Archive for the ‘Vacations’ Category

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Spectacular.

July 15, 2009

At Conneaut Lake, we get this kind of sunset all the time.

Click for a larger view. Really.

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Disney Recap: Day Seven (The end!)

April 21, 2009

Friday, April 3, was our last full day at Disney.

It was very rainy Friday morning, so we took our time getting up, eating breakfast and getting ready. I did a couple loads of laundry in the hotel’s laundry room, to avoid being inundated with dirty clothes the minute we arrived home from vacation.

We decided to go back to Animal Kingdom first, since it was the only one of the main parks that we had not been to at least twice. Rain stopped in the late morning and we got to the park around noon.

We went to get passes to ride Expedition Everest again, and then headed over toward the Jungle Trek. On the way we bumped into my cousin Jim and his girls again. It is a small world, after all 🙂

disneyday7-003The Jungle Trek is a walking tour where we saw several animals and exotic birds. Probably the most memorable sight was that of the giant fruit bats — these creatures were big and ugly like you might see in a cartoon! They really did resemble the classic “bats in the belfry” type bats you would see flying around castle turrets…

We next went to check out “Planet Watch” which involved riding a train over to a sort of nature center where you can see and learn about some wildlife. The boys enjoyed the snakes, lizards, and insects on display… there was also an area like a petting zoo where people could get up close and personal with some animals, but those animals turned out to be just a bunch of goats, really. Whatever!

After we returned to the main part of the park, Aaron realized he had left his camera behind somewhere. We back-tracked and figured that he must have left it somewhere in Planet Watch. The staff was very helpful in trying to locate the lost item for us. Luckily, someone had found the camera and turned into the office at Planet Watch, so we were able to recover it without too much trouble.

Finally, our time to ride the roller coaster came around, so we hopped on and enjoyed one final ride there. Aaron chose a tee shirt from the Expedition Everest gift shop that says “Scream Like a Girl.” Then we headed on our way out of the park.

disneyday7-016We decided to go to the Downtown Disney area to eat at Planet Hollywood (we had a voucher for some free food there) and do a little souvenir shopping. We had a bit of trouble getting there because there was no direct bus from the park — so after some confusion and a bus ride to the main transportation center, we took the monorail to Epcot and then a bus to one of the resort hotels close by, and finally caught a bus to the shopping district.

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[Planet Hollywood was fun, but it was very loud and the food was nothing to write home about.]

We found some souvenirs in a couple places in the Marketplace area, then headed back to the lodge. I really had in mind to see the Magic Kingdom “Wishes” fireworks from the proper vantage point in front of the castle, since I hadn’t seen the whole show yet. Glenn and I left the boys in the room (they were not interested in going back out) and took one last boat ride over to the Magic Kingdom. The timing was perfect for us to get off the boat, get onto Main Street and work our way up near the castle in time for the fireworks to begin. It was impressive! Glenn especially liked the fact that someone dressed as Tinkerbell flew down on a long zip line from the top of the castle. I thought the show was a splendid way to top off the week at Disney. The weather was very pleasant and the music and fireworks were all, of course, Disney-perfect.

After the fireworks, we made our way to the ice cream parlor for a treat, and then did some final shopping at one of the big gift shops on Main Street (The Emporium). Later, we said goodbye to the Magic Kingdom as we took the boat back to the Wilderness Lodge one final time.

A word to my parents… we cannot thank you enough for the wonderful week we had at Disney World! It was a very special trip that I do not know if we would have ever gotten around to taking otherwise. We are still sorting through some pictures, and will be sending some goodies in the mail to you very soon!

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Disney Recap: Day Six

April 18, 2009

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Thursday turned out to be my favorite day of the vacation.

We started the day with breakfast down at the hotel cafĂ©, and the headed to Typhoon Lagoon water park, arriving around 10:15am.  We rode the “Crush’n Gusher” right off the bat – it’s an actual water roller coaster where you ride a tube on an up-and-down path. That was a good ride, and one we hadn’t seen at other water parks before. We also rode a few other water slides – some with inner tubes and some without. The “Humunga Cowabunga” was the steepest and most intense ride (although I don’t think anything could compare to Blizzard Beach’s “Summit Plummet” that Glenn and Aaron rode).

The Lagoon also has a huge wave pool, which generates a 6-foot wave every 90 seconds. That wave really was impressive… there would be a sound like a canon every time the wave was sent out, and everyone in the pool would just start screaming as the wave barreled through and cleared everyone  and everything out of its path.

The final attraction at the park was the Shark Reef, which was a neat chance to snorkel over a live coral reef full of fish and small sharks. Over all, I’d say the Lagoon is a very good water park, but not enough to spend an entire day there. We left around 1 or 1:30.

After we had the chance to get  cleaned up and into dry clothes back at the lodge, we headed over to Magic Kingdom. Our main goal was to see about riding the famous Space Mountain, since we hadn’t been able to ride it up to that point. We got fast passes, but they weren’t good until about 10 p.m., so we had lots of time to kill. We headed across the park to see about riding Big Thunder Mountain Railroad again, but we were slowed down considerably – for the third or fourth time since we’d been to Disney World – by a parade!

A word or two about the parades at Disney World: Enough already!

And now back to our program.

When we did finally make it to the other side of the park, we found the lines very long for any of the rides we wanted. We decided to take the park train around to the front of the park and catch the monorail over to Epcot Center for a while… however, just as we were leaving the front gates of Magic Kingdom, we remembered that Glenn had wanted to see the Enchanted Tiki Room (he had seen it in CA at Disneyland as a child). So, we turned back into the park and as we headed toward Main Street USA I pulled out my cell phone to take a quick snapshot. It was then that I noticed that I had just missed a call from my cousin Jim Robertson — he was also in the Magic Kingdom that day with his three girls! SO I was able to find him coming off of another attraction and we caught up for a bit. It was great, because we hadn’t seen each other in decades! He even got to meet Glenn and the boys as they were coming out of the Enchanted Tiki Room (which, much to Glenn’s chagrin, was “under new management” and not much like the show he rememebered from long ago).

Me and my home-boy, chillin' near the lake at Epcot. Word.

Me and my home-boy, chillin' near the lake at Epcot. Word.

At this point we did leave the Kingdom and head for Epcot. The monorail is a nice, quick and easy ride between the two parks. We went right in and rode one of our favorite rides of the week – Test Track – and only waited about 20 minutes by using the single rider line. After that we went over to the World Showcase area in hopes of finding supper. We ate in “Japan” and enjoyed some sights along the way. Glenn especially liked all the bonsai that were on display as part of the huge Garden Festival that was underway at the time.

Glenn and I (sporting light-up mickey ears) waiting for IllumiNations to begin.

Glenn and I (sporting light-up mickey ears) waiting for IllumiNations to begin.

After supper we turned the boys loose (walkie talkies in hand) to go back and ride some more rides while Glenn and I continued through World Showcase and planned to catch the nightly “IllumiNations” show on the lake. Our timing was perfect as we made our way around, and we ended up arriving at the prime viewing location just in time to get some great seats (“seats” meaning that we found some great spots to sit on the ground). The show was incredible! A combination of flames, fireworks, electric lights and lasers… we could actually feel tiny bits of ash falling on us at certain times, from the giant fires that they ignited on the water. I’m sure the boys would have loved it, but we couldn’t convince them to leave Mission: Space which they were riding again. The show finished up around 9:15 pm and we met the boys and headed back on the monorail to return to Magic Kingdom.

We arrived just in time to use our fast passes, so we walked right on in to the ride. On our way, a man offered us three additional fast passes that he wasn’t going to use. This was a great gift, because we LOVED Space Mountain! The boys and I rode it right away a second time using the additional fast passes.

Ride Review: Space Mountain: Space Mountain, Space Mountain, Spa-a-a-a-a-ce Mounta-a-a-a-a-in!!!  Hey, what a great ride! I had really no idea what to expect. All I knew was that Space Mountain was the ride that everyone has talked about at Disney World for a long, long time. I didn’t know what kind of ride it was, or anything. And really, could it be all that great considering how old it is compared to so many of the newer, fancier attractions these days? Well… Space Mountain is basically an indoor roller coaster. And, it is quite retro. Think Star Trek, the original version with Captain Kirk. When you go inside and you finally (it did seem like a really long way, and we weren’t even fighting with lines since we used fast passes) get to the center of the “mountain” where the ride actually starts, you look up and see the sun, planets, stars, moons, asteroids etc being projected all over the inside of the massive domed roof. And then you see the little cars come around to be loaded up, and they reminded me a bit of the cars on the old Wild Mouse ride at Conneaut Lake Park. So I got in thinking, gee, I hope this doesn’t turn out to be a big disappointment. But from the first turn where your car goes down a long “tube” full of laser-looking lights, you realize that it’s going to be a great ride. It’s pretty fast, with lots of turns and dips and ups and downs…a nice long ride and one that is thrilling enough that most people are dying to ride it, but also “tame” enough for younger children to ride with no problem. I give it four stars!

The park was getting ready to close at 11 p.m., and we had about half an hour left to try to ride something. We trekked across once again to Big Thunder Mountain and practically walked right on since the crowds were thinning out. Then, we were even able to squeeze one last ride in — Brent had been begging to ride Splash Mountain, so we did. I think we were just about the very last group to ride it for the day. It was long, mildly exciting (the last hill was great) and we did get splashed pretty good.

As we finally left the park, it was a very pleasant night. We caught our boat back to the Wilderness Lodge and we all got ice cream at the snack bar before heading up to bed. It was a long, wonderful day!

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Disney Recap: Day Five

April 15, 2009

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We returned to Hollywood Studios not long after it opened on Wednesday morning. The first thing we did was head straight to the Aerosmith roller coaster to get a fast pass… the park was already getting busy and the wait time for that ride was already more than an hour! We got our passes that were slotted for a few hours later and then headed next door to the “Tower of Terror.”

disneyday5-037Ride Review: Tower of Terror. The Hollywood Tower of Terror is set up as though it is an old hotel from the 30s or 40s. When you go through the line they first give you some backstory about some celebrity who was there and went on the elevator one night, then the elevator was struck by lightning and ever since then it has been haunted or possessed or something. I was a little fuzzy on the details, but the atmosphere of the hotel leading up to the actual ride was excellent. The ride itself involves loading people into a large elevator (seated and buckled in) and then the elevator goes up and enters the Twilight Zone at some point, and starts moving through the halls of the hotel. We passed various ghostly figures and visions (really, the effects are pretty good!) and then the elevator reaches a point of total darkness. At that point, “lightning” strikes your car and suddenly the elevator plummets in a free fall! I screamed as loudly as I ever have! Of course it stops before it hits the ground… what I wasn’t prepared for was the disneyday5-001second time the elevator shot upward, and then dropped again. This was repeated at least one more time, or possibly twice. It was honestly very difficult for me to tell sometimes whether we were going up or down! By the time it was over, the man in front of me was probably deaf from my screaming. I thought it was an excellent ride all around…. from the details leading up to it and the special effects, to the actual ride. This was the first time I had ever been on a ride that takes you up and drops you. It was terrifying, and I wanted to ride it again!

After the Tower, we headed to the other side of the park to check on some other rides that interested us. We rode  simulator-type of ride called “Star Tours” that was OK but not great. We checked show times for a couple stunt shows we wanted to see, and then ate an early lunch at “Pizza Planet.”

disneyday5-028The timing of some of the things we wanted to do was a little tricky to work with our fast pass time slot… but we were able to do the Studio Backlot tour where we saw some neat movie special effects and how they are filmed. After the tour we headed over to the Rock’n’Roller Coaster, which we thoroughly enjoyed again.

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Next it was time to catch the Indiana Jones stunt show, which was a lot of fun. We got to see how stunt men perform all kinds of dramatic stunts as they recreated three different action scenes from the original “Raiders of the Lost Ark” movie.

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We went to see “Journey to Narnia: Prince Caspian” thinking it would be some sort of cool interactive experience, but it turned out to be nothing more than  a10-minute synopsis of the movie (which we have seen already). So, that was one disappointment today. To feel better, we all got a snack afterward. They sell some delicious root beer floats at the snack stand back over by the roller coaster!

As we made our way to the final big stunt show we have wanted to see, it started to rain again. It rained enough that we were concerned that the show might be canceled, but it stopped in time for everything to proceed as planned. This feature, called “Lights, Motors, Action!” involved some excellent stunt driving feats. Lots of car chases, motorcycles, even a jet ski… and of course, plenty of fire and explosions. I took several pictures of the show as it was really quite impressive.

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After the show, we were ready to head back to the lodge, but took a small detour when we happened to run into some friends from church on one of the park streets. We stopped a chatted a bit before finally heading out to the bus stop.

Once back at the lodge, we decided to let the boys eat supper themselves in the cafĂ©, and then spend some time in the hotel arcade. Glenn and I checked on the possibility of eating at the nicer table service restaurant, but with no reservations we were out of luck. We ate at the cafĂ© and then sat at the pool while the boys had a late swim. We did catch a little bit of the Magic Kingdom fireworks show from the hotel beach… they are partly visible from across the lake… and we heard the quirky music from the nightly “Electric Boat parade.”

There are lots of ducks that live around the lodge, and some of them get right into the pool along with the hotel guests! Earlier in the evening we had seen an entire family, including several ducklings, swimming in the deep end. It is also common to see lots of bunny rabbits milling around in the landscaped areas around the lodge. They seem to be very accustomed to people.

I think this day was the only day that we ended up visiting just one park. It was nice to be able to go through this whole week at a leisurely pace. More details to come in the next installment!

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Disney Recap: Day Four

April 14, 2009

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Making the daily walk from the lodge down to the bus pickup area.

Tuesday morning. We moved a little more quickly this morning and headed out to Blizzard Beach, arriving shortly after it opened at 10 a.m.  The boys had been very anxious to visit one of the water parks since we started the vacation, and this seemed like a good day to try one…

There are a lot of great water slides at Blizzard Beach… we rode some together and some separately. The boys enjoyed the large wave pool and the “Cross Country Creek” that encircled the entire park. Aaron ended our time at the park by taking the “Summit Plummet” which is a 120-foot, nearly vertical drop… no tubes, no toboggan, nothing but you and the slide!  He said he loved it, but the trip down gave him quite a wedgie J  Glenn also rode that slide and said it was very intense.

By about 3pm we were ready to go back to the lodge to get dried off and then go to Hollywood Studios. As we left the water park, we had our first real disappointment with the free Disney transportation… the bus to take us to Wilderness Lodge was very late in picking us up. I think this was an exception to the general rule, because we had had very good experiences using the buses, boats, and monorail so far.

Wow, that's one big giant hat.

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Rock'n'Roll!

We finally did get back to the lodge around 4:30 p.m. and got cleaned up and headed out to the Studios. My plan had been to spend the evening there as I mistakenly thought the park was open until 10 p.m…. but I had misread the information and we soon learned that the park would close at 7 p.m. We had about an hour to spend, so we headed straight to the Aerosmith Rock’n’Roller Coaster that we had heard so much about. To save some time, we went through the single rider line (it was too late to get fast passes). We still waited in line about half an hour or so. The ride did not disappoint! It is an indoor roller coaster that operates in (mostly) darkness and takes its riders through loops and corkscrew turns, all after a bullet-like start taking the train from 0 to 60 in less than 3 seconds. We loved it!

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Aaron and I ready for Toy Story in 3D

Just as the park was closing, we managed to squeak in to the brand new Toy Story ride that is being heavily pushed this year. It involves 3D animation and a lot of target shooting for different point values.  The 3D effects were very good, and we all enjoyed competing with each other for the most points.

After the Studios closed, we went back to the lodge and just hung out for a while. We had supper at the Roaring Fork Café (their grilled chicken salad was my favorite!) and then we lounged a while. The boys and Glenn took a night swim in the hotel pool while I made a call to my Mom and Dad to get them caught up on all our vacation antics.

Stay tuned till next time!

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Disney Recap: Day Three

April 10, 2009
Da boyz.

Da boyz.

On Monday morning we slept in a little as we had the previous day (One of the first rules of this vacation was: we are not in a rush to go anywhere, since we are here all week. No alarms!). We got started in the late morning to head to Epcot Center… we would take the boat from our lodge to Magic Kingdom, and then catch the monorail down to the park with the giant golf ball.

I had a minor crisis when I realized as we were halfway across the lake that I had left my “key to the world card” back in the room… I would not be able to get in to the park without it, so I decided to head back myself and sweet talk the people at the front desk into getting me a new key card while Glenn and the boys went on ahead. I would meet them at Epcot as soon as I could get caught up. I had little trouble getting a new key card, and so I took a bus straight from the hotel to Epcot in an effort to save a little time. It worked out well… and in the meantime, the boys got to ride up in the front of the monorail with the conductor! All three Doolittle men were sporting a pair of “wings” on their person when I met up with them a little later, courtesy of the monorail engineer.

The boys and Glenn had time to ride one ride, Spaceship Earth, before I met up with them at the park… then we all headed over to see about getting a fast pass to ride “Soarin” which is the new highly-touted ride this year that takes you on a simulated hang gliding ride over California. We fought our way through thick crowds to get passes that told us to come back about five hours later, so we had time to kill.

Ride Review: Test Track. We went to the opposite side of the park and found “Test Track” which is one of the more popular rides. This ride is supposed to be like riding in a race car during road testing… We loved it! The ride subjects you to everything from rocky roads to rapid braking to hot and cold temperatures and eventually some very high speeds on some steeply banked turns outside. We never did get a fast pass for this ride, but instead got in the “single rider” line which moved fairly quickly. My guess is we waited 20 minutes or less… and even though they warn you that your party will definitely be split up if you ride as “single riders,”  people with kids need not worry much… the ride (as many others) lets you out at the end right into the middle of a gift shop. Just tell your family to meet in the shop and you won’t need to worry about lost kids.

Right next door we discovered “Mission: Space” which is another greatly hyped ride. The ride is a simulation-type experience where you feel like you are taking off in a rocket ship and landing on Mars. It offers two options — green (less intense) and orange (more intense), and comes with plenty of warnings about motion sickness and pregnant women and boy-oh-boy you’d better have some sort of notarized letter from your doctor before they let you get on this thing. No, really… not that bad. But they did make much about the motion sickness, with warnings about how much spinning is involved in the “orange” version of the ride. We opted for green, simply because I couldn’t get a very straight answer about how much spinning is involved in orange… and one thing I have lost in my old age is my ability to tolerate too much spinning at amusement parks. This troubles me greatly, since the Scrambler was one of my all time favorite rides, and now I can’t ride it without at least getting a headache, and now I will stop rambling because I have taken you off on a tangent when all you really wanted to know was IS MISSION SPACE ANY GOOD?  The answer to that is: yeah, it was OK.  Here’s one thing: when you get ready for the ride, they do the whole 5-minute film “prep” beforehand where you find out a little about what is to come, and the very cool and astronaut-y Gary Sinise is the guy who gives you the low down on the ride! So, that alone is pretty great as far as I’m concerned, even if it’s just a film of Gary Sinise and not the real Gary Sinise… and who knows how long ago that footage was filmed? But I digress. The ride was good, you are subjected to a fair number of G-forces, and you get to push a button or two during the takeoff and/or landing sequence, that make you feel very important. The kids rode it again later, on the “more intense” version, and claimed it wasn’t all that intense. Although, I think Brent might have been a little green in the gills right afterward.

Still having to kill time before our appointment with “Soarin’,” Glenn and I decided to take a walk through the World Showcase while the boys stayed to repeat rides on Test Track and Mission Space. The World Showcase is pretty much all about eating, shopping, and the occasional parade or street performance of some sort. I ate a bratwurst with sauerkraut over in “Germany.”  Later as we passed through “England,” we caught a band called “The British” who were playing Beatles’ tunes (and were dressed as the Fab Four). They were pretty good! Glenn got some of their act on video.

We reconnected with the boys and then saw a great street show by the Epcot Jammin’ Gardeners. I know. You see, we were visiting right during some huge National Garden Festival or something like that, so there were plants and plant-related things everywhere. And then there were these guys, the Jammin’ Gardeners, who beat on metal garbage cans and other garden tools and accessories and sang or rapped along with the beat they created. As I type the description, I think that it sounds pretty awful… but they were great! Glenn also caught their act on video, and I took several snapshots.

IBM has an exhibit in the “Innoventions” hall, where people get to pose for a few digital images and then have those images placed into a real video game. We all did it and then got to play our personalized games (with us as the main characters on the screen) right on the spot. We also had links emailed to us so that we can play the games at home now. Kind of funny.

Right before our “Soarin'” time slot was upon us, we hopped on “the Seas with Nemo and Friends” which was a laid back little tour through a “sea” of monitors and 3D animation, all while seated in a huge clam shell. It was a nice little moment of air conditioned relaxation if nothing else, and the ride let out in the midst of several real live aquariums that we enjoyed looking at.

At last! it was time to use our fast passes. “Soarin'” is so new and popular that even with Fast Passes, we still had to wait a little bit to get through and get on the actual ride. Once inside, the riders are seated in these large mechanical hang gliders — each seating about 6 people – and when the show starts all the hang gliders are raised up so that every person is smack dab in front of a HUGE Imax-type screen, watching footage that really does make you feel as though you are flying. The film images — together with some fans that created a nice breeze, and a little movement from the mechanical gliders themselves — actually make you feel the need to raise your feet up at certain points to avoid hitting them on something that you are “flying” over.  Very nice. The movie reminded me a bit of the flagship movie, “To Fly!,” at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC.

By the time we were done soaring, we were tired. We headed back on the monorail with the intention of going right back to the lodge (it was 6:30 or so by then), but once we got to Magic Kingdom we decided to stay there to eat supper and ride a few more rides that evening.

We decided that we had to ride “It’s a Small World” since it’s such a classic Disney ride. It really is a happy little ride, even if the idea of hearing THAT SONG again, in any language, makes my ears bleed. The song! The song! It will be burned into my memory forever. Thank you, Mickey.

The boys rode a couple other rides (with and without us) as the park was starting to shut down, and soon we were completely exhausted and took the boat back over to the Wildnerness Lodge for the night. It was a vey long day!

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Disney Recap: Day Two

April 8, 2009

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Sunday morning we woke to the tune of our two boys pestering us to get out of bed. They were awake, and hungry, and ready to go do something. It was a bit rainy that morning, so we took it slowly. We ate at the Roaring Fork Cafe downstairs in our lodge and were pleasantly surprised with the amount of food they doled out for breakfast.

After breakfast we had made up our minds to go to Epcot Center, but due to a misunderstanding about the buses, we ended up on a bus to the Animal Kingdom instead. No matter… since we had no set agenda for any day, we just decided to go ahead and visit Animal Kingdom then.

The rain was falling pretty good as we entered the park, so I pulled out the ponchos. We still got fairly wet and I was wondering if we’d be miserable all day, but we pressed on and decided to see a 3D show called “It’s Tough to Be a Bug” since the line was short and we could get out of the rain for a bit. The show was great and the effects were outstanding… not just the 3D stuff on screen, but also the additional touches like being sprayed with water, or having puffs of air hit us at just the right times, or even having something “crawl” under our seats as we were getting ready to leave the show. That last effect caught us most off guard and was the most creepy of all 🙂  We loved the show.

The rain was petering out as we began to cover more territory in the park. We rode several good rides, but our favorite had to be the roller coaster, “Expedition Everest.” This coaster takes you off into the “Himalayas” where you suddenly find yourself running out of track. Hmmmm. The train stops at the broken track, and then suddenly you go backward, only you end up going in a different direction than you just came from… up some hills and quickly around some turns in the darkness inside the mountain itself. Suddenly, the train stops again, and you see a vision of the Yeti tearing up more of the track! Oh no! Then the train goes forward again… but the track has switched in the darkenss and you take yet another route outside and around the mountain on some great circling downhill drops. It was a great ride… we loved it and rode it twice.

Another real high point at Animal Kingdom was the live show “Flights of Wonder” which featured several exotic birds doing some great tricks and showing off their stuff. it involved some audience participation, and there were also some great chances for photos througout the show and then again at the end when we had more chances to get close up to some of the birds. I highly recommend the show to anyone visiting Animal Kingdom… there are several shows each day and they are well worth seeing!

We headed back to the lodge for a brief respite in the late afternoon. After a bite to eat we headed to “Downtown Disney” to visit some of the shops. The boys especially enjoyed hanging out at Lego Land, where they could play with some Legos and see several giant Lego sculptures surrounding the store.

We picked up some souvenirs at one of the main Disney merchandise shops and had the loot delivered back to our lodge room (another nice, free service offered to people who stay in the resorts). Eventually we caught a bus back to the lodge for the night. It was a nice, full day.