My Disney Top 5 - Things on my Walt Disney World Bucket Listby Chris Barry, contributing writer
Welcome back to another Disney Top 5. As always, I hope all is well with all of you out there and I hope you are staying safe.
As things begin to open up in Walt Disney World – and I'm not even going to begin a discussion about whether or not this should be happening or not – my thoughts have continued to drift to the parks and resorts that I miss. I've been watching online videos of nearly empty parks and attractions all week. Trust me, there's a big part of me that wishes I had genie powers and could blink myself to the front of the Magic Kingdom. I'd walk around for a few hours, maybe hit an empty ride, maybe buy myself something from the Emporium and then blink myself right out of there. Unfortunately, I have no genie powers and I'm not going anywhere anytime soon anyway, never mind a theme park, not even a Disney theme park. This summer, we're home, which suits us all just fine. Still, we were supposed to be in Walt Disney World at some point this summer and that, of course, has me thinking, what haven't I done down there that I could be doing right now if we weren't in this mess?
One of the things that's annoying this Disney collector to no end right now is watching people leaving the Magic Kingdom with bags and strollers full of Splash Mountain merchandise. It's one of my favorite rides down there and I'm a bit of a Disney collector as some of you may know. I was just there in October. I was on Splash Mountain. I decided to behave and bypass the Briar Patch shop. "I'll go next time. We'll be back this summer I'm sure." Yeah, we all know how that story is playing out don't we? My brother once turned down a ticket to see Led Zeppelin in New York City saying, "I'll catch them next time." The drummer died shortly afterwards and they essentially never played together again. Now missing one of the most legendary acts in rock and roll when you're a big rock fan isn't quite the same as me not getting one more Splash Mountain pin or trinket, but the underlying message is the same. Carpe Diem. Seize the day. Do the things you want to do when you can do them or when they're offered to you because…well you never know do you?
Considering how many times I've been to Walt Disney World, can there still be things that I haven't done that I so badly want to do? Yes, of course there are. That's what makes Disney such an awesome place. After all these years and all these trips down there, I still haven't done everything. So, this time around, I thought I'd talk about the things that are on a more serious list of mine. Everyone has a bucket list, things they want to do in their life before, as the phrase infers, you kick the bucket. A bucket list doesn't have to have such a dreadful connotation though. At the high school where I teach, there was a girl who came on one of my ski trips that said it was on her high school bucket list to go on a ski trip, sing on the school stage, deliver a speech before her entire class, and a few other things before she graduated. I like that connotation much better than the old "better do it before you die" mentality. Walt Disney World is the place where dreams come true, where anything is possible. So, sure, there's a list of things that I want to do there someday. Let's narrow that list down to my Top 5 Things on my Walt Disney World bucket list.
5 – Animal Kingdom Wild Africa Trek
This is one of those things that I keep saying I'm going to do, but never seem to want to pony up the extra cost and commit to. In reality, if all 5 of us went in my family, it would be about $1,000. That's way too much to simply add on to an already expensive vacation. But the fact of the matter is, I've never heard anyone say a negative thing about it. The whole idea of getting up close to the animals with our own guide, walking the rope bridges over the animals and the included meal all sound totally worth it.
Every single time we drive underneath one of those rope bridges or see a family dining in that private savanna observation deck, I say, "Someday, we're gonna do that!" Let's hope someday comes sooner than later.
4 – Grand 1 Fireworks Cruise
This is going to sound strange, but there seem to be two types of people here on Long Island where I live. There are people with a deep connection to the sea who have spent their lives on, in, or around the water. And then there are people here on Long Island that don't even seem to realize they are, in fact, on an island surrounded by water on all sides. I spent my life as one of the former people, embracing the connection we are all so lucky to have with the water. All things considered, it's a little surprising that I have spent so many vacations in a landlocked resort in the dead center of a state a good hour or so from a coastline. But, Walt Disney World, as I said above, is the place where anything can happen. One of the things that hooked me on the whole place was just how much they managed to do with water throughout the property. It's no surprise that my favorite resorts to stay in have been The Yacht Club, Polynesian and Port Orleans. I love being on the water, even if it's a simple riverboat from Riverside to Downtown Disney. (Yes I still call it that.) The most impressive bodies of water are Bay Lake and the Seven Seas Lagoon. These are real bodies of water, even if the lagoon is man made. After 50 years, it's turned into it's own ecosystem. I love being out on Bay Lake and the lagoon and I can't imagine anything cooler than taking the Grand 1 out for a private fireworks cruise.
Those of you that don't know, the Grand 1 is a 52 ft. luxury Sea Ray that sails out of the Grand Floridian offering tours of Bay Lake and Seven Seas Lagoon and fireworks cruises. It's about $400 for one hour, which when you consider it can take 18 people on a charter – 17 if you opt for the butler – isn't so bad. That price includes some snacks and drinks. Food is additional. I probably should have done this on my 50th birthday. Two things stopped me. First was we were down there with 27 people, so we couldn't fit. Second was that I really wanted to be standing there watching Tinker Bell fly right over my head during Happily Ever After as I turned a half century old. That's always one of my favorite moments. Still, someday I'd really like to be out there on the lagoon, on that beautiful boat, looking at the monorail making it's way around through the resorts watching the fireworks going off over the castle with the music piped in. Sounds like a nice night doesn't it? Definitely bucket worthy.
3 – Animal Kingdom Lodge Savanna Room
We've been to Animal Kingdom Lodge a few times. One summer vacation, my cousin was staying there with his family while we were over at Riverside. We all decided to go back there for the midday break together instead of splitting up. We had some lunch at The Mara, saw his room, went in the pool and had a good look around. It's a beautiful resort and I've always wanted to go back and actually stay there. The problem always was that we have a family of 5 and there was never a regular room that could fit all of us. My other Animal Kingdom Lodge concern always was for Deluxe prices, I'd like another form of transportation besides the bus. Once you get used to monorails, boats and walking paths it's hard to go back. That said though, if I were going to splurge on Animal Kingdom Lodge, I would have to go for the Savanna View.
We spend a good amount of morning time and midday breaks out on our balcony when we're at our favorite resort, The Yacht Club. We're usually looking out at the quiet pool or tennis courts. I could seriously get into sitting on my balcony and seeing some giraffes dining on the trees. That has to be worth the expense and I know that one day, I'm just going to have to take the plunge and head over there for a few nights.
2 – The Utilidors
Here's the thing. I don't always like getting backstage. It's only happened to me once or twice, typically because work is being done on or near an attraction and they rerouted the queue briefly through a backstage area. I'm not there for the backstage. I want the show to be happening the whole time I'm there. I don't want to pull back the curtain and see Oz. However, the one thing I need to see as a Walt Disney World completist is the whole underground thing going on beneath the Magic Kingdom.
Since day one I have been extremely impressed by just what they do in Walt Disney World on a daily basis. People don't take time enough to stop and think about just what an amazing feat is being accomplished there each and every day. One of those things that they do is essentially run a whole underground little city just to keep the show going on above ground on the streets of the Magic Kingdom. The mere fact that it exists and that Walt and his team thought enough to build it that way so as not to interfere with the show above is pretty mind blowing and I need to see it. I know you can get down there on the Keys to the Kingdom Tour so one day, that's going to have to be the ticket for me.
1 – Polynesian Bungalow
We were fortunate enough to stay at the Polynesian twice, two years in a row. Both times we had scored a 40% off room rate that we got in the mail with a pin code. We stayed in a garden view room at the Poly for just below $300. That's a fantastic rate. Not cheap mind you, but for that place? It's a deal. We loved the Poly. What's not to love? The rooms are much bigger than standard rooms anywhere else on property. The beach. The volcano pool. Monorails, boats. DOLE WHIPS! It was hard to beat sitting on the beach at night with a key lime coconut martini in my hand watching Wishes across the lagoon with the music piped in to speakers hidden throughout the gardens. The only thing that could top that would probably be sitting on my private veranda, with my own plunge pool next to me at one of the Polynesian's over the water bungalows.
Before these were built, I would have said that the Polynesian's King Kamehameha Suite was on my bucket list. As a big Beatles/Disney fan, I had always heard that John Lennon stayed in the suite when he was in Disney and, in fact, signed the paperwork that officially broke up The Beatles there. Turns out no one's quite sure where he stayed at the Poly but now it's believed to be just a regular corner room on the second floor of one of the longhouses and not the big two story suite. But the paperwork signing is fact. Regardless of all that, I hope one day I'm able to muster up the 3 grand for a night in one of the bungalows. I think that moment out on the deck, drink in hand, fireworks out over the lagoon and then a dip in my private pool has to be worth it just once. There's a lot of awesome accommodations to stay in at Walt Disney World, but that has to be the cream of the crop and that lands it in my number one bucket list slot.
There were a few things that I left behind that almost made the Top 5. For instance, ever since I was 16, I have been trying to get better at surfing. Here on Long Island, the best surfing is in the winter. That means full drysuit, headgear, booties and gloves and water temps around 40 degrees. I can't sign on for that. I've surfed enough in the spring, summer and fall but never got to a level that I wanted to and the real difficulty of surfing is that every single wave is completely different. The wave pool and surfing lessons at Disney's Typhoon Lagoon have always been on my list because they're always perfect and always the same. Couple my moderate skill level and a morning full of perfectly generated Disney waves and I'd be in my glory. I just need to do it someday before my knees finally give out on me.
There's also a lot of things that I've luckily done at Disney that some might consider bucket list items. I've gone to Food and Wine, Flower and Garden, Halloween parties, Christmas parties and even the old E-Ride Nights when the Magic Kingdom was essentially empty for my family and I. I've seen things close and been there when new things have opened. My daughter and I snorkeled at Shark Reef. We all won magical FastPasses at the Magic Kingdom during the Year of a Million Dreams which gave us a FastPass for everything in the park that day! I even did all four parks in one day and what a day that was! You think a normal Disney day is exhausting? Try Animal kingdom then bus over to MGM, as it was known, then walk into Epcot and finally monorail it over to the Magic Kingdom for the Christmas party. So, all things considered, I've done a lot and gotten a lot out of my beloved Walt Disney World. But, of course, I'm far from done.
I haven't been on Rise of the Resistance yet. Tron is coming! So are the Guardians of the Galaxy, my favorite Marvel characters of all time. I can go even simpler than that. I still haven't eaten at 'Ohana or Le Cellier yet – two bona fide Disney classics! How about lunch with an Imagineer? Sure. Why not? Sounds like good bucket list fun. We've never taken advantage of the dessert parties at the Magic Kingdom or the Studios. I could deal with some good cupcakes and then prime viewing spots for the fireworks. I could go on and on. Hopefully this crazy situation will end someday soon and we can safely get back to the parks, back to the Disney magic that's on the horizon, back to finally experiencing things that I just keep missing out on and maybe I can start knocking off a few of these things off of the old Disney bucket list. Once we make it through all of this with my loved ones around me safe and healthy, that'll be on the short list of things to get busy doing.
Those are my choices for my Walt Disney World bucket list. As always I'd like to hear what you have to say. Click on the link below, let me hear your thoughts on my list, share what would be on yours and I'll see you next time with another Disney Top 5.