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
Now that Central Plaza (Hub) construction is substantially complete, some new views of Cinderella Castle are available for the first time. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.
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.
Sunset begins to shed a whole new light on Animal Kingdom. Photo by Samantha Barry.
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
Highly articulated and detailed animatronic versions of Frozen's characters appear throughout the ride. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.
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.
The Royal Sommerhus at Epcot's Norway pavilion allows guests to meet and take photos with Princess Anna and Queen Elsa from "Frozen." Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.
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
The updated signage for Soarin' is inside The Land pavilion. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.
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.
Chris Barry and his newfound Jawa friend stand in the Star Wars Launch Bay at Disney's Hollywood Studios. Photo by Samantha Barry.
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.
The end of Hollywood Boulevard closest to the park's entrance provides only very limited viewing of the Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular show. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.
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.
We will be there next month, I do want to see the tree life at night and be in the park after dark, if they keep it remaining open that late by the time we get there. Not wanting to be a glass half empty type of guy I do want to see the Frozen overlay (yes I said that on purpose) but when Disney did nothing to increase capacity it may well be something we bypass. As for Soarin' I have heard so much negativity about seeing the Eiffel Tower or Taj Mahal looking melted like a wax candle in the hot Florida sun we are not in a hurry to see one of our most favorite rides in that state.
Reading this makes me wish I'd spent the extra $1k+ to go to WDW instead of DL this Christmas season. Seems like all the new stuff there is really great! All we've got new at DL is the Soarin' Around the World....and 5 attractions, a restaurant and a ranch down to make way for Star Wars.
I certainly wouldn't go for Frozen without a FastPass, not at this point at least. I'm not waiting 60-70 minutes for anything. We rode Soarin' twice. First time seated all the way to the right, yes, the Eiffel Tower was bent a bit. Seated in the center that issue went away completely.Not sure if this is fixable, but I think it's more than worth the experience.
Enjoy your trip!!
Disneyland will be a great time as well. Enjoy!!
Fun to read. While I haven't yet been on Frozen or seen the new Fireworks, you are the first person I've heard from that actually likes the new Soarin better than the old. Everyone in our group was disappointed. It felt forced. It felt like the film makers decided they had to try and have some sort of clever, CGI transition between each segment and frankly half of them were done poorly. We also felt there was very little movement compared to the previous version. Maybe it was where we sat, or maybe they were still working out the kinks, but it almost seemed like we were just hanging there and not moving at all for half the ride. Don't get me wrong, the things they filmed were beautiful but it didn't have the same charm as the original.
I'm not quite sure I like it better than the original. I like the final scene better for sure but that's because it's more personal to me than the shot in Disneyland. I wasn't alone in loving Soarin'. Most of my crew were Disney regulars and there were no complaints or disappointed comments after our rides, just the bent Eiffel Tower thing, which really should be addressed somehow if possible. There were scenes I liked better in the original such as the skiers and surfers and scenes I liked better in this version like the ending, the Great Wall of China and the elephants. I would love this to be changed out every few years or so., keep adding new places. Or perhaps with the addition of the new theater, rotate the films, almost like a Star Tours type of thing so you never know where you're going to go until you're flying over it.
What I don't get is what Star Wars has to do with Disneyworld? Star Wars and Avatar are boring.
Wow. Chuck, I'm not even going to go down that road.
Great article Chris! Totally agreed on the new stuff (though I've yet to go on Frozen - will go in December when I can get my FP 60 days out - I'm not waiting 70 minutes either:-)). The Tree of Life show in particular was breathtaking and loved the Star Wars characters in Launch Bay. Still don't know how they do Chewbacca. Can't wait for Pandora and Star Wars Land.
We were there in July after not being able to go for almost 9 years. I think your list is spot on. I totally geeked out when I saw stormtroopers walking my direction! One this was different for us. When we started on the Safari ride at night I felt the same way, a bit let down at the lack of animals. Then we got to the lion area. One of the lionesses leaped over 2 rocks towards our vehicle and then started to roar. It was one of the most incredible things I've ever witnessed and the roar sounded nothing like a movie or TV show. I was mesmerized. It gave me goose bumps!