Just got back from a week long trip with the wife and 8YO and almost 3YO. We stayed at AoA, and overall had a blast. Here are a bunch of random comments and observations:
Cheers: the AoA resort overall. We went for a Finding Nemo suite, and it was worth it all around: the central location in the resort, versatile sleeping arrangements, and character theming. Service was very friendly too. Not sure how well known this is, but the resort offers an option where you waive mousekeeping for a $60 credit. We opted for that and did just fine. We still tipped at the end of the stay since staff was very helpful about providing extra supplies as we needed them. I would agree with the assessment that AoA foodcourt is pretty good-- much better than the sodexho crap you would normally expect at a theme park.
Cheers: The quick service dining plan. Admittedly, we are not large people, but we were generally inundated with food. Two entrees and a couple snack items were often enough for the entire family. Disney’s dining plan practices, in spite of the rules, also helped: they allow kids to redeem credits for adult entrees, and they occasionally comped our snack items just because. We found ourselves scrambling to use up our snacks by the end of the trip.
Cheers: Magical Express. On day 1, I screwed up badly: I left my phone on the magical express bus. I frantically spoke to the hotel staff, who contacted ME to put out an alert. They gave me a service ticket number and a phone number. I was a bit discouraged by the fact that ME appears to be run by a third party, MEARS, and gradually began to lose hope as the day wore on, and began contemplating how much more difficult the trip would be without the phone. Lo and behold, they left a message with my wife, reporting my phone had been recovered and would be sent over within a few days. I was so relieved that it was found at all. And then hallelujah, it arrived in a shipment to our room that very evening! Bravo! On top of that, our ME driver on the way back to the airport was hilarious. I wonder if he was trained as a Jungle Cruise pilot.
Cheers and Jeers: Disney’s bus system. Very hit or miss. Getting to MK always seemed easy, as they have a steady stream of buses coming and going. But we had very bad experiences trying to get to AK and Epcot. Waits were 30+ minutes, and this was in the morning on days when the parks were supposedly not too busy. A 30 minute delay can really screw up your schedule. Waits getting back to the resort after big events were occasionally long, but that was to be expected.
Jeers: the planning. Wow, it’s so exhausting planning all this stuff out. The fruits of my planning were evident, as were the consequences of neglect. I had selected a few activities without really knowing what they entailed. And my sense of physical scale was completely off. I didn’t realize, for example, that each park’s respective associated resorts aren’t really part of the parks. So, for example, I had planned lunch at Sanaa in the middle of my TP for animal kingdom. And I had totally forgotten how spread out Epcot is.
In an earlier post, I had inquired how aggressive the model touring plans here are. I went with more modest plans, and fell short of most of them. One lesson is that if you are not a morning person, don’t expect that to change no matter how magical the place is.
Cheers: the WDW mobile app. The map in particular was very useful for locating where we are and where we need to be. I didn’t really mess with same-day fast pass until late in the trip. Although the system went down a few times, all in all, the fastpass functionality was useful. To anyone trying to score a FP, don’t give up. Except for the super rare stuff like Avatar, slots will randomly appear. The TP mobile app was a nice sidekick to the Disney app. It’s times didn’t necessarily seem all that better, but it’s upcoming wait projections were very useful.
Here’s a quick rundown of my week:
Day 0.5: Much handwringing due to missing cellphone. We went to Disney Springs. I hadn’t researched DS at all, and we followed a very inefficient walk path, cutting back and forth frequently. Dinner at food trucks was pretty good.
Day 1 (MK): Lots of basic rides like Small World, Peter Pan, Under the Sea. I had forgotten how dark some of these rides get, even easy ones like Peter Pan (our first ride, which freaked out my youngest a bit). Sorcerers of the MK was a big hit with my older one. The jungle cruise was as gloriously corny and hilarious as I recall from Disneyland several years ago. Tiki Room was definitely the one item I would have omitted. It feels caught in time, not old enough to be nostalgic, not modern enough to compete with today’s high tech exhibits. Traveled to Kona for dinner, which TBH was a bit underwhelming.
Day 2 (Epcot): Got off to a late start due to very slow buses. Turtle Talk with Crush had a grueling (although not that long) wait due to the stuffiness in the wait area, but the show was totally worth it. Agent P was pretty disappointing, especially in comparison to Sorcerers. We made a special trip there early in the morning for the prep, only to realize it’s just a guy who tells you to go to their website, which was itself quite lame. Frozen was a neat ride–
very creative compared to most of the older scene rides. Lunch at Katsura Grill was very good. Dinner at Via Napoli was fairly good too. Stayed for the Illuminations but didn’t get a great view. Chose an area a bit back from the water’s edge. Inquired with a shop vendor about our spot. He said our spot was fine–afterall it’s a fireworks show. That seemed pretty incorrect in hindsight, since quite a bit of the action is low to the water. Least favorite park for the kids by a mile (missed a lot of rides I wanted to do with the older one, like Space) though wife wished she had more time to shop and browse.
Day 3 (HS): Midway Mania was a smash hit for everyone. By week’s end, we had rode MM three times. Was impressed that Indiana Jones was still so enjoyable-- I saw it about 25 years ago last time I was at DW. It was also interesting to see how they had revamped Star Tours. Scored Jedi training for my oldest even though we didn’t show up at opening-- yay for low crowd season. Barely skimmed over a lot of the other SW circus that was setup.
Day 4 (AK): Late start due to slow buses(though it was the earliest I had herded everyone out the door due to the busy schedule). Decided to try to get on Navi River prior to our Flight fastpass per my original plan. Wait time doubled to two hours while we were in line, but cast at the FP entrance for Flight were accommodating. I did not think River ride was worth the wait and would probably skip it next time, but Flight (with FP of course) was pretty neat. Because of the blown time table (and my failing to understand the geography of the parks) we blew our lunch reservation at Sanaa by about 1.5 hours. But restaurant staff was very nice and seated us almost immediately. Excursion was worth it as food was very good and scenery was lovely. Went back to park for safari ride, headed back to resort early, grabbed some take-out food, and then went to MK for Happily Ever After. Not sure what the protocol is, but we just marched straight up to the northern tip of Main Street and then stopped in the middle of the masses that were probably there long before us for prime viewing (weren’t we all immigrants at some point?). Enjoyed the show; thought it was the best of the night shows.
Day 5 (MK again): Buzz Lightyear Spin felt like a letdown in comparison to MM-- very difficult to aim those laser guns. Should have researched Enchanted Tales more. It was ridiculously cute, but oldest was bored and youngest wasn’t really into B&B. Be Our Guest was disappointing too. Food was not bad but experience overall didn’t seem worth the trouble. Haunted Mansion actually seemed quite a bit scarier than I was expecting. Proud that my kids got through it, but definitely felt more intense than “like Scooby Doo,” as a cast member described. Bit of a lowkey, but pleasant, day; ended with youngest barfing ice cream everywhere. Early closing at MK, so just chilled at resort / did laundry.
Day 6: wildcard day for whatever the family wanted. Went back to AK first. Lovely park with so many areas and trails that we simply didn’t have time to explore. Went on another safari since youngest slept through the first run; was a very nice trek, probably superior to the sunset/evening one a few days earlier. Primeval Whirl and the entire mini-midway in Dinoland was a pleasant surprise. Oldest complained we didn’t go on enough thrill rides, and Whirl was actually quite fun for 0 wait. Spent second half of day in HS. Did TS Mania twice in a row and then watched muppets (enjoyable, but many of the shows were starting to feel generic-- ie, muppets 3d was much like philharmonic). Stopped by ABC Commissary for dinner prior to Fantasmic. Over 20 minute wait just to order and then about 30 minute wait for our food. Ending up inhaling food for five minutes and then packing the rest before dashing across the park for nosebleed seats at Fantasmic. TBH, was a bit disappointed by Fantasmic, which had been billed as DW’s very best night show, though maybe that was in part sullied by our cruddy dinner experience.
Day 6.5: Checked out, spent the last of our dining credits, lightened the wallet a bit more at the resort shop before riding ME back to the airport. Ugh, what is the deal with MCO security check? Utter madness, and it seems some people will be in line 3x longer completely randomly depending where you are directed.
All in all, a fun though exhausting trip. Youngest was in various states of illness throughout but still enjoyed the trip. I can safely say that I will never go to WDW in the summer though. We enjoyed very pleasant weather 70-80, with (according to TP) quite low crowds. It still felt super crowded and just warm enough to be uncomfortable at times. I can’t imagine going to WDW with another +20 degrees and 25% more crowds. Guess my tolerance for these kinds of things is getting lower as I get old and feeble. Special thank you to everyone on the forums here and the articles here (and other sites like disboards, etc.) for exhaustively discussing so much minutia about WDW. I was able to find answers to questions on the fly most of the time.