Having a Ball At Epcot: Family 2018 Disney World Vacation (Part 6)

I have to tell you–I love Epcot!  I know some of the rides are a little older, but I prefer to think of them as “classic.”  I really mean that!  Because we stayed at the Beach Club, we could literally walk into the back of Epcot in about five minutes.  Because of this, we spent many nights watching their fantastic fireworks.  But we did more than just the fireworks, as you’re about to find out …

Rides

Spaceship Earth — We did this both in the summer of 2017 and 2018.  I love it, but it’s definitely dated compared to newer attractions.  This ride takes place in the giant Epcot “ball.”  As you work your way up, you experience the history of our planet with special care given to our technological advances.  My nine-year-old and I find it to be a charming, educational ride, but it’s certainly not thrilling in the conventional sense.  I consider it a “must experience.” It’s the Epcot ball–you have to do it!

Living With the Land — Again, this is more educational than anything, but the slow boat ride is incredibly informative.  It details how different parts of the world grew food in the past and offers actual examples of cutting edge advances in farming techniques.  I personally found these innovations amazing.  For example, they showed how we can use fish farms and hydroponics to utilize the same space.  I also loved how they showed that many crops can be planted on pillars, thereby reducing the use of large fields.  I’m not sure how much our little ones enjoyed the actual ride, but my wife and I were very impressed by the educational aspect of it.

Soarin’ Around the World — I had to beg my nine-year-old to do this with me, and once she did, she loved it!  I think we rode it four or five times, mostly in that last hour before the park closed.  I personally would rate this as a “must experience” at Epcot.  In this ride, there are three rows of seats.  You strap in, and then the rows move out and up over a pit.  The row in front of us moved above us, and the row in front of them were at the very top.  You face a large screen which commences to take you through the skies on an adventure across the entire world.  Your row dips forward and back, simulating the feel of sitting in a hang glider.  It even blows wind in your face with accompanying scents.  You’ll see several wonders of the world with the ride coming to an end during the fireworks at Epcot.  I couldn’t get enough of this ride, and neither could my daughter.  I’d never ridden it before, and our first time enjoying it together felt absolutely magical.

Journey Into Imagination With Figment — Okay, this one was just weird.  I guess the little dragon guiding you through the ride is named Figment.  It briefly refers to Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Flubber, and the Dexter Riley movies.  (I had to look that one up.)  It’s a strange ride about trying to determine the best way to utilize our imagination.  I’d skip this one.  None of us got much of a kick out of it, though it did have a nice gift shop at the end.  I would like to say, though, that the workers at the ride were incredibly nice and friendly.  That could be because we were literally the only ones on it.  (This was the last hour before closing.)

The Seas With Nemo and Friends Attraction — I didn’t actually ride this one, but my six-year-old adored it.  My wife rode it with her countless times.  My wife tells me you ride in a clam much like Under the Sea with very similar attributes.  Lots of neat scenery and video from the movies.  She tells me it’s a fun experience for the little ones.  Sorry I can’t be more helpful!

Gran Fietsta tour Starring the Three Caballeros — We found this little boat ride while in “Mexico” at the World Showcase.  It’s very similar to “It’s a Small World” except that it takes you throughout the country of Mexico.  It features puppets, beautiful architecture, and a musical video found on screens throughout starring Donald Duck, Panchito, and Jose Carioca–the Three Caballeros!  It’s a cute, engaging slow-moving boat ride that truly delighted us.  In fact, because it had such a short line, as soon as we got off we moved to get right back into line.  When we told a “cast member” (remember, this is how Disney refers to its workers), she moved us right to the front!  It’s kind of hard to find, but definitely worth the effort.

0kLAFdY2glmjJvP5XwkGSiSsyoKotB1hyWBG44DqMc8pX92IB

64e0HhElYi2fpjNilg7r52wYoCIRhL_KvOvs47JjxpQpX92IB

Frozen Ever After — This was a HUGE hit with my six-year-old, and probably the most daring ride she’s ever done.  She thought she was big stuff!  It was a very fun ride.  You ride in a boat through several moments from the movie.  The ride is fairly tame, but there is a thrilling moment when you go downhill backwards.  The scenery is intricate and beautiful, and the music, of course, titillates.  Be aware, though, the ride ends fairly quickly.  I would definitely use your “Fast Pass” on this one.  The lines were consistently very long.  We got in line with 30 minutes to closing and had to wait about 40 minutes.  Of course, if you’re in line when the park closes, they let you finish out the ride.

UGWpbin0YY-6J2Eb2RehqNDnpZfy8q8gspbtJY8dBYkpX92IB

Attractions 

Illuminations: Reflections Of Earth — These are the fireworks that go off every night before closing.  We watched them from the World Showcase, which is the back part of Epcot.  They weren’t as extravagant as Magic Kingdom’s, but they were better than virtually any other fireworks show you’ll see!  Best of all?  We had plenty of room to get a great view.  At Magic Kingdom, you are packed together no matter where you stand for the fireworks.  At Epcot, this wasn’t the case.  Like I said, because Beach Club was only a five minute walk from the back of Epcot, we took in the fireworks often and thoroughly enjoyed them.

Disney and Pixar Short Film Festival — We love movies, especially Disney and Pixar movies.  This short little festival included rumbling chairs, smells, and even some splashes of water!  Though all of the shorts are in 3-D, Get a Horse proved the best 3-D I’ve ever seen in my life.  It was perfect!  The other two shorts included Piper and Feast.  We’d seen them all before, but the 3-D made them feel fresh.  And, like I said, Get a Horse was insanely seamless.  Seriously.

Turtle Talk With Crush — My wife and I did this with the kids in 2017 and then my wife did it again with my youngest this latest trip.  It’s actually pretty cool and worth experiencing no matter what your age.  You sit in front of a giant screen.  Pretty soon, Crush from Finding Nemo appears.  He talks a bit about ocean conservation, but he somehow also interacts with the audience.  He actually asks the audience questions, then replies to their responses.  It’s pretty amazing because he physically points in the direction of people he’s interacting with, his mouth moves in accordance with the people’s names he saying–it’s quite a sight to behold.

Canada — Yes, you read that right–Canada!  Again, Canada is part of the World Showcase and it was super cool.  There was a great castle to view from the outside, a lovely garden, a small mountain, and even a totem pole!  Also, we took in a short film called O Canada!  Hosted by the always-hilarious Martin Short, this movie is basically a promotional piece to get you to visit Canada.  Let me tell you–it worked!  I learned more about Canada and saw more of Canada during this little movie than ever in my whole life!  Now I’m itching to pay the land up north a visit!

P16p9hafW16UzR4f4QViQ7O153sx991lyn9Px938szIpX92IB

6ZPWMBd7ldRJi_1lUg7C6cRv8aCl70-LO5treHFkpzIpX92IB

0yXe4fmwSL_bxX0fOq147VNZj3kYhWwXXQSjQHBSJKIpX92IB

World Showcase — Just in general, we were excited to explore this entire back half of Epcot.  Our girls weren’t terribly interested in it, but my wife and I could have spent a whole day wandering around this area.  We didn’t actually enter many of the locales, but we promised ourselves that one day we would.  If just walking by on the path awed us, imagine what the interior would do!

We didn’t do nearly everything there is to do at Epcot, but we did about as much as we could at this stage of our daughters’ lives.  I’m hoping there will come a day when they are willing to do Test Track and Mission: Space with me.  We met many of the characters, but I’m going to write a separate entry on that because we met a lot of them.  Maybe all of them?  Surely all of them.  Thanks for reading!  Magic Kingdom will be up next!

By the way, most of the above photographs were taken by my wife, Kristen.  I wanted to give credit where credit is due!

apJuuV-MLYPDBZGLMYAN6az-OkR5Y2SJeOP-TPXhO6spX92IB

(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s latest book HERE!)

Advertisements

Get Wild At Animal Kingdom: Family 2018 Disney World Vacation (Part 5)

Animal Kingdom tends to get the short end of the stick compared to the other parks, but if you know what you want to get out of it, it can be a fantastic day.  Be aware, though, there is very little to do indoors.  You won’t have as much opportunity to duck into air-conditioning as you do at the other parks.  We visited in mid-June, and the heat was intense.

Okay!  Here we go!

Shows

As you already know, my family is very big on seeing shows and meeting characters.  (In fact, I’m going to later devote a whole article to the characters we visited.)  All set?  Here we go!

Festival Of the Lion King — We saw this show previously in the summer of 2017 and we could not wait to see it again!  When you enter the showroom, you’ll sit in a round air-conditioned area full of benches.  Don’t worry, there won’t be a bad seat in the house.  When the show starts, giant automated animals take their positions in four opposite spots along the room.  One of those enormous animals is Simba himself!  You will next have four people in traditional African garb leading the show, two men and two women.  I think the actors and actresses were different this time around from 2017, but all of them were amazing singers.  Dozens of dancers will next appear dressed as animals, some of whom are even on stilts!  These are not realistic costumes.  Rather, they are very artistic and interpretive; however, you will easily be able to figure out what animal each dancer is supposed to be.  At that point, the festival begins!  There is an amazing acrobatics display, a fire dancer that will blow your mind, a mesmerizing wire/aerial performance, and plenty of rousing singing, dancing, and jokes throughout.  This show is incredibly entertaining and performed with such precision–it’s impressive to behold.

Finding Nemo: The Musical — I had no idea what we were getting into with this one.  But, my wife really wanted to try it out, and so we did.  Let me tell you–I loved it!  This air-conditioned show essentially recreates the story of Finding Nemo, but it’s set to live, original music.  The singers hold large puppets representing Nemo, Marlin, Dory, and the rest.  These are not stationary actors–far from it!  They are running, dancing, and even lifting off the ground at times thanks to wires.  The puppets are exquisitely made, and some of them are absolutely enormous.  This is a full-scale production and really something to witness.  Even if you’re not a fan of the movie, I think you’ll still enjoy it immensely.

Rivers of Light — We saw this show back in the summer of 2017 on our first trip.  We liked it, but not enough to endure the heat and stay until nightfall this second trip.  Definitely worth seeing at least once, though.  You will sit in a large outdoor amphitheater facing a lake similar to Fantasmic.  When the show begins, two boats float out which precedes a giant laser show displayed on water shooting up and out of the lake.  It’s a story depicting the importance of animals and conservationism, but with a mythical slant.  Between the water and the lasers, it’s quite an experience!

Rides

Kilimanjaro Safaris — As a family, this is our favorite Animal Kingdom ride.  You board a large safari truck that holds about six rows of people.  (We were fortunate enough to always be in the first or second row.)  We’ve done this 20 minute ride several times, and it’s never the same because you are viewing actual living animals throughout.  We’ve seen crocodiles, giraffes, rhinos, hippos, cheetahs, zebras, elephants, and more!  Some of the docile animals, like giraffes, are allowed to roam free and have been very near our truck.  Be aware, though, this is meant to approximate an actual safari, so it’s a bit of a rough ride as you drive over uneven terrain, through water, and over dubious bridges.

Na’vi River Journey — We experienced this calm, floating ride in the summer of 2017.  We didn’t have a fast pass and got in line right before Animal Kingdom closed.  Even so, we still waited thirty minutes!  The Pandora–World of Avatar is a very popular area in Animal Kingdom so plan ahead and use those fast passes!  We didn’t opt to do the Na’vi River Journey again this latest trip because it’s basically a stroll through the underground world of Avatar.  It’s cool at night because of all the black lights and artistry involved, but if you’re not a huge fan of the franchise, you might find it underwhelming.  Even so, the architecture, fabricated plant life, and automated Na’vi figures are pretty extraordinary.  At the time, my youngest daughter was five years old, and she did not appreciate the Na’vi.  She was ready for that ride to be over!

Avatar Flight Of Passage — Staying in the world of Pandora, I had to ride Avatar Flight Of Passage on my own during this latest trip.  It’s similar to Soarin’ in that you literally feel like you’re flying through the sky.  For Flight of Passage, you sit on something like a motorcycle without wheels.  Braces pop up behind your calves and lower back which is meant to keep you from bucking off once the ride begins.  I’m a little claustrophobic, but these braces didn’t bother me at all.  Soon enough you are flying through the world of Avatar!  The device you’re straddling is meant to be one of the winged dragons the Na’vi ride (called ikran in their culture).  They make it as real as they can, even going so far as to have cushions expanding in and out between your legs to make it feel like the creature’s breathing!  The device tilts up and down and from side to side and that, coupled with your 3D glasses, creates a thrilling experience.  I absolutely loved this ride.  It’s incredibly realistic and electrifying.  With Soarin’, you actually lift up off the ground and move over a pit.  I’m not sure if that happened with Flight of Passage or not.  I feel like my device stayed put, but I was so engrossed in the adventure that I didn’t notice one way or the other.  The lines for this ride are always crazy long, so be sure to sign up for it with your fast pass.

Expedition Everest — This is my brother and his family’s favorite ride at Animal Kingdom, so in the summer of 2017 I rode it with them while my family looked on.  This summer of 2018 I had to ride it by myself, and I honestly feel like it would probably have been too intense for my nine year old.  I agree with my brother, by the way–it’s an awesome ride!  The idea is that you are in a carriage riding the rails through the Everest mountains in search of the Yeti.  From the beginning, it’s a very high, fast ride, but when you reach the peak of the tracks to see them bent up and broken, your heart will skip a beat.  The ride comes to a complete stop and they will keep you there just long enough to make you think something has gone terribly wrong.  Then the real fun begins.  I first rode this at night with my brother, and that was a surreal experience.  I almost think it might have been even more intense during the day, though.  You can see a lot more in the daylight, trust me.  In fact, when you reach the broken tracks and get stuck, if you look down, you’ll see thousands of hair ties strewn about.  I don’t know if that’s a thing to do, like throwing coins in a fountain, but I couldn’t believe how many were on the cliff face below us.  I absolutely recommend this ride, but you have to love roller coasters and have a high tolerance for abrupt twists, turns, and heights.

Other Things

Rafiki’s Planet Watch — We visited Rafiki in the summer of 2017.  You hop on a train and ride on it for a few minutes before arriving at Rifiki’s own little part of Animal Kingdom.  While there, we learned a bit about conservationism and met Doc McStuffins!  We didn’t stay long, and they had several activities we didn’t try out.  We even saw Rafiki himself wandering around!  This area typically isn’t very crowded, so it might be a nice place to go, learn a little, meet some characters, and get away from all the people.

The Boneyard — My kids really wanted to try out this play area.  It’s got lots of high slides, nets to climb, and mazes to explore–all centered around a dinosaur theme.  It’s outside, so they tuckered out quickly in the heat, but it’s a nice area for them to run and climb.  There were lots of kids, but it’s fairly spread out and didn’t feel overly crowded at all.

We didn’t do everything there is to do at Animal Kingdom, but we tried!  Thanks again for reading.  I hope you’re enjoying our perspective on Walt Disney World and that it’s helping to inform a possible trip of your own.  (By the way, all of the above photographs were taken on my wife’s phone camera.  Some of them are blurry because the focus of the picture never stopped moving!)

(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s latest book HERE!)

Be a Star At Hollywood Studios: Family 2018 Disney World Vacation (Part 4)

We started our Walt Disney World vacation at my favorite park — Hollywood Studios.  If you know me, it’s probably not hard to guess why I love this park so much.

Two words: Star. Wars.

Before we go there, though, I’d like to give you an overview of Hollywood Studios in terms of shows, rides, and restaurants.

Let’s start, shall we?

Shows

My wife and kids are not huge fans of rides, so we take in a lot of shows, which is totally fine by me because the shows are always amazing.  Allow me to briefly run through them.

For the First Time In Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration — I must admit that I wasn’t quite excited to see this one again after seeing it in the summer of 2017.  Boy, was I wrong.  The premise is that two Arendelle historians run through the story of Frozen with appearances by men and women dressed as Elsa, Kristoff, and Anna.  They also show scenes from the movie in the background on a huge screen.  The stage is made to appear as though you are inside Arendelle’s walls.  Make no mistake, however–the historians are the real stars of this show.  The historians are part story tellers, part singers, and part comedians.  They sing each and every major song while encouraging the audience to join along.  But they are also hilarious.  As I said, I wasn’t quite so excited to see this show again, but the historians were so funny that I actually enjoyed it more this second round.  A man fell asleep in the front row who also happened to have very shiny knees (yes, you read that right) and they started improvising the heck out of that situation.  They had the Kristoff actor laughing so hard that he had to turn his back to the audience in order to collect himself.  They absolutely had me rolling.  Of course, Elsa makes a grand entrance at the end and the kids will love it when fake snow begins to fall from the ceiling in the air-conditioned theater.  Even if you’re not especially into Frozen, the ad libs and improvisation will more than entertain you.

Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular — This was a first-time experience for us.  Though we loved it, it might have been a little too intense for my six-year-old.  As an avid Indiana Jones fan, I insisted that we take this one in.  While you sit in a large outdoor amphitheater, you watch a director and his stunt crew recreate epic scenes from the Raiders Of the Lost Ark film–yes, they are epic.  It’s not just recreating the scenes, though, it’s almost like watching a story of the director actually filming it.  There are some incredible falls from atop buildings, lots of jumps and flips, and even some extremely large explosions.  These explosions caught us off guard.  They were fireball big, loud, and we could very easily feel the heat from them from where we sat.  I loved it, but it frightened my youngest to the point of tears.  If I had to do it over again, I wouldn’t take her to it.  It’s incredible, but far more intense than I expected.

Beauty and the Beast: Live On Stage — Again, you sit in an outdoor amphitheater for this one.  This show is about 30 minutes and features live actors creating an abbreviated version of the movie.  The character costumes are really impressive, but a little on the cartoonish side.  The singing is wonderful and the dancing is really something to behold.  There is always a lot to take in on stage, so I don’t see the young or old getting bored during this one.  I have no idea how the dancers in the character costumes could stand the heat, but they gave no signs of fatigue.

Voyage Of the Little Mermaid — Parents, this is another air-conditioned theater, so put it on your list!  This short, 15 minute show features puppets standing in for the fish and a live actress as Ariel.  Some of the show takes place in the pitch black with the puppets lit up by black lights as they sing and dance–it’s very cool.  The actress then appears as Ariel as she runs through many of her songs while clips of the movie play in the background.  The stage and theater are designed to give you the sense of an underwater cave.  An enormous Ursula appears at the end.  She’s a neon puppet and literally takes up half of the stage–very impressive.  It’s especially cool when water lightly drizzles from the ceiling during a fabricated lightning storm.

Disney Junior: Live On Stage! — My nine-year-old was not quite as excited to see this again after seeing it last year, but my six-year-old still loved it.  If your child loves Disney Junior, this is the show for them.  You enter a giant (air-conditioned) room with the stage set up to look like the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.  An actor or actress (we’ve had each) leads the crowd in song and dance as puppet versions of Jake the Pirate, Sofia the First, Doc McStuffins, Mickey, Minnie, Daisy, Goofy, Pluto, and Minnie appear.  You sit on the floor and the crowd is mainly comprised of small children, so be ready to dial your patience up to full-throttle.  I had a baby next to me intent on feeling my knee as I sat cross-legged.  Didn’t bother me, but you may encounter something similar.  Again, items fall from the ceiling at various points during the show, which the kids love.

Muppet Vision 3-D — My kids aren’t terribly familiar with the muppets, but that didn’t seem to bother them one bit.  In fact, they loved this little show so much we saw it two or three times!  Kermit is desperately trying to put a show together when Beaker unleashes Waldo, a 3-D character who takes everything up a notch.  This show has excellent 3-D and is very funny to boot.  You even have the two old guys sitting up in the balcony!  I recommend this show no matter what, but if you’re looking to sit down in the air-conditioning, this is a fantastic option.

Fantasmic — A nighttime show, Fantasmic makes use of fireworks, music, lasers, actors, automated creatures, and fire.  It’s an extraordinary thing to behold, but if I’m being honest it was far more intense than we anticipated.  The audience sat in an outdoor amphitheater with a moat between us and a mountain.  Mickey Mouse appears at the top of the mountain and that’s when the show starts.  At one point, a giant dragon appears which frightened my youngest.  It was absolutely huge.  At another point, they literally lit the moat on fire.  It was so hot that we could feel it from where we sat.  My oldest did not care for that aspect.  The fireworks, while amazing, are right on top of you and pretty tumultuous.  My wife and I were quite impressed by the whole thing, but neither of our kids particularly enjoyed it.  They honestly found it a little scary.

Star Wars: Path Of the Jedi — This short film creatively summarizes everything that takes place leading up to The Last Jedi.  It even includes a few scenes from The Last Jedi that really sets up Kylo Ren and Rey’s evolving dynamic.  My nine-year-old and I are very big Star Wars fans, and we loved this refresher.  We thought they were very clever how they weaved in and out of the seven films.  It doesn’t move chronologically, yet it somehow still covers all of the most important bases.  I’m not sure how much the casual person would enjoy this, but Star Wars fans will really get a kick out of it.

Star Wars Launch Bay Characters — By far my favorite place in the park, the Launch Bay houses several props and models from the Star Wars movies.  You’ll see replica lightsaber handles, helmets, blasters, models of vehicles, and even some full-sized vehicles!  Best of all, you’ll have the chance to meet BB-8, a very fun Chewbacca, and an unsettling Kylo Ren.  BB-8 is just a model on a platform, but still cute as can be and full of sounds.  Chewbacca is an actor in costume, and he loves to play around with people.  Kylo Ren is another actor in costume reciting lines from the movie.  He will get right in your face and try to intimidate you, so be ready!

Rides

As I said earlier, my family is not big on rides, so this section will be much, much shorter!

Star Tours: The Adventures Continue — Last year I had to ride this one by myself, but this year I managed to get my wife and kids on-board with me!  Though this ride doesn’t actually go anywhere, you feel like you’ve traversed the galaxy by the time it’s over.  The premise is that you’ve loaded onto a freighter in order to travel to your destination.  A life-size automated version of C3PO is piloting your ship when it’s discovered that a rebel spy sits among you.  The First Order or Empire (depending) come after your ship, and that’s when it blazes across the galaxy trying to escape.  A giant screen looms before you–a view out the cockpit–and with your 3D glasses you’ll feel like you’re zooming through several popular planets from the film.  Again, you don’t actually go anywhere, but the “freighter” pitches up, down, and side to side in conjunction with the screen to give the illusion that you are actually zipping through space.  Apparently there are many different adventures, so you can keep riding it and experience something new every time!

The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror — Needless to say, I rode this one by myself.  I had no idea what I was getting myself into with this, but I’m so glad I did it!  With this ride, you load onto an elevator car.  It has about four rows in it for people to sit down.  You then begin moving up, and out, then up, then out.  As it’s moving you along, you’ll have to deal with all kinds of trippy optical illusions.  Finally … the car shoots straight up into the air, then plummets, then shoots up again, then plummets again.  This went on for several moments.  I’m not sure how high we went, but at the peak of our climb I could easily see the whole park.  Be prepared, though the fall did not feel out of control, it was so hard and fast that my arms were lifting over my head on their own volition.  It was a thrilling ride that left me breathless!

Restaurants

Hollywood & Vine — This was a really fun experience because, along with the buffet of everything you could ever want, you immediately got a picture with Donald Duck as you entered (see below).  Furthermore, Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Goofy, and Daisy Duck were all wandering around as well.  All four stopped at our table and interacted with my daughters.  Goofy even attempted to floss with them–the dance, not the dental hygiene measure.  He was very confused at first.  They were a blast, and the food was very good.  This is a popular, busy place, so be sure to plan ahead and make your reservations.

50s Prime Time Cafe — Among my favorite restaurants at Walt Disney World!  Clearly one of my best meals, this restaurant is straight out of the 50s.  The wait staff refers to themselves as “Cousin” this or “Uncle” that, and they continuously remind you to behave, keep your elbows off the table, and chew with your mouth closed.  This is not the kind of place where they will berate you, though.  My daughters were on red-alert thinking that they were going to get in trouble.  It’s all done in good-nature.  Most of the food is diner style comfort food, so right up my alley!  Our waiter was particularly good, and he made the experience all the more pleasant.  Like with Hollywood & Vine, make your reservations ahead of time.  I heard them say the wait time was 90 minutes at one point!

Okay!  I hope that gives you an idea of Hollywood Studios.  Obviously, I loved it all.  We didn’t go into every shop, but I feel like we’ve covered most of it during the last two years.  As always, thanks for reading.  Magic Kingdom is up next!

daffy duck and family

(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s latest book HERE!)

Where To Stay At Disney World: Family 2018 Disney World Vacation (Part 3)

You have now successfully reached Orlando, so you’re going to need someplace to stay.

When my parents were footing the bill back in the summer of 2017, we stayed at the Grand Floridian.  This is an onsite resort, which means you are considered to be staying on Walt Disney World grounds.  You get certain advantages by staying onsite, such as Magic Hours and incredibly convenient transportation.  For example, the Grand Floridan has a monorail you can reach on the top floor at the back of the main building.  It connects to Magic Kingdom, the Polynesian Resort, and the Contemporary Resort.  It also connects to the Transportation Center, where you can then catch a ride to Epcot.  Furthermore, it has a bus system that will take you to any of the parks.  The buses run all day and keep running up to an hour after the parks close.  They also have a ferry that will take you across the lake towards Magic Kingdom.  If you time it right at night, you can get an amazing fireworks show.

Our stay at the Grand Floridian was magnificent.  The resort was absolutely amazing.  The employees were not only kind, but bent over backwards to help us and foresaw any possible complications on our behalf.  Everything was sparkling clean, incredibly classy, and beautiful to behold.  We did not have one single issue during our six-day stay.

Honestly, when we return to Disney from now on, we will only stay at the Grand Floridan.  Yes, the rates our exorbitant, but you actually see where all of that money is going — you are treated like gold.  Look into special rates and packages.  The Disney cast members are extremely helpful in helping you find the best deal.  I’ve mentioned Cal before.  Cal spent an hour with us on the phone trying to help us find the best rate for the experience we wanted to have.  If you want to get in touch with Cal, here’s his contact info …

Cal
Walt Disney World® Vacation Advisor
(407) W-DISNEY / (407) 934-7639 Ext. 5243362
Days Off: Wednesday and Thursday
Hours: 10:15 AM to 7:00 PM ET

For this second visit during the summer of 2018, we stayed at the Beach Club Resort.  Cal told us it was a close second to the Grand Floridian.  The rates were generally about $175 less a night than the Grand Floridan, but still very, very expensive.  The Beach Club resort also has the bus system for getting from park to park, and it’s handy in that the back of Epcot is literally a five-minute walk away.  In fact, we walked over to Epcot to view the fireworks several nights because it was so convenient.  They have a ferry system to reach Hollywood Studios, but it was out of service for the time being.  The Beach Club connects to the Yacht Club Resort — literally.  It’s also across the lake from Disney’s Boardwalk, which you could reach by ferry or foot.  The Beach Club shares a very cool pool with the Yacht Club.  This pool actually has a sandbar through the middle of it and a very shallow area for the children to make sandcastles and little lagoons.  They also share a lazy river that runs in a small circle.  Be aware — it’s very deep!  We only managed to get in the pool one day.  We like to hit the parks early and then swim in the evening before heading back out.  The only problem is that it tends to rain during the late afternoons and evenings in Florida.  This normally wouldn’t be an issue, but if there is a lightning strike within six miles, they won’t let you get in the water.  We would get ready, head down, and then have to delay our pool fun due to distant lightning.  In most cases, we were never able to get in at all.  We understood this was for our own safety, but it was still a bummer.

I wish I could tell you that our time at the Beach Club Resort matched our stay at the Grand Floridian … but it didn’t even come close.

Let me first say that the Beach Club bent over backwards to try to make up for the issues we experienced, but I wish these issues never came up at all.

First of all, I knew I was in for trouble when nobody could tell me if Alamo would shuttle me back to the resort when I needed to drop off my rental car at the Disney Car Care Center.  Two different Beach Club Resort cast members suggested I do a taxi, Lyft, or Uber.  When I got to Alamo, they immediately offered to shuttle me back and told me they would take me anywhere on Walt Disney property.  Upon my return, I found the two cast members and alerted them to the news.

Okay, I thought maybe this was an aberration, so I let it go.

We immediately noticed that, while some of the furniture was the same as the Grand Floridan, our room just wasn’t generally as clean.  At over $400 a night, we expected a little more, but whatever.  We rolled with it.

We hit Hollywood Studios that afternoon, spent the night, then visited Magic Kingdom bright and early the next day.  We spent the whole day at Magic Kingdom, then returned at 6:00.  We noticed our room hadn’t been cleaned.  I called down and told the concierge that we were going to go swimming, we’d like our room cleaned around 6:45 p.m.  I then went to the front desk and personally requested that our room be cleaned at 6:45 while we were swimming.  In both cases, I was told it would not be a problem.  Lightning struck within 6 miles, and so we were not allowed into the pools.  My family and I hung around until about 7:45 p.m. in order to give the cleaning service plenty of time.  When we returned at 7:45 p.m., our room still had not been cleaned.  This obviously upset me very much. Not only had I just wasted an hour, but this very simple, baseline service had not been accomplished at an incredibly expensive resort.  I called down.  I spoke to a gentleman.  I requested to speak to a manager.  He told me a manager was not available, but one named Stefan would call me back.  I then went back to the front desk.  I spoke to Samantha.  (As I’m dealing with all of this, the rest of my family is making their way to Epcot.  I’m staying behind in order to manage this unnecessary situation.)  Initially, Samantha could only nod and apologize.  At 8:00 p.m., I was not accepting excuses for a room that had not been cleaned.  She asked me if I still wanted the room cleaned.  I said I definitely still wanted this most basic of service provided — yes.  She offered $100 off our total bill as an apology.  I told her that, frankly, that amount of money is a drop in the ocean compared to what I’m spending during our 6 days at Disney.  She asked me what I would like instead.  I told her I’d have to talk to my wife about it and that I’d touch base with her again after we watched the fireworks at Epcot.

While at Epcot, Stefan called and left a message.  The gist of the call sounded like an apology and excuses as to why the room hadn’t been cleaned.

After our return from Epcot, our room had been tidied up.  It appeared that the sheets were not changed — just the beds made — and floor not vacuumed.  It looked like a quick-job to me. My wife noticed several things were missing such as a bathmat (again), ice bag (again), disposable coffee cups, etc.  My wife went down to speak to Samantha because the whole situation had me far too upset.  To Samantha and Beach Club’s credit, she had a package fully prepared for us.  Samantha offered a full night’s stay refunded, as well as three fast-passes per member of our family.  We found this to be more than fair and were very satisfied with the compensation.  However, we felt as though we had to fight tooth and nail to both get the room cleaned and to procure more than an apology and an excuse.  We wanted action from the start.  The whole ordeal lasted 4 hours with us applying constant pressure to achieve satisfaction.

We thought that was the end of our troubles.  We were wrong.

The next morning, while at the bus stop outside Beach Club, we waited to go to Animal Kingdom.  There was a large group of people.  We noticed a cast member standing nearby.  We stood by the benches in the shade joining those already in the semi-formed line.  Several more families arrived, and my wife kindly informed them the Animal Kingdom line was behind us.  When the very packed bus arrived, those families that arrived after us cut in front of us and got on the bus.  When we made it to the door, the driver wouldn’t let us on — too many people.  I explained to him that most of the people who got on had cut in front of us and another family.  Can you guess what he did?  Just stared at me and then shrugged.  I next approached the cast member who had walked away as the bus initially arrived.  I explained to her the situation.  She apologized and made excuses.  I asked her what her job is, exactly.  She said to make sure people get on and off the bus safely — not to enforce any kind of order as people load.  I won’t lie, after the previous night’s debacle, I lost my cool.  Time was wasting away yet again and we were on pace to miss our first fast-pass (which we did).  I asked for her supervisor to join us.  Not surprisingly, they weren’t available and would have to give me a call.  (Which they never did.)  The cast member gave the other family and us a fast-pass for the inconvenience.  Yet again, had I not complained, the Beach Club cast members would have been more than happy to let all of these situations slide by.

As I already said, we encountered not one single issue during our stay at the Grand Floridian.  Within the first thirty hours at Beach Club, my head was about to explode due to poor customer service.

Again, the night’s refund and the three fast-passes per person absolutely compensated us for our troubles with the cleaning service.  Also, when we returned from Animal Kingdom, the Beach Club left a stuffed Mickey and Minnie Mouse toy for each of my daughters which absolutely delighted us.  Furthermore, the day after that, we had an exquisite desert platter sent to our room which we very much enjoyed.  My point is, Beach Club tried to make it up to us — we acknowledge that.

However, I honestly wish none of that had been necessary.  I would have preferred no issues at all and a smooth stay that didn’t demand that I complain and lose my temper in front of my children (something they rarely see … to that degree).

We don’t expect any further compensation.  We are satisfied with the compensation Beach Club provided.  We realize everyone has a difficult job.  We strive to be reasonable, kind people and we’re sure to tip our cleaning service daily.

But I also want to alert you to our circumstances.  It could be this was all a hiccup; maybe that kind of thing never happens at Beach Club.  I’d like to think all of the onsite Walt Disney World resorts provide exquisite service no matter what the rate variations.  It’s not like Beach Club is considered a budget option.  We were told it was a close second to the Grand Floridian!  Just be aware.  If you experience something that dissatisfies you, speak up.  For the amount of money you are paying , you deserve the best service possible.

All right!  The next installment will detail our superb adventures at each of the Walt Disney World parks!  Thanks for reading.

Foley Girls with Mickey and Minnie.jpg

(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s latest book HERE!)

Traveling To Disney World: Family 2018 Disney World Vacation (Part 2)

Now that you’ve booked your trip to Disney World in Orlando, you need to actually get there.

Our daughters are both under ten, so driving from Central Illinois all the way to Orlando did not seem like the ideal means of travel to me.  We are very fortunate in that we have a local airport, Central Illinois Regional Airport, that flies to the Orlando/Sanford International Airport.  Using Allegiant Air, you can fly to Orlando/Sanford in about 2.5 hours.  That sure beats 20+ hours in the car.

I know flying can be expensive, but when you take into account the gas, the food, the hotels costs, and the incidentals of driving, flying seems far more convenient and not that much more expensive.  It was very nice to wake up in Illinois and go to bed in Florida.

A few words about Allegiant Air–yes, they had that scathing news report a few months ago.  We’ve flown Allegiant four times now in the last two years, and not once did I ever feel that our lives were endangered.  However, annoyances will arise with this airline.  They are a budget carrier, and it shows.  Three of the four times we flew with Allegiant, we had delays.  This is partly just air travel.  Everyone has delays.  One time, though, last summer, we were on the plane about to pull out three different times before they postponed the flight to the next day.  I’m talking we got on the plane, then we got off the plane.  Then we got on the plane, then we got off the plane.  Then–say it with me–we got on the plane, then we got off the plane.  My kids were great through the whole thing, but they were very confused.  The most irritating part about that ordeal is that it was impossible to reach their corporate headquarters.  I should say, though, that Allegiant put us in a nice hotel that night, and gave us each $100 vouchers with a one year expiration date.  We used those vouchers to offset the cost for this most recent trip!  I’d also like to say that all of the Allegiant employees we’ve dealt with have been very kind and professional.  Allegiant is not the most luxurious way to fly, but I certainly have no trepidation about getting on their planes.

Central Illinois Regional Airport is a dream.  It’s so clean and well-maintained.  The employees are very good there as well.  Orlando/Sanford International Airport is a little more dicey.  If you get there during off hours, it’s not bad at all.  However, it’s been packed to the gills each time we’ve been there.  It’s an international hub, so that stands to reason.  Once again, though, the employees were great.  I have a little inside information for you, by the way.  If you find yourself stuck in the Orlando/Sanford airport for any length of time, check out the international wing.  You walk down a long corridor before you enter it from the main wing.  It’s wide open with plenty of seating, plenty of shopping, plenty of restaurants, and big, clean bathrooms.  It looks much newer than the main part of the airport as well.

One more tip for flying with Allegiant.  Backpacks count as personal items, not carry-ons, as do purses.  To save money, I checked a suitcase, my wife checked a suitcase, and then our daughters shared a checked suitcase.  We did not use any carry-ons, but we each had a backpack for which we were not charged.  These personal items must fit under the airliner seat, though, so be sure to check your dimensions.

Okay, so we’ve made it to Orlando/Sanford International Airport–now how do we get to Disney World?  Ah, you’ve heard Disney runs a shuttle to Orlando International Airport, right?  Here’s the thing, Orlando/Sanford is not the same as Orlando International.  They are two different airports about forty minutes apart.  You’ve got some choices.  You can hire Lyft, Uber, or a taxi.  Lyft and Uber were out of the question for me–I’m not trusting a stranger to drive my family in Florida.  Taxis were about the same price as simply renting a car.  So … I rented a car.

I know what you’re thinking–“Scott, that’s crazy!  You rented a car just to sit in the parking lot of your resort!?”  Well, no.  We timed our flight so that it would arrive late Thursday evening.  We wanted to check in and hit Hollywood Studios right away Friday morning.  So, I rented a car from Alamo, which is a very short walk down a sidewalk outside of the Orlando/Sanford International Airport.  (Of course, I set all of this up ahead of time at the Alamo website.)  We rented a car, drove to a nearby hotel, spent the night, then drove to our resort first thing the next morning.  I parked at the resort, checked in the family, then left them to explore the resort as I returned the car at the Disney Car Care Center which has an Alamo onsite.  The Car Care Center is pretty much in the middle of the Walt Disney World grounds–it’s close to everything.  When I returned the car, I only had it for 24 hours–a one day rental.  (Actually, I only had it about 15 hours, but that’s okay.)  You see, this way you don’t have to pay a full week’s worth of car rental fees!  Great, right?  Best of all?  The Alamo at the Disney Car Care Center will shuttle you back to your resort.  In fact, they told me they’d take me anywhere I wanted to go as long as it was on Walt Disney World grounds.  Furthermore, they will also pick you up!  When it was time for us to leave, Alamo sent a shuttle for us, loaded up all of our luggage, and then drove us to the Disney Car Care Center in order to check out another car, which I then turned in to the Alamo at the Orlando/Sanford International Airport.  It’s a really fantastic service!

Of course, all of this requires careful planning.  You need to figure out what you need, communicate what you need, reserve what you need, and you need to keep all confirmation numbers on you.  I literally kept all of my confirmation papers in separate color-coded folders in my backpack with me–but I’m a little … you know.

And that’s how we got from Central Illinois to Walt Disney World and back!  Thanks for reading!

The next installment will arrive soon, and it will detail the resort we stayed at in 2017 and the resort we stayed at in 2018.  Hint: not all outlandishly expensive resorts on Walt Disney World grounds are created equal.

CIRA Airport 2018

(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s latest book HERE!)

How We Booked Our 2018 Trip To Disney World: Family 2018 Disney World Vacation (Part 1)

We were fortunate enough to visit Disney World during the summer of 2017 in celebration of my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary.  Because my brother and sister-in-law had done Disney on several occasions, they, as well as my parents, basically prepared the whole thing for us.  I loved it so much, I insisted on going back this summer!  And because we learned so much last time around, we were able to duplicate what we found to be a magnificent time.

My wife, children, and I just returned from another magical trip, and I’ve already had a few people ask for advice on planning their own excursion.  I thought our personal experience might be helpful, so I’m going to write about it during the coming weeks — from start to finish.

The first step is planning the trip.  This is something you probably want to do several months ahead of time.  There are people who will plan your trip for you (such as Jessica Parlier  or Stephanie Reed), but you can also simply call Walt Disney World and work through it all with a cast member.  (They call their employees “cast members.”  It was really confusing at first.  Everyone is a cast member — whether acting on stage or taking phone calls.)

We began this trip, just like last trip, by buying the latest copy of Birnbaum’s 2018 Walt Disney World: The Official Guide.  Trust me when I tell you this thing is worth its weight in gold.  It details every park (Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and Epcot), every resort, every ride, every show, every restaurant, and every shop.  Thanks to this book, we knew exactly what we wanted to do on a daily basis.

So, after settling on what we wanted to get out of this trip, we called Disney.  Fortunately, we ended up speaking to an incredibly nice man named Cal.  Cal spent well over an hour on the phone with us organizing our trip.  He next answered several call-backs during the following days, as well as various emails.  He is incredibly patient, helpful, and informative.

This is his job with Disney, so he does not charge a percentage.  If you’d like to reach him, here’s his contact information …

Cal
Walt Disney World® Vacation Advisor
(407) W-DISNEY / (407) 934-7639 Ext. 5243362
Days Off: Wednesday and Thursday
Hours: 10:15 AM to 7:00 PM ET

There are a few items I want to discuss with you as you plan your own trip.  Last summer, we went all out because my parents were willing to pay for us to go all out.  Let me tell you, after paying for the trip myself this time, every penny is worth it.  Allow me to explain …

We decided to stay on site.  That means that our resort is actually connected to the parks.  For example, Epcot was literally a five minute walk from The Beach Club Resort, the place we most recently stayed.  At Beach Club, they also had (nice) buses that would transport you to any of the other parks at no extra charge.  These buses run all day at about twenty minute intervals.  They continued running up to an hour after each park closed.  This means we could close down the parks without worrying how we would get back to our room!  In the summer of 2017, we stayed at The Grand Floridian.  This (best-of-the-best) resort actually had an elevated monorail that would drop you off right in front of Magic Kingdom and Epcot.  Otherwise, you could ride buses to Hollywood Studios or Animal Kingdom.  All of the resorts have these buses running all of the time.

Yes, these resorts are very expensive.  However, the convenience of it all made it well worth the money.  You also get to enjoy “Magic Hours” if you are staying on site, which means, on certain days, you get to open the park an hour early or stay an hour later than everyone else.  (Be sure to check the schedule, though.  Magic Hours change from day to day, park to park.)

Also, I heartily recommend that you purchase the “Park Hopper” pass.  This means you can go to any park you want on any day during your stay.  You can start the day at Animal Kingdom and then finish the day at Epcot to watch the fireworks.  Yes, it’s more expensive, but it’s also very freeing overall and allows you to do what you want, when you want.  Talk to Cal, he’ll explain it all to you!

Next, take a hard look at the dining plan.  Again, this appears very pricey upfront, but it will save you money in the long run.  Our plan basically provided us a quick service meal per day, a sit-down meal per day, and then several “snacks” per day.  You pay a flat-rate and can then order basically whatever you want.  I could order a $75 steak and it cost me no more than the $25 hamburger.  A drink and dessert is also included with each sit-down dinner.  Plus, many strange things can count as snacks.  For example, a side of bacon at my resort counted as a snack.  As did a muffin.  Or a cinnamon roll.  If you research, you can basically eat your breakfast off of your snacks.  We never end up using all of our snacks, but that’s okay, because you can purchase packaged food items or candy in the gift shops with your snacks and then take them home with you!  If you elect to pay out of pocket, you will spend $50 to $100 for a family of four eating a lunch consisting of a hamburger, soft drink, and fries.  The food is grossly overpriced, but it somehow all evens out if you go with the dining plan.  Ask Cal about it!

Finally, we all want pictures of our wondrous time, right?  Disney offers something called a “Memory Maker” package.  Again, you pay upfront for this, but it is so worth the money!  Any time you see a Disney photographer in a park (and they are literally everywhere), you can have them take your picture.  After they take the picture, they will tap your “magic band” (which is a wristband you’ll get in the mail well before you’re due to arrive) and then the pictures will automatically upload to the Disney app you will download to your phone.  Once the pictures download, you are encouraged to save them to your phone and start sharing them via text, social media, whatever!  These are high quality photographs that could certainly go in a frame provided you are not a sweaty mess from that Florida heat.  We had Disney photographers take about 200 pictures of us between the park attractions, meeting characters, etc.  (I’ve included one at the end of this article.)  I don’t know how much these pictures would cost to purchase on an individual basis, but I heard somewhere in the area of $20 per photograph.  If you’re picture people, this is a must.

So, that wraps up this first installment.  My biggest piece of advice is plan ahead, do your research, and know what you want to get out of the experience.  You’re going to spend a ton of money no matter what, but if you’re spending it on exactly what you desire, it’s worth it.  I have not regretted one penny from either trip I’ve taken.  I am financially conservative, but believe me when I say if you try to save a little here and there beforehand, that amount you saved will get spent in the park.  If you’re going to Disney, you might as well go all out and get the full experience, right?

MagicKingdom2018

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)