Thursday, November 25, 2010

The happiest (and busiest) place on earth

I went to a conference in Orlando last week. Back when I was contemplating the conference we decided that we would transform it into a family vacation! Orlando for the family! Yay! So when the day arrived, I kissed my family goodbye and got on the plane, anxious to see them 5 nights later.

Disneyworld. What an institution. We had a good time. The kids enjoyed it. But no, we don't have intentions of going back, maybe ever! Part of this is probably that as I stated before and now I can confirm that it just isn't our type of vacation. I thought I might be proved wrong and that we would all fall in love. But even the kids aren't chomping at the bit to go back. We are very happy we have gone, and very happy we did it when we did (Skadi being 3.5 and Leif being 6). But nobody was crying about leaving.

Should you decide to go... here are my suggestions. Subsequent posts will serve as my travelogue and you will be subjected to vacation photos and details!

1. Plan. In the world of Disney vacations, you can't plan enough. Flying by the seat of your pants isn't really going to work here. I planned a bit - as much time as I could afford as I have been so busy the past few months - but I could have planned substantially more. And I AM a planner. Things to plan outside of your arrival and departure? Where you are going each day, what restaurants you will eat at (you need reservations well in advance for many), what additional activities you might want to do (we did a Pirate fireworks cruise). Once you decide the days you are going to be there start getting your reservations. You can always cancel reservations - or at least many of them you can - but reservations can be hard to come by the closer you get.

2. Prepare. Learn as much as humanly possible about what to expect. Spend time just reading those Disney vacation websites and discussion boards. I didn't do this, that whole lack of time thing. I checked it out if I had an occasional question in advance, but I could have never anticipated the number of questions that I would have once there.

3. When I was on the plane the woman next to me called this our "learning trip" and suggested I not expect a lot because of the learning curve, no matter how you prepare. She wasn't kidding. Those first two days we were on our learning curve and could have been so much more effective had I prepared mentally for it.

4. Know your vacation style. AB and I aren't the type of people to hang out at a hotel room or at a pool. We get out and get things done. While it would have been absolutely fantastic to be at the Contemporary directly next to the Magic Kingdom, it is a fair bit of money and we were nearly never at the hotel to do much other than rest or squeeze in a swim (if we could) for an hour in the afternoon or to sleep. Decide where you want to spend your money in advance. A nice hotel? Or in the parks? Dining maybe?

5. Money. Have lots. This place is freaky expensive. $2.50 for a bottle of water.

6. Consider shopping in advance. I was lucky and had a car for the week prior and took one lunchtime to run to Whole Foods and stock up since the hotels have fridges in the rooms. I bought yogurt sticks, water (I didn't buy enough), granola bars, juice boxes, cheese sticks (which my kids devoured in two days), bananas and a few other snacks. I had heard that the resorts have "grocery stores" and so I didn't buy a ton. Mistake. I should have bought more. Keep in mind that what the "grocery stores" stock are the popular things that the general public like and IMO, not terribly healthy options. If you are particular about this type of thing, like I am - yes, I know we are on vacation - then shop in advance as best as you can. We plowed through everything we had and the "grocery stores" stock individual things that are freaky expensive. If you don't have the luxury of a car rental to go buy food, consider a cab on day one to a local grocery store to stock up. I should also caveat this with the fact that we ate breakfast in our rooms all but one day. Just one place we were willing to cut corners to save a bit of money.

7. Consider your level of foodie and adjust your vacation accordingly. AB and I are foodies. I had read a number of places about the fabulous food at Disney, everywhere. Yeah, we weren't impressed for the most part. AB and I covet our yummy home breakfasts and knew that nothing could live up, so we planned low key breakfasts in our rooms. Lunches (save for one) were on the fly. (Pinnochio's Grill in Fantasyland had a great meatball sandwich.) And dinners were all reservations. Now that said, the best meal we had was at The Tusker House in Animal Kingdom - for lunch. The only lunch reservation I grabbed. The other meals were decent - Boma was good and our second favorite. But by our foodie standards, the meals were lacking. Plan according to your love (or not) of food.

8. Prepare mentally for lines! There are lines for everything. Obviously for the rides - get Fast Passes EVEN if you arrive and the ride is "only 30 minutes of wait". Get your Fast Pass and go do something/anything with less wait. That is the only way to maximize your time. There are also lines even when you have reservations. Also know that it takes awhile for the "wait times" to update. There were a few rides that boasted 15 minute wait times and we were in line for 45 mins (Peter Pan) and others that stated a 50 minute wait and we waited for 20 minutes. It takes A LOT of time to update those wait times. How they do it? I was picked to hold a tag when we got in line for the Astro Orbiter and when I handed it to the agent on the other end, they timed how long it took me to get there. So their new wait time took a good 45 minutes to update.

9. Figure out in advance how to get places. We were late for only one reservation - Boatwright's at Port Orleans. We were told to shuttle to Downtown Disney, get on the boat and go to Port Orleans. Wrong. Shuttle to Downtown Disney - find the one of three boats that will take you to Port Orleans, ride the boat (which was gorgeous), get off at Port Orleans RIVERSIDE, not the French Quarter. We were 20 minutes late at a half full restaurant and were treated as though we had completely screwed their entire night. It should have been one of our best meals, but it wasn't simply because of our service (they brought all our food - appetizers and main dish at once, and then packaged up our dessert to go - since they were trying to keep their schedule... in their half filled restaurant.)

10. Build in flex time. Don't schedule tightly. You will spend more time everywhere than you anticipate.

I read through this and realize it sounds as though I didn't have a great time. We did have a great time - the rides were good - and neither AB nor I are ride people at all and we learned that Leif has a tolerance at about our same level. Seeing Skadi encounter the characters was great. And seeing Leif in Hogsmeade (which we ventured in a cab off property for at Universal Studios) was truly spectacular. More about all that later!

Happy Thanksgiving all. We are recovering today, hosting my mother in law this weekend (she flies in this afternoon) and we will have our Thanksgiving meal tomorrow once we recover.


BVB said...

Glad you survived! You should have bought The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland/world--that is the most helpful for hints, planning, where to eat, which rides to hit first, etc. Both parks are a nightmare in many of the same ways but, for most of the reasons you listed are the reasons I prefer Disneyland instead of Disneyworld. World is just too much. And at least land has Club 33 for those lucky enough to eat there! :) That being said, I think I have had my fill of Disney for the next 5 years at least.

nadinebc said...

Sounds like a whirlwind! I hope to partake someday.I guess I should start saving now.

Thanks for this.

vanessa said...

Kent and I agreed that our very high opinion of our holiday was based largely on our first couple of days being spent in nearly-empty parks. We actually commented that if we'd arrived to the crowds we experienced by Saturday/Sunday, we'd have been less enthralled by the magic.

We will definitely go back when Annika is 48", but that might be timed with our 15th anniversary and *I* really want to go to the Galapagos then...

vanessa said...

Oh - I did want to mention that we agreed the food was good...but only 2 meals we considered unreservedly, "foodie-ly" great. (Cinderella's castle had stellar tenderloin, and O'Hana was fantastic). As you noted, Boma was really good, but lacked a finishing touch of some sort to elevate it. (except for Annika's contribution :( ). HOWEVER...the cocktail menus were OUTSTANDING! You have to acknowledge the bar options!