Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Pooh-topiary, Sleepwalking, & Roller Coaster Type Rides: Dirty Thirty Disney 2018

Lenni turned THIRTY on March 17th, 2018. To celebrate, we and our wife, Katie Anne Clark* took a 4-day trip to Disney World.

Every Disney adventure is different and this was the first time we traveled with a pal; we could not have asked for a better travel companion!

A quick word about the Disney Chase Credit Card Rewards Program: A few months before we took this trip, sent away for a redemption card for the 80 points we had accumulated for previous transactions. This program matches to the dollar, so we received a redemption card  to be used in Disney with $80 on it! This money got us through all of our Epcot Garden and Flower Festival meals and drinks and an entire day of food at the Magic Kingdom. We linked our magic band for this card for all of our other transactions in order to begin accumulating points to redeem as cash for our next Disney Trip!

In this blogpost we will outline new takeaways from each park.

This time around, our experience was more leisurely. We sprang for the 1-park per day, 4-day ticket, which was an excellent value. We arrived at the All Star Music Resort around 1am on Friday morning, but because we planned for Hollywood Studios on Friday, we were able to sleep-in and still do everything we wanted to do at the park!

We spent the early afternoon strolling through Disney Springs, and checked out some of the awesome lego artwork- fun stuff that costs no money!

Hollywood Studios has some of the best attractions, including Hollywood Tower of Terror, Rockin' Roller Coaster and Fantasmic, but Fastpass made it possible for us to pre-book the attractions with long lines, so we still had time to eat and sit in the very first row for Fantasmic...

Takeaway 1: Vision impaired folk who left their glasses at home, like Lenni, WILL able to see everything from the front row at Fantasmic, but they will also end up cold and wet, as it is a "splash" and "alligator & snake" zone. Fortunately, we only ended up dealing with the former annoyance.

One excellent benefit to sitting in front row house right at Fantasmic is Merchandise Salesman, Andrew!  If you are there early, he puts on a MOST energetic pre-show as you can see in this video:

He also gives free light-sabers away to those willing to rock out with him in front of the crowd. Hopefully he won't get fired for stealing...

We tried desperately to get Katie to give him her number to fulfill her own Disney Fairytale.

We usually pair Hollywood studios with another park, but this time we got the chance to check out the Indiana Jones show. The actor playing Jones got injured half-way through the show, which made for some exciting live theatre! Even at Disney, things can go wrong!

Takeaway 2: Hollywood Studios is the park lacking the most allergy friendly and gluten free options. If you have a food allergy, it is best to bring your own food into this park, or just eat before or after you go. As you can see in this photo, Lenni is really excited about this appetizing and filling meal...

Also, Devon wandered off and I found him with these manatees:

Without much foresight, we happened to be in EPCOT during the Flower and Garden Festival. You do not need to break the bank to enjoy the incredibly pruned topiaries located in every country across the World Showcase Pavilion.

In the past, we have always crammed EPCOT into a day with another park. We were able to Fastpass Soarin', hit a few other rides, and jump on the Frozen ride right when the park opened, leaving us the entire afternoon and evening for the World Showcase Pavilion.

Having an entire day at Epcot gave us an amazing opportunity to check out the spontaneous and one of a kind entertainment that occurs at each country, like this French comedy/acro act:

And these people jammin' to a Canadian band! 

Also, Devon met this bunny in Canada...

We also got to do some pretty sweet meet and greet and photo ops with Disney stars. See Katie and I, one drink in, featured here with Mexican Donald:

Takeaway 3: You can ask for free fountain cups for water in all restaurants and at carts and kiosks that sell fountain beverages. You can actually save hundreds of dollars because a Dasani is almost $4. It is much harder to find places that offer this at the World Showcase Pavilion, so water-up in Future Land and bring your cup to refill manually at fountains by the restrooms at the Pavilion.

PS: Posing with beverage in hand is frowned upon...we learned this...

Takeaway 4: There are many specialty food and beverage options during the Flower and Garden Festival. You can pick up a "passport," and sticker the places that you tried out in this handy FREE passport booklet. While this can be expensive, this is some of the best food you will find in Disney. You can budget by placing the amount of money you are comfortable spending on one of these keepsake lanyards. This will keep you from overspending!

Katie did fantastic research and made reservations at a restaurant on the water-front in Morocco that had many gluten and dairy free options! This was probably the best food we had and we would highly recommend it. 

Devon also met a duck here, and fed him half of our food...

Takeaway 5: If you are in need of a quiet and shady escape, Japan has the most beautiful and quiet hidden garden within the pavilion.

On Sunday, we arrived early for a full day at the Magic Kingdom. Instead of the "Train Show," which typically opens the park, we were let into the park to line up outside of Cinderella's castle. This unexpected change threw off our morning plan, and despite our best efforts, we were unable to beat the stampede to the Snow White ride, and had to forfeit our spot in line for a breakfast reservation at the famous "Be Our Guest" restaurant. With his commitment to never leaving a line, Devon was not thrilled.
"Be our Guest," while aesthetically pleasing, is way over-priced. Perhaps we would feel differently if we had gone for dinner. Essentially, guests pre-order from a menu that includes about 6- selections, so it is still cafeteria style. However, servers bring you your food in a covered fancy cart, to whichever of the three rooms you choose. At breakfast, you can choose to sit in the West Wing, which is by far the coolest, but also the loudest (literally there is thunder and lightening while you are eating), the Ball Room which is a replica of the famous Beauty and the Beast dance scene room, or the library, which is outfitted with a gorgeous life size Belle and Beast music box. We chose the library.

Takeaway 6: While the meal portions were definitely not $25 entrees, the restaurant provides the table with additional delicious pastries. This was a highlight for Lenni, who included in her order that she has a gluten allergy. A plate of three different types of gluten-free pastry bread was hand delivered separately to the table for her.  This was some of the best gluten-free pastry options she has tried to date!

Even with the change, we were able to do just about everything in the Magic Kingdom with the exception of Snow White's ride, which was always at least a 100-120 minute wait. In the future, we would probably Fastpass this, and instead rush and stand in a significantly shorter wait line for Big Thunder Mountain.

Takeaway 7: "Happily Ever After", Disney World's newest firework and projection show, is a MUST SEE. We almost considered getting on Thunder or Splash Mountain for a second time, but that would have been a mistake. This is BY FAR the best evening spectacle show we've seen in the past 3 years in any of the parks! Caveat: we actually haven't seen Animal Kingdom's yet, so we might amend this next time. The pyrotechnic timing with the music and the incredible projections moved Lenni to complete hysterics in the center of the park. Here is a sneak peak: 

Sleepwalker Tidbit: All of this overstimulation and a dose of Benadryl can make for a pretty bizarre sleep state.  Around 1:30am, Lenni was awakened by the sound of Devon opening the hotel door. If you are married to a sleepwalker, Disney provides an excellent set of chairs, a table, and ironing board that can act as a barrier and noise alert to make sure you're loved one doesn't end up taking a midnight pool dip or stroll onto another resort property...

 On our  final day, we visited Animal Kingdom. Devon likes to be there for the opening of the park because of the flight of the macaws, which made him cry on his first trip. But the park opened at 7am on Monday!!!!! We simply could NOT!

Fortunately, we had Fastpasses for Expedition Everest, Dinosaur, and the new addition of Avatar: Flight of Passage. The park was insanely busy; Flight of Passage had a 240 minute wait!!!

Takeaway 8: You MUST snatch a fast pass for Flight of Passage. It is the most incredible attraction in all of the parks. It is the only non-"roller coaster type ride" (because that is what Disney refers to roller coasters as) in the park that made Devon's stomach drop without us actually going anywhere. It is truly amazing! If you don't get a Fastpass, wait the 4-hours. It is worth it. SERIOUSLY.

Because of our slower pace, this time through we were able to check out "Finding Nemo: the musical." Definitely worth seeing if you have the 40 minutes between Fastpasses.

Takeaway 9: If you dine in Pandora Land, you will hit the jackpot with healthy park food!

Lenni found a delicious and filling salad that was well worth the price, and Devon found a dumpling style meal called a cheeseburger pod.

Also, Devon met this squirrel...

Overall, Dirty Thirty Disney 2018 was a huge success! Thank you Katie for being a great drinking buddy for Lenni and Rockin' Roller Coaster partner for Devon!

Until next year...au revoir, Disney!

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