2003 Night of Joy/ Rock the Universe Trip Report

Friday September 5, 2003

       Checking In  
   The morning started before the sun rose at 5am in time to make the three hour drive from South Florida and be at my hotel and check in before the parks open.  The ride up the Florida's Turnpike was as boring as usual.  At least the expansion project on I-4 in Orlando had been completed and there was not the usual fight to get onto the highway.
    We arrived at the Hard Rock Hotel at about 8am and were checked into a room in under 5 minutes.  This was the first hotel in Orlando that I stayed at where each person in the party had their own hotel key personalized with their own name (which did slow us down a little as one of our party members was not with us yet and we did not remember the correct spelling of his last name).  
    The room was on the first floor and never have I felt as cold as I did walking down the hallways in the Hard Rock.  My brother likes to keep hotel rooms as cold as possible and even he was complaining that the hallways were cold.  After getting our stuff settled we decided to go ride a few rides at Islands of Adventure.  We walked from the hotel and even though I had heard from other people that this was a long walk I felt it was actually easier and felt shorter than the walk from the Universal parking structure to the parks.  
    To our disappointment Island of Adventure was not opening until 10am and since the Studios was opening at 9 we decided to walk back there.  We only did one ride at the park and that was Men in Black.  I did moderately with a score of about 400,000 while my brother broke a score of 600,000.  After that it close to the time we needed to pick up my brother's friend Anthony who was driving in from Jacksonville at the local McDonald's.  Then after settling his stuff at the hotel we decided to go to Downtown Disney. 

        Downtown Disney
Since we arrive at the Marketplace at about noontime lunch was the main thing on our minds especially since none of us had breakfast that morning.  We decided to eat at the Rainforest Cafe.  We had all eaten there before and the food was good but still a little on the pricey side.  After lunch we explored Downtown Disney.  The Marketplace looked really weird without the forested area and the homes that used to be part of the Disney Institute.  The new much bigger and more modern hotel structure looked really out of place to me along the Sassagoula River.  
    We were most perplexed as to why no one was allowed on Pleasure Island as this was just early afternoon and no cover would have been asked for yet.  So we continued on into the Westside and spent most of our time there in the Virgin Megastore.  After looking around in Virgin we headed back to our car and went towards the Magic Kingdom area.

        Seven Seas Lagoon
With parking completed and it only being a little after 1pm we went to look around the hotels around the Seven Seas Lagoon.  We started at the Polynesian and walked around the beautifully landscaped area and spent a little time in the small arcade.  At about 2pm we took the Polynesian boat launch over to the Magic Kingdom.  Since we did not see anything set up for Night of Joy yet we hoped on the resort monorail over to the Contemporary Resort.  
    We looked in the shops and then went down to the bottom floor and played for a while in the Contemporary's decent arcade.  We played some of the ticket redemption games but gave most of the tickets away.  When it got to be about 3 o'clock we walked back to the Magic Kingdom.
    We decided t go through the security check point and wait for the park to open to Night of Joy guests at 4pm.  About 10 minutes later a separate area was set up for those entering for Night of Joy.  During a conversion with one of the security personnel I was informed that they were going to start letting  Night of Joy guests in at 3:30.  After picking up a schedule of the night's performances we lined up at the only turnstile that seemed to be set up to accept Night of Joy guests.  There was only 2 people waiting ahead of us and in conversing with them we found out that they had been waiting there since before 1 o'clock (which was before we even headed towards the Magic Kingdom parking lot).  Even though we were not let into the park yet, we were able to see some of the afternoon parade through the Railroad Tunnel entrance.  
    At 3:30 we were told that we were not going to be let in until 3:45.  However, do to the size of the line that was building behind us we were not going to leave our spot.  Obviously the separation between the regular Magic Kingdom entrance and the Night of Joy entrance was not marked as good as it should of been as we kept telling people that they were in the wrong line for getting into the park (most having no idea that Night of Joy was a hard ticket event or that it was even going on).  We were let into the park at about 3:50pm which still was a little earlier than the stated 4pm opening.

        Magic Kingdom Attractions
The first thing we did was go and check out the areas that said they were marked for Night of Joy merchandise.  One was going to be a small cart at the end of Main Street but it was not set up yet.  The other was either going to be in the Merchant of Venus or in Mickey's Star Traders.  At the rose garden area of the hub there was some sort of television taping going on.  There was also a sign that said that the live radio broadcast for the night had been moved to the Adventureland Veranda.  They were only beginning to setup something in the Merchants of Venus so we decided to go on Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin.  I do not do very good score wise here only breaking 100,000 but that was only because I was trying to take pictures of my brother Tyler and his friend Anthony riding in the car behind (actually in front of, because of the spinning) me.  
    Our next goal was to ride Space Mountain.  Since Anthony does not ride most thrill rides he decided to opt out on this one.  The line seemed longer than it probably should have been for the level of crowd and the time.  Only one side of the ride was being used even though the other side looked fully operational and FastPass did not seem to be in use at the time.  A great thing that I did notice was the removal of the television sets that used to be in the main switchback area and their removal once again made the ride itself dark like it should be.  Anyways, it was a great ride but we did get stopped at the conclusion for about 5 minutes due to the fact that the operators were resetting the speedramp for some unknown reason.
    After that we wanted to ride something Anthony would enjoy and we went on the Tomorrowland Transit Authority.  This is still a great relaxing ride that allows several great views of Tomorrowland and parts of the hub.  It was also a little more interesting than normal seeing people try to high five each other as two TTA trains past at the approach to Space Mountain.  
    Continuing our journey through the Magic Kingdom we worked our way around counter clockwise.  We stopped at The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Peter Pan's Flight, the Haunted Mansion, and the non to Frontierland.
    We were going to ride Big Thunder Mountain but it was under refurbishment.  So my brother and I went on Splash Mountain.  Surprisingly, this was a complete walk on, and turned out to be the shortest line of the night.  Splash Mountain does seem to need a refurbishment more than Thunder Mountain.  Many of the audio animatronics did not work, like the hopping Brer Rabbit and most of the frogs and gophers in the flooded scene.  The ride was still fun.
    At this time we noticed that there was going to be a stage there instead of in the Caribbean Plaza of Adventureland where it was last year.  Disney had apparently learned from the experience of last year where the Adventureland Stage had to be the most cramped and overcrowded stages that there had ever been at any Night of Joy that I had attended.  
    We went into Adventureland and since we had not rode it the year before went on the Jungle Cruise.  Anthony had not been on this ride before and seemed to really enjoy the corny humor of the skipper.  Our skipper had been during a pretty good job of making a fool of herself with the spiel.  She however gave us one of the best laughs of the night at the end of the voyage.  It was apparent that she was bothered by something and was staying very close to the helm of the ship.  When we were about to dock she called out to the onshore crew members that she would need rain gear.  The crew could not figure out why and then it became obvious that she had torn her shorts when she had quickly ducked from the "natives" in the ride.  It was quite funny.
    Then my brother wanted to ride the Magic Carpets.  I rode with him the first time but he decided to ride again and he rode by himself.  After that we went and rode Pirates of the Caribbean.  When we disembarked it was time for the first concert to start so we head towards the hub.

        Night of Joy Concerts
The first concert of the night that we tried to watch was Jars of Clay.  It was interesting that the crowd seemed really built up but this was due to the fact that no one was allowed near the castle as they were testing the equipment for the Hallmark Channel taping.  About 15 minutes before the concert started guests were allowed access to the front of the castle.  we however stayed near the Walt Disney Partners statue.  
    Due to the threat of a tropical storm most of the stage was covered by a white pavilion structure that totally obscured the majestic backdrop of Cinderella's Castle.  At 7:30pm Jars of Clay took the stage.  Their first number started with the band using acoustic guitars.  This was a bad sign.  Jars of Clay seemed to have no stage presence and gave a very lackluster performance.  We stayed for one more song with hopes that it would get better but the excitement just was not there.  Since we were hungry we went into Frontierland to get turkey legs.
    At the Splash Mountain stage Nicole C Mullen had started her concert.  The level of energy was the antithesis of Jars of Clay and the spirit of God seemed to be embodied in her performance.  She had a great stage presence and the crowd was very into her music.  Luckily we were able to see her concert while waiting in the long line to get our turkey lags.  We enjoyed most of her concert while we tried to finish our turkey legs (a tough task as the turkey legs are huge and quite filling).  
    After that we headed back towards the hub and over to Tomorrowland.  We stopped at the merchandise cart at the end of Main Street.  About the only thing for sale was a blue tie dyed Night of Joy t-shirt that did not even list the bands on the back of the shirt.  I wish that they would have offered a solid colored shirt and I especially wished that the bands had been listed on the shirt.  Needless to say I did not buy one.  I also asked if there were any Night of Joy pins available and was told that they had not even made one this year.
    We headed towards the galaxy palace theater as Petra was going to be performing there and that was the band we most wanted to see.  It was about 8:30 and Petra was not performing until 10:30 and Rebecca St James was not going to start her second set until 9:00pm.  
    As we were deciding want to do to kill some of the time we noticed that the Carousel of Progress was spinning.  This was indeed strange as the attraction was listed on the normal day schedule as not operating that day and it was not listed at all on the Night of Joy program.  we went up to it and found out that it was running and so we decided it ride it.  The theatre was actually a lot fuller than I would have expected it to be filling up nearly half the seats.  This was Anthony's first time experiencing this great Disney classic and he was quite blown away by it.  It was amazing that this is mostly a forty year old attraction and still had the power to impress.  The Carousel of Progress is the type of attraction that anyone, especially people like Anthony who mostly does not like thrill rides, can enjoy and be amazed by, the type of attraction Disney should still be making and marketing.  There was a problem with the ride however and that was after we had finished watching the last scene the carousel started to rotate to the exit chamber and the ride stalled before it made it all the way around.  It took about 10 minutes but we were finally exited from the attraction but it still was a unique experience.
    After the attraction we decided to get near as possible to the entrance to the Galaxy Palace stage to get a good seat for the Petra concert.  Rebecca St James had started her second set and the area was quite crowded.  We were near the exit to Buzz Lightyear.  We were under the impression that the theater would be cleared out after Rebecca St James' set like it had been last year.  One of the other patrons behind us asked one of the security guards if this was going to be the case and was told that the theater would not be cleared out.  Because of this we decided that we need to try and get as close as possible to the front by working our way through the crowd of the Rebecca St James concert.  
    Rebecca St James' concert was pretty good.  We did not totally enjoy it like we should have as part of us was watching the concert and the other part was trying to get closer to the stage for the next concert.  Rebecca did talk about still being pure and writing love letters to her future husband.  She said that part of her desire to remain pure came from a True Love Waits rally that was held in Washington D.C. about ten years ago.  This really stuck out in my mind due to the fact that I had also been at this same rally which had taken place at a Christian youth rally called DC/LA 94. (Coincidently this rally which took place on the Washington Mall also featured a performance by Petra).  Rebecca ended her concert with a very moving rendition of her hit single God. 
At the end of her concert about half of the crowd left but the auditorium quickly filled back up for people wanting to see the Petra.  We ended up getting seats about 3 rows back from the front row.  Amazingly we ended up sitting next to the exact same people that sat next to us at the Petra concert at last year's Night of Joy.  Just before Petra came on stage a light rain started to fall.  This unfortunately meant that Petra did not do a complete sound check.
    Petra took the stage at 10:30pm.  Their first song was the title cut of their newest album Jeckyl & Hyde.  Due to the limited sound check this performance had some of the worst sound I had ever heard from Petra.  Thankfully after about 2 or 3 songs they had adjusted the sound to a much better quality.  Petra did have an overall new sound from their previous incarnations due to their new drummer, Justin Johnson, who plays a double bass drum which give Petra a metal rock kind of sound.  
    Petra's first couple of songs were from their new album.  Then they played some of their slightly older efforts.  But the best thing that they did all night was a medley of some of their older stuff which included Sight Unseen/ It is Finished/ and This Means War.  (Video will be available soon of this performance).  Overall I would say that Petra's first set was the best concert I saw all weekend.  Their second set was good but was mostly the same set that they had done last year with slight musical variation mostly due to the new drummer and the absence of a keyboard player.  This concert was filmed for the Hallmark Channel special which should air later this year.
    The Petra concert was the end of our Night of Joy journey in the Magic Kingdom.  After about a 30 minute wait for the ferry boat to head back to the Transportation and Ticket Center we walked to our car even though it was still raining due to the incredibly long line for a tram ride to the parking lot.  We finally arrived back at our hotel and fell asleep at at 2am.