Day 3 (Monday, April 24)
Oh, You Mean This Place Has Theme Parks, Too?
Fun at the bus stop
A thwarted expedition to Mount Everest
Benchmarks for lunch
In search of pirates
Buffalo and berries
(Click on any photo to see a larger version. Click on links to see additional information or photos.)
The radio woke me up at 8:30. I hadn't bothered to bring my portable AM/FM/shortwave radio, so I was just using the cheapie, gets-two-stations-when-it's-in-a-good-mood radio on the nightstand in my room. I plugged the fridge in again, and it didn't seem to be making a noise now, but I left a note for housekeeping about it anyway.
Nick and I had decided to spend some time at Animal Kingdom before driving to the Caribe Royale to have lunch with John Hohol. We looked at a map of the park during dinner last night and decided to meet under the dinosaur at DinoLand USA, then walk over to Expedition Everest. We set two meeting times: 10:30 for a first try, or if one or both of us were in line for Expedition Everest at that time, we'd head for the dinosaur right after the ride and promise to be there by 11:15.
When I arrived at the bus stop just after 10:00 a.m., I saw an Animal Kingdom Lodge cast member named Muketela entertaining people with a box on a rolling cart. The box was about 2x2x4 feet in size, and had a flip-top lid and three holes on one side. He was asking kids to reach in the holes, feel whatever was behind each one, and guess what it was.
Muketela then revealed the hidden objects. I immediately recognized the first one as some sort of medium-sized cat skull. (Those long canine teeth are a dead giveaway! By the way, do you think cats get insulted that they have teeth named after dogs?) Sure enough, it was a cheetah skull. The second one was a decorated drinking gourd, and the third was a partial set of elephant teeth. I had never seen entertainment at a WDW bus stop before, and thought it was a great idea.
The bus to Animal Kingdom arrived about 10:05, and less than ten minutes later, I was at the park, just in time to walk over to DinoLand and meet Nick by 10:30. As I walked under a dinosaur skeleton at one entrance to the area, I suddenly realized that there were two dinosaurs above the DinoLand entrances. But he had pointed at one on the map that was nearer Asia, and I was pretty sure it was bigger than this one, so I kept going until I got to the really, really big plastic dinosaur. Sure enough, Nick turned up there a few minutes later. As we walked toward Expedition Everest, Nick handed me a FastPass he had gotten earlier that was just about to enter its return window. He wasn't feeling in the mood for a runaway train ride on Mount Everest today, so he'd gotten the FP for me, which was very nice of him.
Even though we saw trains going through the mountain as we walked toward Expedition Everest, by the time we got there, the ride operators were running empty trains. Uh-oh, not a good sign. Then we saw a train with passengers inching up the big incline into the mountain. Ah, a better sign. Well, at least until the train came to a dead stop in the middle of the chasm, with nothing but thin air below the tracks.
We watched for a few minutes, and sure enough, some CMs appeared from the mountain and, row by row, released the lap bars on the train and escorted the guests down steps along the side of the tracks and out of the ride. Those people will have some stories to tell! I just hope none of them were acrophobic, as they were a good 50-60 feet off the ground where the train stalled. (This photo was not taken while the train was moving! If you look closely, you'll see that the train is empty, and there are a couple of CMs checking it out.)
While we were waiting to see what would happen with the stopped car, I wandered around the area taking closeup photos of the buildings and other design elements. Disney's Imagineers have done a fantastic job on the make-believe village of Serka Zong that lies below the mountain. The prayer flags, the mani (prayer stones) wall, the landscaping, the details on the buildings--it's well worth your time to take a close look at everything that surrounds the ride itself. You can see my photos on my "Welcome to Serka Zong" page. You can find out more about the ride and the research behind it on Disney's Expedition Everest web site and on the Discovery Channel's Expedition Everest pages.
The CMs at the ride entrance couldn't tell when the trains would be operating again, so Nick and I went into the Serka Zong Bazaar and did some shopping. I decided to hold off on buying a t-shirt and pin until I'd actually experienced the ride, but I did buy Imagineer Joe Rohde's book about the attraction, and a cute plush yeti. The yetis were available in three sizes; I went for the medium-sized one, which is about a foot tall when standing. However, as you can see on my yeti yoga page, he doesn't always just stand there. :-)
By now it was 11:00, time for Nick and me to head to the Caribe Royale for lunch. No trip to Mount Everest for me yet. :-( We walked out of Animal Kingdom, stopping briefly near the Rainforest Café to photograph one of the few benchmarks we know about at that park. (In this photo, the benchmark is inside the orange circle in front of my yeti.)
Then we caught the parking lot tram to Nick's car and drove the short distance to the Caribe Royale. We arrived several minutes before noon, and soon met up with John Hohol in the lobby. There's a nice casual restaurant at the hotel where we ate while talking about Disney survey marks.
To recap from my pre-trip report, John is the chairperson of the planning committee for the ACSM's conferences, and he invited me to Orlando because of my interest in Disney benchmarks; I have a web page devoted to them. Nick is the person who has found most of the WDW marks shown on my page. Tomorrow, the current and previous chief surveyors for WDW will be speaking at a surveying conference, and John has graciously invited us to attend the presentation. Hey, that's enough justification to travel 3,000 miles, right? :-)
John was the one who, in the early 1980s, sold Walt Disney World chief surveyor Don McKinney on the idea of using Mickey-themed disks as survey markers, rather than simple nails and washers, or Xs scribed in the concrete. He was working at the time for Berntsen International, the largest manufacturer of survey markers in the U.S. John brought some actual Disney benchmarks from his collection to show us at lunch.
It was a big surprise to Nick and me to find out that the idea for the Mickey disks had come from someone outside of Disney. The Walt Disney World logo at that time included a Mickey Mouse head that had latitude and longitude lines. We think it was a very clever idea on John's part to put that logo on a survey disk and align it just right so that the exact center of the disk would be where the center lines met.
Obviously, the Disney folks thought so, too, because they snapped up the idea and have been using some variation on that design ever since. You can read more about the Disney benchmarks in my article in the PassPorter newsletter.
Nick and I thought we knew about all the different styles that had been used at Disney World, but John pointed out some subtle differences that we hadn't noticed. Can you see the differences in these three disks?
Once disks were being used at Walt Disney World, John asked for a contact at Disneyland, and he convinced them to start using disks, too.
The Disneyland surveyors began with a simple text-only design, but when Disney's California Adventure was being built, they switched to a beautiful style that shows the signature structures at both parks: Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland and Grizzly Peak at DCA.
By the way, while he was at Berntsen International, John also worked with the National Geodetic Survey to develop special survey markers to commemorate the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark expedition, and to mark the center of population of every state in the U.S.
After lunch, Nick and I chatted about what we should do for the afternoon. We were both kind of tired, so we decided to return to our hotels. Nick kindly drove me back to Animal Kingdom Lodge, where I arrived at about 1:45 p.m. I thought I might go over to Typhoon Lagoon after doing a few errands. I took some pictures of my new yeti, downloaded the photos I had taken so far today, and grabbed a few movies of the giraffes walking around the savanna.
A maintenance guy from the hotel showed up to investigate the refrigerator situation. He discovered that the internal temperature was over 60 degrees. Not good! He speculated that the noise I'd heard last night was the compressor dying. He called downstairs, and a few minutes later, a nice maintenance lady showed up with a new fridge. She had it up and running within minutes. Yay--cool water bottles again!
By this time, it was about 2:30. With a 5:30 dinner reservation waiting for me at Artist Point at Wilderness Lodge, I figured that a trip to Typhoon Lagoon would be too rushed. So I spent a little more time checking my photos, then left my room about 3:15 to head to take the scenic route to Wilderness Lodge via the Magic Kingdom. My friend Dianne in Australia is a big Johnny Depp fan, and I had promised her that I'd keep my eyes open for any Jack Sparrow merchandise at WDW. (I had already surprised her with a Jack Sparrow action figure from my Disneyland trip last November.) Wilderness Lodge is an easy and beautiful boat ride away from the Magic Kingdom, so I decided to check out the shop at Pirates of the Caribbean before heading over to the lodge for dinner.
I got to the Magic Kingdom about 3:45 and spent a little while looking for benchmarks as I meandered my way toward Adventureland. I found two new ones behind the Main Street train station that Nick had discovered not long before, and one of the two that people have found at the hub. The latter was partly covered by a trashcan, and I suspect that the one I couldn't find may have been under another trashcan.
From the hub, I headed toward Adventureland. It had occurred to me by this point that I'd been at WDW since Saturday and hadn't gone on any rides yet, which was a bit embarrassing. :-) I saw a 20-minute wait on the Jungle Cruise and thought about doing that, but decided that I should stay focused on my Jack Sparrow hunt. I had fully expected to find Pirates not running, since I knew that it was going down for a major rehab any time now, and we were well past the busy Easter weeks when Disney would want to keep it open. But not only was it running, it had only a five-minute wait time.
So rather than walking straight to the shop along the outside of the building, I showed my bravery and took the boat through pirate-infested waters to get there. I hope Dianne appreciates the risks I took for her. :-) I was safely out of pirate territory by 4:40, and got to the business of rounding up Jack Sparrow mementos (t-shirt, buttons, decal, patch, etc.) for Dianne.
By this time it was nearly 5:00, so I quickly strode back through Adventureland to the hub and headed up Main Street. As I got to the other end of Main Street, the end-of-day flag-lowering ceremony was just starting, with the Main Street band playing "America the Beautiful." It would have been nice to stay and watch, but I was getting concerned about the time. So I continued at a brisk pace out of the park to the Wilderness Lodge/Fort Wilderness dock. A boat was just loading, and I made it on just in time. Boats are one of my very favorite things about Walt Disney World. My favorite trip is the along the Sassagoula River between Port Orleans and Downtown Disney, but this one is lovely, too.
After arriving at the Wilderness Lodge about 5:10, checked in at Artist Point (which hadn't opened for the evening yet), got a pager, and walked over to the Mercantile gift shop. I discovered from its plaintive beeping that the pager gets upset when it goes out of range of the transmitter. :-) Luckily, I was able to explore all but the back part of the gift shop without going out of range.
I got to talking with one of the clerks at the gift shop, whose husband also works there, and discovered that they had spent some years working in the WDW call center taking hotel and restaurant reservations. She mentioned something I hadn't known, which was that the reservations folks used to use Disney character names; she'd been Cinderella and her husband had been Ballou.
I wandered back to Artist Point a little after 5:30 and found out that they could seat me right away. I was seated next to a window looking toward the hotel's pool and, beyond that, Bay Lake.
For my dinner, I chose the fixed-price ($49) Chefs [sic] Northwest Selection, which offered a choice of salads, entrées, and desserts. The first course (no choice here) was a Portobello mushroom soup. I normally find Portobello mushrooms too strong, but this creamy soup was not that way at all.
Next up was a frisée salad with apples, walnuts, and cheddar cheese. (A "living lettuces" salad was also available.) For my entrée, I chose the buffalo steak, one of Artist Point's specialties. I don't eat much red meat, but this was tender and delicious. It came with a sweet potato and hazelnut gratin, and sweet onion jam. (The other entrée choices were beef tenderloin, and the restaurant's signature plank-roasted salmon.)
Finally, I had the best known dessert at Artist Point, the berry cobbler. It had a light, crunchy crust, and the berries inside were scrumptious. The berries are advertised as being seasonal; I spotted blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries. There was also a scoop of black raspberry ice cream on top of it. Are you hungry yet? :-) If not, just look at the photo and you will be! (The other dessert choice on the Chefs Northwest Selection dinner was mochaccino bread pudding with crème brûlée.)
Not surprisingly, the wines at Artist Point are from the Northwest. I ended up having two wines from the same winery, Kiona Vineyards in Washington State. With my meal, I had a cabernet sauvignon. Then, with dessert, I had a glass of their chenin blanc ice wine. This is the third time I've had ice wine, and all three times have been at Disney restaurants (Le Cellier at Walt Disney World, Napa Rose at Disneyland, and Artist Point at Disney World). So I think it has now officially become a tradition. :-) I'm sure that ice wine is too sweet for some people, but I find it heavenly with dessert.
I finished my meal and paid the bill ($77 plus tip) just in time to go out on the restaurant's balcony to watch the 7:00 p.m. geyser eruption. Theoretically, this geyser should be more regular than Old Faithful, since it's controlled by Disney. :-) But in fact, it hadn't erupted on time during my previous two visits to Wilderness Lodge. So I was relieved when it showed up on schedule this time. I took a few photos of it, then left the restaurant and started walking toward the boat dock before the eruption ended.
The boat arrived about 7:15, we stopped at Fort Wilderness a little before 7:30, and I got to the Magic Kingdom at 7:50. I walked over to the bus stops just in time to see the Animal Kingdom Lodge bus pulling away. Oh well, can't win them all... Another bus showed up at 8:10, and I was back at the hotel by 8:30.
After a brief trip to my room, I went down to the pool. Have I mentioned how beautiful the AKL pool is? Probably, but I'll say it again, because it is! For the first time, I swam over to the zero-entry area and checked it out. If you aren't familiar with that term, it's a wide, gently sloping ramp into the pool--just like walking into the ocean at the beach. Makes it very easy for young children and people with mobility problems to get in and out of the pool. Several of the pools at Disney World have zero-entry options (in addition to steps and/or ladders) now. I realized that I could find a place on the ramp that was just at the right depth to walk on my hands along the floor of the pool while the rest of my body floated. I even crawled part way out of the pool that way, sort of like those animations you see of the first amphibians crawling onto land. :-)
On my way back to my room from the pool, I stopped by The Mara to get some cocoa, which I drank on my balcony while downloading photos from my camera to my PowerBook. There were giraffes, zebras, and elands visible on the savanna. (In case you're just joining us, I mentioned previously that AKL has soft lighting trained on the savannas all night, making it possible to see the animals whenever you want.) Then I got organized for the next day, and finished the evening by reading a bit. I'm working on one of Jasper Fforde's clever novels, called Something Rotten because heroine Thursday Next has to sort out some problems with Hamlet (the play and the prince). I turned out the lights about 11:15.