Trip Report COMPLETED: The Rise of Park-Hopper


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Prelude: The Fandom Menace

Hi! It's been a while. You all look like you haven't aged a day! Is that a new brooch?

So...I have a Disney problem. The first WDW trip of my adult life was in January of 2014. Me, my boyfriend (BF), and our very knowledgable Disney Friend (DF) stayed at POR, my first time on-property, and long story short, it was dope. So dope, in fact, that I promptly became a full-fledged Disney psycho, rivaling DF's level of fanaticism. You can read about that magical trip here. I brought BF back for a week at AKL just 10 months later for his birthday. You can read all about that slightly-less-magical trip here. We realized that was probably a little too soon a return, so the next year we did Universal instead...with a last-minute day at MK and a one-night stay in a Poly studio added on. Have I mentioned we're monsters? You can read about that magical wizardry-filled trip here.

After that last trip, we vowed not to return until there was a ton of new stuff to see and do in the parks. So we didn't. Unless you count Gay Days at Disneyland in 2016. Or the 2017 freelance gig in Orlando that led to a one-day visit to Pandora opening week. Or the tiny little four-day trip to WDW with DF in the Pirate Rooms this past summer. Did I mention I have a Disney problem? There's pixie dust residue on ALL my dollar bills.

The opening of Galaxy's Edge and Rise of the Resistance felt like a grand enough reason to drag BF back to the parks (on top of Toy Story Land and Pandora and, yes, even Frozen Ever After), so I booked five nights in January at Pop Century. The reasoning there was threefold: Skyliner access seemed smart for a Studios-centric trip, I've been hearing good things about the refurbished Pop rooms, and I sadly don't have a money tree in my backyard. I remember Deluxe Resorts being expensive in 2014 and 2015, but now they're buh-SPEN-sive.

On a phone call with his aunt, BF mentioned our upcoming trip:

"What are your dates?"
"January 19th-24th."
"Hm. I think I could make that work."

And just like that, BF's sexagenarian aunt (BFA) and her best friend who I'd never met (BFABF) invited themselves onto our trip! I suppose I could've found it a little annoying, but I saw it as an opportunity to show some WDW newbies the ropes. I added them to all our FPs and ADRs. I hoped they were fans of roller coasters and pricey themed dining experiences, because that's what they were getting!

I figured BF would want to see all the Galaxy's Edge stuff as soon as possible, so I planned our first park day to be at Hollywood Studios. It was a Monday in January, so the holiday crowds would be gone and the parks would be as close to chill as they get these days. Except I forgot one thing: that Monday was Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday. I stupidly thought it was a week earlier, but I was wrong. Like, Enchanted Tiki Room (Under New Management) wrong. Yep, it takes a real genius to try to beat the crowds on a day when every Tom, ****, and Chewbacca would be in the park. But it was too late to change it. There was no way I was gonna score Savi's Workshop reservations, Oga's Cantina ADRs, and Slinky Dog FPs on any other day!

Would the magic be rekindled? Would we score a boarding group for Rise of the Resistance? Would the seats on Everest get covered in terrified old lady barf? Only time would tell.

Next: Attack of the Loans (I had to take out to afford this trip)


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Day One: Attack of the Loans (I had to take out to afford this trip)

BF and I have a...history of rough starts to our WDW trips. In January 2014 our flight was canceled hours before we were supposed to leave and we were told we couldn't be rebooked until three days later. Quick thinking led us to rebook to Tampa instead and rent a car, and we ended up being on the last flight out of NYC for days. In November 2014 I had to push the trip back by a week because of a career opportunity with almost no notice. I was able to somehow rebook every FastPass and ADR (including for BOG and CRT) and got my MVMCP and Behind the Seeds reservations switched for free, but man, I paid dearly for the hotel reservation change at AKL. So I had my fingers crossed that all would go well on our travel day, but braced myself for a flash blizzard or a flock of mischievous geese or for Poseidon himself to rise from the Atlantic and snatch our puny plane out of the sky.

Luckily the weather was clear, the birds were well-behaved, and the skies were vengeful-mythological-god-free. We even landed in Orlando a little early. Time for a little Starbucks before hopping on the Magical Express! Or not. Though the line at Starbucks was mercifully short, the person running the register was...a waking nightmare of a human being? Here is just a little snippet of the pure insanity I heard in my all-too-long wait in line.

CUSTOMER: I'd like a warm coffee cake and a-
EMPLOYEE: -UH, BUH-BUH-BUH! Let's slow down, sir. want a coffee cake?
CUSTOMER: Yes, warm, and-
EMPLOYEE: -Okay, okay, hold on. you want your coffee cake warm?

I know when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em, and it was objectively foldin' time. BF and I jumped out of line and headed to the Magical Express. As luck would have it, there was another Starbucks down there! Mark my words: this scrappy little coffee chain might really be starting to take off. ;) This Starbucks, in a fun twist, was operated by remotely competent employees, so we got our joe in a flash and continued onto our bus. We were on the bus in about five minutes and then on the road about five minutes later. We were probably off airport property entirely before that poor man got his coffee cake.

On the bus, in between slickly-produced video packages inviting me to part with even more money at WDW, I got a text that our room was not yet ready, surprising, since it was a bit after 3pm. So when we got to Pop, I opted to visit the front desk in person to see if we could expedite the process. I gotta say, I like a gorgeous Disney lobby, and though I knew Pop didn't have it, it still stung ever so slightly. A very friendly cast member told us our room was ready in the 50's buildings, decidedly not the Skyliner-adjacent 60's buildings I had requested. Despite booking this trip and making room requests months and months ago, I was probably the seventy bajillionth person to request the 60's. Oh well. This was adding insult to the injury of having to pay rack rate for the room because I made the grave mistake of trying to apply the Give the Gift of a Magical Stay discount a whole nine hours after it was released. And failed miserably. It would've saved me only like 75 bucks, but hey! That's like three Coke Zeros!

We walked up the bowling pin-shaped staircase to our room on the third floor, overlooking the Bowling Pin pool. And I gotta say the room was great. That bed is super-comfy (way more so than the Pirate Room beds, that's for sure), and the Warholian Mickeys above the bed felt on-theme and quite Disney without being overwhelming. Do the buildings themselves look like motels with a bunch of cutout junk stuck on them? Yup. Big time. But hey, if I insisted on exquisitely-crafted buildings supposedly built by turn-of-last century artisans hoping for a second gold rush or something, I certainly could've ponied up several gold bricks for that experience.

We heard from BFA and BFABF that they were settling into their room as well. We had 8:20 ADRs for Topolino's Terrace and a few hours to kill, so we headed to Everything POP for a quick bite to tide us over. I am doing my darnedest not stay low-carb, so I got roasted turkey and vegetables, and honestly? Pretty dang good. BF got a burger and liked it.

BF and I squeezed in a nap and a quick 20-minute dip in the pool (honestly? Pop looks way cuter at night) before changing into somewhat presentable attire to meet BFA and BFABF at the Skyliner station and head to the Riviera. Um...I know all those stuck people had a rough three hours that opening week, but the Skyliner is a straight-up game-changer. We would end up saving a total of HOURS this week taking this instead of terrible, terrible Disney buses. And as someone historically afraid of heights, I certainly approached the car with a little trepidation. But it ended up being smooth as silk, totally painless, and the views are mostly gorgeous. Soaring above it, The Skyliner even makes Caribbean Beach look like a quaint, pleasant resort. And if it can do that, it can do darned near anything.

We arrived at the Riviera, and I was prepared to be underwhelmed, considering what I've read online. Nope. Those people be cray. The Riviera was GORGEOUS.


I mean, being greeted with Peter Pan and Tangled mosaics? Yes, please! The grounds of the Riviera are stunning. The pools look amazing. Did I feel plunged into the crashing waves on the shores of Nice? Maybe not, but if the first thing out of BF's mouth is "We have to stay here next," that's gotta count for something. We made our way to the top floor of the tower for our Topolino ADR. Our table wasn't ready, so our hostess sent us away to wait, and it was really sad, only it wasn't because it was out on A BEAUTIFUL PANORAMIC TERRACE FROM THE VERY HEAVENS. Just as our mouths went agape at the views of World Showcase and Studios, the Star Wars fireworks began. Do I know how to time things perfectly or do I know how to time things....................perfectly? Our table was ready nearly immediately, which was honestly kind of a bummer. How dare they be prompt?!?

I ordered the beets barigoule as an appetizer. And nothing stopped me from finding it delicious; even having no earthly idea what the hell a barigoule is.
Then I had the lamb shank with creamy polenta. I know, I know, carbs. But a little corn is better than the piles of delicious-looking bread I tearfully ignored. Now, y'all, I mostly ordered this dish to avoid rice or potatoes. But this ended up being one of the best dishes I've ever had, period, let alone on Disney property.
Also this lamb shank was bigger than my stinkin' head, and I ate the whole stinkin' thing. Paradise.

As we ate, I fully briefed the table on tomorrow's plan of action. Oh, right. I almost forgot to mention: this wasn't a park day. Our usual plan of attack was to wake up at the coinslot of dawn, zip down to Florida, and then immediately hit the parks on fumes like the crazed undead. Not this time. We decided that both of our travel days would be non-park days, and reader? I cannot recommend this more highly.

After calmly and reasonably explaining to my travel party exactly why we needed to get up at 5 in the morning and stand in the cold at Hollywood Studios armed only with our smartphones and a dream, we split the molten chocolate cake. The gooey center went down more easy than the sobering news of tomorrow's plans, that's for sure.

All in all, Ms. Meal? She was a taste! I haven't had a full meal at California Grill (just drinks and bites in the lounge), but Topolino's Terrace could definitely give it a run for its money in the fancy-ladies-dining-in-the-sky department. It turns out we took our time just a little too much, as we missed the Skyliner back to Pop Century by literally three minutes. We had to walk around to the front of the Riviera to get a Lyft back, but honestly it was nice to see that side of the resort.

The only thing left to do was to lie awake in bed for hours and hours, terrified that we wouldn't end up getting a boarding group for Rise of the Resistance. Y'know, like the totally normal and mega-chill person that I am!

Next: Revenge of the Six-Thirty Arrival Time


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Day Two: Revenge of the Six-Thirty Arrival Time

Sorry this took so long; turns out it was one of the longest and most eventful days of my life! There's a bit about midway through Tootsie where Dustin Hoffman has a full day of work, has a date, babysits a child, goes dancing, has dinner, all hell breaks loose at his apartment, and then I think he goes back out, all in one 24 hour period that took a minimum of about 38 hours. This was like that!

We woke up at 5:15am, or as I like to call it, The Dark Side.

BF and I showered and dressed in a crazed fugue state and met smashing good sports BFA and BFABF in the Pop Century lobby to take a Lyft to Hollywood Studios, and fulfill our destiny as riders of Rise of the Resistance. Our car arrived and all was going smoothly until I realized it was bumper-to-bumper traffic for about 100 yards before the Studios parking booths. I knew we wouldn't be the only people with this wise idea, but I didn't quite realize all of Orlando would be joining us.

After urging the ladies not to bring bags so we could get through security faster, BF decided to be the only person in our party to bring a bag. Cool! Weirdly enough, he got through security faster than we did and was waiting for us by the turnstiles. We scanned in and headed up toward the Chinese Theatre. My plan was to head to Toy Story Land and do Midway Mania first before the line got too long. I had heard that Smuggler's Run's standby line is its longest at rope-drop, so I was fine to do some counter-programming and do Smuggler's Run later when the line was shorter. I was very clear about this strategy at last night's dinner, but sure enough, as I started to turn right to line up for Toy Story Land, BF was like, "Why aren't we going to Galaxy's Edge? Isn't that the whole reason we came here?!?"

Reader, perhaps you can empathize with me here. Is your partner only too happy to let you plan the entire trip and meticulously develop a touring plan months out, and then question your decision literally one second before we're about to do something? It's endlessly fun and infinitely cute. Highly recommended! Also, it isn't!

After probably-not-as-calmly-as-I'd-hoped explaining to him what the plan was, he relented and we lined up outside TSL. At this point, it was 6:47am and COLD. We had thirteen minutes to shiver and stare at our phones, waiting for 7am. I explained to everyone as best I could what their task would be: to assign us all to a boarding group. If all four of us tried it, the better chance we had of getting an early group. But let's face it: I knew in my heart I'd be the one to get us the group.

7am hit. I went to the Galaxy's Edge page. The "Join Boarding Group" link wasn't live yet. I exited and went back in. Still nothing. Repeat. Nothing. Needless to say, I was starting to straight-up panic. I had a vague sense BF, BFA, and BFABF were trying to ask me questions: "So where do you click?" "So we're supposed to be joining a boarding group?" "Is this Magic Kingdom?" But I was not paying attention. My eyes were on the prize. I heard a couple of cheers in the crowd around us, so I knew people were getting onto groups. I COMPLETELY CLOSED THE APP AND REOPENED IT, and finally the link was red. I clicked it, added the rest of my party, and prayed we'd be on an initial boarding group and not a backup group.

Sweet Jedi in the morning, we did it. Group 67. Some folks around us were in the 20's. One had group 7. Others were in the 80's. What a crap shoot! If only I'd known then what I know now: that you have to have the app completely closed when 7am hits, and then open it. Nightmare!

I picked up what remained of my hair and tried to jam it back onto my head as we entered the queue for Midway Mania. It was my first time since they changed the entrance and added a track and I loved it! I am normally a truly dreadful shot, but I think I did a personal best this time! That's not saying much, as BF handily mopped the floor with me. Crowd control was being a bit overzealous, as entering Galaxy's Edge from Toy Story Land was blocked. So we had to walk the long way around for our Star Tours FP. Magical!

I was a bit nervous about doing Star Tours with a couple of little old ladies who already warned me they didn't like spinning or darkness. But they ended up loving Star Tours! BF was the spy, which made us all scream. The Endorian moon and Exogol scenes were super-cool, and as I'd just seen the Last Jedi scenes this past summer (and was the spy!), it's been a great past few rides on Star Tours. The old girl still has some fight in her!

We had waited long enough. We had another hour or so until our Slinky Dog FP, so I suggested we explore Galaxy's Edge. BF was champing at the bit, so it was a no-brainer. We made our approach through the front entrance and...trees. Like, a lot of them. Like, a big open space with trees? Was this the immersive theming we've been waiting our whole lives for? We then ventured into the land a little further, into Black Spire Outpost Marketplace, and obviously our faces melted off our skulls from all the amazingness, but I must say the approach out of the tunnel into the land is a bit...spare.
We ogled. We geeked out. We took every selfie. We drank blue AND green milk (verdict: nope!). Our boarding group couldn't possibly be called soon enough. I read about a cool gift card you can buy at Droid Depot that's made of a weighty metal and is emblazoned with Batuu iconography. Yes, you had to put a minimum of $100 on it. But it's not like we weren't gonna spend $100 anyway, and it would make a sweet l'il souvenir to give to BF, our household's true Star Wars geek.
The positively stupid hours our bodies were keeping had started to catch up to us, and we headed towards The Trolley Car Cafe for some caffeine. Then we headed as far away from it as possible when we saw the line. Um...there's more than one place to get a cup of coffee, everyone! Trolley Car Cafe did not seem to be accepting boarding groups. So we doubled back to the coffee stand on Pixar Place, which also had a Flight of Passage-like queue. We pivoted to looking for food, and settled on Woody's Lunchbox. We headed back into TSL, doing our FP for Slinky Dog on the way to Woody's. Slinky Dog! Fine! A nice way to look at the park, at least!

Yes, I swore I wasn't gonna eat potatoes on this trip. But I hadn't eaten anything for hours and the "potato barrels" (tater tots) of the Breakfast Bowl began warbling their siren song. We grabbed a table and did mobile order and we had breakfast (with much-needed coffee!) in minutes. People rave about Flight of Passage and Rise of the Resistance as game-changers; I feel that way about the Skyliner and mobile ordering.

On our way back through our preposterous zig-zag of a touring plan, we stopped at One Man's Dream, as we had time to kill before our Muppet Vision 3D FP. I had looked through this museum (which I love), but had never watched the film before. I can't say I learned very much, but it was still a really well done film and, duh, made me a tad misty. Have I mentioned I'm a crier? The fact that it took two and-a-half whole hours for my first tears to come is a sign of my steely resolve.

We used our useless, purely ceremonial third FP of the day on Muppet Vision 3D (a perennial favorite; the fact that The Muppets Present...Great Moments in American History went away before BF could see it is one of the great injustices of the 21st century, right next to...y'know, everything else). We poked around in the shops behind the theatre for a while; I love that little tucked-away corner! Meanwhile, our boarding group crept closer and closer to being called.

Back to Galaxy's Edge we headed, to gently stalk Rise of the Resistance. We found the cart that sells those Coke grenades! They're refreshing, they're carbonated, they freak out the TSA, they're six bucks a pop...what's not to love? We took one sip, and then it happened. They called our boarding group. Game on.
What happened next was honestly a blur. Yes, there were things I was expecting, because despite my attempts at a spoiler embargo, I got bits and pieces of things from TV promos and The Imagineering Story (ugh, SO GOOD; I could watch a hundred more seasons of that thing). But there were also HUGE SURPRISES, all amounting to, you guessed it: a pretty dang emotional experience. Is it the best attraction at Walt Disney World? Honestly, probably not. But I can safely say there is nothing like it.

If you're guessing that we followed up this one-of-a-kind immersive experience with Beauty & The Beast - Live on Stage, you'd be right! After all, we had a tradition of trudging all the way over to the other side of the park to uphold. This show is...a fine enough way to sit down for a few minutes, I guess? We caught a bit of Star Wars: A Galaxy Far, Far Away on our way to our lunch ADR at Sci-Fi Drive-In Theatre. I have to tell you: this was the toughest-to-get ADR of the whole trip. I sat at work reloading endlessly for both this and Slinky Dog FPs...and eventually got them both like the all-around baller that I am. For as much trouble as it was, I hoped it would be worth it.

Um...this restaurant rules. The theming is incredible, and the food and service were great too! BF and I split the Buffalo chicken salad and the barbecue platter and both were really tasty. The ambience can't be beat, and it was extra-awesome to see that some of Ward Kimball's space cartoons for the Disneyland TV show were in the loop they were playing, as I had just read about these in Kimball's biography I was reading on the plane down to Orlando (did I mention I'm an insufferable dork?). I'm really glad I managed to snag this ADR.
At this point, BFA was ready to head back to Pop Century. She had injured her knee while painting her house a couple of weeks ago, and even though her knee was wrapped up, a few hours in a Disney park will grind even the strongest bones to dust. The rest of us thought an afternoon nap sounded like a pretty tasty idea as well, so we hopped on the Skyliner and were back at the hotel lickety-split. Team Skyliner 4 lyfe!!!!

We had reservations at Oga's for 5:55, so the plan was to nap for an hour or so and hop right back on the Skyliner. I also went ahead and made myself a 5:05pm FP for Tower of Terror, the greatest attraction on Earth that literally no one wanted to ride on with me. I figured I'd leave for Studios a little early and everyone could meet me, as I'm certainly the most commando of the bunch and don't expect anyone to keep up with my disturbing energy level. That's when the text came.

BFA couldn't even put weight on her leg. She was in for the night. And as BFABF is indeed a best friend, she was in for the night too. It was a bummer, but they really wanted to rope drop Animal Kingdom tomorrow and if this is what it took, then so be it. BF got up from his nap and decided to come with me to Studios and drink in some more Galaxy's Edge while I repeatedly rose and fell.

I hadn't ridden Tower of Terror since my November 2014 trip, so it was really nice to revisit. It's incredible how, no matter how many times I've done it, I always get nervous. Like this time will be somehow different and worse than the other times. A cast member called for single riders so I got to leave a bunch of chumps in my dust. The ride was exhilarating as always, but when I got to the photo displays, the lady who had sat next to me pointed at our photo and said "Look. My daughter's turning around to look at me and asking 'Why is he screaming like that?'" Oh, cool, lady. Like everybody wasn't screaming? It's the Tower of Freakin' Terror. Sorry I didn't demurely sip tea, lightly guffawing as I thumb through a New Yorker! Jerk.

I met BF over in line for Oga's Cantina, where they seemed frankly relieved that our party had shrunk by two people. We were ushered in to a very small, very busy cantina, which honestly was super-awesome despite being ultimately treated like cattle. We were told multiple times we had a 45 minute limit at our table, which made me want to stay for 5. A glance at the menu revealed some very tasty-looking options. I went with the Jet Juice, as it was made with bourbon and I'm a bourbon boy. I looked around the bar and saw fizzy drinks and flaming drinks and colorful drinks garnished with entire cookies. Then my Jet Juice came, and, well, it was essentially a shot of red liquid in a miniature wine carafe. Don't get me wrong; it was delicious! But I was hoping it would be foamy or prismatic or say my name in 90 alien languages. We ordered Batuu Bits (trail mix just weird enough to seem not of this Earth), and BF ordered a wild, exotic cocktail called a....Diet Coke, if I'm remembering correctly. BF is diabetic and isn't drinking alcohol, which left his options limited, and he was still regretting the sugary sips of blue and green milk he had taken earlier that morning, or as my exhausted body considered it, many lifetimes ago.
We had a 7:25 appointment at Savi's Workshop, and as we had yet to ride Smuggler's Run, we began floating the idea of trying to squeeze it in between our homies Oga and Savi. We flagged down our waiter for the check, and when it come back he had charmingly combined our check with that of another party at our table (Oh, did I mention we were sat at a table with two other parties? It's much more charming at Biergarten, TBH), so as he fixed that, we did a little tour of the place and took eight bajillion pictures.
The single rider line was operating at Smuggler's Run, so it looked like we could do it and make it to our Savi's appointment with time to spare. I think we were in line for like seven minutes. It happened so fast! Suddenly we were thrust into the room with the chessboard on the Falcon. I didn't even have time to get a photo with BF; our color-coded groups were already being lined up. We knew we'd get assigned lame engineer jobs, but it was okay. We were riding Smuggler's Run! In less time than it took to get my thimble of Jet Juice!! Yeah! Doing Rise of the Resistance first and then Millennium Falcon: Smuggler's Run is like going to the Eiffel Tower in Paris and then watching the Paris scene in Soarin' on the far left-hand side. But it was pretty cool in its own right. It was a bit hard to split focus between what was happening on the screen and the buttons on the side, probably due to me not being a particularly video game-savvy person. To be honest, I had much more fun just walking around the bridge of the Millennium Falcon than riding the actual ride. That was the immersive part.

We had time to just hang out outside of the Millennium Falcon, take more pictures, and drink in the ambience before sauntering over to Savi's for our lightsaber ceremony. Okay, let's get this out of the way: this costs too much. I was happy to do it as a late Christmas present to BF, but it comes to like $215 with tax for a 20-ish minute experience, a cumbersome lightsaber, and a carrying case that (spoiler alert) already has a broken strap. Like, at least make the photos free with the purchase! Or throw in, like, a custom Star Wars Magic Band. Or $160.

All that said, I MEGA-CRIED throughout ENTIRELY TOO MUCH of this ceremony, especially considering that BF was making the lightsaber, not me. I loved that the whole ceremony was underscored by music. I loved the commitment of the head Gatherer. I loved when all of the builders (95% middle-aged man-children) triumphantly raised their rainbow of sabers into the air. I loved it all!
We got out of the workshop at 8:01pm, just in time for everything to be closed. Including Docking Bay 7, where we were hoping to grab a bite. Our choices were few: take the Skyliner back to the Pop food court? Take the Skyliner to Epcot and risk all the food there being closed? Or going to Disney Springs, where BF had never gone and I haven't been to since it was 1998 and it was called Pleasure Island, and everything was open until 11? The answer was clear. Somehow, we still had enough gas in the tank to hop on the bus to Disney Springs.

We grabbed a pretty tasty bite at Morimoto Street Food and wandered through the Lacoste, Uniqlo, and World of Disney stores before heading on back to Pop for some much needed shut-eye. Tomorrow we could sleep in two extra hours; that's right, 7am! Animal Kingdom was just around the corner.

Next: A Gnu Hope


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Day Three: A Gnu Hope

It seemed an untold luxury to rise at the lazy hour of 7 whole o'clock. We showered and dressed and met the ladies at Everything POP. This day seemed less fraught with urgency than yesterday, so we ordered ham and cheese omelets (not bad, despite my horrific decision to refuse that heaping scoop of breakfast potatoes, as I am trying to look less like a breakfast potato) and sat and had coffee. BFA's knee seemed to be feeling better, which was encouraging.

The bus to Animal Kingdom was fortuitously sitting at the bus stop, so we boarded and in just a few short way-too-longs we were at the entrance to what I'm pretty sure is my favorite park at Walt Disney World. Bag check was a breeze, the turnstiles were a complete walk-through, and we were on our way to Pandora, with like two minutes until official park opening. The plan was to saunter onto Na'vi River Journey, as we already had FPs for Flight of Passage. And may I say? I love when a plan comes together.

This was only my second time doing Na'vi River Journey, and though it's true that it's way too short, I must say it's downright lovely when there's no wait. Plus our ride paused a couple of times, which gave us more time to take in the details, of which there are...y'know, several! Our first FP was for the safari, as I insist on running my travel companions ragged at all times. We stopped at Starbucks, with a miraculously manageable line, and sat on a ledge at the entrance to Africa and sipped our bevs. Heaven.

As it should I put this...cold as several choice cuss words outside, I wasn't sure how many animals would be out and about on the safari. Turns out the answer was all the animals! It was one of the busiest safaris I've taken at AK; even the lions were out! The ladies squealed and delighted at each new reveal. I honestly think it's one of the best singular experiences in all of WDW. We hit Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail right after, meeting some monkeys and zebras and a 16 year-old giant bullfrog. The gorillas weren't out due to the low temperatures, which was fine with me. They're the only animals in all of AK that look like they'd rather be somewhere else and it bums me out!

We took advantage of the great views of the Tree of Life on the path to Asia to take some group photos, and then grabbed a tea at Joffrey's. A cast member notices the ladies' 1st Trip! buttons and gave us all animation postcards. Cute! We then made our way to our second FP of the day and BF's all-time favorite attraction: Everest. I was nervous that this one would be a bit too intense for BFA and BFABF, but they seemed game to give it a go. As always, Everest was a treatsa pizza, but man, I think they could afford to step up their merch game. Back in 2014, there were almost TOO many cool t-shirt styles to choose from. Now there isn't even one that's a complete home run.

The whole backwards-very-fast-in-the-dark thing did a number on BFA, so we slowed things down by taking in UP! A Great Bird Adventure Show. I hadn't seen this show since it incorporated Up IP, and the result is cute and honestly not dramatically different from Flights of Wonder. As long as no gross (but beautiful) bird clips me with nasty (yet majestic) wing, I'm good. Everyone was feeling a bit peckish, and despite our plans to grab lunch at Satu'li Canteen after our Flight of Passage FP, the consensus seemed to be that we needed a little something-something to tide us over until then.

We split the Pork Sausage and Chicken Gyro between the four of us; an appetizer of sorts. Really tasty! For some reason I thought there was a wider variety of vendors at Harambe Market; that it was a true food bazaar with multiple booths offering multiple menus. At least, that's what it should be, considering the size of the footprint this place takes up. Still, both dishes were really good, despite me having to eat around the delicious carby goodness adorning each one.

It was Flight of Passage time. Now, BFABF is a Disneyland vet, and her attraction of choice is Soarin', I didn't want to toss out any spoiler alerts, but I knew that she'd see FoP as Soarin', but on another level, and I was stoked to see her reaction. We marveled at the floating rock work of the attraction as we sped up through the FP line. It really is something else.

Flight of Passage’s pre-show video is especially entertaining to me because my buddy David is the main actor in it. When I first went on it, I had no idea David booked that gig, so when his face popped up on screen I starting screaming, much to the confusion of everyone else in line. This was the third time I’ve ridden FoP, and I have to say I like it more and more every time. The experience deepens with repetition, if that makes a lick of sense. BFABF said something along the lines of “Soarin’ WHO?” as we left, which I think was a subtle hint that she enjoyed it.

As we descended the stairs to exit, we all got on our MDE apps and ordered our meals at Satu’li Canteen. This time I went for chicken on greens with creamy garlic. And lest you think I have any self-control whatsoever, I tossed in that blueberry/passion fruit cheesecake mousse nonsense because it’s the banshee’s knees. Everyone seemed pretty knocked out by Satu’li, from the ease of mobile ordering, to the top-notch theming and spacious ambience. The fact that the food is really, really delicious doesn’t hurt. All of it is almost enough to make someone actually invested in the Avatar films. Almost.

We took the back way out of Pandora to catch ourselves some Festival of the Lion King, probably my favorite show in all of WDW. We were giraffes this time, and all four of us bleated our hearts out (other than the couple of minutes where BF dozed off; I don’t blame him, she was warm in there!). By the time we got out, it was 3:30, and BFA was hurting. She was going back to the hotel, while the rest of us tried to figure out if we wanted to head straight to Epcot or take a break before our Spice Road Table ADR. Sensibly, we all opted to join BFA on the bus back to Pop to recharge for a while.

Unsurprisingly, BFA decided she was in for the night again. But this time, she had to practically force BFABF to join us for Epcot. As good of a friend as she is, it would’ve been crazy to spend a second consecutive night watching BFA rest. We met at the Skyliner station for our final unexplored leg, past the Riviera and on to Epcot. Have I mentioned that I love the Skyliner? Because I do and would take it literally everywhere if I could, but I’d settle on an extension to Animal Kingdom.

We entered at the completely deserted International Gateway and BAM! There was Mickey taking photos with a very short line! Duh, we had to do it. No sooner did we hug Mickey goodbye than BAM! There was Minnie taking photos with an even shorter line! This one really made my day, as my brother had just texted me urging me to get a pic with Minnie because it’s my baby niece’s favorite character. Achievement unlocked!

BFABF was super into the character meet-and-greets. That's when I remembered I could flash my Disney Visa at an exclusive spot at Epcot and get free downloads. We made our way toward the otherwise-extremely-skippable Imagination Pavilion, stopping into Rose & Crown along the way to show BFABF the bustle of the pub, and to take photos of the totem pole at the Canada Pavilion. The line for the Disney Visa photo was relatively short. People near the front of the line asked the cast member which characters would be there today. "It's a secret!" she demurred. That's why it was so funny a few minutes later when some people ahead of us turned the corner and screamed "Mickey AND Goofy?!?" at the top of their lungs. "Not so much of a secret anymore, huh?" I sassed to the cast member, who burst out laughing. We have fun.

I wanted to show BFABF the real spirit of what remains of Future World by taking her on Living With the Land. It’s the first time I’ve ever done it after dark, and it’s...pretty darn dim in that greenhouse! Dare I say, it’s downright hard to see much of anything in that green house! BFABF found it “cute,” and then looked up at the faded decorations in the Land Pavilion and said “I can see how this was once very cool.” Ouch! Also, devastatingly accurate!

BF needed a little energy boost so we grabbed a fruit and cheese platter at Sunshine Seasons to rise him over until dinner. Then we headed to Spaceship Earth, cold wind smacking us in the face the whole way there. It was great to get one more look at it before the big refurb.

Our 8:20 ADR for Spice Road Table loomed on the...Horizon?...and we headed to the old Odyssey to check out The Epcot Experience. Um...The Epcot Experience, which is literally just a commercial for upcoming Epcot attractions, is a million dollar attraction in and of itself. Honestly. It's better than half of Future World. There should've been a 25 minute wait to see this thing. A 360-degree screen, with projection mapping onto a model of Epcot in the center of the room. It was dazzling. And as I am a fully crazed Moana stan (after careful consideration, I can now confidently say it's my favorite Disney animated film; sorry, B&tB!), I also may or may not have shed a tear or two and also I definitely did.
Back to World Showcase we went! Our first stop was Mexico, where we promptly queued up for Gran Fiesta Tour, and promptly queued out when it appeared to not be taking on any new riders. We stopped in to the China Pavilion to drool over the architecture and check out the Shanghai Disneyland exhibit, as BF and me booked a nine-day trip to China next year and will be Tronning our Lightcycles off on our last day. Can't wait!
Germany was next, and frankly we just stared at mouth-watering caramel for like 15 minutes. Italy, the US, and Japan were a blur, as it was time to check in at Spice Road Table. The bad news was it was cold. So the patio was out. The good news was that the inside of the restaurant is also super-cute! We split a baked brie to start, and I ordered a spicy tuna steak. Oh man. This was delicious. BF got a mixed grill kebab and BFABF got the tuna salad and all of it was really delicious. But the real test came when it was time for Epcot Forever. The music piped in on the restaurant's sound system, and we were fortunate enough to have a table right at the window. So we got ourselves a pretty stellar front-row seat for the show. Sure, it's no IllumiNations, but tell that to the sweet salty babies that insisted on leaving my eyes. My only complaint? Not only did Spice Road Table not dim the lights for fireworks, but the one light directly above us was markedly brighter than any of the other lights. In any case, I have to pat myself on the back for my fireworks/meal timing game this trip.

We declined Moroccan dessert in favor of delectable German dessert. We returned to Karamell-Kuche to stock up on scrumptious, scrumptious goop. I took a SMALL bite of caramel butter bar (bar=bread) and this product should not legally exist. Our legs theoretically carried us to Norway to queue up for Frozen Ever After, but I think it was mostly a sugar-based jet propellant. I've read much online poo-pooing of Extra Magic Hours, complaining that it fills the parks it's trying to give hotel guests a less-crowded shot at. This was not my experience this trip. The posted wait time was 35 minutes, and I bet we waited 25 tops, most of which was inside the highly-detailed, immersive, and most importantly, heated show building. I can't say enough about the standby line for this attraction. I rode it with a FP this summer, and it was so nice to get to go through the whole queue without fearing for my tiny bladder. Oaken's cameo was a wonderfully welcome surprise (we're, ahem, a pro-Oaken household), and the ride itself was once again about a million times better than I ever expected it would be.

We had a choice: shlep back to Future World and take advantage of the 10 minute wait for Soarin', as it's BFABF's favorite? Or continue through World Showcase and hop on the Skyliner home? We wisely opted for the latter. After all, we needed our sleep for the next day, and our visit to the park that we somehow managed to save for last: Magic Kingdom.

Next: The Empire Strikes (Baby) Back (Ribs)


Well-Known Member
In the Parks
First of all, you’re friends with “um guy”???
I NEED to know, did they make him say “um” a gamillion times or is that how he talks normally?

Second, I don’t think there is any actual potato in the “potato barrels”. You’re all good.


Well-Known Member
Original Poster
First of all, you’re friends with “um guy”???
I NEED to know, did they make him say “um” a gamillion times or is that how he talks normally?
I imagine the answer is both! He was probably cast because of his general demeanor and then they played it up on set.


Well-Known Member
Original Poster
Day Four: The Empire Strikes (Baby) Back (Ribs)

We slept in! Until 8am! Very punk rock!

Again, we met the ladies at Everything POP for omelets and coffee. We had a 9:15 FP for Peter Pan’s Flight, but I didn’t want to rush anybody. This was BFA’s third consecutive day of walking around on a bum knee and BF had blisters and needed his sleep, so I was really trying to tamp down my alpha impulses.

Well, the bus line to Magic Kingdom was cartooonishly long. BF suggested taking a Lyft, prompting me to calmly explain that Lyfts could only go as far as the TTC (or, I suppose, the Contemporary). Either way, it was a lot more walking and two buses had already shown up. We made it onto the (gasp!) fourth bus, and by this time, I wasn’t so confident we’d be floating over the London sky anytime soon. I knew we’d have a five-minute grace period, so the deadline was 10:20. We got to security at 10:07.

Of course two people brought bags. Not that I was annoyed about was...(gnaw all my fingers AND toenails to the quick)...fine! BF picked a fairly quick line. Not BFABF. She got through at 10:11. Onto the entrance! And...yay! What a time for their scanners to not recognize my fingerprint (probably due to all that nail-biting). They asked me to rescan probably about 400 times before another cast member took a photo of me, did a retinal eye scan, and had me pee in a cup before letting me in. 10:14. Stay calm!

I did everything IN MY MIGHT to not rush BFA and BFABF through the castle reveal and the walk up Main Street. “Isn’t that gorgeous? Ooh! There’s an even better view of it right up close near Fantasyland. Wanna go there?!?” It was down to the wire. Seconds would count. I poured on the speed up the ramp into Fantasyland, and everyone thankfully followed suit. We scanned into Peter Pan’s Flight at 10:20am. Victory!

PPF was a lovely, if brief, treat as always, but not nearly as lovely as not wasting a FastPass. When we got off, our window was already open for Haunted Mansion, which was just a Tangled bathrooms away. I knew BFABF, who was familiar with Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion, would be knocked out by the plussing of technology they’ve done at WDW. I love when I get the hitchhiking ghosts that rips off the riders’ heads and switches them. She’s a classic!
We stopped at Friar’s Nook for much-needed coffee and strolled over to Under the Sea - Journey of the Little Mermaid, which had a somewhat tenable wait time of 25 minutes. I've said it in many a trip report and I'll say it again: y'all are sleeping on this ride! It's great! We strolled on over to Tomorrowland for what ended up being a downright bone-chillingly cold ride on the Peoplemover. At that point, we were hungry, and knew we needed a bite soon so we wouldn't starve but also would be nice and hungry for our Hoop Dee Doo reservations at 4pm. I pitched Pinocchio's Village Haus, but once we passed Cosmic Ray's, I knew that's where we'd be eating. It sucks you in like a tractor beam, and though no one intends to eat at Cosmic Ray's, it seems to be some sort of cosmic inevitability.
I got a Greek salad with chicken, which, truth be told, could've been worse. Meanwhile everyone else got stupidly gigantic footlongs covered in chili and other delicious garbage. Then a VERY weird thing happened as BF, BFA, and BFABF all went to use the restroom as I finished eating: a woman draped her purse on the back of one of our chairs, to "call it" for her family. Hey, I get it: Cosmic Ray's is a zoo. But a) the place is so huge, a table is always getting up and b) would it have killed her to speak to me? I told her we'd be done in a couple of minutes and of course they were welcome to take the table when we were done. It was a friendly exchange! Well, everyone in my party was taking their time in the restroom, and I could FEEL the woman behind me, growing impatient. Seconds later, a guy is HOVERING over me, holding a tray, as if to intimidate me into leaving, clearly sent by chair-purse lady. Mind you, I AM NOT EVEN DONE WITH MY SALAD. I looked up, and this guy is rocking a seriously fugly crustache and wearing a sweatshirt with a truly vile message (hint: the sweatshirt was red) that seemed very consistent with all the truly horrific behavior these bullies were exhibiting. I went back to my salad and soda and played around on my phone, TAKING MY TIME. Other tables around me opened up before everybody got back (still eating, by the way!), and they sat there instead of being cruddy little Cosmic Ray-style satellites. It's almost as though they could've avoided being total trash bags entirely!

After a little pop into Hundred Acre Goods (BFA is a serious Eeyore stan), we scanned in for our Seven Dwarfs Mine Train FP. I knew the ladies would love this one, and they sure did. As an extra bonus, our train paused for a couple minutes right in front of Snow White's cottage, so we could soak up all the details in the dance scene. And may I say? The Evil Queen animatronic is capable of some seriously unnerving eye contact. BF wanted to show the ladies Liberty Square and Frontierland so we headed that way. I noticed that Country Bear Jamboree was starting in a minute, so we simply had to! Love me some CBJ. Then we cut through to Adventureland and did a classic show bang-bang with Enchanted Tiki Room.
We headed back towards the hub and took some obligatory castle pics, and then it was time to hop on a boat to Fort Wilderness. From everything I'd read online, the best strategy is to give yourself a full hour to get from Magic Kingdom to Pioneer Hall to check in for Hoop Dee Doo. Well, sure enough, after rushing everybody out of Magic Kingdom, our boat was waiting for us and took off basically as soon as we sat down. This boat ride was just fabulous. I've never been in Bay Lake, so it was great to experience the Contemporary from this angle and look across the bay to Wilderness Lodge. When we docked at Fort Wilderness, it really sunk in just how vast Walt Disney World is. It felt like being in a completely different world. I checked in, and then we probably had about 35 minutes to kill. I suppose it was better than waiting to take the later boat, which could've been besieged by the post-Festival of Fantasy crowd, and stressing out that we'd be late. Still, it felt like we waited A WHILE. We struck up a conversation with a nice couple in line from southern Illinois who drive their RV down to Fort Wilderness for last-minute trips. Wild!

Finally it was time to be sat. We were in seating area 2, on the main floor, and the seats were great! I'm really glad I didn't pony up $20 more for the four of us to sit literally six inches closer. I asked for a fifth chair at our table so BFA could elevate her leg. I expected her to want to go back to the hotel after dinner, but I held out hope that a little rest might make her feel renewed. We dug into the salad and cornbread (yum!) and were all very excited for the show to start, as by all accounts, this show was great. Well...

...the food was good? I don't know how much the Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue is paying these blogs, but this show was very, very bad. This show requires people who can sing, dance, and be funny. Exactly one cast member fulfilled this requirement, and everybody else was rough. The "comic relief" of the show told one million jokes and made one million faces and got maybe four laughs. Woof! I swear I'm not being a snob; this show was not getting laughs and I'm assuming nearly everyone in the crowd had ears and could discern that these voices were just okay at best. To add insult to injury, the one talented guy had the smallest part! They should clone that guy, because honestly this show is a must-not recommend.
That scathing review aside, I loved the fried chicken, the ribs, the potatoes, the mac and cheese, the everything. Can you tell this was my cheat meal? We thought we were too full to touch much of that strawberry shortcake, but it was so good, we made strawberry shortwork of it. All in all, we still had a fun time. All of the food-serving pageantry numbers were fun, and the washboard bit was a real hit with BFA and BFABF. Ultimately, I'm glad I did it, because it's always fun to do a new thing at WDW, and the food and company were great. But man. Fix dat show. She stank.

After the show, I set out to make sure that there were buses going back to Pop Century. Then BFA spoke up:

BFA: "Oh, I think I'd actually like to go back to Magic Kingdom."
Me: "Good, because I got us FastPasses to Jungle Cruise just in case. Let's go."

I was in shock, but all four of us felt somehow rejuvenated by, of all things, the Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue and were ready for more Disney. We zipped back across Bay Lake, now by moonlight, and blew through bag check and the turnstiles, as most people were now exiting, not entering. We bopped around Main Street shops for a while before making our way to Jungle Cruise. Boy, oh boy, does the skipper make all the difference. Skipper Amelia was so good, I'd honestly request her when you're waiting for a boat. She told 40 million jokes, all of them funny. Take notes, Hoop-Dee-Doo! I betcha she can carry a tune, too. My one qualm: the PA system on the boats need a refresh. Her mic kept cutting in and out, and I'm pretty sure the same thing happened when I rode it last summer. Get it together, gang! If you can projection-map themed patterns to five upcoming attractions onto a model of Spaceship Earth for a temporary display, you can fix a mic, y'know?

It was now a bit after 7:30, and Happily Ever After started at 8. Once again, we were faced with two options: do Pirates and pray we'd find a spot to stand without missing too much of the fireworks, or go stake a claim in the hub and hang out for a half hour. We chose the latter, as fireworks were a huge priority for the ladies. Fine by me! We ended up getting the best position/view for a nighttime spectacular I've possibly ever had. No kids on shoulders, no phones in my eyeline, no insufferable blinking Mickey ear balloons...just a clean, clear view of Cinderella's Castle. And Happily Ever After was...amazing. The songs were great, the projections on the castle were incredible, I cried 78,000 times...just the best!
The plan was, once the show was over, to make a beeline the way we came, back to Adventureland so we could basically walk on to Pirates. And by jove, it worked! In my mind, Pirates would be the true litmus test on whether WDW won over BFABF. The general consensus is that Disneyland's Pirates is superior. This is a load of parrot crap. Disneyland's may be longer, but the scene order and pace of WDW's is perfection. The ladies sat in front of BF and me. I tried to gauge her reactions as we passed the pirate skeletons, and I got my answer once we did the little drop into the massive pirate ship battle scene. BFABF turned around to me and said, "Oh, this is way better than Disneyland." In your FACE, Anaheim!!!

We walked from Adventureland into Frontierland, past the lamentably closed Splash Mountain (truly the worst thing about visiting in January), to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. BFA, perhaps having flashbacks to Everest, was sure this was going to be too much for her. I kept assuring her that it's basically a glorified kiddie coaster, in the same category as Mine Train or Slinky Dog, but she was skeptical. Well, of course she loved it! I must say, I'm not particularly obsessed with BTMRR, but doing at night definitely lends it a little something. By this time, Extra Magic Hours was entering its second hour, and the park was deliciously deserted. I was fully blissed out, wandering through Frontierland, fully expecting to head towards Main Street and back to Pop Century. I mean, these ladies must be exhausted! BFA's knee must have been ground into a fine powder by this point! But then BFA said, "Ooh, I wanna go back and buy my Eeyore."

I offered to go on ahead and get it for her and save her the walk through Fantasyland, but she wasn't done being in the park yet. Bliss! On our way back to Hundred Acre Goods, we passed it's a small world, with a scant 5 minute wait. I wasn't gonna say anything; I had pushed them enough. But I happily beamed when they said "Ooh, it's a small world is a 5 minute wait! Let's do it!" I've trained them well. I love IASW. I especially love the last room, partially because its message of unity is beautiful and timeless or whatever, but mostly because one of the dolls reminds me of my mom. I try to get a picture of her every time I ride, and this is the best pic I've gotten of her yet!
At Hundred Acre Goods, BFA seized upon the sleeping Eeyore stuffed animal she had set her sights on, but then found another plush of a non-sleeping Eeyore that she also loved. They were about the same size and same price, and this dilemma sent her spiraling. She asked me what I thought. I said sleeping. She asked BFABF. She was indifferent. She asked a random child! He chose non-sleeping. BFA needed a deal breaker, so she asked the cashier.

"Which one of these do you prefer?"
"Well, one of them is asleep and one of them is awake, but that's just my opinion."

Wow. A lot to unpack here. First of all, duh, lady! We know one is awake and one is asleep. But secondly, and much more importantly, that empirical fact is not just your opinion! "Water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit, but your mileage may vary." NO! It's all we could do not to burst out laughing in her face. BFA wisely went with sleeping Eeyore. Then I got a text from BF: "Winnie the Pooh has a 5 minute wait too." Well, we were doing it, then! Sometimes you do the gift shop first and the ride second, but that's just my opinion.
With that, our Magic Kingdom journey had come to an end. But our Disney transportation debacle had just begun. The Pop Century line started two resort gates over from our actual gate. I think we ended up getting on the sixth bus that arrived. Wild! Wilder still is that we did what that morning I thought would be impossible: we essentially opened and closed Magic Kingdom. Dreams DO come true! We bid BFA and BFABF farewell at Everything POP, as they were leaving mega-early in the morning for their flights home. Tomorrow would just be BF and me! Originally, I had made FP selections for Epcot on our last day, to ensure we'd do Frozen Ever After. But we had done it! So when we were waiting for our boat back to MK from Fort Wilderness, I switched them to MK FPs. Then I changed my mind and got AK FPs in the late afternoon, so we could do Everest again and Dinosaur, which we didn't get around to Tuesday. It made the most sense, because we were eating at Tusker House in the evening. So the new plan was to sleep in, hang out at Studios for a bit, and wrap the day up at Animal Kingdom. At our own pace, no less!

Next: Return of the WED-Eye
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