Starting Monday, we started to see the Thanksgiving weekend crowds slow down. As crazy as the weekend had been, I was ready for lower crowds. Typically crowd levels don’t bother me much, as Melissa and I are happy to just wander around and hop in shorter lines. That changes a bit when taking family that isn’t at Disney World very often. We wanted to show them our favorite attractions and spots, which over the weekend were quite crowded. In a way, Monday (or the Christmas Party the night before) was the start of our busier touring plans. We were often putting the more popular attractions off during the weekend, waiting them out until the crowd levels dropped. I thought the strategy worked fairly well.
The previous day, we had moved to Old Key West Resort and they were behind schedule in getting us into our rooms. Along with being very apologetic, they gave our entire group three extra FastPasses for the following day, which we were spending in Animal Kingdom. The only restrictions were that we couldn’t spend those FastPasses on the Pandora attractions.
We headed to the park in the late morning and started the day on Kilimanjaro Safaris, the first of our previously scheduled FastPasses. The safari is always interesting to me in that the ride experience is always different, being dependent on the animals, but is also consistently excellent because of the ride layout. It’s an achievement that Kilimanjaro Safaris doesn’t grow tired or become less interesting with each ride. Sure, I’ve had a bad driver before but the ride hits on a much higher rate than Jungle Cruise (or other examples) because it is consistently spontaneous.
After our safari, we walked over to Pandora for our Flight of Passage FastPass and lunch at Satu’li Canteen. Having our young nephews and niece with us all trip brought one of our first encounters with child swap. Using this actually brings a few travel hacks, especially if you already have FastPasses. Even if you are going to make your FastPass window for both child swap groups, I still recommend getting the maximum (which is typically three) amount of child swap passes. If you make your FastPass window then you’ll have the other child swap passes to use for the remainder of the day. Essentially, we all went on Flight of Passage in our FastPass window and, since we used child swap, still had three FastPasses for it for the remainder of the day.
Pandora – World of Avatar is as gorgeous as ever. I still prefer it in the day with all of the vibrant colors around. Lunch at Satu’li Canteen was very good, although the prices are a little higher and I didn’t think the meal was quite as good as the first time. It still remains one of the best counter-service restaurants at Disney World though.
With full stomachs, we took a little while to digest with a nice walk around the park. Just kidding, we went on Expedition: Everest. We used the child swap feature again and completed our pre-scheduled FastPasses for the day so I booked more for our whole group while in line. For those keeping track at home (why are you keeping track?), that brought us to three FastPasses used, with three extra from our hotel for our whole group. Along with that, we had child swap FastPasses for three at Flight of Passage and Expedition: Everest and another FastPass booked at Kali River Rapids since we’d already completed our pre-scheduled three. All of this ended up with us not standing in a single standby line all day – a feat I’m pretty confident I’ll never accomplish again.
The afternoon brought a walk through the beautiful Maharajah Jungle Trek and a ride on Kali River Rapids. Both attractions stories are fairly similar in theme, dealing with conservation. One is told wonderfully (Jungle Trek) while the other (Kali River Rapids) is heavy-handed and takes the fun out of the attraction. Due to their proximity to each other, I wonder if Kali River Rapids would be more successful if they had linked the story with Maharajah Jungle Trek. Then again, telling a story about conservation may simply be too tall of a task for a river rapids ride.
We had to rush from Kali over to Festival of the Lion King to redeem our next FastPass. This is a perfect show for a whole family. Our nephews really seemed to enjoy it, as well as the rest of us.
Frankly, the rest of the early evening was a bit of a blur. There were so many FastPasses left to use that we were going on anything and everything. Melissa and I went on Dinosaur twice. A few people rode Primeval Whirl – thankfully I talked my way out of that one. A group of people went over to ride Everest numerous times and I went to use up a lone, leftover Flight of Passage FastPass.
All of this made for one of my favorite days of the trip. From experiencing mass crowds the day before to not having to wait in a single standby line was quite a contrast. Our group was fairly attraction-focused, at least more than what Melissa and I usually do, so having all of these FastPasses made for a very happy group. While Animal Kingdom could use a couple more rides, there is enough variety that we didn’t need to repeat attractions much in order to use all of the FastPasses.
The rain had started coming down hard in the early evening and some called it a day and went over to the hotel. Melissa and I had planned to go to Hollywood Studios that night to see some of their nighttime Christmas entertainment. Her parents joined us on the bus but the rain came down so hard that they ended up going back to the hotel. That was a wise choice. Upon getting off the bus at Hollywood Studios, we were met with a downpour. The temporary bus stop there is quite a walk to the park entrance and some of the drains were clogged so the walkways were flooded. It was a bit of a disaster that was thankfully resolved by our walk back.
After surviving the flood even without an arc, we were pleasantly surprised with Hollywood Studios Christmas decorations. The projection show on Tower of Terror is fun and well done even though it’s a little odd that these cheerful little shows are projected over Tower of Terror. We stood on Sunset Boulevard, enjoying the decor and projections, for a while. The rain was still coming down heavily here and there but wasn’t the torrential downpour that we’d seen earlier that night.
Eventually, we moved over to watch Disney Movie Magic and Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! It had been a few years since we’d seen Disney Movie Magic, and it still holds up. I’m excited for a new projection show in the coming months though. Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! was unfortunately a different story. The pyro in the show is really lacking and the show stumbles through some sort of plot where Santa has to come to Orlando. Having the show based around characters from some show called Prep & Landing (apologies if you love the show, I wasn’t aware of it until we saw Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM!) is an odd choice. All in all, the show was disappointing and the worst of all the Christmas entertainment we saw.
Hollywood Studios succeeded in their Christmas offerings outside of that show. The area around Echo Lake is gorgeous, with the tree in the middle of the lake surrounded by lights. Likewise, Sunset Boulevard is beautiful albeit with a much different energy than Echo Lake. Last but not least the park entrance, Hollywood Boulevard, looks wonderful with the garlands stretched across the street.
As a consistent basher of Hollywood Studios, I wasn’t expecting much heading into the park that night. The rain had cleared much of the crowd out though and the whole experience was very enjoyable. Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! isn’t worth your time but the rest of the park looked as good as I’ve seen. The park continues its climb back to respectability and, while the Christmas decor is obviously temporary, I was happy to see the park looking good.
We were a bit hungry and the park closed around 9 so we headed over to Disney Springs for a bite to eat at Pizza Pointe and a little shopping. Hollywood Studios is in the midst of transformation as Disney Springs has largely finished a transformation of its own. Before completely remodeling the area several years ago, I never had much desire to go to (the then) Downtown Disney. Now, there are so many dining option and the area is aesthetically pleasing that I think this is an excellent option to explore after park closing. We caught one of the last boats back to Old Key West and had the nighttime cruise to ourselves. The whole day was an absolute blast.
Our next morning saw us back at Hollywood Studios with the rest of the group. Santa Gertie is a legend.
We had FastPasses that morning for Star Tours and Tower of Terror. Unfortunately, the night before wasn’t a good indication of daytime Hollywood Studios. The Christmas decor still looked good but the dead ends and construction walls are frustrating. There are some top-tier attractions as Tower of Terror is still fantastic. Star Tours and Rock n’ Roller Coaster, which we did via the single-rider line, are fun. But the park is still a headache.
Our time at Hollywood Studios ended with our first look at Toy Story Land, which may have been the biggest headache of all. In our review, I mentioned how the land is a giant dead-end at this point and will be until Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opens. That makes the entire land very crowded and frustrating. Fortunately, Slinky Dog Dash doesn’t disappoint as that was our final FastPass of the day.
After a ride on the new coaster we hustled over to Epcot for our lunch reservation at Rose & Crown. Most everyone took the boat but a few of us walked since we were running a little late. The walk only takes about 10-15 minutes compared to the boat’s 20 plus wait time. We got there in plenty of time and had a good meal (a review will be coming shortly).
A cold front had come into Orlando and the temperatures was down around 50 degrees. Others surely disagree, but as a person who sweats more than I care to admit I thoroughly enjoyed the cooler weather. The afternoon was especially pleasant as the sun was still warm but not sweltering or humid at all. Taking advantage of the weather, we watched Joyful, one of the many seasonal entertainment offerings. The band and choir were fun to watch play gospel music.
Most of our afternoon was spent around Future World in Epcot, riding a few attractions. Before long the wind picked up and it got pretty cold. We retreated to the Imagination DVC Lounge for some hot chocolate and warmth. I never thought I’d want something warm to drink at Disney World but here we were. It was nice.
The Guardians of the Galaxy Coaster construction is an eyesore in Epcot’s horizon. I’m choosing not to include any photos of it, as there are plenty of more recent updates on it across the internet. Suffice to say that it looks huge and work seems to be moving quickly. I’m curious what the end result will look like, as right now it’s an ugly concrete slab next to Spaceship Earth.
We rode Figment for the first time in years and, sadly, it still a pretty bad attraction. On the flip side, we really loved Living with the Land during Christmas time as there were special decorations throughout to put the attraction in the holiday spirit. Disney World doesn’t really do holiday overlays but I think Living with the Land might be the closest thing.
At this point, our group had split up some. Melissa, her dad and I went off to watch the Candlelight Processional while others went back to the hotel. The Candlelight Processional is one of my favorite aspects of Disney World at Christmas and I’m so glad we got to see it. We shivered our way through the show and were generously met with extra layers that our family had brought us from the hotel.
Once Candlelight Processional ended, we bustled back to the front of World Showcase to enjoy Illuminations: Reflections of Earth with FastPasses. If Illuminations still has FastPasses available in the late afternoon and after you have used your other three FastPasses, then I recommend getting one. It’s my favorite place to watch Illuminations and definitely eases some of the trouble in saving spots. Definitely not a must, but a FastPass is nice to have there.
Epcot had Extra Magic Hours that night so we went rushed over to Soarin’ after Illuminations and did the attraction with only about a 20 minute wait. Once done there we headed off for a nighttime (and cold!) stroll around World Showcase. This is becoming my favorite thing to do at Disney World. There is never anyone around and you can have your pick of snacks without a wait. Hardly anyone else is walking around so it’s a perfect time for shopping and/or photography. Here are a few of my favorite shots from the night.
I felt bad making everyone wait for me as I took photos. We were clearly all cold, not fully prepared for the 40-degree temperatures. Still, it was a very fun night. We stayed until close before making our way back to the resort.
To continue on to part 4, click here.
We’ll pick up the next day at Magic Kingdom with our final installment of this trip report. Let us know your thoughts and questions on this trip report down below in the comments! Planning a trip to Walt Disney World? Check out our Disney World Trip Planning Guide to help you out. If you enjoy what you are reading here on Wandering in Disney please share this post with your friends, as well as like our social media pages. You can also subscribe to the blog via WordPress or email. All of those links are on the right side of this page. Thank you for reading, we really appreciate it!
Categories: Trip Reports