Wednesday, September 7, 2011

2011 Vacation - Phase 1 - California

Our 43 day, four phase vacation began on April 6 this year. We went to San Antonio that day and spent the night at the Rivercenter Marriott. The next morning at 5:40, Amtrak’s Sunset Limited departed for points west, and we were on it in our connecting deluxe bedrooms. After traveling all day and through the night (approx. 27 hours), we arrived in Ontario, California where we were met by our cousin, Mickey Landrum. She told us we were going to a restaurant for breakfast, but she didn’t tell us that we would be met there by her brother, Ed Davis. The five of us first cousins enjoyed a wonderful visit and a delicious breakfast.
Our cousin, Ed  Davis, Dorothy, Esther, and Janie
Mickey took the picture.

We checked into the Anaheim Fairfield Inn (a Marriott property) right across the street from Disneyland. We left Dorothy and Esther there in our room while Mickey and I went to LAX to meet her daughter and grandson who flew in from Oakland to be there with us for a few days. That evening The Landrums (Mickey, Wade, and Idell), Jennifer and Austin Robinson, and the three of us had dinner at the Storyteller Café located in The Grand Californian Hotel at Downtown Disney. That has become a tradition when we go to California.
Janie with Jennifer and Austin at LAX.

The next day, Mickey, Jennifer, Austin, and the three of us went to Disneyland where we had the Disney experience of a life time! We had lunch at Disneyland’s Club 33. This exclusive, members’ only club is located in New Orleans Square inside Disneyland with the very unobtrusive entrance being right next to the Blue Bayou Restaurant. The elite club is located on the second floor and inconspicuously takes up a lot of space above shops and eateries. We have been to Disneyland many times but never knew about this club that was opened in May of 1967, even though we walked by the door and ate at the Blue Bayou many times. We just learned about it last year through Jennifer who has a good friend who works for Chevron (one of the Disneyland sponsor companies) which has one of the coveted memberships. As an employee, she can make reservations and take guests with her. She came all the way from northern California just so we could all enjoy this very unique experience. Club 33 is filled with original Disney artwork, beautiful antiques, and other historical Disney pieces that Walt Disney and his wife Lillian chose and collected for it. All the plans, décor, etc., for this unique place was the vision of Walt Disney who passed away four months before it opened. The food was delicious and the service was impeccable. What a treat it was for us to have the privilege of having lunch there. THANK YOU, KATE!

By the way, we’ve heard that memberships are very expensive and there is a 14 year waiting list! Oh, well, we didn’t want one, anyway! (That is not true! If you have one that you want to give us, we will take it.) The price of the meal is not included in the membership, but if you have reservations, the cost of a one day admission to the park includes the meal. Mickey treated the three of us, and we thank her, too. Jennifer deserves a big thank you, because she really wanted us to do this and laid the groundwork for the whole experience.

We spent the rest of the day at Disneyland enjoying some of our favorite attractions which always include Pirates of the Caribbean and It’s a Small World. (It’s a Small World had been renovated since we had seen it, and it was fantastic.) Then that evening, we went to Disney’s California Adventure. They have a new dancing waters and laser show there called Disney’s World of Color. Jennifer had obtained special seating for us, but we had to arrive early to get a good spot within that viewing area. The spectacular show was worth the wait.

The Landrums took us to one of their favorite restaurants, Wind and Sea Restaurant at Dana Point on the Pacific coast for Sunday brunch. Then we slowly wound our way northward back to Anaheim enjoying beautiful scenery along the way.

Monday morning, we all went to Goofy’s Kitchen at the Disneyland Hotel for a brunch. This was a "Character Meal," so we were able to meet Aladdin, the Genie, Cinderella, Chip and Dale, Pluto, and Goofy. They mill around the restaurant stopping at the tables to pose for pictures and sign autographs for the kids. Well, Aladdin just kept coming back to our table, and finally he said, “I’m going to get someone you should meet.” And here he came with Cinderella. She had been in another part of the restaurant, and we had not seen her. The two of them spent so much time at our table that when they left, Wade said, “They really made a project out of us, didn’t they?” It was so much fun to watch 4 year-old Austin enjoying and interacting with these special characters. Well, it was also a lot of fun to do a little of the interacting ourselves. You’re never too old to enjoy the “magic” of Disney. The three of us even sang for them!

Cinderella, Dorothy, Janie, Aladdin, Esther, and Austin

That afternoon, Jennifer and Austin had to fly back home to Martinez, CA where they live. Her husband, Kevin, is a firefighter in Piedmont, CA, and was not able to come with them for this visit. We really hated saying good-bye to the two of them, because Jennifer is so much fun to be with, and Austin is one of the major joys of our lives. His parents, grandparents, and great-grandmother will not mind us saying that being with Austin is the most fun of all.

The next few days, Mickey picked us up at our hotel every morning, and we shopped, went sight-seeing, etc. In the late afternoons, the four of us would meet Wade and his mother, Idell, at a restaurant for dinner. They introduced us to Bubba Gump’s Shrimp Company Restaurant in Anaheim in 2008, and now it is one of our favorite restaurants, so we ate one meal there. We’ve also eaten at the one in Times Square in New York City. In fact, they have them all over the U.S., but THEY DON’T HAVE ONE IN TEXAS! We need to start a “Bring Bubba Gump to Texas” campaign. (Oh, I guess that will have to be a different blog.)

After a wonderful week with our cousins, Mickey drove us to San Diego where we began Phase 2 of our 2011 vacation.

(Scroll down for this account.)

2011 Vacation - Phase 2

Phase two of our 2011 vacation began on Thursday, April 14, when Mickey came to the Fairfield Inn to pick up us and all of our luggage, so we could go to San Diego. On the way down, we stopped in Fallbrook for a prearranged visit with second cousin, Carol Siemonsma Carpenter. She was recovering from recent knee surgery, but was getting around quite well. We enjoyed a visit of about 2 hours, and then we continued on our way for the short trip into San Diego.

We checked into the Downtown Marriott Courtyard for a one night stay, and then we went to have dinner at Island Prime/C Level, a restaurant built on pilings out over the waters of San Diego Bay overlooking the city skyline and Coronado Island. The food was wonderful, but then every restaurant the Landrums take us to is fantastic.

We returned to the Courtyard Hotel and sat around visiting in our room and then had an early night so we could get up relatively early the next morning.

We did get up rather early, and later on we were really glad we did. This was the day we three were to board Holland America’s ms. Statendam for a two week Panama Canal Cruise. We wanted to get to the pier around 11:00 a.m., because we don’t like to stand around in lines for security and checking in. So, leaving our luggage ready to be picked up by the bell boy after breakfast, we went downstairs to enjoy the first meal of the day.

We asked our waitress about the hotel. It looked like a really old building and had ornate marble all over the lobby and restaurant. She brought us a fact sheet that told the history of the building which was built originally in 1928 as the San Diego Trust & Savings Bank. The hotel lobby and the restaurant area, which has 32 foot high ceilings, was the lobby of the bank. The hotel registration desk was four of the tellers’ windows. The other windows have been used as dividers in the lobby. The old tables where people could stand to write checks or fill out deposit slips were scattered around the huge lobby, too. Using the paper she had given us, we were able to do a self-guided tour of the lobby floor and the basement. The latter, which was furnished very elegantly, is where we found the extremely large safe and the vaults that had held the safety deposit boxes. It was absolutely fascinating!

The elevators were the original ones from 1928. I’m sure they were converted to be self-operated years ago, but you could almost imagine the uniformed operators requesting floor numbers. The guest rooms on the upper floors were once offices. We highly recommend a stay at this hotel.

We tore ourselves away from the hotel and arrived at the port (just a few blocks away) by 11:00. We were stopped at the entrance by security guards who told us that we would have to come back later, as the ship had arrived in port late that morning, so they were not ready to board passengers. They said to come back around 2:30 p.m. The ship was scheduled to depart at 5:00. We drove down the street, stopped in at the Bob Hope Memorial, and took some pictures.

At about 11:45, we decided to return to the port and were so glad that we did, because they were now allowing cars in to the area where they unload luggage. We said our goodbyes to Mickey, which was not easy to do. The three of us and all of Mickey’s family had departed from this same port a year earlier for our roundtrip cruise to Hawaii.

We went inside, walked immediately through passport check and security to the check in desk and were on the ship before we knew what had happened!! We went directly to our cabin, which was a Deluxe Verandah Suite, where we left our carry-on bags. At that time, we were Holland America Two Star Mariners (now we are Three Star Mariners), so we went to the Rotterdam Dining Room where HAL was having a Mariners’ Luncheon.

After that, we went back to our cabin where we found that our luggage had been delivered. We rested until time for the passengers’ safety drill at 4:00. We always head down to the deck where it is held a little early so we can use the elevator. (When they announce it, they don’t allow people to use the elevators, because in the case of a real emergency, the elevators would not be used.) We didn’t have to wait long before we heard the announcement. We joined others at our designated spot on the deck and went through all the rules, heard the loud horn signals for various emergencies, etc.

The ship departed on time at 5:00. At 6:00, we had dinner in the dining room and then went to the gift shops which were now open since we were out in international waters. We always head for the Swarovski Crystal display, because we like to add a piece to our collection. We found two very cute ones which you will get to see if you come for a tour of The Christmas House this coming season.

As we were leaving the gift shop, we heard someone playing the piano. They have musicians on every ship playing in lounges and bars, but we never pay any attention. However, this pianist was really, really good, so we went to investigate. There were a few chairs right up by the piano, so we sat down and enjoyed his whole show which was a Sing Along of lots of old favorites. We knew many of the songs, so we joined in with three part harmony. The pianist, whose name is Stryker, commented on our harmony and the good singing.

We ended up going to his shows every night. Sometimes he just played, but more often than not, he included the audience in sing-alongs, name that tune, musical games, etc. He also plays for the Sunday morning Protestant service and then has an afternoon Sunday Gospel Hour. The Gospel Hours draw the biggest crowds of all. He is an amazingly talented person. If you are ever on a Holland America ship, and Stryker is at the piano, DON’T MISS IT. You’ll be hooked like we (and many other guests) were.

Esther, Janie, Stryker, and Dorothy
On the first Sunday afternoon, after the Gospel Hour, he told us that he was going to ask his “bosses” (ship’s officers) if he could plan an Easter Sunrise Service for the next Sunday and if they said yes, he wanted us to sing. We said that we would love to do that. It was quite a rare opportunity to be on this cruise on Easter Sunday. The ship’s officers agreed to the idea, but thought that 6:00 a.m. was too early to expect passengers to be up and at the service. They thought it should be at 7:00. Stryker said that sunrise services on Easter Sunday are just that—SUNRISE services!!
Instead of having it outside on the deck, it was held in the theatre due to wind conditions. All the drapes on the main floor and the balcony levels were opened, so at 6:13 a.m. the congregation was able to witness the sunrise as the service progressed. The participants were all ship’s cast members except for the three of us and a pastor who was a passenger on the ship. Stryker planned the whole service, and it was wonderful! The pastor read scriptures which were interspersed with special music by Stryker at the piano, the Adagio Strings (four young women from Hungary who play in one of the lounges every evening), three of the singers who perform in the production shows in the theater most evenings, and the three of us. We sang an acappella (unaccompanied) trio called “I’ll Raise My Voice” to the tune of Danny Boy. Esther wrote new words for the verse to make it appropriate for Easter Sunday. What an honor to be included in this special event.

Several of the officers, including the captain, attended the service. We believe that they truly thought it was going to be a failure. Someone told Stryker that there was an Easter Bunny costume on the ship if he needed it! He replied to that with a request that they just leave this to him! (His father was a Southern Baptist minister!!) They were all amazed when over 400 passengers (the ship only accommodates 1250) turned out for the service. The captain and the other officers were very impressed with the whole service.

Stryker also has a talent show on every cruise that he is on. He has three qualifying rounds in which volunteers compete to be in the final talent show in the theatre. We were the only winners in the first round, but by the end of the three competitions, there were eight finalists. We tied another guest for first place in the final talent show, singing “My Wild Irish Rose” in three part harmony with no accompaniment (a cappella), as our winning entry.

Easter Sunday was also Esther’s 80th birthday, so it was a very special day for her. During the afternoon Gospel Hour, Stryker had the whole audience of more than 250 people sing “Happy Birthday” to her. A birthday cake, compliments of Holland America Line, was brought to our table in the dining room during dinner.

This two week cruise made stops in Puerto Vallarto, Huatulco, and Puerto Chiapas, Mexico; Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala; Fuerte Amador, Panama; and Cartagena, Colombia. The highlight of the cruise was transiting the Panama Canal. As the ship made its way through the three sets of locks, we were able to get good views of the construction underway to build new and bigger locks alongside the older locks. Both old and new locks will be used in the future. It was really interesting to experience this feat of engineering. We had beautiful weather for the entire cruise.

The ship docked in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida at 7:00 a.m. on Friday, April 29th. We had to have our luggage in the hall outside our stateroom at 6:00 a.m. (one of the perks of having a deluxe suite on the concierge deck—everyone else has to have their luggage out by 1:00 a.m.), so we awakened at 4:00 a.m. and turned on the t.v. We finished our packing and dressed as we watched the royal wedding of William and Kate. We weren’t called to disembark until about 8:45, so we were able to watch right through the second kiss!!

Then we joined others who were disembarking at that time and went through customs. It went smoothly and didn’t take very long at all. Before we knew it, we were outside where we were met a few minutes later by a driver in a town car. I (Janie) had gone online several months in advance of our trip to look for a transportation company that would get us from the ship to Walt Disney World in Florida. I found Interplex Transportation, read all the reviews, checked them out, and made the reservation. He loaded our luggage in the car and therein began Phase 3 of our vacation!

(Scroll down for Phase 3.)

2011 Vacation - Phase 3

It took about three hours to drive from Port Everglades in Ft. Lauderdale to Walt Disney World near Orlando, and it was a very enjoyable trip. Our driver was a young man in his 30’s, originally from Romania, and very interesting to talk to. He took us right to the front door of our hotel, Disney’s Yacht Club Resort, which was to be our home for the next 12 days, arriving at noon on April 29 and departing at 9:00 a.m. on May 11.

Walt Disney World opened in 1971, so this year has they have been celebrating its 40th birthday. When we first went in 1972, there was only one park, The Magic Kingdom. Through the years they added Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom. This trip was our 8th time to visit the Florida attraction.

We were early, so our room was not ready yet. They took our luggage and locked it up while the three of us made our way to “Beaches and Cream.” Since we have stayed at this resort before, we were very familiar with the territory, so it didn’t take long for us to make our way to one of our favorite places. B and C is an old-fashioned ice cream parlor that serves hamburgers, hot dogs, etc. And, of course, they serve all kinds of ice cream concoctions! It is located along the walkway between the Yacht Club and Beach Club Resorts.

By the time we finished lunch, our room was ready, and we were very pleased to find that it was on the second floor and just down the hall from the elevator. Our balcony overlooked the beautifully landscaped back patio entrance of the resort and the boardwalk leading to the lake. It was very interesting to sit there and “people watch” as guests made their way to the boats and walkways leading to The Boardwalk and Epcot. Across the lake we had a view of the Eiffel Tower in France (located in Epcot). Landscaping at Walt Disney World is an attraction in itself! Everything is just perfect, but one never sees them working during the day. However, we got up early one morning and went out on our balcony where we witnessed a group of men washing down the patio, watering and pruning the plants, etc. By the time people were stirring, all of those workers and their equipment had magically disappeared!

We witnessed something rather special one morning. We had taken the boat across the lake to The Boardwalk where we ate a delicious breakfast at the Boardwalk Bakery. It was cool, and the outside seating area was in the shade, so we sat there to eat. Afterwards we strolled along the boardwalk, went into some of the shops, and stopped in at a Disney Vacation Club open house to see one of the units at the Boardwalk Hotel that are part of that club. We had walked so far that we were over halfway back to our hotel on the walkway that goes around the lake, so we decided to just keep going. When we arrived on the other side of the bridge that spans the canal that flows into the lake, we saw Cinderella’s glass coach sitting in a lane.

As we continued our walk back to the hotel, we saw a sign saying that a wedding would take place in the hotel’s wedding gazebo at 11:00, and it had the two last names of the wedding couple on it. The guests were already seated in chairs on the lawn, so, we found ourselves a shady spot on the walkway and became “guests” at a distance for the outdoor wedding. Before long, the coach appeared carrying the bride, the ring bearer, and the flower girl. The groom, bridesmaids and groomsmen came out of a side entry of the hotel, and then the young ring bearer and flower girl made their way down the “aisle” followed by the bride. Afterwards we talked to a relative of the bride who told us that they were both in their 40’s and marrying for the first time. She had always dreamed of having a Cinderella wedding at Disney World. They and all their guests (just family and a few friends) were from Chicago. It was all very magical and romantic! Since the sun was out in full force, it was also very warm, but we were under a shade tree!

As many of you who have visited our home, The Christmas House, know, we are all three avid Disney Fans. While we visit all four of the Disney theme parks when we’re there, Epcot and The Magic Kingdom are our favorites. We spent multiple days visiting these two, but only went to Disney’s Hollywood Studios for two half days and to Animal Kingdom for a half day. (This was our eighth trip to Walt Disney World, so we have experienced most of the attractions, but there are always one or two new things to see.) We also spent a day at Downtown Disney.

Day 1 (Friday, April 29): We arrived early, had lunch at Beaches and Cream, checked into our room and rested. (Our ten day Park Hopper Pass Ticket didn’t begin until the next day, so we had a great excuse to take a very lengthy nap!!)

Day 2 (Saturday, April 30) EPCOT: (Disney’s Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow) We took the boat to Epcot and had an early lunch at Japan, where we had tempura shrimp and veggies and then browsed through the Japanese gift shops. We strolled down to the United States pavilion where we listened to the Voices of Liberty, an acappella singing group that performs American folk songs in the lobby before the show, The American Adventure. We ended up that evening at Le Cellier Steakhouse at the Canada Pavilion where we had dinner. While we were waiting to be seated, we enjoyed their small version of Victoria, B.C.’s Butchart Gardens and talked to others who were waiting.

Day 3 (Sunday, May 1) THE BOARDWALK: We rode the boat across the lake and had breakfast at the Bakery and then watched the wedding. That afternoon we went to THE MAGIC KINGDOM. We meandered down Main Street, browsing through the shops, bought a few things (Who, us???), and finally ended up at Liberty Tree Tavern in Liberty Square. We had reservations for dinner there at 5:15. The Liberty Tree Tavern makes you feel like you’ve stepped back into Revolutionary War times. You kind of expect Benjamin Franklin or George Washington to stroll in and sit down! The food is good, all you an eat, old-fashioned, American food served family style. We had tossed mixed greens with strawberry vinaigrette dressing, roasted turkey breast with dressing, carved roast beef, ham with honey glaze, mashed potatoes, gravy, seasonal vegetables, and macaroni and cheese, the children’s favorite, but it’s served to adults, too. (Let’s face it, we were probably the only people at WDW who didn’t have children with us.) Dessert was apple crisp with ice cream.

After dinner, we went out and staked our claim on a good spot to watch The Main Street Electrical Parade (MSEP). We had a long wait, but it was worth every minute. Disney has only one MSEP, and through the years, they have shipped it to their different parks around the world. We first saw it at Disneyland years ago. We’ve seen it at Walt Disney World, too, but that was years ago, too. Last year (2010) we saw it at Disneyland’s California Adventure. Knowing that it’s time in California was limited, we saw it just before we departed on our Hawaiian Cruise. By the time we returned, every piece had been shipped to Florida. We were very happy to see it again at WDW this year, because it is one of our favorite Disney attractions.

Day 4 (Monday, May 2) DISNEY'S HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS: We didn’t get an early start (while on vacation, we hardly ever do!), so we went to Beaches and Cream for lunch. Then we took the boat to Disney’s Hollywood Studios where we spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening. We went directly to our favorite attraction, The Great Move Ride. We also saw Indiana Jones, Epic Stunt Spectacular, and Lights, Motors, Action!, which is an Extreme Stunt Show that features cars and extremely good drivers. It was very hot that day, so we made our way back to the boat dock and went back to our hotel. We bought some Diet Cokes and snacks in the gift shop and went to our room. We didn’t go out to dinner, we just ate the snacks.

Day 5 (Tuesday, May 3) MAGIC KINGDOM: We took the bus to the MK, made our way to the Main Street Bakery and had a late breakfast there. We rode a few rides with It’s a Small World being our favorite. It is the same, yet different from the one at Disneyland. DL’s is the better ride, because they totally refurbished it last year (it was closed when we were there in April, 2010). Around 4:00 p.m. we left and rode the monorail to The Polynesian Resort which is across the Seven Seas Lagoon from the MK. We had reservations for the 5:15 Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show. Situated on the beach of the Seven Seas Lagoon, the open-air covered dining theater provides an authentic setting for the music and dances that feature beautiful costumes, Polynesian rhythms and the show-stopping fire-knife dance! The many nations of the South Pacific are represented in this wonderful show.

The food, served family style, was all you can eat barbequed pork ribs, roast chicken, fresh pineapple, salad with mango poppy seed dressing garnished with Mandarin oranges, Polynesian-style rice and a seasonal vegetable. We saved room for the chocolate "mouse" volcano.

Day 6 (Wednesday, May 4) DOWNTOWN DISNEY: We took the bus from our resort, The Disney Yacht Club, to Downtown Disney Marketplace. We had not eaten breakfast, so we made our way to Fulton’s Crab House which is a riverboat replica docked on the waterfront of yet another lake at Walt Disney World and had lunch there.

After lunch we ambled around and browsed in some of the shops. One of them was The World of Disney, the world’s largest Disney character store. If you want something “Disney,” this is the place to find it. (There is also one at Downtown Disney at Disneyland in California almost as large.)   Believe it or not, we didn’t buy anything in this store!!  The most fun we had was standing outside the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique observing parents watching their little girls being transformed into Disney princesses, complete with hairstyles, make-up, and costumes. Of course, Disney photographers were on hand to record the transformation. It almost made you wish you had a little girl of your own until you saw the prices!! From there we walked on to the year ’round Christmas store, Disney’s Days of Christmas, and there we did buy some things—just can’t resist Christmas!

Then it was time to make our way from the Marketplace to the Downtown Disney West End. We had reservations to attend the Cirque du Soleil’s performance of La Nouba. To make the trek shorter, we decided to take the boat that transports people to the three areas of Downtown Disney. Cirque du Soleil is a must-see evening of entertainment. Along with opulent sets, brilliant choreography, theatrical lighting and beautiful music, La Nouba features a mix of high wire and flying trapezes, stunning acrobatic-gymnastic performances and other dynamic displays of coordination and strength. It was the first time we had ever been to a Cirque du Soleil performance, and we were mesmerized. I had made our reservations in March and had been able to reserve wonderful seats in the exact center of the stage on the row four. They have many touring shows around the world, and each one is different from the other. If we ever have a chance to attend one of those we will definitely do so.

After the performance, we walked back to the Downtown Disney Market Place, enjoying all of the entertainment that was going on along the way. We always enjoy people watching, too. We decided that we were hungry, so we stopped in at The Earl of Sandwich to have dinner. The name says it all. They serve very special hot sandwiches, and we enjoyed ours very much. We took the Disney bus back to our resort.

Day 7: (Thursday, May 5) ANIMAL KINGDOM: This was one day that we got up early. We had 8:30 reservations for breakfast at Boma, a restaurant at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. From our resort, we took the bus to the AK Lodge. Time waiting and time riding took an hour, because the bus was unusually late. Normally the wait time for the bus going to your destination is short and the rides are not long either, so it’s a good thing we got an early start. Even then, we were about 15 minutes late, but that was not a problem. Animal Kingdom Lodge is an African-themed resort, and one of the restaurants there is Boma – Flavors of Africa. The breakfast buffet was huge! We’ve never seen so many different choices for breakfast! Some of them were African favorites and I (Janie) was adventurous and tried them. I enjoyed the American choices more.

After breakfast, we explored the hotel lobby (it's like an African museum) and the area outside where you can observe animals grazing and resting in the shade. Then we returned to the bus stop and took the bus to Animal Kingdom theme park. We spent a short time there, because it was hot, and the walks to get from place to place are long. We had been to this park before, so we elected to look around for a little while and then go see “The Lion King.” This show is excerpts from the Broadway musical, and while we saw it in 2000 when we were at WDW, we enjoyed it just as much the second time. After buying a couple of things in one of the gift shops, we headed out to the buses and back to the Yacht Club.  Dorothy and Esther went ahead of me to the buses, so I was hurrying to catch up with them.  However, I glanced over to my right and did a   double take!  There were three of the people who had been our table mates every evening on our seven day Disney Mexican Riviera cruise in 2008.  Needless to say, I had to stop and say hello to them.

That evening, we treated cousins (twice removed—their grandmother was our first cousin) to dinner at the Captain’s Grill at our resort. Frank Hill, his wife, Adriana, and their two children, Alanna and Adrian, and Ben and Debbie Hill, live in Orlando, so they drove over and joined us for dinner and then dessert at Beaches and Cream. We enjoyed a great visit with them. Frank and Ben are the sons of Cousin Leona and Jerry Hill of Falfurrias.

Day 8 (Friday, May 6): We took the boat from the Yacht Club to EPCOT again. We had lunch at Chefs de France which is one of our favorite places to eat at WDW. Our waiter was a young man from France, and he had personality plus. We enjoyed ordering even more than we enjoyed our meal. After that, we went to Future World, another part of Epcot. We made our way over to Journey into Imagination which features our favorite Epcot character, Figment, a little pink, purple, and orange dragon, that represents the figment of our imagination. We also visited Energy Adventure, Living in the Land, The Seas, and Spaceship Earth. Each of these venues has a ride which is both entertaining and educational. They are not thriller rides, so the three of us enjoy them.

We returned to World Showcase, did a ride at the Mexico Pavilion, shopped in Germany, and ended up at the U.S. Pavilion. They have an eating establishment there called Liberty Inn. It is a fast food restaurant that serves American hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken nuggets, etc. We have never eaten there, but we do go in for a Diet Coke or coffee to eat with our funnel cakes that are sold outside at a street stand. That’s what we did on this day. Those funnel cakes are delicious, and we always enjoy eating them while there.

Day 9 (Saturday, May 7): We took the bus to the Magic Kingdom, where we spent a few hours before going to the pier outside the main entrance. There we caught a boat that took us to nearby Ft. Wilderness Resort and Campground. We had 5:00 p.m. reservations for a dinner show called Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue. It is held at the campground in a rustic dance hall called Pioneer Hall, and there is rousing Wild West dancing, singing, and zany vaudeville comedy. The food is brought to the tables in pails and consists of all-you-care-to-eat American favorites: fried chicken, smoked BBQ pork ribs, a seasonal vegetable, baked beans, fresh baked corn bread, and strawberry shortcake. This was the third time we have gone to this show, as it has been a perennial favorite at Walt Disney World for many years. The entertainment is great, and the food is delicious.

After the dinner show, we caught the bus outside Pioneer Hall, and it took us to a hub within the campground where buses come to pick people up and take them to the different theme parks. We had to change to a bus that was going to Downtown Disney. There we were going to have to change to a bus that would take us to our resort. Our bus driver from the hub to DTD was so nice, and when he realized we were going to have to change buses again and wait for another one to take us to the Yacht Club. He called in to “transportation headquarters” and requested to have his route changed so he could take us “home.” They approved the change, and we were back in our room much earlier than we would have been. He certainly didn’t have to do that, as we weren’t the only passengers on the bus. However, the rest of them got off at DTD. Disney employees, called Cast Members, are always so nice, and they bend over backwards to be helpful.

Day 10 (Sunday, May 8) MAGIC KINGDOM: We had an early continental breakfast in our room. I (Janie) went downstairs, purchased what we wanted, and took it back to our room. We didn’t want to eat too much, because our reservations to eat at The Crystal Palace at The Magic Kingdom were for 3:20 p.m. We took the bus to The Magic Kingdom and made our way down Main Street by walking through the shops. There is a Christmas Shop near the Crystal Palace, so we went there and looked around. (No, we didn't buy anything!)

Even though we had reservations, we had to wait to be seated at the restaurant. This “all-you-can-eat” buffet is a character meal featuring Winnie the Pooh and his friends. Yes, there were lots of little kids, but that is the norm at Walt Disney World and at Disneyland. It is mainly a land of strollers being pushed by parents or strollers parked outside various attractions and eating establishments. There must be thousands of them at any given time in any given park.

After we ate, we watched an afternoon parade. Disney parades are always jam packed with action, music, and Disney characters. We walked to Sleeping Beauty’s castle, then we made our way back down Main Street. It was rather early, but we went to the upstairs railroad station platform that overlooks the town square and has a perfect view down Main Street all the way to the castle. We had decided we were going to watch the Main Street Electrical Parade one more time, and we wanted good seats. To get those good seats it is necessary to stake your claim on a spot several hours in advance. When we got up there, two ladies already had the front and center seats, so we sat just to the right of them. We had a three and a half hour wait for the parade, but we didn’t mind at all. We took turns taking restroom breaks and did lots of people watching, which is one of the most interesting things you can do at any public place. Before long, people with the same idea were congregating and taking up the places that were left. By the time the parade started at 9:30, the platform was a crowded place, but we had our good seats. The parade was fantastic as usual. The hundreds of thousands of tiny colored lights on the floats and costumes of the characters are beautiful, but the music, which has not changed in all the years we’ve been enjoying it, was wonderful. We love that music.

After the parade ended, we had only a few minutes to wait before the fireworks spectacular started. Our seats on the upper railroad platform were ideal for that, too. No one does fireworks like Disney, so we always enjoy their displays.

Just before the parade started I realized that I had a text message on my phone. It was from Ben and Debbie Hill who were also there in the Magic Kingdom getting ready to watch the parade. I don’t use my phone for texting, and it was too noisy to call them, so I decided to wait until we left the park. You can imagine what it is like when thousands of people start leaving the park after the fireworks display! It is a crush! We made it out of the park and were walking toward our bus stop when we heard our names being called. We turned around and there were Ben and Debbie! Now, what are the odds of five people finding each other in such a huge crowd?

As it turned out, they were staying at a resort right next to the Yacht Club, so they were going to ride the same bus as we were. They were celebrating their wedding anniversary. We had decided on the night that we all had dinner together that we would get together with them on Monday to do something.

Day 11 (Monday, May 9): We met Ben and Debbie at Disney’s Hollywood Studios where they treated us to lunch at ‘50s Prime Time Café. After that we went to the amphitheater where we enjoyed a mini-version of Disney's 30th animated classic, Beauty and the Beast, Live on Stage, featuring the popular characters and songs from the film in a lavish, Broadway-caliber production. We had seen it before, but it’s always enjoyable, and we wouldn’t miss it for anything. After that, we made our way back to the entrance where we said good-by to Ben and Debbie. (We hope to see them at Christmas when they come home and bring Colby Roger who was born a couple of months after we were there.  He is the Dallas Cowboys youngest fan!)

We returned to the Yacht Club Resort where we spent the rest of the afternoon resting, doing laundry at the hotel laundramat, and sorting through all of the “stuff” we bought while on the cruise and at Walt Disney World. We were planning to have these things shipped home so we wouldn’t have to worry about them on the train.

Day 12 (Tuesday, May 10): We packed and repacked and then decided to ship home three suitcases with clothes we wouldn’t need in addition to the cruise souvenirs and some Disney things. We called a bellboy who came and took all of our stuff to an office that ships via UPS. It is right next door to the hotel in the conference center . They didn’t have boxes to fit the three suitcases we wanted to ship home, but they were clever and made some out of other sized boxes. Shipping home the suitcases with “cruise clothes” and   souvenirs packed in them turned out to be a brilliant idea. It made it so much easier to travel via rental cars and train.

Late that afternoon, we made one last trip to EPCOT. We went to the English pub and had fish and chips which were delicious. We had been wanting them every time we were at EPCOT. After finishing dinner in England, we strolled over to the United States, where we each got a funnel cake. We took them to Liberty Inn where we purchased our drinks, and then we sat there and enjoyed our last Epcot treats. It was rather sad, because we had been looking forward to this part of our vacation, and now it was nearly over.

Wednesday, May 11: We got up early, dressed, packed, and got everything ready to go. We decided to go down to The Captain’s Grill for our last Disney breakfast. They serve a buffet breakfast there every morning, but we had always eaten elsewhere. After breakfast, our town car arrived (same transportation company), and we were driven to the Orlando International Airport where we picked up a Cadillac that I had rented online from Enterprise Car Rentals. And here is where we started the last phase of our vacation.

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2011 Vacation - Phase 4

Come back to read this post in a few days. I'll get it posted as soon as I can. We're decorating, because we open on September 24th, and I haven’t had time to finish this portion of our trip.

If you haven't made your reservation, call us soon. You DO NOT want to miss this season.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Brooks County Centennial Celebration

Congratulations to Brooks County as it celebrates its 100th birthday this weekend--September 2 and 3, 2011.  Our home and our ranch are located in Jim Wells County (the La Gloria community), but we have always called Falfurrias home.  (We've had the best of two worlds!)  We are proud of you Brooks County!