The dude and I just got back from our trip to Orlando and overall we had an amazing time. We split the trip in two by hitting Disney World first and then moving on to Universal. At Disney, we stayed at the Beach Club Villas which was a first for us (we’ve stayed at the Port Orleans hotels in the past) and then we moved on to Portofino Bay at Universal. Instead of breaking down a daily play-by-play that would carry on for pages, here are our experiences at each park.
Disney’s Beach Club Villas
In the past, we have stayed at the Port Orleans Riverside and Port Orleans French Quarter moderate hotels but this time we stayed at the Beach Club Villas. It is a Disney Vacation Club resort but we were able to rent DVC points from an online broker. It worked out to be just slightly more expensive than staying at a moderate hotel so it was definitely worth it for the pool and fantastic location.
What we really liked about the Beach Club was the short walk to Epcot, the moderate walk to Hollywood Studios, the incredible pool, and the location right near the Boardwalk. We also got lucky with our room– we had a double wide balcony (because we were next to a stairwell) and we were very close to the temporary bus stop. What we did not like was the awful bus service or the super slow service at the Beach Club Marketplace (cafe/gift shop). One day we waited 45 minutes for a bus to the Magic Kingdom which was more than a little frustrating as the cast member at the bus stop did not make any attempt to call for a bus. Overall, we thought the hotel was beautiful but just needs a little boost in its service.
Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party – First Attempt
We had never been to Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party so we thought we would give it a try this year. The dude wanted to meet Jack Skellington and I thought the Hocus Pocus show would be fun, so we went ahead and ponied up the $70ish each to go on 9/13. We thought we would go all in and dress up for the party, so he went as Pluto and I went as Goofy. His costume included a tail which prompted one of our fellow bus passengers to let him know that “boys shouldn’t wear tails”. Ok? Anyway, this was the time when we waited 45 minutes for a bus from our hotel to the Magic Kingdom. I would have been a little more understanding if the cast member at the bus stop had been even a little friendly when we asked if she knew anything around the 30 minute mark but she just shrugged and told us that buses come every 20 minutes except when they don’t. Right.
Flash forward to getting to Magic Kingdom for the party around 5pm. We went in, got a picture on Main Street, and headed straight for the Jack & Sally meet and greet. The line was probably 200 or so people and the cast member at the end of the line let us know that it would be about a two hour wait. Not awful considering this was the one thing that the dude wanted to do at the party and Jack and Sally have a perpetually long line.
About an hour into our wait, it started pouring rain. Not casual downpour rain but absolute Florida monsoon season instant flooding everywhere rain. After ten or fifteen minutes of rain, the lightning and thunder kicked in. Again, not normal thunder and lightning, but crazy Florida lightning and thunder. I think I saw more lightning flashes that night than the rest of my life.
After a few minutes of this crazy storm the party started winding down. Jack and Sally were escorted inside because “lightning scares them” and the parade was cancelled. Minutes later the Hocus Pocus show was also cancelled. I found this all understandable as the storm was really strong and having characters on big metal parade floats seems like a legitimate safety concern. After all, I assume Disney is self-insured and an electrocuted cast member could cost them millions.
As the party came to an abrupt halt, every single guest in the park seemed to descend upon the Guest Relations counter for refunds. Disney was keeping the peace by offering guests an exchange for another date or a one day park admission ticket. We opted to come back the following Sunday because that was our third Halloween Horror Nights night and we figured two was probably enough for HHN (and the dude really wanted that Jack and Sally picture). After getting the tickets exchanged, we called it an early night and crashed at the hotel.
Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party – Second Attempt
Flash forward to Sunday 9/18 and we gave MNSSHP another go. We were staying at Universal at this point, but we had a car so it wasn’t an issue to drive back to WDW for one night. We arrived around 5pm again and went straight for the Jack & Sally meet and greet. The line was about the same length as our first visit and took a little over two hours. Again, not a big deal because this was one of the two things on our “must do” list. The weather kept up and we were able to get good spots for the Boo To You parade right after. I thought the parade was alright and it was great to see some of the more rare characters like the villains and the Brer clan. Right after the parade, we hustled to the castle to catch the Hocus Pocus Villain Spelltacular show. It was a pretty good show and again it was nice to see the villains.
After the show, we went on a mission to get more character pictures. At this point, there was some very distant lightning. We went to see Cruella de Vil but naturally she was unable to make her meet and greet because of the lightning. Now her meet and greet is short because it is sandwiched between Hocus Pocus shows, so this meant that she was not going to come out that night. Right near Cruella de Vil’s meet and greet spot was Goofy’s meet and greet. I thought it would be fun to get a picture with Goofy as I was dressed as him but it wasn’t meant to happen. It does make sense that Goofy would not be meeting outside (as all of the characters were now inside) but what I found frustrating was that there weren’t any indoor meet and greets. Goofy has his own dedicated photo spot inside Storybrook Circus but he had been evicted for a trick or treating spot.
As the meet and greets were a no-go, we went to Space Mountain and enjoyed the walk-on wait. The one nice result of the weather was the lack of lines. Seriously, there was almost nobody in the park. We then took the Tomorrowland Transport Authority for a lap and took off.
Overall, I think MNSSHP was fun as a one-time thing but I think I would pass on it for the next few years unless they added something worthwhile. I really hope that Disney adds indoor meet and greets in the future as this weather happens every September and the party is incredibly lackluster in the bad weather. Maybe my view is skewed as we saw the party as “rare meet and greets with a parade and a show” but I can’t imagine it would be overly difficult for the meet and greets to move indoors.
We spent about half of our park time at Magic Kingdom. The waits were all reasonable, sans Mine Train and Peter Pan, but those always have substantial wait times. We were also able to score 6-8 FastPasses a day so that helped even more with the almost-non-existent queues. Operations were great overall despite it being one of the slowest times of the year. The staff was always hustling and keeping up on capacity. The characters however were taking a couple minutes with each guest but we found that to be worth the extra wait. Big Thunder Mountain and It’s a Small World were down for refurbishment during our visit but it wasn’t a big concern for us–we did them both plenty of times last year and they aren’t close to our favorite rides. (I’m a Splash Mountain guy and he’s a Space Mountain guy.) Some guests were substantially less understanding about the refurbs (one lady demanded that a custodian open Big Thunder Mountain RR for her). I personally would rather see rides go down a handful at a time for scheduled refurbs than have them burn out all at once from getting beat up 365 days a year.
I know Hollywood Studios gets a lot of hate from the WDW fanboys for not having enough rides, removing the giant hat (that the same people had an issue with when it was constructed), having inconsistent theming with Star Wars injected everywhere, you name it. Personally, I love Hollywood Studios and we had a great time, spending a lot of time in the park.
The Tower of Terror is my absolute favorite ride that I’ve ever been on. The theming is incredible and the ride itself is fantastic. The bellhops across the board seemed to be very into their jobs and completed the experience. We did have one incredibly rude bellhop though–Cory’s seat belt was stuck on the seat and he didn’t notice. She quickly noticed and gave him a spiel about how he could get kicked out of the park for not tightening his seat belt…which he did as soon as she pointed it out. Honestly, he could have been paying more attention to his belt but she could also have been much nicer and just pointed it out instead of giving him a lecture in front of the whole elevator of people. Although this encounter was a little sour, the other bell hops were hilarious. I don’t remember their names, but one was a blonde guy from Tennesee and one was a guy with brown hair and a name that started with a J–Julian maybe? Anyway, they were consistently having a great time and making the ride that much better for the guests.
The park overall was running smoothly and I didn’t notice any downtime at any of the rides. The waits were relatively short with ToT consistently under 20 minutes, Rock n Roller Coaster under 30, and Toy Story Midway Mania under 45. I think the new Toy Story track has definitely helped with capacity.
I never really cared for Epcot when I was younger but now that I’m 26 I definitely appreciate it a lot more. We spent a lot of time exploring the different pavilions in the World Showcase. The pavilions are all so well done and incredibly interesting and we like to meander around and enjoy ourselves. We’re both picky eaters, so we didn’t get too far into the food offerings, but the Japanese ice hit the spot in the 90-something degree heat. Truthfully, it’s pretty much a snow cone, but we can pretend to be exploratory eaters right?
The Food and Wine festival was also starting up so we had the filet mignon from the Canada kiosk. It was really good, a decent sized portion, and only $8. Getting good quality food at Disney for that price is definitely not an easy feat. It wasn’t a whole meal by any means but it was damn good for the price.
New since our last visit was Frozen Ever After. There are a lot of mixed opinions on this ride all over the internet but I thought it was really enjoyable. I thought the animatronics were well done and Olaf was especially cool. (Pun intended but seriously he was cute and realistic.) I thought the ride itself was fun but I am very glad that we had FastPasses both times we rode. The line was always 60-90 minutes which I think is a little higher than what I would wait for it.
We also rode the new Soarin’ which I also thought was pretty well done. It has also gotten some hate online for the use of CGI, but I didn’t find the CGI to be obvious or poorly done. I think the ride equally as enjoyable as before; not worse but not better. It was just…different. I think what I like more than the movie change is the addition of the third theater. I didn’t see the wait cross 30 minutes during our whole stay and it was frequently at 20 minutes.
We truthfully aren’t huge Animal Kingdom people; we usually go on a Magic Hours morning and stay for a few hours before jumping ship to a different park. We hit the Kilimanjaro Safari first thing and it was the best trek we’ve had yet. Many more animals than normal were out for breakfast and that made it extra worthwhile. The lions were also out and about on top of their rocks which was a first in the dozen or so times we’ve been on the safari.
After the safari, we hit up Expedition Everest and Bug’s Life before getting some pictures and heading off to the Magic Kingdom. At Bug’s Life, we had what would be the first of many experiences where people downright refuse to fill all of the seats in the row. Maybe I’m crazy, but this is probably my biggest theme park pet peeve–people that just stop in the center of the row and expect everyone else to crawl over them. All of the seats in the theater will see the exact same show, so I’m not sure why people act like their vacation will be ruined if they don’t sit in the dead center of the row.
Universal Orlando Resort
After a week at Disney, we packed up and headed to Universal Orlando.
Loew’s Portofino Bay
We checked in to Portofino Bay at 8am to drop our bags off before heading to the park but it turned out that they had a room ready. This was a nice surprise so we dropped off our stuff and headed to Islands of Adventure.
This was our first time staying at the Portofino Bay. In the past, we have stayed at the Royal Pacific and Hard Rock. This was our last of the “big three” Universal hotels and I would say we like it about the same as Hard Rock and slightly more than Royal Pacific. It is the furthest from the parks of the three, but the hotel and its rooms are beautiful. It also has a Starbucks which was completely compatible with my happiness.
Islands of Adventure
Our first park after checking in was Islands of Adventure. We were last at IoA last January so it hadn’t been long since our last visit but new this time around were Reign of Kong and the refurbed Incredible Hulk. We only did Kong once but we thought it was a decent ride. It was a little more screen-based than I had been expecting but that seems to be trend with Universal’s new rides. I think the queue was almost as good as the ride itself. Although we had Express Passes, we opted to wait in the 15 minute queue to check it out. The animatronics, especially that crazy worm thing with a bajillion teeth were really well done.
I also liked the Incredible Hulk 2.0. The launch tunnel is really neat, the new queue/station effects are awesome, and the Hulk roar when the trains launch is a nice touch. We rode in the front row twice and the last row once and the ride wasn’t as smooth as I had been expecting for a fresh B&M coaster but it wasn’t awful. The one thing that seemed to keep tripping guests up were the new lockers that unlock with your park ticket. It seems easy but we saw a bunch of people locking their tickets inside their locker which is a problem because you can’t open your own locker without it. As such, the poor locker attendants were running around unlocking lockers for these guests.
Universal Studios was as good as always but was noticeably busier than IoA. We weren’t super concerned because we’ve done everything at USF enough times (we just go now to enjoy some time together) but moving around was a feat in some spots. It was good to see the park busy and ET attracting a line though…I hope ET stays around for some time because it is just awesome all around even though it is on the older end of the USF ride lineup. If ET ever closes, I seriously hope Universal sells the forest scent in an air freshener…it’s just that good.
During one of the busier days, we saw the Shrek show and encountered yet another guest that absolutely refused to continue down the row of seats. Now, this was the same lady that was snapping flash pictures in the pre-show despite multiple pleas from the team member to stop. Anyway, this prompted people scrambling to find seats to step on her sandal-clad feet while trying to get by–which caused to her to scream louder than the three little piggies in the pre-show combined. Karma?
Halloween Horror Nights
This was our second HHN and we thought it was different from last year but about as good. I honestly like the houses more this year but I thought the scare zones were a little stronger last year. We had Express Passes the first night and passholder early entry the first night so we were able to finish the houses in about two hours. My personal favorites were American Horror Story and Krampus but I don’t think any of them were “bad”. Chance’s house was a little…strange..but I appreciate it for being unique in the lineup of houses.
The scare zones were alright but I personally preferred last year’s scare zones. One scare zone, Dead Man’s Wharf, was a little odd–the creatures didn’t jump at you and the massive shipwreck created a lot of congestion on the path. I like the detailed theming, but I think the positioning of the ship created bad traffic problems. I think the other scare zones were pretty good but I think they could have used more fog. Last year, they had “can’t see where I’m going” levels of fog but this year it was more like “here’s enough to see the light beams” fog. I think the additional fog makes a huge difference for the experience.
Toothsome Chocolate Emporium
Also new for us was the Toothsome Chocolate Emporium. The wait was about an hour, but it wasn’t a big deal because they send you a text when your table is almost ready. Our server Nicole was easily the best server we have ever had in any restaurant. I also ordered a plain hamburger and it was one of the best burgers I have ever had (and as a picky eater, I eat a lot of burgers). The food was also very reasonably priced by theme park standards. Two entrees and two cocktails set us back about $50 with tax and a generous tip.
We ended up making two trips back to the Chocolate Emporium for milkshakes. Cory is a connoisseur of milkshakes and he said they were the best milkshakes he’s ever had. They are pricier than milkshakes outside a theme park (all around $14 or so) but not bad considering the quality and the experience.
Bonus Day at Royal Pacific
So Monday was supposed to be our last day in Orlando but we stayed another night compliments of Delta Airlines. Sparing the whole story, they made a series of mistakes which forced us to spend the night but after some negotiating they offered to reimburse us for a hotel that night. My phone was at 5% battery, so I booked the Royal Pacific because I knew how to drive there from the airport (and I kinda wanted to stay at Universal another night). It was only $164 with the passholder discount, and I didn’t go crazy and book Portofino on Delta’s dime, so I feel like I exercised some level of fiduciary duty for Delta. It was also nice to see the renovated rooms at Royal Pacific which are absolutely beautiful. They also added mini fridges to the rooms, which I think is the only thing missing from Portofino. I know mini bars are a huge profit center but I have to imagine the bulk of guests would appreciate mini fridges more.
After a breakfast run at City Walk and a couple laps on Hulk, it was time to head back to the airport. This time we left on time and made it home as scheduled. We plan on moving to Florida as soon as the IT job market clears up down there and we won’t have to deal with airline shenanigans. I will give credit to Delta though for coming through and making good on their slip ups.
Overall, after plenty of time at both resorts, my one takeaway was that we found the staff and the food to be substantially better at Universal than at Disney. I spent five years in customer service at Apple so I know how draining it can be but I think the Disney cast members overall seemed a lot more burned out than the Universal team members. Honestly, I think if we go on vacation to Orlando again before we have the chance to move down there, I would probably shift the trip to spend more time at Universal and a bit less at the Mouse House.
On to the photos:
Edit: The mister wanted his face shots removed, so I cut them out, but hopefully the rest is enjoyable. More pics!
The Beach Club Villas building. It was beautiful but not over the top.
Sarah Jessica Parker showing off her neck job.
Sarah Silverman is even in the parade.
Seeing the villains was pretty neat.
We went to Be Our Guest and just had the cupcake. We really wanted to try the grey stuff and it was...amazing...incredible...tasty...delic--nope, I won't say it.
I loved the Portofino Bay...especially the Starbucks downstairs.
Gay pride? Orlando Strong? Just to look cool?
Our view at Royal Pacific