All Around Orlando
Bob and Terry on Tour 2013, with Justin, Kim, Ellen and Richard
Days Three and Four

Day three – Monday, April 22, 2013

The day begins with a confirmation from Ellen that Richard is on his way… we should see him a little before 8:30am. This works perfectly with our plans for getting to the Animal Kingdom around the time gates open.

All five of us begin puttering around… eating breakfast… taking showers… and for me, setting up the cameras and backpack for the day. I’ve started freezing bottled water the night before… Terry had been mentioning during some previous trips about how warm the water was getting during the day, and I figured this might keep it cooler for longer. (Turns out… it works amazingly well. We found on all four days that we still had ice in the bottle hours after getting to the park… and, only in the Magic Kingdom did we actually finish off the ice during our visit.)

Around 8:30am… while we are playing a scrap hand of cards waiting for Richard (or, in the case of Justin and Kim watching the high-lights of last night’s games)… Ellen’s cell rings. It’s Richard. He’s cursing his Mi Luv U. She skipped an exit and is taking him a bit further along the highway.

I begin grabbing some of my stuff, as the sounds of the conversation seem to indicate a “stop there and Bob will get you and bring you in” rescue mission might be called for. And soon enough, that’s exactly what happens.

I get to the car -- with a second parking pass in hand, which we got from the desk the day before -- and call Richard. Turns out he pulled over much closer to us than Ellen had thought… he’s waiting at the edge of the parking lot for Arabian Nights. So quite literally within about twenty seconds after I pull out of a space, I have passed the door for our building, turned onto a main road, and I can see the entrance to that parking lot and his car.

Now… I mentioned yesterday that I was a bit stunned by how small the parking areas are. Of course, someone has already slid into the spot I had, plus with Richard along I need two parking spots now. As we pass the edge of building 8 and begin approaching the next one, I find out how they handle such situations at Vacation Village.

A parking garage.

Seriously… I had zero clue this thing was even here the night before. But there it is. Apparently I had been quite fortunate yesterday. With nothing available next to the buildings, we drive in, find two spots, and start walking back to the rooms. Along the way, we pass the door to the presentation office… which is where our meeting is scheduled for the time share discussion… so now we know where to head tomorrow morning.

The door is barely closed on the room and Richard has me laughing. He spotted the bowl of fruit on the counter and already has an apple and a banana in his hand. The group finishes up the last pieces of getting ready and we are off.

As we drive over to the Animal Kingdom… a word about the Crown Victoria. This car is working out perfectly for us. I can’t brag about the mileage we’re getting. And it’s a large car to park. Still… all six of us not only fit, we’re also really comfortable. This car was a great selection for the trip, and met every need we had.

We’ve parked in the lot for the Animal Kingdom and have boarded the tram to the main entrance. During the ride, one of the tram operators is making announcements and notes that today is the Animal Kingdom’s 15th anniversary. And while celebrations were slated to be held all week, it turns out that today is the actual anniversary date. When we arrive at the gate, each of us is handed a commemorative pin.

I’ve been meaning to mention something about Disney World and the theme parks… and as we head inside the park, this is probably the best part to offer it up.

Backpack Tip: In past travel essays -- and also in the Strange and Unexpected: Backpack on the Road travel trilogy -- I’ve mentioned how tour guides can be both good and bad.

The good… often they can provide you with some suggestions about things you never would have known about. This might include a tip on a restaurant or store, could be a thought on an attraction that few people even know about, or just some event they share and it becomes a piece of advice you’re interested by.

The bad… these books can’t know for certain your interests and desires, might be written specifically for the purpose of providing a good review of a place and not an unbiased review, and can offer an approach for your visit that puts everything in the wrong order for really creating an enjoyable day for you and your travel group.

I do offer suggestions and thoughts. I provide tips from my experiences and opinions. But I hope you’ll understand -- and I’ve said this before as well -- what I think is great you might hate, and what you are looking for might not interest me.

The point though is that you need to create your own adventure. You need to prepare yourself for whatever degree of every-moment-planned or chaotic spontaneity you want. I’d like to think some of what we have done has inspired you or advised you to try out some things… Tonga Toast… Earl of Sandwich… looking for Tink during the fireworks show. The reality is, the vacation you go on will be planned by you.

Ultimately -- as we enter the Animal Kingdom theme park -- that idea … “planned by you”… is what I am looking for with this aside.

I’ve come to the realization that there are no completely right or totally wrong plans when it comes to visiting places like a Disney park. There are some things everyone can do to make things better… and things everyone can do (or, usually a more accurate idea, not do) to create headaches. Make no mistake though, if you have musts on your to-do list, it is important to have a plan.

I’ve mentioned this in today’s travel entry because the Animal Kingdom is just about the perfect place to use as an example of this.

Festival of the Lion King is the only stage show I have seen in any theme park that I would recommend to someone. Sorry Finding Nemo – The Musical, you were ok, but not special. (More on this later in today’s entry.) Over at Hollywood Studios, apologies to Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular and Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show. Both of you are good, and worth checking out, but wouldn’t be included on any absolutely-do-not-miss-this referral from me.

The trick is… stage shows mean a schedule… stage shows mean show times… stage shows mean working out a thought for when you will attend it. Yup… even if only vaguely paying attention to it… you have to have some concept of a plan for it.

We have stage shows in our plans today. We always try to get over to see Festival of the Lion King. And today, at the recommendation of a few people, we plan to see Finding Nemo – The Musical.

As the day begins, other plans are taking shape.

I have always been told that the time to visit Kilimanjaro Safaris is first thing in the morning. I have always taken this advice and made Kilimanjaro one of my first stops… if not the first stop… on any Animal Kingdom visit.

One reason I was told this is true is because the animals are hungrier first thing in the day, and likely to be more active as they look for food. This idea I’m not sure about believing -- as I write to you at this moment, think about it this way: I have heard nothing, read nothing, and really can’t wrap my mind about anything that discusses the Disney lions having to hunt for a meal. Just a hunch, but I’ll say their diets are monitored with something more than a causal passing glance. I’d also guess they know a thing or two about where and when to find their food. So hungrier and looking for food? Well… maybe not.

A second reason often passed along is that in the cooler temperatures of the Florida mornings, the animals are likely to be moving more than they will in direct sunlight and warmer (or hotter) afternoons. Ok… this one makes sense to me.

As we pass through the Oasis Exhibits just inside the park gates, I’m thinking Expedition Everest… the ride none of us has ever been on. Terry has Kilimanjaro Safaris in mind. After quickly settling on the thought that a FASTPASS for the roller coaster would be better any time during the day than a FASTPASS to watch animals lounging out of sight in the afternoon shade, we once again listen to the classic wisdom and we’re off to Africa.

Now, to wrap up this Disney-your-way-no-matter-what-way-is-Disney-the-right-way concept -- would our enjoyment of the day have been compromised in any way by heading to Expedition Everest first? …starting the day on Discovery Island with the Tree of Life and It’s tough to be a Bug? …getting to one of the first shows of the Festival of the Lion King …whatever, other than what we actually did?

I don’t know for certain. Kilimanjaro in the afternoon remains an unknown for me. But I can say we saw everything we wanted to see and had a great time. And, I don’t believe shuffling the order would have prevented us from getting completely around the park. And, as of this moment, I am not sure that differing approaches to any Disney park would truly alter the ground you can cover.

(Except… well… Toy Story Midway Mania! at Hollywood Studios, in December of 2011. We got blocked out of that ride back then. Terry, Ellen and I approached it a bit haphazardly and never gave it any true thought. Might need to keep that in mind later on this week, when we get to the Hollywood Studios.)

So… anyway… long, meandering ride around the concept -- I don’t know if it’s important that you have a rich, deeply researched, incredibly detailed plan for Disney. I don’t think it is. However… if you have a must-do on your list, there is no excuse for not having it on your mind.

Along the walk to Kilimanjaro, we see a huge line of people standing at the closed doors of a retail booth. I would venture to guess it was the longest line we saw for the entire week. We later learned from one of the Disney cast members that it was for special 15th anniversary merchandise.

We get on the ride and have a great time. Giraffes… zebras… lions… hippopotamuses… rhinoceroses… elephants… cheetahs… we see a terrific assortment of animals during our ride.

Terry loves gorillas. She could watch them all day. So for us, the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail is a no-brainer after Kilimanjaro.

Disney has several stations set up throughout the park for Earth Day. Kind of a double-celebration going on.

From there… on to Everest.

Ellen and Kim have decided they don’t want to take in Expedition Everest… with a wait time of less than 30 minutes though, we’ve decided it makes more sense to wait and ride it now than to come back here later on. So Terry, Justin, Richard and I get in line.

The ride itself is great. I don’t want to spoil any surprises for it, but one thing to know is that the giant Yeti at the end of the ride hasn’t been moving in years. Apparently the animatronic inner workings are so powerful that they cracked a portion of the way the Yeti is mounted. And, in order to fully repair it and strengthen the area, they need to wait until a full refurbishment is taken on, since it will involve taking apart portions of the ride. I can’t confirm that story, but it seems to be the one making the most rounds (as well as the most sense).

As we exit Everest and our group reunites, we haven’t hit 11am yet. None of us is interested in getting wet, so while it’s a great ride (based on past experiences), we unanimously take a pass on the Kali River Rapids. And with that, it’s off to Discovery Island.

I’m not sure if this will work as a description, since Disney often does such a phenomenal job with its ride queues. Many of them are interactive now… and for quite some time most of the ones at rides with longer waits contain even more intricate designs to break up the wait and make the time pass more quickly. That said… when it comes to being visually striking, the line and walk leading to It’s Tough to be a Bug is about as good as it gets.

The attraction is located inside the Tree of Life. So you get to walk around portions of the tree itself, and also get to see some hidden treasures along the walkway. It’s a stunning piece of art with amazing twists, turns and discoveries to be made the longer you look at it.

(Did you know the Tree of Life was built around an oil derrick? Check out this article for some great details on the construction of the Tree of Life.)

The show itself is fun, and all of us are chuckling and in good spirits as we return to daylight.

I have said repeatedly that Disney World’s public relations team can claim the Animal Kingdom park is the largest all they want to. It is. By acreage. However…

As we finish with It’s Tough to be a Bug and begin moving in the direction of DinoLand U.S.A., the reality is simple. We’ve almost completed the park.


We want to see Festival of the Lion King, and people have been telling us the Finding Nemo show is really good. We also are planning to head over to the Dinosaur ride.

Did we skip some things? Yes… yes we did. But still… it’s barely 11:30am, we’ve been in the park for roughly two hours, and when it comes to our plans for the day, the list of attractions is, so to speak, well along the back nine of the journey to completion.

That’s the reality.

You’d have a hard time convincing me at the end of this visit that we missed out on much except for Kali River… since the TriceraTop Spin and Primeval Whirl just don’t hit me as Disney.

It’s a great park… a fun day. But in only one way is this truly the largest of Disney World parks.

For some reason, the Restaurantosaurus always seems to be the stopping point for lunch at the Animal Kingdom. Years ago, I do recall one time heading over to the Rainforest Café location here at the park. (There are two Rainforests in Disney World… one at Downtown Disney in the Marketplace, and the other here.) But the Restaurantosaurus seems to be a common theme for most visits.

I’m going to say that the reason is simple enough… arrive at the park in the morning, hit the big rides right off the bat (Kilimanjaro, Everest, Tough to be a Bug), and even with one or two other things tossed in, you’ll find yourself staring at Dinosaur on the map right around lunchtime.

There are some places to eat in Disney theme parks that are worth considering… and I not only suggest checking them out, I strongly recommend checking them out. You may find several of them for yourself, and if you’ve been to Disney World I feel confident in guessing that you have some places that you love that may not be my first selections. For me, the listing inside the parks is short and sweet, including: Sci-Fi and Prime Time in Hollywood Studios… just about any of the countries in Epcot… and that’s about it. Those are the real treats.

I keep hearing about Be Our Guest in the Magic Kingdom, but that’s brand new, in demand, and was never open on our previous visits. For us though, often the Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom dining options fall into the ideas of finding something where everyone will be able to spot an item they’ll be good with, try not to get overwhelmed by crowds, and enjoy sitting down for a few minutes.

Stunning me… Richard goes with a chicken sandwich. (When working on these travel diaries and flipping through notes, he always seems to be the burger person.) Ellen and Justin order bacon burgers, and Terry and I split one as well. Kim goes with a chicken BLT salad. All of us enjoyed the meals we got.

Backpack tip: Look into splitting food items when possible.

Walking around Disney World you are going to find an amazing assortment of incredible, edible treats. It just makes sense to avoid filling up on fries.

Maybe you want a cookie… popcorn… ice cream… there is all of this and plenty more.

Maybe you just want to save some money… by doing this on previous visits in places like the Magic Kingdom, where we had spent all day and two meal times, Terry and I ended up buying two dinners instead of four and the sizes were more than enough with a snack (or two) added in.

Put it this way… let’s say you’re there with kids. Would you rather buy each kid a meal and end up tossing some of it every time, or, would you rather split the meal between them, have them finish everything, and let them have a cookie later?

Hey… yup, I understand… you have your own system, and there are kid meal options (with fruit), and perhaps you have the dining plan, or any number of alternatives.

I’m just saying it’s easy to taste your way around the entire World Showcase of Epcot by sampling and sharing. It’s also nicely paced and fun. Adjust and apply that theory as you will.

One funny thing… the beverage center here. Disney really mixes it up. Some food counter-service outlets are self-serve beverage, while others have them prepared for you and on your tray when you pick it up. Restaurantosaurus has a beverage center that is self-serve. Terry had bought two of the commemorative cups, and they were advertised as coming with free refills. She bought them because she wanted them and not because she wanted the refills… still, I had a question.

A cast member walked by dressed in a way that looked like a supervisor, so I asked him about it. Turns out that all drinks are free refills while you’re in the Restaurantosaurus. The commemorative mugs though provided free refills throughout your stay. Hmm… not that I would meander all the way over from Africa just because I was thirsty and had the refill mug, since we are talking about the DinoLand Restaurantosaurus location and not something common to every eatery… but it is an interesting touch. Think about it… realistically they are offering something that feels really great to receive. And yet, they have a limited liability from it, since few people are likely to make several return visits for fill ups. It’s a great marketing thought.

Ellen and Richard sit out Dinosaur. The remaining four of us enter the building, hop in line and are boarding our ride vehicles in roughly five minutes.

Honestly… and this is a good place to cover it… Disney has been stunning me a bit in recent years. Parks look packed, attendance figures seem to be swinging back up, and yet during our visit this year (and over recent years) very few rides at Disney get up over fifteen or so minutes for a line. Oh yeah… there are some lines. And FASTPASS is a good system to utilize. But honestly… for the number of people you see walking around you, and the crowds that can show up for Fantasmic! or fireworks… no… the lines aren’t bad at all.

We never used a FASTPASS during this visit to the Animal Kingdom. Didn’t have to.

And let’s be real about this observation. I’m sure if we tried to come during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve it would be a totally different story. If we perfectly hit school vacations, it might be different too. I was in the Magic Kingdom for the Christmas and Halloween parties though… and on these and other visits since 2010, Disney theme parks have included weekend and holiday dates. And between special promotions, people traveling that homeschool, and all sorts of other concepts, the down times at Disney are still just as busy… if not more so… than your average nearby amusement parks during their peak seasons.

I’m asking you to keep this in mind because we have plans to visit all four parks on four consecutive days. (Which, honestly, we know from the start is the equivalent of smacking ourselves in the feet with sledgehammers.) We are pulling back our expectations by trying to focus the visits around events of the day or main desires. (Epcot, Hollywood Studios and the Magic Kingdom all have night shows we want to see, plus we plan on sleeping in and starting slowly each day to try and lessen the strikes from those sledgehammers.) And yet… easing off the throttle… limiting our park time… if you stay with these diaries you’re going to find that we still manage to see virtually everything we hoped to see (and more).

Ok… back to the Animal Kingdom and the rest of our visit.

The reality of the day, show times, and the park is hitting us now. The show schedule is shaping up that Nemo and Lion King will be at 3pm or after. And since it’s just a bit beyond 1:30 right now (having enjoyably lollygagged for about two hours since leaving the Tree of Life), we’ve got a bit of time to wander.

I pull out the map and show everyone the basics. Nemo is right near where we are. Lion King is on the other side of the park. And, the biggest thing we haven’t done that might interest everyone is a bit of a hike… back to Asia for the Maharajah Jungle Trek. In short… we’ve covered things really well, but what we haven’t visited is kind of all over the place. I’m a bit surprised when everyone quickly agrees to venture out to Asia to visit the bats, tigers and Komodo dragon.

I start talking with one of the park cast members when we arrive at the pen of the Komodo dragon, and according to him it turns out that I’ve seen this dragon on all of my visits to the park.

We continue along and have some fun watching the bats and tigers. When we come out of the trail, a restroom break for some of our group turns into an entertaining stop at one of the monkey exhibits. (The Asia area has a couple of different angles on monkey islands.)

We head back into DinoLand and over to the theater to see Finding Nemo – The Musical. And… ok… here we go…

The show itself was good, but all of us… all six of us… found part of it distracting, and it diminished our ability to really enjoy it.

The distracting part?

The performers.

(I know. Stay with me.)

Over at Hollywood Studios there is a show called Voyage of the Little Mermaid. I actually consider this show to be more of an attraction than a live stage show. Why? Well… for one thing it has a pre-show assembly area the way several other rides and attractions do. And even with a 15-minute show time, it doesn’t ask you to “See Times Guide” to make your plans for attending. And yet… attraction or show, this long-time treasure of the Hollywood Studios is very similar to the Finding Nemo – The Musical effort. Live performers recapping the movie’s story for an audience, which already pretty much without exception knows the story by heart.

In that Little Mermaid production at Hollywood Studios, the performers fall into three basic categories: (1) A person, visible and not hidden in any way. Example – Ariel. (2) In costume, depicting a specific character. Example – Max, the sheepdog. (3) Support staff dressed in black and barely visible.

And it’s that third group that matters for the concept I’m trying to pass along. These actors are portraying characters, but it’s not the actor that needs to be seen… it’s Ursula, Flounder, and Sebastian, or the large cast of the “Under the Sea” number. By dressing in black, in a dark theater on a specially lit stage, it’s the characters you notice… not the performers.

For Finding Nemo – The Musical, the actors hold the characters. And they are not wearing costumes to disguise or even hide their presence. No matter how hard you try, you keep looking away from the character and instead at the actor. And this back-and-forth between actor and character is a bit dizzying. It never allows your eyes to settle in so you can just be swept away by the show.

Here’s a good example… Mr. Ray. For the stage show, the actor is riding a bicycle. Well… actually… it’s a huge super-tricycle with a giant ray on top of it. So it’s a giant ray. That’s awesome. That’s awesome! But wait, wait… that’s a guy under the ray, peddling along on a really tricked out ride. With a giant ray on top. Look at that giant ray! Oh hey, the guy is turning that thing around. It’s a ray… no it’s a guy… no it’s… and the eyes keep going back and forth.

In reading, I describe this kind of event as a “brick wall” moment. The idea being that instead of a book drawing you in and making you completely unaware of your surroundings, something happens that is roughly the equivalent of walking into a brick wall… it’s shocking, shakes you out of the moment, and ultimately diverts your attention away from the story.

While walking from the theater, Terry asked Kim if she liked it. Kim mentioned the actors being too much a part of it and distracting… and all of us readily and quickly said we felt exactly the same.

Finding Nemo – The Musical is a solid production. The quality of the performance is very good. The cast is strong. Kids will love it, and probably not even come close to the same reaction. It’s just some of the design that didn’t connect with us. And like I said earlier… distracting would be the best description.

As we leave the theater, we’re getting ready to cross the park for essentially the last time. To see Festival of the Lion King, we need to head over to Camp Minnie-Mickey. Funny thing though about the Animal Kingdom… everything pretty much uses Discovery Island to connect. That’s not completely true, since you could for instance get from Africa into Asia without crossing over to Discovery Island first… and yet the walkway you would use to do it goes right along Discovery River, which is of course the waterway that would be between you and Discovery Island.

Anyway… the reason that’s a funny trick here is that the parade… Mickey’s Jammin’ Jungle Parade… has begun in Africa. Naturally, the parade goes onto Discovery Island and uses the main path to circle back up and over to Asia before returning to Africa. So while we have plenty of time until the Lion King show begins, if we don’t hurry the parade is going to cut us off.

We manage to get pretty much right to the entrance leading into Camp Minnie-Mickey… for those of you familiar with the park, we were across from Pizzafari… and since Kim has never seen a Disney parade (and there’s a really good chance we won’t catch the midday parade at the Magic Kingdom), we stop to watch it as it goes by.

We arrive at the theater a few minutes before they begin seating, and eventually are led over to the elephant section. As we watch the crowd gather, we notice that most of the giraffe section isn’t being used at the start. Eventually we decide it is being set aside for late arrivals, since it is the section with the easiest access from the outdoor entrance area.

People that know the deep history of the Animal Kingdom can tell you a ton about Camp Minnie-Mickey. Apparently, it was built as a last minute replacement for what was to be the Beastly Kingdom. And the area was not developed to the same level you’ll find in Africa or Asia in the Animal Kingdom park. In fact, word is Lion King parade floats from another park were packed up and ship across the country to be used to help with the decorations and show here, which was a quickly designed alternative instead of a more fully-developed area.

And still…

Festival of the Lion King is a fun, audience driven, interactive show, and has become a significant part of any Animal Kingdom visit.

As we leave the theater and are heading to the exit, rain begins to lightly fall. Terry is well known for her ability to create good weather for any event… basically, history tells us that if she plans something, the weather will not be an obstacle to it. And with rain last night and forecast for today, the fact that it arrives as our visit to the park is ending only strengthens her long record in this regard.

I tell everyone I need to make a swing through Guest Services before we leave. Most of the group heads to the rest rooms while I stop in the office.

Terry and I have been talking about Wednesday’s visit to the Hollywood Studios, and she’s hoping we can make reservations at the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater or 50’s Prime Time Café. I’m quickly able to get a mid-afternoon reservation for Sci-Fi. And, while there, I ask about a button I saw someone wearing… and the representative gets me a “First Time Visitor” button for Kim.

Outside the restaurant I offer some suggestions to everyone for dinner, and Carrabba’s becomes the answer. And quite the answer it turns out to be…

Carrabba’s offers a promotion they call Amore Monday. We didn’t know about it when we arrived at the location on West Irlo Bronson, but what an amazing find it was. Basically, the promotion lets you select an appetizer or dessert, soup or salad, and entrée from a special menu. The main dishes run $12, $15 or $18, and everything is pretty much represented.

While Ellen and Richard went with other offerings, sharing was done of several items across the table, and the bill was insanely low for the group once you looked over everything we had to eat.

The remainder of the week is beginning to take shape. For instance, with breakfast part of the time share presentation tomorrow morning, we now know what days we will be eating breakfast in the rooms and how many of us will be there each day. Also, we’re kicking around final plans for Friday -- we are thinking of driving up to visit Ellen and Richard and saying hello to Sam and Mia -- but honestly have positioned most of the events for lunches and dinners too. And because of that, any and all needs for food and snacks in the room are pretty much understood. So… with all six of us together… we decide to stop in Publix for a general run that will likely cover the remainder of the stay.

Terry has a craving for cake, and she decides to buy one in the bakery. While there, I begin looking over their wide range of Key Lime pie based offerings. We also add in some wine, Malibu and pineapple, and other items.

Back at the unit a very calm card game breaks out. (I’m just guessing Ellen and Terry teamed up and won, since they won most of the week. But my notes honestly don’t show the results.)

Tomorrow… the Vacation Village at Parkway time share breakfast and sales presentation… a goodbye for now, but not a final goodbye, for Ellen and Richard… and then, Epcot.

Day four – Tuesday, April 23, 2013

We are up and moving, but it’s a strange kind of moving. All of us are heading to the showers, but since we have plans none of us are eating breakfast. Also, since the immediate plans call for basically being dressed and there… not something like organizing backpacks and sweatshirts for the trip to a theme park, or anything where we left something behind that is urgently needed… there is nothing pressing to get done or prepared. That is leading to some gaps in time, where all of us are kind of searching for things to do.

I still haven’t received a call… on my phone or either of the rooms’ phones… to follow-up on the Wi-Fi service. As one of the first out of the shower, and now with some time to spare, I decide to make a second call. Let’s get back to our story…

Vacation Village internet service…
Ha-ha, the word “service” implies we actually got something…
Part two -- The second phone call

I turn on my laptop and run through some basic checks. Just like Sunday… Justin can get access on his iPad, and my laptop is showing the Vacation Village signal. No matter how I adjust my settings or work through different options, I simply cannot bring up a screen that allows me to log on.

When I used the help number on Sunday, you might recall I referred to an infamous checklist. Basically, I didn’t know that the person I spoke with had an actual checklist, but he certainly went through the basics… try this… turn this off and on… let’s check the access point… that had a definite feel of a progression taking place. And once done, he then said that it was out of his authority range and I would get a phone call.

Nope. Never got a phone call.

So… having reviewed the basics, just to make sure nothing has changed, I call the number again.

A really pleasant girl answers the phone, and I run through the story with her. She asks if he tried checking one particular setting, and I answer that he didn’t. She responds by saying “that’s strange, let’s give it a shot” and walks me through the steps.

It doesn’t work.

While she remains friendly and upbeat, after that first attempt things are beginning to seem very familiar. She resets the access point. She has me restart the laptop. And… well… you guessed it…

“Can I have someone call you at this number?” she asks while rattling off my cell phone number.

With that… the call is done, and I still don’t have Wi-Fi access.

At this point it’s kind of a crazy situation. I know it’s my laptop. I know I’m just missing something. After all, Justin has been able to get access, and I can see the Wi-Fi account on my laptop as being active and having a signal. But…

Well, this is twice now where I’ve called, given them the information, been run through a series of pretty basic attempts at resolution, and been promised a call back. And, even this second time, I’m being told that while it may be a couple of hours, usually the call back is made within ten to twenty minutes.

I’ll be honest… at this point I’m a bit skeptical that the call is coming.

Since the laptop is on and I still have some time, I grab the cameras and the memory cards so I can download some of the pictures. Just as I finish, everyone is ready to go and we’re off to our presentation.

The room where we are supposed to go is quite literally a five minute walk from our hotel room only if the elevator slows you down. The trick is… that’s not where the actual presentation is done.

We’re introduced to our representative… and because we ultimately didn’t buy, and apparently (according to what we asked) the assignment process is random, I’m not going to mention him by name. He’s a great guy… very friendly… and we enjoyed speaking with him about many things.

After hands are shaken and names exchanged, we are led over to the parking garage. We’re not eating here.

Breakfast is in the town of Celebration. While I’m kidding when I say this, because we didn’t… it sure felt like we spent more time in our car driving to and then back from the restaurant than we did at the actual breakfast. And that is something to keep in mind… because these wonderful people left all six of us alone for those stretches of time. They’re trying to deliver a high-pressure sales pitch, and yet repeatedly we were in our own car and separated from them. Yeah… that was smart.

The breakfast itself wasn’t that remarkable. It was a buffet set up in a corner of the restaurant. The food wasn’t bad, but it certainly wasn’t anything even bordering on memorable. Coffee… juice… cereal… pastries… eggs… you get the idea. In fact, I’ve stayed at hotels that had significantly better complimentary breakfasts when offering only a waffle maker, two or three choices of fruit, and cold cereal in a small room. But… it wasn’t a bad breakfast.

During the sales pitch we turned down an offer on a unit at this Vacation Village property. I didn’t take specific notes… but Terry, Ellen and Richard were there with me, and anyone that has gone through a similar presentation will find my description perfectly reasonable… after saying no to the first numbers set out before us, the price kept dropping and suddenly Massachusetts, and other properties across the country, began getting discussed. I swear… we were in Orlando, mentioned we travel to Florida often, even told him we had family on the west coast and Australia… and the highlight of the dropping prices was a unit available in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Hey… Dollywood sounds awesome and I’d be interested in visiting. I drove through Tennessee as a kid and would love to get back there. But buying a unit, sight unseen, in Pigeon Forge as prices are getting slashed and burned and dropped in response to every “sorry no” we utter isn’t exactly making me feel giddy about this place as we arrive at the lowest numbers of all.

I’m going to give you a Backpack Tip in a second. But before that, I want to summarize this experience with a series of three points as to why we didn’t ever really consider buying.

First – Ellen and Richard own a timeshare. We’ve traveled with them using their unit and the connections associated with their ownership of it. Terry and I have talked about potentially investing in such a purchase in the future. The thing is… Ellen and Richard are not amateurs when it comes to the concept of owning, or when the idea is just the concept of presentations and sales pitches in general. After we left the presentation and were kicking around a few things, one of her comments was she could simply not understand the dollars they were throwing at us, and specifically mentioned the price reductions involved as the properties offered changed. It just seemed more dramatic than any she had previously encountered.

Second – The twenty dollars.

When we signed up and bought our theme park tickets, they took great care to remind us that if we didn’t show up for the presentation, we would be billed for the difference between the discounted ticket prices and the actual ticket prices. Fair enough.

We also were asked for a $20 cash deposit for our place at the breakfast. And… look, we were saving hundreds of dollars… we paid the $20 on the promise to get it back. Ready for this? Ok… new paragraph…

In the sales room, our representative turned us over to another person. And then we were brought downstairs and introduced to another person. And each step, with each refusal, it was another step in completing the process. Amazingly though… no step involved the return of $20.

“You just need to speak with…”… “We’re almost done, and only have some paperwork to get signed…”… you get the idea. The $20 being returned was more or less just off in the distance, still there and obtainable though not quite yet, with the insinuation being it was at the next stop.

But no.

Eventually we were told we needed to bring our receipt to another office… close to but not on the Vacation Village property… to get our money.

Only we didn’t get our money.

We got a Visa gift card.

Yeah… seriously… a Visa gift card with a $20 value.

Third – Vacation Village is not even remotely in the conversation with Orange Lake. And I don’t just mean that on a property level comparing the two. I mean that Vacation Village didn’t win me over with their parking situation. I mean that Vacation Village never really felt safe to me, which is hard to describe, but if you’ve driven past the Orange Lake and their guard stations you’d likely understand a bit better. And I mean… well… you’ve been following the Wi-Fi story so far, yes?

It was an ok place to stay and well worth the cost associated for it. I have nothing bad to say about Vacation Village or our experiences there. Overall I enjoyed it. I would stay there again. I’d even do the breakfast and sales pitch meeting again. But it didn’t impress me… nor would it be the first place I would seek out.

Ok… tip time…

Backpack Tip: Timeshare presentations are sales pitches… smooth, highly scripted, deeply researched, sales pitches.

You need to understand this, because I cannot stress it enough… they are trying, and trying very hard, to sell you something.

You’ve heard the “if something seems too good to be true, it generally is” theory? Bingo! There is a reason they give you free breakfasts and discounted tickets, and it isn’t simply that they are lovely people that hope you have wonderful memories of your visit and the generosity of the local businesses.

I was looking up details on Vacation Village, both before and after this trip. Mainly I was trying to find out what the name of the place was in Celebration that we went to for breakfast. And in the end, while I found a couple of leads, I just couldn’t be positive about it and decided not to mention a name I wasn’t certain of. Anyway… while doing this, I saw several comments in different places, and I couldn’t believe the number of highly vocal negative reviews the time share presentation aspect of the whole thing got. I’m sure some of the people may have had horrendous experiences. I’m sure some of the stories weren’t exaggerated. But being stunned that they keep pushing the free breakfast and time share sales presentation, from registration to voice mails… being amazed that during the sales presentation several people are brought over to speak with you, and as you say “no” again and again they seem less and less friendly… and so on, well, that’s just naïve.

It’s an attempt to make money… to make sales… and the same reason you have a shot at discounted theme park tickets is part of the reason you stayed there… getting something for a bit less than you would otherwise.

(As a side note, you might recall from our experiences in Savannah that one review site contained comments about a supposed in-room ice cream bar. One person was complaining that they dropped off some ice cream bars into their room’s refrigerator each day. Apparently they were beyond mad… and I mean that I recall reading it, and they were seriously mad… that the hotel promised ice cream bars and yet staff didn’t arrive at their room every night during their stay with a forty-five flavor, sixteen topping ice cream sundae bar.)

The point is… if you want to tell me time shares aren’t worth the trouble, I won’t debate you on it. I can see where the humor and jokes come from, and get the thought process that could lead you down the road to that opinion. I have not gone to a pitch at every time share I’ve stayed at. That said, I have attended them and enjoyed the rewards that came with providing them with my time.

But as far as blaming the time share presentation for being a sales pitch… well… have you heard the fable about the snake bite? The tip here is don’t go blaming something for being more or less exactly what you know it is.

Time share presentations are sales pitches… smooth and persuasive sales pitches.

Justin and Kim are down at the pool. They got dropped off when we went in for the let’s-take-a-seat-and-discuss-some-numbers portion of the show began.

Ellen and Richard are heading home. They have a couple of days of work ahead of them, along with some time to spend with Sam and Mia.

Before they leave, we iron out plans for Friday. We had been kicking around the idea of heading up to their house so everyone could spend some time with Sam. Even had the basics for a dinner planned. Now though… with DisneyQuest more or less set for that day, and Ellen and Richard planning to return for the weekend… it just seems to make more sense to meet up here at Vacation Village and not head to Ocala.

We’ve decided not to rush over to Epcot. While we are thrilled to have four park days at Disney World… plus DisneyQuest… we also have forecasts placing every day around 85-degrees or above with fairly strong sun. Nothing unusual there for Orlando in April, but worth considering as you hike a few miles of theme park ground each day. As a result, we figure we’ll eat lunch in the park… say around 2 or so… and are slowly putting together the backpack and other items for the day. Eventually we set off.

As we arrive in the parking lot, pretty much the only things set on our list are Soarin’ and Test Track. The annual International Flower & Garden Festival is going on… we figure we’ll eat lunch or dinner (and maybe both) in World Showcase areas… and pavilions like Mexico and Norway are favorites, for reasons that include their rides. But there are no amazing musts here that we are concerned about missing. For instance…

I love Figment while Terry enjoys the ride in Spaceship Earth… and neither of those attractions should be difficult at all to include. We likely will get out into the World Showcase, like we said it’s a destination for food and a couple of stops… but we’re not sure how much ground we’ll try to cover out there.

Soarin’ and Test Track though… those are the standouts. And we expect to stay for Illuminations.

We get inside and start to head out toward the countries. As we walk, I step away to get each of us a FASTPASS for Test Track.

While kicking around ideas for eating, Terry knows we are moving toward the inside of the pyramid in Mexico and suggests lunch there. We arrive at the San Angel Inn Restaurante and check at the host desk about seating.

I’ve eaten in Mexico on previous visits, but never inside at San Angel. It was nice… but before I get to the meal itself, there are two things you should know.

First of all, Mexico during the day will always catch you if the sun is out. The central area is a marketplace theme, with the restaurant and ride attraction located here. And, it… is… dark. Oh sure… it’s supposed to be representing a sort of everlasting twilight. And once you get used to it, it’s nice. The room is cool (atmosphere and temperature)… the ride is smooth and fun (reminiscent of “it’s a small world”)… and overall it is a very enjoyable place to spend some time. If it’s a bright day outside though, it will take some time for your eyes to adjust. You might bump into a few people, take a wrong turn or two into a wall, and even stop short here and there before that adjustment happens.

And second, San Angel runs the cantina and the hacienda as well as the restaurante. The place here in the plaza is the restaurant, and one of the more expensive dining options for Mexico.

The result is that as we sit down, either because of the darkness or that we are still getting used to the lighting, we can’t really read our menus. It isn’t an exhausting menu… three or four options for appetizers and entrees. Plus while none of us are mentioning it, we have begun to see the prices and it seems a bit more than any of us were expecting for lunch. (To give you an idea, on the lunch menu almost all of the entrees are around $20 per plate. On the dinner menu, that goes up to $25 to $30.)

We decide to apply the Bob-and-Terry-Dining-Plan to the meal. In other words… looking things over I ask Terry, Justin and Kim if they’d be interested in splitting two appetizers between us… and we all agree without hesitation.

(Full disclosure… the food was good, and we enjoyed our orders. And… it is hard to really explain how romantic the low lighting of this location could be. It’s a great place. However, Terry and I would both be quick to point you to Japan or China for the pricier restaurant options of the World Showcase, and I honestly don’t know if I will ever eat here at the San Angel Inn Restaurante again. I’m more likely to stop at the cantina.)

We are literally seconds away from the attraction here in Mexico -- The Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros.

This is basically a slow boat ride. It used to be called El Rio de Tiempo, and was updated roughly five to six years ago. In both editions, as I mentioned a moment ago, I have found it to be quite similar to the Magic Kingdom’s legendary attraction. That said… and obvious to understand… the theme here is on Mexico and not a world-wide voyage. (Also… this is one of the final places that feature the multiple screens of videos and movie snippets that Disney used decades ago in Tomorrowland with If You Had Wings for Eastern Airlines and carried into some of those other rides created in the 70s and 80s. Still… majority of it… you’ll recognize the “it’s a small world” approach here.)

As it exists today, Gran Fiesta centers on The Three Caballeros… Donald, Panchito and Jose. Donald has managed to get separated from the other two, and visitors to the attraction get to join on a search for him.

As we exit the pyramid, I’m making a push to move along to Norway. It’s the very next country, and features the Maelstrom… which I know is a boat ride with a bit of a thrill that Kim should be good with, and also has a great hidden Mickey. (Both ideas -- the thrill and the Mickey -- go over well with everyone.)

It’s time to leave the World Showcase for now. There are some things to see and places to eat… but Soarin’ is calling us back to Future World and the basic understanding is that between Spaceship Earth, Figment and our Test Track reservation, we are likely not heading back out this way until the evening. On our lazy day at Epcot, there simply isn’t time for a slow walk around the lagoon if we plan to get to the major points of interest.

Soarin’ has a line estimated at just over 30 minutes when we enter, and it becomes one of the only lines during our park visits that we will wait in that not only says 30 or more minutes, but ends up taking that long as well. (The other was The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. Expedition Everest said 30 minutes, but we ended up waiting in line, getting on the ride, and then rejoining those that didn’t ride it in just under that length of time.)

Justin and Kim are impressed with Soarin’… and a quick thought is given to getting on again. Instead, we head into the line for the Living with the Land attraction and take the boat ride.

After we get off, a quick stop is made in Sunshine Seasons to grab some drinks and a cookie. We’re heading over to the Imagination building to catch up with Figment.

I have always been a huge fan of Figment… going back to the days of Dreamfinder. So any trip to Epcot involves going over to visit the Imagination Institute and riding Journey into Imagination.

After the ride we stop at a few of the interactive exhibits, and at one we design our own Figments. (This comes with the opportunity to e-mail the results to yourself. Now… in the past I have always had horrendous luck with Disney “e-mail a friend or yourself” opportunities, Basically, they just never arrive. This time though… some mixed results. I’ll mention more in a minute, and in the full Epcot review that will soon follow this diary entry to the Travel section of In My Backpack. For now though… only Terry’s Figment made it.)

It’s time for Test Track.


Very nice job Disney!

Test Track was refurbished in 2012, and the entire preshow has been redesigned. The new ride itself is fairly similar to the old ride. Different car-themed concepts from braking to steering effectively remain, along with the top thrill of a high-speed run on the outdoor portion of the track.

The ride line changes are impressive, and include a car design station. We used the FASTPASS option and missed most of the longer wait area. (Which… fair note to make… occupies the same basic area as the old ride queue. So while things certainly felt significantly different on this visit as opposed to those of the past, realistically we entered the building and within seconds were setting up for the design-your-car preshow.)

During the ride, the car you designed is shown during the testing phases. That doesn’t mean the ride differs based on your design -- no, that doesn’t appear to be the case -- but rather each stage includes a chart showing where the car designs of those in your vehicle rank. Honestly, the only real change is that no longer do we have true braking and corrosive tests… now it’s efficiency, responsiveness, and power. Same track though… at least from what I could see.

Once off the ride, the interactive area was very cool. You could do several different things, including taking your car design into simulated commercials. And… go figure… e-mail those to yourself. (A grand total of none of the e-mails from Test Track arrived. Not one.)

At this point in our visit we are thinking dinner, but all of us seem more inclined to stay in Future World… due to the attractions we are planning to visit… rather than heading out to the delicious offerings of the World Showcase. And so, from Test Track we wander into the Electric Umbrella. Nothing special… basic park menu… and it counts as nothing more than fine.

Terry has a soft spot for Spaceship Earth, and from our meal we head over there. It’s a very short line… basically we walked up the entryway and onto the loading platform for the vehicle carts.

At the end of the ride, each couple had a chance to create some pictures… yup, and e-mail them. (These arrived!)

We get off of Spaceship Earth and still have a significant amount of time remaining until we should really be thinking about staking out a spot for Illuminations. So… with Terry and I debating the last time we visited the pavilion and not being able to top 1999 when it was still called The Living Seas… we head over to visit The Seas with Nemo & Friends. And…

VERY entertaining!

Look… I personally loved the “Mine! Mine! Mine!” seagulls at the front of the building. And the ride itself… of course based loosely on the movie and Finding Nemo… was fun. And the areas that include photo ops with Bruce and such were nice touches. (Nobody… NOBODY… can add themes to a setting the way Disney does. Small touches… large touches… tiny moments… immense environments… it’s simply not even close.) Due to our timing, we didn’t stop at Turtle Talk with Crush. All that said… the big excitement was found at the live exhibits.

I can’t explain it.

It was simply exhibits with dolphins, sea turtles, and clownfish in different areas.

There was a hidden Mickey in the bottom of a tank.

It wasn’t anything high-tech… fast-moving… latest-product-placement… amazing-thrill-ride… or whatever category you want to consider. It was dolphins swimming in a tank. It was watching sea turtles swim on by. And it was incredibly enjoyable.

As we left the pavilion, we had slightly more than an hour until Illuminations was set to start. Justin said he wanted to take Kim back toward Mexico for something they had spotted, so we made arrangements about where to meet and they took off.

While waiting, I wandered over to one of the nearby food stands and bought a pineapple whip with a shot of spiced rum. (Not bad… but all the rum, of course, went to the bottom of the cup. That led to several tastes of the whip with no rum, and then an overwhelming rum presence at the end. Pace yourself people. Make every attempt to get the rum into every scoop.)

About five minutes before Illuminations begins, the kids arrived. The two of them had walked around the entire World Showcase lagoon… which was great because it gave Kim a look, albeit brief, at the scenes in each of the countries.

We watched Illuminations… enjoyed it… and I need to make a comment here about the nighttime shows. It is simply amazing how cutthroat spacing has become for Disney end-of-day events.

I remember when the lines at attractions seemed to take forever, but people weren’t crammed up against you during the nightly fireworks. (And I mean crammed.) Now people get wedged in, raise cell phones in the air, and it really can become frustrating. In my experiences, even with lines at the attractions still common, it’s as if there’s been a huge swing. It’s the events at night, and not the attraction lines, that cause frustrations.

All of these people literally appear out of every nook and cranny thirty minutes before show time. Disney cast members walk nearby, trying as best they can to keep walkways clear and people outside of viewing areas moving. And people inside the viewing areas spread out and avoid eye contact at all costs… just in case two people walking by might ask if they can sneak in along the back edge of the marked-off-appropriate-stopping-territory.

I still enjoy the shows… and I haven’t had troubles with any particular event for the event itself. But during those last few minutes before things start, it can become amazingly exasperating. Let’s face it… these days at the park are incredibly expensive adventures. Just to walk through the gates costs roughly one hundred dollars per person. That doesn’t include a drink, a snack or a meal. That won’t put a set of Mickey-ears on your head. That’s admission. I’m not certain there is a great solution… space is at a premium for attractions, shops and food outlets, and not for creating sitting areas for fireworks observation while keeping foot traffic paths clear. Maybe Fantasmic! simply does do it best… with theater seating for the show. Let’s face facts though… lighting up the sky over the castle is here to stay.

And in the end, that probably brings us to a well needed reminder… your enjoyment of a place can absolutely place a positive (or negative) spin on someone else’s day.

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