Solo Trip Report 9/3-9/10

"Solo Trip Report"
or
"How I Learned To Stop Being A Complete Introvert And Go To The Greatest Place On Earth"

WARNING: EXTREME HOKEYNESS AHEAD. TURN BACK IF YE HATE SEEING A GROWN MAN GET SENTIMENTAL! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED
(also, a lot of rambling :wink: )

Let me first start by saying a heartfelt “thank you” to all of you who answered my very noobish questions and dealt with my ramblings with the kindness and patience of several saints. I can honestly say my trip wouldn’t have been near as fun if it wasn’t for the expertise found here as well the folks who populate this forum. When my Travel Agent signed me up for this, I thought it was going to be a waste of time… wow was I so wrong.

So, truly, thank you. So very much.

Additionally, I need to come clean about something, up until now, I’ve posted saying I was going as a first timer, but that wasn’t technically true. For the sake of time and explanation, I just said I was, but I have actually been to WDW once, when I was a child, way back in 1990. Though after all the technological advancements and other changes, it certainly felt like being a first timer. So there will be times where I compare what I remember from when I was a kid, to what I experienced.

And what a trip I experienced! Short of a small handful of minor issues, I honestly cannot think of something I could’ve planned better for the whole trip. Every precaution I took, every choice I made, prior and during, built on top of each other to deliver a trip that not only held up to the lofty hype and expectations I had for it, but places the bar so high that it threatens all future trips to never be able to surpass it. In short: it was perfect even with flaws.

PROLOGUE: When we went in 1990, it became pretty apparent to me, even back then, that my family didn’t really “get” Disney. And considering we never went back, I can conclude my assessment was and is right. Even today, no one in my family will count WDW as one of the greatest places to go for a vacation. When asked, my Dad felt that it “over-delivered” to him initially, and then became humdrum (I have no idea what this means and the more I explored the topic, the more he sounded like a lunatic), my mom said “it was nice” and wouldn’t really go farther than that, and my brother was completely apathetic about the whole thing.

I’m not sure why, maybe it was the planning (or lack thereof) involved, maybe something happened there that spoiled the experience that I didn’t pick up on, or maybe it was simply they just don’t “get it”.

But me? I loved it. Every last second I was there. The little details that WDW triumphs with become apparent both when you’re there and even more when you’re not. Even to a kid. I’ve held every vacation I’ve ever had up to the standard that was set back then by WDW and each time I learn that no one has yet to come close to the perfection that was WDW. I’m no stranger to theme parks either. I grew up near Hershey Park, and have visited many other parks. While some elements obviously translate and succeed, Disney has perfected the formula and continues to improve.

Especially after this recent trip, I understand why WDW costs so much. It’s not simply because “you’ll pay it”. It’s because it’s “WORTH it.” Since that first trip, I always wanted to go back, and I looked forward to the day I would have a family of my own that I could spoil them with a trip.

However, the family thing hasn’t happened for me yet. And so I faced a dilemma: for the first time in my life, my financial and employment situation (after much turmoil) was finally in a position where I can go, but I find myself without anyone to go with who would enjoy the place as much I would. So do I continue to put off the one place I always want to go… or go by myself? After reading accounts of those going to Disney World solo, I finally made my decision.

Day 0 - 9/2/16 “because let’s face it, no trip just starts at Disney World :wink:

The day begins with me at work, and being lucky enough to get out early as it was a holiday weekend. Hi ho, hi ho, to home from work I go! Knowing that for the next couple of days sleep was going to be minimal, I knew tonight was going to be my last opportunity for real sleep for a while. I also am aware of how my mind and body will betray me. I’ll want to sleep, but there’s no way my body is going to comply… excitement would reign supreme and so sleep wasn’t going to just happen… so I needed to outthink it. Once home I took a dose of nyquil’s sleeping pills. While I waited for it to kick in, I did a quick final check of packing, and a final overview of printed itinerary. There was a lot. After all that was done, I was starting to feel the effects, it was around 4PM… I crawled into bed and almost immediately fell asleep.

Day 1 9/3/16 “You can fly, you can fly you can flyyyyy!”

Nearly 10 hours of solid rest and I’m awoken by a wonderful instrumental version of “When You Wish Upon A Star”. It’s 2AM and within a short while I’m showered, dressed and ON. MY! WAY!! On the road, I fire up the “Goin’ to Disney” playlist I had readied months ago.

For those ever flying out of Philadelphia, I cannot recommend Preflight Airport Parking enough. Quick, efficient, friendly, and at a reasonably cost. In about 60 minutes total travel time from my home, I arrive at the harbinger of adventure: The Philadelphia International Airport.

After parking in the lot, shuttle ride, and airport security are all flawlessly (if not a bit awkardly) achieved, I have about a 90 minutes to explore the airport. For many, this is not a big deal, but for me… this is something I’ve been looking forward to. I never fly anywhere and have only dropped people off, so I’ve never seen anything beyond the Baggage Claim area. Do I do anything special during this? I wish I could say I did, but no. Due to the time of day, nothing was actually open other than a few convenience stores and a McDonald’s. But it was ok, cause time seemed to move right along and there wasn’t much waiting/exploring to be done before it was time to line up for the flight.

I had purchased “advanced boarding” with Southwest so that I could ensure I got a window seat on the right side of the plane and this was a good move as it worked out perfectly. After about a half hour of everyone boarding, we’re taxiing and soon we’re airborne. As the ground falls away and with the sunrise, I’m reminded of the Disney Movie Intro. Very fitting.

You can’t tell me that doesn’t look like the intro! Only thing it needs is a little train going and fireworks!

After a little over 2 hours, we began descending toward Orlando about 10-20 minutes ahead of schedule. Because I’m on the right side of the plane, I’m hoping to get a glimpse of Disney World from the sky. Unfortunately, the morning humidity and my slight disorientation of where exactly everything was hindered that as I couldn’t pick out where to look.

Once landed, it was a fairly easy process to get from the plane to the bus for Magical Express(ME), well…once you figure out that “Level1” is considered both the absolute ground floor the first floor of the airport simultaneously. But anyway, either follow the herd and signs, or ask an employee there, and you’ll find yourself at the bus loading area. And if you have the ability to utilize the ME’s ability to deliver your luggage directly to your room, absolutely do it. While I’m waiting in line to be checked in for the bus, my phone buzzes with a text message:
“DisneyRoomAlts: Welcome! Your room isn’t quite ready. We’ll send another message when it is available. Thanks! Text STOP to cancel.”

Now that is COOL! I do a mental happy dance as I scan my first magic band and assign a finger print to it.

At 9AM sharp, we’re all loaded and the bus rumbles to life and it makes it way to the hotels. Almost there!

Because I was staying at the Contemporary, I was the last stop after the Polynesian and the Grand Floridian. The trip from the airport to the Poly was certainly long, but it was definitely made better with the videos playing on the bus. Delightfully hokey little videos set the stage for what I was about to experience all week. After some time, we drive under the gates of Disney World’s “Welcome Arch” and start making turns to the hotel drop off points. Almost there.

Both drop off points just build the excitement as each one has extravagantly themed loading/unloading areas and attendants out and bustling about, helping guests along. As we pulled away from the GF, I’m a kid again, waiting for this long car ride to be over so I can go and play. Almost there.

Finally, we pulled up to the contemporary and it’s like pulling up to a corporate center. No theming, attendants moving about, but in just khaki’s and polo shirts. Unlike the GF where they wore early 1900s attire. Frankly, I knew of the lack of outside theming because of my research of the place, and my past experience, so I certainly wasn’t surprised, but to say I’m still disappointed in Contemporary’s decision to go this way is an understatement.

Still, I MADE IT!!! It’s all I can do not to run off the bus like a sugar-crazed child.

Once off the bus … no one greets me or directs me anywhere. Ok, that’s odd. I had kinda expected a welcome of some sort. The bus driver is helping the other attendants and, as I only have my backpack of “in case my luggage gets lost” essentials, I’m left alone. Confused if I need to do anything, I head inside the lobby to confirm.

The lobby of the Contemporary has a really weird smell to it. I can’t say it’s pleasant, but I also can’t say I hate it. I make my way over to the check in desk and ask what I need to do, saying I know my room isn’t ready yet but I’m not sure if I can go straight to the park. They inform me very nicely that I am, indeed, able to go right into the park and there’s nothing I need to do. Another text will be sent to me when it’s all ready. I also confirm that I while I am doing a split stay, my room will not be changing throughout. So wherever I am, I’ll be in for the whole week. Which is a huge concern off my mind.

Satisfied, I head out the front doors and go through the parking lot and start making my way to the Magic Kingdom (the clerk forgot to mention there’s a specific walk-way to the park). I check my phone and it’s 10:03 AM. While it felt long, I’ve actually been making great time and actually ahead of my plan by over an hour!

With the sun shining and the weather delightfully warm and humid, I make it to the entrance to the park and I’m greeted by the bag check. I unzip my backpack and they go through it without an issue. Once done I move up to the mickey-posts, place my magic band to the post and my finger and….blue (blue is bad).

Cast Member cocks his head to the side and says “Try again?” I do so and it’s still blue. The CM now looks closer at his display and says “are you sure you have tickets for today?”

It’s at this time I quickly explain that I’m doing a split stay and my tickets are probably associated with my 2nd magic band, but I was assured they could be used today. He nods and suggests trying the 2nd magic band then, and so I do.

Still blue.

“I’m sorry, I’m going to have to send you over to customer relations, right over there” he points to a line that is snaking 5 levels deep in a queue and my heart sinks. “I’m sorry, there’s nothing else I can do.” he explains.

I smile and assure him it’s quite alright and make my way over to the line. I had a feeling something like this was going to happen. Throughout my planning of the trip, I was having an issue with the assignments of the magic band and tickets. In fact, while I was able to make FPP reservations for the rest of the week, I wasn’t able to make any for today because of that and was told I had to wait until in the park before I could start making any. As I made my way over to the line I mentally kicked myself for not calling and confirming this was all sorted out before I left. So now I’m in line and I wait.

After about an hour (so much for that bonus time), I get up to the counter and explain the situation to the guy behind the window. He nods, hits a few keystrokes on his computer and says “Ok, you’re all set! You will use your first band today and then tomorrow you can use your second and you should have no more problems.”

Back to the mickey-posts and I place my wrist and finger up to the icon. Moment of truth…The lights spin, and time seems to slow down, the light continues to spin…. It stops and now it’s time for my fingerprint… and…. GREEN! Cast Member smiles and says “have a great day!” and, after releasing the breath I didn’t realize I was holding, I thank her and head in.

Walking in… it’s a weird feeling. It was like coming home even having not been here for 26 years. The place is done up tastefully in Halloween decor and all my hazy memories are being refreshed with crystal clear sights.

My camera is off and running and I just take photos as I make my way toward main street’s -uh - main street.

And then there’s the castle. Just as awesome as I remember. And that term gets thrown around a lot these days, “awesome”, but in this case, it is perfectly apt: awesome. I freeze just in front of the candy shop and just stare at it.

…(wow)…

After snapping out of it, I move my way down the street, taking photos of everything. When I went the first time, I only had my Dad’s horrific video skills (and even worse video technology) to remember everything by as only very few photos were taking on the trip. But all of them had been lost to time and moves.

I get to about to the center of the courtyard in front of the castle when I suddenly remember I have a plan! In all the excitement, It had completely slipped my mind and I pull out my phone to see what’s on the list:

Item 1: 12:30PM MICKEY PRETZEL AT LUNCHING PAD.

I look around where I am and start making my way over to Tomorrow Land and the prize that awaited me. I get in line and wait. It’s really loud here and this cast member seems to be taking forever.

But that’s ok, while she is slowly moving, I remember I also now have Fastpass ability and use this time to see what Fastpasses I can snag. Looking it over, it looks like Pirates is the only thing of interest to me and that’s at 2-3PM. Works for me, as that’ll give me time to find it and take in the park a bit.

No sooner do I make the selection that my phone starts to ring. It’s Disney. Oh crap, what did I screw up? Are my tickets still not allowing fast pass?

“Hello?” I answer nervously. Please don’t be bad news. Please don’t be bad news. Please don’t be bad news.
“Hi, this is Brandon from Disney. I see you had some issues getting into the park today, I’m really sorry for that and I’d like to help you make up some of that time. I’d like to offer you an extra fastpass for any of the parks for any ride, is that ok?”

I’m caught off guard by this, I wasn’t expecting anything out of the glitch from earlier as it certainly wasn’t anyone’s fault and my plans had allotted for eventualities like it so I wasn’t inconvenienced in any real way.

“Hello? Are you there?” He asks after a moment
“Uh yeah, sorry! Sure, that sounds great!”
“Do you have anything in mind on what you would like to do?” he asks.

I explain I haven’t really had time to do anything yet so I don’t know what I would want to use it on.

“That’s no problem. Take your time and decide, and when you do, just send us a text or call us and we’ll get you set up.”

I agree and after exchanging a bit of information to make sure I can get ahold of them, the call ends and just in time as it’s my turn to order. One Mickey Pretzel, please!

Pretzel in hand, all is better than well, I start making my way back to Main Street to continue my plan, which was to catch the roaming entertainment of Main Street, but instead I stumble onto the Dance Party parade. Well, this kinda counts, right?

I like the song, but I’ll be damned if I can remember the words or lyrics. Which is odd for a Disney song for me. I also love those t-shirts they’re wearing. I now know what I’m getting for a souvenir when this is all over.

Parade goes through and I don’t see any performances, so I hit the next part of my plan: railroad. I don’t get on immediately and I go exploring a bit. It won’t be until I find myself in Storybook Circus before I hop on. As I board, my phone buzzes. My room is ready. Excellent, but based on what I’ve read here, my luggage probably isn’t there yet, so I’m in no rush. On with the rail road! When I was a kid, this train flew, but now… It’s moving too slow and looks like rain is moving in too fast. So nuts to this and I get off at Main Street.

Just in time to see the Dapper Dans. Well that worked out. I watch their fun performance and just as they finish up rain rolls in. Fortune favors the prepared though and it’s on with the poncho as everyone scurries and tries to get indoors.

I walk down an emptying main street smiling ear to ear. As I go, I remember there’s a Starbucks and I could really go for a frappacino. Once I have that, I just walk around a bit, getting the lay of the land, and I can’t take photos at the moment cause it’s coming down pretty hard and water will just get on my lens.

For weeks, I have studied maps, ride locations, and birds-eye perspectives of this park, like a military general preparing for war, and it has helped…extremely little. For the first day I was so completely lost as everything is so much bigger in person. I just meander along, taking it all in. I don’t have any set plans other than that fastpass for Pirates, so it’s a perfect time to get a really good look at everything.

I find myself in Adventure Land and the Tiki Room and gleefully realize I’m absent-mindedly following my touring plan. It’s still raining so I duck in and catch the show and check off #3 of my plan. When I was a kid, I didn’t pick up on the clicks and whirs of the mechanics of the ride, but I do now. It actually adds something to the show for me, the sheer engineering flawlessly executed day in and day out amazes me. For a kid, the “surface show” alone is pretty great… for an adult being able to see below the surface of everything, I feel it’s even more impressive. Less magic, but more brilliance.

Once the show was done I walked out and it was time to ride Pirates. Stand by time says 35 minute wait. Sucks to be them. I walked up to the Mickey Posts and scanned my band and the light turns that super-satisfying green. Well that’s easy.

Can I just take a moment and thoroughly thank and congratulate the imagineers who designed the queues at Disney? Not only are they well done to snake a line a longer than you would think in such limited space, but they also set the tone for the ride as well as keep you entertained throughout. Peter Pan, The Pirates and Mansion ones always were exceptional standouts for me. Just fantastic mood setters and the details gone into them are outstanding. There were times through the trip I almost (almost) didn’t want to use a fastpass because I wanted to really take in the line queue area.

Anyway, I’m through the queue and then lobbed in with stand by crowd toward the end of the line when you get on the ride. Down the ramp and it’s time to board the boat.

“How many?” the cast member asks.
“One.” is my reply and she doesn’t bat an eye and instead directs me to row 5. I get my own seat? For real? Cool. For the entire planning of this trip, one of the things I was little concerned about was the being forced to share seating with another party. I was rather surprised I got my own seat.

The ride begins and down the slope we go. There’s been some major changes to this ride since I last rode it. I wish I could say it’s all positive, but I find the extreme focus on Jack Sparrow to be slightly off putting. The old ride just focused on pirates in general but now that Jack needs to be mentioned in nearly every scene, it loses something. I don’t know, it’s certainly not a bad ride and the opening where Black Beard and Barbosa sorta contradict each other is great.

Ride’s over and it’s back outside, rain has stopped and it’s also time for the Festival of Fantasy parade. I catch the tail end of it heading back to main street just in time to see that massive dragon cross the liberty square bridge. I’m moving faster than the parade though (no surprise) so I set up just outside the Emporium where a cast member tells me I can’t be there as it’s a pathway and I have to be in front of the tape on the ground. He could’ve been nicer about it, but it made sense and it’s not a problem, I acknowledge and follow directions and find a spot behind tape so I can watch the parade.

Afterward, I built in a breather into my plan and so I go through the shops a bit and head over to Tomorrow Land to get some dinner. I grabbed an Angus Cheese Burger. To say I was disappointed with the food would’ve been an understatement. I wasn’t expecting gourmet cuisine or anything but this was something you would get from Dairy Queen around where I live, which is to say it’s the bottom of the list when it comes to fast food burgers. I would find far superior eateries later on in the trip. Edible, but hardly worth the money. Anyway, I picked out a seat in the cafeteria-looking area, with a view of the castle and enjoy my dinner.

As I eat my dinner, families of all sizes populate the cafeteria. It’s loud and it’s crowded, but as I sit alone, in the center of the cafeteria, I have to admit I felt a few pangs of loneliness and envy as I watch everyone. From my perspective, I consider them all pretty lucky that they have people to share the experience with. Though most probably wouldn’t see it that way. One of the things that surprised me was, throughout my trip, for every time I saw a family happily interacting with each other, I would see 6 in some form of argument.

After dinner, I don’t have much going on in my plans and there’s a while before the electrical parade begins so I decide now is the time to head to my room to see what’s what. This will also be a good time to grab my sunscreen as the sun had long since returned with a vengence.

Leaving the park, I found the actual walk way I should’ve used initially. It’s amazing how close the park is to the hotel. I make it to my room after getting a bit lost (turned the wrong way) on floor 11, and my MB scans and unlocks the door without an issue. I had requested (loosely) 4745 as it was an odd number room and on a higher floor. Per the text message, I got… 4739. Not too shabby and I really didn’t care which room I got so long as it was a higher up and odd number room. I walk in and to my delight I take in the view.

Worth.
Every.
Penny!

The room had everything I could’ve hoped for in a view. And because it was an odd number room, the beds faced toward the castle. Perfect. By the way, the photo above is a accurate depiction of how close the castle is (I know photos will often make things look farther away than what they are), but the castle is really that close in the viewing. I tired to get a 1:1 size depiction in my photo and that’s about as good as it gets.

But the room was a bit different than what I was hoping for. One thing that I love is theming. In a place like Disney World, I love to have everything themed and the smaller the detail the bigger the impact for me.

As it was back in 1990, this room had zero Disney tell-tales. The yellow mickey pillows I was expecting were nowhere to be seen. The mickey towel-sculptures were missing. Not even paintings of Mickey or Minnie could be found. I understand “contemporary” means “modern”, but does it also have to mean “souless”?

…boring. So so boring…

But that view. Wow. Just…WOW! After a few photos, I noticed that my luggage had indeed been delivered. So with that, I ditched my now-feeling-like-a-3-ton backpack and stripped down to a lean and mean park kit of a draw-string pack with granola bars, two 5 hour energies, hand wipes, sunscreen (something I couldn’t have in my carry-on), contact lens drops, and water.

Looking ever more forward to tonight’s fireworks, I headed out. Before heading back to the park, though, I decided to stop in and check out the the in-hotel gift shops. In the short time I was looking around in the park, a souvenir I decided on was a hat. But I couldn’t find one I liked exactly, so I shopped around a bit in the store and realized everything I saw in the park is available here as well, with almost no variety. I found that a bit odd. After checking out the store and the convenience store, it was back to the park. But this time, we were going via monorail!
And I chose the wrong one. D’oh.

Well, that’s not entirely true, I mean it’s the monorail, you can’t screw it up too badly. But I was expecting to take the monorail from the contemporary straight to the park, but I took the one that goes to the Ticket/EPCOT switch off, which then go to the polynesian and then to the Grand Floridian. Finally ending up Magic Kingdom, and I disembarked.

Once through security and turning that mickey-post green, there’s still some time yet before the electrical parade, I ran into a bit of an issue, I didn’t have anything to do. I had ridden all the rides I wanted (and all the ones I would consider doing again had a really long line), so I pretty much had nothing to do other than walk around while I waited for the electric parade and fireworks. In my walkings though, I found myself in Tomorrow Land and rode Carousel of Progress. As I sit on the ride I am reminded why I love this place, the sheer optimism is hard to find outside, in today’s world. A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow, and it’s only a dream away. I love it.

The ride ends and I walk around some more and just take pictures. Through my walks I really take in the parks and, more specifically, the transition between the lands. How seamlessness they are is just a joy to experience. My favorite will become the transition between fantasy land and adventure land.

I wasn’t sure exactly when I should find a spot for the electrical parade so I figured this would be a good time as people were already claiming their spots. I found my own pretty much dead center of main street. It was a bit of a wait, but well worth it. I’ve never seen the parade before and it was absolutely fantastic.

After the parade was over, it was time to head back to the hotel to complete my #1 objective for this entire trip. There wasn’t much time, so I had to move with purpose.

Now, months ago, when I decided to go to Disney World and where I was staying, I set a goal that was relatively easy to achieve in case the entire trip turned into one big mess, I could look back and smile on this one thing. It was also something that drove many a decision in how I would prep and spend my week. It would also become a bit of a litmus test for the whole trip, if this went poorly, there wasn’t much hope for the rest of the trip

The goal was simple: watch the Wishes fireworks, and the subsequent electric water pageant, from the balcony of my hotel room with a bowl of ice cream.

This was harder to achieve than you would think. First, the only thing I had to go on during planning was park hours. Everything else was up in the air until it was locked down the day of. So, to counter, I had to know when the fireworks were happening, and on what days. And then I had to worry about the weather. Turns out they were happening on my first night and that would end up being my best chance to see them as I had made sure I had no reservations or obligations at any park for the whole day in case there were any travel delays that might encroach on the schedule. It’s a good thing too, as I could’ve easily been caught in the hurricane/tropical storm that cleared out the night before.

Then, I had to worry about the ice cream. In my research, room service for ice cream was going to be a minimum of $18 for a pint. Now, ice cream was a must… but $18 for a pint? That stings a bit too much, even at “Disney Prices”, so that just wasn’t going to fly. I researched some more and learned from here about Garden Grocer, and I was able to get a full container (1.5qt) of ice cream for $7. This seemed like a steal compared to the $18, and there were other items that I could get (like milk and cereal) so that worked out perfectly and I went with them. Milk and cereal would be something I wanted to repeat from my last trip (a fond memory was me at the hotel table while my mom prepared a little box of cereal for me).

Once ice cream and room reservations were secured, I got the idea that if I had some binoculars, if anything was going on at the castle, I could get a closer look. So I packed two tripods (a good one and a backup) and rigged up a bracket system that I could mount the binoculars on. Obviously, this would reduce any hand jitter and give me a cleaner, closer, picture of the castle.

Fast forward back to the present, I race back to the Contemporary and visit bell services for my Garden Grocer order (which had texted me back at 4PM saying it was delivered). The guy disappears for a few minutes and comes back with 2 large grocery bags… I ah…didn’t realize how much I ordered. He asked if I wanted them delivered to my room. I looked at my watch and saw I was running out of time and I still had to “set up” so I told him no thanks and took the bags up myself.

Once at the room, I unpack the groceries to find that I was missing the key item I was looking for: my chocolate ice cream. Instead, I found a bowl of fruit.

Argh. Seriously?

Figuring that was that and a bit disappointed, I set up my binocular and camera rig and turned the TV on to the Wishes soundtrack (the channel below the “park info” presentation. I then looked, with sadness, over this bowl of fruit again and noticed there was a name that wasn’t mine on it. A glimmer of hope. I check my watch… 5 minutes. I got time… hopefully??

I zip out the door and wait for the elevator that seemed to take an extra long time and then i’m back at bell services and explain I got the wrong item. At first he seems confused, but finally the guy understands that I want the bag that I’m originally supposed to have. He disappears and comes back out with my ice cream! SUCCESS!

I’m such a 10 year old.

I say thanks and make my way back to the room. As I walk in, the soundtrack has already begun and so has the fireworks. I’ve missed the first minute or so. But it’s ok, I sit down outside and watch the magic unfold.

The ultimate goal of my trip has been achieved. Even if it was a bumpy start.

And what a show! Unlike what I’m used to here in PA, these fireworks weren’t random. Each one had a color and a purpose. And then when you sync it to the music coming from your hotel room TV, that matched what was in the park, it was a remarkable experience.

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After fireworks are done, the Electrical Pageant begins and I’m as excited to see it as I was the fireworks. It doesn’t disappoint, but I was little surprised the animations on it were a bit rudimentary relative to everything I saw today. Slowly it made it’s way out to the center of the lake and it seemed like that was all it was going to do. But to my surprise and delight, then it played music.

I can describe it no better way than “peaceful.” It certainly didn’t “wow” like Wishes just had, or was as elaborate as the Main Street Electrical parade, but it had it’s own unique charm. The music it was emitting was also sorta midi-like in sound, totally electronic, not unlike the main street parade.

Once that was done, it wasn’t even 11PM yet and the park wasn’t going to close until 1AM, so, since I wasn’t tired, I set back out to the park, with the intention of closing out the park and checking out the “Kiss Goodnight”. This time, however, I headed out with no gear so I don’t have to wait in the bag check line.

I head back down and get in the park just in time to catch the 2nd show of the electrical parade. I wasn’t expecting to see the parade again and I’m able to pick out new things I missed the first time. And allow that song to get completely stuck in my head :slight_smile:

So once the parade was through I set off to hit several rides I didn’t get a chance to ride all day. First up was The Haunted Mansion. As a kid, it was one of my favorite rides as I enjoyed all the details and especially the ballroom and hitchhiking ghosts scenes (original, right?) so I was really thrilled to see it through adult eyes.

Just as entertaining as I remember, if not moreso. While I have since learned how the ballroom effect is acheived (something that mystified me as a kid), it’s still amazing to see it in action. And the new hitchhiker effect, another effect that got me as a kid, is even more impressive. But less unnerving. And yes, I have seen the comments saying the animations are a little overly-silly for the tone of the ride, but I like it.

After Mansion, I hit up pirates again. After that I passed by Little Mermaid, and saw there was no line, but almost kept walking. I turned around when I couldn’t come up with a good counter to the inner question “Why not?” It also helped that I had just seen a “behind the scenes” featurette on the ride a few days ago, and I was interested in seeing how the animatronics looked in person.

After that I tried to do Peter Pan, but even at this late hour, the wait was around the 50 minute mark. Pass. One of the great benefits of going alone, and not really caring if I rode rides, is if something had a longer wait time than I was comfortable with, I just move along.

Since Pan didn’t…pan out… (sorry), I decided it was time to try out the legendary dole whip. I stopped by Aloha Isle and grabbed myself a float. I now totally understand the hype behind this. It’s light enough to not weigh you down so it’s both cool and refreshing. Awesome.

By this point the park is near closing so I decided to do some shopping and pick up my first souvenir. But I couldn’t really decide on what I wanted, since I couldn’t find those tshirts, I had narrowed it down to a hat, but which one? I like my hats to be subtle and tastefully designed, and only a very few fit into those requirements. I finally picked out one and tried it on…and it looked awful. Like a beenie with a brim. I put it down in disgust and saw a Nike hat. This was more money and so I wasn’t sure I wanted to pay $36 for a baseball hat.

Then I tried it on. It was so insanely comfortable! But that cost continued to give me pause. Would I find another souvenir I would like better? Would it be worth it?

While I was going back and forth with indecision, I heard an announcement coming from outside. After a second, I realized it was the first “Kiss Goodnight” presentation and I postponed the inner debate and raced outside to catch it. The first showing, contrary to what I’ve read, actually happened at exactly at “park close” time. It was exactly what I hoped, and I wanted to catch at least the next showing. I meandered around for a little bit, avoiding stores to make sure I wasn’t caught inside again, until the 2nd showing and then headed out back to the hotel. A perfect cap to the night.

It’s about 2AM once I’m back at the hotel and I see that view again, and now I face a [probably not so] unique problem: I’m not all that tired and I really don’t wanna sleep. However I also have a 8AM reservation at Be Our Guest. Something I’ve been looking forward to.

I could pull an all nighter, but I risk severely crashing halfway through the next day. So, after a bit of running pros and cons, and fighting with my inner child, I land on “sleep” and hit the pillow bringing the first day at Disney to a close.

As I sat there looking out over the kingdom, my mind drifted to the first day of the first time I had been here…

Ahh 1990, might as well been the stone ages at this point. Cell phones, not to mention the Internet, were not a thing. However, the Ninja Turtles were a thing and they were at the height of popularity, Animal Kingdom didn’t exist yet, and the biggest influence Star Wars had here was Star Tours.

Oh how times have changed.

Back in 1990, my family(Mom, Dad, younger Brother and me) packed up a little Pontiac Grand Prix and drove down to WDW from Pennsylvania. After 22+ hours of driving, a hotel stop, tons of rest stops, and what must have been us passing through a wormhole as Dad’s final statement of “about an 1 hour to go” somehow turned into 3 hours (He got lost. Somehow.) we had arrived.

My first experience with WDW was the outer topiaries. A dragon here, a duck there, then a giant mickey wizard statue. Any weariness I was feeling evaporated like morning mist. We were there! Finally! With my eyes now spying for any hint of something “Disney-fied”, we drove through the main roadway and up to the Contemporary Resort roughly around 1PM.

My brother and I could barely keep from running every which way as we got out of the car. We were ready to get started, and couldn’t wait to drop off our luggage in our room and then get to the park. I swear that concierge took an extra long time on purpose to check us in. “Here’s the key”,” here’s your room”, seriously, WHAT else is there?!? There are things to do, man! MOVE! As we stood waiting for Slows M’Gee, I excitedly debated with my brother about what ride would we christen this trip with? Would it be Pirates? Small World? Peter Pan? Tea Cups? What? WHAT?? WHAT?!

Finally, we got to the room and dumped our bags. All but dashing out the door, I impatiently waited for my parents to say the magic words so we could start making our way to the parks.
Mom turned to us and said: “Nap time!”

Those…were NOT the magic words I was looking for.

Hah, real funny, Mom. Quit yer foolin’, or did you not notice where you are? Well, she apparently didn’t notice as she wasn’t joking. We looked to our Dad who had confusion on his face, but (I believe strategically) stayed quiet. We looked back at Mom. Who still showed no signs of joking. Especially when she unraveled the blankets of one of the queen beds and motioned for us to crawl in.

Sigh, our first 2 hours of Disney would be spent in nap time. If there’s a git-mo for children, this is the torture used. But, not wanting to risk getting into trouble (and taking away even more park time), my brother and myself followed directions and took an afternoon nap…well, he did, I used this time to check out the room once everyone was asleep.

If there was one thing that really bugged me about that first Disney trip (aside from the torture I just explained) it was the Contemporary Resort. The closest resort to the parks, the one with the iconic Disney monorail going THROUGH it, the one featured in ALL the Disney ads, and the one hotel that probably was, arguably, the most ANTI-Disney at Disney World. I’m not sure what room we stayed in, I can only assume a garden wing (or the equivalent of the time), but having stayed in a Motel 6 the night before, I couldn’t really spot much different between the two rooms. Short of some printed flyers on the table, there was nothing in this room that indicated that I was in Walt Disney World.

The view from the room was nice enough, I guess, it was of a lagoon and, I remember, a boat semi-sanddocked. That did Nothing. At all. It didn’t even have the common decency to have 3rd stringer Disney Character out there somewhere in the water (I was hoping for a mermaid, or Peter Pan Croc, or a Pirate or ANYTHING). But, like the hotel room itself, I could’ve been anywhere in Florida and gotten the same experience.

I didn’t and still don’t understand this design choice. When I’m going to a themed …anything… I want and expect (even back then) that theme almost beaten to death. Pillows, carpet, walls, paintings, photos, even the lights I was hoping to see some semblance that I was, indeed, in Disney World and, moreover, THE hotel of Disney World. It doesn’t all have to be a cartoon/movie love fest, I would’ve gladly accepted nods to the real people that made Disney magic happen. But alas, there was nothing. So much so that I actually finished exploring and grew bored of the room in a short time and ended up partaking in the nap, just to pass the time and get on with the actual vacation.

And so I find myself here in 2016, sleeping just to pass the time before I can be off doing the next thing… and there’s so much to do…

To be continued…

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I love your writing style, and you have a very interesting and different perspective. I’m looking forward to reading more!

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Me, too. Actually I lived in Hershey and worked at Hershey Park and met my husband there. We love theme parks. This was a hinderance for me before my first trip to Disney. I felt like I did not need to go to Disney because, I HAVE HERSHEY…boy, was I wrong. My oldest DD talked me into a trip in 2007 after her high school chorus went and sang at the candlelight processional. She was convinced I would love it. They created a monster!

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I agree! I can’t wait to read the rest of your report @Rjaniz. I totally remember those days of endless car trips and desperately wanting to hit the park ASAP. We weren’t lucky enough to stay in the Contemporary though. It was Super8 for us all the way.

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I’m really enjoying your report, I like that you can compare this visit with your first. Your wandering reminds me of our first visit, we just wanted to take it all in and our eyes grew bigger and bigger! Coming from the UK we had never experienced anything like Disney before. Yeh, we had been to theme parks but Disney is not just a theme park, it’s a whole interactive, beautifully themed world, you can see the love and brilliance that goes into every design. Trying to explain that to people that haven’t been is like hitting a brick wall :smile: I know lots of people like the Contempoary, but for us, like you, it seems a bit…shall I say it?!..bland. I want theming!! We like to stay at WL, fabulous theming :grinning: And next trip is to the GF, We like to be near MK and when booking we didn’t even consider the Contemporary. Will go to CG tho! Glad you got your most wished for experience, ice cream, balcony, fireworks. Sometimes it’s the small details that make the most magical trip :wink:

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Wow, thanks guys! I’m sorry for the horrible grammar and what not, though lol. Hopefully, things get better as we go along (but let’s not expect miracles here).

Completely agreed. I love Hershey, and there are moments where, if you squint your eyes, in the right light, you almost feel like you’re back at Disney. But for the most part, yeah, it just can’t compare. I both hate and love that.

Hah, well if you stayed at the Super8, you pretty much stayed at the Contemporary. Seriously, that room? So boring. So so boring. The new one wasn’t much better. If it wasn’t for the view, I woulda been annoyed for how much I spent on it.

Absolutely. I’ve even tried to explain it to my family once I got back. It was just useless. Though I think I was able to make an impression on my mom. So there’s that, I guess.

RIGHT? What is up with this? I mean, I have heard the theory that after a day of princesses, sometimes you want to detox but… THIS IS FRICKIN’ DISNEY WORLD! Detox when you leave!

I did visit WL while I was there and easily the best hotel I visited of the few that I did.

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This is so awesome!! :grinning:

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Can’t wait to see what else there is for you to do!! And I’m so glad you had your ice cream on the balcony! I could hear the clock ticking as you made the mad dash to bell services!! :scream:

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I live within an area that has school trips to Hershey. It is about a 90 minute drive. We should plan a liner meet at the food court and ride the chocolate world tour together. My son and I landed up there on one of his driving lessons about 7 years ago. I have also been to conventions at the lodge.

Can’t wait to read about the rest of your trip.

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It is a great story to tell!

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Fun idea!!!

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DAY 2 9/4/16 “A WHOLE NEW WORRRRLD!”

Now with 100% more pictures!

The night before, I set my phone alarm to a 6AM wakeup and I had a wakeup-call scheduled for 6:30 (just in case my body decided yesterday was too much and it was determined to sleep). Unsurprisingly, it turns out, neither was needed as I was up and at’em at 5:30AM.

Waking up to seeing Cinderella’s Castle through my sliding glass door is something I can certainly get used to.

I got some time, so I mosey over to the coffee pot and start the process while I grab a shower and get ready for the day. Once done, I grab my coffee and go and enjoy the morning out on the balcony.

I am really high up. I am not exactly good with heights either. Still, I gingerly sit down in the chair and take in the morning. The day is already warm and the air is thick with humidity, but I don’t mind. I thought I would be able to enjoy relaxing and staring at the castle but the entire time I have this nagging anticipation feeling in my gut that “I need to go.” Looking through my binoculars toward the gates of the park, the nagging feeling is vindicated as I see a bit of a crowd forming at the gates (I can see the gates! hahahah!). So with over 45 minutes left before I officially need to leave, I’m grabbing my gear and strolling out the door.

This morning’s agenda starts off with a 8AM reservation at Be Our Guest (BOG). The reservation is taking care of multiple objectives at once. 1) It’s a place I’ve been very excited to try and it became a “must do” place to visit during my planning and so I setup multiple reservations over the course of the week. 2) It gets me into the park before it officially opens (9AM), and so I’m hoping to get some photos/experience of the park with almost zero crowd.

Walking from the Contemporary Resort to the Magic Kingdom was quiet but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t fighting the urge to break out and run in excitement. Approaching the gate, I noticed that the crowd did not really grow from what I saw from my balcony, both relieved and disappointed I didn’t wait a few more minutes in my room, I got through security and turned that Mickey-post green. An odd thing I didn’t realize from yesterday with all the drone of a crowd, was that these Mickey-posts acutaly make a sound as they turn colors. That is so cool. Pointless. But cool.

After I get past the “tapstyle” (is that their official name?), I approach a cast member with an iPad. An elderly man with a big smile on his face.
“Good morning! Tour or Restaurant reservation?” he asks
“Morning, I have an 8AM reservation for Be Our Guest?” I try to meet his cheery tone, not sure if I succeeded.

He instructs me hold my magic band up to the iPad he’s holding and something on the screen pops up that he nods at and directs me to the line that’s forming on the extreme left of the park, right next to the hedges. I walk over and stand in the line, and proceed to snap a few photos from my DSLR of what I’m seeing it.

It’s just so dang pretty. This is one of the big things that Disney does and does well, the park looks beautiful, sure, but the outside of the parks match. With boats out on the lake leisurely coming in, the warm air, and the morning sun just peaking over the tree lines, it’s just awesome. Without reaching too far, I think I can call it a paradise.

After a bit, and direction from the staff that we should compress the line to “fill every available space”, the gates open and we’re allowed into the park.

It’s so quiet. Photography cast members are just standing around with no patrons yet, something you don’t see once the parks get going. Vending carts, still wrapped up for travel, moving to their final destinations. The music of the theme park, however, is playing normally, as if it were any other time of day.

I stroll steadily toward my destination, I’m not rushing. To allow myself extra time during this, I had preordered my breakfast at Be Our Guest from Disney’s website, so there is nothing I need to do but go in and pay.

I gots time.

I make my way down main street, marveling at how closed up everything is. While I’m not rushing, I’m moving faster than most and so it’s not long before I find myself at the head of the pack and I veer off right once I reach the castle courtyard, where there’s nobody and snap a few photos. If my photography skills weren’t so sucky, these could’ve been posters.


I now find myself almost completely alone and I’m loving it. It’s my park. Well… almost, there’s only a certain path you can take as the walk way to Be Our Guest is rather a straight line. I cannot go into Tomorrowland or Liberty Square and swing around, but that’s fine. I stroll up to the castle and through it, greeting the bibbidy bobbidy boutique cast members a good morning as I go past.

Behind the castle, there’s not a soul unless you count the 5 cast members scattered throughout, I’m obviously way in the front as everyone stopped to take photos of themselves in front of the castle, and it won’t last but I enjoy it while I can. I notice the floor is damp and wet from the overnight powerwashing. The immediate right, however is completely blocked off and walled up because of the crane (later I would find out it has been nicknamed “Ichabod”) that is in being used to clean and add the christmas lights to the castle.

Still, it’s a small thing and I walk a little slower now, really taking in the detail of the architecture of the park. For a place that entertains so many patrons a day, there’s almost no visible sign of wear on anything. For a kid, you notice, but it doesn’t quite click on why it’s important, you just accept it. For an adult, I have to take my hat off to the crew for a continuously outstanding job.

I finally reach BOG and walk up to the “greeting station”.

“Good morning! Name please?” The man asks, quite cheery. I give him my name and he has me scan my magic band on a device.

“Oh, just you? Oh, if I wasn’t stuck here, I would join you!” He says in a mildly sympathetic tone, handing me a yellow puck-looking thing with a rose embossed on it. I’m not sure what prompted this exchange, really. The most obvious answer was he was just making small talk while his computer loaded some settings, but I have to admit it did bug me a little.

One of the biggest fears I had about the trip was eating at a restaurant alone. I don’t do it at home because I feel I’m taking up a table that waitstaff could make more money off of if I wasn’t there. And the other, more nonsensical reason, was I don’t want people looking at me and pitying me. It’s stupid, I know, but there you go. I had gone to Disney with the expectation of it happening, even if others assured me that no one cared. But that moment where he pointed out, quite loudly, that I was alone, was every self conscious, nervous, fear come to life.

But you know what? It was fine. No one did care. The people on my left, who were getting checked in, never so much as looked at me and the whole exchange lasted only a second or two and I’ve actually spent 100x more time just putting the whole exchange into this report. The guy certainly meant no ill will and, if anything, was letting me know that we’re all friends here and, if i did feel lonely, I could easily ask someone to sit down and join me.

The moment of self doubt evaporated the second I moved on, and I made my way down the bridge toward the entrance.

But the restaurant isn’t open yet. A line forms, and I’m second in line (weird, I don’t remember anyone getting out ahead of me. Someone must’ve been really moving!). We wait there for a few minutes and then a guy appears, and is accompanied by several staff.

He stands in the center of the doorway, and the various staff flanks him on each side.

“BONJOUR!” he bellows, and the crowd returns the greeting, “Madames and Monsieurs! On behalf of the Master, it is with deepest pride, and greatest pleasure, that we invite you to --” He points to his right.

“BE!” The right flank exclaims and he points to his left
“OUR!” The left follows suit, and they all raise their hands
“GUEST!” Everyone shouts and they begin clapping.

The doors open and we start the march in amongst the applause and various greetings of “good mornings” and “bonjours”. I don’t mind telling you that it felt a bit like the scene in Ghostbusters where the guys are going into the building right after the road tried to swallow them.

So, as I’ve previously stated, I’m big on theming, and for Be Our Guest it was the best themed restaurant, maybe even experience, I saw for the whole trip. We are lead through the opening foyer and are greeted by “enchanted suits of armor”…who don’t really do much other than sneeze, and make little noises. If they moved, I couldn’t tell as I wasn’t able to stay long enough to find out before the line behind me would undoubtedly bowl me over.

Past the suits, is the paying kiosk that is setup like a study. Stacks of “books” house computer screens where you verify your order if you had preordered, and pay. I’m directed to the 3rd kiosk where I scan my magic band and verify that I’m getting an open faced bacon egg and cheese sandwich, and “the Master’s Cupcake”. I don’t need to swipe a card as it has already been setup from the website before, so it’s automatically charged. When it’s done, a receipt spits out from the one of the books on the side. Genius!

I take my receipt and proceed to the dining areas. It’s a seat-yourself setup and there are 3 rooms you can choose to eat in. Each with their own special features. Anyone visiting Touring Plans probably knows them, so I’ll save you the time of the description and just say “I chose the West Wing.” Cause I’m all presidential like that. What? Don’t you roll your eyes at the screen like that! This is comedy gold! …Ok, I’ll shut up now.

All three rooms were pretty much empty, so I could choose where I wanted to sit, and I chose the west wing because it had the most effects. I picked out a table, and placed my yellow rose-puck on it. Looking around quickly, I decide to get some orange juice and some coffee.

I find the dispensers easily enough and fill two cups with beverage and then return to my table. I’m there not more than a few minutes when a woman comes up to my table with a cart and my breakfast encased in glass. Just to be clear, I’ve informed no one where I was sitting, I’ve made no input on what room or even what table I’ve chosen. The only thing I’ve done so far is acquired my beverages.

The woman looks at my receipt I received from “the book” from the study and matches it against a slip of paper she has. She repeats what everything says and, after I nod in agreement, she opens the glass-enclosed area of the cart and pulls out my bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich as well as my “master’s cupcake” and sets it on the table. I thought that was all, but then she reaches below to a shelf on the cart and delivers a tray of various pastries. This, I wasn’t expecting and it was a welcome surprise.

But the “finding me” gets to me. Now, I’m pretty tech savvy. I work in the tech field and so I know my way around a computer better than many and there’s not a whole lot that puzzles me that isn’t super-complicated like, for example, a smartphone’s more advanced functionality. But even then, I “get” how smartphones work for the most part. But this puck, which obviously has my information loaded in it, one would immediately think that it has GPS, except it’s in a place where GPS can’t work. We’re inside, and we’re all too close together for standard GPS to accurately separate all the signal locations. So… how? How did she know I was here? As she picks up my rose-puck and tucks it into the cart, I have to ask: “How did you know where I was sitting?”

I’m not sure I made her day with the question, but the big smile she gave off certainly made it clear she was going to enjoy delivering the answer. “Magic!” she beams.

I grin as I realize I’ve just asked a magician to reveal their secrets. The sound of the “sad trombone” plays in my head. Yeah, I ain’t getting answers today. But that’s ok and now it’s a highlight of the trip. Because this theme park for kids, in a restaurant modeled after a cartoon, just stumped a 35 year old man on how they got my location.

Well. Done.

She asks if I need anything else and I assure her that was it. I don’t press the question of the puck because I figure I won’t get a real answer anyway.

“Bon apetite!” she grins and walks away and I dig in.

I wish I could report that the food was exactly as I had hoped, but while it looked amazing, it was actually cold. Well, not cold cold, but luke warm at best. It was pretty obvious this was made before I was even in the building and it was just sitting under a heat lamp, waiting for me. And if I had one suggestion for the place, would be to add warming lamps to those carts.

Still, I didn’t really have the time nor the urge to have them remake it, so I began eating anyway. Cold or not, it was delicious! I made short work of the sandwich. Which was, admittedly, a little awkward to eat because the bread didn’t really want to cut, and eating it with hands seemed a little barbaric, but it still didn’t last long.

Then it was onto the pastries, which were just an assortment of pastries you can pick up at almost any breakfast buffet. Delicious and full of calories and sugar, so it was a good thing I was about to walk some serious miles today.

After the pastries were done, I was pretty full, but there was still the issue of the “master’s cupcake”. I could’ve taken it with me, but that would be awkward and messy. I could’ve just left it, but that cupcake was 5 bucks, so that wasn’t happening. So, at risk of feeling really ill, I steeled myself to add another dessert to my already full stomach.

The reason I had got the cupcake, which was a chocolate cupcake with gray frosting and sprinkled with little pearl “crispies”, was because it was the only item on the breakfast menu that showcased “the gray stuff”. If you are unfamiliar, go listen to “Be Our Guest”. Turns out, the talking candle stick and the dishes weren’t lying! It IS delicious, but then it’s frosting, so it’s hard to go wrong. I’ll never mistrust enchanted flatware again.

Once breakfast was finished, I packed up my stuff, grabbed my now-empty cup for coffee and headed over to the dispenser for a refill, keeping an eye out to see if anyone would stop me (as the menu never mentioned refills). No one did, so with a full cup of joe, I headed toward the exit, taking one last look around before leaving.

Once I’m outside, I notice that crowds are still nonexistent. Checking my phone, I see that I actually had finished breakfast way faster than I had anticipated. I had budgeted an hour, but I was done in less than half that because my breakfast came so fast. So the park wasn’t technically open, and it was limited on where I could go, but that was more than enough. This was almost exactly what I was hoping for!

I leisurely strolled through the open areas, enjoying my coffee and empty park. The morning sun was now full on shining and the place just looked amazing. Drinking piping hot coffee in shadow of the castle in a near-empty park? It’s tough to picture a more perfect morning.

Eventually, I hear the opening-ceremony fireworks and I start heading toward some rides I want to get on before the lines become insane. Mainly Peter Pan. I originally had a fastpass for it, but I ended up cancelling for fastpasses in Animal Kingdom later in the day.

Unlike last night, the ride has a 5 minute wait (I guess that is its lowest) and it’s just a walk on. As I thread through the queue, I marvel at the experience this queue offers. You walk from the outside yard, into the Darling house, to the nursery, to the ride. But the nursery is impressive. It had recently undergone a “refresh” and now features Tinkerbell playing with various objects in the nursery, complete with projected animation effects.

As you walk, there’s a point where your shadow is cast on the wall. I watched as the people in front of me had their shadow cast and it was just “off” enough to catch my attention a bit. It wasn’t fully smooth as a shadow should be. It was like a millisecond behind their actual movement. It had my full attention when I walked through the same spot…and I didn’t have a shadow! I grinned to myself as it dawned on me what was going on.

I continued on, watching Tink spin a globe, and then disappear into the wall. Then I make my way through the hallway. Again, the people in front of me were able to reveal a hidden gem that I otherwise would have missed: as we approached the ride area, they were sprinkled with pixie dust. It was projected effect that no one knows is happening to them, but those behind them can see it. Very cool.

So I get to the ride loading area and board my ship. And it moves forward and one of the cast members are there and apparently wants to ham it up today. My safety bar isn’t designed to come down until the end of the loading area, and as I approach, the cast member follows along and pretends to sprinkle pixie dust on it. At the right moment, he stops and snaps his fingers and the safety bar descends. I smile at the corniness of it all, and it was off to Neverland.

I had a different memory of this ride back in 1990, and if this is how it always was, my memory seriously skewed some things. The ride, while worthwhile for at least one go, really isn’t that impressive to me. For as advanced as the queue was, the ride seemed like a real step back. The animatronics were stiff, the black lights exposed all the “felt material”, and it sounded like the speakers were blown in some areas.

Overall, I liked it, but I’m glad I didn’t use a fastpass on it.

After Peter Pan, I decided this would be a good time to check out Haunted Mansion’s queue in detail, but upon approach, cast members informed me that they were experiencing a delayed opening.

A little bummed, I walked past and decided to hit up Pirates again. Really taking some time to check out their queue. If you have a fastpass, you skip most of the queue and are put into a dedicated line. So now that I wasn’t utilizing a fast pass, and it was still walk-on, it was a great time to check out all the details (like the two prisoners playing chess in the cell, I had forgotten about that from my first trip).

After Pirates, Haunted Mansion was still not open and the crowds had started appearing. I took this as my queue to leave and I headed back to Mainstreet and toward the exit. On the way, I caught a morning performance from the Mainstreet Performers doing a, what I thought was very ironic, “autumn chill” song. It was already getting close to 90 degrees and these poor folks had to sing about the autumn cold and turning leaves.

On the way out, a cast member waves goodbye and says he’s sorry to see me leave so soon. Something that I will come to notice every time I leave a park: someone will always say goodbye to you. I assure him I’ll be back and decided to head back to the hotel to ditch my heavy DSLR before heading to Animal Kingdom.

While in the hotel, I’m ahead of my schedule for the day so I decide to stop by the gift shop and get my hat that I decided on last night. I figured if I’m going to get a souvenir that is wearable, might as well get it early as I could wear it throughout the parks. After searching the gift shop, I had to ask the girl working there if they had it. Turns out, they didn’t actually have it on the shelf, but she said she knew the hat I was describing and said there’s probably a bunch in “the warehouse”. So with that, she said she’d be right back and vanished in the back for some time. After several minutes, she returned with stack of the hats. Peeling the top one off the stack she asked if this was the hat I was after.

I confirmed that it was and made the purchase. Thrilled with the customer service and armed with a new hat, I headed off to my room to refine my gear I would be taking for the rest of the day. After that, I went down to the bus stop to catch the next bus to Animal Kingdom. When I got to the stop, however, I saw the bus I wanted leaving and the next one not due for another 10-15 minutes.

I considered waiting, but then I looked across the way to the Grand Floridian and remembered one of the my goals was to explore some of the other hotels while I was here. So I took this as an opportunity and decided to take a boat over to the Floridian.

There was another moment of “feeling lost” as I approached the dock. There was a line queue, but the door was locked. There were no signs so I wasn’t sure what to do or where to stand. After some fumbling around I ended up just standing in a spot, which apparently was too far up, as the Captain on the boat (once it got closer) kept calling to me that the “gate was back there”, pointing at the area behind me. I felt like such a rube, but I wasn’t quite getting it.

Once the boat docked, he got out and unlocked the door and I finally understood. I wasn’t supposed to stand in a queue, but just at the door. Sheepishly, I climbed aboard and it was off to the hotel.

I disembarked and started to thread my way through the buildings. Touring the grounds, the hotel is just gorgeous, but I found it to be laid out weird. Instead of one hotel building, there’s several different buildings making up the “campus.” Locating the largest building, I gathered this was the lobby and so I went inside checked it out. It was indeed the lobby (as confirmed by several signs), and it was so open and a complete change from the blandness and claustrophobic feel of the Contemporary.

I walked through the lobby for a bit and proceeded up the regal staircase. I couldn’t help but picture a Disney Princess in a full ball gown attire going up or down these steps. Once on the second floor, I did a circuit and stopped at the two gift shops.

LIke the Contemporary’s, the first gift shop mirrored much of what you can find in the park. There were a few additions though, like being able to buy hotel-branded merchandise. Once I breezed through I went into the other gift shop, which felt like a country club’s golf store. Though none of the prices really reflected the jump in “ambiance”.

After the gift shops, and finishing the circuit (stopping to check out the really neat antique toy ferris wheel), I decided it was time to get back to the plan and head to Animal Kingdom. I descended down to the bus station and waited.

It was about this time I realized just how much improved the Bus system was compared to 1990. In 1990, there were huge signs with a list of when the bus is scheduled to arrive, and you hoped it was on time. You also hoped you were grabbing the right bus for the right destination. Now, it couldn’t be easier. A monitor shows a list of destinations, and the time the next bus will arrive where you are, in real time. So if the bus is delayed by traffic, you’ll see the clock change. If it’s making good time, you’ll see that change too. Absolutely fantastic.

The bus arrived just as the monitor said and I climbed aboard and it was off to the park. In 1990, this park didn’t exist so it would be completely new territory for me. On the way, you can see some of the ads for rides and parks and as you get closer, the construction of the new Avatar Land. To be honest, this new Avatar Land doesn’t interest me much. I wasn’t a fan of the movie and I don’t really get why Disney wanted to put so much effort into it… but then I remember the plans were all hatched before Star Wars and Marvel were bought up by them so it makes a bit more sense.

The bus pulls up to it’s unloading station at the park and I find myself a bit lost once again. Unlike Magic Kingdom, the gates of the park can’t be seen from the bus area and I’m not entirely sure I’m going the right way, but when it doubt in Disney World: follow the herd.

And as usual, the herd definitely knew where to go and it wasn’t long before I found myself in the security bag check. After that, I realized this would be the first time I would give the new magic band a go on a place that wasn’t my hotel room or Magic Kingdom. Mentally crossing my fingers, I placed the red band and my finger up to the Mickey Post and….GREEN!

After a cast member greets me hello, it’s off to explore. I enter past the old ticket are and drift up the right side of the oasis path. At the mouth of the bridge, I stop to take a quick look toward the Tree of Life and snap a few photos.

That thing is massive, but it doesn’t strike me as the castle did. In fact, I would almost say it looked out of place. The leaves of the tree were a shade off than all of the surrounding foliage. A small detail, but in place where near everything is alive, the artificial aspect of it stands out. It’s still an impressive piece though.

I cross the bridge and pull out my phone to bring up my touring plan. It seems I don’t have any plans until later so I have time to go evaluate everything first. As I cross the bridge little details of the park already start to jump out at me. The roughness of the ground is completely different from the smoothness of the Magic Kingdom’s ground. Tribal sounding music softly plays, setting the mood for the park. To my right, a troop of kids are being sworn in as Wilderness Explorers. Straight ahead, several people are posing for photos with the Tree in the background.

As I entered into the open area, I noticed a gift shop on my right and I stepped in to see what they had. To my surprise, again, there wasn’t a lot of variety from any other gift shop I’d seen. There were a few more Animal Kingdom centered stuff, but I was amazed at how similar all the shops were, despite the decor of each shop couldn’t be more different.

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From there, I headed off to see my first animal encounter: Otters. Who were sleeping. Then I came across tiny little monkeys that were far more active and entertaining. Not that they were really doing anything in particular, but they were fascinating to watch.

After that, I found myself hopping from whatever animal exhibit I could find to the next. There are too many to list and it really was the same routine each time: walk up, stare at the animal for a few minutes, more if it was active, less if it wasn’t, then off to the next.

I was actually surprised how few animal exhibits there were though. I guess I expected something more along the lines of an actual zoo, so when I got realized I got through nearly all the animal exhibits pretty quickly, I was a bit disheartened.

I knew that the Kilamajaro Safari tour would have many more I hadn’t seen yet, but the line was currently hovering around 60 minutes so I wasn’t about to wait for it. Additionally, I had a fast pass for 8PM and, again through research through here, I figured the animals would be far more active than what they currently were in this heat.

With the animal touring pretty much done, I figured it was time for another Mickey Pretzel. I found a food cart and placed the order. Sold out, but fresh ones were on the way if I was willing to wait a few minutes. Uhhh yes!!

As I waited for my pretzel, a flock of exotic birds darted overhead and up the path. An amazing sight to be sure and I wish I was faster on the camera so I could’ve caught it. Immediately, someone started declaring “Oh I know they aren’t supposed to do that! Looks like someone is in trouble!” And just as quickly a cast member appeared to tell him how wrong he was.

I couldn’t hear the whole conversation because my pretzel was ready and I had a transaction to perform! Once done though, I caught the tail end of the cast members explanation and the visitor sheepishly slinking away, having had some knowledge dropped on him.

I was really curious what she said, but I didn’t want to have her repeat the whole thing. But curiosity won out and I walked up to her like a total tool and asked her to repeat her story. She was happy to though, and informed me it was part of a show. That how they were all heading straight back to their nesting area.

I found the whole thing absolutely fascinating and she told me that there’s several showings of it at the Tree of Life and gave me the next time I needed to be there to see it. Bidding her my thanks a cheery good day, I headed off with hot pretzel in hand to Dinosaur Land.

Ok, now I’m probably not going to win points with some here, but sadly I have to report that I found DinoRama to be downright awful. Almost offensive, really. As I went through, it was so gaudy and low-grade for a place like Disney. It was like a small-town carnival had snuck into Disney World. By itself, I have no issues with it. It’s hokey fun one would expect to see at a local fair or even a small-time theme park (Looking at you Dorney Park!) But, as I said, this is Disney World, and there’s an expected level of refinement and this didn’t have it. I stayed just long enough to know I never want to revisit this portion of the park again. It was like getting a saltine cracker on top of delicious chocolate cake. It just didn’t fit. To me, of course, you and yours might enjoy it. Lol

After Dino sour Land (see what I did there? Ugh, sorry…) I checked out “It’s Tough to Be a Bug”. Which was probably the most creatively interactive show I’ve ever seen and became an instant highlight. Unfortunately, because of the crowds at AK today, I ended up being in the VERY front row. If you ever check out this show, and they tell you to “squeeze down to the far right of the queue”… you ignore them. This is the worst possible seating.

I don’t want to spoil the show for everyone, but it was fantastic, even with the crappy seating. Though if Spiders freak you out (even fake ones), best to avoid this. I don’t mind spiders at all and even I was a little unnerved. But what a great show.

After TTBAB, I had some more time before dinner, so I wandered around and ended up doing the maharajah jungle trek and it finished up the rest of the animal exhibits I could find. Unfortunately, like a knucklehead, I had forgot about the “bird show” at Tree of Life until I was about half way through the trek, and there was no way I was going to make it back to the Tree in time to see it without breaking out into a full run. Which wasn’t happening in this heat. Ah well.

But even with the treks, and the shows, I couldn’t seem to connect to this park. Unlike MK, there seemed to be far less tiny details to this park for me once you get away from the “different road texture”. It felt like a sorta-zoo with a ride here and there, and I’m not a huge zoo guy. Sure, I can definitely spend some time, as I had here (working on hour 5 or 6 at this point), but on the list of “things I wanna do today”, zoos rate pretty low. Seeing sleeping caged animals just doesn’t do a lot for me. And yeah, there were certainly standouts, but I still felt like I had “done” AK significantly even with the short amount of time I had spent here. Maybe it was the heat (which had been high 90s with humidity), maybe it was the crowds (Crowd Level 9), or maybe I just wasn’t getting it, I’m not sure, but I was eager for nighttime to fall so I could finish up my fastpasses.

But before that could happen, it was time for dinner at Tiffins. I arrived about a half hour early, as nothing else was grabbing my attention, and was immediately seated. As I was being seated, the hostess explained the dining room was designed by the imagineer(s) who designed all of Animal Kingdom. In addition, she said the room was a collection of all the notes and ideas that were used in the creation of the park. I’m a big on learning about Disney history, and this might’ve revealed some of that nuance I was looking for outside, so I found it really interesting and when she left, I got up and walked around the room, reading the notes. Unfortunately, the notes seemed to be in the guise of someone actually being on safari rather than designing the park. Things like “listen to the locals, for they will lead you to safest water.”

My waitress arrived and I needed no time to decide what I wanted. She was a little surprised by that, it seemed. Thanks to the suggestions found here, I ordered the Octopus appetizer, the roasted duck, and the chocolate ganash. She asked if I’d been here before, and when I said I hadn’t she replied “whoever was giving you advice knows what they’re doing! They have great taste!” So good job, Liners! And I parrot that because to say everything was just “delicious” would be a massive injustice to the food.

Throughout the trip, I had decided to take photos of my meals so when I would explain how fantastic or terrible a dish was to the folks back home, I would have a visual aid. Well, Tiffins served up something so delectable, I was about halfway through my duck before I remembered I wanted to take a photo of it. In fact, that would be a theme throughout the entire meal as well. The closest I got was the ganash after only a bite, I remembered to take a photo. And seriously, for such a small desert, wow was it filling!

During dinner, apparently rain had moved in and it was coming down fairly strong (hey, thanks Dark Skies for letting me know! Ya useless piece of …. ) but I still had 3 or 4 hours before my first fast pass kicked in. In addition, tonight was the last showing of the Jungle Book show. So I was determined to stick it out. So on with the poncho and a walking we will go.

This determination lasted about as long as it took for me to do a circuit around the park.

Once I reached Tiffins again, I checked my phone’s weather apps to see if the rain was going to stop anytime soon. It wasn’t. It was then that I had to ask myself what was here that could entertain me for another 3+ hours in the rain? The crowds didn’t seem to be lowering to me and the only ride I was really interested in (Kilamajaro Safari) still had a really long line.

I couldn’t find a good reason to stay for either the Jungle Book or KS, so I made the call to leave and instead go check out Disney Springs as that was also something I wanted to see, but I couldn’t really make a Touring Plan for it. With a lot of reluctance, I headed toward the exit, hoping that something would grab my attention on my way out. Nothing did.

But how do you GET to Disney Springs? I couldn’t find a bus from the park to there. I’m pretty sure I was interpreting everything wrong, but it seemed the only thing I could do was take a bus back to the hotel and then bus to Disney Springs. Which is what I ended up doing.

On the way back to the hotel, two families of 3 sat in front of me. For both, the parents were clearly beat, but their little daughters couldn’t have had more energy and they wanted to share it with everyone. As I watched the girls, who both couldn’t have been more than 5, make fast friends with each other on the bus (so much so, that I thought the families knew each other from before, but as the ride would go on, the parents would introduce themselves, thus debunking that theory), I made the egregious error of making eye contact with one of the kids… And that’s how I ended up eating 15+ imaginary ice creams and cakes.

I love kids, hell, I AM an overgrown kid, so I’m always down for a good game of “imagination”, but I also know that we now live in a world, even here in Disney, where a man, alone, could be perceived as a threat. So I became very self aware of my actions and took special care not to do anything that could be interpreted wrong. I guess I did too good a job though, as the little girl picked up on it and got annoyed after a while and decided I was being difficult, to which she promptly told me, and went back to playing with her doll with the other girl. With a tinge of sadness at the world we live in, and my inability to leave it out in the real world, the bus ride continued uneventful.

After a stop at the hotel and running up to my room to ditch my gear, it was back on the bus to Disney Springs. The rain hadn’t let up and as we pulled up to the unloading area, you could see people hiding out under any area that had a roof. Good thing I had my poncho.

As I made my way down through the stores, I was surprised at how small it felt yet how easy it was to get turned around. As I made my way into the World of Disney, a blast of cold Air Conditioned air hit me. Poncho or no poncho…. You feel that.

The store was amazing. Everything I’d seen in every park and hotel was here as well. I had hoped to grab some special “Halloween” themed gear for the party later this week, but alas, nothing that I couldn’t find in any other gift shop was here.

Because of the prices and my limited amount of budget for this part of the trip, I didn’t do a lot of shopping for anything. I picked out some things I would want to get my family back home, but I decided against purchasing anything there because I would just have to lug it around the rest of the night.

Upon leaving the store, I saw the Lego Store and made a beeline for it. Now, near where I live we have a Lego Store, a small one in the King of Prussia mall. So I was looking forward to seeing a REAL Lego Store.

I was disappointed. The store wasn’t much bigger than the one back home, and I think it had the same amount of products honestly. The extra space was devoted to a build area and sculptures. It’s either a testament to the quality of the store back home, or the patheticness of the store here in Disney. As an aside, I went to New York after the trip about a week later, I would learn it’s the latter. If you have the ability to visit the Lego Store in Rockefeller Center, absolutely do that!

The sculptures outside were impressive, and as with all Lego sculptures at these stores, I wondered if it’s actually built by someone or molded? I could look it up, but I rather keep it a mystery.

After those two stores were done, I grabbed another Starbucks frap (i love these things), and visited other stores. But a pattern formed very quick where you are outside, get wet, and then enter to a blast of cold air. It wasn’t long before this became irritating.

Checkin my phone, I saw it was about an hour until Wishes began back the Magic Kingdom. Since I wasn’t really having fun here, I found my way back to the buses and headed back to the hotel. Apparently, a lot of people were having the same idea I had at this point as the bus was completely packed.

Once I reached the hotel, I caught wishes and had another bowl of ice cream. But I watched from inside the room as the balcony was soaked. I also decided to play a bit with my camera and used my binoculars to create a telephoto lense. The results…weren’t terrible. I also noticed that even though the park was currently playing music and there’s a full crowd, I couldn’t actually hear anything from the park. This was actually pretty amazing to me. I wonder if it’s by actual design or by stupid luck that the Contemporary isn’t bombarded by noise from the Kingdom?

Once Wishes and the Pageant was over, I decided to turn in. I have the Keys to the Kingdom tour tomorrow and that’s 5 hours of pure walking goodness and I wanted to be rested.

As my head hit the pillow, I went over the day’s events and felt bad about Animal Kingdom and Disney Springs. I was sure I missed a lot at Disney Springs (there’s no way it was as small as it seemed) and I questioned what’s wrong with me that I couldn’t connect to Animal Kingdom. I decided if I had time, I would need to revisit both.

To Be Continued…

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I love your trip report…looking forward to the rest. I do not think you are in the minority in hating DinoLand at AK. I think many people feel the same way, that it’s out of place and not very “Disney”. My 4 year old loved it when we were there last, but if it weren’t for him we would have no reason to return to that area again. Anyway, thank you for writing! :slight_smile:

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I’m loving your trip report, can’t wait for more.

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I’m really enjoying your trip report! As another solo adventurer to WDW I’m always interested in other solo traveler’s experiences. I love Be Our Guest, though I have not yet eaten there for breakfast, though I do have reservations for my upcoming December trip. Not to burst your magic bubble, but I’ve read that the roses which you are given at breakfast and lunch have RFID devices and transmitters in them which are used to pinpoint your location for delivery of your food.

You are not the only one to be disappointed in Dinoland. I actually love animal kingdom, but mainly because I am a zoo person and it has my two favorite shows - Finding Nemo and Festival of the Lion King. The only reason why I ever go near Dinoland is because I have to to get to the building that has Finding Nemo the Musical. Though I must admit, my niece really enjoyed playing in the boneyard when we were there a few years ago (she was 8 at the time). Otherwise I avoid Dinoland. Thanks for shari g all the great detail (and corny jokes) from your adventures!

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Thank YOU guys for reading it! Unfortunately, life is going to get in the way for a bit and the next installment will be far slower.

I’m glad to hear that I’m not alone in hating dinoland. I’m not sure how that even got approval to get built. Still, I guess if the little ones like it, it’s enough.

hahah I have done a bit of research on it since I got back and I believe that you are correct. But I still was pretty blown away on the day of.

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Thank you so much for sharing your trip report! You write so well and it is really enjoyable to read! It feels like we are right there with you. :smile: Looking forward to the next installment!

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I agree, it’s super impressive. I will admit, I was a little surprised in my last trip (and 3rd and 4th visits to BOG, because if I’m on the dining plan it’s a great use of a quick service credit) that they were still using the roses, given that it seems like everyone has a magic band, which also use RFID technology, but I suspect the batteries in the magic bands aren’t powerful enough to pinpoint where you are seated, but that’s just a guess.

I think we all understand how life can get tricky. Hope things get better soon.

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