As a Southern California native, I've logged hundreds of visits to Disneyland in Anaheim, California over the years, and I adore the place. I adore its intimate corners, its "quaintness," that every square inch of the park, partially by necessity due to space issues, delivers as much entertainment as possible. I never minded that Sleeping Beauty Castle rises a mere 77 feet from the moat. I take for granted that the neighboring park, Disney California Adventure, is just a few steps away across the esplanade, making park hopping a breeze. And I've always been proud of the fact that this is Walt's park, the one he and his team built, the one he personally walked each morning.
So it's with this West Coast mindset that I recently boarded a plane and visited Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, for only the second time in my life. I hope my trip report is useful to those who are thinking about or planning their own trip to the Vacation Kingdom of the World.
Came home from the expo and this nifty little box was waiting for me. 25 days. ?? pic.twitter.com/EC1thnhb6J— Matthew Gottula (@DLthings) August 17, 2015
Planning a WDW trip has changed quite a bit since my first visit in 2012. Magic Bands had not yet been implemented 3 years ago, so this trip was the first time I had to plan using My Disney Experience and all of its quirks, and I must say, there is a learning curve to navigating the MDE website, even for me, the theme park fan that pays attention! It's a weird feeling to "check in" online to your hotel two months before your visit, and equally odd to make Fastpass+ reservations for attractions up to
three two months in advance (dining reservations are up to 180 days in advance). It's not just your flight, your hotel, and your park tickets you need to take into account far in advance. In 2015, for better or worse, you must also have a pretty good idea of exactly what you'll be doing each hour of each day of your trip, months before you even set foot onto Walt Disney World property.
And the bus whisks me off to WDW property, do not pass GO (or stop at any competitors), Disney collects my $200. pic.twitter.com/TpupkfX4ga— Matthew Gottula (@DLthings) September 10, 2015
I'm happy to report that I had zero issues with my blue-colored Magic Band (no purple?) during my four-day trip. After my plane landed at the Orlando airport, I headed toward the bus stop where Disney's Magical Express was waiting. I touched my Magic Band to the Mickey head, it glowed green, and the Cast Member already knew which resort I was staying at (convenient and creepy) and directed me to the appropriate bus. When I arrived at Port Orleans French Quarter Resort, my moderate on-property hotel of choice (I fell in love with the real New Orleans earlier this year so it was the obvious choice for me), my room wasn't quite ready, but they were happy to check my carry-on so I could board another bus and begin my day (and start spending money) at the parks.
Port Orleans French Quarter Resort is no New Orleans Square, but it *is* colorful and charming. pic.twitter.com/7asogOfC2D— Matthew Gottula (@DLthings) September 13, 2015
I entered the Magic Kingdom at about 10:15 am, a little over an hour after park opening, and was disappointed to find that all the Main Street vehicles were being put away for the day! This is unacceptable to me, as I'm accustomed to Disneyland keeping their Main Street vehicles running from park opening until about 2pm, right before the afternoon parade. I blame the Magic Kingdom's "Move It! Shake It!" street show and "Dream Along with Mickey" castle show, which noisily disrupt the area multiple times in the late morning and afternoon. I successfully avoided both.
I delighted in riding the Tomorrowland PeopleMover over and over. I climbed a treehouse in Adventureland with all of its Swiss family members still residing, and its extravagant bamboo water system running. I enjoyed taking a trip through progress in Walt Disney's rotating theater. I got a little emotional in the Country Bear Jamboree, a show I hadn't seen in person for more than a decade. In many ways, old magic that left Disneyland long ago lives on at the Magic Kingdom - or improves upon it, such as the Hall of Presidents one-upping Mr. Lincoln. (I didn't visit Tom Sawyer Island on this trip, but it's also pure joy to explore, its fort still open, rifles intact!)
So many feels. This is the first time I've seen the Country Bear Jamboree since it left Disneyland 14 years ago. ?? pic.twitter.com/OuqfW68cXi— Matthew Gottula (@DLthings) September 10, 2015
I'm thrilled that the Enchanted Tiki Room is no longer "under new management," but the Magic Kingdom version of the show does not have an Enchanted Fountain in the center, and show length has been edited down slightly compared to Disneyland's version. Here, lead parrot Jose does not invite the audience to "Sing like the Birdies Sing" and then whistle, and I missed that - I thought that was the whole point of the song! Similarly, the Country Bear Jamboree speeds along from one song to the next, with hardly any of the casual banter between the bears that I remember, until before you know it, they're asking you to leave. It's a bit like watching your favorite movie on TV, only to discover some scenes were edited out so it could fit in the time slot. Whatever the reason - capacity or something else - this devoted fan noticed, and it's unfortunate.
Magic Kingdom's Haunted Mansion deserves its own paragraph because it is spectacular, and in almost every way superior to Disneyland's version. It's *so good*. I did not miss the Hatbox Ghost at all. I'm just not a fan of the new interactive hitchhiking ghosts, or the interactive queue.
New Fantasyland is beautiful to look at and was fun to explore for the first time. I enjoyed a massive cinnamon roll and the sweet and foamy drink LeFou's Brew in Gaston's Tavern. Little Mermaid has a giant facade and queue that's almost too grand for the main attraction, and I was happy to see the "plussing" of DCA's version has made it inside of this version as well. Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is loads of fun, especially at night - I enjoyed the swinging action of the mine cars, the diamond scene, and the cottage at the very end. I left impressed but wanting more!
HOOP-DEE-FREAKING-DOO pic.twitter.com/vpvb5hUwqK— Matthew Gottula (@DLthings) September 11, 2015
In the evening I bussed over to Fort Wilderness
Wilderness Lodge Resort for the insanely fun Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue. My mason jar of sangria and buckets of fried chicken and ribs just kept magically refilling themselves and I stuffed myself silly. It was a hand-clappin', foot-stompin' good time in there. It's a shame something like this hasn't made its way inside the Diamond Horseshoe in Frontierland, which always seems to be closed during my visit.
It happened to be 9/11 on the day I toured Epcot, which in a way made the day a little more meaningful and inspiring. Spaceship Earth beautifully depicts the forward-marching progress of human communication on this little planet of ours. I love it so much. Not so inspiring was the construction zone around the Frozen (Norway) pavilion in World Showcase. I couldn't even look at it. The wounds are too fresh. I sipped the mango margarita I got from Mexico pavilion and kept on walking, thanking my lucky stars I got to ride Maelstrom on my previous visit, before it closed forever.
First ride at Test Track! This is how my design turned out. ?? pic.twitter.com/ExibK5xY2P— Matthew Gottula (@DLthings) September 11, 2015
This was my first time checking out the updated Test Track, and Chevrolet really makes the most of Magic Band tech here. I enjoyed spending a few minutes designing my own prototype vehicle, which is then saved to your band and scanned and synced with your ride vehicle, so you can see how it performed as you ride through, ranked against your friends riding with you. The attraction is sleek and futuristic looking, almost TRON-like, with none of the hokey "crash test dummy" aesthetic of the first version. I just wish the ride experience itself wasn't so jerky and abrupt.
Yes, I went to Disney's Hollywood Studios and managed to spend a grand total of five hours there. First, I absolutely loved seeing the Chinese Theater from the entrance with no hat, no stage, no nothing blocking the view. It's cinematic and exactly how the park was always supposed to look. I enjoyed The Great Movie Ride and the improvements made by Turner Classic Movies, a fitting new sponsor. Tower of Terror's fifth dimension room and random drop sequences really lift it far and beyond DCA's version. I paid my respects in One Man's Dream, which will likely close soon just as a dozen other things in the park have recently. Rock 'n' Roller Coaster is thrilling but the black-lit sets are so "meh." The park is due to add lands dedicated to Toy Story and Star Wars. I think the place would benefit greatly from an operating Red Car Trolley, like the one at Disney California Adventure.
Animal Kingdom is such a lovely park. pic.twitter.com/GTUunhUhZT— Matthew Gottula (@DLthings) September 13, 2015
It started pouring rain when I entered Animal Kingdom. Ponchos and umbrellas are necessities when vacationing in Orlando and should be carried around at all times in case of afternoon thunderstorms. I noticed that, unlike Anaheim, few people leave when it rains. Chances are very good that the rain will move on in a matter of minutes, so everyone just takes cover wherever they are until it stops. The animals like to come out to play in the rain, which made our ride on Kilimanjaro Safaris extra special. Our safari guide kept the tone courteous and informative, with few of the lame jokes and puns of the Jungle Cruise, which I appreciated. Expedition Everest is still a great ride, "disco yeti" notwithstanding. I enjoyed the puppetry and performances in Finding Nemo the Musical more than I thought I would. This gorgeous park will likely have Avatar Land and a nighttime show open during my next visit, and I can't wait.
Ah, Trader Sam's. What a wonderful way to end a spectacular WDW getaway. Mahalo! pic.twitter.com/4sl15yNwey— Matthew Gottula (@DLthings) September 14, 2015
My final treat of the trip was a few tropical drinks at Trader Sam's Grog Grotto. I prefer the seating arrangement of Anaheim's but love the special effects of Orlando's. The new Poly lobby is spacious but lacks the exotic atmosphere the old planter and fountain provided.
Final thoughts: Walt Disney World truly benefits from what Walt called "the blessing of size." The scope and scale is impressive, at times overwhelming. Approaching the Magic Kingdom by ferry across Bay Lake, with Cinderella Castle looming ever larger in the distance, is incredibly theatrical and impressive (so much for Harbor Boulevard!). It definitely gets the "long shot" right, but when you move closer, I sometimes miss the charm and comfort that Disneyland's more intimate themed spaces provide.
Frustratingly, there are fewer attractions and things to do "per park" at WDW's four parks than at Disneyland's two parks, and many of the attractions and restaurants have shorter hours than the rest of the park. Park hopping and getting around at WDW in general, especially via the resort buses, is time-consuming and I'll never get used to it. Early September is hot and humid in Orlando, but we were blessed with below-average crowds, and I recommend it if you don't mind missing out on the Halloween parties or Epcot's Food & Wine Festival.
Walt Disney World, it's been fun. It really is an escape from reality. But Disneyland will always and forever be my home park. ????— Matthew Gottula (@DLthings) September 14, 2015
Follow my theme park adventures at @DLthings, and thanks for reading! :)
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