WARNING...THIS IS A LONG POST! As many of you know, over the years we have become very close friends with Ricardo who is a head server at the YSH, and his wife [Luz] who also works for Disney at the GF as a housekeeping manager. As such they have been our house guests during the times when they have visited the UK and they make sure to take good care of us whenever we visit Florida, and this time was no exception. Thursday Sept.17th Tonight was to be our first meeting with Ricardo and his wife as he had arranged for us to have dinner with them at the new Paradiso restaurant at PI. We collected Luz from her work at the GF and she gave us some reservations that she had made on our behalf for breakfast at 1900 Park Fayre for later in our vacation when we were to spend a few nights at the resort which was kind of her. We were joined by a friend of Ricardo`s who used to own an executive position at Disney before his retirement and who gave Ricky his first job at WDW. He was also heavily involved with the setting up of DLRP and the GF so we had quite a lot to talk about! [For reasons of confidentiality I won`t reveal his name or post any photos of our meeting.] We really enjoyed the dinner. Good company, an excellent table alongside the lake, and a perfect end to our first full day in Florida. The live music at the restaurant was a bit loud though, and although it didn`t bother me [the singer/guitar player even played an Eric Clapton number!], it could be disappointing if you wanted a quiet intimate dinner! Over dinner we were told by our hosts that PI is the only area of WDW that is patrolled by “real” police rather than the normal Disney security. Apparently this is because although Disney owns the land, all of the shops and restaurants etc.are privately owned and operated so different rules apply. One of the reasons behind the closure of the many bars and dancing venues at PI was that it attracted a load of troublemakers which was in danger of tarnishing the Disney image. Sunday Sept.20th Our next meeting with Ricardo was tonight when we had arranged to have dinner at the YSH with our very own catrancher [Tom], and his dear wife Carol, who we met when they were our dining partners on a DCL cruise last year. After a few hugs, kisses and handshakes with our friends followed by a pre-dinner tipple, we were led into the restaurant where Ricardo made us all most welcome. A personal card was on the table awaiting us along with a vase containing some flowers from his garden. Over dinner, several of Ricky`s fellow CM`s and his manager came over to greet us which made us really feel at home. A good night was had by all, with Ricardo providing most of the entertainment as usual and we were almost the last to leave the restaurant due to the excellent company and overall atmosphere of the evening. Before leaving, my DW and I gave Ricky a birthday gift for his big day tomorrow [various items of Beatles merchandise], and true to form, Ricky called us at our villa at around midnight to thank us for the gift that he had just opened! Wednesday Sept.23rd This morning we met Ricardo at DTD as he had arranged for us to visit the Disney headquarters across the road. I`ve often passed this building and wondered what it was like inside so it was great being able to check it out. Needless to say but the security was tight and we had to present a photo ID to the security guard in the lobby who then issued us with visitor passes. Just beyond the lobby is what is reputed to be the largest sun dial in the World…in true Disney fashion! This is housed in a round un-roofed building, which always reminded me of a power station cooling tower whenever I saw it from the road. Ricky showed us the bank in the building which handles the financial matters of all of the CM`s in addition to giving us a guided tour of the premises which he [or rather we!] had access to! Outside the building I couldn`t resist taking some photos of his vehicle and also a shot of Ricardo and my DW. [If only I could be as cheerful as he is all the time!] Ricardo & my DW Ricardo`s van Thursday Sept 24th We had arranged to meet Ricky in the lobby of the Poly. and as we were by now staying at the GF, it was a pleasant stroll along the beach to get there. Today was the final of a Latin American dancing competition between teams of CM`s from the GF and the Poly. and we were there to give support to Luz [Ricardo`s DW] who was a member of one of the teams from the GF. Ricky took us behind the scenes to a room which the CM`s use for various social activities, containing a stage and dancing area and the place was wall to wall with CM`s from both resorts all giving their support to the various entrants. At one stage I needed the bathroom and was given the directions by a CM…”Take that door, walk through the kitchen, down a small corridor, and it`s to your right!” This definitely was “behind the scenes”! In the event, Luz`s team finished 3rd in the competition and they were presented with a framed plaque in recognition of their achievement. The first prize apparently was a free dinner for 10 at one of the resort restaurants which was quite an incentive for the CM`s to take part! Dance competition Monday Oct.5th Because we had spent a few days at VB, today was the date of our next get together with Ricky & Luz. They took us to the Omni Resort at Champions Gate which is only a short drive from our villa, where we had dinner in one of their restaurants called Trevi`s. This was our first visit to this resort and we had an excellent meal there where we were given excellent service from our server, especially when he found out that Ricardo and Luz were Disney CM`s. [Apparently the Omni had “poached” several CM`s when setting up their resort!]. The Omni appears to be a lovely resort, however it does cater heavily for the corporate business trade and doesn`t have the feel of a holiday base. However it was nice to see a circular area outside with a central huge fire ablaze, surrounded by guests relaxing in wooden rocking chairs who seemed totally at ease. Tuesday Oct.6th Tonight, dinner was at the YSH again, this time with Wendy, Chris, John [uscwest] and Donna [wdwgrandma]. It was great for us all to meet up at this location to renew our friendship. As usual Ricky was on top form and kept us entertained as he tried to serve us as it was difficult for him to get much sense out of us as there was quite a lot of banter going on. Again, he had arranged for a personalised welcome card and flowers to be placed on our table which was a very nice gesture. A good time was had by all. Thursday Oct.8th So far we had never met Ricardo`s Mother on any of our visits, so today Ricky put that in order as we were to have lunch together at AK. I couldn`t believe my eyes when our doorbell rang and there stood Ricardo and his Mum, Eva. Eva is 83 years old [or should I say “young”?], as she is remarkable for her age. Heck she even drives a two seater sports car [Fiero?] and soon we were chatting away like long lost friends. Ricky had arranged for us to have lunch at a restaurant called Sanna at the AK villas. Again this was somewhere new to us, and I must say that I was very impressed. After a small time spent outside viewing some of the animals, we were seated by the window from where we had a great view of them from our table. Sadly my DW and I could only manage a light lunch as we had reserved dinner at the Bistro de Paris for this evening which we didn`t want to spoil, however we really enjoyed the restaurant and will definitely visit again. AKL Villas AKL Villas Lobby On the way back to our house we took a slight detour to OKW as Ricky had promised to show his van to a couple of his guests from the UK who he had served at the YSH. They have a lot in common with both Ricky and I seeing as they live near to Guildford with Ringo Starr and Eric Clapton both having homes nearby! Sunday Oct. 11th Another tradition for my DW and I is to have our final dinner of our vacation at the YSH in order to say our goodbyes [for the short term] to Ricardo. Unlike our previous visit with Tom & Carol though, WDW had now become very busy as it was the Columbus Day weekend so Ricky was rushed off his feet attending to his tables. His manager and several of his CM`s came over and kept us company on several occasions though to make up for his absence! This time Ricky had placed a red rose in a glass vase on our table which my DW though was a really nice gesture. After saying our goodbyes we left, hating the thought that it would be several months before our next meeting with this guy and his wonderful family.