NYE at WDW....again...

So, for the third time in five years, my wife and I departed cold and overcast NJ for cool and overcast WDW for NYE; but it was a fantastic trip as always.

I’ll offer a brief summary, and some casual observations since most readers on this forum are pretty familiar with the house of the mouse, especially during the holiday season.

  • Arrived the evening of the 29th. Great flight from Philadelphia; took a $75 cab ride from MCO to the Dolphin; I am convinced that all of the cab drivers are crooks in Orlando and run up the meter whenever possible. I wish UBER picked up from MCO.
  • We have stayed at the Swan/Dolphin multiple times over the years and I am convinced that dollar for dollar, it is one of the best properties to stay at. That night we watched Illuminations from outside the International Gateway entrance gate and it was like we were practically in the park. Didn’t even have to burn an admission (we do 10-day, no exp. passes at a time; they last close to two years).
  • As most of you know, if you want to “do Disney”, the holiday season is NOT the time to visit. Early December is much better with lower crowds and prices (plus all of the Christmas crap is up). Since my wife and I visit WDW 2-3 times annually, our NYE trips are certaintly not for “doing” Disney; rather for cramming into Epcot on NYE with a bazillion other people for 15 minutes of fireworks...
  • On the 30th, we puttered around the resorts for most of the afternoon; sipping on some drinks and grabbed a late lunch at the Kona Café in the Poly. If you haven’t eaten there, put it on your list. The food is decent and it is a pretty easy ADR to get, even last minute. Real good craft beer menu. Headed to Epcot for the evening, ate at Seasons in the Land for dinner, one of the best counter service locations on property in my opinion. Concluded with Illuminations (same show as the rest of the year). As a bonus, after illuminations, we made our way to the Grand Floridian for the “night before” NYE fireworks at the MK. Viewed from the Grand Floridian beach. Not bad, a little weak in my opinion, but worth checking it out. The music was piped in; not much of a crowd, which was nice.
  • On to NYE. The weather was misty and cool at first. Cleared up by sundown, but still cool in the 60’s for most of the night. I wore shorts because when you are from the north, and you are in Florida, you wear shorts, period. Standard rule...
  • Got to Epcot around 3pm, had no issue getting in. Heard MK was at a Level III closure. Anyway, Epcot was mobbed (as expected), but the international gateway entrance and bag check were practically deserted.
  • After the 6pm “early fireworks”, Epcot seems to clear out quite a bit. In fact, even approaching midnight, the park didn’t seem as bottlenecked as in our past visits. Don’t get me wrong, the place was mobbed, but the crowds moved well and it never seemed out of hand. Perhaps they are getting better at moving the crowds.
  • Related to my previous comment, the bathroom situation and beer kiosk line(s) seemed to be more reasonable as compared to our past NYE visits. I got the feeling that they added more bathrooms and more drink kiosks to better manage the lines. Regardless, it wasn’t the disaster that I felt it was in our previous visits.
  • I am going to speak out of both sides of my mouth here. I have, and continue to be critical of the MyMagic+ system; whereas it is still my opinion you have to plan your Disney vacation months in advance. I don't like this at all. However, we had in hand (booked weeks earlier) a coveted Soarin FP, along with S. Earth and Nemo (yawn). So for once, the ability to book FP+ in advance totally works in your favor for days like NYE.
  • As for the evening, all of the “DJ dance” areas were cool as always, China, Italy, in front of the main fountain. We enjoyed time at each of these DJ locations and the visual effects at each one were really cool.
  • The midnight fireworks were awesome as always and well worth the trip.
  • The following day (New Years Day), we spent it at Blizzard Beach. Best move ever to avoid the crowds and get some soliance. There were probably less than 250 guests in the waterpark (it was 70F and overcast). We had old waterpark entitlements to burn so the day didn’t "cost" us anything. We didn’t even get wet; just sat in lounge chairs all day sipping on $10 drinks from the Polar Pub. Good times. Flight departed at 8pm that night.

In the end, another great NYE visit, especially being able to walk (stroll) back to the Dolphin and avoid the mass hysteria of the WDW transportation system. If you have not done NYE at Epcot, put it on your bucket list. Plan to get frustrated with the crowds, long bathroom lines and waits to get an $8 beer. But it is worth doing at least once.

Jeff's avatar

Agreed about Kona, it's one of my favorite restaurants. Although going to the Poly right now is depressing, because it's barely open.

I really don't like the Starwood hotels. They're in poor shape, they charge for parking, they lack any real style. Meh, I'm just not a fan.

You can usually get Soarin' day-of or the day before must one the year. I can't prove it, but I think they release reservations in waves, right up to the day, depending on the attraction.

I enjoyed the Magic Kingdom NYE fireworks both nights from my house. People who go this week are nuts. :)

Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog

slithernoggin's avatar

Kona is one of my favorites. The food is always great; on a couple of occasions when we've had persons with special dietary needs in the party and the chef is always right out to check in with them.

We usually hit Kona on the day we'll be at Magic Kingdom during the day. Hopping the monorail over to Poly for a tasty, relaxed lunch is a nice break from the crowds.

Life is something that happens when you can't get to sleep.
--Fran Lebowitz

Jeff's avatar

I read somewhere that they finally opened the lobby back up. It's going to be weird without the massive water feature in the middle.

Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog

I haven't seen any renderings of the remodel. Is that jungle/rock thing going away forever?

The new lobby is a HUGE disappointment, especially if you liked the old rock/waterfall structure. They basically ripped out the structure and replaced it with a huge open area with seating.

Perhaps it was a cost savings move (cost to maintain the waterfall), because I thought the old structure gave the lobby some awesome atmosphere.

If you liked the old lobby, you will certainly be disappointed with the new concept. If you walked in for the first time now, you probably wouldn't notice anything unusual, or out of feel, if that makes any sense.

Last edited by Hanging n' Banging,
Jeff's avatar

The Disney Food Blog has some nice photos of the reopened lobby at the Poly. I'm not sure it's disappointment that I feel. I will concede that the lobby was always over-crowded, and the old configuration was dark and poorly lit.

I'm mostly annoyed that they've become dicks about letting you park there when you just want to get some Dolewhip.

Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog

Jeff's avatar

Here's the old lobby (Orlando Sentinel).

Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog

Thanks for the link, Jeff.

I don't know that I'm exactly disappointed in the new lobby. We spent some time there in February last year and it was quite clear how old and tired the place had become. And not only the lobby, but the restaurant areas seemed old, seating was bad, and it was tough to get a drink at the bar. Construction was underway by then, but a lot of it was exterior. The interior was neglected-we found dirty, peeling wallpaper in some of the public areas, and that was probably due to the fact that it was all on the way out anyway.
Tiki design in general walks a fine line between cool and relaxing and just plain tacky. (And I should know, Columbus was home to the greatest Tiki restaurant of all time, Kahiki Polynesian Supper Club.) And just like that place, time has passed the trend that included fake rock work, jungle vegetation, fire everywhere, and stuff that looks so fakey and out of place.
At least this new lobby looks open, bright, airy, and not so dark and mysterious. They're obviously moving away from that 50's/60's tiki that we would consider retro now. Which is (I would guess) what guests would likely prefer these days, particularly with the resort's apparent swing toward DVC and all that.

Truth told, Polynesian is probably glancing to the other side of the earth, wishing it could grow up to be Aulani.

Jeff's avatar

It definitely showed its age in places, but I thought it was still in pretty good condition, all things considered. They reopened the counter service location, which looks the same but feels new, and of course Pineapple Oasis is all Dolewhip, all the time now. I thought the main pool was already in good shape, but I look forward to seeing it when they're done.

Bar service definitely needs an upgrade. I've hit the bar many times in non-peak times, and as much as those guys work their asses off, it's always a little slow to get a drink. It's inadequate for a hotel that size, definitely.

Oh, one thing that does kind of suck is that the big hill that projected out into the lake was awesome for watching fireworks, and now it's gone because of the new bungalows. That's a bummer.

Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog

I never thought about that, but yes it would be. I knew people that would make a practice of leaving Magic Kingdom to monorail over to Polynesian for the fireworks.

And the bartenders do work their asses off, I remember trying to gauge what's their hourly in tips must be. There was one guy in particular, looked like a long timer, who was a real star -particularly good.
We had California Grill that night and thought we'd monorail hop around for drinks at each place ahead of time. But it was so crowded at Polynesian- he had em lined up six deep at the service bar. There was nowhere to sit and we wound up leaning against a wall somewhere to have our drinks. We met a nice couple who were stuck doing the same thing and had a couple of crabby laughs with them. So after just one we went over to Contemporary and waited.

I'm looking forward to a future visit to check out the new. I've never had much desire to stay there, though. That trip we stayed at Grand Floridian and I'm afraid I'm ruined forever for Disney hotels...

Jrrullo's avatar

I was at MK on 12/27.

Just like you mentioned, it was at a level 3 closure.

Well, when I was at the park, in Fantasyland, I was strolling along the path with its a small world and Peter Pan's Flight that leads you into Liberty Square, until suddenly everyone stops. Apparently, the path was too narrow to hold everyone moving. Therefore, everyone was really fed up. So in this case people were walking like sardines. So whatever you do, around the holidays after the Wishes Fireworks show, DON'T go anywhere near Fantasyland near small world. Or should I say Sardineland.

When life gives you oranges, don't expect lemonade.

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