Are trip reports still a thing? I used to write trip reports all the time back when this blog was the Disney Outpost and the direction was a little different, but honestly they were probably my least-viewed posts. I don’t take it personally- Most people come here for Disney College Program content, and seeing as it’s now been six years since I’ve done the DCP I’ve been trying to change that, but I haven’t really known how….So maybe this is it? 2020 is definitely a year for throwing any kind of routine out the window, so why not get back into trip reports, I guess?
I don’t know what I’m saying trying to justify an almost 3,000 word post on something that didn’t happen so here’s the deal: I was going on my usual September trip to Walt Disney World like I do every year and there was a chance a friend who had never been before would have been coming with me. (It wasn’t guaranteed that my friend would have been able to go even before COVID, but since I’m an insane over planner I obviously planned a full week-long trip as if he were coming and it needed to be the most magical first visit ever, because…I. HAVE. A. PROBLEM.) Okay, now that that’s out of the way, here’s my very first (and hopefully only!) “Trip (that got canceled) Report”:
I guess before I get into it I should just quickly say why this trip was canceled since Disney is planning on opening before this (although that may change since Florida in case you live under a rock has been a disaster at dealing with this whole pandemic). Even if things open, it wouldn’t be a normal fall trip. I decided to cancel before Disney announced the changes to the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival and the cancellation of Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, which are the two major reasons I plan a trip in September each year, because it was clear that things would still be weird….If this ended up being my friend’s first trip, I didn’t want it to be during a time when we’d have to wear masks, and not be able to see parades and fireworks. And if he ended up not being able to go, I feel I’ve been enough times that I don’t need to pay for a trip that isn’t going to be entirely what I’d want.
I don’t know if that’s helpful for anyone else on the fence about cancelling, but those are some of the things I’d really think about. If your first trip to any destination is planned while things are reopening during all this, I’d really think hard about whether or not it’s worth your time off from work and the money you’d be spending. In most cases, I’d guess the answer is no, and for me as things start opening up I think I’ll focus on shorter day trips near home for a while (so if things are closed or if I’m uncomfortable, no huge financial loss or time suck). A Disney vacation is an investment, and if it’s your once in a year or once in a lifetime trip, I just don’t think 2020 (or maybe even 2021…) is the year to do it.
The plan was to go from August 30-September 6. I still have to cancel my airfare- I booked it the day everything closed due to the pandemic because the flights dropped to $38 one way on JetBlue, so I took my chances hoping I’d be able to go but knowing that if I didn’t and the cancellation process was a disaster it was only $38. (LOL that on March 13 I thought things would be better by the end of August and immediately booked airfare.)
Initially when I was planning this as a solo trip I was booked at All Star Sports. I almost always stay on Disney property- It’s worth the cost in my opinion, especially when I’m by myself and don’t want to worry about transportation and whatnot, and I love Extra Magic Hours (when the parks stay open later or open earlier in the morning for Disney resort guests. Bear with me guys, there’s going to be some extra explanation in this report in case said friend is reading because he doesn’t know the process, and hey, maybe if people actually read this it will help someone else plan a first visit!)
Anyway, since I get to the parks often though I’m not looking to splurge on a hotel, especially when I’m by myself. I’m hardly in the hotel room, and while I should probably take more time to relax on my solo trips and enjoy the pool and things at the resort, I pretty much don’t so I go for whatever resort is usually the cheapest, aka All Star Sports (sometimes I swear it’s like I’m a part time resident of Hoops Hotel). Once I invited said friend though this had to change. Nothing at all against All Star Sports, I’ve probably stayed there more than I’ve stayed at any other Disney hotel, but absolutely not for a first visit…at least for this person…ANIMAL KINGDOM LODGE IT WAS!
Okay, this friend might be more than a friend, let’s say more of a crush- I wouldn’t switch from All Star Sports to Animal Kingdom Lodge for just anyone (yay, context!). Friend loves animals and zoos, kind of gets the whole theme park thing having read my book (which was so thoughtful and appreciated!) but has never really been to a theme park so I was going to go all out. So my standard room at All Star Sports became a Savanna View Room at Animal Kingdom Lodge (no one tell him what the price difference there is lest I seem like an even bigger psycho here).
Day 1 – Sunday, August 30, 2020
Our flight would have left Boston at 5 am (again, because I’m insane….Even though I’ve been to Disney so many times, I’m not wasting time on traveling when it’s a three-hour flight). So we would have landed in Orlando around 8 am, and my friend (who has never been to Florida) would have for the first time experienced the iconic sound of Mayor Buddy Dyer on the monorail in the terminal, before experiencing the amazing convenience that is not having to get your own luggage from baggage claim thanks to Disney’s Magical Express.
Seriously, when we talk about the benefits of staying at a Disney Resort and taking Disney’s Magical Express (the complimentary motor coach service from the airport to your resort) we don’t stress this enough. I hate waiting for luggage at the airport SO MUCH. Yea, I’m probably just an impatient person and it really isn’t that bad, but I hate it. And I love the ability to just step off the plane and know that someone else will be getting my luggage for me and it will just show up in our room later. If I stay off property I seriously try to pack a carry on to avoid baggage claim (and airfare fees) because that’s how impatient I am.
I imagine that if this trip happened we’d see some of the Disney Parks Blog videos they show on the bus and he’d probably get overwhelmed by it (and obviously thankful that he’d be getting a free VIP tour thanks to me, ha.) This isn’t a knock on him at all, I always just think of the family who’s never been before and seeing videos of the park on the bus for some attraction or show they didn’t know existed and having the realization that they maybe didn’t plan enough. But that wouldn’t happen here, because he’d be with me and as we’ve established- I’m nuts! This is going to be a very rambly post, and probably some weird cross between a journal entry and a trip report so I hope you’re strapped in for a ride, we haven’t even gotten to the hotel yet.
We’d arrive at Animal Kingdom Lodge and my friend would be absolutely blown away by the lobby at Jambo House and since I would not want to rush someone’s first visit we’d actually spend some time looking at all the artifacts in the exhibit cases and the artwork around the lobby before going anywhere. Something else this friend likes is art, and as a newbie to Disney/theme parks, I definitely would have spent a lot of this trip pointing out how much there is just to walk around and see outside of rides. One of my favorite pieces of art in Disney is the Igbo Ijele Mask (in the back of the lobby towards the savanna). Crafted by the Igbo people of Nigeria, this mask is the only one of its kind that exists outside of Africa. It’s really one of the most overlooked pieces of art because the design showcases different parts of Igbo culture, and where it was created exclusively for the resort it’s truly one of a kind and not something you’d otherwise see anywhere in the U.S.
Then we’d either drop our carry-on bags off in the room or leave them with bell services depending on if the room was ready (we’ll never know which one because 2020 is the worst!) My guess is since it would only be about 9 am at this point the room would probably not be ready, so we’ll just say we checked out the savanna in some sense by this point, either from our room or from the rocking chairs off the lobby or something.
Next stop would be the Magic Kingdom! I think normally if I were staying at Animal Kingdom Lodge I’d head right to Animal Kingdom on the first day of the trip since it’s right there, but for someone’s first visit I think we’d have to go to the Magic Kingdom first. I’m not sure what the food situation would have been like thus far (I know I’m the planner here, but he still has free will and probably a desire to eat sometime soon). I think I’d suggest getting something quick at the Mara (the resort’s quick service restaurant) because I’m sure food and coffee would be needed by this point as we would have been awake since probably 2 am, but a Joffrey’s donut when we get to the park or even a stop at Starbucks on Main Street would have worked too.
I’ll spare you the painstaking details of what riding a bus would be like and use this time to share that my friend isn’t a thrill ride person. I’m obviously not quite sure what rides would be too much since we DIDN’T GET TO GO BECAUSE 2020 IS THE WORST, but I think I have a pretty good idea. As a result, I wasn’t planning on going too crazy with FastPasses or anything, as I think most of the things he’d be interested in doing wouldn’t have super long lines and we’d be doing a lot of shows. I was kind of looking forward to this kind of trip because I usually just try to ride Space Mountain as many times as possible and the change of pace for me would have been relaxing.
After the obligatory photos in front of Cinderella Castle and a leisurely walk down Main Street, our first stop in the Magic Kingdom would be the PeopleMover– I’ll sway from my usual rides on Space Mountain, but you can’t take the PeopleMover away from me. That will always be the first thing I do when I go to the Magic Kingdom. If we’re being totally honest here I’d probably bring up getting a Joffrey’s donut in Tomorrowland after we get off the PeopleMover, but then I’d talk myself out of it because I had booked early dinner reservations at ‘Ohana!
I think the PeopleMover is actually the perfect “first ride”. After a day of traveling and the fact that while I don’t know this firsthand the whole experience of a first day of your first ever Disney trip seems like it would be overwhelming, I think the PeopleMover offers a nice opportunity to sit back, relax, and learn more about Tomorrowland, and figure out where to go next. While in Tomorrowland, we’d also do the Carousel of Progress and Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin (I’d win, of course).
If the timing worked out, Mickey’s Royal Friendship Faire would be neat to see next. I really wish for a first visit that the castle stage show would still be Dream Along with Mickey because I think that was probably more enjoyable for a more casual Disney fan, but I digress. I think a stage show with lots of characters if a must-do for any first time visit, so Friendship Faire it is!
I imagine we’d have time to visit Liberty Square before needing to head out for ‘Ohana. The Hall of Presidents would be totally up to my friend. I’ve had the misfortune of being with lots of different people in the past who haven’t seen it with Trump but wanted to, so I’ve seen the current version more times than I’d ever like to. But since it’d be his first visit, if he really wanted to see it even with that diaper-faced figure of the dumpster fire that is the president I’d oblige. If he didn’t care to see the show though, I’d still recommend going inside the attraction to check out the exhibit gallery before you enter the theater. There are some really cool pieces in there and you can always go in just to see these items and leave before the show starts.
I do know I’d get FastPasses for the Haunted Mansion, so that would be the real priority in Liberty Square, and I’d like to think that my friend would have some sort of “aha” moment after experiencing it having read my book first. If time allowed I’d at least point out the Liberty Tree and the Liberty Bell, and maybe take a goofy photo in the pillories (not stocks!) before we’d leave Liberty Square and start heading to the restaurant.
Since ‘Ohana is at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, we’d be taking the monorail there. Yea, we could take a boat, but I’d rather his first monorail ride be in the middle of the day when it’s less crowded than chance that happening after the fireworks or something crazy when it’s a mess (yes, this is the level insanity I’m at that I’ve thought about when I would like his first monorail ride to be….) I originally had Kona Cafe booked but when I saw a reservation for two at ‘Ohana open up I grabbed that instead. Kona Cafe is my favorite restaurant in Disney (I’ve even named my cat after it) but this trip was a potential first visit for someone very important to me and ‘Ohana is definitely the better first visit restaurant if we’d only be getting to one.
I love everything about ‘Ohana honestly. If I could eat those noodles every day, I would never get sick of them. Same with the bread pudding- The bread pudding at ‘Ohana is easily my favorite Disney dessert, nothing else even compares (except maybe a Joffrey’s donut but that’s totally different). And I just think ‘Ohana is so “Disney” in a way that you need to experience for a first visit.
I actually asked around to see if most people thought a character dinner was a must-do for a first visit, and most people said yes but knowing my friend personally I still wasn’t sure if it would be his thing (I ultimately decided on some middle ground with Be Our Guest for dinner one night but more on that later) but I think ‘Ohana hits the sweet spot for an adult’s first trip where a character meal maybe isn’t what they’d like but you’re still looking for something very “Disney” if that makes sense. The live music with the ukulele player and views of the resort, plus delicious all-you-can-eat food- It just seems like a nice choice for a first visit dinner.
I didn’t have anything planned for after dinner on the first day, I figured we might be thoroughly exhausted by the middle of the day from being up so early and want to take it easy at that point or if we were up for it we could always go back to the park for the night. Since there was a chance this would have been my friend’s first visit and I’m just not sure how he’d be in the parks I wouldn’t want to wear him out too much on the first day.
That’s all I had planned for Day 1, and if you thought you were crazy, now that I just wrote 2,500 words about a half day’s worth of a trip that never even happened. If you enjoyed this check back for Part 2 soon, featuring the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival in all its un-altered, pre-COVID glory, and so much more! If you didn’t enjoy this, I guess you can go now and I’m sorry you don’t like words.
Thanks for reading!