My original plan was not to give a fill trip report but a very brief overview of our late-January, early-February trip that I posted about way back in October 2011, but the more I tried to keep things concise, the harder it was not to include the details. So here it is in all its verbose and detailed glory.
We were booked at Port Orleans Riverside in a Garden View room for 7 nights with 5-day park tickets (no hoppers) and the free Disney Dining Plan (DDP) offer for our family of five. Our kids are as follows: oldest son A. = 12, middle daughter D. = 7, and youngest son N. = 5. One thing to know about my family is that we are normally at the parks well before opening time, and we usually stay until they close, even on the Extra Magic Hours (EMH) nights when the parks close at midnight. That leaves little extra time to do some of the things available at the resorts or off-site, which for the most part is fine by us. One day we will probably try to do the evening campfire and s’mores or something like that, but we have yet to do so. And I’m sure our next trip will have to include a day at Universal Studios to satisfy A.'s growing need for rides that supply an adrenaline rush.
[B]Day 1: Check-In[/B]
We checked into POR mid-afternoon after a drive that we split over two days. I opted not to do the online early check-in since I wanted to try for a Preferred Room upgrade. The wait was very short (only one person ahead of me I think), and I got a cheerful cast member who was very helpful. He couldn’t do the Preferred Room, but he was able to “upgrade” us to a room in the recently renovated building 37 in Alligator Bayou. I was a bit disappointed at first that we were going to be so far away from the lobby and dining, but it worked out better for us in the long run. We ate breakfast in the room each day and only went to the food court for our morning coffee runs and a couple of meals during our stay, choosing instead to use our DDP credits for character dining, shows, and meals in the parks. The room was nice-sized, and we had plenty of room, but we will definitely need a suite or adjoining rooms if our 4-years-between-trips schedule continues since one room simply won’t give my family enough space in the future.
After unpacking, we caught the Sassagoula River Cruise water ferry to Downtown Disney, did a little window shopping, and used Quick Service (QS) credits for pizzas at Wolfgang Puck’s Express. The cruise down the river was enjoyable and relaxing after having been on the road all day, with the exception of our sourpuss pilot whom we also had the luck to get for the return trip back to the resort.
[B]Day 2: Magic Kingdom[/B]
I love that we scheduled the Magic Kingdom (MK) for our first day in the parks since that’s what the kids automatically think of when we say “Disney.” But I hated that it was an EMH day where the park closed at midnight, almost guaranteeing that everyone would be wiped out after the first day. The goal for the day was not to do everything since we would be coming back to MK later in the week, so we hit the high points and the rides on our must-do list. Surprisingly, we ended up doing most everything in the park but didn’t really feel stressed to do so. Since I don’t like spinning rides and am not a big rollercoaster fan, I generally get kid duty while my wife and A. ride the more adventurous attractions. We managed to get N. on a few things like The Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Splash Mountain that he swore he wouldn’t do.
Shows and entertainment for the day included Mickey’s Philharmagic, The Hall of Presidents (a first for us), and the afternoon parade. A. and I also went to the Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor while my wife and the little ones went to Fantasyland, and I was picked to be “that guy” during the show.
We ate lunch at Cosmic Ray’s, and we had dinner reservations at Liberty Tree Tavern (LTT), which we had unfortunately scheduled during the Wishes Nighttime Spectacular fireworks show and which almost prompted a breakdown at the table when the explosions started. The food at LTT was great, and it has become a favorite of ours after only the second time eating there. Kudos go out to the young cast member who saw N. fall out of his chair and bump his head. He came over to check on him and even give him one of his pin-trading pins to help soothe him.
The two little ones and I bailed early after EMH had begun to go back to the room when they had hit the wall. Even so, problems with the bus in front of ours delayed us enough that we didn’t get back that much earlier than my wife and A.
[B]Day 3: Hollywood Studios[/B]
Day 3 started with a mad dash to Toy Story Mania (TSM) to grab FASTPASSes (FP), but when we got there the line was so short that we decided to go ahead and ride it. So we got to ride it twice without standing in line for more than 10 minutes either time, and as I suspected, it was N.'s favorite attraction at HS. Or course, HS meant riding Tower of Terror (TT) and Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster (RnRC) as many times as possible for A., but he was torn because he also wanted to catch some of the shows. I think he and my wife ended up riding them 2 or 3 times each, and they were able to take advantage of low lines and FPs, so I think he was happy. We ended up splitting up a few times this day, with me having kid duty first so A. could ride his rides. It was my wife’s turn with the little ones later in the afternoon so they could catch the Beauty and the Beast show and the afternoon parade while A. and I did the Indiana Jones stunt show (a first), the Lights, Motors, Action! stunt show, and the Great Movie Ride (another first, and probably something I won’t do again due to the camp factor). When we swapped for the final time late afternoon, the little ones and I went to get autographs at the Animation Courtyard area.
Lunch was at Mama Melrose’s, and everyone loved it. Our waitress was great, and she made a big deal out of A.‘s birthday. The portions were big, which meant we were lugging the kids’ leftover pizza around (fortunately we had brought a stroller for N., so it wasn’t that big a deal), but it also meant fewer snacks that afternoon. By only the third day, we had accumulated more DDP snack credits that we could reasonably use during our trip.
When it was all said and done, we were able to get in everything we had planned except for the Studio Backlot Tour that my wife really wanted to do–TSM, TT, RnRC, Star Tours (a couple of times), LMA, B&B, IJ, MuppetVision 3D, Voyage of the Little Mermaid, Honey I Shrunk the Kids playground.
By that evening, it was pretty obvious that even with the low-key, low-pressure atmosphere of HS, we had pushed the kids too hard on the first day at MK. Even though EMH meant the park closed at 10:00, we left early (especially since it was an off-night for Fantasmic!), and we ate a late dinner at POR before turning in.
[B]Day 4: Animal Kingdom[/B]
We had scheduled Animal Kingdom next, thinking it would be another short day to use as a break to rest up from MK. Of course Everest was the big attraction for A., and despite the crowds, he managed to ride it 5 times, either by himself or with my wife. Other must-do’s (and did-do’s) for the day were Kilimanjaro Safaris, Finding Nemo, It’s Tough to be a Bug, DINOSAUR, Mickey’s Jammin’ Jungle Parade, and the Camp Minnie-Mickey Greeting Trails. We also hit a couple of the trails to see the animals (Maharajah and Pangani), and the little ones and I went to the Boneyard and TriceraTop Spin. The Nemo show was great as always, and it has become one of my favorite shows at any park. The animals were closer to our vehicle on the safari than they have ever been. The giraffes were so close a couple of times it almost seemed like we could touch them. We even saw a lion, and we had to wait for an obstinate ostrich to move off the road. The kids also were able to get passport stamps at all but one of the conservation stations, with the only part of the park that we didn’t make it to being the Rafiki’s Planet Watch area.
Food for the day included lunch at Flame Tree Barbecue (another favorite), ice cream snacks in the afternoon, and dinner back at POR since AK closes so early. It was another (mostly) relaxing day where we could pace ourselves and take it a bit easy.
[B]Day 5: Off Day[/B]
Wednesday was our day off from the parks. We slept in a little late, and we had late breakfast reservations at Chef Mickey’s. This was our second time to do CM, and it again turned out to be one of the kids’ favorite meals. We took some photo ops on the grounds of the Contemporary and headed back to POR to let the kids swim for a bit.
We had reservations for the early Spirit of Aloha (SoA) show at the Polynesian, and we arrived early to look around a bit, something we try to do every trip since the kids like the resort’s atmosphere. SoA was excellent, and the food was really good as well, despite having read some not-so-favorable reviews of both. The highlight of the night was definitely when our birthday boy A. got up on stage to dance, something totally out of character for our now too-cool-for-that pre-teen. After dinner we took a monorail ride to see WDW by night and even got to see part of the MK fireworks show. Pretty cool.
We have found that having a day in the middle of the trip without a park visit and no real schedule other than meals helps to break things up a bit and give everyone a little breather. But I can say I will never again do two all-you-can-eat meals on the same day. I spent much of my time regretting that I had eaten so much food.
[B]Day 6: Magic Kingdom[/B]
Relaxed and refreshed (yeah, right!), we hit MK bright and early for morning EMH. That extra hour proved to be key in getting in all our essential rides before our lunch of burgers and chili cheese fries at the always crowded Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn & Cafe. After that we were free to take our time and not feel rushed to do anything. We used the opportunity to head over to Tom Sawyer Island to let the kids run and play. We repeated a lot from the first day at MK, but we also did a few things that we had never done before like the People Mover (I never realized it went through Buzz Lightyear and Space Mountain!) and the Enchanted Tiki Room, and I actually mustered up the nerve to ride Space Mountain for the first time. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.
Our dinner reservations were for the character dining with Pooh and friends at The Crystal Palace (CP), and while the experience in and of itself was good, I doubt we’ll ever eat there again. I had heard great things about CP, but frankly, I was more than a bit disappointed. The food was average at best, and our waiter kept us, well, waiting much of the night, especially when it came time for the check. To add insult to injury, it was one of our most expensive meals.
The upside to eating at CP was that we were able to go straight from the table to where our stroller was parked outside to watch the Wishes fireworks show. It wasn’t as close to the castle as we have been in the past, but it also wasn’t anywhere near as crowded. Afterwards, we waited for the crowd to clear a bit before making our way to the bus line for the trip back to the resort.
[B]Day 7: Epcot[/B]
We arrived at Epcot with the intention of hitting all the rides and attractions in Future World we wanted before lunch so that we could spend more time in the World Showcase pavilions than we had on past trips. My wife and A. headed off to Test Track and Mission: SPACE while the little ones and I visited with Mickey and friends at the Epcot Character Spot since the line wasn’t too long. After that, we were able to get FPs for Soarin’ and then ride Nemo, catch Turtle Talk with Crush, and wander around the aquarium while we waited for our time slot.
We ate an early QS lunch of nachos, beef and chicken tacos, and churros with caramel sauce at Cantina de San Angel (yum!), and we visited Mexico while we were there. We grabbed passports for the kids to get stamps at the countries, and we rode the Three Caballeros Grand Fiesta Tour. We thankfully had allotted enough time to get all the passport stamps for the kids without racing through everything at breakneck speed. We rode the Maelstrom, caught the Ziti Sisters act in Italy, got American Dream slushies at the Fife & Drum Tavern in America, grabbed coffee and pastries at Boulangerie Patisserie in France, and watched the Serveur Amusant show. We even did the Kim Possible adventure in four of the countries and were able to get pressed pennies in the shops where the machines were working, all while being able to make our early dinner reservation.
Dinner at Coral Reef was excellent. This was the one reservation I was worried about for the entire trip because of some of the reviews I had read, and it turned out to be one of the better restaurants we had chosen. The food was great. The little ones tried our steak (A. had gotten his own) and mahi mahi in addition to eating their meals, and everyone shared bites of desserts.
After dinner N. and I rode Nemo again while the others went back to Soarin’, and we even rode Living with the Land. We made another pass through the aquarium and watched the divers play around and the dolphins rub up against the glass to be “petted”. We rode the Figment ride for the first time ever, and we visited the gift store before grabbing our spots at the World Showcase entrance for the Illuminations show.
We intentionally did not visit Innoventions earlier in the day thinking that we would be able to spend time there during EMH later that evening. What we didn’t know is that Innoventions would close at 7:00pm. Bummer. My kids could spend hours in that area. I’m not sure why they do EMH at Epcot if Innoventions and the World Showcase pavilions will be closed. That leaves very little left to occupy the remaining 3 hours and guarantees that lines will be longer since FPs will all be long gone by that time. The upside is that we had more than enough time in the afternoon to go through the country pavilions at a leisurely pace, something we’ve never been able to do before.
A. and I waited in line for Test Track for over 30 minutes, and he rode Mission: SPACE one last time before we called it a night about an hour before the park closed.
[B]Day 8: Check-Out[/B]
We had already decided that we would sleep in until the kids woke up and eat breakfast at Riverside Mill on check-out day. After checking out of the room, we decided to visit the Animal Kingdom Lodge. We have wanted to do this on every trip but never made the time to do so. I’m so glad we did. The main building at both Kidani and Jambo are very majestic and impressive, and I can’t imagine being able to wake up every morning and look out the window to see the animals there. My wife actually commented that being able to view zebras and giraffes from her room might make it hard to leave the resort each day. After spending some time touring the grounds and talking to one of the cast members about the animals, we grabbed lunch at the Mara food court, snacks in the gift shop, and sadly, we began our return trip home.
Some final thoughts on our trip.
My family thoroughly enjoyed POR. The grounds are beautiful and peaceful, and the walk from our building to the main buildings was not too far. I wish we had taken some time to catch the River Roost Lounge entertainment, the campfire, or at least a nighttime movie at POR or one of the other resorts, but unless we start booking longer trips, I just don’t see it happening. There’s just not enough time.
I was a bit disappointed with Mousekeeping on this trip. On previous trips, we were greeted each evening with fairly creative towel creations or displays made up of our kids’ stuffed animals. On the last trip, we walked in to find our kids’ Donald, Mickey, and Minnie miniature plush toys watching TV with Donald having commandeered the TV remote and having apparently half eaten a Pop Tart (one of the kids must have left it out that morning). This year all we got were the obligatory towel-and-washcloths Mickey head upon check-in, a towel teddy bear, and the stuffed animals lined up in a row on the bed one day. Regardless, we left a nice tip each day, although we really weren’t in the room long enough to mess it up too badly.
Being so close to the bus stop was one of the best things about our location, especially on those late nights when the kids were completely wiped out. The buses leaving from POR/POFQ to the parks each morning usually were not full, but the evening rides back to POR were packed. There must have been lots of folks staying at POR, because the lines at the bus stops were always the longest–even longer than the lines for the buses going to the All-Star resorts, which I found interesting since those lines were the longest when we stayed at All-Star Movies on our last trip. Maybe the lines are always the longest wherever I stay. Hmm?!
Speaking of buses, I really have to hand it to Disney on this trip. Our second day at MK had the longest line we experienced during the trip, probably since it was not an EMH night, and we were traveling back to the resort earlier than normal. But they were moving the buses in and out of there at a furious pace, with a bus driving up just as one was pulling out. And the attendant in the line kept things moving and had a great, cheerful attitude, which made a potentially unbearable experience much better.
Our oldest son celebrated his 12th birthday during our trip. I expected him to get [I]some[/I] attention on his birthday, but it was more like a birthweek celebration, with special treatment at every park and every TS meal, usually with an extra dessert for him. I think he actually got tired of being wished “Happy Birthday” randomly by cast members throughout the parks every day.
I really thought my two younger kids would want to do more character meet-and-greets than they did, especially D., who is really into the fairies and princesses. But we never caught the lines at a good time. They were usually very, very long, and my kids just didn’t want to wait, even for D.'s new favorite, Rapunzel. The characters they did want to see were the same in every park–Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, etc.–which also surprised me. The widest variety of characters they met was at Epcot with Handy Manny, Jake the pirate, Stitch, Pooh, and Sorcerer Mickey. Just goes to show you just can’t predict what your kids will want to do.
The “freebies” provided in the coupon book with a Magic Your Way package are really pretty lame. Most of them we would never take advantage of other than the free miniature golf game that we played on our last trip but just didn’t have time for this year. The 100 arcade points turns out to be around 3 games, so unless you really want to spend more money and time there, it’s pretty pointless. We did the $15 Planet Hollywood meal credit on our last trip, but frankly, that coupon and the free souvenir just aren’t worth the time, effort, and money. I realize Disney doesn’t have to offer anything, but I wish the coupons were a little better.
Finally, I don’t know if the Disney Dining Plan would be worth the money if I actually had to pay for it, but being able to get it for free during off-peak seasons has been great for us. On this trip and the last one, the free dining offer has been cheaper than the room-only discounts for the resort we were interested in, and honestly, although at first glance it doesn’t look like it, it ends up being way more food than we can eat. We usually split 3 QS meals each day, leaving us enough credit for 5 breakfasts and 3 lunches on check-out day. We were less stingy with our snack credits this time, but we were still scrambling that last day to use them up. We ended up getting drinks and snacks in the gift shop for the drive home for the kids. The thing I like about the free dining is that it opens up our dining options to restaurants that we might not normally choose if we were paying full-price out of pocket, and it lets us be a little more adventurous with our meal choices.
All in all, it was a wonderful trip, and we’re already trying to figure out when we can go again.