Wednesday 11/04/2015 - Animal Kingdom, predicted crowd 2 (confirmed crowd 2 after the fact)
Man, I write a lot! I hope someone stuck with me through so many details. In fact, I think I will just print out this report and save it when I do the trip photo album. I tried to put down everything I remembered that could help with planning. I know I had many questions, this was not an easy trip to plan! I found that having a 2 year old made our circumstances quite different from the majority of the travelers. At 2 children cannot do several rides, and we need to factor their sleep schedule and napping carefully. Moreover, my daughter does not like to wake up at the crack of dawn, and so most plans included touring from noon under intense heat. If anyone is on a similar situation, I hope I was of some help.
So, this was our last day. We woke up and finished packing, which went fairly fast. We were going to take our carry on luggage with us, so it was important to minimize what we took, but also have everything that we could need until we reached home, which would be around 10 pm. Here is what I did. Before leaving home I had prepared a packing cube with changes of clothes for cold weather for the flight back for all of us. I was so thankful I had done this, because on the mess of packing on that last day I did not have to make any decisions. I just loaded that cube to our carry on backpack, put a couple of bottles of milk, just in case, and then filled the rest of the bag with the inevitable things: computers, iPads, any jewelry I had brought for myself, and our coats. I have another bag which folds into a very small tote. I loaded it with the travel pillows and a few magazines to read during the flight, and the child airplane restraint. We packed her diaper bag the same way we had for all the other park days, and we were on our way. So, if you want to know, we had one large backpack, one diaper bag (which is also a backpack), and one very light bag with pillows, just to keep things together. Plus the stroller. Since our daughter was born we don't travel with carry on suitcases when we are with her, because we need our hands free. The backpacks can always be carried on our back (though usually they hang from the stroller or sit on top of it), so we are always free to pick up whatever is needed: our daughter, the stroller itself, food, drinks, etc.
Around 10 am we were leaving the room and heading to the main lobby to use the airline check-in service to leave our bags. We were flying with Southwest, and I will make a few comments about it in the end. One thing that is important to know (I had this question myself) is whether it is possible to use the check-in resort while using Southwest (since people are either automatically checked in with Early Bird, or want to check in themselves as soon as the 24 hour window opens). Well, it is perfectly possible. You just do your check in yourself, and then come by the check in station at the resort, give them your ID and they find your flight and tag your bags. No problem at all. By the way, it was not so easy to find the check in place at AoA. Even now I am not sure I know where it is exactly (I am the worst at directions). I think that if one looks at the main building from the pool it is at the extreme left side, or maybe turning the corner.
After leaving the bags we returned to our room, picked all the carry on stuff and left for the buses. This was the only time we did not find a bus to the park immediately. The line was empty, which made me fear even further that a bus had just come by. So, we walked around a bit, and slowly marched towards the end of the bus lines looking to see if any AK bus was coming. We say an Epcot, an MK and a Disney Springs bus, no AK bus. This must have been maybe 5 minutes. We had no time to waste on our last day. Besides, I was not too keen on holding our stuff on a bus either, so we just headed for the cabs. There the cabs wanted us to board the first cab, who pretended he had been called to avoid us (I think he only wanted rides far away). This is actually against the rules and he could get suspended for the day. Cab drivers have to take any ride, that is Mears policy. We were annoyed, and asked who had a carseat. That same guy was so relieved and happy when he said that he did not have a carseat. Now, we were too, because we did not feel like riding with him either. A guy with a very large van stepped in and said he could take us, and that it cost the same as a regular cab. Awesome. We installed the carseat, put our daughter on it, got in with all our stuff and had a very comfortable ride. In less than 10 minutes we were there. I think that the ride cost $12, which with tip should run anyone around $15. Now, given the carseat episode my husband decided to reward this guy and gave him $20.
We arrived at the park and found the lockers. We got 2 large lockers, which I think run around $12 each (you pay more, but when you return the keys you get $5 back). We had to open the large backpack to take things off so the shape would fit, but we managed to leave everything without difficulty and keep only the same gear we had the other days with us. It was around 11:30, and we were ready to enjoy the park. We took several pictures with PhotoPass. This day managed to be even hotter than the previous ones, or maybe it is just the way AK is. The main tree is really impressive. Next time we go to WDW I will enjoy exploring it. Here is what we did:
- Our first ride was Kilimanjaro Safaris, for which I had a Fastpass starting at 11:30. I knew that the animals would not be so active in the heat, but we didn't have a choice anyway. Now, we ourselves were not so comfortable in the heat, so this was nowhere near as great as I anticipated. The biggest problem is that we see most animals from far away. Now, about one hour from where I live there is a park which offers a great Safari experience, and you can even feed the animals (they give you the food, of course). They don't have the big cats or the elephants, but they have pretty much all the others, or maybe more, and they come very close to you. Just as at AK, they keep the land looking like the African savannah quite successfully. So, in comparison, this was fine, but not as special as I anticipated. It was fun to see the lions. The male one was so regal, all nicely positioned. We saw only one elephant, from far, I think it was a cub. The driver was a girl, who has a spiel about how we were together for two weeks on this expedition. Same as with Jungle cruise, she had a few great jokes. She was more endearing than that guy, for sure, but she wasn't great. I think that some drivers could make this experience magical, if they are good enough actors. Oh well, I would do it again, but I would not be too sad if I didn't.
- From there we headed to The Festival of The Lion King, stopping for a dole whip at Tamu Tamu refreshments right before. Our Fastpass was from 12:30 to 12:50. We got in and waited a bit. When entering the theater there are 4 sets of seats. It was not clear what we should do, but all our group was being herded to this one set of seats which are opposite the entrance. They seemed to not want us at the others. I wonder what would happen if we wanted to sit at any of the others. Well, we sat where they wanted us, at the 3rd row, which allowed decent visibility, but it could be better. The show is exceptional. It is majestic, the movie songs are great, which helps the performance even further. Well, each set of seats belongs to an animal. We were the elephant section, and the guy who seemed to be the main actor was the one commanding our section. If one is to choose, I think our section is best. You get a great view of Simba's animatronic and of the elephant himself, and that actor is pretty cool. The Simba animatronic is so sweet. As he listens to the songs, he sways, and his tail moves, it is so pretty! As I said, the show is amazing, very worthwhile, the best thing we did at AK. However, controlling a toddler there was not too easy. She could not see so well sitting down, since it was the third row. The rows are elevated, but she is still too short. She did not want to stay in our laps either. So, she moved around being a bit of a nuisance. It was not so bad, but then she stepped up on the stool and lunged herself at the people in front! Now I laugh at it, but then I was surprised and mortified. We apologized. She jumped on the guy, who jumped himself, but did not say anything to us before or after we apologized profusely. The woman sitting with him turned around, I think she was mad, but when she saw that it was a very young toddler she warmed up and was nice. I was thankful, because this was a tense moment. I don't know how to request a front row seat at this attraction. It does not seem to be possible other than making sure to wait right at the front of the pack and running like mad. It is worthwhile though, for anyone with a 2 year old. I think they enjoy the show better from there, and so will you, since they will bother everyone less.
- From there we went to the Pagani Forest. Now, the other day I discovered the bottleneck effect that supposedly happens there after the lion king show. I am glad I did not find out about it before, because I would have changed our plans. Instead we went straight to Pagani, and I saw no bottleneck at all. Now, it was a crowd 2 day, but that is still pretty crowded. The show was certainly full to capacity. Still, Pagani trail was almost empty. When we arrived the gorillas were on a special training, so we saw them very little. However, we got to see a hippopotamus swim in the water, and we could see him under water. This alone was worth the whole AK day, what a sight! Other than the Gorillas and the Hippopotamus the Pagani trail is not super exciting. If we had a whole day to do AK calmly I would enjoy this trail very much, because I like watching animals, I like zoos in general. However, given our time constraint only those two big ticket animals were worth the stop.
- We decided to eat at FlameTree Barbecue. It was a toss between this and Yak and Yeti's quick service. We chose based on location. This place had the slowest line of any place anywhere ever. There must have been 4 families in front of me, if that, but they took at least 20 minutes to even ask what I wanted. That is not 20 minutes to serve, it is to ask! I try to keep my cool on trips and expect setbacks, absurdities and unexpected time drains, but this was weird, especially considering that in the 4 previous days nothing comparable had happened. 20 minutes doesn't seem like much, but hungry and with just 4 small parties in front, it seems like an eternity. To make matters more irritating, the family right in front of me asks for the allergy menu. They start to examine it. I would expect an efficient CM to ring the next customer while they make their decisions. No. The CM just waited and waited, looking very pleased I might add, until all the three people in that family had decided what to eat. I tell you, when she asked "what would you like to drink?" and the father turned around and asked, "and for drink?" to the rest of them, I was ready to lunge at him. They picked the menu again! It just got to me. They were on vacation, nothing was going to rush them. Nothing at all. If it was just them, but it took a while to even get to them, so this was adding salt to the wound. Ok, I'll stop being so dramatic, it's not a big deal, but it kind of was in comparison to all the experiences we had with Disney service in this trip. Anyway, I got the food fairly fast. The ribs were a bit dry, but they were tasty, I would eat them again. The pulled pork sandwich was bad, extremely dry and fairly tasteless. The corn bread was ok. The baked beans were very nice. We got onion rings, which were oily, but tasty nonetheless. I got a tangerine orange lemonade, which is pretty much just an orange colored lemonade, but it was good. The seating area is nice, though the barbecue sauce container was empty and things were dirty around the station. This is really not a big deal, but I was surprised that AK had mistakes like this. I never saw anything comparable in any of the other parks, especially at MK.
- The next item had been to go to Maharaja Trek and then to Nemo, but there wasn't enough time. Again, I don't know what is up with TP times, I don't know where the time goes, but even with hardly any wait, and seeing Pagani in pretty much 10 minutes with no line, there still wasn't enough time for everything else on the list. Maybe exiting the shows is slower than TP predicts, maybe we take longer buying water, taking photos, etc. I don't know. The times between attractions just don't seem realistic. Again, I highly recommend that parents and first timers add at least 5 minutes between all attractions. Anyway, we decided to skip Maharaja Trek. Now, I am not sure it was a great decision. We skipped this to go to Nemo instead, and I don't know which would have been more pleasant all in all.
- So, from the restaurant we went to Finding Nemo. We had a FastPass due to arrive between 2:30 to 2:50. I have a complaint here. Well, I am puzzled. I thought that the point of show Fastpasses, besides being guaranteed a spot in the next show, was that if we arrived before 2:50 for example, they would let us in front of the standby line. This is what happened at every other show for which we had FastPasses in all parks, including the Lion King show. So, if one wants a great spot, all I had to do was to arrive within the FastPass time frame. Wasn't that the point of the FastPass, not to have to wait? Well, when we arrived there around 2:40 everyone had been let in already. The theatre was pretty full, all the spots on the lower parts, closer to the stage were taken! We were lucky that as we were looking for a spot, the people sitting at the first row in front of the aisle in the middle of the theatre were sitting very loosely, leaving a lot of space between each of the parties. We asked if they were waiting for someone, they weren't and very nicely opened space for us. So, we crossed the big crowds blocking the sides of this row (which is the likely reason why nobody had taken those spots) and sat comfortably. Our view turned out to be great, and in many parts the characters run through that aisle, so we had a first row view for this. Moreover, since there was just the aisle in front os us, we were not afraid that our daughter would bother anybody. She actually decided to lay on my husband with a bottle and relax for the show much as she relaxes when I read her books before bed. The show is a bit long though. I think it was over 30 minutes, maybe 33? This is why i am not sure it was the best decision to go there instead of Maharaja Trek. We could have done that trek and also walked around, maybe we could have done the trek and It's Tough to Be a Bug. Was this show worth those? The show is a quick version of Finding Nemo, and we had watched it not too long ago, so we were kind of bored because we knew what would happen. Maybe if you don't see the movie for a while it would be awesome. That movie is so great, that a reenactment of it if you don't recall everything must be a lot of fun. Anyway, this show is a big deal, and if there is no time constraint, I highly recommend it. Small children may find it too long, and it is hard to leave in the middle though, so be warned.
When we left the show it was around 3:40. Our limo service was supposed to pick us up at 4:15, so we did not think it was wise to do any other ride. Maybe there would be time for more, but our experience told us that rides always end up taking longer than predicted, even if the wait time is low. Getting in and out, leaving the stroller, getting the stroller, too risky. We decided to walk back pleasantly through Dino land, picked our things up at the lockers, organized our lot and left. It was 4pm. I decided to call our driver to let him know that we were ready in case he was too, so we could be on our way. He told me that he was already at the park, and asked us to go to the cab line on the left. Now, I did not know then, but he was waiting for us at MK, not AK! The bizarre coincidence is that precisely to the left of AK's exit there is indeed a line of cabs. We walked to the end of it, but did not see his car parked close by. I called him, and we talked, we walked up and down, and my husband suddenly told me: ask him if he is at AK. That's when I found out he was not! It was now 4:15. Man, I was pissed. The driver tried to fault me a bit, because he sent a text the day before saying that he would be at MK at such and such time. He was right, he did, but I did not see the MK buried in that message with other information. Then again, I was enjoying myself on vacation. I checked the limo service request documents and I had asked to be picked up at AK. It is not my job to make sure they send their driver to the right spot. I don't think I have to be so attentive to make sure they do things right while I am on vacation. I am willing to check and recheck documents before leaving, and I did. I consider this their mistake. Screw it if he sent a text or not. In any case, we were nice. Actually, we considered not taking the car anyway, and just getting a regular cab, but when my husband asked the first car if he had a carseat, the driver responded: where are you going? Annoyed my husband said "we were going to the airport, but never mind." The cab driver immediately yelled as my husband left: I have a car seat! But my husband was rightly annoyed at the behavior of cab drivers and just signaled me to tell the limo guy to just come pick us up as fast as possible. The limo arrived in 10, maybe 12 minutes, so it was not to bad.
We left AK around 4:30, and arrived at the airport around 5. We had to go to Southwest check in to get my daughter's boarding pass (since she was still a lap child. Her birthday was the next day). In spite of doing all that and going through security (horribly mean security, by the way, what assholes! Not all of them, but a few ruin it for the bunch) we were at our gate over 1:30 hour before the plane would leave. Now, we should be happy, but with a toddler, we don't want to wait too long at the gate either. So, we just kept going up and down the gates while my daughter played at lunging herself in the disgusting floor (I washed her hands twice, and she lunged herself again right after, poor me!) She was tired but did not want to nap, and each minute waiting at an airport is a bit of a torture. So, I don't know if I would be brave enough to do this, but ideally we should have left around 4:45 from the park. We could have done one, even two rides in that time.
Anyway, we boarded the plane, which left on time at 7:05pm. Here is a small side about lap toddlers in Southwest. Both ways we got a seat for her. The flight back was half full, but the flight in had been packed. I think there was only one empty seat, and that empty seat was ours! Here is the thing, it is not hard to do with a nearly 2 year old. All you have to do is to sit at the window and aisle and put the child in the middle. Nobody wants to even bother inquiring if that seat is really taken. With a toddler you are officially the least desirable flight companion imaginable. Nobody even wants to spend the time asking if that seat is actually free. So, in the previous flight, which was full, it got to a point that we were giving up and were going to take her out of the middle and sit her in the lap. Right then the flight attendant came and asked if she was a lap or a seat child. We said she was a lap child. However, even then, whoever needed a seat found one, and it was not ours. This is why I say, no matter what, with a toddler everyone will take anything rather than sit with you. By the way, they are right. It is very hard to control a toddler. I cannot imagine what it must be like to keep a toddler quiet on the lap during flight so it doesn't bother a stranger packed like sardine at your side. I think it must be impossible, and she would end up bothering the person anyway. Unless the person is very much into children, in which case they may be entertained. My daughter is a sucker for strangers and behaves much better with them, like many other toddlers. So, both ways we had each our own seat, which was very nice. I should add that she still did not nap.
We arrived home close to 10 as predicted. When we got home, I planned to give her a bath and put her to bed. However, when she saw her crib she started crying and pointing. She just wanted in. As sweaty as she had been, with the change of clothes I had brought for the plane, I put her in her crib. She immediately slept and did not wake up until he next day at her normal hour. The next two days she slept significantly more than usual, but other than that was very cheerful. She learned so many new words in the trip!
Final words about planning and the whole experience:
- When planning AK I considered doing Kali River Rapids (just the adults, with child swap), but decided to drop it. Then later when I discovered that I was pregnant I would have dropped this ride anyway. However, I gave it up because people get wet, and I anticipated that this would be a bother. Since it was our last day and we were going straight to the airport, it would probably be, but if you are just staying around, I think that getting wet will be a plus. I recommend planning this ride around noon or 2 pm. You will then be wet and perfectly happy about it.
- If you are flying Southwest from Orlando, seriously consider getting the EarlyBird check in as soon as purchasing the tickets. It is fundamental for families to board as soon as possible. Most of the people boarding first will sit at the aisles. If you are a couple, you can easily find places together at a window and middle. However, families of three or more will have a very hard time indeed. Southwest lets families board after the As, which should be enough, but the problem is that from Orlando there can be many families. To be fair, both of our flights turned out to not have that many children. Still, I would do it again. I would feel insecure getting just any boarding number, what if they cancelled family boarding because there are too many families? It has happened. In this case I would want to have a decent number but, to get that, one must go through the computer check in craze 24 hours before. This is possible on the way in, but how to do this while at the parks?
- Everyone knows this, but it bears repeating: bring the most comfortable shoes you can. After traveling a lot, I also discovered that I need to bring different pairs and use a different one every day. Even comfortable shoes can hurt me after many hours, and two days in a row can be a killer. Simply changing shoes the next day prevents wounds from forming, since each shoe touches different spots.
- I wear mostly skirts, even while traveling. However, I had brought a pair of shorts for one of the outfits. This was the day I was the most comfortable. I think that shorts at the parks, especially shorts with roomy pockets, are so convenient. The next day my husband was wearing cargo shorts (normally he was wearing just plain shorts) and he commented that it was so convenient to leave his phone, plans, etc there when needed. He commented independently, I had not mentioned my situation to him the day before. So, I think it is a thing. I always try to be presentable anywhere we go for tourism. I find that we are better treated everywhere, but WDW really isn't like that. People are dressed in the most outrageous ways everywhere, even at the best restaurants, so next time I will try to get a few pairs of shorts and just wear this all days.
- Since we were going a few days and had a set plan, it was easy to know which outfits were needed, and thus plan all of them in advance. This was great. I did not take unnecessary outfits (except for my daughter, since it is always important to bring extra clothes in case an "accident" happens, though nothing did), and we always got ready quickly. Another advantage is to plan outfits for the family which are harmonious for the photos. Now, I know this is borderline crazy. My husband made fun of me, but obliged me. You know what? I am so glad I did that! Our photos look so nice. I did not have everyone dressed in the same color, just harmonizing colors and styles. For example, one of the days I had a coral dress, my husband an aqua shirt, and our daughter a light blue and coral dress. In the pictures nobody would ever tell that there is coordination, but our outfits together harmonize beautifully, pops of color, all referenced in my daughter's dress. Silly, but if you have a minute, or a penchant for overplanning like myself (and if not, how come you are reading this report this far?) it will be worthwhile, I promise. It did not require much. My husband picked his outfits and a few extra first, and then I picked mine and my daughters and paired so as to achieve this.
- We got the Memory Maker photos thingie. I don't know how it's called. The one you can take as many pictures as you want and then you get the files. I thought it was very worthwhile in case you are wondering. There are photopasss photographers everywhere, and if there is any line it moves very quickly. The only issue is that if you only do this then in the end you are left with tons of pictures in front of very few postcard places. If you care about the pictures, which you probably do if you paid for Memory Maker, then you should take some more at different, less obvious locations. I don't enjoy taking pictures, though I end up being the one taking most of them. However, I always enjoy having them later, and regret the ones I did not take. In this trip I was very happy of the fact that I was in most of the pictures too, and that we did not have to waste nearly as much time trying to get nice pictures, but I wish I had taken even more pictures myself.
- Disney rents strollers, and they are everywhere. There is even a double model. However, I see this option as better for parents with older children who don't use strollers anymore. These families are often caught by the exhaustion and decide to rent the stroller. For those who depend on strollers for napping and carrying their things, I highly recommend bringing your own, a good and light one. We have an Uppababy G-Luxe that we take in all our trips. I cannot say enough good things about it. The amount of abuse it takes, the weight it carries, all and it is still in perfect condition. It reclines nearly flat for naps, it has a large sun canopy, it has some (not great) space under the seat. That said, you don't want to stuff much under there anyway, because the point of an umbrella stroller is to fold it easily and carry it whenever needed, and things on the basket will impede you from folding it. The stroller has great suspension and we walked the cobble streets of Rome without any difficulty at all, it pushed well and lightly always. If it ever breaks I'll just buy another, because this thing has paid for itself. In fact, I will probably be buying the double model that just came out this year when I have the next child.
- I estimate the cost of this trip around $4,500. Counting the flights, suite at AoA, MNSSHP, the limo service, memory maker, food and purchases, we spent between $4,400 and $4,600. The beauty of paying everything with Magic Band is that in the end you have a perfect idea of what all the "incidentals" actually cost. It is an expensive trip, especially because our tickets were around $500 total, which is cheap. We have spent $5,000 for a 7 days trip to the Caribbean, and not roughing it one bit there. So, what I am saying is that the opportunity cost of a trip to WDW is high. Yes, there are ways to do it cheaper, but then again, you could do trips to other places cheaper as well. We had been to Universal before she was born, we are Harry Potter fans, we had to see it! It was significantly cheaper. We wanted to do this to celebrate my daughter's birthday, something she would notice. We had never been to WDW, so it was very worthwhile, quite an experience. However, we will not be one of those families that go every year. I think it is realistic to say that we will return in 3 or 4 years, unless the grandparents or someone wants to do a reunion there before this.
- Overall, Disney's famed attention to detail is true. We were impressed with the training of the CMs, and became quite interested in the company itself. What an achievement of management are these parks! Everything starts on schedule, there is not a single thing chipped, no mistakes, no burned lights. It is impressive, it is amazing really. To control such enormous crowds so that entries and exits are never dangerous nor take too long, to serve everyone so that the rides continue to function, the restaurants are never short on food, the princesses clothes are always clean and pressed, the princesses themselves are never sweaty (within reason), how is that even possible? Everyone seems to know what they are supposed to do in every situation that presents itself. Even if going through the phone menus is annoying, the phone service is also outstanding. I am dumbfounded that I never heard about it from any of my friends who had been there. So many of them have gone there, why aren't they in awe of this? Do they take all of this for granted? Have they been to other places, seen other things, to see how impressive this is? I think that beyond the rides and other services, one should notice that about WDW. In many ways this was more entertaining to observe than many things that were actually supposed to entertain.
I hope you have enjoyed this. It was certainly long. I hope it was useful. Again, if you have any questions, feel free to ask.