I found trip reports to be very helpful in planning my first trip to Disney World, particularly when I searched the forums for answers to my various questions. So I thought I’d report out some of our thoughts and tips from a week at Disney World.
First, a little about us:
My brother and I are both in our mid-30’s, we take an annual sibling trip usually to a football game, but this year decided to fulfill a childhood dream of going to Disney World for the first time. As west coast kids, we were fortunate enough to go to Disneyland (which we love) several times as kids and adults, but never made it to Orlando.
Our Trip: We decided to do 5 days in the World, 2 days in the Magic Kingdom and 1 day in the rest of the parks. Our goal: To see and explore as much in the World as possible. We planned it out to not use park hopper, but take each day to really explore 1 park and begin and end in the Magic Kingdom. We booked everything through Undercover Tourist, which all worked well, including early on when we decided to cancel a hotel reservation and downgrade our hotel.
Hotel: Pop Century Resort. We decided to save our $$ on the hotel, where we didn’t plan to spend much time. I chose POP because it rated as the best of the value hotels, and since we planned to use Disney Transportation I liked that it didn’t share a bus. It ended up being a fine choice, but I think next time I would spring for a mid-range hotel.
I’m going to try and split this up a bit by day and by subject for some clarity.
Sunday, October 16 Arrival
My brother and I live in different parts of the country and arrived at different times late in the afternoon. When I landed at 2:30pm I got an email that my room was not ready yet, but I would receive a notice when it was. Magic Express was a breeze, and I was at the hotel by 3:30pm, but my room still wasn’t ready. I bypassed the long line at registration, and decided to sit by the pool and relax while I waited for my room to be ready and for my brother to arrive. I had made a specific room request (via the TP Fax!) for a room in Building 9, 1st Floor that had been renovated and was closest to the buses, so I was willing to wait for hopefully the correct room. Around 4:15-4:30 I finally got an email that said, “please go to the front desk about your room.” Uh oh….I went to the front desk expecting the worst, but they gave me my room assignment and activated our magic bands. I got the room I wanted, so I was happy with that. I’m still not sure why we didn’t just get a text since as I had completed on-line check in. Fortunately they do have a separate line for folks who have checked in online and it was shorter.
Renovated Rooms at Pop Century:
The renovated rooms at POP was as expected from studying the online photos. Folks have different opinions on the décor, but I like the cleanliness, the coffee maker!, and the smart way they’ve designed storage spaces in the closet and bathroom. A few items of note – some of the renovation seems cheap and I don’t know how it will hold up over time. The mini-fridge was terrible – the door didn’t close on it very well, the shelves kept falling out and it was very noisy. Also, the bathroom exhaust fan never shuts off…never. And it’s loud and dusty. We also had an outlet that didn’t work where the coffee maker station is. I left a note for maintenance about these issues, hopefully they’re fixed for the next guest. And major note for some – our room was SHOWER ONLY, NO BATHTUB. Again, I don’t think we had any way of knowing this and it was not flagged when we checked in either. It’s fortunate we didn’t have kids with us, but I would have preferred a tub honestly. I like soaking my tired feet after a long day. We were next to another building (10) that the renovation was being finished on, but we never heard any construction noise.
Amazon Prime Now Delivery:
Based on recommendations here, I’d ordered breakfast items and sunscreen to be delivered to the hotel. The delivery arrived on time, but when I went to Luggage Services to pick it up 5 minutes after I’d received the notification, the luggage services team couldn’t find it. One call to Amazon later, and finding a Pop manager at the front desk who personally looked all over behind the front desk and then the luggage services fridge found my order. The staff at luggage services had overlooked it. Three things to know: 1. Amazon Prime Now delivers to luggage services, which is a window outside at the hotel entrance (but will call it the “front desk”), 2. They do have a storage fridge for grocery items, 3. If you happen to be at the resort during delivery I’d call the driver and meet him personally if possible to avoid the hassle I went through.
First Evening without Park Tickets
Since we were arriving so late in the afternoon, we did not have park tickets for Sun., and based on recommendations here decided to hop on the bus to the Magic Kingdom to jump on the monorail and explore the Polynesian and Grand Floridian. I’m super glad we did this. It gave us the experience of the deluxe hotels, without paying the price. We ate out on the deck of Trader Sam’s for drinks and a light dinner of apps. (We tried to go into the bar, but it was packed. I can’t emphasize enough how small it is inside). But sitting outside and watching the sunset was a really relaxing way to start the trip, and then we walked around the lake to the Grand Floridian and took in some music in the atrium. Took an Uber back to our hotel, which worked great.
Monday, October 16 – Magic Kingdom
We wanted to start our trip at the Magic Kingdom, since it’s the most similar to Disneyland – and to us is the epitome of WDW. I won’t go into detail of everything we did (a lot!). But here are some of the good, bad and tips.
Rope Drop, Rope Drop, Rope Drop. It was truly magical to be in the park early before it was crowded and hot. The light shining of the castle in the AM is gorgeous. We left POP about an hour before park opening, arrived 30 minutes before rope drop and the timing was perfect. No real lines at bag check, ticket check and we were close the castle for the welcome show.
-The Plan. We followed our Touring Plan religiously and it worked! My brother who thought I was crazy for all of my Type A planning quickly saw the method to my madness as we bypassed long lines and breezed through a ton of rides. We got a lot done in the first 2 hours in the park.
-Fast Passes/Lines App. Modify, Modify, Modify. The trick of booking the best fast pass you can and then modifying worked like a dream, time and again - for both getting better times for our first 3 initial FP+ and then the additional ones we picked up later in the day. I also used the Lines app constantly to keep track of fast pass distribution and wait times.
-Photo Pass. We went in on a Memory Maker share, and I’m so glad we did. We took the opportunity every chance we got to get an official photog to take our photo throughout the week, and we have some hilarious ride shots. I think even at full price it would have been worth it for 5 days, but I’m even happier only paying $30!
-Character Photos. WDW is superior to Disneyland in that it’s much easier to get character photos, because you know where to find them and it’s organized. My family is into Donald Duck (We’re Oregon Duck fans, the only college mascot to be based on a Disney character. UO and Oregon have had a licensing agreement since a handshake deal with Walt Disney himself in 1947 – that was later formalized in the 70’s). So we got a photo with every Donald Duck in every park (in his different outfits). It was a lot of fun to have 1 character that we met in every park, and we had some really funny character interactions.
Happily Ever After Fireworks: Best Fireworks show of the week hands down, and one of the best I’ve ever seen. Truly wonderful – I may have cried - make sure you see it (See the bad though below).
Once Upon a Time Light Show: After the Fireworks, don’t leave! Stay for the Once Upon a Time Light Show on the castle. As everyone streamed out of the park, we were able to get super close to the castle for a fun epilogue to the fireworks.
Outdoor Rides at Night: After the Fireworks, and with the park open until midnight, we made a point of riding some outdoor rides for a second time. We were able to hit 7DMT, Thunder Mountain Railroad and Jungle Cruise. The roller coasters feel faster at night! And the jokes get punchier on the Jungle Cruise, especially when you get the awesomely dry Skipper Megan.
-Crowded. By 2pm/3pm the park was super hot and crowded. If that was a 7, I can’t imagine what a 9/10 is like. We decided to take a break after the parade and go back to the hotel. Even without kids, it was the right move. We took a nap and refreshed, and went back about 6 when it was cooler. It was still pretty crowded until the fireworks at 9pm. We thought late October would be less crowded, but found there were a ton of UK visitors.
-Crowd Control for Happily Ever After Fireworks. People are not joking on here about the lack of crowd control. Only time I encountered rude and pushy people, and grumpy cast members yelling at guests all week. We ended up with a spot on Main Street after weaving our way through the crowd. This was the one time where I’d wished we’d gone for an upsell of a dessert party or something. It would have been worth it.
Disney Transportation When it goes Wrong. We left the park about 11/11:30pm – thinking it would be less crowded than leaving right after Fireworks. Wrong. The waiting line for POP was long, it took forever for a bus to arrive, and because of a multi-vehicle accident outside of Magic Kingdom there was a long detour. It took over an hour to get back to our hotel. I feared what we were in for the rest of the week, but it was never quite that bad again. Just need to mentally prepare for a crowded bus ride home. All week we mostly found ourselves standing on a crowded bus, exhausted after a long day.
More reports to come: Tuesday - Epcot, Wednesday - Hollywood Studios, Thursday - Animal Kingdom, Friday - Magic Kingdom and Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. Happy to answer questions along the way too