Thoughts on a Disney World Vacation: Part 1: The Beginning

We finally had our big family vacation this summer; our first week long trip together since spring of 2012!

I had wanted to spend my big birthday in Disney World, but with the way the school year went (and all the difficulties that were had in the transition to middle school), it wasn't in the cards.  However, as soon as school let out for the summer, my husband, my son and I headed south to the happiest place on earth.

For those of you who don't know, I am a serious Disney devotee.  I love almost all things Disney.  But that doesn't mean I can't see the flaws when they are present.   This would be my son's 5th trip to WDW and #15 for my husband and I (as a couple...we had each been as kids although that was really before the world was THE WORLD.)
This is not so much a "trip report" (which I have written in the past over at the wonderful but thoughts and observations from our week long trek.  It should be noted that summer is NOT my favorite time to visit Florida. It was HOT and CROWDED.  That did not stop me, or us from having a great time, but it did limit us somewhat on what we did and did not do.

So here are my thoughts (and there are A LOT  of them) on the good, the bad and the so-so during our week long trip to Disney:
  • Early morning flight out on Jet Blue:  I was supposed to get up at 3; I was awake before 1.  There was a line for curbside check in at 4:10 (the airline kiosk inside the airport does not open until 4:15, which makes no sense when the flight is set to go at 5:55 and you're supposed to be at the airport two hours prior to departure.)  The line moved at t decent pace and then it was on to security, which at that hour of the morning was not too much of a wait.  However, Newark Airport security (the way it's laid out) is depressing and claustrophobic. (My experience at Orlando was the complete opposite.  While security is never fun, at least there it is friendlier and more open.) We arrived at our gate with an hour to wait (give or take).  The gate area was COLD. (And of course we were all dressed for the weather in Florida versus the early morning temperatures of NJ.)  Not much was open (for food choices or ANYTHING).  Boarding was the usual hoarding of cattle.  I don't fly much, but the roominess of our row was ok.  Flight took off on time (I guess).  Crew was pleasant.  I like Jet Blue for the free fly-fi and seat back tvs which offer lots of options (except that there's nothing good on tv these days; that has nothing to do with Jet Blue).  I will note whenever we fly, my husband always seems to have a dud tv and this flight was no exception.  Flight landed on time and relatively smoothly.  Review:  I'd give the airport experience a so-so (bordering on bad just due to the overall depressing atmosphere of Newark airport) and the flight itself good.  Crew members are always a thumbs up.
  • Orlando Airport and Disney Magical Express Ride to Resort:  MCO is so much brighter and open than Newark.  It is a pleasure to walk through.  Of course I (we) were excited to be in the Sunshine state.  Getting from the gate to the main terminal via monorail tram is a pleasure.  Finding the DME area is easy due to good signage.  (Although we did have a long haul to get there).  We had put on our magic bands while on the plane so we were greeted, scanned and put in the proper line for our resort quickly.  (For those "not in the know" Magic bands are Disney's way of tracking your every move.  Each member of your party gets one, as you order prior to leaving for your vacation [or at least you SHOULD].  Your wristband acts as your room key, your pass to the parks and can even be used to pay for purchases [if you associate a credit card with it and all members of your party know the pin number associated with it].  As it "tracks" you it also allows certain attractions to personalize your experience; for example when leaving the It's A Small World Attraction, your first name might pop up on one of the screens which bid you good bye in multiple languages.)  We were the only ones in our line for a while, which led me to believe that a bus for our resort might have recently left.  But, after about 10 or so minutes we were allowed to board a bus that was almost full and within another 10 or so minutes we were on our way to the Caribbean Beach Resort where we were staying for the first leg of our trip.  Some buses share resorts, but thankfully this bus was making one stop and one stop only.  Review:   I'd say our Orlando Airport experience was good, as was our DME experience.  I know some people find the Magic Bands to be too big brother like, but I LOVED the experience.  Plus I figure if Disney is tracking me, good.  Maybe they can use my "moves" to make improvements. (Maybe they'll even read this and see what I think needs some attention.)
  • Arriving at the resort no check in was necessary as  I had pre-checked in on line (another new plus).  I had requested a corner room (which means more windows and a little more room) and a water view, but ended up getting neither in the end.  Using DME meant they would deal with the luggage (another BIG plus) so we just went to Bell services and checked our carry-ons.  We could then head directly to the park of our choice (which would be Disney's Hollywood Studios) to play for the day.  However, the boy was a bit hungry so we took the internal bus (yes, the resort is that big: from the Custom House (where we were dropped off, but had to go inside) to Old Port Royale which is where the food court, restaurant and gift shops reside.  (The main pool is also just outside.  This was our second time at the CBR and we still have never had the opportunity to visit the main pool area.  Each grouping of building has its own private pool, which I did take a few minutes to enjoy on our second day).  This was probably the longest wait we had for a bus during our stay at the CBR.  I'm guessing 15 or so minutes.  Once at OPR, we had to decide what to get and how to pay.  As it was still early in the day, it was quite crowded. We grabbed a cinnamon bun for the boy, went outside to eat (too crowded inside) and take in the atmosphere.  As always, I was hopping to go. (Try as I might, I cannot get myself to slow down and relax at Disney.  I just want to go, go GO!)  The cinnamon bun was consumed quickly and we headed back to the OPR bus stop to wait for a bus to DHS.  Since our last visit, they have added digital screens which display wait time for buses which are continually updated.  NICE feature.  So far, so good.  Review:  Our initial CBR experience was definitely very good (although I wish crowds were a little less, but that was going to be an issue throughout our stay and was the result of it being summer vacation time.)  A definite thumbs up for the updated bus schedule.  (Now if they would only do that at the kiosks at the parks when you are heading BACK to your resort.)
  • Arriving at DHS, I was the "carrier of all items" which meant I had to go through the bag check line.  (Mommy has always been another word for pack horse.  This year I carried a smaller backpack than I usually do.  Next trip I would like to try something even smaller.  I DO have to carry a bag with phone, camera and various medical supplies, but thankfully now I have cut down quite a bit of what is needed.)  Lines for bag check were always long (not surprising in light of recent events in Orlando).  After going through bag check, I was randomly selected to go through the metal detector.  (Detectors could be found at all the parks we went to.  I believe one time at Epcot everyone was asked to go through; otherwise it was hit or miss.)  Again, in light of all that has been going on in the country and around the world, it was no big deal.  Once done, I rejoined the guys and we took advantage of Disney's Photopass photographer (I pre-paid for savings) and had our first set of photos taken even before we entered the park.  Review:  The bag check is a pain and always has been.  (Someday I'm going to write a blog on how terrorists have ruined my vacations.)  I have to wonder how safe this is really keeping us.
  • We had a limited amount of time before our scheduled lunch.  (I had made numerous advanced dining reservations for our trip as soon as the Disney system allowed.  Knowing that our first day would start early and probably not include breakfast, I had an ADR for around 11:30.)  I had scheduled the maximum of three Fast Passes (FP+) for attractions that afternoon (DHS has a "tiered" FP+  system so that I could only make one FP+ for a "tier 1" attraction.  There are Tier 1 attractions only at DHS and Epcot and obviously they are the most popular attractions in the park.  This means you really have to consider your options ahead of time.  Of course you don't have to have FP+ for an attraction, but it does cut down on the wait time.  With it being summer, I knew the wait time would be LONG for most attractions.  Case in point, the stand by wait time for the new Frozen attraction in Epcot, which opened while we were there, was always over 3 hours.)  What first caught our attention when we entered was the Chinese theater (formerly obscured by the giant Disney hat. (  The attraction has been updated since our last visit.  (Now sponsored by Turner Classic Movies; a great match in my opinion.)  It looked like there might be a long wait, but as it turned out it wasn't too bad (and most of the wait was inside the building out of the sun).  The queue has been updated, as has the pre-ride film which made the wait much easier.  Soon we were on our tram heading through Hollywood.  We all love this ride and it was an excellent way to start our trip.  Review:  DHS is looking much nicer without the hat.   Walking down Hollywood Boulevard was not too terribly crowded and a nice way to start things off.  The partnership between the Great Movie Ride and TCM is a big winner!)
  • It was on to lunch.  It was a little early, but I knew the Sci Fi Dine In was a popular choice.  I checked in and the family was seated within 10 minutes.  Again, for those who have never been, this huge restaurant is laid out like a drive in movie theater at night.  The majority of tables are "cars" (three "rows" in which two people can sit in a row).  It is very dimly light (which makes reading the menu a challenge) while "classic" Sci Fi trailers and other short clips run continuously on a drive in sized screen in the front of the restaurant.  This is not high end dining, but offers delicious burgers, which is what I was craving. (And had been planning since I made the ADR.)  Our server was Jorge and due to my allergies (and difficulty reading the menu) he brought out a chef.  In the meantime, we ordered sodas.  Chef Kit assured me he would keep my burger safe and that the fries did not share a fryer with anything else.  (As I have recently learned MANY places use the same fryers for multiple items which is a MAJOR cross contamination problem and a resulted in disappointment for me later on in our trip.)  As my husband said, you're paying $18 for a burger and fries, but they were delicious.  And the atmosphere had my son entranced.  He would have been perfectly happy to spend the rest of the day just sitting there (and perhaps eating another sundae). Review:  The food is good, but you're really going for the atmosphere.  It's an experience for all the senses and a perfect way to cool down in the heat of the day.   Service by Jorge was excellent and I felt very safe in Chef Kit's hands.  For me, this is never miss and worth the cost.

  • Our lunch took approximately an hour (we viewed the entire loop that runs on the screen) and then we were off to explore the park.  We had FP+ for the Little Mermaid Show (totally unnecessary as it turned out), Star Tours and "tier 1" Toy Story Midway Mania.  As we had time before our FP+ window (approximately an hour long slot for which you are able to use them), we went to visit the Muppetvision 3 D attraction. (For those Muppet/Disney nuts:  the key WAS still under the mat.)  The pre-show film had changed a little, but the show had not.  However, it is worth noting that the film has been digitized and cleaned up.    Then it was on to the Voyage of the Little Mermaid, a stage show that we definitely DIDN'T need FP+ for.  The show has not changed over the year, although I do recall it "raining" on stage at the start of the show, which it did not do when we were there.  From there it was onto Star Tours.   I was a little apprehensive on this one, as my son sometimes gets motion sick.  But he had taken a Dramamine earlier in the day, which I thought might still be flowing in his system.  No worries, he LOVED the ride and felt fine (sigh of relief). It was still too early for our FP+ for TSMM, but we headed that way and found that the stand by wait time was only 30 minutes.  Since the queue is fascinating (with its oversized versions of classic toys), we decided to wait.  I was sorry to see that the interactive Mr. Potatohead was nowhere in sight.  (Is this temporary or a new cost cutting measure?) Our wait was far less than 30 minutes.   Soon we were in our car and shooting away at the virtual gallery.  When we were finished we headed back and did it all over again using our FP+s (and this time we were sent to the newer third track.)  I was thrilled that we were able to do this.  Review:  Muppetvision:  Always fun for the whole family.  Voyage of the Little Mermaid:  So-so and definitely not a thrill for my son (which I should have figured)  Star Tours:  New, improved and AWESOME.  TSMM:  LOVE it.  Could do it over and over again (except my arm would fall off from pulling on the "string" to shoot the targets.  The same can be said for its "sister" attraction in the Magic Kingdom, Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin).  The perfect way to end our short day at DHS.

  • Now we come to the part where things start to go downhill.  (There always must be a little bad to go along with the good.)  My phone had died.  (A problem that I continually had and still have:  When our room was ready it was supposed to be texted to me.  My husband TRIED to call and see if the room was available, but his phone kept disconnecting (his phone service is wi fi only).  (I have no idea why we didn't use my son's phone.)  It was mid-afternoon, we were tired.  I ended up going to Guest Services while the boys did some shopping.  They were incredibly helpful and quickly found out that our room WAS ready, the room location (Jamaica) and room number.  We headed out the park as it started to pour.  And it didn't let up.  Rather than put on ponchos (which were in my backpack), we just went with it and got drenched as we made our way to the bus stop.  We did have to wait a bit for the a bus. (Here is where I wish they had the digital trackers of how long it would be before the next bus.)  Once we arrived at the Jamaica stop (first one) at the CBR, we made our way to our building and room without too much difficulty.  Our luggage had already arrived from DME, but we had to call for the carry-ons we had left with bell services earlier.  (This might be something Disney could work on better coordinating.)  As I mentioned before, none of my room requests were met, but the room was ok.  I didn't want to do a complete unpack as we would be moving to our second resort in a few days, so I just opened the bags and got out the basics.  Both my son and I were a bit restless, so despite the steady drizzle of rain, we went out to explore the resort a little more; walking from our room over to OPR.  I decided to purchase a resort mug that I felt we could all use over the next several days.  I was also talked into buying some candy by my son. (This would be a common theme throughout our trip).  We eventually headed back to the room to rest before our 6:30 dinner (which I thought was at 5:30) at Shutters (the resort's restaurant).  Review:  Things went downhill after we got our room information.  I have no complaints about the resort, but as the day went on the weather and the exhaustion got the better of me.

  • Dinner at Shutters = BAD.  (But thankfully not a disaster, which it could have been.)  This was completely my fault, but I think Shutters could have handled it better.  We went over a little early and were seated promptly.  They had noted my allergies, but since I have so many that are not typical, "Other" was listed and I had to tell our server what they were.  Most Disney restaurants seem to have an allergy menu which is both good and bad.  Good because it means they are paying attention to the problem and addressing it.  Bad because it lulled me (that evening) into a sense of complacency and seemed to limit my choices.  (I had to get over this and many of the chefs I spoke with were happy to modify ANY menu item for me.)   I ordered a drink, my husband and son ordered appetizers and then we all ordered our meals.  I do have to say that my son LOVED his chicken soup (I know, in the middle of summer?) and his steak meal (although veggies never touched his lips).  I ate very little of my meal.  It just didn't taste quite right and I didn't feel quite right.  When I asked the waitress if there was any way my meal could have gotten cross contaminated with poultry, she said I hadn't mentioned poultry when reviewing my allergies.  She was probably right.  Again, I was tired and lulled into a sense of complacency by the menu.  She brought out the chef who said that the grill HAD been shared.  The chef said he would prepare another plate for me, which I agreed to.  But by now, I was doing my best not to get upset or panic. (Not easy!) Because my poultry allergy is not quite as severe as my egg allergy and I had NOT eaten more than a few bites (which is a good thing) I thought I could control everything with some Benadryl.  But I couldn't find any in my backpack.  Hubby ran off to get some and I flagged down the waitress to say that I wasn't feeling well and I just wanted to bill.  She quickly brought it to me and I didn't even bother to check it; I just handed her my Visa and had her run it.  As soon as it was paid (and hubby came back with a newly purchased package of Benadryl which I immediately took), we all headed back to the room.  Thankfully I WAS able to control everything with a large dose of Benadryl.  (And again, the fact that I didn't eat more than a few bites was a good thing as well as there was less allergen in my system.)  We all showered and went to bed shortly thereafter.  It was not until the next morning when I looked at my receipt that I realized that I was charged for a meal that I didn't eat and a drink I barely touched.  Again, I want to stress that the whole incident was MY fault and no one at Shutters was to blame, but in hindsight, I wonder if they could have at least taken my meal off the bill, or discounted it somewhat.  Review:  It was a bad night, but it could have been worse.  My own stupidity could have caused a much larger problem.  Thankfully we were all able to get some rest (although I did wake up at one point to the sounds of fireworks; I don't know if they were from Epcot or DHS).  We would be able to start fresh the next morning.
For now that's all that good and bad in one day!  There's plenty more to come.  I hope you'll continue to read along!


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