As we left St. Augustine for our Christmas preview at Disney, we had time to reflect on our second Christmas on the road. We are enjoying a simplified celebration with a minimum amount of fuss, and we have found it to be a great opportunity to better understand and enjoy the true celebration beyond the trappings and trimmings of the season. It has afforded us the opportunity to move past the familiarity that contributes to our missing the true wonder and mystery of what God did that first Christmas. We certainly miss spending Christmas with the family in general and Lora and J. Michael in particular; but we don't miss the snow and cold! However, it doesn't matter if you're enjoying warm weather or cold weather, we see the frenzy of the season everywhere. Our prayer is that you, too, will experience a renewed wonder at how and why Jesus entered this world as He did and that your life will be transformed in eternal ways.
It turned out to be a little longer drive from St. Augustine than we thought, especially with getting on the Florida Turnpike going in the wrong direction. After a slight detour, we arrived at Lake Louisa State Park mid-afternoon. Lake Louisa State Park is located about 30 minutes northwest of the entrance to Disney toward Cleremont, FL. Last year we stayed near Kissimmee. Lake Louisa is only a few minutes closer, but it was an easier drive and a nicer campground.
Lake Louisa State Park has paved roads and gravel pads with grass and brush between sites. The sites are very widely spaced and the campground is quiet. Most of the sites have water and electric only, but we got one of the few sites that have sewer. The sewered sites also have paved pads and seem to have been designated handicapped sites at one time, but there are no handicapped signs now and no one asked to see a handicapped permit when we checked in. The only minor complaint from Paul was that some of the back-in sites, including ours, were curved making it difficult to fit a longer RV around the bend.
Last year we purchased The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, which we highly recommend. Since we hadn't plan to return in the near future and since we are always looking for ways to reduce unnecessary weight in the rig, we had left the book at the book exchange at a campground. So after we decided to return to Disney this year, we stopped in a book store and found Mini Mickey, which is a condensed version of the Unofficial Guide by the same people at about half the price. The information is somewhat reduced from the big guide, but Mini Mickey is smaller making it easier to carry it with us and was more than sufficient for us since we had been at Disney a year ago.
This year, we were more selective in planning our visit. We concentrated on the shows, including some of the street entertainment, and a little less on the rides.
One ride we didn't want to miss was the Safari at Animal Kingdom. Guests (as Disney calls its visitors - employees are called cast members) are loaded onto a safari trucks and are taken right out into the areas where the animals are kept. The means by which the animals are controlled are cleverly camouflaged and difficult, if not impossible, to see. Shown below is one of the safari trucks.
This year, there seemed to be many more animals visible than last year. Maybe it was the time of day or maybe it was the fact that it was cloudy this year that the animals weren't hiding to escape the heat. Unfortunately, since it was cloudy, it was difficult getting good photos. The camera had to keep the lens open longer because of the lower light level and this, combined with the movement of the truck, caused many of the photos to blur. At any rate, we did get a few animal photos including these rhinos...
Photo Album 026: Disney 2007 has more Safari photos.
One show we missed last year was Finding Nemo - The Musical at Animal Kingdom. We had dismissed it as being too juvenile. Boy, did we realize how wrong we were when we saw it featured on a program about Disney on the Travel Channel! The characters in the musical are puppets; but, rather than being hidden, the puppeteers are also in costume and are part of the production. The puppeteers use not only their voices, but also facial expression and body movements to help communicate the story. Unfortunately, since flash photography was prohibited, it was hard to get a good shot since lighting was low and the action was pretty fast. In the shot below, you can just make out puppeteers with coral and sea fans. A few of the main characters are at the left of the main stage and up on the ledge.
We also enjoyed seeing Animal Kingdom's Festival of the Lion King again this year. Festival of the Lion King is a big production musical with large, animated animal characters from the Disney animated feature Lion King. There are also actors in colorful native African and animal costumes. We had seats down on the floor right next to all the action. The photo below shows one of the characters on stilts towering above us.
Photo Album 026: Disney 2007 has more photos of the Festival of the Lion King.
Over at Disney-MGM Studios, we saw Lights, Motors, Action, which is an auto/motorcycle stunt show. They use specially designed and built stunt cars to show how some of the stunt sequences would be filmed for an action movie. There are car chases, motorcycle chases, jumps, falls, gun fights, all ending in a fiery finale.
Also at MGM is the Osbourne Family Christmas Light Spectacular. The Osbourne Family (not Ozzy) had a huge light display at their home in Arkansas. As their light display grew, so did the crowds. When legal action threatened to end the Osbourne Family tradition, Disney offered a venue to display the lights at Disney-MGM Studios. The lights are now displayed at The Streets of America, which is a replica of a New York street setting. Stringing of the over 4 million lights begins in August. Needless to say, the light display is very impressive! About every 10 minutes or so, the lights begin to "dance" to the Christmas music. There is even "snow" that falls from the upper stories of the buildings. The photo below shows a view down the main street.
More photos of the Osbourne Family Christmas Light Spectacular are in Photo Album 026: Disney 2007.
On the way to the Magic Kingdom, the monorail passes the Grand Floridian Hotel. We stopped briefly because we wanted to see the gingerbread house in the lobby. The house is covered by real gingerbread and they sell gingerbread cookies out of the back of the house.
Then we hopped back aboard the monorail and headed for the Magic Kingdom. Although the Magic Kingdom is generally aimed at a younger crowd, there is still a real charm about it with Cinderella's Castle right in the middle. There are also a number of rides such as Space Mountain and Thunder Mountain for those who like things a little wilder. We generally avoid wet rides, fast rides, rough rides, and anything that has "spin" in the name or description.
This year, we purposely went to the Magic Kingdom later in the day because we planned to stay for the fireworks. Times for the fireworks vary by day from 6:00 to 9:00, so we planned to be there on a day when they would be early. We arrived just in time for the afternoon parade and got a fairly good spot in one of the handicapped sections so Margery could stay seated on her scooter and still be able to see. The photo below is a float featuring Mickey and several of his movies.
Check out Photo Album 026: Disney 2007 for more photos of the parade and of other views of the Magic Kingdom.
After the parade, we walked around a little and then took up a spot at the railroad station for the fireworks. We got there just in time to see them lower the flag in a ceremony where they have several veterans as guests of honor.
Epcot is probably our favorite Disney park. Paul especially likes the ride Soarin' which makes you feel like you are riding a hang glider with your feet dangling and with a panoramic view of mountains, rivers, ocean, and other spectacular scenery before you. There is even the smell of pine along a mountain stream and the smell of oranges as you fly over an orange grove. Although motion sickness does bother Margery a little on this ride, she gamely went along to keep Paul company.
Another attraction we really enjoy is Living With the Land. This is an indoor boat ride through the past, present, and future of agriculture. It includes Disney's demonstration greenhouse where real crops are being grown using the latest experimental techniques including various types of hydroponics. Hydroponics is a method of growing plants in nutrient solutions instead of in soil. Disney uses various methods to circulate the nutrient solution including the vertical tube shown in the center of the photo below. The cherry tomato plants suspended from the oval-shaped track behind the tube have exposed roots which can be seen hanging down below the plants. The machine circulates the plants through tunnels where nutrients are sprayed onto the roots.
They also use various methods of soil culture using techniques such as an overhead trellis or intensive planting to increase yields. Many of the crops grown in the greenhouses such as the bananas shown in the photo below are served in some of the Disney restaurants.
For more photos and information on Disney's greenhouse please see Photo Album 026: Disney 2007.
During the Christmas Season, Disney has a Candlelight Processional across from the United States Pavillion in the World Showcase at Epcot that is not to be missed. While a guest celebrity reads the Christmas story from the Bible, a 50-piece orchestra and a 150 member choir intersperse the reading with sacred Christmas music that ends with a moving performance of "The Hallelujah Chorus" from Handel's Messiah. (There's not "Frosty the Snowman" or "Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer" to be heard!)
The other show at Epcot that is not to be missed is IllumiNations. This is a spectacular show of fire, water, lights, sound, lasers, and fireworks that is scheduled every night at 9:30 in the Seven Seas Lagoon, which is surrounded by the World Showcase. There are several times during the show when the fireworks are intense enough to read by. We got there early enough to get a front row viewing location and we could feel the heat from the flames.
As we made the rounds of the various Disney parks, we made a point of watching some of the street entertainers. The street entertainers quickly set up and begin performing at various locations. Even though it looks like the performance is spur of the moment, nothing in Disney is unplanned. There are schedules available to find out when and where the street performers will be. The guys in the photo below are called the JAMitors. They push a couple of dumpsters full of trash cans through Epcot and they look like a cleaning crew. When they get to their designated location, they stop, set up their cans, and proceed with an entertaining percussion show.
Then there is the group in MGM shown below called Mulch, Sweat & Shears. They look like gardeners with a pickup truck and trailer full of rakes and plants. They park the truck and next thing you know, there are amplifiers, drums, a keyboard, and guitars and they are singing away.
Speaking of the kids who are cast members, we overheard another guest saying they had talked to some of the kids from one of the shows. The kids can be in several performances a day. Between performances, they may change costumes and be in a parade or two. On top of that, they may also change again and be one of the Disney characters (Cinderella, Snow White, Goofy, Buzz Lightyear, etc.) who meet and pose for pictures with the children. They really earn their pay!
We enjoyed the slightly less frantic pace we had at Disney this year. We had plenty of time to see pretty much everything we had planned, including some shows we missed last year and several things after dark. But the Disney complex in Orlando is huge and there will always be more to see on our next visit, whenever that will be. From Disney, it's on to our winter destination in Bushnell, FL where we will spend a few months.