Walt Disney World Memorial Day Trip Report – Part 1

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Thanks for joining us on our Walt Disney World Memorial Day 2014 Trip Report. It’s been a while since we did one of these for Walt Disney World, and a lot of trips have occurred in between, so we figured it was time to get back to our roots with a Walt Disney World trip report…like we used to do in the ‘good ole days.’

We are fortunate in that we are able to travel regularly, a result of a dedicated effort we made a few years ago to make travel our #1 priority at this point in our lives, with any necessary spending sacrifices made elsewhere. Because we travel so regularly, it may seem a bit disingenuous when I say I was really missing Walt Disney World, because I hadn’t spent a full day in the parks since last October (I spent 2 hours in Epcot earlier this year and Sarah was down for a few days with her sister this year, but my last full day in the parks was the beginning of October 2013). I know it certainly reads like a “First World Problem,” and it is. But that’s how I felt. Even when we could only afford to go to Walt Disney World once per year, we went through ‘withdrawals’ only a couple of days after our trips were over, so I don’t think it reeks of entitlement too much that I missed the place after being away from the parks for 8 months.

In that time, we weren’t exactly taking a hiatus from Disney, so I can’t even begin to complain. Like I said, we’ve been fortunate to be able to travel a lot, but there really is something about going to Walt Disney World that I just can’t explain. For me, it’s my “home” resort and I have nostalgia for no other Disney destination besides Walt Disney World. Even though I think the parks in Tokyo are far superior to the ones at Walt Disney World, nostalgia is a powerful drug (even for me). Besides, there’s something I find legitimately, truly special about visiting Walt Disney World. Maybe I am hopelessly sentimental, but I still have a passion for Walt Disney World that I don’t think I could ever have for any other parks. I don’t know…maybe that just makes me a fool, because I have seen what the other global parks have to offer.

Still, there’s something about riding around the TTA Peoplemover as the sky turns deep blue and the neon lights illuminate Tomorrowland that just makes me smile. No matter how many times I’ve seen Impressions de France, I still get goosebumps from seeing its sights and hearing that score. I still look up at Spaceship Earth as we close down Epcot, and just marvel at its grandeur. I still tear up during the Kiss Goodnight. We may visit Walt Disney World less in favor of other places, but we still love it. Is a lot of that love rooted in nostalgia and our memories? Sure. I see nothing wrong with that, as that’s not the only reason I love Walt Disney World, and each of us do things on a daily basis grounded in our memories and attachments.

That should give you an idea of why I was approaching this trip with a good amount of excitement. I was looking forward to being back “home.” It was also nice to have plenty of time to plan and tweak our Advance Dining Reservations, and to give serious thought to what we wanted to do. Suffice to say, we packed a lot into the 5 day trip. Good thing one of those days was going to be 24 hours long! (Well, they all would be that long, but…you know what I mean!) Unfortunately, I did not have an active Annual Pass, so we couldn’t book FastPass+ in advance. Long story, but I let mine lapse and waited for our Disneyland Annual Pass to also expire so we could start fresh with Premier Annual Passes instead of having separate Annual Passes for Walt Disney World and Disneyland.

My normal ritual of getting McDonald’s from the Indianapolis Airport had to be skipped because we cut it a little close on time, so let’s fast-forward to our arrival. We were staying at the Contemporary to start our stay, and unfortunately, we had to wait about 15 minutes before even getting on a Disney’s Magical Express bus, then another 20 minutes for it to fill up, and then nearly another hour as we were the last stop for the bus. There was nothing magical about the experience, and it really has us rethinking our staunch “no rental car at Walt Disney World” policy.

Fortunately, we built some cushion into our first night schedule and didn’t schedule our ADRs at Chef Mickey’s until 9:15 pm. Unfortunately, when we got to our room, we found that our MagicBands didn’t work to open our room, so we had to go back to the front desk and spend more time with them troubleshooting the problem. Not the first problems we have had with MagicBands, and not the last, either.

To their credit, every Cast Member was incredibly nice and patient in dealing with these problems, and I can only imagine the abuse the frontline Cast Members deal with on a daily basis–despite them having no say over how the MyMagic+ system operates.

They were able to get us in the room, nixing my plans of setting up a tent in the Grand Canyon Concourse and falling asleep to the peaceful sounds of monorails gliding overhead. Also nixing my plans of having to figure out where to buy a tent in Orlando and how to convince Security (and Sarah) that sleeping in a tent in the middle of the Grand Canyon Concourse was an okay idea. (more…)

Top 10 Magic Kingdom Rides at Night

When the sun goes down at Walt Disney World, the party gets started. Well, not party, but nighttime is when the parks are best experienced, and most attractions that have outdoor portions are at least somewhat enhanced at night. At night, the parks come alive with a wonderful energy. This is especially true at the Magic Kingdom, where brilliant lighting, Wishes! fireworks, Main Street Electrical Parade, and more, all of give Magic Kingdom a fantastic ambiance that just cannot be replicated during the day.

Beyond that, the overall sensory experience of the Magic Kingdom seems heightened at night. The background music in Tomorrowland seems louder, the sweet scents from the Main Street Confectionery are more fragrant, and the Magic Kingdom is both aglow with color and more peaceful in its quiet corners. There are few things I enjoy more than walking along the wooden boardwalk along the Rivers of America in Frontierland at night. From the lighting to the lights of the Liberty Belle reflecting off of the water to the illuminated spires of Cinderella Castle in the distance, nighttime really puts the magic in the Magic Kingdom.

We’ve already covered the Top 10 Disneyland Rides at Night in a separate post, so we thought it would be fun to take a look at the best attractions are best at Walt Disney World’s castle park at night. Obviously, since the parks share a good number of attractions, so will appear on both lists, but many of our top picks are unique to each park. Let’s take a look… (more…)

Walking Right Down the Middle of Main Street, USA

Main Street, USA. It’s the entrance land to every Disney castle park, from Disneyland to the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World to even Tokyo Disneyland (albeit by the name World Bazaar there). As the first land any guest sees when they enter these parks, Main Street USA serves an important role, and sets the town for a day in the park.

I was going to title this “Main Street Throwdown,” but I don’t really know what there is to “throw down” in this case. With the exception of one stand-out, each of these versions of Main Street brings something to the table. Each of them are excellent, and unlike other lands throughout the park, there isn’t as much (at least for a casual observer like me) to critique. I love each of the Main Streets around the globe, and I have a hard time picking favorites. Usually my favorite is whichever one I’m in at the moment.

Despite all of their similarities, there are plenty of differences between the various Main Streets, too. In this post we’ll take a look at the differences, similarities, style, history, and other features of each Main Street. I’ll also offer some critique where appropriate, as well as plenty of photos of each Main Street.

Alright, let’s start walking right down the middle of Main Street(s), USA! (more…)

Top 10 Disney Theme Park Attractions

Disney has hundreds (if not thousands, I’m not counting!) of theme park attractions and rides at Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Disneyland Paris, Tokyo Disney Resort, and Hong Kong Disneyland. Obviously, not all of these attractions were created equally. At their best, Disney attractions are timeless classics that have multi-generational appeal. At their worst, they’re dressed up versions of amusement park staples.

I thought it would be fun to put together a list of what I consider the 10 best attractions worldwide. As there are literally more Disney parks than there are attractions on this list, some great ones are bound to be snubbed, but I’m keeping to a strict 10 attraction limit. Even if I had a list with 40 more honorable mentions, I’d be still be snubbing some very worthy attractions. As it’s a multi-continent list, it’s not like this top 10 has any functional utility anyway…it’s more geared at being a fun conversation piece for Disney theme park fans. I want to do more worldwide lists like this, so if this one is popular, it will be the first of many more to come. I enjoy comparing and contrasting all of the different parks, and want to do more posts like that, anyway. They’re a nice change of pace from the normal trip planning material here.

A few notes about the list before we get started. First, while it’s my personal list, I’m considering not just what I like the best, but also what I consider to be objectively the most impressive and captivating attractions. I don’t have any specific scoring criteria–it’s basically just a mix of my gut reaction and analysis. Second, only attractions that are currently operational are eligible. It’s very easy to say Horizons or Journey into Imagination should be #1, but there’s no perfect way to tell how those would have aged or if opinions today are clouded by the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia. Third, only the best version of each attraction (we’ll call this the “Tower of Terror” rule). Finally, this list is a moving target based partially on how I feel when I’m writing it. If you ask me my top 10 tomorrow, you might get different answers.

With that said, here’s the list in no particular order! (more…)

Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party 2014 Tips

The 2014 Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Parties at Walt Disney World will incur in September and October. Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party 2014 is scheduled for the following dates: September 1, 9, 12, 14, 16, 19, 21, 23, 26, and 28; October 2, 3, 5, 9, 10, 13, 16, 17, 19, 21, 23, 24, 26, 28, 30, and 31. You can purchase tickets (ranging from $57-77 per person) on Walt Disney World’s event page.

On these nights, the Magic Kingdom closes at 7 p.m. to guests who haven’t not purchased tickets for the Halloween Party. So you can prepare for the Halloween Party now, here is our analysis based upon the last several years (we go to it yearly) to help you determine whether this expensive hard ticket event is worth it to you, and if so, what your “Plan of Attack” should be to efficiently conquer the various offerings.

Note that this guide covers Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, not Mickey’s Halloween Party at Disneyland. For info about the latter, read our comprehensive Guide to Halloween Time at Disneyland!

Should I Attend?

So at over $60 a pop for tickets to the 2014 Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, you might be trying to determine, “is it worth it?” If you’re asking this, you’ve probably never been, otherwise you’d know the answer to this question. Our opinion, as Disney-biased tourists, is that it most definitely is worth the price: at least once. Once you’ve experienced the party once (it doesn’t change much year-to-year), you might determine that it’s simply too expensive to experience again. For a one time event, though, it’s definitely worth it for everyone except those on traveling on thin budgets. Personally, we prefer Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, but I think it’s fair to say that the two are about equally popular with guests (the guest costumes at Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party are pretty awesome to see).

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