My Disney and Universal passion started in 2011 when I was planning a trip for my wife’s (then girlfriend) first trip to the parks. This had to be perfect, as I was planning to propose. This had me go deep into the Walt Disney World websites, and fan sites to see what other people would suggest or have done. Add to that I had gone through a Travel Agent that helped pull off one of the best trips I ever had.
After our first trip, we wanted to try and make it an annual trip. Because of this, I would start to dig deeper into the planning. What were these after hour parties? There are mini golf courses on property? Who has the best steak? What is DVC? There’s more than Walt Disney World and Disneyland in the US? What’s HHN? Who knew Universal had their own hotels?
As time went on, it went from me getting suggestions from my travel agent to me just saying what we wanted. From the hotel rooms to the dining, I had everything planned, and started to find this hobby too much more enjoyable than I thought it would have been.
One trip a year went to two, and then three, and soon we were going about once a month. We never needed a reason to go, but we always found a way to get down there. What once was strictly WDW trips with Universal on the side, to Universal only trips. The love for all the parks in Orlando started to make its way to me. And the bug of planning only got worse.
As friends and families started to ask me about planning their trips with them, it was then I realized I should try and do this as a side job. I was connected with MTE Vacations/ My Travel Elf in 2015, and started my journey as a Disney and Universal focused Vacation planner.
That’s just a little about me, we are starting a new phase in life, where we will be starting to bring a child with us to the parks we love, and creating memories with him. As we take this journey, join me. I may not say too many new things, but it will be my honest opinion on all the things we see and experience.
The purpose of this blog isn’t going to be about the latest news of the parks, there are other sites that will copy and paste articles for that. This blog is going to be about mine and my friends thoughts on what is going on at the parks. Our thoughts about the news that has come out, how that news might effect you, and how to help you plan the best vacation you can have.
At the bottom of every article you will find a link to get in touch with the author, that way if you want them to plan your next vacation, or if you have any questions, you can reach out directly to them.
Picking up where I last left you, we had stayed in Magic Kingdom for New Years Eve. Usually, when you stay out until 3 am for New Years you want to sleep in, and that was the case for us, but we had to be up the next morning for the Dolphins in Depth Tour at Epcot. This was something we had both been looking forward to since we booked it.
The tour meets outside of Epcot, and they take you backstage after signing a few papers. Our main guide was Letty, an older lady that had worked in the Disney Reserve and came over to Dolphins in Depth. The tour it self took you back to the areas where they observe the Dolphins, and to the food preparation area. They took us to a “reserved” seating area for one of the study sessions. The castmembers repeated multiple times that if the dolphins didn’t want to participate then they wouldn’t be disciplined, as they want them to feel comfortable. The study session involved one of the dolphins coming to a trainer at one window and wait for the sign to go to another. That window would have an item that the dolphin would recognize and would in turn use a vocalization to tell us what it was, if he was right the trainer would whistle and we would clap, if wrong nothing would happen but the dolphin would still get a treat from another trainer. After we watched the study, we went back to the locker rooms to get changed into a wetsuit so that we could interact with the dolphins.
Once again it was mentioned that if they didn’t want to play then they wouldn’t be forced to, they stated it in all the times the tours have been offered, only twice had they not wanted to play.
This was the best part of the tour, we had about 45 minutes in the water with the dolphins. There were eight of us, so two groups of four and we both had time with two of the four dolphins. We started off by getting to know the dolphins and then followed it with a few pictures. Once the pictures were taken, the fun began, the trainers told us to do different signals and the dolphins would respond. In between tricks, the trainers told us some different information about each of the dolphins, and would occasionally make them splash us.
We made our way through Epcot to our lunch reservations once we were done with the tour. Le Cellier Steakhouse was our destination. We had never eaten at this restaurant (along with Yachtsman that we had that night), so it made for a great day. All the people that had told us about it had great reviews, and we looked forward to this meal. Both of us ordered steaks, like you do when you are at steakhouse, and enjoyed the atmosphere.
After our amazing meal, and a trip to the resort to catch up on sleep, we returned to Epcot and walked around the World Showcase for shopping. We made it to Japan, where we spent most of the time looking around. The plan was to eat at Yachtsman and then make our way back into the park so that we could see Illuminations with the Christmas tag and new lasers.
We left the park early enough so that we could have a nice stroll to the Yacht Club for our dinner at Yachtsman Steakhouse. Sitting down at the table our waitress, Lulu, seemed super busy, and almost to the point of bad service. She came by a couple times for the drinks and food order, but paid a lot of attention to the lager group sitting next to us. However once that group was done, our experience with Lulu changed. She was probably the best waitress we had. She was asking questions about our wedding, how our honeymoon was and why we chose to come to Disney, she even went so far to tell us about her wedding planning and engagement. While the food was excellent, the service was perfect.
After we finally left Yachtsman, I realized that our plan to see Illuminations was derailed as we saw that the show had already started, so we made our way to the buses to go back to our resort. We met some great families waiting in line and had a chance to talk and goof off a little with them. Friday had been planned to be our Hollywood Studios day, but we hopped on the friendship boat and made our way back over to the Beach Club resort for breakfast at Cape May. This is my favorite breakfast, only for the Mickey Waffles with whipped cream and chocolate chips. The characters and other food is also a great experience.
We decided to take the boat, probably should have walked, back to the Studios. Once in the park we saw the news that Disney had announced the Sorcerer Hat would start to come down starting that Monday, so naturally we had to get a few pictures with the hat in the background.
Our FastPasses were mainly that evening, the only one we had right away was Toy Story Midway Mannia, which Beth beat me at this time. We made our way to the Animation building for pictures with Sorcerer Mickey, Minnie, and Baymax and Hiro. We love to do the animation class, but the lines were long, so we passed on it this time.
Lunch was at the Brown Derby, and it was another first for us. I was honestly surprised by the size of the dinning area. It’s not as small as it looks, which of course is good. Once again our food was great and service was outstanding. We got in and out pretty quick. We headed back to the resort for another afternoon break, only after Beth found our Bride and Groom Mickey hat, that she just had to have for us. So we had them put our names and wedding date on them and left the park.
That evening we came back into the park and first picked up the hats, which I was obligated to wear in any and all pictures that were taken. Momma Melrose’s was our choice for dinner that night and we had always loved it. The hostess, Amber, was great and just talked to us enough for the wait for our table to fly by. After being seated, we found out this wasn’t going to be a great experience. Our waiter took our drink order and waited a long while before getting our food order, these were the only times he came to our table, well besides to bring us the check, on his own. We felt over looked and under appreciated. The food was amazing, service not so much.
With the platinum package we had gotten VIP seating for Fantasmic, and like always had the early show. We got in with perfect timing and got great seats. The show was on cue as usual and we noticed a couple of changes to the Evil Queen scene. They had given her and the old hag a new robe with lights, and the cauldron was lit up.
After making our way through the crowds, we headed back to Streets of America to see the Osborne Lights. Surprisingly the crowds weren’t too terrible back there. We walked around and found the black cat, and took a few videos and pictures. It’s just a beautiful scene and the snow just adds to it.
With the Hat’s removal announced, Photopass Photographers were all over the place, different angles were a great addition to our icon pictures. This also gave us an opportunity to talk to other guests about the removal and what they thought of it.
Our FastPasses were for Tower of Terror and Rock ‘N Rollercoaster. I absolutely hate the Tower. I’m not a free fall kind of guy, but Beth had never been on it, so we had to do it. The line wasn’t bad, but the nerves didn’t help any of it. I knew what to expect, but knew it wasn’t going to be fun for me. Of course they set us up in the front row, and Beth never let go of the side handle or my hand. It wasn’t as bad as I remember, but I still don’t care for it.
It was our first time on Rock ‘N Rollercoaster, every time before we had gotten sick or just wasn’t feeling it. The FastPass/Standby lines were moving a lot faster than the single rider, to the point of people complaining. I knew what to expect only in speed. But that ride was great! I can’t wait to do it again. The intent for Staurday was to stay out of the parks, and be in the resorts for the majority of the day. We started it with breakfast at 1900 Faire. Beth finally got a picture with Mad Hatter, the food was great and the character interaction was perfect.
Our next stop was to Senses Spa at Grand Floridian. It had been a few years since Beth had had a massage, and I had never had one. The platinum package included it, so we went for it. This spa is amazing, and that still can’t describe it. We were both escorted to the male and female lounge and locker room. Which had a very nice seating area, in the male at least, the locker room and showers were clean. After being picked up for the actual massage, my attendant made me feel very comfortable for my first experience. The massage lasted 50 minutes, and should have gone longer (I guess I should have paid more money).
After the massage I was taken back to the men’s lounge, I took some time in the spa room which had a steam room, hot tub, and two heated tiled chairs. Any in of these places, you instantly felt relaxed, even more so after the message. You are able to spend the whole day in the spa, but we chose to only spend about an hour in there before heading out.
We were so close to the Magic Kingdom, that we went on in to just walk around and get some pictures with characters and hit some rides up,after all it was our last full day in the World before the cruise. The crowds weren’t bad so we got to do what we wanted.
After a little shopping in the Emporium, we left to get ready for our dinner at Victoria and Albert’s, the dinner I was scared of, yet excited for. We looked really weird getting on a monorail in our nice dinner clothes, but why take the car when it was only a monorail ride away? The reservation was for 5, and we got there about 4:45. The hostess greeted each of us and made sure everyone was dressed appropriately, and a few minutes later came back and got each table and showed them to there seats.
The restaurant was very small, but very intimate. We had a wait staff of 2 people, both were very polite and very attentive. Our menus were personalized for us, including our names and “Happy Honeymoon” on them. While they do personalize the menu for all guests, Beth has a gluten allergy and I am just a picky eater, so they had called to ask what we would/could eat. A live harpist played pop and Disney songs throughout the dinner.
Beth had gotten the wine pairing with her meal, while I stuck with plain water. While I don’t remember everything we had, I know I tried it all, which is an accomplishment for me. The wait staff would bring out our dishes and tell us everything we needed, and didn’t need, to know about the preparation, and flavors of that dish. Three of my dishes were quail, duck and veal, all of which I had never had and was supposed to like. Beth had the duck for one of her courses and I cannot recall the rest of it. My dessert was chocolate with gold shavings in it, while Beth had the Crême brûlée, both were fantastic.
As we were getting ready to go, our wait staff came out and gave us a small bag that included a rose for Beth, a small loaf of bread from Babycakes, also for Beth, and our menus. They called us a cab as we were heading to downtown Disney for Cirque Du Soleil La Nouba.
La Nouba was an amazing show. We had seats about three rows from the stage, and were also included in our package. I would highly recommend this show good and easy, fun way to cap off a date night.
Sunday was our last day in Disney World before the cruise. We headed to Epcot after a breakfast at Chef Mickey’s. We had the Behind the Seeds Tour planned for late that morning. This tour is short, but very informative, telling you how Disney is growing the different plants in the land pavilion. It was just three people in our tour, so it went by fast and was extremely personable.
Our last meal was at Coral Reef. We have had mixed reviews over the past few years of us going to this restaurant, this wasn’t a good meal. We sat close to the aquarium, which was a great view, however the food and service was miserable, and I believe we have eaten there for the last time. So what do you think of our week in Disney? Is there any questions about what we did, or what you would have done different? Let us know!
This was an article I originally wrote in 2015 about our Walt Disney World Honeymoon Stay.
We arrived to the Contemporary Resort at Walt Disney World around 2 am on December 28. If we had made it during normal operating hours, we would have gotten to check in at the concierge desk in the Atrium Club, but we made due with our usually check in desk in the main Lobby. That just sounded snobby, sorry it was not ment to be that way.
Our first day in the parks was the 3rd anniversary to our engagement, that as you all know happened in Disney World. We originally planed on a Tusker House breakfast, but canceled that the night of the rehersal dinner, we decided that we may be to tired. This brought the opportunity to try out the free food offered at the Atrium level. There was nothing big, pastries and cereal with drinks.
We made our way to Animal Kingdom to hit Everest and The Safari, both didn’t have much of a wait and got on pretty fast. But didn’t stick around in the park to long as we had lunch reservations at Akershaus in Epcot. It should go to mention that I am a very picky eater, and most of these restaurants don’t have my taste in food, but I tried to find something I may like and at least tried it.
After lunch we walked a little around Epcot, only to find ourselves a little tired, so we made our way back to the hotel for a nap. It wasn’t a long nap, as we had to be at Magic Kingdom for our dinner at Cinderella’s Royal Table.
Beth was able to request the table where I had proposed to her, and we were lucky enough to have gotten that table. The service was amazing, the princesses were entertaining and the food was perfect. As much as we wanted to stay in the park and watch Wishes, we had the Fireworks cruise booked that night and had to be at the Grand Floridian pretty soon after dinner.
On this amazing cruise we had a driver named Kate. She was a part time worker for Disney and you could tell that she had a passion for what she was doing. I was expecting just a cruise around Seven Seas Lagoon to a nice spot to view the show, but instead Kate, and the rest of the drivers, took us on a tour of Bay Lake. Here she showed us the abandoned Discovery Island and River Country Parks, also the retirement shoe tree. All this was in the pitch black, and while she had a spot light, it didn’t make much of a difference. We could see the turn styles but nothing more.
We made our way back to the entrance of Magic Kingdom, this would be our place for viewing the Holiday Wishes. The music was transmitted over FM, so Kate was able to have the music synced for us while we watch the fireworks. Once Wishes was over we made our way back to Grand Flordian, where we had the best view of the Electrical Water Pageant, some this we had only seen in passing, but will make part of our ritual from now on. While dated, it’s still an amazing show.
Monday morning we had our first Disney behind the scenes tour, the Yultide Fantasy Tour. This tour was completely worthy our time and money. Ralph was our guide for this tour. We started by heading to the Germany pavilion in Epcot, then to Italy and finally to American. Each spot we got the history of that countries celebration and why they decorated the way they did. The next stop was Magic Kingdom, where we got a few tibits of the decoration of Main Street, but mostly the story of how Rudolph came about being a Christmas tradition.
We then made our way backstage to the Holiday Workshop. This is were all the decorations for Disney World and some for the Disney Cruise Line get put together and ready for the parks. While most of the Christmas decorations where already out in the parks and resorts, the workshop was working on the Fall Decorations that had just come in or making from scratch new ones to replace the older decorations.
The last stop on our tour was the Wilderness Lodge. This part was a more of an on your own tour. We had apple cider with the group and were then able to walk aboard the resort and enjoy the decorations and take pictures.
We were taken back to where we were picked up, Epcot, where we had reservations for Via Napoli with the Candlelight Processional package. As always, their food was amazing. I had to make my new wife mad and have the pizza, while she couldn’t because of a gluttien sensitivity.
We enjoyed epcot for a few hours before we made our was to the American Theater, including listening to my favorite Vocies of Liberty. If you haven’t taken the time to listen to this Acapella group, you need to do so on your next trip. They are a very talented group of people and always leave me wanting more.
Steven Curtis Chapman was the guest reader for our Candlelight Processional. This was only the second time hearing this wonderful program in Disney, our church choir performed it this year as well, and the way that Mr. Chapman brought the story forth was amazing. The choir and orchestra were also breath taking.
After hopping on the monorails, we arrived at the Polynesian Village Resort, which had just opened the newly remodeled lobby, for our dinner at Ohana. The lobby in my opinion is beautiful, of course it’s not the old water feature, but it has it’s perks. On the ground floor, looking through the lobby toward the Magic Kingdom, you get a view of Cinderella Castle. The Second floor feels more open as well as you have a few light fixtures hanging low.
After our first horrible experience at Ohana, the waiter paid us no attention, we barely got any meats the first time around, and no one came close to us for seconds, we made our way back to the hotel room, where we would take advantage of the evening desserts that had been placed out in the club lounge for us and then head to the balcony to watch wishes from our room. This was an amazing treat. We weren’t able to bring the music in, as we just barely go to the room in time for it to start, but just watching from the comfort of our room and knowing we didn’t have to try and navigate the crowds afterwards was amazing.
Tuesday we spent the majority of the day in Universal Studios so we could see Diagon Alley. The weather was wet and the crowds were of course horrible, but we had fun. The first thing we decided to do was Escape from Gringotts, the E ticket ride for Diagon. We made it to Universal shortly after rope drop, and made our way straight to the back because we knew there would be a line. We thought we had gotten in line for the actual Diagon Alley but instead we were surprised to find out that we were making our way toward Gringotts. It was about a 2 hour wait, and in my opinion not worth it. The ride was a great ride, but didn’t hold up to my expectations.
Once off the ride we walked around Diagon for a while. Made our way to get some ice cream, I had to try Butterbeer and Beth got Earl Grey with Lavender. I loved the Butterbeer ice cream and wish I had gotten another. Beth said her’s was just ok, but she enjoyed it.
As we walked around everyone one stop in front of the bank to see the dragon breathe fire. It was an amazing sight, but one that clogs the walk ways in a crowded time frame. The sun would show its face every now and then, but when it started to rain, everyone went running for the dry awnings, we however made the desicion to go into Knockturn Alley, best decision ever. No one was really there, and we had plenty of breaking room.
After we made sure to hit all the stores, we headed to Hogwarts Express to make our way to Hogsmeade in Island of Adventure. The train ride was amazing, and we share both our trips with great people. This alone was worth the price of the 2 park ticket, unfortunately the weather wasn’t holding up for us and we only spent a few minutes in Hogsmeade before we headed back to Universal Studios, so we could eat and let Beth enjoy the Simpsons area.
We weren’t able to get on many rides outside of Harry Potter because of wait times and the need to get back to the resort for dinner at 7. The mistakes that I made at Universal was waiting in to long of lines for food, and little things. Transformers, Simpsons, and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey were rides we plan on getting to but didn’t because of time/ weather. However, we did make it on E.T., it’s been our tradition every time to go on it. Our reservations were for Califonia Grill, so we left Universal at around 3:30, to give us time to get back, as we were using Mears Transportation and they would make a few extra stops, and to freshen up before dinner. As soon as we were seated, our waiter, Walter, informed us that Holiday Wishes was about to begin and we could enjoy it from either our table or one of the viewing balconies. As the weather had been dry for a few hours now, we chose the latter. Once again, another breathe taking view, and of course they had the music synced so we could enjoy the music as well.
Walter was the first amazing server we had on the trip, always giving his honest opinion on the food selection, and was great with conversation. After making our food selection, we started to hear rumblings that some one famous was up there with us, in fact it was Tim Allen that was sitting in just the other side of the resturant. While the young lady sitting to our left was wanting to stalk him, I told Beth that he was on vacation trying to have dinner, and we wouldn’t want to be bothered if we were in his shoes, so we got our glance at a distance, and went on with dinner.
The food and staff at California Grill was amazing. Beth had some Sushi for an appetizer, that she couldn’t stop touch even when her main course came out. For my main course, I had bision, and usually I always have my meat cooked well done, but Walter told me to try it medium rare so I could get all the flavors. We It came out and I tried it, I knew I had been missing out in life. I don’t get my food rare but I did learn not to go with well done any more.
The Magic Kingdom was going to be doing their New Years Eve Fireworks that night to help with crowds on actual New Year’s Eve, so Beth and I walked around the resort a little and then headed back to the room so we could enjoy Fantasy in the Sky around 11:50. It should go to mention that the New Years Eve fireworks are my favorite, mainly because they are perimeter and light up the night sky like it is day, but I have only seen them in the park. Seeing them from the room was jaw dropping. When the perimeter fireworks starting going, the hotel started shaking. Beth was actually trying to sleep when they started, but was soon awake.
The next day was New Years Eve, as I mentioned a few minutes ago. We had reservations for Crystal Palace at 8:10, and Extra Magic Hours was at 7. We made it in the park at around 7:20 and got on TTA before we headed to breakfast. This was Beth’s first experience at Crystal Palace and my first breakfast there. The resturant had just opened so after we waited a few minutes, and talked to a couple of new engaged couples, we sat down for breakfast. Pooh’s friends made it around to us pretty fast, but it was a few minutes after we had finished that Pooh made his way to us.
The crowds in the Magic Kingdom were crazy, castmembers said that it reach maximum capacity around 9:30 that morning. We ran around a little, and had a few fast passes. We were able to see Cinderella and Rapunzel, and had fast passed Seven Dwarves Mine Tain and Anna and Elsa meet and greet. We made our way to Be Our Guest for lunch, which we had utilized the FastPass for the resturant’s lunch. You can choose to preorder or just have the reservation, we chose the latter. Surprisingly it wasn’t that crowded and we found a table in the Music Box Room.
Because of the crowds, guest started to find spots on Main Street for the nights festivities around 4:30, so I made it back to Frontierland and got our free hats and noise makers, and we sat down in front of the Ice Cream Parlor at around 4:40 the best part of this experience is that you get to know the other guest. We had a great family sitting next to us, but left right after the Main Street Electrical Parade. As the night went on, the street only got more crowded, and the music changed from the background loops to DJ Elliot on the Castle Stage.
You could feel the energy growing as the countdown came nearer. We made our way toward the center of the street in anticipation of the New Year. The fireworks went off and it was just as stunning as we remembered from 3 years before. We said no pictures during the show, because we wanted to be able to enjoy it.
The Magic Kingdom had extra Magic hours till 3 am that operating day, and we chose to utilize this do to not doing anything for 7 hours. The DJ kept playing through out that time. The wait times were lower, as a lot of people had left after the midnight fireworks. After the park closed, we walked back to our hotel, and set the alarms for an early morning. That’s the first part of the week! What do you want to know about? I will be updating later this week with the second half of the week.
Beth and I had been dating for 6 years, and for some reason the topic of Disney came up and I found out that Bethany had never been to Walt Disney World growing up, so in the spring of 2011 we had the idea to take a trip at Christmas for her very first time. It had been 10 years since I had been, and that was for a band competition in high school.
The next big step was to make sure it was fine with her parents, that her first trip to Disney would not include them. They were hesitant at first, but we had been taking trips to North Carolina and the southeast for a few years by then, so they were comfortable with us traveling, just not so much on the spending.
We booked our stay at Port Orleans French Quarter for December 26, 2011 – January 2, 2012 (yes I knew it was the worst time of the year to go, but it was a free week off of work) in February and were ecstatic.
June was the our advance dinner reservations (ADRS), but we were already talking about where we wanted to eat. Our friends, that I mentioned earlier, told us that we had to eat at ‘Ohana, and I had remembered the episodes of Boy Meets World and Full House where they had eaten at Coral Reef so I wanted to try that place out. Everything else was up for grabs, and request from out travel agent.
I got to thinking that because we had been together for so long, and that she hadn’t been to the World before, that it would be a great place to propose. So I got to thinking that I needed to ask her dad, to be the old fashion guy, if it was ok that I ask. Once he gave his blessing, the planning began.
Boy Meets World was my favorite show growing up, and like I said earlier, I remembered the Disney episode, where Cory and Topanga had gotten back together at the Innovention Fountain, so thats where I was going to ask, needless to say that I didn’t know that they had a performance at that stage during the holidays. I had picked out the perfect package from Disney Florist that would include roses, a tiara, an certificate that declared her a princess, and a bottle of Wishes cider.
That all came to a halt once we hit June. We were making our ADRs, and because I wanted to make sure Beth had the best experience she could possibly have, I also didn’t know that I was creating a monster in both of us and start going every year, we booked the Cinderella Royal Table dinner, along with ‘Ohana, Coral Reef, Tony’s, Planet Hollywood, and Artist Point. We would spend one day in Universal, so we didn’t make dinning plans for that night.
Kelly had started looking at different ideas for the engagement, and told me about a package that is available at the Royal Table, that would included a glass slipper, and a special dessert that was not specified. best part, it was cheaper! So of course we booked that instead of the florist package.
I was starting to get intrigued with finding different things, I stumbled upon the Disney Fine Arts page, and found out that we could have our pictures taken in park, but to make sure that Beth was up for taking some pictures, I had to think of a way to ask with out saying that I wanted to get engagement pictures down there. Kelly and I had decided that it would be best to say we got a “First time visitor” photography package, and Beth fell for it.
We had it all booked and and all paid for by October. So then it was the waiting game. Beth was counting down the days, hours, and minutes the entire time. Christmas came and went really fast.
We left at 4 am on the 26th, to early after the long Christmas that we usually have. I had packed her ring in the liner of my suitcase, so if for any reason she needed to get in to my suitcase she wouldn’t stumble upon it. Our drive is about 7 1/2 hour, and we wanted to get there in time to enjoy the day at Downtown Disney.
We made it to I-4 at about 2 and what should have been a 15 minute drive, was actually an hour, because of traffic, I say this so that if you ever drive down, use the bathroom before getting on I-4 during the holiday.
After making the mad dash to the bathroom, we easily got into our rooms at the French Quarter. We relaxed for a bit then got on the boat for Downtown Disney, and spent the afternoon at DD.
Our first day was spent in Hollywood Studios, for the fact that I wanted the day that I proposed needed to be the first time she ever saw the castle, this made it pretty difficult to get to ‘Ohana with out her seeing the castle.
So the big day was the next day. We got up early, and I put the ring in a pocket, so that we didn’t need to go back to the room. I had told her that we wouldn’t do the big rides (I didn’t want to lose the ring). So we spent the day window shopping, chasing characters, and using the small attractions (the fastest ride was Mad Tea Party). Beth wanted to dress nice for the dinner, so before the lighting of the castle she found a bathroom and changed.
I was sent specific instructions, on what to do when we made it into the restaurant. First, was to sit down and not pass out, CRT was packed. We were then to order, which was the hard part, I am a very picky eater, so we had to talk to the chef about what I wanted to eat, and Beth already had her eyes on dessert. But when I told her to wait on that she was a little upset, of course she didn’t know that I had dessert already ordered.
After the order, I was to meet the manager by the bathrooms, to give him the ring, that way he could place it in the slipper. Then I went to the bathroom and threw up, not really, but I felt like it. The meal was amazing, what I ate of it. Then it was time for the big question.
They had the glass slipper in a white covered dish, Beth had seen this and played it off, because she figured it was someone else’s dessert, and we hadn’t ordered ours yet. But she quickly found out it was for her when they placed it in front of her, and uncovered the blue glass slipper on a bed of red rose petals, with a ring in it. I said something to the effect of “You have walked with me for 6 years, will you walk with me to Eternity” got on one knee and asked her to marry me.
The slipper had “Walk with me to Eternity” on one side, the date on the bottom of the shoe, and our names on the other side.
After 10 million pictures were taken by the photopass photographer, and I had changed my pants, joking, the amazing desserts came out. It was a white chocolate slipper, on an angel food cake, with fruit to the side. I ate it all in about 10 seconds, because I ate maybe 3 bites of dinner because of nerves. Beth, on the other hand, didn’t take but 2 bites.
I chose this time to tell her that those “First Time Visit” pictures were actually Engagement photos, and we were taking them at Epcot. She was thrilled. We walked out that night just in time to see “The Magic, The Memories, and You” castle show, where we were featured on the “big screen” of the castle, followed by the Holiday Wishes fireworks show. The Engagement pictures were taken in the World Showcase before it was opened, and we had some of the best photographers. We had an amazing time while taking the pictures, and they turned out amazing.
The rest of the trip was a typical Disney trip getting up early and leaving the parks late. The worst part was New Year’s Eve. We had to find our spot at 6 p.m. and sat there until 1 am. It was still magical, and we got to know some great people. What are some of your amazing stories that have happened to you at the parks?
Disney has a special place in a lot of people’s heart. People grow up watching the movies, learning with Mickey, and taking vacations to the Most Magical Place on Earth, Walt Disney World. Whether it’s just a once in a lifetime trip you took at 13, or an ongoing vacation spot for you and your family, memories have been made. And with Disney Turning 50 on Friday, there are a lot of memories to share, mainly in picture form.
I haven’t been going to WDW a lot in my life compared to others. I went two times as a child, and I don’t remember to much from that. I got lost in the park because I was playing with the goofy hat that my parents had gotten me. There are flashes of sights and sounds that bring back memories. Main Street Electrical Parade always has a place in my heart, but it’s Spectromagic that I want to remember.
My next trip that I prominently remember is a band trip my freshman year of high school, around May 2001. It was my last big trip with my friends as I was going to move schools. The sorcerer’s hat at Hollywood Stuido was just being built, in fact it was still called MGM Studios then. I only made it to two of the four parks, but that wasn’t the important thing.
I spent a few days performing and running around those parks with friends. Riding Tower of Terror for the first time, sitting in the walk thru of Cinderella Castle with some of the guys and joking around, and the award ceremony in Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular. This was a needed time for me, I grew my friendships in the most magical friendships in a time I needed them. The years have passed, and we aren’t nearly as close as we once were, but those memories still hold tight.
It was just over 10 years before I went on a trip again. Church friends had just come back from a fantastic trip, and they raved about the fun. My girlfriend had never been to Walt Disney World and was going to graduate from College, so what a better trip for her than a Disney trip?
I went on to plan a week trip after Christmas, and to propose. While crowds were crazy, watching Beth light up at every little magical sight was worth every second in the long lines. We did as much as we could, in the time we had. When it came time to propose, we ate dinner at Cinderella’s Royal Table, on her first day in Magic Kingdom. I got on my knee in a crowded room of families, princesses, and Castmembers asked the best question I ever asked. I’ll post the full story later.
From then on we wanted to try and do one trip a year, whether a small trip or a week. Going during Halloween, to starting a running journey with runDisney, and then to Night of Joy, we’ve done a lot of events in Walt Disney World.
In 2014, we decided to take our honeymoon in what had become our favorite destination. We stayed at Contemporary, and ate at the best restaurants on property. Going all out on a week we wanted to remember forever. Nothing has topped our honeymoon for us. Waking up to the Magic Kingdom outside our window every morning, and watching fireworks from our balcony, nothing could be better.
As our lives went on, we added more trips to our journey. I ran and finished my first half marathon at Walt Disney World’s runDisney Darkside Half Marathon in 2016. We added three great friends to our travel adventures, opened lands and closed rides, took pictures for baby announcements, and spent 24 hours straight in Magic Kingdom. I joined an awesome Travel Agency that connected me with great people, and helped me do even more things that I never thought I would do.
Every last trip we have had we have made memories that we laugh, cry, and laugh till we cry about them. Walt Disney World has been a very important part of our lives over the last 10 years, accumulating 59 trips in that time. So it’s great that on our 60th trip to Walt Disney World, will be to celebrate the resort’s 50th anniversary, we are adding our son’s first trip to our memories.
We look forward to make so many more memories with Travis over his life, and Walt Disney World will be integral in those memories. Walt Disney World, thank you for everything you have added to our life and memories!!
Growing up, I was never a person for anything horror related. Pretty typical kid that had nightmares after watching a scary movie, or after going through a haunted house. But as I grew up, I started to get into movies, and the horror genre became one of my favorites. And while I was opening up my horizons to new movies, the thought of a haunted house still freaked me out.
Life goes on and new things come into our lives, and theme parks was that new interest for me, and when I say theme parks, I mean Walt Disney World. To plan better trips, I would listen to podcasts on the way to and from work, and sometimes, at work. I won’t name it here, but one podcast would just get on my nerves at Halloween every year, because they would shift from covering a lot of Disney, to Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights (HHN). I didn’t want to hear about that, I wanted to hear about the Magical Disney Halloween experience with free candy. But the more podcasts I would start to pick up, the more I would hear about this “ amazing” event at Universal.
So in 2017, we made the decision to take a stab at HHN based on the podcast that I had heard.
The best thing about HHN, is the following it has. Just like everything else, there are people that have been with the festivities from day one and the people who are going for the first time. The biggest thing they all have in common is they know the year or event number that they first started to go. For me, its 26 or like I said above 2017 with the only year I have missed being 2020 and that can be technical because they only ran the houses for a short time, and I wasn’t in the parks the day they ran the 2 houses.
This group of people are great. There are people that can tell you the houses and there locations for the past 10 years. They keep a running tab on the best houses and scare zones throughout the years. It’s just fun to be in queues with anyone that is going to this even, but the Hardcore fans make it a little better for me as I get to talk about other years. Everyone is going to have a different opinion on what was great and bad, which helps keep things interesting in conversations.
The main focus of the event is the Houses (or mazes). As the years have continued, the number of houses have gotten to 10. They are split into Original and IP (intellectual property) Houses. IP houses are going to be based on Movies, TV Shows, and sometimes Music in popular culture. The Walking Dead, The Shining, Stranger Things, and American Horror Story are just a few examples. While originals give the creative team a chance to create their own stories.
The houses are located about the outside perimeter of the park, well besides one. The majority of the houses when you walk into the event and head straight will be in Sound Stages to the right of the park. You will enter these by going through a ride entrance, or through a Backstage access. The houses toward the back of the park are mostly called “Tent Houses”. These are just Tents set up in the back stage areas and will be accessed through a “Team Member Only” area in the park. There are a couple that will lead you through queues to get to them. They do utilize the Parade and a maintenance buildings on this side of the property. The last house is actually located in the 2nd theater of the Shrek 4D attraction.
One of the best parts of the event is how the park transforms at night. Universal does a great job of trying to keep the gore to a minimum during the day, covering up a lot of the HHN decorations. The park closes early on the nights that HHN happens to give team members time to set up for the event. But once the gates open back up, the feel of the park has completely changed, and it only gets better as sunsets and the night progresses. The lighting, the music, and the effects all change, not to mention the scare actors come out.
The scare actors are all placed in what are called scarezones, and these scarezones are each themed differently. There are 5 scarezones most years. The first one you will come across is in Production Central, and will usually be the smallest and less themed of the event. In the years I have been, this has been more of a “selfie” area. The next area you come to will be New York, which will be one of the biggest zones. This Scare zone will start at Jimmy Fallon and wrap all the way past Finnegan’s Bar and Grill. You’ll also find the Tribute Store in this area, a place where you can buy all things HHN inspired.
New York is one of the best places to sit and watch scares happen. Guests have a lot more area to run from the actors. San Francisco is the next area, and it’s also pretty small, usually just on either side of the Fast and Furious Gift shop. This area has a more intimate feel, but usually lacks good scares. You’ll have a break until you get back to Central Park, which is one of my favorite areas. The Trees create a dark and gloomy area, with fog machines always on high. Scares are great in this area as you don’t know if you’re coming up on a guest or a scare actor. The last area is Hollywood, this is another big scare zone and with my short experience, has been a hit and miss. A lot of places to sit and watch, but not a lot of scares.
Outside of the scare zones, you have what they have called the “Roaming Chainsaw Hoard” in the past. It’s not an official zone, but something that just happens in Springfield. Honestly this is the best place to have a drink/meal and watch the guests get stalked and scared. There is generally no theme year to year in this area. Sometimes they are clowns, other times just wearing Purge style masks, non the less it’s all fun.
Stay and Scream
If you have been in the parks all day, and want to get to a specific house right when the park opens, you can stay in one of the 3 Stay and Scream locations. These locations offer you the opportunity to grab a bite to eat, a drink, or just a place to sit and relax before your night of excitement. New York, Production Central, and Springfield are usually the locations for the Stay and Scream locations. You can expect to be a little more crowded when you are in an area that is close to the popular houses, but you will be well ahead of the group of people waiting at the gate to get in.
What else to expect
If you want to sit and relax for a few minutes, HHN has a couple of shows that you can take time to enjoy. The main one takes place in the Fear Factor Live theater. This show revolves around variety. When I started to go, it was the Bill and Ted show, it was later changed to The Academy of Villains, and now it’s Nightmare Fuel. It’s main focus is dance, but throws in some other elements throughout.
The next show is at the Lagoon Projection show, Marathon of Mayhem. Think of this as Universal’s answer to World of Color in Disney California Adventure. Each year this show changes to reflect the theme, houses, and scarezones that are at the event. This show is best viewed at the back side of Central Park, but can be viewed in other locations.
One of the other ways to get off your feet is to get on a ride. Mummy, Gringotts, Rip Ride, and a few other attractions remain open through the night for your enjoyment. Diagon Alley itself is open, and a “safe place” as there is no scare actors in this area.
If you are in need of food or drinks, there are plenty of places to stop. Universal has erected plenty of temporary bars and food tents. Pizza Fries, Hamburgers with Doughnuts for buns, Twisted Potatoes, and much more are available to find while you are roaming the parks. But you can also grab some more traditional food at some of the quick service locations around the park. The bars offer wine, beer, and specialty themed drinks to the event.
Overall, I have come to love this event. It’s one thing I love to look forward to each fall. As soon as the last night of the current event is done, I’m ready to hear what is in store for the next year. It’s a great time to hangout with friends, and if need be a fun solo trip. Whether you are at horror fan or not, I think this would be well worth a try!
Disney Parks has announced a new addition to their Mobile platforms, Disney Genie. This addition is a pretty significant one, and will change the way you go about visiting Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resorts. But while there’s a lot of convince to this new program, there’s a lot of levels and information to go with it. I want to take some time to talk about each new level, and what it has to offer.
Like I said before, Disney Genie will be a mobile based experience. But there won’t be a need to download any new app on your phone. Genie will be an update to the current My Disney Experience app for Walt Disney World, and the Disneyland App. From this new addition you can unlock everything that Genie has to offer.
Disney Genie (Free)
The basic version of Genie is free and the purpose of it is to make you park days less stressful. You tell Genie what rides you want to do during the day, and an itinerary will magically appear with where you should go at what time. With Disney’s wait time infrastructure built in, Genie will predict the best time for you to visit these attractions with the lowest waits. The app will continue to update and predict what wait times will look like and help you decide if you need to wait and where to go instead.
Genie will also help you with dining. If Genie puts you at Space Mountain around lunch, it might recommend that you go to Cosmic Ray’s for your meal, and allow you to mobile order. You can also reserve a table for a dinner, or if a restaurant has a waitlist you will be able to join it.
There is also a new chat feature built into the app. This will allow you talk to a Castmember about any questions that you may have, and get a pretty instant response. You will also get access to Tip Boards, future forecasted wait times, and attraction virtual queues.
Disney Genie + (Paid)
The Disney Genie + is an upgrade to Disney Genie (naturally). This service gets you everything from the free tier, and adds the ability to join Lightning Lane (formally FastPass + and Max Pass). With this new skip the line feature, you will be able to make one Lightning Lane reservation starting at 7 am each day of your vacation. You can have one Lightning Lane Pass at a time, but you can use it as much as you can throughout the day. If you have ever used Disneyland’s MaxPass it’s very similar to that. Lightning Lane will be available on 40+ attractions at Walt Disney World and 15+ attractions at Disneyland Resort.
Here’s where the benefits of Genie + splits. Disneyland will get unlimited Photopass downloads for the days that you get Genie +, while Walt Disney World will have access to AR Lenses and unique listening experiences around the parks.
Disneyland’s Price is $20 per person per day and Walt Disney World is $15 per person per day. You can choose how many days you would like to utilize this service instead of having to use it every day.
Lightning Lane (select attractions)
If Genie + isn’t up your alley, and you just want to hit a couple of the biggest attractions each day, Lightning Lane (select attractions) is for you. This experience is another paid option to ride a ride. Similar to the Premier Access that just launched in Disneyland Paris, the the Lightning Lane will have only a few of the most popular attractions to chose from in each park.
You can only have 2 of these reservations a day, and the prices will very. These rides are not included in Genie +, so if you want to Lightning Lane any of the rides that offer Lightning Lane (select attractions), it will be another charge on top of the $15/$20 that you already paid to get the Genie +. The prices for these attractions have not been said, but they will be based on date, park, and attraction.
Guests staying at a Disney Resort will be able to make these selections starting at 7 am on the day they plan to experience the attractions, all other guest will be able to at a later time.
At this time, you will be able to upgrade your ticket through the app. And in the near future, you will be able to buy the Genie + option on your resort package. Annual Passholders and Magic Key Holders are likely to get the option to add on this feature on to their tickets at a later date.
That’s a lot of info to go through, and Disney has more to put out as time draws closer to launch. But I will be glad to answer any questions that you may have! If I don’t know the answer, I will be glad to look for it!
After Walt Disney World announced their Star Wars Galactic Cruise (known to the fandom as the Star Wars Hotel), a lot of people started to talk about how Universal needed to create a Harry Potter experience in the same way. Last week, WDW released the pricing and itinerary for the 2 night “cruise”, and it was met with a gasp. We all knew the price tag would be fairly high, but not that high for what it did and didn’t include. Biggest thing to take away is that your Star Wars Cruise gets you Room, Food, access to Hollywood Studios, and rides in Smugglers Run and Rise of the Resistance. They will up sale you any gear that you may want so you can feel in universe. Starting Price for these experiences for 2 adults is $4,809, this would be during the lowest season.
So it got me thinking on what I would do if I could pitch a Wizarding World themed Hotel Experience while keeping the Disney price and time table, but make you feel like you got a deal.
This would all start at home of course. During the booking time frame, some simple things would happen. Naturally, how many Kids and adults, but more specifically, what Hogwarts house would the family be? This would be based on availability, as each Dorm would only have so many rooms for the time period of the trip.
Once you are booked, You would receive an acceptance letter in the mail for Hogwarts (sorry it won’t be by owl). This welcome package would include some of the Harry Potter package that Universal includes in their current packages but let’s say house lanyards, pins, and luggage tags.
To make this a little more magical, Universal would retheme some of the SuperStar Shuttles that they use for pick up to the Knight Bus. I would also have them adopt the luggage delivery just to add that little special touch. On the Knight Bus ride, you will meet a Hogwarts professor. They will welcome you, hand you a special Knight Bus Ticket, and get to know you on the trip to your next destination, as you will be seeing them a lot over the next few days.
You wouldn’t go straight to the Castle, you have to get your school wardrobe, wand, and pet. So you are dropped off at Diagon Alley to get your shopping done. Your professor will escort you to Gringotts, where you will have to with draw some money. But we know there’s some trouble that brews there. After you get off the ride, you will go to the Money Exchange, where you will present your Knight Bus Ticket and get some galleons, Wizarding Money (included in the package).
The next stop would be to Olivanders, where each guest will get their interactive wand (also included). If you don’t like the wand that chooses you, you will be able to find one of your liking after the experience. Once you are finished with your wand purchase, your professor will give you a time to meet at King’s Cross so that you can be on your way. But you will need to get your Robes, and pet before you meet them. This free time will allow you to grab a bite to eat at Leaky Cauldron (included) and shop around for the school requirements, you will be given enough galleons to cover all purchases.
Now that you have gotten all your school supplies it’s time to go to Hogwarts! You get to take the Hogwarts experience over to Hogsmeade. While loading on to the train your Professor will hand you a small bit of treats to enjoy on the ride over.
As you walk off the platform in Hogmeade, and you see Hogwarts in the distance, you will be taken on a special path that takes you to transportation to your hotel. This experience will give you the history of Hogwarts and it’s Founders.
When you arrive at the castle you will be brought into the Great Hall, where you see the sorting hat sitting on its perch. Each family member will “magically” be sorted into the same house, and the asked to sit at the house table. During your dinner you will want to get to know your house classmates as the House Cup is on the line. During this fantastic dinner the new Headmaster will give you the rules and what to expect.
When dinner is done your House Prefect will walk you to the Dorms, giving you the secret word (key) to get in dorm and your room number. From there you have the rest of the night to explore the castle, relax in the House Common room, or just go to bed.
The second day of your adventure will have you learning how to use your wand, make some potions, and some herbology. You will be mixed with other houses and different schedules for different families. These classes won’t be short, but they will be fun, and you never know what may happen.
For your lunch break you will be taken to Hogsmeade for your good behavior, and lunch at Three Brookstricks will be a welcomed treat. You will be given some time to explore and have a few butterbeers, or send a letter home. Before you head back for your afternoon class, Harry wants to meet you, so you will take a Forbidden Journey. Your professor will meet you and explain that Hagrid is ready to teach you about some of the creatures in the Forbidden Forest, so you must go meet him there instead of the castle.
When you come out of Hagrid’s class, Hogwarts will become enchanted. And you will have time to enjoy some desserts, and the show. Before heading back you will have a presentation by the frog choir and the Tri Wizards schools.
While you will have a very structured day, many things will happen that will allow you to gain points in the House Cup, but there will also be things that happen where you will have to help fight off Death Eaters or even He Who Shall Not Be Named.
Returning back to the Great Hall you will have a farewell Holiday feast! The Headmaster will announce the House Cup winner (it will always be a tie) and thank you for saving the day. Hogsmeade will be available to the students of Hogwarts after dinner, where they will have the whole place to themselves.
The morning you leave, all you will have to do is pick up your bags and put them on your bed. You will have your choice of a Great Hall, Three Broom Sticks, or Leaky Cauldron breakfast and some final time to walk around the park. If you are going home after the experience, your luggage will magically be at the airport for you, but if you are going to stay for some Universal Resort Fun, you luggage will be delivered to your next hotel destination. Your return transfer to the Airport would also be included in the price.
I’ve mentioned a lot of stuff in the article, but everything you need to have a fun and exciting time would be included. From food and snacks, to your robes and wand. Your Knight Bus ticket would be the way to get all of that. The exact amount of galleons given would be for your Robes and “pet”. Showing your Knight Bus ticket would get you a set number of snacks, refillable Butterbeer Mug (that is free refills while you’re enjoying your Hogwarts stay), and your meals while in Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. You will be backdoored into all the Wizarding World attractions, and have special seating for any venues you do in the Wizarding World.
Post stay, you would get an express pass for the remainder of your checkout day, so you could enjoy other offerings the parks have to offer. And your refillable mug would be able to be used throughout that day as well.
Design of the hotel
Overall the hotel would have the feel of the Hogwarts we know and love from the movie. You could get a visit from Moaning Myrtle while in the bathrooms, walk in on a conversation between the paintings in the moving staircases, or see the Quidditch cup in your common room.
Each hotel room would still have the modern convinces, but have the medieval feel to it. There would be little nods to different things that the readers would notice, and things from the movies that would be noticed. Characters from the past would leave their marks and maybe a map will help you find some secret rooms.
There’s always a debate on what fan base is better than the other, and I think it’s a little more intense when theme parks get involved. I had personally just come back around to the theme park world right after the opening of Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter Hogsmeade, and that was the only reason I wanted to go to Universal. Walt Disney World didn’t have an Intellectual Property (IP) based land yet, but they had just announced the Avatar land (Pandora: Valley or Mo’ara).
By time WDW opened Pandora (2015), Universal had managed to open their second Wizarding World being Diagon Alley (2014). But Disney was just getting started. In 2015’s D23, Bob Chapek announced that not only a Toy Storyland would be coming to Hollywood Studios, but an immersive Star Wars land, known as Galaxy’s Edge, would also be on the way. The Star Wars fan base was excited to see what Disney was going to pull out to compete with Universal’s Harry Potter.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Let me start with some history of the Wizarding World and theme parks. In 2003, both Disney and Universal entered a bidding war with Warner Brothers and JK Rowling for the theme park rights to Harry Potter. Rowling signed a letter of intent with Disney to create a small area in Fantasyland of Magic Kingdom. But once Disney actually pitched 2 small attractions (rumored to be a Omnimover with Wands like Buzz Lightyear, and a Magical Creator encounter, think the Velociraptor Encounter at Universal) and a small quick service themed to Leaky Cauldron, she was underwhelmed. She then pulled out and took the Boy who lived to Universal.
Once Universal had won the battle, it was time to start the war. To do that, they put more time, expertise, and money to make this experience better than anything they had built before. And in 2010, they opened the gates of Islands of Adventure to thousands of fans waiting to have a Butterbeer, go to Olivander’s for a wand, and most importantly visit Hogwarts. Before the paint had time to dry, Universal had already started to build an expansion of the land in Universal Studios, Diagon Alley, and in 2014 the walls to Diagon Alley Opened and the Hogwarts Express started to run.
Disney Starts to feel the pressure
Over the time frame that Universal spent building the Wizarding World, Disney announced and open the New Fantasyland expansion, and while it brought a lot of needed attendance to the parks, it wasn’t enough to compete with Harry Potter. However Disney was hoping to change that with their Pandora themed area for Animal Kingdom that was based on James Cameron’s Avatar.
Announced in September of 2011, Disney officially announced this new land that would be designed by Cameron and Joe Rohde at the lead. It wasn’t until January 2014 that construction actually began, and Pandora officially had its first intergalactic visitors in May 2017. It took 6 years from the start to build this land, and it had a lot of hype to follow it. Two new attractions, quick service restaurant, bar, bioluminescence, and themed entertainment, this land was going to be Disney’s first chance at taking on the Wizarding World.
Theme Park goers loved the E-ticket attraction, Flights of passage, but most pass on Navi River journey. It wasn’t the home run Disney wanted, but it was a step in the right direction.
As mentioned before, at D23 2015 Bob Chapek announced a long rumored Star Wars land, called Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge. This new experience would bring you into your own Star Wars story on the planet Batuu. This would be a new planet in the Star Wars universe where the Resistance has a hidden base and the First Order is looking to find them. With this announcement, Star Wars and Disney Fans finally were going to get their all immersive land like Harry Potter and Universal Fans had.
The downside to this announcement was that the time frame for this land was in between episodes 8 and 9, Disney’s trilogy. The long rumor was that the land would take you to some of your favorite places from the whole saga. You would have a chance to see characters from through out the saga. But Disney wants to sell toys from their trilogy, so we couldn’t get all of that.
How Do They Stack Up against each other?
Both of these additions to the parks are incredible. I grew up loving Star Wars, and read the Harry Potter books as they came out, so to say I was excited to see either of these properties come to the Theme Parks, is an understatement.
The attention to details in both of the lands are incredible, but it really comes down to heart for me. You see Star Wars was something I watched with my late father (Phantom Menace was one of the last movies we saw together), so the Falcon, the characters, and the environment mean so much to me. But when I walk into Galaxy’s Edge I don’t feel anything. None of the characters I grew up with are there, and the Falcon isn’t this big reveal. Even getting to pilot the Falcon on Smuggler’s Run, it just didn’t have the greatest memorable moment for me.
Walking into either of the Wizarding World lands is always such an emotional journey, and I don’t have a heart touching history with the stories. But I know the locations. I’m walking in the places I’ve read about and watched for so long. Walking through the areas makes me come back to my childhood memories. There’s no forced story, or background you really have to know to understand the land.
Galaxy’s Edge is a beautiful land, and it really raises the bar for Disney Parks. But I think they missed the mark by setting in on a planet that no one had heard of, or allowing the land to be able to exists through time, where you could run into characters from the saga. There were also huge concepts that had been announced that we never saw. Droids freely roaming the land, different species working in the land, random scuffles happening all around, and having your reputation follow you after you do your smugglers missions; but none of them came about.
So for me Wizarding World has my heart. I always enjoy strolling around the land and seeing every little detail they put into it. Galaxy’s Edge isn’t beyond repair, but what it lacks hits in all the wrong spots.
Naturally, when this is published, there will be some sort of announcement of the return of fastpass at Walt Disney World, but as of this writing, there is no foreseeable return to this long beloved Disney Perk. So I want to take a few minutes to tell you all why I think that it shouldn’t ever return.
History of Disney’s Fastpass System
Some history of the Fastpass system. In 1999, The Fastpass system was introduced to the Disney Park goers with the idea that you wouldn’t have to wait queues with high wait times. You would go to a machine, slide your tickets in and get a return time for the ride or attraction. When that time came, your party would then go through a special line where you could pretty much walk on the ride.
Walt Disney World decided to change up their vacation planning system in 2013, with the introduction of MyMagic+, which would include the new and improved FastPass+. Most rides and attractions in WDW were added to the new FastPass+ system. The biggest benefit to this system was that you didn’t have to wait until your vacation to get the FastPass, at 60 days out of your arrival, you could book up to 3 fast passes for one park, for each day of your trip.
Not to be out done, Disneyland Resort announced MaxPass in 2017. This would be the first time that the Fastpass system wouldn’t be free. MaxPass started out at $10/per day, per person, but was later increased to $15, this also included your Photopass for each day. The traditional Fastpass was still available for free, but the convince of MaxPass makes it more appealing. With MaxPass you would use your phone to make your Fastpasses from anywhere within the park, instead of making the mad dash to the popular rides or shows Fastpass kiosk, to make sure you got a spot.
Why Fastpass should never return
While there are some great benefits to the FastPass system in both resorts, it’s ultimately flawed. The proof happens at the rides that have never had FastPass until the recent changes. This mostly is effected at Walt Disney World but can apply to Disneyland, but for ease of the conversation I will focus on Walt Disney World and their Fastpass System.
Before Fastpass+ was added to rides such as Spaceship Earth, It’s a Small World, Mad Tea Party, Living With the Land, and many other like attractions had very minimal wait times, between 10 -20 mins. Once the FastPass+ system went live, these wait times started to grow. Spaceship Earth now averages about a 30 minute wait, while Small World is about 20 minute wait.
The reason for the jump of the wait times is the amount of people using fastpass being let into the ride over the standby lines. The average ratio is 10 fastpass for every 1 standby guest. Which takes a steady moving line and and kills it. The more popular the ride, generally the more fastpass they allow in at a time, making the standby wait time grow and be very close to accurate to the posted time.
When the parks reopened last year, to no FastPass to be seen, the wait times seemed to be pretty high. When I went in September, the wait for Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway was 120 mins. we only waited an hour, and we hardly stopped moving. “But Jason, the Parks aren’t at Capacity!” That’s true, but they also weren’t loading (and in some cases still aren’t) to their max capacity either.
When you start filling the rides to the max capacity it won’t change the speed of the queue line that is currently happening with limited capacity. With the lines continually moving due to Fastpass not returning, your wait times would be very minimal, and the line would continue to move when the parks are at full capacity.
What’s the Solution?
My first choice is to obviously not to replace the system, and keep it strictly to standby. But Disney has made the Fastpass experience that everyone relies on, and now to the point of planning their trips around the fastpasses that they have made.
But if I have to replace it, I would do one of two options. The first one would be to use the model of Disneyland’s Maxpass. I love the idea of being able to be more spontaneous while at the parks. Being able to go into a park with no ties to rides until I come through the Tapstiles, where you tap your magic band to enter the parks, is just freeing.
The second (and what I think Disney will do) is based off of the ExpressPass system at Universal. This system is a paid option (starting at $100 per person per day), and is only free to those that are staying at one of 3 Onsite Deluxe Resorts. They also have 2 tiers, the regular and unlimited. Unlimited lets you ride the rides as many times as you would like, while the regular gets you one ride on each attraction. Not all rides have ExpressPass, and the new ones don’t get it right away.
Disney adapting this would be a ground shattering change for the fan base, and not in a good way. But Disney is looking at how to make a profit, and still offer what the fan base is use to having. However, if Disney would do this, the standby lines would still move more quickly. Fastpass has turned into a premium option, that would make a WDW trip that much more expensive for a family on a budget. Everyone does benefit though, your families that decide to spend the extra money on the Fastpass, would get through faster, but you wouldn’t have a ratio that is always having to be monitored to get the Fastpass line down.
This would also give the parks the option to pull rides off of fastpass + and bring more waits times down. Being able to put Fastpass on line for a brand new ride at a later date, giving once in a lifetime families a chance to ride that new ride.
When I first started to go to Walt Disney World for my vacations I was the person that would only step foot in “the other park” for only one day, while looking down on them for their none Disney ways. But as our travels increased, and I started to research more about what the Universal Parks and Resorts had to offer, my curiosity started to get the best of me.
Let me start at the beginning a little more. In 2011, the only reason we wanted to go to Universal was like everyone else, for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. It had just opened in 2010 and I had to see what it was about. Once we had rode Forbidden Journey, eaten at 3 Broomsticks, explored the shops, and had our butter beer we left Islands of Adventure. We had spent maybe 4 hours in the park, and most of that was waiting in line for Forbidden Journey. The rest of the day was walking around Universal Studios, and only riding ET. We walked out around 4 to grab dinner at Hard Rock Cafe and got a ride back to our resort by 7 pm.
The next trip was pretty much a carbon copy. The only difference was they were announcing the new Transormer’s ride, so naturally we stayed to see the announcement but skipped out of the press event after when Optimus and Bumblebee came out. We had made it back to the hotel before the late news.
It was this trip that brought a question to me and my fiancé at the time. Before their nighttime show (it was water screens and horrible), a family from Alabama was standing next to us. They stated that they did universal for a week but would take one day to do all the Disney parks. We were appalled, how could you spend just one day in one of the most immersive theme parks in the world?
We started to get antsy to get back when they announced that Diagon Alley was going to be coming in 2014. I made one trip in 2013 just to beat a non theme park fan to ride Transformers, but nothing else in between 2012 and 2014. So our one day trip in 2014 was booked for our honeymoon.
Diagon AlleyIt was walking into Diagon Alley that I learned the detail of which Universal was taking great care of, and going above and beyond for theming. The Disney community was still waiting for Pandora to open (announced in 2011 and opened in 2017) while Diagon Alley has been announced in 2011 and opened in half the time.
Universal had started to step the game up on theming and listening to the consumer. Since Diagon Alley opened, we have had at least 1 major attraction open each year, 3 hotels (2 more on the way), and a well themed water park open. Not to mention the Nintendo land announcement, and the land bought to build another park.
When Volcano Bay opened in 2017, I decided to book my first exclusive Universal Trip. This is what changed my mind. We stayed in the fabulously themed Cabana Bay resort towers with a view of the water park. While we didn’t go in to the main dry parks, experiencing the “bubble” of Universal was a delight. The modes of transportation, the walkability of the resort, and once again the details of the parks fully brought me in.
It was obvious that this wasn’t a Disney resort or Park. But it was it’s own competitive beast. Pushing Disney to up what they were offering. The Universal resort was much more older family friendly, with the thrill seeking and laid back ways. The offerings of seasonal events were much different and a welcome sight to me.
For the first time ever, in 2017 I made another trek to Universal, but this time for Halloween Horror Nights. I had heard so many things about this after hours event that were positive, but because I had my Disney blinders on, it would have never lived up to my experience that I wanted. But boy was I wrong. Walking through the park and getting scared, laughing at others getting scared, or seeing the Teammebers having a good time with their job just made the atmosphere even better.
Last year became the year of Disney and Universal. I ended up at Universal 3-4 times. Mardi Gras, TA Training, HHN, And a random trip. I’m no longer planning on when to go to just Walt Disney world, but when to go to Universal and stay in the new resort or ride the new ride.
With that long timeline to say this: Universal is not the park of the past. While they know where they come from, they are pushing to the future. If the Wizarding World hadn’t of been as detailed as it is, we wouldn’t have gotten Pandora or Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge in a way that they are coming. The increase of thrill rides at Universal is pushing Disney to put more attractions in their parks. Who knows with the idea of a 3rd dry park coming to Universal, Disney May consider a 5th park at the Walt Disney World resort.
Even in the food offerings, Universal started to push what theme park food is, or what people will stop and eat on the way out of the park. Butterbeer’s popularity gave Disney an idea to make a lesser Lefou’s Brew, Toothsome’s Chocolate Emporium’s extravagant shakes were cloned at Planet Hollywood and Beaches and cream. Volcano Bay brought tacos, pizza, artisan burgers and much more to a water park.
On the hotel side of things, Universal has become a lot more competitive with pricing and offerings. Every hotel that they have built is within walking distance of the theme park area, including the two new resorts (just a bit more of a hike). Speaking of new resorts both Dock Side and Beach scheduled to open this year and next year)side will be some of the cheapest resorts on either Disney or Universal properties, starting at $79 a night for a standard or $111 for a family suite! Amenities are catering to the younger generation, Aventura has an iPad in each room that controls lighting, a/c, tv, lets you log into streaming services, and even text the front desk. These small accommodations are things that Universal are looking to up their guest experience. While Disney is taking away the uniqueness of each resort with remodels, Universal is staying creative.
Without this healthy competition in Orlando, Disney or Universal might just sit stale and let you live on nostalgia for a few years while introducing small attractions here and there.
If there’s only one thing I want to get across in this post, it’s that you don’t need to underestimate the competitors of Disney. Whether SeaWorld, Legolas’s, Universal, FunSpot, or Busch Gardens each one has their unique attractions that can bring more to your vacations. So if you only do Walt Disney World each trip I beg you to just look down the street and see the amazing things that Universal has to offer!