“Vacationers have more options to choose from than ever for transportation, including ride-share services that save time and offer more flexibility to go where they want, when they want. In light of this shift, when Disney Resort hotel bookings open for stays in 2022, we will no longer offer Disney’s Magical Express service for airport transportation, starting with arrivals Jan. 1, 2022. We will continue to operate the service for new and existing reservations made at Disney Resort hotels for arrivals throughout 2021.”
Disney went on to reassure guests that other complimentary transportation options such as buses, monorails and Disney Skyliner will continue to be available within Walt Disney World Resort for Disney Resort hotel guests, including to and from all four theme parks.
As locals to the area, the Magical Express wasn’t something that we used, but I know it’s a huge favorite service for many guests. While expected, this news is probably a disappointment for many.
So in my last post I explained how to rent a scooter, or ECV, to use at Disney World. That was the easy part. The harder part is deciding that you need one, and then overcoming any concerns you may have about what using a scooter will be like. I’ve got the scoop on what to expect, and some tips to making it the best experience possible.
But let’s start with why you might need to rent a scooter at Disney World. There are tons of reasons why this might be a good choice for you. You might be physically disabled permanently, or temporarily. You might be recovering from knee surgery, or the flu. You might have plantar fasciitis. You might have back problems, joint problems, rheumatoid arthritis. You might have digestive, respiratory, circulatory, neurological, or any other physical condition that impacts you. You might have terrible blisters from wearing the wrong shoes the day before. You might have fibromyalgia. You might have anything at all that will impede your ability to walk many miles in a day, and/or to stand for long periods of time. The bottom line is, it doesn’t matter what your reason is for needing a scooter. WHATEVER THAT REASON IS, IT’S A PERFECTLY GOOD REASON AND NOTHING TO BE ASHAMED OF. (Warning: you might hear me say this again.)
I confess, I had a hard time convincing myself to use a scooter the first time. I was embarrassed. I didn’t want to admit I needed it. I wanted to get the exercise from walking all day. And I could walk, albeit sometimes slowly and painfully, leaving me an exhausted wreck at the end of the day. I’ve got a spinal fusion, sciatica pain, and some other issues that drain my energy. My back makes standing harder than walking, so there are tons of things at Disney World I was never able to do, such as watch the castle show, wait in a long line to meet a character, stand and listen to musicians in EPCOT or Animal Kingdom, or do any rides standby. But now, when I do rent a scooter? We do EVERYTHING. We watch shows, we wait in super long lines to meet characters, we go everywhere and anywhere. We get to do more and I hurt less. It’s a win-win.
For some people, a mobility device is a day to day reality. That’s okay. For others, it’s something they need in special circumstances, and that’s okay too. Disney is tough. Disney is a haul. You might be able to get around without a scooter in your normal environment, but not be up to walking 7 or 8 miles a day. That’s okay. And if you’re telling yourself, “I’m not one of those scooter people,” stop it. There’s no such thing as “scooter people.” You’re just a person who needs mobility assistance. And that’s OKAY. It might not be what you want, and it might be hard to adjust to your current reality, but cut yourself some slack and do whatever it takes to make your vacation as magical as it can be. Never once have I met anyone who’s regretted getting a scooter. Instead, every person I know who’s needed one and gotten one has said it was a terrific decision.
Still feeling nervous? There’s a fantastic Facebook group you might want to join. It’s called Magical Guide to doing Disney with Special Needs – Visible and Invisible. (It’s a closed group so you’ll have to request to join.) I am so grateful to the people who started this group, it’s been a lifeline. It’s a terrific bunch of supportive people that can help make your Disney trip as magical as possible. As the group description says, “If you need help planning, need emotional support, or want to help others by sharing your experience, please join us!”
But maybe you’re still hesitant, and maybe one of the reasons you still don’t want to rent a scooter is because you’re worried about what other people will think. “Will they judge me?” So many of us have hidden or invisible disabilities that aren’t obvious just by looking at us. “Will they think I’m just lazy? Will people be mean to me?” You know, it’s human nature to feel insecure about these things, but you need to put it in perspective. Firstly, of course, you shouldn’t worry about what other people think, especially people who are strangers. You have to think long and hard about what’s more important to you: living your best life at Disney World to the fullest degree possible, or worrying about what some person you’ll never see again might be thinking. Secondly, scooters are everywhere at Disney World. You won’t stick out using one, not at all. And lastly, always remember this if you start to feel self-conscious: other people at Disney are not as interested in you as you think they are. They’re much too busy. They’re ultra-focused on getting a Seven Dwarfs Mine Train FastPass or getting in line to meet the stepsisters, making family memories and enjoying themselves. You should be doing the same.
Will people be mean or rude to you? There are some unkind people in this world, unfortunately, so it’s possible someone might. But in my experience this is the rarity, not the norm. Cast members are extraordinarily kind when you’re using a scooter. I mean, they’re always so helpful and friendly, but when I’m doing poorly enough to need a scooter, I really notice how they go that extra mile to make me feel welcome and comfortable. As for other visitors at the Parks, remember what I said: most of them do not care whether you’re on a scooter or a pogo stick. They’re too busy planning and executing their vacation. Then, some people will be friendly, some will be on scooters themselves, and yes, I won’t tell a lie: there’s a percentage of people out there who “hate scooters.” There’s also a percentage of people out there that hate strollers, parades, dessert parties, ‘Ohana, and anything Frozen. What can I say? There’s no accounting for taste. 🙂
The biggest complaint you’ll see about people in scooters is that they run into (or “plow into,” “run over,” “crash into”) people walking. I’m sure it happens sometimes, accidentally. The problem is on both sides. One, scooters don’t stop on a dime. If you stop pressing the forward button, there’s a little hitch before you stop moving. So a person using a scooter might not notice an obstacle coming to be able to stop in time from bumping into someone. At the same time, people like to dart in front of scooters, either because they’re focused on their own journey and they’re darting in front of everyone, or because they don’t want to get stuck behind a scooter so they try to get ahead. I’ll warn you, the latter happens a lot. Or — and we all love this one, riding or walking — they stop dead in their tracks in front of you, with no warning. Once, in Magic Kingdom, just after the parade, I was trying to cross Main Street, which was as busy as it ever was (in other words, wall to wall people). I had the scooter on the lowest setting and was creeping along carefully when the woman who’d been walking in front of me a moment ago stopped dead in her tracks. I bumped her backpack slightly with my scooter’s basket, and she whirled on me like I’d run over her with a semi. She screeched, “Watch where you’re going!” I said, “Right back atcha!” and we both went on our way. What can you do? But really, most of the time, a simple “excuse me” works wonders. Be careful and be kind, and most people will return the favor. We’re all there to enjoy the magic, after all.
Having said that, if you’re going to use a scooter at Disney World, you should take the time to learn how to use one before hitting the Parks. It’s not difficult at all, but practice never hurts. Go to a Target or Walmart and use one there. Then, when you get to Disney, tool around your resort a little bit before heading straight for Magic Kingdom on the busiest day of the year. Go slowly — there’s a dial that lets you set your speed, and you don’t have to have it at full blast.
Getting on and off Disney buses can be a little tricky. You have to parallel park the scooter, essentially, and while I’m a whiz at parallel parking my car, I seem to be less than stellar at doing it with the scooter. To be frank, the first time I tried it, my personal experience with this was not good. I couldn’t get the hang of it, and the bus driver I happened to encounter was not especially magical about it. 🙂 But since then, it’s been really easy. If you tell the driver you need help steering to park, they’ll steer it for you (you don’t have to get up, just let them move the handlebar). And I found that pulling out of the spot and getting off the bus isn’t all that difficult, so that I can do by myself. Using a scooter on the monorail, for what it’s worth, is much easier. You don’t really have to park, you just pull in and drive off. I hear the Skyliner is the same, but I haven’t had a chance to try it out yet.
Once you’ve decided to rent a scooter, and now that you know there’s no reason at alI to feel embarrassed or uncomfortable about it, you still might have some concerns about navigating your way through the Parks. In my opinion, EPCOT and Animal Kingdom are the easiest parks for using a scooter. Walkways are wide, which means it’s easier for people to go around you and for you to go around other people. Disney Springs is likewise spread out, though some stores are a closer fit than others. Lines for ordering food are generally tight. Hollywood Studios is a mixed bag. The newer parts (Toy Story Land, Galaxy’s Edge) are pretty easy, though on crowded days it’s a little harder. The older parts are a little narrower, but just go slow and you’ll be fine.
Magic Kingdom is, for me, probably the most challenging Park to use a scooter in, first off because of the crowds. Most days, it’s packed. Walkways are a little smaller and there’s not a lot of open space. You have to go through Main Street at least twice, to get in and out of the park, and it’s always a zoo there. People stop in the middle of the sidewalk or the street and aren’t looking where they’re going. I totally understand, it’s really exciting being there! The first time I walked down Main Street towards that beautiful castle, I was in a daze. There are also the trolley tracks in the street, which can be difficult to drive over. All in all, it’s slow going. Just be patient and careful. It might even be easier to duck into the Emporium (or the Confectionary on the other side) and navigate down through the shops, which are all connected.
When you get back into Fantasyland/Adventureland/Tomorrowland etc., if you’re able to walk a bit, you might consider parking your scooter in a central spot and going on some rides without it, if that works for you. Or keep it with you, but know that for some of the older rides (Haunted Mansion, for example, my favorite, and Pirates of the Caribbean) you do need to be able to transfer out of the scooter. Just remember to take your key with you and not leave any valuables behind.
Remember, a scooter is an assistive device that’s there to help you because you need help. It’s nothing to feel funny or worry about, and it’s only there to make your life easier. Heck, they come with baskets for storing your Disney loot, so that’s a bonus right there. If you’re worried about heavy sun, you can even get a shade canopy, if you rent from the offsite vendors, or a cupholder. Do whatever makes your trip to Disney better for you and your family, and enjoy each magical moment to the fullest.
As Annual Passholders, we visit WDW about once a month. Sometimes, on those trips, I’m in good shape. Or sometimes we’re not spending a full day at the Parks and I can manage okay. But sometimes, I’m having a bad day. Back problems, sciatic pain, vertigo, IBS, whatever the current health issue is, sometimes I can’t manage walking around the Parks all day. On those days, I use a scooter, also known as an ECV (Electronic Convenience Vehicle). And so do a lot of other people who need them for any variety of reasons.
You can rent scooters from Disney at each of the four Parks (Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, EPCOT, and Hollywood Studios). The cost is $50 per day, plus a $20 refundable deposit. Scooters are also available from Disney at both water parks (Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon) and at Disney Springs for $50 a day, plus a $100 refundable deposit. Daily rentals are transferable between all locations. You can use a scooter at Magic Kingdom, return it mid-day, and use one at Animal Kingdom in the afternoon, and just pay once. At Magic Kingdom, however, they do tend to run out of scooters early in the day.
Your other option is to rent them from an outside company. There are many in the Orlando area, and they will make it easy for you, bringing your scooter directly to your resort so that it’s waiting for you. In most cases, that will mean you need to set a time to meet the scooter company directly for the hand-off as well as the return. But Disney does have a Featured Provider. Scooterbug, that will leave your scooter waiting for you with bell services at your resort. Collect it when you arrive, and then return it there whenever you’re done, no worries. Learn more about rentals here.
We have used both Scooterbug Buena Vista Scooter Rentals and have had a great experience with them. You can rent for any number of days — even one day, though you have to pay for a minimum of two days at least. The price of a multi-day rental from an outside company is very economical compared to renting each day from the Parks.
We also recently learned you can have your scooter delivered to a resort you aren’t even staying at. For example, I recently needed a scooter for just one day we were spending at EPCOT. EPCOT is hard for me; I love it but it’s big and involves a lot of walking. We were staying at Port Orleans and could have gotten the scooter delivered there, but then would have had to take a bus to EPCOT, which I didn’t want do do as we wanted to go in through the International Gateway. They delivered the scooter to Beach Club for us instead, with just an extra fee of $20 as a damage waiver. We took Uber there, picked it up, and then returned it there at the end of the day. Easy. (Check with your scooter provider in advance, of course, to see what they can do.)
There’s a wide variety of scooters available, different sizes and capacities, ones you can take apart and put in your car, ones with canopies to protect you from the sun (a real help during Food & Wine at EPCOT, I have to tell you!), cup holders, and so forth. I have long legs, and I always want to make sure there’s enough leg room on my scooter for comfort. I find the three-wheel scooters work better for me than the four-wheel ones. Talk to your customer service rep at whatever provider you choose and they will help you make the right decision. You can rent scooters as well as strollers, walkers, wheelchairs, and other mobility products. Renting a mobility device to use at Disney World is really simple, and can make a big difference for anyone who needs one.
But … maybe you need a scooter, but you’re hesitant. You might not want to use one. You might be shy about it, or even embarrassed (though you shouldn’t be). Will it be hard to navigate around the crowds? Will people judge you? More on that in my next post.
We love the fireworks show at Magic Kingdom, Happily Ever After, and we’re always looking for new and different ways to view the show … especially since that front-of-the-castle mob scene can be exhausting! We’ve tried watching from Fantasyland, from the deck of California Grill, from ‘Ohana at the Polynesian, and soon will be attending the dessert party at Magic Kingdom. This last trip, though, we tried something outside the box: we had dinner at Cinderella’s Royal Table during the show.
To start with, some tips on how to watch Happily Ever After from the castle. Once you pick a day to go, find out what time Happily Ever After is scheduled for that night and then try to get a reservation for Cinderella’s Royal Table for dinner shortly before that time. This can be a tough-to-get reservation, so you have to make it a priority when you can make dining reservations 180 days before your trip. Once you get the reservation, make sure to re-check that timing of the fireworks show when it gets closer to your trip. Times can change, and you’d need to make adjustments.
Cast Members will start roping off access to the castle as much as an hour before the fireworks show, so leave yourself plenty of time to get to Cinderella’s Royal Table, which is located in the rear of the castle. We had been shopping on Main Street, for example, and at 8 PM started heading to the restaurant. Front and side entrance to the castle was already roped off, and we had to go around the long way either through Liberty Square or down by the tea cups, and for the most part, you’re going against the crowdflow. We had plenty of time to get to our 8:30 reservation, but were glad we’d left early. Even when you reach the back, you’ll need to let them know you have a dining reservation or you won’t be let into the roped-off area around the castle. At your reservation time you’ll be checked in and taken in to meet Cinderella, and then escorted up to your table. For an ideal view of the fireworks, you’d want to be seated at the windows.
Watching Happily Ever After from our table at Cinderella’s Royal Palace.
Unfortunately, Cinderella’s Royal Table does not take seating requests of this nature. As we and every other person who asked was very politely told, it’s simply not possible due to the fact that almost everyone would make this request. You’ll still be able to see from a great many tables in the restaurant, but the window spot is definitely best. You’ve just got to cross your fingers and hope for a little pixie dust on this one. Here’s a bit of information, though — there are a number of two-person-only tables at the windows. At least one or two four-tops as well, but because of the small, angled space, it seems like the restaurant tries to take advantage of every bit of space and sort of crams those tables in there. So if you’re just a party of two … you might stand a better chance. Still not a guarantee, though — we saw couples seated at four-tops elsewhere in the restaurant.
When Happily Ever After begins, the princesses leave the dining area and the music and voiceover from the show is piped in to the restaurant. The fireworks begin and you have a truly magical view.
Some of the fireworks are shot off behind Fantasyland and you have a perfect view of those here. Others shoot off from the castle itself, literally right above your head! It isn’t too loud but it can be dazzling.
Obviously, you miss the castle projections that are part of what tells the story of Happily Ever After — you’re in the castle they’re being projected on. I certainly don’t recommend skipping those entirely, so catch the show with a clear view of the projects another time. But if you’re looking for a different experience, I very much recommend this one.
A bit of video from the show — you’ll hear a lot of “Oh mys!” from a young lad seated nearby. We were all glued to the view.
Having Afternoon Tea at the Grand Floridian’s Garden View Tea Room has been on my Disney bucket list for some time. Since the tea room is relatively small, reservations can be a little hard to come by, and it’s also difficult sometimes to carve out time in a busy Disney Parks afternoon. I very highly recommend doing so, though, after our delightful experience there.
The cafe is small, light and airy, but the seating is comfortably intimate without being too tight. We were seated and offered ice water while we went over the tea options on the menu.
Having already had lunch that day, we opted for the simplest/smallest tea, the Bedfordshire Tea. I will end up saying this over and over, but it was far more food than you might think. Somehow even now it seems like a few finger sandwiches and desserts would not be enough to fill anyone up, especially if you’re Disney foodies like we are. But it was substantial. We noted another couple two tables over ordered the Cheshire Tea, which adds a fruit and cheese plate. The plates were enormous. Next time, we’ll skip lunch and order the Cheshire. Neither of us are fans of caviar so I don’t think we’ll ever go for that option, but it’s available for those who are, with the Berkshire Tea.
Then we made our dessert choice. The Bedfordshire Tea has these three courses. The first is finger sandwiches, the second is a scone, and then the final course is dessert. You each choose between one of three desserts: pastries, including a mousse-filled swan, macaroons, and a chocolate-covered strawberry; strawberries topped with whipped cream; or, an English trifle with custard, ladyfingers, fruit and cream. We decided to each choose something different and share. I got the trifle, and my husband got the pastries.
Next, we made our tea selections. There were a few that looked interesting, and I decided to go with the Rose Garden black tea. It was really good. My husband can’t have caffeine of any kind, so we were happy to see a very nice herbal tea selection on the menu. It’s nice when there’s more than just your basic chamomile. He chose Thoroughly Minted and liked it a lot, but wants to try Golden Caramel Rooibus next time.
Very soon, a pot of your chosen tea is brought to your table, complete with a tea cozy. This keeps the tea very warm — in fact, be careful when you remove the cozy and pour, the pot is hot. It holds a lot of tea, but if you run out, they’ll happily bring you more.
The first course of finger sandwiches arrived. This was the only disappointing part of the experience, with one notable exception. Starting clockwise from twelve o’clock, the sandwiches pictured below were chicken curry, goat cheese and fire-roasted tomato, cucumber, caramelized onion tart, and egg salad. I found the chicken curry, goat cheese, and cucumber sandwiches to be fine but bland, and the egg salad to be unpalatable because it contained celery (that might be just me, but I hate celery in egg salad). My husband, on the other hand, considered the onion tart to be one of the best things he’s ever eaten, so it saved the day.
Moving forward, though, things went back to being delectable. The scone (second and bottom tiers, below) was nicely made, not too dense; I think it was orange and golden raisin in flavor. I tried each of the accompanying gooey bits in turn. Loved the marmalade and clotted cream. The lemon curd was too tart for me, and overpowered the scone. The berry tart was a quick, enjoyable bite.
Finally, dessert. The macaroons were light and flavorful, and the strawberry dipped in chocolate certainly didn’t disappoint. The mousse-filled swan was beautiful to look at, airy, and a perfect bite. As for the trifle , I enjoyed every bite — and it’s a lot of bites! The trifle is seasonal, so mine was a lemon custard and blueberries. Not even two of my favorite flavors, but still delicious. And filling. The trifle alone, with tea, would have been a nice-sized dessert/snack. I recommend each getting different selections and sharing as we did.
2:00 PM to 5:00 PM – Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday
12:00 PM to 5:00 PM – Tuesday and Thursday
Reservations are required, and as mentioned earlier, it wasn’t the easiest reservation to get and took a little perseverance to do so. The room was empty when we got there for our 2 pm reservation, but had filled up by the time we left. Also, while we were enjoying our tea, music began in the lobby in the form of the Grand Floridian piano player, which was a nice addition to the atmosphere.
We actually did this as our very last activity of our trip and headed home directly after. It was nice to cap off our trip in such a relaxing way. I would also recommend doing this on a Magic Kingdom day, as a nice quiet break in the afternoon. You won’t be sorry you did!
We had the opportunity to attend one of Walt Disney World’s Passholder Previews for Pandora, Animal Kingdom’s new land. Be warned: there are lots of photos ahead, showing off Pandora’s amazing visuals and delights., including new rides, food, and beautiful architecture.
As soon as you walk into Pandora, the landscape changes. There’s the lush foliage and flora you’re used to at Animal Kingdom, but it’s … different somehow. Alien. You’re in another world. The floating mountains loom in the distance and the sounds of birds are everywhere around you. All the strange and exotic blooms of Pandora are there for you to enjoy. From what the cast members told us, the nighttime views are even more spectacular, when Pandora’s bioluminescent plants come to life.
Our first stop, after taking in all the sights, was Pongu Pongu, where we each ordered a Night Blossom. This non-alcoholic frozen beverage (seen here in the souvenir cup) is a mix of limeade combined with apple and pear flavors topped off with passion fruit boba balls. It was very sweet, but I thought incredibly refreshing.
We enjoyed our drink in the outside seating area for Satu’li Canteen and then stepped inside for lunch. The quick service setup will look familiar to any Disney visitor — you place your order at the register, then pick it up at the counter. This restaurant, though, will be the first to offer mobile ordering through the My Disney Experience app, beginning May 27th. Make sure you’ve installed the latest update before you go.
The food at Satu’li Canteen? Pretty darn good. I got the Chopped Wood-Grilled Chicken Bowl with wild grains and rice and the creamy herb dressing (seen here). My husband got steak with potatoes and the onion sauce and enjoyed his just as much. Both were tasty and filling. In fact, we were too full for dessert but the offerings looked delightful.
Now … the new rides.
First up, Avatar Flight of Passage. For the Passholder Preview, we were taken through the standby queues, though there were no lines at all given the limited attendance allowed. It gave us a chance to enjoy the scenery, and to appreciate all the work that went into designing this world.
I have a feeling this queue will never look so empty again! It was a long, long walk to get to the ride, and it gives you pause to think how many parkgoers will fit in it. Rumor has it that the queue can accommodate a 6 hour wait, but I would hope for anyone’s sake that’s overestimating.
After you reach the end of that very long hallway, you wait until a “link room” is available. At that point, you and fifteen other riders are ushered into a room where the link process is explained to you, as well as a brief history of the Avatar program.
At this point, we were asked to turn off cell phones and cameras, so I can’t give you pictures of the room where the ride takes place itself. My experience, though, was this: as I expected, I wasn’t able to ride. I’m sure you’ve heard by now that Flight of Passage does not accommodate all body types, and this is true. In addition to being somewhat Pooh-sized, I’m a tall girl (over 5′ 10″) with long legs. No amount of scootching up or pointing my toes or sitting up straight or any of the tips you’ve heard were going to make a difference when my knees were already right up against the seat, with no room to move. Some tall people and some people more “Pooh” than I am have ridden, but it all depends on each person’s individual body shape. If you’re all leg and not tiny, you may run into the same problem I did. The Cast Member was super nice and helped me, and sounded absolutely miserable that I wasn’t able to ride (she was more upset than I was, but more on that later).
So, I stepped outside through the exit door and waited there on a bench while my husband rode. While I waited, I had a great time talking to Cast Member William, who told me that this is a frequent occurrence and one the CMs feel terrible about. He said, and I hope he doesn’t mind me paraphrasing him here, that as Flight of Passage Cast Members it’s their sole purpose to give us an excellent ride experience, and that they’re truly disappointed when they can’t accommodate a particular rider.
We also talked a bit about why I wasn’t upset at missing the ride — I never had any intention of doing it, even if I had fit (but wanted to see if I did) because I have a lower back fusion and continuing disc problems, and this ride seemed like it would easily aggravate that. (A cast member I spoke to indicated his own mother won’t ride for the same reasons.) Disney gives its usual health disclaimer for this ride, warning those with high blood pressure, motion sickness, and “other conditions that could be aggravated”. For me, because of the back restraint on this ride, as well as the banking and leaning that would take place, this was too big of a risk for my too-easily-aggravated back condition. I’m sure it’s perfectly safe for anyone else, but if you’re in my shoes, be careful.
My husband, however, did ride, and enjoyed it very much. You wear 3D glasses and the visuals are perfect and seamless. You truly feel as if you’re flying, and part of that is because of the sounds, smells, and feel of your banshee beneath you, as well as the wind in your face as you soar and dive through Pandora’s skies. Everyone’s thrill level is different, but many are describing Flight of Passage as “Soarin’ meets Star Tours meets Mission Space” — three great rides rolled into one and set in the exotic world of Pandora.
For a complete change of pace, we then went on the Na’vi River Journey, a beautiful boat ride through Pandora’s nighttime world. The ride is serene and lovely — we rode it twice — and the technology is stunning. The boats have two seats and legroom is ample for a comfortable ride.
Both rides will offer FastPass+, but Park visitors can only choose one of the two Pandora: World of Avatar rides in their first three selections. In other words, you can FastPass Flight of Passage, Kali River Run, and Dinosaur, and then if you like, try to get a same-day 4th FP for Na’vi River Journey. This may or may not be easy to do at first, so choose wisely (and use MDE to your best advantage).
Pandora is an exciting addition to Disney’s Animal Kingdom, with a great deal to enjoy visually, two new rides, an excellent quick service dining option, and banshees of your own to buy at Windtraders gift shop. Face painting, a drum circle, and other activities can be found throughout the land. While some may have questioned adding Pandora to Animal Kingdom (due to the fact that, well, Pandora doesn’t exist, unlike DAK’s other inhabitants), its message of conservation and protection ties in closely with Disney’s commitment to environmentalism. I think visitors both young and old (and even those who’ve never seen “Avatar”) will enjoy this new land to explore.
Last week Dave took me to Disney World for my very first visit. It really is the happiest place on earth, though in full disclosure, it’s also one of the busiest, most hectic and somewhat expensive places out there too. We had a magical time, but Disney World is a marathon of a vacation, and not for the faint of heart.
We took a Disney cruise for our honeymoon and loved it, but the ships are relaxing — there’s a limit of how much running around you can do, that limit being the ship itself. Disney World, on the other hand, is enormous. It’s the size of San Francisco (not quite as fabulous, but it tries). Twice the size of Manhattan. It’s 25,000 acres and 40 square miles. I think we walked all of them in the four days we were there.
It’ll always look like a giant golf ball to me. I’m surprised Dave didn’t run screaming.
As an aside, we rented a car instead of relying on Disney transportation. This was a last-minute decision based on me coming down with a thankfully-not-appendicitis abdominal infection two weeks before the trip. The Disney transportation system of buses, monorails and ferry boats is impressive, and I think mostly works well. But we weren’t sure I’d be up to waiting even a short amount of time, when I needed to get out of Dodge. I did okay — just one or two rough patches — but better safe than sorry. We still used transport to get to the Magic Kingdom from the parking area, since you have to. Mostly we used the ferry, which is a nice way to float up to the park, Cinderella’s castle looming into view.
Because I’m a geek, I had as good a time planning our vacation as I did going on it. We made our food plans — ADRs, Advanced Dining Reservations — right away, 180 days out. We didn’t get every restaurant we wanted right away, so I spent the next few months stalking out that elusive Be Our Guest dinner and the pre-park opening breakfast at Crystal Palace until we had everything just right. Then at 60 days out you get your FastPass+ selections — we were able to get one for everything we wanted since we’re not big thrill-riders. And then I found a fantastic group on Facebook for people visiting Disney in September. With slightly over 1600 members, the group was an amazing resource for shopping tips (disposable ponchos are at Dollar Tree! The new Disney Vans are out!), advice about getting around the parks, and trading hard-to-get reservations. I bought a pair of Cleo Crocs on a recommendation from the group, and wore them every day of the trip. Walked about 35 miles in those shoes in 4 days, and no blisters, no pain, no problems.
I was proud of how well I did walking. A couple of years ago, after my back surgery, I couldn’t walk around the block without terrible pain for days. But I’ve been swimming and exercising and getting stronger, and I did okay. For me the hard part is standing, not walking. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of standing (in line) at Disney World. I had some bad moments. But I made it!
The view outside our room at dawn.
The trip was great. We stayed at the Port Orleans – French Quarter resort, which is small, quiet, and quaint. We liked the pool and we liked our room, but we felt a little too “away from it all”. Next time we’ll probably stay at one of the popular Value resorts. You don’t spend that much time in your room regardless, and the resorts all have great pools when you want to take a break and cool off. (I don’t know how people afford the Deluxe resorts, which look awesome — but some of those places are $500 a night. We’re not poor, but sheesh!)
We went to Rope Drop at the Magic Kingdom on our first day. Just before the park opens, the train arrives carrying Mickey and his friends. Along with Disney Cast Members (CMs) they give a welcome show and the park opens. You have to get up really early to get there (it’s crowded) but I’d heard a lot about it and I wanted to see it at least once. I didn’t know that they sing the “Good Morning” song from “Singing in the Rain”. Well, I lost it. My mother used to sing that to wake me up on special days — birthdays, picnics, field trips at school. I was all blubbery. I so wished I could call her at that moment, but it was a happy moment because of it.
The “Tree of Life” in Animal Kingdom.
We were in the Magic Kingdom every day, but we also visited Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom. I loved the Magic Kingdom, of course, but also really enjoyed Hollywood Studios. Toy Story Midway Mania is a blast, and Star Tours more fun than I could have imagined. The safari ride in Animal Kingdom was a lot of fun, as well as the Kali River Rapids ride — we got soaked! I wasn’t a huge fan of Epcot, though Soarin’ alone was worth visiting and I can’t say enough good things about Nine Dragons, a terrific Chinese restaurant in the World Showcase. All in all, I think we used our time really well — all that pre-planning helped. Dave will agree that for a girl on her first visit to Disney, by the time our trip took place I had our four days planned to pretty-near perfection, and we made the most of a short visit.
It was so humid I was seriously envying that snow cloud.
We purchased the Memory Maker package and got a lot of great pictures. They have PhotoPass photographers throughout the parks and you walk up and have your picture taken. Sometimes there’s a little extra magic in the finished shot. 🙂 You can buy the photos online individually for $15 each, or you can buy the package for $199 ($169 in advance) and get all of them. We ended up with a couple hundred photographs, about 75 of which we definitely would have wanted — so it was worth it.
Later he kissed my hand and I blushed. I love Sulley.
We met a lot of characters — having my picture taken with Sulley from Monsters, Inc. was a Disney bucket-list item for me. I have a thing where I don’t really like meeting “face” characters. I mean, the princesses and all. I can’t get over the fact that I’m a grown woman and this is another grown woman pretending to be Sleeping Beauty. But Sulley, Pooh or Donald Duck? That’s totally different.
The characters were great on the whole. Minnie and Daisy Duck make kissy noises when they hug you. Buzz challenged Dave and then danced an impromptu rumba with me. Goofy took one look at Dave’s Goofy shirt and then tried to quit work for the day, figuring this guy had his costume on and could take over. A lot of people think Disney’s just for kids, but it’s not true. We’re grown-ups, but we still love Disney, and we still wanted to have fun and goof around. The characters all understood that.
We shopped a lot. A LOT. The beauty of going to Disney with no kids and not being broke is that when you want things you get them, without worrying about whether you should or not. I got a new Pandora bracelet and charms, we cleaned up at Bonjour Village Gifts (for Beauty & the Beast fans) and Dave got very into pin collecting.
Hidden Mickeys in the fireworks!
All good things come to an end, though. Eventually it was time to leave. In the moment we were so wiped out, we didn’t think we’d mind. But it didn’t take long for Disney Depression to set in. No one takes our Magic Bands as payment. No one’s told me to “Have a Magical Day” all week. And there are no FastPasses for skipping long lines anywhere. It’s sad.