The Resort Life

While my Disney Vacation was awesome in almost every respect, Disney and I did have a small clash.  At the end of this post I will share the letter I wrote to Disney after the Day 2 Monofail incident, which garnered positive results; but I’ve done a lot of thinking about how and why that happened.

First, there is no disputing that Disney had conflicting information.  Even they acknowledge that.  I “travel well.”  I have stayed in lots of hotels.  I know the ins and outs of flying in the post-9/11 world.  I can figure out a bus schedule and a subway system.  But the sad fact is that I am just not well-suited to a resort-style vacation.  The very notion runs contrary to my personality type.  I like doing things myself.  I like being ABLE to do things for myself.  I do not like creating work for other people, even if it’s their job.  I like planning things.  I like details.  I like getting them right.

And so I planned.  We sat in the airport in Binghamton planning our days at Disney.  When necessary, I looked something up.  They have a great web site and a WONDERFUL app that lets you plan everything, make dining reservations, FastPass+ reservations, etc.  They encourage it!

But it’s a RESORT.  Literally every employee you see is paid to help you and do things FOR you!  But they aren’t mind readers.  Had I gone to the front desk/concierge with our ideas and “must-sees” they would have fallen all over themselves to help us plan our day(s).  I would have been presented with the weekly pamphlet detailing park hours and monorail hours of operation and never have even seen the web site with the conflicting information.

It simply didn’t occur to me to ask.

Next time will be different.

My letter:

My Family is having generally wonderful time on our vacation.  Thank you!  It has not been without its specific frustrations, however.  This morning did not get off to a good start.  We had 8:40am breakfast reservations at Be Our Guest in the Magic Kingdom.  We are staying in the Contemporary Resort.  Your web site states: “The Walt Disney World Monorail System operates from one hour prior to earliest park opening until one hour after latest park closing.” ( ) Planning on that, we were up in plenty of time, descended to the fourth floor at 8:00, only to be greeted by a guard, a locked gate, and a sign indicating that the Monorail runs from 8:30am.  Given that the Magic Kingdom opened at 8:00am today, we expected that the Monorail would have been operating since 7:00am (per the web site).
The guard was helpful in that he directed us to the bus terminal.  So we went to the bus terminal.  By 8:30, no bus for the Magic Kingdom had arrived, so we went back inside and joined the line for the Monorail.  We didn’t get to Be Our Guest until 9:00 or so.  (They took very good care of us!)
I am not writing for myself.  I am writing for the next person who takes your published information at its word and makes plans based on them.  Please either update your web site to reflect actual operation of the Monorail, or update the service to bring it in line with what is published.  I hope you’ll agree that’s a reasonable request!
Romeyn Prescott
Potsdam, NY
PS: I have since learned there is a walkway from CR to MK.  We will be investigating that, weather permitting.

Disney Vacation Day 4

Today was Magic Kingdom Day.  It was OK, but we’re very tired!

We forewent scheduled breakfast and decided to “wing it” in the Magic Kingdom.  Having an early FastPass reservation for Thunder Mountain, we walked in the entrance and went straight up to the train platform–a shortcut to Frontierland exiting right next to the ride.  It being so early, there was only one train running and we JUST missed it.  It would be half an hour before it returned.  On our way there we stopped in Starbucks and got breakfast.  We also got notified that the ride was closed and our Fastpass was now good for any of the other rides in the area, anytime that day with no reservation required.

We went to the Haunted Mansion, then It’s A Small World (again for me and Brady!), Splash Mountain, Tom Sawyer Island, A ride around th park on the WDW Railroad, Space Mountain, Carousel Of Progress (at Kyle’s request), the Wedway Peoplemover, lunch with Winnie the Pooh and Friends at the Crystal Palace, the Swiss Family Treehouse, The Enchanted Tiki Room, The Hall of Presidents, and finally (after 4 tries) the Liberty Square Riverboat.  After all that, we were pooped and bored and so returned to the hotel.  Amanda and I availed ourselves of the pool facilities.  Brady had actually returned earlier, nursing a sore stomach.  We had dinner at the Contempo Café in our hotel and Amanda and I left the boys to return to the Magic Kingdom to see the Main Street Electrical Parade, “Celebrate The Magic,” and Wishes Nighttime Spectacular (fireworks).

I’ll have another post soon on the folly of my expectations for aspects of this trip, which clearly were unreasonable; but there were a few things today that were disappointing.  Today was the only day with “bad” weather.  It’s very interesting to see what happens to this place at the mere HINT of lightning.  RIdes close down (like the Jungle Cruise).  The street vendors from whom you all of a sudden have a nasty craving for a bottle of water or Coke are suddenly nowhere to be seen.  The damned Liberty Belle leaves every half hour, SHARP.  If you are 3 seconds late, too bad.  Now, I applaud punctuality.  But when the attendant looks right at me from the boarding ramp as I shout from the gate, “room for one more?!” and ignores me instead of politely, but firmly informing me, “No, I’m sorry, sir!” I get annoyed.  Chef Mickey’s, a venue that takes walk-ins for buffet-style breakfast with cartoon characters inexplicably transforms at the end of the day into a hyper-exclusive hot-spot that is booked solid 6 months in advance for dinner.  The…I guess I’ll have to call him the Maitre’d…will not only tell you this, he’ll barely contain his contempt as he sneers the information at you.  There are 5 elevators in the Contemprary Resort.  They dont tell you this, but I was able to deduce that at dinner time they commandeer two of the elevators for express/direct service between the conference center on the second floor and the rooftop restaurant.  This makes for a LOT of disgruntled people on the 4th floor (the “hub” of the hotel) who see these two elevators blowing right past floor 4, despite the “up” and “down” buttons being pressed.

If I haven’t said it already, the food everywhere here is amazing.  We have not had a bad food experience yet.  Staff, presentation, quality–all get top marks!  The Electrical Parade hasn’t changed much.  But the “Celebrate the Magic” presentation on the face of Cinderella’s Castle defies description.  And the “Wishes” fireworks presentation sure makes a hell of a lot more sense from in FRONT of the castle than it did while standing in the middle of Fantasyland behind it, looking up somewhat bewildered (which is where I was on Sunday night).  The show is well-choreographed, but has to be seen from in front of the castle to be properly appreciated.

Our shuttle to the airport leaves at 12:20 P. M. tomorrow.  We have all morning to do “one last thing” if we want.  I think we’re going to take the Jungle Cruise and Big Thunder Mountain Railway!

Disney Vacation Day 3

Today was EPCOT day!  And it was a great one.

More Monorail troubles, however.  Knowing that we couldn’t get out of our hotel using the Monorail until 8:30 (we learned that yesterday), we left early to take a bus to the Ticket and Transportation center where we could catch the other Monorail that goes to EPCOT.  We got there at 8:30 only to find THAT Monorail closed too, with a sign stating it doesn’t open until 9:00.  We had to wait almost half an hour for a SRO bus to EPCOT.  *sigh*  I write this having had not 20 minutes ago a conversation with a Front Desk rep.  When we got back to our room tonight there was a message light on the phone.  Disney had read the letter I wrote yesterday and it got results!  [Yes, I’m “that guy,” the one who writes letters when he feels customer service could be better.  More on that in another blog post soon.]  I don’t know if they will change the web site as I requested, but it turns out there is a timetable at the front desk which details the daily schedule for the Monorail, and it’s different almost every day!  That would have been nice to know before.  The chap I spoke with was very nice–even sympathetic.  But that doesn’t change the fact that Disney’s own transportation system seems stacked against the patron who wants to actually BE at any of the parks when they open!  We’d have been better off calling a local cab, if they even allow them on the property.  But forewarned is forearmed.  Tomorrow will be better, now that I have this new information!

Enough negativity.  Today “felt” better than yesterday.  We weren’t rushed and saw almost everything we wanted to.  “Soarin'” was the only thing we didn’t get to, and none of us really cared.  Here’s the rundown of how today’s itinerary ended up: Breakfast at Chef Mickey’s, Bus to EPCOT, Spaceship Earth, Mission: SPACE, Living With The Land, The Seas with Nemo & Friends, Turtle Talk with Crush, Lunch at Coral Reef Restaurant, Captain EO; then a tour around the lake of the World Showcase pavilions, including the “O Canada!” cinema 360 movie, the France movie, Voices of Liberty (America), a snack at the Liberty Inn (after which I helped a pollster troubleshoot her tablet which wasn’t working), Reflections of China (also cinema 360), Dinner at the Mexican Pavilion, and the evening capped off by the fantastic “Illuminations: Reflections of Earth” light show and fireworks display.

Some notes: Turtle Talk with Crush was hilarious and probably rather underrated.  It uses the decades-old gimmick of a real person who can see the room (but who can’t be seen) voicing the surfer dude turtle from “Finding Nemo,” but what was really amazing is that he also seemed to be able to control the turtles animation, including lip movement.  It was like a digital marionette and for an I.T. guy, it was impressive to watch.  The entire “Sea” exhibit is incredible.  The aquarium is so huge, the globe of Spaceship Earth could fit inside it!  Did you know it’s illegal to touch a manatee in the wild?  (It’s OK if they touch you, however.  I checked.)  Captain EO…I had never seen it.  I’m not sure I care now that I have.  🙂  The “O Canada” movie has been updated since I was last here.  Martin Short now hosts and narrates.  Dinner at the Mexican Pavilion was amazing.  I love the “outside inside” ambiance of that pavilion!  It is eternally twighlight/early evening in there.  Very beautiful.

Someone on Facebook today asked about the weather.  I’ll admit I thought it was lunacy to come here, of all places, in the middle of July.  As a speaker at a conference I recently attended said, “Going to Disney World in July is like going to the surface of the sun, and then going to the DMV they have there.”  But we spend almost no time outside!  All of the buildings are air conditioned, as are all of the rides.  IF a line is long enough to snake outside of a building, you aren’t outside for very long.  Even the walk around World Showcase wasn’t bad, as we were constantly ducking in and out of stores.

While in between rides, I discovered that Boar’s Head had noticed my Instagram post from Saturday.  I have been asked to call their customer service line to discuss the matter with them.  I’ll try and make time for that tomorrow.  If not, definitely on Thursday while we are waiting at the airport!

Disney Vacation Day 2

Today was Hollywood Studios day!

We had breakfast reservations for 8:40am at Be Our Guest in Fantasyland in the Magic Kingdom.  We had planned to take the Monorail to MK, unaware at the time of the relative convenience of a walking path from CR to MK.  The Disney web site states that the Monrail system runs from one hour prior to the earliest opening of any park to one hour after the latest closing of any park.  Since Magic Kingdom opened at 8:00, we expected to be able to ride the Monorail from our hotel at any point after 7:00.  When we got to the entrance, we were greeted by a gate, a guard, and a sign indicating that the Monorail opened at 8:30.  The guard was helpful in that he pointed out that we could take a bus.  So we tried that.  After waiting half an hour for a bus that never came, we went back inside and joined the huge line for the Monorail.  Result: we were half an hour late for our reservation.  They took very good care of us, however!

Breakfast at Be Our Guest was very good.  Its a limited menu and they have everything on hand with waitstaff constantly roaming the dining rooms with stocked carts, delivering whatever you ordered.  Very efficient!  Drinks are self-serve.  The food was very good, even if my mood by this point was not.

We left the Magic Kingdom and took the bus to Hollywood Studios.  From a design perspective, this is my favorite of the 4 parks.  I just love the Art Deco period, and there are so many details!  There wasn’t a whole lot of “exploring” this park like there was in Animal Kingdom yesterday.  Maybe it’s because I was tired, maybe its because I forgot to have coffee at breakfast; but today felt a little rushed in comparison.  When we got there, a performance of the Frozen Summer Spectacular was in full progress, blocking the main street.  We skirted it and headed straight for the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, followed by Star Tours, Beauty & The Beast Live on Stage, (a long) lunch at the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theatre, the Great Movie Ride, “Lights, Motors, Action!” Extreme Stunt Show, and wrapped up with Muppet Vision 3-D.  A brief rest back at the hotel and we had dinner at The Wave of American Flavors restaurant in the the Contemporary Resort.

Rides and shows are rides and shows.  I don’t have a lot to say about them.  The Beauty & The Beast Live On Stage was very good, but not as amazing as yesterday’s similar Lion King performance.  The Sci-Fi Dine-In Theatre had good food with a 1950s feel.  “Tables” were mock 50’s cars converted to diner tables.  Dim lighting and a massive projection screen have the effect of eating in your car at the drive-in.  Posts with speakers next to the cars played the sound for what was on the screen: a combination of 50s era cartoons (Chuck Jones era Tom & Jerry), “News of the Future” vintage newsreels, and trailers for really cheesy B-movies from the 50s.

I have decided to get to bed before midnight tonight and am not venturing over to the Magic Kingdom (which closes at Midnight).  I am sitting in the Contempo Café writing this post and abusing the privilege my bottomless refill mug affords me.  As I have been sitting here, I have been watching one of the workers.  The Café is on the fourth floor.  The Monorail is above on the fifth.  As the express Monorail passes through the building, it has full view of the Café.  Each time it does, this girl gets genuinely excited, stops what she is doing, and waves to the train.  Disney World IS a magical place, and it’s because of people like her.  And now that I’m done with this post, I’m going to walk up to her and tell her I think so!



Disney Vacation Day 1

We got in very late to the Contemporary Resort.  By the time we had unwound, unpacked, and turned in, it was about 2:30 A. M.  We had breakfast reservations at Chef Mickey’s for 7:30, so that meant about 4 hours of sleep.

We got up and had breakfast.  Having reviewed the schedules for the four theme parks, we decided that today would be Animal Kingdom day.  After breakfast we boarded the bus from our hotel and arrived at Animal Kingdom shortly after the park opened.  We hit Kali River Rapids first (after buying some hats and sunscreen) and got soaked, which kept us cool most of the rest of the morning.  We took the safari tour, the walking tour through the forest, went to Conservation Station (train!), had an AMAZING lunch at the Rainforest Café, the Primeval Whirl roller coaster in Dinoland, the Bugs Life show in the theatre under the Tree of Life, Dinosaur, the “time travel” odyssey, The Lion King show which was absolutely incredible, and lastly, Expedition Everest, which is one hell of a roller coaster.

We left the park around 7, despite there still being 2 “magic hours” left to which we were entitled.  But all the food places had closed and we hadn’t had dinner yet.  (Did I mention how amazing lunch was?)

We took the bus back to the hotel where Amanda and Kyle decided to relax.  But Brady any I weren’t done yet, not by a long shot!  No, the Magic Kingdom was open until midnight!  Off we went, taking the Monorail the “long way” around the lagoon.  (They don’t let you ride in the nose with the pilot anymore–a pilot died in a collision between two monorails about 10 years ago.  They won’t tell you this, but it’s not a secret.)  Main Street USA was already lining with folks getting ready for either the fireworks, the Electrical Parade, or both.  We didnt care about either of those things (we’ll see them later) and so made a beeline for “It’s A Small World,” which is one of my favorite rides.  Brady grudgingly accompanied me (he’s a good sport).  We left there intending to make our way to Tomorrowland.  On the way we passed a LIttle Mermaid ride, which I just HAD to take.  Brady once again indulged me.  But my wanting a picture with Ariel was just too much for him, and so he waited outside while I did that.  After that I found him quickly and we made our way to Tomorrowland as planned.  The Disney App indicated that Space Mountain was temporarily offline, so we rode the Wedway Peoplemover.  After that we got some ice cream and wandered back into Fantasyland to see the fireworks.  By then Space Mountain was running again and so we got in line for that.

And now here I am sitting in the Contempo Café enjoying my 24×7 refillable mug and typing this post.

Time for bed!  I am exhausted.  Happy, but exhausted.

Getting there is half the fun.

I am on Vacation with my Family.  This is the first time since the advent of the SmartPhone I have actually made the conscious decision to “unplug” from work.  No e-mail, no phone calls.  Just me, my Family, and Walt Disney World!

After a full day if trying to do it myself, I called Disney in exasperation and just let them do all the planning.  I didnt want to hear about a gazillion options.  I wanted to get from any airport North of NYC to Orlando International.  I wanted Disney to pick us up and take us to our hotel.  I wanted that hotel to be the Contemporary Resort.  (A “Bucket List” item for me since the day I first laid eyes on the place in 1982 at the age of 13.)  No long drive.  No rental car.  No late-night drives to the hotel.  No worrying about food.  It’s all paid for.

We are here, but we almost didn’t make it.

We drove to Binghamton on Saturday morning to see Brady’s new apartment at SUNY Binghamton where he starts grad school in a few weeks.  Then we left for the Binghamton Regional Airport, forgetting to fill up on the way.  When we get back, we have 10 miles, according to my car’s computer, to find a gas station.  Hopefully, we will not need to invoke my AAA membership.  We arrived 2 hours before our flight, hich got delayed three times due to “weather” somewhere.  The plane from Newark couldn’t get to us.  Fortunately we had a 4-hour layover in Newark, most of which was eaten up by the delays.  We got to Newark in time to make our flight.

Speaking of things being eaten, at Newark we made a mad dash for our gate.  Murphy’s Law was in full force–our arrival gate was literally the farthest it could possibly be from our departure gate.  And the slidewalks were all broken, of course.  We had time, and so decided to get some food.  The Family had pizza, but I saw a Boar’s Head deli and ordered a custom sandwich on a sub roll.  On my first bite, I felt something hard.  “Oh shit,” was my first thought.  I had felt this before–a filling came loose!  No…no pain, no cavity, per my probing tongue, where there hadn’t been one moments ago.  Intead of probing my teeth, I readied my bite fr another chew and bit down on it again.  “Ow.”  (Not really.)  I spit it out onto my tray.  I don’t know exactly what it was, but it was jewely of some kind!  I brought it back to the counter, inserting myself in line at the cash register.  Not making a scene, I simply slid the tray forward and pointed.  The cashier looked, picked it up and took it to the kitchen.  I was assured I would get another sandwich.  (I did, and it was fine.)  I was also assured that no one in the kitchen had had jewelry on.  I suspect it was in the roll and probably came that way from the bakery.  I’ll let Boar’s HEad know about the incident, but I wont make a stink about it.  It’s not worth the aggravation.

Then we get on the plane.  Two young children, one each behind Amanda and myself, with legs just long enough that when they fully straightented them, their feet would jam through our seats and into our butts.  2 hours of this, on and off.  One child two rows up.  Or one row.  It depended where she wanted to be, moment to moment, and her mother, grandmother, and great aunt were going to let her go anywhere she wanted, the precious little princess, who apparently wouldn’t wear headphones and thus the people immediately around her were “treated” to the audio of whatever inanity she chose to watch on her tablet.  At some point one of the three matrons tending little Shmoopie unwillingly had to tell her something I’m sure she rarely hears: “no”.  All hell broke loose in the manner of kicking and screaming and crying.

And yet, all of that was worth it.  Our flight t Orlando was delayed, somewhat, but getting in very early in the morning means you aren’t fighting crowds.  We had no wait for the Magical Express, which left shortly after we boarded.  There was no line when we got the the check-in desk at the hotel, where the clerk greeted us with, “Welcome Home.”

I almost cried.

I love it here.  We are on Vacation.  And I’m going to have FUN, dammit!  🙂