As with any trip report, it begins with who is traveling. In this case, my sister and her husband, both 50ish, and two daughters, one 26 and the other 17. My eldest niece last saw Walt Disney World in May of 1992, and my younger one had never been to the Vacation Kingdom of the World. My brother in law is by no means a big fan of Disney. In fact, he would probably prefer Universal Studios or a Marvel based theme park, but hint, hint, he is a huge lover of the Discovery Channel and Animal Planet.
Due to other obligations, the parents arrived in Orlando first. They stayed at Lake Buena Vista. Immediate reactions to Orlando? "So many palm trees!" Spent the evening relaxing at Downtown Disney followed by a swim. The youngest daughter arrived the next evening, the eldest one day later than her sister- but the eldest was also departing a day earlier to go back to her husband on the West Coast. This left 3 days total for all of them to experience the resort together, beach time excluded.
Day One: Disney's Hollywood Studios, party of three.
Since the eldest daughter had been to Disney's California Adventure as well as Disneyland, they decided to do the former Disney-MGM Studios without her. She had ridden the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror already and little else seemed to appeal to her. Even though we hard core fans know each version is different and that Florida's is superior, here is the "reverse downside" of cloning attractions on both coasts. Anyone from California and familiar with that resort may bypass the Studios due to their view of a lack of compelling unique attractions there.
Arriving at the park well after opening, they began their day with a quick ride on Rock N Rollercoaster- which unanimously remained their favorite attraction in the park. I asked why. "It's just fun!" The Great Movie Ride was "ok" but the spectacular entrance of the Wicked Witch of the West was the highlight of the aging attraction. Star Tours 2 - great. Their journey through the Tower of Terror surprised and impressed them by the 5th Dimension room, eliciting a family friendly expression of shock.
The longest line for the day (at 20 minutes) remained Toy Story Midway Mania, and beyond three limousine rides with Aerosmith, it was the only ride they deemed repeatable. A quick lunch in a nameless restaurant (not a good sign if it couldn't be remembered or described) and no shopping led to an early evening exit. They had no interest in seeing Fantasmic!, however, a last minute choice to see the Little Mermaid theater show as they walked past left my sister with a smile on her face. Dinner was at Earl of Sandwhich, a pattern which would be repeated several times. And another swim ended the night.
Day Two: Magic Kingdom, party of four
Since daughter number one had to be picked up at the airport at around 11:00am, they did not arrive at the Magic Kingdom until 1:30pm. Dropped the car off straight at the lot and took the monorail in from the Transportation and Ticket Center. As I suspected, the ride on the Monorail past the resorts and around the lake made quite the impression on my youngest niece as it was her first visit to the park most appropriately compared to Disneyland.
Pirates of the Caribbean beckoned as the first destination. The remaining order was blurry in her memory, but Splash Mountain was happily with no wait due to Fast Pass- yet it was balanced out by a lengthy 40 minutes for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Not to be found in Disneyland, Liberty Square looked great, but it was not enough to grab their attention beyond the visit into the Haunted Mansion. No mention of the enhanced queue, and I didn't ask leading questions just so I could see what she told me about.
Fantasyland: Here, I quote my sister's reaction to It's a Small World- "It was just so beautiful compared to California!" No Philharmagic, instead they chose Snow White's Scary Adventures. And they were not told by me or did not realize it was on the chopping block due to the new Fantasyland Forest expansion. No Winnie the Pooh- "Saw that in California"or any other Fantasyland attraction beyond the ones I have mentioned. No snacking, no shopping.
A good amount of time was spent in Tomorrowland. It was Buzz Lightyear, Stitch, and Monsters, but a journey through Space Mountain was not to be had as the waits were 90 minutes each time they checked.
Interestingly to my way of thinking, there was not a single visit to Country Bear Jamboree or Carousel of Progress. Even though she and I grew up with these California favorites, they obviously did not have the lasting appeal to draw a visit when given the opportunity. Is it time for me to place them in their proper historical context and move on? I'll have to consider that!
To sum up the Magic Kingdom, my sister remarked about the incredibly lovely landscaping, the amount of available space- "the blessing of size"- and the beauty of the castle. Leaving the park after dark meant a stop at the Grand Floridian just to see it, followed by a visit to Gloria Estefan's Bongo's Cuban Cafe. (Great atmosphere, fatty food.)
Day Three: Epcot
Not being early risers, it was quite impressive to me that they arrived at my favorite Florida park before opening! Guess my talk about the Test Track/ Soarin' queues was successful.
Using both Fast Pass and the single rider line, everyone was able to ride Test Track three times total- and snag a ride on Soarin' (another Disney California Adventure favorite) with relatively little wait. A quick spin on nearby Mission:Space made my brother-in-law quite ill, not a small feat. He's a big, ex-football player, with a strong stomach. Needless to say, it was not the highlight of their Epcot day.
As much as the decent on Spaceship Earth is a sore spot for some of us, they found it quite fun, enjoying the personalization at the conclusion. There was no time for Living with the Land - one of our must dos- and The Seas with Nemo and Friends was a big hit, particularly the dark ride portion. No visit into the crystal pyramids of Imagination, either. In fact, I just ride it now to imagine what could and should be compared to the current pale imitation of what once was. Not even Michael Jackson could influence their decision. So much for Future World.
World Showcase was also to their liking. Interestingly, there was not a single mention of any particular attraction here (quite telling!)but stopping for lunch at the Yakitori House and a quick dessert at the new La Hacienda de San Angel made for a pleasant diversion between attractions. In spite of my sales pitch to stay for Illuminations - the best nighttime show on the property- , they opted out, left the park early for dinner once again at Earl of Sandwhich and an evening swim.
Day Four: Disney's Animal Kingdom, Typhoon Lagoon
For each Disney park enthusiast, there is that first time we walk into a brand new theme park. It happens so rarely; the thrill of new discovery, the fresh eyes to see things never encountered before, lots of "How did the Imagineers do that?" Honestly, I was very excited for them to experience the park, its immense beauty, and the new attractions- especially my long talked about favorite Expedition: Everest.
It was a choice between Kilimanjaro Safaris and Everest for the first ride of the day. An encounter with the yeti won out. Two happy rides later, they moved onto Kali River Rapids before hitting the safari. Following this up with the Maharaja Jungle Trek, they exited the park for some watery thrills of another kind.
I was shocked to hear this, as given my brother-in-law's love of animals, I expected this park to be the sleeper hit. No Dinosaur? No Festival of the Lion King? What about a meal at Flame Tree Barbecue or a showing of It's Tough to Be a Bug? In asking about the park, their answers made me think of my own observations over the years. In fact, my review of the park based on my last visit seemed very similar. (You can read it here.)
Their's was not a flattering assessment of the place. The animal exhibits were interesting but several "naturalistic" environments could be found at zoos they had seen; not enough Disney attractions (rides); theater shows are not their thing; too much of the same. What about theming and landscaping? Not enough to warrant more time, so they left. Typhoon lagoon was the crowd pleaser of the day, particularly the swim with the sharks. Dinner at Rainforest Cafe finished off the evening.
Day Five: Pony Rides, Goodbyes, and a Last Fling at the Polynesian
Stick ponies that is, at the Whispering Canyon Cafe. My sister had asked me to recommend a great place for breakfast before they reluctantly started dropping the daughters back off at the airport in the afternoon. Whispering Canyon did not disappoint. Nor did the short stroll around the Wilderness Lodge!
The food, the atmosphere, the fun. My sis described this breakfast as one of their most memorable experiences in all of Walt Disney World. Waitresses yelling across the room, pony races, laughing kids, great food. They'd go again in a minute. After an airport run, the adults returned to the Polynesian Village (sorry, I relapse)for a quick bite at Captain Cook's and walking the resort grounds before retiring for the night.
Now the million dollar question: Would they do it again? The answer surprised me. Yes, absolutely, without a doubt. But they would save much more money before they went, would stay on the property, and would spend much more time in recreation and being at the resorts, spreading out their park visits between more leisurely days.
Favorite Park? "Epcot, absolutely"
Favorite Attraction? Expedition Everest, Test Track, or Rock N Rollercoaster
Favorite Meal? Whispering Canyon Cafe
As much as would have loved to be there with them to see things through their eyes, I did get a pretty good idea of it all! I wondered how I could ever enjoy a Vacation Kingdom visit without Illuminations, a visit to at least one sit down Epcot restaurant in World Showcase, and a dozen other things. This isn't even counting favorite attractions!
Sure, opinions will vary, but here are the things they did not say. Not mention of peeling paint, poor upkeep, or too many character based attractions being shoehorned into the parks.
You and I, die hard fans, see these changes and cringe. Rightfully so, as a trip to Walt Disney World today reveals much less care of the parks and groups than that of previous decades. However to the casual or once in a lifetime visitor, the place still packs an impressive wallop. And unfortunately, that very fact is what keeps the current management team from doing more than is absolutely necessary!