Hey everyone! I had a very interesting trip a couple of weeks ago, so I thought I’d do a trip report. This was a solo trip, and I filled it with all kinds of random things my family and I didn’t get a chance to do on our family trip, as we were running from ride to ride (I did some of that too, but intentionally slowed down to experience a lot we had missed along the way). I’m happy to answer any questions you may have.
Okay, here we go. Get comfortable, because this is a detailed report!
Trip: Sat, Dec 31st- Sun, Jan 8th
People: Yours truly
Best Restaurants: Citricos, Wine Bar George, Le Cellier, Sanaa, Homecomin’, Topolino’s (sort of… will explain further!)
Places Stayed: Grand Floridian resort studio (the new Mary Poppins rooms), Wilderness Lodge, Poly, Coronado Springs (Grand Destino Tower), Royal Pacific Resort, Port Orleans French Quarter
Enchanting Extras: Once Upon a Painting, Mickey tie-dye, WL Wonders of the Lodge Tour, Keys to the Kingdom, Epcot Seas Adventure: Dolphins in Depth, Mosaic Art at Coronado, Carriage Ride at Port Orleans Riverside, Starlight Safari
Focus: To slow down a bit, try some different, off-beat things in the parks that I’ve missed before, and fit in some Enchanting Extras
Random addition: One of my goals on this trip was to have a lot of leftovers. I was heading to my immersion week for my doctoral classes afterwards, where food isn’t covered. So I had my car loaded with two coolers and a mini-fridge… all of which were full by the end of this trip, and covered me for my entire week! Mission accomplished!
On Sat, Dec 31st, I drove from my home in CT, down to South Carolina; I stayed in Florence, at the recommendation of some Liners. There are lots of hotels just off the highway, so very convenient.
On Sun, Jan 1st, I left by 6am, and arrived in WDW around 12:30pm. I checked into the Grand Flo, but my room wasn’t ready yet. I enjoyed the huge gingerbread house, and purchased a few BOGO goodies. From there, I scooted over on the monorail to get Steakhouse 71 lunch to go, where I tried the burger and the bacon and eggs, and the pb banana pie from Contempo Cafe. Both the SH71 plates were good, but the bacon and eggs were the real standout, absolutely delicious. The pie wasn’t great; I wound up throwing it away.
From there, I took the monorail again to explore the Poly. Grabbed a lime Dole whip from Pineapple Lanai (wonderful), and decided to walk back to the Grand Flo from there. It wasn’t the most enjoyable walk, and it was getting quite hot out. But it was doable. By now, my room was ready, so I checked in, enjoyed the pool, and then scooted back to Bay Lake Tower for Mickey tie-dye. That was a quick and fun exercise, and great souvenirs for my kids!
Then, it was off to the Poly again for the start of a Lounge/food crawl: I started at Tambu Lounge to try the Ohana bread pudding and noodles. Perhaps I had built up both too much in my mind; the noodles were fine, but a bit one-note to me. The bread pudding, however, was absolutely marvelous. Next stop was the Enchanted Rose at the Grand Flo. The truffle fries were outstanding, as was getting a chance to meet a Liner there, and chat for a bit!
My food tour ended at Citricos. I was pretty full at this point, but thank goodness for leftovers. The strawberry salad was other-worldly, and the tilefish was absolute perfection. I watched fireworks and the Electrical Water Pageant from outside, then slept quickly.
Monday Jan 2nd: I started the day by getting my things out of my room, and getting breakfast at the Grand Floridian Café. It was tasty, but not a strong stand-out. I made it over to the Wonders of the Lodge tour at 9am. That was a stand-out. Honestly, they should charge for this tour. It was 90 minutes of fabulous stories and connections between the history of westward expansion, Walt’s life, and the eventual development of Disney World. I did Keys to the Kingdom the day after this… and honestly, I enjoyed this tour more. It was excellent. Kudos to Allen, the guide, for being such a good storyteller.
Sadly, while I was on the tour, I received bad news from home, that our beloved cat had fallen unexpectedly ill. We wound up putting him down about an hour later. It broke my heart to not be there.
I checked into my WL room, and quickly grabbed a burger I had ordered at Geyser Point before taking the boat over to Magic Kingdom. (That burger was great, and was better than SH71’s, in my opinion… though it’s a close call.)
From MK, I walked to the Contemporary, where I had pre-booked Once Upon a Painting, a two hour-long painting session that takes place in California Grill, where you can paint a castle lamp. I don’t know why this isn’t advertised as an Enchanting Extra; you need to call the Bay Lake Tower Community Hall to actually book a reservation to do it. I was the only one there, and it was very serene, with a stunning view… and really what I needed to collect myself after hearing about our cat. I had been about 20 minutes late, because of what had happened to our cat, and because I was comforting my kiddos at home. When I apologized for my tardiness and explained why, the CMs gifted me the experience for free… which got me crying again. The magic is still there, folks.
I returned to WL and soaked in the pool for a bit, listening to Disney trivia. Then, I changed and got ready for EP Deluxe hours. I used an after 5pm convention ticket for this night, and for the MK deluxe hrs night—not too bad to get 6-8 hrs in the parks for $74!
At EP: I had a little time to kill before I could tap in, so I looked at the Leave a Legacy Wall. Beautiful. Tapped in, then went to Cantina for an “appetizer” in the child cheese empanadas—boy, those were tasty! From there, I went to Club Cool for the first time, and tried the sodas, including the Beverly. Whoever knowing decides to put that in their mouths should have their head examined.
From there, it was to La Hacienda: tacos de langosta, NPH’s black magic (yikes!! Want some juice with your alcohol??), and the 50th pyramid for dessert. Way too much food, but I knew it was my last shot to try that pyramid. It was okay… could’ve been better. Tacos were great.
Rest of my time at EP: Impressions de France (gorgeous), macaron seasonal ice cream (shockingly stale), American Adventure, then Harmonious from Japan. Once Deluxe hours started, I did Remy, then GotG twice. Should’ve waited on Remy—that was a long line, even after Harmonious—but I was over in WS, so not much choice. GotG was incredible, but my stomach was done after two rides back-to-back. No line for GotG at the end of Deluxe hrs. Then, back to WL to get some z’s.
Jan 3rd: The next morning, I checked out of WL, drove my car over to the Poly to check in, then immediately walked to the TTC to catch the monorail to RD MK. I almost got duped here. The monorail to MK was roped off; a CM told us that it wasn’t working, and sent us over to the resort monorail. A few of us asked when we got there, and the conductor said, “It should be running soon.” Sure enough, we walked back, and the direct monorail to MK had shown up, and was boarding. Wow.
MK: I RDed Peter Pan (it’s a thing of nostalgia for me), and grabbed Friar’s Nook tots and gravy. They were fine; did the job. (Quick random tip: they say they open at park open. But if you click on the MO time slots, they actually open during early entry. Took awhile to get them, though; seemed like it could be useful, but it slowed me down that morning.) From there, I got onto Astro Orbiter. Then, I grabbed a cinnamon roll and LeFou’s brew from Gaston’s. The roll was meh; I surprised myself by liking the drink.
Then, it was time for Keys to the Kingdom! It was a good tour. Our tour guide was wonderful; she had been friends with Mickey and 13 other characters, so that was fascinating. It’s great to see the utilidors. The rest I probably could have left behind, to be honest. Peco’s Bill’s for lunch was my first time there; not a bad choice. After the tour, I grabbed a snack at Sleepy Hollow (lots of leftovers from that too), watched the parade, then immediately jumped in my car at the Poly, and hopped to AK.
AK: I made it to the last Finding Nemo show at 4:30pm, which was pretty good, considering! A wonderful show; highly recommend. Then went to Everest (wonderful!), Dinosaur (DL’s Indy is light years better, which is too bad), and Triceratops Spin. Grabbed a dino-bites ice cream sandwich (yummy), rode FoP with ILL, then booked it to Nomad Lounge, which was a walk-up at that point. Nomad was wonderful; the lobster mac and cheese and churros were perfection.
I actually had a Topo’s dinner booked after all of this. I wasn’t too hungry, but I was excited for some yummy leftovers and pretty ambience (I had done breakfast there with my family, but not dinner). I was told to sit at the bar, and the way it was communicated left me uncertain of whether I was supposed to eat there or not. I asked the bartender, who said, “No, if you have a reservation, you’ll just be waiting here.” So I ordered a drink, and I proceeded to wait a really long time. Finally, I paid my tab, went out to see the Harmonious fireworks (great view!), then told person at the hostess stand I was leaving. We then realized that there had been a miscommunication; he had intended for me to eat at the bar after all. It was so late by then, that I didn’t want to start a dinner. So we went our separate ways. I was bummed, but it was an honest miscommunication. I’ll get back there for dinner someday.
From there, I tried to check into my Poly room… and I had a dickens of a time finding it. Eventually did find it, but it took a good bit of wandering in the dark. Not my favorite resort experience.
Wed, Jan 4th: Kona for breakfast. Tonga Toast was okay; I was hoping to order the macadamia nut pancakes to go (to save for later), but the server forgot entirely, so I just let it go. May need to get back to try those sometime!
From there, I drove to Epcot, to experience the Dolphins in Depth Enchanting Extra at Epcot! This was a real highlight. It’s a two-hour experience where you learn a bit about the dolphins, then change into wetsuits and enjoy some time petting them and doing tricks with them. It was a bit of a bucket list item for me, so very, very special.
From there, I drove to Wine Bar George and ordered altogether too much food. Every morsel was absolutely breath-takingly delicious. I loved it all. Then, the hot cookie hour at Gideon’s was also quite lovely and worth a stop.
Then, I checked into Coronado Springs. It was absolutely lovely.
Because I had stayed at the Poly the previous evening, I was eligible for the MK Deluxe hours, so headed over there. I drove and surreptitiously parked at the Contemporary so I could pick up my painted castle. Picked that up, then hoofed it to MK. Entered in at 4:47 with my after 5pm convention ticket, just as I had at Epcot.
MK: Flag Retreat, Main Street Train Station (took altogether too long!), then dinner at Skipper’s Canteen. I may have hit this on an off night, but it was absurdly busy, and the food was very, very salty (and I like salt!).
From there, I did:
-the Liberty Square Riverboat (gorgeous views of the castle after dark!)
-Jingle Cruise, on its last night of the season (fun ride, but sitting in the back near the engine meant that I missed a good chunk of what was said)
-Country Bear Jamboree (not a fan, sadly)
-BTMR at night, during fireworks (incredible!!)
-Splash; lovely at night as well
-It’s a Small World
-Monsters Inc Laugh Floor
(JC, BTMR, Splash, IASW, Buzz, and MILF were all stacked LL’s)
-Then Deluxe hours. Apologies to all Liners everywhere, but I just did the little bit I had left that I wanted to hit: Mickey’s Philharmagic, and Peter Pan. Pan had a surprising line; not awful, but at least a solid 20-30 min.
By this time, I was toast, and ready for some rest, so I walked back to the Contemporary, and drove back to Coronado.
Jan 5th: Folks, by this point, I was pretty tired. But I had a few more days, so I pressed on. I had breakfast at Trattoria al Forno—delicious breakfast pizza and coffee, highly recommend!
This allowed me to park and RD the IG at EPCOT. My plan had been to head to Remy, but I had hit that a few days before, so I scooted to Soarin’ instead. It’s a personal favorite and was, as always, wonderful. From there I did Living with the Land (great holiday overlay!!), and went back to WS to try Les Halles for the first time. Boy, this did not disappoint! It was fabulous, and many things went into baggies for later times.
From there, I did what I had always wanted to do: I meandered around World Showcase, into every single country. I had some tentative plans to hit a few QS places on the way… but honestly, I was so full, and didn’t feel the need to get more leftovers at that point, so left a few things I wanted to try for a future trip sometime. But I went in at least one store in every country and explored all of the cultural stops, before finishing up in Canada, where I grabbed some maple popcorn (which tasted burnt to me?), and then had lunch at Le Cellier.
Le Cellier: soup, filet mignon, and crème brulee. Holy. Moly. That filet is the best steak I’ve had on property. And the rest of the meal was flawless. Absolute perfection.
From there, I hopped to HS (and had been stacking G+ rides all this time). The SL was down, so I grabbed my car from BW, and drove. By the time I arrived at HS, it was running again. Ah well.
At HS, I did:
-Walt Disney Presents. Nice show if you have the time!
-ToT for the first time. I’m a big Twilight Zone fan, too, so this was great for me. I felt very unwell after the GotG equivalent in DL, so was worried about this. But this felt tamer, for which I was very grateful.
-RnR. Wow, that was rough. I did fine, but not my favorite.
-Muppet Vision, to kill time, then…
…my Hollywood Brown Derby Fantasmic dining package. The cobb salad was good, but I wasn’t wowed. I’m not sure what I had expected. The grapefruit martini nearly put me to sleep, and the grapefruit cake was good but equally intense in its own way. Not my favorite, but I could tell the quality was high for everything.
From there, I did:
-Slinky Dog Dash at night! Totally different experience and very cool.
Note: I was extremely late for some of these LLs. If you’d like details about that, feel free to check La Cava!
-Then, Fantasmic. I was spoiled by having seen it in DL first, but this was also a very, very good show. My favorite nighttime show currently playing, by far. I had a TSM LL, but I just didn’t feel like walking back in there, and I knew I had a very, very early and big day ahead…
Jan 6th: On this day, I headed to Universal… for the first time in 16 years. I’m a big HP fan, so I was stoked for this. I checked into Royal Pacific Resort around 5:45am, which gave me a chance to get my Express Pass, and then take the Garden Walk to Islands of Adventure, which was the only park that opened early on the two days I was there.
I did the mad dash to Hagrid’s, along with the masses. It was down at first, so I wound up finishing there around 9am. From there, I did:
-The Hogwart’s Express to Diagon Alley
-Ollivander’s show, and bought a wand
-Escape to Gringott’s
-Meandered around the world for a bit, checking out Diagon and Knockturn Alleys
-Florean’s ice cream for breakfast, and Frozen Butterbeer and a child’s fish and chips from the Leaky Cauldron
It was getting crowded, so I left DA, and did some other rides: Mummy and Minions, both of which took absolutely forever, even with the Express Pass. Got lunch from Central Park Crepes (delicious, but took nearly 30 min). Went to see the Bourne Spectacular, rode E.T., then took the Hogwarts Express back to the IoA side.
-Caught the Frog Choir and Triwizard Rally, tried the hot and regular butterbeer at the Three Broomsticks, then went over to Mythos for dinner.
-I ordered two apps; the food was good, but service very slow. By the time I left, though, the lines were far more reasonable.
-Knocked off Seussland (Trolley Ride and Cat in the Hat). Then, did Spider-Man, Hulk, and Kong.
-Took Hogwarts Express Again to Diagon Alley, and walked to the lake to watch the Cinematic Spectacular.
From there, I went to City Walk and did some quick shopping, and the Back to the Future Escape Room… which was FABULOUS. A must-do if you’re a fan. Then, I walked back to RPR.
Jan 7th: I did the same RD strategy, but this time went to Velocicoaster, then to Hogsmeade, where I saw that the Forbidden Journey was down. I rode Hippogriff, bought some things from Filch’s, and then waited for Forbidden Journey. It became the longest I’ve ever waited for a ride. But eventually, I got to walk inside that castle and ride that ride. Both were absolutely wonderful.
From there, I had a choice: I had some rides in mind (MIB, Rip Ride Rocket, and Transformers, specifically). But I was a bit done with rides, and I really wanted to try out my new wand. So I played around in Hogsmeade instead, then took the train a last time to do the same in Diagon Alley. I walked through CityWalk, grabbed Voodoo Donuts and Shipwreck Nachos on my way out, then got in the car to return to WDW.
I parked back at Coronado Springs, and made it just in time for my Mosaic Art Enchanting Extra. What a lovely time that was, very relaxing after all of my running around.
From there, I checked into Port Orleans French Quarter. I grabbed some beignets, of course (delicious).
I had planned to hit the pool, but my body was toast: I took my first ever Disney nap, y’all. I needed it!
I woke up in time to drive to Port Orleans Riverside for my carriage ride. Felt a little silly to do it alone, but again, it was actually really relaxing and fun. Those resorts are just gorgeous, and I timed it nicely with the setting sun.
From there, I drove to Animal Kingdom Lodge. I stopped by the fire pit, just for the hell of it, really. Then, I tried out the Victoria Falls Lounge. That place was great, very chill vibe. The goat cheese dip is out of control in its smooth savory-ness. Glorious. Then, Jiko for dinner. Jiko was sumptuous: the flavors were all very, very good. Took many leftovers from this dinner (including a Nyala brownie from the Mara. Because I could.).
I drove to Kidani, where I had a Sanaa order to go as well. Picked that up, dropped it off in my car… and checked in for my Starlight Safari. It was a fun experience. I wish I had researched a bit more where they actually take you—most of it is in the savannas that are right by AKL, and for some reason I had in mind that we’d be going into AK a bit more. But still, a very cool and unique experience.
From there, I drove back to French Quarter, and collapsed.
Jan 8th: This was my last day! I drove to Topolino’s for breakfast (wonderful, just as it had been last year—I adore those waffles, and the steak was great), then back to French Quarter to pack everything up. I went from there to Disney Springs, where I did a few quick stops:
-Ganachery—the smore and chocolate drink are heaven, and the s’more reheats well!
-World of Disney
-Popcorn stand (I had an old bucket with me, so I figured, why not?)
-Pick a pearl (just the pearl, a nice souvenir for me)
-Grabbed Polite Pig and Chicken Guy to go, to see what the fuss was about
-Gideon’s again (I managed to grab a coffee cake cookie this time; had missed it before)
And finally, I ended with one of my very favorites: Homecomin’, this time for brunch. Brunch was very yummy, but I actually think I prefer lunch or dinner.
From there, I drove my 9 hrs to the school where my doctoral program was. I had a back seat full of goodies, that carried me through. (And I still have Gideon’s cookies in the fridge.)
If you’ve stuck with this trip report, you must be a real glutton for punishment! But if anyone has any questions, I’d be happy to answer!