Trip Overview – Thoughts & Observations:
Below are some overview thoughts & observations as well as a run down of what popped to mind as being new. Be sure to check out the daily reports for more thoughts/observations from that particular day as I roamed the parks and resorts.
- This trip marked my 30th trip to Walt Disney World starting with my first back in 1981. I have managed to stay at 17 Disney Resorts.
- This trip was my first to the Boardwalk Resort. The Boardwalk Resort was nice. I am not sure what it is but it just does not have the same feel to it as the Yacht and Beach Clubs or some of the other Deluxe Resorts. It feels more laid back to me and less formal. I think the huge positive to the Boardwalk is its relatively small size in terms of number of rooms and its location. I never found the bus to be over crowded and even with all the activity at the Boardwalk a few steps away the rooms always seemed quiet.
- I had not realized it but it had been 9 years since my last stay in the Epcot Resort area too. I have always liked this area because of the short walk to Epcot through the International Gateway and the relatively short walk or boat ride to the Studios. The other destinations are all bus trips which can be long since the buses are shared among several resorts (Swan, Dolphin, Yacht, Beach, and Boardwalk for some routes, or two or three for others).
- This was my first time staying in a Disney Vacation Club Villa. We had a one bedroom villa on the first floor. We were the second to last room which meant a decent hike from the lobby, but the walk from the Boardwalk or out the back door to the Swan was not bad at all. I joked we were closer to the Swan bus stop than the Boardwalk. The room itself was quite large with a lot of square footage. The extra space was great and came in handy when I came down with a cold and for visiting friends and relatives.
- I thought the room itself was showing a lot of wear and tear. I found myself unfairly comparing it to Aulani since that was my only other DVC data point. Comparing a 1 year old resort to one in its second decade is not quite fair. Seems they learned some lessons and little things like no springs on the pull out coach at Aulani were a vast improvement over the Boardwalk.
- Throughout the week I thought the crowds were on the mild side. As usually they spiked over the weekend and the Magic Kingdom was a bit crazy on the couple nights it did not host a Christmas Party. Since my objective was to relax and I did not have to visit a lot of attractions the crowds really did not play a role in any of my decisions. They just seemed to get in the way from time to time as I was trying to get somewhere.
- This was my first experience with the myMagic+ rollout. We took advantage of the test period and requested MagicBands and tried to use the myDisney Experience app. I also used Fastpass+ once. There were three people in my immediate group and out of the three of us one really had no use for the new program, the other thought it was helpful, and I fell somewhere in the middle.
- MagicBands – I found the bands to be on the annoying side to wear. I kept looking at it for the time which bothered me since I had to keep telling myself it was not a watch. Also I always felt awkward having to tap my wrist on things. Having my Annual Pass linked and room key on the band did save a little bit of looking in a wallet but it is so natural for me I do not feel that it saved me much effort or time. If you have a purse or bag or are dealing with kids (none of which applied to me) I could see them being helpful.
- myDisney Experience App – I had the app installed and ready to go before our trip. I thought it was great to be able to see all my reservations in one spot (I really enjoyed it back in April when I saw that trip, my Aulani trip and this WDW trip). I found the app a bit on the clunky side to use. It seemed to take me a lot of clicks to get to what I wanted and simple things like linking a ticket or looking up a wait time took much longer than I had anticipated.
- Fastpass+ is Disney’s new service where you can make your Fastpass reservations online and no need to visit the attraction. I found this process to be very limiting and not clearly laid out. What I mean for this is you are limited to three Fastpass+ experiences per day and you have to have all three in the same park. Also through trial and error it seems they have groups attractions, shows, etc.. and you can only have a certain mix of each I never did see this defined anywhere. For example you cannot just have attractions, it seemed could have Soarin or Test Track, not both for example. Also no duplicates. So if you visit an attraction in the morning and try for another Fastpass for the same attraction you were out of luck. Lastly you could not pick your times on the first pass through. You pick the experiences/attractions and then it presents you with three choices. After accepting one you can then go in and try to modify times but this takes time and clicks. I tried to use the service several times through the app and on a couple of occasions got frustrated midway and walked away.. for example at the Magic Kingdom I was in Liberty Square and wanted to get one for the Jingle Cruise later in the morning. After several attempts and much more time than it would have taken to walk over I was only being given the choice of afternoon returns. I gathered everyones tickets and walked over and got an old fashion Fastpass for about 30 minutes from the current time. I wasted probably 15 trying to do it online vs the couple minute walk over to the attraction. At Animal Kingdom I witnessed an interesting phenomenon. Several times the return time for the Safari was right around the current time, once even a few minutes before. So you could get a traditional Fastpass and walk right in, skipping the Standby line. Another side effect of Fastpass+ was a slower return process as each guest had to scan their MagicBand which takes time and of course had glitches. So the return queues for some attractions were extended. I had read online that in the weeks after they were going to be disabling the traditional Fastpass machines so seems Fastpass+ is going to be the only option in the future. There were several kiosks set up around the parks for those that did not have Smartphones or needed help. I did have one successful interaction. On the last day a member of our group made a Fastpass+ reservation for the Safari as we were on the bus to the park. This saved us quite a few steps and meant we could linger more as we walked through the Oasis and Discovery Island.
- It will be interesting to watch how the myMagic+ system evolves. Right now it seems to be very labor intensive and I find it hard to believe that it is generating enough extra revenue to justify all those man hours each day to support the system, ignoring the large investment in infrastructure, etc.. It will be really interesting in say 10 years to see how the Disney California Adventure investment vs the myMagic+ one fairs.
- Speaking of Smartphones the wi-fi throughout the parks seemed much better than previous visits. At times it became spotty or slow but overall it was a great improvement and much better than regular cell service, especially compared to Disneyland and the black hole the park becomes as the crowds descend.
- I thought the Holiday offerings and decorations were about on par with my last December visit in 2011. There was not much in terms of new. The Holiday Voyageurs in Canada pop to mind as the biggest change. While I enjoyed their set I still missed Off Kilter. At the Magic Kingdom the new areas of Fantasyland had some decorations but nothing over the top or that noteworthy. The Art of Animation Resort had some decorations and I thought the artwork on them was a great touch. The other resorts seemed to be decorated more or less the same with very little change. The Boardwalk had a new gingerbread display this year but it was basically a store and while well done was not that impressive to me compared to displays of the past. This year I thought the Beach Club had the most interesting/best display with the carrousel as well as several other displays around it. Also I thought the chocolate display at the Swan was well done. I was expecting more from the Grand Floridian, it seemed to be the same structure with just some minor details customized this year.
- I was unlucky again in terms of a Limited Time Magic offering. This trip it was Duffy’s Secret Santa Celebration, which was really just character meet and greet and at each one you got a card. I did not participate in this. Overall I was really disappointed with the Limited Time Magic events. Disneyland had a handful that I thought were interesting but most were not at both WDW and Disneyland.
New Since my last trip – A run down of some of the changes since my last trip.
- Magic Kingdom – Starbucks has opened in the Main Street Bakery and again it is basically a giant queue. I thought the implementation at the Disneyland Market House was better than both the new ones at WDW. The Book Rest as well as other details put it ahead to me, even though the main focus is still the queue at least there is more there. Over in Fantasyland work continues on the Dwarfs Mine Train.. maybe by my next trip it will be done. A couple small areas had opened, a fruit stand as well as the DVC kiosk. The DVC kiosk had a lot of details. The Princess Fairytale Hall has also opened but I did not visit them this trip.
- Epcot had two new changes.. the restrooms by the American Adventure and Starbucks taking over the Fountain View Cafe. The restrooms were impressive in size as well as some details. Not quite on par with the detail of the Tangled ones over at the Magic Kingdom but still impressive for restrooms. Also this will definitely improve the area as the smaller ones on the side of the building caused huge lines. The new Fountain View was disappointing to me. It was really just a large queue. The fountains are behind you the entire time and there are no more tables to sit and relax at and watch the fountains. In World Showcase the big changes were in Norway as Frozen has moved in with a popular Meet and Greet taking over part of a store and the queue for it part of the courtyard. The church now houses an exhibit featuring some of the items and scenes that inspired the film.
- The Hollywood Studios – I only spent part of one afternoon there.. but in my brief tour nothing too drastic has changed. No new attractions. The afternoon parade has ended its run.
- Animal Kingdom – Nothing substantial has changed yet. The Adventurers Outpost has opened, this is a Meet and Greet for Mickey and Minnie on Discovery Island. I walked around the outside but did not wait to go inside and get pictures. Construction is underway and what looked to be an after hours test/proof of concept was going on too. In January the Festival of the Lion King Closes to move to its new home so 2014 will mark the start of changes. Also Camp Minnie Mickey is going to be closing to make way for Avatarland.
- Glow with the Show Ears have arrived at WDW. The reaction seemed to be similar to what I have observed in Anaheim. You see groups/small pockets of the ears but they have not really caught on. I did not attend Fantasmic but from what I saw at the Osborne Lights and over at the Magic Kingdom they did not seem that widespread.
- Downtown Disney – The Disney Springs construction is underway. Nothing is completed yet just a lot of work going on. I wanted to try out the food trucks that were brought in but they were not open when I visited.
- Resorts – The Villas at the Grand Floridian have opened. I did not get to see a room, but walked through the lobby and around the building. I thought the lobby area was well done but it felt odd to me and there were a lot of cast members around. I cannot put my finger on it but it just did not feel welcoming to me. The building itself I think looks like a giant box sitting on the shore of the Seven Seas Lagoon. It does not have the detail and same feeling as the original buildings. It seems much larger and boxlike to me. As you saw in the pictures work has begun on the Villas at the Polynesian, should be interesting what those look like. The other big change has been to the resort mug refills. The new system is called Rapid Fill and features RFID on the mugs/cups so your refills are verified and limited. I did not purchase one so no first hand experience to share.
- Transportation – The big news here is the Magic Kingdom bus stop expansion is nearly complete and was open. This spread out the resort buses and the Park to Park buses are said to be moving here soon so no need to go out to the TTC to go to another park. Disney has put several larger, double length, articulating buses into service. They were running from the Magic Kingdom to Pop Century and Art of Animation. I went for a ride on one and the new buses seem to have a lot more standing room and be designed to fit many more guests. I did not ride at park closing so I did not get to see that in action, when I rode there were only a handful of guests inside.
For pictures, video, and more thoughts/observations from this trip be sure to visit the trip summary page.