Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Thoughts upon returning from a short vacation at Disney World

Reviewing the various features and foibles of Disney World is a full time job for an army of bloggers and review sites. Though this is just a single breath in a veritable hurricane of writing on the internet, it is my breath.

We went for just 3 days. My children are 9 and 13 as of this writing and had a wonderful time. It's not necessary or even enjoyable to spend a full week there.  You run out of steam and blister bandaids too quickly. Especially with smaller kids, a couple of days is plenty and take them again in a couple of years instead of blowing all your dough in one huge vacation that they will be too tired to enjoy.

We stayed in the park for the first time this time. Previous visits we've rented a small house somewhere nearby and driven in (and saved THOUSANDS of dollars). Disney runs the best managed and accessible parking lots in world. Do not be afraid to drive in, you will not be delayed. We stayed at the lower tier "resort" The Art Of Animation. I was not initially filled with love and happiness when I first got a look at the industrial big square box buildings with a few lion sketches on the side and a couple of decorations on the endcaps. but they are really OK. The room we had was very nice, with a sofabed and a Murphy bed for the kids in the main room and a separate master bedroom and bath for us to actually close the door and get some sleep. If you're staying in the hotel to make use of "extra magic hours" make sure they actually fit into your schedule. The parks we were visiting never overlapped with an extra magic hour that we could actually visit, so that was a wash.

There is no good way to unload your luggage at these resorts. There are bellhops with trollies at the main checkin but not enough of them and you'll wait for a long time. Or you'll carry your own which is what we did. The parking is very close to some of the buildings, and very far away from others. There is no door to the building facing it either. You pretty much have to walk all the way around to get to the elevators, or use the stairs. Your wristband wont open the doors by the stairs though even if you wanted to use them until you've used it to open your room door which unlocks it for other uses. So you have to walk around to the main entrance which is in the middle of the complex of buildings at least the first time.

I must take a moment and talk about the toilets installed in this hotel. They are obviously air pressure driven and are the loudest flushing toilets I have ever encountered in my life. The first few times you flush them they will make you jump, it takes getting used to. You can also hear every other person in your side of the building when they flush, just as I'm sure everyone could hear you. The volume level is truly impressive. I would also hang onto small children if they are standing nearby when you flush else they be sucked down. These are powerful turbo-charged toilets.

Food service at the hotel was adequate. Disney does everything as good as can possibly be done, and even they can only do just better than passable food service on this scale. The food was not bad, but it was impossible to get your tray and your kids tray definitely from another separate line through checkout and to a table while your food was still warm.

If you buy into the food service plan do the research ahead of time and know what you get and get it before reaching the register. If you're lucky enough to have a cashier that knows what you're entitled to you'll end up going back to get a different drink or another pack of grapes or carrots or a dessert. If you're cashier doesn't know then you just wont get those things that meal. In either case you'll be unhappy.

We also bought the infinitely refillable cups which were a waste of money. They can only be refilled at the resort that you're staying at, there is no point in carrying them to the parks with you as they wont work there. So we bought them and used them the first night we were there. Then the next morning we didn't carry them with us to breakfast because we were going to the parks without returning to the room which is what we then did the rest of our visit. I believe I used them 3 times while we were there. Not worth the money unless you are going to be hanging around the pool at the resort a lot or are willing to walk from your hotel building over to the cafeteria a lot, which can be quite a little walk. After coming back from the parks and taking off my aching shoes the last thing I wanted to do was walk back to the cafeteria to get soda, we just got ice from the ice machine down the hall and had nice cold water.

The cups are interesting from a technological standpoint. They have an RFID chip in the base that has to be programmed or read from the register. There is a reader under every single spigot in the pop dispensers and you have to set it down and wait a heartbeat before you try to fill it. That way there is no black market in used cups as they are programmed only to work while you're there. But nobody really explains how to use them and that you have to set them down, I watched many frustrated people holding them under the spigot and nothing would work till you set them down. Disney is going all RFID for everything and it's not going completely smoothly yet. I'll take the chip out of my cup soon and post some takeapart picts to try to figure out just what the system is based on.

We got "Magic Bands!" which are a cool idea, no more being afraid of losing your card, they easily stay around your wrist (but you'll keep looking at them trying to find the watch face to tell you what time it is, now THAT would be an upgrade to them :) When they say "near" field what they really mean is touching. the range on them is such that if you even press them a little out of perfectly on the front of the sensor they dont work. At least on your hotel door, other readers at the park may be higher power. The absolute best use of this technology is when you combine it with being able to schedule your fast passes on the iPhone app before you even get to the park. This is so fantastic I can't even rave about it enough. Schedule your visits to the 3 biggest rides you want to see before you even leave for the park, or better yet if it's something like soarin do it the day before. At 10am there was already a 2 hour wait in the standby line for soaring the day we were there. We walked right on with a scheduled visit. I really think that the technology is there to schedule more and more of the visits and reduce the walk in line considerably. This would be great, standing in line sucks, just tell me when to come back thats fine. I don't understand why every person in the park isn't doing this.

We visited Blizzard Beach the first day there, then spent that evening at Hollywood Studios because there were only a couple of things we wanted to see there (hello, fast pass!) The second day we spent at epcot and lastly at the Magic Kingdom and that evening did Mickey's not so scary halloween party which is fantastic but you have to book 6 months or more in advance if you want to get in. They sell out regularly now.

At Blizzard Beach the first day we managed to get our first and only minor injury of the trip. My daughter managed to fall off her float on the lazy river and scrape her hand up pretty good trying to hold onto the side. There is an application for nano tech out there somewhere for someone to invest a coating for the bottom and sides of swimming pools so that you have some traction but not so that it rips up your hands and the bottom of your feet while you're playing in it. In any case the very sympathetic life guard handed us a couple of bandaids and we were back on our way. (I think he was glad she hadn't hit her head as he told of witnessing several such events, probably the most dangerous ride at the park because people try to stop themselves and the tubes want to keep going and they flip over into the side of the embankment!)

Epcot has some great stuff too, but it's a LOT more walking than any of the other parks. Epcot though serves beer for just walking around. Which is great in theory, but it means that older "children" end up there behaving like "children" sometimes too which is never pretty.

Our only real negative was trying to find a space around the halloween parade route. Disney has adult fans so rabid that they wont step back 2 feet and let your kids sit on the ground in front of them. So my kids can't see as grownups without any children in tow snap flash pictures in the dark that will never come out of chip and dale dancing to "this is halloween" really people. You could see over my kids, my kids can't see over you. We've had to work around people like this at every parade at Disney that we've ever been too. Thats not to say that we've not met hundreds of perfectly nice and happy to help out or move over people too, but it's the jerks that you remember.

The new Fantasy land in the Magic Kingdom wasn't finished yet, they are still building the new dark ride, I think based on snow white? but the new Little Mermaid rid was up and running and was definitely worth the walk around the back of the new area. The animatronics have made huge leaps and it's amazing stuff. Ariel even had animated hair so that it looked like it was floating around under water. A little bit freaky but just so cool. I felt the ride was a little rushed though, it could have run slower and let us enjoy the details a bit more. It also felt a little sterile to me, there wasn't as much detail to see and it was all very brightly lit. I suppose it will gather details and upgrades over the years, but it's still definitely worth the trip. I think it could have used one more story setting, it went right from Ursela using her voice to woo Eric to the real Ariel's wedding scene. I would have loved to see Eric empaling Ursela on the sailing ship, but I suppose that would be too dark even for a dark ride? In any case, it was a great new ride and you should go on it (unlike the nemo mini-ride they built into the sea, that is totally lame)

The haunted mansion has undergone some updates. Some interactive things to play on in the queue are there now and I think a welcome improvement. The insides as well seem to have been constantly updated and replaced over the years, everything is still there but there is more and more to see. I love it. Same with Pirates which has lost some of it's rather overt movie themeing. Capt Jack is still all over, but the mist screen with the nasty from the movie right before the initial fall is gone (or wasn't working when we were there) making it more like it was prior which I liked better.

Disney theme parks are awesome. Take your children for a couple of days, not when they are too little or they wont like the dark rides and loud noises. (bring earplugs for anyone who might be startled! It makes a huge difference in their enjoyment) Take them back to the hotel in the heat of the afternoon and come back in the evening after you've rested up. Even if you hate corporate Disney and the stupid that is the Disney Channel and the stupid that is Disney sponsored tween targeted rock and roll. The parks are wonderful.

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