by Luke Hempenstall
Hello again my friends,
I’m sorry it’s been so long since updating you on my travel experiences and imparting some valuable lessons learned as an international traveler to WDW, and while I certainly don’t assume that many of you wait with baited breath on my stories, I do feel it important to impart what I have learned for nothing more but to add to the great archive of knowledge on the subject of travel to Walt Disney World from afar…. very afar, by yourselves. I would also like to thank those of you who commented on my first couple of posts for your kind words; it’s nice to know that they were warmly received.
The reason I haven’t been in contact for a while is that my wife and I have been going through a few changes in our home environment over the last few of months – well, 9 months to be exact. Those changes involve the news that on April 24, my wife and I welcomed our beautiful baby girl, Erin Rose Hempenstall, into this world. To say we’re over the moon would be a masterpiece of understatement!
We have gone through the gambit of emotions and realisations since this wonderful experience but one that has stuck with me the most is this… I can soon look forward to enjoying that wonderful experience of seeing Walt Disney World through our child’s eyes for the first time. And for that, I am grateful not only to have our own experiences to call upon, but also your many experiences, news and wonderful pieces of advice that will only serve to enhance our child’s experience.
For those of you still reading my posts, even after the mammoth one that was my last, I appreciate you sticking with me. My future posts will NOT be that big again but our 2003 trip was such a steep learning curve for us that any shorter length would have belied its importance in learning how to travel from afar to WDW.
So with that, we move onto our next adventure and the lessons learned from it.
With the 2003 trip out of the way, the opportunity to get back to anything Disney didn’t arise until the following year, 2004, when we decided to take a cruise on the Disney Cruise Line to help celebrate my 30th birthday. We chose a 7 night Eastern Caribbean Cruise on the Disney Magic and due to the time differences and arrival times from Australia into Orlando, decided to overnight at WDW before sailing out the next day. We stayed one night at the Disney’s Port Orleans French Quarter Resort and I managed to get in one of my favourite meals, the Mojo Bones at the Rainforest Cafe in Downtown Disney before hitting the stores.
The following day, after a bit of shopping at Downtown Disney, we caught the Disney Cruise Line transportation down to Cape Canaveral for the cruise, and embarked on 7 nights of absolute bliss. Needless to say, the cruise was spectacular.
In 2005, we got the opportunity to visit Disneyland in Anaheim for the first time over the Easter long weekend. We spend 5 days in Anaheim at Disneyland and the not long opened California Adventure Park, staying at Disney’s Paradise Pier Resort. Another amazing trip to see where the Disney Theme Park world all started. That’s as much as I will regale about those adventures at this point as this is a Blog focused on Walt Disney World after all.
Our next opportunity to visit WDW came in late 2006 when in early 2006; my wife suggested it as a venue for our 5th Wedding Anniversary. With that, the next trip was born. Planning for this particular trip became somewhat easier. As I mentioned in my last post, having been on a few Disney vacations since our Honeymoon by that time, we had started to amass a number of items to enhance our planning sessions and our Disney Nights and even create a number of different variants. This included different board games to play, different Vacation Planning tools to watch including our second favourite behind our original Disney Video from the 100 Years of Magic Celebration – Happiest Celebration on Earth DVD starring Erin, Dave, Luke and Stacey and even some shows recorded off the Discovery Travel Channel including the Ultimate Fan’s Guide to Walt Disney World starring the Murphy’s, the Levy’s, the Lloyd’s and Joslyn Beloff and friends; another of our favourites! I even went to the extent of making a folder for the trip in general – rudimentary I hear you say but a first for me. As I also mentioned in my last post, we had determined that 2 weeks would be needed to do all of the things we wanted to do plus have time to spare for relaxation and exploration. So, 2 weeks were planned.
I had indeed taken a great deal of time planning for this 2006 trip ahead of it. In fact, my wife and I would refer to the time between coming home from a trip to WDW and the time we decide to go back on a particular date as no-man’s land. The time after deciding to go back on a certain date is the ‘pre-trip’ or planning phase and that to me, as I have mentioned on a previous post, is just as much fun as the trip itself. So while it is hard to exactly determine the extent of no-man’s land prior to the 2006 trip, thanks largely to the few other Disney trips we’d taken between the bonafide WDW trips of 2003 and 2006, it is easy to ascertain that the pre-trip period began in earnest at the commencement of 2006 when my wife suggested we head back.
From there, thanks also to the increased number of planning tools available to me and various ‘implements of enjoyment’ we had acquired over the previous trips, the planning got more targeted and much more detailed than on previous trips, and our Disney Nights began to help build the excitement for us leading up to the trip itself.
One of the essential items of planning we purchased was the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World. This book has since become a staple of our planning regime on subsequent trips. We always ensure we buy the latest version prior to each trip. As most of you know but for those that possibly don’t, it is a no-nonsense, straight talking guidebook that looks beyond the marketing hype of an attraction or restaurant. Not that it has ever really swayed us away from anything with a less than 5 star review of a particular element of WDW, but we certainly do sit up and take notice of the elements that it does say are good.
We also used the website a lot more in the research, planning and booking of our accommodation. Up until then, we’d always phoned through to WDW reservations to make queries about prices and rates and to make our eventual booking. This time however, we made use of the comprehensive WDW website to get all of the information we needed. We then made a list of questions we had that couldn’t be answered by the website and phoned WDW reservations for clarification. For example, one determination we made early was that in staying for a full 2 weeks, meant that we went beyond the value offered by the standard Magic Your Way tickets which were sold for a maximum stay of 10 days. We would then need to purchase an extra 4 day ticket to make up the difference. In our investigations and after confirmation from the WDW reservations guys, we determined that it would be cheaper for us to purchase Annual Passes, which were slightly cheaper than a 10+4 Magic Your Way ticket – and this included the Premium Annual Passes. PLUS, as Premium Annual Pass Holders, we were afforded various other discounts and special treatments, which made our stay feel extra special. We felt like very special guests! Needless to say that by the time we left for the trip, we felt more prepared and better read into what we were doing than on previous trips. This was the first big lesson for this particular trip
Getting TO WDW that time was again somewhat different to last time. We spent our actual Wedding Anniversary back at the resort in Jamaica that we’d honeymooned at and renewed our Wedding Vows right there on the beach. A bit kitsch I know after only 5 years but it’s become a sort of tradition. As such we travelled from Jamaica to WDW, which meant we were already well acclimated to the time zones. It also meant that with the relatively short travel time from Jamaica through Miami to Orlando, we could manage our travel times in such a way as to ensure that we arrived at WDW at a decent time of the afternoon and had plenty of time to check in to our Hotel, freshen up and head out for our traditional ‘first night’ dinner at Planet Hollywood in Downtown Disney.
So, the next lesson we learned on this particular trip was again the value of a stop enroute prior to getting to WDW, especially if travelling from so far away. Now, the break we had on this occasion was the week we spent in Jamaica prior to WDW, but even if we were heading straight to WDW from Australia, we would consider having a stop before arriving. Firstly to try and get a jump on combating jetlag, and secondly to ensure we arrive at WDW at a good time to enjoy our little ‘first night’ traditions as previously discussed without feeling like we’re rushing from the airport to check in, freshen up and get out to Downtown Disney in time for our ADR’s. As most of you will attest to, you don’t want to be wasting time getting over jetlag or rushing around needlessly when you’re at the ‘World’. You want to be as efficient with your time as possible.
We decided to stay on this occasion at Disney’s Pop Century Resort in a Preferred Location room, which was right under Baloo the Bear and right next to the Main Building. Best… decision… ever! The shortened journey from our room to the main building for the purposes of meals at the food court and getting the buses to and from the parks made everything so much easier for us. Yes, I know you may be grinning at our favouring a shortened walking time, but after a long day at the parks or even in an attempt to get to the bus lines quickly, the shorter the walk from your room to the main building, the better. And compared to the distance of the room from the main building at Disney’s All Star Movies where we stayed at in 2003, our room in 2006 was glorious!
The pool was right outside our room as well, which we found wonderful actually. The rooms are so well sound proofed that noise is reasonably minimal anyway but what noise we did hear around the pool area was endearing, again, believe it or not. There’s something about the sound of families playing in the pool while on vacation that enhances the whole experience for us; as odd as this may sound being a couple without children at the time.
We enjoyed so many things on that trip that we didn’t get to enjoy previously such as dinner at Victoria & Alberts, Cirque Du Soleil’s La Nouba, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party and Typhoon Lagoon. These in themselves have become traditions over the years. They also solidified this time of year as being our favourite time to travel to WDW…. but more on that and how my wife used that on me for our next trip in the next post…
Finally, the last big lesson we learned was the value of taking time out through the trip to relax by the pool or just kick back in your room. Would you believe that on our last day in Jamiaca, I came down with a bit of a head cold. It didn’t last longer than a couple of days and so didn’t really bother me but of course my wife then picked it up for the first couple of days that we were at WDW and it hit her a little harder than me. So much in fact that on our third or fourth day there, my wife came over rather light headed and ill just after lunch at the Disney Studios, so we decided to head back to our resort where she could rest.
We got back to the room where my wife hit the sheets and fell straight off to sleep for what I could only describe was an eternity. I quite happily mixed my time between laying next to her watching the Disney Channel on TV, watching the Resort TV channel, sitting out by the pool and reading, and making various trips to the food court for refreshments. My wife then awoke around 9pm after sleeping for about 8 hours, in time for me to get dinner from the food court and bring it back to the room for her. She ate, and then sacked out again; this time sleeping right through until about 7 the next morning.
When she did wake up, she was as good as gold, completely clear of the cold and raring to hit the parks with a vengeance. Now, my wife and I always share a laugh about the fact that her general ‘cure-all’ is sleep, sleep, sleep when she’s ill, but on this particular occasion, it highlighted a very important point for us both. The planning, travelling, excitement and rushing around on a holiday can be all consuming and if you’re not careful, all of the little ailments and bugs that you’d been avoiding prior to your vacation can rear their ugly heads the moment you ‘relax’ the body while away. It can in some cases be enough to completely ruin a vacation with you having to spend the vast majority of your time in bed recuperating. However, if you’re careful and you are forearmed with this understanding, you can manage these body stresses more effectively by building in time on your vacation to relax.
This is true at WDW just as much as anywhere else. And it was made painfully evident on this particular trip of ours. Ever since, we’ve built in this time to relax by the pool at the resort or just to wander through some of the beautiful resorts at WDW or even browse the shops at Downtown Disney. And have never had a repeat episode… on any of our trips.
Anyway dear friends, with those little words of advice, I will leave it there for this post. Unfortunately, it does look like it is another big one so I hope I haven’t bored you too much. My next post will follow reasonably quickly so keep an eye out. And as always, I value your comments and advice on how you best planned and prepared for your trips to WDW, as well as combated time zone changes and the vagrancies of vacation tiredness and bugs while away.
Until next time, take care everyone… your mate down under, Luke (o:3