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A SoCal Native Visits Walt Disney World: My 2015 Trip Report

September 23, 2015, 10:01 AM · I'm pretty lucky, I must admit.

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.

Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom

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.

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.

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.

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!)

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

Follow my theme park adventures at @DLthings, and thanks for reading! :)

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Replies (19)

September 23, 2015 at 11:14 AM · Correction: Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue is located in Fort Wilderness, not Wilderness Lodge. Rookie mistake!
September 23, 2015 at 12:23 PM · Nice review! I always enjoy seeing /my/ home park through the eyes of an informed visitor. I felt your review was very much on-target, both with the strengths and the weaknesses inherent in WDW.
September 23, 2015 at 1:39 PM · I really believe the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Review is one of the greatest experiences found at WDW. Great food, amazing show, and the audience is always in a good mood. I love the fact that it gets practically no advertisement or publicity because it is already so well know and loved among regulars. And come on...dat fried chicken! Good to know the very same food is available at Crockett's right next door.
September 23, 2015 at 2:35 PM · Nice piece ... I'm gonna let you slide on the "...with few of the lame jokes and puns of the Jungle Cruise ..." comment ... Because you're new-ish.
September 23, 2015 at 3:37 PM · Great trip report! In a few short weeks, I'll be doing the mirror image trip- I'm a WDW vet visiting Disneyland for the first time in ages. I can't wait to experience the differences!
September 23, 2015 at 4:07 PM · Yay
September 23, 2015 at 4:08 PM · You touched on what is probably my least-favorite thing at Walt Disney World: "Tribute" versions of attractions that are right there. The Country Bear Jamboree is only 2/3 of the show it used to be, and the Enchanted Tiki Room has suffered the same "tribute" (read: 'shorten the show for no good reason') treatment.

I imagine it's because they decided that telling people with short attention spans that there are 17 minutes until the next show -- followed by those people walking away to get "instant gratification" (but probably waiting in a longer 20-30 minute queue to get it) rather than taking the opportunity to relax for a few minutes -- was something that was somehow bad for the numbers, but the shows lose so much of their charm and magic when guests are rushed in and out of these shortened versions.

I'm just waiting for the day when they start cutting out sections of track from attractions for the same reasons. "Tribute to Space Mountain!" Now with just a lift hill and three turns so we can churn through more people per hour! "Tribute to Splash Mountain!" Just a lift hill and a drop. Who needs all that pesky story, anyway, when we could be churning through 4,000 people per hour? "Tribute to Small World!" Just a bunch of boats going through the finale scene because that pretty much covers every country anyway. That's it, now get out so we can get through more people!

Maybe I'd better stop before I give the suits any more ideas, but it's a really lazy way to increase capacity in longer attractions without actually doing any work -- the active "minusing" of the park instead of "plussing" it.

September 23, 2015 at 4:10 PM · Great article! I hope to visit in July after graduation and I'm a SoCal native too.
September 23, 2015 at 7:27 PM · Great job! When it comes to comparisons between WDW and DLR, I'm always leery of bias overwhelming the review, making the "other" park seem inferior. Of course, some things are better at one park, and some things are better at another. Or just different. I'm really glad to hear of the good things you experienced, while also commenting on what wasn't quite up to snuff.

I lived in Orlando for ten years, and only visited DLR once - before Cars Land. I can't wait to go back, and experience the differences! I've been to Hong Kong Disneyland twice, because I live out here, and though it is inferior in many ways, it has the awesome Mystic Manor and Grizzly Gulch, the mountains surrounding you make for a really intimate and beautiful setting, and it's super convenient to get to by subway. I know Disneyland Paris has its own issues and problems too, for that matter. But I cannot wait to visit those two parks as well!

Tokyo...we all know nothing compares to it, so I'm saving it for last (even after Shanghai), so as not to be disappointed by all the other parks.

But yes, thank you for the balanced review. I think all of your points were valid and well-thought out, and as a fan of all Disney parks, I definitely give you two thumbs up.

September 23, 2015 at 9:03 PM · Very nice article and concise trip report. Would that I could streamline things as well when I write!! And I especially liked the "...with few of the lame jokes and puns of the Jungle Cruise..." comment. I totally agree.

Thank you for sharing your whirlwind adventures with us!

September 23, 2015 at 10:11 PM · Thanks for all your comments, folks, I'm just glad you took the time to read about my adventures! ^__^ Next big trip: I want to try and save up for Tokyo Disney! What a review *that* would be!
September 23, 2015 at 10:24 PM · Excellent trip report! I'm a Disneyland local as well and am looking forward to making my first trip to Florida in a few years (probably 2018 at this point...definitely won't be next year). The rest of my family went last spring and had mostly mixed reviews from Walt Disney World, but it sounds like there's still plenty of good things at the resort (and perhaps a few not-so-good things as well). I liked, but didn't love, Disneyland Paris when I visited a few years ago, so hopefully I'll be able to say the same about Walt Disney World after checking it out.
September 24, 2015 at 3:54 AM · Nice review! I want to go to WDW sometime again in the next few years. I feel like DL is my home park because I lived in SF for 6 years and I really love it. It's on my way to visit my family now so we still go there instead of WDW. It's been a while since I've been to WDW, but I think both parks are equally great. I think I'm going to wait until maybe 2019 or 2020 for WDW. I want to wait until Hollywood Studios has Star Wars and Toy Story land and I'd like to see Pandora. Even though I didn't really like Avatar that much my kids really like "the blue people movie" and it should be really cool at night. I think it would probably be better for my kids to be a little bit older before we tackle the larger park. They are used to being able to rock into DCA directly from the hotel gate and be on the Little Mermaid in about 5 minutes....How long does it take to get between the parks? It seems like travel time from hotels varies quite a bit since everything is so spread out.
September 24, 2015 at 6:15 AM · I agree with many of the comments concerning the comparison, but one really stands out, and that is the reliance on the Magic Band for fast pass usage. Right now I feel like WDW is broken. The crowd management is awful, and requiring the fast pass selections in advance, and the limiting of the number with even the more evil tiered system is terrible. I am of the belief that as long as the crowds are there, management could care less how long the lines are, and it has driven my family to that other park across town. This year my Disney plans will be in SoCal. Don't get me wrong, I think Orlando is the better destination, but only at certain times of the year. The other plus for DL is that it is not an oven for half of the year. The heat and humidity can be murder.
September 24, 2015 at 9:34 AM · In my experience at WDW, getting from one park to another, or from your hotel to the parks, will take anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour. Allow yourself that much time or else you'll stress yourself out about it! It often requires waiting 5-20 mins for a bus, and sometimes the bus makes multiple stops along the way. Sometimes systems break down, too: the WDW monorail was down when I wanted to use it to get to Magic Kingdom, so I took a ferry instead. So it's not as simple as walking 100 yards from DL to DCA like you can do in Anaheim! It takes time, and time is just as valuable as money when you're on vacation.
September 24, 2015 at 11:55 AM · Nice article. One correction though: Fast Pass+ reservations can only be made 2 months in advance, not 3. And only one month if you're not staying on site.
September 24, 2015 at 10:33 PM · Great article, Matthew. And I agree with Gabrielle in that you didn't seemed biased towards your home park as many of us are wont to do.
Next time you go I suggest you stay in the Epcot resort area. I hate having to ride the busses at WDW and think Walt would hate it as well Staying in this area means DHS and Epcot are short walks/boat rides away and MK is a nice, leisurely monorail ride away (unless you are trying to get to MK before Epcot opens).
September 26, 2015 at 7:13 AM · I've been to Disneyland and Disney World almost 40 times each, although most of my DL experiences were years ago. I therefore feel like I'm pretty well qualified to comment on the differences. First, go to DW in the winter and you most likely won't have to worry about rain, not to mention heat and humidity. Second, yes, DL has better individual parks, but without the luxury of the space that DW has, that's a necessity for them. Even though Disney's been busy in recent years buying up the orange groves and strawberry farms surrounding its property, they'll never make DL as big as DW. That means that DW will always have more attractions.

DL fans from years ago will recognize Country Bear Jamboree, the People Mover, and the Carousel of Progress as former DL rides that moved east to DW. If you're nostalgic for those rides or otherwise like them, you'll have to visit DW. If you want to ride Mr. Toad's Wild Ride - a classic if there ever was one - you have to visit DL. DW replaced it with an insipid Winnie the Pooh ride years ago.

Pirates of the Caribbean is a lot better at DL, because it's a lot longer. Big Thunder Mountain is also a lot better, for the same reason. As for Space Mountain, both parks updated that ride a few years ago, but the DL upgrade was MUCH better. DW AK has a ride called Dinosaur that's very similar to the Indiana Jones ride at DL, but the theming of the IJ ride is MUCH better. I don't have any opinion about the Haunted Mansion, as I remember them as being similar, but if you can, catch the Nightmare Before Halloween themed Mansion at DL (about mid-September to January 1st) if you can. DW has nothing like it.

Cars Land at CA is a lot like Test Track, but again the theming is a lot better. Also, CA has my favorite roller coaster, California Screamin'. Check that one out if you've never ridden it.

Get reservations for everything you can at DW, especially the more popular restaurants. DW has about 75 restaurants on property, and it can be time-consuming to leave the park to eat. It takes up valuable time that you'd like to be spending in the parks. This is much different than DL, where you can literally walk to many restaurants off the park if you want to. But many of the DW restaurants are first rate, so eat there, save the time you would have spent eating off the park, and enjoy them.

September 28, 2015 at 9:41 AM · Great article Matthew! I'm a SoCal native who recently toured WDW in June 2015 and I enjoyed comparing my home parks to those in Florida too. I had a wonderful time over there and I'm looking forward to going back in the future to experience the upgrades that are planned for EPCOT and the Animal Kingdom. Thankfully, Disneyland and DCA are here so I can get my Disney fix when I need it!

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