How Disney Made a Grumpy Dad Happy

Have you ever wanted to go to Disney but someone in your family just doesn’t have the same excitement as you?  Maybe that person thinks Disney is too childish, juvenile, or, (pun-intended) “Goofy!”  You’re not alone.  Only the most blessed of people think of Disney 24/7!  It’s hard to admit but yes, there are people in this world who choose other vacation spots, watch movies that are not a part of the Disney family and never owned one set of ears.  So what happens when that person eventually gives in and visits Walt Disney World?  Well, if you’re like me, you grab your pen and notebook and write an article about when Grumpy turned Happy!

Welcome to Believe Vacations’ Weekly Post where today, we’re going to walk you through the trip of a first-timer who was less enthusiastic than the rest of the family.  A disclaimer is needed to set the stage and, while the individual interviewed will not be named, all descriptions about himself and his experience were provided off-the-cuff and were approved before publishing.  Now that we took care of the legalities, this father of 2 boys (one of them autistic) and his wife went in September 2018 due to lighter park volumes and benefited from the Quick Service Free Dining promotion offered last Spring.  All family members were visiting for the first time.  Here are the responses chronologically detailing the trip:

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Travel Days

Flying is definitely the way to go but we did not have our resort luggage tags.  While that stressed us out, the Cast Member at the Magical Express Check-In was more than accommodating.  We handed him our baggage tickets and they were able to locate our luggage and pick it up for us.  After a meal at a different resort we got to our room and the luggage was still not there.  I found myself already in panic mode because I wasn’t too sure about the Disney trip to start and now we have no luggage.  We called the desk and they had it and would bring it up immediately.

We spent the first two days (travel day and first park day) a little stressed getting used to everything and always having a small doubt – Will the magic bands work and what exactly do they do?  Will I miss my bus?  What if I don’t do my FastPass? Where’s a map?  Where do we go?  Most people give themselves at least the travel day to get adjusted to Walt Disney World so I can’t imagine any first time family just rushing into the parks right off the plane.  Really, a new family needs that second day to slowly work in.  But by the 3rd day, we felt we were experts.

Leaving the resort was a much better experience.  I honestly did not want to leave at that point but we received our bus departure time and made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare.  I guess it was different because Disney felt in charge from the start of departure day and thus, knew what they were doing.  On arrival day, we had to be in charge of the unknown like what to do with tags, getting to the Magical Express, etc. and thus, chaotic.  We’ll know better next time that we will get where we need to and they will assist you in any way to start and end your vacation on the right foot.

Giant helmets in the football-themed area of Disney's All-Star Sports Resort

Resort and Transportation

We stayed at All-Star Sports and to be honest, we only needed it for a room to put our stuff and place our head.  We only got to swim one night but that was our choice.  I’m sure there was plenty on the resort grounds that would be entertaining but we wanted to do as much in the parks as we could.  The bus stop was not a far walk but the area was uncovered so the sun was already beating on you the moment you got up.  When the bus did arrive, prepare to be squished, especially after the end of a long day.  I thought it was a regulation to only fit the number of people per seats but I was wrong.  If you don’t like to be crammed, you may want to leave at odd hours, rent an Uber, etc.

The monorail was fun as the boys loved it and it was more spread out then the buses.  Getting around was very clearly defined and it was good to know that each park and resort had its own loading area.  Just follow the signs and you’ll be okay.

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Dining Plan

We enjoyed that the majority of our meals were paid for in quick-service and snack credits but we still found ourselves wanting sit down (table-service) meals for a few reasons.  First, the traditional quick-service meals in the parks had no “wow” factor.  Burgers, chicken fingers, etc., it’s still amusement park food.  Same goes for some of the snacks.  It was just okay but maybe I would’ve thought differently if I actually got a Dole Whip.  Table Service meals are a different story.  Some of the best meals I’ve ever eaten came from our Table Service choices.  We paid for those out-of-pocket and could not have been more satisfied with our meals, especially in the evening.  While it may not get as much love being at Disney, Rainforest Cafe really was awesome and of course we enjoyed T-Rex just as much, if not more because of the dinosaur theme.  Inside the parks, the best restaurant was Liberty Tree Tavern.  I had the best pot roast I’ve ever eaten, the oooey gooey toffee cake is sooo good and the atmosphere was awesome!  For snacks, the Anandapur Ice Cream Truck at Animal Kingdom was the best ice cream in the world to the boys.

We were there during the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival and that was the best part for a dad like me.  We got great advice to save up snack and meal credits if we could and cash them in the last night of our trip at the stands around the World Showcase.  Man am I glad we did.  I stuffed myself with amazing food – filet, crab cakes, beer cheese soup, etc.  All were paid for and all I had to do was claim them as my dining plan credits.

When we go again, I won’t go without a dining plan that includes table-service.  I understand the value you can save with no dining plan or even quick service but you’ll get better quality food at least once a day and you won’t break your bank paying out of pocket for every meal.

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Parks and Attractions

My first two bits of advice for anyone considering a Disney World trip – go when it’s “off season” and get to the parks early.  With nothing to compare to except the crowds as the day went on, the first 2 hours are awesome with little traffic.  Especially in September.  I can only imagine what a night in the summer or a holiday is like but I won’t be there!  It was also very interesting to me that at least half of the crowd was international.  We stood in line with many families from England, Australia, China, etc.  Not a problem by any means but it really does show the powerful brand Disney has around the world.

We received great advice about renting a stroller from a local company and it wound up being the perfect investment.  Regardless if the child wants to be in a stroller or you may think he/she is too old for one, walking will wear a child out and it will prevent the parents from carrying a human along with merchandise.  Just get the instructions for folding up and releasing the brake before you use it because it admittedly took us a day to realize we had no clue how to use it.  And take it from someone who did not, but you MUST decorate your stroller or do something to make it stand out.  No one told us our stroller may mysteriously get moved while you are enjoying the attractions.  The first time this happens, you’ll become irate and think “someone took our stroller.”  Then you look for a few minutes and find it.  Make it visible and easy to spot immediately and save a panic attack.

Before I get to the attractions, I want to make sure people know of the service provided for children with autism.  If your child is unable to tolerate extended waits at attractions due to a disability, this service allows Guests to schedule a return time that is comparable to the current queue wait for the given attraction.  My family and I can not praise this service enough and it made our trip that much more enjoyable,

Regarding those attractions, we rode everything multiple times including the major ones (ie. Flight of Passage, Slinky Dog Dash, Expedition Everest).  Some initial thoughts:

Magic Kingdom – We loved  Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and the slow moving classics like Jungle Cruise and Pirates of the Caribbean.  We don’t have nostalgic feelings like long-time Disney goers for Country Bears and Carousel of Progress so we never did those.  Monster’s Inc. Laugh Floor was a great time and made everyone in the family laugh.

Epcot – Our whole family LOVED Turtle Talk with Crush and it was extra special when he was talking to our family.  I loved how some of his jokes were only gotten by the adults so it made it fun for all ages.  We made the mistake of doing Soarin’ after we did Flight of Passage a day or two before.  I highly recommend you do Soarin’ any time before Flight of Passage because it’ll feel slightly boring.  Even still, the effects, especially the smells of the dirt bath and jasmine, were incredible.  If I’m honest, the most fun my kids had in Epcot was building their vehicle for Test Track.  We did that a few times and kept adding accessories each time.

Hollywood Studios – With younger boys, I wasn’t too sure how they would do with the more intense Rock N Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror.  We did not care for TofT but RnR is everything a roller coaster should be – loops, thrills, sharp turns, high speeds and chaos.  Absolutely loved it!  I will admit that Toy Story Land was simply okay.  Slinky Dog Dash is a lot of fun and Toy Story Mania might be the best attraction in all of Disney.  I’m thankful we did that after Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin or else it would’ve been the Soarin’/Flight of Passage effect all over again.  But the land is small, we did not have a good lunch at Andy’s Lunchbox and the third ride really didn’t do it for our family.

Animal Kingdom – There simply are no words for Flight of Passage.  If you don’t enjoy this ride, something’s wrong with you.  Yes, it is intense but you’ll find yourself wanting to do it over and over and I swear I still feel like I’m riding even back home.  While we did enjoy Everest, we felt Dinosaur was over-the-top with the jerky motions.  I know why it’s that way but even scaling it back 50% would make it more enjoyable.

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Shows/Events

Jedi Training – Our agent did not suggest this at first because it was our first trip and if you don’t get there early enough, you will spend a few hours dedicated to this one experience.  However, we backed into this experience by getting an 8:00AM breakfast reservation at Hollywood & Vine, finishing before the park opened and walked right up and was done within 30-40 minutes.  So if you’re going to do this, get there EARLY!

Star Wars – It’s really surreal to see my kids enjoy it as much as I have for all my life.  Meeting Chewbacca was such a cool moment and we got great pictures with him and Kylo Ren.  Can’t wait for it to open in a year.

Festival of the Lion King and Up – We had enough time in our day to attempt to see both shows.  FotLK was not only an amazing show but indoors and out of the heat.  Which is exactly the reason we skipped the bird show featuring the Up! characters.  It was simply too hot to sit in the sun an extra 30 minutes.

All 3D Shows –While they may not be “rides,” I highly encourage everyone to see every 3D/4D show or attraction offered in the parks.  They just take it all to a whole different level with the multi-sensory experiences.  PhilharMagic, A Bug’s Life – 4D, Muppet*Vision 3D made everyone smile and want to do them again.

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Misc.

Memory Maker – Well worth the investment.  Having these memories captured by professionals allows memories to last a lifetime.  Again, after a couple of days, we started to actively find these spots for family photos and by the end of the trip, we were stopping at every one we could.

My Disney Experience App – I know we only grazed the surface using this tool but having the actual wait times at your finger tips is incredible.  It really saved us a ton of time getting around and planning our next hour or so.

Family shirts – Just not for me!  Everyone tries to outdo each other with matching t-shirts but I was a good sport and played along.

Final Thoughts

Well it was a learning experience for sure.  I’m hard to please and not over-the-top-in-your-face-Disney but I had my moments of being entertained.  It’s hard not to warm up to the magic after a few days but you do need those couple of days to realize what you’ve gotten yourself into.  Of course, you can’t argue with the smiles on the faces of your family.  But I would not recommend planning on your own the first time.  There was so much we would not have known without our Believe Vacations agent.  And that also goes for answering our questions and listening to our concerns during the trip.  Our agent can tell you the number of texts from us went from 20 the first day to about 15 the second and none on the final day of the parks.  All this to say we now know what we enjoy and will try again this next time but very thankful for a wonderful first experience to Walt Disney World!

So there you have it!  Grumpy became Happy at Walt Disney World.  Do you have your own Grumpy in your family who just doesn’t get the big deal of a Disney Vacation?  Message one of our agents today and share this story with that relative.  Tell them there are plenty of people who have the same reservations but that there is always a great, big, beautiful tomorrow!

Brian Pavlick
brianp@believevacations.com

Brian Pavlick is a husband and father residing in Maylene, AL. His love of Disney goes back to his early memories of watching the New Disney Channel on cable, occasional vacations to Orlando Florida and attending Disney Institute Management Training classes. He keeps up with Disney news and updates by reading numerous websites, experiencing attractions by watching YouTube videos and introducing his family to classic and timeless Disney movies, attractions and songs.

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