. And no rain!


Day 6, Thursday February 4th:

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Our second Animal Kingdom morning. Today there’s some special guests to carry the rope, some Cast Members from Tokyo Disney! Makes me wonder what they think of all the property Disney World takes up, seems like it would be even more overwhelming to them than it is to us.

Walking next to us is a kid who’s over 7’ tall, it’s a little wild to see the juxtaposition between him and the young Asian kids, think of the engineering that has to go into building ride vehicles to fit both sizes! Amazing.

The long and short of it!

Sunny day with a few clouds in the sky, the light is great for quick photos on the Safari.

Articulated Giraffe

Articulated Giraffe and Scimitar Horned Oryx

Mike's getting up-close and personal with the fauna.

Afterward we walk both trails and get to see some amazing Hippo play-fighting. It’s truly wondrous how graceful and quick these behemoths are under water.

Hippo Love

And I learned that they do most of their eating at night on land. Could you imagine coming up to a heard of hippos grazing on the plains in the middle of the night? I’d definitely wonder if I’d eaten the wrong pill and gone down the rabbit hole with Alice.

We want to catch Nemo one more time, and are hurrying to the theater when we see DeVine! Awesome! We’ve never caught her before, and she is just as cool and unusual as I’d hoped. There is an ethereal calm about her that seems to wash over the surrounding area, like the quiet center of a storm.



After Nemo, it’s 1pm and warm enough for another dip in that big Lagoon, so we head over to the water park. There’s a few more people here today, still not crowded, but not the ghost town it was yesterday. There’s a bit of a breeze, so we’ve got to stay in the water to keep warm. We float on the lazy river, and spend the rest of the afternoon catching waves.

Back to the room for a shower and we’re ready for our one “real” dinner, Boma! Mike is a vegetarian, and Boma has a massive selection of wonderful foods for him to choose from, makes him feel like he’s getting his money’s worth.

Our reservation is for 6:30, and as we’re walking towards the busses I realize Animal Kingdom is going to be closing in 5 minutes, there’s no way a bus will be going from the resorts to the park. So, how to get to Animal Kingdom Lodge? Hmmmm. Downtown Disney is always the go-to, but in the wrong direction, next would be Hollywood Studios. As I’m thinking out loud, a bus pulls up to the Animal Kingdom stop to let people off, we decide to ask the driver, just in case he’s headed back that way. He says he’s not, but then asks where we’re going and we tell him the Lodge. He says “Hop on, I’ll take you there”. Okay! So, we have our own personal massive taxi take us right to Animal Kingdom Lodge. This is the kind of wonderful magic Disney Cast Members make happen all the time. I LOVE this place!

Animal Kingdom Lodge

We get to our table, and who helps us but Joanne, our very favorite Cast Member of all! This sweet lady lost her husband to cancer a few years ago, we grieved with her last year, and were so happy to see her smiling face here again. She’s looking great, and uses her spare time to rehabilitate abandoned miniature dogs.


We have a wonderful meal, and eat way too much. I think I’m still full! The desserts are my favorite part; tiny selections let you taste everything without being too piggy. My favorites are the carmel apple thingy, and the Zebra Domes, but they were all exceptional.

Can’t go back and try to sleep on our overly-full stomachs, so it’s off to Downtown Disney and Disney Quest. Pinball is exercise, right?

Another full day done, we ride home tired and happy, reflecting on happy times and trying to forget this journey’s closer to its end than its beginning.


Day 7, Friday February 5th:

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We started again at Magic Kingdom this morning. Because of Mike’s motion sickness, many other parks are somewhat limited for him in terms of “fun” rides, not so here! From Big Thunder to Splash (when it’s working!), all the beautiful original castle rides, silly Pooh and bouncing with Tigger, a little healthy competition with Buzz Lightyear, to a nice nap in Carousel of Progress or Hall of Presidents. Basically the only thing he can’t do here is Space Mountain.

Hey, where'd that stowaway come from?

The only bummer is the crowds, which can get big even during the slow season in the afternoons and early evening. Oh, and the seagulls. I freakin’ hate those birds! Darned aggressive scavengers hang out mainly in Frontierland just waiting for someone holding a hot dog or popcorn so they can swoop in and nab a bite. Yuck. I’m not a fussy person, but I just think this is gross, and I wish Disney could do something about it.

Now if they could replace all the gulls with rabbits, I’d totally be for it. I love our Pop Century bunnies, so cool to see them hopping around the pathways, using the grassy areas like their personal smorgasbord. In my perfect world, all seagulls would be replaced with rabbits. Hmmm, this might cause some overpopulation issues, how about all girl bunnies?

On our bus ride to Magic Kingdom as we’re going past Contemporary Resort, our bike radar goes off and our heads whip around just in time to see something that looks old and shiny parked out front. Mike makes me promise we’ll walk over and take a look when we’re ready to hop.

Probably because the weather is better (no torrential downpours), Magic Kingdom is much busier today than day’s previous. Not a big deal, just that by noon we’re ready to move on. Well, I’m ready to move on, Mike is officially kicking my rear at Buzz Lightyear – like nearly double my score a couple of times. I’m starting to make up excuses like“my trigger’s sticky”, “you’re not moving the car so I can hit the good targets”, “waaaah!”, they’re not working and I leave the park down probably 4 games to 1.

Warning! Hidden Mickey in Sector 1

We walk over to Contemporary, where we find the bike. It’s a 1973 Honda CB750 that someone has spent an inordinate amount of time and money making into something extremely cool. This is one awesome bike! We left a business card hoping they’d get in touch with us, always neat to hook up with fellow moto-heads, especially talented ones.

We grab the Hollywood Studios bus from the Contemporary and make it there in time to catch both Lights Motors Action (guess what, we really like this one!) and Indiana Jones.

Look, more bikes!

Only impressive when you realize these guys are going probably 40mph, and the guy in front is driving backwards.

Hey, good news! You've got a job at Disney World. Bad news, it requires being set on fire twice a day.

We haven’t done the Backlot Tour since refurb last year, so we hop in line. Just as we’re getting to the first demo area, it starts pouring rain, by the time we get on the tour cars it’s really coming down. Unbeknownst to me, rain cuts this tour down to just a quick drive through the old props, and completely cuts out Catastrophe Canyon. Pretty lame!

We use our fastpasses for Toy Story, and Mike is enjoying it more with every ride, so now instead of complaining about it being childish, he’s complaining that he can’t ride it more because the line is long! Next year I’ll have to figure out a better way to maximize each set of fastpasses so he has less to complain about.

We wander towards the exit at dusk, just as the rain is letting up a beautiful rainbow appears over the Crossroads statue at the park entrance. Beautiful!

Mickey directs a rainbow for our viewing pleasure

We call it an early night, taking a few minutes to walk over to the 90’s section of Pop Century and go up to the top story to see what kind of view we might get of the space shuttle launch Sunday morning. We pick our spots and head back to the room, but not before taking a few minutes to mess with Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head.


Day 8, Saturday February 6th:

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Last full day in the parks, so we leave the room and find the dreaded ENVELOPE OF PAIN AND SEPARATION handing from our door. “Waaaaaaaaahhhhh, I don’t wannna go!” Okay, I pull it together because even the bunnies are staring at the middle-aged lady throwing a tantrum, and we head to our regularly scheduled appointment with Disney Coffee-like substance, Shaun the Sheep, and bagels.

I have an ugly little secret to divulge. I have developed an affinity for Shaun the Sheep. I totally look forward to this cartoon every morning while we’re drinking coffee in the Food Court. I really like the cartoonist’s sense of humor, and since there’s no talking, it’s easy to understand when you’re watching TV with no sound. One of my favorite times at Disney is that quiet few minutes eating breakfast, listening to Hall and Oats and watching Shaun’s shenanigans.

After my Shaun fix, we’re off to EPCOT. Weather is sunny but TV said we should have some “lake effect wind” whatever that is. The park is crowded with tour groups, some Brazilians and some dance teams. This really messes with ride wait times because all it takes is two groups in line and what should be a 10 minute wait is suddenly 60 minutes.

I’m able to ride Soarin’, then we both head to Living with the Land. We enjoy this laid-back look at gardening and hydroponics, although Mike is sorely tempted to step off that boat and start grazing, I’m able to hold him back by pointing out the security cameras located throughout the dome.

Mikey likes him some habaneros

We’ve got a date with a turtle, and have fun laughing in amazement at Turtle Talk with Crush. The technology is so cool I think most people don’t even think about how hi-tech this show is.

Turtle Talk

Afterwards we find Mike a warm bench in the sun and I head to Mission Space, my all-time favorite ride at DW, mainly because it doesn’t feel like a ride, it feels to me like we’re really blasting off, encountering weightlessness, and the whole thing. Tons of amusement parks have centrifuge-based rides, leave it to Disney to elevate it to something more than a ride and create an experience.

Next I do Test Track using single-rider line, here again the tour groups have made the Fast Pass return line a nearly 50-minute wait. Crazy! So happy Disney offers Single Rider for this one, and I’m through and out in about 15 minutes. I like Test Track, but not enough to wait at all for it.

I head back to Mission Space, where standby Orange is now 50 minutes. I sit next to my sleeping hubby on the bench and eat some lunch while I watch the exit. Soon I see a huge batch of dance team members exit, and I go back and check the ride line – it’s now inside the main building so I know I’ve only got a 10-minute wait from that point. Even though the sign still shows 50 minutes, I’m loading in about 9 minutes.

I wave a sad goodbye to Mission Space, and we head towards World Showcase. That “lake effect” wind they talked about has really kicked up, blowing cooler air off the lagoon and whipping around us.

Torii Gate

For some reason, this makes our usually lazy and enjoyable stroll through the Showcase not fun at all. We’re both irritable and out-of-sorts. Mike asks if we can hop to Animal Kingdom and I say Sure! It was the best idea, the big trees and tight trails of Animal Kingdom took away all the wind and we had a wonderful afternoon.

Focusing on things we hadn’t done yet, we took the Discovery Trail around the back side of the Tree of Life and had so much fun watching the Kangaroos and other animals here. The path was darned near deserted, the weather was warm, and the sun was shining, just a beautiful and relaxing time.

NeNe Goose

Perfect lighting makes it easy to appreciate the gorgeous artwork on the Tree of Life, and we have such fun pointing out different animals to each other, trying to find the more esoteric and well-hidden beasts.

We hadn’t seen Flights of Wonder in a few years, so we went to catch their last show of the day. Lucky enough to get some seats right up front, we had a perfect view and thoroughly enjoyed it. For some reason, Flights of Wonder didn’t strike a cord with us the first time we saw it, but this time it just suited our mood so well, it was perfect.

Eurasian Eagle Owl

Gray-Crowned Crane in flight

It’s funny how every trip we have a different favorite. One year we’ll ride Thunder Mtn Railroad 20 times, another trip we can’t get enough of the waterparks, this trip it was Buzz Lightyear and our quiet unplanned afternoon here at Animal Kingdom.

After a final viewing of It’s Tough to Be a Bug,

Hopper from It's Tough to Be a Bug

we slowly made our way out of the park and back “home”. I needed to get everything packed and we’d be getting up at 4am for the Shuttle launch, so an early night was definitely called for.


Day 9, Sunday February 7th:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Fullscreen Slideshow

Leaving the mouse behind today and traveling back to the “real world”. Sigh.

Last night I was able to get one suitcase totally packed and the other nearly done. The alarm goes off at 4am, and we throw on some warm clothes, grab the camera and head to our pre-selected spot to watch the Space Shuttle launch. We wait, and continue waiting. Nothing. We see other people waiting too. Still nothing. Bummer. We head back to the room 15 minutes after the scheduled launch time, only to find out later that morning the launch was delayed 24 hours. Well thanks a whole-freakin’-lot CNN for not mentioning that at 4am!

We crawl in bed for an hour’s nap, then get back up at 6am and complete our packing.

Now it’s our turn for the “walk of shame”, hanging our heads as we mope towards baggage check holding our Magical Express paperwork. Everyone knows you’re leaving, no one wants to make eye contact, so sad. Well, at least we’ll have our final morning at Magic Kingdom to soften the blow.

We drop the luggage at resort-to-airport check-in and head out for our final dose of Mickey magic.

We spent the morning doing our favorites, finishing up with 3 rides on Buzz Lightyear (Mike clobbered me), then it’s our last time through the turnstiles, and our final Mikey-hand wave goodbye and we’re officially on our way back to the “real world”.


Magical Express (ME) picks us up and drops us at MCO, we’re through security, our plane’s on time, and by 8pm we’re back in Portland. Only our luggage had such a wonderful time it’s decided to stay in Florida! Well, rats.

Southwest says they’ll get it in the next morning and FedEx it to us (what, no UPS? Mike is truly offended!). In the end, it doesn’t show up until Wednesday, but we survived. Next time though we’ll load the luggage on ME ourselves, as that transfer from the resort to the airport was the hitch.

Our awesome Sister-in-Law Sue picks us up at the airport and we’re in our car by 9:30 and home in Central Oregon at midnight. We say a quick hello to the cats, feed them some treats and fall into bed nearly 24 hours after waking up the previous morning! Next day it’s off to work, and we both agree we’ll get a Saturday flight next year, we’re getting too old for these all-nighters!

Looking back, we had a great time. Every Disney vacation is different, and we’ve experienced quite a few variations in our four years, from stomach flu (two years ago), to showing my brother’s family the world (last year), to weather variations of heat, wind, rain and freezing temperatures. Even with all these, Disney is still our most relaxing and guaranteed-fun-time vacation. We love being able to hand over the driving to someone else, not worry about serious problems (say, like a motorcycle break-down on an island in another country), and simply focus on each other and our time together.

I’m so glad we have the ability and means to create many different types of adventures with our vacation time, and I hope that Disney will be included in these plans for years to come. There’s no way to know what the future holds, and as I get older, I realize how temporary and ephemeral this life (and lifestyle) really are. This makes me appreciate good times so much more, and Disney World is definitely a very good time!

Back from Disney World

Had a great time playing by ourselves for the first few days, then an excellent time showing ‘our’ parks to my Brother and his family.  The nephews really seemed to have a good time, and Mike didn’t break any of them even once!

Although we’d heard doom and gloom about low attendance numbers, you couldn’t prove it by us.  Mike and I both felt there were about the same amount of people in the parks and at the resorts as we’d seen in previous years.

We also spent a day at Kennedy Space Center, which was amazing.  Mike said it wasn’t really his ‘thing’, but he enjoyed it.  I loved it!  The movies and displays really showed how incredibly lucky we were to make it to the moon.  Our technology was so basic, I think it was a case of ‘beginners luck’ the first time!

Our timing was perfect for the weather.  Mike and I got there as a cold front was leaving, our first day in the park was chilly, we wore windbreakers and gloves most of the day.  The next day was warm enough to forgo the gloves, then day after Mike was wearing shorts, and by Saturday is was hot!  We had beautiful sunny weather until about an hour before our departure from Disneyworld on Thursday afternoon, when it clouded up and started raining.  It rained most of the way to Cocoa Beach, but then the sun broke through the clouds and we had a warm fun evening playing on the beach.

Friday morning we woke to rain, but grabbed our raincoats and happily headed to Kennedy Space Center, where most of the exhibits are indoors.  By 4pm the rain had stopped and the sun was out again.

Saturday morning our plane took off at 7:55am in sunny skies.  We landed in Portland 8 hours later, barely making it between fog banks – two hours after our arrival the fog was too thick to allow any more landings!  Talk about good timing.

I’ll be posting picks to flickr later today.