I have a feeling this may get a little long and sort of “journally,” but I’ll get into a general view of Disney, the economics of our trip, other vacation notes and general thoughts of doing something like this. Feel free to move along if this isn’t in your wheelhouse, especially the Disney stuff. My final thoughts is that Disney is a cult that most of us really won’t understand. I’m not in the “hate Disney” camp like An Unmarried Man’s (rant on Disney), but certainly despise the consumerism environment that Disney promotes.
Our family (with kids) have never done a “big” vacation. We’ve piggybacked museums and aquariums onto work conferences. We’ve tent camped for a week at a time several times. We’ve done local day trips around the area to caves and amusement park. Last year was as big as we ever went – renting a semi-rustic cabin on a private lake for a week where we just vegged. At six and eight years old, and having saved cash for awhile, we decided the time was ripe for a trip to Disney.
We didn’t have high expectations, really, we were so busy at the time of booking as well as planning, it all came together without a clear concise plan. We knew a lot of people will plan a year, or at least six months, in advanced. And here we were figuring out key details like flights and where we would stay a mere six weeks before the trip. Holly had a work conference down there (after our vacation stuff), so again, we piggybacked at least her flight to save a little.
As a quick summary, we did our best to save money on the trip, had some really fun, long days on the trip, but overall Disney was overrated and we wouldn’t go back a second time. Once was enough. Great trip, kids had a blast and that’s what mattered. Really, that’s the only reason you should go there in the first place.
We aren’t really Disney people. I went once when I was maybe 15 years old where we road-tripped and camped our way down to Florida. Spent a couple days at the park (Epcot and Magic Kingdom), did Seaworld and maybe Kennedy and called it a day. I remember more the side-trip to Mammoth Caves in Kentucky on the way down than I did Disney.
Our kids like and own a number of the Disney and Pixar library: Lion King, Little Mermaid, Frozen, most of the Pixar films. But Birdsnest never was a doll or princess fan. And neither kid really cared for Mickey Mouse, Goofy or that oldtime lot very much. LoudBoy LOVED Cars as a lad, and they really like amusement park type things like at the county fair. We figured it would still be a fun experience, and hopefully wouldn’t have to wait in line for princesses or anything. Prior to heading down there, we were talking with our friend who went down for Spring Break. He waited in line for four hours to meet the Anna and Elsa princesses from Frozen. FOUR HOURS!!! We asked Birdsnest if she wanted to meet any of the princesses and the answer was a resounding “No!” A girl after my own heart.
So with life and work so busy, we didn’t do much planning. We didn’t schedule any special character dinners. We didn’t book reservations (nor could we if we wanted) at O’Hana, Le Collier or Victoria and Albert’s.
What we did do: I checked out a book at the library, downloaded the My Disney Experience App about a week and a half before our trip, got a rough itinerary together, loaded up FastPass+ rides for the two days we’d be going and made reservations for an early dinner (4:30 pm) at the Coral Reef restaurant in Epcot.
You might say “Only two days??! How can you possibly take in enough Disney in two days??!” My friend spent I think 5 days at the parks. That was probably 3 days too many in my opinion, but I’m getting ahead of myself. We only purchased two days (park hoppers tickets that let you move between parks in the same day) because I have a motherfucking six and eight year old! I know they can’t physically withstand that many days of the Disney consumer-parks. Why people think their kids are little adult commandos is something I’ll never understand. You’re better off spending two days at the parks and three days at the hotel or beach. Anyway, we did do a third day… at SeaWorld, and were so glad we didn’t do a third day at Disney.
So the original plan was to hit Epcot all day one day, then Hollywood Studios (and Star Wars weekend) for a morning and bounce to Magic Kingdom. That’s it. Two days.
Our travel day (flights down, rental car, rental home check-in) went fine, checked into our home and all was good.
Epcot (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow) day we arrived about 30 minutes before opening (which in mine, and many other’s, opinion is the only way to have a great day without most morons, more on that later) and did what I’ll call “Casual Commando” style that we employed for most of our trip. That meant hitting key things that were worth seeing, using the Fast Pass+ system as much as we could, doing things early and saying “fuck it” for the rest. We meandered, went off the beaten path and didn’t really keep to a set schedule except for hitting our key FastPass+ reservations.
[For those that may not know, FastPass+ is the new way Disney does reservations for the rides that most sheeple, as far as I can tell, aren’t aware of or don’t care to learn about. The old way (FastPass original) was they had these ticket stations outside the “best” rides and you could get a ticket with a reservation for a later time (one hour window) to return for essentially no wait. Previously, you had unlimited options to employ this strategy, but had to run from ride to ride collecting these tickets. The new FastPass+ way is you can make three reservations ahead of time online at a single park each day, or you can make them at special kiosks at the park. They don’t let you get all the “best” rides, classifying them as “A” or “B” rides, but in either case, it’s still better than waiting in line.]
Day 1 – Epcot: we made our reservations for Mission Space, Soarin’ and Spaceship Earth. Since we arrived early, the other “A” ride we wanted to do was Test Track, so we headed there straightaway. The line was 10 minutes and it was a really fun ride, Holly’s favorite of the trip. You “design” your own race car (this was pretty fun, as LoudBoy and I made an awesome sports car with flames and boosters, and Holly and Birdsnest did a Scion xB-looking purple sparkly thing) then they take you on a ride, simulating a racecar track eventually getting up to 65 mph.
We meandered a bit, took in the garden show, then went to Mission: Space. This was mine and the kids favorite ride of the week. They put you in a simulator with some 3D glasses and a mission to Mars. They must have you on a centerfuge-type system, because you do experience some good G-forces as you blast off and some weightless type feelings later all while you are doing your various mission objectives. Cool ride.
We wandered a bit more, did the old-school Spaceship Earth that is inside the iconic Epcot sphere. The animatronics looked very good, and the dome near the end of the ride became a simulated planetarium. Was actually pretty cool. I think we saved a lot of time doing the Fast Pass as the line seemed long, this was late morning-ish. We then headed over to the Coca Cola shop thing (Club Cool) where they let you try all sorts of different Coke softdrink flavors from around the world for free. Tell your kid/wife/friends that the Beverly flavor (Italy) tastes great and then laugh at their face! So awesome! (it tastes like ass)
Headed into the large greenhouse thing (Living with the Land) that has fastish restaurant food, Soarin’ and other stuff inside. We waited about 20 minutes for the Living with the Land boat ride through the greenhouses, which for my wife was totally worth it. Cool growing techniques. Super well maintained growing areas with very interesting plants (9 lb. lemons) and very interesting irrigation systems. By the time we got off, the morons had come out. It was lunch time and the park (in mid-May) was starting to get crowded. We took a short break, drank some water and had a few snacks we brought while we watched the commotion and claustrophobia in front of us.
Soarin’ was within this monstrosity of a building, and was a little bit of a letdown. Simulated hang-glider where they take you off the ground and fly you through simulated flights on an Imax type theater screen with hard splices between scenes. They did have some pine scented smells at the appropriate times, which was cool, but glad we didn’t wait long for this.
We had the afternoon free for a few hours until our dinner reservation (which we shouldn’t have made – there is so much good food at the World Showcase we would have been fine – but once you make a reservation you’re not really allowed to cancel it as far as I can tell without paying a penalty), so we walked the World Showcase – 11 countries that are built to appear genuine. Between Holly and I we’ve been to 7 of the 11 countries (in real life) and both were like “it is so fake, but at least the shops have some of the candies/snacks from the countries we’ve visited.” In Norway, we rode the Maelstrom water ride, which I thought would be better too and definitely not worth the “A” rating in the FastPass system.
Stumbling our way to dinner reservations tired after walking what must have been five miles in very hot weather for these-midwesterners, we settled in a viewing a large aquarium. The dinner was very solid, and not even that overpriced. LoudBoy devoured his kids “fish of the day (salmon)” meal ($8.99) which looked great. I got the trout ($20.99), Holly the Mahi-Mahi with shrimp ($25.99) and Birdnest was being a picky eater and ordered some watermelon salad thing which she barely ate.
Following dinner, we headed to a Nemo ride right next door to dinner, where we rode in a clam shell and saw the large aquarium from the other side of where we had dinner, as they shown the Nemo animation somehow onto the water. Actually, very well done, but a little kids ride nonetheless. The queue (not the line, but the waiting area to walk through) was super long though, meaning that at one point, this was probably the longest wait at Epcot. After this, we went back to our home-for-the-week and crashed.
Day 2- Hollywood Studios, Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom:
So I hadn’t told the kids that Hollywood Studios had Star Wars weekend the day we went as I wanted to surprise them. The only thing they wanted to do was ride the Tower of Terror. The park opened at 8 a.m., so like the Commando I was, I made everyone rise early to be there before the festivities started. Glad we did. They had a little opening deal with some Storm Troopers up top doing a little sketch routine before the rope drop. The price we had to pay for this morning was seeing a lot of Star Wars dorks. Me and LoudBoy love Star Wars but not to the extreme here. I would say 75% of people had Star Wars clothes or costumes on during the time we were there.
Since we were bouncing to Magic Kingdom and did our Fast Passes there, we headed to the Star Tours ride right away, knowing the Star Wars dorks would clog that up later. We got on right away. Another 3D simulator ride, very well done. Talking with a Cast Member after the ride, there were 50-some different sequences they can weave together to make the ride what it is, so likely different each time.
Next, as we headed down to the Tower of Terror, we stopped at the Great Movie Ride. This was part live action stuff with special effects and part ride-through different movie sets. Aliens was pretty scary for the younger set. The mobster stuff was sort of fun. Our kids love Wizard of Oz and liked the acting/animatronics of the simulation. Was a 15 minute diversion on our trek, but cool to see anyway.
Tower of Terror was maybe the best ride of the trip. Very well done, with a creepy hotel front lobby, a secret elevator entrance into a library where the Twilight Zone story starts. The ride itself was great, with some very sensory-deprivation type excitement. LoudBoy (6) both loved it and hated it, and when asked if he wanted to ride it again (back-to-back since the ride was so short at that time) he said it was too “scary.” Oh well.
We rode the Backlot tour (at Holly’s insistence since she had been to Hollywood on a work trip and saw a similar tour at actual Hollywood lot), which had a cool special effects scene, but other than that was a bore (the real Hollywood tour was better unsurprisingly). Muppets 3D was cool (our kids were trying to grab 3D effects). Walking around we saw Darth Vader walking from his dressing room out to the main stage all alone, to be harassed later by the nerds. We got a few feet away from him. Also saw nerds getting super excited about Boba Fett on the main stage. All in all a very entertaining trip. Wish we had time to see the stunt shows but the rest of my clan wasn’t feeling it.
Magic Kingdom – bounced out to Magic Kingdom just as Hollywood Studios was getting busy. Should have known this was going to blow.
Magic Kingdom (MK) was where we had FastPasses for, and I remembered the Swiss Family Robinson house and Tom Sawyer Island when I was a kid, so thought it would be cool. It is the iconic Disneyworld destination. Was I wrong. We waited in line to park about 2 miles away and rode a tram … to then wait in line to ride the monorail into MK. This was about 11 a.m., well after opening and a throng of people were just arriving. I didn’t really understand that. Once we arrived at MK, it was pure pandemonium. Main Street USA is the entrance, and I looked at my wife and knew right then why they checked your bags for weapons, because if not, I would have half-expected her later to spray the crowd with bullets postal-worker style.
After seeing a couple get engaged right in front of us (Disney magic I suppose), we fought the insanity to eat a few hot dogs and fries for $30. We then had some Dole-whips (pineapple soft serve, very good) and headed to Tom Sawyer Island. True to form, our “raft” operator had a few very crooked teeth. Holly looked miserable at this point. We made it across, LoudBoy had an absolute blast as he explored caves, forts, secret escape tunnels and the like. The fort had guns that made “pew pew” sounds, and it was something I remember exploring as a kid too. If my wife wasn’t so grumpy it would have been way more fun to run and explore with the kids. Birdsnest recognized my wife’s desire to be miserable, so joined her as company to get out of the sun while we pew-pewed the indians attacking the fort.
It’s a shame MK doesn’t really serve alcohol (I think maybe they do in some restaurants) as I know they would have made some money off of us that day. [as an aside, while we didn’t go on “It’s a Small World” but how can you go on that ride without drinking and not want to go stabby on someone? I think if I made Holly go on that ride, in her state, she may have been fighting animated muppets on the day.] I would think those like us would need a few rums prior to the Pirate’s of the Carribean ride to make it through the bazillion strollers and kazillion retards that bring 3-year olds to such a park.
So our FastPasses were for the Mountains: Splash, Big Thunder and Space. We made it through the much longer- (and creepier-) than-expected “Splash Mountain,” hopped right on (with the FastPass) Big Thunder Mountain, but had to get the fuck out of there before Space Mountain (2 hours later) came due.
You could tell the park was built in the early 1970’s (planned attendance: 100,000 on opening day but only 10,000 showed up. Average attendance after a month extrapolated over the year showed under 4 million per year attendance) as the overall park design doesn’t accommodate the number of visitors over 40 years later (17.5 million in 2012), even on a mid-May weekday (and even with Star Wars day drawing patrons at another nearby Disney park). No wonder why the park seemed like an absolute clusterfuck. I would highly recommend avoiding unless you have a double-stroller and like to be assfucked by dipshits all day.
Animal Kingdom (AK) – So I was all ready to head back to the townhouse, as it was about 3 pm or so and we were hot and tired, but Holly thought it would be a good idea to check out the last park. So while I had written off the AK from the start, at the end of the day, I was really glad we went. We were arriving when most people were leaving, which means we got a very close parking spot and the park was very empty. It was well shaded and we avoided the stupid character parade by taking a more quiet route that started the kids on the Wilderness Explorer program.
As such, we ran into a lot of young female college students (not nearly as hot as you’d expect – most were mousy and plain, as Holly can attest since she was left talking with them as me and the kids slowly ninja’d our way out) willing to teach our kids all sorts of interesting wilderness facts. Ka-Kaw!
We mostly saw animals all day, doing the wilderness trek and then the safari ride which were both very cool. We didn’t do the other rides at the park as we didn’t have the gumption to do so, nor was the wait very short even by the end of the day. Perhaps the best park of the day, but went home and crashed. Hard.
Disney was fun for all. The kids had a fun time and laughed a lot, but it was a lot of walking and a lot of work. And very fake and annoying with the crowds of people. Bribes with ice cream was necessary to get the children through. The food was expensive and the merchandising was extreme. The only tchotchkes we bought in the parks were a couple of key chains to add to the kids’ collection. That’s it, besides a few beers or beverages at the parks (that allowed us to make it through the ordeal). Again, this was a kids trip, so seeing them laugh and see the flightly randomness fun that is Disney was worth it, though expensive.
The rest of our trip:
We did the four Disney parks (1 and 3 in two days) as back-to-back with the last two days open. We took the third day as an “off day” where we didn’t have any plans. We decided to head to Cocoa Beach which was a little drive, but the kids called it their favorite day. Go figure. We met one of my wife’s friends out in the nearby fake-Disney town of Celebration who gave us the scoop on SeaWorld since she worked there a while back and we were heading there the next day.
SeaWorld was cool, but crowded quickly. Saw the shows (dolphins, Shamu, sea lion and pets). Here’s a tip for you. If you don’t care if you see the brief intro movie to the arctic exhibit near the Shamu stadium, enter the arctic gift shop, skip the “No Re-Entry” signs and see the exhibit backwards to avoid the crowds. Exit through the “Flight Crew Only” doors near the entrance, which will kick you back out to the gift shop.
Trip was a success, but unless your kids think Disney is the cat’s meow, I would think twice about going. Go to the beach or hang at a pool. They’ll probably have nearly the fun for next to zero cost. I seriously think the people that go every year, or bring toddlers (and no older siblings) have some head injury we just can’t see. Don’t think you have to go to Disney just because all your sheeple co-workers say you do.
I promised you costs, here’s how ours broke down:
- Transportation: $1,400 (flight was $980 for three of us which included bag check fees, rental $220 which included booster for the week, parking [parks, airport], tolls and gas)
- Tickets: about $1,300 (three parks, Disney hoppers for two days, plus SeaWorld)
- Lodging: $500 (all in at gated resort. Terra Verde Resort, would highly recommend – was 10-15 minutes to parks, easy drive, with large pool. We had a three BR [slept up to 6] with laundry, full kitchen with cooking stuff and dishes, 2.5 baths. A number of places will rent these vacation homes [and similar] out.)
- Food and Drinks: probably between $700 to $800 if I had to guess (or about $29-33 per person per day. Now compare that to the “Disney Meal Plan” who’s standard cost is about $60 per adult and $20 per kid per day but that’s only for those that stay at the park). We went to Costco when we arrived and bought breakfast for the week, snacks, water bottles (you can bring into any of the parks) wine and other necessities that we used to keep costs somewhat lower. Bought snacks and ice cream at the parks, along with dinner at night (including night with friends), half-lunches and snacks. Food at the parks was expensive.
- Souvenirs: $70. We didn’t buy much. A couple of key chains, a sweatshirt from Ron Jon’s for LoudBoy and a summer outfit for Birdsnest. I hate tchotchkes and souvenirs tremendously. Had to say “no” a lot to random crap from the kids/wife.
Total for six days and four people – about $4,000 or about $170 per person per day for everything (we did save $300-400 since Holly had a conference that paid for her flight).
Now compare that if you stayed on-site. Disney’s on-site cheap flea-bag hotels would run you about $130/night (less than we paid for a townhouse) but the difference would negate the rental car since theoretically you wouldn’t need one if you stayed on-site and took Disney transportation (buses). If you wanted a nicer on-site Disney hotel, expect to pay between $200-500 per night. Also, on-site you have to wear wrist-bands, where Disney likely tracks your every move via radio transponders or GPS, along with your FastPass and spending habits. Big Brother is watching (for Disney’s Billion Dollar investment, I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t know when you took a shit), don’t think for a second they’re not.
You could surely do it cheaper than we did (camping, making more food vs. eating out), but we compromised frugal with comfort and didn’t make dinner (dined in three times, ordered pizza/wings once). We drank wine and a few beverages in the parks and at the tiki bar at our resort too. We saved cash for this trip, so it was what it was — a fun vacation for the kids… one never to be repeated. Overrated, and with a steady parade of morbidly obese people on scooters at the parks, but still a good time.
On that note, if you think you’ll get back to the hotel or rental house and have special relations with your husband or wife in your private hot tub, think again. You end up so beat from the hot sun and 10 miles of walking a day all anyone can think of is sleep. Everyone falls asleep early and sleeps hard. We had sex as a quick afterthought on the morning we flew out (as we were showering). More of scratch the itch for both of us more than anything. Wasn’t a really relaxing or romantic experience to be found on this trip or really a whole lot of chill adult interaction or connection.
So be warned, a trip like this is not about you, so take a deep breath, clear your mind and hang on. Try not to let the trip be your own personal hell and you’ll do fine. Watching your kids faces as they hop and skip through the park, have excitement and glee from the rides, make silly jokes about poop and farts and laugh at dumb stuff is what a trip like this is about. Don’t go all Clark W. Griswold and have to control everything. Though that’s my nature, I did a pretty good job of just flowing with the trip and letting the kids off the leash.