All Around Florida
Bob and Terry on Tour 2012, with Donna and Joe
Days Eleven, Twelve and Thirteen

Day eleven – Monday, October 8, 2012

I have to give credit to that 1994 guide book I talk about every so often. There is one thing it mentioned that I marked down as “we have to try this” for Chris and I.

Tonga Toast.

For those of you that have not experienced it… think thick cut sourdough bread, prepared as French toast. And, oh yeah, it gets sliced and stuffed with bananas, and then includes a cinnamon-sugar coating before being served with butter and syrup.

It is as amazing, brilliant, sinful and beautiful as it sounds.

I must caution you though… there is ONLY ONE PLACE TO GET TONGA TOAST! And that is at the Kona Café, on the second floor of the main building of Disney’s Polynesian Village.

Yes… yes… go ahead and make it at home. You will enjoy. (And in 2004, Terry, Ellen, Richard and I enjoyed a fabulous different take on French toast while in Las Vegas at Treasure Island, which featured strawberries and cream cheese and custard and… lord I’m getting hungry… delicious.)

But honestly, if you are at Disney and chasing a legend like Tonga Toast, don’t settle for second best… get the original, the one and only, the Kona Café Tonga Toast.

Chris and I went bonkers for it back in 1994… Terry and the boys loved it during our first family adventure in 1997… and we have, as our trips have allowed, sought it out as part of our visits ever since.

We have tickets to Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party at the Magic Kingdom tonight. Planning on early admission, we have set up our schedule to meet Donna and Joe roughly around 3pm at the park gates.

Right now, it’s after 9:30am, we’re showered and ready… the quest for Tonga Toast using Disney transportation is about to begin!

Staying at a Disney Resort has its advantages. Of all of them, one of the reasons we decided we could visit Disney on this trip was very simple -- by staying on property, we wouldn’t need to rent a car. Ellen and Richard have always been fantastic to us. Once they dropped us off at the Art of Animation, we were done needing a vehicle for this trip. Disney has shuttles, monorails, ferries… and basically getting around Disney World would be easy to navigate. And on the day of our departure, the Magical Express would take us from the resort to the airport.

There was just one question I had about the shuttles… how long would things take to go from point a to point b.

Want the basics? Disney World covers more than 40 square miles. Four theme parks… two water parks… roughly two dozen separate resort/hotel properties… Downtown Disney… and, during a tour back in 1999, a Disney Cast Member explained that at virtually any time of day there are roughly 250,000 people on the Disney World property.

I read someplace that they are running more than 270 buses… and that number came from five years ago, so I would bet they are comfortably over 300 by now.

Later today we are going to the Magic Kingdom. We have no plans to return to the Art of Animation resort before attending Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. For the Tonga Toast Quest we are on right now, we need to get from the Art of Animation to the Polynesian Village.

We walk from our room to the main building at Art of Animation, and specifically the shuttle bus area in front. The shuttles departing each resort target a specific large destination… basically a theme park, water park and Downtown Disney. Since we would be riding the shuttle bus back at the end of the night… and the monorail goes to the Polynesian Village… I suggest we take the shuttle to the Magic Kingdom (so we’ll know the general loading area later in the evening). From there, we could hop on the monorail and go to get our breakfast.

We move to the section labeled for the Magic Kingdom shuttle and start our wait.

Now understand, I am not complaining. Disney is an amazing organization. From shipping things to your room to other amenities, the shuttle service is just one of several very impressive perks that come with a Disney resort stay. But this is not a fast service. In other words… don’t plan on them being able to get you from your hotel room to a theme park in five minutes or less. That’s just completely unreasonable.

It’s before 10am as we arrive in the shuttle bus loading area… and we don’t need to be to the Magic Kingdom until about 3pm to get in line for the party. (More on that in a minute.) The only question is when the Kona Café stops serving breakfast. I forgot to check… but I’m figuring about 11am… giving us slightly over an hour to make it.

While waiting for the bus, we watch four shuttles arrive and leave for the Hollywood Studios. This sort of makes sense… since it is the closest park to Art of Animation. Still… we don’t believe any of the buses were the same. And, while talking, we begin to wonder why the Magic Kingdom doesn’t have more buses running. After all, it is the most visited park in the world. Here are some interesting numbers to consider while we wait for our ride…

Worldwide Theme Park Attendance figures
Disney Park
Magic Kingdom
Animal Kingdom
Hollywood Studios

In the world rankings, Disney theme parks regularly occupy spaces 1 through 8. For Disney World properties, the parks place the Magic Kingdom 1st (always) and the other three in some order fit in between 5th and 8th. Disneyland and the Disney international parks (Japan, France) occupy positions 2nd, 3rd, 4th and then either 5th or 6th. The order of parks has not really changed much during the years noted here, or by going back to 2008 (not shown). The Magic Kingdom is pretty much always the most visited theme park in the world each year since they opened the main gates. Other than the Magic Kingdom, only Disneyland… in Anaheim, California… has ever topped 15,000,000. (And Disneyland actually crossed over 16,100,000 in 2011.) And it looks like no park other than a Disney park has ever crossed the 10,000,000 plateau.

I never thought about this… but Disney shuttles are equipped to handle wheelchairs and scooters. What happens is that they flip a seat up and have the unit park in that area. So… one scooter takes up the space of a 3-seat bench.

Ok… our shuttle is here… back to the journey.

We get on and set off for the Magic Kingdom. As we are pulling into the area in front of the park where all transportation converges, we have invested about an hour into our travels. Not bad, especially if you include the possibility of the shuttles taking additional time into your estimates. But for us…

For today it means we are beginning to draw closer to 11am. And, as we get off and head toward the monorail station, we learn that the monorails aren’t running to the resorts at that time. That means our next option is to get on a ferry, and the one we need heads to the Grand Floridian before continuing to the Polynesian Village.

(Now I happen to like hopping on a boat and venturing out onto the Seven Seas Lagoon. Relaxing, visually impressive, and just fun. But we’ve got Tonga Toast in our sights, and… well… yeah… it’s not Tick-Tock going tick tock right now. We’re going to arrive at the Polynesian Village dock after 11am.)

We get off in the Polynesian Village and are walking quickly along while trying to organize our bearings. (You can almost hear “recalculating… recalculating… recalculating…” in the air around us.)

Neither of us has ever arrived here by ferry before, and so figuring out for certain which door of which building leads into the main hall is quite a trick. It seems like it should be easy enough… but toss in several palm trees, outdoor seating, sand and funny viewing angles as you approach the buildings can make it a bit of a trick even when you are convinced you are moving in the right direction.

Turns out we are moving in the right direction, and within a few minutes we have reached the second floor and the desk of the Kona Cafe. We made it in time… and got our Tonga Toast. (Awesome… delicious… always a treat.)

And… while talking to the hostess and waitress, we mentioned that we were celebrating our anniversary and had been engaged at Disney World. That led to a surprise at the end of our meal…

After a tremendous breakfast, we head over to the Polynesians Village monorail station. It’s barely past noon, and they are running between the resorts now. We’re supposed to be meeting Donna and Joe at the Magic Kingdom entrance around 3pm. As was the case when we attended the Christmas Party, we’ve heard they have an early admission that begins roughly around 4pm even though the party technically begins at 7pm. So we’ve got a bit of time to invest in a few things. We decide to head over to the Contemporary Resort.

We stop in two stores (Fantasia and Bayview Gifts), and look around a bit. We even add an item or two to our collection. And while walking around Bayview, I realize I can probably pick up our admission tickets for the party while we’re here. So I head downstairs to the concierge desk, where I’m helped out and do indeed get the tickets.

So now, admission tickets for the Halloween party in hand, and we’ve still got more than an hour to go. I’ve heard one of the monorails has been decorated to promote The Avengers and wonder if it’s still running. Terry and I decide to head to the station and watch a couple of the monorails pass to see if it is around. (It is.) And, after deciding not to burn ourselves out, we hop on The Avengers monorail, figuring we’ll ride a lap or two.

We finish two complete laps, and during the third we get off when we arrive at the Magic Kingdom station. We’re heading down toward the special event line before 3pm, and yup… we are the first ones there.

Now… the early admission for the parties is one of the best kept non-secrets around. Granted… we’ve only been to two of these things -- the Magic Kingdom for Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party in 2011 and now Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party in 2012. So do your homework on it to gather details of your own. Still… for us… it’s happened the same way twice, and our experiences matches details I’ve seen elsewhere… here’s what happens…

A section of the check-in area -- I call it that because Disney has been moving to new ticketless possibilities, so I don’t know how the entry area may have changed or will change -- is blocked off for event entry. So, let’s say the gates to the left remain open for standard park entrance, but a block of them off to the right are set up for those arriving early for that night’s event. The actual stated admission time is noted as 7pm, and that’s when the park makes its full transition to the special event. However… most likely to make sure everyone can get in smoothly by 7pm for the festivities… Disney begins letting people in a bit ahead of 7pm. (On this night and in December of 2011, we were walking down Main Street within minutes of 4pm.)

And the best part… once you’re in, you’re in. Sure, you bought a ticket for… in today’s case… Mickey’s Not-So-Scary event -- once you’ve been admitted though, you can still go on any of the rides and such that are operating even though the special event hasn’t officially started for the night.

It’s roughly 3:30… Donna and Joe have arrived… and we’re waiting for the entry to begin. (They have all sorts of special memorabilia for the event. And to say people take it seriously would be a major understatement. We had bought a set of ears for Terry and I already. I have no clue how many people dressed up in costume… and I mean full-on costumes… but it was a huge percentage of those in attendance.)

As 4pm arrives, the four of us go through the gates and are heading into the park. We’re the first ones through for the event (congrats to Tigg on being the first), and the trick-or-treat bags haven’t even arrived yet. As one of the cast members is explaining to us how to get the bags later, boxes arrive, and we are on the Main Street and heading toward the castle with my watch only seconds past 4pm.

We stop at the bakery to grab some water (and a cookie) and catch up a bit more. Donna and Joe moved down to Florida more than a year ago, and it’s been quite some time since we’ve been able to talk in person. After a few minutes we grab our things, make a group decision to head off toward Adventureland, and hit the park.

A stop is made at the Dole stand for a pineapple Dole Whip for Terry and I to share, and then we begin with the rides.

Pirates of the Caribbean… the Haunted Mansion (we are planning to visit this one twice… this time before the party and then definitely during)… “it’s a small world”… and even at our leisurely pace so far, it’s only 5:30pm as we get off the boats with that song embedded in our heads.

For the trick-or-treat portion of tonight’s event, the Magic Kingdom on this night will have eleven different stations. So as we pause for a moment, I ask if anyone’s hungry… pointing out that in order to circle the park (Terry has indicated she wants to stop at every trick-or-treat station with her goodie bag), it might be a good idea for us to get back to Adventureland or over into Tomorrowland for 7pm so we aren’t lapping the park several times for candy. Terry and I have been able to visit the Magic Kingdom three times in less than two years, we aren’t concerned about not getting on a few of the rides, and Donna and Joe indicate they’re fine with the same approach.

As we discuss dinner possibilities, we are passing Mickey’s PhilharMagic, which Donna can’t remember ever seeing… so in we go. We follow this up with a stop on the Tomorrowland Speedway, and then figure it might be time to actually grab something to eat instead of getting distracted. We stop in to catch Sonny Eclipse at Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Café. From there it’s over to Stitch’s Great Escape!, the Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor, and Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin.

After taking my revenge on Terry… she won the last time we visited Buzz at the Magic Kingdom, and I take this round… it’s just after 7pm and time to begin trick-or-treating.

I said it before, during the Christmas event… and I find tonight that the thought is still true… if you are just looking to get on rides, these special events are awesome opportunities. We came for a special event, got in early, and the hit on the wallet was less than a full-day pass costs. After 7pm, it will be exclusively party guests inside… but we’ve already been on eight attractions in three hours. If we really wanted to push it and see the entire park, there is a very good chance that as the lines thinned out during the special event, we could have covered just about all of it. But…

…we do have trick-or-treating ahead of us, and a parade to see.

We begin winding through Tomorrowland, hit the first station on the map for our full-loop-of-the-park intentions, and then move along to a couple of the other stations with our bags. Terry and Donna discover two things that they love: (1) The cast members handing out candy are not stingy. They reach into the barrels and place handfuls of treats into your bag. (2) The cast members also don’t care if you want to walk through the line a second time. The lines move very quickly… and if you see a barrel has a favorite or two in it, this is an easy way to earn some extras.

(Ok… I know… we didn’t need the candy. So here’s a twist on the concept for you to take from this. Let’s say you have children, it’s been a big day in the Magic Kingdom, and they have worn you out. They still want their candy… and you want the main gate in your rearview mirror and a ride back to your hotel room. Send them through a line two or three times and presto, they have enough candy, and you can begin making your plans for a great escape to get to sleep. All you need to do is control the map so they don’t go seeing the other marked locations.)

We move over to the circle in front of Cinderella’s Castle for the parade. The Headless Horseman rides past us, and here’s a warning for you… if you didn’t know he was coming ahead of the parade and weren’t paying attention, you could easily miss it. He rides past before the parade… keep that in mind… and be ready!

This year’s theme is Boo-to-You… and the parade is standard Disney magic. There’s a variety of floats and walking characters, with the music is synchronized to match up with the sections of the parade passing you. We had been told to expect a slightly more adult parade… in that it’s Halloween and the parade doesn’t shy away from the undead and a good ghost story. You get dancing corpses… the three hitchhikers from the Haunted Mansion on a float… and the grave diggers. (We had been told to be especially aware of looking for the grave diggers, as part of their routine involved dragging their shovels across the road and creating sparks. It is pretty cool to see… in fact, on the phone when I ordered our tickets, the representative told me that after each parade they actually have to dull the shovel blades because they are sharpened by the routine.)

After the parade, we meander into Fantasyland and are kind of aimlessly moving around. All four of us want to see what we can of the new sections that are still two months away from premiering… and we want to see the areas that have opened… and we are trick-or-treating. Still… the only ride we hit at this point is The Barnstormer. (Which was surprisingly awesome.)

Time for fireworks.

Trying to think over all the memories I have of Disney World and the Magic Kingdom, I have never been in the far sections of the park for fireworks before. I’m thrilled to have been able to see Magic Kingdom fireworks fairly often in my life… and I am excited about the possibilities of seeing them again many times in the future. Up until now though, I can only recall being on Main Street (or fairly close to it). (Probably the idea of catching Tinker Bell flying across the sky, or having the castle as the central feature with the fireworks going off behind and around it.)

Tonight though… for the Happy HalloWishes show… we are behind the castle… and wow! Terry looks at me and asks why I never brought her here to see the fireworks before. And I’m honestly not sure. I still would say… especially for a first-timer… get the Main Street view. But this is something special and different.

After the fireworks, I suggest heading back to the Haunted Mansion for our second visit. But first… into the Briar Patch.

One of the stations marked on the map is just past Big Thunder Mountain and near Splash Mountain. It’s set up as a winding path… actually uses a portion of the Splash Mountain queue… and is filled with funny surprises, as it becomes the only area we visited with multiple barrel points. There are three different points for stopping along the trail where candy was handed out.

Back to the Haunted Mansion. I had asked, and was told that the cast really goes crazy once the Halloween party starts. And yes… they do. Some things I can tell you are that makeup gets added as a significant part of the appearance and the cobwebs come out, but I know there are so many things that my notes don’t reflect.

It’s almost time for the second parade… and an interesting concept is beginning to take shape as a challenge for finishing our visit.

First – Again, Terry wants to get to every one of the trick-or-treat stations. We’ve been to nine… there are two to go.

Second – Remember my warning about the Headless Horseman? Well, I almost missed him. I’m telling -- he doesn’t ride as part of the parade, or even right in front of the parade. He rides first… parade second. So if you’re near the end of the parade route, he could easily pass you several minutes before the parade is even vaguely in sight in the distance. We’re right near the start of the parade route, and I’m wondering about trying to get a couple of additional shots as he rides past.

Third – All of us have agreed we’ve seen everything we wanted to see. So other than trick-or-treating and the Headless Horseman, we’re good to go.

As I’m waiting, I’m seeing the parade begin to take shape along an access road, and there’s no Headless Horseman around. (Turns out… later I would learn that after turning just off of Main Street on the first ride of the evening, the horse slipped very near the end of the route and threw the rider. There was no Headless Horseman for the second parade. Glad my pictures came out.)

I mentioned a challenge though… and here it is… we are going to be in a race with the parade.

We’ve got to go through Adventureland to get to the last two candy stations… while the parade winds through Liberty Square toward the castle and eventually Main Street. There’s a really good chance we could arrive near the entrance after the front of the parade reaches that section, and end up being behind the ropes. I suppose it could be worse… we get to see the parade again or wander through the shops. Still, not good for our plans… since a large group of people has likely waited for the second parade to finish their visits and will also be heading to the exits with us once the ropes are dropped and foot traffic can move again (instead of us being in front of them).

Having wandered through a few shops already, it turns out we make great time getting to the front of the park. We arrive on Main Street before Boo To You, avoid the packed sidewalks by cutting through a row of connected retail stores, and get to the main gate… where we find a twelfth trick-or-treat station!

It’s good night to Donna and Joe. We’ve made plans to see them tomorrow and head into Downtown Disney, so it isn’t a tear-filled goodbye. They are off to the monorail and the transportation center. Terry and I walk over to the shuttle buses and get on the one for Art of Animation.

In closing things off for today… I want to point out that the Disney transportation was very easy. Of course, having never relied on it to this extent before, I had some apprehensions. Still… a few questions and looking for the right signs… everything fell into place. About the only thing was accounting for those hundreds of thousands of people on property… meaning simply do not expect you will be in a short line that gets you on the first bus back to your resort, or that the buses will always be waiting just for you, or that a ten minute ride can possibly be completed in under five minutes. Be reasonable and your expectations will be exceeded.

Great night. Great friends. Great party.

Day twelve – Tuesday, October 9, 2012

We try to sleep a bit later this morning. Even though we didn’t stay in the Magic Kingdom for the second parade, we were getting on the shuttle bus around 11pm, and it was well after midnight when we finally drifted off to sleep.

Donna and Joe are heading in to meet us at our room, with Donna’s mom (Nancy) joining us for the afternoon. We’ve decided to head into Downtown Disney, get lunch, and walk around a bit.

We’re going to use the shuttle buses again, and they work out great. We get dropped off at a bus station section near what I have over the past fifteen–plus years begun to associate with Disney art. One of the stores in the section is actually now called The Art of Disney… but a few content changes have taken place over the years. Basically… for those of you that are familiar with it or can find a map, think of Downtown Disney this way… the Marketplace area runs from the World of Disney store around to the Rainforest Café. The shuttle bus section I’m talking about here is to the Rainforest side.

Most of the other stores are fun and nice… it’s a great way to spend some free… and nothing to really report. Lunch though…

I cannot recall having ever stopped in Earl of Sandwich before. Of course… it has only been at Disney, I believe, for just under 10-years. Still… kind of a surprise when I began reading about it a few months ago. I mean, I’ve passed it before. I even knew where it was. Just couldn’t recall ever stopping inside or hearing many people discuss it. But just before this visit…

Ok… I’m going to say “Holiday Sandwich”… and one of two things is going to happen. Either you’re going to have no clue what I’m talking about, or, you are going to become incredibly hungry and start craving one.

The Holiday Sandwich is unbelievable. I mean… words cannot do justice to its perfection. Just awesome. Assembled and designed without a flaw.

I spoke with a couple of people while we were there, and Earl of Sandwich is notorious for long lines. However, everyone says it’s more than worth it… especially for the Holiday Sandwich. (And I would agree.)

After a bit more shopping, we wind our way back toward the shuttle stop to pick up the bus back to Art of Animation. For a last stop in Downtown Disney though, we walk into The Art of Disney, and Terry and I decide to purchase a print of Dumbo with his feather. Pretty cool… and very affordable, even framed and shipped.

We get off the shuttle and say our goodbyes. With an early morning flight, we won’t see Donna and Joe again on this visit.

(I’d also like to mention Nancy again. She had been a guest at our home before, and always an incredibly kind and wonderful person. She passed away shortly after our trip, and she is missed.)

Terry and I head back into the hotel room and settle in for a bit. We decide to take it easy and eat at the resort’s cafeteria.

I wish I could tell you something good about the food, but I can’t. Neither of us was too impressed. (We had last stayed in a Disney hotel back in 1999… Ellen and Richard have spoiled us with Orange Lake. Back then… same thing… we ate a meal at the resort cafeteria-style outlet and it wasn’t worth remembering.)

Up until this point, we hadn’t really walked into the Cars area, since it is on the opposite end of Art of Animation. So we decided to stroll around it, and ended up disappointed I had left the cameras in our room. It’s very well done. Again… for establishing a setting and filling it… nobody matches what Disney can reach.

Day thirteen – Wednesday, October 10, 2012

It’s early morning as we wait for someone to come and help us with our bags. I had set up the seats on the Magical Express as well as the early morning luggage run previously… and even called the night before to confirm both (which was recommended to me by one of the cast members). So it was a bit strange when about 15 minutes after the scheduled time, no one was at our room yet.

The sun is just rising, making for an interesting dilemma... there aren’t many desks with people at them, answering their phones, before 6am. Someone arrives and we find out it was a timing problem, with only one person trying to cover the grounds for helping with baggage.

We check out and move over to where the Magical Express is supposed to pick us up. Once the bus arrives, we learn of a different problem. Apparently we were supposed to have a pass written for us so we could board the bus -- basically, no one on without a ticket. So back in to the front desk where we checked out, only to find out that the vouchers are locked up.

The entire process had me wondering if we were going to miss the bus… since what had been set up as getting to the check out and bus area thirty to forty-five minutes early was now me waiting at the front desk with the bus in the loop. But we did indeed wind up on the bus with a ride to the airport. (Terry had stayed with our bags and the bus, telling me not to worry, it was not going anywhere without me.)

All that said… look… the system is great… but wow, did it seem like the bellhops, front desk, and Magical Express contacts hadn’t been working with each other for long. (And honestly… in retrospect… that could be true. Remember, Art of Animation had only opened a few months earlier, with Little Mermaid only a few weeks before our arrival. Perhaps they weren’t caught up on the routines of covering that much ground with a luggage cart… perhaps some of the staff was new, or switching shifts and not used to elements such as passing people from checking out over to the shuttle… and ultimately, it could be a massive “your experiences may vary” concept where things go smoothly for you. For us… worked out fine… but a few bumps in the road.)

A video is played on the bus, and of course even in the early morning hours we pay enough attention to it that we can’t wait for our next visit. The airport drop goes perfectly. The Magical Express stops right at our terminal and airline.

We get on the plane and settle in for the flight. It’s been an amazing trip. Ocala… Savannah… Orlando. And, with or without the video to nudge us along, Terry and I are already itching to see our friends (and Disney World) again soon.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

In case you’ve landed here as a starting point and really need some background, there have been three travel diary entries so far for this trip…

All Around Florida – Days One, Two and Three

Welcome to Savannah – Days One, Two, Three and Four

All Around Florida – Days Eight, Nine and Ten


If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at