TRIP REPORT JULY 10-14
This follows up on my post on our surprise short trip, the beginning of which you can find here:
So the rest of this report is a little late coming, but wanted to post nonetheless in the event that any of our logistics are helpful to others.
One note about our trip—we had originally scheduled it for October; when they announced SWGE opening, I was already thinking about moving the trip up, but that provided the final nudge I needed.
A detail I had not mentioned in my prior post—we had booked this trip using an almost-accidental leading reservation. We had booked at the Swan, and I noticed as our FPP window drew near, that our reservation had not linked in MDE despite me trying to do so—it says it takes up to 24 hours but then it hadn’t linked after several days. I called support and they said they did it, but to give it 72 hours. 72 hours came and went, and no linking. I called again and they apologized and said they would do it, but again—24 to 72 hours. Our 60-day window would open during that time period. So I booked a room at another on-site property (ASM I think), and made it a leading stay (by about a week), and booked our FPP’s. This ended up being especially helpful because we only had 2 park days planned. Our Swan Ressie finally linked, and then I cancelled the other sometime in the 50-day mark. Received a warning about losing FPP’s, but never did.
So, following a huge surprise for our kids (telling them when we arrived at the airport that I was not going on a work trip, but we were all going to Disney and Universal), and arrival-day Ohana dinner, we started our first park day, July 11, Thursday, at HS. We had an 8:15 H&V on a 9 am opening day. (Predicted to be about a CL 4 day and it felt that way during the day). We planned to be there at 8 am. Left the Swan to walk to HS at about 7:15. It was a pretty walk, not longer than 15 minutes. There were short lines at the gate when we arrived; waited a few minutes and put sunscreen on all of us while we waited. Then we were let in. As I had read on here, I sent DH to check in at H&V and took DD8 and DS5 to sign up for Jedi training. We had our pick of times and chose 11 a.m. I knew it would be hot but hadn’t wanted to waste rope drop time, and also hadn’t wanted to pick an afternoon time and risk rain cancellation (which turned out to be a good call).
By checking in for H&V as soon as the park opened at 8 for PPO’s (despite reservation being 8:15 am), we were one of the first ones seated as the servers came out and started announcing, “Now casting, Smith party of 4…” The kids enjoyed meeting Doc, Vampirina, Fancy Nancy, and Goofy. I would say the food was mediocre at best. Of course the kids were happy with their Mickey Waffles and chocolate syrup, but for the grown-ups, the scrambled eggs were not good. I resorted to the (watery) oatmeal with nuts, raisins and brown sugar. I was mostly excited for the day and didn’t care too much about the food but nevertheless—if you care about food—this is not really the greatest place. BUT, we saw characters, didn’t rush, and were done by 8:45.
We had a 9:15 FPP for TOT, which the kids had never done and I knew they would love. I had been torn between trying to RD TOT before our FPP to get two rides on it, but looking at opening wait times recently (with half of it in refurb), especially knowing we would not be at the front of the RD pack, decided to rope drop Star Tours instead, so our kids had a Star Wars experience before doing JTA at 11. It was running and a walk-on at 8:50. After having introduced them to Episode IV (on this group’s recommendation), they loved it and especially loved “going into hyperspace” twice on the ride.
We then walked down to TOT (it was maybe 9:15 at that point) and the SB wait was posted at 85 minutes. We got on quickly with our FPP and, as predicted, the kids loved it. I remembered to ask for the front row (for PhotoPass picture purposes). It was a huge hit. The ride was too short. No cast members were punched while we were there.
Our next FPP was 10:15 RNR for me and DD8, and 10:15 Star Tours (for DS5 and DH, who were happy to ride it again). We had some time to kill so walked towards the Lightning McQueen show, but both kids were saying they didn’t really care about doing it, so we aborted that just after we walked up. (One thing I’ve learned on our trips to WDW—it’s not worth forcing anything). Got drinks and then asked the CM if they would let us on RNR a bit before our FPP window—they waved us in. DH got his rider switch (which they told us was good for the rest of the day) and then DS headed back to Star Tours. DD8 and I loved RNR. It’s so fast and so smooth. Neither of us had been on it before. RNR was a great ride—exceeded my expectations.
DD8 and I then walked up to meet DH and DS for JTA, checked in. DS5 was, as I predicted, a bit wary of going off into the group without us—but we were well in view and assured him that we would be following the group the whole way. I didn’t know how the logistics worked exactly, before then, but it turned out that we were always in view of the kiddos. So DS5 relaxed and totally loved the experience (We were front and center watching him). The Photopass photogs get great shots of the kids; we just videotaped the short bits where our kids fought Kylo Ren. It was super-super-great. They WERE hot at 11 am, as some of you had advised me they would be, but they were too happy to care. And it was just short enough (20 min) that they didn’t overheat in the robes. Afterwards they were given water bottles and a pin.
At 11:20, we headed to our SDD FPP. It was a longer walk over than I had realized. It was nice to breeze past the considerable line for SDD and get right on. It was great and all we cared to do in TSL….AS2 was not worth waiting for and—I know this is heresy in this group—but none of us really loved TSM when we did it last year (or at least no one cared about not doing it this time).
So we left TSM and went to Voyage of the Little Mermaid. I SHOULD have grabbed my 4th FPP for that one at that time, but wanted to keep my FPP’s clear for the 12:01 drop (it was maybe 11:40 by this time). But I could have grabbed it, tapped in 2 minutes later, and been clear to grab another. (I was caught up on waiting for 12:01). So we waited one cycle, maybe two, for it. While we waited, kids had popsicles, I was sitting in the covered area and just refreshing MDE for at least 10 min before 12:01. I saw lots of rides come up, but not SDD and not TOT. I was trying for TOT, which both kids wanted to do again. 12;01 came and went and there was no apparent drop of anything. But at 12:05 a SDD came up for 1:30, so I grabbed it and still felt pretty lucky! I kept refreshing for the next 10 min and still no TOT. (Throughout the next few hours I refreshed whenever possible and never saw a TOT for any time.)
VOTLM was sweet and good. The singing was great and it was nice to be in air conditioning. When we exited right into Animation Courtyard, I remembered the Visa Passholder M&G, and so we went into the Launch Bay. We had to ask four different CM’s as we went, where it was (there were no signs that I saw). We wove around and basically arrived at an unmarked door, and were escorted right into meet at very intense Kylo Ren. He asked my son if he would join him on the dark side and I told my son (who seemed tempted) to say no. I reminded Kylo Ren that my son had just defeated him a little while ago. Kylo got in my face to tell me to “be silent” (or something similar). Kids got a huge kick out of it.
It was about 12:30 at that point and of course not a great time to get indoor seating for QS meals. We ended up at ABC Commissary, got an outdoor but shaded seat, and mobile ordered. Took about 15 minutes but got our food. My vegan burger was better than I expected it to be; the kids had chicken tenders. We took our time, filled up on fluids, and the sky was getting dark. We headed back into TSL for our 1;35 SDD. As we approached the ride, there were warnings saying that due to lightning in the area, the ride might close at any minute. We tapped in, the skies darkened further. I grabbed a 5th FPP for Soarin at 6:20. We approached the boarding area; skies darker still. CM’s were on the phone…we held our breaths…and they put us on. As we pulled out, the skies opened up on us. The rain pelted our faces and we absolutely LOVED it. We all agreed that SDD in the rain was one of the very best parts of the trip. As we finished, they closed the ride. I told my daughter that that was “Disney Magic.” We had to take cover at TSM when we got off, but the rain eased pretty quickly and had cooled things off considerably. DH and DD8 went to RNR for their ride switch ride. I took DS5 to buy his souvenir of the trip, a light saber (a $30 one). While we waited for them, DS wielded his saber around the Star Tours area, channeling his inner jedi and drawing lots of smiles.
I let him live in that moment for a while (until he hit me pretty hard on my arm by accident). Then it was off for the strawberries and ice cream funnel cake, which we demolished (okay, saved a little bit for DD8). We met back up with them and decided it was time to mosey back to the Swan. The only thing we hadn’t done that I wanted to do was the Frozen Sing Along, but waiting for the next show would set us back quite a bit (we had EP planned for dinner/evening), so off we went. Despite having walked quite a bit, no one minded walking back to the Swan –as others on here had advised me, it was faster than waiting for a boat. (We didn’t even try for the boat).
We got back and changed and went to the pool for a short bit. The kiddos love pool slides and I wanted to fit in even a short visit to the pool. It was a really nice pool (not as nice as the GF in my opinion, but nice). After that, it was back to change and head to EP for our 6:10 at Via Napoli. We walked there (and ended up walking over 11 miles that day), leaving our hotel at about 5:40, renting a stroller at the IG entrance, and arriving exactly at our 6:10 reservation time. Didn’t wait long, and was seated for a delicious meal-I love their pizza. Our meal finished at 7:10, so we knew we had to get to Soarin within our grace period. We booked it a bit, but did stop in Norway for DH to get his favorite beer.
The kids pushed each other into “hyperspace” while we waited.
By the time we got to future world, I was pushing the stroller and half-running to get to the Land pavilion. We tapped in a minute before our grace period would expire, the kids all cheering victoriously and DD8 marveling at more “Disney Magic.” We all loved our ride on Soarin (one of my faves). We got a 6th FPP for SE (which was a walk on anyway). I have not done it in maybe 30 years and really wanted to do it this trip, esp with the refurb coming up. To me, anyway, it was a snoozer. But, at least we did it. We finished just as Illuminations was starting, and we sort-of watched it as we headed back out to IG, gave back the stroller, and hoofed around the Boardwalk.
By the time we got back to the Swan, we were ALL walked out. And happy. It was late to be getting DS5 to sleep, but I hoped it would set him up for a mid-day nap the following day. So, showers and bedtime, and we were out.
A note about the heat: I am from the Wash, D.C./NoVa area, and we were bracing for swelter. We found the FL heat to be no more oppressive than at home. In fact, the afternoon rain each day made the days perhaps even cooler in FL than at home.
FRIDAY JULY 12
I awoke at 6 am, ready to spring into action for EMH (8 am ) at MK. DS5 also awoke with me, and he grabbed his lightsaber and joined me in the dark as I walked across to Fuel at the Dolphin for ready-made hot breakfast sandwiches (thanks for the tip from a fellow Liner here on that). Brought a few, and some good coffee, back for everyone. We ate in the room as we got dressed, and were at the bus stop for the first 7 am bus to MK. There was already quite a crowd at the gate. As usual, my kids looked for other kids to hand out their extra mickey ears to (we always buy a 12-pack on amazon and give away the extras while we wait at RD). Gates opened around 7:45; our plan was to RD Space Mtn, which DS5 was now tall enough to ride. We were held at the Tomorrowland Rope until 8 am, and then travelled with that herd to Space. It looked like a lot of people but we basically walked on to the ride. DS5 was a little wary as we loaded the ride vehicle (since this was one where he sits alone). But he loved it and was woo-hooing throughout the ride. The ride was better and smoother than I remembered it being when I rode it last in 2015. At one point he yelled out to me (I was right behind him): “I love you mamaaaaaa!”
When we got off, the EMH crowd had totally swarmed Tomorrowland. We did walk on to Buzz Lightyear, but then the Speedway had a 20 minute line already, which we waited for and did because our kids love the Speedway.
By the time we got off, the rope had just dropped for 9 am, which was behind where I had wanted to be—having wanted to RD Splash. But, it turned out not to matter, as when we arrived, BOTH Splash and BTMRR were down. (Big bummer for the regular RD crowd). So we backtracked to HM which was posting a 50 min wait (at about 9:20). I told the fam that I bet the wait was actually half that (I had looked at predicted wait times for HM around this time before we left)—so we got in line, played word games, and ended up proving me right—exactly a 25 min wait. The new on-ride HM picture is AMAZING. Loved the one of me and DS5:
Splash was still down when we got off, so we headed back to meet Merida. The line was not too long-there were fewer than 10 groups ahead of us, and we waited maybe 15 minutes. The M&G was cute, but my kids had wanted to do archery with her (in the past, they had gotten to do that), but when my son asked Merida if they could do archery, she politely said, “That would be great to do sometime!” So, no bow and arrows.
We headed back to the carousel; to re-create a pic of my son pulling the sword out of the stone from a few years ago. He tried, but no dice. Then the little show started (forget the name, but the actors put on this show making adults try to pull the sword and then a kid ACTUALLY pulls the sword). My son SO wanted to be the one to do it, but they called on another kid who was right in their faces the whole time. <Sigh.> They did, actually, call on my husband to pull at the sword, and that was hilarious. They made fun of him for “wearing a seat belt,” (i.e. the one-strapped backpack).
We were of course a bit handicapped, not having any FPP’s, as I had booked them for Animal Kingdom in the evening. If we had to do it again, I might have just done AK in the morning and taken my chances on getting same-day FPP’s at MK in the p.m. Although all we cared about doing was Space, HM, Merida and Splash (which was closed anyway), and we got to do all those things except Splash, so it really was exactly what I planned it to be. But nevertheless, I just felt landlocked, so to speak, by not having any FPP’s at MK. But we had spent lots of time there during our trip in October so there were not many “must-do’s”. Also, the crowds in Tomorrowland and Fantasyland during EMH were pretty bad. Unless you can perfectly time RD in Frontierland or Adventureland (I did not, since we got stock in a long Tomorrowland Speedway line), you don’t get the benefit of two rope-drops, and hence no real advantage of EMH other than an extra hour of time in the park. I didn’t find the “rope drop” benefit of EMH to be any better than the rope drop benefit of a normal park opening day.
After a Carousel ride (I was relieved that they wanted to do something with a short line), we headed to CHH for lunch. Found a quiet spot upstairs and mobile-ordered. I had wanted to try the lobster roll, and so I did. Spoiler alert: It’s not that good. But the lunch served its purpose, and we headed back to the entrance. I had read about the new panoramic pic from the East Garden on the Lines Chat. I never would have known of it or noticed it. There was no one in line, but I walked up to a CM photographer who was just standing there and asked if he was doing the new magic shot. (This ended up NOT showing up in my Photopass pics, so I called the Photopass center when we got home; they looked into it and said they would have all pics from that hour re-loaded. Within two hours I had a notification that they found my picture!) Although my son blinked during the photo, I still love it. (Can’t upload the video here but here is the faraway image–we are in the upper right of the courtyard.):
After that, DS5 wanted to stare at the water under the Tomorrowland bridge and look for alligators. So, that’s what we did. No rushing, just looking for alligators. In the Magic Kingdom. At Disney World. With all sorts of other stuff going on around us. Looking for alligators.
We took the bus back to the Swan and, owing to the sleep deficit from the day before, both kids to nap for 2+ hours (making up for the long previous day). We woke, had a snack, and drove our rental to AK. Showed our Swan card to get free parking, took the tram, and arrived at the taps about 4:10, on time for our 4:05 FOP FPP. This was another reason we returned to WDW less than a year after our prior trip—DS5 now tall enough for FOP. He loved it and was woo-hooing throughout the ride. DD8 said she loved “getting to ride on my banshee again.”
We headed up the side trail to Africa and arrived at FOTLK around 4:45, in time to get in standby for the 5 pm show (again, relied on advice from this group that I would not need a FPP). DS was hungry so I snuck out to a snack cart and snuck in a hotdog for him (the hot dog vendor told me no food permitted in FOTLK but I like to live on the wild side). I think we enjoyed the acrobats the most.
At about 5:35 we were heading out and walking towards EE for our 5:15 FPP. It started to rain a little bit and we pulled out our ponchos, but made it to EE and the ride was not closed down. EE proved to be both kids’ favorite ride. My son loved the story of the Yeti, and started asking me so many questions about the Yeti (looking at all of the stuff in the queue, such as the blurry picture of the Yeti’s hand (intended to be the photographer’s last photo), that I had to start making stuff up. “Mom, did these people go looking for the Yeti?” “Yes!” “How many people.” “Ummm, about 10.” “Did anyone die?” “Oh yes, the Yeti got a few of them.” “How many died?” “Ummm, five.” “Really? So five of them are alive?” “You betcha!” (And he came home telling everyone about the five hikers who died looking for the Yeti.) Here is us doing EE in our ponchos…can you tell DD8 knows where the camera is?
After the ride, DH and I tried drinks at the shack nearby. I will say the Himalayan Ghost is quite yummy and made DINOSAUR, which came next, a bit of a blur for me. Right after DINO, I was able to grab another FPP for EE, for 7:35. We went back to Satuuli Canteen for dinner. Sadly, after dinner, there was thunder and lightning that cancelled our EE FPP, but it converted just as we were passing Adventurer’s Outpost, so instead we used it to buzz right in to meet Mickey and Minnie. It was a very sweet encounter, and our only chance to meet them on our short trip, so definitely a good use of the FPP. We then got another FPP for ITTBAB, immediately, and we walked right into that. I had read how it can be scary for young kids, so was apprehensive, but I think that warning is for REALLY young kids. There was pretty much nothing scary about it and it was a cute show we all enjoyed.
At that point, EE was still down, and I was exhausted. I can’t imagine having contemplated adding a Disney After Hour at Hollywood Studios to the day (which I had been considering before the trip). We never would have made it. Plus it was raining. So back to our hotel we went to wrap up our whirlwind 4 parks/2 days.
SATURDAY JULY 13
We awoke to a beautiful day, packed up and headed over to Universal. We were staying at the Hard Rock again, where we stayed during our October trip. Travel tip for those staying at HRH: Sign up for their Royalty Rewards program (at no cost) and you get in the expedited check in line. The regular line has been long every time I’ve seen it, including on this day. In the Royalty Line, I was taken right away and even was allowed to check in with a room ready at 11 a.m.
We had to upgrade our seasonal passes because July is a black-out month. Once we did that, we headed to our room briefly, and then out to IOA. After being there in October when the park was pretty empty, the July crowds were a bit of a shock to us. The ExpressPass line in Spiderman still took 15 minutes (posted wait 60); for Skull Island, 20 minutes (posted wait 90), for Dudley DoRight Ripsaw Falls, 25 minutes (posted wait 60). Some of the rides were still a walk on—including Jurassic River Adventure, Forbidden Journey. We didn’t even venture over to the new Hagrid ride. We stopped once we did Forbidden Journey and headed back out of the park the same way we came in, not completing the “loop.” Popped over to Antojitos for dinner, where we had all enjoyed the guac on our last trip. Guac and chips are great, the rest of the food is OK.
Back to hotel, where we were relaxing, cleaning up, and getting ready for bed at about 8 pm, when a strange gurgling noise came from the sink outside of the bathroom. The sink filled up with black smelly gunk. Called downstairs, they were mortified and had two engineers up right away. Turns out, some how, when they unclogged a sink from a neighboring room, the sludge came up our pipes. After the engineers fixed it, they sent up a housekeeper to clean the sink out. Everyone was courteous and apologetic, and I was impressed with their response time. The next day, I did call and ask for extended check-out (to 3 pm—four hours beyond their regular check out time) as a courtesy for the disruption to my kids’ bedtimes. They agreed! This turned out to be a huge benefit to us as it allowed us to have a home base while we toured USF the next day, before having to turn around and go to the airport.
SUNDAY JULY 14
We woke early to take advantage of Early Admission at USF to Diagon Alley. We already had our wands from our prior visit. We were not at the front of any RD crowd, so when we arrived, Gringotts (only 1 of 2 rides open during that early hour) was already listing a 40 min wait. So DH had the good idea to let the kids cast spells while everyone else waited for Gringotts. This was genius—no one else had purchased a wand yet, and with the crushing crowds we saw at IOA the prior day, I was sure that Diagon Alley would be quite filling up.
The kids got to do all of their favorite spells, and then DD8 and I went to rope drop Revenge of the Mummy, which we walked on right at 9 am (and with our express pass). DH and DS5 went to do Fast and Furious. Then we did Jimmy Fallon, Minions, and then trekked back to Gringotts, where the line had gone down considerably and we got on with Express Pass in about 5 minutes.
After Gringotts, our only priority was to get a Simpson’s Donut, which I did, alas, it was a bit stale. Then to Chocolate Emporium for lunch, then back to hotel, where I took the kids to the pool and DH packed up. The pool had lots of fun things going on – a DJ leading the kids in dances and water balloon tosses—it was great. We enjoyed an hour and then back to the room to change and head out.
Kids passed out in the car on the way to MCO. We arrived about 20 min early, so DH drove laps around the airport while the kids caught a few zzz’s.
It was a great trip. The kids still couldn’t believe that we had surprised them. They were into every moment—as were their parents.
A few take-aways:
- While Disney was not bad in the summer compared to other seasons, Universal was. I would not recommend going there in the summer UNLESS you have a light agenda, Express Pass, and plan on plenty of pool time.
- Again, Disney in summer is no hotter than anywhere else in the Southeast.
- Leading reservations are super helpful for short stays.
- Morning EMH at Magic Kingdom is not that great. I’m avoiding it from now on.
- We enjoyed the freedom of having a rental car. Never would have made it from MCO to Ohana within an hour of touching down if we had to take MDE. The express option at Alamo is can’t-miss. Will likely rent a car in the future. Was great not to be stuck with MDE or car service pick up times.