Trip Report - a Tale of Two Disneys
OK, here goes with my first trip report - apologies in advance if it’s a bit long but hey, we all like reading these things don’t we?! And please check out my select photos in the Photo Gallery (trust me, there were an awful lot more, many of which will hopefully turn up on my website).
A bit of background first - I’d always wanted to go to Walt Disney World (or Disneyland - as a child who knew or cared what the difference was?) but it was never going to happen. Finally, in 1996 I made my first trip to Disneyland Paris and I’ve been back 4 times since then, the last time being November 2003. With the exception of my first trip, I’ve always been with my sister Susanne. Anyhow, last October we finally took the plunge and booked our first holiday to Walt Disney World - even booking just over a year in advance we got the last two seats on the plane! As I write this report I’ll try and compare the two resorts - just in case any of you are thinking of popping over to Paris!
We’ve always stayed at resort hotels at Disneyland Paris - one time we were even lucky enough to be upgraded to the Disneyland Hotel (think the Grand Floridian, albeit on a smaller scale). With the exception of the self-catering campsite, all the hotels at DLRP are within easy walking distance of the theme parks, although there are also free shuttle buses laid on. The Disneyland Hotel is actually situated at the gates of Disneyland Park (there are two parks there - Disneyland Park is the equivalent of the Magic Kingdom. Walt Disney Studios Park is, you guessed it, like MGM -except much, much smaller. It’s only a few years old and is very definitely a work in progress…). Anyhow, this time we decided to stay off-site. There were two main reasons for this, firstly financial and secondly, we were going without a car and wanted to stay somewhere that had free transport to Universal and Sea-World. So we settled on the La Quinta Inn Lakeside which had a shuttle service to all the main theme parks.
Fast forward a year (which, to be fair, actually seemed to go by relatively quickly) and we’re finally on our way. Except the plane was delayed by an hour, not the best start. It’s an 8 ½ hour flight from London Gatwick to Orlando International (time enough to watch THREE films on the flight!). Needless to say, it wasn’t the quietest flight I’ve ever been on - shouldn’t all those children have been in school?! Anyway, we finally arrived at the hotel around 8.00pm, ventured to the bar for a quick drink and then collapsed!
Now, whilst I’d bought pretty much every guidebook available, we hadn’t exactly done much planning - no priority seating etc (I tried calling once to arrange a Fantasmic dinner package but was stuck on hold and gave up). Anyhow, I’d worked out a daily itinerary based on which days the books reckoned were the quietest at each park but that was pretty much the extent of my planning. My one concern was how reliable the free buses would be - would they come on time? Would there be room for everyone? We’d brought plenty of money to put aside for taxis, just in case.
Day 1 (Sun Nov 7th)
First stop: MGM! The timetable for the buses was not great - the earliest bus (to the TTC) was at 8.30am, then there were various buses to the other parks throughout the morning. Of course, we ended up getting the first bus every day and then transferring to the other parks and I guess that’s what most other people were doing to. Our hotel was first on the pick-up list so we were always lucky enough to get a seat but it was standing room only by the end of the route. But the buses always came on time, and it was rare for people to be turned away (I believe they called for a back-up if the first bus was full) so all in all I can’t complain about the service at all.
So, we catch the Disney bus out to MGM and as we get nearer I see this tall building rising up to the sky - yikes! Presumably that’s the Tower of Terror. Now, I’ve been on plenty of roller-coasters before but I’ve never been on a ride where you’re dropped so this would be a new experience for me. We headed there first, and maybe had to wait about 10 mins in line (I would definitely recommend visiting the parks at this time of year, we walked on to many of the rides and most others we only to wait around 10-15 minutes). We were both a little nervous about this one - the build-up to the actual drop is so atmospheric, and we were both surprised when the ride actually moved forward before you get to the drop, it just threw us a bit. And the ride itself? Great fun! Although it’s a shame there aren’t arm-rests to hang on to….
Next stop was the Rock’N’Rollercoaster Ride, which we’ve done countless times before at DLRP. The pre-show is different in Paris - the video clip shows Aerosmith looking at a model of the roller coaster, from a story point of view the American version is more fun. The ride itself is pretty much the same although the scenery is more distinct at WDW. For the sheer novelty value of travelling through a giant donut, I’ll give the nod to the US version.
We were debating whether to get a Fastpass for the Voyage of the Little Mermaid, decided just to queue anyway and ended up walking straight into just as a show was about to start. I was a little disappointed with this - not the show itself as such, just the fact that it skipped through so much of the story-line. Does the CM playing Eric have the easiest job at the Park or what? There’s a similar show at DLRP called Animagique, which is about 20 mins long and features songs from a variety of movies (The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, Dumbo etc) and in opinion this is far superior.
Just a quick note about meeting characters - in DLRP you only queue for the most popular characters, Mickey and Winnie the Pooh. I can understand that with the sheer volume of guests at WDW it makes sense to have a queue but given that in DLRP you can’t walk 5 steps without falling over a chipmunk, it seemed so strange to see people actually having to queue to meet them!
We got in the queue for the Great Movie Tour but it broke down just as we were within sight of the doors so next stop was the Muppet Vision 3D. Come on, who doesn’t love the Muppets? Mind you, we found the shop almost as much fun as the show - great to see the Fraggles making a comeback too.
We had lunch at the Sci-Fi Diner - highly recommended. We were slightly worried when we got our first glimpse at the menu as Susanne’s vegetarian but our server said no problem, they could do a vegetarian burger. Which is great, but if it’s a readily available option why not put it on the menu to save confusion?
By the time we’d had lunch we were ready to stake out a spot for the parade - once that had finished (and I’d survived my close encounter with Darth Vader, one of the risks you take with a video camera) we hopped on to Star Tours - just the same as in France, although at least we got to hear the full script in English this time.
Then to the Back-Lot Studio Tour, which is also a feature at Walt Disney Studios in Paris. I think in this instance I reckon France has the best version. It has two large set pieces, from Dinotopia and Reign of Fire, and Catastrophe Canyon is slightly more impressive too - not only the tanker explode, before being doused, it also starts sliding down the canyon towards the Guests. Un less I blinked and missed it, this doesn’t happen at MGM, does it?
Next stop Beauty & The Beast and our first unpleasant encounter at WDW….turkey legs! Sorry if I’m offending anyone by attacking a grand Disney tradition but ugh! We ended up sitting next to this little old lady eating what looked like something from the Flintstones! Like I said, my sister’s vegetarian but I’m a great meat eater and even I couldn’t bear the sight (or smell) of it. We spent the rest of our holiday rushing past every Turkey Leg stand we came across, although I have to admit I never saw another one as huge as that lady was eating! Loved the show anyway, although I think the “you’ll believe you’re on Broadway” is a slight exaggeration! I saw the show on the West End and it’s just a teeny bit different…
Finally, we joined the rush to grab good seats for Fantasmic and actually ended up sitting right at the front (who needed that dinner package eh?). What a wonderful show - we would have loved to have seen it again but too much effort involved in staking those seats out in advance. Still, I’ve videotaped it so can watch again whenever. We were slightly concerned at the huge amount of ash left only a metre or so ahead of our seats though…
The free bus from MGM didn’t leave until 9.40 (bit strange when the park closed at 8pm) so we hopped on a Friendship and headed for Epcot. We arrived just in time to see Illuminations (albeit not in the greatest spot - behind a large tree near the fish & chip shop!) and them wandered out in time to catch the Epcot bus at 9.50. Any reservations I’d had about staying off-site disappeared as we watched the masses of people waiting to get on their buses back to the Disney hotels - that first evening I reckon there were 10 of us on our bus!
OK, that’s it for day 1 - I think we managed to fit quite a lot in, wouldn’t you agree? :lol: