Since I’ve started following and going to Disney Parks a little more than the average person I’ve heard many warnings of traveling to Walt Disney World during hurricane season. Still, I never took them too seriously as Walt Disney World has hardly ever closed down due to weather. But as our vacation on October 7th drew closer and closer, it became clear that these warnings warranted my attention.
Now, before I go further I just want to say that my thoughts and prayers are with all of those affected by Hurricane Matthew. My little vacation is nothing compared to the devastation some are going through due to that natural disaster. Seeing that this is a trip report, I’m going to tell how the hurricane affected my trip in this first part because I think it may be of interest to some people. If it sounds like I’m complaining that my plans got changed, I’m really not. As the mission to rebuild Haiti and other spots in the Caribbean begins, here is a link to donate if you feel so moved to help those hurt by this terrible storm.
As I said, my wife and I plus our friends Darin and Mackenzie were scheduled to arrive in Orlando on October 7th. That was the day the hurricane affected Orlando and all of the parks were closed. Our flight was cancelled the day before the 7th and so we started to look at other options. We had planned to not have a rental car and just use Disney transportation the whole trip. We scrapped that plan to a degree and flew into Tampa late on the 7th. Tampa wasn’t suffering from the high winds Orlando was and our flights went off without much of a hitch at all (our second flight of the trip was delayed by 20 minutes which was way better than we had initially hoped for.)
We arrived at Tampa around 10 PM with two plans. Plan A was to get in and drive straight to Disney’s Pop Century Resort, our hotel for most of the week. Plan B was to stay in Tampa that night if the weather dictated that we couldn’t drive and then we’d head to Orlando the next morning. Orlando had a curfew that was supposed to go until 7 AM that next Saturday and we didn’t want to get a ticket for being out driving when we weren’t supposed to. Thankfully, the curfew was lifted by the time our flight landed and we started our drive from Tampa to Disney World.
I’d never flown into Tampa before, and had only gone through Orlando. If you are going straight to Walt Disney World and enjoy renting a car more than using Disney’s Magical Express (which is a complimentary bus service straight to Disney World from the Orlando airport, if staying at a Disney hotel) then flying into Tampa is a good option. The drive from the airport was just over an hour-long and incredibly easy. Our drive went on without a hitch and we made it to our hotel just before midnight. I’d happily recommend flying into the Tampa airport if the prices were cheaper there.
The hotels were definitely scrambling at that point in the night as our wait to check-in was about half an hour. There were a ton of people just getting there that night and Pop Century was slightly understaffed. With that being said, I give a ton of credit to those cast members working. They were all in good spirits even after what I can only imagine were excruciatingly long shifts.
All in all, we made it to Walt Disney World only about 12 hours later than we had initially planned. That was great, considering we weren’t sure at some points if we’d make it there before the next Monday. While I don’t typically recommend airlines, Delta was very good in helping us reschedule our flights. Disney also handled the situation with caution and understanding. By the time we got there the only remnants left from the hurricane were gustation.
a few fallen branches in the parking lots. While I don’t think the winds caused much more than that, they did a great job of cleaning up the resorts and parks. If I hadn’t known that a hurricane had just gone through Florida, I wouldn’t have been able to tell by the parks and resorts presentation.
After a long day of travel, we decide to sleep in for a while the following morning. We dropped off our rental car at the Swan hotel and then headed to Magic Kingdom. As you could imagine, there were gobs of people waiting at the guest relations windows the day after the parks were closed. Unfortunately, Melissa and I had to join that crowd activate our annual pass. We waited there for about half an hour and then finally made it into the park.
After having gone to Disneyland a decent amount over the last two years, Magic Kingdom’s castle is stunning. While I love the Disneyland Castle, Magic Kingdom’s is jaw dropping. The expansion of the hub looks nice as well with the grass areas all around. While I think the removal of trees in that hub takes some of the scale out of the castle, I was impressed by the hub overall.
We spent the late morning on the left side of the park. Splash Mountain was first and is always great. The Magic Kingdom version offers an incredible view just before the drop. We stopped in for some water after the ride (which is funny now that I think about it). Mackenzie’s birthday was that week so she had a birthday pin on her shirt. So, instead of just getting waters we also got four frozen lemonades with Mickey straws. Between Mackenzie’s birthday and what I expect was some guest relations after the hurricane, there was definitely an uptick in free items given to us this trip.
After we enjoyed our drinks we took a ride through the Caribbean with some pirates. The Magic Kingdom version of this ride is always somewhat underwhelming to me. Pirates of the Caribbean is still impressive but compared to Disneyland it’s disappointing. After Pirates, we rode on Jungle Cruise and that prepared us for our lunch at Skipper Canteen. You can read my review of that restaurant here.
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was closed during our trip and that left Frontierland feeling pretty empty. Even when Big Thunder is rolling, that area could use a smaller attraction to help spread out the people.
After lunch we went on Space Mountain and the Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor. Monsters Inc. really has no business in Tomorrowland but that is a fun attraction. If I was completely blue-skying (a term Imagineers use when they are making initial plans for a park) I would move Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor to Pixar Place in Hollywood Studios and replace it in Tomorrowland with something more futuristic. I don’t think that’s in the plans, as Stitch’s Great Escape and possibly the Speedway need replacing first.
I do think that Tomorrowland is starting to look really nice. The aesthetics are starting to come back with beautiful colors and a nice bright look into tomorrow. While the rides in the area are somewhat hit and miss, the area looks good. Compared to Disneyland, Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowland is heads and toes ahead.
After spending time in Tomorrowland we stumbled upon the new midday stage show, Mickey’s Friendship Faire. I’ll have a review of that in the next week or two. We enjoyed ourselves that afternoon, watching the show and then taking it fairly easy moving from ride to ride. We utilized the rolling 4th FastPass after we completed our first 3. After some kinks when My Disney Experience and Magic Bands initially rolled out, those kinks seem to have righted themselves and the app is pretty easy to use.
After a relaxing afternoon we went over to eat dinner at Captain Cook’s in the Polynesian. While the counter-service restaurants in Magic Kingdom can be lacking, there are plenty of good options on the monorail loop. We enjoyed our meal and then took the boat back over for the night at the park.
Country Bear Jamboree is a classic attraction that I’m so happy is still in Magic Kingdom. Like I said, Frontierland could use another smaller attraction or two. Country Bear Jamboree fits that category and is cheesy, dumb and fun. We enjoyed that show before heading over to Main Street for the fireworks.
We settled in on Main Street after taking the train around the park. We were right behind a walking path, which leads to a pretty good view but a ton of distractions especially during Celebrate the Magic (the projection show prior to the fireworks).
Wishes was great as usual. While I’m ready for a new show at Magic Kingdom, I will miss this one when it goes away. I’m guessing Wishes will stick around for another few years before giving way to a new nighttime spectacular for Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary.
Something that will not be sticking around until then is the Main Street Electrical Parade. In fact, that parade is gone now but we were able to watch it the night before it’s finale. While the parade is no doubt a classic, it’s easy to see why this parade is going away and won’t last too long at Disneyland.
It’s unclear what Magic Kingdom’s long-term plans are for a nighttime parade. It’s short-term plans are to not have a parade. That can’t continue as this park simply gets too crowded and needs another big entertainment option. I hope an innovative, new parade is in the works for next summer but I won’t hold my breath. That’d be almost 9 months of breath holding and I simply don’t have that stamina.
After the parade we were all pretty tired so I sent the others on their way back to Pop Century as I took some photos. While this is generally one of my favorite parts of the day, I was pretty exhausted that night and didn’t stay out very long. Here are a few photos that turned out okay.
After that I called it a night and stumbled back to the bus, proceeded to forget our room number with a dead phone and finally found my way to bed about 20 minutes later than I should have. It was a great first day and the stress of trying to figure out how to arrive in Disney World seemed like a long-gone memory.
I’ll be back with part 2 of this trip report soon. Do you have any comments, questions or things you’d like to see in these trip reports? Please let me know in the comments below. Thank you for reading!