A Real-Deal Evaluation of our First WDW Vacation
I am the same just about the same age as Disney World. And have waited my whole life to go. I am a West Coaster, and have been to Disneyland four times, at ages 6, 14, 23, and 39. So, finally, it was time for me and my family to make the long trip to the completely opposite corner of the continental United States!
I will say that my first resource when planning a Disney vacation has always been the Unofficial Guides (for as long as I have known they exist), and I also read as much online info as possible to keep up with the latest news.
So here we go….I decided that we would go the first full week of December, from 4-11, since this is usually one of the lowest attendance-weeks of the year. The travelers included my 50 year-old husband, 19 year-old daughter, 17 year-old son, and my 65 year-old brother, who has a developmental disability, and my 46 year-old self.
We traveled non-stop from Portland, Oregon to Orlando, and landed at about 2:45pm. We did utilize the Disney’s Magic Express service, which I found nice to have in place. Once you get to the Orlando airport, directions to the buses are very clear, and it was nice not to have to wait for our baggage. (if you get to the Magic Express kiosk and find that, despite all of your reminders, your daughter has packed her Magic Band in her checked luggage, do no freak out. You can pick up another one at the hotel after the kiosk people at the airport confirm that your forgetful daughter is indeed a member of your reservation.) The bus was waiting for us when we arrived, and we left for our hotel almost immediately. By the time we had de-planed, got to the bus, and got to our resort it was just about 4:30, which is about what I had expected.
We were booked in the Mighty Ducks #2 building of the All-Start Movies Resort. We had adjoining rooms, which was good, and the rooms were pretty basic. Clean, comfortable, with two double beds in each. (Pay attention to this….If you think it will be queen beds, it will not be. We got a roll-away for our son for the week, at the low price of $15 per night.) We stopped to drop our carry-ons at the hotel and headed straight for the Magic Kingdom, after grabbing a bite in the hotel food court.
Once we got to the Magic Kingdom, we made one of the best decisions on the whole trip. We went to City Hall and got a Disability Access Services pass for my brother. He is on the autism/Asperger’s spectrum and we knew that waiting in long lines had the potential to make a him a little agitated. Even though it wouldn’t necessarily affect many other guests at the park, we knew that it would greatly impact his experience in the parks. (They also took his picture in City Hall, which made him feel really important! He felt extra special, which was great.) I will talk more about how to use this pass later.
So, night one in the Magic Kingdom and we had FastPass+ for Seven Dwarves Mine Train, Peter Pan, and Space Mountain. We got on all the rides with no issue, and even rode a few others in between. Peter Pan’s Magical Flight is my go-to ride, and I almost won’t go on to Disney unless it is operational. I found that Peter Pan’s Flight in the Magic Kingdom was not as good as Disneyland. It felt like we went out the nursery window too soon, and that the ride wasn’t as smooth as Disneyland’s version. (Just a heads up that if you are going on the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, there is a play-area in the line queue that is as noisy as anything you have ever experienced. Maybe not the best place to be after a long travel day….Ah, well.) When we went on Seven Dwarves Mine Train, my son managed to lose his photo ID, which we realized after Space Mountain. We headed back to the Mine Train and the Castmembers were very helpful about where, when, and how we would know if his ID had been found. (Fortunately, it was in a lanyard pouch that included my phone number, so we were called by 11:45 that night to let us know how to pick it up.)
After our 3 FastPass+ rides, Winnie the Pooh, and Haunted Mansion, we grabbed a snack and headed back to the hotel. I had arranged for Amazon Prime Now delivery of some hotel snacks, but the best thing that I had ordered were Epsom salt bath bombs for sore feet. We used them every night, and they really were a godsend.
On our second day, we headed back to the Magic Kingdom. I really feel like it’s important to see that park first, and when I go to California, I always hit Disneyland first. I will say that it feels very familiar but, until you are physically in the MK, it’s hard to gauge the difference in size from Disneyland. It felt like I had been there before, but that everything was pulled further apart than I remembered. Of course, compared to Disneyland’s 85 acres, the Magic Kingdom comes in at 107 acres.
I will say that we used the My Disney Experience app to locate restrooms and manage FastPass+, and used the Lines app from TouringPlans.com to gauge crow levels and actual ride wait times.
So, day two in the Magic Kingdom, after breakfast at the resort. For the first time ever on a vacation, we had a dining plan, and I will say I really enjoyed the convenience. We had the Quick Service plan, and felt like we managed it very well. Until everyone got a hold of the meal credits and how they worked, I thought that all of our credits would be in one big pool. Since we had two rooms, however, they were separated. We sorted it out quickly, and I found that, even if we didn’t always maximize our meal choices on the plan, everyone being able to get their own food, and charge it themselves, was absolutely worth it.
When we had used our FastPass+ selections for day 2, we used the Disability Access Pass for the first time. I really appreciated that they have made this pass very easy to use, and that at no time did any Castmember throw any shade or give us a bad time for using the pass. To use it, a member of your party simply goes to a Castmember at the ride and ask for a ‘return time’. They will give you a time to come back when you are allowed to go straight into the FastPass+ line. When you return, the disabled member of your party must scan their MagicBand first, and then you just get straight on the ride. Having this option allowed up to ride things multiple times, maximizing the kinds of attractions that my brother likes the most. It changed our whole vacation for the better, and while I was reticent to use it initially, since my brother’s disabilities are more emotional, I have not regretted it all after seeing him get to go on Test Track 3 times. He loved every minute of it.
Day Three was Epcot and we walked onto Spaceship Earth right away. I was really impressed with it, and so was my whole family. I thought the scenes were great, and I loved seeing the many ethnicities of families and researchers that were represented.
We headed over to Mission Space: Green and did that….It was a lot of fun, and much less intense than Mission Space: Orange, which (at takeoff) had me screaming, “I don’t want to be an astronaut! I don’t want to be an astronaut!”. It was a lot. After that, we went to Test Track and my brother got to design the car. Just know that if you go more than once, you can tap your MagicBand and it will remember your car from a previous ride. (I don’t know how long the cars stay in the system, but over a week, we all managed to design our own vehicles.) We went to the Land, and went on Soarin’, which was very nice. We also went on the Livin’ With the Land ride, which promotes a Seed Tour you can sing up for later. My kids both went back to go on the Seed Tour, which they really enjoyed. To sign up for the tour, there is a desk to the left of the entrance of Soarin’. And as far as the Circle of Life: An Environmental Fable, unless you feel the need to have your stare into the eyes of dead fish and gaze upon environmental ruin, you should skip it. Although I absolutely feel that the environment should be protected and cared for, it felt very heavy-handed and grim.
We walked the World Pavilion, and spent a lot of time in Mexico. Having just seen Coco, it felt very vibrant and fun, and the vibe inside was great. We walked all they way to France where we had lunch at the Les Halles Boulangerie and Patisserie. It was lovely and the sandwiches were top notch. (I will say that when trying to maximize our Quick Service Dining plan, I always looked up the ‘top quick service restaurants’’ in whatever area we were, and that steered us into some great meal choices. That being said, I had only made 2 dining reservations for the duration of our stay. One was at Be Our Guest on our last morning in the park, and the other was for Liberty Tree Tavern. When I looked at the menu for Liberty Tree Tavern, I realized that the dinner menu was a Thanksgiving-style buffet, and we were turkeyed-out! I managed to change the reservation to the 50’s Prime Time Café in Hollywood Studios. Our waitress was great, the atmosphere was fantastic, and the Peanut Butter and Jelly milkshake was the best!
On Thursday, we had double duty. We were headed for Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure to see all the Harry Potter stuff. I will say, just as an aside, that it was all very well done, and that we enjoyed it immensely. I am a huge Potter fan, and we purchased some souvenirs that can only be purchased on-site. I could have spent a whole week there alone, just hanging out in Hogsmeade and wishing my husband would come back out of Knockturn Alley.
Universal also has a version of the Disability Pass. You sign up at Guest Services, and it’s pretty similar to the Disney pass. At Universal, if the wait time is less than 30 minutes on a given ride, you just get into the ExpressPass line right away. If the wait is longer than 30 minutes, they give you a return time. With only one partial day to cover both parks, we would have missed out on a lot had we not been able to utilize the pass. (We took the big Mears shuttle to Universal, and had a small personal Mears shuttle for out return trip.)
Once we got back to Disney, we headed for Animal Kingdom and were not prepared for the size and magnitude. Even after all of the reading I did, it was simply overwhelming. I will say that I think that Animal Kingdom was the most beautiful of all the parks, and we all felt that way. We headed straight to Pandora for our Avatar Flight of Passage FastPass+, and got on after about a 20 minute wait. The normal line wait time was 230 minutes. I had read several reviews of the ride, and knew that it was much more of an experience than a ride. I had no idea. (When Avatar came out in the theaters, my mom saw it before I did. She called me and said, “Oh, Heather, your family is going to come home and paint themselves blue. You will just paint yourselves blue!” She knew we would love it that much and we did.) Going on the ride made me think of her in a lot of ways. She would have loved it; the thrill of it. She would have hated, since she had vertigo. And since she knew we would consider ourselves honorary N’avi after seeing the movie, it made me miss her more than ever, since she died in April of this year. It was the singularly best experience of our trip, other than being together, and I wish that I could have shared the experience with her. It is transformative.
That night, we also went on Dinosaur, which was great. My son is a huge dino-nerd, and we all really enjoyed it. I t was thrilling and a lot of fun. It rides a lot like Indiana Jones in Disneyland, but even more raucous.
After that was the amazing Expedition Everest. What a ride! I had seen a program about the making of the ride, and still felt like it was exciting and a great deal of fun for us all. We FastPass+’d it and loved skipping the line, but when we rode it again without a FastPass+ on Saturday, we got to see all of the ‘exhibits’ in the longer queue. I thought all of them were really well done. It made me realize that while FastPass+ is amazing for maximizing efficiency in the parks, you do miss a lot of the scenarios and vibes of different rides. One of the best things about Disney parks is the level of detail that goes into everything that you can see, and it made me wish that time was not a factor. I would have loved to have seen all of the line details on other rides.
Since we were in Florida the first week of December, the weather (to us Pacific Northwesterners) was fantastic. It was upper 70s to low 80s, and then had gone down to about 60 and misty the last couple days of our trip. We were really fortunate to have had the weather changes, since, on Wednesday of our trip, we heard a rumor that Typhoon Lagoon was going to be closed due to cooler weather. (Blizzard Beach was closed for refurbishment through the length of our stay.) ON Thursday night, the weather changed, and Typhoon Lagoon was unexpectedly open, rocking about 72 degree weather. Since almost everyone thought it was closed for the day (or that it was simply too cool to go), we had the whole place to ourselves. I literally only saw about 100 other guests there, and the Castmembers were having a great time hanging out with each other and playing games at the shops. We got comped for a private beach area, since there was no one else there, and someone brought us free ice cream sundaes. I never thought that, as a huge park enthusiast, that I would want to take the time out to float around Castaway Cay for 4 hours, but it was really invigorating and was just what we all needed.
Friday we spent the morning at Magic Kingdom for a few quick rides, hit Typhoon Lagoon, and had an early night. Saturday was sort of a down day where, since we could split up for a while, we did. Some of went to Hollywood Studios for Star Tours, the Hollywood Tower of Terror, and the Rock’n Roller Coaster.
I have always found Disney coasters are very smooth and easy to ride, but Rock’N Roller Coaster shook my brains and gave me a headache. My head was literally rattling between the supports, and not in a good way. The ride had been offline right before we were on, and it made me think that it was not as smooth as it should be, but I do know that Disney will never operate a ride unless it is good to go. I just didn’t like the ride itself. My brother, who loves all kinds of vehicles, was so excited to go on this Cadillac-style coaster, that it made it all worth it. We also saw the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular, which was a lot of fun. If you’re worried about excessive sun or rain while planning on seeing the show, the audience area is covered.
On Sunday, we followed up on things we wanted to do again, and had breakfast at Be Our Guest. I was disappointed that breakfast is a time when they are no characters at the restaurant. I found the service to be really good, and the meat and cheese breakfast platter was a nice option. We tried the Grey Stuff. Not particularly delicious. It sort of tasted like Oreo Frosting. Sort of.
One thing that can be a challenge at Disney parks is fireworks. My husband has PTSD form his military career, and it can be very paralyzing for him to see and hear explosions of any kind. We did everything we could to avoid the fireworks, but sometimes they are pretty random, like when the Liberty Belle docks. As you leave the riverboat, a firework goes off. This can seem harmless to people not affected by PTSD, but for us, this caused a good solid hour of agitation and worry for my husband. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to ask if there was a good place in the park for my husband to avoid fireworks, so that the rest of the family could see them, and then we could meet up afterwards. I found an article that said that the Hall of Presidents was a good place to avoid them, but it was closed during our visit. I wished that I had asked a Castmember early in our trip. I found out from someone on the shuttle bus that sometimes the First Aid offices near the front of the parks have couch area for nursing moms or tired kids, and I wished that I had realized that earlier. I would have sent him in there with headphones, and tucked him in the back corner somewhere so that he couldn’t feel the percussion of the fireworks. In some countries, they have silent fireworks now, and I would love to see Disney research this in the future.
Obviously, I can’t go over everything we did or saw on our trip. It was so much, and we walked so, so far! I just wanted to hit the highlights and lowlights. My whole life, I have been determined to visit every Disney park, and I am very glad to have finally made it to Disney World. That being said, I don’t know that I would need to go back, especially if they manage to add Animal Kingdom and Galaxy’s Edge in California. I feel a pull to Disneyland; maybe because it was my first park. It’s like a magnet drawing me towards California. And Disney World was amazing and huge, awesome and overwhelming. But, on some level, I want to be where Walt Disney was, where he made personal decisions that made Disneyland how it is. And I know it has changed over the years, but I still love it. It’s where I will go back next. Then Europe, and then hopefully all of the Asian parks in one trip.
I hope this look at our trip helps, and gives a good perspective on what an undertaking it can be to fully experience Disney World. We were there a week and I almost feel like we barely scratched the surface.