Hoop-Dee-Doo and Disney Too!

We had a great time at Disney World! My hats off to the XYL for a ton of research and planning that went into the trip. One resource that really paid off was the PassPorter’s Walt Disney World 2009: The Unique Travel Guide, Planner, Organizer, Journal, and Keepsake! by Jennifer and Dave Marx. While I had a few other Disney books on my Kindle, the PassPorter was a veritable pirate’s treasure trove of advice and tips that did the most for making our trip and absolute, unqualified success.

We opted to take a direct flight for Kansas City to Orlando on Southwest. I don’t think it was the cheapest flight and Southwest has their quirky seating policy. However, with the kids (a 4 year old and a 8 month old) a direct flight was the best option. Fortunately, those traveling with small children get to board first, so even with Southwest’s cattle call seating we were able to keep the family intact.

Transportation from Orlando International to Disney World was via Disney’s own bus service. When staying at a Disney resort, this is a great service. Again, the XYL doing the research ahead time was able to get special tags for our checked luggage so we were able to bypass the baggage carousel and head straight for the Disney Express. Our baggage would then be retrieved by Disney and taken directly to our room at the resort.

The ride to our resort, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, was quick. The bus was equipped with overhead TVs playing an introduction video explaining check in at the resorts and other information. We arrived at the Animal Kingdom Lodge around 1pm and were able to quickly check in and head to our room. The room had two queen beds and overlooked the animal reserve that surrounded the resort. Giraffes, zebras, and other animals were grazing in the savanna like area a mere 50 yards away.

The XYL had also done some research on the meal plan that Disney offers. It is a bit complicated, but worth understanding. With a little bit of planning, opting for the meal plan can save quite a bit of money. We went down to the resort’s food court to grab a quick lunch and make sure our meal plans were working correctly. Then it was off to the resort’s bus stops to head to the Magic Kingdom.

Disney World has a massive transportation system that is primarily made up of buses, but there are also water taxis and of course the monorail. From resorts, you can travel to any of the parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom). From each park, you can travel to any of the resorts. Things get tricky if you want to travel from one resort to another (like to go to one of their restaurants or just look around). It requires you to first go to a park and then catch another mode of transportation to that specific resort. Things become complicated towards nighttime when parks start closing as transportation usually only runs to the parks for only one hour after closing. There are several iPhone/iPod Touch apps that track park opening and closing times which we used several time to make sure we didn’t end up going to a park in order to catch a bus that was no longer running. Some resorts are right on the monorail which makes life a breeze to get to both the Magic Kingdom and Epcot. Despite the complexity of the transportation system, you rarely wait longer than 20 minutes and the bus drivers (boat drivers, etc.) are all extremely helpful to help you get where you want to go.

And with that point I need to stress that every Disney employee (or as Disney calls them: Cast Members) is extremely helpful. From the bus drivers, hotel clerks, maids, restaurant waiters, store clerks, park security, ticket takers, and the staff members in the park. They all have an excellent attitude and do their best to make sure you are happy. An this is really what makes Disney World a top notch vacation destination. What makes the difference for Disney is the quality of their employees. All are dedicated to making your experience the best it can possibly be.

During our stay we traveled to all the parks. I most enjoyed the Magic Kingdom. Hollywood Studios would probably be my next favorite – although we didn’t get to spend as much time there as we wanted. All the parks were quite busy during the pre-Christmas days. Going early or staying late helped avoid the crowds. Also one park a day will have an early opening or late closing just for resort guests – which really helps.

Disney has many excellent restaurants that can get quite fancy but are also kid friendly. We enjoyed several of the finer restaurants like the Artist’s Point at the Wilderness Lodge and the restaurant on the 15th floor of the Contemporary resort (the California Grill) were we were able to enjoy the Magic Kingdom’s firework show from the comfort of our window-view table. There are also dining events specifically geared to allow the kids meet the many Disney characters. Our 4 year old daughter loved these, as she was able to meet just about everyone from Mary Poppins to June from Little Einsteins. Her highlight was the princess breakfast at the Cinderella Castle. She got to meet Cinderella downstairs and then most of all the rest of the princesses during breakfast (Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Jasmine, and Ariel). While costs can be steep, effective use of the meal plan can really make it affordable.

Disney also affords the opportunity for the kids (and sometimes the adults) to get made-up in a certain Disney theme. We first took advantage of this with the Pirate’s League where individuals are able to get made-up as pirates like you’d find on the Pirate’s of the Caribbean (my favorite ride). The four year old was made up to look like Captain Hook, to include the red coat, eye patch, and sword. She had a blast. The Disney folks involved in the process “stay in character” and act like they are recruiting you to become a pirate, give you a pirate name, educate you in pirate lore and vocabulary, and then outfit you with a bit of pirate treasure. Again, the Disney employees are amazing in this process and really help to create the illusion. Towards the end of our stay, the four year old went to the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique (aka from the Cinderella story) were Fairy Godmothers make-over girls into one of the many Disney princesses. My daughter chose Aurora (aka Sleeping Beauty) and got to spend the remainder of the day in her princess dress and crown.

The whole Disney experience was excellent. Although it was expensive at times, I always felt I was getting great value and with the XYL’s research we saved money were we could. What really helped out on the finance side was the incredible deal Disney offers to the military members. My park ticket was free for 5 days. In addition, I was able to buy my family members 5 day tickets for half the normal price. A big thank you to Disney for that!

Would I take the family back? An absolute YES! Perhaps when the eight month old is four, we’ll head back. Next time I’d like to stay a little longer and probably we will try to go in the off-season to take advantage of smaller crowds.

Did I use amateur radio? Yes – a little bit. There is an excellent 2M repeater that gave great coverage across the parks. When the XYL and I had to split up, we were easily able to use our HTs to keep in touch.

We’re Going To Disney World!

It has been a tough few weeks with multiple papers and writing assignments falling within a very small period of time. I kept my nose to the grind stone and with the hep of the XYL running interference to keep me away from distractions (amateur radio being one), I successfully finished all my work!
Now we’re off to Disney World. The kids and I have never been before, so we are all really looking forward to the trip. We’ll be staying at one of the Disney World resorts and intend to have a complete blast. The XYL and I will have our HTs to stay in contact (I believe there is actually a 2M repeater at Disney) and I may even throw my Elecraft KX1 to see if I can scare up some HF QSOs.

History of Army MARS – can you help?

Since July I have been attending the School of Advanced Military Studies (SAMS) here at Ft. Leavenworth, KS. SAMS is a 10 month course that “educates the future leaders of our Armed Forces, our Allies, and the Interagency at the graduate level to be agile and adaptive leaders who think critically at the strategic and operational levels to solve complex ambiguous problems”. The majority of our classes are focused on the study and application of the elements of national power, international relations, and operational design. The end result is a planner who spends a year on a division or corps staff helping to draft campaign plans for operations. One of the requirements for graduation is to write a monograph (like a master’s thesis) on a topic relevant to the military. I chose as a topic to write about the history of the Army’s Military Affiliate Radio System (MARS).

I’ve enjoyed researching the subject. Army MARS was officially constituted back in 1925 as the Army Amateur Radio System (AARS). I go a bit further back into history and trace the introduction of radio into Army use and then what circumstances brought about the requirements for the Army to want to organize something like the AARS.

Once organized, the AARS had a difficult start and then went through a fairly significant reorganization in 1929. There were a few reasons the Army wanted to establish the AARS. One was to extend the Army’s existing War Department Radio Net beyond the radio stations on Army installations to achieve a greater reach to all corners of the country. Knowing the limitations of wire (telephone and telegraph) communications during significant weather and natural disasters, the addition of AARS stations to the War Department Radio Net would help the local and Federal government better coordinate and respond to emergencies. The other major reason for the founding of AARS was to provide a pool of civilians trained in Army protocol for radio operations in case of a major conflict. The Army had learned from WWI that there was little time available to amass and train a significant force. Radio operators required specific skills which needed longer training. If a trained pool of operators was already in existence, it would make it that much easier to mobilize in case of general war.

AARS did serve as a benefit in providing communications during natural disasters. However, after the Pearl Harbor attack and the country began to mobilize, AARS literally evaporated. It was not used as a pool to draw from to bolster the Army’s Signal Corps. The organization basically ceased to exist until it was reconstituted as MARS some time after the conclusion of WWII. That is one area where I have been unable to find any definitive information as to why the Army chose not to draw from the AARS pool when they started full mobilization for WWII. And why was AARS abandoned and then another domestic organization (WERS – War Emergency Radio Service) stood up in its place? If you can help show me where I can find these answers, I’d greatly appreciate it.

ARRL and the amateur community had its own agenda in supporting AARS. Both before and after WWI, the amateurs (represented by ARRL) and the US government clashed over who should have privileges in the RF spectrum. The Navy was adamant about preventing the amateurs from retaining any RF privileges that might interfere with naval radio traffic. When the ARRL got the opportunity to affiliate with the US Army through AARS, they hoped it was an opportunity to help cement their hold over the amateur RF allocations by virtue of the proven service amateurs were providing the country.

It is an interesting topic and I am enjoying digging through old copies of QST as well a Army journals.

I’ve started writing and have my first 10 pages complete. I’ll post it here soon for comment.

If you have any specific knowledge of either AARS or MARS operation between 1925 and 1963, please let me know (scott dot hedberg at sign gmail dot com). I would enjoy getting some real history straight from a primary source.