Arrived at Orlando International Airport just before 6am. Stopped for a quick breakfast in the food court and was on a Magical Express bus by 6:30am. By 8am we were at the Beach Club, checked in and on our way to catch a bus to our first park of the morning. We arrived at the Magic Kingdom just after 8:30am and made our way up Main Street USA. I explored the new hub expansion that had opened since my trip last December as we waited for some other members of our group that were already in the park, having arrived yesterday. We all headed for the Jingle Cruise which was a literally walk on. We actually had to speed up to make the boat. After our cruise some had Mine Train FastPasses so we headed that way for them to use them and then doubled back for the Haunted Mansion as a group. Wandered through Adventureland back to the hub on our way to Tomorrowland. They had Buzz Lightyear FastPasses so some went to that, others back to the room to unpack and I headed for Epcot. Took the Resort Line to the TTC since the Express was not allowing boarding. Then transferred to an Epcot Monorail. Arrived at Epcot just past 11am and met up with a Friend near MouseGear. Walked out to Mexico to check out the new additions to the attraction then strolled around World Showcase Lagoon stopping at some of the countries along the way. Eventually made it to the international gateway and exited the park. Just before 1pm. Bid my goodbyes since they were heading home and I made a quick stop by our room at the Beach Club Villas to pick something up and plug in some batteries for later. Was back on a bus and arrived at the Animal Kingdom just after 1:30pm to meet up with another friend. Walked around Discovery Island checking out the new additions. Went out to the Flame Tree dining area to see the Rivers of Light construction then walked by Asia and over to Africa to see the new Marketplace. The Standby line for the Safari was 40 minutes so went online and snagged a FastPass+ for later. Did another lap of Discovery Island checking out the Avatar construction along the way and ended up in Asia. Walked the Jungle Trek then returned to Africa to visit Pangani. Time to use our FastPass+ for the Safari. After the Safari strolled back to the park entrance and bid farewell before I headed back to the Beach Club to find the rest of my group. Some were grocery shopping, others fishing, and the last one at the Spa at the Grand Floridian. We decided to go see the Osborne Lights… Walked out to the boat dock and just missed a boat.. then realized there was a large line so we really did not but would have to wait a couple boats probably. Instead took one across to the Boardwalk with no wait then walked over to the students. Along the way learned most of the Counter Service dining was closed or closing by 6:30pm.. so picked up the pace and made it to Pizza Planet just before it closed at 6:30. Others went to the ABC Commissary. Others were stuck on a bus from the Riverside that took forever due to the traffic to get into the Studios. After eating we all joined up and walked through the Osborne Lights. Looked around and inched through the crowd. At 8pm, park closing, the crowd started to thin but my group had lost their patience and were heading for the exit so I picked up the pace and met them on the walk back to the Beach Club. Stopped by the room to drop off some things and then headed to Epcot with some that were on their way back to the Riverside and others called it a night. Walked past the UK and Canada to the Christmas tree then to the Fountain of Nations. Got caught up on some emails then walked back to the lagoon to catch the 9:30 Illuminations show. After the show walked back to the Beach Club to call it a night.
Thoughts & Observations:
- This trip started off like most others with the trip to Los Angeles international airport. As usual the airport had a ton of traffic and it took some time to reach the terminal. Once there though we were met with no waits at the checkin counter or security and we were at the gate early with time to spare. The flight was a red eye and I managed to sleep most of the flight. We arrived a few minutes early even.
- The Magical Express area was quiet as normal at this hour. We boarded the bus with no delays but then sat there for nearly 20 minutes waiting for more guests to arrive. Then once we started to move we were the third stop at Disney. So it took us over an hour to reach our resort.
- Magical Express/Luggage Service Note: Some of our group had come in on Saturday evening and they had a less than magical experience. They had no wait for the bus but then once onboard they waited almost 45 minutes to get moving and then were the 3rd stop. Their flight arrived around 6:30pm. Around 11pm they called to ask when to expect their luggage and received a very puzzling reply that the luggage can take up to 5 hours from the time you get to your room. They claimed it was linked to your room. This seemed odd to us. Seems it should be linked to boarding the Magical Express bus if anything.. The luggage did not show up until after 1:00am which made for a very late night for them.
- Our checkin was a breeze, but of course the room was not ready yet so we changed, dropped our bags and headed for the busses and the parks to join the rest of the group.
- A sign of things to come? As I waited for the Magic Kingdom bus at the Beach Club three Animal Kingdom busses passed by. Nothing says welcome to Walt Disney World like a 30 minute wait for your first bus at park opening.
- As we exited the bus at the Magic Kingdom I received a text that our room was ready. That was much earlier than anticipated, it was less than an hour after checking in.
- This was my first time seeing the completed hub expansion. On a first look in the morning it is a vast expanse of concrete. It is odd the lack of benches and trash cans when you look at the wide new areas. The viewing areas with their turf and fountains look nice and the trees around the perimeter are nice. The new turrets for the castle blend in and look like they have always been there. The new lights and speakers really stick out and clutter the view but even worse was the sound coming out of them. The audio was turned up too loud for them, especially during the Street Party, and it just sounded like loud noise. The Magic Kingdom has always had poor sound quality to me and this just magnified it more.
- The 2015 version of the Jingle Cruise appears to be the same as the 2014 one in terms of props. There were some new lines but that may be due more to the skipper variation than the year. They did not appear to add or tweak the show this year, unlike the Disneyland version which received more props.
- Due to the early morning the lines in Fantasyland were long already with Peter Pan and the Mine Train already over an hour. Other parts of the park were not as bad. Haunted Mansion was only about 10 and Buzz Lightyear was posted at 20. I was disappointed that the PeopleMover was closed for renovation. It should reopen later in the week.
- I was making my way over to Epcot next and the Express Monorail was not allowing boarding at this time. It was only dropping guests off. This meant a longer walk and longer Monorail ride since I had to take the resort line. At the TTC the line for the Epcot Monorail from the Resort Line was backed up more than I have ever experienced. It was only a one Monorail wait thanks to the capacity but still meant a further delay to get to Epcot.
- First stop in Epcot was Mexico to check out the newest additions to the Gran Fiesta Tour. This past week Disney added AA figures of the Three Cabarellos to the finale vs the film that used to play and these three figures have a history. They were from the original Mickey Mouse Revue that ran at the Magic Kingdom (and then in Tokyo). This was a great plussing of the attraction on several levels. Having figures vs the film added dimension to the finale and they looked great. So the average guest sees a more advanced show. Then for disneygeeks the history of the figures. A win win.
- Stepping outside though you are greeted with no climbing signs on the pyramid now. I understand the need for signs in some instances but I cannot believe people think it is reasonable to climb up a building and that you have to post a sign telling them not to or else you risk legal problems. That says more about society and lawyers than it does Disney. I think it is a loss for all.
- I was experiencing a heavy battery drain today in the parks. Seems my phone kept searching and hopping around on the wi-fi and this was draining the battery very quickly. Is this normal at WDW now a days? I found over the course of my stay this pattern held true. I would switch off the wi-fi and only turned it on when I needed to do an upload.
- I took a bus from the Beach Club to Animal Kingdom and of course this time no Animal Kingdom buses to be seen for nearly 20 minutes. So my Disney Transportation is 0 for 4 today in terms of efficiency. If this keeps up it is going to be a long trip.
- As you approach and enter Animal Kingdom it is hard to miss Pandora rising above the tree line. This is a very large construction project. Its scale is impressive and I hope the immersion is too. I am still not sold on the concept. I was not a fan of the film and spending time in its world does not interest me beyond the curiosity to see what the Imagineers come up with. I would have much rather seen them go with some other expansion option for the park.
- Most of the work as you enter Discovery Island is now complete. The Riverside Depot on the right is ready to open and concrete work is finishing up. The area is much more open now and the color palate more muted than the original. I am not a huge fan of the open ness. I like the smaller walkways with various options and animals intermixed that you found as you approached the tree but I understand if the park gets the crowds they are anticipating in the coming years the need for this from an operations stand point but it is removing some of the character of this area of the park.
- I walked by the lagoon where the Rivers of Light show will be. The project is inching along and in the final phases before its spring opening. Seating has been added around the lagoon, hard to tell how much seating but it appears to be substantial. As of right now it looks like a giant theater. Hopefully once it is finished it will look more natural. They were testing a large fountain when I walked by. Not a very interesting test beyond a large stream of water (looked like something you would see from a fireboat almost).
- The Harambe Market opened since my last visit too. This is an expansion of Africa to include a new walkway and dining area. The area is incredibly rich with detail and looked great. The menu was nothing I was particularly interested in but it blended nicely with the existing area and is a perfect addition.
- Throughout Africa/Harambe there were Christmas decorations this year. They all appear to have been made by locals and include re-used/re-cycled elements. I enjoyed exploring the area and seeing these additions. Great to see new holiday decorations. I was expecting something like this for the new Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom and was disappointed again to see no new additions.
- I had some time before my FastPass+ for the Safari so visited the Jungle Trek and then Pangani Forest. As anyone who has read my previous trip reports knows I am not a big fan of myDisneyExperience especially the FastPass+ system. This trip did nothing to change that impression. For example I do not understand why I need to make three FastPass+ reservations. It was mid day and I wanted to join a friend on the Safari. I managed to find a time but then had to deal with two other reservations I did not need. It slowed down my experience to make the reservations and I was taking a spot from someone who may have really wanted to experience that other attraction. I was not going to use them so why be forced to take them.
- By the time my FastPass time rolled around they were not needed and the Standby line was actually moving faster since they did have to wait and scan their Magicbands.
- On this first trip I saw the new area for the Hyenas and African Painted Dogs. It is in an interesting location on the left when you come down the hill and into the Savanna area. My understanding is this space will be used for both animals. With the dogs out early in the day and Hyenas in the afternoon/evening. The savanna as a whole seems in need of some work. The surrounding fences and work area fences were very visible and stood out to me. Especially with what seemed to be a smaller number of animals out in the main area this afternoon.
- I did get to see a young rhino so at least something new on the trip.
- I returned to the Beach Club to get some warmer clothes for the evening and find the rest of my group. We decided to go see the Osborne lights since it was a Monday and figured it would not be overly crowded with an 8pm closing. We were wrong. The boats to reach Studios from the Epcot resorts were backed up. So we opted to hike. It is about a mile walk from the Beach Club to the front gate. As we walked I was talking to some of the group arriving by bus from the Riverside and they were stuck in traffic. The parking lot had closed earlier in the day and traffic into the Studios was really backed up and it took the bus over half an hour to get from Buena Vista Drive to the drop off.
- The Studios marked my 11th and final Disney park of the year. So between April and December I visited all the Disney parks around the world that are currently operating. Thought this was a fun disneygeek feat so was to note it. Also the Studios were my 4th park of the day after arriving via red-eye from Los Angeles which meant a very long day.
- It seems like Disney mis-judged the interest in the lights and had early closing times most of the week we were there of 8pm which means only a couple hours each night to see the lights. This lead to the park being jammed every evening. Adding to my confusion was the fact that they shut down dining options even earlier. The Backlot Express closed at 5:30 and Pizza Planet at 6:30, both well before park closing. This led to frustration and longer lines elsewhere.
- Speaking of mis-judging I asked a cast member about the Annual Passholder Christmas ornament for the Osborne Lights and they said those were sold out within the first week or so and long gone. This seems really poor to under estimate it that poorly and be sold out before December.
- I spend some time inching my way through the crowds at the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights and was impressed as always. I do enjoy the show and will miss them next year. Hopefully they find a new home somewhere.
- As we left the line for the boat to Epcot as well as the bus to Epcot were really backed up so we opted to walk to Epcot for Illuminations to cap off the evening.
- Illuminations was great as always and the holiday tag received a new effect at the beginning which was great.
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