By: Amy Kawa
As stated in our last post that offered a recap of our trip in October 2018, I am blessed to have returned from another trip to Walt Disney World this past Fall. The trip in November was quite the departure from our normal Disney family vacations.
I work at a high school in Buffalo NY, and was lucky enough to be asked to serve as a chaperone on the senior class trip to the happiest place on earth. So, myself along with three other fantastic chaperones and 65 high school seniors were off for quite the adventure. I have been extremely blessed to have taken over 20 trips to Walt Disney World in my lifetime, but this trip in particular taught me more than any other trip I have experienced. Here’s why:
Walt Disney World Trip – November 2018
After getting 65 kids through airport security and on the plane, we landed in Orlando late-morning. That’s right… we left Buffalo at 5:30 a.m. After taking up two Magical Express buses at the Orlando Airport, we all made our way to Disney’s All-Star Sports Resort. In my experience, the Disney guest services experience lies solely on the ability of the particular cast members you interact with. Some cast members are just more experienced than others, lending themselves to a smoother overall experience for the guests. Being a bigger group obviously presents greater and unique challenges upon check-in. Room assignments should be set and Magic Bands should be ready to go, assigned to their proper names in the proper rooms, equipped with the ability to serve as room keys provided the resort has a listing of the rooms with the proper names in each room. However, that wasn’t the case here. Each band was essentially “made-to-order,” programmed on the spot, one-by-one. All-Star Sports is a resort that accommodates large groups often, so the difficulty that they dealt with for our students didn’t seem to add up. The whole check-in process took around two hours.
Anyhow, after the lengthy check-in process and some freshening up, we all headed off to the Animal Kingdom (on one bus, which is a pretty impressive feat). Each park was decked out in its Christmas best, and that was a sight to see! This trip also tested my Disney planning skills unlike any other trip I have taken (more on that later). We got everything squared away to make fastpasses only a few weeks before we arrived, as opposed to the 60 days prior that is the norm for those planners staying on property. That time crunch prohibited us from grabbing the holy trinity of Disney fastpasses: Flight of Passage, Slinky Dog Dash, and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. So, after checking all day and hoping for something to open up, I had to just swallow my pride, and we waited in line around 5:00 p.m. for Flight of Passage. After over a two-hour wait, our chaperone crew all agreed that we would wait again for that amazing ride experience. In addition to Flight of Passage, we took in It’s Tough To Be a Bug, Dinosaur!, Festival of the Lion King, Finding Nemo: The Musical, and Expedition Everest. The only thing we really missed out on was Kilimanjaro Safaris, as the last expedition left the base camp around 6:00 p.m. Our chaperone crew also experienced a character meal at Tusker House, which was very enjoyable. After a long day, we headed back to the resort.
Each morning, I take a run, and it is my favorite thing to do while on a Disney trip. It’s early; it’s quiet; it’s the perfect opportunity to just soak in the magic and the beauty and coolness of your Disney resort and its surrounding areas. I have run at about half of the resorts on Disney property, and they all have their unique features, but the All-Star Resorts run was one of the coolest. You have the ability to run around and through three separately-themed resorts: All-Star Sports, Movies, and Music. These different backdrops provided the perfect scenery to make each run legitimately fun. I also participated in the All-Stars and Icons Fun Run (a full post and review on that later).
Each day, we had a bus leave early in the morning and then one that would leave about an hour later in the day. (The same process applied to the nighttime buses, giving the students the option to leave about an hour before park closing or just after park closing.) Day 2 led us to the “Hollywood that never was and always will be.” Unable to snag Slinky Dog fastpasses for the day, we headed right there at park opening to get in line. While waiting for about 60 minutes, I was finally able to snag a fastpass to ride Slinky again later in the day. We then made our way to Star Tours, Muppet Vision, Tower of Terror, For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration, Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, Voyage of the Little Mermaid, Alien Swirling Saucers, and Toy Story Mania. We also ended the night with Hollywood Studios’ nighttime spectacular, Fantasmic! This particular day in Hollywood Studios may have been my most successful planning/fastpass day ever. Every now and then, the stars align.
A special shout-out goes to Uncle Tim at ’50s Prime Time Cafe. We could not have asked for a better dining experience.
The last park day of the trip ended with the one that started it all in central Florida – Magic Kingdom. We were able to cross a lot of attractions off the list thanks to some creative fastpass choices, good timing, and Extra Magic Hours: Space Mountain, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, People Mover, Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor, Carousel of Progress, Haunted Mansion, Mickey’s Philharmagic, Big Thunder Mountain, Splash Mountain, Magic Carpets of Aladdin, Jungle Cruise, and Pirates of the Caribbean. Similar to the trip in October, one of my fellow chaperones and I lucked into a perfect viewing location for Happily Ever After as well.
The highlight of this day for me personally was having the opportunity to see Queen Elsa light up Cinderella Castle in her icicle lights. An adorable show featuring Anna, Elsa, Kristoff, and Olaf builds anticipation and then bam! – the castle transforms into something I have only seen on YouTube and in photos. I can’t even describe the swell of emotions that came over me when that castle lit up – joy and gratitude are the ones that immediately come to mind. Experiencing that Disney ritual for the first time was one of the most magical experiences I have ever had in Walt Disney World.
Departure day. Our flight home wasn’t until 10:00 p.m. that night, so we had a day at Disney Springs on the agenda a.k.a “Amy’s Dessert Tour.” After some shopping at Disney Style, World of Disney, Art of Disney, and some brand name stores, the “Dessert Tour” started. We stopped at Sprinkles, Amorette’s, Ghirardelli’s, and the Polite Pig for some Gideon’s Bake Shop cookies. (Love note to Gideon’s Bake Shop cookies – these are the best desserts I have ever had inside the purple gates of Walt Disney World.)
We also took a stroll along Disney Springs’ Christmas Tree Trail, which features dozens of Christmas trees themed and decorated after different Disney films. We headed back to the resort around 5:30 p.m. to catch the Magical Express at 7:00 p.m.
Now, while it may have been sunny and warm-ish in Lake Buena Vista, that was not the case in Buffalo, where a wintery mix was wreaking havoc on flight times. After several delays (and the very real possibility that we were spending the night in the Orlando Airport), our flight home finally took off right around midnight.
What I learned:
- You can still get things accomplished without having every last thing planned. Because the tickets didn’t fall into place until a few weeks before our arrival date, I wasn’t able to get all the fasptasses for our party that I would normally be able to snag. Despite that fact, I was able to maneuver enough other pieces to ensure we weren’t spending more times in lines than we absolutely had to. Some spontaneity and “let’s just see where we’re at” can be a good thing.
- The holiday decorations are a sight to see. It was an emotional experience to see everything I’ve seen for so long on videos and in books come to life before my eyes.
- Flight of Passage is worth a two-hour wait.
- Good cast members can make a trip and bad ones can also put a great hindrance on one.
- Be careful with your character meal choices. Character meals can be awesome experiences with good food, but they can also take up a good deal of time when you don’t have it to spend.
- I don’t like to get too personal with my blog posts, but I think this particular sentiment also applies to all Disney (and potential-Disney) travelers. The sense of euphoria, excitement, and child-like wonder one experiences in Disney is as much related to the attractions, decor, and atmosphere of Disney World itself as it is to the people you get to experience all of that magic with. I was a little leery to head to my favorite place on this earth with a different crew of people. How would people outside of my family respond to my… enthusiasm for this place and everything it’s about? That fear was quickly extinguished because there is no question that Disney brings out the best version of myself, but I think that it has that same effect on a lot of other people as well. It is an amazing feeling to get to see people you are really really fond of living their best lives and experiencing joy in its purest form thanks to this most magical of places. I certainly drink the Disney Kool-Aid, but I also realized how much I love to share it with others – to show them things they haven’t seen before or things they may have missed. My “Disney crew” has expanded exponentially, and that is a very very good thing.
- Disney brings people closer together, and I have no doubt that it did that for this group of incredible high school seniors… and their chaperones. I left that trip feeling as sad as I ever have that a Disney trip was over and just so incredibly blessed and thankful that I was given this opportunity.