Originally I was not going to write a review of this trip. This was a family trip with my kids and grandkids, and I usually do not do a lot of writing about that kind of trip. They are more private, and I hardly ever put a recognizable photo of my grandkids on my blog. But our experience may help other grandparents (and we know a lot of them) deal with Disney better than we did. Don’t get me wrong, we had a great experience most of the time, but we are also happy that Walt Disney World is now a sure “Been there, done that, not going back” experience for us.
This trip was our Christmas (and birthday) gifts for our kids and grandkids this year. We have previously taken them to Disneyland in California (about seven years ago) on a cruise (the summer before the pandemic hit), and we had promised them the big Disney experience when they were both old enough to remember it. And it just happened we went on my grandson’s birthday. This brings me to the first thing I would have loved to avoid but couldn’t—crowds.
When we went to Disneyland seven years ago, the grandkids weren’t in school yet, and my daughter wasn’t teaching, so we only had to work around our work schedule and my son-in-law’s. So we could go whenever we wanted. That is the key to all amusement parks—go when others can’t. Sadly, both kids were in school this time, and my daughter is back to teaching, so we had to coordinate with school schedules. I refuse to do summer. The heat is just horrid and would be worse than the crowds. Maybe it’s worse. And it was still pretty darn hot. Not oppressive like it would have been in the summer, but really hot for us Pacific Northwesterners.
I have done a lot of research about the best time to go to WDW (Walt Disney World), and it used to be that the worst week of the year was the week between Christmas and New Year’s. But not anymore. It turns out that it is now worse during President’s Day weekend…which is when we were there. I base this on the report from the folks who write the book, “The Unofficial Guide to WDW,” who reported that this shift in crowds has now occurred. The Unofficial Guide books and their companion Lines app have been my go-to for avoiding crowds for years. Since way back when I took our kids to WDW in the 1990s, they have been amazing in helping me plan. With their book, their website and their app, they help you develop touring plans that can work. But not this time because the crowds just overwhelmed the plans.
This is the MOST frustrating vacation to plan. When I plan our other travel, I can make specific plans for specific tours and set specific times. Once in a while, a problem will occur that throws things off, but with Disney, it’s all a crapshoot. You can’t plan around the crowds. And there is so much to learn about WDW. Like how the Genie+ works (I didn’t figure that out until the last day), how the transportation system works, and just so much…AAAAGGGHHH!
I feel like I am rambling here, so let me get on with it.
What was good
- Spending quality time with my wife, my daughter, her husband, my brother, his wife, my niece and my two incredible grandkids.
- Having my Star Wars fan grandson celebrate his 12th birthday riding the Millenium Falcon, helping the Rise of the Resistance and taking Star Tours.
- Our hotel (Disney’s Contemporary Resort), which was convenient, had decent food, comfortable beds, great bathrooms, helpful people at the front desk and one of the best showerheads I have ever used.
- Some of the food was pretty darn good (but expensive) for a theme park/hotel. For instance, the turkey sandwich at the hotel “food court” was so good I had it three times during our stay. Our lunch in Epcot at the Coral Reef and the quick dinner at La Cantina De San Angel, also in Epcot, were all great. But sorry, WDW has some real problems with basic dining. More about that in the what needs changing section below. I also loved that at many restaurants, we could pre-order on our phones, pick a window of time we wanted to eat and then click a button when we arrived, and they would have it ready in minutes.
- Disney’s free transportation gets you to all four parks in a hurry even when you are going really, really early. From our hotel we took Disney busses to two of the parks and the monorail to the other two.
- The rides we were able to get on were awesome. Disney still does an amazing job with those. The newest Star Wars rides were great, but even I (who is not an Avatar fan) loved the Avatar ride in Animal Kingdom. There was nothing quite like it. I am still kind of awestruck by how amazing it is. You literally believe you are flying on a winged animal.
- Magic Bands work great! Disney should hire out the people who make their Magic Bands to help cruise lines that are having problems with their RFID devices. A Magic Band is a device that looks like a wristwatch that you can use for EVERYTHING at Walt Disney World. It’s your room key, you can charge anything to it while on the Disney properties (food, souvenirs, drinks and just about anything else you can buy). You just hold up (like I do my Apple Watch) and tap it. It never failed—it worked every single time. It was so great to walk out of the room every day and not worry if you had your key, your wallet or anything but your sunglasses and sunscreen as long as you had your Magic Band on your wrist. And you can customize them as well. Mason had a Star Wars band; mine was Goofy, so I could walk around saying “Gorsh” all day. BTW: You could also use your phone to do anything that the band would do.
What REALLY needs improvement
- The problem with Disney dining is NOT the food itself; it is the selection of places to eat it, especially at breakfast. About 90% of the in-park food venues do NOT open until 11:00 am. When you get up at 5:30 am to be in the park by 7:30 am so you can get at least two rides in before the non-Disney hotel guests are allowed in at 8:00, then there should be more than one place open to catch a quick breakfast. In three of the four parks we visited (Animal Kingdom, Magic Kingdom and Epcot), the only place we could find to get food or coffee before 11:00 am was Starbucks. Seriously. And don’t tell me it’s because no one eats breakfast at WDW because those places were PACKED! SWAMPED!And I know that the Touring Plans folks say you should get breakfast stuff to eat in your room. Well, that is all well and good, but if you fly in and take a shuttle to your hotel and have no car, how are you supposed to get to a grocery store to buy those breakfast items? Pack them in your luggage?
- Genie+ sucks! This is what Disney replaced a great program they used to have called Fast Pass. You could reserve a spot on a ride and come back at a later time to take it. It was FREE. Now they have this thing called Genie+. You get to do the same thing, but it costs you big $$$. So you have paid $100 plus for a ticket, and if you want to be able to get on rides without waiting in line for hours, you can pay an additional $15-$20 per person/per day to be able to make an appointment to come back in two hours to ride a ride. This way, you could be standing in two lines simultaneously…kind of. But it just does not work well. It’s kind of like TSA Pre-Check at the airport. So many people have it now; it’s almost faster just to do the regular security line. And Genie+ is a huge ripoff. We were offered it free for an afternoon to make up for something (more about that later), and when you use it, you can book a ride time for a future hour. But until you do that ride, you can’t book anything else. For instance, at 2:00 pm, we booked a ride at the first available time for something my granddaughter wanted to do. The soonest we could get the reservation was 5:00 pm (I will admit that Grandpa messed up our first reservation). So that meant we could not book any other Genie+ reservations until three hours later. When we got off that ride and attempted to book another reservation, nothing was available until 8:30 or later. Being exhausted and having to catch a 5:30 am bus to the airport, we bailed. Worthless. And a huge ripoff.
What was just stupid
- The crowds. And a lot of the people who make them up. There were:
- Adults who had kids with them that were all under five years old. Who are you there for? Your kids won’t remember this. Mason was five when we took our grandkids to Disneyland seven years ago. He remembers much of what we did; Maylee was two and remembers nothing about the trip. What a huge waste of money for a few pics of your child with Mickey. And you are making it so much more crowded (because you take up a ton of space with your damn strollers) for those who can’t come at another time.
- Adults with no kids in their party. Why are you there during one of the BUSIEST weeks of the year? Did you really want to honeymoon with half of the USA? A week before we were there, the crowd levels were at fours and fives (on a scale of 10). When we were there, every park was between eight and ten. If you had come one week earlier, you could have had a better time yourself and lightened the load on the parks. Idiots.
- The usual rude people who run you over with their motorized carts, wheelchairs, strollers and sometimes just their bodies. I can’t count the number of times someone in our party was run into.
- The abomination that is the big, fat tubs of lard who rent scooters because they are too lazy to walk. We actually saw one family where the son, dad and granddad were all in scooters. All of them were able to get out and walk (I saw them do it a number of times as we followed them around Animal Kingdom). They had no problem riding the rides. Sadly, their kids whined because they didn’t want to walk either. We also saw a couple with two kids who had a motorized scooter rental and kept taking turns riding it. The mom would ride it onto the monorail, and the dad would ride it off. What are the chances they were both disabled but yet could walk behind the other on the scooter? I fully realize that some people have handicaps you can’t see, but this kind of stuff goes too far. My mom spent much of her last years on a scooter because she could not walk after a stroke. These people are taking up the space of those who need it. Shame on them and the example they set for their children.
The worst parts for us
This one is easy—illness. We arrived on a Thursday night. We spent Friday day in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, standing in one line after the other. By the end of the day, my granddaughter was exhausted, dehydrated and feeling queasy. Queasy became a full-blown illness, and she and my daughter were flat on their backs in bed with a stomach ailment for the next two days. They missed two complete parks, and even on our last day (Monday), even though they could come to Magic Kingdom for a while before they got really tired out, they never got to do much of the fun stuff. And my son-in-law missed that Monday as he got whatever they had, so he was down for all of that day.
I will say that Disney came through on fixing this as much as they could. The manager at the hotel made sure that for every day they missed, they were credited with another day in the park (more than a $150 value) sometime in the next ten years. I hope they can go back and use them sometime in that time frame.
I should also say I feel terrible that my brother, sister-in-law and niece came with us because they could have gone at any time and avoided all the lines. But they wanted to see WDW with the kids (it is an entirely different place with kids) and us, so they came along.
Alaska Air did us wrong!
There was one non-Disney thing that happened on this trip that TOTALLY TICKED ME OFF! I purchased our Alaska Air airline tickets in July of 2021. I bought them with our annual companion fares we get for being Alaska Air VISA cardholders. I got six seats in one row (row 18) so that we could all sit together. About two weeks before our flight to Orlando, I checked our reservation to make sure everything was good, and it was. Then the day before the flight, when I went online to check in, I found that the kids and grandkids were still in row 18 but that Kathleen and I had been moved to the back of the plane to row 29. WTF?? Since we had done nothing to precipitate this, I got very upset and called Alaska. We were told there was nothing they could do about it and that we should ask at the gate to see if those people could change seats with us. Really—would you trade two aisle seats for an aisle and a middle seat? I wouldn’t. But how dare Alaska Air change us on a whim or let a computer change us? Kathleen tells me that one of the two people who got our seats was a 20-something with long shaggy hair that was sick most of the flight (maybe that’s how our kids got sick), and the other was a businessman who spent the entire flight on his computer. My guess is that he was a high-mileage Alaska Air flyer.
Whenever I hear someone complain about their seat assignments, I always want to say, “you should have booked and chosen your seats earlier.” Which is exactly what I did, and then they moved us. I still don’t understand how (or why) they did that. But I was told it says they can in the fine print.
- When you first decide to go to Walt Disney World, get the book, “The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World.” Then download their app called Lines. Do their touring plans and stick with them until the crowds overwhelm your plans. You have to do your homework before you take this vacation.
- Don’t go during a school holiday, the summer or any other time of the year not recommended by the Unofficial Guide unless you have no choice. And realize that things change from year to year. President’s Day Weekend had NEVER been that crowded prior to this year.
- Stay in a Disney hotel. Not only will you be closer to the parks, but you will get to get into the parks anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes earlier than the general public. That was the reason we got on the Avatar ride in Animal Kingdom in less than 30 minutes. When we got off, the wait was close to 2.5 hours. The same with some of the Star Wars rides.
- Get up early! Be in the park when it opens. On two days, we were literally the first or second people in a particular park.
- Download the Disney Parks app from Disney. Great maps and suggestions as well as making it possible for you to unlock your room with your phone if you don’t get Magic Bands.
- Train for the experience. In our party, Mason (my grandson) and I were easily the ones who did the most walking since we never got sick. We walked a total of more than 40 miles in four days. Ask my Apple Watch. That’s in the neighborhood of 20K steps a day. Start walking a few weeks before your trip.
That’s about it. I might add some more later, or I would be happy to answer any questions you might have. We all had a great time when some of us weren’t sick, and I wouldn’t trade my memories for any of it. But I am also glad it is over.
I am hoping my brother will add via comment (below) anything that I forgot.
Our motley crew on the morning of Day 1. No one was sick, and no one was tired.
Oops, I almost forgot one thing I wanted to throw in here. After we got home, my niece Cassie sent us a DisneyWorld Bingo. I thought it was hilarious and wanted to share it here. If you go, you will understand all of this…100%.
If you can dream it, you can do it. —Walt Disney