"Around here, however, we don't look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things...and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths."
---Walter Elias Disney

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Disney Trip 2014; or I Love It When A Plan Comes Together

I talk on here a lot about Disney planning and my sort of obsessive compulsive approach to it. I'm a Disney planner, plain and simple and I make no apologies. This trip just completely validated everything I believe about the importance of pre-planning, especially on a trip that tries to cram as much Magic into two days as possible. I'm going to sound self-congratulatory in this post because I am. I nailed this one 110%.

We left home just before lunch Thursday to drop the dog off at "camp" and pick the boy up from school. I figured we'd be able to reach Kissimmee by 9 or 10 considering we'd stop for dinner on the way. As it turned out we passed the Disney World exits from I-4 at about 9:30, which just so happens to be when the Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party fireworks are launched. Yep, the Stites Fam was welcomed to Disney with a fireworks display. As the fireworks ended we reached the Comfort Inn Main Gate and checked in and went to sleep with the alarm set for 6 Friday morning.

See, I wanted to drive to Florida Thursday so that we could experience a whole Disney Day on Friday, the lovely Lisa's birthday. Who wants to drive down I-95 on her birthday? Nobody, that's who. If one is going to have a Disney Day, one must rise early. Chop chop. We all sprung out of bed with varying degrees of vigor, ate at the most horrifying free hotel breakfast buffet in the history of hotel breakfast buffets, stopped to get dad a cup of coffee that didn't smell like sewage, and made our way to Port Orleans French Quarter Resort.
The Birthday Girl welcomed home

I know the official check-in time is 3:00 in the afternoon, but I also know the resorts will hold your bags for you and even put them in your room when it's ready, so I figured we'd go check in and then be off for adventures in Disney World. We walked right up to the registration desk (not a lot of people checking in at 8:15 am, it seems) and breezed right through the procedure. She told us our room was going to be in Building 5, third floor and that it was ready for us. That threw us for a loop and just as we were getting that bit of good news through our heads, she showed us where Building 5 was. Right outside the main entrance. And our room overlooked the pool. Holy room upgrade, Batman. We were like, are you sure, this is just too cool. And she said, "I guess you are my VIPs for the day!" Indeed. I'm not one to spring for a "preferred building" room or water view for that matter, but this time it was really, really nice. Our room looked over not only the pool but also the canal and water taxi docks. And being so close to everything was a Godsend given Lisa's bum leg. Disney magic came through big time.
View from our room. Yep. :)

We oohed and ahhhed over the Christmas decorations at the resort then took the bus to Downtown Disney, on account of the boat doesn't start running until 10 am. We shopped and looked around and ate at Earl of Sandwich (a first day at Disney Stites Fam tradition), and people-watched and mocked the New Yorker whining about where was the StaaaarrrrrrBucks? The Characters In Flight balloon was grounded due to high winds, but I'm not taking the any blame for that part of the plan not coming through. We had a ball anyhow and ended up having plenty of time to grab the boat back to POFQ to grab our jackets before heading out to hop the monorail resorts and be ready to enter the park at 4:00.

This bat to DTD is a very nice perk of staying at POFQ
Our plan was to grab a drink and a bite to eat at the Grand Floridian so we hopped the Magic Kingdom bus and then the resort loop monorail which conveniently hits Grand Floridian last giving us a nice monorail ride. I've always been impressed with the Grand Floridian's Victorian decor and architecture, so I was really excited to experience the inside for the first time. I remembered being blown away by the Animal Kingdom Lodge as soon as I entered its lobby, so I expected the same WOW factor from the Grand Floridian. Nope, didn't get it. It was very nice, don't get me wrong, but it had no magic feeling to it for me. It wasn't terribly over-crowded, but it was busy with arriving guests and families milling about. These families included the worst behaved, brattiest, horrid children I think I've ever seen all in one place. I love kids and have an above average acceptance of a wide range of children's behavior. I give them the benefit of the doubt. But holy cow, this was insane. People, it's not only ok to tell your child "no", it's kind of a requirement of parenthood. These were NOT "our people" from a socio-economic perspective, maybe that affected my perspective, but these kids got on even my nerves really fast. I couldn't imagine staying among that crowd, it would be stressful and uncomfortable and totally non-magical. We are moderate resort people.
Yep, it IS really big. And gingerbread. Now, if it only contained a real witch that ate bratty children.....

Coolest topiary ever.

We saw the gingerbread house, which was very big for a baked good. The tree hadn't gone up yet, which was a bummer. The bar wasn't open. Eating at the quick service place without an adult beverage among this crowd was not an option. We boarded a boat for the Polynesian, home of the Tambu lounge and its nectar of the gods, the Lapu Lapu. Unfortunately they weren't serving food yet either. We could probably have eaten at Kona or even Capt. Cook's, but those places don't have Lapu Lapus, so of we didn't. Too bad, boy, food has to wait, mom and dad needed to drink the brat memories away. It was a good choice. I am going to enter the Magic Kingdom fresh from a Lapu Lapu every chance I get. Can't beat that feeling.
Lapu Lapu

We hit the gates of the Magic Kingdom, as planned, just at 4 pm, picked up our MVMCP wristbands, rented a wheelchair for Lisa and entered the park right on schedule. We lined up and all got the special MVMCP exclusive Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom card (one for the awesome Max Iapalucci) then headed for the Seven Dwarves Mine Train. We were slowed down a bit by the wheelchair situation. One wheel kept buckling under and threatening to dump the birthday girl onto the pavement. We have zero experience with wheelchairs so sorta thought it was operator error (John and I being the operators) and pressed on. The posted wait time for the Mine Train was 90 minutes, but we really wanted to make sure we got on and it was early, so we decided to wait. As it turned out, it wasn't quite an hour wait and it didn't even seem like that long, to be honest. It's an interactive queue with several games and gadgets to occupy yourself. And the ride is totally worth it. Really fun and very Disney. We left happy, but also convinced our wheelchair may be defective.
Loved these guys in the Mine Train queue

Of course this year's card featured Elsa.....
I left Lisa and John to find some food and headed back to the entrance to trade in the chair. Just as the Frozen castle show was getting ready to start. Uhg. About a half hour and lots of excuse me, pardon me's later, I rejoined the family, who had not actually acquired any food as the place I left them was a mac-n-cheese only establishment. I'm not a fan of mac-n-cheese. It was still early (see, getting into the park at 4 for a party that starts at 7 is key) so we were not deterred and headed to Pinocchio's Village Haus for dinner. It was great, much better than I expected. The flatbreads are really, really good, not just good for park food good. Yum.

With that we began our night enjoying Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party. I'll probably give this its own post, but for now let me say that while I'm  certainly glad we experienced this, we feel no need to do it again. It was a sell-out, so a bit crowded, but not so much it bothered us. We were using the party as much as a discount shortened second day in a park as anything else, so we weren't heartbroken the castle-front shows were jammed and the character meet-up lines were huge. I'm sorry we didn't check out the dance parties in Diamond Horseshoe or Cosmic Rays, but we were figuring out the whole wheelchair thing and that sort of slowed our roll a bit. But we DID see and do about all we wanted with zero hassle. We rode all our favorite rides with no wait. We saw the Holiday Wishes fireworks and the absolutely incredible Celebrate The Magic Castle Projection Show from the bridge between Tomorrowland and the hub. We got set up about 20 minutes before the show and never got enveloped in a crowd, it was a really pleasant place from which to watch. And that castle projection business blew us away. We sat with mouths open for the entire 15 minutes. The fireworks were great, but after the Halloween show, nothing is going to match up. After the fireworks we made our way through Adventureland to Frontierland and grabbed a prime, uncrowded, no fist-fights or shoving involved spot in front of the Country Bear Jamboree. The parade was totally underwhelming. I didn't even enjoy it as much as I do the regular Main Street Electrical Parade. We did get to check out the Notorious Banjo Brothers and Bob. John was waaaayyyyy impressed with Bob, the tuba player. He has major chops, according to the boy.

Yeah, yeah yeah....
After the parade we walked straight back into Adventureland and got on the Jingle Cruise with no wait. I loved the Jingle Cruise. Apparently they've plussed the experience since last year, and for my money it worked. I got to see one of my favorites in a whole new way and that was really cool. We closed out the park in the Haunted Mansion and were bummed to just catch them locking up Momento Mori just as we exited the attraction. Oh well, we have to go back soon now, right? All in all, it was a great night, we took the bus back to POFQ (with no wait) and made it to bed by 1:00 or so with a wake-up call scheduled for 6 am so we could make....

The Akershus Princess Breakfast in Epcot at 8:20. This worked out great. So great in fact that I'm dedicated to making as many pre-park opening ADRs in the future as humanly possible. Getting into the parks before opening is super cool, period. We were the only ones on our bus from the resort to Epcot, we walked right up and rented a scooter (the wheelchair experience combined with the Grand Floridian lobby experience taught us it was well worth the possibility Lisa would run down several small children. She didn't, by the way, but it would have been totally worth it if she did), and headed through a drizzly, overcast day straight through Mexico and into Norway. The Princess Breakfast deserves its own post, maybe one by Lisa because she was in heaven. It was really a lot of fun and the food was terrific. Where else can you get four different types raw fish for breakfast?
The boy's enthusiasm for rising early to meet princesses was hard to capture in a photo

Santa Mickey Topiary. I like topiary
Norway Christmas featuring St. Nick

She was kinda excited....

Ariel was terrific :)

Here is where we descend into my self congratulations. I was not at all sure how I felt about the prospect of making attraction Fastpass+ reservations months in advance. Would it kill the magic, make my already heavily planned days even more like a military maneuver? No. No it did not. It made the day completely stress-free and easy. Everything worked exactly as I had planned. I left enough time before our first FP at Test Track to go ride Soarin' via stand-by line, hopefully early enough that it wouldn't be too long. As it turned out, we walked over to The Land from Norway and had only a 30 minute wait for Soarin', which left plenty of time for a boat ride through Living With the Land before heading over to Test Track. Our FP was for 10:15 and we went through the kiosk at 10:17, waited maybe 5 minutes and thoroughly enjoyed the ride. I had planned to have time for something to eat and to hit Innoventions before our next FP at Spaceship Earth at 12:15, which is just what we did. John and I designed and virtually rode our own roller coaster and we walked into the FP line at Spaceship Earth five minutes after our scheduled window opened. Again the line went quickly and we had time to wander around and relax and shop some before John and I went to use our last Fastpass+ at Mission Space, once again scanning our Magicbands two minutes after our time started. It was perfect, we had all the time we needed to see all we wanted to see in the morning without a bit of rushing and very little waiting. This is why Disney offers Fastpass. You need to know a bit about the parks and a lot about your traveling group for this to work, but I do and it worked like a charm for me.

We had the rest of the day to explore World Showcase (where there is a coffee kiosk at the entrance with a very attractive woman named Xamary from Bolivia that is a bad influence. Did you know they had Jameson for your coffee?) John got some delicious-looking tacos from Mexico and we headed to Germany for beer and pretzels. The rain was coming down harder now and we had bought ponchos, so we were in and out of them. We hit American Experience and the giant Japanese department store. We cruised around a bit then went back to Future World for Journey Into Imagination and Living Seas. It was relaxed and no pressure and fun. We laughed a lot, we talked a lot, we had a buzz. We drifted back towards England to find a spot for Illuminations and because Lisa was in a scooter got invited into the handicapped viewing area right between the dessert party and Rose and Crown, which is about as good a spot as you can get. And once again there was no shoving or crowding or anything, just a calm, wonderful experience.

Our dinner reservations, such as they were, were at Beaches and Cream, so we planned to drop off Lisa's scooter at the International Gateway and take the boat to the Boardwalk. This ended up facing two difficulties. First, Lisa's scooter refused to accept its key and we had to be escorted with the key but not the scooter by the very friendly Cast Member Bill from Albany to the scooter return. He explained our situation and it was no problem and we got our deposit back and hopped the boat for Boardwalk. Where we discovered our second problem. Beaches and Cream is NOT at the Boardwalk, it's at the Beach Club, which I will point also begins with "B", soooooo. So, Lisa had to walk much further than her bum knee wanted to at the end of a very long day, but we arrived in plenty of time for our reservation. We got sandwiches, I got the pork belly Cuban on the recommendation of Jen who was completely right, it was out of this world. We ordered and completely failed to eat the Kitchen Sink, grabbed a cab back to POFQ and hit the sack, fat and happy.
Pretty pathetic attempt, really

We slept in Sunday, ate breakfast at the resort, visited Downtown Disney for a few last minute purchases and headed home into a blinding rain storm. Worst. Drive. Ever. But we made it home safely and that's the important part. What a trip! We crammed  an unbelievable amount of fun, family camaraderie and leave-the-world-behind relaxation into just a few days. Disney magic works. Time and again.

Thanks Walt and Roy.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing your trip Jeff! You described everything perfectly, I felt like I was there. Awesome! We had the same feelings about The Grand Floridian as you. We also love the Princesses in Norway and the Fast Pass Plus does make the vacation better for uber planners like us. I am so glad you all had a magical time.