When I went to book our flights on Southwest (with an assist from Dis Dads James Goodman, who drew my attention to a fare sale I probably would have missed otherwise), I noticed that Southwest’s schedule between Kansas City and Orlando had changed substantially since our trip last year. The early one-stop-no-plane-change flight was gone. A majority of the former one-stop flights were now two-stop flights! But there was still availability at the sale price for one of only two nonstop flights left on the schedule – 10:25 a.m. The only downside to that flight is that it left us with a sort of awkward arrival time. Best case scenario, we arrive at just after 2 p.m. local time and get to our resort (without all of our luggage) by 3:30 p.m. And the kids would have either eaten a very early lunch or be really hungry by that time.

I compromised by making us an early dinner reservation at Whispering Canyon Cafe. I figured we’d eat early, and we could decide on whether or not to take the boat over to the Magic Kingdom after getting a read on everyone’s energy levels. That turned out to be one of the smartest planning decisions I made. We started the day with about a 30 minute flight delay, so we didn’t actually land at MCO until about 2:30 p.m. This is a good time to mention that I LOVE DISNEY’S MAGICAL EXPRESS. This was my first experience with DME. It was wonderful getting off of an airplane with two children in tow and not having to worry retrieving checked bags. We just walked down to the DME counter and straight onto a bus (after a slight detour, since I managed to lead us to the wrong side of the terminal – oops). The wait on the bus was longer than I’d hoped, but once we were on our way and the video kicked on, it made for an easy ride to our resort.

Check-in at the All-Star Music Resort went well, if a bit slowly. The lobby staffing seemed a bit odd. At about 3:30 p.m. on a Monday, there were two CMs handling check-in, three CMs at the Concierge Desk, one CM at the outdoor bell stand, one greeter, and one manager (who just sort of stood there and observed). So out of eight CMs on duty during a prime check-in time, only two were dedicated to check-in. After about ten minutes in line, two of the Concierge Desk CMs starting helping with check-in of people (like me) who had done Online Check-In (and whose check-in packets were therefore all ready to go). Everything in my packet was in order, so once I finally got to a CM, check-in went very smoothly. And I got my request – Jazz Building, South side (which is the side where the playground is). When we got to our room it was small (as expected) but clean, if a bit warm. But finding and adjusting the thermostat was easy. And the two cute little guys in the picture were there to greet us on our windowsill.

Now it was time to deal with temporal no-man’s land again. It was 4:00 p.m. by the time we got into our room. We had a 5:05 dinner reservation. And I still needed to pick up the rental car from the Alamo desk at the Disney Car Care Center. There was no time to get the car picked up and get to the Wilderness Lodge in time to make our ADR. But the folks at Alamo were awesome. They coordinated with me to pick us up after our dinner at Whispering Canyon Cafe. I gave our dinner an hour and a half, so that we’d have time to enjoy the WCC experience.

We got a cab from All-Star Music to Wilderness Lodge, and it dropped us off at the WL at exactly 5 p.m. I checked in at WCC at 5:05 p.m. on the nose. We did have a short wait to be seated, which the kids occupied with the Lincoln Logs near the check-in kiosk. I was initially disappointed when we were seated on the hotel lobby side of the restaurant, away from the beautiful view on the opposite side. But I changed my mind pretty quickly when our waitress got to our table. A great waitress is more important than a pretty view any day, and Candice at Whispering Canyon Cafe was awesome! She managed to get a quick read of the mood of the table – the kids were getting tired and cranky from the long day of travel, Jonathan was antsy and ready to interact, but Mikaela was not so much in the mood for silliness. She started off by raining straws on us as she brought our drink orders (I couldn’t resist the allure of a bottomless milkshake — how does a milkshake with no bottom manage not to get all over the table??). Jonathan quickly responded by blowing straw paper back at her (I’ve taught him well). Even Mikaela got into the brief straw-paper war.

I ordered their signature dish – the Skillet. Miriam went with the Whiskey Maple-glazed Trout. Jonathan went with the kids’ version of the Skillet and Mikaela ordered a steak from the adult menu (she’s generally happier eating from the adult menu than the kids’ menus). I was a little skeptical of the Skillet going in – being from Kansas City, I’m a bit of a BBQ snob. But I thought the ribs were very good, as was the pulled pork. The chicken was a bit dry and the beans a bit “runny” for my taste. But the cole slaw and grilled corn on the cob were both tasty. One of the nice things about the Skillet is that it’s essentially a sampler platter, and they’ll bring you more of any part of the Skillet you especially like. I have to admit that, on this day, the Skillet bested me. One round was plenty. But when Candice came to take dessert orders, I couldn’t resist a second round of milkshake (chocolate the first time, strawberry for dessert – you can’t fault me for wanting some fruit in my diet)! 🙂

While the kids were either too worn out or too shy to participate in the hobby-horse races, they did ask for ketchup (and, in turn, get asked to deliver the ketchups to another table). Overall, the electricity of the atmosphere was just right to get our Disney vacation rolling, and I give Candice a lot of credit for reading the table and introducing just the right amount of that craziness, without making it overwhelming or uncomfortable. We paid our bill and walked out to the driveway of the Wilderness Lodge just as our scheduled rental car shuttle was pulling in to pick us up. We couldn’t have timed it any better (other than to have allowed for some extra time to explore the Wilderness Lodge itself, but we had to pick up the car before the Car Care Center desk closed at 8 p.m.

Back at the hotel, we resisted the urge to partake in the 9 p.m. poolside movie and instead got the kids ready for bed early. Tomorrow would be an early start. They were headed to Hollywood Studios for rope drop, while I needed to be at the Royal Plaza in Downtown Disney for the opening of my conference at 8:30 a.m.

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