I am somewhat behind on this trip report as the trip was September 15-20, 2022. But I wanted to share some observations for whatever they may be worth. This was the first time my family had been to WDW in almost 20 years, when my daughter was a junior in high school. Now married, her spouse had never been to Disney World. So for those reasons, plus it was the 50th anniversary of WDW, and it coincided with my daughter’s birthday, mid-September seemed like a good time to go.
Crowds Were Not Small
Traditionally, mid-September has been a low crowd period because kids are back in school (Ha!) and it’s still warm (very). When I first started researching the trip back in late 2021 and early 2022, Touring Plans had forecasted relatively low crowds (levels 1-3) depending on the day and the park. But throughout the summer, I kept getting updates showing larger crowds. By the time we arrived, WDW-wide crowd levels ranged from 3-6, up 2-3 notches from the initial forecast.
I just checked the actual crowd levels. Here is what the parks were actually like during this “slow” period.
Fri. Sept 16 - EPCOT - Initial forecast - 1, revised forecast - 5, actual - 5
Sat. Sept 17 - MK - Initial forecast - 4, revised forecast - 4, actual - 5
Sun. Sept 18 - HS - Initial forecast - 3, revised forecast - 4, actual - 4
Mon. Sept 19 - AK - Initial forecast - 2, revised forecast - 3, actual - 3
Tues. Sept 20 - EPCOT - Initial forecast - 4, revised forecast - 5, actual - 4
- HS - Initial forecast - 2, Revised forecast - 5, actual - 7
While the actual crowd levels usually were not too far off the latest forecasts, the overall crowds were closer to mid-level than low levels.
Weather Was As Expected
It was in the mid-80s during the day when it was mostly sunny. We had at least some rain 4 of the 6 days we were there - in the late afternoon or evening. We had our ponchos so we kept going. In the Animal Kingdom, were were eating in the Yak and Yeti the whole time it was raining, so it didn’t really affect us there.
The rain actually gave us our first “ride” of the trip. We were driving to the Contemporary to eat at the California Grill. We were hit with a torrential downpour. The dip in World Drive that goes under the lake pass-over had a lot of water in it. A lot of cars were turning around, but the buses were still getting through. I had spent 2 months trying to get a reservation for my daughter’s birthday, and I was determined to get there. After a bus passed, I headed into the water with my SUV. It was like the bottom of the flume portion of Splash Mountain - water sloshing everywhere. But we got through.
Problem with My Disney Experience
In spite of what I thought was meticulous planning and preparation, and setting up everything in the MDE website and app, I still ran into a problem I didn’t know about. We were staying at the Shades of Green resort, which gave us access to scheduling Individual Lightning Lane rides at 7 a.m. - or so I thought. I had created my party of three in the MDE, put in our tickets and reservation numbers for all of us, and linked my hotel reservation to me. The problem was that I didn’t know that I had to link the hotel confirmation number to my daughter and her spouse also. As a result, at 7 a.m., only I could get an ILL. So, we had to wait until we got to the parks to schedule those. Fortunately, we were able to schedule the ILL in each park with little trouble.
Rides and Shows - Getting to Do What We Planned and Wanted
Overall, we did almost all of what I had planned ahead of time. We skipped the character meet and greets (with a couple of exceptions) and a lot of the “kiddie” rides. No interest in Dumbo and the Carousel for a couple of millennials and a baby-boomer. We got to do all the new(er) rides, and rides that had been around a while but were “new” to us as we had not been there in almost 20 years. (A few attractions had come and gone in that time.)
Of the 65-70 attractions on our definite or tentative lists, we did all but 8. We missed a couple in EPCOT because were so tired, we left right after a late supper. Fantasmic had not reopened at HS. The bird show at AK had closed the very week were there for maintenance. Also, for some reason, my daughter’s spouse refused to go to the It’s Tough to Be a Bug show. I can’t understand why! And we skipped the Kali River Rapids when my daughter learned that we would get very wet. As I said earlier, we were able to schedule all the ILL rides at reasonable times. Guardians of the Galaxy was a virtual queue, but I had no problem getting an early afternoon time.
I did use Genie Plus regularly, scheduling 3-4 rides in each park. There is no question it saved us a lot of time on certain rides where the stand-by line was 20-30 minutes.
The only time we waited more than 15-20 minutes was for the Darth Vader Meet and Greet at HS. I made my daughter and her spouse wait so I could get my picture with Darth Vader - and then 15 minutes more to see Chewbacca.
Character Meet and Greets’ can have long lines - I saw a few. But I had read that Mickey was meeting guests next to the Pixar Short Film Festival at EPCOT. We were in the area so we stopped by. Sure enough, we had to wait less than 5 minutes to get several pictures with Mickey. I mean, who else do you need?
Since we have been back, I have seen a number of reports of rides being shut down for various lengths of time. I think we were fortunate, We never experienced any delays or missed rides due to ride problems. Everything worked as it should on the days we were at each park.
Full disclosure. One reason we were able to do so much was because I signed up for a 9-hour VIP tour. Was it expensive? Very. Was it worth it? For our situation, yes it was very much worth it. I realize most people can’t afford it, but I could. Even with good luck with Genie Plus, I doubt we would have been able to do as many high demand rides on our own.
The knowledgeable and enthusiastic young woman who acted as our guide picked us up at our hotel entrance at 8:30 a.m as scheduled. 15 minutes later, we were walking into Fantasyland from a back lot. For the next 5+ hours, we did 13 rides and shows in the Magic Kingdom, including watching the noon parade from the railway station platform above Main Street while eating a leisurely lunch. We used the Lightning Lane at each ride, so we rarely had to wait more than a few minutes before boarding. (For the Haunted House, we went in the exit and took a side door. Se we missed the pre-ride show.)
After 2 p.m., we left for Hollywood Studios, arriving about 2:30. For the next 2.5 hours, we did seven of the top HS rides - Star Wars, Toy Story, Mickey and Minnie Runaway Train, Tower of Terror, Rock 'n Roller Coaster. At about 5 p.m., our guide took us back to the Magic Kingdom to end the official tour at 5:30. We had dinner reservations at 6 at the Plaza Restaurant. Then we did a couple of attractions on our own.
The fireworks show that evening was a must-do bucket-list item for my daughter and her spouse. Even though our tour had ended, we still had access to the VIP viewing area right in front of the Castle. We got there early. We went in. I lay down on the “grass” (artificial turf), put my backpack under my head, and took a short nap until just before the show started. We had an unobstructed view of the show.
Would I do it again? Probably not. This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. But I have no regrets doing it.
Custom Touring Plans
I spent a lot of time developing custom touring plans, updating them a few times as it got closer to trip time. However, once in the parks, I did not religiously follow them. As noted above with the VIP tour, the TP plans were not really needed in the Magic Kingdom. When we went back to Hollywood Studios the next day, we had a lot more flexibility because we had already done many of the top rides. And using Genie Plus changed the planned order and timing of attractions. So, the TPs mainly were used to make sure we got everything done. Sometime, it was easier to just to do everything in a selected area before moving on. In EPCOT the first day, I tried to report reported and actual wait times, but I never did it any other days.
So, what else is new? However, My Fitbit watch kept up with my steps. Over 5 days in the parks, I walked 90,289 steps - from “only” 12,719 at Hollywood Studios the second day to 21,966 on our VIP tour. That’s about 48.25 miles total. However, my daughter and her spouse have shorter legs, so they regularly got more steps to cover the same distance. I carried a “blister kit” in my pack, but we had only one sore heal the first day. Some special tape took care of that. It was a good thing I brought several pairs of shoes because it took more than a day for a pair to dry out after slogging through the rain for a few hours.
Because I drove my SUV to WDW (10 hours, 550 miles), we had transportation to go whenever we wanted. We never waited on a bus. We used Disney transportation only once. After the fireworks at MK we waited for the rush to leave. Because the tour guide had dropped us off at the MK, my SUV was back at the Shades of Green hotel. So, we caught the resort monorail (short 10-15 minute wait to get on) to the Polynesian. Then we walked about a 1/3 mile to the Shades of Green.
Yes, I had to pay for parking at each park, but I think the flexibility and timing was worth it. We went to EPCOT early and parked almost at the front of the parking lot. One advantage of the Shades of Green was that our room wing was adjacent to the parking deck. We were able to leave our room, walk down the hall, into the deck and get to the SUV parked on the same level as our room.
While I drove, my daughter and her spouse flew from Nashville. As I drove up to the hotel entrance (after stopping at the security checkpoint), a car pulled in right behind me. It was my daughter in their Lyft vehicle! How was that for timing?
Mobile Food Ordering
We used mobile ordering via the MDE app in the Magic Kingdom (Casey’s Corner), Hollywood Studios (Cargo Bay 7 in Black Spire Outpost), and Animal Kingdom (Satu’li Canteen). In EPCOT we just used a couple of the many food vendor stations to get a quick meal as it was the International Food and Wine Festival. In all cases, we had to wait only a few minutes to pick up our order. Timing is everything I guess. In the Magic Kingdom, we looked strange carrying our trays of hotdogs and fries down Main Street through the crowds as we headed to the train station to watch the parade.
I bought the full photo package in advance. Even though we took hundreds of our own pictures, having photos of all of us together taken by a Disney professional photographer was great. They are at many scenic locations throughout the parks. And they can add special touches - such as X-wings flying overhead at Black Spire Outpost. Plus we got photos from many of the rides we took. We just had to remember to check the screens as soon as we got off each ride. In each case, I just touched my card-linked Magic Band to the kiosk or the photographer’s device. For me, having these extra photos was well worth the relatively small cost. Several photos have already been turned into Christmas gifts.
Internet Access in the Parks
I bought a new phone with 5G capabilities a couple of months before the trip. I basically used my phone’s cellular access (AT&T) the whole time in the hotel and the parks. I never tried to use Disney’s WiFi service. And I don’t recall any problems accessing and using the MDE or my Touring Plans app. Plus, with a 5,000 mAh battery, I went the whole day without recharging. Even though we each carried a backup battery in our bags, we never had to use them. (I have a Google Pixel 6 Pro, and my daughter and her spouse each had iPhone 13s.)
While in the Animal Kingdom, we had time to kill before dinner. My daughter wanted to ride Expedition Everest again. I had already used Genie Plus for it earlier. The posted wait time was 20 minutes, so I sat down in the exit area to wait for them. 15 minutes later, they came out already having ridden it.
I skipped Space Mountain and the Rock 'n Roller Coaster - too much for my old body. But I had to do Guardians of the Galaxy. I swear that the ride device turned upside down. I felt like I was going to fall out. I said a four-letter word I shouldn’t have. Were my eyes closed for a moment in Expedition Everest? I never saw a Yeti, maybe just a shadow.
You have to have ridden Pirates of the Caribbean and Jungle Cruise in the past, and really paid attention, to see the changes that have been made. On the other hand I did not notice some of the issues that others have reported with the dark displays not working in Splash Mountain
The Country Bear Jamboree is really “old,” but I’m not sure how they could upgrade it.
In EPCOT, I had Guardians of the Galaxy virtual queue set and a Genie Plus ride lined up. So we headed straight for Soarin’ and walked right on. Never had to stop until we queued for a seat. The row you get makes a difference. Where we sat, the curved screen distorted things such as the Eiffel Tower.
We got to Ratatouille before our scheduled ILL time. My daughter and her spouse went browsing through the shops. But there was no comfortable, shady spot for me to sit near the entrance.
I learned quickly that we could enter a Lightning Lane up to 5 minutes early. We took advantage of that several times.
I now understand why Rise of the Resistance is so popular. It’s more than a ride - it’s a whole show, a story we are part of. So is Guardians of the Galaxy. Avatar Flight of Passage is great. The visuals are great. I enjoyed Ratatouille, but not as much as the others listed here. I thought Toy Story Mania was going to be “lame,” but it was actually fun once I realized how it worked.
I could not work in Oga’s Cantina, Space 220 Lounge, or the Nomad Lounge. But the beverage station opposite the France pavilion in World Showcase had a great orange “slushy” with an extra shot of Grand Mariner liqueur was worth the 15-minute wait.