How We Spent Our Summer Vacation
(The best shaggy dog story ever!)
As you all know Ania and I went to Walt Disney World on vacation this year. For those of you who have known us for a long time, we have always been thankful for our blessings, but we realize that, historically, if something is going to go wrong, it is going to happen to us and we are going to have to figure out how to make it work, and usually on the cheap.
NOT THIS TIME --
We started our vacation normally, like any other - we went to see a family member in Atlanta on our way to Florida, and it was great - Ania even surprised me by taking Friday off and keeping it a secret until I woke up and thought she was going to be late for work (ha ha) - when I woke her up in a panic, she smiled and handed me the PTO slip that she got approved long ago. So we didn't have to rush after work. We had breakfast Saturday with cousin Mike and got to talk for a good while, then went to see the
Georgia Guidestones, something we have always wanted to see. Yes, they really are out in the middle of nowhere! We then headed to Cocoa Beach for our first stay at the beach - ever.Our hotel room was right across the street from the beach. We woke up Sunday and merrily strolled / rolled to the beach to find that Ania's knees felt unsteady on the sand and my scooter doesn't like the shifting sands either - so after waiting all this time, we found out we had waited too long.
We sat on the boardwalk for a while and made the best of the situation (as usual). So far, this was shaping up to be a typical vacation, nice, but with challenges. Then we woke up Monday morning - and the real story begins.So, we start driving towards Disney's All Star Music Resort, and along the way,
I say to Ania "Even if we won the Lottery I would still stay at the All Star Music.” Ania replied, "are you kidding me, we would be at the Polynesian!" (this will become important in just a little while) We get to the All Star Music, get our luggage unloaded with the bellhop, and go in to check in. -- Note: When we booked and several times later, including earlier in the day, we had requested a ground floor room and were assured there would be no problem. -- When we got to the desk, the young lady informed us that our room would be on the third floor - PROBLEM. Normally I would be the one to get upset and try to get it fixed, and Ania would be the one saying that we should just live with it. I had decided that I didn't want to stress this trip, so I wasn't going to argue about it. Ania said -" just ask, I wouldn't mind going to the Sports or Movies if it means a ground floor room. It doesn't hurt to ask". So I wheeled over to the concierge desk and asked for the manager - meanwhile chatting nicely with the ladies at the desk - Ania went to the gift shop so as not to witness the carnage, as at times I have been known to be less than pleasant fixing a problem. Again, not this time. Keith, the manager, was called over, and I explained that this was our first two week long vacation in 35 years of marriage, that we hadn't had a vacation in almost 3 years and that we have had a really rough year and a half with losses of most of our beloved pets and almost losing Ania. Keith called all the other All-Stars, no luck. He then said that he would like to give us an anniversary present of an upgrade. I asked what he meant, and mentioned Coronado Springs or Port Orleans, the mid grade resorts. Keith said, "No, any hotel on the Disney Property, like the Grand Floridian or the Contemporary". I said, "my wife would die if we could stay at the Polynesian." Keith then said he had a friend at the Polynesian and he would make a call. He came back and said that he got us a ground level handicapped accessible room at the Polynesian. I, being a bear of little brains, said "for one night?" He said "no, for your entire stay" At this point the room started to go a little dim. He did say that there might be one little problem with the room, there was construction on the property near the room and we might hear some noise during the day. I said no problem. (Note: The only construction noise we ever heard was faint beeping and a rock being dropped, and the whole area was surrounded by a beautiful painted screen). About this time Ania came back to see what was up. I told her we were going to the POLYNESIAN! Ania responded with "Ha Ha, big joke" and was a little miffed with me, thinking I was teasing her - it took me telling her 6 times before she believed me. So we went to the car, and were getting ready to go to the Polynesian, when Keith came out to go to his car - Ania saw and cried and hugged him. Then we drove to the POLYNESIAN Village Resort - our dream destination - and we didn't even have to repack our luggage - they were going to take it to our new room for us.
When we got to our room we sat there realizing that we now had 10 nights and 11 days at THE POLYNESIAN!!! It was truly overwhelming. Suddenly, after dreading jockeying for a place on the bus after standing in the hot sun, we could now simply hop the monorail or a boat to almost everywhere.
As we thought we were going to be staying at the All-Star, I had wanted to bring a little of the POLYNESIAN flavor to our vacation, and had ordered Ania and I Leis from Hawaii to be delivered when we got there, and they were going to be put in our room at the All-Star - while I was out getting us something to drink, they delivered the box to our room at the POLYNESIAN -
this caused Ania to smell a rat - she thought I had cooked this whole thing up, and was certain I had spent money we didn't have, till she looked at the address slip, and saw that it was indeed the All-Star. Meanwhile, TuTu Kauai, a wonderful lady who makes leis at the POLYNESIAN, gifted me with leis for Ania and I - which I then brought back to the room - so we got to wear two leis, making us feel even more special. This is where it starts to get surreal -
We went to our dinner at Cape May that evening, at the Beach Club - had divine seafood - AND THEN - to end our meal, the waitress comes up to us with a special plate of hand made truffles with congratulations written in chocolate to help us celebrate our anniversary. We thought, 'how sweet' - little did we know -
AND THEN -
when we got back to the POLYNESIAN, we found out that they had gotten us into the Ohana Breakfast at the last minute for the next morning. When we got into
our jammies for the night, Ania put on a beautiful Kimono that she had gotten on a Disney trip several years ago, and we realized that it matched the color of the room exactly and we had bought some new clothes for this trip, and they were all tropical in design, guess we were preparing for this without even knowing about it. So, Tuesday morning, we started with a special breakfast, and then hopped the monorail to the Magic Kingdom, thanking the higher power that we weren't on a bus. We spent the day at the park seeing parades and shows and rides, giving out pins and trading some - AND THEN -
we went to the Crystal Palace for our traditional dinner with Eeyore, for as you all know, Ania is a big Eeyore fan. They had our table decorated and a birthday card for Ania, signed by Eeyore and the gang and, as we were getting ready to leave, they presented us with a gift for our anniversary.
We then went back to the POLYNESIAN and had drinks by the pool and beach and watched the special Haloween fireworks and the Electric Water Parade from our resort!
AND THEN -
Wednesday (you will notice this is only the 3rd day), we went to Animal Kingdom, and saw Neil Auster, our favorite cast member and had breakfast at Tusker house
- we then went to see The Festival of the Lion King. Afterwards, we went to watch Burudika, the street band, and Kristen and Jeff came up and started chatting with us - we told them how wonderful our vacation was, and the amazing things that had happened - Jeff then tells us to meet him by the back door of the Lion King at 2:45 - so we do, and we are whisked to VIP seats to see the show, and then are led out the back to a private area where we got a meet and greet with the Lion KIng Cast - and they gave us a Simba and a Nala plush, and put wedding ears on us, which Ania has always wanted, and then they again whisked us away to a private photo session with Mickey and Minnie. At this point Ania thinks that she is going to be the only woman to ever die at Disney from dehydration caused by happy tears - and I had already been bawling a time or two myself. This would not be the last time.AND THEN
Thursday we decided to hang around the POLYNESIAN, and try to recover a little of our composure - but that was not to be - we were doing laundry, and I had to go back to the room for a minute, and on the way, I met MASAHARU MORIMOTO, you know, the Iron Chef - he was just walking by - I stopped him and said 'do you know who you look like' , he smiled and nodded, and I then said 'oh my god, you ARE Chef Morimoto - we talked for a few minutes and he said he was here for a month as he is opening a new restaurant at Disney Springs on the 30th. Just another mind-blowing experience. After that we finished up laundry in what has to be the prettiest settings for that job - wicker furniture, flowers, and perfumed air, with air conditioning!
Then we wheeled over to the Grand Floridian to look around - came back to the POLYNESIAN, and had the Ohana Twilight Dinner in our room at the POLYNESIAN, and watched the fireworks from the beach. After having the Ohana Twilight Dinner, we decided to try to get into the Ohana dinner for our last night instead of going by bus to Sanaa - they said there were no spots at all, but to keep checking (this will become important later).
AND THEN -
On Friday we went to Epcot for the start of the Food and Wine Festival. It was fun for us to look at all the foods from all over the world and try to find ones we haven't either made or had.
We got another Tagine at Morocco, so that we can make some when people come over. We stopped by the gift shop to see if they had a glass slipper ornament, because Ania is feeling alot like Cinderella at this point and keeps looking at her feet checking for the slipper. We asked the young lady if she knew where we could find one, and she took our number and said that she would call us after she located it and would have it shipped to her store so that we could buy it the next day. Did we mention that we had told her the story of our incredible vacation? So we head to Tusker House for dinner - rockin' African Food! When we got back to our room , there was a gift wrapped box waiting on our desk that contained, not one, but two different glass slippers, and a congratulatory note - we are sure she didn't know which one Ania wanted, so she gifted us with both. (Are you all beginning to see a pattern here?)AND THEN -
Saturday morning began with a bus ride to Animal Kingdom (the only place we needed to take a bus to) - we have heard rumors that they will finally be building the monorail to Animal Kingdom soon. We had booked a Wild Africa Trek (the one and only splurge we had planned) - it is a walk on the rope bridges above the dangerous animals and then a guided truck ride with plenty stops and a great lunch at a boma in the animal area. When we booked it, we explained that we are not rope bridge kind of people - and, per Disney perfection, they have an ADA version -
we got a private tour of the Pangani Forest with an ornithologist to give us an in-depth viewing of the aviary - and did we mention the private photographer and our own personal guide? At one point she whispered in Ania's ear that people were thinking we were celebrities (we looked around and realized that people WERE watching us with the aforementioned entourage). We met up with the group for the second half of the trek - we were up close with the animals, with plenty of stopping time for pictures, plus a professional photographer along, and the gourmet lunch, including an edible orchid, was extremely delicious.
We then went back to the POLYNESIAN to dress for dinner - we were supposed to take a bus to Boma at the Animal Kingdom Lodge for dinner, however, our concierge was able to change it to 1900 Park Fare in the Grand Floridian so we wouldn't have to take another bus. It was a Princess Dinner, but it was definitely not what you would expect - the main stars were Cinderella's step-sisters and step-mother - they were a riot!!
When Prince Charming came to the table to introduce himself and be charming, I looked up at him and said 'move along, this job is already taken.' I almost got him to break character, but he recovered heroically. At the end of our meal, they presented us with anniversary cupcakes topped with chocolate Mickeys. AND THEN
On Sunday we had booked a Tea at the Grand Floridian - we got there a little early as all we had to do was roll down the sidewalk along Lake Buena Vista from the POLYNESIAN. We met Ashley and Gabriel at the desk at the Grand Floridian, they asked us how our trip was - we regaled them with the whole story, as well as how we met - they were teary eyed. At one point they asked for our card, we thought they were checking us in to the Tea - then we rolled off to the Tea.
The tea was beautiful, and the finger sandwiches and noshes were incredible - and much more than just a snack. As we were leaving, Ashley and Gabriel came running up the hall and said "We've made magic for you! We got you a seating for Wednesday night at Ohana! (remember we were supposed to keep checking - well they made it happen! Oh, and remember these two as they are recurring characters). We then went and had a fun ride around the Magic Kingdom on the railroad. It started to look like rain, so we went back to the POLYNESIAN for drinks and snacks.
Once the rain stopped, we hopped aboard the very convenient monorail and went to EPCOT to see the fireworks. We went back to the POLYNESIAN and had late night drinks while doing a little laundry and wandering around the torchlit paths - again, all laundry days should, by law, be exactly like that.AND THEN -
It is now Monday again, we had breakfast in our room at the POLYNESIAN, and then hopped the extremely convenient monorail to EPCOT to take a leisurely boat ride to the Hollywood Studios - I can really get used to this kind of transportation.
They seat you Oktoberfest Biergarten style, so we were seated with another family, and they were a hoot!! The food was awesome!! It was as good as any German restaurant in Milwaukee! And we had a wonderful Grapefruit beer - it was so good with the food! By this point we were so overwhelmed that we were ducking for cover whenever we saw a cast member - AND THEN -
We decided to hang around the POLYNESIAN for our last day at Disney - it was beautifully sunny, we again did laundry (the bestest way) and cruised around to all the corners we hadn't seen yet. We got dressed for our last dinner - you know - the one at Ohana, and I snuck out and got Ania a fresh carnation lei from TuTu, as well as a flower for her hair.
We went on a couple of rides, and then we were chatting with a cast member manager who asked how our vacation was going - we told him the now excruciatingly long winded story, and, not to be outdone, he gifted us with a stack of fastpasses good for any ride all day at the park. The ones we didn't use, we were able to share, hopefully brightening other guests days as well. We had dinner at the Hollywood Brown Derby - OMG, OMG, OMG - NOM, NOM, NOM!! Our server's name was, no lie, Fonzie, and he made it a most elegant experience. After dinner, we saw the exhibit about Walt Disney's life, then went to see Phantasmic. We were running a little behind and they had run out of priority seating that went with the Brown Derby meal - our runner was very apologetic, and asked us if it would be ok if he gave us VIP seats instead - the ones that are dead center and on the level with Mickey's head - we said, graciously (grin), OK! It was a great show, and the rain held off till we got back to the POLYNESIAN, where we sent out postcards to warn people that there was a story in the works.AND THEN -
We woke up to a very rainy day - and took the now almost unbelievably convenient monorail to EPCOT to continue our journey of the Food and Wine Festival. Because of the rain, the lines were very short - and our ponchos made it no problem for us. We saw, not one, but two moms splashing in the puddles with their little ones - it was magical. We hopped the monorail back to the POLYNESIAN to change for dinner before once again riding the magic monorail to go to Germany at EPCOT for dinner.
We went to dinner, which was out of this world - they bring you salad and potstickers and lo mein and sticky wings, and then they come around with giant skewers of the most perfectly grilled beef, chicken and shrimp - and keep it coming - the peanut sauce went great with it all. When they brought out our dessert, a pineapple and macadamia nut bread pudding with a banana caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream, they had another surprise gift for us
- a dozen tuxedo chocolate strawberries and a bottle of prosecco, along with a congratulatory note from our friends at the Grand Floridian (remember Ashley and Gabriel?) We couldn't eat or drink it all, so we shared the wine and strawberries with the family next to us, and took some of the strawberries to our friends at the concierge desk. It was the most amazing almost end to a completely out of this world dream vacation. But wait, there's more - after dinner we wheeled over to the Grand Floridian to hunt Ashley and Gabriel down to properly thank them. Turns out they weren't on duty, and the folks at the desk asked why we wanted to see them, so we told them the whole sordid tale - all because we wanted a ground floor room. They were highly amused, and decided that we needed one more magical moment - many years ago, there were special large brass keys for the rooms at the Grand Floridian, they were kept in old fashioned pigeonholes behind the front desk - they are no longer used, as everything is now electronic - there were only a few thousand of them - they have been giving them out sparingly to special guests and VIPS for the last decade, and there are only a few left - they presented one to us!!AND THEN -
We woke up very early, and got packed into Gypsy and came home.
Lest you think this is all about us, we would really like to thank all the castmembers who made this the dream trip that it was, the parents that were kind enough to let strangers give gifts to their children, the bus driver who had lost his son earlier this year, yet still had smiles for everyone, and the family we met whose celebration was a medical free vacation with their little girl. We also are thankful for all the people we met from all over the world who shared their stories with us - we feel blessed and renewed.
P.S. Just in case you think that Disney Magic ends when you leave the property, I am here to tell you it doesn't - for AND THEN - two weeks after we are back home, a package arrives in the mail, and when we open it, it is a beautiful memory book full of the pictures they took of us at Walt Disney World, along with great illustrations and photos of the parks and parades. So, if you are one of the Disney folks, and you are reading this - if we have already sent you a thank you, we would like to double that thanks, if we have not, please identify yourself so we can properly thank you for the overwhelmingly amazing vacation of a lifetime that you all provided for us - and all because we simply wanted a ground floor room.