Trip Report - 11/26/2016 to 12/03/2016


#1

I've always enjoyed reading Trip Reports, found some great information (and subsequent discussion) so I decided to post one for our latest trip. Here's my first attempt at this :slight_smile: ...

Planning the Trip – Early Stages

On our last trip in November, 2013 – we stayed at AKL (Kidani) in a 2BR suite with my parents, who exchanged RCI Timeshare points for the 2BR suite at Kidani through the RCI/DVC relationship. Our search for that trip looked for 2BR in Beach Club, Boardwalk, Bay Lake, Animal Kingdom or Wilderness Lodge … and we got a hit at Kidani. It was beautiful! We had a Savanna View room to boot – so our (then) 4 year old son loved waking up and watching animals eat breakfast from the porch.

In early 2015, we actually began contemplating a return trip – and, again, we put in a request to search for a 2BR unit through RCI. We searched the same 5 resorts … with check-in anytime in November or December of 2015 (knowing the search would never hit Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Years anyway). What happened was unexpected … no hits. By September 2015, we changed the search to look for a 2BR at any of the deluxe villas – and still – nothing ever hit! We were a bit worried and confused. How did we get a 2BR at AKL just two years prior and now we’re getting nothing?!?

Fast forward to Christmas morning, 2015 when my wife gave me the 2016 UG. My parents’ age started to impact their health and medical issues ensued. Everybody is alive and well – thank God – but they’re no longer in a place where they could travel to WDW. They’re more in the “go to Aruba, sit and drink” stage of life now. Good for them. My father therefore asked me if I’d be interested in searching for 1 or more BRs at WDW, and I said “sure!” We put the search in – and in the meantime – I started watching RCI’s availability at WDW resorts for 1BR villas. I searched every morning for the entire year of 2016 (to date) and what I found was the following:

  • No 2BRs ever popped up, although 1 BRs popped up quite often
  • Over 93% of those hits were at Saratoga Springs
  • All but 2 hits of the remainder were at Old Key West
  • Two (2) hits were at Wilderness Lodge … with 16 days lead time before check-in … both of which disappeared within 2 hours of me seeing them
  • The average lead-time for one of the 1BR suites at OKW and SSR was 70 days

It became apparent to me I wouldn’t be scheduling dining ADR’s at 180+10! Oh well, right? No – not right – although I didn’t learn any tricks until it was too late. Lessons, tips and tricks learned will be at the end of my report.

I had called DVC and asked how long it would take, after I booked through RCI, to be provided a Disney Resort confirmation number to link into my MDE account. They told me up to two weeks. Therefore, if I wanted to be able to schedule FP+ reservations 60+10 days out from check-in, I needed to secure our WDW Resort reservation about 75 days before check-in.

In the meantime, I reserved our week at the Doubletree near Disney Springs. Not too bad – about $1,030 for a 1BR suite for the week. Good reviews, too! Walking distance and a walking path to Disney Springs! The downside was FP+ at 30 days and shuttle service only to TTC. This was clearly Plan C with “anything but SSR and OKW” being Plan A, and SSR being Plan B.

At 180 days (vs. 180 + 10), I tried to book the ADR’s I wanted. Doing so – somehow – I landed a CRT at 8:05am and a Tusker House at 8:10am on days I wanted those reservations. Nothing else I wanted was available, though, until inside of 60 days – and almost everything I wanted didn’t become available until 1-2 days before the date (while we were in WDW). Thank you Reservation Finder!


#2

Week Before to the Night Before: Packing, Preparations

Roberta and I had packed nearly everything by the end of the night before departure. We just had last-minute stuff (tooth brushes, etc.) to pack after using them in the morning.

We used packing cubes for the first time ever – and they were AMAZING! The things I loved most about the packing cubes:

  • The ability to pre-pack clothing and other items in the cubes and then sit them off to the side until “suitcase night” (night before)
  • The ability to shuffle the positioning of everything in the suitcase without having to unpack everything or wrinkle the clothing. For example – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to squeeze my personals bag into a suitcase the morning of departure after brushing teeth, etc. only to find the space I made for it wasn’t big enough – and then I’m re-packing from scratch
  • The ability to shuffle a cube from one bag to the other at the airport (in seconds) to avoid a $75 over-weight fee on our checked bags. One bag was 52.5 pounds – another was 46 pounds. I opened the heavier bag, swapped a small cube that felt like it was 3-4 pounds and – bam – we were under 50 on both bags! The attendant at airline check-in commented how quickly that went!

Our flight was scheduled to depart around 9:30am. We wanted to be in the terminal by 8:00am, so we knew we needed to leave our house by 7:00am on departure day. Roberta and I would wake up around 5:45am to do our final shuffling (use, then pack shampoos, toothbrushes) so alarms were set.

This would be a surprise trip for Logan. Due to Logan’s ADHD and anxiety (mostly anxiety in this case) we had the difficult decision of telling him the night before departure (ensuring no sleep) OR telling him the morning of departure (a change to routine – which is especially bad for children with ADHD). After consulting with his Dr.’s, we agreed the morning of was the better option.

Logan takes ADHD medication 1st thing each morning but it takes about 30-40 minutes for the medication to kick in. Until then, he’s bouncing off the walls, has no “filter” on saying or doing inappropriate things, and can be downright oppositional and confrontational! This was going to be interesting.


#3

Day 1 – November 26: Trip Reveal, Inbound Flight, Disney’s Magical Express, Check-In, Disney Springs

After doing our morning shuffle, as planned, Roberta and I woke Logan up at 6:15am and immediately administered his medications. We told him we had something fun to do that day – a surprise. We needed to be somewhere early – and we needed him to get up and get ready right away. Finally, we told him to go to the hallway bathroom with Roberta to get ready and, once ready, there was a present on the kitchen table for him – something he could take with him that day AND something that would reveal the surprise.

We wanted to videotape the reveal – hence the pomp and circumstance.

While Roberta and Logan were in the hallway bathroom getting Logan ready, I was able to shuffle last-minute items from his room downstairs and into the luggage – items like his blanket, favorite stuffed animals, noise machine, favorite blanket, bedtime books, etc.

Trip reveal plan: We had bought him the Junior Encyclopedia of Disney Characters. Inside the front cover we had placed a photo of him from a few months earlier in which he was eating a Mickey-shaped pancake at a local restaurant. Attached to the picture was a sticky note that said “This kid is going to Disney World … NOW!!!”

We knew the trip reveal very well may be a disaster – and while we held out hope for a great reaction – it wasn’t in the cards. Since his medication hadn’t really kicked in by this time, he was still grumpy, angry and oppositional – and those emotions (related to the unexpected change to the morning routine) trumped his excitement for the trip. He actually announced he didn’t want to go.

He came around by the time we reached the airport and boarded the plane (medication had kicked in).

Our lesson learned for next time (as it applies to our family dynamic, anyway): either take a later flight in the morning so we can “reveal” after a normal morning routine (when he can handle the surprise pleasantly); OR do the reveal without any fanfare (right when we wake up) and let him process it on his own time while we pack the car.

Our flight landed at MCO at an “A” gate. The minute I took my phone out of airplane mode, we received our “Room Ready” text and our “Garden Grocer delivery complete” text. We were set to go right to our room at Saratoga Springs Resort (room 8107 – I had requested anything 8101-8436, so woohoo!) and get settled – and then we’d be off to Disney Springs for a reasonably-timed lunch and some leisurely shopping, playing with Legos, etc. That was the plan, anyway.

We opted not to tag our bags with the MDE tags and, instead, retrieve them ourselves. This was mostly due to the fact that we knew we weren’t going to a park on arrival day, so we may as well get our bags to be able to settle into the room sooner vs. later. We never thought of the potential headache it would be to retrieve our bags from the “A” baggage claim, then tow said bags up, across and down to the baggage claim area of “B” to board the Magical Express. That was our first headache.

Then we saw the DME line and it was INSANE!!! In 2013, we practically walked on our shuttle. This line was, easily, over an hour wait. With an ADHD boy in tow, my wife and I are of the mindset that our time (and sanity) is more valuable than most dollar figures you can throw at us – so we just grabbed the first cab we saw and absorbed the additional $60+ cab fare. Hey – at least we could have him drop us off at the building since we did online check-in and our room was ready, right?

Wrong again. Our MBs wouldn’t open the door. This was our introduction to the vast layout of SSR. My wife sat with our luggage in the hallway while my son and I walked for 7 minutes to get to the main lobby. The man behind the counter had no idea how to fix our MB’s. He said they looked active and looked like they were working – so he “reactivated” them and suggested I ask a porter to drive us back in a golf cart to ensure we get in. They also proactively called door maintenance.

Porter to the rescue – and while we were catching a ride – we threw the Garden Grocer order on the cart as well!! We were let into our room (MBs still didn’t work) and were able to start unpacking groceries and luggage. Door maintenance came and replaced the battery on our door reader – that was the problem. We were all set – and headed to Disney Springs. At 2pm. Not quite lunch time – but oh well. We’re in Disney, right? And – one of the highlights of our 2013 trip was Disney Springs (Downtown Disney at the time) and the Lego store.

We went to the shuttle stop, arriving at 2:01pm. We could see on the board the next Disney Springs shuttle would be there at 2:03pm. Sweet! Then the time changed to 2:07pm. Okay – we can hang. Then it changed to 2:15pm. Hmmm. Then 2:22pm. That’s it! We’re taking the boat!!!

We walked 10 minutes to the boat stop and, wouldn’t you know it, the boat was departing as the dock came into sight. Aye! Looks like we’re walking the rest of the way!!!

The walk from our room to Disney Springs took about 25 minutes. Not terrible, really – at least the weather was nice. But what the what??? The crowd was INSANE here too!?!? Did the Magical Express let everybody off here? This was terrible. Only then did it hit me – this was the Saturday after Thanksgiving. I never paid attention to CL on arrival day because we weren’t going to the parks … but CL impacted Disney Springs, too, and this was an observed CL9 day. The worst we saw in 2013 was CL6.

The Lego store was a big fail (there was a 15 minute wait to get a pair of wheels), the stores were packed and uncomfortable for a little boy with anxiety … so we just ate lunch and then took the boat back to SSR. We had dinner in the room and turned in early, after I walked to the lobby to inquire about the bus schedule for the next day. We had a 7:55am Cinderella’s Royal Table reservation and I wanted to be sure to get there on time.

As a side note, we brought a blow-up toddler bed for the boy. It worked great. He stayed in the master room with us, allowing Roberta and I to shuffle backpacks, get ready for the next day, watch a little news or (me) tinker with the TP’s in the evenings without disturbing him.


#4

Day 2 – November 27: Magic Kingdom (1st of 2 days planned in MK)

Historical observed CL this day was (All Parks) 6 and (Magic Kingdom) 6.

The lady behind the front desk (the night before) told me the bus I needed to catch was the 6:15am bus. After that, she said the next bus would be anywhere between 7-7:15am. That seemed awful early … 6:15am bus for a 7:55am breakfast reservation, but we listened.

We got to the bus stop around 6:10 and only waited 3 minutes. The bus was early. Thankfully, so were we! I mentioned to the bus driver how happy we were to see him even though he was early – or else we would have missed our 7:55AM breakfast. He proceeded to tell me another bus would be coming every 15 minutes – and he was the 2nd bus (the first was at 6am). He shook his head, mentioning how front desk folks often have good intentions but don’t always give accurate transportation information.

We ended up being the only three on the bus – even after stopping at all five of SSR’s bus stops. We arrived at Magic Kingdom at 6:40am, before bag check even opened. I have dawn pictures of the train station with lights still on.

Bag check opened around 6:50am – at which point we were directed to the left side turnstiles for breakfast entry.

The head CM at the turnstiles gave the “all clear” at 7:05am. Everybody there was excited and we all walked in the park to enjoy emptiness, great picture opportunities, etc. for however long we had until our respective breakfast reservations. Roberta, Logan and I headed straight for City Hall (Guest Services). We needed to get Logan’s Disability Access Service setup so he could avoid anxiety attacks in super-long queues. DAS would allow us to wait elsewhere so he couldn’t stew about the impending attraction or interaction … it was a God-Send and it’s no exaggeration to say our trip would have been nowhere near as enjoyable without this service.

At about 7:12am, we were done in Guest Services and as we walked out to Town Square, we were met by security requested we return to the gate. The CM gave the “all clear” way too early. Nobody was supposed to be in the parks at 7:05am! Hey – pixie dust – this is the first surprise that went our way! We were done with DAS registration and back in line with the masses instead of behind them.

We were re-admitted 7:45am. We walked straight to CRT for our breakfast reservation. It was a lovely breakfast – everything we remembered from 2013. I can’t imagine doing any park other than MK on our first day – and I can’t image starting that day with anything other than CRT. The stuffed French toast was, once again, amazing!!!

Our breakfast was done around 8:45am, at which point we walked to Seven Dwarves Mine Train. We asked to register for a DAS return time – and the CM said “just go down the FP line now.” Wow! That was great! This was a new ride for us since 2013 and one Logan was a bit anxious about. Having practically no wait the first time he rode it meant he couldn’t over-think it! He loved it.

From there, we hit Winnie the Pooh, met Tiana and Rapunzel, played with the sword in the stone, used our 9-10 FP for Peter Pan’s Flight, then we headed to Adventure Land. We didn’t purchase the park hopper so the plan for our 6-day ticket was MK, EP, AK, HS, EP, MK. This was therefore Day 1 of 2 in MK – and we decided to start with headliners in Fantasy Land, then enjoy Adventure Land, Liberty Square and Frontier Land today, saving Tomorrow Land and the rest of Fantasy Land for later in the week.

We rode Aladdin’s Magic Carpets, and then we used our 10-11 FP for Big Thunder Mountain. We followed that up with Splash Mountain. We wore disposable ponchos and stayed perfectly dry. I was right side, 2nd row. The guy in front of me was DRENCHED!!! He said it’s the wettest he’s ever been on the ride. Next stop – 11-12 FP for Jungle Cruise.

With all three reserved FP+ used, we tried to schedule a late-day FP for Town Square Mickey but they were all gone! That was surprising to me as I had been checking the availability of same-day Town Square Mickey FP+ for the 2 weeks before Thanksgiving week. Each day – I checked at 11:15am – and there was availability 2:30pm+. Sure, we could register for a DAS return time, but walking to Town Square from Frontier Land would be a hike – and taking the train would be a waste of good touring time. We resolved to see Mickey later in the week and went forward with our plan.

I knew we’d be ready for a reset about now, so our next stops were two sit-down shows. First up, the Enchanted Tiki Room! I know this is a polarizing experience (from Line Chat) but I have to say … our whole family loved this. Logan was a bit frightened by the thunder, lightning and rain (again, anxiety) but we were able to get him through that and not let it ruin his experience. After Tiki, we grabbed burgers at Pecos Bill and then went to the Country Bear Jamboree. Logan remembered this from our 2013 trip as soon as he saw the animal heads on the wall. We had a good time here, too.

Our next stop was Frontier Land Shooting Gallery. The darn thing ate 8 quarters without working. I looked for a CM but couldn’t find one. I decided we could move on or waste more time trying to find somebody to argue about $2 with – when we have a shooting gallery like this available to us at the boardwalk by our beach house. Not important … on to the Haunted Mansion. Thankfully, DAS + Liner Tips (to tell the CM we wanted to skip the spinning room) allowed Logan to get through this. He still listed it as his least favorite part of the day, but it didn’t ruin the day, and that was a good thing.

Roberta had a little shopping she wanted to do so Logan and I trekked to the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse, then checked out the Tiki Statues. Neither of us realized they spit … and Logan soon found out! Wet shirt! Sweet!!!!

We met up with Roberta at the Pirates of the Caribbean, where she went ahead of time to register a DAS return for us. Again, the goal was to get Logan in and out as quick as possible with no time to stew over the ride. It worked – he loved it.

It was time for another mini-break. We attended the Pirate Tutorial Show. Logan was picked to come on stage but he put his hands in his pockets and shook his head “no.” Towards the end of the show, Captain Jack invited all the boys and girls in the audience to come up and receive a scroll. Logan again bowed his head. I asked him if he wanted to – he said “yes” – but he couldn’t get up the nerve. When he finally did get the nerve up and he went to join the other kids, who were already lined up on stage by now, the CM overseer of the show got his attention and told him he was too late. Our hearts broke a bit – and I nicely approached the CM and explained Logan’s anxiety. She asked us to stick around after the show. Captain Jack couldn’t come back out to meet him (or else a crowd would have appeared) but Logan was presented with his own scroll “direct from Captain Jack” by the CM. It was a very nice moment.

We continued our mini-break by taking in the Festival of Fantasy Parade, followed by the Hall of Presidents. Roberta started to feel a bit sore in her chest. She had hurt her ribs 2 weeks before the trip … so we knew this could happen. She decided to head back on her own while Logan and I continued touring.

Logan and I then rode the Liberty Square Riverboat, shared a cinnamon roll at Gaston’s, got some great pictures taken near Under the Sea. We then rode Under the Sea, then took the Railroad from Fantasy Land to Main Street.

On our way out, we stopped at the Firehouse to pick up packs of Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom cards. Only then did it hit me we didn’t have Roberta’s MB to get a 3rd pack. I asked the CM behind the counter about it – and mentioned I had Roberta’s hard-ticket in my backpack (the ticket we linked on MDE in the first place). The CM asked if we had ALL our hard-tickets, and I did, but I wasn’t sure why. She then linked the three plastic park ticket cards and Logan’s MB to my MB – and gave us FIVE SETS of cards! She told us to go check into the 1st portal in our game on our next day in MK before coming back to the Firehouse – and be sure to bring Roberta’s MB that day – so we can get 6 more sets of cards.

Time to head back to our room … it had been a long day and it was only 5:30pm. Touring Plans really made it possible for me to pack in the breakfast ADR, attractions, shows, riverboat ride, train ride, even a quick service (sit-down) lunch – all in 9.5 hours.


#5

Day 3 – November 28: Epcot (1st of 2 days planned in EP)

Historical observed CL this day was (All Parks) 7 and (Epcot) 4. NOTE – Magic Kingdom was a 10 this day! So glad we didn’t plan to be there on a Monday!!!

We were able to FINALLY get our early morning pre-RD Garden Grill ADR sometime during the afternoon on November 27, the day before (while at Magic Kingdom). Reservation Finder did the searching while we did the riding. I just had to pay attention and act quickly when the text notification appeared.

We had learned our “too early for the bus” lesson the day before, so we decided to catch the 6:45am bus to Epcot. We waited at the bus stop until 7:15am. Now we were concerned the bus driver from 11/27 was wrong, and the front desk was right. When the bus finally showed, the driver told us that SSR had buses starting at 6-6:15am for Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios, but that they didn’t start until 7-7:15 for Epcot and Animal Kingdom. We can’t win for losing! But at least we had the information we needed to plan our morning bus schedule the rest of the week.

We started the day at Garden Grill with an 8:05am ADR to meet Chip, Dale, Mickey and Pluto. I had heard good things about Garden Grill breakfast. From chat, though, I can tell this is a polarizing experience. Some love it – some don’t. What we enjoyed most about this was the “all you care to eat” nature with the food being brought to us. The sticky bun was MASSIVE! We also like breakfast food, so scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, mickey waffles, etc. – they all work for us. Of course, Chip and Dale were up to their usual silliness, dancing around, having a great time even when not interacting directly with guests. And Roberta got to meet her favorite, Pluto!

Breakfast wrapped up just in time. As we were leaving Garden Grill, we could see the hoards crashing into the Land Pavilion and making a bee-line for Soarin’. The down escalator was on the opposite side of the building from Soarin’, and CM’s were directing folks entering the building to go to their right (towards that down escalator). We took the stairs down instead and basically walked onto the ride in the standby line. We got B2, not bad. We could have waited for the next ride for B1 but – again – I’m dealing with a child with anxiety and “waiting” is not a good thing. In 2013, this was his favorite ride, but this time around, he wasn’t as thrilled. He said it was a bit scary. I had a 9-10 FP+ scheduled to re-ride this immediately … but he wasn’t interested. Laugh all you want … there was no other Tier 1 available at a time we would be in the park that day (6:30pm was available, but we’d be gone by then) so … I changed my Soarin’ FP for a Mickey and Friends meet and greet 4:30-5:30pm.

Next stop was Circle of Life. Oh … how I wish I would have researched this beforehand. The looks I got from my wife during this show when oil barges were burning, birds covered in oil were unable to move, and fish were dying in polluted waterways. We could both see the nightmares coming in Logan’s future. The film did a nice job of ending on a high note but … GEEZ! I knew to watch Dinosaur and Great Movie Ride, etc. beforehand to screen them out – I never thought something like “Circle of Life” could be so intense. Reader be warned if you have small children who frighten easily.

We then rode Living with the Land. Logan really liked this. He enjoyed finding hidden Mickey’s in the fish tanks and in the gardens.

Before you ask, yes, I felt like Circle of Life and Living with the Land were a waste of 1st hour attraction touring time. However, I had to tweak the plans the week before our trip to really minimize walking (and slow down the pace to “Very Relaxed”) to be realistic about Roberta’s abilities given she was dealing with rib soreness. It was for that reason that we did things in the order we did and, quite honestly (as you’ll see) we nearly saw everything in Epcot in the 2 days we were there with this plan.

We left the Land Pavilion and headed to The Seas with Nemo and Friends. We started with Turtle Talk with Crush (FP+). Logan got picked by Crush to ask a question, but he was a bit shy and the boy next to him (who clearly was not) jumped up and started speaking into the microphone. Crush even said, “no – not the little dude with the striped shell – the one with the light blue shell” (referring to Logan, who was wearing a light blue Star Wars hoodie). But the other kid in the striped shirt just kept talking and talking, and Logan got skipped. We didn’t bring it up with him – and he didn’t bring it up with us – so it clearly didn’t bother him. We were sad for him, though. After Turtle Talk, we checked out the viewing tanks and saw a dolphin show (from under water) and then jumped on the Finding Nemo attraction.

We were a little behind plan because we spent so much time with Bruce and in the viewing tanks, so we ended up skipping the Imagination Pavilion and Figment, opting instead to head to World Showcase. On the way, we made a pit stop at Club Cool and Logan found he liked the Fanta Melon Frosty (Thailand). This was huge! Logan eats maybe 8 things. Anxiety keeps him from trying new things, even new twists on things he likes. He likes bread, he likes peanut butter, but he won’t eat a peanut butter sandwich. He likes shredded cheese (think pizza) but he won’t eat a cheese cube or slice of cheese. For him to try some “new soda” was a big deal – and to go back for seconds?! Yes!!!! I had originally planned on trying to capture a Beverly Face picture, but I couldn’t ruin the moment. Maybe I can get that picture next trip.

We attacked World Showcase clockwise on this day, but slightly out of order. First stop was Norway so we could register a DAS return time for Frozen Ever After. While there, we noticed the wait time for Anna and Elsa was 15 minutes. We were hoping to avoid any line longer than 10 minutes on our trip but he really wanted to meet them and I knew the lines would only get longer, so we went into Super Mom/Dad mode and distracted him like professional distractors. Otherwise, the anxiety build-up of meeting Anna and Elsa would have overcome him and, by the time we got there, he would have passed. As it was, he couldn’t think of anything to talk to Anna about except the acorns he had been picking up off the ground all day long. He fumbled in his pockets with acorns, pulling out 5, dropping 3, picking up the 3 only to drop 2. This went on for a while. The folks in line were AMAZING – they all smiled and realized what was going on. Elsa was completely done with all the children she was meeting and even came over to join Anna in talking to Logan for a bit while he fumbled around for acorns. They proclaimed him the official acorn gatherer and distributor of Arendelle, and then he got their autographs and pictures taken with them.

We then doubled back to Mexico and rode Three Caballeros. After, we stopped at the Kidcot stop. I had created a Trip Journal for Logan to fill out while on his vacation, and at Epcot (this day, anyway) we planned on doing all the Kidcot stops. At each one, I wanted him to get a message from the CM, get his stamp, draw a picture (or paste a picture he took using his camera) … AND … write down one thing he learned about the country. My goal in this effort was to get him to open up and communicate a bit with the CMs. God forbid he learns something, too – right? Plus – I have been trying to get the school to excuse his absences – and having him record (and later share) things he learned seems like a good way to make a case. If we can’t get the absences excused, it never hurt to try.

Logan wanted to look at the art, statues and figurines in Mexico (which was great) before we walked back to Norway to ride Frozen Ever After. The ride was temporarily closed, so we got an anytime FP+ (even though our return time was a DAS return time). Pretty cool! We checked out the architecture, store and church in Norway and FEA opened back up, so we practically walked on the stand-by line! Good thing - Logan was really nervous about the ride. "You may get wet" and the backward drop had him in a tizzy before we ever boarded. The in-ride picture is a classic - I zoomed in so you could see his face (hoody up, too).

Before we left Norway, the Viking ship had landed and we got some pictures with the Vikings. Logan liked them a lot. They were quite funny.

Next stop, China! The next showing of Reflections of China was a little bit off, so we visited the Kidcot stop first. Then we checked out the museum adjacent to the waiting room for Reflections of China. Logan REALLY enjoyed the movie. I can’t tell you how many times he said “Wow” when looking at the landscapes there. If only the kid ate noodles, we could go!

On to Germany where we were greeted by the yodeling talent of Margaret Alder before visiting the Kidcot stop.

We would have spent more time in Germany but we had an ADR for Via Napoli in Italy, so we high-tailed it over there for lunch. I spent time in Italy as an exchange student in high school. Roberta and I visited Italy together for our 1-year anniversary back in 2005. It’s been a while, but I was able to shake off some of the rust and converse a bit with the CM’s in Italy. I’m pretty sure I ended up telling one of them they had a “nice eraser” or something other horrible mistranslation … but it was fun and Logan was impressed. After lunch, we visited the Kidcot stop (where Logan’s “thing he learned” was where his family came from) and then we were fortunate enough to catch Sergio the juggler’s show before heading to America.

In America, after visiting the Kidcot stop (more on this in a minute), we got in line to meet Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus. For 7 years, we’ve been trying to get good pictures of Logan with Santa. Apparently the trick is to run into him when you don’t expect to. If my wife can figure out a way to photo-shop Logan into this same picture for the last 6 years and the next 2-3, she will.

The Kidcot stop in America was quite possibly the least fun one we encountered. When Logan asked the lady to teach him one thing about America, she acted like she was there for a root canal. After 5 minutes of completely awkward stares, I had to interrupt and volunteer to teach him something about America myself. Slightly disappointing, really – and all the other countries’ CMs were so great and so into the “learning” idea.

By now, everybody was tired, especially Logan. It was maybe 3:30pm but we still had 5 more countries to go, at least for the Kidcot stops … and we needed to get to Mickey and Friends for our meet and greet! So, we went into rush mode and barreled through the 5 remaining countries Kidcot stops, taking about 15 minutes for each, including walking country to country and noticing (as we walked by) the Japanese drummers and the show put on by the waiters in France.

We arrived at Mickey and Friends around 5:10pm. For a little boy who wasn’t really into the character meets this trip, this was the best one of all. The smiles on his face when Goofy and Dad were “goofy” together – and when Minnie tricked him into a hug – were priceless.

At this point, Roberta and Logan departed Epcot, leaving me for some solo touring. I started by riding Spaceship Earth, Test Track (Single Line), Mission Space Orange (FP+ booked an hour earlier) and Mission Space Green (stand by) all in about 50 minutes. I then realized I could be drinking my way around the world … so off I went, doing my best in the limited time I had left. I made it through Canada, UK, Morocco, Japan, the U.S. and Italy. Somehow, I skipped Germany (which was weird, I ate an Apple Strudel) and realized I was in China before it was too late to finish my quest. It was a fun attempt, though. Along the way, I caught a little bit of Neil Patrick Harris narrating the Candlelight Processional (from behind the ropes) and ended my night with Illuminations before heading back to the room.

Long day for me … 8a-10p!


#6

Day 4 – November 29: Animal Kingdom

Historical observed CL this day was (All Parks) 4 and (Animal Kingdom) 5.

We were supposed to start our day with an 8am ADR at Tusker House but the family voted to skip it so, when I woke up, I changed the reservation to a week later, then cancelled it (to avoid same-day cancellation penalties). We decided to rope-drop Animal Kingdom instead.

I had a conversation on the bus with Roberta and Logan about how Animal Kingdom wasn’t like the other parks. There really shouldn’t be any reason to “high tail” to each attraction, etc. The entire park could be done in a single day at a leisurely pace, especially since we had previously decided to skip Rafiki’s Planet Watch, Kali River Rapids (no desire to get wet or plan around getting wet) and Dinosaur (way too intense for Logan, and I wasn’t impressed 3 years ago).

As we entered the park, we immediately saw Divine. We were thrilled, we never found her in 2013. We then waited at the rope to head to Africa. As the crowds assembled, the birds flew in overhead and it was an amazing sight. We had a 9-10am FP+ for Kilimanjaro’s Safari so we knew we could take our time and smell the roses on the way there. We ran into the Burudika Band. They invited several children, including Logan, to dance with them. He declined the invite again (hands in pockets). When they invited me, I thought it was a great opportunity for me to lead by example so I jumped up and gave it my all. My wife video-taped the entire encounter – it was quite fun (and funny).

After a quick stop for a snack (at rope drop – you know I’m laid back by this point allowing that) we finally made it onto the Safari around 9:30am. As a side note, we live just north of Baltimore and our members of the Maryland Zoo. My wife and son spend about 10 Saturdays there every summer – he knows the animals by name – so this was by far his favorite ride at Animal Kingdom. He loved seeing the animals in a more natural-looking habitat. They had a few animals we don’t have as well (maybe 2 or 3) so that was exciting.

As a side note, we noticed a ropes course through the animal areas – and what appeared to be a tour group getting harnessed up. We’ll want to look into this more for our next trip – seems like a neat experience if the price isn’t a show-stopper. When the safari truck let us off, we were in the Gorilla Falls trail so we wandered a short bit and got some amazing pictures of the gorillas, one right next to the waterfall, before heading to Dino-Land.

In Dino-Land, we found Primeval Whirl shut down temporarily, so we rode Triceratops Spin. By the time we were getting off that ride, Primeval Whirl was up and running again so we walked on stand-by. Logan noticed the Boneyard – and he remembered it from when he was 4 years old (in 2013). We told him we’d be back later – and we headed along the outer loop towards Asia.

We registered a DAS return for Expedition Everest before walking along the Maharaja Trail. The tigers were beautiful. We returned to Expedition Everest for the ride. I love the intensity on Logan's face, and the sheer fear on the face of the girl in front of him...

Then we walked back to Africa (via Discovery Island) for Festival of the Lion King (FP+). After the show, we went back to Dino-Land for lunch at Restaurantasaurus before letting Logan play in the Boneyard for a bit.

Next stop was Finding Nemo (FP+). I had read some takes about this show in the Liners chat and … I’m officially in the “not so good” camp. If I never see that show again, it will be too soon. There was just something weird about seeing the actors holding the puppets and singing.

After Finding Nemo, we returned to Dino-Land for a few re-rides of Primeval Whirl and Triceratops Spin … and then our first Mickey Ice Cream Bar of the trip, but not before Roberta could grab another photo with her favorite (Pluto)...

Our next stop was Flights of Wonder. On the way, we ate our ice cream and signed up for a DAS return/re-ride for Expedition Everest. At Flights of Wonder, I had planned to have a $1 bill in my pocket for the show, but so did about 10 other people, and I wasn’t picked. It was a nice show, though – exactly the same as I remember from 3 years ago – not something I think I’d need to go see again if we went back in 1-2 years.

On our way back to the Boneyard – which we promised to Logan earlier – we rode Expedition Everest again. This time Logan knew what to expect and, despite being a little scare of the Yeti, he said he wanted to “face his fears.” It was certainly a proud moment for me. As we existed through the gift shop, I bought him a small stuffed Yeti to commemorate his bravery. It was only later than I got to see the Photo Pass shot. Either I was yelling too loudly or he wanted to block out the Yeti noises. Ha!

We wrapped up in the Boneyard and then, on the way out, got a few photos in front of the Tree of Life. There were about 5 or 6 live Kangaroos bouncing around back there, and it’s the first time my wife, Logan or myself had seen a live Kangaroo … so that was a cool way to end the day.


#7

Day 5 – November 30: Hollywood Studios

Historical observed CL this day was (All Parks) 4 and (Hollywood Studios) 3.

At the end of November 29th (Animal Kingdom) I talked with Logan about his fear to be picked and participate in shows – like what happened with Pirate Tutorial, Turtle Talk and the Burudika Band dancer. I also reminded him he wanted to skip the character breakfast on November 29th because he didn’t want to get up early. We talked a bit about Jedi Training Academy … what it was … what he’d need to do … and the fact that we’d need to go to breakfast to ensure we were able to participate. He said he was excited about facing his fears the previous day (Expedition Everest) and he wanted to do it again today at Jedi Training Academy.

SO … we made an 8:05am breakfast ADR at Hollywood & Vine. Even if JTA fell through, I knew we’d enjoy the breakfast and the character interactions. More on that in a minute. Before we checked into H&V for breakfast, we made a quick detour to JTA sign up. We were the first people there and had the pick of any show we wanted. Logan and I spoke in more detail the night before – when he expressed he’d like to watch a show right before being in the show – to get an idea of what to expect. So – I tweaked our TP for the day to watch the 2:10pm show, then check-in at 2:40pm for the 3:10pm show.

We doubled back to Hollywood & Vine for breakfast. It was nice – but definitely something that could be skipped. We did this breakfast in 2013, too – and what we remembered hasn’t changed a bit. The food was the same old, same old … and the character interactions were SLOW!!!!! We only saw 3 characters in the 50 minutes we were there. We gave up at 8:55am so we could rope-drop Rock-N-Roller Coaster. We missed Doc McStuffins, but Logan said he didn’t care and he wanted to get out of there so … no argument here!

We rode Rock-N-Roller Coaster in standby (short line) but it took us a while to find it. That sort of ruined the early part of the day. Our plan after RNR was to view the 9:30am Voyage of the Little Mermaid. We got there at 9:29am but they had closed the door. I asked the lady what time we needed to return for the 10am show and she said “by 10am.” I then reminded her we were there at 9:29am for the 9:30am and the door was closed – and she said “Oh?” Useless … Here's a shot post-RNR of Logan with a souvenir hat that almost fit!

We had a 9-10a FP for Toy Story Midway Mania so we decided to ride that, request a DAS return time to re-ride it (later) and then come back for the 10am VOLM. When we got there, the guy said we could walk right on (then) with the DAS and then re-ride with our FP+ if we wanted. We took him up on the offer, and signed up for a DAS return time for after VOLM.

We then watched Voyage of the Little Mermaid. Like Nemo (Animal Kingdom) it was a puppet show but unlike Nemo, it was done really well. You couldn’t see the puppeteers, they were out of sight. The effects of Ariel changing from Mermaid to Human were great, too. After VOLM, we went back to TSMM for the re-ride (3rd of the day) before making our way to see Beauty and the Beast. I took a detour to request a DAS return time for RNR again after B&B (while we were in the neighborhood).

After B&B and RNR, we were fortunate enough to run into the Stormtroopers marching from the front entrance and followed them up to where we needed to be next anyway, the Frozen Sing-Along. We missed the FP+ line (we walked into standby) but it didn’t matter, so we changed our Frozen FP+ to use FP+ at Star Tours later instead. Frozen was cute … although some folks really shouldn’t sing along (ha!).

We went over to Indiana Jones (also a FP+), which I was worried about going into due to Logan being scared of fire, explosions, danger, etc. I was THRILLED with the way things turned out there. Logan got to see, first hand, that what he sees in the movies isn’t real – and when the director says “cut” everybody goes off high-fiving each other and eating donuts. I added that last part, but you get the point. He was still on the edge of his seat worried for everybody – but when it was all said and done – he learned that you need to be able to separate fantasy from reality when watching movies – while suspending reality to enjoy them. During Indiana, we gave Logan some snacks to hold him over until a late lunch could be eaten.

When Indy was done, it was 2:05p – so we headed to Jedi Training to watch the 2:10pm show. Logan really paid attention and thought it was cool. He was ready – so we checked in at 2:40pm. Around that time, it started lightly drizzling. JTA is a weather-permitting show, so Roberta and I started to get worried for Logan. He was so excited to face his stage fright head-on.

Logan’s class of padawans (in their robes) marched down the street to the JTA stage. They were lined up and ready to go. The CM running the show came out to remind everybody to keep clear of the rope, keep their bags out of the way of the photographer, etc. He then reminded everybody JTA is weather-permitting but not to worry – we’d be fine. And then – the light drizzle turned into a heavier drizzle. The guy jinxed us. Logan’s show was cancelled. He was beyond disappointed. The cool thing was – they all got a meet and greet inside of Star Tours with Darth Vader … including pictures with Vader in their padawan robes. So that cheered him up some. I was happy to see him roll with the disappointment so well.

While the rain picked up a little bit more, we took a break and had lunch, then used our FP+ for Star Tours. Logan loved it, so we requested a DAS return time (and were told to just walk on) and we re-rode it. It was getting late (for us, anyway) so we headed back to TSMM to use the FP+ we got for signing up for JTA – but we were sad to find out there was fine-print on the FP+ that said it was good for any ride except TSMM! Geez!!! That stunk. And then – pixie dust. A lady overheard our issue and said she had a FP+ ticket for up to 5 people to ride TSMM right then – and it was just her and her friend – so Roberta, Logan and I could join them. Yeehaw! We returned the favor by giving her the FP+ for anything other than TSMM so she could go ride RNR later.

After our 4th (and final) TSMM ride of the day, we made our way to Star Wars Launch Bay where we got to interact with some Storm Troopers and the Jawas. No trading that day (we tried – oh well) and I also decided to try the trick I had read about where you try and take a selfie with the Jawas and they run around screaming because they can’t see themselves. It didn’t work – the Jawa took control of the camera phone and took the selfie for us to get the “good angle” I guess. Certainly not the best angle for my nose! I can say that much ...

As our day came to an end, we stopped by Sweet Spells so I could grab a Carrot Cake Cookie to eat while waiting for our bus back to SSR.


#8

Day 6 – December 1: Epcot (2nd of 2 days planned in EP)

Historical observed CL this day was (All Parks) 4 and (Epcot) 3.

December 1 was a morning EMH period, so we arrived at EP around 7:30am. We used the secret bag check and it worked like a charm. The folks that got in line at the normal bag check (right in front of where we would have lined up) were still about 10-deep in the bag check line by the time we were through all security in the secret check area. Thanks again, Liners!

We rope-dropped to Soarin’. Logan said he wanted to try it one more time. I figured – maybe we could do it twice today … once via rope-drop, the other via a DAS re-ride with a re-ride of Living with the Land in between. Again, don’t judge – it was one of his favorites from 11/28 – and yet I know it’s a colossal waste of valuable rope-drop touring time. We rode Soarin’ – walked right on again – and, again – he didn’t want to re-ride. So we rode Living with the Land and then departed to go to the Imagination Pavilion, since we had to skip that on 11/28. We had no idea, it didn’t open until 9am, so we could either wait around for 15 minutes OR just skip it (we decided to skip it this trip).

Instead, we went to wait in line for when the M&G with Baymax opened. Just as we arrived to the doors, they opened. SCORE! We were 2nd in line and done our M&G by 9:05am.

The night of 11/28, when I was solo-toured Epcot a bit, I had ridden Spaceship Earth, Mission: Space and Test Track – to scope them out and see if Logan could handle them. We decided he could – so it was time to head to that side of Future World and ride those rides with Logan.

We walked on to Mission: Space (Green) via stand-by … and he really liked it. We then went and used our 9-10 FP+ for Test Track – which he also loved. We asked to get a DAS return time for Test Track and their DAS device wasn’t working, so they just gave us a paper FP+ anytime return for TT. As a result, we walked back to Mission: Space and got the DAS return for that, which was an immediate walk-on. This time, we rode Orange – and he loved it again! We fiddled around a bit in the Space Training Lab before heading back to TT for a re-ride there using that FP+ ticket we were provided. Test Track is REALLY hard to get a good Photo on, especially with a small child in the back seat (which we were unlucky enough to get both times).

After TT, we fiddled around in that pavilion as well, then grabbed a Mickey Pretzel and started walking towards World Showcase. We had to rush through Japan, Morocco, France, UK and Canada earlier in the week, so we decided to attack World Showcase counter-clockwise this day. On our way, we registered to use our own phones for Agent P, starting with the UK adventure.

We arrived in Canada and got some nice pictures by Victoria Gardens before going in for O Canada. When in Canada, be sure to have a little stubble, right?

Oh Canada was a nice film, although Martin Short was a bit over the top for me. A little comic relief would be fine, but it felt like the Martin Short special with some Canada splashed in (to me, anyway).

By the time we arrived in UK, everybody was grumpy and hungry. We’d had four straight 8-10 hour days walking around the parks … we needed a break. So – we headed out the International Entrance and ate lunch at the Captain’s Grill, then walked around the Beach Club/Swan/Dolphin/Boardwalk loop for a change of scenery.

We re-entered Epcot around 1:30pm and doubled back to the UK to do our Agent P adventure. It was a blast. One of the early clues was to go to the Tea shop and tell the girl working behind the counter “Evil is my cup of tea.” I wanted Logan to do the talking but he was being shy … so I reminded him we were secret agents and we needed to blend in! I started browsing the tea on the shelves. I then called one of the girls over to me to help me. When she arrived and asked how she could help me, I looked at Logan, then looked around (as if to check if the coast was clear), leaned in and said to the girl “Evil is my cup of tea.” Logan grinned – like this was cool. The girl tried to contain her laughter. Apparently nobody really role-plays Agent P? She loved it – and went off to get our tea sample “clue” and we were off continuing the adventure.

We were started as we were wrapping up the adventure when Kris Kringle came out from behind a gate (in an alley) and had to ask us to move aside. That was funny – and something I won’t forget. I nearly had to change my shorts and I’m 100% sure I’m getting coal this year as a result of holding him up.

We moved on to France, where we watched Impressions de France and then sat down to enjoy some goods form the Patisserie. I had the Napoleon while Roberta and Logan split a rainbow assortment of Macaroons. Again, Logan trying something new … we were thrilled!!!

At the risk of sharing TMI, I had to use the rest room. I went back into the Patisserie and asked and they said there were restrooms there – but there was a line and the restrooms were single-occupancy unisex rest-rooms (so – no offense intended – the line of women was going to hold me up). I walked out and told Roberta I needed to move along to Morocco to use the facilities and a wonderful older (70-ish?) French gentlemen who clearly worked at the nice restaurant overheard and told me to come with him. He took me into the restaurant sans reservation … kissing every nice-looking 20-something French CM on the way … and then showed me the restroom. What a wonderful surprise. My wife said his only failing was he didn’t offer to have the 20-something CM’s give me a kiss along the way, too. Haha!

We moved on to Morocco, where there really isn’t much to do other than take photos and visit the Museum, which is hard to find and, quite honestly, not that robust. I think – if I were touring at an even slower pace, I could have stopped to appreciate Morocco more, but we still had Japan to get to (and a surprise for the wife).

We arrived in Japan and we instantly start looking for the museum. I’m really looking forward to seeing Japanese art, etc. When we arrived at the museum, I felt like I was in my 15-year-old niece’s bedroom. There were weird Japanese anime characters, stuffed animals, cat-socks. Where are the bonsai paintings? Where were the sculptures? This was not what I was expecting at all. I was so disappointed I didn't take any pictures, but found one on the web. I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder, right?

While in Japan, we made our way to pick a pearl from an oyster. Before the trip, I had ordered the nicer Minnie Mouse Pearl Cage necklace from Etsy. When we arrived at WDW, I talked with Logan and told him – he wasn’t the only one Dad had a surprise for. He was part of my plan. I needed him to ask to be able to pick an oyster for a pearl. I’d say no – he’d whine – I’d give in (which never happens, by the way – so it’s funny that we planned that whole interaction). When he got the pearl, he’d say he wanted Mama to have it, at which point I’d say that Mama would need something to store the pearl in if Logan were to give it to her and … BAM … necklace reveal!

The plan almost worked perfectly – except Roberta seemed hell-bent on not letting Logan have a pearl for $18. If one of us feels strongly about something as a parent, the other always provides back up. In this case, though – I had to take Logan’s side – which Roberta did not like. It put a damper on the whole mood for the remainder of the reveal plan. Eventually, she got it – but let’s just say I was 0-for-2 on reveals for this trip! She appreciated the present, though - and wore it the next day (the pearl is in the cage) ...

We skipped America next. Had the American Adventure been about to start, we would have walked in – but we weren’t waiting 15-20 minutes for the next show. Mama was still trying to cool off from oyster-gate, so we went right to Italy where she could get a glass of wine. While there, Logan got a glimpse of La Befana, which was cool.

We then made our way back to Germany, which we had skipped over earlier in the week (somewhat) to get to Via Napoli. This time, we stuck around and did our 2nd Agent P mission of the day, then grabbed a few items from Karamell-Kuche. I made up for missing Germany in my DATW attempt by finally grabbing that grapefruit beer (AMAZING!!!!!) and then … it was time for Logan and I to make our way back to Future World.

Tonight, Roberta would get the Solo Tour of Epcot at night while I took him back to SSR for bed. On the way out, though, we rode Spaceship Earth and then toured Project Earth for 10 minutes or so. That was fun – he enjoyed the historical view in Spaceship Earth.

Since Roberta wasn’t able to ride any of the rides with her rib issues, I had previously changed her Tier 1 FP+ to be for Illuminations, so she could have a nice view of the show. She apparently toured Italy, then Italy, then Italy (based on the wine receipts) before making her way back to Italy 2 more times and then to Illuminations. Good for her! She has a make-up bag that says “I drink wine in my yoga pants” and that night, she was true to her motto.


#9

Day 7 – December 2: Magic Kingdom (2nd of 2 days planned in MK)

Historical observed CL this day was (All Parks) 6 and (Magic Kingdom) 6.

When we visited MK on 11/27, we focused on Adventure Land, Frontier Land, Liberty Square and headliners in Fantasy Land. We had also missed out on meeting Mickey in Town Square. For our return trip today, we wanted to be sure to see Mickey, hit Tomorrow Land and also the rest of Fantasy Land (with re-rides on the headliners if possible).

December 2 was the morning EMH at Magic Kingdom, so we decided to go unconventional and rope-drop Mickey and Tinker Bell in Town Square, and then move to Tomorrow Land while everybody else was running to 7 Dwarves, Peter Pan and Big Thunder Mountain.

We were in and out of Mickey and Tinker bell by 8:20am. We registered for a DAS return for Space Mountain before practically walking on to Astro Orbiter (had to wait for 1 ride ahead of us). After returning to ride Space Mountain, we made our way up to Tomorrow Land Speedway. The standby was about 20 minutes by then, so we requested the DAS return and hit the Mad Tea Party in the meantime.

After returning to ride Tomorrow Land Speedway, we made our way to Prince Charming’s Carrousel. Roberta and Logan rode that while I went ahead and requested a DAS return for Peter Pan’s Flight. Afterwards, Logan and I checked into our first portal for Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom (so we could get more cards later) before heading to 7 Dwarves Mine Train to use our 9-10 FP+ reservation. Finally a picture of Logan letting loose on a "coaster"...

Next up was our 10-11 FP+ for Enchanted Tales with Belle. We arrived right at 10am and had only a 1 minute wait. When it came time to “show your stuff” to get picked to be in the show, Logan clammed up again. While watching the play, I could tell he regretted not being part of it. Then all the children were asked to parade around the room with Belle and then get a picture taken. Despite feeling remorse for not being part of things earlier, Logan still couldn’t get himself to stand up and get the picture. He whispered “I want to get a picture with Belle, I just can’t do it.” I quietly approached one of the CM’s and explained the situation. She said “I got you covered.” When Belle left and then all the guests left, she told us to stay where we were. Belle then came back in. There wasn’t a Photo Pass photographer, but we were able to take a picture with our own camera in a private M&G. Super, super impressed with how they handle situations like this for kids who have challenges!

We were then off to the Crystal Palace for brunch. I had scored a 10:35am ADR (breakfast ends at 10:45am there). I must say – I wasn’t very impressed with Crystal Palace at all. It was my first time dining there. I was excepting something of indescribable beauty – like how I feel about CRT and how folks describe BOG – but I just didn’t see it. One of the pluses (if you view it that way) of the late breakfast ADR is – CP wants to turn over for lunch – so there aren’t as many tables for the characters to get through before they arrive at your table. We had eaten and met Eeyore, Tigger, Piglet and Pooh within 45 minutes.

After lunch, we headed back to Tomorrow Land to wrap up there. Stitch’s Great Escape was closed for refurbishment, and we wouldn’t have ridden it anyway (too intense for Logan). Instead, I had scheduled a FP+ to hit Space Mountain at this time but, since we rode it earlier, I had changed that FP+ to ride Buzz Lightyear’s Space Range Spin. I used all the tips best I could – but I was only able to score in the low 400,000 range.

I wanted to re-ride Buzz and try again as I felt I started hitting my groove halfway through, but Logan was more interested in getting through “the other stuff” so we could play SOTMK. So – we decided to ride the People Mover. Nice pic of Mama and Logan.

Roberta went off to find a coffee, Logan and I enjoyed the Laugh Floor. While waiting to get into the Laugh Floor, I scheduled myself for a FP+ for Barnstormer and Roberta/Logan for FP+ for Dumbo. I had noticed a nice walkway on the park map that went from Tomorrow Land to Fantasy Land, so we decided to walk that path – not realizing it was the smoker’s section/path. Whoops. I got some eye-rolls from Roberta on that faux pas.

When we arrived at Barnstormer, I told the CM that Logan was going to ride alone, but he wanted me to wait in line with him. She was cool with it, so we scanned my FP+ to get into the line. Right before we were about to ride, Logan had a bit of a panic issue and asked me to ride with him. I remember practically getting whiplash on Barnstormer in 2013 (it’s not made for adults) so I tried to talk him out of it. He insisted and I told him we only scanned 1 FP+ for the ride. He was so worried, he approached the CM at the train and came clean about the 1 FP+ scan but he’s worried and can Dad ride with me. She smiled and said of course … so I ended up riding with him anyway. Then Roberta and Logan rode Dumbo with the FP+ I had scheduled for them.

When that was done, we walked over to Peter Pan’s Flight to finally use that DAS return time we had secured before brunch – and while waiting in the line to ride, I made a FP+ reservation for it’s a small world after all for 15 minutes later. After riding PPF, I ran back to Under the Sea and scheduled us for a DAS return there, and then made my way back to Roberta and Logan – who had gotten lucky when Peter Pan appeared for a M&G and were 3rd in line. We then rode IASWAA before returning to Under the Sea to use our DAS return time.

It was now 2:15pm – and – we were done all the rides I had planned! We considered going to Tom Sawyer Island but SOTMK was more important to Logan so we went to the next portal in our Fantasy Land adventure and finished that mission.

We were then sent to Adventure Land where, while waiting in line at the Portal near Pirates of the Caribbean, some older kids behind us in line asked if we wanted to trade cards. We don’t live in the area, we don’t have AP’s or anything, so I knew Logan would most likely never have a “complete set” of cards. The kids’ father offered Logan 10 cards he didn’t have for 1 of the rare (1-22) cards they didn’t have, and Logan agreed. He was thrilled beyond belief.

We finished up the Adventure Land mission and were then sent to Liberty Square/Frontier Land for our 3rd mission. We were running on short on time, so that became our last mission of the day, after which we caught the train in Frontier Land and took it around to Main Street.

On our way out, we stopped at the Firehouse to get more SOTMK cards (got 6 packs, including Roberta’s MB this time) and then stopped at City Hall to see if we could buy stamps/envelopes to mail out the Fairy Godmailer Package we had been assembling all week. We learned we could get stamps at the little shop near the front gates (outside the railway – where you queue for the opening show) BUT – no envelopes! This was a giant fail on our part – we had no idea (it was our first experience being Fairy Godmailers) so … we did the best we could and mailed it from the SSR resort to ensure it had an “Orlando” postmark at the very least.


#10

Day 8 – December 3: Breakfast, Pack, Check-Out, Grand Floridian (Gingerbread House), Flight Home

We began our final day by walking over to the SSR lobby to eat breakfast at the Artist’s Palette. Logan had a bit of attitude – he knew it was departure day and he wasn’t happy about it. We managed him pretty well and got back to the room to pack up, which took a little over an hour (including showers).

We then had the daunting task of wheeling our 3 “check” bags and our 1 “carry on” bag up to the front desk. We called the porter to request a golf cart but they couldn’t come by for almost 2 hours – and we really wanted to do something with our last morning. So – we (Logan and I) sucked it up and pulled the luggage. When we got there, it hit me that we needed Roberta and her driver’s license to be able to all check-in for our boarding passes. She walked up – and realized she had moved her license to a different purse – and had to walk back to the room and back from the room to the lobby again. This fiasco took about 45 minutes and, as we found out, we could have gotten all the boarding passes with just my ID. What a waste of touring time that was.

With our bags checked (except the one carry one), we grabbed our backpacks and took the bus to Magic Kingdom. From there, we took the boat to Grand Floridian and explored the grounds a bit before taking pictures of the tree in the lobby and of the gingerbread house (which was amazing).

We then took the boat back to MK (with a brief stop at Polynesian – we didn’t exit the boat). A family getting on the boat from Poly got cards from the boat captain and were excited that the cards they got weren’t duplicates. I asked them what they had gotten – and they said they had just found out the day before that there are collectible transportation cards you can get from every bus driver, boat captain, monorail person, etc. You just have to ask. Who knew!? They also said they heard about a set of collectable “safety” cards you can ask the CM’s with the tablets for … but since they had never tried that, I’m not sure how reliable that information is.

Once back at MK, we took the bus back to SSR and, on the way, requested an Uber to pick us up at the Carriage House to take us to MCO. We had easily missed our Magical (Tragical) Express reservation! Timing was perfect, we arrived, got my carry on and the Uber arrived. He took us to MCO and we had a code for the first ride free up to $22 – so the trip was free!

After one last breath of magical air and we boarded the plane home to Baltimore, where we were greeted by temperatures in the low 40’s and rain.

Or was that tears running down my cheeks.

I couldn’t tell.


#11

Lessons, Tips and Tricks Learned

ADRs and FP+
Always secure a dummy on-property reservation for the timeframe you want before the (180 + 10) window opens for ADRs. Whether going for 4 days, 7 days or 10 days, make the reservation so that the (180 + 10) window allows you to secure the ADRs you want/need on the earliest possible date.

As an example, say my trip was 12/10 to 12/17, but I knew the last day I needed an ADR was 12/15. I should go back 10 days from 12/15 (to 12/5 – or is it 12/6 – still need to get that question answered) and make a 10-day on-property reservation, maybe at POP, for 12/5 to 12/15. That way, 180 days before 12/5, I’ll be able to make ADRs for the entirety of my planned stay through the day my last ADR is required.

Then, once I’m inside of 180 days to that last ADR day, I can cancel the resort reservation without losing the ADRs (since they are all now within 180 days or less).

I’d need to research the cancellation policy but this trick may also work if you want to stay off-site. In that case, we’d make the dummy resort reservation run through the latest day we require either an ADR or a FP+; and, we’d hold the dummy resort reservation until we are 30 days or less to go to the last day we made a FP+ reservation.

Best use of DME upon arrival and departure
Always use the DME tags on your luggage when going to WDW, unless your flight will land so late that you don’t want to risk not having your luggage in your room for the first night of your stay. Even if you don’t ride the MDE from the airport to your resort, your bags are tagged and will be collected and transported directly to your room for you.

Couple this with a simple trick – don’t carry on anything you can’t take to a park the first or last day – and you’re set to arrive and go right to a park; and, if desired, go to a park on departure day. The latter approach would also require use of the resort airline check-in counter but that went pretty straight forward!

If the DME line is too long, call an Uber or grab a Taxi and get out of there!

Packing Cubes
Once your cubes are all packed – unless you have a luggage scale at home – weigh your cubes and write the weights on a sticky note to be attached to each cube. Knowing the weights of each cube, you can shuffle the cubes at home into multiple suitcases to be sure you even out the packed weight. It may also be a good idea to create a list of the items packed in each cube so you can quickly and easily replicate this packed weight distribution when you pack to return home.

Saratoga Springs Tips
If staying at SSR, understanding the bus route and resort layout – and knowing what your priorities are for the stay – are integral to requesting a room in the correct location. There are five groups of buildings at SSR and, in order of the bus stops, they are:

• The Grandstand – This is the first bus stop, meaning (going to the parks) there is always a seat available on the bus and (coming from the parks) you’re the first to get off the sardine can. However, some of the buildings have a bit of a hike to get to the main lobby.
• The Carousel – This is REALLY far away from everything – not for us
• The Paddock – This, too, is pretty far from everything although there are nice “waterfront” views available at many rooms – and rooms in the 6501-6836 range are near the walkway to Disney Springs
• Congress Park – Many of these rooms have a “waterfront” view which can see Disney Springs in the distance, and are along the walkway to Disney Springs
• The Springs – This is the closest set of buildings to the main lobby (Carriage House) and main pool. If the pool and the lobby are important to you, this would be a consideration. However, it’s the last bus stop – so if you’re not planning on catching the early buses OR if you’re traveling with somebody that has a scooter, you may be waiting for a few buses before you can board.

Park Touring - General
For this trip, we bought 6-day non-hopper tickets. We were there Saturday to Saturday and planned to use our tickets the 6-days sandwiched in between arrival and departure day. We had originally planned 4 pre-RD breakfasts (8am-ish ADRs) and two days with morning EMH. That means we’d be at the parks, every day, from 7:30am until about 5:30pm.

By the end of the 2nd day, everybody agreed to cancel the pre-RD breakfast for Animal Kingdom. Don’t get me wrong – we’re morning people and we definitely enjoyed the 60 hours of touring and we still didn’t see everything, but touring 60 hours by going 6 days, 10 hours straight a day was too much.

Further, Logan (almost 8) appeared less-than-interested in all the character meet and greets this time around. I don’t think it was the characters as much as the anxiety of meeting them – and he was annoyed in general with “all the pictures!”

The lesson learned for us, anyway, is to build in more breaks and, possibly, at least one full “break day” (maybe a day off and attend a party that night). Logan kept asking about the pool and, despite bringing our suits, the touring plans didn’t allow any R&R time other than on arrival and departure day.

Next time, we’ll almost definitely go with a 6 or 7-day hopper ticket. Hopefully we can snag a 7-day hopper for the price of a 4-day hopper during one of UT’s promotions. It’s too early to get too detailed on the exact high-level plan (we don’t even have a countdown), but I’m pretty sure we’d like to visit the parks on arrival and departure day – and maybe do a few days where we utilize morning EMH at one park to tour 8-12, then take a mid-day break to grab lunch and relax before touring a different park in the afternoon or early evening.

Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom Tips
Definitely bring your plastic-card park tickets with you to MK and link them to your SOTMK game. We discovered you can get a pack of cards every day for each MB and each hard-card you link to your game, even if the hard-cards are linked to the MBs you’re already using. I’m not sure if this loophole gets closed before our next visit but, if not, we’re going to take advantage. In fact, we still have the MB’s from 2013 – and we may try to bring them, our 2016 MBs and the new ones we get for the next trip and get as many packs per day as we can!

Other Collectible Cards
Ask every transportation official (bus, boat, monorail, etc.) for transportation trading cards. I had no idea this existed until I saw the family ask the boat captain at the Polynesian for cards, and then get excited that one of them got “the ferry.” As was mentioned in the trip report, the family also mentioned something about collectible safety cards which the CM’s (with tablets) have and hand out when asked. It can’t hurt to try – and I’d love to hear if somebody else knows more on this or if somebody else tries it before our next trip.

Pin Trading
We’ve never been pin traders before – and we didn’t try it on this trip, either. That said, I think it would be a really great experience for Logan to get involved in. His anxiety makes it hard to interact with others. Practice can only make things easier. He also loves collecting things: Pokémon cards, SOTMK cards, McDonalds happy meal toys (when they’re cool – like the Minions last year), etc.

Fairy Godmailer
We loved collecting items throughout the week for our Fairy Godmail-children. We had bought post cards of their favorite characters and made sure we also got an autograph from each character during the week (to see handwriting). Roberta was an art major in a different life, so she was able to copy the hand-writing of those characters to write out personal messages on the backs of the post-cards. That was a cool touch.

We were all ready to mail the care package from Magic Kingdom on our final park day there (12/02) but … we had no envelopes! We hadn’t brought envelopes for this. We figured we could buy something there, buy some nice stamps, have the package post-marked right there in MK, right? Wrong, at least for us. We couldn’t find any envelopes for sale, just stamps. We were a bit disappointed but we knew we could still mail from our resort and get an “Orlando” postmark on the package, which was better than nothing at all.

Our lesson learned here – bring envelopes to MK when you’re going to mail out your Fairy Godmailer package!

World Showcase and Agent P’s Adventures
Going into this last trip, I wanted to try Agent P with Logan just because so many had said it could be fun. I was skeptical, though, because I wanted to tour World Showcase and (call me naïve) I wanted Logan to tour and learn. Agent P could take 25-40 minutes per adventure – and I felt like that would be such a waste of time.

I admit when I’m wrong – and in this case – I was majorly wrong! Playing Agent P with Logan may have been MY favorite part of the trip. We weren’t Dad/Son for that time – we were two buddies – two kids – just having a great time. The adventures make you explore some of the nooks and crannies of the countries, too.

My understanding is there are 7 countries in which you can partake in a mission: China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico and the United Kingdom. You have two choices on how to play:

• Use the devices they have at the sign-up booth (entrance of World Showcase): This would allow you to pick any of the 7 missions. The downside is – the device can only handle 1 mission, and it will time-out if you don’t start the mission within 30 minutes of activating it at the sign up booth. Therefore, if you pick Italy or Japan, get walking! Further, when the mission is over, you have to return to the sign-up booth to get it programed for the next mission. Very inconvenient.
• Use your smart phone: You still need to activate at the sign-up booth but activation is simple. You type in a URL they give you, select your Language, enter your first initial (you’ll become Agent L, for example) and then provide the sign-up CM with the 5-character activation code generated. Once your phone is activated, it will work for the rest of that day. You pick the first mission you want to do and, when you arrive in that country, you start the mission when you’re ready. Once done, you can pick the next mission you want to do without back-tracking to the sign-up booth all day. The downside to using your phone … only 5 missions are available. I hope they fix this, because we really wanted to do Italy but it was one of the 2 that weren’t available on your phone.

Disability Access Service comments
DAS was worth its weight in gold for Logan and his anxiety. Without it – there are quite possibly 6-10 experiences at each park I could list that he could not have handled. The long waits (in a queue of people) would have resulted in his anxiety building up to such a level that he would have become overwhelmed, and we would have had to exit the line. Examples of where this helped …

• Magic Kingdom: Space Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, Splash Mountain (anxiety of getting wet), princess M&Gs at Fairy Tale Hall, Mickey/Tinker Bell M&G’s in Town Square
• EPCOT: Mission Space, Soarin’
• Animal Kingdom: Expedition Everest
• Hollywood Studios: Nearly any “ride”

Examples of where the system failed would be any organized meet and greet where FP+ wasn’t an option. Most non-FP+ rides have short lines anyway, but Baymax, Joy, Sadness, Storybrook Circus characters – they have set places, with queues, for meet and greets, but there is no way for somebody with a non-apparent disability to opt to wait “outside of the queue,” making it impossible for these characters to be met.

This was one of the reasons we had initially set up four pre-RD breakfast ADRs, along with one on departure day at 1900 Park Fare and a late breakfast on the MK morning EMH day at Crystal Palace … we’d “meet” the characters at meals, not in lines, 100% due to accommodating Logan and his anxiety. It’s an expensive accommodation but, even with that, FP+ and DAS, we still never had a chance to meet all the characters we thought Logan would want to meet. I mentioned earlier, Logan said he was getting annoyed with meeting the characters … and we’re pretty sure it was due to his anxiety.

I’ve read several posts/comments that the current DAS system stinks and it’s not acceptable anymore because it’s too hard to use. I don’t have perspective on the old system, but I don’t see how this system is difficult to use at all! We loved it – and it really made a huge difference in the experience Logan had thanks to DAS vs. the experience we would have had without it.

Sadly, I’m 100% sure there were folks abusing the system. We tried our best not to use DAS when we didn’t have to. We managed our FP+ reservations as anybody else would, and often made 4th, 5th and even 6th FP+ reservations during the day to avoid using DAS. I can see how this program would be open to abuse and, as such, viewed in a negative light. However, we really appreciated having this in place and hope it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.


#12

Great trip report and pics!


#13

That's all for my report and my lessons, tips and tricks learned. I encourage and welcome comments.

If you spot something we did which we could have done better, please post a response and let us know! As of right now - we don't have a countdown but that will change if I have something to say about it.

We originally thought we'd take Logan every 2-3 years. I'm starting to think this needs to be an annual trip - and I should group two trips together within a one-year period to save money by using annual passes.

  • UT has the 4-day hopper (plus 3 days) on sale right now for $419 (adult) and $398 (ages 3-9)
  • That's $838 per adult and $796 per child for two trips
  • The Platinum Annual Pass is $749 for ages 3+

This seems like a no brainer since we also get discounts on food, merchandise and free MM!! Maybe we go again in early December, 2017 and then in mid-November 2018!!! Time for me to convince Roberta of how great this idea would be ... without a countdown, I feel so empty!!!


#14

Great ideas - even though my kids are now grown. Your son is lucky to have you as parents. We took our oldest when he was 4 and at the time did not realize he had tourettes (lots of anxiety with that too) So there were things that really bothered him that I would have never guessed beforehand. Almost single-handedly ruined a trip by taking him into "Honey I shrunk the audience" at my husband's request. I'll unfortunately never forget that experience - luckily my son has :slight_smile:


#15

Enjoyed your trip report and pictures! Thanks!


#16

Loved reading about your trip! And I just want to say, that many times while reading it I thought "wow, what great parents." Little moments like when you talk about managing situations but encouraging your son to do something new, to talking about how you and your wife back each other up (with the exception of pearlgate :grin:) make it clear that you are doing your best to do the best for your son. So in case you don't hear it, good job mom and dad! I'm so glad you all enjoyed your trip.


#17

I loved reading this! Your trip sounds like you had something for everyone, and you all did an amazing job of taking care of one another. :slight_smile: I hope you get a countdown soon! Thanks for sharing!


#18

Thank you for posting your report! I loved your pictures!


#19

I must say I love your Trip Report, so much information and love how so much of it is about your son, great pics too. Your report can really help a family who has a child with any type of disability. Thank you so much for sharing.


#20

Great Trip Report! I adore my packing cubes - we now have 4 sets of them (between my husband and myself)

"Packing Cubes
Once your cubes are all packed – unless you have a luggage scale at home – weigh your cubes and write the weights on a sticky note to be attached to each cube. Knowing the weights of each cube, you can shuffle the cubes at home into multiple suitcases to be sure you even out the packed weight. It may also be a good idea to create a list of the items packed in each cube so you can quickly and easily replicate this packed weight distribution when you pack to return home."

The way we have always weighed our luggage is to: First take your standard scale you have at home and weigh yourself. After you determine your weight, then hold your packed suitcase and step back onto the scale. Minus the difference of your weight and "Whamo" you have your luggage weight - works every time for us!