Day 1: New Year's Eve '08 Edition
December 30, 2008 (Tuesday)
Last year, I had us up at the ungodly hour of 4am for an early 7am flight to Orlando. But with Southwest baggage handlers breaking my powerchair while unloading and the day spent at the airport with another long night at magic Kingdom (we closed the park at 4:30am that day), I decided this year we'd be slightly more sane about it. So I booked an 11am flight instead and at 5:15am, I rolled over for another hour of sleep. Cousin 626.1 rolled in sometime around 1am the previous night and my sister volunteered to drive our threesome to the airport before her Tuesday meeting. It was a chilly 38 degrees as we pulled into BWI. I think each of us was wearing about 3 layers of clothing from long pants, shirts, sweaters and football thermal jackets.
A stop at the Southwest ticket counter to check our one suitcase and get our mobility vehicles red tagged (i.e. a red tag that defines the care and handling of our electronic legs so the baggage handlers don't deliver them DOA again), proceed through security and then arrive at the gate. Since we qualify for preboarding and have our vehicles gate-checked the only stressful part about boarding our flight is making sure we use the restroom in plenty of time to line up in the boarding pen. We will be the first ones to board the plane but will also be the last ones to leave the plane.
The flight was bumpy on the way up. The captain warns us of the winds but we level out around 30,000 feet. From there it is a 2 hour quick trip to sunny Florida. The stripping of layers begins on the plane. Those heavy winter coats go in the overhead bins.
Upon arrival we wait as the board deplanes and wait some more for our vehicles to make their way down the gangway. This is the part when I always get a little anxious. I have my footrest and seat cushion but I just don't know how my chair will come back to me. When the crew chief brings my dad's scooter down the gangway and offers me a ride in a manual airline chair, I get a little more concerned. His flippant "I hope your chair is at the top" earns a "It better be" from me. Fortunately my chair is waiting for me and with airline staff doing a quick assembly of my battery connections, it's working just perfectly. Good. No more wasted days spent in the customer service office of Southwest.
Unfortunately, GM's scooter does not fare as well. It seems they loosed the tiller all the way and now it won't stay upright. But cousin 626.1 is here to save the day. While he fiddles with the rubber cover and reattaches some unseen hinges fixing it in 5 minutes flat, he apologizes for the time delay insisting he could have done it in 2 with his proper tools. (This man is a genius with fix-it jobs, ala MacGyver.)
The weather when we land is a warm 71 degrees. Time to shed another layer. Off come those sweaters. Cousin 626.1, who always runs at a higher thermostat, changes into his short sleeves and shorts. He's ready for some balmy Florida weather. GM and I aren't as fooled. It's after 2 with 3 more hours of daylight left and those Magical Express busses are always set to Arctic in the AC. Long sleeve shirts and light long pants will do just fine for us.
A tram through the airport, picking up our one checked suitcase, and another walk to Magical Express to check in. We're boarded on our bus and on our way within half an hour. That video of Mickey and friends come on and I begin to believe I'm actually returning to my favorite place.
We arrive at SSR just around 3pm, find no line to check in and are treated to a delightful surprise. It seems Special Needs has put us in the exact same room as our recovery room in October... Congress Park room 2112. A quick talk to the Front Desk CM (another new college girl) and I discover our story has become somewhat legendary among the Front Desk staff. I pass along a hello to that manager who was so helpful to us before (Jason Levy) and off we go to Artist's Palette for a late lunch.
We each get something different and share, so there's Asian Chicken Salad, Cheeseburger flatbread and Pepperoni flatbread to chose from. And of course we have our refillable mugs to refresh us. Cousin 626.1 loves the iced tea at AP, while I opt for a hot chocolate. We decided to eat in AP and enjoy the ambience of the place. Colored lights dangle overhead, Christmas music plays softly in the background and when I turn around ... well look who's here... It's our friend and DVC guide Ricardo. He's taken another family on a tour of the resort but we have a chance to catch up and show off GM's recovery.
On the way to our room, I notice the Open House has begun at the theater and drag GM inside to see the new BLT rooms. He's never been a fan of the Contemporary design, but I want him to see how it all looks in the finished product. I really like the studio layout. That alone has had me hemming and hawing about the add-on. GM likes it too and Cousin 626.1 (who's a bit of a design elitist) really likes it. Alas we have a room already and it's time we unpacked our stuff.
Of course we all know the way having taken the same walk dozens of times just two months ago. Room 2112 is a ground floor room just outside a little green park and across from the bus stop. There's a place in the corridor for Gm to charge his scooter, and we find a few more surprises inside. Seems the door is exceptionally easy to manage. apparently maintenance didn't figure out that Cousin 626.1 tweaked it a bit in October to make it easy for me to handle. We also find the little silencer he put at the top of the sliding bathroom door (to keep it from slamming) is still in place. I half expected to open a drawer and find my clothing. Now to some it may seem like housekeeping wasn't doing their job, but I assure you the room was spotless. It just had a bit of improvements leftover from us.
By the time we unpack, it's starting to get dark. GM is eager to get moving to the parks before he peters out for the night. So we grab a few sweaters and head to the bus stop.
Now our plan for the night is simple. Magic Kingdom on December 30 so we can see the preview version of the NYE fireworks without the insane crowds. The schedule calls for an early fireworks show as well that night... HolidayWishes at 9:00pm and two Spectromagics. We're at the bus stop by 7pm, but there's a problem. Seems the first bus to arrive already has one wheelchair passenger and only one slot available. So we decide to split up. I go first and mark out our super secret fireworks spot and GM comes next with Cousin 626.1 on the bus to follow. I had made plans to meet up up with fellow DISer tomandrobin, but my one disappointment of the day is that I forgot to encode my cell phone his number. So I just hope he remembers where we are supposed to meet for midnight fireworks. Turns out it's no worries. For as soon as I arrive at Magic Kingdom and call my cousin he has a surprise for me. Seems the very next bus included tomandrobin on their way to Magic Kingdom and the California Grill. I talk with Robin a bit and confirm our plans. Then I make my way into the park.
A crush of people are leaving as I arrive. Good sign, I figured. Seems much of the day crowd lasted just long enough for the 8pm Spectromagic. But once inside the gates, I discover there's an even larger crowd than I expected. And it seems Disney Park management had meetings the night before meant solely to disrupt my best laid plans for fireworks viewing. First the herd me down Main Street on the Tmorrowland side and will not let me cross to Casey's Corner. They won't even allow me to turn around and join the queue going up the street. No, I must go around the Castle circle, hop the pathway to AdventureLand and then get on a tiny bridge to Crystal Palace. And just when I find my spot, it seems that's been turned into a one-way traffic zone zealously protected by the CMs. There are rope lines herding me back the way I came and any attempt to jump outside or stop for a moment is quickly answered with a "Move Along! You can't stay here. We had a Powerpoint presentation and everything about this." Hmm, maybe Big Brother Mickey caught me on film the last time. I'm known.
But I start fretting about losing GM and Cousin 626.1 before our trip had even really begun. So I beg a cast member to please just let me go look in our spot to find my family. They finally take pity on me and give me permission to swim upstream a moment and look. I find them, halfway in between where they had also been herded away. We try to follow the CM directions to the Powerpoint Approved fireworks viewing spots but since it's so new no one seems to know what they are. The one by that tiny bridge? That's only 2 inches deep. Good for leaning on tippy toes over a fence, not good for a 2-3 foot long scooter and wheelchair. Finally a CM escorts us to another wider spot. Unfortunately it is behind a tree and stand. I can manage that since fireworks are high, but I tell them the Powerpoint designer needs new lessons in people management. He's directed people to sit just behind the one-way walking path where people are guaranteed to walk in front then stop and watch as something explodes overhead. The CM in charge gives his meek apology promising it's just for these two days when it's so insanely busy. Besides how bad good the Powerpoint plan be? I mean it has all those cool slide transitions and fading bullets. (Note to self: Truly clever ideas don't need Powerpoint.)
Oh well, we settle in and make do. We hadn't expected to catch the early fireworks show anyway so even a tree and stand-blocked view is better than nothing. Besides, we can see the top of the Castle and it is sparkling. Now if we could just get that loud unDisney party music from blaring through the PA speakers. Seriously, who associates Kool and the Gang's Celebration with Mickey Mouse at Christmas? Must be the same Powerpoint designer.
The fireworks go off promptly at 9pm and delight us with blazing present boxes, smiley faces and the sounds of the Nutcracker. I film it all with my camera. The air turns even cooler and GM starts donning more of those layers. Cousin 626.1 exchanges his shorts for long pants and one sweatshirt. He didn't bring any other layers, a decision he'll come to regret later.
After the fireworks, I suggest we hang back and see what the crowd will do. We'll need a Plan B for the midnight fireworks viewing now that spot has been killed by Powerpoint. There is another crush for the exit but it's slow to move. We decide to do something so we're at least moving in the cold. Cousin 626.1 has been on just about every ride during his last two trips and GM is getting cold so we opt for something new indoors... Mickey's Philharmagic. The crowd goes all the way to the door, but since this theater is big it moves quickly. Donald Duck's wacky adventures are a big hit with 626.1 (Donald's a favorite of his, I learn). GM finally regains feeling in his fingers and is ready for another go outside.
We wind our way to Tomorrowland for a rest stop. (Having been here enough times I've scoped out my favorite bathrooms. The one by Space Mountain is top of the list even if it is shrouded in construction drapery for a refacing of the building.) GM wants to show Cousin 626.1 another new site for him... Spectromagic. I quickly calculate the crowd depth, distance and relative time between Spectro and the midnight fireworks and figure out there simply isn't enough time to go to our regular Spectro viewing spot. So instead, I take us to a Disney-approved wheelchair spot around the Castle circle. We arrive early enough to get a prime spot there and a lovely view of the Ice Castle through Poinsettia bushes and glittering trees.
I (unwisely) snap more pictures of Spectro (even though I have a thousand of them) and use up my little camera battery power. Cousin declares the experience a rousing thrill and begins plotting what sites he'll show his dad when we manage to bring him down with us. (That's a frequent topic of the trip. What my aunt and uncle would enjoy or not enjoy and what my cousin wants to show them here. We've created a monster, I tell ya.)
Some opt to stay in the circle even after the CMs take down the rope lines and dismantle the reserved wheelchair spots (why they don't have reserved spots for fireworks viewing, I don't know. Someone tell the Powerpoint guy to calculate that one please.) We opt for our regular spots outside the circle. Albeit our modified regular spots in the little taped off area behind the walking path. But the crowd is thinning, the air growing colder, so just maybe we won't be so disappointed. We wonder if Tom and Robin will find us in this new spot and prepare to make the round of cell phone tag calls to direct them. But when we arrive at our new spot, a young fellow is there with his grandparents. He notices GM's Baltimore Ravens jacket and quickly searches his memory. He knows us. Yes, it is Tom and Robin's eldest son Danny. He's there with his grandparents, aunt, uncle and cousins, all of us waiting on Tom and Robin to finish their dinner at Cali Grill. Danny texts his parents and it seems Tom has been sending text pictures of his dinner to his sister. (Something with noodles? It would help if a title was given the picture.)
Now I should tell you that TomAndRobin are the nice family we met last year as we all flew home to Maryland. They live in one part of the state, we in another, but we all have Raven fandom in common. And it seems they will become a frequent site for us this trip.
Cousin 626.1 and GM head over to Casey's to get us that late night picnic meal while I catch up with Danny and his family. We get frequent text updates from Tom. He's finished dinner. He's on the monorail. He's headed down Main Street. Finally he and Robin arrive like celebrities and tell the tale of how they survived the mad crush from the park. Tom introduces me to another DISer (Jim) and the three of us start talking DVC, RCI vs. II, new resorts and basically all the regular chatter you see on the boards. It's quickly apparent to me that these guys are veterans in the system with years more experience than me. So I end up listening mostly to the talk of trading companies and such. Yes, when you meet a DISer it is pretty much like they are online.
The PA announces the fireworks are to begin in just 5 minutes. Anticipation builds and along comes a Powerpoint-Impressed CM who's noticed Robin has stepped out of the approved viewing box. I try to call out to her to move next to me, but I've allowed myself to get separated in the DISer talking group and Robin can't hear me. So she ends up pushed along out of view. By the time we realize what's happened, even Tom has lost site of her. Oh well, I pop in a fresh battery for video and discover my second battery is dead. Oops I forgot to charge it at home.
Shoot. I'll have to pop in the old one and nurse it to take a few minutes of video for me. I just manage to capture the countdown in the sky and the beginning of Auld Lang Zyne. Magic Kingdom is ablaze with fireworks.
It's even more than the ScreamAlong at Halloween. Entire displays fire off from the Emporium or the Seven Seas Lagoon. I doubt there is a spot in Magic Kingdom without a fireworks view. And fortunately we have about half the crowd of HolidayWishes and maybe a third of the one the next night. All I know is that when the CM pointed out the fireworks were behind me, I had space to spin my chair a full 360 degrees without hitting anyone.
After fireworks, we try to find TomAndRobin but the crowd has swallowed them. Oh well, now we have cell phone numbers. The park is open until 3am, but we all doubt we'll make it that long this time. GM is still recovering from that broken hip and Cousin 626.1 has about two layers too little to stay warm. But we hang on a little while longer and take him to see Stitch's Great Escape. (It's there he declares what his blog name shall be.) I wanted to see Carousel of Progress but it shuts down at midnight. So instead, we decide to call it a night and meander our way back home. It's around 2am when we board the bus.