“Around here, we don’t say goodbye, because goodbye means forever… we say see ya real soon” -Walt Disney
Since for as long as I can remember, there’s always been more to a Disney vacation than just going to the parks and physically being on property. It’s the preparation and everything that goes into the trip before even setting foot into Orlando International Airport.
It’s getting the luggage out from the basement underneath the stairs, making sure everyone is accounted for with Magicbands, squaring everything away with the My Disney Experience and physically making sure everyone in the group knows what the plan is each day of the trip.
With visiting Disney World annually since before I was a year old, my family have never been the ones to try and plan an entire vacation. After hearing stories from other Disney goers, and seeing how they had a legit itinerary explaining what they would do each hour of everyday on a trip, we all would look at one another and just laugh because that’s not what a vacation is. A vacation is a time to hang loose, not to be on a schedule for the first time all year and a time to do things when you sort of feel like it.
It’s this mentality and vacation-style that would always get my dad pissed when we would try to go somewhere to eat at anytime of the day and they hit us with the “it’s about an hour wait for a table.” I swear, seeing him get heated and confused as to why it was that long of a wait for places was always a great laugh for us during our trips.
Given that’s what our style has been for decades now, this trip was different for that sole purpose; that you couldn’t go-with-the-flow and had to plan the entire trip to a certain extent. With having to make park reservations and only having so much time to make them before a park got booked fully was something you had to plan for. In fact, it was the first thing I made sure was set before anything else for this trip. The system was simple, clear and quite honestly, I don’t seem to have a problem with it at least just for this trip.
In 2022 if it’s still a thing then ehh, maybe I’ll have an issue, but I feel given the times we’re still in, it’s a nice way to make things simple and just go with it. Now that I take a look back, in normal world conditions, you would’ve had to pick your parks out each day anyways because we would be the ones who would take advantage of fast passes so that would basically be your reservation. Even though you never had to go through with them at the end of the day. In reality, the only issue I have with the park reservation system is that it takes away the flexibility a little to do what you want. Yet again, that’s what this pandemic has done for everyone though so again, can’t really hate on the system itself because as of now, this is the life we live in.
With it being over two weeks since I returned from my 21st Disney World trip, I decided to take the time and write about my experience of being in the ‘Most Magical Place on Earth’. From wearing masks into parks, having to social distance in lines to having an experience that I’ve never had before and hopefully won’t have again in this lifetime, it was a special trip just by being there. As Peter Pan would put it, “here we go!!”
First Things First
When I would write my DCP weekly blogs back in 2019, I included a section in which I discussed something that I did that was new or something I did for the first time at Disney. With this trip, as you can imagine, there were a lot of first time things I did throughout the week and am happy I can cross these things off my Disney bucket list. Beginning with our resort.
Given our home resort is Old Key West and for about 15 of the 20 trips to that point were spent there or at Saratoga Springs, we’ve slowly began exploring the other resorts that the Disney Vacation Club has to offer. After getting bored of the same two resorts, we knew we had to get out of our “Disney resort comfort zone.” Since then, we’ve stayed at the Polynesian, Beach Club, Bay Lake Towers, Boardwalk and now with this trip, Wilderness Lodge.
We stayed on the Boulder Ridge side of the resort for this trip and all I have to say, is Wilderness Lodge is my second favorite resort at DIsney World. Within the first couple days when I moved down and started my college program, since we didn’t have access to the parks at that time, the only other option was to go resort hopping. So, we began with the Magic Kingdom resort area first; specifically Wilderness Lodge. Visiting it for the first time on my first weekend of my program, I had no idea what to expect because we hadn’t stayed there ever let alone even visited to eat. As I walked into the lobby area though, I fell in love with it immediately.
The theming of the resort was spot on and seeing all the wood and feeling the ambiance of the resort I was instantly attached. To seeing the geyser outside running, to having boat service to the magic kingdom and hearing the restaurants and places to eat at were great spots to try, I only had to see 20% of the entire resort to know that I had to stay here soon. Given the circumstances and wanting to try some place new for this trip, the opportunity presented itself when I was given this trip as a Christmas gift.
I’ll get into my full thoughts on the resort some other time, but let’s carry on with the rest of the stuff I did for the first time. To carry on with, this trip was the largest Disney trip I had ever gone with. Instead of it being just the four of us, the number this time was six. It was me, my brother Adam, his girlfriend Keri, my friends from college Kenzie & Jae and our neighbor Brayden. Outside of me, Adam and Kenzie, we were the only ones that had been to Disney World multiple times. For Keri and Brayden this was their second trip and for Jae, this was his first trip ever and thankfully, we were there on his 22nd birthday as well.
The FTF here was going with a group this big and with these specific people as well. The pleasure was all mine trying to show them around and see why I love this place so much that I keep wanting to come back and want to work here full-time. Well, given we were only there for six nights and had six days worth of tickets to use, we defined the trip by my old high school football motto – start fast and finish strong.
By starting fast, it leads to actually two FTF, one being we went to a park the day we arrived in Orlando and the other going to the Magic Kingdom on the first day too. Usually with my parents, we would fit Magic Kingdom in the middle of our trip or save it for the end because… it’s the Magic Kingdom, duh. But it honestly was the best decision I think I made of the entire trip. I had never seen it so empty than what it was on that Sunday and the fact that we were able to go on every ride we wanted to in just a few hours made it so shocking. I was stunned after getting off Pirates of the Caribbean and it still being daylight out and having two hours before park closed. It was so perfect it was almost weird, but it helped set the tone for the rest of the week because the plan and goal was to do everything we wanted to everyday.
The grind didn’t stop as Monday approached though. For the first time since December 31, 2019, I returned to my home park at Hollywood Studios. For those who may not know, Hollywood is my favorite park and has everything and anything I would want. The FTF I was able to accomplish on this day was getting a Rise of the Resistance boarding group and got to have a full ride experience.
Before my program ended, I had the honor of being able to go on Disney’s one of a kind attraction one morning before park opened, but to be able to go through it as a guest and knowing it was everyone else’s first time, I knew it was going to be special. Luckily for us, we got boarding group 52 and were in and out of the ride by 1:30 despite it breaking down right before we got on. I’ll talk more about it later here given it was one of the highlights of the week, but man, if you don’t like that ride experience then I feel sorry for you.
In addition to going through the whole experience, I visited Batuu for the first time since that 2019 date. It warmed my heart to be able to see some familiar faces and talk to some people that I hadn’t spoken to in years, but man was it just nice to be back in a place I called home. Traveling through the spires and seeing the items and areas I grew so accustomed to seeing was so calming to me and I couldn’t have been more grateful to be back. Knowing that I would be back Friday, it was nice to see people, but not everyone I hoped to at that time.
Fast forward to Tuesday, the FTF I did there was explored the Japan pavilion and ate at the Rose & Crown Pub for dinner. For starters, I don’t know how I went my entire program without stopping in Japan. From the views to the items they have in the stores, it quickly rose to the top as one of my favorite pavilions in the world showcase. For Rose & Crown, I figured it was someplace new for myself to try and I ended up loving the meal and drink selections. In fact, I even learned that chips in London are considered really big fries and aren’t actual chips as I initially thought. My friend Kenzie had to culture me on that because she had studied abroad in London on two separate occasions and I can just see the disappointment in her face when I told her that’s what I thought chips were. Needless to say, EPCOT was a nice time, especially when you dropped over $100 on alcohol!
Onto Wednesday, a FTF I did that day was ate lunch and went to Geyser’s Point for the first time. I had heard nothing but great things about the place from numerous Disney people and must I say, it did not disappoint; even for lunch. Me and Kenzie both ordered the same thing which was a turkey sandwich with bacon and man did it hit the spot. The sandwich itself wasn’t even the best part though. The view from right by the lake was astonishing and it was nice having four friendly ducks join us at the time as well. Had the wind been a little less, it would’ve been the perfect scene, but everyone from our server, to the bartender, to the lady that sat us, it was a pleasurable first experience and definitely somewhere I will go back to. Just maybe this time try a drink or two.
Thursday was kind of a basic day at Animal Kingdom, but a FTF happened Friday when I was finally able to try a Ronto Wrap. Despite working at Galaxy’s Edge, I hadn’t tried every great thing it has to offer. After consuming it though, it was well worth the wait. It’s a great little snack and something that’s perfect if you need something on your stomach for a few hours. Don’t exactly know when I’ll try it again, but I do know I have to get there early enough to try their breakfast wrap because after reading the description, my mouth is already watering!
Overall, I was excited and satisfied with being able to try or do something new almost everyday on the trip. One of the things I kept telling the group about with this trip and what Disney is great for is to be vulnerable and try new things. It’s what adds to the experience and is one of the aspects that makes vacations so fun. Why? Because you get out of your comfort zone and try new things!
Work Smarter not Harder
One thing I always refrain from saying when I describe Disney is saying it’s perfect. No matter how great one of my previous 20 trips have been, there’s always something that happens or goes wrong that creates a issue or just gets you aggravated for whatever reason. Most of the time it’s small things that just get to you, but I mean c’mon, we’ve all been there. On a vacation, each day your patience gets tested more and more and sometimes you just crack, especially at Disney. Nonetheless, here’s the issues I had while on the trip.
Disney Bus Transportation
Now don’t get me wrong, I love the way Disney provides transportation to and from its parks. You always at least have a bus, others have boats others have a skyline, it’s what makes Disney unique I feel because when you look at Universal, what do they got? But this trip in particular just really puzzled me sometimes with the way the system was rolling. To be specific, there were numerous times where the bus would be set to arrive at a certain time and then out of nowhere the time will get later and later and up to over 20 minutes from the time it was suppose to come.
I know they change drivers and have to do routine maintenance and all that to them, but I wish they would’ve been more efficient with it. Especially considering they can only have so many people on a bus at a time. Like there were a handful of times when we would get in line to grab a ride and the driver would say he can only carry four-five people despite us having a group of six majority of the time, or we’d be the next party to get on and they’d stop us because they couldn’t hold anymore. I understand covid and having to take precautions and all that, but to have to wait over 30 minutes for a bus to get to a park or back to the resort was really pressing. Time is already only so much at Disney because you want to do everything you possibly can, but it’s rough when parks are on shortened hours and especially when you have dinner reservations elsewhere, waiting 30-40 minutes for a bus and then taking the bus on the trip to get there… it’s something to get aggravated at and something I did many times at throughout the trip. But I guess thank God for Uber and Lyft, right?
Mobile Ordering/Quick Service
I have to admit, the first few days of using this, I was ready to put this as one of the highlights of the week and key services to use in the parks and such until I kept going the rest of the week with it. My issue with mobile ordering is that it’s not efficient and great for those spots that are popular and see a traffic of people day in and day out. For example, when I used it at Cosmic Rays, I thought it was simple and straightforward. Ordered, waited and went in when they said the order was ready. Easy and simple and had no issue with it then; at least at 4:00 on a Sunday. But then I go to Springs and tried grabbing Ghirardelli. Again, I get it, we’re in covid times and they can’t have people inside and close together and all that, but you mean to tell me that at 9 p.m. it’s going to take 40-45 minutes to get a scoop of ice cream with some chocolate sauce down the side and a chocolate square on top? C’mon now…. 45 minutes for ice cream!? I couldn’t believe it when the worker outside said that because I literally dropped everything and said no chance in hell. I love Ghirardelli, I buy the squares at the store all the time, but 45 minutes for some ice cream? You’re crazy. There has to be a more efficient way to get orders out because to wait that long is absurd. Don’t even get me started on Gideons either.
I know you can still go around and do this and do that at Springs, but I shouldn’t have to, even during pandemic times. I think another issue that it hurts is those that use cash on their vacations too. I know you can put your credit card and I guess gift cards as well, but for those who like to use straight cash money, there should’ve been at least one register open and majority of places for that reason. Some people don’t like or use banks so to force them to have to only order things through a phone is concerning to some. I know it’s not permanent, but I feel Disney missed a shot to make things convenient for both sides here.
Not to hate on a park going through a major renovation right now, but taking a look back on it, I just couldn’t stand to write this without bringing up my opinion on the park right now. To keep it short, EPCOT is an absolute waste to go to right now. I know, I know, they have the World Showcase, they have Soarin, Test Track, I get it. But in the grand scheme of things and when you measure it up to the other Disney parks, I hate to say it because I really have never said this about a park ever, but it’s just not worth it for me right now.
If I’m spending over $120 (depending on what prices are when you go) to go to a park I expect to get a little something out of it to make it worth it. I just don’t get that feel with it after going there on Tuesday. Yea it’s great to go in and get drinks and try new food and whatever, but to drop over $100 just to get through the gate doesn’t seem worth it to me. And this is coming from a 23 year old who loves food and drinks. If you’re someone who likes that and is a fan of it and EPCOT does that for you, then by all means go at it, but if I’m a family and going on a vacation for the first time since the pandemic, I just don’t see the worth of going there right now. Limited places to shop, limited places to eat, they only have a handful of attractions that are worth it and on top of it, lines just to grab drinks and food can be pretty long despite park capacity being around or under 50% now.
If you know me well enough, you’ll know that EPCOT is my least favorite out of the four parks even before all the changes were announced. I know me explaining this might make you turn the other way, but it just doesn’t sound great to have to go and spend over another $100 or so within the park when you’re already paying that much and more just to get in the gate. When the construction is over and it becomes a full park again, by all means will it be the park to be at, but given the current nature of the park, I just can’t recommend anyone going there, especially right now.
Highlights of the Week
Despite having a few negatives on the trip, the positives made up for them and then some. To start off, we’ll begin with Rise of the Resistance.
Given that I had the opportunity to ride it once before my program ended, I knew what to expect from each section of the ride, but I tell ya, even expecting it and knowing what was coming and going to happen, the ride is just purely awesome. From seeing a hologram of Rey, to getting caught by the first order, to the part where you escape, it’s just such a great ride when its up and running. What made it a highlight was the fact that the other five members of my group that week had never been on it. Hearing their reactions and screams when Kylo cuts through the ceiling, to seeing the actual sized AT-AT, to the small drop you get while escaping made it worth their wild and that’s what ultimately brought a huge smile to my face that day. That and just going through the entire process really makes the ride worth it and as far as I’m concerned, is a must do whenever visiting Hollywood Studios.
Another highlight of the week was being able to have a nice dinner at Olivia’s. As I’ve mentioned, Old Key West has always had a special place in my heart because of it being our home resort and because if it wasn’t for my grandpa, our relationship and view of Disney would be entirely different. Back when they started the DVC, my grandpa and dad went in on it to where my grandpas name was on the deed and he controlled everything for it. After his health began to decline, we went through the legal process to put my dads name on the deed and for almost a decade now, the timeshare has legally been ours.
Being born into Disney has been the best gift my grandfather has given me. He’s given me and my family countless number of memories there and it’s now spreading to where me and my brother are able to show our friends and give them experiences/memories as well. This trip and eating at Olivia’s was special because this was the first time we had been there since he moved on last year. It was always a place to go when we would stay at the resort because a picture of him and Winnie the Pooh from years prior would always be there right behind the entry door to the restaurant. Almost gave us a sense that he was there with us every time despite not physically being there.
Therefore, it was nice to grab a nice dinner at Olivia’s with the whole group on the second night. Despite it not being as popular as other restaurants on property and maybe not having the most eye-popping menu, the vibe you get from the place is something you got to love and can’t hate on. Especially given how nice the cast members are from the seaters, to the food runners, to your server. It’s a feel good place to be in and I’m happy the spirit of my grandpa can live on their forever.
Another small highlight from the week was I was finally able to find the handprints at the end of the Flight of Passage attraction. These handprints are a nice little easter egg within the ride and land of Pandora at Animal Kingdom and after hearing about them a few years ago, I’ve never seen or found them while exiting the ride. In the picture, the handprints on there come from James Cameron (Director of Avatar), Jon Landau (Producer of Avatar) and Joe Rhode (Disney Imagineer). The thing that makes Pandora so special is that its set the standard for every new expansion land to a Disney park. The creation of it is unique because James Cameron physically came down and help them build the land and made sure each little detail was accounted for. To have a person like him come in and work side by side with a Disney legend in Rhode, it makes a great origin story of the land before it’s even hosted its first guest.
Not to even mention how great the land is itself, from its theming, the sounds you hear throughout, how it looks at night, it’s attractions and style of food they sell, the land is just breathtaking. When I saw it for the first time, I wasn’t even a fan of Avatar and will still say that to this day, but the appreciation of the land and all the time and energy put into making it what it is today is at a all time high. As I’ve said for about a year now, Galaxy’s Edge wouldn’t be half as good if it wasn’t for Pandora coming first. It set the standard of what a new land in a Disney park should be.
The final highlight of the week was being able to see some familiar faces for the first time in almost two years. To those that I worked with, to friends I made within my CP, to even the friends that I invited to come along for the trip itself, it was nice to see people and have good conversations and spend quality time with each other.
If there’s one thing I’ve missed throughout this entire pandemic, it’s been the opportunity to just go and talk to people and have long conversations. If you know me, there’s this saying in my family that I “have my grandma’s mouth” which means I can talk for hours and hours on end. Being at home all day everyday for over a year and going as far as to not be able to go into a restaurant and eat, it took a bigger toll on me than I thought. At the end of the day I’m a people person and being away from people and simply talking to them in person is what I missed most during the pandemic and I’m happy to see life is slowly starting to become normal again.
To all my friends on Batuu I saw and talked to during the week, to Evan, Amanda, Jalel, Jose, Emily, Bruno, Kenzie, Jae, Brayden and Keri, it was a pleasure to see you all and I enjoyed the time with you guys tremendously. It brought a great warmth to my heart to go and be back in the element I grew so accustomed to being in and I can’t wait to get back soon and continue to make more memories and give the Disney experience. I know it wasn’t the greatest trip overall, but who’s to say trip 22 can’t be?
In the end, being back at Disney World for the first time in over 17 months was such a gift. I got to thank my dad for giving me the points to use for it and for making the reservation itself. Without him, nothing we did on this trip or the trip itself would’ve been possible and I’m just thankful he was able to let me and my brother go on a trip by ourselves for the first time. As it pertains to when I’ll make next visit, lets just say, it’ll be sooner rather than later.
Also, bold opinion here, I don’t like the paint job that Cinderella’s Castle got. Too pink and makes it feel like Sleeping Beauty’s Castle in Disneyland. Not a fan. Ok, bye!