Trip Report We Came, We Rose, We Resisted: A February Break Adventure

Weather_Lady

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
Here's my rough-and-ready recap of my family's February 17-23, 2020 Disney World visit. (Spoiler alert: We had a terrific time!)

Cast: me, DH, DS (13) and DD (11)

Instead of a chronological report, I've broken my thoughts down into a few topics as follows (I'll try to add clickable links if I can manage it). Don't fear! My report may not be chronological but it sure is verbose!

Travel from Buffalo, NY

Animal Kingdom Lodge - Jambo House

President's Day Week Crowds, The Parks and How We Toured Them, and "New Stuff"

The Effin' Princess Half Marathon

Dining Venues, Reviews, Amazon Prime Grocery Delivery, and DDP Cost Comparison
 
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Weather_Lady

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
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Buffalo Niagara Int’l Airport / Sleep Inn & Suites Buffalo Airport:

Our trip down was blissfully uneventful. Given that we had a 6am direct flight to Orlando from Buffalo, NY (an airport 1 hour and 45 minutes from home, but half the price of flying out of closer airports) and needed 7 days’ worth of parking, we opted for a “Park ‘n Fly” package at the Sleep Inn & Suites adjacent to the Buffalo Niagara Airport. For about $30 more than we’d have paid just to park in the airport’s long term lot, we got a clean and comfortable room for the night before our flight, secure parking, a shuttle to and from the airport, and an excellent continental breakfast with plenty of hot and cold options at 4:30am. Upon our return, we just called the hotel's front desk and the shuttle came to fetch us and take us back to our vehicle in 10 minutes. We’d stay there again in a heartbeat.

(As a bonus, we got to introduce the kiddos to the famous Anchor Bar, inventors of the original Buffalo-style chicken wing! Since DH and I met in grad school in Buffalo, we also got to regale them with our love story, which, being a teen and preteen, they naturally thought was disgusting and cringy.)

We flew down on JetBlue, and were fortunate to score recently-updated A320s (JetBlue is about halfway through its refurb, so there was only a 50% chance we’d get the nice, new planes) both ways. The big seatback touchscreens worked flawlessly, and I loved that the new seats have adjustable headrests that you can bend slightly to keep your head in place if you want to try and snooze without reclining or using a neck pillow. Both flights were on time, too, which was a relief, as flying in and out of snow country in winter is always a little bit of a gamble.

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Weather_Lady

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
Animal Kingdom Lodge – Jambo House:

We stayed in an AKL Jambo studio (standard view, Room 5428) on rented DVC points, which came out at a nightly rate just under what we’d have paid for a non-discounted moderate room, so it was a great deal.

To my utter shock (as I’d read that this almost never happens with DVC rooms when one is staying on points), we received our “room ready” text at 9:30am whilst on the MDE bus from the airport! Perhaps it was because most people check out on weekends and we were arriving on a Monday, but it was spectacular to be able to head directly to our studio when we arrived to unpack and settle in.

We absolutely loved the resort, and our studio, which had an attractive view of the pool and was situated close to some lookout areas and the elevators, and just down the hall from the complimentary DVC guest laundry room. (TIP: Laundry rooms are a typical location for departing guests to leave free items: we helped ourselves to some cans of flavored seltzer that were left in the Laundry Room marked “Free” when I did our laundry mid-week, and we returned the favor by leaving some unopened leftover snacks, drinks and fresh fruit when we left. Just make sure you don’t leave any booze, OTC meds, or other things you wouldn’t want a child getting ahold of!)

Our room didn’t happen to have an entryway closet (some studios do and some don’t), but we brought a collapsible set of “shelves” to hang from the bar inside the wardrobe, which doubled the usable storage space. There was sufficient room in front of the connecting door to store all of our suitcases. Another nice feature of the Jambo studio: you can use the sofa bed without sacrificing the usefulness of the space. The sofa cushions can be stored under the folded-out sofa, and one of the side tables fits between the bed and the wall to become a bedside table. Also, although I thought that all of the DVC studios had switched to stocking the cupboards with paper plates and plasticware, ours had real stoneware plates, bowls and coffee mugs, and real metal silverware: the only disposable items were a couple of paper-and-plastic coffee travel cups and lids. We were also given sufficient coffee filter packs (a total of 4) to last until "trash and towel" day, whereas in the past we've only been given enough for one day (which was why our Amazon Prime order had included some coffee filter packs).

The one downside of AKL in general and Jambo in particular seemed to be transportation! This was the first trip in recent memory where we had multiple bus waits that exceeded 20 minutes. Also, because Jambo is the last resort at both pick-up and drop-off for all of the 4 main parks (Kidani Village gets honors), more often than not we had to stand while riding to the parks because the buses were already packed when they got to Jambo, and had to suffer the frustration of driving right by Jambo to drop off people at Kidani, and then loop back, when getting dropped off, which added another 6-8 minutes to every trip back. It’s a small detail, but having to depend on bus service for every destination (rather than having any additional options, like boats, Skyliner, walking paths, monorail, etc.) does make one feel a bit helpless. Also, the bus wait time screens (and the app) were no help at all this time around: half the time they just said “times unavailable,” and the rest of the time, the constantly-changing arrival projections, which were usually “off” by as much as 15 minutes either way, seemed to be controlled by a monkey randomly pressing buttons somewhere. They certainly bore no discernible relationship to when buses were actually going anywhere!


(Photo borrowed from AllEars.Net.)
 
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Weather_Lady

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
February Break, Crowds and Fastpasses:

What can I say? It was February break, and the crowds were 9 or 10/10 at most parks, most days. Each park had at least one major headliner shut down for refurbishment (or shuttered by a delayed opening), and lines were long by mid-morning, every day. (I’m talking “50 minutes for the PeopleMover” long.) 4th Fastpasses for anything worth having were non-existent, and pounding the app yielded nothing. There were bottlenecks everywhere. Scooters and double-strollers everywhere. Queues spilling into walkways everywhere. The two mornings we started at Hollywood Studios, we began our day with Rock ‘n’ Rollercoaster followed immediately by Rise of the Resistance. By the time we were done with those – less than an hour after rope drop – the lines for every ride would be 1-2 hours.

It was nuts, and although it appeared that most attractions were running near full capacity most of the time, there were no extended park hours and no extra EMH to provide any relief. However, to be fair, we knew what we were getting into, and we planned and prepared for it as best we could. We still had a great time without waiting more than 20 minutes for any ride save three, but this meant we did have to make some sacrifices -- no Frozen, no Peter Pan or Dumbo, etc.. (In addition to a 30-minute wait in the Expedition Everest single rider line, we entered the Jungle Cruise queue and the Olaf M&G queues when each had a posted 25-minute wait, but they took 50 minutes! Unmagical!) 😉

The Parks and How We Toured Them:

One always expects to see some construction walls and scrims in every park, but the current number really tips the balance from “pardon our dust as we work to improve” to “behold the hideousness of our torn-up concrete and exposed rusty girders – we defy you to try and take a photo of anything scenic without a wall in it somewhere!” Obviously, Epcot and Hollywood Studios, both of which have their central “wienies” all but blocked off, are the worst offenders, but I was glad this wasn’t our first rodeo or all the construction would have been a real turn-off rather than just a minor annoyance.

One upside of this visit was that because we were so close to Animal Kingdom, we ended up spending a solid day-and-a-half there, instead of our usual single partial day. I loved being able to take our time and really soak up the ambiance and beauty of the park, and Animal Kingdom seems to have more “quiet corners” in which to retreat from heavy crowds than anywhere else. In park rankings, this trip took Animal Kingdom from its distant third spot to a tie for first (with MK) for me, in terms of where I want to spend time. While I wish it had a couple more “rides,” I feel like Animal Kingdom has the best balance of headliners and “anytime” attractions of any park, which makes it easier to tour. Also, I think the dining is fabulous!

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All in all, our touring was as follows:

Monday 2/17 – Animal Kingdom all afternoon and evening, with Fastpasses for Dinosaur, Kilimanjaro Safari, and Na’vi River Journey. Saw the Finding Nemo show, rode Expedition Everest in single rider, and did several anytime attractions and trails.

Tuesday, 2/18 – Rope-dropped AK for Flight of Passage, with Fastpasses for Na’vi River Journey, FOTLK and Expedition Everest. Tried the Wildlife Express Train, Conservation Station, etc. for the first time (zzzzz). In the evening, we hopped to Epcot, rode every ride except for Frozen, and ended up seeing the Beauty and the Beast singalong (with a plot so full of holes it resembled Swiss cheese more than French Brie) to kill time.

Wednesday, 2/19 – Rope-dropped HS and despite the biggest crowds we saw there all week, got Boarding Group 16 for RoTR (yee-ha!). Rode Rock ‘n’ Rollercoaster, RoTR, saw Muppets, and met Edna Mode before Skyliner-ing to Epcot for a lunch ADR. Took a swim break back at Animal Kingdom Lodge, and then headed to MK for the evening to cover Tomorrowland (with FP+ for Space Mountain and Buzz) and start on other favorites (7DMT with FP+, Haunted Mansion, Pirates, etc.). On Pirates, we had the bad luck of being seated in front of a Narrator -- in this case, an ordinary girl of about 10 (old enough to know better) who thought herself very clever for being able to see things and call out their names in a non-stop monologue. "Oh, that's a boat! Look, a pirate! Oh, see the fort? Look, there's water! Now it's on fire! They're chasing the pirates, do you see that? I see pigs! Feet! Rum!" The young genius's parents were so awe-struck by her gifts that they just kept encouraging her, exclaiming loudly in chorus, "Yes, that IS a pirate! Oh yes, definitely a fort! I see the fire, too!" :banghead: On the upside, Haunted Mansion was awesome -- no flash photography and no stops!

Thursday, 2/20 – Slept in a little (well, everyone else did: I did the laundry) and rope-dropped Blizzard Beach at 10am. Finished every attraction in the park by 12:00pm, and did a round of mini-golf at Winter Summerland. After a nap break at the hotel, we went back to Animal Kingdom for dinner at Tiffins (for me and DH, the kids didn’t want to “be fancy”), with FP+ for Flight of Passage. Strolled around enjoying the nighttime ambiance, and rode Expedition Everest in standby at the end of the night.

Friday, 2/21 – Rope-dropped MK for Space Mountain, then hit up the PeopleMover, Carousel of Progress, Winnie the Pooh, it’s a small world, Haunted Mansion w/FP+, Mickey’s Philharmagic, Country Bears, Tiki Room, Magic Carpets of Aladdin, and 7DMT w/FP+. It was very cold and windy, which is why we were focusing on indoor-type attractions. We had a FP+ for BTMRR, but it was broken down the whole time we were in the park. We used our substitute FP+ for Space Mountain just before we left, and holed up in our warm hotel room to relax and regroup for the rest of the night.

Saturday, 2/22 – Once again, we rope-dropped HS for RoTR (Boarding Group 4 this time!) and rode RnR, then RoTR. Visited Star Tours (FP+), Star Wars Launch Bay and Chewbacca M&G, Alien Swirling Saucers (FP+), Slinky Dog Dash (FP+), and met Olaf. After a break at the hotel, we headed to Disney Springs for the evening, quite spontaneously.

Saturday 2/22 – This day gets its own section later, but as for attractions, we did BTMRR at MK, Toy Story Midway Mania and Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run at HS, and played a round of mini-golf at Fantasia Gardens, before it was time to catch our DME bus to the airport.

New Stuff:

It’s been a couple of years for us, so there were some new things to try. Slinky Dog Dash was fun (but only worth the wait if you have FP+). Alien Swirling Saucers was a giant “meh.” The Skyliner, which we took from HS to Epcot for lunch on our third day, was like a whole additional attraction in and of itself, and even with the heavy crowds, there was no wait to board! We enjoyed Millennium Falcon: Smuggler's Run (I think it's a little underrated), although concededly it wasn't entirely new to us, as we'd ridden its California counterpart at Disneyland last August.

Of course, the star “new attraction” was Rise of the Resistance, and we were fortunate to be able to do it twice. We had really great experiences (in vehicles that followed slightly different escape routes, so we had a different perspective each time) both days, with no breakdowns while we were in the queue and nothing appearing to be in “B” mode. It was stressful waiting there at rope drop to participate in what amounts to a “fastest fingers” challenge, but we did ultimately feel that the attraction was worth it: it takes immersion to a whole ‘nother level, and as Star Wars fans, we loved the attention to detail. Disney just should have doubled it when they built it, so its capacity could come close to meeting demand!

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We also learned something new to us, that I wanted to share. We had 7-day Parkhopper Plus tickets, with 7 entitlements that included mini-golf and water park visits (although only Blizzard Beach was open during our visit, and only 5 of the 7 days). On the day we visited Blizzard Beach, we had set up a tee time at Winter Summerland for mini-golf. To our dismay, when we showed up, we were told that notwithstanding our tee time, it would be at least a 45-minute wait for the Beach course we’d reserved (which begs the question, what was the point of reserving a tee time in the first place?). So we begrudgingly played the Winter course instead. When we finished, we saw that nobody was waiting for the Beach course, so we asked to use another of our entitlements to play it. The answer? “NO. With a Parkhopper Plus ticket, you CANNOT use more than one mini-golf entitlement at the same location in a day.” I know the fine print for the entitlements says you can play one round of mini golf per day, but I always thought this meant you could only play one round per day per entitlement, not that you literally couldn't play more than one round per day, period. This was news to us, and I wish we’d known it ahead of time.
 
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Weather_Lady

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
The “Effin’ Princess Half Marathon”

…is what DH was calling it by the end of our last day. Somehow, inexplicably, although we did not sign up for any races and received no bibs or medals, our entire family ended up running our own half marathon.

We had originally planned to stay far away from the marathon, which was taking place in and around MK during the final weekend of our weeklong visit, but on our MK day earlier in the week, Big Thunder Mountain had been broken down all day, so we never got to ride it. We had Fastpasses at Hollywood Studios (RnR, TSMM, Millennium Falcon) for our departure day on 2/23, but the night before, the kids indicated that they felt our trip would be somehow illegitimate if they didn’t get to ride Big Thunder Mountain at least once. We made an impromptu decision to sacrifice our 9am RnR Fastpass the next morning (we’d done it twice already, anyway), rope drop Magic Kingdom instead, and then “hop” (such a nice word, isn’t it? It sounds so easy…) to Hollywood Studios in time for the 10:30am Toy Story and 12pm Millennium Falcon Fastpasses.

So it happened that at 7:45am on Sunday, 2/23, four fools appeared at the Jambo House bus stop, bound for the Magic Kingdom which was to open at 9am. A bus pulled up about 10 minutes later, and we, the idiots, were on our way… except that we really weren’t. Thanks to gridlock from half the roadways being closed for Princess Half-Marathoners, it took OVER AN HOUR to reach the Magic Kingdom. Did I mention that our bus was standing-room-only, and that we were standing? Because we were. By the time we got to the Magic Kingdom, the park was already open. We scurried to Big Thunder Mountain on the heels of the rope drop crowd, had a quick ride, attempted to swing by Pirates on our way out (it was broken down – apparently it caught whatever affliction BTMRR had a couple days before) and then had a quick pow-wow with some CMs at the entrance to ask the best way to get to Hollywood Studios in current traffic.

We’ll never know whether they were blissfully ignorant or just sadistic, but the CMs gleefully assured us that we could take the bus to HS, because by now, the tutu-clad celebrants of the Princess Half Marathon were long finished, the roadways had been reopened, and all was well. We headed to the bus stop for HS-bound guests and joined a sizeable crowd (which we, being morons, took as a good sign – “if there’s this many people, a bus is due to be along soon!”). After a solid 20 minutes, a CM swung by to warn us that due to continued traffic snarl-ups because of the Princess Half Marathon, the buses “are still more than an hour behind, so you can expect to wait here another hour or so.”

So it was back to the drawing board. Or more specifically, the monorail. Given that we couldn’t take a bus or a rideshare, our list of options was down to one. The Express Monorail wasn’t running (!??!) but of course we could still get to the TTC on the Resort Monorail. So we did, and then trotted over to the monorail to Epcot. (A nice lady in the line asked me if I’d been to Epcot yet, and told me how excited she was that “it’s been a year since we’ve been – I waited that long so I could be sure all the construction would be done. I’m really looking forward to walking in today and not having to see those awful construction walls!” It broke my heart to tell her the construction was ongoing, but it seemed like the kind thing to do, so I phrased it as gently as possible. Still, I felt awful: “Hello, my name is weather_lady, and I euthanize joy.”)

Since buses and automobiles were off-limits and the boats and Skyliner to HS were on the opposite end of Epcot, this meant that we had to wait in the long ticket lines to get in, just for the pleasure of hoofing it from one end of Epcot to the other, to get to HS. This we did (and I’d like to think we did it with no grumbling whatsoever), went out through the International Gateway, and then boarded the Skyliner to HS.

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By now, our sweaty reenactment of “Planes, Trains and Automobiles… and Monorails… and Gondolas” was reaching its climax. I spent the Skyliner ride rehearsing the rousing speech I planned to give to the Toy Story Mania CMs about why we were late for our 10:30am Fastpasses. It was eloquent, passionate and would have made grown men weep with pity! I know I was pretty close to weeping, anyway. It was also, ultimately, unnecessary: speed-walking all the way, we got to TSMM at 11:35am, within the grace period for our Fastpasses, and then proceeded to our Millennium Falcon Fastpasses and a quick lunch. (To recap, that’s 2-and-a-half hours from the front gate of MK to Big Thunder Mountain to the MK bus depot to the monorail to the TTC to the Epcot monorail to the International Gateway to the CBR Skyliner hub to Hollywood Studios to Toy Story Land.)

But WAIT! We’re not done! Having been denied our second round of mini-golf at Winter Summerland on Wednesday, we’d anger-booked a tee time at Fantasia Gardens for our “relaxing last day” – you know, the day we’d foolishly imagined we’d have before the Effin’ Princess Half Marathon lumbered into play. So now it was almost 1pm and we needed to get to Fantasia Gardens by 1:30pm. What to do, but take the only form of Disney transportation we hadn’t boarded yet: a Friendship Boat from HS to Swan and Dolphin, followed by more power-walking in the sun. (Did I mention I’d forgotten my sunblock that day? All I know is that as I walked, the sun must have been on my left, because my left side looks like a lobster, the front side of me is nicely tanned, and my right side and back are completely pasty. Behold, I’m a chimera!)

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Fantasia Gardens was hugely crowded, as one would expect on a sunshiny Sunday afternoon, so by the time we finished our round, it was nearly 3pm! Now I was panicking: our DME bus, back at Jambo, was expecting to pick us up at 4:10pm. I suggested to DH that we get a rideshare, but for some reason, he was possessed of an irrational, unshakeable conviction that we could easily get there on time. So it was back to the boat to HS, to get on a bus back to AKL. Naturally, we had to wait a long time for a bus, there was a driver shift change that occupied several extra minutes, and a wheelchair-bound passenger caused the boarding process and the drop-off at Kidani to be a bit longer as well. The long and short of it (Who am I kidding? There’s no “short” here!) is that we pulled up at Jambo at 4:06pm, with the DME bus already visible at the front entrance. Having long abandoned any sense of decorum, all four of us sprinted to the front of the bus with hysterical (and in hindsight, nonsensical, since we were already on a bus) cries of, “Excuse us!!! We HAVE to GET to the BUS!!!” and took off for Bell Services at a dead run, with me crazily waving our Bell Services claim form in the air like it was the winning ticket in a million-dollar lottery. Thanks to the assistance of a kindly valet named Joel, we magically had our bags and were boarding the DME bus (out of breath and looking completely deranged, but boarding it all the same) at the appointed time!

The wild thing is that despite all the stress and the walking and the sweating and the fact that we spent most of the day trying to get places instead of do things, it was still kind of a nice day…

Still, I’d never go back to WDW during a running event. Never ever.

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Weather_Lady

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
Dining Venues, Reviews and Cost Comparison:

As frequent readers of the Restaurant and Dining forum already know, I’m militantly anti-DDP when it comes to my family, simply because it would be so much more expensive than paying out of pocket. I’ve often championed the distripplanner.com tool as a gauge for whether the DDP is a money-saver for any particular family, and in our case, after running the numbers, its estimates for our trip ended up being within $80 of our final total, over 7 days of dining for four people! Not too shabby.

*Note: I did not take photos of our food. I have included some representative photos from online below, only where I felt they accurately represented exactly what we were served and/or the setting where we ate.

FWIW, here’s a taste (if you will) of where we ate and how we liked it:

In-Room Breakfasts (Amazon Prime Now delivery)

We tried out Amazon Prime Now for all of our in-room breakfast foods (3 bags of bagels, 3 cream cheeses, a bunch of bananas, a 3-lb. bag of apples, a box of coffee filter packs, flavored creamer, a gallon of milk, an economy-size box of cereal, a case of bottled water, and a bag of tortillas – more on those later) and it was pretty seamless. I placed the order while on the DME bus, it was delivered that afternoon to Bell Services (who kept our refrigerated items cold for us), and we picked it up that evening when we came back to the resort.

Other than the fact that the Bell Services attendant accidentally gave us 2 bags of food that belonged to other people (we realized it midway to the room and DH returned them), it was a really convenient way to have everything we needed without having to pay inflated resort prices. We spent a total of $45 ($35 for the order - the minimum for free delivery, $5 tip to the Amazon Prime driver and $5 tip to Bell Services), and it was well worth it, adding up to little more than we’d have paid at our local supermarket for the same items.

(*Note: We did not include any alcohol in our Amazon Prime Now order. FWIW, had we done so, we would have had to meet the delivery driver to present our I.D. and Bell Services couldn't have accepted the order in our stead. If you want to order alcohol and still have Bell Services take delivery, you'll have to do it through Instacart or another grocery provider that can verify your age online.)

Day 1 – Lunch at Sanaa (Table Service, AKL, Kidani Village)

After unpacking and freshening up in our room at Jambo House, we strolled over to Kidani Village for an eagerly-awaited lunch at Sanaa, and proceeded down the stairs from the gorgeous lobby to the restaurant.

After that, things got a little weird. There was a family who’d apparently shelled out big bucks for a VIP tour, accompanied by a plaid-bedecked CM with a giant binder full of their personalized itinerary, and a bloomin’ camera crew comprised of an antsy cameraman-with-giant-movie-camera, a big portable stage light, and a towering-dude-with-boom-mic documenting their every move. They were blocking the entire front desk and entryway to the restaurant, with the plaid CM literally boxing out anyone who tried to approach. The two Sanaa CMs who otherwise would have been manning the check-in desk had been pressed into service to offer a drum lesson to the family’s son, who was an adorable lad of about 8. He was very polite and soft-spoken, but unfortunately was stricken with a profound lack of musical ability. We could only hover at the foot of the stairs (with other would-be lunch-goers awkwardly backing up on the stairs behind us) and watch helplessly as our reservation time came and went, and the two CMs tried patiently for what seemed like an eternity to teach the rhythm-challenged child to tap out the simplest of beats on a drum, over and over, around six thousand times. He never got it. (I’m pretty sure that having to listen to this drum-based version of water torture would have violated the Geneva Convention, had we not technically been free to leave.)

Because it was all being recorded, we felt like we couldn’t or shouldn’t try to speak to anyone to ask how we were supposed to check in for our ADR, so we engaged in a ridiculous series of pantomimes to shush our kids, who were understandably curious and frustrated as to why this family was being permitted to hold everything up, and why they couldn’t play the drums, too. In fact, they’d picked up the drum rhythm and hand positioning the very first time around, and were happy to start demonstrating their newfound knowledge on the walls, floor and steps! (One of the many things I never thought I’d have to whisper-hiss to my children at Disney: “You stop drumming on those stairs right now! You’re going to make the rich kid feel bad!”)

After the live performance of “Stomp (but in Hell)!” ended and the VIPs and their entourage departed, we had a really lovely lunch at Sanaa with a view of some friendly giraffes and birds. This quiet respite was just what we needed after a 4am wake-up and a long flight. The bread service was tons of fun for my condiment-loving family, with each person waxing rhapsodic about their favorites. For entrees, I had the Tandoori Shrimp, which was generously-portioned and wonderfully refreshing, topped with a cold salad of greens and tomatoes tossed in a sweet and flavorful dressing. DH had the sausage sandwich and the children enjoyed the fish of the day, and berry smoothies. It was a lunch well worth waiting for, even if we had to endure a little auditory Purgatory to get in. 😉

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(Sanaa bread service, which included 5 pieces of naan, all different, and 9 condiments. Photo from Yelp.)

Day 1 – Dinner at Yak & Yeti (Animal Kingdom)

Our arrival day was President’s Day, but we still took a chance on going ADR-less for dinner, and relying on our Landry’s Select Club card (with includes priority seating, with no need for a reservation) to get us into Yak & Yeti whenever we felt like eating. As on previous occasions, it worked like a charm, and we were seated within 5 minutes.

(As a side observation, school vacation week or no, we’ve never had such prompt restaurant seatings as we enjoyed on this trip. We never waited more than a few minutes past our ADR time anywhere, even when we made special table requests. It was a refreshing change from past experiences. Maybe because there was no big dining plan discount offer during our dates?)

DH and I shared a platter of Bibimbap and the Ahi Tuna Nachos (always the star of the show), washed down with Yak Attack frozen cocktails, and the kids had virgin Daquiris, a cheeseburger for DD, and the Plum BBQ Duck for DS, who was feeling adventurous. While it was a new thing for him, his verdict was that he absolutely loves duck! And Plum BBQ sauce!


Ahi Tuna Nachos from Yak & Yeti (photo from Yelp).

Day 2 – Lunch at Flame Tree BBQ (CS, Animal Kingdom)

We returned to the Animal Kingdom for the first half of the day, with lunch at Flame Tree BBQ. The kids found a perfect table in a pavilion by the water’s edge, looking across to Mt. Everest. (Sadly, every other table by the water’s edge was occupied by single people or couples who simply stared at their phones, laptops and tablets the entire time. I wanted to call out to them, a la Mrs. Incredible, “This [gorgeous view], this is what’s happening now! And you are missing this!!!”) I had the chicken ‘n rib combo – it was just okay: the chicken was perfect, but the ribs were dry and chewy. I thought the baked beans (were those chilies in there?) were particularly good, and of course, the setting could not have been lovelier.


(Photo by WDW Fan Zone.)

Day 2 – Dinner at San Angel Inn (Table Service, Epcot)

We’d never eaten in the Mexico pavilion before, but DH was particularly charmed by the location and wanted to try it out. We asked for a table by the water and indicated our willingness to wait, but no sooner did the CM take down my phone number for a “table ready” text, than the text arrived, and we were led to a table along the water with a dead-center view of the Mayan pyramid!

DH and I had Blood Orange Margaritas as we nibbled on the complimentary chips and salsa. DH couldn’t stop raving about how much he loved that rich, vinegar-y salsa – to the point where he was Googling copycat recipes by the end of the meal. He had the chicken mole, which tasted delicious although the chicken was dry, and I had the shrimp-stuffed chili relleno, which I thoroughly enjoyed, although given the price point, I was surprised it didn’t come with any sort of side item. The kids had pork tacos, which they liked. Our table location was so perfect, with the boats floating by in the perpetual twilight, that we probably would have enjoyed eating shoe leather in that setting, so the fact that the food was decent was just a delightful bonus.


Photo from WDWMagic.com (ahem, this very site).

Day 3 – Lunch at Via Napoli (Table Service, Epcot)

This was the best of times, and the worst of times. The worst was sitting down with the intention of ordering salad and delicious pizza (our favorite is the San Genarro, a mouth-wateringly good white pizza with mozzarella, sausage, peppers, onions and tomatoes), for little more than the cost of a CS meal, and hearing the kids (11 and 13, meaning they were ordering from the adult menu) both say, “I really don’t feel like pizza, but I’m REALLY hungry. Can I please get the [$25] spaghetti and meatballs?” I said okay – by the time they asked, I was halfway through a red wine flight and feeling pretty chill – but I was horrified when our meals arrived and the kids received only tiny oval salad-sized plates containing about 1 cup of pasta and 3 meatballs each. We expect high prices at Disney, but the portion sizes are generally very good, so this just felt wrong.

The kids gobbled it up in about 2 minutes (supplementing their meager portions with some of our pizza, which they suddenly wanted very much) and their dishes had been cleared by the time our waiter brought our check, which charged us the full $25 for each spaghetti plate. Although I felt absurd doing it, I got out my phone and Googled the spaghetti dish they’d ordered. Sure enough, the photos of that dish on Via Napoli’s Yelp review page showed pasta portions about 3-4 times the size of what had come to our table, buried in meatballs and served in big, round, full-sized entrée dishes.

I asked our waiter about it, explaining that the kids had received spaghetti on salad plates with 3 meatballs each (I should add that other CMs delivered the food and cleared the dishes, so our waiter never got to see what we were served), and he immediately recoiled, exclaiming in horror in his beautiful Italian accent, “What!??! Just THREE meatballs!!! THREE!??! NO!!! That is NOT RIGHT!” He grabbed the check, holding it in front of him with the tips of two fingers as though thoroughly disgusted by it, and ran off. (Cultural lesson for the day: in Italy, serving an insufficient number of meatballs is outrageous and shameful.) He consulted with the kitchen, confirmed that there’d been a mistake and that they’d sent out kids’ spaghetti portions instead of adult ones, and corrected the check to reflect kids’ meal pricing. Our bill went down by almost $30 (the best of times!) and all was well.


(What the kids ordered, vs. what they were served -- photos from Yelp.)

As an aside, if there’s anything I’ve learned about Disney dining (because I’ve made this mistake before, more than once), it’s that if there’s anything wrong, you should speak up politely and promptly. Don’t let some controllable factor (a bad table location, an inedible piece of meat, a mistake in your order) ruin your meal without giving your server a chance to fix it. I came so close to not saying anything about the kids’ portion sizes, and if I hadn’t – and had just Googled later and realized there’d been a mistake and that we’d paid triple-price for kid-sized entrees – I’d still be stewing about it and would probably never want to go back to Via Napoli. Instead, I can simply applaud our waiter’s swift remedy (FWIW, we still tipped him as though we’d paid for 4 adult meals, since it wasn’t his fault that the kitchen sent out 2 kids’ portions) and look forward to going back there sometime.


(Photo from Disney World website.)

Day 3 – Dinner at Pecos Bill (CS, Magic Kingdom)

Even though Pecos Bill now charges $2 for guacamole that it used to offer for “free” as part of the toppings bar (which is probably all my fault, as I used to eat my weight in it whenever we went there – sorry, everybody!), it’s still our favorite CS anywhere on Disney property. The portions are big and the toppings bar allows great flexibility in crafting your Tex-Mex masterpiece. (Again, we are all about the condiments!)

While the kids love the tacos and loaded nachos, DH and I typically split a Fajita Platter, and although we’re not light eaters, we’re never able to finish it between the two of us. (Confession: Last time we split the fajita platter 2+ years ago, I asked for extra tortillas and was charged over $7 for 3 of them -- today, it's probably gone up by a dollar or two, like everything else on the menu. So this time around, I brought 3 of my own tortillas, rolled up in a sandwich bag inside my waist pack, looking like the world’s dorkiest cheapskate, at a cost of about 30 cents. Please don’t judge!) Although we’d initially planned to get some churros for dessert, we were so stuffed that nobody had room, so we waddled happily on out into the sunset.

Day 4 – Lunch at Blizzard Beach (CS)

I had some tasty (if messy) cold shrimp lettuce wraps and DS got a turkey leg the size of his head from the Warming Hut, while the rest of the family had some pretty un-memorable hot dogs and fries. Nothing to see here, although we otherwise had a really, really fun morning doing the water slides and sloooooooow lazy river.

Day 4 – Dinner at Tiffins (Table Service, Animal Kingdom)

Our final evening at the Animal Kingdom had a bit of an inclusivity theme. It began with a Fastpass ride on Flight of Passage during which a teenaged girl next to us was constantly shrieking snatches of song lyrics and repetitive phrases including, “CHICKEN AND BISCUITS!!!” at the top of her lungs throughout the entire queue, preshow and ride itself (all of which was really a good exercise for my children in practicing compassion and tolerance – the girl’s agitation at her involuntary outbursts, and her family’s embarrassment, were painfully palpable, and I was endlessly grateful that my kids stayed quiet, didn’t stare, and saved their questions for later).

After that, DH and I parted ways with the kids for an hour and had a romantic dinner at Tiffins, seated in a Gallery Room (the one with the power line art) next to a family whose disabled adult son had a tic that caused him to – abruptly, and at random intervals -- shoot out his arm sideways in a punching motion, with his fist passing within inches of my face. Thanks to the glass of wine I’d had at Nomad Lounge while we waited to be seated, I felt remarkably unfazed by this, and we had a relaxing and toothsome meal despite the flying fists. We started with the cheese plate (very good) and charred octopus appetizer (FANTASTIC and probably the best thing I ate the whole week). DH had butter chicken and I had shrimp-and-grits for entrees, both of which were also delicious and surprisingly filling. Sadly, there was no room for dessert!


(Photo from DisneyFoodBlog)

Day 5 – Lunch at Jungle Navigation Skipper Canteen (Table Service, Magic Kingdom)

This was my chosen birthday meal (by coincidence, I turned 44 on this trip – school break birthdays do have their advantages!), and unfortunately, we had the only surly server we saw all week (George, per the receipt). He made a couple of half-hearted skipper jokes at the outset and we were happy to play along, but then he just seemed to give up, and was brusque and borderline rude for the rest of the meal. At one point, he noticed my birthday button and said, "Oh, Happy birthday, Princess!" in a tone that sounded unabashedly mocking for no apparent reason.

My daughter (age 11) had asked when we checked in for copies of both the adult and children’s menus, with an eye toward seeing if she could order a kid item in an adult portion (she was in a mac-n-cheese mood). However, before we could even attempt to place our entree orders, George looked directly at her and sneered, “By the way, I can tell just by looking that you’re not a child, so you should know right now that if you try to order something off of that other menu, I’m going to charge you more.” While he was absolutely right that that’s what one does when an “adult” orders a child item, his approach was ham-fisted and inappropriate. He all but accused us of trying to cheat the system and lie about our daughter's age, without giving us a chance to demonstrate that that wasn't our intention at all. Second, his comment that he could “tell just by looking” that our 11-year-old daughter was over age 9 was accompanied by a look that swept her up and down, seemingly judging her age by the fact that she is visibly “developed.” Not cool, George. Not cool.

On the food front, our meals (Shu Mai dumpling appetizer, steak salad, two seafood stews, the adult-portion mac & cheese with broccoli, a couple of Schweizer slushes, tea, coffee and desserts, including the Kungaloosh chocolate one and the coconut cake) were much enjoyed. I did find my seafood stew to be incredibly bland, but I can’t fault the restaurant as its preparation was totally consistent with the menu description, and it's not Skipper Canteen's fault that I like everything to be spicy. And speaking of spicy, we decided to just ignore George’s nasty attitude, in hopes that maybe he was just having a bad day.


Seafood Stew (photo from Tripadvisor).

Day 5 – Dinner at The Mara (CS, Animal Kindgom Lodge, Jambo House)

Our original intent had been to spend the whole day at the Magic Kingdom, but this particular day (2/21) saw unseasonably cold weather and high winds, against which our jeans and hoodies and even our cold-acclimated Upstate NY constitutions weren’t doing much. We’d already done every “indoor” attraction and DH was starting to come down with what would later be diagnosed as bronchitis, so after lunch we decided to return to the hotel to unwind and warm up. We visited the Mara and ordered a falafel platter (it was just okay - the falafel was way overcooked), a couple of burgers (tasted like burgers) and a tamarind pork sandwich (unexpectedly awesome, with huge quantities of melt-in-your-mouth pork in a delectable sweet-and-spicy sauce), which we packaged up to bring back to the room. The Mara had a whole table of take-out boxes and little sauce cups arranged for this purpose near the seating/condiment area, which was super-convenient!

The only downside of the Mara? You have to go outdoors to get there, as the only entrance faces the pool, so we had to do a dash through the inclement weather both ways. No biggie, but it seemed like an odd design choice, given that it’s the only CS at either of the AKL resorts: access from the front and inside of Jambo House (rather than just from the pool area at the rear) would have made infinitely more sense, especially for anyone coming over from Kidani.

Day 6 – Lunch at Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater (Table Service, Hollywood Studios)

We had some of the fastest, best service ever at Sci-Fi this time around, so much so that we only saw the movie clip loop once through! The kids loved their milkshakes and chicken tenders, DH had a burger piled high with delectable toppings, and I had a really good, hugely-portioned Buffalo chicken salad (with bleu cheese substituted for the ranch it otherwise comes with -- we're purists when it comes to Buffalo chicken). The setting is just so cool and fun and immersive, it’s hard not to like Sci-Fi, even if the lighting is so low (per theme) that you can’t always see what you’re eating. 😉

Day 6 – Dinner at T-REX (Table Service, Disney Springs)

We had nothing planned for this evening, no decent Fastpasses were available anywhere and nobody was interested in doing anything in particular. So with an adventurous, devil-may-care sense of exhilaration, we set out for Disney Springs. (I later learned that DH had an ulterior motive: he was on the hunt for a Tiki Room Christmas ornament. He did not know if such a thing even existed, but by golly, he earnestly wanted one. Thankfully, it does exist, and we found it!)

By the time we arrived we realized we had a little bit of a problem: most of the CS places had outdoor seating, and the evening was getting uncomfortably chilly. It was a Saturday night, so naturally no TS places (looking on the MDE app or on OpenTable) had any dinner reservations left before 8:30pm or later, and we were getting hungry!

So, it was our Landry’s Select Club card to the rescue! We headed to T-REX and despite the 2-hour wait that the party ahead of us was quoted and a queue that extended from the gift shop to the other end of the walkway outside, thanks to priority seating we were led to a table in less than 10 minutes. I had the Firecracker Shrimp as my meal (they are addictive, and served on a bed of shredded lettuce so I can pretend I’m having a salad and being good, LOL!), my son had Fish ‘n Chips, DH had loaded nachos, and I can’t remember what DD had, only that she liked it.

Our server was fantastic, and as usual when we go in with a Landry’s card, the manager came to our table to personally thank us for coming and ask how our meal was. What really impresses me about this little ritual is that they run our Landry’s card first thing to check and see if we have any rewards benefits to apply to the meal, and by doing so, they can see that we don’t dine at their restaurants frequently and aren’t big spenders. Nonetheless, they still treat us like valued VIP customers every time, and act grateful to have us. It’s just superb customer service.

Day 6 Bonus – Drinks at Victoria Falls Lounge (Lounge, Animal Kingdom Lodge, Jambo)

As bedtime neared, DH and I went down to Victoria Falls Lounge for a couple of cocktails and some Goat Cheese Dip with Bread and Crackers. We arrived just before the kitchen closed at 9:30pm, after which the small plates are no longer available, and it was fortunate that we made it in time, as that goat cheese dip was just to die for! While the lounge is pretty noisy thanks to the waterfall, lobby noise, Boma noise, and some drum-playing that was going on below (probably the CMs from Day 1 still trying to teach that poor kid how to bang a drum), it wasn’t crowded, and the service was relaxing and unhurried. We had a lovely time re-capping our trip and making plans for our departure the next morning.


Goat cheese dip from Victoria Falls Lounge (photo from Pinterest).

Day 7 – Lunch at ABC Commissary (CS, Hollywood Studios)

This was our last day in the parks and our final meal at Disney. After completing our final Fastpass at HS, we had planned to have lunch at Docking Bay 7. We walked in and stared at the menu for about 5 minutes, as it slowly dawned on us that although we loved the theming, there just wasn’t a single thing on that menu that sounded good to any of us at that moment. So instead, we headed to ABC Commissary – never impressive, but never terrible, either, and the menu has enough variety that everybody could find something that appealed to them. We had very passable sandwiches and salads: in fact, my Mediterranean chicken salad was surprisingly good, with far more generous amounts of Feta cheese, olives and hummus – you know, the “good stuff” – than I expected. Thanks to the fact that my birthday button was still pinned to my bag (I’d last worn it a couple of days before, on my birthday proper), a kindly CM not only wished me “Happy Birthday,” but gave me a free cupcake! It was the first and only “freebie” I received, and like all free treats, it tasted like manna from heaven.

Dining Postmortem and DDP Analysis:

We ate where we wanted, when we wanted, and enjoyed whatever snacks and beverages we felt like.

We had:
(1) 7 Table Service meals for 4, including entrees and fountain drinks along with some appetizers, desserts, alcohol and specialty beverages (e.g., milkshakes, slushes);
(2) 1 Signature TS for 2, with entrees and appetizers;
(3) 5 CS meals for 4, with entrees and beverages;
(4) 1 CS meal for 2, with entrees and specialty beverages;
(5) 2 Lounge visits with drinks and/or apps for 2, and
(6) 15 snacks.

Our total Disney food expenditure for these items, over a 6 night/7 day stay (and including tips), was $1,504.

Given that using the DDP for the same food would have cost us $2,245 ($1,872 DDP cost + $225 in non-covered TS meals + $80 in Lounge charges + $68 in non-DDP-covered appetizers), and would have resulted in our “wasting” 2 CS credits and 9 snack credits as well as 4 refillable mugs we wouldn't have used, we saved over $721, or a whopping 33%, by paying out-of-pocket instead of using the DDP. (In fact, we saved even more than that, as my DDP total doesn't include TS tips -- I just got tired of doing the math!) We also didn't have to worry about the DDP "rules," and at least half of the time at TS restaurants, one or more of us would order a non-DDP-covered item as their meal. (*Note: In the interest of full disclosure, we also saved a modest amount off of our restaurant bills by using our Disney VISA card for 10% off at Sanaa, Tiffins and Skipper Canteen, and by applying a $25 Landry’s birthday reward at Yak & Yeti.)

Obviously, YMMV, but in my family’s case, paying for the DDP would have been an enormous waste of money, and the four of us were able to eat like kings – kings with an affinity for cream cheese-stuffed pretzels, seafood and booze! -- for an average of $215/day.
 
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RememberWhen

Well-Known Member
Thanks for this awesome report! We’re planning to hit Disney next February break so I’ve been watching the wait times and they were pretty high! We’ve been enough times and at busy times (Christmas week 2018) to not be too stressed about the crowds. Plus, DS has been wanting to do a 5K, so the races are actually kind of convenient. Did you notice problems aside from the half at MK?
Also, we’re looking at eating in Mexico again in July (after not for a long time) and your reviews are very reassuring!
 

Weather_Lady

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
Did you notice problems aside from the half at MK?
No, we didn't. There were probably some things scheduled on Friday, 2/21 when we rope-dropped MK, but they caused no issues or delays. I don't know what it looked like on Saturday, with the 10K. Obviously on Sunday, 2/23 (the day of the half marathon), there was interference with transportation in and around MK which was dramatic, long-lasting, and frustratingly preventable on Disney's part.

It also appeared as though Disney had no interest in maintaining pacing requirements to keep the half marathon running on time and allow for reopening of the roads prior to the MK's opening (maybe somebody who ran it can confirm or deny). As our bus spent 20 minutes in gridlock, trying to cover the last 1/2 mile or so before reaching the MK gates around 8:45am (3 hours and 15 minutes after the half marathon would have started), we could look out the windows and watch hundreds of half marathoners heading down the adjacent highway in their fun and festive costumes -- with at least half of them walking the whole time!!!
 
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Minthorne

Well-Known Member
Dining Venues, Reviews and Cost Comparison:

As frequent readers of the Restaurant and Dining forum already know, I’m militantly anti-DDP when it comes to my family, simply because it would be so much more expensive than paying out of pocket. I’ve often championed the distripplanner.com tool as a gauge for whether the DDP is a money-saver for any particular family, and in our case, after running the numbers, its estimates for our trip ended up being within $80 of our final total, over 7 days of dining for four people! Not too shabby.

*Note: I did not take photos of our food. I have included some representative photos from online below, only where I felt they accurately represented exactly what we were served and/or the setting where we ate.

FWIW, here’s a taste (if you will) of where we ate and how we liked it:

Breakfasts by Amazon Prime Now – We tried out Amazon Prime Now for all of our in-room breakfast foods (3 bags of bagels, 3 cream cheeses, a bunch of bananas, a 3-lb. bag of apples, a box of coffee filter packs, flavored creamer, a gallon of milk, an economy-size box of cereal, a case of bottled water, and a bag of tortillas – more on those later) and it was pretty seamless. I placed the order while on the DME bus, it was delivered that afternoon to Bell Services, and we picked it up that evening when we came back to the resort. Other than the fact that the Bell Services attendant accidentally gave us 2 bags of food that belonged to other people (we realized it midway to the room and DH returned them), it was a really convenient way to have everything we needed without having to pay inflated resort prices. We spent a total of $45 ($35 for the order - the minimum for free delivery, $5 tip to the Amazon Prime driver and $5 tip to Bell Services), and it was well worth it, adding up to little more than we’d have paid at our local supermarket for the same items.

Day 1 – Lunch at Sanaa (Table Service, AKL, Kidani Village).

After unpacking and freshening up in our room at Jambo House, we strolled over to Kidani Village for an eagerly-awaited lunch at Sanaa, and proceeded down the stairs from the gorgeous lobby to the restaurant. After that, things got a little weird. There was a family who’d apparently shelled out big bucks for a VIP tour, accompanied by a plaid-bedecked CM with a giant binder full of their personalized itinerary, and a bloomin’ camera crew comprised of an antsy cameraman-with-giant-movie-camera and towering-dude-with-boom-mic documenting their every move. They were blocking the entire front desk and entryway to the restaurant, with the plaid CM literally boxing out anyone who tried to approach. The two Sanaa CMs who otherwise would have been manning the check-in desk had been pressed into service to offer a drum lesson to the family’s son, who was an adorable lad of about 8. He was very polite and soft-spoken, but unfortunately was stricken with a profound lack of musical ability. We could only hover at the foot of the stairs (with other would-be lunch-goers awkwardly backing up on the stairs behind us) and watch helplessly as our reservation time came and went, and the two CMs tried patiently for what seemed like an eternity to teach the rhythm-challenged child to tap out the simplest of beats on a drum, over and over, around six thousand times. (I’m pretty sure that having to listen to this drum-based version of water torture would have violated the Geneva Convention, had we not technically been free to leave.)

Because it was all being recorded, we felt like we couldn’t or shouldn’t try to speak to anyone to ask how we were supposed to check in for our ADR, so we engaged in a ridiculous series of pantomimes as we tried to shush our kids, who were understandably curious and frustrated as to why this family was being permitted to hold everything up, and why they couldn’t play the drums, too. In fact, they’d picked up the drum rhythm and hand positioning the very first time around, and were happy to start demonstrating their newfound knowledge on the walls, floor and steps! (One of the many things I never thought I’d have to whisper-hiss to my children at Disney: “You stop drumming on those stairs right now! You’re going to make the rich kid feel bad!”)

After the live performance of “Stomp (but in Hell)!” ended and the VIPs and their entourage departed, we had a really lovely lunch at Sanaa with a view of some friendly giraffes and birds. This quiet respite was just what we needed after a 4am wake-up and a long flight. The bread service was tons of fun for my condiment-loving family, with each person waxing rhapsodic about their favorites. For entrees, I had the Tandoori Shrimp, which was generously-portioned and wonderfully refreshing, topped with a cold salad of greens and tomatoes tossed in a sweet and flavorful dressing. DH had the sausage sandwich and the children enjoyed the fish of the day, and berry smoothies. It was a lunch well worth waiting for, even if we had to endure a little auditory Purgatory to get in. 😉

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(Photo not mine.)

Day 1 – Dinner at Yak & Yeti (Animal Kingdom)

Our arrival day was President’s Day, but we still took a chance on going ADR-less for dinner, and relying on our Landry’s Select Club card (with includes priority seating, with no need for a reservation) to get us into Yak & Yeti whenever we felt like eating. As on previous occasions, it worked like a charm, and we were seated within 5 minutes. (As a side observation, school vacation week or no, we’ve never had such prompt restaurant seatings as we enjoyed on this trip. We never waited more than a few minutes anywhere, even when we made special table requests. It was a refreshing change from past experiences. Maybe because there was no big dining plan discount offer during our dates?) DH and I shared a platter of Bibimbap and the Ahi Tuna Nachos (always the star of the show), washed down with Yak Attack frozen cocktails, and the kids had virgin Daquiris, a cheeseburger for DD, and the Plum BBQ Duck for DS, who was feeling adventurous. While it was a new thing for him, his verdict was that he absolutely loves duck! And Plum BBQ sauce!


Ahi Tuna Nachos from Yak & Yeti (photo from Yelp).

Day 2 – Lunch at Flame Tree BBQ (CS, Animal Kingdom)

We returned to the Animal Kingdom for the first half of the day, with lunch at Flame Tree BBQ. The kids found a perfect table in a pavilion by the water’s edge, looking across to Mt. Everest. (Sadly, every other table by the water’s edge was occupied by single people or couples who simply stared at their phones, laptops and tablets the entire time. I wanted to call out to them, a la Mrs. Incredible, “This [gorgeous view], this is what’s happening now! And you are missing this!!!”) I had the chicken ‘n rib combo – it was just okay: the chicken was perfect, but the ribs were dry and chewy. I thought the baked beans (were those chilies in there?) were particularly good, and of course, the setting could not have been lovelier.


(Photo by WDW Fan Zone.)

Day 2 – Dinner at San Angel Inn (Table Service, Epcot)

We’d never eaten in the Mexico pavilion before, but DH was particularly charmed by the location and wanted to try it out. We asked for a table by the water and indicated our willingness to wait, but no sooner did the CM take down my phone number for a “table ready” text, than the text arrived! DH and I had Blood Orange Margaritas as we nibbled on the complimentary chips and salsa. DH couldn’t stop raving about how much he loved that rich, vinegar-y salsa – to the point where he was Googling copycat recipes by the end of the meal. He had the chicken mole, which tasted delicious although the chicken was dry, and I had the shrimp-stuffed chili relleno, which I thoroughly enjoyed, although given the price point, I was surprised it didn’t come with any sort of side item. The kids had pork tacos, which they liked. Our table location was so perfect, with the boats floating by in the perpetual twilight, that we probably would have enjoyed eating shoe leather in that setting, so the fact that the food was decent was just a delightful bonus.


Photo from WDWMagic.com (ahem, this very site).

Day 3 – Lunch at Via Napoli (Table Service, Epcot)

This was the best of times, and the worst of times. The worst was sitting down with the intention of ordering salad and delicious pizza for little more than the cost of a CS meal, and hearing the kids (11 and 13, meaning they were ordering from the adult menu) both say, “I really don’t feel like pizza, but I’m REALLY hungry. Can I please get the [$25] spaghetti and meatballs?” I said okay – by the time they asked, I was halfway through a red wine flight and feeling pretty chill – but I was horrified when our meals arrived and the kids received only tiny oval salad-sized plates containing about 1 cup of pasta and 3 meatballs each. We expect high prices at Disney, but the portion sizes are generally very good, so this just felt wrong. The kids gobbled it up in about 2 minutes (supplementing their meager portions with some of our pizza, which they suddenly wanted very much) and their dishes had been cleared by the time our waiter brought our check, which charged us the full $25 for each spaghetti plate. Although I felt absurd doing it, I got out my phone and Googled the spaghetti dish they’d ordered. Sure enough, the photos of that dish on Via Napoli’s Yelp review page showed pasta portions about 3-4 times the size of what had come to our table, buried in meatballs and served in big, round, full-sized entrée dishes.

I asked our waiter about it, explaining that the kids had received spaghetti on salad plates with 3 meatballs each (I should add that other CMs delivered the food and cleared the dishes, so our waiter never got to see what we were served), and he immediately recoiled, exclaiming in horror in his beautiful Italian accent, “What!??! Just THREE meatballs!!! THREE!??! NO!!! That is NOT RIGHT!” He grabbed the check, holding it in front of him with the tips of two fingers as though thoroughly disgusted by it, and ran off. (Cultural lesson for the day: in Italy, serving an insufficient number of meatballs is outrageous and shameful.) He consulted with the kitchen, confirmed that there’d been a mistake and that they’d sent out kids’ spaghetti portions instead of adult ones, and corrected the check to reflect kids’ meal pricing. Our bill went down by almost $30 (the best of times!) and all was well.


(What the kids ordered, vs. what they were served -- photos from Yelp.)

As an aside, if there’s anything I’ve learned about Disney dining (because I’ve made this mistake before, more than once), it’s that if there’s anything wrong, you should speak up politely and promptly. Don’t let some controllable factor (a bad table location, an inedible piece of meat, a mistake in your order) ruin your meal without giving your server a chance to fix it. I came so close to not saying anything about the kids’ portion sizes, and if I hadn’t – and had just Googled later and realized there’d been a mistake and that we’d paid triple-price for kid-sized entrees – I’d still be stewing about it and would probably never want to go back to Via Napoli. Instead, I can simply applaud our waiter’s swift remedy (FWIW, we still tipped him as though we’d paid for 4 adult meals, since it wasn’t his fault that the kitchen sent out 2 kids’ portions) and look forward to going back there sometime.


(Photo from Disney World website.)

Day 3 – Dinner at Pecos Bill (CS, Magic Kingdom)

Even though Pecos Bill now charges $2 for guacamole that it used to offer for “free” as part of the toppings bar (which is probably all my fault, as I used to eat my weight in it whenever we went there – sorry, everybody!), it’s still our favorite CS anywhere on Disney property. The portions are big and the toppings bar allows great flexibility in crafting your Tex-Mex masterpiece. (Again, we are all about the condiments!) While the kids love the tacos and loaded nachos, DH and I typically split a Fajita Platter, and while we’re not light eaters, we’re never able to finish it between the two of us. (Confession: Last time we split the fajita platter, I asked for extra tortillas and was charged over $7 for 3 of them! This time around, I brought 3 of my own, rolled up in a sandwich bag inside my waist pack, looking like the world’s dorkiest cheapskate, at a cost of about 30 cents. Please don’t judge!) Although we’d initially planned to get some churros for dessert, we were so stuffed that nobody had room, so we waddled happily on out into the sunset.

Day 4 – Lunch at Blizzard Beach (CS)

I had some refreshing (if messy) shrimp lettuce wraps and DS got a turkey leg the size of his head from the Warming Hut, while the rest of the family had some pretty un-memorable hot dogs and fries. Nothing to see here, although we otherwise had a really, really fun morning doing the water slides and sloooooooow lazy river.

Day 4 – Dinner at Tiffins (Table Service, Animal Kingdom)

Our final evening at the Animal Kingdom had a bit of an inclusivity theme. It began with a Fastpass ride on Flight of Passage during which a teenaged girl next to us was constantly shrieking snatches of song lyrics and repetitive phrases including, “CHICKEN AND BISCUITS!!!” at the top of her lungs throughout the entire queue, preshow and ride itself (all of which was really a good exercise for my children in practicing compassion and tolerance – the girl’s agitation at her involuntary outbursts, and her family’s embarrassment, were painfully palpable, and I was endlessly grateful that my kids stayed quiet, didn’t stare, and saved their questions for later). After that, DH and I parted ways with the kids for an hour and had a romantic dinner at Tiffins, seated in the Gallery Room (the one with the power line art) next to a family whose adult son had a tic which caused him to – abruptly, and at random intervals -- shoot out his arm sideways in a punching motion, with his fist passing within inches of my face. Thanks to the glass of wine I’d had at Nomad Lounge while we waited to be seated, I felt remarkably unfazed by this, and we had a relaxing and toothsome meal despite the flying fists. We started with the cheese plate (very good) and charred octopus appetizer (FANTASTIC and probably the best thing I ate the whole week). DH had butter chicken and I had shrimp-and-grits for entrees, both of which were also delicious and surprisingly filling. Sadly, there was no room for dessert!


(Photo from DisneyFoodBlog)

Day 5 – Lunch at Jungle Navigation Skipper Canteen (Table Service, Magic Kingdom)

This was my chosen birthday meal (by coincidence, I turned 44 on this trip – school break birthdays do have their advantages!), and unfortunately, we had the only surly server we saw all week (George, per the receipt). He made a couple of the typical skipper jokes at the outset and we were happy to play along, but then he just abruptly seemed to give up, and was brusque and borderline rude for the rest of the meal. At one point, he noticed my birthday button and said, "Oh, Happy birthday, Princess!" in a tone that sounded unabashedly mocking for no apparent reason.

My daughter (age 11) had asked when we checked in for copies of both the adult and children’s menus, with an eye toward seeing if she could order a kid item in an adult portion (she was in a mac-n-cheese mood). However, before he even asked for our order, George The Server looked directly at her and sneered, “I can tell just by looking that you’re not a child, so you should know right now that if you try to order something off of that other menu, I’m going to charge you more.” While he was absolutely right that that’s what one does when an “adult” orders a child item, his approach was ham-fisted and inappropriate. He seemed to accuse us of trying to cheat the system without even giving us a chance to order, at which point he’d have seen that our intention was to ask about ordering a kid “item” in an adult portion for an adult price, and not to pass our daughter off as a child. Second, his comment that he could “tell just by looking” that our 11-year-old daughter was over age 9 was accompanied by a look that swept her up and down, seemingly judging her age by the fact that she is visibly “developed.” Not cool, George. Not cool.

On the food front, our meals (Shu Mai dumpling appetizer, steak salad, two seafood stews, the adult-portion mac & cheese with broccoli, coffee and desserts, including the Kungaloosh chocolate one and the coconut cake) were much enjoyed. (I did find my seafood stew to be incredibly bland, but I can’t fault the restaurant as it was completely consistent with the menu description.) We decided to just ignore George’s bad attitude, in hopes that maybe he was just having a bad day.


Seafood Stew (photo from Tripadvisor).

Day 5 – Dinner at The Mara (CS, Animal Kindgom Lodge, Jambo House)

Our original intent had been to spend the whole day at the Magic Kingdom, but this particular day (2/21) saw unseasonably cold weather (high around 60) and high winds, against which our jeans and hoodies and even our cold-acclimated Upstate NY constitutions weren’t doing much. We’d already done every “indoor” attraction and DH was starting to come down with what would later be diagnosed as bronchitis, so after lunch we decided to return to the hotel to unwind and warm up. We visited the Mara and ordered a falafel platter (just okay), a couple of burgers (tasted like burgers) and a tamarind pork sandwich (unexpectedly superb, with huge quantities of melt-in-your-mouth pork in a delectable sauce), which we packaged up to bring back to the room. (The Mara had a whole table of take-out boxes and little sauce cups arranged for this purpose near the seating area, which was super-convenient!) The only downside of the Mara? You have to go outdoors to get there, as the only entrance faces the pool, so we had to do a dash through the inclement weather both ways. No biggie, but it seemed like an odd design given that it’s the only CS at either of the AKL resorts: access from the front and inside of Jambo House (rather than just from the pool area at the rear) would have made infinitely more sense.

Day 6 – Lunch at Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater (Table Service, Hollywood Studios)

We had some of the fastest, best service ever at Sci-Fi this time around, so much so that we only saw the movie clip loop once through! The kids loved their milkshakes and chicken tenders, DH had a burger piled high with delectable toppings, and I had a really good, hugely-portioned Buffalo chicken salad (with bleu cheese substituted for the ranch it otherwise comes with -- we're purists when it comes to Buffalo chicken!). The setting is just so cool and fun and immersive, it’s hard not to like Sci-Fi, even if the lighting is so low (per theme) that you can’t always see what you’re eating. 😉

Day 6 – Dinner at T-REX (Table Service, Disney Springs)

We had nothing planned for this evening, no decent Fastpasses were available anywhere and nobody was interested in doing anything in particular. So with an adventurous, devil-may-care sense of exhilaration, we set out for Disney Springs. (I later learned that DH had an ulterior motive: he was on the hunt for a Tiki Room Christmas ornament. He did not know if such a thing even existed, but by golly, he earnestly wanted one. Thankfully, it does exist, and we found it!)

By the time we arrived we realized we had a little bit of a problem: most of the CS places had outdoor seating, and the evening was getting uncomfortably chilly. It was a Saturday night, so naturally no TS places (looking on the MDE app or on OpenTable) had any dinner reservations left before 8:30pm or later, and we were getting hungry! So, it was our Landry’s Select Club card to the rescue! We headed to T-REX and despite the 2-hour wait that the party ahead of us was quoted and a queue that extended from the gift shop to the other end of the walkway outside, thanks to priority seating we were led to a table in less than 10 minutes. I had the Firecracker Shrimp as my meal (they are addictive, and served on a bed of shredded lettuce so I can pretend I’m having a salad and being good, LOL!), my son had Fish ‘n Chips, DH had loaded nachos, and I can’t remember what DD had, only that she liked it. Our server was fantastic, and as usual when we go in with a Landry’s card, the manager came to our table to personally thank us for coming and ask how our meal was. What really impresses me about this little ritual is that they run our Landry’s card first thing to check and see if we have any rewards benefits to apply to the meal, and by doing so, they can see that we don’t dine at their restaurants frequently and aren’t big spenders. Nonetheless, they still treat us like valued VIP customers every time, and act grateful to have us. It’s just superb customer service.

Day 6 Bonus – Drinks at Victoria Falls Lounge (Lounge, Animal Kingdom Lodge, Jambo)

As bedtime neared, DH and I went down to Victoria Falls Lounge for a couple of cocktails and some Goat Cheese Dip with Bread and Crackers. We arrived just before the kitchen closed at 9:30pm, after which the small plates are no longer available, and it was fortunate that we made it in time, as that goat cheese dip was just to die for! While the lounge is pretty noisy thanks to the waterfall, lobby noise, Boma noise, and some drum-playing that was going on below (probably the CMs from Day 1 still trying to teach that poor kid how to bang a drum), it wasn’t crowded, and the service was relaxing and unhurried. We had a lovely time re-capping our trip and making plans for our departure the next morning.


Goat cheese dip from Victoria Falls Lounge (photo from Pinterest).

Day 7 – Lunch at ABC Commissary (CS, Hollywood Studios)

This was our last day in the parks and our final meal at Disney. After completing our final Fastpass at HS, we had planned to have lunch at Docking Bay 7. We walked in and stared at the menu for about 5 minutes, as it slowly dawned on us that although we loved the theming, there just wasn’t a single thing on that menu that sounded good to any of us at that moment. So instead, we headed to ABC Commissary – never impressive, but never terrible, either, and the menu has enough variety that everybody could find something that appealed to them. We had very passable sandwiches and salads: in fact, my Mediterranean chicken salad was surprisingly good, with far more generous amounts of Feta cheese, olives and hummus – you know, the “good stuff” – than I expected. Thanks to the fact that my birthday button was still pinned to my bag (I’d last worn it a couple of days before, on my birthday proper), a kindly CM not only wished me “Happy Birthday,” but gave me a free cupcake! It was the first and only “freebie” I received, and like all free treats, it tasted like manna from heaven.

Dining Postmortem and DDP Analysis:

We ate where we wanted, when we wanted, and enjoyed whatever snacks and beverages we felt like. With: (1) 7 Table Service meals for 4 including entrees along with some appetizers, alcohol and specialty beverages; (2) 1 signature TS for 2 with entrees and appetizers; (3) 5 CS meals for 4 with entrees and beverages; (4) 1 CS meal for 2 with entrees and specialty beverages; (5) 2 Lounge visits with drinks and/or apps for 2, and (5) 15 snacks, our total Disney food expenditure over 7 days was $1,504.

Given that using the DDP for the same food would have cost us $2,245 ($1,872 DDP cost + $225 in non-covered TS meals + $80 in Lounge charges + $68 in non-DDP-covered appetizers), and would have resulted in our “wasting” 2 CS credits and 9 snack credits as well as 4 refillable mugs we wouldn't have used, we saved $721, or a whopping 33%, by paying out-of-pocket instead of using the DDP. We also got to order the way we wanted, with at least one person ordering a non-DDP-covered item as their meal at TS restaurants half of the time. (*Note: In the interest of full disclosure, we also saved a modest amount off of our restaurant bills by using our Disney VISA card for 10% off at Sanaa, Tiffins and Skipper Canteen, and by applying a $25 Landry’s birthday reward at Yak & Yeti.)

Obviously, YMMV, but in my family’s case, paying for the DDP would have been an enormous waste of money, and the four of us were able to eat like kings – kings with an affinity for cream cheese-stuffed pretzels, seafood and booze! -- for an average of $215/day.
You are my anti DDP hero, you know that right? 🤩 Thanks for a great report. It's my birthday next month and I am thinking of getting a Landry's Club card now...
 

KellBelle

Well-Known Member
Great report! I feel the same about the dining plan. We are retired military, so we never buy rack rate rooms, so can't feasibly take advantage of the free dining promos offered. It's a huge amount of food and we definitely save money by not using it. I will have to look into a Landry's card. Sounds like it is well worth the initial investment! :)
 

Weather_Lady

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
Great report! I feel the same about the dining plan. We are retired military, so we never buy rack rate rooms, so can't feasibly take advantage of the free dining promos offered. It's a huge amount of food and we definitely save money by not using it. I will have to look into a Landry's card. Sounds like it is well worth the initial investment! :)
You get a "welcome reward" of $25 (the same price you pay to get the card) that you can apply the first time you visit a Landry's restaurant, so it ends up costing nothing in the aggregate. Plus, you get a $25 birthday reward that can be used if you visit during your birthday month. (I think you can only use one reward per visit, however.) I highly recommend it! :)
 

Zipitidoda

Well-Known Member
My DH had the same response regarding the octopus from Tiffins. His favorite thing the whole trip.

You almost have me convinced to try San Angel, almost.

Great report of your trip! Thanks for sharing.
 

Weather_Lady

Well-Known Member
Original Poster
My DH had the same response regarding the octopus from Tiffins. His favorite thing the whole trip.

You almost have me convinced to try San Angel, almost.

Great report of your trip! Thanks for sharing.
If you do try San Angel, make sure to ask for a table by the water (and wait longer for it, if necessary). It makes a huge difference, and those are about the only tables with any elbow room!
 
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RememberWhen

Well-Known Member
If you do try San Angel, make sure to ask for a table by the water (and wait longer for it, if necessary). It makes a huge difference, and those are about the only tables with any elbow room!
Excellent tip! I’m hoping the dinner there goes ok. Though I’m actually hoping to ditch it for Space 220 (assuming it’s open by July...).
 

RememberWhen

Well-Known Member
No, we didn't. There were probably some things scheduled on Friday, 2/21 when we rope-dropped MK, but they caused no issues or delays. I don't know what it looked like on Saturday, with the 10K. Obviously on Sunday, 2/23 (the day of the half marathon), there was interference with transportation in and around MK which was dramatic, long-lasting, and frustratingly preventable on Disney's part.

It also appeared as though Disney had no interest in maintaining pacing requirements to keep the half marathon running on time and allow for reopening of the roads prior to the MK's opening (maybe somebody who ran it can confirm or deny). As our bus spent 20 minutes in gridlock, trying to cover the last 1/2 mile or so before reaching the MK gates around 8:45am (3 hours and 15 minutes after the half marathon would have started), we could look out the windows and watch hundreds of half marathoners heading down the adjacent highway in their fun and festive costumes -- with at least half of them were walking the whole time!!!
We’ve never been during a race. The 5K seems like fun (and the 8yo would probably walk a fair amount of the time), but it’s pretty contained in the park. We’ll have to keep track of all the running schedules so we don’t have to deal with traffic. That was nuts! Way too long to get to MK.
 

Tuvalu

Premium Member
Enjoyed reading your succinct....yet thorough....trip report. :happy:

I was so happy your family got to experience ROTR twice without any issues, after reading all of your before-trip angst in the BG thread. (I may have uttered an audible “yes!” upon seeing your first screenshot.)

I can empathize with your Effin’ Princess Half Marathon morning, as that was me in 2016....standing on a bus in stopped traffic hoping to make the MK Welcome Show, only to miss it by half an hour....when we’d left the resort 75 minutes prior to park opening. The sight of all the runners coming towards us in the opposite side of the road is something I’ll never forget though!

I always appreciate your practical tips on these boards and admire your can-do attitude. Thanks for sharing.
 

ladydi

Active Member
Great report! In a few years the marathon bus trip will become a legend in the family! I still share all the goof ups of trips we took when I wad young with my own kids.
 
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