Thursday, May 04, 2017

Magic Kingdom: Disney World's Crown Jewel (Part Four of Five)

Our last three days at Disney World, our trip was mostly focused on the Magic Kingdom. That wasn't necessarily by design initially; I used crowd predictors to pick parks for each day, and our Magic Kingdom days ended up getting pushed to the end of the trip.

Thursday morning, we were able to get the kids up and fed in time to be able to get through security at the Magic Kingdom in time for a 9 am "rope drop".  My daughter loved the welcome show, but my son and I found that it was a great opportunity to make a dash for the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at opening. The wait turned out to be only about 15 minutes.  We then got another ride in at Buzz Lightyear then redid Splash Mountain.  I checked the time and realized that at park opening, my son was able to redo his entire first afternoon in less than an hour with much less standing in lines.

But as the morning went on, the lines started to get longer. We took our obligatory ride on "it's a small world" which is just as annoying as you might have expected. (The best solution I've heard for this ride is to bring your own headphones and pipe your own music in over that damn song.)  Then came lunch time and my daughter's favorite part of the trip: Lunch at Cinderella's Castle. This is probably the most popular character meal at Disney World, and certainly the nicest setting. It's so nice, in fact, that I had to prepay for everything when I made our reservations 180 days earlier.  I only paid for my daughter and I to go; I figured my son had zero interest in seeing princesses.  (And I had even less interest in spending $60 to listen to him complain.)  He and his mom went and ate waffles for lunch at Sleepy Hollow; from what I could see, her lunch looked better than mine.  I had a roast pork served with some fancy beans... yep, an attempt at a high-class pork and beans, all for my $60+.  For what it's worth, my daughter loved her "royal" chicken nuggets.

This is where I repeat:  You don't go to Disney World for the food. And this lunch wasn't about the food (although the chocolate pie I had for dessert was really good), but about my daughter meeting the princesses. And she adored it. What surprised me were the number of adults eating lunch there without children, but another thing I learned at Disney World is that everyone kind of becomes a kid again.  While we were eating,
Look closely. That says
170 minutes!
I noticed through the windows that it was getting awfully dark outside, and so I switched my phone from camera to a radar app. Sure enough, a thundershower was rolling through Orlando at that same time, shuttind down all of the outdoor rides while we were at lunch. The aftermath? Ridiculously long lines the rest of the afternoon. Seven Dwarfs Mine Train was posted at just shy of three hours, and everything else was backed up. So after one last FastPass on the Winnie the Pooh ride (not worth it for anybody school age, even if they still like Pooh), we headed back to Bay Lake Tower and the pool.  It was a quick swim, because we had dinner reservations at Animal Kingdom's Tusker House, with a package deal to get good seats for the new Rivers of Light show.

I've heard a lot of raves about the food at Tusker House, but I've since learned that much of that comes from people starting their day with breakfast. For us, Tusker House was the WORST food we had on our trip. I'm sure much of that was a personal preference as the menu is heavily African themed, though I did see a lot of adults around the kids buffet.  My son didn't even like those "kid friendly" options, so it was rather frustrating to spend $200 on a meal and have him go away hungry.  We did get some cute pictures of Goofy
Goofy says "Eat Your
and Donald Duck trying to encourage him to eat something, though.  While we were waiting for my son to finally eat something, I found a "day-of" FastPass online for the Expedition Everest roller coaster, and I used that as an incentive to get him to eat a little bit.  He loved that ride enough that I got him another one immediately afterwards, while my wife hit the concession stand for kids snacks during the show. (You shouldn't need to buy snacks after an "all you can eat" buffet, but that's the situation we were in.)

I enjoyed the Rivers of Light show, but looking back, I imagine kids being bored with it.  It reminded me a lot of an Olympics opening ceremony: lots of music and lighting effects, but nothing kid-enticing. My kids didn't seem to mind it, though.  If this show were at any other park, the producers would add fireworks to it, but that would cause too much of a panic in the animal attractions. I am glad that we did the dining package, even if the food wasn't good.  I saw the ridiculously long standby lines for the show, and decided that it was still a better investment than waiting two hours in line.  (Though then I could have had more Flame Tree Barbeque for supper...)

The late night at Animal Kingdom meant that we were slow to get going Friday morning, and since it was an "Extra Magic Hours" morning at Magic Kingdom, we arrived to find many of the lines at Disney World already pretty long when we arrived at 8:30 am.  (Seven Dwarfs Mine Train was over an hour at that point.)  We did get to do an early run on the Buzz Lightyear spin, and my son and I did Big Thunder Mountain. (Big Thunder is probably hitting my upper limit on roller coasters.)  My wife did let my son ride solo on Space Mountain in the first hour; neither parent had the will to try that.  The difference between our two kids were never so apparent than with our morning FastPasses:  my daughter screamed and hated "Pirates of the Carribbean" while my son probably would have rather had a spelling test than sit through "its a small world".  (Truth be told, Mom & Dad probably would have preferred to help my son with his spelling than sit through that.  If we have to do "small world" again, I might have to take the suggestion of bringing headphones and providing your own soundtrack instead of listening to that . . . song . . . over and over and over again.)

We then headed to Monster's Inc. Laugh Floor, which had a bit of an unexpected wait..though it turned out to be well worth it when they picked my daughter to be part of the show!  The premise of the show is that the characters from Monsters Inc. have converted from trying to scare kids into making them laugh, turning this into a G-rated comedy show.  The animated characters perform on the main screen, and they randomly surprise audience members by pointing a camera on them.  And about midway through, there's my shirt and my daughter up on the screen. She wasn't the target of any jokes, but she played the set up person for all of the jokes, and had a blast.

Lunch was with Winnie the Pooh at the Crystal Palace; I had thought my kids were too old for Pooh and friends, but I guess you're never too old for anything at Disney World. It certainly was a relaxed vibe, and the food was OK.  I think Hollywood & Vine was a little better in terms of food, but let me say again... you don't go to Disney World for the food.  And you aren't paying over $150 for lunch for the food either.  After lunch, we had our final preset FastPass for the Mad Tea Party, which amazingly turned out to be another ride everyone seemed to like.  After that, I started checking online for wait times and realized that pretty much everything we'd want to ride had a minimum of a 45 minute wait.  So we made a couple of gift store purchases and headed back to Bay Lake Tower for a final afternoon swim.

I had bought a few boxes of Macaroni & Cheese with our groceries to have on hand for a contingency, and since everyone was pretty full from the lunch buffet, we decided to just have that for supper along with a couple of slices of leftover pizza. (Yep! A cheap meal at Disney World!) Since it was our last night, we headed back to the Magic Kingdom for one final fireworks show.  Weird thing for us is that the show seemed different (no Tinkerbell flying out of the castle) than the one we saw two nights before.  While we were waiting, I scanned my Disney app and found a FastPass for Buzz Lightyear shortly after the fireworks, so I figured, what the heck.  And once we finished that, another FastPass for the Mad Tea Party.  My wife was concerned we were staying up too late, but I reminded her this was our last night. The kids could sleep on the plane or sleep in on Sunday morning in their own bed.  And as we headed out, my daughter wanted one more ride on the Regal Carousel, which even my son obliged.  Everyone was pretty tired when we got back to the room, so it wasn't a problem getting the kids to bed quickly.  Mom & Dad, however, had to start packing up.

Since we had a washer and dryer in the room, we didn't have that many clothes to pack, so the only issue was finding room for the souveneirs we were bringing back. Fortunately, we had brought a couple of small extra bags on our trip empty so that we could check more bags on the way home. (That's the one good thing about Southwest Airlines.)  Fortunately, everything seemed to fit, making it easy to finish packing the next morning.

One of the things Disney does well is making the arrival and departure process easy, and departure is extra easy. The next morning, we found our boarding passes hanging on our room door, so we were set. We dropped our carry on bags with bell services at the front door, and then headed over to the Contemporary with our checked bags.  Boom! Everything was checked in with the airline and we were ready to go.  Except that our bus wasn't leaving until 1:20 pm and it was 8:30 am.  So it was off to the Magic Kingdom for one last morning of fun!

No "extra magic hours" this morning, so at "rope drop", we had our choice of attractions.  My son wanted to do Big Thunder Mountain one last time, and then we headed for Buzz Lightyear yet again, even though we had a FastPass for later in the morning. We also hit a couple of classics with "Mickey's PhilharMagic" and Dumbo.  PhilharMagic always seemed to have really short wait times in the afternoon, but it turned out to be a pretty good 3-D show.  I kind of wish we would have snuck that in on a busy, hot afternoon. And since we were nearby, my son wanted to do Goofy's Barnstormer kiddie roller coaster. For some reason, he liked that more than the other coasters; it might have simply been the Goofy association.  After one last carousel ride, we headed for our final ride:  Buzz Lightyear with a FastPass+.  And just like our first ride, we found the longest line.  In fact, the line was so long, I wasn't sure we could afford to wait.  But the line started moving, and we gave it a chance, and we were able to get it in.  They were having some issues with the ride, as it stopped three or four times as we rode through.  That wasn't a problem, it simply gave us more time to score points.  (New high score for me of over 200,000!)

But then it was time to head out, as we were supposed to be ready for the bus to the airport in 20 minutes. Our original agenda was to have lunch at Chef Mickey's, but we cancelled it two days earlier because (a) we already had done two character meals and (b) we realized that we didn't think we could spare the 90 minutes for lunch.  And considering the ride issues on Buzz Lightyear, we certainly wouldn't have made our lunch reservation.  In fact, we didn't even have time to eat lunch, so we grabbed a couple of snacks out of my wife's backpack to hold us over until we got to the airport.  The Magical Express got us to the airport in more than enough time; we had over two hours once we arrived, so it actually ended up a good use of our time.  (Airport food or Disney food, you decide which is less worse.  Surprisingly, airport food was much cheaper than Disney food.)

I have to admit, I'm not a big fan of Southwest Airlines because of their "cattle car" setup.  It's OK if I'm travelling by myself for business, but for family trips, I wasn't going to risk it. Except Southwest does have some non-stops between Omaha and Orlando, which are awfully hard to resist. And my concern about the "cattle car" was reduced now that Southwest sells "Early Bird Checkin", which pretty much assures you "A" group boarding.  So when we booked, I figured Southwest's $15 fee for Early Bird Checkin offset the other airline's luggage fees, so we just picked the most convenient flights for us.

Southwest's non-stop flight from Omaha to Orlando left before 6 am in the morning, which wasn't family friendly in my eyes.  Getting the kids up at 3:30 am to fly to Disney seemed like starting the trip on a really bad note.  So we compromised:  flew American to Chicago the night before, enjoyed the pool at the hotel that's connected to O'Hare (great indoor pool!), then caught a 7 am flight the next morning.  It still got us to Orlando in the morning, so we could still have some Disney fun that first day, but saved us two hours of sleep.

The flight back was easy to pick on Southwest:  a three hour flight straight to Omaha. There was no wifi and thus no entertainment on board, but it didn't really matter at all to our kids. My son curled up in his seat and was out cold before the plane even took off.  (I only let him nap for about 45 minutes, though.)  I did leave Sunday completely unscheduled (other than picking up our dog from the vet), because I wasn't sure how much sleep the kids needed to make up.  They did sleep until well after 8 am that morning, which I'm sure their teachers appreciated the next day.

So what are my takeaways from Disney World?  Some of my opinions were confirmed, and some of the advice I found online turned out to be worth what I paid for it (zero).  I'll summarize that in the conclusion in part five.

The Disney World Trip Report

  1. Planning a Disney World trip
  2. Where to stay at Disney World
  3. Waiting in Line at Disney World
  4. The Magic Kingdom
  5. My Takeaways & Tips for Disney World

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