Tuesday March 12, 2013
We awoke to the sound of pouring rain - not promising for what was to be our first day at Disney. Though we wanted to get an early start as it would take us a couple of hours to get there from Bradenton there was no point in getting soaked trying to do it. So we hunkered down and had some coffee while we waited for a break in the weather.
We arrived at Disney's All-Star Music Resort where we were staying and headed to the desk to check in. The woman who checked us in was very friendly (as expected) and she was originally from the Netherlands so we ended up chatting about family, our upcoming trip, the summer I spent there and so on. She mentioned that since it was still early morning we were too early for check in which wasn't until later in the afternoon. But she said she would see if she could find us something. And she did. She also gave us some buttons that would play into our experience later.
We stayed in the Country Fair section at the back of the resort. We were straight back from the main building past the two pools (one shaped like a piano, the other like a guitar) situated two doors down from giant cowboy boots and right behind a giant banjo.
Hidden Mickeys and Daniel picked out the ones in the boots right away. And on the manhole covers. And in the railings along the second and third floor walkways at the resort. And the one that served as the entrance to the bird houses we saw hanging about at Animal Kingdom. It turns out he has a pretty sharp eye for detail.
Anyway, we dropped our belongings, grabbed what we needed for the park and headed off to catch a bus to Animal Kingdom, the first park on our list.
One of the things we learned during our stay was just how good Disney is at making the customer experience seemless, simple and pleasant. Their transportation system is excellent. We literally parked our SUV on Tuesday and didn't drive it again until Saturday when we left. Everywhere we went was by bus and there was always a bus when we needed one. Our longest wait was this first bus - every other time we either walked right up and climbed onto one that was waiting or we lined up for five minutes. It really was no hardship at all. And although there were certainly a few time when we were packed in, standing in the aisle, everyone was pleasant. I mean really, you're on a bus on the way to Disney World - where's the problem, right?
Although we had heard that Animal Kingdom was a park that didn't necessarily warrant an entire day (indeed my guide book to Disney would have had us relaxing by the resort pool by mid-afternoon) our late arrival meant that we would need to be smart if we wanted to make the most of our day.
This is where I would like to pause and pass on a couple of tips. Number one is to plan. I know it is your vacation and you're just looking for some fun, but I can only say that in my experience, planning was what made the trip for us. We didn't get crazy about it. And we were certainly flexible. You have to be willing to modify as you go. But I have no doubt that if the first time you look at a map of the park is when you grab it as you walk in the front gates, you are missing out. Being familiar with the park, at least on paper helps to organize how you're going to spend your time which allows you to be efficient. It also allows you to focus on the things that are important to you and skip the things that aren't.
Second, use Fast Passes. It stuns me that for four days we were able to go on the most popular attractions without waiting more than fifteen or twenty minutes (and often five or less) while other people stood in line for an hour or more. Again, this requires a little planning, but it is so worth it.
Third, skip the Extra Magic. Disney extends the hours of the parks by opening early some days and closing later. These Extra Magic hours are to allow Disney Resort guests additional time in the parks. It sounds like a worthwhile idea but I read a suggestion in Disney World:-Beat the Crowds that was at first counter-intuitive. The author suggested that you skip the parks that are offering Extra Magic hours, opting instead for one of the other parks on those days. The logic is that Extra Magic equates to Extra Busy as well. Everyone is trying to squeeze as much out of their park time as possible and so on the days when a park is offering Extra Magic hours, more people attend that park. By choosing a different park you are more than likely choosing a park that will be less busy too. Now I can't be certain that this was a factor for us because we didn't go to any parks on the Extra Magic hours days so we can't compare. But what we can say is although the parks were all busy we never felt the oppressive crush of the crowd that often comes with amusement parks.
More on the actual day at Animal Kingdom in Part 2.