Friday, October 17, 2014

Disney Trip 2014: Hollywood Studios

We spent Day 4 at Hollywood Studios.  For the whole trip I followed the recommendations of as far as which parks to attend each day.  This was the only day that I chose a non-recommended park.  And that ended up being a mistake.

Touring Plans had predicted a crowd level of 4/10 for this day at Hollywood Studios. So even though it was not recommended, I thought a 4/10 shouldn't be so bad.  And a 4/10 wouldn't have been so bad!  But the observed crowd levels for our day at Hollywood Studios ended up being 8/10!  It was insanely crowded!

When we got back from the park that night, I immediately did some research to figure out why it was so unexpectedly crowded.  It turns out the Frozen Summer Fun was coming to end, and this was the last weekend for the parade and fireworks and some other stuff.  The Frozen Summer Fun was supposed to end at the beginning of September, so when I planned our trip, I wasn't even planning for any of it.  I had to redo our whole touring plan to fit in the Frozen stuff.  I guess everyone else redid their plans to fit in the Frozen stuff, because they were ALL in the park on this day!

It also was Dapper Day at Hollywood Studio.  There were tons of people dressed up in old Hollywood glamour style outfits, posing and taking pictures around the park.  Turns out it was an organized event called Dapper Day, where people are encouraged to show up in costume to celebrate "sophisticated fashion."  

However, even with all the extra people in the park, we still managed to have a good day.  And we still didn't really have to wait in line at all.  So here's how our day went!

8:20 am:  We arrived at Hollywood Studios.  We could have gotten into the park at 8:00 am, as this was an Extra Magic Morning Hours day.  I was so tempted to get there at about 7:30 am, and try to ride Toy Story Midway Mania first thing.  It is one of the most popular rides in all of Disney, and I think it might be my favorite too.  At rope drop, there is a massive stampede of people who walk straight to Toy Story to try to ride it.  I wasn't sure if I really wanted to deal with the chaos of the stampede and trying to park our stroller and get in line with the people.  I've heard it is just insane how people can act about getting into line for the ride.  I wanted to try it, but decided it probably wasn't worth the stress and chaos.

So we walked into the park at 8:20 (still 40 minutes before the public opening).  It looked like this as we walked in, pretty empty!
We decided to head towards MuppetVision 3D first.  But on our way we spotted Chip and Dale with not much of a line.  So we stopped to meet them.  

One of my favorite pictures from all our Disney trips was a picture of Audrey with Chip and Dale in 2011.  I thought we needed a little side by side comparison of then and now.

After Chip and Dale, we walked to the MuppetVision 3D show.   I think it's an entertaining little movie, but my kids are just not big fans of all the 3D special effects!  It was a little intense for Isla at least.

9:00 am  The park was now officially open to the public.  We headed over to Wanderin Oaken's Trading Post and Funland.  This was set up as part of the Frozen Summer Fun.  I'm not sure if it is still going on now or not, or if we were there for its final days. They have a store featuring all things Frozen (which was really lame) and a snow/ice play area.  They have real snow that you can play with for free for 10 minutes.  I suppose if you live in Florida and never see snow this might be fun, but I don't really see the appeal.  Audrey liked it, but Isla was afraid to touch it.

They also have ice skating.  You can rent skates and ice skate for 30 minutes for $10 per person.  We did not do that.

There are also several Aurasma photo opportunities set up in this area.  You download the Aurasma app to your smart phone, then use it to take a picture against a backdrop.  When you point your phone at the backdrop, a character will appear in the photo and you can "pose" for a picture.  It was really cool.  Here is Audrey with Sven and Olaf.

We stopped in a few stores and did some browsing (the girls had a little money they had saved to buy a souvenir) and then we went to the Voyage of the Little Mermaid to use our 9:40 Fastpass.  I really should have read this post that I wrote after our 2011 trip about this show should be skipped with small children.  I remember it being a little scary for Audrey at that age, but I forgot just how scary and intense it was.  With our Fastpass, we were seated in the front rows.  Most people would probably consider this to be a good thing, but being close just made it even more intense.  Audrey was okay with the show this year, but Isla was terrified.  I ended up covering her eyes and ears until the scary part (with Ursula) was over.  Note to self:  the Little Mermaid show here is TOO scary for the 3 and under crowd!!

After the Little Mermaid show, we were planning to stop by the Starring Rolls cafe for a snack as we didn't really eat much breakfast.  But the line was CRAZY long!  I knew it was a popular spot, but I had no idea the line would be so long.  This was my first hint that the day was going to be much, much more crowded than I expected.

10:30  We wandered around for a while to find a snack, then took it with us to find a spot for the Frozen parade.  All of my research led me to the steps in front of the (former) American Idol Experience.  I had read from several sources that these steps are always empty until right before the parade starts at 11:00.  Well, at 10:30 they were starting to fill up, and by 10:35 the steps and all the area around them were completely full!  Another sign that this was going to be a super crowded day at Hollywood Studios.
When we sat down here, it was cloudy.  But by the time the parade started, the sun was out.  And it was hot!  Probably about the hottest it had been on our whole trip.  I felt so bad for all the parade performers who were fully decked out in their Frozen winter gear.  So hot!!

After the parade, I was hoping we could run over and catch the Disney Jr. show that started at 11:20, but we just missed it.  Instead we went to explore the animation building.  Wreck it Ralph greets here, and Audrey thought she wanted to meet him.  But then she saw how big he was and how he was stomping around, and she changed her mind.  I was glad because his line looked really long.  Instead we just explored a few of the exhibits in the building.  There were a couple of interactive computer games that the girls enjoyed.

11:45 am, We still had about 30 minutes until our 12:15 lunch reservation at Hollywood and Vince, but we decided to try to check in early.  And we got right in!  Just in time, because a huge rainstorm came out of nowhere, and it poured shortly after we were seated inside.

The lunch at Hollywood and Vine was another buffet, with food very similar to 1900 Park Fare and Chef Mickeys.  At this point, I was getting a little sick of all the buffet food.  Plus the atmosphere here was loud and a bit obnoxious.  Lots and lots of little kids there to see the Disney Jr. characters,  If you have older kids or no kids, I would definitely skip this place.  But the girls loved it, so Daniel and I took one for the team and enjoyed it with them.  This meal features Doc McStuffins, Handy Manny, Sofia the First, and Jake (from Jake and the Neverland Pirates).  My girls watch all those shows, so they thought it was great!  Here are all the pictures:

1:10 pm  After lunch, we decided to continue on with the Disney Jr. fun and go see the Disney Jr. show.  We got in line at 1:10 for the show that started at 1:30.  I wish we would have waited just a little bit longer to get in line.  For this show, everyone sits on the floor.  And the way the room is set up, those closest to the stage have the WORST seats.  People with Fastpasses sit in the front, as do people who are first in line.  We ended up sitting in the first third of the audience, and it was not the greatest seat.  Being in the back is better.  So I would get here closer to the start of show time, so you can sit in the back!  This is a fun show for kids, as it features their favorite Disney Jr. characters and stuff falls from the ceiling, which is pretty cool when you are in preschool.  It's not so fun for adults, as sitting cross legged on the floor for 30 minutes is not comfortable.  Daniel and I felt really old when we had to stand back up again.

2:00 pm  Time to use our Toy Story Fastpass!  Since we didn't ride it at rope drop, this was our only chance to ride for this trip.  The wait time was 95 minutes!!!!  That's the longest wait we saw anywhere.  I timed our Fastpass wait, and it was 10 minutes from the time we walked in until the time we got on the ride.  I cannot believe all those people waiting in the 95 minute line.  It is a cool ride, but I don't know that any three minute ride is worth that kind of wait.  Yet another sign that this was not a typical September crowd level at Hollywood Studios.

When we got off the Toy Story ride, it started to rain again.  It looked like it might be a big downpour, so we got all set up with our ponchos and stroller rain cover.  It was still only lightly raining, so we decided to start walking and look for a covered place to sit down and have a drink.  The next thing on our plan was to check out the Honey I Shrunk the Kids play area.  But it was still raining lightly when we got there and packed with people, so we kept walking.  Isla fell asleep in the stroller.  Every single snack stand we passed had a huge line.  Then Daniel found us the perfect place.  It was a quiet little coffee shop called The Writer's Stop.  Only a handful of people were in there, and they had open tables!  We crashed here for a while and let Isla sleep in the stroller.

3:15 pm  It was about time to use our Fastpass for the Frozen Sing a Long show.  There are several different ways to get tickets to this show, and we opted for the Fastpass route.  Those with Fastpasses were seated on the far left side of the auditorium.  A few people were complaining (loudly) that we should get better seats with Fastpasses.  However, the Fastpasses just guarantee you will have a seat, not necessarily a good one.  The seats really weren't that bad; we could still see fine.  The theater was completely packed, and there were even people standing along the sides who did not have seats.

The show was much better than I expected.  I knew it was a sing a long that showed clips from the movie, and I was thinking it would be lame.  But they interspersed the songs with some live action that feature two humorous narrators and guest appearances from Kristoff, Anna and Elsa.  Combined with some cool special effects, it was a really cute show.  We all enjoyed it a lot.

4:30 pm  We were pretty tired by now, so we decided to call it a day.  The girls were anxious to spend their souvenir money, so we did a little shopping and then made our way out of the park.

We spent the rest of the evening swimming and hanging out at the resort.  More details on that later.

Next up:  Our last day at Disney, which we spent at Magic Kingdom and a new resort!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Disney Trip 2014: Chef Mickey's

Chef Mickey's is a super popular character meal at the Contemporary Resort featuring the Fab Five:  Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy and Pluto.  Getting a reservation there is not easy.  I would recommend that you book it six months in advance.  I didn't have the luxury of booking at the six month mark though.  I had to search for a really long time, but I got lucky a couple of weeks before our trip and was able to get a dinner reservation for us here.

Although Chef Mickey's is such a popular restaurant, it also receives a lot of bad reviews in the Disney forums, especially at dinner.  People complain that the food is bad, the restaurant is dirty, the service is slow.  There are all kinds of bad reviews on this place.  Yet it remains to be one of the harder reservations to get at Disney World, so obviously plenty of people still like it.  Who knows?  I was curious to try the place out for myself and see how we liked it.

The food was okay.  It was about the same as all the other character meal buffets we visited.  I really can't remember what we ate.  There was nothing super special about the food, but it was not awful either, and we all found plenty to eat.  I didn't notice the restaurant being dirty at all.  Except for the windows by our table.  They were very dirty on the outside, but I probably wouldn't have even noticed if I wasn't looking for things that were dirty due to all the reviews I read.  Other than that, the restaurant looked perfectly clean.

Our service was kind of slow.  At least towards the end of the meal when it was getting late, and we just wanted to leave.  It seemed like we waited forever for our check!

Overall, we had a great experience here.  The girls just loved seeing all the characters.  I think our bill for this dinner was around $135 for all four of us.  I don't know if it was a meal that was worth that much money, and I don't know if I would ever pay that much for this meal out of my own pocket.  But since we were not paying for it on this trip, I will say it was just great!!   Now for the pictures!

Daniel and I were exhausted after our busy day at the Magic Kingdom, but these girls just never slowed down!  They had a lot of fun playing with each other while we waited for our table.

Then it was time to eat!  And start meeting characters!!

We finished up and got out of the restaurant around 8:00 pm, very tired and ready for bed.  To get back to our resort, we needed to take the monorail from the Contemporary to Magic Kingdom.  Then we needed to get on a bus at Magic Kingdom to take us back to our resort.  Most of the time, the Disney transportation system is pretty impressive.   I can't even begin to imagine the amount of coordination it takes to transport hundreds of thousands of people daily all over their property, by bus, boat and monorail.  And they do it all in a timely manner.

So the transportation at Disney is great...until it stops working.  The monorail got stuck at the Contemporary for some technical reason, which means we had to stand and watch and wait while they tried to fix it.  I guess we could have just walked back to Magic Kingdom, but we were quickly trapped in a massive crowd of people, as everyone was waiting to get on just like us.  Our total wait time was probably about 20 minutes max, but we were so tired that it felt like forever!  We finally got on the monorail, transferred to our bus, and were back at the resort by 9:00.  And we went straight to bed, with plans to get up super early for Extra Morning Magic Hours at Hollywood Studios the next day.