Well, another trip in the books, lets take a look and see how it went.
This year's cast of characters included my wife and daughter (19mo), my parents, my sister-in-law and her daughter (4). Helen and Molly had joined us for a previous trip (read about it here), but this was the first trip to Disney for my parents since we made 2 day trips to Magic Kingdom and the then EPCOT Center in 1985. The other 2 parks weren't around back then.
We were scheduled for a week at Kindani village. We had hoped for a spot at the Boardwalk, but there were no 2 bedroom suites available the week we were looking for.
Since we are DVC, staying on points, we have always paid for our trips in pieces. You know, plane tickets.. dining plan.. park tickets.. etc.. This year, the park tickets were the last big piece we paid for. That made it difficult to get fast passes for the some of the more popular attractions. We were unable to get fast passes for the new 7 Dwarfs Mine Train, or for Toy Story. There were several meet and greets that were full as well.
The best priced flights were out of BUF, so we drove the hour down the thruway (I-90). We had an early (ish) morning flight, so we booked a night at the Marriott across the street and made arrangements to park our cars there for the week. Once we were checked in, we headed over to Charlie the Butchers for some great beef on weck.
In the morning we took the hotel shuttle to the airport and boarded the plane. It was the first time that Evelyn had been on a plane, and despite having being up at 5am, she was awake and active for the entire 2 hour flight, right up until the instant we touched down in Orlando, when she went out like a light. We arrived at MCO shortly before noon on Saturday the 14th, and we headed down to the first floor of the airport where the Disney Magic Express buses whisk you away to your resort. When we stepped off the elevator, we were a bit surprised to see how busy it was. One of the reasons we had picked this week was that traditionally, it was a relatively light crowd week at Disney.
But despite being fuller than I have ever seen it, our line moved fairly well, and in about 20 minutes, we were on a bus and on our way to the hotel. When we got there, we checked in and got our room assignment. I had gotten the texts that let us know the room was ready, but that we would need to check in at the front desk to get our room assignment. We head to the elevators and make the trek to the room. We had requested a room on the Sunset Savannah, near the lobby. We got one of those. Although, by the way the crow flies, it wasn't that far from the lobby, but you can't walk across the savannah to get there. The hotel is built like a large looping 'w', with the lobby being the center point. We called down to see if there was a different room closer to the lobby, but the hotel was booked solid. There would be an opening the next night, so we agreed to move the next day and we headed over to Hollywood Studios. With all the recent closings there and the group not being big on thrill rides, there isn't a lot to draw us there, but we did want to catch the Osborne lights. We hadn't been there for Christmas, and this was going to be the last year of them. My dad also wanted to see the Lights Motors Action show.
This was our first visit to Hollywood Studios since the Hat came down. I didn't have the hatred towards the hat that may people did, but that is probably because I had only been there when it was there. I can't say I liked it, but I can't say I didn't either. It just sort of was. I did like the background it made for photos as you enter the park, but the Chinese Theater does a nice job on its own. We didn't have a meal planned for the first day, so we hit up the Back Lot Express for dinner.
The Osborne lights were amazing. They completely covered the Streets of America in Christmas lights. The lights danced with the music and it even was snowing. It was quite crowded, but not so bad that you couldn't move through the crowd as you needed. It is too bad that they are going away after this year, but I am looking forward to what they will be doing with the new Star Wars world that will be going in its place. I'm sure they will be doing a light display somewhere else on property. Probably not to the scale of Osborne, but I'm sure there will be something. We had fast passes for Fantasmic! but it had been a long day, so we decided to forgo it and went back to the resort.
Sunday morning, we packed up our stuff, and left it together near the door for bell services to pick up and take to our new room. We had reservations for the new breakfast at the Garden Grill at Epcot, so we hopped the bus and headed to the park. This was one of the places we wanted for dinner, but were unable to secure reservations. When they announced a couple of months ago that they were adding breakfast, I jumped on it, and was able to secure a reservation. One of the criteria I was trying to keep to when picking where would eat was to try to stick with the all you can eat places, since we were traveling with an infant (by Disney standards, anyone under 3 is an infant), and would be able to eat off our plates at no extra charge. The fact that Farmer Mickey, Pluto, Chip and Dale were there were a bonus. The food was great, and we ate ourselves silly on cinnamon rolls, scrambled eggs, ham, bacon, tater tots, Mickey waffles, biscuits and gravy and fruit, all washed down with that famous POG juice.
By mid afternoon, our new room had been secured, but our luggage had been misplaced. My wife and her sister took the kids to the community room to relax while my parents and I stayed at Epcot. Before long, our luggage had been located and delivered to our new room, much closer to the lobby. In fact, we were moved to the closest room to the lobby. It made for much shorter walks to the gift shop for refills for our mugs.
It was the last day of the Food and Wine festival. I had been to Epoct during the festival, but never really experienced it. I was looking forward to trying some of the offerings from the kiosks set up from around the world. A new option on the dining plan this year allows you to get 3 'snacks' for 1 quick service meal credit. I was looking forward to using this option for dinner. I ended up getting my dinner from the Brazil kiosk. I had Brazil's take on shepherds pie, pork belly and a drink. Both were very good, but the servings were very small. My dad chose to eat at Belgium. He got a dinner waffle, a desert waffle and a drink. My mom went a couple kiosks down and went into the Tangarine Cafe, and got a regular quick service meal. When she came back to the table that we had secured to watch Illuminations from, we were shocked how much more food she had than we did.
Monday morning saw us at Magic Hours at Magic Kingdom. In our planning, I was unable to secure a fast pass for the new 7 Dwarfs Mine Train. It was under construction the last 2 times we were there, and I was looking forward to riding it. I figured that this would be our best chance to ride it without an hour + wait. We made a mad dash to the ride as soon as they let us in. When we got there, the line already wrapped almost completely around the ride. There was a cast member there holding a sign indicating the beginning (or end?) of the line. He assured us that the ride had just started, and despite looking long, it would move right along now that the trains were running. Sure enough, it moved right along and before long, we were climbing into the cars. The theming was fantastic. The animatronics inside the mine were great. It isn't a supper intense roller-coaster, but with the technology they have put into it, it is worth riding at least once. Of course we also hit the traditional must-do's. The trinity of Magic Kingdom rides, Jungle Cruise (or Jingle Cruise, as it is this time of year), Haunted Mansion and Pirates. No trip to Magic Kingdom is complete without a ride on these. After the several month long renovation of Pirates, I was looking forward to riding the newly refurbished ride. We were in the front row, which has gained the reputation of getting you wet on the initial plunge near the start of the ride. I'll just say that I have never gotten wetter on all my rides on Splash Mountain. I was disappointed that the fog waterfall wasn't working, but it was working on later rides. The Jingle Cruise was fun, but I found myself missing the traditional jokes that were replaced in favor of the Christmas jokes.
Lunch that day was at the Columbia Harbor House. It was another place I had not eaten at, but had heard good things about. I chose the salmon dish. It came with steamed broccoli and couscous. Being a quick service, I wasn't sure what to expect. When I was in line, I was planning on ordering something different, but someone ahead of me ordered it, and it looked good, so I changed my mind, and was glad I did. It was very good, and at a menu price of $12.50, it was a very good use of a quick service credit.
One thing we had been looking forward to was Evy's first haircut. She is just about 19 months, and we have been holding out for the first haircut package at the barber shop on Main Street USA. We weren't sure how it would go. Some new things she is good with, others, not so much. She had slept most of the morning as we pushed her in the rented stroller. When it was time to check in at the barber shop, we got her up and started to wake her up. I was surprised how small the barber shop is, just 3 chairs, and a very little waiting space. All 3 chairs were in use when we checked in, but after a few minutes, she was in the chair. The stylist did a great job. She started by putting Mickey stickers all over Evy's arms and legs and handed her a toy to keep her occupied. When she was done, she put a 'First Haircut' Mickey ears on her head and gave us a small satchel with the hair clippings.
Dinner that night found us at The Wave in the Contemporary, so a brief monorail ride over and we were checking in. It was another first time for us. I don't think that it will be on our list to return. It was nice, and the food was good, but it was loud, and the service wasn't great. Maybe I was just over tired, but I didn't fall in love with this place. After we ate, we went upstairs to a balcony that overlooked the Magic Kingdom to watch Wishes, the nightly fireworks display. We had plans on going up to the Top of the World Lounge, the lounge exclusively for DVC members, but by the time we finished eating, we didn't have time to go over there.
Tuesday night, Hollywood Studios was hosting an employee party, so it was scheduled to close early. I figured it would be a good day to go back and hit the things we missed Saturday, since it was a short day. It was. We lined up at rope-drop for Toy Story, another ride we couldn't get fast passes for. We hit a few things that we missed Saturday and re-did a couple that we wanted to do again. After an afternoon break, we returned to the park to catch the boat to the Yacht Club resort for dinner at The Captain's Grille. This was hands down, the best meal of the trip. Everyone loved their meals. I went with the chef's pasta creation. It was egg noodles cooked in veal stock, tossed with braised short ribs and topped with Parmesan and fresh arugula. Highly delicious, highly recommended. After dinner we walked to Epcot, and caught a bus back to the resort.
The only park we had yet to visit was up for Wednesday morning. Magic hours had us arriving at The Animal Kingdom shortly before 8am. We made our way to the Safari for an early morning ride. I was a little disappointed with the animal participation that morning. For lunch we tried the new Harambe Market. I really enjoyed the beef gyro. The milk tart desert as different, and tasty. Our dinner that night was going to be late, so my wife and her sister took the girls to Epcot for dinner, while my parents and I looked forward to the seafood buffet at Cape May at the Beach Club resort. If you are a seafood lover (more specifically a shellfish lover), this is the place for you.
Since they announced breakfast at Be Our Guest, I was intrigued. I had eaten there for lunch, and was interested in trying their breakfast option. I was unable to get a reservation for all 7 of us, but was able to get one for 4. Kathy and Helen took Molly for some meet and greets, while my parents and I took Evy to dine with the beast. I had been planning on ordering the open faced sandwich. When it arrived, it was served with scrambled eggs. I was almost half way through before I remembered it was supposed to be poached. I flagged down a waitress to let her know, she offered to replace it, but by that point, I didn't think it was worth it, and it was a half hearted offer. I have no doubt they would have, but I just didn't want to deal with it. My mom ordered the Croque Madame, it arrived luke warm, and she was dissatisfied. Overall, it wasn't a great experience. I wouldn't call it a bad one, but by Disney standards, it was pretty low.
We did the usual things you do at the Magic Kingdom, including the new Festival of Fantasy. I'm not usually much for parades, but this one is pretty cool. The floats are very well done, and the dragon is pretty cool. We had another relatively late dinner, so Kathy and Helen set a earlier dinner at The Plaza while we waited for a visit to the Trails End at the Fort Wilderness resort. It was a Christmas party night, so the park was closing at 7, our diner was at 7.30p. On our way out of the park, we caught the show of freezing the castle. It was pretty cool seeing it. It is amazing how they can project pictures onto the castle and have them be animated and recognizable. It's not like it is a smooth, flat surface. The lights they have hung on the castle really make it look like it is ice. We took the boat to the resort and made our way to the Trails End. I really enjoyed it. It had all the comfort food you could want, including a baked potato bar, complete with cheese, bacon, butter etc. The only thing I would do to improve it would be to make it a bit bigger. The buffet area was a bit cramped, and it was tough to jump in and get what you want. It was like you had to go through the line each time. After we ate, a quick boat ride back to the Kingdom, and a bus ride back to our hotel for the night.
Friday was extra magic hours again early at Animal Kingdom. I was pretty tired after the past week walking 7-10 miles a day, so I decided to take a break, and not hit the park so early. Kathy and Helen took Molly early, and my parents, Evy and I took our time getting ready and getting to the park. We met up at Dinoland. After a ride on the Triceratops spinner, the line was forming to meet Santa Goofy, so we got in line. I moved a fast pass for the Kali River ride that we had missed by getting to the park late and hit a couple other things we had either missed on Wednesday, or wanted to do again. Dinner that night was at Tusker House. It featured Safari Donald Duck and his friends, Goofy, Daisy and Mickey, all also dressed for a safari. This buffet had plenty of space, but there was less on it that I was interested in. The meat at the carving stations was over cooked. The characters were great, and Evy loved meeting each of them. The park closed at 6, and our reservation was for 6, so as most of the people were heading for the exits, we were sitting down for dinner. This gave us the opportunity to see the Tree of Life all lit up, with few people around. It is quite the sight.
On our past trips, our flight home was early enough that there really isn't much time do do anything besides pack up and burn any unused snack credits before we head to the airport, but this time, our flight wasn't until 8.30, so we had all day. We had breakfast at Boma, so we took a quick walk to the Jambo house. We had eaten there for dinner on a previous trip, but breakfast would be a new experience for us. It has some African themed dishes as well as more traditional American type breakfast options. It also had the famous POG juice. I really enjoyed it, and would keep it on the 'would return' side of the ledger. After breakfast, we returned to our room to pack up everything and we dropped our bags off at bell services. We checked in for our flights and had our boarding passes printed. We still had several hours to use, so we headed to Magic Kingdom to wrap our trip. It was a nice way to end our stay. We had already done all the must do's on our list, so everything we did was gravy. It was now the first day of Thanksgiving week, and a weekend, so the crowds were higher than we had seen earlier in the week, but we weren't pressing. We had some fast passes, but we had a pretty relaxed last day at the park. After the afternoon parade, we headed for the bus back to the resort for the last time. We collected our things from bell services, used the last of our snack credits and headed for the Magic Express.
When we got to the airport, and through security, we headed for our gate. Once there, we were notified that our plane was going to be late. A front had moved in, and the plane that we were supposed to be on had been diverted to Jacksonville, and didn't have an ETA for Orlando. So we waited. And waited. Eventually, our plane arrived. We boarded our 8.30p flight just before 11, and touched down in Buffalo about 2am. We called the hotel and caught the shuttle back to our car and drove home.
Some final thoughts on the trip. The weather was great. Not too hot. We had some rain on Wednesday and Thursday, but not enough to ruin anything. I think that I am over the Food and Wine fest. As someone who doesn't drink, there really isn't much to draw me to it. The snacks, while good, are small and pricy, even by Disney standards. I kind of liked the magic bands and fast pass system last time we went, but this time, it was a bit less convenient. Perhaps because we didn't buy the park passes early enough to get the ones we wanted, perhaps it is because we were trying to manage a larger group.
Planning a day with kids is much different than it is as just a couple of adults. We should have scheduled either non park days, or at least ½ days to take advantage of the activities at the resorts, whether it is games in the community room, activities around the pool, including the movies under the stars or whatever. We can't be park commandos until Evy is a bit older, but by then, we very well could be too old ourselves to do it!
There are quite a range of views of the dining plan. I like it for the convenience of having all your meals prepaid for, but the hassle of making reservations for each day can get tedious. Don't get me wrong, I think that the dining is as much a part of a Disney trip as the rides and shows, but it isn't super convenient getting to and from other resorts (especially those not on the monorail), and some of the best places to eat are at the resorts, not in the parks. A couple of changes in how I will plan for meals in the future, is to not be so opposed to booking lunches for one, and another is to skip the dining plan all together and just pick the 3 or 4 meals we want to do and buy gift cards months in advance to use on food. That way, the meals are still prepaid for, and we can be a bit more free in what we order and how we experience the restaurant.
I'm glad we got to see the Osborne lights before they go dark for ever. I would have liked to see Wishes from in the Magic Kingdom, but when you visit in a week that has 3 nights closed early for the Christmas party, it makes it tough to schedule.
We don't have any hard plans for our next trip. It doesn't look like it will be for over a year at this point. I would like to see the parks in the spring, but not during spring break, March or April, but not near Easter. Perhaps for the garden fest. There is a good chance that parts of Avatar will be open at Animal Kingdom will have opened, and maybe even parts of Star Wars land will be taking shape. If not, Hollywood Studios might not even be on our agenda. The new Frozen ride at Epcot will be open and the River of Light show at Animal Kingdom will be on, so we'll have those to look forward to. I keep saying one of these trips, I'm going to get on a golf course.. maybe next time will be the time.