Day 2: New Year's Eve '08 Edition
Wednesday, December 31, 2008 (Last Day of the Year)

The last day of the year comes and what a change from October. GM is up at 8am, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Cousin 626.1 and I are just rolling over for another hour or two. GM asks us about breakfast so we unanimously decide it's his turn to go on the Breakfast Run. After all, we both did plenty of breakfast, lunch and dinner runs for him last October. So he loads our mugs in his scooter and off he goes. An hour later he returns announcing "BREAKFAST!" The smell of hot bacon, sausage and eggs tempts 626.1 from his warm bed, but I bury my head under the covers. I just refuse to wake up this day.

GM had plans of hitting the pool and hot tub but with the previous night's chill (it got down to the 40's), the day is a cooler 70. So we rested, then headed to EPCOT during the daylight hours.

Now last year's plan included early bird fireworks at EPCOT followed by a trip back to SSR for the pool party and Downtown Disney fireworks (followed by MGM Extra Magic Hours). But then Disney Management decided to muck with the plan. First they closed down the Pleasure Island nightclubs. Then they cancelled the NYE party and fireworks. It came as a surprise to everyone, staff included, and everyone was a tad disappointed. There was much speculation about the economy's affect on the plans and hopes the NYE fireworks come back next year. For us, it meant we changed our plans for midnight.

We hopped a mid-day bus to EPCOT and saw the crowd forming at the gates. It was going to be a busy day. I guess the economy hasn't cancelled any trip plans so far. I know enough CMs to realize just how hard a day like this is, so warn my party to be extra nice and helpful to the CMs. Time to take pity on them. We make sure we have everything ready for security to check it over, our tickets in hand at the gates, and nothing to delay us or the CMs. Despite the crowd, everyone is in a good mood. That helps a lot and brings smiles to a few beleaguered CM faces.

NYE is not a day to do rides. It's a day to people watch and enjoy fireworks. So we make our way through Future World. I have to stop at Cool Station to get my taste of International fruity sodas (tempting a few unsuspecting souls into the "sweet" soda from Italy). We wind through the Christmas arcade and stop to admire the prettiest tree on property. 

GM spots what he thinks is a broken ball ornament. It turns out to be the wireframe globe from Illuminations.

Then we wind our way through Mexico. I remember that they allow wheelchair folks to register with the viewing spots for a seat and have my heart set on Germany. So we go counterclockwise through the World Showcase. I'm tempted to buy a churro in Mexico but the line stretches all the way back to almost Norway. The marguerita line is empty though. GM wants to stop in CHina and pick up another schnazzy wooden cane. See I got one last year and loaned him mine for his rehab. He's gotten so many compliments on it, he decides he really needs one of his own. And considering they are only $5 (for a carved wooden cane) it makes a great buy. I consult on the proper selection of canes while Cousin 626.1 is tempted by the aroma of Chinese food. He loves Chinese, especially on New Year's.

I suggest we grab some food and head over to our fireworks spot for an early picnic. The crowd is so intense, I doubt we'd be able to do much anyway. Cousin 626.1 places orders for him and me, but GM opts for more traditional food at America. I head over to Germany to reserve that spot and find I'm only the 4th one on the list. The CM tells us to just go off and explore for the next hour. No sense waiting around here when we're already registered. So we keep going to America. 626.1 and I find a spot overlooking the train garden around the American Pavilion tree and wait for GM to get his food.

This is how you know just how crowded it was. GM entered the American Pavilion cafe around 5:00pm. We didn't see him again until 6pm. Time enough for Cousin and I to have a leisurely Chinese dinner and chit chat about life, family and Disney. GM returned with his tray with a smile on his face. Yes it was crowded, but he reports everyone was in such good spirits about it. He laughs about a thing he saw. Seems there was a young CM vetting people at the door and directing them to the various lines. Another was taking orders. And out came a manager. He took one look at the crowd and simply said "Wow!" Then turned to the young girl working the register and told her to take a long break. Apparently experience told him this was an occasion for quick burnout of those young college CMs. Then he turned to the crowd and begged them indulgence and assistance as he forgot who came next. (This was one of those registers where there are lines on either side.)

GM settled into his scooter to enjoy his hamburger and 626.1 and I split up. 626.1 to head to the bathroom and me in search of a funnel cake for the fireworks. They begin handing out hats and noisemakers. Everyone seems to looooove noisemakers. I join the queue outside the funnel cake stand and find it a tolerable 15 person deep. There's even a young CM vetting the crowd and taking orders to help hurry up the cooking. Unfortunately, some 20 minutes later when I get to the register I discover she forgot to tell us something. The stand was not accepting room charges, cash only and I had no cash on me. The CM takes pity on me, but he doesn't need to. Seems I earned myself a guardian angel in the Latino family behind me. They've been speaking Spanish the whole time (a language I wish I understood) but understood my English-speaking distress. So the mom pulls out a couple extra dollars and pays for my simply $6 sugar-coated funnel cake. See, I told you people were being super nice to each other. I would have happily given her the cash when I got back to GM but she had long since disappeared on me.

By the time I made it back to GM it was dark, after 6:30pm and he had finished his hamburger. Since the crowd was growing to max capacity, I start fretting over being at our fireworks spot. Reserved or not, I had a feeling we wouldn't even make it over there if we didn't go now.

I wanted to stop at the bathroom along the way and that's when I realized just how bad it was. Every bathroom had a line. Now I have one little problem with public restrooms. See, I absolutely cannot use anything other than a handicapped stall. Those are those bigger stalls with the grab rails and high seat commodes. The ones moms usually drag their 5 children into and stay awhile. In the best of times, I find myself sitting outside the one HA stall patiently waiting for the mom to finish while waving everybody else into the other regular stalls. So I try to go a little earlier than I have to just so I'm not risking an embarrassing herky jerky bathroom dance. When I saw how long the lines were just using the regular stalls, I figured conquering Europe would be an easier quest. American Pavilion's line stretched all the way outside the building into the table courtyard. Germany had lines for the regular bathroom as well as the companion restroom. And no one seemed to respect the wheelchair symbols. No, it was every man and woman for themselves. I gave up and went to our fireworks spot where people joked about needing Fastpasses for the bathrooms.

Now there was one annoyance with our reserved wheelchair fireworks viewing space. Seems the CMs had let the ablebodied companions of some scooter guests sit right up alongside the fence in the best locations. Those, even who had reserved the spot hours before and were told to arrive just half an hour before fireworks, were pushed off to the side directly behind the one tree. The companions, all young around teenager-ish, had settled into a group on the floor playing cards. They were quiet enough, but completely oblivious to wheelchair viewing etiquette. But we were all trying to be in a good mood, so people just chatted, joked about cutting down that tree and tried not to make a fuss. And I eyed those teenagers. I admit I was being envious of their spot and I probably could have said something to the CM in charge. But the place is really small and people were stacked up in a couple rows. But then the fireworks were just a couple minutes away. The teens put away their cards and sure enough the stood up... right in front of about 4 wheelchair/scooter occupants. I didn't think, I just reacted. I spoke up and told them they should sit down because there are people sitting behind them. One of the girls looked back, saw the crowd and turned red. She apologized saying they just weren't thinking and made her group sit back down. I still sat behind a tree, but the people behind those teens at least got a decent view. And the quiet "Thank yous" from the wheelchair families told me I had done something right.

Ok, so for all you listening audience, here is the wheelchair etiquette. Think about where people's eyes are. Shortest up front, then taller in the back. Usually it works best when we allow littlest kids to see up front, followed by the wheelies, with the standers in the back. And if you absolutely must be upfront, please do not stand. Kneel or sit. And for goodness sake, do not stand and lean over into the next person's view.

I gave the camera to 626.1 and he found a spot on the ground in the corner away from the tree. I just sat back and enjoyed the show with GM. Made a nice change from the last time I watched Illuminations without him, worried he'd never make it out of the hospital to see it with me again. The tears we shed, (and doesn't the extra Christmassy "Let There Be Peace On Earth" bit make all of you misty) were tears of joy.



Next came the park hop. Now when we boarded the bus to EPCOT that day the bus driver told us they had already closed Magic Kingdom and he expected MGM to head the same way soon. Since there were no DTD fireworks planned, I decided we should try them at MGM instead. It has been years since I saw fireworks over MGM. 10 years in fact. But we wanted to be certain we didn't exit one park to be shut out of another. So at the International Gateway we stopped to ask the CMs if MGM was still open. It was.

There was also a stream of people entering EPCOT from the Boardwalk area. The crowd was getting bigger. And just outside the gates were empty restrooms. Yes, it was a miracle, or at least my bladder thought so. After a brief rest break, we decided to hop the ferry to MGM. Turns out they were running a direct line if we just waited an extra 5 minutes. So we did, along with about 15 other people. We enjoyed a leisurely 25 minute boat ride with the ferry captain going over the events for the night. According to her fireworks were to be in front of the Christmas tree over the lake outside the park gates. Yes, ferry captains love to give misdirection.

We entered MGM and found the crowd large but tolerable. Our first stop was to take a walk along the Osborne lights. Cousin 626.1 loves this site since he's into all that custom lighting and computer synchronization. Last year I was pulling him off the walls as he inspected the hookups. This year he was looking around for all the hidden Mickeys. He also gave us an anaylsis of which lights are LED, which traditional and how much wattage the display burned. Answer: a lot.



I love all the extra little touches added to Osborne lights every year. For instance, can you find the Hidden Mickey in these pictures? How about the TV running in that living room? Any guesses what's on?

We popped over to the Backlot Bar and got a couple drinks for the new year. I picked up some popcorn as I checked out the line for Toy Story Mania... 120 minutes. Even Narnia was packed with a 45 minute wait. We opted to go inside to see Walt's One's Man's Dream exhibit. Now this is a museum my uncle will absolutely adore. He should, he has many of the old books and toys in those glass cases. For me, I just love watching that movie at the end and hearing Walt's story about why he built a theme park in the first place. He just wanted a place where he and his daughters could all enjoy the fun day out to play. And that is exactly what Disney has become for my dad and I. A fun place for us to play together. As we exited the theater, I told my cousin if you're too old for Disney you might as well be dead. A girl at the end of the row, who looked like she'd be at home celebrating New Year's in Times Square or some trendy nightclub, cheered and high fived me for that quote. So you see naysayers out there, Disney is a cool place to all.

The hour was growing late at this point. The CM running One Man's Dream advised us they were closing down those exhibits and even Toy Story Mania because the fireworks would go off right over the street. That meant the fireworks would be directly over the Chinese Theatre and Mickey Hat. So we made our way out to a spot I scoped on the way in. Near Dolly's Dinosaur ice cream counter, where those picnic tables stand. The crowd was insane at this point. Somewhere near the corner of Sunset Boulevard, just behind the fountain, we came to a standstill. CMs desperately tried to keep people moving. Eventually the line inched forward. GM kept his scooter so close to me, he bumped me in the backside a few dozen times. In his defense, if he allowed even an inch space between us, someone decided they could cut right through. When I encountered a girl attempting to swim upstream against the single file line inching around the fountain, I stopped her. She could get by me but she was headed straight for an encounter with my dad's wheels. It wouldn't be pretty.

We continued inching out into the street, around the Keystone Clothiers and made it to the picnic tables. Or to be more exact, a tiny little space beside some theme park scenery (stacked movie crates). There was a group there already but they directed "Pops" (my dad) into a spot and me just beside him. It turned out to be perfect. Just back far enough to see without being stepped or sat on. I saw a CM ahead selling light-up necklaces. GM and 626.1 walked over to buy a couple and who do they find? Danny. Seems Tom and Robin had made it to MGM too.

Now the setup that night was what GM termed "controlled chaos". Beneath the hat was a live band on stage. A crowd in Times Square portions spread out from there. Those closest to the stage dancing and the rest of us wondering where the fireworks would appear and hoping we picked a decent spot. Unlike Magic Kingdom there is no countdown in the sky. Everyone just looked at their cell phones, strained to hear the band, were misdirected by the early firing of EPCOT's Illuminations and then suddenly the park just exploded. I have video of my cousin checking his cell phone and saying "It just turned" when all of a sudden the sky was light with fireworks.

They appeared behind the hat, behind Hollywood boulevard, over Osborne lights, pretty much anywhere in the park you could see fireworks. The crowd cheered, oohed, ahhed, and inevitably someone walked in front of my camera. I have video of that too. Some fellow with the world's largest backpack wondering over into my shot, oblivious to my attempts to get his attention.

Then my cousin reaching down and signaling for the camera. He had found a spot on a bench, climbed up and with his over 6 foot height started taking video of the fireworks and the world's largest crowd watching.



Now it wasn't as private and serene as last year's SSR view of DTD. These fireworks were more like being on the DTD side of the lake. Up close, over your head and surrounded by people. Most of them in very good spirits too. I was glad we went there for the night, but I'll be more than happy to return to SSR next year.

After the show, most of the crowd left. The park was officially closed except to resort guests. And knowing how bad the traffic must be on the road, we decided to just stay a little longer. We walked back to Toy Story Mania and had a grudge match. I road with 626.1 and GM took a solo ride. He was tired. 

So tired we decided to spot him 30,000 points. Cousin and I had quite a contest going. He'd win a match, then I'd pull ahead and it went back and forth. In the end he beat me by 5,000 points. GM took his 30,000 handicap and decided he'd play Pinocchio on us. When asked what his score was, he proudly said 230,000. Too bad we saw his display at the end and it read a meager 56,000. (We were both in the 90's.)

By 2am, we decided to head home. The band had retired but the DJ kept going on center stage leading about a dozen very tired people through the last dances of the night. 

Outside, the traffic had cleared and the bus driver reported many complaints from Magic Kingdom guests that day. It was shoulder-to-shoulder he said. Good thing we went the night before. On the ride home. I played back the 4 fireworks shows I had recorded on my camera. So I guess you can say I saw NYE fireworks 6 times this trip.

Back at the room, I turned on the TV for the first time this trip. CNN ran a rebroadcast of the Times Square festivities. It was a balmy 10 degrees there. As the ball dropped, GM and Cousin 626.1 guffawed. "That's all they do?" they asked. "Drop a silly ball. Where are the fireworks?" And to think my NYE centered around a little TV watching freezing people huddled around a ball. Disney is much much better, even with fastpasses for bathrooms and shoulder-to-shoulder crowds.

Day 3: January 1