Walt Disney World; 3/01 - 3-06, 2015

Saturday, March 7, 2015 7:45 PM

They say that brevity is the soul of wit. To that end;

We recently returned from our first trip to Disney World as a family (we also left as a family). There are four of us; my wife and I and two girls, Kylah (age 7) and Hayden (age 3). While my wife and I had been to Disney World previously (back when You Can’t Touch This was topping the charts) it was our girls’ first trip ever. A play-by-play of a trip this long would be a novel, so I would like to share some observations and perspectives from our adventure. Overall it was highly positive memorable experience for all of us, and like they suggest to you on the way out of the door, I am already mentally planning our next trip for next Spring. We stayed at the Art of Animation resort in a Lion King Family Suite, had the Disney Dining Plan (1 table service, 1 quick-service, and 1 snack per day), and planned to spend a whole day at each of the 4 parks; Monday was Epcot, Tuesday was Hollywood Studios, Wednesday was Magic Kingdom, and Thursday was Animal Kingdom.

1) Magical Express

This was a mixed bag, mostly positive. The bus service from the airport and back was wonderful. Huge buses complete with restrooms, and your luggage is taken to your room for you from the airport. They were easy to locate at Orlando International, and the great Disney customer-service truly did start here. It really did feel like an extension of the park. The bad? Our plane touched down at 3:30 PM, and your luggage is supposed to arrive 3-5 hours later in your room. It was after 10:00 PM, and our luggage was still nowhere to be found. I’ll just chalk this up as an anomaly, and no way was I going to let something like this bring my “just got to Disney high” down a notch. Our luggage was found and in our rooms at 10:30, looking forward to our first day in the parks. Incidentally, our luggage was found by me, in the luggage store-house of the resort. A little detective work goes a long way.

2) Art of Animation/Lion King Family Suite

This was a perfect choice for us. The Lion King wing has family suites that have a separate bedroom for us along with a separate bathroom (connected to the master bedroom); having two full baths was a necessity. The place was immaculate, quiet, (the Lion King suite is far enough away from the “Big Blue Pool”), and the staff was always energetic and over-the-top polite. Landscape of Flavors was wonderful. Four bays of entrée choices, each with 5-7 options ranging from your basic burger, to Italian, to Indian cuisine. We used it for breakfast and late-night food grabs each day, and we were always satisfied. The bus service to and from the parks was extremely easy to use. Buses were constantly coming and going, and we never felt stranded, lost, or like we were losing precious time. Don’t let this resort’s “economy” level keep you away.

3) Magic Bands

I want one of these in my everyday life. There is nothing bad to say here. The kids loved using them, I loved using them, and it made everything easy. Magic bands for everyone.

4) Memory Maker

If you don’t know what this is, you pay $169 to let Disney take pictures for you. They are instantly uploaded to your Disney account and you can download them and play with them as much as you want for 45 days. I was a little apprehensive about purchasing this, but it was completely worth it. The Disney photopass folks are at all the prime picture locals, at the character meet and greets for the kiddos, and you also get pics of you and your family on the rides all instantly uploaded to your account. They also add little touches to some pictures; for example, Olaf is magically added into a picture of our girls at Epcot. And to top it off, we actually have an on-ride video of our family on the Seven Dwarves mine train together…all included. The photographers were all wonderful, and they take 5-6 shots of each picture, not just one quick one to get it over with.

I don’t think we’ll ever go to Disney without this. Like the Magic Band, this makes your trip easier if you want to walk away with pictures of you and your kids; and everyone can actually be in the shots (and you don’t have to worry about taking a million pictures). We walked away with well over 300 high-quality pictures of ourselves taken by Disney, and they also tossed in the video, on-ride photos, and a pile of high-quality stock photos (like shots of the Epcot ball, the castle, characters, etc.). Well worth it. Memories made.

On a side note, the on-ride video of Seven Dwarves is a bit eerie. We had a fastpass, but never scanned our bands after getting off or just before getting on, and yet there we are on the video, happily twisting and turning amongst the little people. How did they know we were on that train?

Pixie dust.

5) Crowds

Like most male humans I know, I am not a planner. That said, I made an exception this time and decided to see if there was such a thing as best times to go to Disney, and perhaps even best days to go to which parks. The wife in me paid off, and I learned that you simply never go to Magic Kingdom on a Monday, you simply must get to Magic Kingdom when it opens to get the most out of Fanstasy Land, and that while Monday is bad for MK, it’s great for Epcot.

Well you can see the order we visited above, and it paid off. We enjoyed near walk-ons for nearly every attraction each day, and there was not a single ride or experience that we did not get to do. In fact, at Magic Kingdom on Wednesday we even found ourselves with “time to kill” while waiting for some reservations. The girls met Elsa and Anna (and 7 other princesses) and mommy and daddy got all their coaster fixes on every major coaster at the 4 parks (more than once). Even Star Tours at Hollywood Studios was a walk on. All day. The force was indeed with us.

On Wednesday, we had done everything we planned in Fantasyland by 11:30 AM, meaning Dumbo, Barnstormer, Enchanted Tales with Belle, Seven Dwarves, Mermaid, the Carousel, Peter Pan, and Small World. Lovely.
Of course this also involved some strategic fastpass placements on my part 180 days out, and yet most of them were meaningless given the lines. The only exceptions were Soarin’ (which had a “crazy” 30 minute standby), Toy Story (which had an hour standby wait until the afternoon when it fell to 15 minutes), and of course Elsa and Anna (speaks for itself) and the enigma that is Peter Pan’s flight. Seriously, what is it with this ride? I get the nostalgia, but this line literally got up to over an hour! Scanning a magic band never felt so good.

It was like being at Cedar Point in May on a weekday, only with much better theming and better food.

6) Enchanted Tales with Belle

I’m only mentioning this as those of you without little daughters may not have ever experienced this attraction. It has, in my opinion, some of the greatest magic Disney has ever created. The Wardrobe and Lumiere are simply mind-boggling, and there is a magic mirror that kicks off the whole event that is stunning. Of course, if you don’t have any kids you may want to borrow some if you do go in, as you might appear as a bit of a creeper without one, but trust me, it will be worth the risk.

Oh, and Kylah (the 7 year old) got picked to play “Beast”, and her little mind was blown as she found herself dancing with Belle at 9:15 in the morning on a Wednesday.

Cheers.

Last edited by OhioStater, Saturday, March 7, 2015 8:02 PM
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Saturday, March 7, 2015 8:22 PM

Awesome. I've had similar Disney weeks and there's nothing better.

I also wished for a real-life Magic Band when I got home, even if all it did was let me in the house when I had an armload of groceries.

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Saturday, March 7, 2015 8:57 PM

It was still attached to me on the way home, and at the Starbucks near our gate waiting for the flight I ordered a coffee and reached out my wrist...only to be saddened that I had to reach into my pocket and whip out a card.

A great little bonus not in the above; both Mermaid and Thunder Mountain were slated to be closed for refurbishment until the 6th. They were both up and running on the 4th. Thanks to Disney, my 3 year old now has quite an impressive coaster resume. She certainly was brave.

Last edited by OhioStater, Saturday, March 7, 2015 10:18 PM
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Sunday, March 8, 2015 12:57 AM

Looks like you found that just a few basic planning points pay off in a big way.

The on-ride stuff I think has RF sensors in close proximity to the ride so they can match up your photos with your Magicbands. I was checking to see if some midway photos were in our account (if you're part of a larger party and share your photos, they can grab yours for free with the package you got), and to our surprise we found a Splash Mountain photo in there. Totally weird, indeed.

I really like Art of Animation. Met a friend from college and her family there, and was totally impressed with their food court. I just expected more of what they have across the lake at Pop Century, but it was delicious. A little suspicious of their insane RF tag cups at the soda fountains, however.

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Sunday, March 8, 2015 2:05 AM

Landscape of Flavors is one of the better food courts on property. I don't think there is anywhere else really where you can get Indian food from a quick-service location at any of the resorts. The diversity of offerings is fairly impressive when one assumes that the Value Resort crowd would be more interested in burgers and pizza. It's cool to see that Disney feels there is a demand for more variety.

Last edited by TimChat2, Sunday, March 8, 2015 2:06 AM
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Sunday, March 8, 2015 11:33 AM

Do they consider it a "value" resort? As I recall the pricing is about double, but you get about twice as much space. I'm not sure it would appeal to the same crowd as All-Star or Pop Century.

And I'm not sure you can get Indian food anywhere else on property, can you? I don't even recall a stand during Food & Wine. (Sidebar: I had a conversation with a waitress at Rose & Crown about where the good Indian places around Orlando are. They aren't particularly close!)

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Sunday, March 8, 2015 11:58 AM

It is considered a value resort, but I never understood why. The level of detail (and corresponding level of cost) are way above that of the other value resorts.

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Sunday, March 8, 2015 12:20 PM

OhioStater said:

Seriously, what is it with this ride? I get the nostalgia, but this line literally got up to over an hour! Scanning a magic band never felt so good.

I was thinking the same thing last week. At around 11:30 a.m. the standby wait was up to 110 minutes. I expected to see that during Christmas week, not during the last week of February.

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Sunday, March 8, 2015 12:29 PM

OhioStater said:

3) Magic Bands

I want one of these in my everyday life. There is nothing bad to say here. The kids loved using them, I loved using them, and it made everything easy. Magic bands for everyone.

Such a far cry from the opinions being throw about when they first rolled them out.

As usual, Disney knows what they're doing. There's a long-term vision and subsequent fine tuning process that makes them...well, Disney.

I can't believe anyone has the audacity to question anything they do at this point. If it doesn't make sense or seem to work well now, give them a minute - it will. Their track record of moving the vacation/theme park experience forward is impeccable.

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Sunday, March 8, 2015 12:44 PM

It was also quite good Indian food. There was a tandoori chicken option that was perfect, and a veggie-based wrap served with naan for breakfast that was unique and delicious. Over the course of 5 days, we never got bored with the choices. As far as burgers go, they had a chicken burger and crab-cake burger (served with shrimp on top) that were both great. I could go on...

The price was a little more than other "value" resorts, and we weren't even necessarily trying to go on the cheap, but to be honest, the family suite here was quite large and it was one of those cases where the pictures online actually don't do it justice, and the suggestions that Landscape of Flavors was wonderful obviously turned out to be true.

We're willing to explore another location for our next trip this upcoming year, but there's a good chance we'll land here again.

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Sunday, March 8, 2015 1:44 PM

I've debated if it was worth it many times. I really want to pull the trigger on it for our next trip.

The separate bedroom thing is a huge plus.

Great TR.

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Sunday, March 8, 2015 3:49 PM

As a grown-up, I really love Beach/Yacht Club, but the lack of inexpensive food there with non-ridiculous hours is unfortunate. As non-premium as Pop Century was, I loved that I could get some junk food there. There is seriously nothing to get late at the Epcot resorts, except for a super crappy 24-hour place inside the Dolphin (which is impossible to find).

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Sunday, March 8, 2015 5:41 PM

I was pleasantly surprised by the 24 hr place at Grand Floridian. I'm not sure why I thought there wouldn't be much, except it's high-end there and I imagined demand for such a service wouldn't be as much as the places teeming with hundreds of families. Granted the place was small, certainly smaller than the enormous food court we found at Port Orleans, but it was adequate for breakfast which was definitely their busiest time.
Late night I could go down with my sippy cup, get a drink and maybe a good sandwich, a salad, or the pizza/pasta which was actually pretty good. Sometimes I still needed to cash in my snack, so fruit, soft serve, Mickey bars, or yogurt was available there too. It was at the end of the veranda on the pool side of the main building so it was easy to find and to get to from anywhere in the resort.

I think it's a great service, especially the sippy cup. Resorts there can be remote and it seems like they've done their best to keep guests from feeling stranded, no matter what time of day. I'm surprised to hear the EPCOT area resorts are lacking this great amenity.

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Sunday, March 8, 2015 6:35 PM

Terrific TR, Kevin. It sounds like you gave your daughters a virtually perfect Disney experience. I bet the whole family will be shouting for more, very soon.

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Sunday, March 8, 2015 7:47 PM

That was our only goal, Mike. :)

I may be shouting the loudest in the house, but everyone can't wait to get back.

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Thursday, March 26, 2015 10:04 PM

We just got back from 4 days at DL and I felt like we just barely squeezed in the two parks. Granted, we had to schedule nap time each day and we were toting the grand parents, but I still felt like there was *so* much to do that there was no feasible way we could get in a park a day. As we were leaving, we said to ourselves, "If we ever do Orlando, w're going to need two weeks." Our only major waits were for the non-fast pass rides which we hit early in the morning (Nemo's submarines and Toy Story Midway Mania). How'd you manage to do an entire park in one day, even with walk-on conditions?

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