My Disney Top 5 - Observations From My Most Recent Walt Disney World Trip:Summer 2022 Editionby Chris Barry, contributing writer
Welcome back to another Disney Top 5.
Well…it finally happened. If you've been paying attention to my most recent articles here on MousePlanet, you may have picked up on the fact that I was super excited to finally be returning to Walt Disney World after a three-year, COVID-inspired hiatus. Truth be told, super excited is putting it mildly. The pandemic blew some big holes into all of our lives. It kept us away from each other and from the things that we love to do. My first time back at a concert was liberating. My first time back on the ski slopes felt the same way. Those moments are like home to me. I've pretty much gotten back to doing everything I used to do before March of 2020 except Disney World. So, it was time and it was long overdue.
One of our sons was accepted into the Disney College Program for this Fall. So we figured that we would combine moving him into the program with a nice week of family fun beforehand. We booked a river view room at Port Orleans French Quarter using the Disney+ discount and planned on 5 days in the parks before his arrival day, then another two days and two nights while he was going through the settling-in process. All said and done we had 7 days in the parks and 8 nights at the resort. That's some quality Disney time, enough to do whatever we've been missing out on for the past three years for sure.
Even typing "three years" since we were last there is pretty remarkable. We were essentially yearly visitors since 2003. We skipped a year in 2015 for some reason but there were other years when my wife and I went down for a long weekend without the kids and then came back four months later with the kids in tow. In 2018, I chaperoned a school trip to Disney and then was back there a few short months later with my family celebrating my 50th. One year I went down by myself helping represent MousePlanet at MouseFest after having just been there with Diane and the kids a month or two beforehand. You all get the point. We were there a lot. Enough to know the place pretty darn well. Three years would have been an awfully long time to be away under normal circumstances. But consider the last three years and all the mayhem they have brought upon us all and all of the huge changes that have taken place at Disney and it made this last trip all the more significant.
Let's consider a few of those changes. Magical Express is gone. FastPass+ is gone. Free Magic Bands are no longer a thing for resort guests. Park reservations are here to stay it seems. Park Hopping only starts at 2:00 pm each day. Extra Magic Evening Hours are only for Deluxe Resort guests. Genie, Genie+ and Lightning Lane are the new FastPass. Most of Epcot's Future World is behind construction walls. France expanded. Remy's Ratatouille Adventure, Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance and Guardians of the Galaxy Cosmic Rewind have all opened. Illuminations and Happily Ever After both went away and were replaced by Harmonious and Disney Enchantment. I must be forgetting a few things but that's quite a lot of changes, isn't it? So, the question beckons…what did I think? What was it like to be back? What do I like and what don't I like? Let's explore with my Top 5 observations from my most recent Walt Disney World Trip.
5 - I Miss Disney's Magical Express
The first two times we went to Disney World as a family, we took a taxi from the airport. The next year we were taken by a beautiful Disney's Magical Express coach bus with Mickey emblazoned on the side in his driver's cap. They played a short movie on the screens getting us all excited for our trip. They brought us to our resort and even picked up our luggage at MCO and delivered it to our room at Port Orleans Riverside…all for free. From that moment on, I was a huge fan of Magical Express. I didn't mind the stops. I can actually remember that first ride stopping at Pop Century and Old Key West. Sure, it was a delay but I got to see two resorts I had never seen before, so I felt like it was all part of the Disney experience. Only once were our bags delayed and that was apparently due to one of those classic August afternoon lightning storms so prevalent in summer down there. Aside from that one glitch, I thoroughly enjoyed Magical Express for all of these years. Free transport to and from the airport and you'll handle my bags? And you weren't going to charge me? Sign me up.
So, how was getting back and forth to the airport now that Magical Express was gone? All things considered it wasn't so bad. We booked the Mears Shuttle. It was $16 a person which I thought was very reasonable. We had one stop at the B Resort & Spa in the Disney Springs area. The bus was comfortable, air-conditioned, and was an all-around pleasant ride. So, why do I miss Magical Express? I guess it's the whole "Disney difference" thing. There was something extra special about being picked up in a Disney themed bus and watching the video on the way there, getting me all psyched up for arrival. It felt like the Disney bubble that I enjoy being in so much now started at the airport. I always felt like once I tapped my Magic Band at the Magical Express counter, I had arrived and had left the real world behind. That's no small task at an airport. I loved that I never had to go to the baggage carousel and wait for my bags because Disney was taking care of it for me. It made me feel extra special. Plus I was a big fan of checking in my luggage and getting a boarding pass for departure at my resort. I never understood the Magical Express detractors. They were out there and I never could follow their complaints. Mears was just fine. In reality, they were the same buses without the Disney wrappings and video. But to be honest, I really missed the wrappings and the videos. It's those little things that I miss. I hope it comes back. I doubt it will, but it would be nice.
4 - Genie+ Works Well…But I Wish I Didn't Have to Pay For It
I was always a big proponent of the FastPass system at Walt Disney World. If you used it wisely and frequently, it could save you hours of precious park time. I always felt like I was being the savvy park-stormer when I would either hand over my paper FastPass back in the day, or when I tapped my band and was able to cut a line. There were some rides and attractions at Disney that I only ever used FastPass for. One of my all-time favorites, Peter Pan's Flight, is a great example. I adore this ride, but there's no way I'm waiting 60 minutes for it. FastPass was always the move, just about every single time, unless I was on it right after rope drop or late at night when there was no line. So, yes, I was an avid user of the Disney FastPass system. That said, I was always pleasantly surprised that it was, in fact, free of charge. People who were new to Disney would say things like, "I'd go, but I hate waiting in long lines." To which I would always reply, "They have a system called FastPass down there which helps you substantially shorten your time in line. " The next comment was always, "Yeah…but that costs extra, doesn't it?" Everyone was always surprised when I'd tell them it was free to any guest.
As someone that likes amusement parks and water parks, I would always be so impressed when I found out that pretty much every other park charged a fee for some sort of line cutting service but Disney never did. It also made me realize that one day Disney would catch on to that and start charging. So that day came and went. FastPass went away and now we have to pay at Walt Disney World for something that we always got for free in the past. Disappointing? Yes, to a certain extent, but also…no. Here's the thing, and I almost don't want to put this in print for fear that someone in charge of things will read it. When you compare it to other theme parks, Genie+ is pretty cheap. I chaperoned a trip to Hershey Park this past spring and was shocked to see that their line cutting service added about $100 to the cost of your ticket. A week later, I chaperoned another trip to the local Six Flags and realized the same thing. The big competitors down the road, Universal Orlando, also charges around $100 for their Express Pass. Granted, these passes typically let you use the pass at each and every attraction once per day. With Genie+, I doubt that's possible, but still, our family of four paid $60 per day for Genie+ on top of our tickets, not $400. On our first day, park hopping between Magic Kingdom and Epcot, we were able to get on Big Thunder, Splash and Space Mountains, Buzz Lightyear, Test Track and Soarin' using Genie+ and we got a late start. We considered that a pretty successful day.
So here's the bottom line. We used Genie+ for our first four days. That way we hit each of the four parks on four consecutive mornings and then park hopped each afternoon somewhere different. Once we made sure we were able to get on the big rides and attractions important to us over those four days, we stopped buying it. Over those four days, we were able to get on just about everything we wanted to using Genie+. It added $240 to the cost of our overall trip. All things considered, that's not too bad. We did buy Individual Lightning Lanes for Guardians of the Galaxy and Rise of the Resistance to make sure we experienced them. That added about $130 more to our overall trip. So for about $370 we were able to do everything we wanted to as far as attractions on our 7 day trip. That's still less than 1 day at Disney's competitors.
Despite having to wake up every day at 7 a.m. – which I'm no fan of – I still liked it better than being shut out of FastPass+ reservations 60 days in advance. That used to happen to me quite regularly with the old system. And contrary to many online complainers, I did NOT spend all of my time staring at my phone while walking around the parks. I made my reservations and put it away. As I said above, I still wish I didn't have to pay for it, but I did find that Genie+ worked well.
3 - Port Orleans French Quarter is Now My "Go To" Moderate Resort
Way back in 2004, my wife and I took our 5-year-old daughter Samantha for our second family trip to Walt Disney World. Our first trip the year before was spent at Caribbean Beach, and we loved it. To the best of my recollection, we wanted to try something new, so we ended up spending a little over a week at Port Orleans French Quarter. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves there. It was smaller than the Caribbean Beach and seemed much more relaxing. The following year, my wife was in a triathlon being held at Disney, and they offered athletes and their families $89 per night rooms over at Riverside. It was on that trip that we realized that once we started bringing our twin boys with us, we would need the Alligator Bayou rooms at Riverside because they offered a fifth bed. That trip began a long love affair with Riverside that lasted for four or five years. After that we started splurging on Deluxe rooms which also had a fifth bed like the Polynesian, BoardWalk Inn and our all time favorite, the Yacht Club. This time though, our daughter couldn't make the trip, so we opted to save some bucks and returned to the French Quarter after an 18-year absence. We were so happy we made that choice.
i'm not going to lie. French Quarter is not the Yacht Club. We missed walking into Epcot. We missed our nightly drinks on the balcony. We missed Stormalong Bay, the greatest hotel pool anywhere we've ever stayed – and that's not just on Disney property, that's anywhere. But the Yacht Club has made a giant leap in price since reopening after the pandemic. Even with the Disney+ deal, it was quite a bit out of range. So why has French Quarter won me over? Several solid reasons. The main one is its size. As far as a Disney resort goes, especially in the Moderate class, French Quarter is downright small. We stayed in Building 6 right on the Sassagoula River. It was about a two-minute walk to the pool and a five-minute walk to the main building for the front desk, food court, gift shop and bus transportation to the parks. All things considered, you're never too far away from anything at this resort.
The other major positive is the bus situation. In 2019, the last time we went to Walt Disney World, my twin boys and I spent four days and nights over at Riverside. I still love Riverside for its beautiful grounds and atmosphere, but we found the bus transportation to the parks to be almost an ordeal. One morning, it took us 30 minutes to circumnavigate the huge resort, make all the bus stops, load on all the passengers and then and only then, we were on our way to the Magic Kingdom. That's just too long. Riverside is huge and has twice the amount of rooms as its neighbor French Quarter, and getting all of those people picked up and onto a bus takes quite a while. The same thing goes for the return rides from the parks. On just about every instance, we noticed that the bus lines for Riverside at the end of the night when the parks closed were huge. French Quarter's bus was never too crowded. Even in the middle of the day when the two resorts sometimes start sharing a bus, French Quarter is always the first stop, so you'll get home first and faster.
French Quarter was tranquil. The pool is great. The food court was good and never too crowded. The beignets are to die for. The cast members were amazing. All in all, it was a really wonderful resort experience. We took the river boat to Disney Springs one night. I couldn't care less if I ever go to Disney Springs again, but the ride down there in the boat is beautiful. We walked over to Riverside a few times, once to have dinner at Boatwrights – the jambalaya is still excellent – once to hang out and listen to Yehaa Bob and once to just walk the grounds and reminisce about all of our past trips. But we were always thrilled to return to our home at French Quarter and I imagine that any time we're staying Moderate from now on, this is where we'll be.
2 - Rise of the Resistance is Just Extraordinary
When you go a place like Walt Disney World as often as we have, it's a rare occurrence to get more than one new ride or attraction to experience at a time. Considering my boys and I hadn't been there in three years and my wife hadn't been there in four years, we were all in for quite a treat because we had 4-5 brand-new attractions to experience. In 2019, the boys and I were blown away by Galaxy's Edge. In my last 'Observations" article after that trip, I wrote the following line;
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.
Keep in mind, at that point Rise of the Resistance hadn't opened yet. So, if I thought this new Star Wars land was incredible back then, it was going to be that much better now that it's complete and the star attraction is open. I was in no way disappointed. In this writer's humble opinion, Rise of the Resistance is the best attraction that the Disney Imagineers have ever come up with.
As a Star Wars fan, I was completely blown away. I have wanted to walk into a Star Wars film ever since 1977. With Galaxy's Edge, I felt like I had finally been given that opportunity to walk around a planet in the Star Wars universe. With Rise of the Resistance, however, I finally feel like I have been an actual participant in a Star Wars adventure. I haven't felt this way since my best friend Louie and I "played" Star Wars with our Kenner action figures back in the summer of 1977; only this time, the Imagineers brilliantly brought my Star Wars imagination to life. If you've experienced it, you know exactly what I mean. If you haven't yet…then you really need to. If this is the future of Disney attractions, then we are in for an amazing ride.
1 - The Magic is Still There
Three years is a long time for a Disney fan to be away. Slap a global pandemic into that time span and all the misery it brought all of us, and it seems like an even longer time away. I've needed a Disney trip for a long time now, but I have to be honest, I wasn't exactly sure what I was in for heading back this time. The Disney fan online universe can be brutal. I'm actually not talking about MousePlanet and its awesome readers and writers. There are other discussion boards out there that are chock-full of negativity. It's always been that way and it's one of the big reasons that I have been here on MousePlanet for as long as I have; we tend to stay away from the negative. Is Walt Disney World perfect? Of course not. Does it deserve the bashing that it gets out there online? I really don't think so.
People seem to be beside themselves that Disney is still using the park reservation system. Now, considering that we seem to have left COVID restrictions behind, I expected that the park reservation system would have gone away by now, but it seems that Disney wants to keep this in place. I have to be honest, it didn't bother me at all. We had reservations for each day and we used them. It did keep us a little more organized on our trip, and we actually did make a few changes while we were down there and it was pretty simple to do so. People seem to forget that back when we were all making FastPass+ reservations 60 days out, we were essentially booking ourselves into a specific park at a specific time anyway. So I don't see this new way as being all that different. Online Disney fans also seem to be incensed that you can't park hop before 2:00 PM. Once again, our family has just about always been to a park early in the morning, and then we are out around 2:00 PM that day headed back to the resort for a swim or some chill out AC time in the room. Then we will hop to a different park for the late afternoon and evening. So, this new rule didn't affect us in the least.
As I mentioned above, I'm certainly lamenting the loss of Magical Express and I'm not all that thrilled that I have to pay for Lightning Lanes and Genie+. But is this enough to make me not want to go back? I keep seeing posts on other Disney fan message boards from people who "won't go back as long as Disney is doing things the way they are doing them." "The magic is gone." So…is the magic gone? I can emphatically respond, "No, the magic is nowhere near gone."
We all had an amazing week together as a family. We loved being at French Quarter. The cast members there went out of there way several times during our stay to assist us and make us feel like we have felt countless times before on our past trips. I got choked up during the nightly fireworks show at Magic Kingdom, Disney Enchantment. We were all blown away by the newest attractions, the aforementioned Rise of the Resistance, Ratatouille, Runaway Railway and my god is the Guardians of the Galaxy attraction amazing! From the looks of things we weren't the only family all wrapped up in the Disney magic. I saw lots of smiling faces, everywhere I looked. After the last few years, we need experiences like these more than ever and from what I witnessed a week or so ago, Walt Disney World was still delivering on its promise to be the most magical place on Earth.
It was a long time coming and it was truly an awesome week down there. We missed our daughter for sure on this one. There's always a hole when she's not with me on a Disney trip. However, we are all planning on a swift return because we came back from Orlando one twin lighter. Our son Casey stayed behind at the Disney College Program, and he's already started training at his new job in Animal Kingdom, working at the Flight of Passage attraction in Pandora - The World of Avatar. What does that mean? It means we need to go and visit him, of course! His brother, Alex, has already applied for the upcoming spring semester, so with any luck, we'll have to go and visit him too! Based on this last magical trip, that's just fine with us. It looks like we have a big Walt Disney World year ahead of us and you can't tell right now, but you can probably guess I'm smiling from ear to ear!
That's all for this time. As always, I'd like to hear what you have to say. Click on the link below to share your thoughts. Stay safe and I'll see you next time with another Disney Top 5.