Or, how we dealt with huge crowds satisfactorily and my DH and I are still speaking to each other!
I began researching our Dec. 2017 trip in Jan. 2017. I initially bought the big Touring Plans WDW book and then discovered all of the wonderful, generous people who find time to be on the TP Discussion Forum. Thanks to you all from the bottom of my heart, as it wouldn’t have been nearly as good a trip without your patient advice to my questions. So, as a payback of sorts, I’m now going to go through my own family’s experiences in the hopes of helping other first-timers who will be going to WDW at Christmas in the future.
Overall Plan: Since I am still teaching high school, our only choices were Christmas or summer. As neither my DH nor I can take heat with humidity, it was a no-brainer. So, this is what I planned: Dec. 22 was MVMCP. Dec. 23-27 for EPCOT, MK, and AK with 5-day park-hoppers. No HS, as it didn’t have enough to interest us at this time. Followed Touring Plans 12-month planner for basics like getting tickets in May from The Official Ticket Center. Planned and re-planned as the months progressed. Husband thought I was nuts (but of course he thanked me when, at Epcot for our first full day, he realized how much he was now benefitting!).
FIRST NIGHT: We flew out from California on Dec. 21 and stayed the first night at the Marriott Fairfield Inn, close to WDW (it was about $80 for the night and included breakfast the next morning). Took Lyft to our hotel, but the driver didn’t know exactly how to get there. Spoke little English, too, a pattern that became all too familiar with Lyft over the next 6 days. Late for our dinner reservation after our delayed flight, we literally threw our bags onto a hotel cart that the hotel manager then put into their locked storeroom. We then hopped a Lyft to Disney Springs for our 7 pm Raglan Road reservations. Again, we had another Lyft driver who had no clue where to go initially, went 20 miles an hour, and wanted to just keep going up one of the raised parking garages at Disney Springs! We finally just said stop and hopped out. But WOW!!! Disney Springs is so amazing – all the shops and places to eat in such a gorgeous environment. Perked us right up! Finally made it to Raglan Road only 5 min. late for our reserved table and had a great time with the fantastic live music and dancing. Food was pretty decent, and I thoroughly enjoyed my Guinness! *Tip for that restaurant: Consider just eating at the bar, which doesn’t take reservations, has pretty fast turnover of seats, and has a super view of the dancers. Our server, Jenny, turned out to have grown up not 5 miles from our home in Northern California! Talk about a small world……and walking around Disney Springs at night in beautiful weather after our dinner was just a blast.
Friday, Dec. 22
Again took Lyft to transfer to Swan Hotel, and had a fantastic driver (you may be questioning our sanity with choosing Lyft again, but my husband had one of those discount deals for the rest of Dec. so each trip was really cheap. And we really did have some great drivers, too). LOVE, LOVE the Swan!!! We spent 5 nights there and the hotel itself is just gorgeous. We were in a 2-Queen with Balcony room, because our oldest son, 28 yrs. old, was going to be staying with us (since we were hardly in the room, it actually worked out just fine). He drove out from Tampa where he’s going to college – he’d never been to WDW so this was our treat to him as well as to us.
One odd experience with the Swan: Initially, last summer, I had booked a King room as it was just going to be my husband and me. I entered all hotel info. into MyDisneyExperience, and it dutifully reported one room reserved. When our son from Tampa then said he wanted to join us (and we couldn’t afford another room), I switched our reservation to a 2-Queen room and changed the reservation info. on MDE. It then reported we had 3 rooms reserved! This was just before the hurricane hit, so I couldn’t contact the Swan for several weeks afterward. When I finally was able to talk with someone around the end of September, she reassured me that it was really just one room. I was so worried I called again in October (always recording who I talked with!) and got the same reassurance. And they were right – we were charged for just one room, but no one could explain why MDE kept saying it was 3. Weird.
Spent most of Friday just wandering around Swan and Dolphin hotels, finding out where the best gym was for son (Dolphin) and the best large lap pool for me (Swan). LOVED the 24-hour cafeteria with decent food and fun ocean decor, Picabu, at the Dolphin. The 2 hotels are so close to each other, it’s no bother to drop by one on your way to the other.
Also, I have to sing the praises of these two hotels in that they are a very short, delightful walk away from Epcot. You just cruise around the Boardwalk and you’re very close to the International Gateway entrance. Since we were going to Epcot for 2 of our 5 days, it was extremely convenient!
Friday night, Dec. 22 - MVMCP
MVMCP – It was so fun! Our son was not coming with us (gym time for him), so my DH and I set off about 3:30 pm on a Disney bus, and we were in MK by 4 pm. The WDW buses for us were always satisfactory, which we weren’t expecting. based on previous comments. I knew that there could be issues, but we didn’t come back with the mobs right after fireworks, so maybe that’s why I can say that we had no problems. They pick up right outside the Swan’s front entrance, and there was a pretty accurate monitor mounted on the wall by the pick-up spot that always told us when the next bus was coming (we never waited more than 10 minutes). Got to MK, short bag-check line, short MagicBand check-in (had to get our fingerprint in the system, very easy), and we were on our way! (I had bought our MagicBands last spring from Disney online - highly recommend getting them far in advance so they’re registered on MDE and already linked to all of your reservations and FastPasses before you arrive at WDW). We’ve been to DL many times, but Magic Kingdom at WDW just felt bigger in every way. WOW! Loved the Christmas decorations, but the rides were crowded for sure. To be expected, no?!? We had read about the to-be-expected Christmas crowds, and I think this is one of those “Attitude is Everything” situations where you just have to lower your expectations and decide what’s most important to do. Kept longingly walking past 7DMT and PPF, but we just refused to spend too much time in lines, ever, so they were a no-go. Did “Jingle Cruise”, loved it. Our DL favorites, Haunted Mansion and Pirates, were definitely a bit different than these at MK, but they were still just so much fun!
Parade: One of my “must-do’s” for the party. We initially thought about Main Street with the snow, but we found ourselves about 30 min. prior to the parade in Liberty Square. Street was roped off, and there was this perfect angle to the rope (on the Liberty Tree Tavern side of the street) where all 5’1” of me could stand with the most perfect view of the parade coming toward us. It’s just north of the entrance to the Liberty Tree Tavern. There was only one other small party already staked out along the rope here, with plenty of room for several more groups. Highly recommend this spot! And you’ll read later how we got our snow, after all. This is how close to the parade we were:
Walked to Tomorrowland to find a bite to eat and found a surprisingly short line to get some really tender chicken at Cosmic Rays. I know it’s not considered a good place to eat by some, but we thought the chicken dinner was quite good. Or maybe we were just so hungry we didn’t notice!
Garden Dessert Party: Absolutely worth every penny for the two of us. I don’t know if I could ever see the Castle Fireworks show now without it! Again, I had a wonderful view with no one in front of me. We did things a little differently, though, and resisted spending eating time before the show and went directly to the Garden area. The fireworks surpass ANY hometown July 4 fireworks show I’ve ever seen!!! Loved the music and beautiful castle projection show as well as the fireworks finale.
Afterward, we then made a beeline directly up to the dessert area (after first getting the ok from Cast Members), gathered a plateful of goodies and several sparkling cider glasses, and had a delightful munch on the terrace at a front-row table with the most perfect view of the castle and garden grounds. Just mesmerizing!
We are not normally late-night people, so I had assumed in my planning we’d be dragging our feet back to the buses by this point with the rest of the crowds. The adrenalin must have kicked in (and coming from Calif. didn’t hurt because it’s 3 hours behind Florida) so we then had a wonderful late evening exploring Fantasyland with no crowds. Other people were certainly there (7DMT still had too long a line, darn it) but it was just wonderful to just soak up the atmosphere. Went on PPF and LOVED the pre-ride queue experience! I hadn’t known what to expect and going through the Darling’s home was a pleasant surprise. We even jumped on The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh with no wait at all. Walked down to Tomorrowland to get my “must-do” photo op with Nick Wilde and Judy Hopps (again, no line!), then started to leave down Main Street just as the later parade was approaching. We were able to navigate Main Street pretty easily and got our snowy parade after all! Bus back to the hotel was quick and uneventful – perfect end to our first WDW experience!
I’ll post the rest in a few days!