Orlando Part I: Arrival and Disney Day 1 (12/10/06)

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Sunday, December 17, 2006 9:25 PM
We arrived in Orlando Saturday morning, where my mom picked us up. My mom and step-dad, aunt and uncle and grandparents all moved to The Villages, a retirement community north of Orlando. Sounds like a place to go and die, but honestly it's a pretty amazing place to live the last couple decades of your life. Lots to do.

I took my parents and Catherine to Medieval Times. The first time I went, years ago, Stephanie practically had to drag me there, but I had such a good time that I've enjoyed going back every chance I can. The show is the same it has been the last few years, and as usual my knight lost. But my slave topped off my beer many times, so it's all good.

After the show, my uncle dropped us off at the Pop Century Resort at Disney. They managed to hose my reservation and gave us a room with a pair of small double beds instead of the king I asked for. I was not pleased. The front desk was non-helpful, but the reservations guy I talked to figured it out for the next night. They explained that they ran out of rooms, and could not explain why there was any point in having a reservation in the first place.

A few words about Pop Century. First of all, it was packed. Disney considers this the "value season" with the cheapest pricing, but I can't believe how many people were there. I wonder why they haven't continued building out the other half of the century. They built the central hall, and a few of the room buildings, all unpainted. It's also the hotel furthest from Magic Kingdom, by a lot.

Pop Century begins the cattle wrangling in their cafeteria. The breakfast food was OK, but expensive for what it was. That's a recurring theme at Disney.

We started the first day at Animal Kingdom. Stephanie and I went the year after it opened, and honestly it was cool, but not more than a five-hour park. They've since added Expedition Everest and the Finding Nemo musical, and now you can make an eight-hour day of it.

The Nemo musical is amazing. The music was very well done, the sets top notch and the costumes and puppets (which kind of blend into one) were outstanding. The show is about 45 minutes, and the actors are not some second string Broadway rejects. Cath was theorizing that they might be testing the whole concept for Broadway, in which case I'd say they could easily pull it off.

Expedition Everest is a pretty cool ride. Disney does not screw around with capacity either. The ride is well paced and a lot of fun. It's not hour wait fun, but a worthy addition to the park. My only complaint is that you don't get a very long look at the Yeti.

With a 5pm closing, we went back to our room for a little break. Our stuff was moved to the new room, and with some new keys we were in. This one was on the ground floor in front of the pool in the 50's quad.

Let's talk some more about the buses. The reason I wanted to say on-property was the convenience of not having a car and being able to jet around the empire. The truth is, though, that the buses are slow, arrive infrequently and get packed with stinky people with kids who don't know how to behave in public. Hell, half the parents don't know how to act in public. In a nutshell, we had more than our fill of those stupid buses.

So next we dropped in on Disney-MGM Studios. My only real goal was to hit Rockin' Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror, but the park was really more beautiful than I remembered it. They had their giant holiday lighting display too. We ate at this place where the tables were cars in a drive-in (think Jack Rabbit Slim's). Food was OK. The coaster was down, but we rode Tower and it has a particularly good program on that run. Cath hates drop rides.

Magic Kingdom was open for its extended hours, until 11, so we park hopped again. The bus dropped us off at the transportation center. Remember that, it's an important detail.

The park was ridiculously crowded, and the fireworks ended as we arrived. It was like swimming upstream. Fortunately we got wristbands outside of the park. We did the Haunted Mansion and Splash Mountain, and that was enough. I loved Splash Mountain, and had never been on it before.

We got back on the monorail to the transportation center, to find that the buses back to the hotels didn't load there. It seemed logical to me that they would be there, but they were actually just down the hill from the main Magic Kingdom entrance. I didn't notice any signage to that effect either. That was annoying. Back on the monorail, and about 90 minutes after we left the park, we got back with other sweaty and smelly people.

That was a long ass day. I ended it by reaching into my suitcase and slicing off the top of my right ring finger on a new razor. Think paper cut times a thousand. It bled like a dripping faucet. As if I wasn't exhausted enough.

All in all, the first day at Disney really surprised me because it was so freakin' busy. It didn't keep us from having a good time or anything, as we used Fastpasses and took it easy. One thing was for certain though, that if things were like this in the supposed off-season, no way would I want to come here in July or August!

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Sunday, December 17, 2006 10:38 PM
My wife and I went in late August/early September and unfortunately stayed at one of the value resorts like you did. Having stayed at one of the moderate resorts before, we could not help feeling like we were just a number at the value resort.

The buses, in my humble opinion, were the worst part of the vacation. I think we stood more than we sat. We were never on a bus where people were not standing. It always seemed that the value resorts had to wait longer for busses than the other higher priced resorts. Basically, the entire vacation I felt the old addage, "you get what you pay for" and that it was being rubbed in my face every chance they could.

MGM truly has some nice gems of attractions if you take time to look through the park. Many of their attractions, however, are quite dated, namely Star Tours, Muppets 3D, and Indy. The highlights I found are the Animation Studio, where you can take a quick half hour class in drawing a Disney character, the Great Movie Ride (although, after two viewings, you are pretty much done), and the stunt show with the cars (name slips my mind). Tower of Terror is one of the few attractions in all of Disney World that is better than it's California counterpart.

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Sunday, December 17, 2006 11:00 PM
It's interesting to hear those comments about the buses because my dad was saying today that he wished we were staying on Disney property next week because of the buses (he thinks it's easier than having to drive and you are closer to the parks then staying off property). We have stayed at the All Star in the past and I didn't like the buses either. They were crowded as mentioned and it seemed like they were a hassle. I'm kind of glad we are staying off property this trip (we are driving so we will have our car with us). It's a lot less money and you don't have to deal with those buses. *** Edited 12/18/2006 4:01:14 AM UTC by YoshiFan***
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Sunday, December 17, 2006 11:11 PM
In my experience its definately best to get a rental car. You can get a pass when you stay on site that allows you to have free parking at all the parks. Definately worth it.
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Monday, December 18, 2006 12:17 AM
I really wonder about the bus situation in relation to the resort at which you are staying. We stayed at the animal kingdom resort 3 years ago in mid september and the buses were fantastic. We were usually the only people on our bus and never had any trouble finding the buses headed to our resort. They seemed to arrive every 15 minutes at the stop closest to us within our resort. We even used the system to travel to other resorts to take advantage of the amazing restaurants throughout the kingdom. It seems a shame to me if Disney is providing different bus service to each resort based on the cost of the rooms.
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Monday, December 18, 2006 2:55 AM
Yeah Jeff,

I was amazed at how crowded Magic Kingdom was for it's extra hours that night. In the week we were there, it was the worst.

The key to the buses we found is timing. Either hit them early in the morning before the crumb crunchers are ready to go, or relax, grab a breakfast and hit it a little later. I think in all the park hopping we did we had to stand once.

After hearing a ton of friends warn me about Pop and All-Star we opted for Caribbean Beach (and will go back next time). It is kind of a "get what you pay for" but at like only $20 a night more during "value" season, it's a no brainer.

Also.. the one hour rule for Everest is a pretty honest statement. Not being a fan of Vekoma's, it was worth the 30 mins we waited. That is some amazing work on those switch tracks.

Sci-Fi wasn't bad when we went on Thursday. It all depends on where you sit. Sad when you own most of the movies that they show the trailers for.


*** Edited 12/19/2006 11:24:12 AM UTC by Red Garter Rob***

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Monday, December 18, 2006 8:23 AM
We went in October this year, and found the place practically deserted - stayed off site, deliberately to save money with the handy side-effect of not needing the disney buses!!!

With Everest, we booked an 8am character breakfast at Donald's Breakfastosaurus in Dinoland at AK - that way we were already well in the park, and the CM's walk you up behind a rope, straight up the fastpass route, bypassing the already-long standby queue, straight on :) Very nice, and a perk i'd heard about in advance, hence the breakfast ressie.

Didn't get the chance to do Nemo as it wasn't open at the time!

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Monday, December 18, 2006 10:02 AM
There's no doubt that the bus service works in favor of the nicer hotels. Pop Century and All-Star stops are the furthest away at each depot, and clearly the ratio of guests to buses is very poor. Indeed, you do get what you pay for.
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Monday, December 18, 2006 10:07 AM
Is there really a problem with that? Comon' if you choose to pay for a higher class service, then you should expect higher class service. If you choose to take the budget route then you get less. Kind of like Coasterbuzz. If you choose to pay for the service you get extra features. If you choose not to pay, then you get ad after ad shoved in your face. It seems that Disney provides better bus service to the people that are paying for the more expensive rooms.
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Monday, December 18, 2006 11:46 AM
The last time my wife and I went down, we stayed off-property, and it couldn't have worked out better.

We actually drove down... I have friends in Charlotte that I don't get to see enough of. That's half-way between here and Orlando, so we stay with them a night or two on the way down and back. Splits it in to two 8 or 9 hour driving days, not too bad especially when you have a car you like.

Anywho, we went in late February and I got some "hot rate" or whatever they call it from Expedia. We stayed at a hotel about 2 or 3 miles from Universal. Best Western, I think. $29 a night. Wasn't 4-star, but it wasn't a dump, either. Clean, nice bar, a lot of decent restaurants and stuff in walking distance.

The best thing was, though, for the $29/night, it included bus service to all of the parks. Disney parks, Universal parks, and Sea World. The only time I used my car the whole week was to go to Busch Tampa.

Honestly, I like it better not feeling "trapped" by Disney. I'd probably feel differently about staying at Universal, though.

I'm not sure where I'm going with this post now that I think of it. I guess just saying that you can stay off property and still get some nice perks if you search it out enough.

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Monday, December 18, 2006 12:30 PM

coasterguts said:
Is there really a problem with that?
I don't have a problem with it, but I do feel like they misrepresent it a bit. I'd rather they come out and say, "The bus frequency is less when you're staying at the cheap places." At least then I'd know in advance and might be compelled to just stay at the nicer place.

It just doesn't match the convenience of staying on-property at Universal, which is a forthcoming TR...

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Monday, December 18, 2006 2:22 PM
I've finally thrown in the towel on Disney onsite lodging for us. The one significant advantage it has is that you never have to leave the Disney cocoon, and that's cool, but for me I've decided it's just no longer worth the price

The free transportation to almost anywhere except between resorts and MK is a pain, unless you are staying within walking or monorail distance of something, and those resorts are $350+/night during our week.

(FWIW, I've always been under the impression that the bus frequency was the same regardless of resort, but the Values are bigger, and their occupants are less likely to want to shell out a couple hundred bucks for a rental car, so their busses fill much faster. I could be wrong, though, 'cause I've never stopwatched 'em.)

The Extra hours would be fun, if they weren't heavily advertised to the 28,000 hotel rooms that Disney owns. If those rooms are anywhere close to full, you are MUCH better off visiting some other park that day, and you'll get more done in less time.

The rest of it is just fluff. Charging back to my room? Who cares? It all goes on the same credit card anyway. I can pay a few bucks and have them ship purchases all the way home, rather than back to my hotel. The dining plan is more of an upsell than it is a discount, though I will admit that the cost of the upsell is pretty reasonable.

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Monday, December 18, 2006 3:40 PM
We went in September, and all I have to say is this:

CAA/AAA Diamond Parking!

We bought our 5-day tickets here in Toronto at CAA before we left, and they included diamond parking passes. At each park they let us park in the Diamond Lot (which turned out to be the handicap lot) and the walk to the parks was always short.

We would see the busses go by packed to the doors, and said "Glad that's not us".

We flew from Toronto, stayed 7 nights on International Dr and got a car rental in a package for $345 each CDN. With tax and insurance for two it was less than $1000. CAA prices were a steal for the 5 day. If you're going down to Florida from Canada, I would highly reccomend this approach.

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Monday, December 18, 2006 4:22 PM
hmmm....this is a concern. I was told that the beginning of December was "one of the best times to go" and despite the fact that it was value season, the lines this time of the year were the shortest of any time the entire year.

I am going to stay at the Coronado Springs beginning on January 7th for a week, let's hope it's not a miserable experience. I can remember the bus stations for this hotel were significantly closer to the main entrances than those for the value resorts.

There should have been an announcement that the bus station for the Magic Kingdom was not the TTC; trying to get out of the Magic Kingdom at closing is like the long days' journey into night.

You really do get what you pay for; the value resorts are really that bad, however. I stayed "off property" two years ago at the Best Western in Lake Buena Vista - the resort is still serviced by Disney transportation and just one SMALL STEP below the value resorts. I can remember the buses coming infrequently; they make a MILLION stops on the way to the park, and the buses were CROWDED, often w/standing room only. When they picked us up at EPCOT at the end of the day, the line for the bus was ALL THE WAY at the end of the bus terminal, and the wait was an eternity. There were many more people standing in line for the bus than the bus could easily accomodate; also, it was raining and the terminal was not covered.

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Tuesday, December 19, 2006 2:26 PM
There seems to be a common theme of Disney charging too much for some of its services. Of course, it's DISNEY, and they're in the business of making money. However, we stayed at the Contemporary Hotel about a year ago because of its monorail access and close proximity to the Magic Kingdom. We got this nice corner room in the 'gardens area' (which I actually think are nicer because you're right on the water) that had a lot of room. But to our dismay, the room was literally falling apart – the faucets were dying, the curtains were old, and what was self titled as contemporary really wasn't so contemporary anymore. Bottom line, we paid A LOT of money for that room and for the price we were paying, we expected a really nice room.

In fact, I've heard similar stories from family members. At the Polynesian resort, members of my extended family complained that the rooms were falling apart, and for the many bucks they were paying, they expected a lot more. Furthermore, they saw that the rooms that were across the hall (which they had originally been booked for) looked onto the parking lot! 400 dollars for a parking lot view... that doesn't really seem worth it.

We had similar experiences on the buses. Poorly behaved parents and whining kids, screaming and crying about how they didn't get that 8 dollar lollipop they just had to have. It seems to me that if you really want to have the convenience of staying on site, then it really makes sense to stay at the Epcot Resorts (Boardwalk, Yacht/Beach Club, Swan/Dolphin) if you're planning to go to the parks for all your days, because then you can just walk to Epcot, take the BOATS to MGM, or walk THROUGH Epcot to get to the monorail to get to Magic Kingdom. Otherwise, staying ON the monorail track or CLOSE to the monorail track (the Wilderness Lodge, which is very close to the monorail track and costs a lot less than the other Magic Kingdom hotels).

Ultimately, if you really want to stay on sight and take advantage of the best of the Disney transportation, I recommend staying at the Wilderness Lodge because it's less expensive than the other Magic Kingdom resorts, but is very very close to the Contemporary Hotel, so access to the monorail is pretty easy.

We used to go to Disney all the time, but as I got older, I began to recognize the amount of money we were paying and the benefits we were receiving - although the benefits are really not quantifiable, the numbers didn't really line up, so we've halted our many disney excursions and looked elsewhere for vacations.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006 9:19 AM
Polynesian does have a reputation for being a dump, but I thought they just upgraded all of the rooms at Contemporary? I think if I were going to stay at a monorail resort, I'd do the Grand Floridian. Unless of course, it's a dump too. :)
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Wednesday, December 20, 2006 10:49 AM
Contemporary South and Tower were redone recently---I think within the last year. Contemporary North is rumored to be bulldozed for a DVC tower.

Poly is currently under rolling refurbishment, but I don't think they are done yet.
*** Edited 12/20/2006 3:49:59 PM UTC by Brian Noble***

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Sunday, December 24, 2006 7:41 AM
All very interesting. I get "Disneyed-out" very quickly so always stay at Universal Royal Pacific when I visit Orlando. If you pick a quiet time you can have the place more or less to yourself and it's better than almost all the Disney hotels I've visited (FL/LA/Paris/Tokyo). The Universal guest perks are also better too IMHO.

Nothing will EVER convince me that Orlando without a car is practical or sensible :)

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Sunday, December 24, 2006 10:00 AM
Just got back on Friday and the crowds were considerably less that what other experienced earlier in the month. We also stayed at Pop Century and had no problem with the busses. At each park's close, there would be 2 busses at a time pull up to the Pop stop, load all the people and head out, with 2 more closely behind. The longest we waited for a bus the whole time was maybe 20 minutes. When you add in the fact that every other resort has multiple bus stops on site, I think the time pretty much evens out.

There is actually signage that points you to either the monorail for parking or to the bus area for resort busses. It's all just before you get to the ferry boat landing. We never had a problem getting from one place to another, as it seemed that everything was well marked.

We also requested a king and didn't get one. But, I chose to not get too upset over it since I had done a little research and found out that there are about 10 king rooms at Pop. In addition my reservation clearly said that not all requests could be honored. Since we spent maybe 6 hours a day in the room, it really didn't matter to me.

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Sunday, December 24, 2006 1:50 PM

Jeff said:
I think if I were going to stay at a monorail resort, I'd do the Grand Floridian. Unless of course, it's a dump too.

I did the honeymoon there...it's very nice....best monorail resort. But....the real place to stay is the Animal Kingdom Lodge. Best hotel in Orlando, IMO.

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