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Tasha's Sports Page
Tasha's website, chock full of information on Pat's #1 hobby - German Shepherds!
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Pat's Ward 9 City of Mississauga home page
Saito Family News - Home page
The Home/Index/Info/Updates page for our News
Saito Family News - January
Christmas vacation in Florida; trip details
Saito Family News - February
Updated Feb 28; Florida tornadoes, Andrew's visit, Florida Favs
Saito Family News - March Pics 1
Personal pics from our Disney Animal Kingdom trip. About 500K of JPEG files; 2-4 minutes to load.
Saito Family News - March Pics 2
Pics March 21+
Saito Family News - April
April news.
Our Disney Diary
To our new Disney Diary pages - Animal Kingdom preview.


It's   March   Break   Month!!

March 29, 1998

Wow! Friday was sunny and very warm, high 23/74; Saturday sunny 22/72 then a wicked thunderstorm; Sunday sunny and 20/68! Amazing change from the beginning of the week. All of the snow is gone, and we've changed to summer wardrobe - shorts, T-shirts and sandals. Nice to have Pat's Stang out cruising with the top down.

Jenny & Katy were at the Silver City cinema on Friday for the re-releae of Grease. They'd been to the Man in the Iron Mask and As Good As It Gets in the last week, as well, also at Silver City.

March 26, 1998

The Alberta Clipper arrived, with warming temperatures to melt the snow. Talked to Vickey & Neil at the Orlando house. Their weather has been mid 70s and sunny, so the kids are enjoying the pool. Vickey said the house is great! They were planning their first Disney World visit with a little help from Andrew, Vickey's sister and me. Vickey said that their trip down in the snowstorm wasn't bad once they got to Guelph, but the Mississauga/Milton 401 was treacherous, white knuckle driving.

Pat's been busy at her Orlando conference, but Andrew has managed to join her for a couple of meals - at the Flying Fish/Boardwalk Resort, and Don Carlo's Mexican. Pat reports that she's using the bus! The I-drive bus, pretty much for tourists, takes them up & down the restaurant/attractions/shopping strip and up to the Belz Factory Outlets.

March 21, 1998

First day of spring!

Pat just called in from her friend's place in Miami. She said it was sunny and in the high 70s there. Quite a change from the 6" of snow and -5/20s that she left (picture above). Her 7:10am Canadian flight from Pearson got arrived about 10:30am, and she and Deb are thinking about heading for a Ft. Lauderdale dog show.

My brother Neil, wife Vickey and daughter Aisha left this morning in the snowstorm to do the I-75 drive to Florida. They should be OK once they get into Ohio. Neil was over here earlier in the week to get our Florida I-75 info (maps, Dave Hunter's guide, CB, etc). They are heading to Vickey's mom's place in Bonita Springs (south of Ft. Myers), and will also drop in on Andrew to 'do Disney' next week. They rented a house from Sunsplash travel (the people we rented from at Christmas) for a couple of days for the Disney visit.

March 18, 1998

Katy is spending her March break with friends: shopping, bowling, shopping, movies and doing the mall. Jenny started the week with friends at a cottage up north, but they gave up due to the extreme cold. The heater/stove in the cottage just couldn't compete with the minus 20 celsius temperatures. So they decided to paint their bathroom in shades of blue. Meanwhile, Pat stripped the wallpaper and paste from the downstairs powder room and picked an intense pink paint colour for it.

Andrew acquired another tech toy - WebTV, and now has a new email ID: vistaway@webtv.net . He says that without a keyboard, the process of keying in notes is painful, so cryptic replies are all he produces. At least he's now online. He'll be at Animal Kingdom for a third cast preview day tomorrow.

March 15, 1998

The Silver Bullets flyball team (including Pat & Tasha) finished the weekend competition at the Sportsmen's Show (Exhibition Place), placing second in their division of six teams! With the new dogs - Disney and Hulk Hogan - on the team, it was the first tournament for them, and they did well! See Tasha's web page for a description of flyball.

Andrew and Kelly went to Animal Kingdom again. This time they took in the Lion King live stage show and Andrew said it is spectacular. It's in a small (400 person) intimate theatre, on a centre stage. An extremely elaborate and professional show - Andrew thinks it will have major lineups. Their preview day was a lot busier than the first day, and there were lineups of up to an hour. If it's this way with a limited entry cast preview, it will be literally a zoo when it opens to the public.

March 14, 1998

It's March Break week for Peel Board, and Jenny took the van and went to a cottage up north with some friends. We've had a blast of winter - an Alberta Clipper - blow through, leaving about 6" of snow on Friday, and temperatures well below freezing. Katy will be staying around, spending time with friends going to movies, bowling, and the mall.

Pat, Tasha and Ron will be spending Saturday and Sunday at a big flyball tournament at the Sportsmen's Show. Andrew visited Animal Kingdom again on another Cast Preview day - this time he said the crowds were much larger, and the waits for the rides longer - like an hour for the Safari. Still no sign of the elephants. The weather's been sunny but cold, with daytime in the 50s and nights in the 30s.

March 5, 1998

Andrew & Kelly, Jenny, Katy and Ron visited Disney's Animal Kingdom's Cast Preview Day. See our first impressions below. The weather cooperated, with a sunny day, high in the upper 70s and just a little breeze. We were at the park as it opened at 8am, and left just before it closed at 5pm. It was a great day, even if some of the animals and attractions weren't there yet. We did run out of time, even though we didn't have to wait in line for any attraction. We did, however, spend a couple of hours at the brand new Rainforest Cafe (2nd day open) at the Animal Kingdom. Great food, huge menu (as usual with Rainforest). For the record, our meal consisted of: appetizers - Pieces of Ate - good; Bruschetta - good; Andrew- Rasta Pasta - very good; Kelly - Grilled Cheese - good; Jenny - Earth Pasta - good, filling; Katy - Amazon Burger - ok, too much onion, waffle fries good; Ron - Salmon - nicely grilled, large portion, over garlic mashed potatoes.

This is the second day the park was open for the cast preview, and we managed to set at least one first - we were the first customers to eat breakfast at the Flame Tree in Safari Village. Since the weather was great, we consumed quantities of sodas and ice cream - and the new Paws ice cream bar which was family rated better than the Mickey bars because it has chocolate & vanilla ice cream and a lighter coating. The food selection is much improved over the Magic Kingdom, with everything from McDonald's McNuggets to spit-roasted Prime Rib, to latte.

Favourites? The Countdown to Extinction ride is advertised as 'thrill packed', and it is! Lots of animatronic dinosaurs, and you get tossed about escaping from them. A combination moving ride and motion simulator.

The Tree of Life with over 350 animal images carved into the roots, trunk and branches is spectacular. You could spend hours looking at and wandering through all of the carvings.

Kilimanjaro Safaris, with 30 passenger open-air safari vehicles traversing hills, savanna and lots of streams and rivers winds you through 100 acres of African animals that are free roaming. The giraffes, antelopes and zebras kept blocking the vehicles, and a family of ducks wouldn't move from the pond in their area. No two rides are the same on this attraction - guaranteed.

Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail. Yes, we did see naked mole rats, gazelles and ferrets, but once we encountered a gorilla family, we went through the film at an incredible pace. Especially Katy, who finished her disposable camera, and went through half a roll on my 35mm.

All too soon we had to say goodbye to Animal Kingdom and to Andrew and Kelly and head to the airport (a 25 minute drive). Checking in the Dollar car was easy with their instant roving return, and being in-terminal, getting to the check-in counter was easy (vs Hertz, which is off-terminal and you're waiting for buses). The extra charges on the rental are becoming painful - $13 in taxes, surcharges and airport fees on a $55 rental!

We caught Canada 3000's 6:25pm return flight - it was quite empty - and were home by 10pm. One side note - you wouldn't pick Canada 3000 for their food. The breakfast on the way down had rubbery scrambled eggs and a strangely crumbly sausage. The yogurt and warm rolls were good. On the return flight at 6pm, we had a 'snack' which had a small scoop of potato salad and a piece of rubbery tandoori chicken. At least they served pretzels and sodas. They have lots of flight attendants and carts - one per 7 rows - and are quite efficient. As on all planes, you need to know which rows to avoid, especially the last rows before the bulkheads that don't recline - try for one of the exit rows. They are very strict with their weighing all baggage - you get 20Kg (44lbs) - and charging for overweight or more than 1 carry on - even on a 50% empty flight. But their prices are right.

March 4, 1998

It's Katy's 15th, and in keeping with the theme of Andrew being in Florida, Ron found some last minute tickets on Canada 3000 to Orlando, and took Katy and Jenny to join Andrew for the Cast preview of Disney's Animal Kingdom on March 5th. Ron said that this was an early birthday present for Jenny.

We were up at 4something am to catch the 6:20am flight; arrived in Orlando at 9:15am in the sunny 60 degree weather, and were at the Florida Mall at 10am. Spent the next two hours checking Prom dresses for Jenny at JC Penney,Gayfers, Sears, Dillards, Saks Fifth Avenue and all the stores in between. Then we picked up Andrew's girlfriend Kelly and went to Altamonte Mall, for another round of shopping. No, we didn't buy a Prom dress, although Jenny found one that came very close. Both Katy and Jenny found 'everyday' clothes (they were having a winter sweater clearance sale!) at Pacific Sunwear at both Florida Mall and Altamonte Mall.

We finally checked into Disney's All Star Sports hotel in the Hoops (yes, Basketball themed) section. Andrew managed to get some time off so that we could all get together for dinner. Katy decided to celebrate her birthday dinner at the brand new (first week open!) All-Star Sports Cafe at Disney's Wide World of Sports. Interesting place. The food is good, probably better than Hard Rock and Planet Hollywood. We finished at about 9:30pm. Ron wanted to head for bed, but Katy decided to go mini-golfing at WDW Fantasia Mini-Golf. After the rigorous 18 holes of par 53 on Fantasia Gardens (it is easier than the par 61 Fantasia Fairways), the scores were Kelly 61, Andrew 59, Katy 58, Jenny 52 (she did very well) and Ron 51. Then Andrew talked Katy & Jenny into going to the Ghirardelli Chocolate Cafe at Downtown Disney for dessert. Ron had a good, strong coffee from 42nd Street.

All-Star Resorts are the closest hotels to Animal Kingdom (Coronado Springs is next closest), and has the first Disney full McDonald's right across the street (scheduled to open in April). All-Star rates rates are the lowest on-property, typically $89 per night high season, and gives you basic accomodation (see Disney Hotels below).

March 1, 1998

Pat & Tasha's flyball team, the Silver Bullets, have just finished running in a house league of over 20 flyball teams (Ron is usually the team's Box Loader), and finished in the top three teams in wins, although Silver Bullets is a novice team. Today the team won 25 of 30 heats! See Tasha's website for flyball info.


Disney's Animal Kingdom - First Impressions

Knowing a Cast member comes in handy when it's preview time. Walt Disney World's fourth Land (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and Disney-MGM Studios are the other three) will open on April 22nd to the public, but Cast members were invited to several preview days, and could bring along family. And if you get really excited about this, we'll give you a tip on how you too can get into some previews. We'll give you a quick overview then our own impressions.

The entrance to Disney's Animal Kingdom is the western extension of the Osceola Toll Road, just west of Coronado Springs, Blizzard Beach and All-Star Resorts. After the parking gates, you double back twice to get to the parking lots (the furthest ones are still under construction). Since the park's capacity is much less than any of the other three, the parking lots are noticeably smaller. Parking is standard Disney - two cars per row, angled; walk to the tram. We parked in Unicorn 21 which the tram drivers called Unicorn 1. It's the first public lot. The entrance plaza has the Rainforest Cafe with it's entire facade a flowing waterfall on the left, very impressive. The ticket and entrance gates are straight ahead as is typical. But then, instead of Main Street (Magic Kingdom), Hollywood Ave (Studios), or Communicore (Epcot), you walk into The Oasis, a large tropical garden. Very appropriate. Then after the garden, you cross over a bridge to...

Park map from guidebook

Safari Village. This island is the hub of the park, with spokes to Camp Minnie-Mickey, Africa, Asia and Dinoland USA. The Tree of Life dominates this land, with walking trails all around it. The 3D attraction "It's Tough to be a Bug" is in a theatre underneath The Tree, and is expected to open in April. Also here is the dock for Discovery River Boats which take you around to Asia. There'll be some surprises onboard these boats, to be called Critter Cruises, when the park opens to the public. And Safari Village has many shops and the Pizzafari and Flame Tree Barbeque (yes, a real hickory/mesquite smoker - yum!) restaurants. Clockwise, from The Oasis, where you entered, you cross the bridge to...

Camp Minnie-Mickey. Styled like a summer camp, the Disney characters have their greeting 'cabins' here. The "Festival of the Lion King" and Grandmother Willow's Grove with Pocahontas and live animals (opening April) live entertainment shows are presented here. Crossing back to Safari Village and proceeding clockwise to the next bridge, we come to...

Africa. This is going to be a busy place. Get your provisions - ice cream, drinks, bakery, fruit market and the Tusker House with spit-roasted Prime rib, chicken and salads here. Head for the Kilimanjaro Safari, where your driver/guide explores the trails through the African animals - they're roaming free; you are locked into your safari vehicle. We saw dozens of animals large and small, including giraffe, lions, zebras, antelope, deer, alligators, hippos, rhinos, ostrich, etc on our two Safari rides. The trip is never the same - the second time our vehicle was blocked with animals twice - once by some zebra, once by a family of ducks. Your ride is over mixed terrain, including fording lots of rivers and a lake. And there's a surprise ending. Exiting the Safari, you'll want to take the Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail. It's a trail through lush tropical vegetation, with several animal habitats that you pass by. The naked mole rats are the entrance to a large aviary - you exit at the hippo pond; the gazelles and ferrets have a staring contest; and the gorillas are right in front of you in their family habitat. A father, mother and baby were comfortably snoozing away the afternoon when we were there. Then board the Wildlife Express train to Conservation Station, where the animals are cared for, and there are several conservation displays, and viewing for the research labs and animal hospital - the vets were fixing the right foot of a crane. There's also a domestic animal petting area, with unusual versions of petting zoo stock including pigs, donkeys, goats and sheep. Exiting Africa, the next clockwise area is...

Asia. This area, where there will be tigers, elephants and many other attractions including Tiger Rapids Run, a white water rafting ride, is scheduled for opening in 1999. Right now, there is a "Flights of Wonder" free-flying bird show at the Caravan Stage, and you can board the Discovery River Boats to head back to Safari Village. Either by boat or foot, the next clockwise area is...

Dinoland U.S.A. This dinosaur themed area is presented by McDonald's, and it's Restaurantosaurus actually serves McNuggets and Happy Meals along with McDonald's Fries (You can get McD's fries in several other Disney areas such as near Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in MK). There's a neat dig-site play-maze that everyone can play on, The Boneyard. "Journey into Jungle Book" is a very entertaining live stage show based on Jungle Book. But you're here for Countdown to Extinction. A great ride, combining a moving vehicle on tracks & tires, with hydraulics on each vehicle. You're looking to capture a particular dinosaur and have an action packed thrill ride dodging other dinosaurs and meteor showers. Fasten your seat belt and put your loose articles in the mesh pockets.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS:

Here are the first impressions from Andrew, Kelly, Jenny, Katy and Ron...

Andrew: Great park! Favourite attractions are CTX (insider for Countdown to Extinction) and the Lion King Show - a stunning, intimate show.

Kelly: Everything is well done, but the Kilamanjaro Safari is the best.

Jenny: Loved all the animals being free, and you can get close to them. The Kilimanjaro Safari is my favourite attraction. Countdown to Extinction was a good ride. The Earth Pasta at Rainforest Cafe was a good meal.

Katy: Yea for Gorillas! Too bad we didn't see monkeys. The Safari is my favourite attraction, and should be even better as more of the animals are visible. My favourite meal was the breakfast (muffin & OJ) at Flame Tree.

Ron: Impressive. The years of planning were well worth it. Even partially open, the park is worth a couple of days to visit. Each of the smaller animal display areas has a keeper. Talk to them - you'll get some interesting facts and tales. My favourite attraction is Countdown to Extinction, and my favourite food pick is the Flame Tree barbeque's ribs/chicken. Worth the trip. It's really a good park for self-exploring and discussions with the animal keepers. It's almost all outdoors, so it might not be my first choice on a rainy day.

Click here for DAK pictures.
Personal photos from the DAK preview
Click here for Our Disney Diary.
More Animal Kingdom preview pictures


Disney    World    Hotels    -    Unofficial    Guide

So you're going to Walt Disney World. The question is whether to spend the money to stay at one of Disney's on-property hotels, or to go offsite to save money.

Disney offers a tremendous range of accomodations on-property, ranging (at high season) from the All-Star resorts under $90 per night, through several mid-price hotels under $150 - Caribbean Beach, Dixie Landings, Coronado Springs, Port Orleans; to the deluxe $250 range Wilderness Lodge, Contemporary, Boardwalk, and Fort Wilderness Homes; the $300 range Dolphin, Swan, Yacht, Beach and Polynesian Lodge; to the $330+ Grand Floridian. And then there are the hotels at the Hotel Plaza / Disney Village that run from the Courtyard, Grosvenor, Travelodge and Royal Plaza at about $100; through the Doubletree Guest Suites and Hilton at $200.

The answer is (of course), it depends. If you're going to spend every waking minute at the parks, will you get your money's worth from an on-property hotel if all you're going to do is crash overnight?

An on-property hotel is a good choice if different members of your party want to do their own thing. Because regular bus transportation is provided from all of the properties to each of the theme parks: Magic Kingdom, Epcot, MGM Studios (and soon Animal Kingdom); the specialty attractions Wide World of Sports, Discovery Island, Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach; and Pleasure Island/Downtown Disney/and West End. This way, if some people want to get an early start, they can take off on their schedule. Another minor perq is that on-property guests get early admission to a specific park during peak times - an hour earlier than the public. Unfortunately, with possibly 40,000 hotel guests, this can cause a major crowd if many people take advantage of this. Also, Disney guests (except those at Hotel Plaza, Dolphin & Swan) can use their resort id cards to charge meals and shopping in the aforementioned parks and attractions. Finally, you don't have to pay the $5 parking charge at the attractions, and you probably won't forget where you parked the car.

So if you do decide to stay on-property, what do you get when you spend more money? Larger rooms and more expensive furniture. In the $90 and $150 categories, there isn't really that much difference between the hotels, other than Caribbean Beach has mini-bars and coffee makers; Dixie Landings has clock radios and some trundle beds. All-Star and Coronado (rooms) are fairly small. All have two double beds double sinks, hangars (not a closet), safes and exterior corridors. Rooms are brightly lit. They are all built in two and three story complexes around central courtyards/pools. If you don't have a car, you can get around quite well on the WDW bus system, but ask for a unit close to the bus depots, especially if you have young children. It is a long way (up to 1/2 a mile) from the bus to the furthest units at Dixie Landings and Coronado. As you move up-price, the room amenities don't change that much but the furnishings and the hotel facilities do. You get interior corridors, dining rooms (lower priced resorts have food courts and lounges) and room service. The Contemporary, Polynesian and Grand Floridian are, of course, on the monorail line to Magic Kingdom which is convenient when visiting that park.

Hotels in the Lake Buena Vista Hotel Plaza range from $110 to $300 per night, and are run by major chains - you can book them through their 800 numbers rather than 1-407-wdisney which is used for the Disney hotels. Be aware that there are many hotels just across the street from these Plaza hotels that advertise as "Lake Buena Vista". Most are on Palm Parkway or Apopka-Vineland Road. They are not considered on-property, but some (like the Comfort Inn Palm Parkway) have very low rates off-season ($29 per night). The Dolphin and Swan are anomalies - they are on Disney property but are operated by Sheraton and Westin, respectively. They don't have resort ID charging privileges but do have full shuttle bus service (on the same line & lake as the Yacht & Beach Club and Boardwalk). Most of the large conventions are held here. If you are here on convention, ask for a Balcony room. Join Westin's Premier club and you get a continental breakfast voucher daily.

My recommendation? If you only want a place to sleep & meet, the All-Star resorts are fine. If you want a little more room (or have 5 people), a beach and a coffeemaker, pick the Caribbean Beach. Of course, if everyone is on the same schedule, I'd suggest you stay off-property and save the money. There are a lot of basic motels on US192/W.Irlo Bronson that are under $30 nightly and there are some suite properties (Travelodge, Days) under $50. You'll need a car, but you're surrounded by all the fast food and souvenirs you can think of. And, as mentioned in our January article, you can get 2 & 3 bedroom condos for under $100 per night not much further away.