April 24, 2018

Our Wonderful Disney World Holiday Venture (Part 2 of 2)

This is the second chapter of our latest Disney trip report which comes to you with just a few pictures but much more words. You can read the first installment here.

You’re probably eager to hear about all our best Disney advices.

Be patient as we first start by talking about our fantastic once-in-a-lifetime New Year’s Eve experience at Magic Kingdom.

After that, we’ll also get into discovering apparently infinite possibilities always pleasantly surprising us at Disney.

The New Year at Disney World

Spending New Year’s Eve at Magic Kingdom was an amazing experience. It sure gave us the chance to check off one major item from our bucket list.

In fact, I was personally so excited that a had a hard time sleeping and woke up for good at about 4:30 am that morning. I ended up being a little tired after the previous day airplane traveling and shopping at Disney Springs. All that adrenaline still kept me going but I remained a bit out of phase. My two girls laughed quite a lot about it because they are supposed to be the Disney nuts of the family. With retrospect, I would still qualify myself as the Disney planning nutcracker.

Because it is such a busy day, we had to plan New Year’s Eve at our preferred Disney park accordingly.

We had to make sure to avoid the typical park closure around midday as Disney is always forced, attaining capacity, to shut down admission to new visitors every December 31st. This year was no different as Magic Kingdom was closed for about 6 hours from 11:30 am to 5:30 pm.  In fact, the 11:30 closure was probably a little later than other years. This all meant that, contrary to normal days, arriving midday or leaving the park for a break were not viable options.

Because this was only the second day of our trip, interesting dining reservations were almost impossible to obtain despite being booked 181 days in advance. Many guests were at the end of their visit and managed to reserve a couple days before us (for instance, visitors arriving on Christmas Day were able to book restaurants for their entire trip, hence obtaining availability 186 days before New Year’s Eve). The best we could do was two reservations at Be Our Guest, still a favourite, at 9:45 am and 14:05 pm. Our only possibility for dinner was grabbing quick-service on the go. Not the end of the world just for one day.

Our initial plan included only a ride or two after an early arrival and before our late breakfast. Things went even better than anticipated. We really took advantage of the early morning Extra Magic hour as we exited the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at 7:30 and were getting on board at the Many Adventures of Winnie The Pooh at 7:33. We also enjoyed Peter Pan’s Flight 7:44 all before normal park open at 8 am. After being held for a couple minutes near the Haunted Mansion, we survived the mad dash but still managed to get to Jingle Cruise at 8:07. On our way back, we hopped on It’s a Small World at exactly 8:57. Our early arrival was a real key to our morning success. After five rides with virtually no wait, we still deserved a pause and took our time to rest and eat.

After that, we had to minimize effects on insane midday crowds. We did it quite easily by using Fastpass+ reservations on three priority rides (Buzz Lightyear’s, Space Mountain and a second go at the Mine Train). We also visited less popular attractions/shows and attended the famous Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade. All this relaxing again in between in our comfortable restaurant of the day in the afternoon. We enforced a mandatory extensive restroom stop before we headed back into the outside madness.

Around 4:30 pm, we literally parked ourselves for a couple hours somewhere in the hub, in front of the castle, enjoying shows and the first big fireworks special presentation. On our way there, we grabbed complimentary New Year’s hats and flutes. As usual, Disney really thought of everything distributing tens of thousands of these. The crowds got even more cheerful and happy because of it. The flutes made things crazily loud, a good crazy. Blowing in a handful of these simultaneously made huge noise and was a lot of fun…for a while.

We stepped out of the main crowd early in the evening to take a breather and snag a quick dinner. Many guests, especially families with young ones, slowly started leaving the park after a long exhausting day. As waiting times became less oppressive, we managed to hop on a couple late rides. By refreshing the My Disney Experience app while waiting, we secured two additional marginal Fastpass at Tomorrowland Speedway and Mad Tea Party.  We could have stayed till the last minute but opted to look at the last fireworks (the same version we saw from up close just before 7 pm) from just outside the park. Being in the first group on to the bus that way, we avoided at least an hour waiting and from what other guests told us the next day, perhaps even closer to two hours.

Our unique New Year’s Eve day at Magic Kingdom sure was a blast for us. A bit tiring but still wonderful and amazingly fun! You have to be careful because it can become a nightmare if you are not somewhat prepared and conditioned for that kind of wild crazy day.

Always Discovering Something New

This was our fourth visit to Disney World in the last ten years. It’s quite amazing we are still discovering something new and interesting every time we go back.

Sure, there is always the new buzz in town like Pandora, the latest innovation at Animal Kingdom, a fantastic land based on the Avatar movies. Or, from already a few years before, the thrilling Frozen Ever After attraction. Hang on in this fun new ride that sure pleasantly dazzled us.

But the most surprising is unveiling pure gems that have been there for a while, if not what looks like forever.

For instance, on this recent trip, we sat in the cozy boats (ok, maybe a little rough on the bottom) of the Gran Fiesta Tour at Epcot. That attraction renewed in 2007 and the whole Mexico Pavilion for that matter, was a nice change of pace. We never had the chance to sail that somewhat similar to It’s A Small World attraction before. The young ones seem to like the stars of that ride, the Three Caballeros and especially related to good old Donald Duck. This may not be the ride of the century but should provide quality moments without almost any wait time.

Another pleasant revelation to us was the Voices of Liberty acapella group. Those talented singers are simply enchanting. Their 15-minute performance is presented as a prelude to the main US Pavilion show, The American Adventure. I just can’t believe we missed them all those years.

As usual, a couple restaurants were part of our interesting findings. It may not be an unanimous choice, but our Hollywood & Vine visit at the Studios was quite amusing. I even got into a friendly altercation with Mickey as he tried to steal the heart of Lady N, after he felt I got too close to Minnie. You will get a lot of variety at this buffet. Some quests may have reservations about food quality, but it was not our case. It sure can be an nice alternative to more popular character dining proposals, especially during holiday season as Mickey and his friends are all dressed up for the occasion. Before you reserve, be sure to check which Disney characters will be present because your favorites may not be there for every meal every day of the year.

You can always find plenty of excellent dining offers at Epcot. This time, you had the pleasure to enjoy Teppan Edo, a Japanese steakhouse located in Japan’s Pavilion. That type of spectacular cooking experience is always impressive. The friendly chef handled Lady N’s carrot allergy with style and humour. We greatly appreciated succulent food proposed in that amazing atmosphere. Note that this premium restaurant is quite popular so if you plan to visit, make sure to make it one of your dining reservation top priority. 

We could carry on with many other established perks that make Disney so great yet were just revelated to us. But continuous improvement and recent additions are probably even more exciting to talk about. So, let’s get back so some of these.

Everything surrounding Pandora and Avatar sure highlighted our visits to Animal Kingdom. Flight of Passage is a breathtaking attraction that you don’t want to miss. However, we are still not disposed to wait 3-4 hours to ride it like many people do. So, if you don’t want to waste half you day, make FOP your top Fastpass priority these days. In the end, we were very fortunate to experience it on two separate occasions. Lady N was a little dizzy after her first go at it but persisted and adapted for a much smoother second try.

Less thrilling and intense, we still think Na'vi River Journey has a worthy place in your amusement schedule. On one morning, we were able to ride it twice with virtually no wait. We would suggest riding it first thing to start your day or last thing at night. Speaking of night and day, Pandora has a completely different look in contrasting dark or light periods of the day. Hence, you should plan to at least pass through it during both.

Animal Kingdom used to be closed in the evening. Now that it stays open later, awesome night time offerings are worth the detour. We will give special mentions to, of course, Pandora, the new but unrelated Rivers of Light show but also to the Tree of Life Awakenings and Kilimanjaro Safaris. Again, seeing the animals at night provides a whole different perspective.

Talking about different, the Satu’li Canteen was another pleasant discovery. This new quick-service Pandora’s restaurant offers healthier yet tasty out-of-this-world ingredients to satisfy your palate. Disney’s Mobile Order now makes it even easier to give it a try. I was conquered by the Blueberry Cream Cheese Mousse that sure combined amazing look with taste.

Some of our Disney Strategies and Tips

This article is getting on the lengthy side…we are tempted to postpone this last portion about tips.

Nah! We won’t keep you lingering any further as some of you may have even used the Fastpass line right to this section. So, let’s get on with it!

How to Reduce your Waiting Time?

Disney attractions sure are a lot of fun but sometimes, waiting before you can ride them can be long and exhausting. Waiting 15-30 minutes is somewhat tolerable, it will even let you enjoy the surroundings. Waiting longer than that is not necessary et we believe it can often be avoided.

The true secret to reduce waiting time is to avoid longer stand by lines and heavier crowd levels, usually at their worst in the middle of the day. Thus, we will resume our overall park touring strategy this way: Arrive early, stay late, rest in between.

It may not possible to keep that kind of pace several days, but you should always try to maximize early and late stints riding popular attractions.

Most of the time, early morning touring will easily enable you to tackle on at least 5-6 priority attractions in the first hour, hour and a half. Or, even sweeter if you have the chance to accomplish it during morning Extra Magic Hours only accessible to Disney resort guests. Heck, as we discussed above, we were even able to do it at Magic Kingdom on New Year’s Eve!

The same goes for the latter part of the day as crowds and waiting time gradually get reduced as the evening comes by. Late in the afternoon, a lot of groups or families with young children will most likely head back home or to their hotel. You should stay and appreciate more accessible late riding. If you are a night howl, evening Extra Magic Hours can also be a blessing.

On normal days, Disney will typically let you into the parks about 15 minutes before official park open. For instance, at Magic Kingdom, this procedure allows guests to get to the opening show which takes place just in from of Cinderella Castle. Cast members will hold guests on each side of the Castle and release them to go to attractions at official park opening. Hence, whenever possible, we recommend getting to the entrance at least 30 minutes in advance. Many think it makes no sense waiting before opening to avoid waiting later but investing only a couple minutes here will save you precious hours later.

For example, for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, one of the most popular attractions, skipping the show and getting to the holding point in the first few minutes will allow you to enjoy the ride within an half hour. Other attractions will then be accessible with reasonable waiting in the first 2 hours of operation. After the initial first-minutes rush, Mine Train waits instantly characteristically rise to more than 90 minutes and won’t constitute an interesting option anymore. You would have to rely on a Fastpass reservation or wait till the end of the day for less extensive waits.

Last-minute riding is also an appealing possibility as Disney will let you complete your ride as long as you get into the line before official park closing.

With this strategy, just make sure to take into account when guests will typically rush out of the park. For instance, the Magic Kingdom rush out appends just after the final big fireworks presentation. At Epcot, it takes place just after Illuminations. To avoid long transit time if you use Disney Transportation System, you want to head out before or much after the end of the nighttime presentations. In that context, taking your time and relaxing after a late ride may be a better option. Enjoying what seems like an empty park can be magical. But it will probably mean you won’t be able to rise that early the next morning.

Speaking of rest, because you won’t be able to last forever, you must balance your schedule with healthy rest periods every day.

Planning a break half way through your day can also be one of the wise ways to stay away from heavy mid-day crowds. You could enjoy an extended lunch in a nice Disney restaurant. Heading back to your resort hotel for a power nap or a quick dip in the pool should also be considered some days. You could just rest your legs while attending a show like the Carousel of Progress or getting on a smooth slow-moving ride like the People Mover.

Another technique to avoid wasting time is using Fastpass reservations at least mid-day. Just don’t book them too late because you will forfeit your right to obtain additional ones. After we’ve used our 3 daily Fastpass, it’s not rare we get 1, 2 or even 3 additional bookings.

In fact, we consider that Fastpass planning and usage will always be at the heart of any effective touring plan. So, as soon as possible (30 or 60+ days out depending on your ticket package), make sure to book Fastpass reservations on priority rides. Each day of your visit, use My Disney Experience app to adjust your reservations and plans consequently.

How to Land Tough Dining Reservations?

Fastpass reservations are important but an essential key to successful Disney vacation planning, most often than not, will be Dining Reservations.

Since Dining Reservations are possible about six months out, booking them will normally be the first concrete step to your Disney visit planning. Sure, you will choose your dates, book your hotel and airfare all before that. But, especially for a crazy planner like I am, the real fun starts with Dining Reservations. At that point, you can really sense your Disney vacation dreams are taking shape.

Because some Disney restaurants are so popular, like Cinderella’s Royal Table, a few reservations can be very hard or even next to impossible to acquire. In practice, you will have to book some of them more than 180 days in advance unless you are very fortunate getting perfect timing as a replacement on rare cancellations.

Be prepared to book as soon as your reservation window opens. That specific morning is always very exciting. My Disney Experience can give you a precise daily countdown. Get a head start using the online reservation system that will typically be accessible at 6am compared to 7am over the phone. Have your account setup beforehand with credit card details, tickets and dining plan properly linked.

Understand that Dining Reservations are possible a little more than 180 days in advance as Disney allows you to book Dining Reservations for your entire stay as soon as the first day of your trip is within 180 days. Because most people visit Disney for at least 5 days, this means reservations are in fact accessible 185-187 days in advance.

In that context, you should prioritize and book very popular restaurants first. Also consider that these rare Dining Reservations will probably be easier to obtain in the later part of your trip as guests that arrive only a couple days before you will have priority over you in the first days of your trip. All of this because of the 180+ days reservation limit conditions. To resume, you should book sought-after restaurants first but later

With a list of your preferences in decreasing priority order ready, you should methodically make your selections one by one. Check for availability in the last days of your trip and work backwards to its beginning to gradually fill your schedule. To some extent, you’ll have to remain flexible. You should be comfortable with interchanging originally selected outings at particular parks. If you go in a busy period like we did during the Holidays, you probably will have to be content with less popular choices in the first days of your stay. Focus on the fact you’ll get very interesting possibilities later on.

After this fun but sometimes nerve-wracking process is complete, you’ll be able to adjust and continue building up more specific plans, including Fastpass reservations, around these Dining Reservations.

Subsequently, you could try to improve what you initially got by checking for cancellations from time to time but should never count on it. We rarely put a lot of energy in that fashion as it can be a very time consuming and frustrating undertaking.  

On a different note, we previously said that getting to the parks early can be quite advantageous. Despite that fact, sometimes, a late arrival and a good rest in the morning will be OK. Just plan the rest of your day accordingly. In that spirit, a couple times each trip, we like to sleep in and indulge in a late breakfast around 10:30 or 11:00. It can be an effective way to stretch dining plan credits and gives us an excuse to visit nice Disney Deluxe Resort restaurants like Cape May Cafe or 1900 Park Fare. Make sure to include these in your dining arrangements.

As we already eluded to before, Magic Kingdom’s Be Our Guest can be a magnificent alternative for breakfast and/or lunch. Both options have great value on the dining plan costing only 1 quick-service credit. The venue is wonderful and it’s almost like getting table-service quality for only the price of quick-service.

Not one of the worst, Be Our Guest still can be a tough one to land. But if you are fortunate enough, an early breakfast reservation may even give you an additional privilege: getting into Magic Kingdom before official opening! Furthermore, from experience, you can check in at Be Our Guest anytime before your breakfast reservation. For example, they will let you in at 8am regardless of an actual reservation at only 8:45am. It’s a completely different story for lunch and especially dinner as cast members will simply tell you to come back later if you are more than a couple minutes early.   

How to Cope with Variable Weather Conditions?

Compared to what we have to handle here up north, weather in the sunshine state is quite a breeze usually being relatively warm and comfortable. But as with weather conditions in general, things can be quite variable and change in a hurry particularly in Florida.

In winter months, it can be a tad cold at night and in the morning as we experienced in the first week of January 2018. Let’s just say it was slightly chilly for my bikini. But during the day, it still got much warmer.

In the summer, heat and humidity can make things rather unpleasant. You also have to deal with sudden rainfall and thunderstorms.  

Canadians know how to deal with difficult weather and our secret, even at Disney’s, would be to dress in layers and be versatile.

Our kit will always include a t-shirt, a sweeter and a light windbreaker raincoat with a hood. Don’t forget to swear fresh (bring at least 2 pairs in your luggage) comfortable walking shoes and bring an additional pair of socks every day. Wear a hat and sunglasses that will protect you from the sun. In the winter, they will also help you cope with the wind and cold.

We like to use thinner lighter clothing items that are easier to store and transport in our backpacks. We missed our warm winter coats on some mornings, but they would have been too heavy and a hassle to carry all day.

In colder conditions, we only added small gloves, headbands to cover our fragile ears and a fleece jacket that can be worn under our raincoat. On two or three occasions on this trip, long underpants would have been necessary. Our pyjama bottoms still did the job.

Another great thing about Disney World is that many attractions have comfortable indoor waiting areas. They sure got us warmer on this trip. We remember that air-conditioning was a welcomed commodity during our summer visits. If you feel aggressed by the weather, we would suggest looking for protection by attending indoor shows. It should be possible to get some comfort in many theaters present at Disney.

Forgive the length of this trip report. These days, I tend to get carried away with all things Disney. As usual, any questions will be welcomed.

Photos by Lady C

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