My Walt Disney World Homecomingby Gregg Jacobs, contributing writer
We've been having a great time on our European adventure. In fact, we just got our first visitors from the US, and after showing them around Prague for few days, we jumped in the car and drove through Germany and Austria, where I skiied for the first time ever, in a town in the alps called Kitzbuhel (why is stopping so hard when skiing?
Though we're having a blast, I still have those pangs of missing Disney—especially Walt Disney World, my home Disney park. So when planning our first trip back to the U.S. since moving to Europe, there had to be some Mouse in our itinerary. Planning what turned into an 18-day stateside trip was a Herculean task (get the Disney reference?). There were friends and family that we missed and wanted to see. The back half of that trip was to be spent in our old New York/New Jersey stomping groups, so that left nine days in Florida.
Sadly, when we got our place in Florida in late 2021, we were only able to buy a Pixie Dust annual pass. This complicated things further, since we were visiting on Thanksgiving week, which was completely blocked out. That only left me one day at the parks before boarding a flight to the Big Apple, the Monday after Thanksgiving. I picked the Magic Kingdom, made my park reservation, and informed family members that they'd be taking the day off from work/school to go with me (whether they liked it or not!).
Then came a surprise. My friend Stacy, from New York, was planning to be in Florida for Thanksgiving week, and asked if she could come and visit us for a couple of days, including an Epcot visit. She hadn't been to WDW since she was a kid, and wanted the chance to have the full "Gregg Disney Experience" (her words, not mine). It would mean buying a full price ticket for the day—but who am I to stand in the way of someone else's Disney dreams? We made plans to go the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.
I also planned on visiting Disney Springs to do a little shopping and get in some more magic before leaving Orlando, so I had two park days and a Springs visit planned before leaving Europe. While I'm sure MousePlanet readers would love to hear about my entire visit home in excruciating detai, I'll focus on the Disney aspects of my trip to keep this from being something along the lines of War and Peace,
One heads-up. Since I was visiting for the first time in months and had no idea when I'd be back, the relaxed Gregg who lived in Orlando with his annual pass was gone, and crazy, only-visits-once-or-twice-a-year-and-must-see-all Gregg was back.
First up was Stacy and Epcot! Our plan for the day was simple—do as much as humanly possible in one day. Stacy hadn't been since she was a kid, so needed to give her as much of the Disney experience as I could. First order of business was Guardians. I was up at 6:50 a.m. to make sure I was ready to go at 7:00 to get in that virtual queue. I almost did too well—getting group 15, one of the first boarding groups. We also bought Genie+ to make sure we could get the most out of our day, starting with Soarin' at 9:15. We decided to leave home around 8:15 to be at the park for 9:00 rope drop.
Our Guardians boarding group hadn't been called yet, so we headed over to Soarin', checking our phones from time to time to see if our Guardians group was being called. Soarin' has always been one of my favorites, and Stacy had never been. Our trip around the world was amazing as always, and Stacy absolutely loved it. We checked our phones, no viritual queue notice yet, so we headed over to the Seas with Nemo.
We're all smiles in front of Guardians—hiding my queasiness. Photo by Gregg Jacobs.
Nemo was fun as always, and we spent a little time with the fishes and dolphins, but it was coming up on 10:30 and still no Guardians. We headed over to Xandar to check. They were way past us and up to boarding group 40 or so. Our time was past but I didn't panic, because I had read that you could go pretty much any time after you've been called. We got to the front, and he scanned our tickets. Sure enough, they came up red (or whatever the bad color was)—but we were waved through. Never figured out why we didn't get our text alert.
The line inside was a little longer than expected, but we made it through to the pre-show room, and the effect was as cool as I remembered from my first ride. We got in our vehicle, and off we went. The ride is a lot of fun, and Stacy absoutely loved it. What I'll say about myself is—I got kind of physically ill again. In general, as long as a ride is actually moving, I do fine. Motion simulators have been known to do me in, and this had some aspects of that. About halfway through, I felt that bad sensation, and used the trick of fixing on a point (in this case, the hairclip of the woman sitting in front of me). I got through it without embarassing myself.
After that, a quick stop at Starbucks in the Creations Cafe and on to World Showcase for lunch. I had made a priority seating at Chefs de France, one of my favorites. We had French onion soup (do they just call it onion soup in Paris?) and beef bourginon and then rolled out of there, way too full.
The French onion soup at Chefs de France is amazing. Photo by Gregg Jacobs.
It was then time to meet a friend. We had planned to meet up with MousePlanet's own Alan Dalinka, who was waiting outside the restaurant. Alan and I caught up as the three of us strolled World Showcase. We had checked out Remy, but the line was way too long (and no more Genie+ available for the day), so we just enjoyed hopping around the world, stopping in shops as we went (Mitsukoshi in Japan is one of my favorites—ran in to get Mike the same Shiba Inu desk calendar he's had for years).
We made our way toward the former Future World and visiting Imagination and Figment (this might be the first actual ride I've ever done with Alan—the master of the I-live-in-Florida-and-can-come-whenever-I-want-to visits). Figment is a little dated and in need of TLC, but I still love the little purple guy and am glad the meet-and-greet is coming back. Alan then smuggled us in to the DVC lounge where we relaxed a bit and had a few snacks.
Mouseplanet's own Alan Dalinka stopped by to say hi. Photo by Gregg Jacobs.
Alan headed out, and Stacy and I tried to run around and do as much as we could. We went on Mission Space (Green side—after reading my Guardians story above, you know why) and then we used the single rider line on Test Track (love the single rider line) and were on in about 15 minutes. We enjoyed our spin as crash test dummies.
It was then nearing 8:00. We had planned on staying for Harmonius, but we were sagging a bit. I had seen it a few times, and Stacy was more interesting in the light show on Spaceship Earth. We decided to ride the spaceship and then catch a few of the light shows before heading out. walkking to the car, beating the end of day crowds. We had a great day at Epcot and was so happy Stacy came up to experience it with me.
We now fast forward a few days. My sister Stephanie, brother-in-law Mike, niece Katie, and nephew Jake came up from Tampa to spend a couple of days with us, which, of course, included WDW. It was Katie's birthday, and for the last many years, we've always come down to Florida to celebrate with a WDW trip. We weren't going to let something as trivial as moving to Europe interfere with that!
To kick it off, we went to Disney Springs that Sunday night after Thanksgiving. We wandered through the Village Marketplace, shopping in World of Disney, Disney Days of Christmas and Art of Disney (my trifecta), as well as the pin store. I picked up a few gifts for husband Mike's great nephews and niece, and told Katie and Jake they could each pick out something for their birthdays. Katie was coming up empty, but after a long search, Jake picked out a Star Wars lightsaber at World of Disney. Of course, also had to hit Uniqlo and pick out a sweatshirt—this one with Pluto at the center (Uniqlo isn't as cheap as it used to be, but still a lot cheaper on its Mickey clothing than the Disney-owned stores across the way).
Katie had picked Planet Hollywood Observatory for her birthday dinner, so we headed over there. I really like this place. Sure, it's loud, but the giant screens are cool and the food is actually pretty good. We told them it was Katie's birthday, so she got her name on the big screen and the camera followed her around for a bit Jumbo Tron style.
Katie's birthday made the big screen at Planet Hollywood Observatory. Photo by Gregg Jacobs.
Again, we stumbled out of a restaurant full, and went to make our way back home. Of course, Disney Style caught our eye on the way to the parking garage, so we figured a quick peek couldn't hurt. Katie is a collector of Loungefly bags, and lately, she's taken a liking to Hercules—so when she saw a Hercules Loungefly bag there, she had found her birthday gift from Uncles Gregg and Mike.
Shopping bags in hand, we headed out to rest up for the big day ahead.
The plan was Monday at the Magic Kingdom (more fun than school or work). We got our Genie+ selections in (Peter Pan was first up), so we were raring to go!
We got there around 9:30—not quite rope drop, but not bad. We took our time meandering down Main Street USA. Brother-in-law Mike noticed that a cast member was just standing in Town Square beside one of those old-timey buses. For the heck of it, he went up to her and asked how we could get a ride. She said to round up the family and just hop in. I've been going to WDW for more than 50 years now, and firsts are rare these days—but we got one that day. The nice lady drove us down Main Street in style, pointing out the shop windows as we went and taking pictures for us. Was a lot of fun,
We got to have a family Disney first and get a ride down Main Street USA. Photo by Cast Member:-)
Then it was off to Neverland, as we rode family favorite, Peter Pan, with our Genie+ since the line is usually too long. Katie also took the opportunity to meet actual Peter in the makeshift meet-and-greet in front of the ride.
Katie got to fly to Neverland with Peter Pan. Photo by Stephanie Hayes.
We grabbed our next Genie+ passes, Space Mountain for me and husband Mike, Buzz Lightyear for everyone else. The times were oddly close to now, so we made our way to Tomorrowland. We rode the Peoplemover first, and gawked at Tron as it nears the final stages of construction (finally). Then Mike and I ran to Space Mountain while the rest of the crew defeated evil Emperor Zurg. Great rides both as always.
It was now lunchtime. There's always much debate about where to go, but a recent discovery has been Sleepy Hollow in Liberty Square. We all love the waffles, so we dined al fresco next to Cinderella's Castle.
Jake is obsessed with the Haunted Mansion. He loves the ride, has posters up in his room, and can recite the Ghost Host spiel from start to finish. Haunted Mansion is another one of those rides that was a virtual walk on for decades, but now can have waits of an hour or more, so that became our next Genie+ pick. We headed there after lunch to give a ghost a chance to follow us home (and, of course, Jake loved it).
Jake loves the Haunted Mansion. Photo by Gregg Jacobs.
We then went to Mickey's Philharmagic (or as we affectionately refer to it as, Duck Butt—anyone who knows to look towards the back of the theater at the end knows what I'm talking about. Have always loved this one, and the Coco addition fits in seemlessly.
Then husband Mike and I peeled off again for a bit to ride Splash Mountain (the two kids aren't fans). I figured it was my last chance to ride before it closed in January, and I enjoyed saying goodbye to Brer Rabbit and company. While I've always enjoyed this one, I'm all for plussing rides, and can't wait to see what Disney has in store with Tiana's Bayou Adventure.
We regrouped in Advetureland, Genie+ less for the moment. Katie loves Pirates of the Carribean and the line had dipped to 35 minutes, though it looked longer than that to us. We decided to suck it up, since this one is a family must do when we visit. Wait was about 45 mins, but this one is a classic that we all still love.
We walked back through Fantasyland, and saw the Princess Fairy Tale Hall. The wait said 30 minutes and the birthday girl wanted to see Tiana and Rapunzel. How could we resist. Actually, had we known we'd be standing there for well over an hour waiting to see them, we probably would have resisted, but it was what it was. We finally made it in, and Katie got to chat with the princesses.
It was a long wait, but Katie got to see Rapunzel. Photo by Gregg Jacobs.
The day was flying by and it was now time for dinner.
We had made one dining reservation, for the Crystal Palace, and I'm happy to say that the food was great and the characters were back! We had our buffet dinner and were visited by Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Piglet and Rabbit (Eeyore missed us somehow, but that's OK).
It was a long wait, but Katie got to see Rapunzel. Photo by Gregg Jacobs.
It was getting dark, but we wanted one last wander around the castle. In one of our favorite viewing spots, the Disney photographers had a set up with Cinderella's glass slipper. The wait wasn't too long, and we couldn't resist.
We basked in the glow of Cinderella's Castle and glass slipper. Photo by Gregg Jacobs.
It was time for some shopping on Main Street USA (I had oddly forgotten to bring a spoon rack to Europe, so obviously needed a Mickey-shaped one to take back with me). After that, we took our places on Main Street to watch Enchantment. Here's tip for the nightly fireworks—if you're plan is to leave right afterward, stand on Main Street instead of in the hub in front of the castle. The view is almost as good, and you'll save literally 45 minutes to an hour getting back to the transportation and ticket center by beating most of the crowds out of the park. I did it both ways and know this to be true.
Enchantment was fun, but in my humble opinion, it lacks the emotional punch of it;s predecessor. I'm over the moon that Happily Ever After is coming back in April.
We were all exhausted. The kids had school the next day, and Mike and I had an early flight to catch, so we headed out of the park and said our goodbyes.
OK, this did wind up being like War and Peace, but hope you had some fun with me and got the sense of how excited I was to return to my old stomping grounds. Everyone be well and see you real soon!