/ Monday, September 3rd, 2012

by Luke Hempenstall

While my wife and I thoroughly enjoyed Walt Disney World on our honeymoon, life pretty quickly returned to normal once we got back to Australia. We’d just built our first home and moved into it immediately upon returning from our honeymoon. Then Christmas and New Year came, then back to work and before we knew it, our wedding and honeymoon had drifted into the memory banks for ‘archiving’.

The real ‘awakening’ moment for us however, and just how much Disney and Walt Disney World in particular had touched us, would come about 9 months later in August 2002. On a chance trip into the local store of the now sadly defunct Disney Store chain in Australia, I came across a sign in the window advertising that tickets to WDW could be purchased there. Wandering in and enquiring across the counter, I got talking to the shop assistant who herself had not been to any of the Disney parks and was curious about what they were like. As a gesture of goodwill (or equally an attempt to get rid of me banging on about WDW non-stop…), she then offered to lend to me a video that she said they sometimes lent to customers planning trips to the parks. This video turned out to be the 100 Years of Magic WDW Vacation Planning Video hosted by the famous Jim Korkis.

When I went home to watch this video for the first time, a video that represented the celebration that was in place when my wife and I were there in 2001, an explosion of memory filled my head and what to this day has been an unending yearning to return. After showing my wife, who had the same experience, we decided there and then to plan another trip over in March 2003.

At the time, I was working as a travel consultant for our national airline so air travel was significantly cheaper for us and thus afforded us the opportunity to get across the Pacific. This trip we decided we would spend 8 days in WDW, having established after our rushed and very brief honeymoon trip that one would need at least 8 days to do all of the parks justice. You might recall from my last post that this was the suggested time frame that we came up with while there on our honeymoon. We also decided to stay on property for the first time, choosing the All Star Movies Resort.

The all too important and equally fun part of the trip then began; the planning (a tip of my hat again to you Emma Goldbold as I couldn’t agree with you more on how the planning for these trips is as much fun as the trip itself). What this impending trip also sporned though was what my wife and I would call our ‘Disney Nights’. You see, when at WDW on our Honeymoon, we bought the obligatory souvenirs, most of which have since become traditional souvenirs we always get on our trips to WDW. On this occasion, the souvenirs we bought included Disney Monopoly, a music CD – “Disney’s Greatest Pop Hits – A Decade of Radio Singles” as well as magnets, and other bits and pieces. All of these items went towards helping us relive our honeymoon trip to the ‘World’.

The Vacation Planning Video that our local Disney Store so kindly lent us was also copied before I returned it. This was because here in Australia, until only a few months ago, we could not get hold of the any of the Disney Vacation Planning Videos/DVD’s as they could only be send to addresses in Canada or the US. I got around this by having them sent to family in Texas who were always kind enough to forward them on for us.

So having these few items, my wife and I would start a Disney Night by listening to our CD while tidying up after dinner, and then sitting down to watch the video while playing Disney Monopoly. As Monopoly can drag on for hours, the video would be played over and over again but these nights always got us excited about WDW and our upcoming trip so we never tired of the video.

Over the years, our collection of Vacation Planning DVD’s, home video footage from the parks and cruises and plethora of games and music CD’s have of course grown so much that a Disney Night can take on many different iterations: theme park Disney nights, movie Disney nights, TV show Disney nights etc. But every now and then, we decide to have what we now call an “Original” Disney Night where we play that first CD, that first game and that first video tape (now saved to DVD of course) and remember what it was like when those items were all we had to get us geared up for our next Disney trip in 2003.

The next biggest lesson we learned about travelling to WDW from Australia had everything to do with the flights. Once the moment finally arrived, we had worked out the best flights to get from Australia over to Orlando in order to get in in time for dinner. This was the first time we flew directly from Australia into Orlando so we wanted to make the best of it. For those uninitiated into this epic flying journey, a flight from the east coast of Australia to Los Angeles typically takes anything from 12.5 to 14 hours. Until recently, airlines flying out of Australia to the US always stopped first on the west coast. It has something to do with fuel tank limitations; and when 13 hours and 55 minutes of a 14 hour flight across the Pacific is spent over water, I’m not going to argue. Both Sydney International and Los Angeles International (LAX) are literally right on the coastlines of their respective ends of the Pacific.

There used to be a minimum connection time in LAX of 3 hours (one must remember this isn’t too long after 9/11 so security and transfer timeframes were exhaustive…). Regardless of all of this, all flights across the Pacific, particularly with Qantas Airways, generally left mid to late morning from Australia and arrived into LA very early morning of the same day – effectively going back in time. This was usually between 6am and 7:30am. One would always hope your pilot got a good slot for landing and gate allocation so that you could disembark and get into the ever-growing queue for Customs and Immigration before all of the other flights arrived. Leaving the minimum connection time, you would then book a flight connecting from LA through to Orlando. My wife and I would never book one before 9:30am. This being generally a 5 to 5.5 hour flight would mean getting into Orlando anytime after 4:30pm with the obligatory delays, airport taxiing and takeoff.

This in theory would always work out well for us because we would envisage it leaving us enough time to take ground transportation to WDW (Disney’s Magical Express wasn’t up and running at that point), check in to our hotel, freshen up after 24 odd hours of travelling and head down to Downtown Disney for what started out to be a tradition for us upon every trip to WDW and that was having dinner at Planet Hollywood. However events would always transpire to leave us short of time and always rushing to get to dinner – with the exception of our 2008 trip (but more on that in a future post.)

In the case of our 2003 trip, our United Airlines aircraft suffered an engine ‘issue’ just after push-back from the gate. This led to a 2.5 hour delay just sitting on the tarmac, getting in the way of every other aircraft wishing to leave while Engineers fixed the problem. Now, in my spare time, I myself am working towards my Private Pilot’s Licence and have been flying both commercially and privately my whole life, but even I was sitting their thinking, “hhhhmmmm, get to dinner in Orlando on time and fly with a dodgy engine? Or be late for dinner but at least BE late for dinner??? TAKE YOUR TIME BOYS!!!! GET IT RIGHT!!!” After an eternity, we were up and running (well… flying actually) and landed (well ‘crabbed’ actually thanks to an 18knot cross wind) into Orlando.

The lesson we learned was that this is an epic journey. Flying anywhere major from Australia is generally an epic journey being ‘down under’ but this one in particular. For those used to flying or young enough to handle the knock about your body gets, go for it. For those not used to flying, or travelling with children or similarly concerned parties, you may want to consider a stop over on the west coast of the US before your final leg to Orlando.

It’s a tough call on the body due to effectively going back in time. While it may be 7:00am in Los Angeles when you arrive from Australia, you’ve been flying already for nearly 14 hours, most of which without sleep even though 8-9 hours of the flight is in darkness. And while it may be breakfast time in LA, back home, it’s [3:30] in the morning and you can’t just go throwing food down the throat and not expect your body to react. What’s more, one of the hardest things to do on this planet after getting off a 14 hour flight from Australia is to then stay awake on the 5 hour flight to Orlando immediately after; no matter how much Coca Cola one consumes. But it is what must be done in order to best battle jetlag.

And this leads me to my second lesson from this trip. Jetlag! You don’t want to be wasting some of your precious time at the parks falling asleep at 2:00pm after ‘hitting the wall’. On our honeymoon, Bec and I discovered that so long as you got a decent night’s sleep on the trans-Pacific flight and then stayed awake during the albeit short day of arrival in the US until a reasonable bed time, then jetlag is practically non-existent. It was only after our 2003 trip that I realised this was the case though.

You see, in 2001, Qantas was still in the process of upgrading its long-haul 747 fleet with the all too common now seat back entertainment systems. And unfortunately, the 747-400 aircraft we had on our trans-Pacific flight for our honeymoon was yet to be upgraded. So we had to contend with the ‘shared’ TV monitors suspended from the aisle ceilings and upon which the movies were played at a set time. You either watched them, or you didn’t; there was no choice. So on this flight, as some of the movies weren’t ones that interested us; we took the opportunity to sleep.

Fast forward now to 2003, and the remainder of the Qantas fleet had been upgraded and on our trans-Pacific flight, we got to enjoy a plethora of film options which could be started and stopped at will. No only that, there were video games, music and books which could be used to entertain and as a result, bugalugs here didn’t get a wink of sleep on that very important flight. As a result, I hit the wall on the trans-US flight from LA to Orlando which effectively meant I was sleeping in the middle of the US day, and from that point on, as we say here in Australia, ‘the rot set in.’ For the next 3-4 days of our 8 day trip, I hit the wall at the same time every day; right on 1pm.

I learned quickly that one needed to be disciplined when flying and ‘switch off’ (literally) when the time came to get some sleep. The easiest way to gauge when to do this is to imagine that you are in the US timezone (starting with Los Angeles) the moment you lift off the ground out of Australia. Now, I acknowledge this can be difficult when it’s 11:00am in Australia and the sun is shining brightly as you approach lunch time; and yet you’re trying to tell your body that it’s 6:00pm of the previous night but as a US bound trans-Pacific flight flies in the opposite direction to the spinning of the earth, the night time approaches travelling west bound across the Pacific and soon reaches the flight within 3-4 hours. As I mentioned above, the majority of the rest of the flight is in darkness until literally an hour or so out of landing into Los Angeles.

As cabin crews generally wake passengers at this point in preparation for breakfast service and to go over arrival formalities, it’s best to count back from that anticipated breakfast service roughly 6-8 hours. You will find that this generally coincides with darkness falling over the aircraft if not just after and it makes it somewhat easier to try and get some sleep; however easy telling your body to sleep may be when its only 3:00pm back in Australia. It also helps if you have a late night the night before and with the early morning needed to get to the airport and take your flight to the US, your body can be ready for a nap at the time you want to get some sleep anyway. Just try to make it a 6-8 hour nap… J

After the usual arrival formalities, we were at All Stars Movies and checked in. Only to realise, it was Spring Break!! And if it’s one thing that students like to do no matter what country they’re from, it’s save money on the mundane things like accommodation, so where did they all stay??? Well it seemed like they were all at All Star Movies. We both shared worried looks, knowing what we were probably getting ourselves into because we behaved exactly like that when we were both at University ourselves.

In all fairness though, we were not disturbed at all by the Spring Breakers and it probably had to do with the fact that we were SO far away from the Main Building. That was a pain but the room was indeed quiet, tucked out of the way and the experience was sensational. And yes, we made it to our dinner reservation at Planet Hollywood and the obligatory shopping at World of Disney thereafter.

On the plane on the way over, Bec and I had started putting an action plan together for where we were to go and when, both day and night. It was pretty comprehensive and involved the parks all out during the day followed by Downtown Disney all out at night visiting a different Pleasure Island night club each night. It was all good in theory. In practise, it just didn’t happen. As if my jetlag wasn’t bad enough, without that, we were still wracked with tiredness at the end of the day and so usually did dinner and then hit the sack. This led us to my final lesson for this trip.

While 8 days may afford you enough time to do the all the parks justice, it does not leave you enough time to do anything else. And if you’re fighting some serious Jetlag having flown all the way from Australia, you’re sometimes only going at half speed. In our mind finally, we had deduced that having come from so far abroad, in order to make the trip worthwhile and to get through so much as to justifiably say you have ‘done WDW well’, one would need a full two weeks!

So there we have it. Another trip in the bag. A whole lot of photos, more souvenirs, including a hand painted and numbered figurine of Princess Kida from Atlantis: The Lost Empire, and a very nice scrap book to start collating our memories. Incidentally, it was VERY difficult finding anything on Atlantis over there. This was our favourite movie at the time and all we could find (back in 2003) was the figurine, a single solitary pin of Kida and a limited edition framed film cell which retail for $1500 – well out of our price range for a souvenir at the time. A little unusual I thought but I digress.

It wouldn’t be too long before our next Disney adventure after out 2003 trip, but it would be another 3 and a half years before we get back to WDW for a decent visit. Again though, more on that and the lessons we learned from those trips in a later and shorter (I promise….) post.

Until then everyone, stay safe and take care.         (o:3


What strategies do you have for dealing with jetlag when traveling to Disney?  Share your thoughts in the comments below!



2 thoughts on “Disney Down Under: Surviving the Flight to the US”

  1. Emma Godbold says:

    Another great post 🙂
    I really know how you feel about ‘getting’ to the World! From the UK our flight time is around 9 hours, and there’s the few hours actually travelling to the airport on top of that! The only good thing is that with the jetlag on the first full day I usually wake up at about 5am….super alert and ready to hit the parks!!!

  2. Luke says:

    I hear you loud and clear Emma! If managed correctly, you can one of those eager beavers at the front of the queues ready to hit the parks. I must say though that in our 10 years of going to WDW, we’ve never been at the front of queue… ha ha ha…