Tuesday, April 3, 2012

WDW Spring Break Trip Report

Long Post Ahead. Rather than break this all up across multiple days here is a full report on our recent WDW trip.

This past spring break, students from our local high school were invited to take part in vocal and band workshops which were hosted at Disney’s Saratoga Springs resort. The day following the workshops each group took the stage at Downtown Disney as part of “Disney’s Performing Arts.” Students from our school were just one part of this program. Throughout the day other students from across the country also performed. Some bands (although not ours) marched ahead of the 3:00 parade over at Magic Kingdom.

The idea of visiting Disney Parks during spring break in and of itself would never appeal to my wife and me, but since we wanted to see our daughter on stage at Disney, we decided to fly down separately from the group which was traveling by bus. Because we were not part of the traveling group my wife and I were able to enjoy some must needed time together. It was so nice to leave work and everything else behind and just unwind.

That being said our trip did not start out well. I had booked us a mid-day flight that should have got us to Orlando by 8pm. On the way to the airport I received a message stating our flight out of Des Moines would be delayed by 45 minutes which raised concern that we might miss our connection in Memphis. Arriving at the airport we’d planned to head straight up through security because I had boarding passes printed and we had no checked baggage.

As we walked in I received another call stating that our flight was cancelled. My heart sank and I thought (insert expletive of choice) are you kidding me? We made our way over to the ticketing counter hoping for options but with this spring break I had little hope. The ticketing agent said everyone had already been rebooked out of Cedar Rapids. (Groan and again insert expletive of choice) Our new flights would be Cedar Rapids/Detroit/Orlando.

The ticket agent printed out our new flight details and explained that upon arrival in Cedar Rapids we had to convert them to boarding passes. We were then told that everyone would be shuttled by taxi to Cedar Rapids. (2 hour drive) We were also given some “food vouchers” for our “inconvenience”.

Twenty minutes later we were in a taxi. When we arrived at Cedar Rapids we learned two things. First, that this groups of fifty people was not expected (one counter agent was visibly overwhelmed and a second agent threw her hands in the air, declared I don’t know what to do and promptly disappeared)Second, was that our flight to Detroit was delayed and there was no possible way we were going to make the Orlando connection. By now I’m seeing red and although it was hard to maintain composure I did my best to keep my cool, knowing that the agent standing before me is not responsible for all the chaos. The counter agent looked for a way to rebook us on another airline in order to get us through to Orlando. She found nothing. She gave us the choice of spending the night in Cedar Rapids or going onto Detroit with a first class rebook on an 8am flight the following morning. We took the Detroit option. We made our way upstairs to the gate and used the food vouchers for lunch and beer.

Once we finally got to Detroit we wanted to see if by chance our earlier rebooked Orlando flight might also have been delayed. No luck there. We missed it by twenty minutes. So we headed over to the customer service desk, picked up a “hotel voucher” and more “food vouchers.”

A quick note on the hotel voucher, our airline used an automated system to hand these out. My wife and I received vouchers for two different hotels. We got that squared away and headed down to catch a shuttle. Checking in at the hotel was smooth but we had to change rooms after discovering used towels and an opened bar of soap in the bathroom. There was a restaurant and bar attached to the hotel and we were able to use the food vouchers for some nachos and beer.

Before turning in I called Disney to explain we were delayed by a day and also to reschedule my planned birthday lunch at Le Cellier. Missing a night at Animal Kingdom Lodge really had me pissed off. I had not purchased the travel insurance offered by DVC and was therefore out the vacation points I’d used.

Neither of us slept well. We had three alarms and a 5am wakeup call set. We caught a 6am shuttle and used some more vouchers for an early breakfast at the airport.

(Yes folks Delta owns a Monorail)

Our flight was on time and all went well. It was the first time we had flown first class and the extra leg room was wonderful. We had a second breakfast on board and that helped to break up the long flight.

Upon arriving at Magical Express we only waited for about five minutes before boarding.

The bus loaded quickly and we were finally off to “the world.” Check in was smooth, my wife picked up her annual pass and we received a free lithograph at the DVC desk for the new Aulani resort. It’s a very nice matted print which I’m not sure what I’ll do with. It’s something I won’t display until after we visit there sometime. (I’m wondering if such a print exists for our home resort at Bay Lake)

We dropped off our bags and headed out to catch a bus to the Magic Kingdom. Being that Animal Kingdom is the furthest out of the resorts I was curious to see how well the bus service was. We found it to be very consistent for any location we wanted to reach throughout our entire stay.
We arrived at Magic Kingdom at two in the afternoon. The crowd going through the security check point was huge and was our first real crowd level indicator. The park had extra magic hours until 1am so we planned on a late night.

Now this report is already long winded most readers of this blog are familiar with the Disney parks. I’m just going to report on a few highlights and first time experiences from this point.

Sunday Magic Kingdom:

1. First look at Storybook Circus. A new train station is open. Goofy’s Barnstormer has been re-themed but still needs some fresh paint. One half of the re-vamped and re-located Dumbo ride is operational. I was a bit surprised with Dumbo. The concept art I have seen showed both Dumbo rides inside a circus tent. That is not the case. There is a tent but the ride is outside.

2. It was my birthday so I was wearing an It’s my Birthday pin with my name on it, nearly every Cast Member wished me Happy Birthday. During the Main Street Electrical Parade, one cast member dressed in colonial attire noticed my pin, wished me a happy birthday, including my name, gave me a salute and she never missed a marching step. How she read my name in the dark I don’t know.

3. Fast Passes are indeed being strictly enforced. You must return within the hour shown on the pass. A fifteen minute late grace period was allowed and that was it. The result of these enforced rules is that you still end up in a line due to everyone else having to return within their window. Now the line is shorter and Cast Members are moving it through faster than the stand by line, but the good Lord help you if you get in behind a Brazilian Tour group. Should you see a tour group grabbing Fast Passes I suggest going elsewhere and coming back for a pass later. Your window to receive a second fast pass can be either the minute after the first pass is ready to use or up to two hours past when it was issued.

4. Magic, Memories, and You. In a word, WOW! Disney’s new castle show delivers such an unexpected treat. The show takes place between the Electrical Parade and Wishes. Through the use of projectors the castle is transformed visually in a multitude of ways. During the show pictures and video of that days park guests are displayed on the castle. Below I’ve attached a video that Ricky from the “Inside the Magic Podcast” put up on YouTube.

5. Tired so tired. As much as I would have liked closing the park down at 1am we just couldn’t do it. We left by 11. Although we had such a late start to the day we managed to see and ride most of the attractions. We had another day planned for MK later to catch what we missed.

Monday Epcot:

1. Missed rope drop by about half an hour. Soarin’ was first on the list of things to do. Only a 30 minute wait so we grabbed some Fast Passes for later and then we went ahead and got in line.

2. Universe of Energy. I have not seen this show in twenty five years. The version I was familiar with was the original. I was surprised to see that the tilting projection screen cubes had been removed. That was perhaps the most interesting part of the original show. What can I say about this attraction today? Hmm let me think… “Dated!” This show needs a major overhaul. It’s dull and Ellen is so trapped in the 80’s. There was one highlight. Just before leaving the main dinosaur room look to the left and you’ll see Jar Jar Binks and a couple of other Gungans in stripped tank tops. I kid you not.

3. Beverly. Yep it still tastes awful but it a tradition that just has to be relived with each visit.

4. Lunch at Le Cellier. I had a Cup of Cheese soup and the Mushroom Risotto Filet of course. Two thumbs up as always.

(The drinking did improve. Pinkys up when in the UK)

5. This was our first visit during the Flower and Garden Festival. The topiaries were nice to see and are also a way in which I don’t mind Disney bringing characters into Epcot.


This day started off at Downtown Disney as our school’s band was scheduled to perform at 11:00am and our choir at 1:00pm. This gave us plenty of time to shop and take advantage of our AP discount at the World of Disney store. Our band did a marvelous job and Disney had the stage microphones’ set up so well that it really gave the band a full solid sound.

When our band finished, we did a little more shopping and then my wife went back to the stage area early in hopes to find a shady spot for viewing the choir. I found my way over to the pin station and then I spotted a margarita stand nearby. I expected that this stand most likely had premade frozen margs. I was wrong; it was actually a full service bar. I order a top shelf Patron margarita and somehow the bartender was able to get salt to stick to the plastic cup. It was perfection. I walked back to catch the concert and upon seeing my adult beverage a number of the official chaperones for our group declared their jealousy.

The choir also did a great job and afterward my wife and I went to Cookes of Dublin for lunch. I had the fish and chips and my wife had the chicken. She would later say that this was her favorite meal of our trip.

After lunch we decided to take our purchases back to Animal Kingdom before heading over to Hollywood Studios. On our way to the buses a cast member commented on the monorail pins on my lanyard. She asked if I had been by guest services to check out the pin trading book. I explained I was not aware there was one there and she told us that guest services in each resort and in each park has a book. This was a great tip and I ended up trading at least ten pins this way.

Once we got over to Hollywood Studios we caught a ride on Tower of Terror and then went on into the Beauty and the Beast show.

We stayed late in the park and got in two Star Tours rides, a ride on Midway Mania, and another ride on Tower. It was impossible to get into Rock n Roller Coaster. The line was over 90 minutes long and both times that I checked for fast passes the return times did not work for what we had planned. We closed the night by catching the 10pm showing of Fantasmic.


Animal Kingdom: We made rope drop this day and caught two rides on Expedition Everest, an early ride on Kilimanjaro Safaris on which we saw more animals than ever before. The giraffes’ were out in great numbers. One of them even decided to stop in front of our truck for a while. We also caught the Finding Nemo show, It’s Tough to be a Bug and the Festival of the Lion King.

We left AK mid-day and went back over to Magic Kingdom because I wanted to see that Magic Memories and You show again. We hit many of the headline attractions and even took a chance on Splash Mountain. I got wet but not a wet as I did on Pirates of the Caribbean last January.

During this visit to MK we decided to check out the new Sorcerers of Magic Kingdom card game.

This is very similar to the Kim Possible program over at Epcot except this is free. You have to go to a Sorcerers learning center of which there are two. (One in the Firehouse and another out behind the Christmas Shoppe in Liberty Square) You receive a key card, three spell cards and a map. (You can receive additional cards when you visit the park on another day) The storyline is that Hades is plotting to take over the Magic Kingdom and you have to stop all the villains from taking over the different lands. A map directs you to a window were you hold up your key card to a video camera. A video segment of Merlin or of a villain plays. You then hold up spell card and hopefully defeat the villain. You are then directed to another location across the park to face another villain. We did the training mission and then headed over to Liberty Square to the next location. Here I encountered why this is something I will not be doing. There was a line of at least 8 park guests each waiting their turn. Factor in 5-10 minutes for each guest to complete their task and you realize you’re wasting a boatload of your time. Now I can say that at least what I saw of the others experiences were unique, so at least you’re not just waiting in line to go through what you just saw the guest ahead of you do. My turn was uneventful and I never played a card. After watching a brief animation I was simply told to head over to Frontierland to continue my quest. At this point I said forget it and that was the end of my Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom quest. It was a waste of time and the only way I could recommend it is by suggesting that you go off season when fewer people are around and then only if you don’t care to ride any attractions, all day.

Later in the afternoon a cast member in a blue vest approached us in Tomorrowland and asked us about our day and if we planned to stay for the parade through wishes. We said yes and then she explained that Disney was testing a new fast pass that provided special seating during the Electrical Parade and for viewing Magic, Memories and You. She then presented us with the special passes and told us to report to the area located behind the Partners Statue by 8:45pm.

In the evening we walked over to check out the special seating and noticed a roped off area was also provided off to the side Walt Disney side of the central hub. It turned out that fast passes similar to ours were also given out for viewing Wishes from that area.

Our view for the parade and M, M & Y was fantastic. The only issue I could see with what Disney was trying to do here is that some people were standing and that was blocking the view of others who wanted to sit.

When Wishes started we were clearly too close, because from our vantage point, the fireworks were going off behind the Castle rather than above it. This explains the reason behind the second area.

I expected that after the shows the Disney cast member would mingle around to gather some feedback. We saw no one, so evidently at this point they must only have been concerned with how this affected crowds. When we asked how Disney was considering distributing this special seating no one really had an answer. I can only speculate that “A” this will be an add-on to a dinner package or “B” these will be handed put randomly as a magical moment.


Time to head home, but before leaving I took a picture of the giraffes grazing on the trees not far from our room.

As I come to the close of this way long trip report I would be remiss if I did not give a review of Jambo House at Animal Kingdom Lodge. The staff was very friendly and the resort was immaculately clean. This resort is huge and should you decide to ever stay here I would suggest asking for a room close to the main hall or on the third floor which is lobby level. Of course if you want one of the savanna view rooms then you may be placed further out from the lobby. For me I’d rather have shorter walks to the buses and to the dining over a room that is on the fifth floor and all the way at the end. There are plenty of viewing areas around the resort for watching the animal.

One thing that this resort and the other Disney deluxe resorts do fall short on in my opinion is the quick service dining area. The moderate and value resorts have food courts offering more variety. The food is fine but at breakfast/lunch and dinner there are only 6-8 hot meals to choose from. Whereas over at a resort such as All Star Movies you have sandwich bar and a pizza/pasta bar and a dedicated dessert bar. As I said, the food here was fine but the location of the quick service area was also poorly placed. It’s on the lowest level of the resort and you must go outside to get to it. It’s directly across from the pool area so I understand what Disney was trying to accomplish here but to me it was a real journey heading down there each morning.

Travel home was smooth and this time we got back home before our daughter. Before leaving the airport I noticed that our airlines desk had a couple employees at it and there were no other customers. I decided to ask how I might best get some further compensation for our canceled flight and having not made it to Orlando at the start of our trip. I mentioned the cash equivalent to how much the night stay we had to eat at Animal Kingdom was. The agent I talked to was friendly and apologized for our troubles and said he could most likely do something for us. He reviewed our earlier travel problems and presented my wife and me each with a $400 flight voucher. This was great and is far more than the other in our taxi had received. So what are we going to do with our vouchers? Why go to Walt Disney World of course.