holy c**p am I long winded today!
Just got back two nights ago from a much-anticipated trip to WDW. In terms of Disney World itself, that is, things that they had control over, the trip was very good save for a few items that I'll detail here in a moment. In terms of how the trip went as a whole, it was probably on the lower end. Let me explain.
Last Christmas (2010) a lot of the commercials for WDW featured the surprise announcement home videos.
Unseen adult: "We're going to WDW!"
So, we felt inspired to do the same. We had promised our kids that we would go back when my daughter turned 5 after our last trip in 2007. We made the reservations, planned everything the best we could while keeping it a secret from the kids. My father in law said at the time he'd be surprised if we made it 2 weeks without spilling the beans. My wife nearly blew it one day when she was talking to someone on the phone and forgot that the kids were in the back seat. But some quick thinking on her part saved the day and did something we didn't expect. She explained that we were planning on going after school was over because we wouldn't take them out of school to go someplace like that (she's an Assistant Principle). That little tap dance allowed us to talk to the kids about what they wanted to do at WDW without blowing the secret. It also made it much easier to keep a lid on the surprise.
So, time passed and I was getting excited about it, listening to the podcasts, seeing what was going on as we were going to be there the week before Christmas until the 26th. Planning was going well. We even got all the Christmas gifts we weren't bringing wrapped ahead of time and placed under the tree by a couple of Santa's helpers. Everything was set. We were going to Orlando to see some friends that they (the kids) couldn't remember because it had been a while.
We flew down and got off the plane. We passed the Earport and said maybe we would stop in there on the way home. We got downstairs at the airport to the Magical Express area and acted confused about where we were supposed to go. I suggested we sit down and look at our planner to double check. The kids sat down, annoyed by the confusion. So with the bus almost ready to go, we then told them what the real deal was. They were excited, but the reaction was a bit more reserved than what was in the commercials. Then my niece got upset that she'd be missing her school Christmas party. But once we told them we had to go get on the bus right then, everyone's mood brightened and turned to excitement when we got on the bus and my wife gave them autograph books she made on blurb.com.
So far, so great. Check in was a breeze. Almost immediately after, my father-in-law was visibly shaking with chills and getting pale. He was sick for the next two days. Then my daughter came down with a double ear infection, then my wife got a sinus infection and my mother-in-law rounded out the medical catastrophe by aggravating a knee injury, all of which sidelined the affected for a minimum of two days, two days of prime, non-weekend days to accomplish stuff while crowds were lower. Oy. Maybe that could be a podcast episode suggestion: Things to do in WDW while your family is hurling. My wife took herself and my daughter to an urgent care place and the wait was 3 hours.
So, of the ten days we were there, I believe that all seven of us were ambulatory participants for 2-3 days total. At least my son, niece and I survived the outbreak. But none of that was in Disney's control, so I can't dock any points from them for our health.
However, there are a few things I had issues with that were. Now, I am not a Disney basher, I love going to WDW. But these are three glaring things that, in my mind, are significant problems that could be easily or if not easily, eventually corrected if they take their eye off the bottom line for a moment.
1. Cacophony: I noticed this some on our last trip, but thought maybe it was just my frame of mind at the time or something, but no. WDW has become ridiculously loud. It is to the point where it seemed like the imaginears goal was to assault me with as much volume as possible. Everything seemed to be shouting for attention. I don't expect it to be as quiet, serene park in the country, I know it's going to me noisy, but does the 11pm Electrical Light Parade (or almost any parade) music really need to be played at 90-100 decibels? Ride-wise, I found the Winnie the Pooh ride to be so muddled by all the sound, it was difficult to understand what was going on. The background music overpowers the character dialogue to the point you almost can't hear them at all. It's just not in the spirit of the story at all. Just blast the music and hope the visuals are enough to tie it together. Even its a small world is creeping that way. My daughter cried because the sound on WTP and during parades and was nearly so at Fantasmic. Just dial it back some, guys. Not way, way back, but just to more comfortable levels.
2. Crowd control: We were in the Magic Kingdom Christmas Eve. We expected a huge crowd and we got it. We were in fantasyland and realized that given the crowd, we should probably head to Main Street soon to see the later parade. We went through Tomorrowland and were near the bridge to the hub when the fireworks started. We were stuck behind those big rocks at the entrance to tomorrowland so we really couldn't see much of them. Fortunately, we had seen them already, so we were patient about it. But they weren't letting people cross the bridge during the fireworks. Ok, maybe somehow that makes sense. I'm not sure how, but I'm no expert on running a park like this.
The fireworks end and people are packed in tightly to the area, expecting to go across the bridge to leave. But they can't. For whatever reason, the bridge remains closed, so everyone is trying to get out through the Tomorrowland Terrace path. Guess how well that works with thousands of people trying to do it at once. From where I was standing, I could see at least four Cast Members at the side entrances of the bridge waving those airplane-directional lights in the air, each in a different direction. It made no sense at all to anyone. Eventually, they opened the bridge and it relieved the pressure some. The crowd moved toward the Hub and quickly filled the garden pathways and streets because people at the end of the paths were blocking the exit because they were crowded in trying to see the Christmas stage show. So, after building frustration in Tomorrowland, the additional frustration of not being able to exit grew, which of course led to the Masters-of-the-Universe type guys to think they would show everyone how to get through it by just barging through, thinking they can solve the problem. Of course it didn't and just added to the irritation.
By now the crowd behind me is loudly chanting for the people on Main Street to move, but they have nowhere to go either. The stage show ends and cast members have opened some backstage paths to the front of the park, relieving some of the pressure, so the crowd starts moving and dolts are trying to make their way against the tide coming toward them and not getting why they are having such trouble getting through. But we're not through! The castle projection show is about to start!
What happens when you put together a huge, frustrated, unmoving crowd, then give them avenues to exit? A rush, right? Ok folks, just to make the night MORE fun lets...turn out all of the lights!!! Oh, the fun, frolic and pain! A guy in a wheelchair ran over my foot (right over the toes that had blisters, too), kids suddenly couldn't find parents to tend to their rib injuries from passers-by's knees (ok, that was over the top, but you see what I mean), it was a blast! To be fair, they did announce that the lights would be "dimmed" (their word for turned completely off) during the projection show and to stay in place for the safety of others. That wasn't going to happen with this crowd, though. We took shelter in one of the stores.
So, my point in all this is that there didn't seem to be any adjustments made except for opening the backstage hallways. Despite the complaint I had in the first section, the cast members were limited to yelling over the din and music and futily waving their lights in the air. Was there no one in power to listen to the front lines and say "We have to wait a few minutes on the projection show, we have dangerous crowd levels at the top of main street, putting them in the dark could be tragic." I think if you came on the powerful sound system and asked for everyone's patience and that the show would start when the crowd leaving had lessened, no one would be too upset. I know there's a schedule to keep, but safety first.
I spent more time on that than originally intended, so suffice it to say that it also doesn't seem ideal to leave strollers in the path on the way out of Fantasmic, though that's far less a problem than above.
My thought is that they need to make it easier to leave when it's crowded and there are lots of events going on on Main Street. It's a scary feeling that your kids could get pulled away from you quickly and easily by the crowd such that you could literally lose sight of them, not to mention get trampled. You might think it wasn't wise to head for Main Street when we did, and you'd be right, but we got caught in the crowd in Tomorrowland without realizing how deep we were because it happened so fast.
3. Photopass: Photopass is a decent system for getting photos taken. It makes it easy to be sure you get important photos taken by people who know what they are doing. My problem here is the marketing. Disney makes it seem as if their photographers will all take those awesome high-quality, perfect depth of field shots you see on the Disney website. But that isn't what you get. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying any of those photographers do a bad job, but I'm just hobbyist with inferior equipment to theirs and my shots look about the same. It just seems like there should be some "magical" quality about their shots that I can't achieve to make it more worthwhile to me, and I'm not talking about inserting character overlays in the shot, I'm just talking about the quality of the shot, either in it's technical quality or emotional quality.
Further, they've added the photos from the rides to Photopass rather awkwardly and confusingly...wait, I can or can't put this on Photopass, but only if I pay how much? But the others are free, sorta... It's also mildly annoying to make it seem like you MUST get a photo to enter a character meal so that you, too, can be made to feel uncomfortable declining an overpriced snapshot in front of others while trying to enjoy your meal.
I will give respect to the photographer with Cinderella (and gang) in Fantasyland at the last Very Merry Christmas Party, more on that in a moment.
4. The Dining Plan: I'm sure this has been debated ad nauseum here, so I'm not going to get into the plan itself being good bad or indifferent. My issue here is figuring out the receipts they give you. It is maddening if you try to figure it out based on the receipt. I was usually in a party of 7, so we expected the included tip, but then it got confusing where there was a separate receipt for something, but we were charged for the meal on this reciept (with prices), charged again for this (with no prices)? And do we have to pay cash or charge to the room the tip or just what we want to pay over the tip printed here. BTW, it doesn't look like the right number of meals remaining is on here...URRRRRGH! It's a gambit. If you're on the dining plan, the only thing you should have to concern yourself with is the tip and if you are in a larger party, if you want to give anything beyond the included tip. Simple.
But they make it excessively confusing. It really brought home how much we might be overspending when we were out of meals and had to pay almost $100 for two adults and two kids for the Character Breakfast Buffet at 1900 Park Fare at the Grand Floridian. The Eggs Benedict with lobster was awesome, I'll grant you. I know it's expensive and expected it, but that really opened my eyes. I also get a little annoyed when I notice that when I was a part of the larger party at a character breakfast or other buffet, that the automatic tip is for full service, and all the waiter/waitress does is pour drinks and bring the bill. But I'm getting nit-picky.
5. Why do many of the monorail cars smell funky?
6. Why don't they sell any Lithium AA batteries? My camera eats 4 Alkaline in a day plus.
Ok, that's a lot of bellyachin'. Like I said, I don't like to bash Disney when they do so many things well, but those are issues that are either important or easy to fix, if they choose.
So, speaking of doing well, here is that side of the coin:
1. Probably my biggest thumbs up has to go to the cast member playing Cinderella in Fantasyland on the night of the last Very Merry Christmas Party. My daughter was feeling a little overwhelmed by everything because we went to the Party on only our second night of our trip. We got to the front of the photo line and she saw Cinderella, but also saw the evil stepmother and Anastasia and Drizella, of whom she wanted no parts. When the photographer turned to us for our turn, my daughter started to back away and almost cried, saying she didn't want to do the photo (because of the bad girls).
Cinderella saw this and immediately made her way over to my daughter with a big smile, knelt down to talk to her, held her hand, spoke softly and asked her to come meet her step mother, the prince and her sisters, all of whom were also tuned in to my daughter's mood and very gracious and soft-spoken (the sisters in particular could be too loud for my daughter, they also moved unpredictably), but still in character. They (Cindy and my daughter) walked over and met everyone and posed for the photos and my daughter was thrilled. It's the kind of thing where no amount of reassurance from mom and dad would make her go over there, but Cinderella coming over and speaking softly at her eye level made all the difference. As mentioned earlier, the photographer also gets kudos for capturing when Cindy was greeting and talking to my little girl in a way I couldn't.
I'd say one of the biggest things that can affect a kid's experience with a character is for that cast member to not only occupy the costume and be friendly, but to play the character well. For instance, when we went in 2007, the cast member playing Stitch at the Ohana breakfast was terrific. He was playful, mischievous (putting his claw up my niece's nose when they posed for a photo, etc.), but not obnoxious and careful around my daughter who had just turned 1 at the time. This time, Stitch was nice, posed for photos and did nothing wrong, but the personality wasn't the same. Nothing wrong with that, per se, but it's more memorable when they are in character. Fortunately, Lilo was the one that was very animated and in character at that breakfast, too. Phineas and Ferb in DHS were both particularly good at this, as well. They gave my niece a sandwich of a hug together, and just before we left, he got my daughter's attention and pointed to himself, then made a heart shape with his fingers and then pointed at her. She was absolutely tickled to death by that gesture. I wished I had any idea it was coming. I'd love to have a photo or video of it, but it will have to remain in my memory, but it was special for her.
2. Housekeeping: Remember all the illness above? Yeah. That's why.
3. The Polynesian: It's the only hotel I've ever stayed at on-property. I hear some of the things people say about it online, etc. and I'm at a loss as to why it takes some of the hits it does. It's lush, tropical landscaping, nice rooms, convenience etc. The only thing I can figure people would object to is the overuse of the color dark brown, but otherwise, it's a beautiful and relaxing place, what's to complain about? Expensive? Sure, but worth it.
4. Magical Express: Worked perfectly and our driver from the airport to the resort was very entertaining.
5. Osbourne Family Dancing Christmas Lights: Spectacular! Really Really loud, but amazing. I love all the little gags here and there, like the Santa pulling the reindeer in the sleigh and the human-size nutcracker soldier grilling on the sidewalk, etc.
6. Getting the in-room Christmas celebration. You get a stuffed mickey, minnie, Christmas Mickey Mylar balloon, a signed photo of Mickey and Minnie (suitable for framing, of course), a ceramic Jim Shore snowman and a wrought iron "tree" with small lanterns and lights with Tinkerbell, a Santa cookie plate and hot chocolate mug, cookies and a Mickey blanket. We were concerned that we wouldn't get much because of some of the vague description, but it was surprisingly worthwhile.
Mickey's Jingle Jungle Parade
Toy Story Mania
Mexico in Epcot
Sum of all Thrills in Epcot
Not getting to Beaches and Cream for a Kitchen Sink
Taking my daughter on Space Mountain - It used to be basically a kiddie ride that got it's thrills from being in the dark, but now - WHOA! It pulls some Gs. I loved it! My 5 year old lovedlovedloved the part where you go fairly slowly through the blue lights, giggling all the way, but when it steps on the gas, she started screaming in terror. I felt so bad, especially because she was in a seat alone. She is NOT a fan anymore, even though she said she wanted to go. ;-)
Having to cancel our reservation at Cinderella's Royal Table because my daughter was sick.
Going to T. Rex after a long day. It's absolutely deafeningly loud in there and that's before the meteor shower. I didn't expect it to be quiet, but wow, loud.
Missed Splash Mountain
Missed Expedition Everest
Missed the Candlelight Processional
If you read all of this, thanks!
holy c**p am I long winded today!
I'd see no point in going were that the case. Those are arguably three of the top five attractions on property.Missed Splash Mountain
Missed Expedition Everest
I so love a new spin on a trip report! Excellent! Thanks for Sharing.
For Our first Christmas at Disney a month before we all received our very first, ever flu shots.
Some people are like Slinkies.
They aren't really good for anything,
but they still bring a smile to my face when I push them down a flight of stairs.
Friends are Gods way of apologizing to us for our families.
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