The Helmstetters Take WDW: Day 4

The family’s last day started off with packing and trying to get out the door.  Of course, this took longer than any of us intended.  Time issues were something I definitely learned about when it came to traveling with my family.  Between my mom who is incapable of being ready on time and getting all three kids out the door it always took longer than estimated.  I’m used to traveling with people my age who know Disney and know almost exactly how long it will take them to get ready.  This challenge didn’t make me angry or anything, but the Touring Planner in me got anxious about our late beginnings a couple times.

We called for the bellman to come take our stuff to the airline check in desk so they could check in for their flights and I could leave my stuff at bell services for later.  The cast member was there quickly and couldn’t have been nicer.  He stacked all of our luggage like a pro on his one cart.  I was thoroughly impressed!  He even waited around for us to actually be ready to leave the rooms.  Since my mom had the ECV and Jamie had the stroller they walked to the front of the resort, but the CM took Kim, James, and I in his golf cart and pleasantly chatted with us along the way.

While my family checked in for their flight I went inside to the desk to double check how handicapped service would work on the return DME.  There was quite a bit of run around since the Magical Express is actually run by Mears so the Poly CM wasn’t entirely sure what end was up.  She was super helpful though and called Mears to find out the deal.  They didn’t really help her so she grabbed her manager who called back and finally got use some answers.  All of my questions wound up being pointless anyhow, but we’ll get to that later.

Eventually, we took care of everything we needed at the resort and we headed for the bus stop to head to the Animal Kingdom.  There was an attendant there who asked where we were going since we had the ECV and made sure to let the bus driver know he had to load us when he pulled up.  It was lovely to have the extra help, and it was something I hadn’t seen done before.  My hunch is that this was going on during peak hours in the morning.  The bus driver was super sweet in helping her get the ECV on the bus and everyone was very impressed with how accessible the buses were.  Apparently, they didn’t believe me when I told them this is how Disney rolls.

We arrived at the park and made our way through the gate.  We saw a few of the animals along the way in the Oasis, but since we had gotten a late start we started making more of an effort to make our way to Africa.  However, we did take some time to admire the Tree of Life along the way.  The girls were a little on the cranky side so they didn’t really care about the tree, but the adults were pretty impressed by it.  I think my mom was blown away by the beauty of the Animal Kingdom which warmed my little nerd heart.

We made our way to Africa to see what sort of wait time the Safari had going.  Much to my delight, it was only a 10 minute wait so we didn’t have to mess around with Fast Passes.  We hopped in line and it wasn’t long before we were asked to veer off to the right to use the handicapped accessible loading area.  This was really pretty great.  They have trucks that folks can wheel their chairs onto!  If the guests can transfer from their wheelchair or ECV there is a big parking area for those items so they just have to walk a short distance from ECV to ride vehicle.  I was really glad the family got to experience this attraction together.

It was a hit!  Everyone from the girls to my parents thought it was really neat to see the animals so closely.  I think they were also impressed with the habitats created for the animals.  A decent number of animals were roaming around that day so it was a really good outing.  My parents thought I was nuts when they saw the rope bridges my friends and I had crossed during the Wild Africa Trek.  I think they were glad they knew about it after it was all over.

After our journey through the jungle and savanah we wandered through the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail.  The girls are crazy for animals so they really liked the displays.  My favorite part was seeing the young gorillas who are growing up so fast.  It is really a beautiful space and I should take the time to walk through it more often.

Since we had gotten a late start it was quickly time to check in for our lunch at the Tusker House.  We waited a little while since we checked in late, but eventually we were seated by a woman from our county in New Jersey!  Later she came over and told us she had just seated another table of folks from our home town.  How crazy is that?  Anyway, we had a bit of a rushed lunch, but the food was tasty.  The kids really enjoyed the interaction with the characters here.  James loses his mind every time he sees Mickey so he went nuts when Mickey came to our table.  A lot of cuteness ensued and all three got to hug and get pictures with Mickey, Goofy, and Daisy.

I hadn’t been there since they added characters at lunch and I thought they did a pretty good job of it.  Yes, it was louder and more crowded than it was before they added everyone’s favorite furry friends, but I thought it was a good fit for that restaurant.  I would certainly go there again with my family if I get to bring them back any time soon.

By the time we were finished eating we were running seriously behind for the fam to get back to the Poly to catch their DME bus.  We booked it back to the AK bus stop, but of course we waited for a while.  Eventually we got on and realized there was no way they were going to make their bus.  Worse things have happened, but annoying nonetheless.  While we were on our way back to the Poly I started chatting with the woman sitting next to me.  It wound up coming out that I work for TouringPlans.com and the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World.  I thought she was going to lose her mind!  Apparently she is a fan of the book and refuses to let anyone borrow her copy.  You never know who you’re going to run into at WDW.

Well, as I mentioned the family missed their DME.  Some friends had come to the Poly to say hi to the family and pick me and my bags up before moving onto the rest of the day’s activities.  There was a quick hello before my family grabbed taxis and went off the MCO.  It was a rushed good-bye, but I think they had a good trip and I was ready to start my trip with my friends too.  Unfortunately, they had a flight delay and were stuck at the airport for a while, but they eventually got home safely and got to take a couple days to recover before going back to work.

Before they left we took a minute to take a picture of Jamie in I in the lobby of the Poly like we had taken 25 years before on our last family vacation to WDW.

Doug and Tom were kind enough to bring me and my stuff over to the French Quarter.  So we did that and I got my first glimpse of my new home for the next few days.  I fell in love with FQ as soon as I walked to my room!  It was so charming and cozy!  We basically just did a quick stop before heading off to Epcot to stop by the WDW Today meet in Norway.

We made our way to Norway and up a secret set of stairs to a room above Maelstrom.  It is always fun to see Disney nerd friends and chat with people who know what DME stands for without explanation.  We hung out for a while, talked with various people, and grabbed a pretzel for the road.  However, I didn’t want to eat too much of that delicious pretzel since we were having dinner at Whispering Canyon Cafe.

The three of us arrived at the Wilderness Lodge a little early so we decided to have a drink in the bar.  I’d like to spend some more time in that bar again soon and get a better feel for it, but it was lovely to just hang out there for a few minutes.  Eventually the rest of our friends arrived and we checked in.  Unfortunately, we waited quite a while to be seated even though we had an ADR (this would be a trend on this trip).

We took the time to relax in the Wilderness Lodge’s vast lobby and shoot the shit for a while.  I could hang out anywhere with these people laughing and having a good time.  They certainly made the wait a bit more bearable.  Eventually we were seated and the shenanigans began!

For starters, Doug very excitedly ordered his Coke Zero so our waitress brought him five of them.  Somehow I got the idea to make a headband for Elisabeth out of napkins and straws.  I really can’t remember what lead to that genius decision, but the end result was pretty funny and made for a lovely photo.  We all ordered the famous skillet and got down to business when it arrived.  The selection of meat was tasty as always and we had a great time eating and being silly.

After dinner Doug, Tom, and I popped over to the Poly to visit with Scarlett and Jeff and Chris came by for a bit.  It was a quick visit since we were all tired and had to get up early again, but it was good to see them and to get a look at the concierge lounge at the Poly.  Why didn’t my family stay in that part of the resort?!  Next time.

The boys dropped me off back at the French Quarter where my roomies, Dee and Neil, were already in bed since they were running the 5k in the morning.  I originally thought I’d get up to cheer for them, but we decided that the 1/2 marathon was more of a priority so I skipped the 5k.  Let me tell you how nice it was to sleep in the following morning!  But we’ll get to that in my next post.

I’ll be back soon to continue reporting on my friend-centric part of the trip!

About kristenhasfaces

I've got faces and a pretty awesome life so I'm here to share it with y'all.
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