My Disney Top 5 - Observations From My Most Recent Walt Disney World Tripby Chris Barry, contributing writer
When you spend 10 years or so writing for a Disney fan site like MousePlanet, you begin to realize that you know just about everything there is to know about a place like Walt Disney World. After all, I've taken 18 trips in the past 16 years and written over 200 articles related to the most magical place on Earth. The crazy thing about all that is, that it still doesn't make me a total authority on all things Disney, nor does it prevent me from constantly discovering and experiencing new and exciting things each time I go there. Case in point; we just returned from a 5 day trip to Disney last month and I saw a parade for the first time, revisited a resort we haven't stayed in for 11 years, experienced an after hours event we haven't been to in 10 years, took my sons on a major ride they've never been on before, met characters we've never met before, had food I've never tried before, rode a brand new form of transportation on opening day, got a preview of the upcoming major renovation of Epcot and...oh yeah...visited a whole new land with a new attraction, new bar/restaurant and tons of new shopping. All of this, and it's only been about a year since my last visit.
We spent a glorious week last summer at Walt Disney World celebrating my 50th birthday with 27 of my closest friends and family members. We did everything that I wanted to do and then some. Just over a year later, my sons and I went down for an extended weekend this past September and despite some old reliables and long time favorites, it was almost like a brand new experience for us. After 11 years of Deluxe resorts like the Polynesian, Wilderness Lodge, BoardWalk Inn and Yacht Club, we returned to Port Orleans Riverside, a place where our love of Walt Disney World was essentially born. We took in Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party, something we haven't done since the fall of 2009. Hard to believe considering it's been around for five years already, but this was the first time we've seen the Festival of Fantasy parade. We're usually in the Magic Kingdom at opening and then head back to the hotel after lunch to swim and relax thus missing the 3 o'clock parade. This fall and winter it kicks off at 2, so we happened to catch it.
The firsts kept happening. For some reason, my sons missed Slinky Dog Dash last summer even though I made it on twice, so this year was a first time for them on this relatively new, awesome coaster.Despite visiting the Epcot Food and Wine Festival several times, I've never sampled the food and wine at the Africa, Spain, or Morocco booths before and my Piri Piri skewered shrimp with citrus scented couscous, charcuterie in a cone, and spicy hummus fries were all outstanding.
We met and took pictures with Darth Vader, which despite being huge Star Wars fans hasn't happened before. While I'm on that subject, I've wanted a photo of myself with Brer Rabbit for as long as I can remember and have never been able to find him until this past trip at the Halloween party when we ran into him wandering the streets of Frontierland. No line. No wait. We snapped a photo with him and it was like I was meeting one of The Beatles or Walt Disney himself for goodness sakes!
We walked into The Odyssey in Epcot, something you rarely ever get to do, and were thrilled to see the Epcot Experience, a new presentation previewing the future look and remodeling of Future World and several pavilions in World Showcase. That night, after seeing the Star Wars Galactic Spectacular, I got to ride the Disney Skyliner on what happened to be opening day. All this and I haven't even mentioned the fact that we spent a considerable amount of time in Galaxy's Edge, my new favorite corner of Walt Disney World and, perhaps, the best thing to ever happen to Disney's Hollywood Studios in my opinion.
So many new things experienced and several older things revisited. In the past whenever I get home from a Disney trip, I've put pen to paper, so to speak, and recounted my thoughts and observations on the place that we all love so much. Let's go down that road again with my Top 5 observations from my latest Walt Disney World vacation: Fall 2019 edition.
5 - Returning to Port Orleans Riverside was Great...Except for One Thing
Port Orleans French Quarter was the 2nd Walt Disney World hotel that I ever stayed at and we loved it. That trip was just my wife and I and our daughter. Our twin sons weren't old enough to take the Disney plunge yet. However, they were ready the next time around and we needed the 5th bed that the Alligator Bayou section offers. With that visit, Riverside became our Disney home for the next four trips in a row, and with good reason. Riverside is a beautiful resort, especially the aforementioned Bayou section. There's a wonderfully themed main building with a great food court, a pretty decent restaurant (try Boatwright's Jambalaya, it's awesome), and let's not forget River Roost with the legendary Yehaa Bob. The resort's main pool on Ol'Man Island is my favorite of the Moderate resorts and I'm also a big fan of their simple quiet pools scattered throughout the sprawling property.
I chose to go back to Riverside to save a few bucks, and it was totally worth the price. The only downside to the resort is the busses, and I'm a fan and supporter of Disney transportation. We never rent a car down there. I'll always let Disney drive me around their massive property. They do so with a smile on their face. However, given the sheer size of Riverside at over 2,000 rooms, the busses to and from the parks were frequently mobbed. Not only that, but at times, given all the stops within the resort itself, it can take quite a while just to get out and make your way to your destination. One morning, it took us about 30 minutes to circumnavigate the resort, load all the guests, and finally pass through the gates to head to the Magic Kingdom. As ;we all know, every minute counts on a Disney trip and that's just too long to wait on a bus without really going anywhere.
I hate to sound spoiled, but after 11 years in Deluxe resorts, our favorite being The Yacht Club, I yearned for my walks into Epcot and Hollywood Studios, bigger rooms, balconies and smaller crowds. I'm not saying I wouldn't go back to Riverside, I'm sure I will. I'm just saying, next time, I might have to find a way to splurge and head back to Crescent Lake and conserve money someplace else.
4 - Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party is Fun but Pricey
Our last visit to the Halloween Party was in September of 2009. Since then, we've been back in the fall but we never seemed to want to make time or spend the extra money for all five of us to attend the big Halloween bash at the Magic Kingdom. This time, with only three of us, I figured it would be a special treat. Plus, my boys were 7 the last time, so they don't remember all that much. So, how did it feel being back after a decade? As with anything else, there was good and bad. Truthfully there was a lot more good. We entered the Magic Kingdom and were immediately ushered someplace I've never been before, the back street behind Main Street U.S.A.. That was pretty cool.
The lighting throughout the park is awesome. The fog machines on Tom Sawyer Island add a creepy effect. The fireworks are different and while not quite as good as a Wishes or a Happily Ever After, it's always cool to see a special edition fireworks. There's not much I can say negative about free candy being handed out all over the place. For us, the two biggest things about the party that we enjoyed most were the characters and the parade.
We didn't wait on any lines to meet the special characters that turn out for the night; the lines were just too long. But it was fun to seek them out and spot them all and then see all sorts of them in the parade. As I mentioned above, finally getting a photo with Brer Rabbit may have been worth the price of admission alone.
Which brings me to the big question, was it worth the price? 10 years ago, we paid about $55 per adult and $5 less for the two kids under age 9. This year, my advance purchase price was $85 a head. Did the party get $30 better? Not really. I didn't mind paying for the three of us but I can't imagine if all 5 of us were down there that I would've spent more than $400 for us just to go to the party. We went on a Tuesday. Weekend nights in October could run you as high as $115 per ticket! I can't argue the fact that we had an awesome time that night. We loved the parade, the fireworks, the character hunting and we did pretty good getting on rides while everyone else seemed to be on other lines waiting to meet characters. Bottom line, it's definitely worth seeing. I might not wait another 10 years to go, but if I'm there next fall, I might skip it.
3 - The Skyliner is a Cool New Option to Get Around Property
I remember last year when we were staying at the Yacht Club, we'd walk into Epcot past the Skyliner in progress and I got pretty excited about a new form of Disney transport. On this trip a year later, we walked past the Skyliner several times as it cycled through its course tempting guests to board, but it was still not open to the public. On the Skyliner's opening day, we were in Epcot and wiped after a long day. A decision was made to head back to Riverside, grab a late dinner in the food court, and call it quits. My sons passed out early, around 9:15. Wide awake, I decided to hop a last minute bus over to the Studios to catch the Star Wars Galactic Spectacular fireworks. After the show, which is always an immense treat, I sat by Echo Lake and waited for the crowds to head out like I typically do. About 10:45 I made my way out and walked by the Skyliner. It clearly wasn't going to Riverside but I got on the relatively short line anyway and was one of the last guests to board for the night. My plan was take it to Epcot, take a lap around the BoardWalk and then call a Lyft or Minnie Van from the Yacht Club. Two birds with one stone; I got to ride the Skyliner and I got to pay a visit to my favorite resort area. It's always great to be back at The Yacht Club.
I've been on all sorts of ski lifts and gondolas ever since I was four, so this was nothing new to me. However, riding above Disney property and checking out the resort from a whole different perspective was certainly a new experience and I loved it. It was a peaceful, quiet way to travel around Walt Disney World. The views above Caribbean Beach were wonderful and I especially liked approaching World Showcase from the sky. That was a real treat. Yes, it just had an accident. All modes of transportation have accidents. In no way will it deter me from using the Skyliner again, especially if I'm back staying at The Yacht Club. After only one ride I can't say for sure if it's a more efficient way to travel, but I'm not sure I really care about that. In this writer's opinion, it's an excellent addition to Walt Disney World and I'm looking forward to riding again and hopefully, in the future, a possible expansion.
2 - The Future of Epcot Looks Bright
Being a Walt Disney World or Disneyland fan requires a certain amount of tolerance towards and acceptance of change. Walt himself famously said that, "Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to change as long as there is imagination left in the world." Things come and things go. Sometimes we don't agree but I find that true fans adhere to Walt's credo and look forward to change in the parks and resorts. While I have to admit, it was sad to see the Fountain of Nations in Future World closed and walled over, it's exciting to think of what is to come. Future World has needed attention for some time now, and from what I've seen and heard, it looks like some pretty amazing things are going to be happening there.
As we left Test Track, we made our way across the bridges that lead you to The Odyssey. Only this time, the doors were open and we were treated to something very special inside. The Epcot Experience is a 12 minute film shown on a truly stunning 360-degree screen showcasing all the changes headed to the park in the near future. The visuals are amazing as is the 3D model of the park in the center of the small theater. Once you leave the theater, you are surrounded by posters documenting all of the past, current and future Epcot attractions. It's way cool to see a poster for the Universe of Energy hanging next to one for the upcoming Mary Poppins attraction in the UK pavilion.
Much has been said and written about the need for a total redo of most of Future World. Much more has been said and written about the intellectual property invasion that some say has "infected" Epcot. From my point of view, if the Imagineers do a great job on something then I'm all for it. To me, it looks like we're in for a fantastic makeover and I can't wait to see it all come to fruition. Make sure to stop into the Odyssey next time you're headed towards your next Frozen FastPass. It's quite a show and it got me looking towards the future, just like you're supposed to when you're in Epcot.
1 - Galaxy's Edge is Just Incredible
If you've been reading my articles here on MousePlanet over the last decade, you know how big of a Star Wars fan I am. I've been waiting for something like Galaxy's Edge to be built for the past 42 years of my life ever since I first saw the Millennium Falcon scream across the screen when I was 9. Walking into Batuu on our last trip with my boys, that wait came to an end and it was well worth the wait. To me, it felt like Star Wars. No, it's not straight out of the films and to be perfectly honest, I'm a little tired of that argument being put forth online. At it's core, Disney is all about storytelling. With Galaxy's Edge the Imagineers have continued the long hallowed Disney and Lucas tradition of creating new worlds and telling amazing stories only this time those stories are being brought to life in a new, immersive and tactile way.
Walking around Black Spire Outpost, I felt like I had left Orlando behind, landed on a sort of familiar planet and I was compelled to explore. I never picked up a map or referred to my phone to find my way around. I let the 14 acres unfold in front of me and when I turned that corner and caught a glimpse of the Millennium Falcon right there in front of me, I was definitely transported to someplace far away. I was hooked pretty quickly. When I first heard they were building a Star Wars land, I knew it was going to be someplace that I returned to often and after spending the better part of two days there last month, I can't wait to make the journey back. Galaxy's Edge had me at hello and I'm anticipating spending a lot of time there in the years to come.
It was pretty amazing how this past trip felt so brand new to me. We've gone pretty much on a yearly basis for the past 16 years and no matter what, there's always a co-worker or someone along the line that will inevitably ask the question, "You're going again? Don't you get tired of the place?" I'll never understand why that question always seems to surface. My in-laws had a timeshare in Aruba for the longest time. They went every February. Same time each year. They loved it. I doubt anyone ever asked them with such a sarcastic tone, "You're going to Aruba again?" We love skiing at Mt. Snow in Vermont and head up there several times each ski season. Nobody ever asks me that question pertaining to my choice of ski resort. Yet, I get it all the time with Disney. This past trip pretty much stands as the answer to that dreaded question. After all these years and all those visits, we still had an incredible time and foudn all sorts of new things to experience.
We've gone just about every year and yet hadn't stayed at Riverside for 11 years. We hadn't been to the Halloween Party in 10 years. We ate new food. We rode new rides. We bought new stuff. It was a completely different trip than the one we took a year ago and that's the whole point. To paraphrase Walt himself, Walt Disney World will never be completed either. It will continue to change." Not that I needed any convincing, but this most recent trip was living proof that Walt's ideals are alive and well and I'll keep going back again and again, always looking for more magic and, happily, always finding it.
That's all for this time. As always, I'd like to hear what you have to say. Click on the link below, let me hear your thoughts and I'll see you next time with another Disney Top 5.