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.
Our room in the Garden Wing was very nice. When it comes to Walt Disney World hotels, I am more into themes you wouldn’t find elsewhere, whereas Sarah just likes nice, well-done rooms. In other words, it appealed to her more than it did me, but I still really liked it. I was fairly entranced by the glowy light-thing below the TV, and petitioned for us to sleep with that light on, but my request was denied. It seemed like a reasonable request to me, after all, I wasn’t making us sleep in a tent!
We had little time to enjoy the room then, though. Instead of having an hour or more to get to Chef Mickey’s, as we should have if everything occurred on a reasonable schedule, we were a bit late. As for the meal itself…I don’t want to spoil what will be a “fun” review, but we both sincerely wish we would have dined at Contempo Cafe. In fairness, Contempo Cafe is one of our favorite counter service restaurants at Walt Disney World.
I know this is a lot of negativity right off the bat, but things were not off to a good start. The good news is that things got much better and, aside from a few minor bumps in the road, never really got bad again.
The only real blunder after that occurred right as we got back from dinner and I received a SlickDeals app notification on my phone, alerting me to a crazy airfare price mistake. We stayed up until after midnight finding something to book (spoiler alert: we canceled it the next day after concluding that it was excessive).
When my alarm clock went off at 4:30 am the next morning, I was definitely not ready to get up. I guess on the plus side, the in-room coffee machines now have Joffrey’s, which is much better than the sludge I’ve grown used to drinking at Walt Disney World. I still don’t even remotely consider coffee “the best part of waking up,” but I no longer gag with every sip.
It’s always exciting being in one of the Disney theme parks for sunrise, and this morning was no different.
Sunrise was just after 6:30 am, so when I got into the Magic Kingdom, the sky was still briefly a shade of deep, dawn blue.
Hope you’re prepared for a lot of New Fantasyland photos, as I spent almost all of my time here since it was my first time seeing it with all of the walls down and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train complete.
I basically ran around New Fantasyland like a madman, trying to find unique spots for photos before the sun came up. I spent a decent amount of time in the Little Mermaid queue. I assume everyone was heading for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, as very few guests were passing me by here!
This is one of my favorite shots, but I wonder what others think of it–I intentionally got my Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 lens really close to the trees in the foreground and used a wide open aperture to make some of the foreground branches out-of-focus. I think this works…do you?
In addition to New Fantasyland, I made “rounds” up by Cinderella Castle, too, trying to find interesting light. I noticed a herd of photographers up by the Liberty Square bridge all waiting for the sunrise over Cinderella Castle. I’m sure they wondered why I kept running laps around them!
Photographing the sunrise is like a chess match with mother nature. The sunlight doesn’t break the horizon in every spot at the exact same time (since the horizon is uneven) but even before the sun breaks the horizon, color lights up the sky. Often, these colors are prettier before the actual sunrise, and you don’t really know when the prettiness will “peak.” Because of this, many photographers camp out in their ideal spot and wait for that ideal moment. Hence all of those photographers on the Liberty Square bridge.
I have way too short of an attention span for that. Instead, my strategy is, literally, running all over the place trying to “outsmart” the sun (although I’m not sure it’s too beat up that I’m getting more photos of it) hitting various spots at their ideal times. This is high-risk, high-reward. If timed incorrectly, you can miss the optimal colors everywhere you go, or catch them while you’re in commute between two locations. I prefer this because I don’t have the patience to wait around for one shot, and because I prefer quantity over quality.
Fisheye portrait of this…thing…on the lightpost guarding Beast’s Castle. I still don’t know what the heck these are. I know they aren’t gargoyles or dragons. They look sorta like depressed half man, half serpent, and half demon dudes. Whatever it is, I’m sure it haunts Al Gore at night. 😉 They are pretty cool looking no matter what they are.
While I love a good Cinderella Castle sunrise shot, I think that has been done pretty well before, so I was more concerned with Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. I wish the colors were a bit better, but the above is basically “the shot” I was after that morning.
…Or maybe this one is. It was tough using a high-enough aperture to get the sunburst, and also a fast-enough shutter speed to freeze the Mine Trains.
Instead of, you know, actually riding this new attraction with minimal wait that morning, I spent my time taking photos of other guests enjoying it. Ahh, the life of a geeky photographer!
I couldn’t get enough of watching other guests enjoy attractions, so I decided to head over Dumbo for more photos!
Here’s another shot of the Al Gore creature, this time shot through some trees to give it a voyeuristic look with the green foreground bokeh.
And then I went to the toilets…the TANGLED TOILETS! For photos. Not even my overly-detailed trip reports need that kind of detail.
The sun took forever to peak above Prince Eric’s Castle, but when it did, I went for a couple different approaches shot through these trees. The first, above, with the Sigma 15mm fisheye stopped down to create the starburst effect.
For this one in the exact same spot, I used my Nikon 14-24, wide open, to give the sun a soft, blown out look. I’m a big fan of sunbursts, but I actually prefer the second photo. Nice change of pace, I think.
Moved around a bit to position the sun between the structures in Prince Eric’s Castle. Overkill? Possibly.
Mad props to this guy for dressing like this in May. I was already soaked through my polo by this point in the morning. I can only imagine how hot he was covered in potato sacks.
At this point, I decided my morning shoot was done. It was basically just a waiting game of waiting for Sarah so we could eat and book some FastPass+.
Overall, I was pretty satisfied with my sunrise/early morning shooting. The sunrise itself was lackluster, but I think (hope?) I made lemonade out of lemons and got some good early morning shots. Regardless of the sunrise colors, it’s always fun to shoot in the parks while that morning light is nice. Unfortunately, I can’t share all of my photos from the morning, but watch for them elsewhere. You’re not really missing much…basically just more from New Fantasyland, although some of the best shots are missing.
When Sarah arrived, we realized that my Premier Annual Pass wasn’t correctly synced with my MyMagic+ account, so we headed to Guest Relations. I forgot to mention it earlier, but I had an issue redeeming my Annual Pass (Sarah had purchased a voucher during her trip with her sister while a Disney Vacation Club promo was going on). This marked my second trip to Guest Relations to deal with the Annual Pass, and the third problem of the trip overall with MyMagic+.
Every single time, the Cast Members were very gracious and resolved the problem, but it was still frustrating. The last Cast Member with whom we spoke added extra FastPass+ options to our accounts to ‘compensate’ us for all of the time lost, which was nice, too. For the record, we did not request any “compensation.” We also did not at any time mention that we are “bigshot” Disney bloggers in an attempt to get more favorable treatment. Mostly because I’m guessing that would have been met with the following reaction by the Cast Member: “I’ve never heard of that website, but congratulations on being a bigshot in your own mind, I guess. It doesn’t help me fix your problem any faster.”
These were the last of our MyMagic+ issues for the trip, and I actually (admittedly) found the system growing on me as the trip wore on. In fairness, we are not “power” FastPass users–most paper FastPasses we got went unused–so the limitations didn’t really bother us. Most days, we didn’t even use our initial allotment of 3 FastPass+, but that’s just us. It will be nice going forward to make Toy Story Mania and Soarin’ FastPass+ reservations, but we’re most looking forward to using the My Disney Experience app as a way to organize everything. I’ve been a big user of TripIt in the past, and My Disney Experience is like my ideal version of that, except specific to Disney. To that extent, the system is a success in my eyes.
To the extent that it has had so many kinks while being rolled out to the general public is, in my eyes, unacceptable. Taking a couple of hours out of our trip to deal with issues isn’t a big deal for us since we aren’t really in a hurry to do anything, and we know we will be back. (Still, having issues with it on our last three consecutive trips is frustrating.) Negative early-on experiences like what we have had for those ‘once in a lifetime’ guests that Walt Disney World seems to desire could set a negative tone for the rest of their trip.
I’m not suggesting that others are having as many issues with the system as we have had (people are far more likely to vocalize negative experiences than positive ones), but if even 20% of guests have had these types of issues, it’s too many. I understand that certain components of the system couldn’t be corrected without actual guest use, but it seems to me that Disney was all too eager to roll the system out as quickly as possible since it all was already behind schedule and over-budget. I obviously don’t know the particulars, but to me it sure seemed like Disney sacrificing the guest experience for the sake of pushing the system live before it was ready to start recouping its costs. The good news is that there seem to be fewer instances of problems now than there were when the system first began tests in 2013, so hopefully Disney is finally turning a corner with it.
I have a lot of other ruminations on MyMagic+, but it seems like the whole thing has been discussed to death. Heck, I remember discussing NextGen in our Walt Disney World Christmas 2010 Trip Report. Maybe it’s time to just put this conversation to bed (on this site at least…Disney fans aren’t likely to stop talking about it until 2025) by saying that regardless of whether it’s “good” or “bad” or is somewhere in between–the more likely reality–it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.
I’m ready to move on, and I hope Walt Disney World is, too. Fast-tracking some rumored–and needed–substantive projects would be a good way of doing just that.
A much more interesting and positive topic: ice cream. Although we didn’t have ADRs, they were able to squeeze us in at Plaza . If you’ve read our Plaza Restaurant Review, you know we are about the only Walt Disney World fans who don’t like this spot. Well, it’s time to revise that review, because they’ve added a couple of new menu items that we absolutely loved. Four words: Beef Brisket Onion Burger. Wow. My new #1 burger at Walt Disney World.
After lunch, we did some other stop, before deciding to bite the bullet and queue up for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. We wouldn’t be in the Magic Kingdom in the morning again that trip, so we figured that afternoon might be our shortest wait. We ended up waiting an hour, which is the longest we’ve waited for any attraction in a looong time. I don’t even recall waiting that long for anything on our trips to Tokyo Disney Resort last year!
I won’t bother rehashing our thoughts on Seven Dwarfs Mine Train here. Suffice to say, I think it’s destined to become a classic, but it is flawed. If you’re interested in knowing more than that, you can read our Spoiler-Free Seven Dwarfs Mine Train Review.
After that, we did more wandering, took pictures of stuff, and probably rode around on the TTA Peoplemover like 4-6 times. It was originally going to be down for refurbishment during the 24-hour day, and it was about the best news ever for us when that was postponed. I normally don’t mind things being down (no “VACATION RUINED!!!1!” mentality here), but we needed the TTA that day!
Sarah peaking out from behind the Tomorrowland rocks, gazing at Cinderella Castle. Totally not posed. 😉
Sarah running towards Cinderella Castle. Totally not posed, either. 😉 😉
Okay…time for us to “run.” We’ll be back with the second half of the Rock Your Disney Side 24-Hour Party soon!
For actual Walt Disney World trip planning tips and comprehensive advice beyond these quick and random tips, make sure to read our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide and related articles.
Did you attend the Rock Your Disney Side 24-Hour Party at Walt Disney World? Did you have fun? Get some good photos? What have been your experiences with MyMagic+? Share your comments on any of these things–or anything else from the trip report–in the comments!