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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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!