My Disney Top 5 - Observations on My Most Recent Walt Disney World Tripby Chris Barry, contributing writer
One of our goals here at MousePlanet is to be the place you turn to for advice on visiting the Disney parks and resorts. If you've never been before and are heading down for the first time, if you're a Disney veteran and want to find out what's new since you were last there, or if you just want to turn on the computer and roll around in the Disney magic for a while, we're here for you. I thought this time around I'd report on some observations from my latest trip to Walt Disney World. That way if you're in the planning stages or just getting excited for your next trip, hopefully some of the things I talk about here today will help you out and further your excitement along.
We've been home for just about three weeks now, and since the first day back it's all I've been able to think about. Needless to say, I can't wait to go back. They're all fantastic trips, but this one was a bit different. There were 13 of us traveling together. As hectic and complex as that may sound, the whole trip really went off without a hitch. It was a great crew to soak up all the Disney magic with for a hot summer week. Both newbies and veterans alike had an amazing time.
One of the main reasons it was so amazing for me—as shocking and troubling as this may sound—was because we actually skipped a Disney trip in 2015 for a number of reasons. This trip was a long time coming—especially for me. There were a whole bunch of new developments that I couldn't wait to see and experience. Just about all of them left me smiling from ear to ear the whole time I was there. I predicted some of what I was most excited about in a Top 5 back in June. So let's follow up, see if I was correct in my excitement, and take a look at my Top 5 observations on my most recent Walt Disney World trip.
5 – The Magic Kingdom hub looks fantastic
It was with a heavy heart that my wife and I digested the news that the Magic Kingdom rose garden was going to be torn out as the hub area got reconfigured. That was a very special place for us, and one of my favorite spots anywhere on property. Check out my lament from a few years back if you'd like to understand why. I have to say though, they really did a wonderful job on the whole hub area. They don't really have a choice. After all, it's probably the most visited spot on the planet so it has to look amazing. They did a great job. I love the new stone turrets and the fountains that were added. It makes a big difference and almost makes the spot more special, if that's possible.
Much has been said about the faux lawns in the special Wishes fireworks viewing area. To me it's kind of a necessary evil, and it provides a unique place to stop and take a load off during the day when you don't need a Fastpass to get in. There aren't too many places within the Disney parks where you can actually sit down on the "grass" and that's just what I saw many people doing when I passed by. The hub has always been a beautiful spot and now, it's even nicer and more grand than it was before.
4 – Animal Kingdom is beautiful at night
I couldn't wait to get to Animal Kingdom and to actually be there past 6 p.m. I had yet to catch any of those rare instances where Disney's youngest park was open past dark, so we made sure to set aside an evening to do just that. I wasn't disappointed by the atmosphere and the way the place was lit for the nighttime hours. It takes on a whole different look, and it's really quite beautiful.
Expedition Everest at dusk was particularly wonderful. One of the best views on property only got better as the sun was going down. As for the nighttime version of Kilimanjaro Safaris, we had the greatest safari driver any of us had ever experienced. Imagine the most quick-witted Jungle Cruise skipper you could imagine. Now take away the corny jokes. She was a total blast, but truth be told... we barely saw any animals. It was certainly cool to be driving around through the safari grounds in the dark, but mostly because it was just so different and not really because of the wildlife.
The only negative I could find was that it seemed like Disney wasn't keeping all of the counter service food and snack stands open. I'm not sure if that's a growing pain or part of the plan, but there were a lot of people looking for food at 8 p.m. and not a lot of choices. At times it seemed like being open at night consistently after all this time was definitely a work in progress.
I can't report on the Jungle Book show on the lagoon. We made a group decision to skip it and just kind of wander the grounds instead. I've been waiting so long to just see this place at night that I just wanted to soak it all in. I can say that the Tree of Life Awakening is just stunning and shouldn't be missed. There are several different projections. Don't assume that it's over once one "show" ends. Stick around for 10 minutes and you will see a completely different show. One is more beautiful than the next. Disney is getting so good with this projection technology and this is perhaps their finest foray yet.
I think it's an extremely positive sign that Animal Kingdom has begun a nocturnal existence, and I hope it gets tweaked as time moves on, especially once Rivers of Light is up and running and Pandora opens. I've never subscribed to the whole "half day park" moniker that some have laid upon Animal Kingdom. I've always loved spending time here and now, hopefully, I can spend even more time in this very special place.
3 – Frozen in Norway is beautifully enchanting
Sacrilege! Did I just say that? Yes I did. I know the Disney faithful haven't been all that keen on Frozen invading the Norway pavilion. I'm not going to start up the whole, "Does it belong in World Showcase" discussion, but I am going to unashamedly say that I think they did a great job on the ride, the queue, and the whole new meet and greet area. I don't feel that Frozen Ever After is just an overlay. I think the ride is a lot of fun, the animatronics are excellent (especially Olaf), and even the queue looks beautiful. It's a different experience than Maelstrom ever was.
The same can be said of the whole new Royal Sommerhus area. We saw that the wait for Anna and Elsa was only 10 minutes so we ventured in. The characters were so much fun and once again, the queue is chock full of details and very charming.
Say what you will but for a generation of young Disney fans, this is their Peter Pan's Flight. This ride will bring back warm fuzzy Disney feelings to them when they grow up and take their own kids to Walt Disney World. I think they really did a beautiful job.
2 – Soarin' Around the World is a total home run
This ride was something that I was really looking forward to. Actually everyone in our big group was, even the people that had never been on the original one. Soarin' has always had a certain mystique about it. It's always been such a pleasant experience and is actually quite awe inspiring at times. The new version is just fantastic.
There are new sights, new smells and new sensations to behold. Without giving it away, as much as I adored the previous ending scene, I think I love this one even more. Don't miss it.
1 – Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular is extraordinary
As if I wasn't already excited enough with meeting Chewbacca, Kylo Ren, and a Jawa in the Star Wars Launch Bay (being the raving Star Wars fan that I am), Disney then pulled out all the stops with this new fireworks show and totally blew me away. It's hard to just call the Galactic Spectacular a fireworks show. It's much, much more than that. There are projections on multiple buildings. There's the timeless music from the films. There are iconic quotes from the films. There's a ridiculously tall and intensely hot set of flames that shoot upwards from the roof of the Chinese Theater. There are laser beams firing back and forth. The trees light up. At times, color bathes the audience.
I just can't rave about it enough. I literally stood there with my jaw practically dangling from my head like a cartoon character as I watched, listened, and absorbed the extravaganza unfolding in front of me. The whole thing completely floored my wife as well, and she is not the Star Wars fan that I am. Run, don't walk over to Hollywood Studios in time for this show to start. My suggestion is to head to the right side of the theater, just past the Brown Derby. A cast member showed me a clearing there that was very uncrowded and offered a perfect view of everything.
Even after almost four weeks I'm still thinking about this past trip every day. There were the usual awesome magical memories that I never get tired of, and now there are a whole bunch of new ones to reflect back on. I have added each one of these five things listed here to my collective Disney consciousness.
That's the beauty of Walt Disney World. Just when you think you've seen it all, you discover something new to keep you going back.