Started off this cold morning (it was in the low 50s and breezy) heading for Disney’s Animal Kingdom. As we walked through the park caught the end of a Winged Encounter show then made our way to Pandora to look around. Used a FastPass+ for the River Journey and then caught a little of the Utility Suite presentation. Continued on up the trail to Africa. Had some time until our Safari FastPass+ so walked through Gorilla Falls ( no gorillas because of cold weather) so it was a quick walk. Hung out in the marketplace for 15 min until our FastPass+ time then went for a Safari. Once back picked up a FastPass for Up! and stopped to watch the show. After the show walked around Asia for a while taking the Jungle Trek then did a loop passed Everest and through Dino-Land to see what was going on before returning to Asia for a late lunch at Yak & Yeti. After lunch headed to the front of the park and caught a bus back to the Boardwalk to meet a friend and grab some warmer clothes. After visiting a bit we all took a bus to the Magic Kingdom. Happened to be in Town Square for the Tree Lighting moment then made our way to the Jingle Cruise to use a FastPass+. Once ashore booked a FastPass for Buzz and we headed that way. Paused for the Castle Lighting then continued on to Tomorrowland. Used our Buzz Lightyear FastPass+ and then went for a ride on the PeopleMover. Some headed for Casey’s and the rest to Sleepy Hollow for a light dinner. After dinner walked around Liberty Square and then the Castle taking some pictures. Circled through Tomorrowland and back to Main Street to find a spot for Happily Ever After. After the fireworks took the by pass to Town Square and then walked to the bus stops. The Boardwalk bus was backed up so hopped on a waiting Swan/Dolphin bus and took that to the Swan then walked to the Boardwalk. Made my way back to the room to call it a night as Illuminations was just wrapping up.
Thoughts & Observations:
- Today was forecast to be a cold day with a high of 60. The sun was out but there was a cutting wind which made it feel even colder for us Southern Californians.
- We started the day at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The park had an earlier than usual closing due to a private event (which we were told was for the thousands of Pop Warner football , dance and cheer competition participants. As we walked through the park it felt a little on the crowded side given a cold Wednesday in early December.
- It was nice to see the Winged Encounter show is now listed on the park times guide. Due to our location/scheduling we only managed to catch the end of one as we entered the park, but it was good to know times vs guessing or having to seek out cast members.
- Our first stop of the morning was Pandora. I had a FastPass+ for the River Journey to use. Both attractions are still very big draws with Flight of Passage having triple digit waits and the river journey over an hour. Now that I have done both several times over the past couple of trips my initial impression of both still holds for me.
- I was surprised to see the Otter area still behind walls. It was that way in May and looks the same now. Wonder what is going on to have such a visible area closed off? Anyone know anything?
- Rafiki’s Planet Watch/Conservation Station & the train are all closed. There are cast members at the entrance and they are using the walkway and station for the Wilderness Explorers programs. The area is slated to reopen in 2019, no official word on changes.
- We had some time before our Safari FastPass+ time so stopped by Gorilla Falls. All the gorillas and many of the other animals were not out due to the cold weather. It would have been nice to have been warned before entering the trail and putting the extra steps on our legs.
- When it was time to use our FastPass+ for the Kilimanjaro safari the FastPass+ return line was out into the main walkway. The scan point was slow but just beyond the line stopped again and was a slow walk all the way to the load station. It took only about 10 minutes but it felt longer. The standby line was not really moving at all as they worked to keep the return line moving.
- Even with the cold weather there were a fair number of animals out. A highlight was a baby giraffe that our driver said it was its second day on the savanna only.
- Decided to stop by and see UP! A Great Bird Adventure. I had read they reworked the show and it was slightly changed and now has some references to Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights. The dialog has been altered and the pacing of the show was slightly better than the version I saw in May. There may have been a couple more birds too. But overall the show was still lacking compared to the Flights of Wonder show it replaced. The Up! character integration still felt awkward and unneeded. We once again noticed quite a few guests leaving early, just like we saw back in May.
- This past summer Donald took over DinoLand USA with his Dino-Bash! And the party continues. There are several meet and greets throughout the area plus some new signage and a dance party at night. The Meet and Greets run the spectrum from Chip ‘n’ Dale to Launchpad McQuack. This was my first time seeing the area with the Bash! Present. Overall it took an area that was already all over the map and made it seem even more fragmented from a theme perspective. From an average guest perspective it added a half dozen or so character locations. I am not a huge fan of staged character meet and greet locations. I much prefer to see the characters out and interacting with guests in a free roaming environment. Having backdrop and queues really seem like you can walk away remembering how much time you spent in line for your 30 seconds with a character.
- For lunch we dined at the Yak & Yeti Restaurant in Asia. It was very busy as usual and we showed up well before our reservation but thanks to the select club we were seated within moments of arriving. The service was a tad slower than last time, but the food was great again. We were seated downstairs this visit and it was a little more congested and noisy than upstairs. Some of this due to layout and some due to the groups around us.
- Witnessed something a bit odd, not quite sure what was going on. When I walked by Flame Tree BBQ on the way to lunch there were several cast members in the area and some ropes up dividing the walkway. No signs of issues or anything and I thought maybe they were testing some new crowd control. Then after lunch when I walked by there was a team working on erecting construction walls. It was really odd to see them working mid day setting up a wall in a high traffic area. I did not see any indications of why and none of the CMs in the area seemed willing or able to share much.
- We made our way over to the Magic Kingdom for the evening. Most of the nights this trip the Magic Kingdom closed at 6pm due to the Christmas party. I really find this troublesome for the average guests. You loose 4-6 hours of park time that you normally would have on party nights and then on non party nights the crowds are heavier due to the limited evenings.
- We were walking through Town Square and cast members were gathering near the Christmas tree for the lighting moment. I moved to a spot to see as they started to count down. I turned on my video assuming something would start when they reached zero. Instead the lights came on and the moment was over. I thought this was one of the most disappointing tree lightings I have seen. I have not been a fan of the ones in Anaheim in recent years where an audio track plays that is under a minute. But this tops that in terms of how poor it was. The cast members were excited and doing their best. I expect more from Disney. In other parks such as Paris and Hong Kong the tree lighting is still an event.
- I was able to pick up a FastPass+ for the Jingle Cruise earlier in the day, and was very pleased when we showed up and saw the standby line was posted at 85 minutes (and a guest we ran into in line said they waited closer to two hours). The FastPass+ return was backed up but moved relatively quickly. The poor standby line was barely moving. Maybe a 5 group to 1 ratio or more.
- I am happy to see the Jingle Cruise is still at Walt Disney World. Anaheim once again has no jingle in the jungle. The decorations seemed about the same as previous years. Our skipper had a couple one liners I had not heard before so it was a good cruise.
- We were walking through the hub just before a Frozen Holiday Wish and decided to find a spot with under 5 minutes until the start. Found an ok viewing spot that turned out to be bad as soon as the show started and a handful of kids went up on shoulders and blocked the view. The show seemed identical to the past couple of years. It is nice to see something for the castle lighting but it would be nice to see Cinderella return vs Elsa decorating someone else’s castle without asking.
- The Buzz Lightyear FastPass+ Return was backed up too, not as bad as the Jingle Cruise but still much longer than past visits. This caused the stand by to move at a very slow pace and have an extended wait time. The PhotoPass system was having some issue. When pictures showed up in my account the automated ones were of the wrong cars. So we received several pictures and videos of random guests. This attraction is really showing some wear and tear and needs to be renovated. It would be great to see the system upgraded to be like the Shanghai one. Or even the Anaheim one would be a step forward.
- The PeopleMover had a wait even this evening. It took a good 5 minutes to head up the speedramp. As we waited to board we spotted several cars transporting cones, indicating they were not available to guests. I would did not count but it seemed as if every train that went by had at least one car blocked off. We stopped for a minute or so as we entered Space Mountain too. Of course in the corridor with nothing to look at!
- I was not that hungry for dinner so decided to just grab a hot dog from Casey's. Well it seemed a large number of other guests had the same idea and the place was packed. All lines were backed up and it was a challenge to fit into a queue to order. I looked to mobile order and it said it was unavailable so I had to wait in the line.
- My primary objective of the evening was to watch Happily Ever After so we found a spot well over 30 minutes early. In typical fashion for WDW this turned out to be a challenge with the lack of crowd control and then the number of guests that at the last minute pushed their way in and put kids up on their shoulders. It seems as soon as the lights go out the couple cast members that were trying to move the crowds give up and it becomes a free for all along some of the walkways within the hub and Main Street.
- We decided to exit right after Happily Ever After and not wait around for Once Upon a Time this evening. It was cool and we had had enough of the crowd. We were able to work our way to the Main Street by pass on the east side and it was a very quick/easy walk once we got there. Getting there from the center of the street was a little challenging.
- Arrived at the bus stop for the Boardwalk and found lengthy line plus a scooter or two. Looked like we would have to stand if we made the bus. And there was no bus in sight. A bus pulled up in the next stop for the Swan/Dolphin and it had only a dozen guests and one scooter. Of course they decided to have a driver change (I do not understand why they schedule driver changes at busy times like after fireworks). The Boardwalk bus pulled in and we kept watching trying to see which would be the more efficient. We stuck with the Swan bus and pulled out as they were still loading the first scooter for the Boardwalk. So in the end I think we may have saved a few minutes and had a seat.
- The new Magic Kingdom entrance/exit overpass on World Drive does make the bus trip out from the Magic Kingdom much quicker for most routes. If you have not seen/heard, you now go out the same way you come in, no need to turn and go by the TTC & Polynesian and circle the parking lot. Instead there is an overpass that merges outbound traffic right onto World Drive just past the toll booths. I did not time it but it seemed to shave several minutes off the trip.
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