NYE 2009: Day One - Night Falls at Magic Kingdom

December 30, 2009

Night falls at Magic Kingdom

Our room is right by the bus stop, but there's a crowd forming. It's Christmas week. Crowds are everywhere. As I approach the stop I notice something familiar about this guy waiting near the curb. He's wearing a pin lanyard loaded with all those Mickey-head pins. A second to jar my memory, squint in the dark and it hits. Oh that's Tom! (of Tomandrobin fame?)

Tom, Robin and I have a running gag. When we plan to meet up in Disney, we never seem to find each other. But if we make no plans, we bump into each other almost everywhere. He's here with his kids and his brother's family - 10 in all. We make re-introductions and talk Ravens football. They're headed off to Cyrstal Palace for 7:00pm; we have ressies for 8:30pm. We make plans to meet up for midnight fireworks later and renew our plans for the Toy Story Mania Smackdown tomorrow.

Before long, a MK bus shows up. Another scooter-user has arrived wanting to go to Magic Kingdom with us. They have Crystal Palace reservations for 7:30pm. 3 scooters/chairs and 2 spots per bus. Houston we have a problem.

The bus driver tells us he can take two of us and the rest can wait for the next bus. No guarantees that one won't have a chair or two on it waiting to unload though. And besides I'm having a great time catching up with Robin, so to the delight of the crowd, I announce I'm disowning GM for the next hour. He really wouldn't want to deal with my impatience anyway. We plan to meet at the Crystal Palace.

On the bus, Robin and I have a great time cathcing up. She's gotten her foot all fixed up so is healthy and pain-free for a change. No more trips in wheelchairs fighting with Tom over who's driving this thing. Weather has been cool for them, but the forecast looks to be improving. Cuz has decorated my and GM's chairs with a set of twinkling microLEDs. I kid I'll be easy to find this trip.

When we arrive at Magic Kingdom, Robin sends Tom on a footrace into the park. They have 10 minutes before their reservation time and the Spectromagic parade is starting. I wave them off and wait for the bus driver to unload me.

Everything is twinkling and gates are swarming with people. I call GM to check on his status. The next bus arrived but it's lift was broken. He's waiting for a third bus. Oh dear.

Inside the park there's a logjam of people. Spectromagic has already crossed Main Street and is filtering past the barber shop. The path is blocked. There's a crowd at the train stop. No point going up there to watch. I need to cross to the west side of Main Street so no point trying a roundabout through the Confectionary. Instead I opt for a scenic route, up the ramp by Santa's Candy Cane garden, through Guest Relations, around the bathrooms and into the firehouse. I'm as close as you can possibly get to the street.

As soon as the last float steps offstage, I join the sea of people trying to get into the park. In the Emporium, winding my way down the back aisles toward the Princess Room. On the floor I see taped arrows pointing the way. Ah, Disney crowd control at work. That's clever.

I follow the arrows and find myself in a corner I never realize existed in the adult-sized clothing store. If you stick to the left side, you come out in the eatery next to Casey's Corner. Walk past the crowd on benches watching cartoons and there's a door to your left. I step out on the walkway between Casey's and Crystal Palace, away from the crush on Main Street and at my destination.

Meanwhile the 3rd bus comes for GM and Cuz back at Saratoga. By the time it makes its rounds to the Springs, it's packed with people. A family waits, the grandmother riding a scooter. The bus driver makes a big deal about his bus being crowded (people are sitting down on almost every available seat but it's not at standing room only status yet) and that he shouldn't try to board the second scooter (even though there is a scooter spot available), but he'll try anyway.

NOTE: If I'd been there I would have pointed out it's a federal law that requires the bus driver to load wheelchairs/scooters in all available spots or NOT accept anymore passengers (wheelie or non-wheelie). I don't know why some bus drivers conveniently forget this rule in busy times.

Now that the family feels sufficiently guilty, the bus driver lowers his ramp for grandma. There's only one problem. No it's not any grumbling non-wheelie passengers. They all seem to understand and happily make way for a wheelie companion. It seems the bus driver loaded GM's scooter in the last spot instead of the first. So now Grandma's scooter is blocked from boarding. Before the bus driver can call off his magnimous attempt dooming the family to wait for another crowded bus, Cuz 626.1 jumps in and offers to help. He lifts Grandma's scooter over GM's scooter and gets it parked for the bus driver. The family boards and all are grateful to Cuz for welcoming them aboard. Everyone else manages to get on at the bus stop too, by the way.

Back at the park, I find my way to Crystal Palace. It's not too crowded, but the CM at the door insists I wait for my group before I check in. Ok, I have at least 45 minutes before our mealtime. I'll head out to survey the fireworks viewing spots for the night.

Last year CMs started something new. They put down tape lines to carve out designated "viewing" spots and designated "walking" paths along the fences outside Casey's. Unfortunately, they put the walking paths directly in front of the viewing areas. So when you've waited for 90 minutes, packed in like sardines behind an imaginary tape fence by showtime you had people walking directly in front of you and stopping to watch. We all complained about the foolishness of that decision last year.

This year, however, it looks like the people managers heard our pleas. Now the "viewing" spots are directly against the fence while pedestrians are sent to walk behind you. All I need now is to find a few good spots for filming with my new gorillapod and HD FlipCam. I've decided I need to get some good fireworks recordings to use in my Disney-Inspired train garden at home.

My phone rings. It's GM. He just stepped off the bus and is making his way into the park. Cool. I tell him to come throught the emporium and stick to the far left. He'll be here in no time. But the CM at the door still won't let me check in. Ok, I'll wait on the sidewalk by the porch ramp and signal them in.

10 minutes goes by, no GM. After 15 I start calling him on the cell. No answer. I try Cuz. Again, no answer. This goes on for about 15 minutes, me frantically calling and them not answering. They both swear they can always hear their cell phones and absolutely abhor text messaging. I'm wishing they had a Taser-setting on their phones. You know, when you don't answer after the 5th call you get a mild electric shock. Maybe they still wouldn't answer but at least I'd feel better.

While I stew... I mean wait, a family that wreaks of newbie-ness stops right in front of me. Grandma sees Tigger in the window of Crystal Palace. She whips into the backpack Grandpa's carrying and shoves an autograph book in Grandkid's hand. Grandkid, a boy of about 10, looks at her like she's nuts. Grandma orders him to "go get Tigger's autograph". "Inside the restaurant?," quips the kid. Grandma gives him the evil eye. I guess she didn't like that smartmouth tone. She strikes me as the type you do not argue with, ever.

Kid goes off to do her bidding. Grandpa stands there holding the open backpack looking slightly clueless and Grandma starts tapping her feet. I keep my mouth shut and try my best to avert my eyes. They insist on standing not 2 feet from me so that involves a lot of shoe staring. Grandma starts rattling off some complaints about the rest of their party. Seems the family escaped... I mean went off and is somewhere in Tomorrowland. Grandma's getting hungry. Ah so that explains the Gladiator mood.

Kid returns a couple minutes later, autograph book unsigned and a smirk on his face. He loudly and proudly announced that you need a "RES-ER-VAAA-TION" to get in and see the characters. Probably a bit of insider wisdom the CM at the door imparted. Oh that poor CM. I wonder how many times he's had to say that today.

Well Grandma's tummy is rumbling so she proclaims how ridiculous that is and they should just go inside and eat then. Kid and Grandpa look at her like she's truly lost her mind. I have images of Emperor Nero's troops rebelling as the city burned. I think of that poor nice kid working the door. He so doesn't need this group storming his post.

So I speak up (probably the first time they even noticed I was there) and ,as kindly and Disney-ish as I can, tell them the restaurant has been booked for some months. It's usually like this on holidays. I give them several other counter service recommendations, including some good places in Tomorrowland where they can meet up with their family. And for good measure, I remind them of the Holidaywishes fireworks taking place at 9:00pm tonight with midnight fireworks at 11:50pm. Grandpa and kid seem happy; Grandma has lowered her battle armor for the moment. I ask her if they're having a good time. She tells me she didn't realize it would be so crowded. I smile, assuring her it usually is a bit crazy but lots of fun. I love all the decorations and rave about the shows tonight. They are staying onsite so I remind her of the Extra Magic Hours tonight. They'll be able to ride most everything after midnight when the locals leave.

Calming that family down serves to calm my own frustration. By the time the newbies leave for Tomorrowland I see the twinkling lights in Cuz's hat. (He's confiscated an extra string of lights to use inside his mesh black fedora. Now we're all easy to spot and festive too.)

Unfortunately, by the time they join me at Cyrstal Palace the not-so crowded porch has been invaded. The line to just check-in is 20 people deep. By the time I get to the counter our reservation time has come and gone. Seems everyone arranged to have dinner between parade and fireworks. We're given a beeper and told to wait on the porch.

9:00pm comes and the Holidaywishes begin. The crowd is so thick you can barely move. With GM's scooter and my chair, we're trapped. It wouldn't be so bad. At least we have a view of the fireworks. Passersby see the elevated porch and think that's a good place to watch from too. Suddenly our packed porch becomes even more packed with fireworks viewers. I have a lovely view of a very tall fellow's rearend. I am so glad I came in early December and had a prime view of the fireworks show then. I even have a recording of it playing over my train garden at home.

This in mind, when the door opens and the CMs try to get the crowd to make way for departing wheelchair guests, I move inside the restaurant lobby. One less chair to deal with. Tom and Robin are just leaving as I enter. We talk a bit more. Robin's not thrilled with their waiter for the slow service and advises me to avoid him. The restaurant manager sees me talking to my friends and angled toward the door. She interrupts to recommend I not attempt to go outside yet. She's noticed the fire hazard crowd on the porch and has called security to help her clear a path. I point out GM on his scooter and suggest she direct him inside to. One less scooter makes more feet room.

Cuz is the last to make it inside. He stays to see the rest of the fireworks. As soon as they end, our table is ready. Alphonse is our waiter and he's fabulous. I ask him for hot chocolate with lots of marshmellows. He brings a plate heaping with tiny marshmellows.

Cuz is loving the whole experience. We don't usually take him to restaurants and this is his first ever character experience. He swore he wouldn't like that sort of thing, but two minutes with Tigger and he's hooked. I show Cuz the ropes of how adults interact with characters. You do all the talking (or baiting) and they respond with mimes. The funnier your banter the more they like returning to visit you. Piglet loves all our lights. Pooh's digging Grandpa Mohawk's hair. Tigger is almost as spastic as Cuz. And we all try our best to cheer up poor Eeyore. We also take lots of pictures.





The buffet food is outstanding. Last trip with Cuz's parents (Senior Newbies) we did not do as many table service meals. Cuz noticed a distinct lack of vegetables in their counter service selections. But he raves about Crystal Palace and insists we put this place on the "must do" list. We talk trip plans, conspiring over the Senior Newbies' soon-to-be introduction to Christmas at Disney (to be scheduled for Dec 2010).

We also take a nice long time eating and relaxing inside. We have no need to step out into that crowded craziness yet. Not before the midnight fireworks. There's plenty of time to relax, have a 3rd course, some dessert and check out the rest rooms. Everyone inside the restaurant seems to be in a pleasant mood too.

By the time we leave, it's just about 11pm. The crowd has all vanished. all those nice viewing spots I scoped out early are empty. We don't really need to go ride something now, do we? Instead, we opt to walk the 30 feet from the restaurant to a nice little spot along the fence. I dig my new gorilla-tripod out of my purse and attach it to the railing. GM and Cuz each take one of my other still cameras so they can film some of the panaromic fireworks out of my camera's view. I'll splice them together in editing when I get home.

There's still almost an until fireworks. I want to see what the crowd is like on Main Street. In the distance we can see a stage setup under the Castle. A DJ is rocking out to party tunes while a crowd dances. Even the castle seems to be dancing in rhythm to the music; it's lights sparkle and flash with the changing beat. Since when did Magic Kingdom become the party park?

I get as far as Main Street at Casey's Corner before I find myself in the midst of a sea of people. Oh that's where all the people went. It's snowing here; the music is pulsing; and you can barely move. It's clear I'm not getting anywhere near the castle circle. So I turn around and head back to GM and Cuz. Good thing too because people have started to "find" our great viewing spots. Time to settle in and watch.

The fireworks begin at promptly 11:50pm. You can watch the show below.

My taping turns out great but the extra cameras had issues. Seems GM's view was blocked by trees and Cuz forgot why I gave him the camera in the first place. I also missed most of the countdown numbers in the sky. I'm not sure, but it seems like the ones just next to the castle did not go off this year. Oh well, at least my recording is in HD with stereo sound. It'll look great at home.

Oh we also see no sign of Tom or Robin. Remember what I said happens when we make plans to meet? I've sent them text messages with directions but they are MIA. (Turns out their kids got tired and went home before the fireworks. The adults went off to the Wave for drinks. They remembered to ask about the fireworks at around 1:30am and a few drinks later. Robin assures me they had a blast. Hopefully she's seen the fireworks show I taped above so she can say she at least saw them this year.)

As predicted the crowd filters out directly after midnight fireworks. We have the whole park to ourselves for the next 3 hours.

Still I guess having been here 3 times in the last 2 months with newbies and part timers, we're all feeling a bit tired of rides. We ride It's A Small World (our NYE tradition), see Fantasmic, ride Haunted Mansion and Buzz Lightyear. We could do a lot more, but we're more interested in checking out the scenery.

We stop at Donald's Tree Lot to take pictures.

donalds trees

Cuz takes GM on a tour of Belle's Enchanted Garden (a place he'd love to replicate at home) while I explore the rose garden. I'm just walking over the bridge from Tomorrowland when I spot a pretty spot to take pictures of the Ice Castle over the lagoon. No sooner do I whip out my camera then the DJ plays a tune even Cindy's Castle loves.

Castle Chicken Dance

The party at the castle came to an around soon after 2am. As soon as it ended, the Christmas music came on and we were treated to a life-size version of a Christmas Village. All the decorations we missed in early December due to the disruption of the parade taping was there. Wreaths over Main Street, the tall Christmas tree at the train station, and lots of Disney "snow".

We hung out until closing just enjoying the ambience of Main Street. Here you can too....

Main Street to Castle

main street


By 3am it was time to go home and get some sleep. Has it really only been one day since we arrived?

Tomorrow is New Year's Eve and we have a playdate scheduled with Tom and Robin. Let's see if they make it this time.

Onto Day 2: NYE in Hollywood Studios