So we did Disney for Christmas. Hoo boy was it ever something different.
So first of all, if you ever plan on going to Disney or Universal or whatever, definitely get a copy of the most recent applicable Unnoficial Guide books. Those guys are geniuses and will save you tons of time and money (if saving money is even possible on a Disney trip). Then go to their website (tourinplans.com) and download their Lines app. The official Disney app is great and helpful but the Lines app has things you’ll also need, especially info on, well, lines. So if there’s a 90 minute wait sign posted on a ride at Disney, the Lines app will let you know that it’s really more like 55-60 minutes, for one example. Everything great about the vacation was because of my pre-planning mostly using these tools.
We were there for four days so did a park a day. Epcot (with the Christmas Candlelight Processional), Animal Kingdom, Magic Kingdom (with character brunch), and Hollywood Studios (with Fantasmic! show). It was fun but crazy. I learned that you want to do all your touring of the parks (including booking extra stuff) for the first 2-4 hours the park is open and the last 2-4 hours the park is open and between say lunch and dinner you want to get out of that park and go nap or swim or chill out some way or you will all hit a wall and be loopy and grumpy. It’s the only way to really enjoy your time there. I also learned that sometimes if you need that nap? It’s better to spring for a Lyft and not wait for those buses. For real.
All the following reviews are based only on our experience (me, my lovely bride, and two teenagers one of which doesn’t like roller coasters) and includes only what we got to do. You just can’t do everything and probably wouldn’t want to.
Best Epcot ride: Soarin’ without a doubt. We rode it twice. We enjoyed shopping in “Japan” the best. The Candlelight Processional with guest narrator Auli’i (“Moana”) Cravalho was also a highlight.
Best Animal Kingdom ride: Avatar Flight of Passage. It’s like Soarin’ times a thousand. Only way to ride it is to get a fastpass or get to the park early and ride it first thing. But I’m not knocking the Safari. It’s just not really a ride. It’s amazing and the closest thing you’ll get to going on an actual safari. A giraffe walked across the path in front of our vehicle! The whole thing was awe-inspiring. Best show: Festival of the Lion King. The folks who like roller coasters loved Expedition Everest.
Best Magic Kingdom Ride: I mean it’s not really about the rides there. If you like roller coasters we had the most fun Big Thunder Mountain. It’s a nice long ride compared to others and the theme is delightful. It’s faster and longer than Space Mountain. Best Show: Mickey’s PhilharMagic. Biggest Mistake: While waiting for my daughter and I to return from Big Thunder, my lovely bride took our exchange student on “It’s a Small World” because “it’s iconic.” Our exchange student has PTSD due to this ride.
Hollywood Studios is waiting for the Star Wars section to open and it probably won’t be worth visiting for years after it’s open unless you like five hour lines. In the meantime our favorite ride was the updated and super fun Star-Wars-themed Star Tours. The Toy Story Mania! ride is cool and a step up from the similar Buzz Lightyear ride in the Magic Kingdom. There are more shows in this park but we didn’t have that much time to tour it. The MuppetsVision 3D show was our favorite and I found it even more entertaining than the similar Mickey’s PhilharMagic.
But the most amazing thing we saw the whole time was the very last. It was the Fantasmic! show which closes out the night at this park. We sprung for lunch at the Mama Mia’s Italian restaurant so we could get preferred seating at the show. Totally worth it unless you don’t mind sitting for many hours in a crowded stadium waiting for a show. I mean it’s a truly unique and mind-blowing show, but still. We got there 30 minutes before it started and sat dead center and were very happy.
As you may have inferred, the Magic Kingdom was my least favorite of the four parks. It’s not the Magic Kingdom’s fault but it was also the most insanely crowded of the four. I mean to the point where we left the main drag waiting for the evening fireworks to find some hot chocolate and never could go back. Hot chocolate, you ask? Yes, it was weirdly chilly during our visit (which made the Expedition Everest ride more authentic!) and we found some hot chocolate and churros in Frontierland. Then they announced Main Street and the plaza in front of the castle were at capacity and not to return there. It was fine. We had a great view from the side but man oh man were we ever glad we left and came back. If we had tried to stay there all day there would have been headlines. It was too crowded. The Lines app gave it a 9 out of 10 for the day. I simply cannot imagine a 10 out of 10. But in the morning? For the first couple of hours? It was great. Go early. Leave and come back and stay late. That is the key to sanity I tell ya.
Other things I learned at Disney: babies hate Disney! Don’t take any kids to Disney parks unless they are at least seven years old or over 45 inches tall. If you have to rent a stroller for your kid then your kid is too young to really enjoy the experience. (Clearly no one listens to this advice because the number of strollers and crying infants and toddlers in the parks were on an epic scale). Oh and if you have mobility issues, reconsider a Disney trip, especially at peak crowd times of year. There are so many more people on those red scooters. I saw one 90-something old grandma with her family who was happily smiling ear to ear on one of those things. I give her a pass. Everyone else didn’t seem to either really need a scooter or didn’t seem to really need to be there. Sorry, just my unnecessary opinion.
The trip was mostly for our exchange student, Lilly. I think the best moment for her was just getting to see the castle up close. It was like you getting to see the Grand Canyon or the Eiffel Tower in real life for the first time. And every single park was much better when we returned in the evening and everything was lit up, especially all the Christmas decorations (and Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, but mostly Christmas). A great vantage point at night in the Magic Kingdom is the top of the nearly empty Swiss Family Robinson tree house. Gorgeous nighttime view!
I doubt I’ll be returning in the near future. We like Universal Studios better. But my favorite park was Animal Kingdom. I also enjoyed what there was of Hollywood Studios and may return there in a decade or so to see their additional Star Wars stuff. Now to get back to the school grindstone!
Happy New Year everyone!