We arrived at MCO on Oct 10th at 10:30 for our quick, long weekend trip on Columbus Day weekend. We were not originally planning on returning in less than twelve months to Disney, having visited Thanksgiving 2013, but the DH and I both needed diversions from stressful job situations. We normally go to Disney every 1 ½ to 2 years for 7 or 8 days at a stretch, so a long-weekend type of trip was going to be new for us in terms of our touring plans.
To save money, we decided to stick with value resorts. I was a little worried since the last trip was a splurge with a 7 night stay at Polynesian. There are a lot of amenities at the deluxe resorts and I was a bit concerned we might not be happy at Pop. But as I came to find out later, I worried for nothing.
The other big change for us was the decision to skip the dining plan. In the past we’ve done variations – once CS only, and then the other times, deluxe. Every time, in retrospect, I felt that based on our eating habits, these plans were not very good values. We don’t typically eat all the desserts provided in the plans. We also end the trip with a bunch of unused snack credits, all of which to me adds up to wasted money. DH, however, likes having as many costs paid in advance, but he reluctantly went along with me this time to skip the DP.
Very happy to say the DME process and check in at POP went smoothly and swiftly. Our awesome TA got us a preferred room with a RO discount and we had requested 4th floor and lake view. The CM offered us a room that was immediately available on the 4th floor, but it was not lake view. We decided to take it anyway, and we were really happy with it, because it overlooked the green space between it and the 50s building so it was still nice and quiet. This was our first value stay, and I expected the worst out of the room, while hoping for the best, so I was pleased with the size of the room. Since we sleep on full-sized beds at home, we don’t mind the provided full-sized beds. They were comfy enough, the pillows were fine, and I will say that those are not things we tend to dwell on when staying at hotels. The smaller bathroom facilities were adequate, no real complaints there from us. The only real negative was from my kids. They were completely unimpressed with the pool. “What, no slide?” We weren’t planning on any down time during the day on this short trip, but they didn’t ask us to try and work pool time into our plans.
Once we finished checking in, a bus to Epcot was practically waiting for us. We gazed at Spaceship Earth and I had to practically pinch myself – We made it! We’re here! And we made our 1st FPP for Soarin at 12:30 just in the nick of time. Since it was right there, we had lunch at Sunshine Seasons, which is our go-to lunch place in FW, and the food was good – oak grilled salmon with green beans and potatoes, sweet and sour chicken with rice, and a third item that escapes me now. My kids are picky eaters in some ways, in that they don’t eat a wide variety of vegetables anymore. DD10 eats corn and green salads. DD8 eats broccoli. And that’s about it. The carrot sticks and red grapes provided with the kids meals go uneaten. They rarely go for items on the kids menus, anyway, because they aren’t fans of nuggets, uncrustables, etc. So we tend to order two or three adult entrees and split them between the four of us.
The rest of the day was spent fulfilling our other two FPPs, for Mission Space and Spaceship Earth, and slotting in other rides. Living with the Land, Sum of All Thrills, Figment, Ellen’s Energy Adventure, and the Seas with Nemo and Friends. Wait times in general were pretty low that afternoon and evening, so we pretty much went commando, jumping on rides at whim the rest of the day. TT only had a 30 minute wait, Figment and LWTL both only had 10 minute waits. Of course we stopped at Club Cool to make faces at Beverly and reacquaint ourselves with our favorites (the Greek pineapple Fanta for me). Later in the evening, we went to WS and snacked on F&W offerings – bacon hash and yard bird from Farm Fresh, lamb from Australia, hand rolls from Japan, all delicious. Exhaustion took over by 9 pm, so we headed back to POP.
October 11th our plan was to visit AK during the day, and Epcot in the afternoon to evening. We made RD at AK, so we booked it for EE and ended up riding it several times in a row. We had FPP for KS, EE and M&G with Mickey and Minnie a bit later in the day. Waits at AK that day were pretty good again - we ended up riding EE 5 times total! The FPP for the Mickey & Minnie M&G was completely unnecessary, but we didn’t mind because it was our best option when we were making out FPP selections. We had no desire to ride Dinosaur – not fans of all the lurching about.
It was time for lunch, and we stopped at FTB. This was our first time at this restaurant, since we always end go to Yak and Yeti. Lunch at FTB was delish. DD10 ordered the half slab ribs, DD8 chose the ½ chicken plate, and DH ordered the smoked turkey breast sandwich. I had some of the ribs and the chicken and both were quite tasty, and DH liked his sandwich. I picked up one each of the chocolate mousse and key lime mousse; both were sort of meh. But we had a lot to do the rest of the day so we didn’t linger over lunch. In the past we don’t tend to spend a lot of time at AK but this time around, since time permitted, we decided to experience the jungle treks. We normally don’t walk through these because we have two wonderful zoos at home. But as we walked through the Paganini trek, the kids showed great interest in earning wilderness explorer badges. All in all, DD10 and DD8 each earned 20 wilderness explorer badges in the afternoon, and this program really engaged them and prompted a lot more interest in exploring the Paganini and Maharajah jungle treks than they would have otherwise. We ended up staying at AK until close.
We took the bus to Epcot for dinner. DD10 and DH had fish and chips from Yorkshire County Fish Shop in England, and DD8 and I had a taste for La Boulangerie at France, so we bought the chicken pistou sandwich, the ham croissant, and for dessert, crème brulee and a chocolate bombe for the four of us to split. Phenomenal! We ate in front of the fountain in France and soaked in the ambiance. This location is my favorite place in the World and makes my heart happy. After people watching for a while, the kids did an Agent P in England, we stayed for Illuminations, and then headed home, exhausted.
October 12th we planned to be at DHS at rope drop but we were running late, and got to the POP bus stop at 8:30. Buses to DHS were scarce that morning! I kid you not, 5 buses came and went to MK, but not a one for DHS until about 8:50. We managed to arrive at DHS at 9, and queued up for JTA by 9:05. Bad luck for us, all the slots for JTA were quickly filled and DD8 and DD10 ended up on the waiting list. If your child is given a spot in one of the shows, you get a receipt with a return time on it. Do everything humanly possible to make sure your child is there by the time posted on your ticket, because if you don’t, that spot will be given to a wait-listed child. And the CMs are ruthless about enforcing the time. If wait listed, you have to arrive up to 20 minutes prior to each show to see if there are any no-shows. If there is an unclaimed spot, that spot will be filled based on your child’s wait list number. Once that unclaimed spot is filled by a wait-listed child, it’s gone. So if the child with an assigned return time is even a minute late, they won’t be admitted to the show if their unclaimed spot was taken by a wait listed child.
Given the whole situation, we had a chat with DD10 and DD8 about this process and how chancy it was that they’d get to participate – if at all, and highly unlikely together. DD10 is the Star Wars fanatic and wanted to try for an unclaimed spot, with the understanding that despite our best efforts, she might not get a spot. My more introverted DD8 said she wouldn’t mind if she didn’t do it at all, and unless there were two slots open for the two of them, she honestly didn’t want to participate by herself. So with that managed, we stopped at Starring Rolls for snacks and to come up with Plan B touring plans. We split an Olaf cupcake (carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. Yum!) and a red velvet cupcake between the four of us – both delicious.
We were able to rearrange our FPPs a little so that we could spend most of the afternoon stalking the JTA CMs. After our snack, we did TOT, RnR, and ST in the morning using FPP. RnR we rode several times later that morning, using the single-rider option. DH went first into the single-rider line, followed by DD10 and DD8, and I was fourth, with the agreement that we’d all meet back up at the ride photos at the end. Worked perfectly! Lines for TOT subsided a bit and moved faster than posted times, so we did that stand-by a couple of times as well.
For lunch, we usually eat at Studio Catering Co. but Backlot was right next to JTA so we had lunch there. None of the restaurants in DHS really stand out to us, and Backlot sort of fit in -it wasn’t bad, but it also wasn’t memorable. Then the JTA stalking began with the 1:50 show. Early one of the CMs sort of gingerly warned us the odds of two open slots were slim to none. No problem, we already anticipated this and the DD8 was OK if there isn’t a spot for her. The CM seemed surprised and relieved at our response. His reaction leads me to believe people get pretty irate during this whole process. We good naturedly repeated the whole process 4 times; there was no point getting annoyed with CMs, after all it’s not their fault we were late to begin with. The 4:40 show was approaching, and at this point we were getting to know the CMs pretty well. There appeared to be a slot open for this show. But we’d been down this path before so we didn’t have our hopes up. Our CM BFF at this point said that never fear, if it doesn’t work out this time, she’ll get in the next one. I don’t know why he was so confident; was he just trying to keep up our morale? Luckily we didn’t have to wait to find out. There was an open slot at the 4:40 show and DD10 got it. JTA was amazing, she loved it, it was totally worth the effort. At the end of the performance, after all the little Padawans defeated Darth Vader, each received a certificate which makes for a nice souvenir. We didn’t see Characterpalooza and there were other things we wanted to do with our afternoon, but the JTA experience was very good and DD10 was ecstatic.
We celebrated afterwards with another ride on ST and a mickey ice cream bar before heading out to Epcot for dinner. We opted for the boat from DHS to Epcot for a more relaxing and appealing trip than the bus.
At Epcot, we went with the tried and true Tangerine Café for dinner. We bought two lamb platters and a vegetarian platter and stuffed ourselves. The kids did some pin trading with CMs at the Agent P kiosk and started the France adventure. Since we were right there, we got a chocolate crepe from Crepes des Chefs and ate it at the fountain before heading over to Japan for another Agent P adventure. We popped into Mitsukoshi for some shopping. Happy to say that this time, as opposed to last November 2013, we actually found quite a bit of Studio Ghibli merchandise – but were disappointed at how expensive it was. A 6-inch stuffed Ponyo was $30. More reasonable were the enameled Totoro pins/charms in the display case, with a set of 2 at about $14.
October 13th was our last full day at WDW. This was also the day of our MNSSHP. We had never done the party before so we were looking forward to a new adventure here. Since we were planning on staying up a little later than usual, we slept in and took our time getting ready. And because we weren’t planning on coming back to the hotel, we dressed for the party. It was still pretty warm in October so our “costumes” had to stand up to the warm weather and rides. Our theme was Alice in Wonderland. Character t-shirts and accessories came from Hot Topic and Amazon. DD10 was Alice, DD8 was Cheshire Cat, DH was White Rabbit and I was the Queen of Hearts. Like good little Liners, we were all wearing our Keens.
We arrived at MK at mid-morning and had breakfast at Sleepy Hollow. We picked up the Nutella and fresh fruit waffle as well as the chicken waffle. I’d never had the chicken waffle before so I was a little hesitant but DD10 dived right in. Then again, she likes bacon ice cream so it wasn’t a leap for her. I have to say it was pretty good! Our first FPP was at 12:30 for BTMRR, followed by HM and Space Mountain a little later in the afternoon. I had set up a touring plan for MK, as I had for our other days in the parks, but then we make adjustments on the fly if wait times permit it. This seems to work well on days that are not very crowded and this so far was one of them. So these are the attractions we went on, in no particular order and in some cases, multiple times: All three mountains, Buzz, Small World, Stitch (DD8 and DD10 just love it), Monsters Inc Laugh Floor, and PhilharMagic.
We stopped for a late afternoon bite to eat in CHH. We were all pretty hungry so each got their own entrée this time – fish and chips (though the ones in Epcot are better), hummus sandwich, salmon, and chicken pot pie. Yummy, and filling.
Before we knew it, it was 7:00 and it was time for the MNSSHP to begin. We presented our hard tickets to the CMS, who in return provided us with our wristbands and our trick or treating bags. Inside each bag was a list of activities. As I mentioned earlier, this was our first time doing the party. I had read up on the party and took notes on things to do at the party in advance, but reading about it is one thing, actually doing it is another. So it was a little bit confusing about what exactly was happening where. We basically missed the villains mix and mingle castle show and the Club Villain dance party.
We went looking for character meet and greets first. Their locations and who exactly was available could have been made clearer, but we did find the Queen of Hearts and Alice by the teacups and we took some great family photos. I had a great time arguing with the Queen of Hearts (she was using gestures) about which of the two of use was the REAL Queen of Hearts. She also took a couple of pot shots at Alice which was pretty funny, too.
Later we found a nice spot to sit and wait for the Boo to You parade to start. We were near the Tomorrowland spoke on the outer sidewalk and found a seat on the curb. We waited for quite a while, but finally the headless horseman came although with absolutely no fanfare. We almost missed him, as he wasn’t being announced as he progressed along the parade route. And watching him from a YouTube video is a little different than when you’re sitting curbside. He passed us by so quickly, nobody had time to take out their cameras. The crowd-controlling CM was hilarious though because she said told the crowd “Well, he’s riding a horse (and she is now mimicking riding a horse) not a turtle, so he’s going to go fast!” And so the parade began. As parades go, DH is not a huge fan in general. He prefers to go on rides and doesn’t really want to wait around to watch them. But even he enjoyed this one, especially since he loves villains.
We went trick or treating after that and came away with a LOT of candy. Oh and the rides – walk ons. I guess since there was so much going on that lines were very short. We rode 7DMT 3 times. We stopped at HM and although I’ve heard the line for HM could be long during the MNSSHP, I guess we got lucky because it wasn’t that long a wait and we enjoyed watching and listening to Madame Rinata gossiping about Madame Carlotta. In between the rides and snacking and fun, we also watched Hallowishes which was spectacular. We ended up staying far later than I thought DD10 and DD8 could manage, but at 12:30 we decided it was time to go home.
October 14th marked the last day of our trip. It was also memorable for being the day of our much-coveted Anna and Elsa FPP meet and greet. Given the late night we had, this was a late start kind of a day. We made it to MK at about 9 am. This day we packed our ponchos in our backpack because the forecast called for rain. The backpack was also crammed with Anna and Elsa dresses for the upcoming M&G. We stopped at Gaston’s for breakfast – cinnamon rolls, chocolate croissants (La Boulangerie’s were better but these were good, too), and LeFou’s Brew. I so wish I could have met Gaston but he took a break just as we finished eating, and we had FPPs to burn.
Energized by the sugar, we used our first FPP for 7DMT. Like BTMRR, 7DMT is a different experience during the day. I like 7DMT better at night, quite honestly. Just a different ambience and the tableau at the end, of the witch at Snow’s door, to me just looks better at night. Our second FPP was used to ride Peter Pan (always busy!) and then we did some shopping at the Christmas Shop. We had just finished having some snacks at Sleepy Hollow (DDs were in the mood for floats and funnel cakes) when it started to rain and we poncho’d up. Luckily it didn’t last long and it was really light. The third FPP for A&E was a bit of a mess, in that each of us had different return times, but at least we had them. 60 days prior, at 12 eastern, DH and I were each on our laptops and ready to find those FPPs. DH scored the first one and tried copying the rest of us. But it didn’t quite work out as we’d hoped. He managed to get one at 12:50, one at 1:20, and one at 1:45. The fourth, mine, was at 2 pm. Which meant we couldn’t go in as a group. At 12:50, with the DDs decked out in their princess attire, we all showed up at the FPP line. I explained the situation, and asked if I could go in with them and luckily, the CM waved me through. Once we were done with our A&E meet and greet, having met Anna and Elsa separately, it was time to head back to the hotel for the tragic express. We had a late lunch at Pop and then we very reluctantly departed.
Various takeaways from our trip:
For the first time, we did not do a dining plan. There were two reasons for this: 1) Every other time we’ve done it, we’ve had a bunch of credits left over. And 2) because this was a shorter trip than what we usually do, we wanted to cram as many attractions as we could, and have ultimate flexibility so we booked no ADRs or even BOG lunch on this trip. We estimate that we saved about $80 by not buying the QS plan and a lot of time.
Don’t hesitate to ask for cup(s) of ice water from CMs at various eating establishments. They were happy to provide them, with or without other purchases.
Keens. Enough said.
Taking a screen shot of our FPP and then setting it as a lock screen helped save precious battery power, and I didn’t need to rely on my trent charger. I also set alarms for each FPP/activity on my alarm clock app as another means of keeping our day on track.
If your child wants to do JTA at DHS, be at DHS by 8:30 at the latest. If you’re there on time and get a slot in the JTA, do everything humanly possible to make sure you’re not even a minute late for your return time to your child’s show. If your child is wait listed at #40, and a spot opens up in one of the shows, and #10 shows up (even if they arrived after your child), your child will get bumped. So manage your and your child’s expectations.
Overall we didn’t have a single issue with rude CMs, and there were situations where we needed their assistance - be nice to CMs, and it’s amazing how willing they are to the best of their abilities to accommodate your request.
We were very pleased with bus service at Pop and overall thought the transportation to/from Pop was excellent (barring that one morning). I would not hesitate to stay at Pop again for a short trip. For a longer trip, however, I would consider a split stay in order to take advantage of the better pool at a moderate or deluxe resort.