October 2016 Walt Disney World Trip Report – Part 6

If you missed parts 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 of this trip report click on the corresponding number and that installment will magically appear in front of you.

Finally, we’ve hit the home stretch!  For those of you that have followed along through every single installment of this trip report, I appreciate it.  For those of you that haven’t, you are the smart ones!

After our late night in Epcot, we slept in and checked out of Animal Kingdom Lodge.  It was time for our third hotel switch of the trip!  This would be excessive if Disney didn’t make it so easy.  Switching hotels is as simple as dropping off your bags at the lobby, hopping on a bus to go to a park and then coming back to a different hotel.  Because of the accessibility, this is a great way to be able to see more hotels and try different aspects of Walt Disney World.  I think this also gives guests with a little less money a chance to stay in a nicer hotel for a night or two.  That was the case for us when we stayed at AKL.

After dropping off our bags at bell services, we headed to Animal Kingdom to do a few attractions that we missed earlier in the trip.  We did some favorites, as well…

AK Yeti Museum

When you have a chance to ride a train up Everest, you ride a train up Everest.  After that we headed to the most underrated attraction in Walt Disney World, Maharajah Jungle Trek.  Since the internet is all about hot takes, I’ll give you one – Maharajah Jungle Trek is the most immersive and detailed area in Disney World.  While that might not be true, I could certainly make a case for this.  The attraction is a walking path showcasing animals but the details are and architecture are beautiful.

Maharajah Jungle Trek tells the story, in short, of animals surviving poachers and then being respected by the people in that area.  Oh yeah, the actual animals in the area are great as well.  Headlined by a tiger, this attraction is top-notch.  Here are a few of my favorite photos from this attraction.

Fountain Maharjah Jungle Trek AK

Tiger AK MJT

Prayer flags AK MJT

After that it was back to another of our favorite attractions – Kilimanjaro Safaris.  On 2 of the 3 rides we took on the safari this trip, I thought our driver did something a little different.  One of those rides was at night and the driver seemed to add a little bit of humor to the attraction.  This wasn’t anywhere near Jungle Cruise levels but there was quite a bit of time to fill with this attraction at night.  The driver filled that time and did it well.  On our ride this day, the driver did a bit of a Q&A as we traveled the savannah.  I thought this was great and really added to the attraction for repeat riders.

Giraffe savannah safari AK

After our safari, we went to lunch at the new Tiffins.  I will have a glowing review of that restaurant in the next couple of weeks.  If you are at Disney World before that review comes out here’s my advice.  Go to Tiffins.

Once we finished lunch we wandered around the park a little bit and then went to check into our hotel for that night – Port Orleans Riverside.  I’ll, again, have a review of the hotel up shortly but we did enjoy our time there.

Port Orleans greenery

After taking a nap in the afternoon, we went back to Animal Kingdom.  Unfortunately, Melissa wasn’t feeling well that night so we took it nice and slow and didn’t do too much.  We do really like the park at night though and would encourage people to go, even before the Rivers of Light and Pandora open.  There aren’t many people there, there is live entertainment everywhere, and the atmosphere is incredible.

Everest fireworks red

If you time it right, you can watch the Hollywood Studios fireworks erupt behind Mount Everest.  I’d recommend standing on one of the bridges that connects Discovery Island and Harambe for the best view.  I enjoyed the view and thought Everest looked great with the fireworks behind it.  Next visit I want to ride Everest as the fireworks are going off.

Everest night fisheye

Beware expedition everest

Looking back on the trip, I think the two highlights (disregarding food haha) were the Halloween Party and getting to see Animal Kingdom at night.  For those that loved the park before, going at night is a must.

We went to Disney Springs that night and enjoyed a drink at Jock Lindsay’s.  I like what Disney has done with that whole area and I’m a little bummed we didn’t spend some more time there on this trip.  We’ll remedy that in the coming months!

The next morning we were back at Epcot and having lunch at the Food and Wine Festival.  I had a spicy tuna roll and shrimp from the Japan booth that day.  I thought both were good but not exceptionally so.  I’m looking forward to the Food and Wine Festival in 2017.  I don’t think that the festival warrants quite as much hype as it receives but it certainly is fun and full of some good food.

Living With the Land stream

We rode Living With The Land that morning which is definitely under-appreciated, like Maharajah Jungle Trek.  The first half of the attraction could use an update but I find it really interesting to see what they are growing and harvesting in the greenhouse.  I hope the attraction survives whatever is about to happen to Epcot.

We walked around World Showcase a while longer before heading back to Port Orleans to catch the bus to the airport.  It was a fun way to end the trip and somewhat relaxing, even with the big crowds.

Japan Pond

There are plenty of things in Walt Disney World that have me worried – Hollywood Studios, upcharge events, and Epcot namely.  That doesn’t make me enjoy our trips any less.  This trip in particular was a blast and full of laughter.  Leaving wasn’t quite as painful either, since we’ll be back before long!

Thank you for reading Wandering in Disney!  If you have any questions regarding the Disney Parks please let us know in the comments.  

Animal Kingdom Lodge (Jambo House) Review

Animal Kingdom Lodge is a deluxe resort in Walt Disney World.  Inspired by African and Asian culture, as well as Animal Kingdom, this hotel is one of the more unique places to stay at any Disney Resort in the world.  We recently stayed in a studio at Jambo House, which is what this review will be based off.

If you haven’t been to Animal Kingdom Lodge before, it is broken into two sections – Jambo House and Kidani Village.  Jambo House has the grand lobby as well as more restaurants while Kidani is on a smaller scale and is more for Disney Vacation Club members.  These two locations are easy to walk in between (about 10 minutes) and all amenities are available to guests regardless of which section you are staying in.  I’ll mainly stick to Jambo House in this review but will try to chime in on the other location as well.

AKL lobby

While Melissa and I enjoy nice hotels, we don’t typically splurge and spend on a higher priced option.  We tend to stick to the moderate option at Walt Disney World when we’ve gone in the past.  After seeing a good price on Animal Kingdom Lodge when looking earlier this year, we decided to go for it and splurge for a few days.  A good price for these locations is typically around $250/night.  If that price already makes you uncomfortable then this hotel simply might not be for you.  Experiencing these hotels without actually staying at them is a good plan and something that is fairly easy to do.  I’d highly encourage anyone to do that for Animal Kingdom Lodge.  The atmosphere, dining options and other unique experiences make this a very inviting place.

Now, for those interested in staying here, let’s take a look at the room!  Again, this was a studio room at the Jambo House.  I apologize for the room not being in pristine condition, I am terrible at remembering to take photos as soon as we enter instead of after spending a couple of days there.  The room was clean when we entered, just so you know!

AKL beds

There were four of us on this stay so we made full use of the pull out bed.  Both of the beds were queen sized, which was nice after coming from Pop Century earlier in the trip.  We slept in the actual bed and I thought the mattress was really comfortable.  Our friends didn’t have any complaints about the pull-out, but didn’t rave about it either.

AKL TV room

You can see some of the decor in this shot, pink backpack not included with the room.  I thought the theming in the room was great.  Everything felt hand-made (even though it probably isn’t) and had a lot of character.  If you like the feel of Animal Kingdom and the villages you visit in that theme park, I’m certain you’ll like the theming in these rooms.  There was plenty to look at in the decor but most of it still felt pretty subtle.

AKL bathroom

The bathroom was pretty standard, with the sink outside of the room with the toilet and shower.  I like the bordering on the mirror but not much else stood out about this section of the room.

AKL kitchenette

Because this is part of a DVC resort, there was a small kitchenette in our room.  While we didn’t really take advantage of this, it may be useful for a longer stay.  I like the elephants behind the sink.

The actual room itself was really nice as a whole.  I thought there was quite a bit of space even with four adults in the room.  Again, we had just come from a value resort where the room layouts are about 50 feet smaller.  Of all the hotels I’ve stayed at in Walt Disney World (I think I’m up to six now) this was my favorite room that I’ve stayed in.  That might be a common theme throughout this review.

Now, that was our actual room but I haven’t mentioned the best part of the AKL room yet – the deck.

AKL deck view

Giraffe Bird AKL

Outside of our room was a savannah filled with animals, notably giraffes, antelope and some fun birds.  I absolutely loved this.  Animals were out throughout the day and even in the night.  After getting back from a long day in the park, I liked to sit outside for about half an hour, unwind and try to spot animals in the dark.  If you don’t care about animals then this is just a nice view and you have no soul.  If you do care about animals then this is huge reason why you should stay at Animal Kingdom Lodge.

Outside of the room, the resort offered many other activities.  There are plenty of places to visit animals.  Maybe the best spot for that is at Kidani Village where you can go out and learn about them with the help of a cast member.  They do get fairly close to you.

AKL Antelope sitting

The pools here are nice but nothing spectacular.  I took a dip in the pool at Jambo House and went down the slide there.  I wouldn’t put that pool very high on my list of resort pools.  I did look at the Kidani Village pool and thought that it looked a little more unique and better overall.

Stream AKL

Animal Kingdom Lodge offers plenty of tours and interactions with cast members.  There are also plenty of chairs to sit around in and watch animals pass by.  The hotel (and theme park for that matter) take a different approach than the rest of Walt Disney World.  It’s okay to slow down here and just soak everything in.  AKL is a perfect place to relax.

Sanaa bread service high

On top of all of that, Animal Kingdom Lodge also offers the best array of restaurants of any resort.  Sanaa is a cheaper table-service option (relative to other WDW restaurants) at Kidani Village.  Boma and Jiko are fantastic restaurant at Jambo House, both offering African-inspired fare.  The counter-service option, The Mara, is also a good choice as far as quick-service goes.  You can’t really go wrong with any of these.

I’ve done nothing but rave so far in this review and that’s because we haven’t got to Animal Kingdom Lodge’s one negative – location.  AKL is a pretty long ride (about half an hour) from Magic Kingdom.  Many other deluxe resorts offer great locations but that’s not true here.  Of course, the hotel is very close to Animal Kingdom.  This is a factor and if your main goal for a trip is to spend as much time in the theme parks as possible, then Animal Kingdom Lodge probably isn’t the place for you.  Still, I don’t think it’s a big enough deterrent to devalue all of the quality this resort offers.

AKL antelope

As far as value goes, Animal Kingdom Lodge is typically one of the cheaper deluxe resorts.  The hotel is certainly head and shoulders above any moderate resort and is close to fairly priced, which isn’t something I can say about many Disney hotels.  You certainly get what you pay for here.  If the location isn’t a big deal to you then I highly recommend staying here if you can get a price around (or under) $300.  I know many people can’t afford this very often, myself included, so I’d recommend going to visit the hotel on your trip even if you aren’t staying here.  This hotel also has bigger rooms if you have a large group.  Of course the price does go up in that case.

Overall Rating – 10/10

Animal Kingdom Lodge is easily my favorite Disney hotel I’ve stayed at.  It might be my favorite hotel I’ve stayed at anywhere.  I have no qualms with the hotel and think the theming plus the animals outside your room are unique enough to warrant splurging for a hotel room.

Have you stayed at Animal Kingdom Lodge?  Do you have any questions about Walt Disney World hotels?  Let us know in the comments.  Thank you for reading!

– Andrew

Disneyland Attraction Rankings

Today we’ll continue our series of ranking all the attractions in a certain Disney park. A couple of weeks ago we started with California Adventure.  To see that post and an introduction to the series, you can click here.  For now, let’s brush up on the rules.

  • No Meet & Greets. These are impossible to rank as each experience is unique.  Also, I don’t particularly like them.
  • No Live Shows. Nighttime shows are almost always better than rides, in my eyes. Also, big stage shows are impressive and don’t fit the profile of a typical ride. I will include 3D movies though.  Basically you have to physically ride something or it has to be a show without live acting.  The stuff in ToonTown that you can climb around on won’t be included here.  It would have ranked pretty poorly, if you’re curious.
  • These are all my opinion. Lou Mongello constantly says that “every attraction is someones favorite.” While that is corny and seems a little silly, I do think it’s true. I can’t account for other people’s memories in these rankings and will try (probably unsuccessfully) to take some of the nostalgia out of my views of these attractions. You’ll likely disagree with these rankings. Please let me know what you disagree with in the comments.

Fantasyland Night

Today we continue this series in Disneyland.  This park has more attractions than any in the U.S. and no shortage of greatness.  As usual, I’ll add in a sentence or two about each attraction.  If I happen to leave something off of the list please let me know in the comments.  I’m not going to include holiday overlays of attractions, even though Disneyland offers some pretty good ones.  Alright, from worst to first, here are the Disneyland attraction rankings!

35. Star Wars: Path of the Jedi – The least inspired Disneyland attraction earns it the bottom spot on this list.  This show, which currently sits in the theater by Space Mountain, tells the Star Wars story in quick fashion.  It’s basically a recap and not something that is really worthy of your time.

34. Gadget’s Go Coaster – Aside from number 34, I kind of like all of these attractions.  Gadget’s Go Coaster is nothing too exciting, just a roller coaster for young kids in Fantasyland.  This loses points for having a pretty long line even though it’s the fastest ride in Disneyland.

Casey Jr Circus Train

33. Casey Jr. Circus Train – This is a train for little kids in Fantasyland.  Again, nothing too exciting here but I do like the location of the train and some of the scenery along its tracks.

32. Pinocchio’s Daring Journey – The least memorable of all the Fantasyland rides.  To be honest, I’m having trouble recalling anything of significance about this attraction.

Pinocchio

31. Tarzan’s Treehouse – I’m not sure why I included this but none of the ToonTown places that you can climb on.  The treehouse looks great and is fun but it does take some effort to hike to the top and I wish it wasn’t themed to Tarzan.  There’s not much memorable here either, aside from the attraction looking cool.

30. Autopia – I understand that this is classic Disneyland but there isn’t much about this attraction that is good anymore.  It can appeal to little kids but Autopia takes a huge chunk of valuable land for a dated ride.  Take out the nostalgia and this is one of the worst rides at Disneyland.

29. Davy Crockett’s Explorer Canoes – I love the idea of this, but in actuality this isn’t for most people.  I think that it’s great that people can get out in canoes, realize how hard it is to paddle them, and then go back to shore.  Really though, I think the canoes do add to Disneyland’s charm and make the river even more inviting.  They are supposed to be, and I hope will be, back once the river reopens.  I don’t think they are incredibly fun though.

28. King Arthur’s Carrousel – If you like carousels, then this is a good one.  If you don’t like carousels then this is probably a little overrated.

27. Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage – The submarines are a bit like the canoes, interesting as an idea but not as much fun in reality.  This is more unique though and even with it being somewhat cramped in there I think it’s a must-do at least once.

26. Sleeping Beauty Castle Walkthrough – Again, I’m not sure that this should be included but it ranks fairly high because guests get to walk through the iconic castle. The visuals aren’t amazing but the experience is fun.

25. Dumbo the Flying Elephant – A pretty lame actual ride with a pretty bad ride.  This one earns points for being a classic but the updated Dumbo in Walt Disney World is easily better.

24. Astro Orbiter – It may be unpopular to have this spinner ahead of Dumbo but I think this one has a bit more character.  I like that the Astro Orbiter lies in the front of Tomorrowland and offers views around the park.  PSA: Don’t try to fit two adults into one of these vehicles.

Tomorrowland entrance night

23. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh – This is a pretty fun dark ride but I don’t think it offers anything special.  It also took the spot of Country Bear Jamboree and I might be a little bitter…

Winnie the Pooh Eeyore

22. Mad Tea Party – A simple attraction that is a classic.  This one is higher than Dumbo because of the theming around it and the overall appearance.

21. Snow White’s Scary Adventure – I really like Snow White’s Scary Adventure.  It reminds me a bit of the more intense parts of Fantasmic! Having Fantasyland show that not all fantasies are just happy is what makes it interesting.  While I think this dark ride shows it’s age in places, the overall story is great.

20. Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters – Astro Blasters is one of the more enjoyable attractions in Disneyland.  Now, I don’t really think it belongs in Tomorrowland and it’s plot is very minimal.  But for its faults, this is alien-shooting fun for the entire family.  Bonus points to Astro Blasters for being able to hold the laser guns in your hand instead of them being connected to the vehicle.

19. Storybook Land Canal Boats – I have a thing for slow boat rides.  This one takes you past small-scale scenes from classic Disney movies as you float through a canal.  The scenes are fun to look at and the attraction itself is really relaxing.

Storybook Land night

18. Disneyland Monorail – Another attraction that arguably shouldn’t be on this list, the Disneyland Monorail is full of history, convenient and a pretty fun ride.  While there’s no story here, the monorail offers a bird’s-eye view into parts of the resort that you otherwise couldn’t see.

17. Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln – This is a wonderful audio-animatronic show that stands the test of time.  I understand that it could be considered boring, but the advanced AA figure is impressive especially considering when this attraction debuted.  The lobby that acts as a queue for the attraction is full of interesting models and paintings while the actual attraction is a beautiful ode to Honest Abe.

16. Enchanted Tiki Room – Speaking of classics, the Enchanted Tiki Room still is going strong after all these years.  The songs are memorable and funny while the visuals are still impressive.  Bonus points to the Disneyland version for being longer.

Tiki Room night

15. Alice in Wonderland – Maybe the most underrated attraction at Disneyland, Alice in Wonderland is a quintessential dark ride.  I love the updates they have done over the years as the ride still feels fresh and looks good.

14. Star Tours – The Adventure Continues – I was initially surprised that this was so low on my list, as I’m sure that Star Tours is many people’s favorite.  I think it’s a good attraction but it ranks low because I don’t get very excited about simulators.  I do think the updates to the story have been great and I look forward to more of them.

13. Mark Twain Riverboat – I’m excited for when the riverboat starts moving again this summer.  I think this attraction offers some of the best views in all of Disneyland and is a perfect way to relax.  There is also plenty to learn on here, as it is a steam engine boat.

Columbia Mark Twain evening

12. Disneyland Railroad – The railroad and the Mark Twain are similar in my eyes.  The railroad ranks slightly higher because of the longer ride and it’s connection to Walt Disney.  I’m excited to see its new path when it opens this summer.

11. Jungle Cruise – Another attraction that could certainly be ranked higher.  The Jungle Cruise still has wonderful scenes and is a really good time.  This attraction relies on what skipper you get on the trip through the worlds rivers.  If you get a really good skipper then the Jungle Cruise definitely jumps a few spots.

10. it’s a small world – The most divisive attraction at Disney, it’s a small world is a beautiful attraction with a lot of heart.  I think the show scenes are incredibly impressive and the outside facade is iconic.  It may annoy some people, but I love it.

IASW Cowboy Indian

9. Haunted Mansion – I definitely prefer Walt Disney World’s Haunted Mansion but this one is a blast.  The outside of Haunted Mansion ties New Orleans Square together and the inside is like the best, campy horror movie of all-time.

Haunted Mansion night

8. Hyperspace Mountain – For now, this is Hyperspace Mountain instead of just Space Mountain.  For the record, if it was Space Mountain it would probably jump a spot or two.  I do like this overlay though as it’s an easy transition to Star Wars as you travel in space.

7. Matterhorn Bobsleds – The Matterhorn is beautiful and the second icon of Disneyland (behind the castle.)  The actual coaster is good fun too, taking you in and out of the mountain.  The show scenes are pretty fun and make up for the track being really bumpy.

Matterhorn at night

6. Peter Pan’s Flight – While the attraction might not quite be worth the long wait times, there is something incredibly Disney about flying over London.  It is one of my favorite moments in all of the parks.

5. Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride – Perhaps the zaniest ride of them all, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride takes guests to Hell and back to tell its wacky story.  I think the attraction is funny, full of surprises and one of the most interesting in any Disney Park.  Some would have this much lower but it is one of my favorites.

4. Indiana Jones Adventure – The scale of this attraction is as impressive as the ride itself.  Guests hop on a car as Indy guides us through some less than ideal situations.  This is a great thrill ride and a blast.

3. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad – Big Thunder jumped quite a few spots when they made updates to the attraction a few years ago.  Even though they were simple additions they were spot on and really enhanced the ride experience.  The wildest ride in the wilderness fits perfectly in Frontierland and is firmly in the top five.  PSA: Don’t try to fit 3 adults in one car.

Splash Mountain trees

2. Splash Mountain – Splash Mountain will probably soak you.  But before and after that, you’ll be met by some of the most incredible show scenes that Disney has created.  The soundtrack is fantastic, the audio-animatronic figures are funny and the finale is one of my favorite conclusions to a ride.  Oh yeah, and there’s a big drop.

1. Pirates of the Caribbean – Speaking of incredible show scenes, Pirates of the Caribbean is the king of that.  There’s a weird storyline (you go back in time and all that) to go with the gigantic scale that this attraction has.  Pirates doesn’t have the thrill of some rides but it doesn’t need it, there is adventure in the scenes that guests see.  Everything about Pirates of the Caribbean is near perfection.

Pirates night

Overview

Disneyland definitely isn’t lacking for good rides to go on.  Frankly, from about 25 on down there are attractions that everyone should try at least once.  35 attractions (plus other entertainment) is way more than any other stateside theme park offers and that, along with the quality, is what sets Disneyland apart.

Where did I go wrong in my rankings?  Let me know in the comments below!  Thank you for reading Wandering in Disney.

– Andrew

October 2016 Walt Disney World Trip Report – Part 5

If you missed parts 1, 2, 3, or 4 of this trip report click on the corresponding number and that installment will magically appear in front of you.

After leaving the tasty treats at Epcot we hopped on a bus to check in at our new hotel, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge.  After staying in Pop Century for the first five nights of our trip, Animal Kingdom Lodge was luxurious to us.  I’ll have a review of the hotel soon but I will spoil that by saying this hotel was my favorite of any we’ve stayed at in Walt Disney World.

AKL antelope

I thoroughly enjoyed the extra few moments in the morning or late at night when we’d come back to our room and could sit out on the deck and look at the animals.  I found this relaxing and a perfect way to unwind from the busy parks.

Speaking of, the parks were really pretty busy.  Our trip was around Columbus Day and that weekend wasn’t very busy, I’m guessing in large part due to Hurricane Matthew.  The following week and weekend did see pretty large crowds though.  October is becoming less and less of a great time to visit the parks, as many kids have fall-breaks.  If it’s an option, I’d definitely recommend going in September instead of October.

Boat DHS

After relaxing in our hotel for a bit, we hopped back on the bus and went to Hollywood Studios.  After wandering around for a bit, we went to Fantasmic!  I don’t really get excited about the DHS version of Fantasmic! anymore.  I find Disneyland’s version to be far superior and the Hollywood Studios version just doesn’t measure up.  I don’t really enjoy the Pocahontas scene and the amphitheater takes away from some of the environment that the Disneyland river has.  I’d love to see a new show inside of that amphitheater that could be used during the day and into the night.  With Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular stealing the show as Hollywood Studios nighttime spectacular, I think it’s time that they add more entertainment to the park.  Where Fantasmic! currently sits is a perfect spot for that.

From a ‘meh’ experience to an excellent experience, we hopped on a bus after Fantasmic! and went over to the Polynesian Village Resort.  We had another hour before our Ohana dinner reservation so we sat out on the deck of Trader Sam’s and got a drink.  After writing about this day, I realize that it was one of my favorite of the trip and also one of the most relaxed.  If you have read this blog at all, you know that I prefer a leisurely pace at the parks and this day definitely fit the bill.  For what it’s worth, the outdoor seating at Trader Sam’s is nice but does not measure up (or even come close) to the actual bar.

Ohana Platter

After a drink we went inside for dinner, which was spectacular.  Darin reviewed Ohana shortly after we got back from our trip so I’ll just add a few quick thoughts here.  I somehow had never been to this restaurant, even though most of the reviews were positive.  Now that I’ve been, I can’t wait to go back.  I thought the food was excellent, especially the noodles, wings and beef.  While the price point is pretty high, there’s value to be had if you are a big eater.  In other words, starve yourself leading up to this meal as the wait staff (at least in our experience) is more than happy to refill your plate.  The environment is calm, fun and relaxing.  I thought the theme here was second to none and that’s mostly thanks to the staff who gave off a beautiful Hawaiian vibe.  Last of all, that dessert was heavenly.

One quick tip for Ohana.  If you are going for dinner without little ones, go for a late reservation around 8:30.  The restaurant has sneaky good views of the Magic Kingdom fireworks, especially if you are close to the windows.  We timed our reservation just right to see HalloWishes (it was a Halloween Party night) as we ate dinner.  If you want to see the holiday party fireworks without having to pay for the party, watching from Ohana is a good option.

Ohana Bread Pudding

After stuffing ourselves, we waddled back to our room and crashed for the night.  The next day found us back in a spot we visited too often – Hollywood Studios.  If you do have a park hopper, I do think that taking DHS in small doses is the way to go.  One thing this park has going for it is location.  You can do a little bit here and then go to Epcot or hang out on the Boardwalk.  We did that plenty on this trip.

Gaston's gang

In this case, we were there to see Beauty and the Beast – Live on Stage.  This show isn’t bad but it doesn’t do much for me.  I think this spot is prime for a replacement, even more than Fantasmic!  A year or two ago, there were rumblings about Tangled taking the spot of Beauty and the Beast.  I haven’t heard or read anything about that for a while though.

After watching the show we headed back to our hotel and went to lunch at Sanaa.  This restaurant has earned hidden gem status from most Disney bloggers.  I’d have to agree, as the prices are lower than most table-service restaurants and the food is better.  We’ll get to a review soon but Sanaa is definitely worth checking out.  Plus, there are animals all over the place!

AKL Antelope sitting

After lunch we took a short break and then headed to Magic Kingdom for the afternoon parade.  The ladies were going to tea at the Grand Floridian that afternoon so it seemed like a decent time to watch Festival of Fantasy.  It turned out that we got there a little late and the only spot we found was in the sun.  It was easily the hottest day we’d had there and the viewing experience wasn’t exactly great.

FoF Ariel

Still, the parade is just weird enough to keep me interested.  I think some of the floats are really interesting, especially the Peter Pan float.  Here’s a review of that parade.

After some time in Magic Kingdom, we split up.  I went back to the hotel to try out the AKL pool.  The area around the pool is fantastic, with some animals around the area.  As for the pool itself, it was decent but not the highlight of the hotel.

This was the last night that our friends were on the trip with us and we still hadn’t seen Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular so it was back to Hollywood Studios again!  At least this time we got to see Muppet-Vision 3D, which is still great after all of these years.  I wouldn’t mind an update to that show but the queue and the jokes still work.

Before the fireworks began, we were pretty hungry.  I was trying to hold out until we got to Epcot later that night.  Unfortunately, my appetite got the best of me and I had to find a snack.  After walking half the park, Darin and I happened upon a counter-service restaurant.  He ended up with a foot-long hot dog and I had a giant ice cream sandwich.  He claims that the hot dog was one of the worst things he’s ever eaten.  The ice cream sandwich was pretty average.  This moral of this paragraph is to not eat counter-service food at Hollywood Studios.

Star Wars Yoda

Star Wars Rey

On a brighter note (pun intended), the fireworks were fantastic.  There will be a review soon but the use of pyro, lasers, and projections offer a good look into the future of nighttime spectaculars.

After the crowds cleared we took the 15 minute walk to Epcot.  In the evening this is a really nice walk as the heat isn’t so intense.  I particularly enjoyed it at the end of our trip as we could talk about some of our favorite moments.  The view isn’t bad either.

The Boardwalk night

Once we made it Epcot, I found some actual dinner and then settled with Melissa in a spot for Illuminations.  This is when we experienced the infamous drunk Food & Wine Epcot guest.  There were tense moments – when he was doubled over looking as if he’d lose whatever he ate any second.  Other moments were humorous – the man staring into the sky contemplating life… Or wondering where he was.  Finally there was relief – the man booked it out of the area (I assumed to throw up) and ended up on the other side of the path leaning against a rail.  After that pre-show was over, it was time for Illuminations.

Illuminations Green

Illuminations remains my favorite of the Walt Disney World nighttime spectaculars.  I know that the show is fairly old and will likely be replaced in the next decade but I love the abstract nature of the show.  The soundtrack is somewhat cheesy but it works.  I also think the pyro in the show is underrated.  The improvements to the lasers in Illuminations were noticeable and did help it feel pretty fresh.

After Illuminations we spent some time taking in Epcot and finally headed back to the hotel.  Our friends left the next morning while we stayed for another day and a half (which will be the 6th and final recap.)  For those that have never taken a trip with friends to a Disney Park, I think you’re missing out.  Going with family is incredibly special and something else that everyone should try but going with friends is a different experience.  I’ll remember that aspect (and all the other aspects) of this trip fondly.

SSE fountain

The final installment of the trip report will be about our final day, including time in Animal Kingdom, a different hotel and some closing thoughts!

Do you have any question about Walt Disney World?  Let us know in the comments below.  Thank you for reading Wandering in Disney!

– Andrew

Is Disney’s Hollywood Studios Worth Going To In 2017?

The original version of this post debuted in 2016 and has been updated for 2017.  We will try to keep this updated throughout the year as attractions open and close.

Gertie Echo Lake DHS

Disney’s Hollywood Studios is a park in transition and will be throughout the course of 2017. Three years ago, the backlot express tour forever left the park and Hollywood Studios lost a lot of its identity. Honestly, the park had lost most of its identity before that point, as the tour didn’t show guests anything exciting, the shows show their age, and the actual rides were few in numbers. There was a big hat sitting in front of the park’s icon and the theme of the park was, more or less, gone. Once a park that tried to make guests feel as if they were on set of a working studio, the reality of that theme just wasn’t realistic to continue for decades upon decades. The park grew stale recently and it was clear that Hollywood Studios was in need of a major facelift.

Star Wars Rey

We can blame Disney for letting the park sit and rot for too long before deciding to do something. With that in mind, they do deserve at least an ounce of credit for finally deciding to do something instead of letting the park become even worse. Unfortunately for guests and Disney, Hollywood Studios has to get worse before it gets a whole lot better. The year that this park probably hit rock bottom was 2016 and the park will probably not climb out of that cellar in 2017.

As major construction projects continue for Toy Story Land and Star Wars Land, areas of the park have to completely close down. More attractions are being yanked out of the rotation to pave the way for what’s to come. This is all a good thing in the long run as Hollywood Studios will almost be a brand new park in 5 years. But, what good does that do guests visiting in 2016? Not much, is the short and hard answer. For guests who frequent Walt Disney World regularly, these construction zones will be a promising sign. For those who don’t get to go as often, the construction walls and cranes will be fairly frustrating. While the construction is too bad for those infrequent visitors, I do have to caution that there is no perfect time to go to a Disney theme park. There will always be construction going on as these parks change with the times. I know that’s frustrating, but it’s also a good thing.

PizzaRizzo street

With all that being said, should guests completely skip going to Disney’s Hollywood Studios in 2016? Let’s take a closer look at what is offered before we make a final judgment.

Rides

Now, I know that Disney doesn’t call them rides but instead refers to them as attractions. I typically do that, as well, but for this post I’m using the term ride literally. These are open attractions that you physically get on to ride.

  • The Great Movie Ride
  • Rock N’ Roller Coaster
  • Star Tours the Adventure Continues
  • Toy Story Midway Mania
  • Twilight Zone Tower of Terror

ToT sunset DHS

Yikes. Five. The worst land in Walt Disney World (DinoLand U.S.A.) has 3 attractions that you physically ride. This whole park only has 2 more open than the lowly DinoLand. While all of these attractions are much better than 2 of DinoLand’s offerings (probably all 3, honestly) what we’re really dealing with is capacity issues. Walt Disney World attracts a lot of people and if a park is open then people will go to it. The more attractions that are open, the more the park spreads people out and keeps wait times down. That simply doesn’t happen when there are 5 attractions to ride, especially when they’re all fairly popular. If 100 people are going to go get food at a baseball game then having more concession stands open will limit the lines, even if one of the concession stands is selling pizza that tastes like cardboard (insert Pizza Planet PizzeRizzo joke here).

Indy props DHS

Essentially this comes down to if you’ve been to the Studios before. If you haven’t, most of these open rides are must-do’s. Tower of Terror is quite possibly the best attraction at Walt Disney World. There’s not much like Rock n’ Roller Coaster in WDW so if roller coasters are your thing, it’s probably a must-do as well. Toy Story Midway Mania has it’s critics but is generally adored and is the park’s most popular attraction. Star Tours is a classic Disney attraction. The Great Movie Ride is the least popular of the five but is the attraction that best fits the park’s theme. I’d argue that all 5 are probably must-do’s for a first time guest (or an infrequent visitor). Get there when the park opens and you’ll be able to complete all of them before noon, if you take advantage of FastPass+. For a frequent visitor, I’m not sure it’s worth a trip to the to Hollywood Studios to do these five attractions although it does depend on how long your stay is and if any of these are your favorites.

Entertainment

There are a few more options of things to do at Disney’s Hollywood Studios than just rides. There are a decent amount of shows. Here they are:

  • One Man’s Dream
  • Muppet-Vision 3D
  • Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage
  • For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration
  • Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular
  • Voyage of the Little Mermaid
  • Disney Junior – Live On Stage
  • Star Wars Launch Bay
  • Star Wars: A Galaxy Far, Far Away
  • Jedi Training

A decent list, right? Well… Let’s break it down a little more.

Muppet-Vision 3D and One Man’s Dream are both quality attractions. One Man’s Dream has some great exhibits and then a nice little film about Walt Disney. Unfortunately, that attraction is often used for movie previews and isn’t always showing One Man’s Dream. Muppet-Vision is a classic Disney attraction (it’s also the last Muppet entertainment Jim Henson worked on before he passed away) but it is getting a little tired and could use an update.

Muppet Vision 3D sign

Beauty and the Beast is a nice production but nothing more. Like Muppet-Vision, I think the show is a little tired and I’m guessing it’s most interesting to first-time guests and not frequent visitors.

I am beginning to despise the Frozen sing-along. I don’t like the format of the show and while it was fine as a temporary addition, it hasn’t been temporary (it will have been at the Studios for 2 years in June). The show has the feeling of a throw together act, which it probably is. Unless you have someone Frozen-crazed in your family, I’m not sure that it’s worth your time.

Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular and Voyage of the Little Mermaid follow under the same category as Beauty and the Beast and Muppet-Vision, good but tired.

Gaston's gang

Disney Junior – Live on Stage is good for little ones but not for many who have ages in the double digits.  Jedi Training is also for kids but this show is pretty fun to watch, especially for parents of kids who participate.  Get to the show early so that you can sign your child up.

Star Wars: A Galaxy Far, Far Away is a pretty bad stage show that debuted in 2016.  There isn’t a great plot but it does pay homage to the Star Wars universe which some might enjoy.  Before the show they do a march through the park with storm troopers.  That’s pretty cool but far from a reason to go to the park.

A few of these shows are probably of interest to first-time guests and rightfully so, they’re pretty good. These shows just aren’t good enough that someone who’s seen them all would base a trip to the Studios for (of course, some might argue). Star Wars Launch Bay is new and opened to average reviews. There are some interesting models but most reviews I’ve read are that it’s not worth making a special trip for.

Boat DHS

I did leave meet & greets off this list but the Studios does offer a few unique ones (Kylo Ren and Chewbacca namely), like some Star Wars characters. I guess that could be a pretty big draw to some people, but I have never thought characters meets are worth a trip to a park. Now, when you include it with a few of the other offerings here, then maybe it is worth it to you or your family. Oh, there’s also a dance party. Yippee!

My hope is that Hollywood Studios will begin to offer plenty of temporary entertainment. Whether this is a few new stage shows or many different ‘streetmosphere’ entertainment options, I’d just like to see more options for guests to do at this park.  Seeing how they didn’t add much of this in 2016, I don’t think the outlook for 2017 is that bright.

Nighttime Entertainment

Hollywood Studios has two nighttime spectaculars for guests to enjoy. Fantasmic! is shown in a large amphitheater. Most agree that the show just isn’t as good Disneyland’s version of Fantasmic! Still, if you’ve never seen any of them, it’s probably worth going to. If you have seen Fantasmic! at Hollywood Studios before then I doubt it tops your list of WDW priorities.

Star Wars ATAT

Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular is also offered at Hollywood Studios right now. This is a fireworks show featuring lasers and projections that are set to some of the classic scores from Star Wars.  I thoroughly enjoyed this show in 2016 and I recommend it over Fantasmic!  If you like Star Wars and fireworks then this show will impress AS LONG AS you get a good spot for it.  Try to be close to the stage in front for the Chinese Theater for the best viewing. I think this show is the reason for frequent visitors to go back to DHS in 2016.

Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! is a fireworks show that debuted for the holidays in 2016 and I think an iteration of this will likely be back in November and December of 2017.  While the show drew mixed reviews when opening, I think improvements will be made.

Mickey sword Fantasmic

The Verdict

If you’ve made it this far, then you probably already can guess my verdict. I think that first time guests should go see Disney’s Hollywood Studios due to some of the classic attractions. Now, if you have a limited time at Disney World I don’t think this park should take priority over the other 3. In fact, I think 2 days at Magic Kingdom is more beneficial than going to this park, even if you are a first-time guest.

Another option is to take whatever day you were planning to spend at Hollywood Studios and go to Universal Orlando instead.  This option obviously takes more time and costs more money, but if those two factors aren’t big deterrents to you then I’d absolutely go with this option.  While not the biggest Universal fan, I do think those two parks offer significantly more than Hollywood Studios currently.  The Wizarding World of Harry Potter lands are nothing short of incredible and there are other fantastic attractions in those parks.

TSMM DHS

Back to Hollywood Studios, I also don’t think the park is worth spending a full day in. I would go to DHS when it first opens to get in all of the attractions then see whatever shows that intrigued me. Then, I’d take a break to enjoy my resort, Disney Springs, a water park or another park. I would come back at night to enjoy the fireworks and maybe Fantasmic! Hollywood Studios does have a few fun restaurants, so maybe doing dinner and the nighttime shows would be a good nightcap to this day at DHS.

For frequent visitors, you’ve likely made up your mind already on whether to visit Disney Hollywood Studios in 2017. Speaking for myself, I’m excited to watch Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular again, assuming that it sticks around for a while. I probably won’t spend more than half a day at the park though. There are many new items in 2016 that I’m anxious to check out at Walt Disney World (Rivers of Light and Pandora just to name a few) and I think spending ample time at Hollywood Studios would detract from seeing quality entertainment at other parks.

Tot and cart DHS

If you have questions about Hollywood Studios or Disney Parks in general, leave us a comment below and we’d be happy to get to it! Thank you for reading.

– Andrew

Pop Century Hotel Review

Pop Century is a value resort at Walt Disney World.  Opening in 2003, Pop Century takes guests on a trip through time by separating wings of rooms into different decades.  There is larger than life icons spread throughout the resort.  Pop Century is located close to ESPN Wide World of Sports and fairly close to Epcot.  A typical price per night to stay at Pop Century is between $100-$160, depending on the time of year.  This review will cover our October 2016 stay here.

Pop Century sign

Value resorts over the years have earned a reputation of being loud.  That isn’t just because of their knack for having rowdy kids (get off my lawn!) running around but due to the style they portray.  This started back in the 1990’s when the All-Star Resorts were first introduced.  The trend continued when Pop Century was added into the fold.  Throughout the resort there are large statues of different items that represent a certain decade.  There are also Disney icons from that certain decade.  In the lobby and food court, the colors are loud and bright.  All of it seems to jump out at you, but that’s not to say it looks bad.  Pop Century is a perfectly adequate Walt Disney World Hotel when considering the value of the amenities and room offered.

Let’s start with the room because that is where you sleep, and sleep is wonderful.  Forgive my poor pictures, as I need to make a better habit of taking photos as soon as we enter the room instead of forgetting to do it until day 3.

Pop Century Room

As you can see, this looks like a hotel room.  As far as style of a room goes, I’m probably not a great critic.  My taste tends to skew toward minimalistic and this room appeases that.  I do like the accent wall where the heads of the bed are.  That shade of blue helps make the bland off-white walls more palatable.  The blankets on the end of the bed are a nice way to add some Disney to the room, as well as the poster on the far wall.  There isn’t anything special about the room but there are nice Disney touches.  With the abrasive style in the lobby and around the hotel, I was surprised that the rooms were far more subtle.  All in all, I liked the looks of them.

There are two areas of complaints when it comes to the room though.  The first of which is the bed.  These are only double beds (as opposed to queens) and they were very firm.  Now my preference is for a soft bed anyway so if you like firm then this might be fine, but I just did not think the mattress was comfortable.  They also made a bunch of noise whenever someone moved, which would have been a bigger deal if we weren’t all exhausted after the first couple of days.  The second complaint is that the room is pretty small.  This comes with the territory of booking a value resort compared to a higher price point but even knowing this ahead of time didn’t fully prepare me for a small room.  Now, we had four adults in the room and it’s not like we were bumping into each other at every turn.  A family of four likely wouldn’t have any space issues but it is a small space for longer stays.

Pop Century bathroom

Here’s the bathroom.  It’s small as well but absolutely fine.  The sink was outside of the bathroom, which I prefer at hotels.  I like the look of this bathroom… I debated for five minutes if that last sentence was worth typing.

All in all, it was a nice, cozy room with the only big drawback being the beds.  While there’s nothing that wowed me in the rooms, there’s also nothing that would keep me from coming back.

Bowling Pin pool Pop

Pop Century has three pools, all in different shapes.  None of them have slides but the main one (The Hippy Dippy Pool) did have some splash areas.  There was also plenty of space to lounge around these pools.  I believe they had ping-pong table and a few other activities around the main pool.

Hippy Dippy pool Pop

Like the room, these pools aren’t anything to write home about compared to other Disney hotels but they aren’t a deterrent either.  If you or your child love to go for a swim, these pools will work just fine.  I also hardly ever saw them crowded which is always a plus.

The food court at Pop Century is probably the best feature of the hotel.  We only had breakfast here but the choices throughout the day looked pretty diverse and they were at a decent price point.  You can check out the menu here.  I wouldn’t go out of my way to eat here but I think it would also be easy to find a good counter-service meal at the food court.

Other amenities include washers & dryers, a gift shop, and an arcade.  The gift shop doesn’t have much compared to what you will find in the parks but if you’re in a pinch it would do.  For some reason the arcade was open 24-hours a day.  The food court closed at midnight but the arcade was open all day?  Why?  I played a few games in there and left wondering why I didn’t spend that $5 on a snack in Epcot.  Still, if you love arcades (who are you?) this seems fine.

Bowling Pins Pop Century

One other area of Pop Century that I was impressed with was the space and walking paths that they had.  Across the lake you see in the photo above was the Art of Animation Hotel.  There’s a bridge in between these two and a path around the lake.  This is also a benefit when it comes to transportation.  If there’s a big line for the Pop Century bus then hop on Art of Animation’s and endure the extra 5 minutes of walking to your room.  This will most likely save you time.

Speaking of transportation, I didn’t notice the (complimentary) bus rides being extremely long to any certain location.  I think that the resort is located well enough that most bus rides shouldn’t be anymore than 20 minutes.  That doesn’t mean it’s a prime location but it’s not way off the beaten path or anything.

Mowgli Baloo Pop Century

Staying at Pop Century comes down to value.  There are surely nicer resorts at Walt Disney World (and off-property) but if you don’t mind the loud nature of the Value Resorts then Pop Century is a good pick.  For those on a budget, I think Pop offers a decent bang for your buck when you consider everything.  While I’m anxious to try other hotels at Walt Disney World, I’d be happy to go back to Pop Century especially if we were looking to save some money or were going to spend almost all of our time at the parks.  When it comes to pricing, I wouldn’t pay more than $150/night for this hotel as I just don’t see the value adding up once you get past that point.  But if it’s below that price, which it usually is unless you’re going during the holidays, then I think Pop Century is a decent place to stay.

Overall, I have no problem recommending Pop Century.  You could certainly do worse, with the only big negative being the beds.  The resort likely won’t wow you but there is plenty to appreciate here.  As far as value resorts go, I would probably place it 2nd on the list behind Art of Animation and above the All-Star Resorts when considering everything.

Overall Rating – 7.5/10

Do you have any experiences or questions about Pop Century?  Let us know in the comments!  Thank you for reading Wandering in Disney.

– Andrew

Cinderella’s Royal Table Review

Cinderella’s Royal Table is a signature restaurant in Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom.  It is located in Cinderella’s Castle and is, without a doubt, a unique dining experience.  The restaurant mainly serves American food – steak, chicken and seafood.  Cinderella’s Royal Table counts as 2 credits on the Disney Dining Plan and accepts Tables in Wonderland and Annual Pass discounts.  This review will cover a dinner we had on our most recent trip to Walt Disney World.

CRT Cinderella window

Have you ever dreamed of dining in a castle?  If so, you surely aren’t the only one.  Walt Disney World tries to specialize in making dreams come true, but most dreams come at a price.  In this case that price is quite literal and also quite high.

We arrived under the castle for our somewhat late dining reservation and were checked in almost immediately.  Once checked in, guests get in line for a meet and greet with Cinderella.  This is fairly typical for a character meet (Akershus in Norway also does this) but at Cinderella’s Royal Table it feels a little more fancy.  Most of this is because you are in a castle.  While it would be easy to go overboard with decorations, I didn’t think this area did so.  Sure, there were some really cool props but most of the decor was just to augment the already incredible castle.  The line to meet Cinderella is short but does move fairly slow.  This is actually a good thing, as it means more time for interaction with the princess.

CRT downstairs

Shortly after meeting Cinderella our name was called to be seated.  They make you feel like royalty when calling out your name and walking you up the stairs.  The environment was elegant and fun although it doesn’t feel extremely fancy, in my opinion.

CRT ceiling

The seating once inside of the castle doesn’t have any over the top decorations, again they let the castle speak for itself and don’t overdue it.  The ceiling has flags and banners hanging, I’m sure each flag has a specific meaning but I”m not sure what.  I thought those flags were a nice touch though and added a simple royal decor.  The star of the atmosphere is the giant windows facing Fantasyland.  These are the biggest reminder that you’re in Cinderella’s Castle.  They are absolutely stunning and easily my favorite aspect of the restaurant.

CRT windows

If you want something unique and go to the parks often, get a reservation for a late dinner at Cinderella’s Royal Table.  Request a table close to the windows and then wait for Wishes! while you eat.  This is exactly what happened to us.  While I don’t think the view of the fireworks is anything incredible, it is unique compared to other views.  I would not recommend this if you don’t have many chances to watch Wishes.

CRT fireworks

Cinderella’s Royal Table is a typical character meal in that you sit down and all of the characters, in this case princesses, come by to visit you as you enjoy your meal.  I don’t know if we came at a busy time or if interactions were limited due to the fireworks but I was really disappointed in these character meets.  They were very rushed and the princesses didn’t show hardly any of the personality that I’d grown used to seeing at other character meals.  It was at the point where I felt it was a hassle just to ask for a photo.  Now, I don’t know if this is the norm (I would guess not) but this should absolutely not happen to anyone considering the price point, which we’ll get to shortly.

They do hand out plastic swords to the guys and wands to the ladies.  I don’t know what that’s worth to you but I figured that now is as good of time to mention that as any.

CRT appetizers

The first course they bring out for dinners is a tasting plate that included some cheeses, meats, olives and bread.  I found this underwhelming as the cheese wasn’t anything special and meat was just your basic fare that you’d find on most charcuterie plates.  Now, this is included with the meal but I wish there was an option for something else instead of this.  I would have rather had a salad or soup due to this just not being very good.

CRT steak and shrimp

For dinner I ordered the beef and shrimp.  In what was a theme of the meal, the entrée was pretty average.  The beef tenderloin was cooked well but didn’t have as much flavor as many other steaks I tried on the trip.  The shrimp followed those lines as well, as there wasn’t anything that set them above an average grilled shrimp.  The sides were fine but nothing memorable.  I was mostly unimpressed with this dish, as it was probably my least favorite table-service entrée I had all trip.

CRT salmon

Melissa went with the fish of the day, which in this case was the salmon.  I did like her entrée better than mine.  The sauce and green beans were the stars of the plate.  The salmon was good as well but slightly dry.  If I went back I would probably order this.

Another problem I had with the food here is the lack of interesting options on the menu.  Aside from the Pork Two Ways, which I should have tried in hindsight, this seems like very basic fare considering the price and location.  While I’m totally fine with the options they have, I’d like to see another two added to the menu that are somewhat more unique.  Here’s a link to the current menu.

CRT After Midnight

The desserts were definitely the best item we tasted that night, specifically the one pictured above (The Clock Strikes Twelves).  The other desserts are seasonal.  We sampled the cheesecake and enjoyed that, although I wouldn’t call it anything special.

Now, let’s get to the prices.  We were on the dining plan for our trip and Cinderella’s Royal Table is 2-credits, which isn’t a terrible value but it’s also not great.  Paying out-of-pocket for dinner will cost you roughly $75 per person before the tip.  Lunch and breakfast are closer to the $60 range.  Honestly, I think this is a terrible value for the food I tasted.  My dinner wasn’t any better than what I had at Akershus in Epcot, which is another princess character meal.  I also thought the character experiences there were significantly better.  Now, you are not eating in a castle there and I do think that’s pretty special.  Still, Cinderella’s Royal Table is about $25 more per person for what I perceive as worse (and less) food.

Purple castle below MK

I think it’s a shame that our meal wasn’t better.  The experience was surely incredible and that’s the only way I could recommend going to Cinderella’s Royal Table – for the experience of being in the castle.  I do think that eating here is something that every big Disney fan should try once.  With that said, I think once was enough for me.  I’d have to get a pretty big discount to justify going back to Cinderella’s Royal Table as I just did not think the food measured up.  The creativity in the menu, or lack thereof, is a big negative for me as well as our character experiences.  There’s always a chance we caught the restaurant on an off night but what we experienced was a bad value.

Overall Rating – 6/10

Do you have a different experience at Cinderella’s Royal Table?  Please let us know in the comments.  Thank you for reading!

– Andrew

October 2016 Walt Disney World Trip Report – Part 4

If you missed parts 1, 2, or 3 of this trip report click on the corresponding number and that installment will magically appear in front of you.

If a Walt Disney World trip is long enough there comes a point where you have to invoke a little reason.  I know you’re at the most magical place on Earth and there is stuff exploding in the sky that tugs at your heartstrings, but after day 4 or 5 there is something else pulling at your heart – sleep.  After days of staying up until 1 or 2 AM and then getting up at 7 or 8 to be on your feet all day, you are going to need some sleep.  Or maybe just I am, as this is the predicament I found myself in and the rest of my group didn’t seem to mind.

The previous two days had seen us get back to our hotel well after midnight and then getting up by 8 or 9.  That’s all well and good if you are able to fall asleep as soon as you reach your Pop Century bed.  But there are photos to upload on to my laptop!  There are crazy – crazier than my childhood self remembers – Mickey Mouse cartoons on!  There is also just needing to unwind a bit.  With that in mind, it is usually after 2 AM when I fall asleep on Disney vacations.

Mowgli Baloo Pop Century

All this to say, I convinced my group to sleep in some on Wednesday morning after our late night strolls through Epcot.  There was a 2 AM Magic Kingdom closing looming that night and I wanted the energy to power through.  We got up and walked around Pop Century some.  I do have a review of the hotel coming but I will say that I enjoy the ‘larger than life’ theming to a degree.  I think most of us reading this blog would always rather stay in the nicest hotel possible and those usually come with more subtle and cohesive themes.  Pop Century knows it isn’t that type of hotel and doesn’t try to be which is great.  Also, I thoroughly enjoy walking past a 25-foot (guesstimating) Baloo.

After wandering and a quick snack at the hotel, we hopped on the bus to visit the 8th wonder of the world.  No, not the backside of water.  I’m talking about Disney’s Hollywood Studios.  This park is a hot-button topic as seen by our post, Is Disney’s Hollywood Studios Worth Going To In 2016, being our most popular post ever on this site.  (I fully intend to update that post for 2017 in the next month.)  Well, I went to this park in 2016 and I can justify it because of our long trip and the amount of trips we take Orlando.  But Hollywood Studios is sorely lacking right now.  Our friends that we went with, WDW first timers, both thought that there was a large gap in between Hollywood Studios and the three other parks.  Heck, we went to Blizzard Beach for a half a day and I enjoyed the theming and aesthetics of that park much more than Hollywood Studios.  With that being said, there are surely reasons to go to Hollywood Studios and those reasons are as follows…

ToT day

  • Toy Story Midway Mania – Which we rode upon arriving at the park.  This is a good attraction but not great, so I’m not sure this ride alone would justify going to the park.
  • Tower of Terror – Which we rode after Toy Story Midway Mania.  This is one of the best attractions at Walt Disney World and is reason enough to go to the park IF you have a park-hopper ticket.  The queue is beautiful, the ride system is still complex after 25 years and the plot is incredibly effective.

Gertie Echo Lake DHS

Those were the reasons we went that morning.  There’s also this dinosaur (Gertie, if you haven’t had the chance to meet) which is nice.  We walked around Echo Lake on our way to Star Tours.  That area of the park is still somewhat pretty and charming even if it’s lacking in things to do.

After Star Tours, which is fun but not a reason to go to Hollywood Studios in my opinion, we took a boat to Epcot.  That boat ride from park to park is Hollywood Studios 6th best ride.  You may think I’m joking, but there are only 5 actual rides in that park.  Also, I really enjoy that boat ride.  I find it relaxing and a great way to see some of Disney World’s best resorts.

Via Napoli mural

Once in Epcot, we went to our lunch reservation at Via Napoli.  I reviewed that restaurant earlier in the week and you can read that here.

UK Epcot day

We had a small bit of time to kill and happily obliged with that time by taking a stroll around World Showcase.  There’s never really a bad time to do that.  Next to nothing beats World Showcase at night due to the ambiance, but it was so crowded there at night during Food and Wine Festival that the early afternoon was nearly as pleasant.  I’ll get to Food & Wine in a bit but one positive of the festival is that they really keep World Showcase in tip-top shape for it.  While they should be doing that all the time, I believe Food & Wine offers more incentive for them to do so.

Chinese Theater DHS

We headed back over to Hollywood Studios shortly thereafter to ride The Great Movie Ride.  I don’t think this ride has much time left (depending on if Star Wars and Toy Story Lands deplete the budget) but it’s still somewhat charming and works to a degree.  While the scenes are a bit outdated, the narration is choppy, and the whole ride just doesn’t look the best.  Still, I think that if Disney had done a better job of taking care of The Great Movie Ride then it would still be one of the better and more popular rides at Walt Disney World.  Alas, it is not so.  That’s kind of a vignette into the past of Hollywood Studios.  On the plus, the Chinese Theater looks great and is an exceptional park icon even if it isn’t as jaw-dropping as the other 3 parks.

Singing in the rain GMR DHS

We went back to the hotel for a bit to rest and change.  That night we were headed to Magic Kingdom for dinner at Cinderella’s Royal Table and some late night park action.  The day had gone by fast and by the time we arrived at Magic Kingdom our dinner reservation was near.

Pumpkin MK castle

Hello Mr. Mayor.

I’ll have a review of Cinderella’s in the next week so I’ll stick to one item here.  We had a reservation at 8 which was about the perfect time if you want to view the fireworks from inside the restaurant.  Now, if you have limited time in Walt Disney World and don’t get to see the fireworks very often then I do NOT recommend this.  But, if you’re looking for a more unique way to watch Wishes then this was a pretty fun way to do it.  The view is far from great but there is something special about being in the castle while  Wishes is going on.

CRT fireworks

At this point in our trip, we had been in Magic Kingdom quite a bit and had done nearly all of the big, E-ticket attractions.  So, with Magic Hours keeping the park open until 2 AM, we used our time after dinner to ride many of the lesser attractions.  Lesser in popularity that is, as some of these attractions are quite nostalgic and beautiful.

CoP dog and dad

We started in Tomorrowland on Carousel of Progress.  This ride severely needs an update but only that.  I don’t think they should get rid of Carousel of Progress because even after all of these years the heart of the attraction shines through its outdated scenes and ending.  Disneyland is charming and takes guests back to a simpler time just by walking down Main Street.  Magic Kingdom doesn’t have that with its grandeur on Main Street.  But, Carousel of Progress does give the park some of that charm along with the Country Bears.  I think the castle parks need that.

Hippo IASW

After that we made the jaunt to It’s A Small World.  I made the comment that we could have seen both of these attractions at the 1964 World’s Fair and no one found it nearly as interesting as I did.  Sometimes you forget you’re a nerd until you say something that only very few select people would appreciate it.  Sometimes you forget you’re a nerd until you’re up past midnight writing on a Disney Parks blog about two under appreciated Disney attractions from the 1964 World’s Fair.  Sometimes you forget you’re a ner…. Oh, never mind.  I was going for a Larry the Cable Guy “You must be a redneck” type of joke but I don’t have the persistence that man has.  I’m not sure I have much in common with Larry, to be honest.

Winnie the Pooh honey

This trip report has gotten way off track, so I’ll have Pooh calm us down (don’t try a bathroom joke, don’t try a bathroom joke, don’t try a bathroom joke…) Moving on.

Sometimes I wonder if Imagineers and Disney execs go back and think about past changes in the Parks.  I think it’s safe to say changing Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride to The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh was a terrible decision.  I think about 95% of park guests who rode both would agree.  But I wonder if any Disney higher-ups ever think about that.  Anyway…

It was nearly 1 AM and Melissa was extremely tired (she didn’t sleep in like I had begged our group to.  I’m a genius.  She’s not reading this post so I can say that.) What is the cure for being exhausted at Disney World?  Spinning as fast as you can on the tea cups.  Her and our friend Mackenzie had at it.  Darin and I each got our own tea-cup, which the cast member wasn’t excited about even though there was maybe 10 people on the ride tops, and watched them spin like mad.

Melissa Kenzie tea cup

I don’t know who the photo-bomber is and I don’t care to find out.

After that we went over for a ride on The Barnstormer in Storybook Circus.  We went on the roller coaster once and came back in.  There was no one in line so we went for a second time.  We came back in and there was no in line so we went for a third time.  We came back in and there was no one in line so we went for a fourth time.  I could have done this all night.  Thankfully, the others didn’t want to and we moved on.  At this point in the evening we were a bit loopy and chanting as our coaster was coming back in to dock.  We either made that cast members night or gave her a headache, leave whichever one you think we did in the comments (unless it’s the headache.)

The night concluded with rides on Dumbo, the Tomorrowland Speedway, and Buzz.  Dumbo is a blast at night.  The Tomorrowland Speedway was easily the worst decision I made all trip.  Do not go on it if you are just an adult saying, “Why not?”  It’s not worth it.  Buzz is fine and a pretty satisfying way to end your night.  What’s even more satisfying is going and getting a Dole Whip Pineapple float at about 1:55 AM.

Ferry boat higher

I lost a portion of my tripod the night before and was pretty bummed about it.  The rest of the trip I used many garbage cans and fences as makeshift tripods.  Thankfully this scene was lit up enough that I didn’t have to work hard to capture it.

We went back to the hotel and slept in.  Again.

The next morning we checked out of Pop Century and headed to Epcot for the Food & Wine festivities.  We had the dining plan for a portion of our trip and it ended on this day.  We had all saved up quite a few credits to use here and we thoroughly enjoyed doing so.  Before getting there though we ran into some old friends.

Muppet Mobile Labs close

Muppet Mobile Labs had come back to Epcot the week prior to our trip and was so excited to see the show.  After its long exile, this little streetmosphere show gives Future World a bit more energy and fun, all while fitting in with the theme of the land.

If you aren’t familiar with the show, Bunsen and Beaker are showing off some inventions and interacting with guests.  I think the show ran for about 10 minutes and happens intermittently throughout the day.  If you happen upon it, I would highly recommend watching as we all thought it was a blast.  While I do think it fits Epcot’s Future World pretty well, I do wonder why it isn’t in Muppets Courtyard in Hollywood Studios.  That park really needs more to do.  I’m guessing that it’s probably an issue of having more space to work with in Epcot.

After watching the show and riding Soarin’ the rest of my group rode Mission Space while I took some photos.

Mission Space Planets

Monorail UoE Epcot

This area of the park undoubtedly needs some help as Universe of Energy and Mission: Space just aren’t that great of attractions.  But the way the plants fit there respective areas is something I hadn’t paid attention to before and something I really appreciate now.  Future World and Epcot both have quite a few problems, but horticulture is not one of them.

UoE

Finally after those rides we got down to the serious business of the Food and Wine Festival.  We went fairly late in the festival so I didn’t put a guide together for this year but I do plan to do several posts about it before next year.

My thoughts on the festival (strangely enough, this was my first time there for one) are mostly positive.  The only aspects I don’t like about the festival are the pop-up booths and the crowds.  I think most of the Food & Wine kiosks look decent or even pretty good.  A select few of them are eye sores though and I think that’s unfortunate for World Showcase.  Crowds aren’t something that generally bug me but in this case they did.  There were just so many people there and it did take away from the ambiance of the actual pavilions.  I think World Showcase is a wonderful place to take a leisurely stroll and learn about different countries in an entertaining fashion.  Food & Wine adds a hustle and bustle to the area that makes it hard to give each countries pavilion your full attention.

Lobster roll Food and Wine

With those negatives out-of-the-way, I really did enjoy Food & Wine.  If you can, go on a weekday instead of the weekend.  That helps mitigate the crowds and the lines at the food booths are shorter.  Most of what I tasted at the festival, I liked.  I thought it was a good way to try many different types of food at a decent (somewhat inflated but not crazily so) price.  I think this is a really fun experience and if you gave it a full day, and a good portion of your budget, then the Food & Wine can be a great place for adults.  Our group certainly enjoyed it and I’m already planning to go back next year.

For what it’s worth, the Lobster Roll in America, the Mushroom Filet in Canada, and the Jamaican Beef Patty in the Islands of the Caribbean were some of my favorites that I tasted.

Epcot Spaceship Earth Mexico

That does it for this installment.  Tune in next time to find out what hotel we checked into and what show we saw that night!  The anticipation is excruciating…

Thank you for reading and if you have any questions or thoughts please leave them in the comments below!

– Andrew