2014 WDW/ Universal
A short Labor Day weekend solo Disney World trip to see the new Diagon Alley (at Universal), Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party, and Frozen Summer Fun.
My 2013-2014 winter could probably be described as a winter of discontent; not only were we blessed with massive amounts of snow, but I was also in the middle of a 14 month drought between vacations. As spring drew closer, I toyed with the idea of taking a last minute trip to Disney World over Memorial Day weekend so I could visit the Magic Kingdom when it was open for 24 hours straight starting 6am on Friday May 23.

Unfortunately, the logistics just didn't work out- mostly because the pricing for plane tickets and hotels was prohibitive. But during my research, I discovered that prices were much better over Labor Day weekend. I just couldn't let go of the idea because I was very eager to see the new Harry Potter Diagon Alley section at Universal, as well as the new Seven Dwarfs Mine Train ride at the Magic Kingdom. But I was most intrigued by the discovery that Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween party was scheduled for its 2014 debut on Labor Day. I'd wanted to attend this event for awhile, so I couldn't resist pulling the trigger on a quick trip to Florida.

I knew I'd miss having my nieces with me, but both finances and their school schedules didn't allow for them to accompany me this time. Fortunately, they seemed to be genuinely happy for me... although of course they would have loved to have been there too! Since they wouldn't be joining me, I had no desire to maintain the traditions we'd set (such Tower of Terror being the first ride of the trip and dining at 50's Prime Time Café): those were for us as a group, and would only make me miss them more.

When I first checked flights, I had almost enough points for a one way ticket on Southwest; luckily, they ran a sale which enabled me to snag a ticket home for just a $2.50 processing fee. I then bought a one way ticket down to Orlando on US Aiways for a very good price.

Since I was going solo, a smaller hotel room would be perfectly fine. I booked a reservation at Disney's Pop Century- one of the value hotels- through Orbitz because I was able to get a 20% discount on top of the summer special offered by Disney. Even though it wasn't as fancy as the Deluxe resorts I'd recently visited with my nieces, I was genuinely excited to stay at Pop for my first time.

My main expense was park tickets. Tickets become cheaper with each additional day so when you have a short trip- and are stubbornly set on visiting 2 different resorts (Disney and Universal), you just have to suck it up and pay a lot more per day.

This was my first trip since Disney had recently instituted the FastPass Plus (FP+) system, and I was curious to try it. Using this system, Disney resort guests can make timed reservations to visit up to 3 attractions at one park per day 60 days in advance of their stay. (non-Disney guests who register their tickets online can reserve times 30 days in advance) Since I was traveling solo during a not terribly busy time, I had no trouble reserving the attractions of my choice when I went online at 12am the day I was eligible to select Fastpasses. I wasn't always able to get the exact time I wanted for the most popular attractions, but that was ok.

When Disney announced a special Frozen Summer Fun event at Hollywood Studios, it threw a bit of a wrinkle in my plans and I had to reschedule my itinerary so I'd be able to make it to the events I wanted to see. I'd originally booked a special Frozen Summer Fun package which included a pre-Fireworks dessert party and reserved seating at the parade and sing-a-long. The Frozen events were originally scheduled to end on Labor Day, but were then extended; this extension caused me to juggle things for a second time. I eventually canceled the dessert package because it made more sense to see everything but the fireworks on Tuesday instead of cramming everything in on my arrival day.

Everything pulled together very easily. And it was pretty awesome to not have to wait forever for it to be time for my plans to become reality.
Fastpass times:
Spaceship Earth 11:35am- 12:35pm
Soarin' 12:50- 1:50pm
Maelstrom 2:30-3:30pm (?)

Since I had an early flight and was planning an active day, I decided to splurge and stay at an airport hotel on Friday night in order to steal a little extra sleep in the morning. For short trips, I typically just drive myself to the airport and pay for parking. However, when I told my nieces about my plans, Julia (who'd just recently gotten her driver's license) practically insisted on driving me to the airport. That was so sweet- lots of teenagers would have reacted by being jealous. I think I may have felt a little worse about not having them as travel companions than they did.

So Julia and Megan came over and we headed off in "Greenie", aka the nickname of her car. There was much laughter. But considering that Julia was a new driver and the girls kept joking about us not dying… part of me wondered if the ride to the airport might be scarier than any ride I might experience in Florida.

After a quiet night at the hotel, I practically rolled out of bed and into the check-in counter for my flight. Within 30 minutes, I was at the gate since there were no lines. As I waited, several songs from the musical Book of Mormon swirled through my head, including the line "So stop singing about it and do it/ How ready and psyched are we?!?" which is especially appropriate since it's sung as the characters are rolling luggage in preparation for a journey. No matter how many times I visit Disney parks, I still feel like a little kid embarking on her dream vacation.

Airplane bliss can be defined as having 3 seats to yourself (after someone moved) and noise cancelling headphones- particularly useful on a route that is prone to have lots of kids. Despite the fact that my excitement was at an even higher altitude than the airplane, I managed to catch a little sleep on the short flight.

When you're already pulling out of the airport at 9:20am on a bus to your Disney Resort and your flight was due to land at 9:16, you know that your travel experience is a total win. I practically zipped through the airport to the Magic Express- and it was really cool to be instructed to scan my Magic Band bracelet for the first time to verify my destination. Of course, the lady who instructed me to put away my paperwork and just use my band greeted me with a trademark Disney smile.

Soon enough, we passed through the magical gate to the Walt Disney Resort, a moment that is always a thrill. My hotel, Pop Century, was the 2nd stop. It was a delightful touch to be greeted by cast members blowing bubbles as I disembarked, and I felt immediately at home. There was a bit of a line to check in, but my good luck continued as my room was ready and it was exactly where I'd requested- the top floor in the section dedicated to the 80's! There are other buildings that are more convenient (in fact, I'd later joke that the walk to my room was so tiring because I had to walk through an entire decade), but I belonged in the Eighties… like totally!

I took a little time to unpack and settle in, but soon set off through the humidity to the bus stop. I'd originally planned not to take many photos this trip… but that plan died in the 10 minutes I spent meandering through the colorful resort. My luck continued- there was a bus waiting to go to Epcot, exactly what I needed!

After arriving at around 10:30am, I had to get an obligatory photo of myself in front of the Big Ass Ball (Spaceship Earth) so I asked a photopass photographer to use my camera to take a photo. She was awesome! She directed me to pose like I was excited, and all the pictures she took turned out wonderfully. Some photopass photographers are better than others, and she was definitely superior.

Test Track Single Rider line was the best thing ever. Or at least that's how I felt when I was able to practically walk right onto the ride instead of waiting in a line that was probably at least 30 minutes long (I forgot to write it down). The one downside was that I wasn't able to completely design a car on the interactive kiosks like I'd done last summer with the nieces. There was a kind of "express" experience where I could only choose between a very limited set of options- but one of the choices was purple, so I was essentially satisfied.

After using my Spaceship Earth Fastpass+, I was positively starving! So I headed over to the food court at Sunshine Seasons in The Land and chose something that was a bit of a departure for me- sweet and sour chicken. By the time I finished, it was time to use my Soarin' Fastpass- always a fun attraction. And then, since it was basically a walk on, I went on Living with the Land for the first time in a very long while. It's interesting to see the different types of plants they grow, but I missed the days that the ride used to have live narration.

I finished out my time in Future World by going to the Chase card holder character meet, which is limited to guests who have a Chase Disney credit card. One of the benefits is a free print… but it was totally out of my way to pick one up and I prefer electronic photos anyway. (I was under the mistaken impression that the electronic versions were also free- oops. Good thing I also had them use my camera!) I'd never stopped there before- it was a nice set up. And then I took a quick jaunt into Journey Into Imagination, where I texted a friend a photo of many Figment plushies for her birthday.

Since we'd barely visited World Showcase on my previous trip, I wanted to make sure I had ample time to meander- ducking inside to bask in A/C as often as possible. Now that I've traveled to most of the countries represented (I still need to travel to Morocco to have a complete collection. And possibly Arendelle- depending on the Norway revamp- which will be harder.), it's not as exotic as it was on my first trips when I was in awe of the ability to try French perfumes and Japanese candy, among other things. Now it's more nostalgic, reminding me of my adventures. Since this was my first trip to Epcot since I'd been to China, I took some extra time to appreciate that pavilion.

I chose to walk clockwise so that I could exit by the International Gateway. Riding the boat ride in Mexico totally reminded me why I usually skip it. But, hey, at least it had plenty of lovely A/C! I arrived at Norway at the right time to use my Fastpass+ for what would be one last ride on Maelstrom. (shortly after I came home, it was announced that the ride would be replaced by a new attraction themed to Frozen) The standby queue was rather long and I overheard an exuberant mom gloating to her teenage daughter and bragging that she deserved mom kudos for securing a Fastpass for the ride despite being told that she was overplanning. Seriously- it would be hard to "overplan" a Disney trip if you're not familiar with the parks, especially now that you can reserve rides and meals months ahead of time; if you snooze, you won't get the best choices for ride times or restaurants.

The highlight of World Showcase was being able to see the American Adventure show for the first time since 2009. I'm not really a huge history buff or overly patriotic, but the audioanimatronic based show is so well done that it's impossible not to be emotional. And hey, it also has a clip of Michelle Kwan! Before it began, I was able to catch a live performance of the Voices of Liberty in the rotunda, and their harmonies were phenomenal.

After the performance, I bought a refreshing Doofenslurper- the flavor I chose was basically a raspberry slurpee topped with passion fruit foam and served in a Phineas and Ferb decorated beaker. It was the perfect beverage to sip in the Florida heat and humidity. After meandering through several more pavilions, I was about to leave the park at around 4:45pm when I was stopped by a cast member; she cheerfully admonished me that you can't leave the park with alcoholic beverages. I smiled and turned the beaker around to the cartoon graphic and assured her that I was partaking of a kiddy drink! I was cracking up inside at the absurdity of it all.

Given past experiences with Epcot boat transportation, I expected the ride to Hollywood Studios to be extremely slow. I'd considered walking, but it was really too humid and I also needed to conserve some energy- someday, I do want to walk between the parks if I'm ever there on a day with pleasant weather. The ride took less than 30 minutes, which was actually quicker than I'd expected. I arrived around 5:15pm.

I was giddy with excitement at seeing the signs for the "Frozen Fun" event and the Olaf sand sculpture at the park entrance. After changing into an Elsa tank top (I brought extra shirts for each day because of both because I knew it would be refreshing to change and also because I simply have too damn many cute Disney shirts), I had to get my photo taken with the "Olaf on a stick" that they were handing out for free.

Since the Frozen event was a priority, I sauntered over to the location of the sing along show. Clearly I had underestimated the demand- tickets had already been distributed for the remaining 2 shows and there was an impossible line for standby. I'm sure the cast members were laughing at me for thinking I could get into the show at the last minute on a holiday Saturday. Since I already had a Fastpass for Tuesday morning, it wasn't a huge deal.

One of the areas set up for the Frozen event is Wandering Oakens. There were 2 areas in this building- the first area I checked out, the Trading Post, was a store selling Frozen merchandise; I was more interested in enjoying the theming than in buying anything. The other area, Frozen Funland, was more interactive and included an ice skating rink and an area to build snowmen. There was also a refreshment stand, and a few photo opportunities. It was really cute- but way too crowded for more than a quick look. I figured I'd be able to explore at a more leisurely pace with fewer crowds on Tuesday.

So I headed over to an old favorite, Rock n Roller Coaster and got into the single rider line. I had to wait 30 minutes, but that was a lot shorter than the standby line. Then I headed next door to one of my all time favorites, Tower of Terror. I tried to take a cell phone photo of the view at the top but epically failed. The line was moderate enough that I was able to ride twice in under an hour (including pre-show and ride time). The second time, I was laughing when the guy next to me said that he was screaming like a girl.

By then, it was after 8pm and I was practically starving so I decided to get pizza and a salad at the closest counter service area. It was nice to sit down, especially since it wasn't quite so hot after the sun had set.

Since this was my only change to see the 9:15pm Frozen fireworks show, I made my way over to Hollywood Boulevard which was already packed with people when I arrived at least 30 minutes ahead of time. I still managed to snag a spot conveniently near Sunset Boulevard across from one of the Jumbotrons. I had to stand and my feet were absolutely killing me at this point- the new Keen sandals I bought were not nearly as comfortable as I'd expected. I'd walked over a mile in them before my trip so I was a little baffled at how badly my feet felt. I was sure I had blisters but there was no chance to go back to the hotel to change shoes.

The fireworks were great, and it was my first time seeing a fireworks show at Hollywood studios. It was also the first of many times that I'd hear "Let It Go" on this trip which was basically ok with me since I love the song. The jumbotron came in handy for seeing the stage show featuring Frozen characters which was integrated with the pyrotechnics display. The whole thing just really fit my mood for the trip, and the finale when it "snows" was magical.

Changing my original plans in order to see the Frozen fireworks also gave me a chance to see Fantasmic!, one of my all time favorite Disney shows (even if the Disneyland version is more magical). The spot I'd chosen for the fireworks was convenient for making my way to the 10pm Fantasmic, which was the second show of the night. Whenever Fantasmic is performed twice, it's a good idea to attend the 2nd show if possible because the crowds will be much less crazy. Indeed, despite the announcements that the show would be crowded and standing room only, I had no problem finding an excellent seat (yay for sitting down!) and there were plenty of vacant rows. I loved that I had a chance to see the show, and that I was even at Disney World to begin with! The music, the fireworks, the characters… just a wonderful way to end my first day!

On the way out of the park, I lingered a bit to take photos and to buy a brownie cake pop which was delicious! I still got back to the hotel by 11pm thanks to some more good bus luck and the fact that the ride back to Pop was extremely short.

I had to walk through the entire decade of the 1970's to get back to the Eighties section, and I was completely exhausted by the time I got back to my room- understandable since I'd been on the go since before 5am. But it was SO worth it to enjoy such an amazing, jam packed Disney day.
80's Section 80's and 90's Sections 70's Section 60's Section Hippy Dippy Pool Living with the Land Meeting Mickey and Goofy Hugging Mickey China pavilion Japan pavilion The American Adventure The not-at-all alcoholic Doofenslurper Posting with my take along Olaf Wandering Oaken's Fantasmic! Fantasmic! Fantasmic! Fantasmic! Yummy treats
Fastpass times:
Big Thunder Mountain 8:30-9:30pm
Splash Mountain 9:30-10:30pm
Seven Dwarfs Mine Train 10:35- 11:35pm

When my alarm went off around 7am, the last thing I wanted to do was to extricate myself from my gloriously restful bed. But… then a single word swirled through my mind: BUTTERBEER! And ultimately the lure of the new Diagon Alley section of Universal's Wizarding World of Harry Potter was enough to incentive to get moving.

There are more affordable ways to get from Disney to Universal, but I decided to take a cab for convenience. I didn't want to have to rush to get ready in the morning, and I also wanted to be able to leave Universal at a moment's notice when I felt I was ready. The choice I made probably wouldn't be the best for most travelers, but it worked for me. A cast member at my hotel tried to be helpful by suggesting that I take a shuttle, but I was adamant.

I ended up arriving at Universal at around 8:30am, about a half hour before opening. I was amazed to arrive that early considering how lethargic I'd been about getting out of bed. Since the only thing I was really interested in was the new Harry Potter area, I followed the herds that were lining up in that direction. It wasn't actually as crowded as I'd feared, and the crowd control was brilliant: every few minutes, they'd move the line a little closer to the entrance which made it feel like we were making progress.

I was one of the first day guests to enter Diagon Alley, but it was already crowded because guests at the official hotels were able to get in an hour earlier. I followed the masses to the new marquee ride: Escape from Gringotts. As I walked steadily up the street, part of me was tempted by all the marvelously whimsical touches that I could see in all directions. But I summoned up all my willpower and reminded myself that I'd have plenty of time to linger later on in the day. When I reached the ride building, I stuffed my camera and bag in a (complimentary) locker because you aren't allowed carry anything on the ride. I initially put the camera in separately but then decided to put it inside my backpack to be safe. Then I got in the single rider line.

When I'd planned my trip, I hadn’t been sure I'd actually get to ride Gringotts. There were reports that the ride was breaking down a lot, and a 90 minute wait time was one of the lowest times I'd seen. Ah, the problems of trying to ride a top attraction within months of its opening! I simply don't do waits longer than 60 minutes- and prefer 30-45 minutes tops. I mean, there was no way I could see myself waiting in a line that was longer than the longest Harry Potter film! I was therefore delighted to see the single rider line was listed at 45 minutes and even happier that it ended up being closer to 30.

The queue weaved around narrow corridors, so I had no way of knowing how close I was to the front. Since the single riders only filled unoccupied seats (when parties of odd numbers were seated), the movement wasn't very steady. But when I could see the ride vehicles, I knew I was almost there. And as I was ready to board, it felt like such a momentous occasion that part of me wondered if I should say a shehecheyanu (Jewish prayer said on super special occasions) despite the fact that I am not at all religious.

The ride was a lot of fun- truly unique. It uses the same 3D technology as the Spiderman and Transformers rides, but the track was very different. And of course the Harry Potter theming was cool. I've read that the normal queue has amazing details, and I'd like to see it someday… but it's not worth over an hour of my life. I was able to catch just a glimpse of the Gringotts lobby from the single rider line- it looked just like the film.

After picking up my stuff from the locker, my next stop was the most important destination of the day: Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlour which features a variety of flavors, the most important of which is Butterbeer soft serve. As soon as I read about that flavor, I knew that I must try it. 9:45am isn't too early for ice cream- especially since the line was way shorter than it would be at peak times in the afternoon. Butterbeer ice cream was everything I'd hoped it would be- an absolutely scrumptious treat!

Having accomplished my top 2 goals, I was able to take some time to explore Diagon Alley, which is probably one of the most intricately themed lands in any theme park I've visited. Not only did it include the iconic sites you might expect such as Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes, but even minute details such as signs and window displays were amazing.

After a brief saunter, I headed to a replica of Kings Cross station to take a ride on the Hogwarts Express. In a brilliant marketing scheme, Universal created a ride that requires guests to have a park-to-park ticket (their version of a park hopper)- you can't ride it if you only have a single park ticket. Since the train actually transport guests between their 2 theme parks, this strategy makes sense. Although part of me wonders if it would make more sense for Universal to combine their 2 parks into a single super duper sized theme park. In any case, I needed to ride the Hogwarts Express so I'd splurged on the park-to-park feature.

There was absolutely no wait as I breezed through the queue area, which included details such as the poster displayed at the beginning of the "Half Blood Prince" movie. There was even a special effect where it looked like the people ahead of you in line were going through the brick wall to track 9 ¾. When you board the train, you enter a compartment just like in the movies, with 2 sets of 4 seats facing each other. During the ride, you can see video effects both outside the window and outside the corridor door. It was short, but extremely cool.

Upon arriving at Hogsmeade, I had to have my photo taken in front of Hogwarts castle because I was wearing a "Hogwarts Alumni" T-shirt; later in the day, another woman high fived me because she was in the same awesome shirt. The queue for Forbidden Journey was only 20 minutes so of course I decided to ride- the newness of Diagon Alley was really drawing crowds away. Since I'd seen the queue twice last year, I entered the single rider line which was a walk on. Forbidden Journey always makes me a bit motion sick but I ride it anyway because it's amazing and unique. And it's Harry Potter.

It had been an hour since my ice cream, so clearly it was time to get a Butterbeer classic. As always, I decided to go to the Hog's Head tavern because it's air conditioned and has a short line. Plus, there's an area with tables in the back that's never crowded because a lot of people probably don't realize it's there.

Not being interested in anything else at Islands of Adventure, I boarded the Hogwarts Express back to London and Universal Studios Florida. The on ride entertainment was slightly different in this direction. I was really hungry and somehow forgot about the Simpsons food court (D'oh!) so I ended up ordering spaghetti and meatballs at Louie's Italian Restaurant. I wouldn't recommend doing that- I'm not picky about theme park food, but this was truly mediocre.

I rode the one non-Harry Potter ride that I wanted to revisit from last year- The Mummy which is an excellent hybrid of a dark ride and a mild coaster. And then I returned to The Wizarding World to meander at my leisure.

But first I went back to Gringott's because I hadn't been able to find my lens cap after I'd removed my belongings from the locker there. It's pretty cheap to replace, but I didn't relish the idea of having nothing to protect my lens for the rest of the trip (at the time, I still even didn't have a lens hood) By some stroke of luck, I actually remembered my locker number. The team member checked her computer and informed me that someone had just put their belongings in the locker so they couldn't open it. But she told me to come back in a couple hours because she'd put the locker out of service so that no one could be assigned to it once the current owners claimed their belongings.

There wasn't a line to go into Ollivander's to see the little show where the wand chooses the wizard so I went in. During my experience, the shop keeper was played by a woman which I think I'd read was a new thing. She was excellent and the show was cute. I don't like to buy a lot when I travel anymore, but I still enjoyed browsing the various shops in the Wizarding World.

Among my wanderings, I wanted to make sure to see the 2 stage shows. Since the Universal app said that the Celestina Warbeck show would be at 1:30pm, I hung out in that area and waited for something to happen. And… nothing! Clearly this was a sign that it was time for another Butterbeer. The show finally started at 2, and the Tales of Beedle The Bard was pushed from 2 to 2:30. There are no signs anywhere in the area with show times… this glitch struck me as something that just wouldn't happen at Disney. Anyway, both shows were very well done and worth catching… if you can figure out when they are playing.

After the shows, I headed back to the Gringotts locker area, with a faint hope that maybe I could retrieve my lens cap. Wouldn't you know- the owners of the locker had just found my lens cap and turned it into the attendant?!? The timing, and the fact that I was even able to be reunited with my lens cap, was something truly out of the book of Disney magic.

I considered riding Gringotts again, but the line was still long and I was starting to feel cranky. It was also starting to rain, although that wouldn't have bothered me in and of itself. Having done all that I set out to do and wanting to be able to enjoy late night extra magic hours at Magic Kingdom, I decided to take a taxi back to my hotel for a rest. By any rational calculation, I spent way too much money on my relatively short jaunt to Universal (I was there for about 6 hours) but it was worth it to me.

On the way back to my hotel room, I finally spotted the King cupcake that was exclusive to Pop Century. This pastry is described as a chocolate cupcake "filled with Banana Custard, Peanut Butter Icing, topped with Candied Bacon and drizzled with Chocolate." It was… interesting.

Well rested, I headed out for the Magic Kingdom at 7:30pm and braved the huge line for the bus. I left my big camera at the hotel because I wanted to travel more lightly and didn't need to take a lot of photos. Magic Kingdom has always been my favorite Florida park so I was excited to walk through the gates.

After using my Big Thunder Mountain Fastpass as soon as it was eligible at 8:30, I headed across the way to one of my favorite rides, Splash Mountain. I felt way overdue to ride it- no trip is really official until I ride Splash, and fortunately the standby line was only 15 minutes. This ride was full of joy, especially because after the drop I found out that one of the fun people on my log was someone's 83 year old mother who'd insisted on riding. I decided it was one of my life's goals to ride it when I'm in my 80's; when I texted this to my nieces, they said they'd take me. So now I have it in writing so that if I get senile, I won't forget!

After exiting Splash… I looped back and got in line again. No, this ride never gets old! By some freak of timing, when my log got back to the loading area, the line was non existent. My mind was all about "occupy log", something I thought wouldn't happen during a summer holiday weekend. Even before the cast member finished asking if anyone wanted to ride again, I was all "hell, yeah!" You don't need to ask me twice! This time, I was able to see some of the Main Street Electric Parade from my log. So much awesome!

Since I still had a Fastpass Plus, I looped back in line for a 4th ride. (Occupy Log was not possible this time since there were people waiting) I saw some of the fireworks this time, but unfortunately they were over right before the big drop. By now it was after 10pm, and I was getting hungry so I figured I'd head to Pinocchio's Haus (of silliness) for some nostalgia by way of the Rapunzel Restroom area (yes, I was ridiculously excited to stop there; the area is way too awesome looking to just be a restroom). Unfortunately, Pinocchio's had already closed for the night- don't they know that there are hungry people at 10:30pm?!? Especially when the park is open until 2am for extra magic hours.

So instead of eating, I took my first journey on the new Seven Dwarfs mine train ride since the ride was nearby and my Fastpass window had just opened. It was definitely cute, but I was a little underwhelmed even after hearing the lack of hype. I think that if it had been a little longer, it could have been great.

Since the queue seemed empty, I headed over to the Enchanted Tales with Belle, which I hadn't been able to see my last trip. Even though I'm a huge Beauty and the Beast fan, I wasn't expecting much. But it was really cute! The concept of the show was that audience members surprise Belle by re-enacting the story of when she met the Beast as Lumiere narrates. I was slightly disappointed not to be chosen to participate; if I'd known that participants get their photo taken with Belle, I probably would have tried to volunteer for one of the last parts.

After getting a delicious, refreshing Lefou's Brew (frozen apple juice with toasted marshmallow foam), I finally headed to one of the very few places where you could still order something resembling a meal which was Cosmic Ray's in Tomorrowland. I wasn't too thrilled with the choices (they had a limited menu that late), but I decided to get a kid sized chicken nuggets. When I went to place my order, the CM asked me if I wanted a child or adult sized. I was confused since there was no adult size on the menu… But apparently, they just changed the kids nuggets to use the same chicken as the adult so they could offer an adult sized meal at that hour even though it wasn't on the menu yet. Score!

By the time I was done eating, it was officially extra magic hours- this means that guests at Disney resorts could experience select attractions for 2 hours after the park is closed to the public (it used to be 3, and even before that there was a different program that was even better but that's irrelevant). I started out in Tomorrowland: getting a pathetic score of 25,300 on Buzz Lightyear and then riding the classic Space Mountain.

And then… it was time for me to be a kid and partake of the wonders of Fantasyland while most little ones were in bed. After riding Pooh, I headed over to "It's a Small World". It was a walk on and there was absolutely no one waiting when I got off so I suppose I could have theoretically stayed on my boat. But "Occupy Small World" is definitely not a thing. I mean, I don't hate the ride or the song like many do- I actually think it's quite cute and it has a high level of nostalgia. But… once is definitely enough! So I headed to Peter Pan.

If meeting princesses after 1am is your thing, there is no better place to be than at the Magic Kingdom. There was no line for Cinderella and Rapunzel so I got in line. I always feel a little awkward at meets for face characters, but it seemed to be the right thing to do. Then I checked "Ride Dumbo at a ridiculous hour" off my bucket list- not that it was really on there to begin with. Wheeeee!

I went back on Space Mountain for a few last thrills. When exiting, the moving platform wasn't working, so when the recording asked us to please not sit on the moving handrails, someone blurted out something about how maybe they wouldn't if it was actually moving.

There were only a few more minutes before the lines closed at 2am so I decided to book it back to the Princess area to see if the line for Anna and Elsa was reasonable. The meet with the Frozen princesses is currently the hottest attraction at Disney World, with waits that are sometimes reported to be in the absurd range where they are measured in hours and not minutes. Getting Fastpasses to meet them is like winning the lottery; and while I already had a Fastpass for the next day, I figured that if I met them at 2am, I could swap that for a different attraction. I ended up being the 2nd to the last person in line; there was a man behind me carrying a baby who wanted to get the CM's to let in his wife and daughter when they were done with another attraction, but when the line is closed, it is CLOSED. So they'd just have to be jealous of him.

On the way out of the park, I was surprised that the stores along Main Street were already closed. I'm so used to them being open for an hour or 2 after the park closes- except for in Tokyo Disney. So there was no reason to linger and I headed out the gates at around 2:30am, as I received a high 5 from a cast member wearing a Mickey glove.

The good news was that a bus to my resort was waiting. The bad news was that I had to stand- and my feet were killing me! The worse news was that I was being crowded by someone's backpack. I carry a backpack myself, but I try to at least be cognizant of people around me when in crowded situations.

Finally, I got back to my hotel room at 3am and wrote down a single word in my notes: "Collapse" What a day! But it was all amazing, and I especially enjoyed my whimsical tour of Magic Kingdom kiddie attractions at ridiculous hours. Thank goodness I'd taken a mid-day break or I don't think I'd have made it to 2am.
Diagon Alley Diagon Alley Butterbeer ice cream Diagon Alley Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes Diagon Alley Diagon Alley Diagon Alley Kreacher occasionally peers out the window at 12 Grimmauld Place King's Cross- entrance to Hogwarts Express Going through the wall to track 9 3/4 Hogwarts Express Inside the Hogwarts Express Hogwarts castle Butterbeer Ollivander's Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees Tales of Beedle The Bard: The Tale of the Three Brothers Splash Mountain, including someone's 83 year old mother Enchanted Tales with Belle Meeting Elsa at 2am 2:20am selfie
Fastpass times:
Splash Mountain 2:00-3:00pm
Seven Dwarfs Mine Train 4:30-5:30pm
Space Mountain 5:40-6:40pm

My original plan had been to take a quick jaunt into Animal Kingdom this morning. However, when I didn't get to bed until around 3am the night before, I wisely decided to skip it and let myself sleep in… a little. 9am still came way too quickly, but I didn't want to get too late of a start.

I packed my costume to change into for the Halloween party later, but decided that I was going to wear my tiara all day. Aside from the fact that I'd worry about it getting crushed in my backpack… if there's anywhere in the world where a gal can enjoy prancing about in a tiara, it has to be the Magic Kingdom!

It's always frustrating when you're waiting for a bus and you see 3 buses to another place (Epcot) within 5 minutes. It's even worse when the bus queues are in the sun. (I don't understand why they couldn't make the queues covered; there are shaded areas to wait nearby but you risk losing your position in line to stand there) But by 10:45, I was admiring the ubiquitous bright orange decorations that adorned the Magic Kingdom and all of the aggravation was forgotten.

After getting some photos taken on Main Street and catching a glimpse of the Move It Shake It mini parade, I headed to the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction. By the time I was done, it was time for the 11:40am-12:10 window for lunch at Be Our Guest. It's not widely known but Disney resort guests are able to make "Fastpass" lunch reservations at this Beauty and the Beast themed eatery; officially, the program was in "testing"… but it had been testing for over a year by this point. Some guests receive emails inviting them to make a reservation, but you don't need one. It's a good thing I knew to take advantage of the Fastpass lunch program because by the time I got there on a slow day, there was already a sign saying that the restaurant was filled to capacity for lunch- yikes!

I'd placed my order online when I'd reserved my Fastpass, but somehow the order was lost. No problem, it was super easy and quick to reorder my Croque Monsieur (ham and cheese). After wandering around aimlessly looking for a table, I finally settled on one in the main ballroom. Soon my lunch was delivered to me and… it was not as good as I'd remembered from the previous year! My sandwich seemed to be on the cooler side of lukewarm, and the meat seemed a tad tough. The fries were good, but I got full quickly so I texted a photo to my niece (who's affectionately known as the trash can) saying that I wish she was there to finish them.

On my way out, I had to have someone take my photo in front of the mural in the lobby that matched my shirt- both had the stained glass image from the end of the movie showing Belle dancing with the prince.

After walking around New Fantasyland for a bit, I got in a small queue waiting for Gaston to come greet guests outside his tavern. As soon as he bounded out like an arrogant boar, I knew I'd made an excellent decision. He was hysterical and had everyone practically on the floor with laughter. When it was my turn to meet him, he told me that my shirt was half right, and made sure to stand so that you couldn't see the Prince/Beast on my tank top! I wish I could remember more about the hilarious banter, but I know it ended by me declaring defiantly that I'm not his kind of girl because I'm too independent. He asked me what that meant, and I responded that I don't listen to guys. That was enough for him to move on to the next person!

I spent the early part of the afternoon on some rides that I'd probably have skipped if they'd had a line. Under the Sea (which had a wait far far shorter than the 20 minutes on the wait sign), the Magic Carpets (my first time riding) and Jungle Cruise (where the guide in our boat proudly announced "This is Jungle Cruise: 10 minutes of bad jokes") I also hit Big Thunder Mountain and used a Splash Mountain fastpass (which I'd switched from an Anna and Elsa fastpass after I met the Frozen characters the previous night).

Then it was time to scope out a spot for the Festival of Fantasy parade which was new since my previous trip. I decided to watch from Frontierland which is near the parade starting point and which is usually less crowded than Main Street. One side of the walkway was empty but in the sun, while the other was more crowded and in the shade. It was a no brainer which side I chose- as I wrote in my notes: "Some people are worth melting for [TM Frozen] but no parade is worth burning for" I enjoyed the parade- it seems like Magic Kingdom was overdue for a new one.

After another ride on Splash Mountain, it was already time for my 4pm dinner reservation! The main reason I'd made a reservation that early is because it was the only dinner reservation I could find at Be Our Guest- and it only opened up 2 days before my trip! (always keep checking if you have your heart set on eating at a Disney restaurant) I'd had lunch there, but dinner is a different experience… it's sit down, and more formal. Unfortunately, I wasn't very hungry so I just had the French onion soup and a refreshing fruit punch with lemon-lime foam. I also couldn't resist getting the dessert, now that the "Grey Stuff" had been added to the menu. And yes, it was delicious!

It wouldn't be a trip to Florida without getting caught in a totally random rain storm. I lingered in the restaurant until it seemed to let up, and then I headed over to use my Fastpass for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. I remember little from this particular time riding other than being assaulted by rain coming down on me. (the rain picked up again after I got in line) The ride seemed even shorter when you are trying not to get smacked in the face by rain drops.

No trip to Disney is ever fully complete without bopping up and down singing "A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow" in the classic Carousel of Progress attraction. It could probably use a little updating to the final scene, but I love how it brings me back to a simpler time. After using my FP+ on nearby Space Mountain (for which I did take off my tiara; a stranger had the nerve to suggest I should take it off for Splash after I rode it), it was now close enough to the time for the Halloween party for me to change into my outfit which consisted of a Tokyo Disney Halloween t-shirt and a sparkly purple tutu, along with my tiara. I didn't want to dress up as anyone in particular, but I thought it would be fun to at least wear something special. I felt self conscious at first about walking around in a tutu, but I got a lot of compliments and I enjoyed feeling kinda princessy.

Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party (MNSSHP) is an annual after hours event that occurs certain fall nights in the Magic Kingdom. It requires a special admission ticket, which is exchanged for a bracelet so cast members know that you are entitled to stay in the park (guests without such a bracelet are directed to leave). I believe that this was the earliest they've held the party, and I was excited to finally get a chance to experience it. When I received my bracelet, I also got a bag for trick-or-treat candy, as well as a flyer showcasing all kinds of tempting yummy treats.

I didn't really have a plan for the party, although I did have some priorities. I wanted to be sure to catch any unique entertainment that isn't offered on other nights, and I did not want to waste time trick-or-treating and getting candy that I could buy at home. I decided to head first to the Diamond Horseshoe to see what Club Villain was all about. Once the venue opened, a DJ welcomed us to the very first Club Villain event ever (it was new this year) and eventually Disney villains came out to mingle with the dancing crowd and take photos. I think it would have been more fun if I'd had people to hang with, but I danced around anyway (awkwardly with my backpack) and got a few photos taken in the half hour I spent inside. It was a total hoot to do a line dance next to Lady Tremaine (Cinderella's stepmother)!

The perfect attraction to visit during a Halloween party is the Haunted Mansion. Fortunately, there was no line. Afterwards, I was able to pose for Magic Shot photopass photos I'd seen where they edit in photos of some of the ghosts- once again, there was no wait. These photos are only available during the MNSSHP. I regretted not buying the unlimited photopass card I'd bought on my previous trip, since I knew I'd want to buy those shots as well as some others. I ended up spending more on buying a few photos than I would have for pre-ordering the unlimited pass. Needless to say, that was not one of my best travel decisions.

After a stop to savor Candy Corn soft serve ice cream, I posed with various characters I encountered walking around Fantasyland. There were only minimal lines for them. Snow White complimented the sparkly purpleness of my tutu. During this time, I also paused to check in for my flight back the next evening (*sniff*). I was flying Southwest so I wanted to be sure to get a decent boarding pass number. I also took a ride on the Tomorrowland Transit Authority to see if anything especially interesting was happening in that section of the park. I still hadn't met Stitch on this trip, so I was hoping to spot him but no such luck.

I camped out by the castle for a trifecta of special events: the Villains Mix and Mingle stage show, the Celebrate the Magic castle projection show, and the Hallowishes fireworks. I knew I was going to be too close for the latter 2, but it was worth it to sit down and also to have a decent view for the stage show (there wasn't a whole lot of time to reposition between the shows and I was definitely worried about ending up with an even worse view). They were all terrific.

The next event I wanted to see was the Boo to You parade. It's performed twice, but I waited for the 2nd showing since that is usually less crowded. While meandering around, I saw that the line to meet Jack Skellington and Sally (from Nightmare Before Christmas) seemed really short. The CM estimated the wait at 30 minutes, which would mean I'd be done before the parade so I got in line hoping the wait would be shorter than the estimate. Unfortunately, it wasn't- mostly because Jack and Sally seemed to take a long time with each party, which is pretty cool when you actually get to them, but not so much when you're in line and hoping to not to miss a parade. The timing mostly worked out in the end, although I could only see the Headless Horseman ride down the street for the pre-parade from the queue for Jack and Sally.

It was fun meeting with Jack and Sally. Jack asked me what I was dressed up as, and I could only reply "I'm me…. But I'm the most fabulous me I can be." He really liked the comment- and I have to admit, I liked it too. Sometimes, I actually can come up with good off the cuff remarks. They were definitely worth the 35 minute wait, although I wouldn't want to wait hours for them like people do at the more crowded nights of MNSSHP.

I sat down by the end of Main Street for the parade- and it was empty! It was completely easy to get a spot even at the last minute. There were some CM's near me cheering loudly, possibly for friends of theirs, and it was a fun atmosphere.

After the parade ended, there was still 45 minutes left before the party ended at midnight. I headed to Gaston's Tavern to get one of the yummy looked Ghost Cupcakes- but they were sold out for the night. Non! Quelle tragedie!

What do you do when you are bummed out at Disney? You take a moment to consider getting in line to have a photo taken with all 7 dwarfs (the most popular meet, which is only available at Halloween and Christmas parties)… and then you make a dash for your laughing place, aka Splash Mountain, and decide that you will end your night by taking advantage of the last chance to ride your favorite attraction. If you're lucky, you get a log all to yourself. And if you are exceedingly lucky? You get to ride your own log 3 times in a row without getting off! That totally made up for any missed cupcakes. I tried to enjoy each moment of the rides to the fullest, knowing how lucky I was to be there and how it might be awhile before I could get back. I love Splash Mountain because it is full of adorable Disney-esque moments including a Zip-a-dee-do-dah finale combined with the excitement that culminates in a 52 foot flume drop. Plus, it's not a short blink-and-you-might-miss-it ride (*cough* Seven Dwarfs Mine Train)- it's relatively long for an amusement ride (11 minutes), and it is full of details throughout.

After my 3rd ride, the park was closed. I walked back toward the entrance and was surprised not to see any security personnel sweeping guests out of the park. There weren't many guests around, either, at least not in Frontierland- it wasn't one of the more crowded parties and I think a lot of people left early.

It was fun seeing guest costumes around the park during the party. Obviously, there was an abundance of Disney princesses, especially Anna and Elsa. But there were a lot of creative costumes as well. I saw one family dressed up in Phillies T-shirts, and I had to compliment them because I'm one of those diehard fans who watch every game even when the team is struggling. The family probably thought I was a freak, but I had to do it.

I stopped on the way out of the park to take some photos- it was a good opportunity to take some without many people around, especially when I noticed a pumpkin projected on the pavement in front of the entrance. It seemed like a bit of a wait for the bus, but at least I had a seat.

When I got back to my hotel, I stopped at the front desk to ask them to cut off my MNSSHP bracelet since I didn't have a scissors. After they happily obliged, I took advantage of the late hour to take some photos around the mostly empty lobby area. It was still comparatively early compared to my previous night. Still, when I got to my room at around 1:20am, I was ready to get a little sleep.
Magic Kingdom entrance Meeting Marie from The Aristocats Be Our Guest restaurant Meeting Gaston Jungle Cruise Festival of Fantasy Parade Festival of Fantasy Parade Festival of Fantasy Parade Festival of Fantasy Parade: The Grey Stuff Meeting The Beast Wearing my Halloween party outfit Club Villain Club Villain Haunted Mansion magic shot Candy Corn ice cream Villains Mix and Mingle Villains Mix and Mingle Celebrate the Magic Meeting Jack and Sally Boo to You Parade Boo to You Parade Boo to You Parade Boo to You Parade Ending my night on Splash Mountain 3 times in a row in this log
Fastpass times:
Toy Story Midway Mania 11:05am – 12:05pm
For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration 12:10-12:25pm
Tower of Terror 2:25-3:25pm

I had mixed emotions about my last day at Disney. Of course, it was sad to be leaving- especially after such a short trip. But, on the other hand… my feet had been killing me and the summer heat is brutal; trying to cram in so much in a short trip (without many breaks) can make one feel a bit cranky. So a small part of me was feeling OK about going home.

It felt a little creepy that there was a boarding pass hanging on my hotel room door- maybe I'd signed up for that, but I didn't recall doing so. After checking a bag for my flight and another to be held until I was ready to leave, I made it to Hollywood Studios at around 9:30am. My main focus was to see the Frozen Summer attractions that I hadn't been able to catch on Saturday night. To that end, my first stop was at Starring Rolls so I could try one of the beautiful chocolate Princess Anna cupcakes that I'd seen online.

Since I hadn't seen it the previous year, I made a point to catch an early performance of Voyage of the Little Mermaid. I really enjoy the show- and, almost just as importantly, it's a great relief on a hot day. After it was over, I hung out in the Animation building until it was time to seek out a spot for the mini Frozen processional. I was able to get an excellent spot, but then I had to move because I was in front of a trashcan- luckily, I'm small and I was able to squeeze over a bit.

"Anna and Elsa's Royal Welcome" was a short but sweet series of a few floats that culminated in the characters reaching the stage in front of the Great Movie Ride and then being officially welcomed to the theme park. Of course, it "snowed" along the parade route to add to the atmosphere. And of course, the song "Let It Go" was heard. It was all very cute.

I was probably way too excited for a grown woman when I spotted Stitch meeting guests with no line. I tried not to do too many things that reminded me of my trips with my nieces, because it would make me miss them. But a photo (or 10) with Stitch has become essential. It was looking like I wouldn't get to see Stitch on this trip, so I was ecstatic to finally be able to. Trip made!

After using my Toy Story Midway Mania Fastpass (and noting that the attraction had only a 35 minute standby queue which is almost unheard of!), I went over to Wandering Oaken's trading post to linger and take some photos (including some special magic shots). As I'd expected, it was much less crowded than it had been on Saturday night. I thought about doing the ice skating, but my feet were hurting too much. And besides, it was an extra charge of $10. For something that I heard was put together pretty quickly, the area was very well themed. And it's positively genius to have an oasis of snow and ice during the Florida summer.

Finally, it was time for me to see " For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Singalong". Because I had a Fastpass, I was able to get in a shorter line and secure a seat toward the front center of the theatre. Although, unlike on Saturday, I wouldn't have had any problem getting in the theatre via the standby queue.

The show consisted of a couple of entertaining narrators describing the plot of Frozen; their banter was punctuated by sing a long versions of the movie's songs being displayed on a big screen. Shockingly to no one, the performances culminated in singing "Let It Go" (which is actually done twice). And snow! Despite the predictability, it was a joyful, fun show. I wouldn't have minded being able to see it a second time.

Deciding that I wanted to eat a proper, somewhat leisurely lunch (and not fast food), I made my way to Mama Melorose's Italian restaurant. OK, actually I had a bit of a fail finding it but I got there, and was very happy that there was no wait. My vodka rigatoni was very good, and I enjoyed seeing the take a long Olafs that were decorating the room. Given how worn out I'd been feeling, taking a break for a sit down lunch was a smart move.

I didn't have that much time left, so I headed down Sunset Boulevard to 2 of my favorite rides and was happy that neither had much of a line. I'd pushed my FP+ to Tower of Terror back a little after I sat down for lunch, so I went into the standby line. After exiting the library, I took the path to the left as I always do since it seems ever so slightly shorter. And then something crazy happened- everyone else took the path to the right. And I mean, everyone. For the first time in forever all my trips to parks that have a Tower of Terror, I had an entire car to myself. During the middle of the day. Un-freaking-real! It was a tad creepy, but it was also amazingly special. Of course, I had to buy the photo.

After using my ToT fastpass, I headed over to Rock N Roller Coaster. Since there wasn't much of a queue, I decided to wait for a front seat. I hadn't ridden in the front seat in ages so it was such a treat to feel the rush of air during the launch. I could have ridden one or both rides again, but I decided that I was good and that I felt like it was the perfect time to exit on a high note.

I knew I'd have plenty of time, so I figured I could walk around the neighboring Art of Animation resort which is across the lake from my hotel- despite the heat and my feet hurting. So it really made no sense that I didn't hop on a bus directly to there since one arrived before mine. Oh, well. When I got back to my hotel, I went to the food court to try the tie dye cheesecake which ended up being more yummy than I'd anticipated. And then, I meandered over to explore Art of Animation, which was a really fun, whimsical looking relatively new resort. It would be great to stay there after it's been around long enough to have some discounts- the budget resort mainly consists of family suites, but there are also standard rooms in a Little Mermaid wing. Although I enjoyed my time there, it probably wasn't the best decision for my feet.

Even after wandering around, I ended up on a slightly earlier Magic Express bus to the airport. Since I'd used my Magic Band to board at the airport, I was surprised I needed the paper ticket to board for the return trip- fortunately, I had mine handy. I was mightily disappointed that the onboard video no longer plays the lamentful "Now it's time to say goodbye…" Mickey Mouse song.

At the airport, I had tons of time to kill so I wandered around in the various shops after changing into some not-sweaty clothes. Eventually, the smell of pizza tempted me into buying some. My flight was oversold but I just wanted to get home. I keep thinking that sometime I'll volunteer to get bumped from an oversold flight to help with being able to afford another getaway… but it just never seems to work out.

It may seem like an odd thing to complain about, but the plane was freezing cold. But at least it was quiet- which was a relief after having been around screaming kids in both the bus and the waiting area. I had an amazing time, but it was nice to get home and not have to fret about sunscreen, not to mention to give my poor feet a break.
Anna cupcake Voyage of the Little Mermaid Anna and Elsa's Royal Welcome Anna and Elsa's Royal Welcome Anna and Elsa's Royal Welcome Meeting Stitch Wandering Oaken's: building a snow man For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration Having a car to myself on Tower of Terror Tye Dye Cheesecake
My quick Labor Day weekend trip was everything I could have hoped for. It was packed with activity and the excitement of both a new Harry Potter land and some Frozen themed festivities, as well as a Halloween party. I only had a short time, but I felt like I made the most of it.

Pop Century resort was a great place to stay, especially for a solo trip. For a holiday weekend, the park was not very crowded (except for DHS on Saturday night) and it was downright empty by Tuesday. And I was very fortunate that there wasn't as much rain as during my last few August trips- there were only 2 short periods of rain, and neither of them led to me being caught in a downpour.

The FastPass plus system worked out well for me, in spite of my initial skepticism. It was nice to be able to just scan my bracelet to enter the Fastpass return lines instead of having to fish through my bag for paper Fastpasses, and it's definitely easier to book Fastpass Plus online instead of having to walk all the way to each attraction (without knowing the return time or whether there were even any Fastpasses left) However, I am not sure it would work quite so well when the parks are more crowded and standby lines are longer.

The main downsides of my trip were predictable: Florida summers are never a picnic, and cramming in so much park time left me feeling tired. However, I hadn’t expected the shoes I wore on Saturday to hurt my feet so much- and unfortunately that had an effect for the rest of my trip.

All in all, I felt very lucky to be able to squeeze in a short Disney trip as a treat to tide me over during a long lull between major vacations.