TRIP REPORT FOR WALT DISNEY WORLD/DISNEY CRUISE LINE/DISCOVERY COVE VACATION This was our second WDW/DCL vacation in the last 7 months. The first one in November '00 was so successful that after showing my parents and sisters the pictures and video from that trip a 'family reunion' vacation began to take shape. Within a few weeks we had reservations made for this trip. In planning both of these trips we used this board and other web sites extensively. The information we got from trip reports and discussion board postings really helped to make both trips much better. So I will try to relay back as much relevant data as possible and hope that someone else finds it useful in their planning process. Rather than trying to do a chronological account of our trip I have grouped this report into several headings and sub-headings by park, resort, restaurant, etc. so you can skip around to an area that may interest you. I --- TRAVELLERS II --- ITENARARY III --- HOLIDAY INN, DULLES, VIRGINIA IV --- UNITED AIRLINES V --- BUDGET RENTAL CAR VS. EZ RENTAL CAR VI --- WDW TRANSPORTATION - BUSES AND MONORAIL VII --- ALL STAR MOVIES RESORT VII.A --- ALL STAR MOVIES RESORT FOOD COURT VIII --- MAGIC KINGDOM VIII.A --- FIRST MK VISIT (SAT. 5/26 - MEMORIAL DAY WEEKEND) VIII.B --- SECOND MK VISIT (THURS. 5/31) VIII.C --- THIRD MK VISIT (FRI. 6/1 - E-TICKET NIGHT) VIII.D --- RATING THE MK RIDES/ATTRACTIONS IX --- ANIMAL KINGDOM IX.A --- RATING THE AK RIDES/ATTRACTIONS IX.B --- RAINFOREST CAFÉ AT ANIMAL KINGDOM X --- DISNEY/MGM STUDIOS X.A --- RATING THE MGM RIDES/ATTRACTIONS XI --- FORREST FIRES/SMOKE XII --- DISNEY CRUISE LINE/DISNEY WONDER XII.A --- RESTAURANTS/FOOD XII.A.1 --- TRITON'S XII.A.2 --- PARROT CAY XII.A.3 --- ANIMATOR'S PALLATE XII.A.4 --- PALO XII.B --- CASTAWAY CAY XII.B.1 --- CABANA MASSAGE XII.C --- ATLANTIS RESORT (VIA COMFORT SUITES) XII.D --- CASTAWAY CLUB XIII --- SHADES OF GREEN RESORT XIV --- DISCOVERY COVE XV --- SUMMARY I. TRAVELLERS: Myself(40), DW(41), DD(5), DGM(56), DGF(63), DSIS(35), DSIS(31), DBiL(36), DNephew(6), DNiece(8 mos.) II. ITENARARY: Holiday Inn Dulles, Virginia - 5/25 thru 5/26 Dulles Airport to Orlando - 5/26 WDW All Star Movies Resort - 5/26 thru 5/27 Disney Wonder - 5/27 thru 5/31 Shades of Green Resort at WDW - 5/31 thru 6/3 III. HOLIDAY INN, DULLES, VIRGINIA: I guess you would actually call this a pre-vacation hotel stay. We had about a 1 hr. 45 min. drive to Dulles airport just outside D.C. and a 9:20am flight. Since heavy traffic in the D.C. area is always a possibility, even on a Saturday, we didn't want to risk being caught on the Beltway as our flight took off so we drove up the night before. The main reason I am including this is the 'Park and Fly' program that this and other hotels offer. This worked well for us. You rent a room for one night and you can leave your car at the hotel parking lot for the duration of your trip. The hotel has a shuttle that leaves every half hour for the airport and picks you up on your return. We paid $139 for the room. Long term parking at the airport would have been $72. The hotel was comfortable and had a large indoor pool w/Jacuzzi. We thought the extra $$$ were well spent and it kind of added an extra day to our vacation. IV. UNITED AIRLINES: We had non-stop, round trip flights from Dulles International just outside D.C. to Orlando International. Both flights were delayed. The first one due to a late arriving aircraft from Boston and the return flight due to a late arriving crew member from the Orlando Marriot (United was quick to point out that the Marriot shuttle was late). Both delays were about half an hour and no big deal. We paid a little extra for the non-stop flights since we were traveling with a large group including 3 kids (one 8 mos.) and grandparents. We didn't want to try to make a connecting flight with all those people in tow. Both airports were clean and fairly easy to navigate through. Be warned: You cannot purchase chewing gum at the Orlando airport. V. BUDGET RENTAL CAR VS. EZ RENTAL CAR: This was the biggest negative of our entire trip. I'm still steamed about it so I'll vent a little here. We had reserved a large 15 passenger van 4 months prior to arrival. Three months prior I verified the reservation. One week prior I verified the reservation again. After landing at the Orlando airport my sister and I headed straight for the Budget counter. After spending a few minutes in line and another 5 minutes with the usual check-in routine the clerk informed us that this van was considered a commercial vehicle and therefore our credit card (AMEX) and our car insurance would not cover this rental. The ADDITIONAL cost was going to be $208! There had been no mention of this when I made the reservation -- surprise! We had a little debate with her over what was considered a commercial vehicle (I had always heard the 16 and up was the rule) but she was adamant that we would not be covered. By now, about 15 minutes has passed and she finally decides to inform us that our van would not be ready for AT LEAST an hour. Now, if they are telling us it will be at least an hour you can be sure it would have been longer. At this point we gave up on Budget and contacted EZ Rental Car which is a few minutes off-site from the airport. They had the van we wanted at a cheaper rate. The EZ shuttle was right on time to pick us up and the employees were extremely helpful and polite. The EZ clerk assured us that these vehicles were not considered commercial for rental use and that our credit card and car insurance were all the coverage we needed. We had our van and made it back to the airport to pick-up the rest of our party in less than an hour. Additionally, the drop-off process at EZ went smoothly and the shuttle had us back at the airport very quickly. I would not hesitate to recommend EZ based on our experience even though they are off airport property. So, Budget made three big mistakes in my book. First, they didn't have our reserved specialty vehicle ready. Second, they chose not to inform us of the delay until 15 minutes after we started the check-in process. And third, they used a high pressure sales pitch to try and get an extra $208 from us for insurance we didn't even need. I cannot recommend Budget to anyone and will NEVER use them again. There, I feel much better now. VI. WDW TRANSPORTATION - BUSES AND MONORAIL: We definitely waited longer than the advertised 'buses run about every 20 minutes' for a bus to MK from ASMo. At least 30 min. Coming back from MK was better and we even got a nice bus since Disney, due to the large crowds that day, had hired out the Disney Cruise Line buses from Mears to handle the load. On the morning that we were leaving ASMo I made a trip to the gift shop and noticed that the crowds at the bus stops were very large. While I was in line at the cashier a woman came in from the bus stops looking very frustrated and asked the CM at the counter to please call again for buses because they had been waiting over 45 min. and the crowd was getting ugly. I was glad we weren't trying to catch a bus that morning. I think they need to do something to improve the bus/transportation system. They keep adding attractions, parks, resorts, etc and it seems the system is getting bogged down. On the other hand, the monorail was great. We never waited more than 10 min. for a train. This is a great way to move people around. Fast, comfortable and almost like a theme park ride with great views. Too bad they can't expand the monorail to all the parks and resorts. What a difference that would make! VII. ALL STAR MOVIES RESORT: We only stayed here for one night. When planning our trip we decided to fly in the day before our cruise set sail just in case there were any serious flight delays. So we thought that since we were going to be in Orlando we might as well go to WDW for the day since it is only about a one hour drive to Port Canaveral and the ship. We chose ASMo because it is a Disney resort and has the lowest rates on-site. Our first impression was the wonderful character themes and decorations throughout the resort. We had the first four rooms just to the right of the giant Woody from Toy Story. My daughter could look out of our window and see the giant Buzz on the other side of the courtyard. The whole place has a terrific, playful atmosphere and the kids loved it. The Fantasia pool was large and fun. The rooms were very nice but a little on the small side. It was OK for us (2 adults/1 kid) but my sister (2 adults/2 kids) found it a little cramped. The star pattern on the bathroom walls is hypnotic. Everything was clean and we had no problems with the service. VII.A. ALL STAR MOVIES RESORT FOOD COURT: We used the food court because it was conveniently located and we didn't feel like wasting time driving around to other restaurants. However, beyond the convenient location, we were not very impressed. In fairness, the food was not the problem. There was a wide variety available and it was good, not great, but good. The problem is with the set up. It is noisy and hectic. You first have to stand in line at the particular counter you chose for you meal. Then you have to carry your tray around to different locations if you want fruit, salads, treats, chips etc. Now you have to wait in line at the cashier to pay for your meal. Then there's the search for an empty, clean table. After settling in you now have to go back up to the self service area to get your drinks, plastic silverware, condiments, napkins, etc. Of course, every one's food is ready at a different time so it makes it tough to sit down and eat as a group. A convenient location but not a convenient meal. This would probably be a factor for us in deciding to return to the All Star Resorts or selecting another resort with better dining choices. At the very least we might stay for the themeing and prices but arrange for meals elsewhere. VIII. MAGIC KINGDOM: Of course the MK is the main attraction, especially with kids. We made 3 separate visits during this trip and learned a couple of valuable lessons. VIII.A. FIRST MK VISIT (SAT. 5/26 - MEMORIAL DAY WEEKEND): Lesson #1 - do not, I repeat, do not attempt to visit the MK on a holiday weekend Saturday afternoon when it is hot and humid. This was just plain poor planning on our part. I have been to the MK 6 times now and I never saw crowds like this before. We stood at the castle and looked down Main Street and all we could see was wall-to-wall people. Almost every ride had a one hour or longer standby line and 1.5 to 2 hour fast pass return time. In a four hour visit we only managed three rides; Buzz Lightyear w/fastpass, Haunted Mansion, and Transit Authority. Watching the crowd we saw a lot of overheated, tired, grumpy people. This kind of heat coupled with the large crowds tends to wear away at the Disney magic. Since they were still letting more people in I assume that peak capacity had not been reached. Squeezing more people into that park is a scary thought and I would not want to be there when it did reach peak. I imagine the park capacities are set according to safety standards. I know it won't happen but maybe those numbers should be lowered to account for guest comfort and quality of experience. If this had been my only MK experience I doubt very seriously that I would ever have returned. It's just no fun under those conditions. VII.B. SECOND VISIT (THURS. 5/31): Much, much better. Still hot and humid but we had room to breath and move around. There were empty benches in shaded areas and you could get a soda or snack without waiting in line for 10 min. The lines for the rides were very reasonable and we accomplished much more in about the same amount of time as the first visit: Transit Authority (no wait), Buzz Lightyear twice (5 min. wait each time), Space Mountain twice (5 min. wait each time), Snow White (no wait), Small World (no wait), Peter Pan's Flight (5 min. wait), Aladdin's Magic Carpet (10 min. wait), Pirates of the Caribbean (10 min.), Tea Cups (5 min.), Alien Encounter (5 min.). What a difference! This was a great visit and the everyone had a wonderful time. The magic was back. One other observation. The standby line time on Space Mountain read 45 min. but we didn't see any line outside of the building so we decided to go in and check out the wait. To our surprise we walked all the way up to the loading platform without encountering a line. Even then there were only about 15 - 20 people waiting and they didn't even have any of the cattle gates open. We waited only five minutes total. Got right back on and waited only five min. again yet the standby sign still read 45 mins. Maybe people were passing up this ride because of the advertised long wait. Lesson #2 - don't always believe the standby times, it never hurts to take a look for yourself. VIII.C. THIRD VISIT (FRI. 6/1 - E-TICKET NIGHT): Lesson #3 - do not, I repeat, do not miss an E-Ticket night if one is scheduled during you trip. This was my second one and both times it was a great experience. No lines at all for many of the rides! We got to the park about 9:30 since it closed at 10. Went straight to City Hall to exchange or E-Tickets for bracelets and then caught the last half of the parade. We headed over to fantasyland so the kids could get on Peter Pan before it closed. Just about 10:00 we were behind the castle and noticed a bunch of people gathering in a small area on the Tomorrowland side and looking toward the sky. I suddenly remembered reading posts about Tinkerbell's flight, scooped up my daughter and ran over just in time to see Tinkerbell fly out from the castle. One unfortunate thing about this viewing spot is you can really see the wire. My daughter noticed and insisted that that wasn't the real Tinkerbell since she wouldn't need a wire to fly. Then we watched the fireworks from Tomorrowland and headed for Buzz Lightyear which was definitely the kids' favorite. We managed the following rides: Buzz Lightyear 4 times (no wait), Space Mountain (no wait), Transit Authority (no wait), Haunted Mansion (no wait), Splash Mountain (no wait), Astro Orbiter (5 min. wait). When we were walking from Haunted Mansion to Splash Mountain there was one point we were the only people in sight. It was like having the park all to ourselves. And the castle is beautiful with the changing colored lights. We started to head out about 12:15 since the kids were getting very tired but still had one more surprise in store for them. When we approached the monorail there were hardly any other riders and the driver was standing outside the car talking to a couple of other CMs. I remembered reading that you could request to ride in the drivers car and walked over to ask it the kids could do this. The driver was great and gladly invited both the kids and 2 of the adults to sit up front. A great end to wonderful day at the MK. VII.D. RATING THE MK RIDES/ATTRACTIONS: * Buzz Lightyear - by far the kids' favorite/continuously moving 2 person cars equipped with a spin controller and ray guns/object is to shoot alien targets as the ride moves through several rooms/excellent effects towards the end of the ride in the tunnel and star field portions of the ride/must do ride * Space Mountain - in the dark roller coaster/in-line seating so you don't sit next to anyone/sharp turns that do jerk you around a little/5 year old was ok when sitting in the middle but got scared on second ride when she sat in front seat/must do ride * Transit Authority - very tame tram ride over and around Tomorrowland including a trip through Space Mountain and Buzz Lightyear/very relaxing/good way to catch a break and cool off while still keeping the kids interested * Alien Encounter - very disappointed with this attraction/lots of build-up with no real payoff/very loud/in the dark a lot/premise is a transporter goes haywire and sends a terrible alien into the room with you/not for small kids - the ones that were there cried the whole time/special effects were so-so at best/most of the scare factor was from noise and darkness/imho - don't waste your time * Astro Orbiter - basic hub and spoke/riders control up and down motion/high in the air over Tomorrowland/spins much faster than Dumbo - in fact, too fast for my taste, I got pretty dizzy and couldn't focus on the view/kids loved it/stay away if you don't like to spin * Snow White's Scary Adventure - DD loved this one/definitely a kids ride/once was enough for me * Peter Pan's Flight - kids got a kick out of it/cars lift you into the air over classic Peter Pan scenes/I liked it too * It's A Small World - still humming that #@$/**# song/is a nice cool break though/DGF says this was scarier than Alien Encounter * Haunted Mansion - great schtick/good effects/a classic/also cool and relaxing * Splash Mountain - rode at night and I think it takes away from the big drop since you really can't see the fall/flash for picture blinds you at night/long ride/great themeing/I got very wet/cars stink from mildew/great view of the park just before the drop/must do ride * Aladdin's Magic Carpets - basic hub and spoke/riders control up, down, and tilt of carpets/spitting camels/nice themeing/great for the kids * River Safari - lots of fun/boat ride down several of world's great rivers/animatronic animals along the way/comedic tour guides/fun for kids and adults * Tea Cups - this ride depends entirely on how fast you or your cup mates chose to spin/I got very dizzy since we had a spin lover controlling the cup/at least is was over quickly/stay away if you don't like to spin IX. ANIMAL KINGDOM: We visited the AK on a Friday morning with the whole gang. Before entering the park we walked over to the Rainforest Café and made reservations for 2:00. This turned out to be a very smart move since a strong thunderstorm hit around 1:30 and the restaurant became swamped as people leaving the park decided to try and stop there to get out of the rain. Wait times approached an hour but we were able to walk right in and get a table for ten. About the park, it really is beautiful with all the trees, flowers, and other plants not to mention the animals that are scattered throughout. The most obvious attraction is the Tree of Life and it is amazing with all the animals carved on its surface. I could have spent quite a lot of time just looking at the tree. Do not miss 'It's Tough To Be A Bug' which is the 3D show that plays in the theatre inside the Tree of Life. Our trip was cut short due to the storm but we did manage to visit: Tree of Life, 'It's Tough To Be A Bug' (10 min. wait), Kilimanjaro Safari (15 min. wait), The Boneyard (no wait). Unfortunately the storm cut our time short so we didn't get to do some of the things we had planned. Also, we were at the entrance to Dinosaur when it broke down. Oh well. Next visit we will devote more time to this park. One side note. My sister took her DD (8 mos.) to the baby care center while we did the Safari. This was a good idea because the ride would have been way to bumpy for the baby. The baby care center is wonderful. Clean, nicely decorated, and cool. Private rooms for nursing and a big playroom with lots of space. Nice amenity for the park and great escape for moms and little ones. IX.A. RATING THE AK RIDES/ATTRACTIONS: * Kilimanjaro Safari - even though it was almost noon and hot we still saw a good variety of animals/jeep ride is very bumpy/hard to use camcorder/kids got big kick out of catching the poachers/must do ride *It's Tough To Be A Bug - 3D movie shown inside the Tree of Life/great special effects - 3D has vastly improved in recent years/good story/a little scary for smaller kids - especially the spider scene/must do show * Boneyard Dig - a collection of rope ladders, slides, rope bridges, etc/themed as a fossil dig/kids loved playing and sliding/very easy to lose track of your kids in there and it would be possible for them to wander out of the play area and back into the general park if you don't station yourself right by the exit, we had a few scary moments when we couldn't find the 6 y/o IX.B. RAINFOREST CAFÉ AT ANIMAL KINGDOM: Luckily we made reservations in the morning as we entered the AK. A thunderstorm drove many park visitors here in the early afternoon and the wait time for a table was close to an hour. We were seated with only a few minutes wait. If you have never been to one of these restaurants it is worth the trip just to see the place. Themed as a rainforest it has lots of large aquariums, plants, waterfalls, and animatronic animals. It is a little on the noisy side. A 'thunderstorm' occurs every 20 min. or so complete with lightening. It really is something to see. The service was good though it did take a while to get our food but I think this was just because the place was jam-packed. The food was very good but the prices were a little on the high side, even for Disney. A cheesburger was $10 but it was very large (1/2 lb.) and came with a lot of waffle fries. We split a large appetizer sampler that was terrific. Good selections on the kid's menu also. There is also a pretty good sized gift shop. I would recommend going at least once just to see the place. It fits in wonderfully with the AK theme. Just remember to budget in a little extra for the visit. X. DISNEY/MGM STUDIOS: We visited MGM with three adults on a Friday afternoon after a thunderstorm. What perfect timing. Our sole intent in visiting this park was to ride Tower of Terror and Rock N Roller Coaster multiple times which is why only the three adults who crave the thrill rides attended. The kids went back to the resort for a nap before E-Ticket night at the MK. In a short (under 2 hour) visit we managed: Tower of Terror - 3 times (no wait), Rock N Roller Coaster - 2 times (5 min. wait each). The place was practically deserted because of the storm. By the time we got there the rain had stopped and the temperature had cooled down a little (though still muggy). We used fast passes to get on RnRC since there was about a 20 min. standby but didn't even need them for ToT. If you don't mind getting a little wet this is a great time to visit a park. We never could have logged that much ride time on even an average attendance day. Confession time. We managed to get multiple fast passes by bringing in the tickets from the other adults in our party who went back to the resort for a rest. I guess this is technically cheating the system but it didn't bother us since the tickets we were using for the extra fast passes were for family members who weren't going to use them so I don't think we put any extra strain on the system. We didn't get any extra fast passes than our party had paid for and DGM and DGF were not going to ride either of these rides. In fact, we didn't even need our last set of RnRC fast passes so we gave them to a nice young couple we had met earlier who were waiting in the standby line. X.A. RATING THE MGM RIDES/ATTRACTIONS: * Tower of Terror - without a doubt this is still my favorite thrill ride/the themeing and pre-ride staging areas are great/the special effects once you enter the elevator are terrific/the CMs do an excellent job of helping set the mood/the drops are still a thrill even after the fifth ride/must do ride *Rock N Roll Coaster - another great ride/pre-ride and staging areas are great/nice touch letting you watch the limos ahead of you 'squeal' off into the tunnel, builds the anticipation/be sure to keep your head back against the head rest at take-off/music is great (at least for a 40 y/o who grew up listening to Aerosmith)/ride is fast and smooth/must do ride XI. FORREST FIRES/SMOKE: On Sunday 5/27 we were scheduled to leave the ASMo Resort at 10:00 and head to Port Canaveral to catch the cruise ship. I got up about 7:00 or so to get some coffee at the food court and noticed a definite smell of smoke in the air. About 8:30 I headed back for breakfast with my DW and DD and you could see the smoke closing in. By the time we finished a hurried breakfast the smoke was very bad. You could watch it rolling in over the fantasia pool. We hurried back to our rooms and started rushing the rest of our party to get ready. We were afraid they would start closing roads and we wanted to get on our way to the ship before they did. By the time we got to I4 visibility was down to 5 or 6 car lengths and traffic had slowed to a crawl. There were news teams and police along the sides of the road. The radio started announcing road closings just behind us. Luckily we made it to our turn off and headed east where the smoke cleared very quickly and we were on our way to Port Canaveral. Very strange feeling to be in smoke that thick and it really did effect your breathing. We were glad to hear that they had the fires contained later that day. XII. DISNEY CRUISE LINE/DISNEY WONDER: This was our second 4 day cruise on the Wonder and it did not disappoint. It was the first Disney Cruise for every one else in our party and they loved it too. The service was outstanding from beginning to end. The food was excellent, probably even better than our last cruise in November '00. We were blessed with absolutely great weather for the entire trip and the seas were calm. Nobody in our group had any problems with seasickness. Embarkation was a breeze. We did have to fill out an additional immigration form for the Bahamas since they apparently no longer accept the one that comes with the cruise documents. We arrived around 11:30 and had our bags checked, van parked, and were in line to board the ship with the entire check-in process complete by noon. After a short wait they started boarding and the line moved very quickly. We noticed that they were not announcing each party on boarding as they did on our last cruise. They did take the welcome aboard picture though. Having done our homework on this board we knew just what we wanted to do. Straight to Parrot Cay for the welcome aboard buffet (I passed up most item knowing that the cocktail shrimp were available a little down the line). A little before 1:00 we split up with our watches synchronized and a plan of attack in place. By 2:15 we had accomplished the following: switched our dinner seating for our party of 10 from early to late; made Palo reservations for 7 on the last night of the cruise so as not to miss any of the 3 rotation restaurants; registered the kids in the clubs and picked-up the beepers; made 8 separate spa appointments including 2 full body open air cabana massages for Castaway Cay (I got one of those); and reserved baby sitting at Flounders Reef for the Palo dinner night. Not bad, eh! On to the Mickey Pool until it was time for the safety drill. We had 4 staterooms, 2 Cat 10s (2103 and 2105) and 2 Cat 9s (2122 and 2124). When booking the trip some of the group were a little leery of feeling claustrophobic in an inside cabin so we upgraded them to the portal rooms. Both types of cabins are the same size with the differences being the layout and the portal. The inside cabins have a large round mirror were the portal would normally be and the bed is located in the back of the cabin with curtains to close it off. In the outside cabins the bed is in the middle portion of the room with the couch in the back by the portal. While they liked having the portal, the outside parties actually preferred the layout of the inside cabins. But, inside or outside, everyone was pleased with the cabins and terrific service we received from the stateroom hosts and hostesses. The ship was just as beautiful as we remembered. They are doing a good job of keeping it up to standards. No noticeable signs of wear and tear. The only complaint we had was an inconsistency in the air conditioning. One of the cabins in our party had some trouble with the A/C and as you walk around the ship you definitely notice cool and warm zones. The elevators tend to get pretty warm also. Speaking of the elevators, we discovered that they have an 'over limit' alarm if you try to squeeze too many people on board. A nasty buzzer that is kind of embarrassing to the last person to get on board. As you wander the halls, stairs and lobbies, take time to notice the artwork that is displayed throughout the ship including photos of Walt, drawings, paintings, etched glass, animation cels, etc. It would be easy to spend an afternoon just wandering and exploring the ship. We all got a chance to enjoy the pools and Jacuzzis (cacuzzis as my DD calls them). Of course, the Mickey Pool does get very crowded at times but it seems to bother the parents much more than the kids. In fact, the kids seem to be oblivious to the crowds and continue to have a good time even when there is barely room to turn around. The Mickey Slide is still a big hit and I think this is a great way to set up a kids slide since it doesn't end in the pool but rather in a chute full of running water. We never had a problem getting a chair or table or towels but we weren't concerned with sitting right at poolside either. We preferred to set up camp under cover a little ways away from the Mickey pool and take turns watching the kids from poolside. One advantage of having a large group. We only went to one of the evening shows -- Disney Dreams. My DW and I had taken our DD to this show last cruise and it was a big highlight for her and us. The second time was just as good. My DD can't get enough of this show and I still get choked up watching her amazement and enjoyment. This is especially true during the great special effects towards the end of the show but I won't spoil it for those who haven't seen it. Don't miss it. They even ran an extra matinee for this show on the last day of the cruise. Although we didn't see it, the ship ran 'Pearl Harbour' on board. This was the same weekend that the movie opened in theaters. Nice touch. Characters, characters, characters. From the terminal at Port Canaveral to the kids clubs to Castaway Cay there were ample opportunities to meet, greet, and have a picture taken with the Disney characters. Our DD and Dnephew actually grew nonchalant about seeing them since they were so available. By the time we got back to WDW we didn't have to worry about standing in line for character meets since the kids had gotten their fill on board and we had lots of good pictures. Speaking of pictures, we went over budget buying photos from Shutters. Part of the reason may be that we had such a large group and therefore many photo ops. The photographers are available at set times to take group pictures and they also wander the ship taking pictures randomly. They are available whenever a character shows up and they were definitely around on Castaway Cay and in the kid's clubs. They also showed up at Triton's and Palo for dinner. You are under no obligation to buy any photos. They are displayed daily in Shutters and you can simply pick out yours from the display racks on the walls. $10 for 5X7s and $20 for the larger ones. They also have frames and photos of the ship for sale. You may want to save your purchases until the last day since they run specials if you buy larger quantities such a free frames or Wonder photos. Any pics you don't like you can drop in a little box to be discarded. I want to take a little space to talk about the CMs and the service we received on this cruise. Top notch all the way. Our servers, Kayhan (Turkey) and Eprit (India) were outstanding. They made excellent suggestions on wine and food and were very good with the kids. Our head server, his name escapes me right now, was also attentive and made a point of stopping by our table each night. He also brought trading cards for the kids. In addition to our assigned staff we also got great service from other servers at breakfast and lunch in several different places. A few names that come to mind are Aron (St. Vincent) and JoJo (Philippines) who did a terrific job during breakfast at Triton's and Daniel and Stanislaw (Poland) at Palo who provided us with a very special evening. Also, we ran into our servers from the last cruise Balazs (Hungary) and Allun (Scotland) who firmly convinced us that the great service we got from them on the last cruise was no fluke. Even though they were not our serving team this time they made special efforts to stop by and say hello and offer their services whenever we saw them. Our daughter has developed a crush on both of them. And last, but certainly not least, a special thanks to Belle, our stateroom hostess, who did a great job of taking care of our cabin. Towel animals appeared every evening to our daughter's delight as they were arranged in cute poses with her own stuffed animals. You really get spoiled with service like this and the attentiveness, politeness, and enthusiasm that these CMs and others on board bring to their jobs really added an extra special touch to our vacation. Thanks again to all of you! I will be writing a letter to DCL and will be sure to mention each and every CM by name. XII.A. RESTAURANTS/FOOD: We did not have a single bad experience with food or drink on this cruise although my DW found some of the menus limited. You can always find something to eat somewhere. Pluto's Dog House by the Mickey Pool has dogs, burgers, chicken strips, fries, etc. Pinnochio's by the Goofy Pool has pizza. Ice Cream at Scoops which is also by the Mickey Pool. Room service is available 24 hrs. with a decent selection. Beach Blanket Buffet serves breakfast and lunch and handles the groups from the kid's clubs. They also serve the welcome aboard buffet with the large cocktail shrimp. The welcome aboard buffet is also available at Parrot Cay with the same selections. And of course the three main rotation dining rooms for dinner which are also open for lunch and breakfast on certain days (at least Triton's was). Oh, and there's a quaint little Northern Italian Cuisine restaurant at the aft upper deck of the ship called Palo - more on that later. Throughout the cruise I had some the freshest, sweetest tasting fruit I have ever come across. This was true regardless of the time of day or restaurant. I miss that now that we are back to shopping at the Food Lion - it just doesn't compare. XII.A.1. TRITON'S: This was our favorite of the 3 main dining rooms. Much more elegant and subdued than the other two. Jacket requested for men but a lot of men choose not to wear one. We all did. It's not such a big thing to ask and it adds to the atmosphere if everyone dresses up a little. I love the lighting and décor here, it gives a real feeling of being in the sea. I won't try to rate the food like a critic but I will say everyone in our group enjoyed their meal. We liked this restaurant so much that we ate breakfast here the next 2 mornings and lunch on our 'day at sea.' XII.A.2. PARROT CAY: Very festive and tropical décor. Huge banana leaves frame the windows and parrots adorn the chandeliers. Live Caribbean music with dinner and an overall Bahamian theme to the whole place including the menu. I was least impressed with the menu here since I'm not a big fan of Caribbean style food but still managed to have an excellent meal. Very loud dining room to the point of having difficulty hearing the servers or the others at our table. But we still had a good time and enjoyed the atmosphere. XII.A.3. ANIMATOR'S PALLATE: The big draw to the restaurant is the show the occurs throughout your meal and the big finale after desert. The restaurant is truly like an animator's palate and it gets painted as the meal goes on. This includes the staff. A lot of fun and the ending is pretty amazing. The kids really liked it. Menu was fairly basic here but still the food was very good. A fun place to eat. XII.A.4. PALO: Forgive me if I go a little overboard here but I truly loved this place and the food was exceptional. One of the best, if not the best, meals I have ever had. You must make reservations upon boarding the ship and it is well worth it. Adults only. Northern Italian Cuisine. I didn't know what this meant but after the meal I know I like it. We had a party of seven so we were escorted to the private room on the far side of the restaurant from the entrance. Simple, elegant, and beautiful. Very personalized service from our server Stanislaw and host Daniel. Plan on 2 hours or more for dinner since everything is prepared to order. I followed Stanislaw's suggestions from wine all the way through to desert and was glad that I did. Fried calamari with marinara sauce followed by rack of lamb and then soufflé for desert. The calamari was so tender that it made any other I've ever had seem like fried rubber bands. The lamb, also very tender, was like no meat dish I have ever experienced. When I first placed it in my mouth a got a wonderful taste sensation but then as I chewed and swallowed that taste was followed by another very rich taste equally as good but different from the first. How in the world do they do that? I thoroughly enjoyed every last bite. And the soufflé was simply sinfully good. We also sampled antipasto, pizzas, breadsticks, and several of the other deserts available. Everything was first class and delicious. I highly recommend dining here if you get the chance. XII.B. CASTAWAY CAY: What a wonderful little island. DCL has really created a small tropical paradise here with something for everyone. Snorkeling, parasailing, raft and boat rentals, bike rentals, family beach, teen beach, adult beach. Open air cabana massages. There are gift shops and plenty of opportunities to meet Disney characters. Beach chairs, umbrellas, and even hammocks (get there early for these). Music playing everywhere you go. Trams to get you from place to place. Lunch served at Cookie's BBQ. Several bars. Whether you want to stay on the go or just kick back and relax this is a great place to spend a day. The snorkeling is fun with pre-placed sunken treasures and a sunken Mickey. A good variety of fish to see. Lots of fun in the sun. XII.B.1. CABANA MASSAGE You have to reserve this when you board the ship but it is well worth it. Take the tram out to the adult beach and head over to the cabanas. I had a full hour, full body massage that was very relaxing and rejuvenating. It was a little warm but not uncomfortable and they have fans to cool things off a little. No bugs that I noticed. Quiet with the faint sounds of people on the beach in the background. I didn't want it to end. I followed this up with a visit to the BBQ hut at the adult beach where I got a grilled hot dog fresh off the grill that was very tasty and pineapple that was cut and sliced as I asked for it. Can't be beat! My sister told me that it was important to rest and drink lots of water after a massage so I headed back to the family beach with a tall bottle of cold water and flopped down in a hammock for about an hour drinking water and swinging. Just following orders! XII.C. ATLANTIS RESORT (VIA COMFORT SUITES) We made reservations at the Comfort Suites on Paradise Island following tips we learned on these boards. The CS is just across the street from the Atlantis and you get full access to the pools, beaches, and slides. Taxis are waiting at the end of the gangway to take you over and also in front of the Atlantis to bring you back. Having done the short tour of Atlantis on our last cruise we knew we liked the place but didn't want to be rushed through and dropped off in the casino like last time. For about $60 per person we had full use of the resort. That's not much more than the tour and we thought it was well worth it. The kids had a blast with the small slides in the Zero Entry Pool. I know they must have went down them a least 100 times. The adults enjoyed the other slides, especially the tube slide which takes you on a high speed, twisting, turning ride in the dark and ends with a leisurely float in a plexiglass tunnel that goes right through the shark tank. Lots of fun! They also have a tandem slide where you race a partner to the bottom, an open air twisting slide and finally the totally insane Mayan Temple slide (not sure if that is the real name but that's what we called it). This slide is about four stories tall and has a nearly vertical drop. When I first saw it I just shook my head and said "No way!" The slide shoots you through a horizontal tube at the bottom that goes through the shark tank then dumps you into a little pool. From top to bottom the slide only takes about 3 to 4 seconds tops. All day long I kept looking back up there deciding on whether or not to do this thing. I finally decided that I would regret it if I didn't so I climbed the stairs to the top and got in line. I think I changed my mind about a thousand times while waiting in line but finally jumped into the launch chute, crossed my ankles, pulled myself through, crossed my arms on my chest and came out of the chute. This is one intense slide! You get a brief view of how high you really are and then WHOOOOSH you practically free fall to the bottom. Not for the faint of heart. I'm glad I did it because it was so intense and would probably do it again but not without some hesitation. Warning for the guys: your swimsuit will ride up a little when you hit the horizontal tube. After a great day at the pools and slides we made a short detour into the casino on the way out. Lady luck was with us as my wife won $675 on a quarter slot machine. We left while were ahead. There are some very nice, though very expensive shops at this resort. Versacci and Gucci to name a few. You can buy Cuban cigars also but of course you can't bring them back to the states. All in all it was a wonderful way to spend the Nassau day and we would probably do it again if we had the chance. XII.D. CASTAWAY CLUB This is the club for returning cruisers. After our first cruise we received the membership information in the mail. It's free and you get some pins and a magazine. The best part is if you book another cruise within 120 days and sail within a certain time frame you will get a discount in the form of an on board credit, a gift in your stateroom when you sail again, a separate counter in the terminal for embarkation and an invitation to a private party with the captain and other officers of the ship. We got a $50 credit and very nice 'Castaway Club' tote bag. The cocktail party with the captain was nice too and my wife got permission from the ship's hotel manager to sneak up to deck 8 on debarkation day and get a quick tour of the Walt and Roy Disney suites. A couple of nice perks for being return cruisers. XIII. SHADES OF GREEN RESORT This is the Department of Defense owned resort on WDW property. From what I understand it used to be Disney's Golf Resort and then the Disney Inn before they sold or leased it to the DoD. It was classified as a deluxe resort when Disney ran it and it has very large (520 sq. ft.) rooms. There are only about 300 rooms so it is a very small, quiet resort that is nestled between two golf courses. There are two pools, one shaped liked Mickey. A formal restaurant, a sports bar/grill by the pool, gift shop, pro shop, and ticket center. It is located in the MK resorts area just across the street from the Poly. The resort is open to active duty and retired military and DoD civil service employees (that's me). The prices are very reasonable and are based on rank/grade. We paid under $100 per night for these large rooms with 2 queen beds, dinette table for 4, fold out love seat, and private balcony. Included was an in-room safe, iron/ironing board, and coffee maker. We had a view of the Mickey pool. Very relaxing, quite resort. We really enjoyed staying here and you can't beat the price for the value. You get EE and E-Ticket night privileges also. The theme is of a country inn. No heavy Disney theme here so if that is important to you you should look elsewhere. Shades of Green runs their own buses. The first runs every 20 min. starting at the top of the hour to the TTC. It is very punctual. The other runs to AK, MGM, and Blizzard Beach and leaves the resort on the hour, also very punctual. We had great luck with the buses, more so than with the WDW buses at ASMo. The formal restaurant, The Garden Grove, was very nice. They have nightly buffets or a an ala carte menu. I had a delicious meal of shrimp cocktail and sirloin steak. They also have a breakfast buffet in the morning that was very good and cheap too. The Evergreen sports bar and grill was good too. We had lunch here twice. Great hot dogs. Very casual with a game room, pool table, bar, and a tennis court painted on the ceiling complete with life size dummies in mid-game. Lots of TVs tuned to sports also. Service and cleanliness were great for our entire stay and we would not hesitate to stay here again. If you want to go, call way in advance, they stayed booked about 10 months out. You can get overflow rates at other Disney resorts or go on a waiting list in case of cancellations (we did this and got in). Also, they will begin construction on about 300 additional rooms after the PGA event that is held there in the fall. XIV. DISCOVERY COVE This was our last day of vacation. We wanted to avoid the Disney parks because it was a Saturday and also 'Gay Days' so we thought the parks would be way too crowded. This was another excellent choice. It is a private park associated with Sea World. They take only 1000 reservations per day so it is never crowded. They have the dolphin swim as an optional part of the program. It is a gorgeous facility with freshwater pools, waterfalls, tropical landscaping, salt water pools filled with fish, shark and barracuda tanks, a bird aviary and terrific white sand beaches. Lunch is included and they have private changing booths with showers. They provide snorkel gear, towels, and swim vests which must be worn while in the water. The dolphin swim is a great experience. You get about 20 minutes of interaction with your dolphin in groups of 6 to 8. The best part is when the dolphin gives you a ride. You hold onto the dorsal fin and one flipper and the dolphin pulls you through the water. These are incredible animals and to interact with them in the water is a thrill. Everyone had a great time here whether they did the dolphin swim or not. I highly recommend a visit although you should be warned that it is a little on the expensive side. $109 per person without the dolphin swim and $199 with. At least one member of your party must purchase the dolphin swim. Be sure to check out the $20,000 bronze dolphin sculpture in the gift shop! It was a great last day of a wonderful vacation. XV. SUMMARY A wonderful trip! The few complaints and hiccups we encountered were insignificant when you look at the big picture and the amount of fun we had. It was great getting to spend that much time with family as we all live in different areas and time together is hard to come by. We would do it all again in a heart beat! Final note: As we pulled into our driveway and got out of the car my daughter found a penny on the floor. "Dad, I found a penny. You know what we do with this, right? It goes in the vacation jar!" And so the vacation jar now has one penny in it only a couple thousand dollars to go! If any one has any questions I'll be glad to try and answer them.