Staying at Mouse House Central - Our first onsite trip
Day 1: September 11th 2008
We have been coming to Orlando regularly since our honeymoon in 1998, but have always stayed offsite. When we visited Orlando last November, we did a DVC tour and decided to become members. This trip was our first trip "home" and our first ever stay onsite.
We could not believe when we were told that our room was ready as soon as we arrived at Old Key West at 10 am. When we got off the bus the bellman took our suitcases and gave us a receipt saying that they would look after our baggage until our room was ready in the afternoon. We only went to reception to check when we should be back to check in, when they told us that our room was ready now. We were equipped with maps, time guides and our Member Perks guide and were sent on our way. One of the bellmen gave us a lift in a golf cart. Once he realized that this was our first stay at Old Key West, he gave us a quick guided tour. We had a ground floor studio at the back of the resort in the Turtle Pond area. This made me happy, as I had read about the fantastic pool in this area that was virtually always empty. Our patio was surrounded by a whole jungle and was backing onto a waterway. We unpacked a bit and had a cup of coffee and then went to explore the resort.
Old Key West is so pretty. The pool near our room was huge. We walked back towards the Hospitality House and ended up having lunch at Olivia’s. They had a fantastic Chicken Tortilla soup and I had a great burger. DH passed on the soup, but he had the Key Lime Tart. He let me have a taste and it was out of this world.
After dinner, I headed off to the parks. I had not really decided where I wanted to go, but I thought I would get on the first bus that came along. That happened to go to the Magic Kingdom. I was a little worried as it was nearly 2 pm by the time I arrived and I thought the wait times would be horrendous. So I admired the Halloween decorations by the entrance and at Town Square and then browsed the shops. When I got to the information board, I found that most rides were a walk on and that the longest wait time was about 35 minutes for Peter Pan and Space Mountain.
I headed over to Fantasy Land and got a Fast Pass for Peter Pan and rode It’s a Small World. From there I headed over to Liberty Square to ride Haunted Mansion. I decided to go to the Hall of Presidents and got there just as the parade was about to go past. So I stood in the shade in front of the building that houses the Hall of Presidents and watched the parade first. Right across from me where two cast members that were translating the parade into sign language, which was absolutely amazing to watch. After the parade I headed for the Hall of Presidents to watch the show. The only time previously that I had seen the show was when Bill Clinton was still president.
Once the show was over, my slot had opened for Peter Pan. I did a quick de-tour to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad to get a Fast Pass and then went and rode Peter Pan.
After Peter Pan I headed over to Adventure Land to do the Jungle Cruise and Pirates of the Caribbean, both of which were a walk on. I still had some time left before my slot for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad opened and wandered around Frontier Land to take in all the clever detail. About 5 minutes before I could ride Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, the first raindrops started to fall. When I got to the front of the line, there was an announcement that a thunderstorm was approaching Orlando, but that they would continue to operate the ride until it got closer. I got onto the ride and the heavens opened. A monsoon came down on us and I was absolutely drenched. I thought I heard some thunder, but was not sure, as the ride was so noisy. Once I got off the ride, they announced that the ride was now closed, as the thunderstorm was too close.
The rain was still coming down good and heavy and I run for shelter. The DVC booth at Frontier Land did the job nicely and I was talking to the DVC staff, who told me to expect a big announcement early the next week. The thunderstorm was rather impressive. There was such a loud bang that nearly made me jump out of my skin.
Once the thunderstorm had blown over and the rain had eased off a bit, I decided to head to Future Land, where I found that Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin was a walk on. I had never seen this ride with less than a 60 minute wait, so this was too good to pass up. I ended up doing the ride three times in a row before leaving the park soaked, but happy.
When I came to the bus stop, I saw my bus pulling out, but another one was along about 20 minutes later. I had arranged to meet DH at the boat dock at Old Key West at 7pm and we were planning to head to the Rainforest Café at Downtown Disney for dinner. Unfortunately the boat service to Downtown Disney was suspended due to the weather and we had to wait for the bus. We waited for nearly an hour for the bus and saw multiple busses for each park going by.
Eventually we got to Downtown Disney and the line at the Rainforest Café was horrendous. So we passed on that experience and headed for Portobello Yacht Club instead. The food was fantastic, but it was rather noisy. Once we had finished our meal, we headed back for the bus and again we waited forever until one came along.
Eventually we ended up back in our room and went to bed. There was some strange noise that later turned out to be the fountain that was running day and night, but we were so tired that we fell asleep regardless.
What a nice beginning to your trip! Congrats on joining DVC. So glad you like OKW. I am looking forward to staying there of these days.
You certainly got a lot done on your first day. I am looking forward to reading more!
Today I actually managed a lie in for a change. As I had planned a day at Epcot and it was Evening Extra Magic Hours that day, I was in no particular rush. Once I got up, I made good use of our patio. I finally decided to head of at about midday and the bus pulled up just as I got to the bus stop. I was inside the park by about 12:30.
The first thing I saw was that there was only a 15 minute wait at Spaceship Earth, so that was too good to pass up. This ride was closed the last time I had been to Epcot and I am used the wait times being silly long until later in the afternoon and even into the evening. So this was a welcome opportunity. In the end the wait was only about half what was advertised and I really enjoyed the new version of the ride.
I did not stop at the post ride area, but headed directly to Club Cool to get some free soda samples. Once that was done, I checked the wait times and saw that my favourite ride Soaring had a wait time of 20 minutes so I headed straight there. I got a Fast Pass for later on and then joined the standby line to ride straight away. The actual wait time was closer to 20 minutes, but that was OK. I had fun playing the games in the wait area. Even after having done this ride more than 100 times, it still has the Wow factor. Once I came off the ride I had time to do Living with the Land and have a snack at the food court before my slot for my Fast Pass opened. So I got another Fast Pass for Soaring and then rode it for the second time.
Once I came out of the ride, I had plenty of time to do the other rides. Test Track was down unfortunately, but I rode Journey into Imagination with Figment five times in a row just walking on and then did the same with the green version of Mission Space. I still had time to ride The Seas with Nemo and watch the dolphins for a while, before my Fast Pass slot for Soaring opened. I rode this for the final time. When I came out of The Land pavilion, it had started to rain. As I did not want a repeat of the previous day, I decided to head back to Old Key West.
True to form, just as I got to the bus stop, my bus left without me. Still, the next bus came along pretty quickly. As soon as I was on the bus, the rain stopped! I went to the resort shop to pick up something for my insect bites, as I have been eaten alive since we arrived at Old Key West.
On the way round the resort, a friend of mine and her partner got on the bus. They live at the Gulf Coast of Florida and had come over to Orlando to see me. I did not expect them until later in the evening and it was nice to see them. They had the room above us. We arranged that we would meet up in the morning and they headed for something to eat.
When I came back to our room, my DH was not there. I figured that he would probably by the pool and headed over there. I was right. He was actually doing our laundry. The pool looked very tempting. The quiet pool in the Turtle Pond area of Old Key West is huge and apart from us there was only one couple there. I got my swim stuff and went for a swim. There is nothing quite like a swim after a day at the parks. While I was in the pool, a huge flock of white birds (we later found out that they are Ibises) flew overhead. This was so beautiful to watch.
After the laundry was done and I had enough of swimming, we headed over to Olivia’s Café for some dinner. The menu is fairly limited, but the corn chowder and Olivia’s Potatoes that came with my steak were both out of this world. We decided to have a lazy evening and I made good use of my new toy (my MacBook) and the free internet access.
I was awake quite early in the morning. I made good use of the internet and then rang my friends upstairs to decide on a game plan for the day. We decided to head for Olivia’s Café for some breakfast and we would decide then what we would do with the day. We took the bus to the Hospitality House and had a leisurely breakfast.
After debating a lot of different ideas, we decided to head for Seaworld. Although my friends live in Florida, they had never been to Seaworld. They had their car with them and we decided that we would go by car. We headed back towards our rooms and I checked with DH if he wanted to come. He is not a big friend of the Disney parks, but likes Seaworld. We had passes for Seaworld anyway as we were booked to go to Discovery Cove the next day.
When we got to Seaworld, the car park looked really empty. We had to go via the Discovery Cove check in desk at Seaworld as we just had our confirmation letter at that stage. We were given a one day pass and we were on our way. It took a little longer for our friends to purchase their tickets and join us inside the park. We picked up a park map and checked the show schedules.
There was a showing of my absolutely favourite show Blue Horizons starting in 20 minutes time. I had told my friends that this is the one most see show. So we decided to give it a go. We were a bit worried that we were too late as the show is often full and we cut it a bit fine. We need not had worried. Up to 5 minutes before the start of the show, the stadium was less than half full. The show was fantastic as usual. Even the condor decided to fly. The show was slightly different from usual as they rested the False Killer Whales, but I did not really feel that it missed anything. Our friends absolutely loved the show.
Living in Florida, they were not interested in seeing the Manatees or Alligators as they have them almost in their backyard. We headed over to the Penguin Encounter and had some frozen lemonade on the way. The penguins were as cute as ever, but the Puffin exhibit was closed. We headed over to the Shark Encounter and were absolutely captivated by the Leafy Sea Dragons. I have been to Seaworld so many times, but never even noticed these amazing creatures before. Sometimes you just need to see familiar places through somebody else’s eyes.
They might never have been to Seaworld, but they have been to Busch Gardens a number of times and asked if there was a hospitality house at Seaworld. So we took them over there and had a look at the underwater viewing area at the Shamu stadium. True to form, there was not a Killer Whale in sight. So we headed on to the hospitality house and sampled some free beer.
We decided to head over to the Shamu Stadium to see Believe. Neither DH nor I have ever rated that show, but as it has won multiple awards, we figured that this should be something that our friends should have the opportunity to experience. We got to the stadium about 30 minutes prior to the start of the show and to my surprise, they had not even started to let people into the stadium. They finally let us in about 15 minutes before the show started. We got fantastic seats right in the middle section about halfway up. Our friends absolutely loved the show. I liked it better than when I had seen it previously as a lot of the kinks had been worked out, but I still think that this is not even in the same league as Blue Horizons and probably won’t see it again for years to come.
Once the show was finished, we headed straight over to Wild Arctic, which is something that I would not normally contemplate straight after Believe has finished. However, as the park was so empty, we chanced it. We waited about 10 minutes for the non-motion version, which appeared a bit silly, because as soon as the doors opened, everybody walked straight through the theatre and into the attraction itself. We spent a fare while just looking at the animals. I had done the Marine Mammal Keeper Experience the previous year and this was my favourite area when I did the programme. So I was able to give them a bit of information about the animals that are in that area.
Once we were thoroughly frozen, we went to see Pet’s Ahoy. We have seen this show many times before and really enjoy it. For our friends, it was the first time and during some parts of the show, their jaws literally dropped. I suppose when you see the show for the first time; it is pretty amazing what those animals can do.
We had a quick look at the dolphin nursery and then we headed over to Dolphin Cove. It was fairly late in the day and the dolphins were no longer interested in their guests. So we headed back to the car and returned to Old Key West.
We had a dinner reservation at Boma for that evening. I had wanted to eat there for a long time, but we have never got around to it. Now, I am a fairly adventurous eater and so is one half of the other couple. The other half and DH however is not. So I was not too sure what to expect.
This was also our first visit to Animal Kingdom Lodge. Our original plan had been to stay there for 3 nights before our 4 night cruise, but that had gone out of the window when we decided to add the 5 night cruise as well. DH was more than a little relieved about this. The noise in the lobby was deafening and he did not like it at all. When we checked in at the restaurant check in desk in the lobby, they could not find us in the system. I got this sinking feeling. However, they sent us downstairs to the podium at Boma and they found us straight away. We had got there a little early and our table was not ready yet. After we had received a pager, we headed outside as we could not hear ourselves think in the noise. I would have loved to go exploring a bit, but was not sure how far the signal for the pager would reach. We did not have to wait very long, before our table was ready. Service was a bit on the slow side and we waited a good 20 minutes before our server appeared and took our drink order. Then we were let loose on the buffet. We were seated right at the back of the restaurant and the start of the buffet line was virtually next to us. It was also really quite where we were sat considering the noise outside the restaurant. I did not need to worry about those in our party who prefer plain food. There was plenty for them to eat and both of them tried some more exotic food as well. Dh fell in love with the Chicken Pepper Pot and the nut crusted salmon, but also feasted on plainer fare like the prime rib and macaroni cheese.
For dessert I had advised my friends that the Zebra Domes come highly recommended. I could not wait to try them myself. DH unfortunately had to miss out on this treat due to his chocolate allergy. He did give us all a good laugh though. He came back from the dessert buffet empty handed and asked me what Worm Fruit is. My face must have been a picture as I really did not know what he was talking about. He then told me that there was a Worm Fruit Cobbler and he was not sure if he should try some. I just burst out laughing, as the sign actually said Warm Fruit Coppler. He did try it and loved it.
After dessert we headed back to the car and had every intention to head back to Old Key West. Some how we must have taken a wrong turn and we ended up at the gates to the Magic Kingdom. Unfortunately this late at night, there was nobody at the parking booth. When we attempted to backtrack, we ended up at the Contemporary. The security guard there directed us in the right direction and as a bonus we had got a good look at the Bay Lake Tower building. We finally made it back to Old Key West, said good-bye to our friends who would return home the next morning and fell into bed after a wonderful day.
We head a fairly early start today and we caught the first bus to the Magic Kingdom. From there, we got on the monorail to the Transportation and Ticket Centre. We got there just in time for the Lynx bus to Seaworld, but unfortunately the bus was delayed and when it finally arrived, the driver told us that the bus would go nonstop to Downtown Orlando. So we had to wait for the next bus. We decided to get off one stop early and to walk to Discovery Cove rather than to walk across the Seaworld car park and to catch the complimentary shuttle. We arrived at Discovery Cove just before 10:00 am.
We checked in and I was given a American Express gift cheque for $50 as I had paid with my AMEX. As we had arrived relatively late, I was assigned a dolphin swim slot at 13:30. We headed off and get some breakfast before getting our wetsuits/ vest.
This was a fairly novel experience for me as I had only done the dolphin swim experience once on our very first visit to Discovery Cove in 2001. Ever since then, I had always done the Trainer for a Day programme. We had not planned to do Discovery Cove at all this time, but about two weeks before we went we changed our mind. DH did the non dolphin swim package as his favourite place is the aviary, but I cannot imagine going to Discovery Cove and not swimming with the dolphins.
As soon as we were changed and suited up, we headed for the resort pool and the Tropical River. We swam as far as the aviary and then spent some quality time with the birds. My favourite part of the aviary is the small bird aviary and I particularly love the Mouse Birds that are such little characters. We soon had multiple birds sitting on our shoulders. Time just flew by and we realized that we better head towards the restaurant if we wanted to eat before I had my orientation for the dolphin swim.
We swam through the rest of the Tropical River and then headed to the restaurant to eat. The food was yummy and plentiful. After lunch, DH headed to snorkel in the Coral Reef and to feed the stingrays, whereas I headed to my dolphin swim orientation. I was quite surprised that we were given quite a comprehensive disclaimer to fill out. In all the years that we have gone to Discovery Cove, we never had to fill out one before.
The actual orientation was not anywhere near as educational as usual. I suppose the reason for that was that so much time was wasted on the disclaimers. I don’t know why we could not have filled those out in advance or at least at check in. We were just shown a short film and then we headed down to the lagoon for our dolphin swim.
I met a dolphin that I had not met before. Dixie is one of their older dolphins and an absolute cutie. One of the trainers recognized me from a previous visit and they really worked hard to make the interaction special for me especially when they heard that this was my 6th visit. They offered me a belly ride instead of the dorsal tow, but I was quite happy to just go with the flow and do was everybody else in the group did. The dolphin interaction was great as usual. I found out that I can actually request a particular dolphin at check in. Had I know this before, I would have requested Capricorn (their oldest and biggest dolphin and an absolute character), but I suppose then I would have missed out on meeting a new dolphin friend. Once the trainer found out that I really love Capricorn, he found out for me if he was doing dolphin interactions at the moment and then took me to the lagoon where Capricorn was where I spent a happy 20 minutes sitting on a rock near the lagoon watching the big guy until DH came back to meet me.
We grabbed something to drink and a snack and then we headed back to the Tropical River and swam back to the aviary. We spent a couple of hours in the small bird aviary and just sat there waiting for the birds to land on us. We had the company of some cockatiels and Mouse Birds very soon that were happy to use us as their perch. At around 17:00 we decided to take to the Tropical River again and to swim back towards the resort pool. We got changed and then headed to the photo pick up to get our complimentary photo that was taken as we entered the park. I have so many photos from Discovery Cove that I did not want to get any more photos. However, I still wanted a souvenir from my swim with Dixie. They do laser engraved marble photo tiles now and I decided to get one of those.
While we were waiting to get this done, DH decided that he would like to do the Marine Mammal Keeper Experience at Seaworld. We had discussed this a while ago, but had not made a decision. We headed over to guest services, who put us in touch with guest services as Seaworld. They advised us that we needed to come over to collect some paperwork. So we picked up my photo tile and caught the complimentary shuttle over to Seaworld.
It id not take long to get all the paperwork sorted out and we got on a bus up International Drive. I had my gift cheque and I needed a new suitcase as we had accumulated a lot of stuff on our cruise. I managed to find a great case at T J Maxx and we headed on another bus south to have dinner at Sweet Tomatoes. After dinner, we ended up waiting quite a while for a bus to take us back to the bus stop from where we could catch the bus back to Downtown Disney. We only just managed to get the last bus back. From Downtown Disney we caught the boat back to Old Key West. We had a wonderful day and fell into bed exhausted, but happy.
We had another fairly early start as DH had decided to have a day in the parks after all and we decided to go to Epcot. We only had to wait about 5 minutes for the bus to Epcot and got there at rope drop.
We headed straight to Spaceship Earth and walked straight on. Again we bypassed the post show area and headed over to Club Cool. I was kind and warned DH about the Beverly, but he tried everything else. We had a bit of a play around Innoventions, but I was somewhat disappointed as a lot of areas where shut down.
Both Test Track and the green version of Mission Space were walk ons and this was the first time that DH had done Mission Space and he really enjoyed it. We headed over to The Land and did Soaring. The board said that there was a 15 minute wait, but the actual wait was closer to 25 minutes. Still, it was worth it. We then did Living with the Land and we ended up having done all the major rides in less than 90 minutes.
We decided to do the Behind the Seeds tour. I had never done the tour before and DH only once many years ago. We had a great guide. Her area of expertise is insects so we spent quite a long time in the bug lab where we learned all about using insects as natural pest control. The kids were each given a little jar with Ladybugs that they would later release in one of the greenhouses. We then walked past the research labs and she explained about the different research that is carried out in those labs. We then headed for the green houses and she explained on what techniques are used to grow the produce in there and what the advantages are compared to conventional growing methods. We also got to try some of the cucumbers that are grown in the greenhouses. She also showed us a Mickey ears mould for cucumbers, but unfortunately they are not currently in use. We did however see pumpkins that are grown inside Mickey ears moulds. She introduced many plants to us that are not widely known and the benefits of those. We also got to smell a number of spices and then we had to guess what they were. Our last stop was to feed the fish and to see the Alligators and then we were walk back to our starting point.
We decided to ride Living with the Land again and then headed over to Journey into Imagination. Once we had done this ride, we headed over to the World Showcase. I have been to Epcot so many times, but I never knew that there are boats that go across the World Showcase lagoon. Over the years I must have walked miles in order to get to a certain spot on the World Showcase when I could have taken the boat. DH was decidedly amused and very pleased that he knew something Disney related, that I was clueless about.
We took the boat over to Germany. I am German by birth, but we had never eaten at the German pavilion before. We decided to check if they had space for us at Biergarten and we were seated straight away. The seating was communal and we ended up sitting with a family from Maryland. They got very excited when they realized that I am German. I was a little concerned beforehand about what to expect as far as the quality of the food was concerned, but I should not have worried. All of the food was fantastic and much of it fairly authentic. I did not really rate the show and even found it a little bit embarrassing, because it painted a completely wrong picture of German culture, but this most certainly did not spoil my enjoyment of the meal.
After lunch, we checked out the shops in the German pavilion before DH went to see the Circle Vision film at the Chinese pavilion while I checked out the Terracotta Warrior exhibit and the shop as Circle Vision films make me feel ill. We then headed over to Norway to ride Maelstrom.
As I had a Diet Coke with my lunch, I decided to have a Fiesta Margarita at the stand in Mexico. I had heard many good things about those Margaritas and I am a bit of a Margarita connoisseur, I had to try one. This was possibly the worst Margarita that I had ever tasted. It just tasted sharply alcoholic.
We did the boat right at Mexico and then headed back to Future World, where we did the Clam Mobile ride at The Seas with Nemo and Friends and Turtle Talk with Crush, which was so funny. We had a quick look around the rest of the pavilion before heading towards the exit. This time a bus showed up pretty much straight away.
After a little bit of down time, we decided to head over to Olivia’s Café where we had a great fried chicken dinner. I still had not managed to taste the Key Lime Tart so I ordered one to go, which I put in the fridge for my breakfast next day. We had a nice lazy evening watching some TV and in my case, surfing the internet.
Yet another day with an early start for me. I had the Dolphin in Depth tour booked at Epcot. I got up and had my Key Lime Tart and headed to the bus stop. I did not have to wait very long for the bus and I got to the meeting point for the tour way too early. Still, I had brought my book, there were benches and the weather was nice so I did not mind at all. The other participants arrived quite early, too so we started to chat amongst ourselves.
At the meeting time, we were met by two trainers and a supervisor, who ticked us off, gave out name stickers and told us the ground rules (like no taking photos backstage) and then she left us in the capable hands of the trainers. We did a quick round of introductions and were asked what previous experience we had with dolphins. Most people have never had the chance to interact with a dolphin before and I had by far the most previous experience when it came to interacting with dolphins. There was a family of three (mother with son and daughter), two couples and myself. I was the only non-American person in the group, which came as somewhat of a surprise as there are usually plenty of Brits at Discovery Cove and Seaworld.
Once the introductions were over, we headed backstage to The Seas with Nemo and Friends and straight to the changing rooms. We were told to leave our bags and all jewellery in the lockers, but not to get changed at this stage. Once we had locked everything away, we met in the hallway in front of the changing rooms where we were all given a large puzzle piece that represented a body part of a dolphin. We had to put the dolphin back together and where told what each body part does.
Once we completed that task, we headed over to the public areas of the pavilion and were quickly introduced to the four dolphins through the glass. We then headed up through the air-conditioning duct, which had a spiral staircase inside. When we got upstairs, we were right on top of the tanks and got an impression just how big those tanks really are. On the intersection of two of the walkways that run along the top of the tanks, there was a little classroom set up, where we got a talk about the diet of the dolphins. This was followed by a short video about training dolphins and an interactive talk about training methods used with the dolphins. There was nothing new to me there, as they use the same methods and pretty much the same signals that they use at Discovery Cove.
Once the talk was over, we headed back down to the public area, where they had roped off an area right in front of the glass of the dolphin tank for us. They are working on shape recognition with one of the dolphins at the moment and we had a grandstand view of the training and research session.
They had two different shapes, a Mickey head and a T shape that were hung on suction cup hooks on the glass on the tank. A trainer would hold up one of the shapes in between the two shapes and the dolphin had to point towards the corresponding shape. If he succeeded, he was recalled by a trainer at the back of the tank and rewarded. If he got it wrong, he was asked to try again and if he got it wrong again was pointed to the correct shape and then rewarded. They kept swapping the two shapes on the suction cup hooks around. Once the dolphin started to get bored, they stopped.
Once the session was over, we headed to the classroom, where we did an exercise during which we had to guess how long certain items that people might drop in the water will take to degrade. We were totally wrong with this. This was then followed with a talk about conservation issues and a short video. During this session, we also learned that more people are bitten by dolphins around the Florida coast every year than are bitten by sharks.
After the classroom session, we headed back to the changing rooms to get changed into our wetsuits and booties. My hairstyle caused a little excitement. I had my hair braided on one of my cruises and they wove in beads as well. All hair accessories had to be removed and replaces with their hair bands. Unfortunately this was easier said than done with me, and it actually took about 2 hours when I got home after our vacation to remove the braids. There was no way I could have removed them. When I was at Discovery Cove, nobody even blinked about my hair even though I was actually swimming with the dolphin there rather than just standing in waist deep water. I mentioned that to the trainer and she disappeared off somewhere and then came back to check that the beads are completely woven in. She then said I was OK to participate with my braids provided that I tied the rest of my hair into a ponytail with one of their hair bands. I was only too happy to comply.
So we were finally off to see the dolphins. We went through the public areas of the pavilion and up the air-conditioning duct to the top of the tank. There two more trainers, who explained, what would happen, and what we would have to do if the dolphins did not cooperate, met us. We were asked to sit down on seats at the back of the interaction platform while the trainers called two of the dolphins over. We were slip into two groups and each group was assigned a dolphin and a trainer. Once the trainer was happy, we were called over. I felt quite uncomfortable, which really surprised me considering how many dolphin interactions I had done. There was almost no light in that area and I found this twilight very disorientating. Add to that that the platform was sloping downwards and the booties had hardly any grip and I was afraid that I would end up in the tank as the latest dolphin toy. Of course nothing happened and once the dolphin was between me and the edge of the platform, I was a lot happier. We got to touch the dolphin a few times and got a dolphin kiss. We then met another dolphin and were again allowed to touch him. After this we were asked to go back to the seats while they swapped the dolphins back. We were then called forward one at a time to spend some more time touching and hugging the dolphin and have a photo taken with him. Once the photos had been taken, everybody was called back onto the interaction platform and we were each taught the hand signal for a specific behaviour. We were not told what the dolphin would do, but one after the other was asked to make eye contact with the dolphin and give him the hand signal. My signal was for a tail walk. Once the dolphin had performed the correct behaviour, the trainer called him back and the person who gave the hand signal rewarded the dolphin with some fish and a rub down. Once everybody had done their hand signal, we learned some more hand signals, which we carried out together for behaviours like fast swims and breaches. Towards the end of our interaction, we signaled all the dolphins to show off together and then it was time to say goodbye to our new dolphin friends. They even waived goodbye with their tail flukes as we left the water.
We headed back to the changing room to get showered and changed. Afterwards we headed back to the classroom where we had to fill out a customer satisfaction survey, had the chance to ask more question and received our photo and a souvenir t shirt. I was really disappointed in the photo. The photo was really grainy and both mine and the dolphin’s eyes were bright red. We were then escorted back to the meeting point outside the park.
My original plan had been to spent the rest of the day at Epcot, but as I would have to go through the bag check and the turnstiles again anyway and there was a bit of a line at the bag check, I decided against it. Instead I took the monorail over to the Transportation and Ticket Centre and then the boat to the Magic Kingdom.
I browsed the shops and then decided to get something to eat. As it was not my intention to even go to Magic Kingdom that day so I did not have a reservation for a meal. I went to the podium of Crystal Palace on the off chance that they can fit me in and they could. I waited less than 5 minutes for a table. I am a big fan of Pooh and especially Eeyore and I had eaten at Crystal Palace many times before, sometimes by myself and sometimes with DH. In each case the character interaction was fantastic. The restaurant was not particularly busy. Shortly after I arrived, Piglet came by my table, gave me a hug and we had a fun interaction. I was glad to be back. Shortly afterwards Eeyore came by, padded my head and moved on. Pooh just bypassed my table altogether. Tigger just gave me a casual wave and passed right by as well initially, but either Tigger or his escort must have seen how disappointed I was and he came back and I had a great interaction with him. I know that character dining experiences are particularly aimed at families with children, but why on earth did they think I chose to dine there if it was not to get some character interaction. It was definitely not for the food. The food is pleasant enough, but definitely not what makes me go there. I suppose I had been spoilt on the outstanding character interaction on my cruises and I should have said something when the interaction at Crystal Palace was not up to my expectations, but I left a little sad and disappointed.
Still, it did not spoil the rest of my day. I headed across to Tomorrowland, where Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin was a walk on and I managed to ride it five times in a row with no wait. Once I had enough of this, I headed over to the Carousel of Progress. I even ended up riding Tomorrow Land Transit Authority and the Tomorrowland Indy Speedway, just because I could. I had not done these two rides in years as the lines are always too long for what they are. After a little bit of retail therapy (I treated myself to a charm bracelet), I headed over to Fantasy Land for a quick ride on It’s A Small World. I then had a look at Tinkerbell’s Treasures and had a walk around the castle. After a quick ride at the Haunted Mansion, I headed back to Main Street and browsed the shops. I managed to get a DVC exclusive pin and nearly ended up buying some build your own Mickey ears.
I had done everything that I had come to do and headed back to Old Key West and I was back in our room shortly after 5. We did not fancy Olivia’s that night, but did not want to go too far either and Downtown Disney was definitely not high on our list. So I decided to ring the dining reservations line to see if they had any reservations available at the Turf Club Bar and Grill at Saratoga Springs for that night. Now, I have always got through straight away whenever I rang from the UK, but that time I gave up when I was still in the queue after 30 minutes.
We decided to head over to the Hospitality House and spoke to the lobby concierge. He managed to get us a reservation by ringing Saratoga Springs directly. We took the boat over and when we got there, we were equipped with a pager as our table was not ready yet. We had a look around the carriage house. We had been to Saratoga Springs twice last year, once to take the DVC tour and once to sign the paperwork, but both times were just at the DVC sales offices and the feeling of that area is very different than he resort proper. I loved the public areas at the sales offices as they had a really cosy feel to them. The carriage house felt to upmarket for our taste and the atmosphere was a little on the cold side. It was so completely different from Old Key West. I did, however, find a DVC charm and a Figment charm for my charm bracelet in their gift shop. Soon after we got back to the area near the restaurant, our pager went off.
We did like the Turf Club. The food was nice and our server was great. The menu was quite limited and server pretty much the same food as Olivia’s, but with a different style. I had a great steak with a blue cheese and mushroom topping and DH had a plain steak. When we had finished our meal, we headed back to the boat dock. Just as we got there, the boat pulled in. We headed back to Old Key West. We had decided over dinner that we were going to head over to Blizzard Beach the next day. It was included in my ticket and we got a ticket for DH from the lobby concierge. We then headed back to our room for an early night.
Today we did not have quite such an early morning, as Blizzard Beach does not open until 10 am. We were not entirely sure how the transportation to the watermarks worked. We headed to the bus stop and the second bus that pulled up was for Blizzard Beach and Animal Kingdom. The bus dropped us off at Blizzard Beach first before carrying on to Animal Kingdom.
Even though we did not rush to get up that day, we were there for rope drop. We found ourselves a shady sun lounger near the pool and then headed for the chair lift. We had been to Blizzard Beach twice previously and really enjoyed the family raft ride. So we headed for that first. We enjoyed the chair lift ride and the overlook it gave us of the park. Then it was on to Teamboat Springs. As it was only the two of us, they teamed us up with a family. This ride was longer and quicker, with more twists and turns than I remembered. It was so much fun.
The exit for this ride was almost directly across from an access point to the Cross Country Creek. We love the lazy river and went round twice. The little problem with Cross Country Creek is that there are a few points where they spray ice-cold water on you (the ice cave is particularly nasty in that respect).
Once had enough of Cross Country Creek, we got something to drink and then headed to the wave pool. They had tubes there, which I did not remember from previous visits. Still, I found myself being washed up at the beach a few times and gave up on this. The waves were a bit big for my taste for just swimming, as I am not a strong swimmer. DH found himself the biggest waves available, but I was quite happy in the shallows.
After our session in the wave pool, we got another drink (those refillable mugs are a blessing) and then headed over towards to Runoff Rapids. Riding double tubes scares me as you go far to quick and I got thrown off on landing the last time we did this. So I did not want to do doubles. I am also not a fan of dark slides. At the pick up point it stated that the dark slide was for single riders only and that for the open slides, doubles were allowed. Nowhere did it saw that you had to ride doubles to use the open slides. When we had carried our single tubes up the stairs, we got in line for the open slides with our single tubes and were advised that we could only use them on the dark slide. DH husband decided to go for it and they could not get him onto the slide quick enough, but I refused. They then said that they had spare double tubes and that I would have to wait until there was another single rider willing to share with me. No way was I going to do this. I am uncomfortable riding doubles with my DH, never mind with a stranger. So I grabbed my tube and headed back down the stairs. I started to understand, why they did not want me to walk back down as it was quite difficult to go against the flow especially with the bulky tube.
When I got down there, DH was already waiting for me and we headed for another lap around Cross Country Creek. Once we had arrived back where we had started, we decided to get some lunch and that was the only time that day that we ended up standing in line.
After lunch, we decided that we had enough of the watery fun and got changed. We had another two or three refills of our mug as we actually felt quite dehydrated and had a look at the shop before we headed across to the Winter Summerland minigolf course. We had often looked at this, but never got around to actually play. Well, this is hands down the best minigolf course that we have ever played. We started out with the winter course and the theming is hilarious and there were loads of special effects. They would not let us pay up front for both courses as you get 50% the second round. So once we had played the winter course, we went back to pay for the summer course. That one was just as much fun, but slightly more difficult. The irony was that I picked up a pretty impressive sunburn when I managed to avoid it while I was in the water.
When we got to the bus stop, we were asked where we wanted to go and about 5 minutes later a bus to Old Key West turned up. It looks like that outside peak times they only pick up there on request.
We decided to just have dinner at Olivia’s that night as we had a very early start the following morning and did not fancy going out for dinner. After a lovely relaxed dinner, we had an early night.
It was a 5 am start for us that morning. We had booked the Marine Mammal Keeper experience and needed to be at Seaworld for 6:15. We booked a taxi for 5:30 the previous night and the taxi actually came early. We had no clear idea how long the journey to Seaworld would take that time of the morning and we already got there at 5:45. We sat outside the security building for a while and then headed inside to wait for the member of staff that we would be with for the day.
When I did this last Thanksgiving, I was by myself and I hoped that it would be just DH and me. However, that was not meant to be as just as we were collected, the third person appeared. She was also from the UK. The member of staff that we would spend the day with was the same person who I did the dolphin interaction with last time. Once he checked our paperwork and took our t-shirt sizes, we headed behind the scenes.
We stopped at the record keeping building and locked our bags away. We were then shown how records are kept and that they simultaneously do a paper version and a computer version. Then it was time to head to the Manatee medical pool. They currently have a number of young Manatees in there that are ready for release. One of them was the Manatee that I bottle fed last time. He had grown so much. We fed them with romaine lettuce. They got 6 boxes of the stuff and that was just breakfast!
Once the manatees were fed, we went over to one of the dolphin pools back stage, where they had 5 female dolphins, 2 of which had come over from Discovery Cove. We were each paired up with a member of staff and a dolphin. I got to work with Bossa, who is one of the Discovery Cove dolphins. I got to feed her breakfast, touch her, got a kiss and got to give her various hand signals for different behaviours. We then headed over to the second pool, where three male dolphins are. One of them has a lung condition that is similar to asthma and the dust from the building site for Manta, that is relatively close by, was making this worse. So they decided to take him out back and so that he does not get lonely, two other dolphins joined him. Those three boys where so funny, again we got to feed them and go through various behaviours with them and got plenty of opportunity to touch them.
Then it was on to the otters. They are really cute, but they do stink. We were told a bit about the species and about the animals in particular. They have two pairs in that area and their characters are completely different. One pair is really laid back, but very tactile and we got to touch them through the wire. The other pair is much more energetic. It was great to watch them.
We were then shown the animal ambulance and the boat that they use for rescues and were talked through the rescue process. This was something new for me as the last time; they actually had to go out on a rescue while I did the programme.
We got on the golf cart and headed to the park proper. This was still before the park officially opened and once again I was blown away how quiet and peaceful the park is early in the mornings. We got a quick look at the building site for Manta as they were just packing up in preparation for the park opening. Then we headed over to the Manatee exhibit, where we got to feed the Manatees there. Unlike the Manatees backstage, who are just fed romaine lettuce, they get a wider variety of green things. This morning it was spinach and romaine lettuce. We were standing on the rocks at the back of the exhibit while feeding them and getting there was somewhat tricky, especially if you have problems with your balance like I have. Still, it was worth it for seeing the animals so close. Once they were fed, we headed for the underwater viewing area and we learned a bit about each animal in the exhibit: what they were called, why they had come to Seaworld, what caused the injuries that they had and how long they had been there.
On our way backstage, we stopped at the dolphin underwater viewing area and watched the divers clean off the algae from the artificial coral and the rocks. We also were checked out by some of the dolphins, which to my immense surprise were not in the least interested in the divers.
We headed backstage and were shown the fish house. We were told how the fish arrives and how it is defrosted and saw the freezer and the cold store. We were shown the boards on which they keep records of what each animal needs every day. Matt explained to us what every type of animal eats. They all get a varied diet with various types of fish, plus squid and some animals also get shrimp and shellfish. They make up the meals for all marine mammals at Seaworld and Aquatica at that fish house, with the exception of the killer whales as the Shamu stadium has its own fish house. Discovery Cove also has its own fish house.
We headed over to the second Manatee pool where they have a very young animal at the moment. He was rescued when his umbilical cord was still attached. They don’t know if his mother was killed or just abandoned him. As he is still so young and there were three of us, we were not able to bottle-feed him, but we were allowed to gently touch him while Matt was feeding him. He was like a human baby in the respect that he liked to explore with his mouth and to chew. We were allowed to old out a finger and he would suck on in. It was very interesting to feel the bristles that Manatees have around their mouth.
Then we were off again and headed to the opposite end of the backstage area. We passed right underneath Kraken. We got changed into our wetsuits and booties and then headed over to Dolphin Cove. The staff was just getting prepared for the morning session. We were shown how they give the dolphins their vitamins (hidden in the gills of a nice big fish) and they explained to us how the session works.
We then headed out to the poolside and DH and I were supposed to work with the dominant male Hekili. Initially, he was as good as gold and allowed us to touch him and showed off for us. Unfortunately another dolphin was in a mischievous mood and it was decided to give the dolphins some time out and to break the session.
In the meantime, Hekili had found himself some other entertainment. Being the dominant dolphin brings a lot of responsibility with it. He has to keep all the younger males in line and also ensure that nobody questions his status. I don’t know what trouble he sensed, but he rounded up all the young males in the shallows in the beach area and was patrolling the access to deeper water. It was fascinating to watch. As he did not interfere with the session for the other dolphins that were involved in the morning session, the other staff just carried on. When Hekili finally returned to us, we had the chance to give him a fish each and then the end of the session was called.
We met up with our partner in crime again and were met by another member of staff who took us out towards the other end of Dolphin Cove where the scale is. They had planned an unstructured play session with Hekili and an older female dolphin called Starkey. True to form, Hekili was too busy to bother with us, but Starkey enjoyed all the attention she got all the more. We had a great time with her. Towards the end of the session, we gave her a signal and she was sliding out onto the ledge by the wall so that the people who were standing her could touch her. I had seen this happen many a time when I have been standing by the wall and always thought that this was completely spontaneous, but it is actually a trained behaviour and they do this regularly so that even people who do not want to buy the fish for the feeding sessions can touch and interact with a dolphin.
Soon it was time to say good-bye to Starkey and head back to the interactive wall of Dolphin Cove, where we were met by Matt. He took us over to the dolphin nursery, where I had two lovely surprises. Becca, who I worked alongside with last year, was going to work with DH and me and the dolphin we were working with was Dash. Dash is a former Discovery Cove dolphin and she was the first dolphin I ever swam with. I really love her. She was moved to Seaworld in 2002 as she had learned to open to gates that separate the lagoons at Discovery Cove and was teaching the other dolphins to open them as well. As this caused chaos on nearly a daily basis, they had decided to move her. Dash is extremely tactile and loves to interact with humans. She had a calf in August 2007 and she should have been moved back to Dolphin Cove, but her calf had not really shown any interest in fish up until a few days before. They only move mother and calf once the calf is solely relying on fish. So being able to work with Dash really made my day. We went through some of the common behaviours like flips and breaches with her and got a kiss and a hug. We also fed her her lunch and gave her plenty of rubdowns.
I would have happily spent the rest of the day with Dash, but they were waiting for us at Wild Arctic. There had been a bit of a delay and one of the staff there took us out to the public area to introduce us to some of the animals. I was a little concerned that one of the polar bears, Johnny, was out in the exhibit on his own. That was also the case when we were at Seaworld on the weekend. Normally he spends his days with his partner in crime Liebchen. Liebchen originally came from Frankfurt zoo via another German zoo and Detroit. I remember going to see Liebchen at the zoo, when I was a child. I know that there had been a health scare involving her last year and the feeling was that she would not live much longer. When I did not see her twice running, I was worried that she had died, but fortunately the two bears had just fallen out. She had recovered from her health scare and they think she has many years to come.
They were ready for us and we headed to backstage area of the Beluga exhibit. Last year they had three male Belugas and were hoping to get a female companion for them. This had happened a week or so earlier and the female and one of the males was in a separate pool out back. DH and I were teamed up with one member of staff and Aurek. Last year I was working with Klondike so it was nice to meet another Beluga friend. Aurek was described to us as a bottlenose dolphin in a Beluga body. He loves doing behaviours that are more commonly done by dolphins. We started with giving him a rub down and feed him some fish. We then got a kiss, a flipper shake, were holding flippers and had him jump up to touch our hand and hold this position for a few seconds. We got him to show off a few behaviours like a tail walk, flips and breaches and then we repeated the behaviour where we held out our hand and he had to touch it, but this time standing up. All too soon it was time to say good-bye and go over to see the seals.
They have three seals at Wild Arctic that are not on display, but incredibly cute: a harbour seal and two harp seals. We got to meet the harp seals and they showed us various behaviours that they are training the seals to do. Apparently they are the best-trained harp seals in the world, as other facilities generally don’t do any training with them. They are currently working on foot pushes with them and I have the distinct feeling that it is only a question of time until we see a seal interaction programme at Seaworld.
While we were waiting for Matt to come back for us, they showed us how they prepare the vitamins for the seals, Belugas and Walruses. The seals and Belugas have their vitamins hidden in fish, but the Walruses have been trained to just swallow them by the handful.
Matt had radioed over that he had been delayed picking up our lunch and one of the staff from Wild Arctic walked us over to the changing rooms so that we could get changed out of our wetsuits and showered. Once we were all done, Matt had returned with our lunches. I was very impressed. They had asked us for our allergies on the paperwork and they had taken this into account. For instance, I got an apple instead of a banana and DH got a sugar cookie instead of a chocolate chip cookie. We are used to just swapping the food that one of us can’t eat. The lunch was huge. We got a huge deli sandwich on a croissant, potato salad, pasta salad, a piece of fruit and a cookie. We were sitting at the tables in the hospitality house to eat our lunch and had an hour to do so. On the way there we had picked up some soft drinks at the staff canteen.
As we were there anyway, we decided to sign up for the Brewmaster’s Club for later that afternoon. DH was at first not too convinced, but as this might well be the last chance that we got to do this, he decided to join me for this.
After lunch, we headed to the Sealion and Otter stadium. We first got to meet some older sea lions that are retired and kept in their own pen backstage. We were allowed to feed them. We then fed some sea lions that are still in the main exhibit, but are fed in a different area due to issues with their eyesight before heading out to the exhibit proper to feed the sea lions there. Talk about a feeding frenzy! The water was positively boiling. While I was feeding the sea lions from my bucket, a boy came up to me and asked me to get out of the way so that he could reach the bucket. Big mistake! He ended up with a bit of a lecture. Once the buckets were empty and we stank of fish, we headed back to the prep area and washed our hands and arms before heading back to Wild Arctic.
W headed over to the viewing den for the Polar Bears. They have four dens backstage with gates between each of them that are in turn connected to the exhibit. We were there just as they moved the bears around. This was fascinating to watch and we had an explanation on what process they followed to move the bears. They only have one set of keys for the gates so that no accidents can happen due to more than one member of staff unlocking gates in different areas.
Once the bears had been moved, we headed over to the Walruses. They have two Walruses there: Dozer and Garfield. First they got Dozer out of the exhibit and he was fed in a separate area. Then we headed over to the back entrance to the exhibit where we met Garfield. Garfield is the older of the two and has issues with his eyesight. That is the reason why they are fed in different areas so that Garfield does not have to compete with Dozer for his food. Once Garfield was fed, we each got a hand kiss from him. Those animals are so ugly that they are already cute again.
With this the programme was over and we went back to the changing rooms to get out stuff from the lockers. We filled out a short survey and were given a t shirt and a book about working with marine mammals and then we were dropped at the photo viewing desk. We got a complimentary photo and we bought a CD with all the photos.
Once this was done, we headed back to the Hospitality House for the Brewmaster’s Club. We really enjoyed this and the guy who did this was very knowledgeable. Once we got out of there we headed over to the Dolphin and Whale Stadium to see Blue Horizons once more. This time the False Killer Whales were back in the show.
After the show, we left the park and took the I Ride Trolley up International Drive. We went for our dinner to Salt Island. I was a little nervous as I had read some terrible reviews recently, but there was no need. We were seated in the waterfall room, the service was outstanding and the food even better. After dinner we headed back towards Seaworld to catch the bus back to Downtown Disney.
When we got to Downtown Disney, we found out that the boat service did not operate that evening as there were some major fireworks planned on the lagoon. So we headed to the bus stops and saw 3 or 4 buses going by for each of the other resorts before our bus finally arrived. Still, just as we were pulling away from the bus stop, the fireworks started and they were nothing short of spectacular.
When we arrived in Orlando, it felt like our holiday would last forever, as this was the longest we had ever been away in one go. In the end the time just flew by. We treated ourselves to a lie in after the early start the previous morning. We had done most of the packing as we went along so we just had to but the last few odds and ends into ours suitcases. We had to check out of our room by 11 am and bell services had promised us the day before that they would send somebody round to pick us up with our luggage at that time. Well, it was closer to 11:30 when somebody finally came. We left the majority of our stuff with bell services, but DH decided to do one last load of laundry so that we would not get back home with a bag of dirty laundry.
I headed down to the boat dock and took the boat to Downtown Disney. I wanted to get some more limited edition Figment pins and also promised DH to bring him back some lip balm from Basin. As this was the first and only time this trip that I had seen Downtown Disney during the day, I had a look round some of the other shops as well. When I had enough, I just saw the boat pull out. So I headed to the bus stop instead. I am not sure why I bothered. True to form it seemed to take forever for a bus to Old Key West to appear. I never had any problems getting to or returning from the parks, but the Downtown Disney bus service has been a nightmare throughout.
Eventually I made it back to Old Key West and we headed to Olivia’s for our last lunch. We had some pot roast that was the most tender roast that I have ever tasted. We also had to have one last portion of their Key Lime Tart.
After all his food, we decided to hire a Surrey Bike and take a spin around the resort. This was actually quite a scary proposition. We were only allowed to ride on footpath. Those bikes are not exactly small and the footpath can be pretty narrow. Still, it was a good way to see some parts of the resort that we had not previous seen.
Once we had returned the Surrey Bike, we checked out the Community Hall. We had a few games of Pool and watched the cast members interact with the other families there and especially with the kids. One of them was so funny.
Soon it was time to retrieve our luggage and head to the bus stop to take Disney’s Magical Express to the airport. The bus got there on time and we made one stop at Saratoga Springs and then it was straight to check in. This was incredibly painless for Orlando. We did not even wait 5 minutes. I browsed the shops for a bit and then we went through security. I managed to have a last green tea Frappuccino at Starbucks and then it as time to go to the gate.
When we got on the plane, it was very empty again. They announced that they had over a 100 spare seats. Yet they had crowded every one into a few rows. People were not happy and they announced that once we are at cruising altitude, we would be allowed to move. The couple next to us moved and we ended up with 4 seats between the two of us. We were a little sad that our wonderful holiday was over, but we left with many wonderful memories and the happy anticipation that we will do it all again next year.
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