Sometime early in the year, I started toying with the idea of going to Florida on one of the long weekends we have off from work. After considering both timing and crowd levels, another quick Labor Day weekend trip seemed like it would be the best fit. I thought maybe I'd go for 2 days and spend them both at Universal. A year without Butterbeer is a bit tragic, afterall- especially after I discovered that Butterbeer Fudge is now a thing. Plus, I'd seen that Universal had recently opened a new Hello Kitty store- and apparently cupcakes were among the items offered for sale!
Along the way, I started to get the idea to take my 15 year old niece, Megan. Unfortunately, I couldn't bring both nieces because of budgetary concerns as well as the fact that Julia would already be back at college. You may recall that I took Julia to Japan last year; I've also discussed taking her on an extended excursion if she studies abroad like she's been hoping to do. So it seemed like it was definitely Megan's turn for some Aunt Faith magic.
Even more than the notion of it being "her time", I wanted to do something special with Megan because I've been so impressed with how much she'd grown up during her first year of high school. She's made a name for herself working backstage at school theatre and she's developed into quite a joy to hear when she plays the flute. But most of all, it just felt to me like she appreciated family more than she had a couple years earlier.
While still considering my plans, I started eyeing flights from Trenton which would allow us to leave after Megan's school on Friday and then return Monday night. However, I thought her parents might veto that option since the Monday flight wasn't scheduled to get in until 11:20pm. (there's only one flight a day) But her dad was OK with the schedule and I was sure she would be, too.
So one day, when I went to see one of Megan's performances (it may have been the day of her flute recital and an event at the school) I oh-so-casually asked her if she wanted to come to Florida with me on Labor Day weekend. She seemed a bit too shocked to speak, and then she eventually inquired about how Julia would meet us down there. I told her that the trip would only be for the 2 of us. I think that sealed the shock! She couldn't even come up with an answer when I asked if she'd prefer to do Universal at a relaxed pace or to spend time at Disney as well. It was only later at night that she finally stated her preference for the latter, which was good since 3 days at Universal would be a bit too much for me.
Since this was a quick budget trip, I decided to stay at Pop Century again- it would be a fine space for 2 people although it probably wouldn't have worked as well with all 3 of us. As is usual for a short trip with both Disney and Universal, the ticket prices were not the best value- but they were my splurge for this getaway. Obviously I wasn't going to even try to do everything at each park- but I figured it would be fun to revisit our favorites and to introduce Megan to the newest Harry Potter experiences- particularly the Hogwarts Express!
I haven't spent all that much one-on-one time with Megan; her sister or parents are almost always around. As an introvert... and someone who has experienced a few Florida meltdowns when Megan was younger... I felt the slightest bit nervous about how things would go. Most critically, I wondered if she'd want to spend more time texting/snapchatting her friends rather than interacting with her old aunt. But, whenever doubts crossed my mind, I reminded myself of how much she'd matured and I was optimistic that we could have an amazing time together. Megan is no longer the little girl she was on previous trips- she's grown into a truly lovely young lady and I was looking forward to spending a weekend laughing and creating new memories with her.
I usually leave for Disney World trips before sunrise, taking the first flight of the day. However, this time my flight wasn't until 5:35 pm because my niece can't miss school... and there's only one flight a day from Trenton to Orlando. I'd originally planned to work at least half a day but ultimately decided to take the day off so I could be well rested. I made use of my free morning to take 2 of the furricanes on their (belated) annual vet visits.
At around 2, I left my apartment. On the way to my niece's house, I stopped at a dollar store in hopes of grabbing some cheap ponchos for use in the typical late summer Florida rains. But alas it was not to be- the store was completely out of stock. I was ok because I still had a never-used $10 semi-disposable purple rain poncho that I'd ordered online to use in Panama; Megan would just have to deal with getting wet or buying herself a poncho.
After Megan finished some last minute packing, we were driven to Trenton airport. It's a very small airport- more like some I've visited on my overseas trips than any of the major airports where I'd flown in the US. Check-in for Frontier and security were both handled very quickly. Part of the security included full body scanners- the ones where you lift your arms over head and they scan your body. Somehow the scanner detected something suspicious on the side of Megan's head! She wasn't wearing any barrettes and it was bizarrely comical that they had to frisk her hair. It became an ongoing joke that she had a "special condition" in her head.
As we reached the waiting area, I spotted a little snack kiosk in a corner- the only vending area in the small airport. I definitely needed something to drink, and I asked Megan if she wanted anything. Megan responded with a smile and an awkward pause before confessing that she'd completely forgotten to pack the money she'd saved for the trip. I told her not to worry, she could just pay me back later. Also I mentioned that it was perfectly understandable that she would forget something essential due to the "special condition" we'd recently discovered.
I was thrilled to see that the kiosk had a single bag of plain M&M's so I could continue my tradition of buying "emergency M&M's" that I don't necessarily intend to consume during the trip. I also picked up a Coke Zero and a single serve box of Lucky Charms- the latter item is a bit of an "in joke" with the nieces. I also bought Megan some water. As we waited, we noticed a Dora the Explorer cartoon on one of the TV's so we had to snap a photo and message it to Julia, since that's another one of our in jokes. (we have oh-so-many in jokes and references that amuse us to no end)
Trenton airport is too small to have covered gangways leading to the aircraft, so when our number was called for boarding, we walked outside than then climbed up a ramp to the plane. I'd splurged for a package of extras which included early boarding and slightly more comfortable seats at the front of the plane. Since there were 2 of us, I decided we'd switch up who sat by the window and allowed Megan to sit there on the flight down while I settled into the middle seat.
I kept hoping that the aisle seat next to me would remain unoccupied... but at just about the last second, a lady ran on, practically breathlessly, and started giving us a bit of her life story about being late and not being able to go to the bathroom at the airport. Ummm... too much information. I really didn't want to converse with her, but she insisted on informing us that the last time she'd flown to Orlando on the same exact plane (each Frontier plane has a different animal on it), there had been a cockpit fire that had required an emergency landing- though she prefaced this story by saying that she didn't want to alarm us. Then why exactly did she need to mention it? It didn't bother me. Not in the mood for more dramatic conversation, I decided it was time to dig out my headphones and listen to Hamilton for the rest of the flight. The downside was that I couldn't talk to Megan, either- but she was listening to her own music. I also started got slightly addicted to playing Bejewled on my iPad- a game I hadn't even touched in years.
Although the pilot had warned us of a bumpy flight, it was surprisingly smooth. It's fun to take short flights for a change- but even so, I still started to get a little impatient as we got close to landing. I think some of my restlessness was due to the fact that it was already so late in the day.
We landed early and it was almost like stepping back into past Disney trips- except it was night, and Julia was unfortunately not with us. By now, Megan was a pro at riding the monorail to the main terminal where we followed the signs to Disney's Magic Express. It was exciting scanning our magic bands for the first time as we entered the empty queue for the bus! I was thrilled that Disney finally had purple magic bands; on my previous trip 2 years earlier, I'd had to resort to grudgingly buying a pink one.
We were on the bus by 8:15 which was excellent since we'd been scheduled to land at 8:05. The bus pulled out about 10 minutes later and we were on our way to the most magical resort in all the world. The videos on the bus kept me from being too bored as we made our way through the Orlando roads in the dark.
And then we came to the wonderful gates that mark the entrance to the Disney World property; I will never get too old to feel excited when passing through them. As the video on the bus showed Walt Disney himself, we saw fireworks shoot into the not-too-distant sky outside! The timing couldn't have been more perfect- pure magic! It seemed to be a good omen for the rest of our trip.
After a brief stop at Art of Animation, the bus pulled into our hotel, Pop Century, at 8:56 pm. I'd completed online checkin and received a text with our room number before we'd even left Megan's house. (it corresponded perfectly to my preference for a top level floor in the 70's section) There was one CM at the front of the resort greeting the bus- a bit of a change from the cheery cast members blowing bubbles on my last trip. I showed the cast member the text I'd received with my room number and he pointed me vaguely to the right... except I knew from my previous stay (and checking the map online) that the 70's Section was to the left. After an awkward moment, he corrected himself and we headed off in the dark in search of our room. While it was nice to have an expedited arrival, I really missed the positive interaction with front desk Cast Members that I've always had during previous WDW visits. Especially since it was a little hard to figure out exactly where the room was located; I had an idea where the elevators were from my previous stay, but I still wasn't sure exactly where I was headed.
As we walked past the bus stop, we saw a bus for Disney Springs that was loading passengers. I was tempted to get on, but Megan said she'd rather go to the room first. So we managed to find our room which on the 4th floor of the 70's section- it was a little bit toward the edge of the preferred area, which is what I'd booked. But the most important thing was that we were close to the main building, which would be useful in case it rained.
We got settled and then headed back to the bus stop at around 9:20 and were lucky enough to have a quick wait for a bus to Disney Springs; it usually seems like buses there run frustratingly infrequently. The ride was only about 15-20 minutes.
When I exited the bus, I felt like I was in a foreign land. Nothing I saw reminded me in anyway of the Downtown Disney area I'd visited many times before. Instead, I found myself amid what seemed to be a generic stylized outdoor mall. Certainly, I was not enticed to enter so many of the stores I passed when I knew that I could easily shop there closer to home without wasting precious vacation time. There were definitely some pretty areas- but it seemed a bit bland to me.
It was a little hard for me to navigate to my intended destination, but eventually I led us to Aristocrepes, a new kiosk which was the home of the S'mores crepes that we'd both been lusting after! I'd been scared there might be a long line- so I was thrilled to see that no one was waiting. After making our purchase, we managed to search out a table; previous occupants had left some trash on its surface, but it was better than trying to eat standing up. Obviously, I had to take a slew of obligatory photos of my delicacy in hopes of getting at least once decent one. And then- it was time to devour our treats! So yummy! And when Megan- notoriously not a big eater- could not finish hers, I eagerly dug into that one as well. I'd been pretty hungry.
After eating, we decided to wander around a little more. Despite the fact that I was still wearing yoga pants, the weather wasn't unbearable. It wasn't nearly as uncomfortably sticky as Floridian summers can be at their worst. (although it did start to feel more humid later on) I was excited when we reached the marketplace section- that area was very close to what I remembered from previous visits, and it included many Disney themed stores which we enjoyed browsing. Megan had her first Jumbo Stitch sighting of the trip! And, as has become a tradition, I took a photo of her with it. I will never forget the night in 2009 when Megan had a ball laughing with a wonderful CM as she arranged all the Stitch plushes in the store, nor the day in 2011 when the same amazing cast member presented her with a Jumbo Stitch to adopt and take home.
We made a point to stop at Goofy's Candy Company where we admired all the baked goods on display- there were so many adorable treats tempting me. I finally decided on 2 cake pops: one shaped like Maleficent and one like Mickey. I got Megan one of the latter as well. We actually never got around to eating them during our trip because there were so many other sweets to sample- but I had them when I got home and they were delicious! I was surprised when I bit into the horns on Maleficient and tasted corn chips (covered with chocolate)- I hadn't expected that! WDW makes awesome cake pops.
When we passed the Basin store, I suggested going in because I know Megan loves bath bombs. And not unexpectedly, she smelled every single one on display while I admired the adorable and fragrant soaps. Neither of us bought anything, but it was a fun diversion nonetheless.
I wasn't sure exactly where the bus stop was located, so I suggested going into the new Coca Cola store because I knew they had a rooftop deck which would provide a better vantage point with which to get our bearings. Indeed, seeing the area from above actually proved to helpful. I'd hoped there might be readily available bottles of coke beverages from other countries, but I didn't see any.
We were getting tired when we decided to head back to the hotel at around 11:30pm. The time was dragging while during our wait for a bus so I decided to lure one as if it were a cat by calling out "here bus bus, don't be shy!" And wouldn't you know it- pretty soon the Pop bus arrived! My powers are amazing. (if only the furricanes were half as obedient at coming when I called to them...)
I fully expected our luggage to have been delivered to the room while we were out at Disney Springs; however our bags were nowhere to be seen. I took out the Magic Express flyer and realized I'd misread it; I'd thought it said that bags would be delivered within 3 hours of landing but it actually said that it would be within 3 hours of arriving at the resort. In either case, it was midnight and we'd arrived at the hotel before 9. I'd also expected the deliveries to be quicker at night because surely families would not want to be awake until after midnight waiting for luggage- whereas in the morning, it wouldn't make much difference if the bags arrived after 2 hours or after 3 hours.
I called Magic Express to inquire about our luggage and was informed that their policy was to deliver bags within 5 hours of arriving at the resort. Errrr.... then why on earth does the literature say it's 3 hours? 5 hours would be 2 am- that's ridiculous! If I'd known it could take that long, I would have been in a better position to decide to retrieve our bags ourselves instead of relying on Magic Express to deliver them. The customer service lady, who was mostly defensive and argumentative, said that the bags had been tracked at Animal Kingdom Lodge so I figured they'd be at our door soon.
We made the best of things even though we were both tired- Megan had been up since 5am for school. About an hour later, our bags still hadn't arrived and I was really getting impatient. All I wanted in life was to be able to collapse into blissful slumber. Staying awake until 1am waiting for luggage to be delivered is ridiculous, especially in a family resort. I frankly had nothing else to do, so I called Magic Express again to express my discontent. I'm sure I sounded frustrated; I was tired, bored and irritated. However, I certainly never made any personal attacks or resorted to bad or insulting language. Even so, the agent started giving me attitude and telling me that I was "talking sideways at her". Umm, if she couldn't deal with me, she really isn't cut for customer service; I have had way worse thrown at me in my day and I always tried to at least empathize as best as I could. I called the "front desk" number on the phone to complain- and at least that person was willing to listen and empathize to the best she could. (I later was told that the "front desk" number actually doesn't reach anyone at the hotel)
Finally, at about 1:15am, the bags were delivered. We quickly unpacked, and got ready for bed. It certainly wasn't the relaxing night I'd intended and I correctly feared that we wouldn't be able to get the kind of early start I'd hoped for the next day. Still, we were at Disney World... life was good and I was eager to file my experience with night time Magic Express luggage delivery as a lesson learned for the future. It's humbling that even as many times as I've been to Disney parks and as much as I've read up on Disney in various places online... I can still make a mistake in judgment.
I'd set the alarm for 7:30am but, completely uncharacteristically, I slept right through it. In addition to the obvious reason that I was tired from waiting until after 1am for my luggage, I think I had placed the phone upside down so it wouldn't illuminate the room and that probably muffled the sound a bit. In any case, we were off to a late start. I'd been hoping to arrive at Disney Studios in time for the 9am opening but we didn't even make it to the bus stop until around 8:45am.
While riding the crowded bus, my stomach began to bother me... a lot... and I silently began to worry that the entire day might be ruined. Fortunately, I started to feel better after we got off; I had to use the bathroom more than usual but otherwise, everything was ok. I was really relieved that I didn't need to change our plans because there were so many things I was looking forward to, and also because I wanted the day to be awesome for Megan since she hadn't been to a Disney park for 3 years.
Naturally, we our first destination continued the tradition of Tower of Terror being our first ride. On the way, we stopped on Sunset Boulevard to pose for some pictures with a PhotoPass photographer- I'd already purchased the MemoryMaker package of unlimited photos and I wanted to maximize its usage. There was practically no wait for the ride and it was so much fun to go on it again with Megan! I recalled our first trip when she was only 8 and she had to hold my hand every time we rode; now she is a teenager and enjoys it as much as I do.
Naturally, we our first destination continued the tradition of Tower of Terror being our first ride. On the way, we stopped on Sunset Boulevard to pose for some pictures with a PhotoPass photographer- I'd already purchased the MemoryMaker package of unlimited photos and I wanted to maximize its usage. There was practically no wait for the ride and it was so much fun to go on it again with Megan! I recalled our first trip when she was only 8 and she had to hold my hand every time we rode; now she is a teenager and enjoys it as much as I do.
Afterwards, we decided to go on the neighboring ride, Rock n Roller Coaster, even though the sign said it was a 40 minute wait. Last trip, Megan was finally brave enough to try it and she'd enjoyed it. While we were in the queue, I heard announcements that the wait would be longer than expected. Over an hour later, we were finally boarding. This is where we definitely fell behind due to our inability to awaken as early as I'd hoped; if we'd arrived at park opening, I think we could have knocked those 2 rides out pretty quickly and also taken a 2nd ride on Tower of Terror. (after RnRC, the wait for ToT had exploded to beyond our acceptable limit)
When checking the WDW app on my phone at around 11am, I was surprised to see that Toy Story Midway Mania had only a 20 minute wait! I asked Megan if she wanted to ride and she did, so we quickly made our way over to that area of the park. I'm used to the ride having ridiculous standby waits, but they recently added a 3rd track so that probably is helping keep the queue times more reasonable. Megan ended up getting a higher score than me- but I did have a higher % accuracy. Plus I insisted that my little animated "prize" was cuter than hers! I had a bit of an issue navigating back from the ride because the path I wanted to take was closed as part of the large scale ongoing construction at the park.
We checked out the cupcake at Starring Rolls but they didn't really thrill us- I think I wanted some real food- so we decided to get some lunch after heading out to Epcot. The skies were ominous as we exited the studios and we were happy that we were able to catch a bus right away. Just as soon as we got on- downpour!!! We congratulated ourselves on our excellent timing.
The bus ride to Epcot was a little too short in that it was still raining pretty hard when we got there. So, along with some other people, we hung out awhile at the bus stop under cover waiting for it to subside. Eventually, we made our way to the Electric Umbrella because I was craving some macaroni and cheese. We both ordered kid sized mac and cheese (they didn't have an adult size) and I added a cup of tomato bisque soup. It may be a funny order but it suited me perfectly- I was glad they had the soup because I would have still been hungry otherwise. We also enjoyed splitting a chocolate cupcake for dessert. I can't go to Disney and not have any cupcakes. It was almost 1pm by the time we sat down, and it felt really good to have eaten something!
We were done eating in time to just make the window (12:20-1:20) for our Spaceship Earth fastpasses. I'd booked them just in case- with the feeling that if we didn't use them, it wouldn't be a big deal. Unfortunately, if you book Fastpasses at Epcot, you can only book 1 of the attractions that is actually useful- so you either have to book other lesser ones or just leave the other 2 unused. I always enjoy Spaceship Earth, but I was disappointed that the video at the end didn't work to show our heads on the top of the cartoon characters like it usually does.
By the time we got off, it was already time to use our Soarin Fastpasses (1:30- 2:30). I was really excited for this attraction because I enjoy the ride itself and they'd recently changed the movie so that instead of showing scenes exclusive to California, it now featured various epic sites from around the world. I'd tried to avoid being spoiled about the movie but unfortunately I hadn't been able to completely avoid seeing some descriptions. I think Megan thought it was funny every time I whispered that I'd been somewhere that was shown. I missed some of the classic scenes, but the new ones were fun too. Change is sometimes good. The new version also plays into my passion for travel. I think I really need to see it again, though, in order to firm up my opinion.
Speaking of change... after a quick character meet with Baymax from Big Hereo 6, we decided to walk clockwise around World Showcase and our first stop was the Norway pavilion. Which has recently been updated with a Frozen theme... despite the fact that this movie takes place in the fictional country of Arendelle. I have never been happy with the idea of having a major Frozen overlay on the Norway pavilion because I feel that World Showcase should be about celebrating the actual, real countries and cultures of the world. But be that as it may, it happened and I was curious. The Frozen Ever After ride (which uses the same track as Maelstrom used) had an insane standby line so we never got to try it. However, the princess meet and greet had a shockingly short wait so we decided to make a stop at the Royal Summerhus to check it out. The queue was mostly inside and it featured so many cute little touches that were reminiscent of the movie. Our favorite part was seeing an adorable little girl in Elsa dress who was completely off-the-charts excited about meeting Elsa! The meet and greet was really well done; it just would have thematically been a better fit somewhere other than World Showcase.
When we got to the China Pavilion, I saw signs for an exhibit about the recently opened Shanghai Disneyland so of course I had to go in since I was excited about my fall trip to that park. I'm not sure how thrilled Megan was, even though I tried to point out some cool things like the Tron ride. But it was super cool for me, as it made my trip seem more real than just seeing 2 dimensional photos online. And, hey, at least it was another chance to be in the A/C!
The next actual stop on our little tour of the nations was in the good old United States of America. We caught the end of Voices of Liberty, who were singing "Seize the Day" from the Broadway musical, Newsies- clearly, theatre just follows me around. We enjoyed the 3:45pm showing of the always epic and moving American Adventure. I was disappointed afterwards that the gift shop seemed smaller than I remembered and didn't have a lot of revolutionary era souvenirs. We're big fans of the musical Hamilton and we were hoping for some references there.
As we continued to loop around World Showcase, I led us on the path into the France pavilion; I had an idea in mind. Megan certainly didn't object when she saw that my destination was L'Artisan Des Glaces, an ice cream parlour, which I was glad to see had no line! Ice cream is definitely a good thing on a hot, Florida day. (by now the sun was back in the sky at full strength) My mint chocolate cone was a wonderfully refreshing treasure to savor. This was my first time opportunity to check out L'Artisan Des Glaces, and I'd definitely return.
I asked Megan if she wanted to check out Test Track, head to another park, or head to the hotel. She chose the former. The standby line was very long but the single rider liner seemed much more manageable. The only disappointing thing was that you can't fully design a car on the pre-ride computer kiosks; you could only choose one of the pre-designed cars. One of my favorite memories of the ride on our last trip was being able to collaborate on a design for a rocking girly purple car. Oh, well! But the ride itself was still fun, and we were only 1 car apart from each other.
I checked online to see if there were Fastpasses at other parks for any rides that would interest us and found one for Splash Mountain at 11:40pm which I booked just in case we decided we wanted to head to the Magic Kingdom later. For now, we decided to head back to the hotel- although we stopped for the Chase character meet and greet (Minnie and Pluto) and also for some requisite pictures at the front of the park since it had been too rainy for photographs when we'd arrived. Once again, our bus came pretty quickly, at about 6:10 pm. I had a WTF moment when I heard the Brady Bunch theme as we were riding, until I later realized that they played various nostalgic tunes whenever our bus was headed to Pop Century because they fit with the theme of the hotel.
Knowing that we wouldn't likely want to move after lazing in our comfortable beds, I suggested stopping at the food court when we got back to the hotel. I was tempted by one of the Asian chicken entrees because it included broccoli that I could have mailed to Julia (inside joke) but I was more in the mood for pizza, as was Megan. I also grabbed a tye died cheesecake cup, which I put in the room refrigerator since I was too full to eat it then. (I was accumulating quite a little stash of sweets since I still had the cake pops!) Meanwhile, we kept messaging Julia and she was probably so done with us. But it was a fun and silly bonding moment for me and Megan.
We both pretty much ended up doing our best imitations of my typically inert cat, Jazzie, as we lazed on the beds. I think Megan made some attempt at doing her homework. At about 8:40, I checked the Disney app and noticed that a Splash Mountain Fastpass had opened for 9:05-10:05pm. I decided to book it so we'd have some motivation to actually do something more interesting with our lives than sitting in a hotel room. After all, this was our only chance to do any of the parks at night and I really enjoy wandering around Magic Kingdom after dark. So we quickly got ourselves together and, in about 15 minutes, we were on a bus en route to the park.
It was apparent once we arrived at the that we hadn't picked the most opportune time for trying to quickly make our way to Frontierland because the Main Street Electric Parade was also traveling in the same direction. I thought it might be smart to take the train to try to bypass the crowds, but when we went upstairs to the station, the boarding area seemed closed. There were no cast members around, and basically everyone seemed confused. So we headed back downstairs and braced ourselves for the massive crowds. When we reached the end of Main Street, we stopped to get our photo taken in front of the castle since we found a photopass photographer without much of a line.
We were walking right behind the parade- and therefore right into crowds that were trying to disperse after watching the parade. Since it was a holiday Saturday, there were a huge number of people in the park. Our journey was extremely slow moving and claustrophobic; we could only take the smallest of steps due to the massive crowds moving in all directions. But Splash Mountain is a huge motivator! But we both agreed it was worth it- Splash is such a joyful and fun attraction. In honor of the final performance of Renee Elise Goldsberry in Broadway's Hamilton, we decided to post in the classic Schulyer Sisters werk pose. I looked extremely horrible the first time, so we made another attempt after we got back in line for standby since it had a posted wait of 30 minutes. This time, I guess I was passable. But when we saw the photo, what caught our eyes was the solo man in the 2nd row who also had 1 arm in the air. Whether he wanted to be part of our pose or not, that anonymous man was the perfect "And Peggy" to our Angelica and Eliza. We were practically crying with laughter!
The park was open until 1, but we decided that we should head back to the hotel before we got too tired especially since we wanted to be able to get up early the next day. It was a very quick jaunt into Magic Kingdom, but we were both glad we hadn't thrown away our shot. A short visit to a crowded Magic Kingdom is always better than lazing on hotel beds all night.
We ended up back at the hotel at about 11:40pm and we stopped in the hotel store. I found the cutest "I love warm hugs" Olaf onesie which I felt would be perfect for a family member's baby shower! I also bought myself a couple plushes because obviously a middle aged woman can never have too many stuffed animals.
It was a fun day- Megan and I got along really well, which was the most important thing. We may not have spent as much time at the parks as we could have, but we actually made some good life choices by pacing ourselves and taking time to relax away from the crowds and heat.
I'd set the alarm for 7:05 and, surprisingly, I woke up 1 minute before it was scheduled to go off; Knowing I'm destined for a day with Butterbeer tends to have that effect on me. Megan, however, was moving more slowly. In my attempts to motivate her out of bed, I jokingly terrorized her with her purple homework binder. Instead of having another peanut butter bar for breakfast, I ate the Lucky Charms I'd bought in Trenton because I felt they'd be better for my stomach.
On my last trip, I'd taken a taxi to Universal. However, this time I decided to try Uber since I'd read that it was cheaper. That was an excellent idea- the fare was $14-$15 each way, and the cars came very promptly. When waiting later to go home, a sign advertised cabs to WDW for at least double the price. So I'm glad I'd done my research.
The ride to Universal was much quicker than I remembered; it only took about 20 minutes. We had a bit of a wait for the park to open, but the line for Universal Studios wasn't nearly as long as it had been 2 years earlier. I think there may have been more people at Islands of Adventure since that park had a brand new King Kong themed attraction; 2 years ago the entire Diagon Alley expansion had been the hot new thing so naturally crowds then were at Universal. I'm sure Kong would be a fun ride to try sometime, but both Megan and I agreed that it was not important to us for this trip. We were much more interested in all the Harry Potter offerings, and I was also looking forward to checking out a new Hello Kitty store.
They let us in the park a little before the scheduled 9am opening. We headed straight to Gringotts, stopping only briefly to get someone to take our photo on a not-very-crowded Diagon Alley. I was excited that the Gringotts queue was only posted as 10 minutes- we quickly stuffed our bags in a locker and got in line. Megan wanted to be sure the ride didn't do anything crazy, although she said she'd probably go on any ride that was Harry Potter themed because she's that big of a geek; I assured her that I wouldn't like it if it was too wild. On my previous trip, I'd only taken the single rider line and I was enthralled to finally walk be able to walk through the regular queue, which takes you through Gringotts bank. The ride itself was as fun as I remembered.
The lockers to store bags during rides were based on your fingerprint. But when we went to open the locker to retrieve the bags, the system couldn't identify my finger absolutely. This was to be a trend the rest of the day. I kept joking that my finger was defective. It might have been funny, but it was a major annoyance since there were so many times we had to store items in lockers in order to go on rides.
It was only around 9:30, but I don't think it's ever too early for ice cream. Especially when it means you can beat the inevitable queues at Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlour. We both eagerly ordered cones of soft serve Butterbeer ice cream. I still think the ice cream here was just a tad better than the same flavor at Warner Brothers studio London. Yummm!
Repeating my plan from 2 years ago, we headed next to King's Cross station to ride the iconic Hogwarts Express train. I knew Megan was really excited about this, and I made sure she didn't miss the visual effect of going through the wall into track 9 3/4. (there was no queue so if I hadn't already known about it, we would have missed out) It's really a well done attraction- a wonderful representation of one of the most memorable parts of the Harry Potter world.
Once we reached the end of the line at Hogsmeade, we saw that the wait for Forbidden Journey was only 15 minutes so we eagerly stowed our bags (I think we combined them in one locker and used Megan's finger) I'm used to feeling a little sick on the Orlando version of the ride but I still choose to ride because it's so cool. (oddly I felt absolutely fine on the 3D version in Japan) However, this time I felt much worse than I'd remembered, even though I closed my eyes a lot of the time. (I wanted to keep my eyes open but the screens were making me dizzy)
I wasn't really up to much after I got off so I suggested sitting down inside the Hog's Head tavern to drink some Butterbeer. I was glad that it was early enough that they hadn't yet reserved all the tables for people eating food because I really needed some time to sit in A/C. I hadn't counted on staying there for an entire hour, but Megan had a lot of trouble finishing her Butterbeer and claimed that she was still full from ice cream (although she'd wanted one and also wanted to finish it). I don't quite understand the concept of getting full on ice cream and soda... but perhaps I'd weigh a bit less if I did.
Eventually, I suggesting leaving in hopes that being outside in the heat might inspire Megan to finish her beverage. And also because I was frankly getting bored of sitting in one spot. Now that we'd accomplished our main goals, we took some time wandering around the various shops. I was excited to see Butterbeer fudge for sale at Honeyduke's so I bought some to take home with me.
Once we were satisfied we'd seen all we needed in the Hogsmeade area, we took the Hogwarts Express back to London/Diagon Alley. The queue was a little longer in this direction, but still not bad. We now had plenty of time to enjoy all the shops and areas there that we'd bypassed earlier in our haste to make sure we hit the most important attractions before the queues got too long.
When I was ready to move on to another area of the park, Megan mentioned that we hadn't been into Ollivanders so we went into the wand shop to catch a show. When we were waiting, one of the Team Members referred to me as a Weasley only I didn't even realize he was talking to me at first because, despite my reddish hair, I have never once identified myself with that wizarding family. I'm a Ravenclaw, afterall, not a Gryffindor.
When we entered the small room for the show, the shop keeper gazed intently through the crowd to choose someone to join him in the role of a wizard to demonstrate the wand choosing the wizard. I fully expected him to pick one of the children and was shocked when he picked... ME! I love performing but I never get selected for these kinds of interactive theme park experiences and I was super excited! I thought about tossing Megan my camera but the lighting was pretty dark and flash wasn't allowed so I thought the better of it. I a blast playing along with the show as the first 2 wands I was given resulted in some weird things happening before finally the room glowed with magic as I was given the "correct" wand for me. And yeah I bought the wand that "chose" me despite the fact that I have no need for a wand because I'm a sucker that way. Megan also bought a wand, but I forget which one.
It was now around 2pm and we were getting very hungry so I suggested going back to the Simpsons fast food area that we'd visited a few years earlier since I knew it was a fun place with a variety of choices. We looked at a couple eateries on the way, but didn't really like those options. Once we arrived at the Simpsons fast food area, we discovered that the line was enormous! It may have been our longest queue of the day. I ordered the Chicken Thumbs, which consisted of chicken tenders with tater tots, and a Buzz Cola (diet cherry cola). Megan chose a kids' chicken tenders meal. Once we finally got our food, a Team Member found us a place to sit; I like when theme parks have someone to seat you so you don't have to search around for vacant tables yourself. It felt really good to sit and eat, and the food was actually pretty good too. However, I couldn't finish my tater tots even though they were yummy, so I texted a photo of the remainder to Julia and said that we needed her to eat the rest.
Finally it was time for me to visit one of my most highly anticipated destinations- the Hello Kitty store! It was magical, and one of the best HK stores I've seen. The decor was bright and cheerful, and I really liked how the store incorporated the park's movie theme by showcasing cartoon versions of film posters featuring Hello Kitty- including ET, Jaws, and King Kong. I had to post a photo of the Back to the Future one because it reminded me of one of my friends who loves Hello Kitty and whose husband is just as passionate about Back to the Future!
I didn't actually buy anything just yet, but I scoped out some ideas for making purchases on the way out of the park. I was very tempted by all the tasty treats offered at the counter, but I had just bought a ton of fudge... plus we still had the cake pops from Friday night in the hotel room along with my tie dye cheesecake. So, in the end, I evenutally bought a chocolate cupcake- because I kinda could not throw away my shot at a Hello Kitty cupcake. I also eventually ended up with a tank top/shorts set to wear around the house in the summer, and an adorable onesie to wear in the cold of winter. Who says I'm not a kid?!?
When we'd been walking around earlier, a couple of people randomly asked us if we had express passes. Of course we didn't. Well, they said they were leaving the park and offered us theirs! This was a bit ironic since we aren't big ride people (unfortunately, the passes are not good for the Harry Potter attractions) but it was fun to accept some random generosity!
Between stops at the Hello Kitty store, we went to ride The Mummy which had been one of our favorites from the previous trip. I'd been a tad nervous about using the express passes but everything went smoothly. Since there was no wait, I suggested looping back and riding again. However, the 2nd time, the line didn't move at all for awhile and it was almost torture for me since the queue is in a dark and closed-in place. The ride itself was still fun- and we died laughing at the gift shop near the exit when we saw bacon cheese crickets for sale. And yes, we checked the ingredients and confirmed they were made with actual crickets. We joked about buying it for Julia- although we didn't have any money on us since my purse was in the locker... and Megan's cash was still in PA.
When we went to retrieve our bags, the lockers were mobbed... and of course my defective finger was still defective. It was getting really old to have to hunt down someone to open the locker and then to dig out my photo ID to show them to confirm that my belongings were indeed mine. Don't get me wrong, I am glad that they checked ID for security purposes... I was just getting sick of having to go through extra steps all the time. (by now, we had too many purchases to put all our stuff together in one locker using Megan's finger) Curiously, my finger always scanned properly when using my tickets at WDW. Megan's sometimes didn't... but at least at Disney, you only need to scan your finger once at the park entrance and then you're done.
I think we were both getting tired, and the idea of returning to the cocoon of our hotel beds was quite alluring. So after making some final purchases, we headed back to the area where the Uber had let us off. At around 5:30pm I called another Uber and was a bit surprised when it came almost instantly. The ride home was... interesting. I eventually realized that the driver was playing Christian rock and I started messaging Megan (and Julia) to discuss this since I felt it would be awkward to say anything out loud about the music choice.
Also, we had remarkable timing once again- it started to rain right after we got in the car. I'd earlier mentioned to Megan that I'd seen some posts online with people complaining that rain ruined their trip. We decided at that time that rain was ruining ours too... by virtue of the fact that it wasn't coming down and chasing the crowds away!
We were practically delirious as we walked from the front of the hotel to our room excitedly chanting "BED!" at each other. We'd done this in our messaging as well, with Julia chiming in with a total AndPeggy response of "Couch?" What follows is an actual excerpt of our very silly conversation:
Me: "Bed is so close I can taste it!"
Megan: "What does bed taste like?"
Megan: "What does Heaven taste like?"
We both literally collapsed on top of the beds... though eventually it got chilly enough that I crawled under covers. I was excited to discover a Harry Potter marathon on TV and planned to have a quiet night ordering room service pizza. Megan actually did some of her homework; she may have even finished it.
At about 7:40, Megan told me that she was hungry, so I picked up the phone and dialed room service. Since it was a rainy holiday weekend, I fully expected a wait for someone to answer- maybe 5-10 minutes. I'm not really sure how long I waited because I didn't even check the time until I felt like I'd been on hold for awhile. And 20 minutes after that, I gave up. Because I'm sorry- the occupancy and the weather were predictable... there is absolutely no excuse for being on hold for 20 minutes! That's just ridiculous, and not the quality of customer service I'd expect from a budget motel, let alone Disney.
I called the front desk to complain (which I later learned was a central number with operators who were certainly not at the hotel) and all they offered to do was to put me back in the phone queue. Except then I'd be starting from scratch again, which meant at least another 20 minutes of waiting. So I asked to speak to a manager. The manager obviously couldn't magically make a pizza appear at our door but he offered us the available options which in turn empowered us to make an informed decision: he could try to get someone from dining to call us back but it might take awhile because they were slammed, we could go to the food court which he warned us was busy, or we could try to order from unnamed local eating establishments outside Disney which I assumed would take awhile. He also offered us 2 any time fastpasses for the next day, which was at least a nice gesture. After checking the Disney app and verifying that the fastpasses were displaying correctly on my account, we grudgingly decided to head down to the food court.
This is where it really helped to be in a preferred room, as we only had a short walk in the rain to the main one; most of the walk was under cover around the perimeter of our building. The line for food was even worse than at lunch at the Simpsons! Or maybe it just seemed that way because I was hungry and annoyed. But at least we'd been warned. Because of the scarcity of tables, we decided to bring our food back to the room- fortunately, there were plastic covers readily available to put on our plates. By the time we got to the front of the line, Megan must have been really hungry; she actually ordered an adult sized pizza slice!
So we marched back to the room, carrying a tray with 2 pizzas covered by plastic which protected them from the rain drops. When I saw the "Pizza Delivery" sign in the elevator, I pointed at it with an exaggerated gesture and dramatically pronounced it "LIES!" In any event, we had our pizza in bed... it just took more effort and aggravation than I'd expected.
A little later, we took out the chocolate Hello Kitty cupcake and split it between the 2 of us. It was definitely yummy! Meanwhile, I was not exactly happy to receive an email from Frontier with the subject "Good News! It's almost time to fly!"- more LIES! At some point, I got cold enough to try on my Hello Kitty onesie. Megan said that she had a onesie at home so we decided to have a onesie party this winter, perhaps at Hershey. By message, Julia indicated that she didn't have a onesie... so I found some truly great ones online to message her with. And by great, I mean terrifying. I was literally crying with tears. Good times.
Perhaps the most appropriate moment of the night was when I tried to go into the My Disney Experience app on my phone and it crashed with the message "Unfortunately, Disney World has stopped" We both got a huge laugh out of that!
Although I set my alarm for 8am, I woke up at 7:30. However, I was totally lazy and didn't really start moving until around 8:30am. It was already the last day of our quickie weekend so it was time to pack everything up. Fortunately, I didn't have much to pack because of how short the trip was. As we exited the room at around 9, I was surprised and disappointed that there was not an Express Checkout hanging from the door like usual. I got even more annoyed when I saw the size of the line at the front desk. But they were vocally encouraging people to rely on the fact that they'd be automatically checked out if they bypassed the desk. Although I wanted a receipt with a list of my charges, I didn't want it enough to wait in that queue. I hoped I might be able to pick one up later before heading to the airport for our 9pm flight.
We left our bags at the desk in front of the hotel; the CM confirmed that they'd be in an air conditioned room which was good because I had fudge and cake pops in one of mine. When we boarded the bus to Magic Kingdom at about 9:30am, I had a slight regret that once again we wouldn't be beating the crowds. But at least we had those extra fastpasses to play with- the ones the manager gave us after we complained about no one picking up the phone for pizza delivery.
When we arrived at the park, the first thing was did was find a Photopass photographer so we could pose for the obligatory pictures in front of the castle. We checked out Splash Mountain but unfortunately it wasn't open yet for unknown reasons. So we hung around New Fantasyland for a bit and got some more Photopass pictures taken- can't get too many of those! We had a 10:30- 11:30 Fastpass for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and it looked like the line was crazy backed up. But fortunately, it was just a bottleneck for scanning magic bands and the actual wait was rather quick. This was Megan's first time riding and she seemed to like it. Although the ride was not as short as I remembered, I still wish it was a tad longer. Still, it's definitely cute and fun.
We headed next back to Splash Mountain which was now open. But on the way, we stopped when we spotted a Photopass photographer at a pretty unique location on the bridge in front of Splash Mountain and we were able to pose with some scenic backgrounds. And then it was time for Splash using one of our extra Fastpasses! We scanned our Magic Bands and were ready to proceed to the queue when the CM stopped us because our scheduled time wasn't until 12:35. I figured there was a glitch with the machine missing our extra fastpasses, I explained the situation. When he asked me to show them to him on my phone, I confidently pulled up the My Disney Experience app- and they were gone! Whaaaaa...?!?
All the issues I'd experienced during the trip came back to me at once, and I was not a happy camper. The CM said that the only way to possibly get the fastpasses reinstated was to go to guest services; the walk to the front of the park seemed like an almost unbearable prospect in the heat and humidity. In this day and age, there really should be a way to communicate with guest services via an app or text- although I suppose if it was that convenient, they'd probably need to hire more people to field all the complaints. But given the flakiness of Disney IT, it would be nice if they had at least a few places throughout the park to sort out Fastpass issues.
Although the CM wouldn't let us ride, I really can't fault him for following policy. He did an awesome job of remaining calm and cheerful, and interacting in a positive way. It wasn't his fault that the issue went beyond his ability to fix it. He actually would have let us ride using our 12:35 FP, but I was too livid at the moment to have enjoyed it. So we headed all the way back to Guest Services at the front of the park.
On the way, I saw that Pirates of the Caribbean had only a 10 minute wait so I suggested we ride... if for no other reason than the fact that some A/C would be most welcome! And of course, it's an awesome classic ride.
Once we got to Guest Services, we had to wait in a short queue. But once we spoke to a CM, it seemed pretty routine for her to put extra fastpasses on our magic band accounts; eventually, she decided to put 3 on there instead of the 2 we initially had, I guess for some extra pixie dust. Other than the hassle of having to walk so far, it was pretty easy to rectify the issue. But walking in the sun and heat is not exactly trivial. I will also note that this is probably the first time in all my visits to WDW that I've had to complain to Guest Services about an issue. It's not something I generally do.
By now, it was well into our window to use the 11:30-12:30 Space Mountain fastpass, so we headed over to Tomorrowland. We also made a stop at Carousel of Progress because it's imperative for me to bop along to "It's a great big beautiful tomorrow" during every trip I make to WDW. Also- A/C and no line are good things.
By the time we got done with CoP, I was starving and Megan was also hungry. There was really only one option for a lunch venue- Pinocchio's Village Haus... of silliness. We'd shared many silly laughs there over the years. And even though Julia couldn't be there in person, we messaged her so hopefully she felt like she was there in spirit.
I chose to order the Caprese Flatbread, not quite realizing that it came with actual tomato slices on it instead of tomato sauce. But I was so hungry that I ate half of it before I realized I could pick off the tomatoes. (it was delicious; I just don't like the texture of tomatoes) Megan ordered a kid's meal pizza which came with a Danon Danimals smoothie that was packaged in an amusing container which looked like a monkee referee. Suffice it to say that said beverage was the object of much mocking and jokery. Eventually, it ended up with one of my uneaten tomatoes on top- and Megan decided that tomato strawberry smoothies were the new rage. We also named the monkey on the bottle "Ted". I can't recall why, but it probably had something to do with rhyming with "bed"... and with us just being our silly selves.
After lunch, we basically ended out camping out at Splash Mountain which we rode 6 times between 1:23 and 4, with an extended break to sit and chill on a bench halfway in-between. It was awesome! There were several things that contributed to this achievement:
Obviously we had our timed Fastpass.
After scanning that Fastpass on the reader, I was able to get a new one... for 2 minutes later!
Whatever the lady did to our magic bands, it seemed like it wasn't taking the Fastpasses off our account- the reader would turn white instead of green, and the attendant would wave us through. Which led me to adapt a line from Hamilton to "Fastpass doesn't discriminate, it just gives and gives"
There was a major lull in the standby line around the time of the parade which allowed us to use the standby line at least once with practically no wait.
Eventually, the system read our scheduled Fastpass; however, that allowed me to book a new one. And my new favorite activity was trying to change the time of an existing FP to get it sooner. It was like playing the slots- at first, something ridiculous like 10pm would come up, but eventually it seemed like if I kept checking, a great time would open. I'm not sure if this would work on crowded days, but it was a lot of fun to play around with, especially during our break.
All in all, we actually didn't exceed our allotted FP usage, although we still had at least one technically remaining on my account when it was time to start heading back for the resort. No regrets. There were times when half of my hair was soaked due to splashes and the other half was dry and frizzy, but we had fun hanging around our favorite place. We weren't able to Occupy Log (ride twice without getting off in between), but it was still cool. We kept seeing the CM from earlier in the day as he rotated to different positions. We wondered if he missed us when we left.
All good things must come to an end... so, after raiding the shops so Megan could buy a sweatshirt, we headed out to the bus. After waiting for about 10 minutes, we were getting a bit impatient. As a bus rounded the corner, Megan motioned for it to come to us. And even though it said "Pop", the driver faked us out and swerved like he was going somewhere else. We were laughing.
Back at the hotel, I was indeed able to get a receipt for my stay at the front desk since it wasn't crowded. When I asked the CM why we didn't get an Express Checkout, she said my account was flagged not to have one. She seemed baffled and said that usually happens when people change their method of payment or explicitly ask not to have one. I inquired whether it was because I'd complained the previous night about the pizza delivery, but she said they'd never do that.
Megan was hungry so we went into the food court for a snack. She decided on a chocolate chip cookie and that sounded like a good idea to me, too! And it was yummy. I also retrieved and reorganized my bags, and then we went to wait outside for our Magic Express bus to the airport. We may have gotten on one scheduled for an earlier time than the one we were supposed to be on, but it was there and they let us board. It's always sad leaving Disney property... but I'm sure I'll be back.
Once we arrived at the airport, we were COLD. We had to walk awhile to get to the Frontier desk, but we got there at about 6:20, leaving us plenty of time before our 9pm flight. My first order of business was to change out of the damp clothes from Splash Mountain. Thankfully, I had pants and a button down shirt with me. Megan wore her new sweatshirt.
We spent some time exploring the pre-security shops- mainly Lush so Megan could sniff some more bath bombs. Thankfully the security line was about as short as I'd ever seen it, so we went through pretty quickly. It can be a bit of a nightmare so I was very grateful the line was so short.
After taking the monorail to our gate area, I was ready for some dinner. Unfortunately we couldn't continue our tradition of eating our last supper at the airport McDonald's because there was none at the area we were at. After surveying our options, we ended up at Sbarro's. Megan had pizza and I decided to go with spaghetti and meatballs. As we ate, we saw the guy at the next table putting ketchup on his pizza and started laughing. I mean, WTF?!? Also I idly checked for Splash Mountain fastpasses and, after clicking through a few times, managed to get one that would have been almost instantaneous. Too bad we couldn't actually use it. I was definitely going to miss playing the Splash Mountain Fastpass game!
At the gate, we laughed at some of the ride photos of random people that had made their way to my Photopass account. Megan was also taking selfies and snapchatting with her friends. I'd been worried that she might spend the whole trip engrossed in that kind of thing, but she really hadn't. At least not in a noticeable way.
There was some drama on our airplane because apparently some children were seated in an exit row and the family wanted to be all together. I guess they eventually found some volunteers. Also I had the Annoying Kid behind me for the flight. You know the one- he keeps doing things to put pressure on the seat in front of him. Thank goodness it was a short ride!
As we took off from Orlando International Airport, we were treated to the sight of 2 sets of fireworks. Somehow that seemed like the perfect ending. (much better than how boring it was to sit in a trailer in Trenton for seemingly forever waiting for our luggage) Yes, there were a number of glaring problems with this trip. But I got to spend time with my niece in one of my favorite places- and I wouldn't trade that for the world!