My Disney and Universal passion started in 2011 when I was planning a trip for my wife’s (then girlfriend) first trip to the parks. This had to be perfect, as I was planning to propose. This had me go deep into the Walt Disney World websites, and fan sites to see what other people would suggest or have done. Add to that I had gone through a Travel Agent that helped pull off one of the best trips I ever had.
After our first trip, we wanted to try and make it an annual trip. Because of this, I would start to dig deeper into the planning. What were these after hour parties? There are mini golf courses on property? Who has the best steak? What is DVC? There’s more than Walt Disney World and Disneyland in the US? What’s HHN? Who knew Universal had their own hotels?
As time went on, it went from me getting suggestions from my travel agent to me just saying what we wanted. From the hotel rooms to the dining, I had everything planned, and started to find this hobby too much more enjoyable than I thought it would have been.
One trip a year went to two, and then three, and soon we were going about once a month. We never needed a reason to go, but we always found a way to get down there. What once was strictly WDW trips with Universal on the side, to Universal only trips. The love for all the parks in Orlando started to make its way to me. And the bug of planning only got worse.
As friends and families started to ask me about planning their trips with them, it was then I realized I should try and do this as a side job. I was connected with MTE Vacations/ My Travel Elf in 2015, and started my journey as a Disney and Universal focused Vacation planner.
That’s just a little about me, we are starting a new phase in life, where we will be starting to bring a child with us to the parks we love, and creating memories with him. As we take this journey, join me. I may not say too many new things, but it will be my honest opinion on all the things we see and experience.
The purpose of this blog isn’t going to be about the latest news of the parks, there are other sites that will copy and paste articles for that. This blog is going to be about mine and my friends thoughts on what is going on at the parks. Our thoughts about the news that has come out, how that news might effect you, and how to help you plan the best vacation you can have.
At the bottom of every article you will find a link to get in touch with the author, that way if you want them to plan your next vacation, or if you have any questions, you can reach out directly to them.
Ever since Disney started to charge for their “skip the line access” (formerly FastPass and now Lightning Lane), the question of value has been on the front line. The best way for me to answer that question, is to compare it to the other major competitor’s version in Universal’s Express Pass.
Get to know the services:
I have a full break down of what Lighting Lane is here. But to simplify it, Lightning Lane offers you the ability to make reservations and to skip the line on available attractions. While most of Walt Disney World’s attractions are on this system, a few are set aside for Individual Lightning Lanes. These are an extra fee and priced according to crowd levels.
Universal’s Express Pass has two versions, regular and unlimited, and allows you to walk up to the attraction of your choosing and ride at your convince. All attractions are equal and no extra money is spent on a more popular ride.
Test One: Price Point
Let’s start with the big point, price. Lightning Lane itself stays at a $15 per person per day fee. So for a week for a family of 4, the total add on is $300 (not including taxes). The only thing that effects this is if you want to do any Individual Lightning Lanes, which can range from $7-$15 depending on the attraction and the crowd level. You are only allowed to pay for 2 attractions a day on this level. There are no discounts for the Lightning Lane system, and if you want to only use Lightning Lane for one day, then you don’t want to add it to your package. Currently a package will include Genie + (Lightning Lane) with the total days of ticket you buy, if you choose. All four of Walt Disney World’s theme parks are included in the price.
Express Pass may give you a heart attack, they range from $59.99 for one park one day per person to $259.99 for two park one day during the holiday for one person. Universal will price their express passes according to crowd levels, so you can avoid expensive pricing if you book a slow time to go. There are 3 hotels on Universal Property that offer the Unlimited Express for free with your stay. Portofino Bay, Hard Rock, and Royal Pacific all offer this great insensitive for your length of stay, including check in and check out days. So if you are interested in Express Pass, booking a room at one of these hotels may save you a few dollars. You can buy express pass for any day during your stay in your package, and bundling it with your package can also save you a few dollars. All three of the Universal Parks offer Express Pass, but Volcano Bay (their Water Park) is a separate Express than the Dry Parks. I’ll also note that the Premier Annual Pass will give you free Standard Express after 4 pm.
Winner: Lightning Lane, it’s an attractive price point, and even though you have to pay extra to ride select attractions, you will still come out cheaper than Express Pass.
Test 2: Attraction Availability
In 2012, Walt Disney World started putting FastPass+ on every attraction and show, whether it needed it or not. So when they made the transition to Lightning Lane, it all stayed the same. The difference was that instead of scheduling 3 rides 60 days in advance of your trip, you can only book 1 ride at a time starting at 7 am. After that you can either make one every two hours or as soon as you get off the current Lightning lane selection; which ever comes first. Because every guest wants to tour a different way in WDW, that means that by lunch you could be out of luck on getting Lightning Lane for the big attractions. The My Disney Experience app is a vital part of the Lightning Lane passes, as you will need it to make the reservations and to “tap in” to the attraction. Lightning Lane will also give you a set time to ride the attraction, so you will have to work your plans around that reservation.
Express Pass keeps their selections to just the attractions. The only attractions that currently do not have Express access is Hagrid’s Motorbike and Velocicoaster, as they are the newest attractions at the park. This is the typical way that Universal will do things. After a new attraction opens, or a certain time period passes, the attraction will join the line up. The Express Pass doesn’t use any type of reservation system. When you walk around the park in the way you want, you can just walk on to the ride of you choosing.
Winner: Express Pass. Knowing that you can walk up to an attraction and get on when ever you want will make the day that much better.
Test 3: ReRide Ability:
When Walt Disney World introduced FastPass, the chances were great for you to get a second FastPass to an attraction. Due to the guests having to walk to a physical location. When WDW brought FastPass+ online and the digital element and pre arrival planning came into play became a game changer. These Fastpasses would be gone 60 days in advance, with no hope to get one while you were in the park. So with LIghtning Lane, they got rid of the pre arrival reservations, but you can start making the reservations at 7 am on the day you are going to a park, and after that you can do the process known as “stacking”. Every 2 hours you can make a reservation, so by the time you make it into the park, you could have at least 2 reservations. But so can everyone else. For every reservation made, your chances of rerides using Lightning Lane become slim. And with the Individual Lighting Lane, you can only purchase the ride one time each day.
Universal offers 2 types of the Express pass, a standard and an Unlimited. With the Standard, you only get one ride on each attraction per day. The Unlimited lets you ride the reride as much as you want. No wait periods in between, just go ride. You want to ride the Hulk 3 times in a row with Express Pass? Go for it. As stated above, the Unlimited Express is the one that is included with the top 3 tier resorts on property. Neither require the app to use, and will be a separate ticket or your room key to use it. So you just walk up and scan.
Winner: Express Pass. Not having to get up at 7 am to start making plans for your day, and then not tying down your day to to what you have to do and when, makes Express Pass the easy winner.
Test 4: Benefits
Disney’s Lightning Lane/ Genie + does offer a few extra features included with its purchase. You can get some Snapchat AR filters, and you will also get some audio selections that tell you the history of areas of the parks and attractions. It’s not a lot, but it’s something to make you feel nice about the money you spend. I think Disneyland has the best option of Memory Maker as one of their benefits. They also offer an anytime, any ride pass (some times there are exclusions) if a ride breaks down or is in a weather hold during your return window. This is normally a one time pass for the people on the reservation for that attraction, and you don’t need to make a new reservation for whatever attractions you would like.
The Express Pass pass doesn’t offer you any type of extras for the money you are spending.
Winner: Lightning Lane, but right now I don’t think this is really a contributing factor when coming to purchase a “skip the line” pass for either resorts.
Overall winner: Express Pass
I really feel that even though the price point is steep, if you aren’t staying at a Universal Premier hotel, that Universal’s Express Pass is the best deal. The benefit to not having to worry about your phone, reservations, or where you have to be by a certain time really helps with a relaxing family vacation. Add in to the reride ability of attractions that you and your family enjoy with Unlimited Pass adds to benefits.
We all have different opinions on how to go about a day in the Disney Parks, but I think we can all agree that ending the day with one of the nighttime shows is by far the cherry on top for what can be an exhausting day.
While not all of the shows are back, I will be including all of the ones that belong in the parks. Their ranks may change with rumors to possible changes to some of the shows. So to be 100% transparent, I haven’t seen a Disneyland nighttime show since 2019, and Hollywood Studio’s shows since 2018. I also won’t include the Rivers of Light from Animal Kingdom, since it’s believed to be closed for good (it would be last anyway). So with that let’s get to my ranks!
⁃ Honorable mention: Christmas (all parks)
I didn’t want to leave out some of the best night time experiences, but can’t justify ranking them as they are only around for a few months. The Christmas Decorations and celebrations in the parks are amazing. The short projection shows on Tower of Terror, Mickey’s Christmastime Parade, castle projections (and hopefully the Dreamlights return), and Epcot’s Candlelight Processional are all NOT to be missed during your Christmas vacation. If only they could figure out a way to bring back Osborne Family’ Spectacle of Dancing Lights.
9. Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular (Disney’s Hollywood Studios)
There’s nothing personal here, but some one has to be bottom. I enjoy every show in some aspect, including this one. As a huge Star Wars fan, I was excited to see a nighttime show that had Star Wars featured. And while Galaxy’s edge is in DHS, there are also a lot of other iconic franchises represented in the park that could and should be featured in this park’s spectacular.
8. Mickey’s Mix Magic (Disneyland)
This one probably has more to do with the circumstances that I saw it in vs the actual experience. We watched the fireworks for the Esplanade one night coming out of Disney California Adventure. We could barely hear the music, but enjoyed the show from the outside. The next night, we set up shop on Main Street to watch the show with projections and Sleeping Beauty Castle as a center point. You know the whole immersive experience. But due to high winds that night (pretty common out there) the fireworks were canceled. And while the projections down Main Street were fun, we never got a full experience of the show.
7. Fantasmic (Disney’s Hollywood Studios)
This is one of the shows set to return this year, and from photos from BioReconstruct on Twitter, we know that a lot of work has been done during the closure.
This show was up there for me for a long time. It was the wife and mine first Nighttime show together, so it holds a special place. But as we saw it more and more it kinda lost some of that spectacular feel. So much so that we just stopped going to the show itself. There are some iconic spots and feel good moments, but it felt aged.
6. Disney’s Enchantment (Magic Kingdom)
You want to talk about a disappointment, this was one of them. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fun show for an average year, but this show was promoted as the show to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Walt Disney World Resort. You do not get that message from this show. It doesn’t help that it followed Happily Ever After and Wishes, two of the most loved shows for that park.
5. Harmonious (Epcot)
This show had some huge shoes to feel after the closure of Illuminations (we won’t talk about Epcot Forever, I never saw it and I heard nothing but negative about it). I enjoyed this show much more than Enchantment, but it still felt like it was missing something. The songs and languages go great with the park itself and the technology they are using for it is mind blowing.
The biggest downside is the way that they can’t move the barges in and out like they did for Illuminations. They are huge and ugly in the day. Not to mention that Disney stated that they would have fountains to hide, but we haven’t seen it. The show itself just ends. It’s not a big grand finale, it just kinda stops. You also have to be in the right spot to get the full effect of the “Stargate” or main barge.
4. Fantasmic (Disneyland)
Yes it is different, and it is better. The first time I ever saw this show was sitting behind a tree in the seating area of River Belle Terrace. It was a horrible spot, but I still loved the show from that view point. The feeling of transforming a part of the park to be this nighttime show with the energy of the park still going is great. A few years later, I sat down with the wife front and center and had an amazing experience with the reformatted show. Now that they have updated it to include Aladdin and Pirates of the Caribbean just makes it all the better.
Disneyland’s Fantasmic is set to journey through Mickey’ Imagination starting on May 28, 2022.
3. Disneyland Forever (Disneyland)
This Fireworks show will be returning soon to the parks this spring, so I figured I would include it. The show was made for Disneyland’s 60th anniversary and this is what made me have such high expectations for Enchantment. With projections down Main Street USA, Sleeping Beauty Castle, Fantasmic Screens, the Matterhorn, and the Small World Facade, this show can be enjoyed from just about anywhere in the park. It brings the history of the park, the rides, and the movies all together, in one great show.
Disneyland Forever is set to start illuminating the sky’s on April 22, 2022. And will on be only show on the weekends until the summer begins.
2. The Nighttime Electrical Parades ( Magic Kingdom, Disney California Adventure, and Disneyland)
I was hesitant and to include this, but these parades are a show and they bring a lot of people to the parade route hours before the parade starts to watch them. The only one confirmed to come back is the Main Street Electrical Parade at Disneyland. But with Disney’s history of randomly bringing back a parade and putting it in different locations, I will add Paint the Night. The Main Street Electrical Parade is the original and has been back and forth from Magic Kingdom and Disneyland for years. It has even been retired countless times. Paint the Night has only made its way through Disneyland and Disney California Adventure on 2 different occasions. Having the lights go out in the parks and seeing these “Millions of Sparkling Lights” come down the street is great. The music just makes you feel good. You end the night on such a high note.
Disneyland’s Main Street Electrical parade will celebrate its 50th anniversary on April 22, 2022 with two runs down Main Street USA. They have replaced the Celebrate America float with a new 50th Float that is celebrating Disney Animated Movies in the style of Disney Legend Mary Blair. The celebration begins April 22, 2022.
1. World of Color (Disney California Adventure)
By far my favorite show of the Disney Parks. While you wait for the show to begin, the sounds and light of Pixar Pier going is energizing. The game you can play on Pixar’s Pal A Round (when it works) is just old fashion fun. But as the lights go out and the fountains start to go, the vibe just changes. The classic theme song comes on, the journey begins. You are taken through the classic shows, movies, and attractions. Movies that don’t get the recognition in other shows get the moment to shine here. Enchanted, Fantasia 2000, and so many more have a spot in this show, whether in song or clips. And when the show ends, the fountains stay on, and the exit music starts, you have time to just relax as the crowds leave. A great photo opportunity for you and your family with the colors of the fountains behind you.
The fountains of World of Color will begin shooting up in the air starting April 22, 2022.
Universal and Walt Disney World had a bunch of construction announced before they shut down the parks in March of 2020, but what are we actually seeing on the ground at the parks. Will we see the promised attractions that were announced?
Walt Disney World:
Let’s talk about the resort that had the most on the books, and is proud of what they have coming; Walt Disney World.
Since 2017’s D23 Expo(Disney’s big fan event held every other year in Anaheim), Disney has been announcing major attractions that would be coming to Walt Disney World just in time for the 50th anniversary of the resort. Major attractions, new entertainment venues, and even new nighttime shows. A lot can happen between 2017 & now, and it did. Covid, which paused pretty much all major construction in Walt Disney World, is the obvious thing but things like the Main Street Theater for Magic Kingdom were quietly canceled. But what about the other things announced? Let’s take a look at some of the incomplete construction projects.
Tron Lightcycle Run: This attraction is a clone of the ride that opened in Shanghai Disneyland. This one gets to me a little. Announced on July 15, 2017 at the D23 Expo, this rollercoaster based on the world of Tron was rumored to open for Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary. That would make this clone a 4 year build. To make an example from the competitor, Universal announced Transformers 3D and had it opened within a year, which was a cloned ride. Tron’s build is currently taking more time to build from announcement to opening than from the purchase of land and opening of Disneyland.
Epcot overhaul: during the 2019 D23 Expo, it was announced that Disney would be spending some much needed attention on Epcot and giving the resort’s second theme park a much needed face lift. This transformation started in 2019, as the front part of the park started to remove the Leave a Legacy to add new planters and renovate the fountain, and then moved behind Spaceship Earth to create a new central area for the park.
This announcement included a new festival center behind Spaceship Earth, A Cherry Tree Lane experience in the UK, a new film in the Land, China & Canadian Pavilions, a Moana water experience, a Spaceship Earth Reimagining, a copy of the Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure from Disneyland Paris for the France Pavilion, a new Space themed restaurant next to Mission Space, a Guardians of the Galaxy themed Coaster in the building where Universe of Energy (announced in 2017), and the Play Pavilion that takes the place of Wonders of Life, and a new nighttime spectacular. This construction got started pretty fast after the announcements were made. The center of Epcot was closed off and demolition started on Club Cool, Starbucks, Character Spot, and Innoventions West. While Mouse Gears and The Electric Umbrella were both closed and gutted. Space 220, the space themed restaurant, was opened in September 2021, and Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure & Harmounious, the new night time spectacular, were officially opened on October 1, 2021. Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind is set to open summer of 2022. The Creation Shop and Club Cool replaced Mouse Gears and was opened on September 15, and Connections Cafe & Eatery will replace Electric Umbrella sometime in the future.
Splash Mountain Retheme: In the Summer of 2020, Disney addressed a Spring 2020 online petition to retheme the popular Splash Mountain from Song of the South to Princess and the Frog. Tony Baxter was brought out of retirement to help with this massive new theme. While we have gotten some concept art and that the story will take place just after the end of the movie and theme around Mardi Gras. Both Walt Disney World and Disneyland will be getting this new retheme, but we don’t know when construction is set to start.
Reflections Lakeside Lodge: This new DVC resort is to be built on the property that was River Country. This resort is a nature themed resort on the shores of Bay Lake. The only thing we found out about the resort is that the restaurant was to be Pocahontas. While concept art came out to show that Disney was going with the modern hotel trends. We haven’t gotten a look at the rooms themselves.
Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary: This isn’t directly connected to construction, and in March of 2020 we were still a long way from the 50th anniversary to start. The only thing we knew was happening was the castle was getting repainted. But if you listen to any podcast, or theme park journalist, Disney had been saying for a few years that they had big plans for the resort’s major milestone, and if you have been to any of the other major celebrations for the parks, you know they generally go all out. Most of what had been announced during the D23 events, had direct connections with this celebration.
Once Covid hit, the construction was halted resort wide. Naturally this put the all of the projects behind schedule, and opening dates are now up in the air. Add to that that in the Spring of 2020, CEO Bob Chapek stated that they will save $900 Million on construction cost. While a lot of this is still speculation, a number of projects have disappeared. Construction vehicles have been removed from the site of Reflections, Cherry Tree Lane and the Spaceship Earth retheme have been removed from the Epcot Experience that showcases what’s coming to Epcot. The Festival Center at the Center of Epcot is rumored to have been cancelled. Tron Lightcycle Run has been on and off construction since it had resumed and is rumored to be opening in 2023 ( a 6 year build for a replica of a ride and Pandora took 6 years to build that immersive land). The Play Pavilion has been sectioned off with a new curb and trees to not allow access to the revamp pavilion, with no word on what has happened to the project.
To top it off, the 50th Anniversary was not what everyone expected it to be. While we didn’t know what to expect, I think everyone expected so much more than what happened. No new parades, stage shows, or major refurbishments to classic attractions. Overall it just feels lacking.
Let’s go down the road to the more secretive company. Universal will build a 157’ Coaster in front of your face, and say they know nothing of it. But they did have some constructions happening before the March shut down.
Velocicoaster: The new rollercoaster in the Jurassic Park area of Islands of Adventure, had started construction in the Spring of 2019, but Universal didn’t confirm the coaster until September of 2020. Construction was paused for a few months, but once it was resumed it was at a lightning pace. In fact, most construction was done by the time the parks reopened in June of 2020.
The Bourne Stuntacular: This attraction was all but ready to open when the parks closed. The show officially opening on June 30th in the old Terminator 3D show.
Endless Summer Resort: Dockside Inn: This brand new hotel had an opening date in March 2020, just 3 days before the resort shut down. The resort did open in December 2020.
Epic Universe: In August 2019 Comcast Universal announced they would will be building the resort’s 4th theme park (Universal Considers Volcano Bay its 3rd Park). Land clearing and prep had been well underway when Covid forced the project to halt. This put a lot of fans in a position to think that we may not ever see this park come out of the ground. However, March 2021 saw the construction restart.
There’s not much to report on what Universal announced and got cancelled, because we have gotten it all, or it has started back on construction. To add to all of this, Universal has a new Minions attraction in the works in the old Shrek 4D building. A major refurbishment of The Mummy, and permits have been filed to tear down the Fear Factory Stage. With all the construction actively happening at their parks, Universal hasn’t decreased spending on construction projects, but have gone all in. It takes a lot of money to build a full theme park and the surrounding infrastructures , with estimates being in the BILLIONS of dollars.
All things said and done, I think Disney is looking at what they lost during their 4 month shut down, and what they couldn’t bring back right away and what to charge to the guests in order to gain what they lost during that shut down time. While they could have easily spent money to give the guests a better experience, they choose to skimp out. Disney has the money to spend on parks, they did just spend $71 billion on Fox to help get content for Disney Plus. While Universal will sit and throw money to make the guest experience better, new exciting things coming in a timely matter, and at a price that families can afford. I still love the Disney Parks, and to their defense Disneyland has announced an overhaul to Toontown, and Downtown Disney. But coming out of this pandemic, its been pretty obvious on how the two companies are planning on welcoming the families that are ready to get back to traveling to the theme park capital.
I am glad to have a good friend take the spot light on his thought on Genie +. Brian and I have been friends for a few years now and while we have a lot to talk about, most the time it comes back to Disney. We have taken a trip to Disneyland together, but have yet to go to Walt Disney World for a trip. He has experienced both MaxPass at Disneyland and FastPass & FastPass+ at Walt Disney World before the transition to Genie+ and Lightning Lane. On his most recent trip he was my first hands on friend to experience Genie + and the ups and downs of the new program. I’m going to let Brian take it from here.
We were promised back in August a reimagined guest experience with the change to the Genis service from the Fastpass system. In short, it was reimagined as a new revenue stream for Disney while increasing frustration and less time actually doing what you wanted to do.
Disney imagines that we are all there to experience everything and their job is to move us all around where we get a mixture of the things we like. When you first log in you are asked questions to help build your experience and a tentative, non-guaranteed plan is built for you.
If you are super relaxed and want to walk from side to side of the park you have made reservations at watching shows, eating snacks, or riding none of the newest attractions then Genie service is for you. Matter of fact, you are their dream client.
For me, we are trying to experience as many things as possible in a logical flow because there are only so many steps I can walk in a day. We want to ride the big rides, the newest rides, and at my kid’s ages, character experiences aren’t really a thing anymore for us.
If you want to reserve ride experiences at the best rides, you’ll need to pay $15 more a day, per person, on top of your ticket price to get the Genie plus experience. Because we stayed off campus on my last trip, we were unable to add the Genie plus service until the day of. Once we did, a lot of the experiences were already full well into the late afternoon.
We booked our first experience and then had to wait 2 hours before we could book another one. On the two days we were there, we booked no more than 3 experiences each day. On the old Fast Pass system, we started the day with 3 experiences pre-booked. I was able to add on a good day, up to another 5 or 6 experiences. Also, Fast Passes were included in the cost of our less expensive tickets.
Just when you thought this couldn’t get worse – there’s the lightning lane. At Hollywood Studios the two experiences with the Lightning Lane option were Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway and Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway was going to cost us an additional $9 per person to ride. This is on top of Genie Plus and our ticket to enter the park. Rise of the Resistance wasn’t even available as all the Lightning Lane passes were sold out. We had no choice but to wait in a nearly 3-hour long line in order to get this experience.
The next day at the Magic Kingdom I experienced one of the disappointing meltdowns as a family with their two young children learned what Lightning Lane was in front of Space Mountain. We had chosen to pay $11 per person for part of our group to ride Space Mountain (not me). I was waiting in the Tomorrowland plaza area as this family approached the attendant to learn how they could use Lightning Lane. When told the price the man’s entire demeanor changed. They walked to the side and in front of his children told his wife that he was f$%&*($ done. Literally, Disney broke this man’s spirit.
Families save up their hard-earned money to bring their children to experience Disney World. It’s not a cheap vacation at all. There are definitely ways to do it for less, but no matter what you will be spending a lot of money to be there. My belief is that the new Genie system has created an additional barrier, a more visible class system where only the rich can enjoy the best parts of the parks.
VIP services have been a thing for a long time and I’ve never complained about them. It’s something to work hard to one day be able to experience. I’m not a socialist either. I don’t believe Disney World is for everyone as much as we might wish it is. The Genie system though has created a have and have nots among those that attend. It highly favors those with experience and money. The casual attendee, the person that saved for two or three years to bring their family for four days, is the one getting damaged by this new system.
The cost of experiencing Disney World has grown exponentially and Disney continues to fee their attendees more and more for the same thing. I don’t know if there will ever be a plateau, but if there is, will the damage and perception of Disney World as an elitist vacation spot be too far to overcome.
A great first step would be to fix the Genie system. It’s super simple to fix: Eliminate the extra costs; Eliminate the Lightning lane. Immediately. Before it’s too late.
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This week I am glad to have a good friend take the spot light on his recent trip. Brian and I have been friends for a few years now and while we have a lot to talk about, most the time it comes back to Disney. I was able to help him book his recent vacation and asked if he would share his thoughts on staying off site, and Genie +. This post will focus on his off site hotel stay and overall trip. His thoughts on Genie + will come out later this week.
My first trip to Disney World was back in 1982, I stayed off site. Let’s be honest – there weren’t the options that we have now and it was more common. We stayed at a Days Inn style hotel that had a pool. Nearly 40 years later, I’d be surprised if it’s still standing. You drove in to the Magic Kingdom, or Epcot that opened that year, and would ride a tram to the gates. It wasn’t that bad and we didn’t really know any different.
Locations that existed in 1982 were the 11-year-old Contemporary resort, Polynesian, Fort Wilderness and the slightly newer Village Resort, and Golf Resort. Not quite the network of hotels we are used to today.
More recently we decided to take a quick trip to Disney World to see all of the 50th anniversary setup and Christmas decorations. My first inclination was to splurge and spend two nights in an original resort – Contemporary or Polynesian. Both were not available. We looked at other options with the most reasonably priced option being Pop Century. The other family we were traveling with had 5 in their group and their costs were going to be pretty high with extremely limited choices. This led us to look off campus.
With the work of our Disney Vacation Planner Jason Davis, we located a hotel – the Homewood Suites in the new Flamingo Crossings area outside the West gate.
We arrived at the Homewood Suites on Thursday evening to find our tickets awaiting us at the desk. The first question I asked was how often does the shuttle run to Disney Springs. I learned at that moment that there was not a shuttle available and that the shuttle that was promised to take us to Disney World only ran a few times a day and would cost $10 per person. We were a little shocked to learn that we would be driving to the parks the next two days and paying parking. Parking would be $25 per vehicle or $50 per vehicle for a premium spot.
The hotel itself was nice. We were able to park in the front and unload our luggage. Plenty of luggage carts were available which is not always common. There was also an easily accessible parking deck available that accommodated my large truck with a couple of inches to spare.
The room had two queen beds in one room and a fold-out couch in the other room. The sink was separate from the bathroom shower/toilet which made it easier for multiple people to get ready in the morning. The hotel had a very popular, but well-stocked breakfast buffet included in the cost of the room available each morning. Make your own Mickey waffles, which you know I did.
Because we stayed off-campus we were not able to activate Genie Plus until the day of our visit. This means we were unable to book our first experience until the day of. Also, Lightning Lane experiences were unavailable till the same day. Some of the more popular experiences like Rise of the Resistance were sold out meaning a nearly 3-hour wait to ride.
We didn’t book any dining experiences in advance but didn’t have any major issues eating where we wanted as long as you are willing to wait. The first night we waitlisted at Rain Forest Cafe in Disney Springs for a table for 9. It took about an hour but we were seated.
The second night we were in Epcot and waited less than 5 minutes to get a table for 9 at the Coral Reef restaurant located at the Living with the Seas pavilion. This provided an amazing view of the aquarium as we ate dinner. Eating fish while watching fish.
The third night we rolled the dice to see if we could get into Ohana at the Polynesian Resort, a restaurant that is normally booked well in advance. Our backup plan was to eat at Captains Cook’s in the same building if that didn’t work. We arrived and were told that we could put our name on the list but would not be given an apx. time to return. We walked around the resort and about 40 minutes later my phone vibrated. We had a table for 9! We enjoyed our family-style meal of steak, chicken, and shrimp while watching the fireworks over the park out the window. Even the music playing in the park is played over the speakers in the restaurant!
There were definitely differences staying off campus, ones that despite how nice the hotel was, were big enough that I would only stay on campus from now on. The walk each evening to our car in the parking lot was the worst part about the trip. You are tired, your feet ache, you just want to lay down, but you can’t. That reason enough is why I wouldn’t do it again.
Picking up where I last left you, we had stayed in Magic Kingdom for New Years Eve. Usually, when you stay out until 3 am for New Years you want to sleep in, and that was the case for us, but we had to be up the next morning for the Dolphins in Depth Tour at Epcot. This was something we had both been looking forward to since we booked it.
The tour meets outside of Epcot, and they take you backstage after signing a few papers. Our main guide was Letty, an older lady that had worked in the Disney Reserve and came over to Dolphins in Depth. The tour it self took you back to the areas where they observe the Dolphins, and to the food preparation area. They took us to a “reserved” seating area for one of the study sessions. The castmembers repeated multiple times that if the dolphins didn’t want to participate then they wouldn’t be disciplined, as they want them to feel comfortable. The study session involved one of the dolphins coming to a trainer at one window and wait for the sign to go to another. That window would have an item that the dolphin would recognize and would in turn use a vocalization to tell us what it was, if he was right the trainer would whistle and we would clap, if wrong nothing would happen but the dolphin would still get a treat from another trainer. After we watched the study, we went back to the locker rooms to get changed into a wetsuit so that we could interact with the dolphins.
Once again it was mentioned that if they didn’t want to play then they wouldn’t be forced to, they stated it in all the times the tours have been offered, only twice had they not wanted to play.
This was the best part of the tour, we had about 45 minutes in the water with the dolphins. There were eight of us, so two groups of four and we both had time with two of the four dolphins. We started off by getting to know the dolphins and then followed it with a few pictures. Once the pictures were taken, the fun began, the trainers told us to do different signals and the dolphins would respond. In between tricks, the trainers told us some different information about each of the dolphins, and would occasionally make them splash us.
We made our way through Epcot to our lunch reservations once we were done with the tour. Le Cellier Steakhouse was our destination. We had never eaten at this restaurant (along with Yachtsman that we had that night), so it made for a great day. All the people that had told us about it had great reviews, and we looked forward to this meal. Both of us ordered steaks, like you do when you are at steakhouse, and enjoyed the atmosphere.
After our amazing meal, and a trip to the resort to catch up on sleep, we returned to Epcot and walked around the World Showcase for shopping. We made it to Japan, where we spent most of the time looking around. The plan was to eat at Yachtsman and then make our way back into the park so that we could see Illuminations with the Christmas tag and new lasers.
We left the park early enough so that we could have a nice stroll to the Yacht Club for our dinner at Yachtsman Steakhouse. Sitting down at the table our waitress, Lulu, seemed super busy, and almost to the point of bad service. She came by a couple times for the drinks and food order, but paid a lot of attention to the lager group sitting next to us. However once that group was done, our experience with Lulu changed. She was probably the best waitress we had. She was asking questions about our wedding, how our honeymoon was and why we chose to come to Disney, she even went so far to tell us about her wedding planning and engagement. While the food was excellent, the service was perfect.
After we finally left Yachtsman, I realized that our plan to see Illuminations was derailed as we saw that the show had already started, so we made our way to the buses to go back to our resort. We met some great families waiting in line and had a chance to talk and goof off a little with them. Friday had been planned to be our Hollywood Studios day, but we hopped on the friendship boat and made our way back over to the Beach Club resort for breakfast at Cape May. This is my favorite breakfast, only for the Mickey Waffles with whipped cream and chocolate chips. The characters and other food is also a great experience.
We decided to take the boat, probably should have walked, back to the Studios. Once in the park we saw the news that Disney had announced the Sorcerer Hat would start to come down starting that Monday, so naturally we had to get a few pictures with the hat in the background.
Our FastPasses were mainly that evening, the only one we had right away was Toy Story Midway Mannia, which Beth beat me at this time. We made our way to the Animation building for pictures with Sorcerer Mickey, Minnie, and Baymax and Hiro. We love to do the animation class, but the lines were long, so we passed on it this time.
Lunch was at the Brown Derby, and it was another first for us. I was honestly surprised by the size of the dinning area. It’s not as small as it looks, which of course is good. Once again our food was great and service was outstanding. We got in and out pretty quick. We headed back to the resort for another afternoon break, only after Beth found our Bride and Groom Mickey hat, that she just had to have for us. So we had them put our names and wedding date on them and left the park.
That evening we came back into the park and first picked up the hats, which I was obligated to wear in any and all pictures that were taken. Momma Melrose’s was our choice for dinner that night and we had always loved it. The hostess, Amber, was great and just talked to us enough for the wait for our table to fly by. After being seated, we found out this wasn’t going to be a great experience. Our waiter took our drink order and waited a long while before getting our food order, these were the only times he came to our table, well besides to bring us the check, on his own. We felt over looked and under appreciated. The food was amazing, service not so much.
With the platinum package we had gotten VIP seating for Fantasmic, and like always had the early show. We got in with perfect timing and got great seats. The show was on cue as usual and we noticed a couple of changes to the Evil Queen scene. They had given her and the old hag a new robe with lights, and the cauldron was lit up.
After making our way through the crowds, we headed back to Streets of America to see the Osborne Lights. Surprisingly the crowds weren’t too terrible back there. We walked around and found the black cat, and took a few videos and pictures. It’s just a beautiful scene and the snow just adds to it.
With the Hat’s removal announced, Photopass Photographers were all over the place, different angles were a great addition to our icon pictures. This also gave us an opportunity to talk to other guests about the removal and what they thought of it.
Our FastPasses were for Tower of Terror and Rock ‘N Rollercoaster. I absolutely hate the Tower. I’m not a free fall kind of guy, but Beth had never been on it, so we had to do it. The line wasn’t bad, but the nerves didn’t help any of it. I knew what to expect, but knew it wasn’t going to be fun for me. Of course they set us up in the front row, and Beth never let go of the side handle or my hand. It wasn’t as bad as I remember, but I still don’t care for it.
It was our first time on Rock ‘N Rollercoaster, every time before we had gotten sick or just wasn’t feeling it. The FastPass/Standby lines were moving a lot faster than the single rider, to the point of people complaining. I knew what to expect only in speed. But that ride was great! I can’t wait to do it again. The intent for Staurday was to stay out of the parks, and be in the resorts for the majority of the day. We started it with breakfast at 1900 Faire. Beth finally got a picture with Mad Hatter, the food was great and the character interaction was perfect.
Our next stop was to Senses Spa at Grand Floridian. It had been a few years since Beth had had a massage, and I had never had one. The platinum package included it, so we went for it. This spa is amazing, and that still can’t describe it. We were both escorted to the male and female lounge and locker room. Which had a very nice seating area, in the male at least, the locker room and showers were clean. After being picked up for the actual massage, my attendant made me feel very comfortable for my first experience. The massage lasted 50 minutes, and should have gone longer (I guess I should have paid more money).
After the massage I was taken back to the men’s lounge, I took some time in the spa room which had a steam room, hot tub, and two heated tiled chairs. Any in of these places, you instantly felt relaxed, even more so after the message. You are able to spend the whole day in the spa, but we chose to only spend about an hour in there before heading out.
We were so close to the Magic Kingdom, that we went on in to just walk around and get some pictures with characters and hit some rides up,after all it was our last full day in the World before the cruise. The crowds weren’t bad so we got to do what we wanted.
After a little shopping in the Emporium, we left to get ready for our dinner at Victoria and Albert’s, the dinner I was scared of, yet excited for. We looked really weird getting on a monorail in our nice dinner clothes, but why take the car when it was only a monorail ride away? The reservation was for 5, and we got there about 4:45. The hostess greeted each of us and made sure everyone was dressed appropriately, and a few minutes later came back and got each table and showed them to there seats.
The restaurant was very small, but very intimate. We had a wait staff of 2 people, both were very polite and very attentive. Our menus were personalized for us, including our names and “Happy Honeymoon” on them. While they do personalize the menu for all guests, Beth has a gluten allergy and I am just a picky eater, so they had called to ask what we would/could eat. A live harpist played pop and Disney songs throughout the dinner.
Beth had gotten the wine pairing with her meal, while I stuck with plain water. While I don’t remember everything we had, I know I tried it all, which is an accomplishment for me. The wait staff would bring out our dishes and tell us everything we needed, and didn’t need, to know about the preparation, and flavors of that dish. Three of my dishes were quail, duck and veal, all of which I had never had and was supposed to like. Beth had the duck for one of her courses and I cannot recall the rest of it. My dessert was chocolate with gold shavings in it, while Beth had the Crême brûlée, both were fantastic.
As we were getting ready to go, our wait staff came out and gave us a small bag that included a rose for Beth, a small loaf of bread from Babycakes, also for Beth, and our menus. They called us a cab as we were heading to downtown Disney for Cirque Du Soleil La Nouba.
La Nouba was an amazing show. We had seats about three rows from the stage, and were also included in our package. I would highly recommend this show good and easy, fun way to cap off a date night.
Sunday was our last day in Disney World before the cruise. We headed to Epcot after a breakfast at Chef Mickey’s. We had the Behind the Seeds Tour planned for late that morning. This tour is short, but very informative, telling you how Disney is growing the different plants in the land pavilion. It was just three people in our tour, so it went by fast and was extremely personable.
Our last meal was at Coral Reef. We have had mixed reviews over the past few years of us going to this restaurant, this wasn’t a good meal. We sat close to the aquarium, which was a great view, however the food and service was miserable, and I believe we have eaten there for the last time. So what do you think of our week in Disney? Is there any questions about what we did, or what you would have done different? Let us know!
This was an article I originally wrote in 2015 about our Walt Disney World Honeymoon Stay.
We arrived to the Contemporary Resort at Walt Disney World around 2 am on December 28. If we had made it during normal operating hours, we would have gotten to check in at the concierge desk in the Atrium Club, but we made due with our usually check in desk in the main Lobby. That just sounded snobby, sorry it was not ment to be that way.
Our first day in the parks was the 3rd anniversary to our engagement, that as you all know happened in Disney World. We originally planed on a Tusker House breakfast, but canceled that the night of the rehersal dinner, we decided that we may be to tired. This brought the opportunity to try out the free food offered at the Atrium level. There was nothing big, pastries and cereal with drinks.
We made our way to Animal Kingdom to hit Everest and The Safari, both didn’t have much of a wait and got on pretty fast. But didn’t stick around in the park to long as we had lunch reservations at Akershaus in Epcot. It should go to mention that I am a very picky eater, and most of these restaurants don’t have my taste in food, but I tried to find something I may like and at least tried it.
After lunch we walked a little around Epcot, only to find ourselves a little tired, so we made our way back to the hotel for a nap. It wasn’t a long nap, as we had to be at Magic Kingdom for our dinner at Cinderella’s Royal Table.
Beth was able to request the table where I had proposed to her, and we were lucky enough to have gotten that table. The service was amazing, the princesses were entertaining and the food was perfect. As much as we wanted to stay in the park and watch Wishes, we had the Fireworks cruise booked that night and had to be at the Grand Floridian pretty soon after dinner.
On this amazing cruise we had a driver named Kate. She was a part time worker for Disney and you could tell that she had a passion for what she was doing. I was expecting just a cruise around Seven Seas Lagoon to a nice spot to view the show, but instead Kate, and the rest of the drivers, took us on a tour of Bay Lake. Here she showed us the abandoned Discovery Island and River Country Parks, also the retirement shoe tree. All this was in the pitch black, and while she had a spot light, it didn’t make much of a difference. We could see the turn styles but nothing more.
We made our way back to the entrance of Magic Kingdom, this would be our place for viewing the Holiday Wishes. The music was transmitted over FM, so Kate was able to have the music synced for us while we watch the fireworks. Once Wishes was over we made our way back to Grand Flordian, where we had the best view of the Electrical Water Pageant, some this we had only seen in passing, but will make part of our ritual from now on. While dated, it’s still an amazing show.
Monday morning we had our first Disney behind the scenes tour, the Yultide Fantasy Tour. This tour was completely worthy our time and money. Ralph was our guide for this tour. We started by heading to the Germany pavilion in Epcot, then to Italy and finally to American. Each spot we got the history of that countries celebration and why they decorated the way they did. The next stop was Magic Kingdom, where we got a few tibits of the decoration of Main Street, but mostly the story of how Rudolph came about being a Christmas tradition.
We then made our way backstage to the Holiday Workshop. This is were all the decorations for Disney World and some for the Disney Cruise Line get put together and ready for the parks. While most of the Christmas decorations where already out in the parks and resorts, the workshop was working on the Fall Decorations that had just come in or making from scratch new ones to replace the older decorations.
The last stop on our tour was the Wilderness Lodge. This part was a more of an on your own tour. We had apple cider with the group and were then able to walk aboard the resort and enjoy the decorations and take pictures.
We were taken back to where we were picked up, Epcot, where we had reservations for Via Napoli with the Candlelight Processional package. As always, their food was amazing. I had to make my new wife mad and have the pizza, while she couldn’t because of a gluttien sensitivity.
We enjoyed epcot for a few hours before we made our was to the American Theater, including listening to my favorite Vocies of Liberty. If you haven’t taken the time to listen to this Acapella group, you need to do so on your next trip. They are a very talented group of people and always leave me wanting more.
Steven Curtis Chapman was the guest reader for our Candlelight Processional. This was only the second time hearing this wonderful program in Disney, our church choir performed it this year as well, and the way that Mr. Chapman brought the story forth was amazing. The choir and orchestra were also breath taking.
After hopping on the monorails, we arrived at the Polynesian Village Resort, which had just opened the newly remodeled lobby, for our dinner at Ohana. The lobby in my opinion is beautiful, of course it’s not the old water feature, but it has it’s perks. On the ground floor, looking through the lobby toward the Magic Kingdom, you get a view of Cinderella Castle. The Second floor feels more open as well as you have a few light fixtures hanging low.
After our first horrible experience at Ohana, the waiter paid us no attention, we barely got any meats the first time around, and no one came close to us for seconds, we made our way back to the hotel room, where we would take advantage of the evening desserts that had been placed out in the club lounge for us and then head to the balcony to watch wishes from our room. This was an amazing treat. We weren’t able to bring the music in, as we just barely go to the room in time for it to start, but just watching from the comfort of our room and knowing we didn’t have to try and navigate the crowds afterwards was amazing.
Tuesday we spent the majority of the day in Universal Studios so we could see Diagon Alley. The weather was wet and the crowds were of course horrible, but we had fun. The first thing we decided to do was Escape from Gringotts, the E ticket ride for Diagon. We made it to Universal shortly after rope drop, and made our way straight to the back because we knew there would be a line. We thought we had gotten in line for the actual Diagon Alley but instead we were surprised to find out that we were making our way toward Gringotts. It was about a 2 hour wait, and in my opinion not worth it. The ride was a great ride, but didn’t hold up to my expectations.
Once off the ride we walked around Diagon for a while. Made our way to get some ice cream, I had to try Butterbeer and Beth got Earl Grey with Lavender. I loved the Butterbeer ice cream and wish I had gotten another. Beth said her’s was just ok, but she enjoyed it.
As we walked around everyone one stop in front of the bank to see the dragon breathe fire. It was an amazing sight, but one that clogs the walk ways in a crowded time frame. The sun would show its face every now and then, but when it started to rain, everyone went running for the dry awnings, we however made the desicion to go into Knockturn Alley, best decision ever. No one was really there, and we had plenty of breaking room.
After we made sure to hit all the stores, we headed to Hogwarts Express to make our way to Hogsmeade in Island of Adventure. The train ride was amazing, and we share both our trips with great people. This alone was worth the price of the 2 park ticket, unfortunately the weather wasn’t holding up for us and we only spent a few minutes in Hogsmeade before we headed back to Universal Studios, so we could eat and let Beth enjoy the Simpsons area.
We weren’t able to get on many rides outside of Harry Potter because of wait times and the need to get back to the resort for dinner at 7. The mistakes that I made at Universal was waiting in to long of lines for food, and little things. Transformers, Simpsons, and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey were rides we plan on getting to but didn’t because of time/ weather. However, we did make it on E.T., it’s been our tradition every time to go on it. Our reservations were for Califonia Grill, so we left Universal at around 3:30, to give us time to get back, as we were using Mears Transportation and they would make a few extra stops, and to freshen up before dinner. As soon as we were seated, our waiter, Walter, informed us that Holiday Wishes was about to begin and we could enjoy it from either our table or one of the viewing balconies. As the weather had been dry for a few hours now, we chose the latter. Once again, another breathe taking view, and of course they had the music synced so we could enjoy the music as well.
Walter was the first amazing server we had on the trip, always giving his honest opinion on the food selection, and was great with conversation. After making our food selection, we started to hear rumblings that some one famous was up there with us, in fact it was Tim Allen that was sitting in just the other side of the resturant. While the young lady sitting to our left was wanting to stalk him, I told Beth that he was on vacation trying to have dinner, and we wouldn’t want to be bothered if we were in his shoes, so we got our glance at a distance, and went on with dinner.
The food and staff at California Grill was amazing. Beth had some Sushi for an appetizer, that she couldn’t stop touch even when her main course came out. For my main course, I had bision, and usually I always have my meat cooked well done, but Walter told me to try it medium rare so I could get all the flavors. We It came out and I tried it, I knew I had been missing out in life. I don’t get my food rare but I did learn not to go with well done any more.
The Magic Kingdom was going to be doing their New Years Eve Fireworks that night to help with crowds on actual New Year’s Eve, so Beth and I walked around the resort a little and then headed back to the room so we could enjoy Fantasy in the Sky around 11:50. It should go to mention that the New Years Eve fireworks are my favorite, mainly because they are perimeter and light up the night sky like it is day, but I have only seen them in the park. Seeing them from the room was jaw dropping. When the perimeter fireworks starting going, the hotel started shaking. Beth was actually trying to sleep when they started, but was soon awake.
The next day was New Years Eve, as I mentioned a few minutes ago. We had reservations for Crystal Palace at 8:10, and Extra Magic Hours was at 7. We made it in the park at around 7:20 and got on TTA before we headed to breakfast. This was Beth’s first experience at Crystal Palace and my first breakfast there. The resturant had just opened so after we waited a few minutes, and talked to a couple of new engaged couples, we sat down for breakfast. Pooh’s friends made it around to us pretty fast, but it was a few minutes after we had finished that Pooh made his way to us.
The crowds in the Magic Kingdom were crazy, castmembers said that it reach maximum capacity around 9:30 that morning. We ran around a little, and had a few fast passes. We were able to see Cinderella and Rapunzel, and had fast passed Seven Dwarves Mine Tain and Anna and Elsa meet and greet. We made our way to Be Our Guest for lunch, which we had utilized the FastPass for the resturant’s lunch. You can choose to preorder or just have the reservation, we chose the latter. Surprisingly it wasn’t that crowded and we found a table in the Music Box Room.
Because of the crowds, guest started to find spots on Main Street for the nights festivities around 4:30, so I made it back to Frontierland and got our free hats and noise makers, and we sat down in front of the Ice Cream Parlor at around 4:40 the best part of this experience is that you get to know the other guest. We had a great family sitting next to us, but left right after the Main Street Electrical Parade. As the night went on, the street only got more crowded, and the music changed from the background loops to DJ Elliot on the Castle Stage.
You could feel the energy growing as the countdown came nearer. We made our way toward the center of the street in anticipation of the New Year. The fireworks went off and it was just as stunning as we remembered from 3 years before. We said no pictures during the show, because we wanted to be able to enjoy it.
The Magic Kingdom had extra Magic hours till 3 am that operating day, and we chose to utilize this do to not doing anything for 7 hours. The DJ kept playing through out that time. The wait times were lower, as a lot of people had left after the midnight fireworks. After the park closed, we walked back to our hotel, and set the alarms for an early morning. That’s the first part of the week! What do you want to know about? I will be updating later this week with the second half of the week.
Beth and I had been dating for 6 years, and for some reason the topic of Disney came up and I found out that Bethany had never been to Walt Disney World growing up, so in the spring of 2011 we had the idea to take a trip at Christmas for her very first time. It had been 10 years since I had been, and that was for a band competition in high school.
The next big step was to make sure it was fine with her parents, that her first trip to Disney would not include them. They were hesitant at first, but we had been taking trips to North Carolina and the southeast for a few years by then, so they were comfortable with us traveling, just not so much on the spending.
We booked our stay at Port Orleans French Quarter for December 26, 2011 – January 2, 2012 (yes I knew it was the worst time of the year to go, but it was a free week off of work) in February and were ecstatic.
June was the our advance dinner reservations (ADRS), but we were already talking about where we wanted to eat. Our friends, that I mentioned earlier, told us that we had to eat at ‘Ohana, and I had remembered the episodes of Boy Meets World and Full House where they had eaten at Coral Reef so I wanted to try that place out. Everything else was up for grabs, and request from out travel agent.
I got to thinking that because we had been together for so long, and that she hadn’t been to the World before, that it would be a great place to propose. So I got to thinking that I needed to ask her dad, to be the old fashion guy, if it was ok that I ask. Once he gave his blessing, the planning began.
Boy Meets World was my favorite show growing up, and like I said earlier, I remembered the Disney episode, where Cory and Topanga had gotten back together at the Innovention Fountain, so thats where I was going to ask, needless to say that I didn’t know that they had a performance at that stage during the holidays. I had picked out the perfect package from Disney Florist that would include roses, a tiara, an certificate that declared her a princess, and a bottle of Wishes cider.
That all came to a halt once we hit June. We were making our ADRs, and because I wanted to make sure Beth had the best experience she could possibly have, I also didn’t know that I was creating a monster in both of us and start going every year, we booked the Cinderella Royal Table dinner, along with ‘Ohana, Coral Reef, Tony’s, Planet Hollywood, and Artist Point. We would spend one day in Universal, so we didn’t make dinning plans for that night.
Kelly had started looking at different ideas for the engagement, and told me about a package that is available at the Royal Table, that would included a glass slipper, and a special dessert that was not specified. best part, it was cheaper! So of course we booked that instead of the florist package.
I was starting to get intrigued with finding different things, I stumbled upon the Disney Fine Arts page, and found out that we could have our pictures taken in park, but to make sure that Beth was up for taking some pictures, I had to think of a way to ask with out saying that I wanted to get engagement pictures down there. Kelly and I had decided that it would be best to say we got a “First time visitor” photography package, and Beth fell for it.
We had it all booked and and all paid for by October. So then it was the waiting game. Beth was counting down the days, hours, and minutes the entire time. Christmas came and went really fast.
We left at 4 am on the 26th, to early after the long Christmas that we usually have. I had packed her ring in the liner of my suitcase, so if for any reason she needed to get in to my suitcase she wouldn’t stumble upon it. Our drive is about 7 1/2 hour, and we wanted to get there in time to enjoy the day at Downtown Disney.
We made it to I-4 at about 2 and what should have been a 15 minute drive, was actually an hour, because of traffic, I say this so that if you ever drive down, use the bathroom before getting on I-4 during the holiday.
After making the mad dash to the bathroom, we easily got into our rooms at the French Quarter. We relaxed for a bit then got on the boat for Downtown Disney, and spent the afternoon at DD.
Our first day was spent in Hollywood Studios, for the fact that I wanted the day that I proposed needed to be the first time she ever saw the castle, this made it pretty difficult to get to ‘Ohana with out her seeing the castle.
So the big day was the next day. We got up early, and I put the ring in a pocket, so that we didn’t need to go back to the room. I had told her that we wouldn’t do the big rides (I didn’t want to lose the ring). So we spent the day window shopping, chasing characters, and using the small attractions (the fastest ride was Mad Tea Party). Beth wanted to dress nice for the dinner, so before the lighting of the castle she found a bathroom and changed.
I was sent specific instructions, on what to do when we made it into the restaurant. First, was to sit down and not pass out, CRT was packed. We were then to order, which was the hard part, I am a very picky eater, so we had to talk to the chef about what I wanted to eat, and Beth already had her eyes on dessert. But when I told her to wait on that she was a little upset, of course she didn’t know that I had dessert already ordered.
After the order, I was to meet the manager by the bathrooms, to give him the ring, that way he could place it in the slipper. Then I went to the bathroom and threw up, not really, but I felt like it. The meal was amazing, what I ate of it. Then it was time for the big question.
They had the glass slipper in a white covered dish, Beth had seen this and played it off, because she figured it was someone else’s dessert, and we hadn’t ordered ours yet. But she quickly found out it was for her when they placed it in front of her, and uncovered the blue glass slipper on a bed of red rose petals, with a ring in it. I said something to the effect of “You have walked with me for 6 years, will you walk with me to Eternity” got on one knee and asked her to marry me.
The slipper had “Walk with me to Eternity” on one side, the date on the bottom of the shoe, and our names on the other side.
After 10 million pictures were taken by the photopass photographer, and I had changed my pants, joking, the amazing desserts came out. It was a white chocolate slipper, on an angel food cake, with fruit to the side. I ate it all in about 10 seconds, because I ate maybe 3 bites of dinner because of nerves. Beth, on the other hand, didn’t take but 2 bites.
I chose this time to tell her that those “First Time Visit” pictures were actually Engagement photos, and we were taking them at Epcot. She was thrilled. We walked out that night just in time to see “The Magic, The Memories, and You” castle show, where we were featured on the “big screen” of the castle, followed by the Holiday Wishes fireworks show. The Engagement pictures were taken in the World Showcase before it was opened, and we had some of the best photographers. We had an amazing time while taking the pictures, and they turned out amazing.
The rest of the trip was a typical Disney trip getting up early and leaving the parks late. The worst part was New Year’s Eve. We had to find our spot at 6 p.m. and sat there until 1 am. It was still magical, and we got to know some great people. What are some of your amazing stories that have happened to you at the parks?
Disney has a special place in a lot of people’s heart. People grow up watching the movies, learning with Mickey, and taking vacations to the Most Magical Place on Earth, Walt Disney World. Whether it’s just a once in a lifetime trip you took at 13, or an ongoing vacation spot for you and your family, memories have been made. And with Disney Turning 50 on Friday, there are a lot of memories to share, mainly in picture form.
I haven’t been going to WDW a lot in my life compared to others. I went two times as a child, and I don’t remember to much from that. I got lost in the park because I was playing with the goofy hat that my parents had gotten me. There are flashes of sights and sounds that bring back memories. Main Street Electrical Parade always has a place in my heart, but it’s Spectromagic that I want to remember.
My next trip that I prominently remember is a band trip my freshman year of high school, around May 2001. It was my last big trip with my friends as I was going to move schools. The sorcerer’s hat at Hollywood Stuido was just being built, in fact it was still called MGM Studios then. I only made it to two of the four parks, but that wasn’t the important thing.
I spent a few days performing and running around those parks with friends. Riding Tower of Terror for the first time, sitting in the walk thru of Cinderella Castle with some of the guys and joking around, and the award ceremony in Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular. This was a needed time for me, I grew my friendships in the most magical friendships in a time I needed them. The years have passed, and we aren’t nearly as close as we once were, but those memories still hold tight.
It was just over 10 years before I went on a trip again. Church friends had just come back from a fantastic trip, and they raved about the fun. My girlfriend had never been to Walt Disney World and was going to graduate from College, so what a better trip for her than a Disney trip?
I went on to plan a week trip after Christmas, and to propose. While crowds were crazy, watching Beth light up at every little magical sight was worth every second in the long lines. We did as much as we could, in the time we had. When it came time to propose, we ate dinner at Cinderella’s Royal Table, on her first day in Magic Kingdom. I got on my knee in a crowded room of families, princesses, and Castmembers asked the best question I ever asked. I’ll post the full story later.
From then on we wanted to try and do one trip a year, whether a small trip or a week. Going during Halloween, to starting a running journey with runDisney, and then to Night of Joy, we’ve done a lot of events in Walt Disney World.
In 2014, we decided to take our honeymoon in what had become our favorite destination. We stayed at Contemporary, and ate at the best restaurants on property. Going all out on a week we wanted to remember forever. Nothing has topped our honeymoon for us. Waking up to the Magic Kingdom outside our window every morning, and watching fireworks from our balcony, nothing could be better.
As our lives went on, we added more trips to our journey. I ran and finished my first half marathon at Walt Disney World’s runDisney Darkside Half Marathon in 2016. We added three great friends to our travel adventures, opened lands and closed rides, took pictures for baby announcements, and spent 24 hours straight in Magic Kingdom. I joined an awesome Travel Agency that connected me with great people, and helped me do even more things that I never thought I would do.
Every last trip we have had we have made memories that we laugh, cry, and laugh till we cry about them. Walt Disney World has been a very important part of our lives over the last 10 years, accumulating 59 trips in that time. So it’s great that on our 60th trip to Walt Disney World, will be to celebrate the resort’s 50th anniversary, we are adding our son’s first trip to our memories.
We look forward to make so many more memories with Travis over his life, and Walt Disney World will be integral in those memories. Walt Disney World, thank you for everything you have added to our life and memories!!
Growing up, I was never a person for anything horror related. Pretty typical kid that had nightmares after watching a scary movie, or after going through a haunted house. But as I grew up, I started to get into movies, and the horror genre became one of my favorites. And while I was opening up my horizons to new movies, the thought of a haunted house still freaked me out.
Life goes on and new things come into our lives, and theme parks was that new interest for me, and when I say theme parks, I mean Walt Disney World. To plan better trips, I would listen to podcasts on the way to and from work, and sometimes, at work. I won’t name it here, but one podcast would just get on my nerves at Halloween every year, because they would shift from covering a lot of Disney, to Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights (HHN). I didn’t want to hear about that, I wanted to hear about the Magical Disney Halloween experience with free candy. But the more podcasts I would start to pick up, the more I would hear about this “ amazing” event at Universal.
So in 2017, we made the decision to take a stab at HHN based on the podcast that I had heard.
The best thing about HHN, is the following it has. Just like everything else, there are people that have been with the festivities from day one and the people who are going for the first time. The biggest thing they all have in common is they know the year or event number that they first started to go. For me, its 26 or like I said above 2017 with the only year I have missed being 2020 and that can be technical because they only ran the houses for a short time, and I wasn’t in the parks the day they ran the 2 houses.
This group of people are great. There are people that can tell you the houses and there locations for the past 10 years. They keep a running tab on the best houses and scare zones throughout the years. It’s just fun to be in queues with anyone that is going to this even, but the Hardcore fans make it a little better for me as I get to talk about other years. Everyone is going to have a different opinion on what was great and bad, which helps keep things interesting in conversations.
The main focus of the event is the Houses (or mazes). As the years have continued, the number of houses have gotten to 10. They are split into Original and IP (intellectual property) Houses. IP houses are going to be based on Movies, TV Shows, and sometimes Music in popular culture. The Walking Dead, The Shining, Stranger Things, and American Horror Story are just a few examples. While originals give the creative team a chance to create their own stories.
The houses are located about the outside perimeter of the park, well besides one. The majority of the houses when you walk into the event and head straight will be in Sound Stages to the right of the park. You will enter these by going through a ride entrance, or through a Backstage access. The houses toward the back of the park are mostly called “Tent Houses”. These are just Tents set up in the back stage areas and will be accessed through a “Team Member Only” area in the park. There are a couple that will lead you through queues to get to them. They do utilize the Parade and a maintenance buildings on this side of the property. The last house is actually located in the 2nd theater of the Shrek 4D attraction.
One of the best parts of the event is how the park transforms at night. Universal does a great job of trying to keep the gore to a minimum during the day, covering up a lot of the HHN decorations. The park closes early on the nights that HHN happens to give team members time to set up for the event. But once the gates open back up, the feel of the park has completely changed, and it only gets better as sunsets and the night progresses. The lighting, the music, and the effects all change, not to mention the scare actors come out.
The scare actors are all placed in what are called scarezones, and these scarezones are each themed differently. There are 5 scarezones most years. The first one you will come across is in Production Central, and will usually be the smallest and less themed of the event. In the years I have been, this has been more of a “selfie” area. The next area you come to will be New York, which will be one of the biggest zones. This Scare zone will start at Jimmy Fallon and wrap all the way past Finnegan’s Bar and Grill. You’ll also find the Tribute Store in this area, a place where you can buy all things HHN inspired.
New York is one of the best places to sit and watch scares happen. Guests have a lot more area to run from the actors. San Francisco is the next area, and it’s also pretty small, usually just on either side of the Fast and Furious Gift shop. This area has a more intimate feel, but usually lacks good scares. You’ll have a break until you get back to Central Park, which is one of my favorite areas. The Trees create a dark and gloomy area, with fog machines always on high. Scares are great in this area as you don’t know if you’re coming up on a guest or a scare actor. The last area is Hollywood, this is another big scare zone and with my short experience, has been a hit and miss. A lot of places to sit and watch, but not a lot of scares.
Outside of the scare zones, you have what they have called the “Roaming Chainsaw Hoard” in the past. It’s not an official zone, but something that just happens in Springfield. Honestly this is the best place to have a drink/meal and watch the guests get stalked and scared. There is generally no theme year to year in this area. Sometimes they are clowns, other times just wearing Purge style masks, non the less it’s all fun.
Stay and Scream
If you have been in the parks all day, and want to get to a specific house right when the park opens, you can stay in one of the 3 Stay and Scream locations. These locations offer you the opportunity to grab a bite to eat, a drink, or just a place to sit and relax before your night of excitement. New York, Production Central, and Springfield are usually the locations for the Stay and Scream locations. You can expect to be a little more crowded when you are in an area that is close to the popular houses, but you will be well ahead of the group of people waiting at the gate to get in.
What else to expect
If you want to sit and relax for a few minutes, HHN has a couple of shows that you can take time to enjoy. The main one takes place in the Fear Factor Live theater. This show revolves around variety. When I started to go, it was the Bill and Ted show, it was later changed to The Academy of Villains, and now it’s Nightmare Fuel. It’s main focus is dance, but throws in some other elements throughout.
The next show is at the Lagoon Projection show, Marathon of Mayhem. Think of this as Universal’s answer to World of Color in Disney California Adventure. Each year this show changes to reflect the theme, houses, and scarezones that are at the event. This show is best viewed at the back side of Central Park, but can be viewed in other locations.
One of the other ways to get off your feet is to get on a ride. Mummy, Gringotts, Rip Ride, and a few other attractions remain open through the night for your enjoyment. Diagon Alley itself is open, and a “safe place” as there is no scare actors in this area.
If you are in need of food or drinks, there are plenty of places to stop. Universal has erected plenty of temporary bars and food tents. Pizza Fries, Hamburgers with Doughnuts for buns, Twisted Potatoes, and much more are available to find while you are roaming the parks. But you can also grab some more traditional food at some of the quick service locations around the park. The bars offer wine, beer, and specialty themed drinks to the event.
Overall, I have come to love this event. It’s one thing I love to look forward to each fall. As soon as the last night of the current event is done, I’m ready to hear what is in store for the next year. It’s a great time to hangout with friends, and if need be a fun solo trip. Whether you are at horror fan or not, I think this would be well worth a try!