My 70-something parents, my two sons (3 and 5) and I booked a Villa at Wilderness Lodge to be our special Disney trip. BUT then, the main WL pool was closed and I couldn’t change hotels (rented points with David’s 100% no changes/refunds), and THEN two weeks before the trip my dad had minor heart problems but couldn’t be insured medically for travel outside Canada. So just me, my kids, and my (pleasant but slightly doddering and unreliable) mother went for a week to the Villas. My 5-year-old son is bright and inquisitive but not sure about scary rides. My 3-year-old is a total chicken at this stage in his life and won’t even ride Winnie the Pooh (I think it’s the Heffalumps, or maybe the Woozles). The report is long, you can skip to the lessons learned at the end of you get bored… or skip the whole thing entirely, it’s all the same to me. Here’s how it went:
SUNDAY NOV 16th. Flew into Sanford airport, picked up rental van, and were off on the 417 very quickly after arrival (yay for small airports!) Arrived VWL in under an hour, around suppertime. Stunning. Love the sound of crickets chirping, the deer milling about the driveway, the smell of spruce. The kids loved the totem poles, bridge, “spring”, and DisJr cartoon corner with rocking chairs in the massive lobby. Check-in fast and easy. The villas were a short walk on a lovely covered boardwalk. I love the villas building. The common area is a serene piece of architectural beauty with a cozy fireplace with rocking chairs. It feels more like visiting a (very wealthy) relative’s forest getaway than a hotel. Elevators very fast, Our 1-bedroom villa on the second floor (2530) overlooked quiet forest and was just close enough to the elevator to be a quick walk without any intrusive “dinging”, and the Hidden Springs pool (which is beautiful and relaxing, even with the main pool closed) was a short stroll away. Overlooked towering conifers (spruce? pine? I’m not sure). If we looked down we could see the camouflaged dreaded green electrical box, but honestly, it didn’t interfere with the lovely view at all. Sitting on the well-covered balcony in pouring rain, reading a book, was one of the highlights of the trip. Picked up rented double stroller at Bell Services and Noelle brought our Garden Grocer order (snacks, water, breakfasts, diapers and ziploc baggies) straight to the room.
MONDAY 17th. On Monday morning we headed out by car to Animal Kingdom (on a 2 or 3 day) for EMH, parked at 750 and on Kilimanjaro Safaris by 815. Amazing attraction and we even saw the rhino charging! While park still quieter, we stopped for lots of photos and got a couple of great Magic shots. Met Mickey and Minnie at the Adventure Outpost at 9 - we learned that the best way to do the meet and greets is to arrive 5 minutes before it starts. The wait gets exponentially longer as soon as passersby realize what’s going on. Then got a couple of Wilderness Explorer badges (didn’t have to go the WE headquarters, we just bumped into WE CMs when we stopped to look at some birds and they had the books and sticker badges right there.) Super fun! Would love to devote an AK day to the Wilderness Explorers. Tusker House for breakfast at 9:40. The characters were friendly and efficient, the food was good, including Mickey Waffles. The “parade” was fun although they ran out of “shakers” for the kids. We had less time with characters at this meal than any other all week, but mine still enjoyed it. We were, fortunately, out just in time to catch the 11 am showing of Festival of the Lion King (right next door). My 3-year-old son’s favourite show, and we had great seats from the standby line, which we joined at around 10:45 or so. After lion king we booted ‘er directly across the park to catch Finding Nemo at 12. The timing was perfect, we were towards the back (I find up close the actors working the puppets become distracting), and walked in about five minutes before the show started. There were tons of empty seats. Another magical show (although my three-year-old son started imitating Nemo by saying “I hate you!” for the first time ever after watching it. Sigh.). Then to the Boneyard. My favourite playground of all the WDW play areas! We popped out for a bathroom break and rode the Triceratop Spin on the way back (upon leaving, I said, “Let’s go to the boneyard to find grandma” to the guffaws of a couple of guests next to us.) Met Liner @SethMaine waiting for Triceratop spin, nice family! At this point it was starting to rain and attractions were closing. We excavated grandma as planned, headed straight for the exit. We didn’t end up using any of our FPPs that we had planned for the day (Nemo/FoTLK/KS) since our TH reservation came at the last minute and we worked around that.
Back to the hotel where we explored, played in the arcade (a small disappointment after the incredible arcade at AoA where we stayed before), and rested. It poured rain. Supper in the room (macaroni and cheese and cucumber slices, if you must know), hopped over the Magic Kingdom for a couple of hours and rode Buzz Lightyear, Winnie the Pooh, and the Tomorrowland SpeedwayX2 in the pouring, pouring rain. Used a 4th FPP from a kiosk which was great. Even with the rain, it was lovely to be in the world. We bussed back to the room (a short ride, and the bus stop very close to the villas! Less than a 2 minute walk to our room, including elevator!), and off to bed by 7:30. I then reworked all of our touring plans for the week to include more character meet-and-greets (meets-and-greets?) since clearly this was my 3-year-old’s priority. And picked up a bunch more character ADRs (because we had PB&J sandwiches and mac and cheese in the villa for the rest of the meals to help balance the budget overall, right???)
TUESDAY 18th. Tuesday morning we took it easy around the hotel while awaiting my sister’s arrival at 10:00. Then late breakfast at Whispering Canyon Cafe. Delicious, but quiet between breakfast and lunch so we missed out on the famed WCC antics that I had been anticipating. Mild MagicBand drama meaning my band was deactivated and my family waited patiently for over an hour to get it sorted out. Desk staff well meaning but inefficient. Finally drove to Hollywood Studios (a 3 day, no EMH) and made it just in time to catch the 1 pm showing of Beauty and the Beast as walk-ins, yay! Good seats, again, lots of free seats left in the theatre. After that, FPP for DisJr, VotLM. We met Jake from the Neverland Pirates, had lots of photos taken, and headed to the Sci Fi Drive In Diner for early supper at 4:15 pm. Great venue, but those of us of a certain age have difficulty reading the menu and seeing the food because of the weird lighting. After that we used our much anticipated TSMM FPP, which is now everybody’s favourite ride. Wandered around until the Osbourne Lights (amazing!) which completely wowed my entire family. My 5-year old could not stop jumping an dancing in the street. We wandered around the lights for about half and hour then drove back to the room. My sister bailed on our plans for a late-night return to MK, so after the kids were tucked in and asleep I left them with my mom and took the boat over solo. Well, just, wow. Wishes fireworks started as the boat was passing the Contemporary (9 pm) and I watched until the finish (standing on the dock at MK). Incredible experience, highly recommended that everybody watch the fireworks from a boat at least once. Once at MK, rode Buzz, Barnstormer, 7DMT (18 minute wait standby), got a couple of photos taken, did a little shopping, then headed back to room, asleep by midnight…
WEDNESDAY 19th … And up at 6:30 with the kids. DS5 put on his prince cape and his shield and sword (DS3 refused to wear his Knight shirt), and off we went with my sister for Akershus breakfast (pre-RD) at Epcot for 8 am. It would have been a more pleasant stroll back to Norway if it wasn’t freezing cold outside requiring every layer of shirts, fleeces, and wool hats that we brought with us. But the breakfast itself was fantastic. The fruits and cheeses and cheesy potato dish that everybody raves out were amazing, and there were Mickey Waffles, too! The princesses were lovely and engaging. The first princess procession didn’t happen until 9:15 or 9:30, when were were just about to leave - but my boys ran to join it and loved it. Next stop was Sum of All Thrills (amazing, I think my FAVOURITE Epcot experience - but went to ride a second time with DS5 and he panicked when the virtual reality simulator came down around him so we had to get off). Next DS5 and my sister used FPP for Soarin’ (which I loved but skipped with DS3 who had a massive poopsplosion, so instead he got a brand new Soarin’ T-shirt). Also, Living with the Land was down; DS3 & I used FPP to meet the characters while sister and DS5 went to explore the Seas with Nemo. We met up at Spaceship Earth and used FPP to ride before heading back to the hotel for a nap, relaxing afternoon, and some arcade and pool time. Off to Magic Kingdom (a 5 day, I think) for a couple of crazy busy hours; explored the Swiss Family Tree House, completed a Pirate Adventure (super fun in the dark!!!), rode It’s a Small World (3th FPP - we had cancelled 3rd for Epcot on MDE app) and the Haunted Mansion (4th FPP) before taking my tired, tired family back to bed. Note: Haunted Mansion too scary for my 3-year-old, I’d forgotten how spooky it is! Oh, and we skipped the “stretch” room for HM, which is a huge pain that involves following the directions of multiple CMs through a variety of doorways that say things like “Exit Only”. Next time we’ll just do the stretch room and cover the eyes/ears of those who may get scared.
THURSDAY NOV 20th. Thusday morning was EMH MK (a 2 day). We were a little late getting started, took the boat and didn’t make it through the gates until 8:20. I was agitated that my meticulous TP was being sabotaged. Went to Winnie the Pooh but it broke down just as we got to the front of the line. For a moment, it felt like the universe was conspiring against us… except that we were in Disney World, so ultimately just a “first-world-problem”, seriously. Off to meet Ariel at her Grotto (lovely interaction), then rode Under the Sea. Next up we doubled back to the Tomorrowland Speedway, and my mom, sister and DS5 rode BuzzX2 while DS3 (scared) and I waited outside, just in time to catch the start of the 10 am Buzz Meet and Greet. It was great! Then our family met up again and headed over to Adventureland for the Swiss Family Treehouse again, followed by our FPP for Jungle Cruise. We ended up skipping Pirates of the Caribbean to make our 7DMT FPP on time. Left grandma with the boys and some ice cream while sister and I rode 7DMT. Short but super fun! Love the video you get afterwards on Photopass. Rode It’s a Small World and ended the morning with Peter Pan FPP. By this time it was starting to get more crowded and my kids were overwhelmed. We stopped in Frontierland for a pretzel and a Turkey leg, considered Tom Sawyer Island but the kids needed a rest, so off to the boat and back to the hotel. Watched a movie and swam in the pool, and I spent time on MDE and TP madly juggling our Friday and Saturday plans/reservations around. Cancelled Friday and Saturday am character breakfasts and booked suppers instead. My sister flew back home, we had a quiet supper in the villa and off to bed. NOTE TO LINERS: Booking a last minute trip? Want a character meal but none available? TONS come up 24-72 hours before reservation time/date as people cancel We booked all our character meals except Akershus less than 48 hours before hand, including Tusker House, Crystal Palace, Garden Grill… and all still during Free Dining promotion. I even got a CRT lunch for 4 for 1 pm that we ended up dropping.
FRIDAY NOV 21st. Friday morning, took boat to MK early and saw the Welcome Show (9 am park opening). Straight back to Winnie the Pooh, which DS3 declared “too scary” so he played in Pooh’s house while DS5 and grandma rode. Then rode the carousel twice (it’s just a carousel, but it really is more fun, at Disney). Next, Ariel (again) and did Under the Sea (again), then dashed over to Frontierland to meet Chip and Dale (who “slept in” and arrived at 9:15) - they were super awesome with my boys (who had been waiting for them since 8:50). The kids thought the Barnstormer and Dumbo looked too scary so we went straight to FPP for Enchanted Tales with Belle. Last year DS5 cried because he was too shy to ask for a part, but this year he got to be Maurice and DS3 was a plate. My mom was the Wardrobe! It was wonderful. The kids were hungry so we ate at Pinnochiohaus at about 10:45 (yay for delicious Pepperoni and Caprese Flatbreads, lunch for 4 for $20) at a quiet table overlooking It’s a Small World, then went and rode It’s a Small World right afterwards. The line looked awful but was less than 10 minutes. Next up was FPP for Peter Pan, followed by FPP to meet Cinderella and Rapunzel. I was surprised at how long the wait was even with the FPP - about 18 minutes with my duo of tired little princes. DS5 hammed it right up with the ladies, DS3 was a little shy. Both princess were just lovely with the boys. We stopped to watch the Move It! Shake It! Dance party floats go by on our way out of the park. The boys were done for the morning and we spent the afternoon resting, watching a movie, and swimming at the hotel before heading back for supper. Initially DS5 wanted to do a Pirate Adventure before supper, but after fighting back to Frontierland through the streaming crowds (it was 5:45 pm on MVMCP night, so everybody was leaving) to the headquarters, he declared that he was too hungry for adventure, let’s skip it and go have supper (sigh). So, that’s what we did. SECRET LINER RECOMMENDATION: CP during the last hour of public park opening/first hour of special event is AWESOME. There were tons of empty tables, lots and lots of time for character interaction. I missed Eeyore so the Character Co-ordinator brought him out to meet us and get photos again. The food and service were very good. After, we were ushered through the “back entrance” behind Main St. on the Crystal Palace (not Tomorrowland) side - fast and VERY interesting! A few cars parked back there - I wonder what level of employee you have to be before you can park RIGHT BEHIND Main Street?!? Boat back to hotel and DS5 crashed, but DS3 had napped in stroller right before supper and so was wired for sound until 10:30 pm.
SATURDAY NOV 22nd. As a result of DS3’s late night, we had a late start for our last WDW day. We were aiming for TSMM during HS am EMH (on a 4 day) but didn’t arrive at the park until 9:30 am. We headed straight for the Frozen Singalong (we had FPP for 10:05), stopped for a few photos and a little shopping along the way. The singalong was hilarious, and right afterwards we met Mater and Lightening McQueen, then used our FPP for TSMM. After that the kids were ready to go. We strolled around for a little, had some photos taken. Definitely HS was where we had the easiest time finding wandering photographers to do magic shots. Then, hotel for lunch/relax/swim before supper (and I did laundry - love the 1-bdrm villas with washer and dryer!) At 4 pm we headed to Epcot, rode Spaceship Earth - which DS5 loves for all the history, and DS3 loves for the personalized in-car movie at the end. We watched the fountain for a few minutes before heading to the rotating Garden Grove. Just, wow. We asked for, and received, an outside table. My kids LOVED looking out at the different scenes going by, especially the buffalo in the prairie storm. And the characters were AMAZING. Pluto and Chip both came by twice, and stayed for a long time. Both kids were just entranced. It was our best interaction of the whole trip and a magical way to end. The food was delicious and our server (Jeffrey) was excellent. I thought about riding Living with the Land after the meal, but the kids were too exhausted. We walked out and they kept stopping to play on the sidewalks with the embedded light designs, it was beautiful. Gave my leftover unused paper rider-swap FPs (Soarin’ and Sum Of All Thrills) to a woman we passed. DS5 wanted to ride the Monorail just for fun, but then decided he was too tired. Both kids fell asleep in the car, then easily transferred to stroller then to bed at the hotel. Phew. They were out for the night by 7 pm. At which point I packed like a mad woman, brought the stroller back and bought last minute souvenirs at the WL Mercantile, packed up snacks for the next day’s travels, and was asleep by 11:30 pm…
To be awakened by my bright-eyed 3 year old at 3:40 am, ready for the day. Which wasn’t so bad, since we had to leave for the airport by 4:30 am. Got up, packed up the car, on the road by 4:45 with a very cranky 5-year-old and a very happy 3 year old who then slept the whole way to the airport. Dropped my mom and the kids at the terminal, returned the rental car, checked in, flew back up north, and then drove 3.5 hours home. Yawn. Home by 5 pm, and had everything unpacked by 6 pm. A small victory for me, not usually known for organization.
Oh, and, of course, I booked two tentative bounce-back deals for 2015.
- It’s super easy to get last-minute character ADRs if you’re a little flexible.
- ADRs at 6:15-7:00 on party night was awesome for lots of character time and low crowds, at least during our one experience.
- If I get too cranky because we’re not “following the plan”: I’m the one with the problem, not them.
- If you’re not picky about seating, it looks like you can get into many shows last minute on a quieter day (2-4).
- Really early lunch (10:45-11 am) is awesome for beating lunchtime crowds at QS.
- Overbook bounce backs because RO BB can be cancelled with no penalty up to 5 days before arrival, and the deals are really good (30% Mods, 35% Deluxe/villas), lots of availability.
- Fireworks from boat are incredible.
- Show up at the meet-and-greet site 5 minutes ahead of character arrival for a the shortest wait, we were always the first or second in line.