You went to Disney in the summer? Wait, what?
Most of you know we are fairly regular visitors to Disney World, and slightly obsessive trip planners. Thus, our trips have always been in the slower times of year (although there aren’t really any slow times anymore), and the cooler times of year. We’ve been to WDW in January, February, April, May, September, October, November, and December.
March? Spring Break: too crowded.
June, July, August? Summer: too hot, too crowded.
To top it off, we were also just there in January.
So why’d we go in July?
Well, it has to do with parents wanting their kids to experience something that they themselves really enjoyed, while it is still possible.
Wait, your kids have been to Disney a ton, you say. And that’s true. But there is one thing we used to do every trip pre-kids, but have never taken them to: Disney Quest (hereafter DQ), the five-story arcade at Disney Springs (which will always be Downtown Disney to us). As part of the makeover from DTD to DS, Disney announced last year that they’d be replacing DQ with “The NBA Experience” whatever that will be, and that the last day would be 7/2/2017.
Rachel and I used to love spending a couple hours across each trip at DQ. They had modern arcade games, classic arcade games, and one of a kind experiences unlike anywhere else on earth, some of which were based on the actual rides at WDW. So we wanted our kids to experience DQ once before it goes away. We had purchased annual passes back in January, intending to take two trips this year, but the summer trip likely is the third, squeezed between January and December trips.
Was it worth it? Hell yes.
Our kids have busy summers this year with many camps, so we worked the trip around those schedules. The girls left Michigan on Thursday, arrived here in SC Friday evening, and then we drove down to Orlando on Saturday. Traffic was horrible – it took us 2.5 hours more than it should have just to get out of SC. And every bathroom along the way had lines – gas station, fast food place, it didn’t matter. But ultimately, we got there Saturday and headed straight to DTD, where we repeated our favorite meal from January.
Raglan Road Dinner
When I say repeated, I mean just that. We each ordered the exact same things from January, and they might even have been better. Two small exceptions: I had a different soup, because the one I had in January wasn’t on the menu this night, and we added the most amazing dessert: Gar’s Bread and Butter Pudding. No pictures of the food, but just trust me and order it.
After finishing dinner, we raced across DTD to Disney Quest, with an idea of sneaking in for a bit. But I was wrong about the hours, and it was closed when we got there, so we walked back and then headed to our rental home in Kissimmee.
The house turned out to work well for our stay, since the kids could each have their own room, and we had a pool to help with afternoon downtime away from the heat and crowds of the parks. We got everybody a bit settled and off to bed late, but ready to hit the parks and DQ on Sunday.
Day Two – Animal Kingdom
Since we were at Disney in January, the new Pandora land had opened at Animal Kingdom, based on the Avatar movie. None of us have actually seen Avatar, but we were very excited to see what Disney Imagineers and James Cameron could cook up.
There are two new attractions in Pandora: the N’avi River Journey, a classic Disney boat ride, and Flights of Passage, which several reviews said was the best attraction in all of Orlando, so we were all very excited to check that out. We had not secured Fastpass+ reservations (FP) for Flights of Passage at this point, so we hoped to get into the park early enough to hit the standby line before it got too long. That didn’t happen since we had been up late the night before.
We did have a chance to ride the safari early in the day, and animal activity was excellent. AK is about ten degrees hotter than the other parks, due to the foliage, so we started to get a taste of what the July heat would be like.
Breakfast at Tusker House
This has become a staple of our trips as well – tasty breakfast with the Mickey characters dressed up in safari gear. Also, they have “POG”, which is a delicious sugar-bomb of a drink found by various names across the resort. We’ve enjoyed it at Boma in Animal Kingdom Lodge, and loved it in the concierge lounge at Polynesian a few years back. POG, by the way, stands for Passion Orange Guava.
The character interaction here is usually great, and this time was no exception. Daisy arrived to our dining area in full diva mode, blocking servers and customers while making a grand entrance – it was hilarious.
After breakfast, we left the park and headed to DTD. We passed through Pandora on our way out, which looked amazing, but the wait times were ridiculous, so we held out hope that we could get a FoP FP+ later in the week.
Day Two – The last day of Disney Quest 🙁
We parked and headed to DQ, where there was a long line of people wanting to buy tickets. It took probably 20-25 minutes to get tickets, but there was no wait to get in. We hopped in the elevator and reflected on the old entrance elevator experience with Genie, but headed inside excited to check the place out.
We weren’t sure what condition DQ would be in, given it was the last day of operation and the closing date had been announced long ago. We were pleased that nearly everything was in good working order, and that wait times weren’t too terribly long given that the place was packed with WDW fanatics like us.
We immediately went to the Pirates of the Caribbean: Quest for Buccaneer Gold attraction, which had always been one of Rachel’s and my favorites things in the whole resort. Basically, they have a series of office-sized simulators where you’re on a ship, the walls are video screens, and the ship is equipped with physical cannons that fire virtual cannonballs at skeleton pirates attacking your ship (you fire by pulling a rope). Oh, and you’re wearing 3D glasses.
The ships can accommodate up to five people on the cannons, and a sixth person steering the ship. Rachel and I always would do the attraction by ourselves, letting the computer steer, but we’d jump around to all five cannons, trying to get the highest score. We’d leave breathless, sweaty, and laughing, so we were hoping that our kids would love it as well.
I’m pleased to report that they did – and Leah even got a special collector token from the cast member working the ride.
I’m even more pleased to report that we reached the highest ranking – Masters of the Caribbean.
We spent the next several hours playing games and riding rides all over DQ, including two different breaks for food and drink.
We all had an amazing time at Disney Quest on its final day of operation. It’s a shame that it closed, but it was never marketed very well to resort guests, and it doesn’t really fit into the current Disney Springs plan of becoming a high-end outdoor mall (where very little is actually built/operated by Disney themselves).
After that, we headed back to the house for dinner. Aly headed into their bathroom to take a shower, and then she started laughing loudly, because she found one of those Florida lizards in the tub. He was rescued and then returned to the outdoors.
Also, the house alarm went off around 11pm because of some communication glitch, but the management company had that fixed for us the next morning.
Day Three – A lazy start
After the rush-rush-rush of the last several days, we decided to spend the morning at the house, and in the pool. Leah loves making up games, which involved us being her servants. Which, as her parents, we essentially are.
Day three was also July 3rd. Disney has amazing fireworks most nights of the year that are better than many cities’ 4th of July displays, but they go way beyond that for the holiday. That was another reason for the trip – we wanted to see the special fireworks that they do at MK and Epcot on July 3 and July 4.
We headed to the Contemporary Resort in the early afternoon for lunch with the Chef Mickey characters, which was great as always. Expensive, but great.
We hopped on the monorail and headed over to Magic Kingdom.
After a brief stop at Guest Services to get Leah’s magic band fixed, we headed into MK just as the parade was making its way along Main Street USA. We got to see most of it as we made our way towards the castle, with a brief stop in the Emporium to pick up some small emoji plush (yes, that’s a thing).
The sky was very threatening at this point, and a quick check of Accuweather showed a lot of bright colors on the radar.
As we made our way to our first FP+, they started closing down the outside rides due to lightning in the area. We were actually in a very short line for Astro Orbiter when they closed the ride.
The wind was starting to whip up, and it was sprinkling, so people started trying to pack themselves under roofs and overhangs, and there was a bit of panicked feeling among the very large crowd in the park. We lingered in the entrance area of our FP+ meet & greet with Tiana and Rapunzel, trying to maximize our time under cover.
Unsure what to do at this point, we thought we’d try Haunted Mansion, but the wait was too long and the long was past the point of being covered against the rain. So we continued over to Pirates and jumped in a long humid line but enjoyed the ride as usual.
Still on the edge of serious weather, we saw a chance to jump into the covered queue of Enchanted Tiki Room, which the kids have not seen before. After a relatively short wait, we got into the theater. The theater without air conditioning. It was hot and humid outside, but nothing compared to inside the theater.
We did enjoy the show, despite the sweating, and then we grabbed some Dole Whip and floats before walking back over to the Fantasyland part of the park, where we had a FP+ for Enchanted Tales with Belle.
We wandered through Fantasyland for a few minutes before spotting a short line at the Tea Cups. After a few minutes in line, we noticed that people were queuing up for the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, so Leah and I jumped out of the Tea Cups line and gambled that the Mine Train would be reopened and have a short line. We were right on one count.
The line did actually move quickly, but then completely plugged. We toughed it out though, and finally had a great ride.
Rachel and Aly rode the Tea Cups, Pirates again, and Astro Orbiter while Lele and I were in line. We met them there and stopped for a snack at the Lunching Pad, which is under Astro Orbiter in Tomorrowland.
We then staked out a place near the entrance to Space Mountain for the fireworks. And they were worth it. They were going off in every direction around us, which made it hard to see as I spun around with Leah on my shoulders. The finale was pretty amazing, as you can see in this video I found on YouTube:
To be fair, that doesn’t do it justice. The shots near the end, where you can see three major areas of huge fireworks, is only part of what was in the air, since there were maybe seven or eight of those major areas. Overall, though, we were very impressed – probably the best fireworks I’d ever seen. To that point in my life, anyway, but we’ll get to that a bit later.
After the fireworks, we rode the TTA again, and then started heading out of the park. As we were in front of the castle, the show that projects images on the castle started, so we stopped and watched that before making our way out of the park. A large Brazilian tour group was blocking almost all of Main Street, which made leaving very difficult, but we eventually made it out, walked to our car at the Contemporary, and drove back to the house.
Day Four – 4th of July at Epcot
Since MK is supposed to be very busy on July 4th, we hit that on July 3 and then followed a similar plan to see the special fireworks on the 4th of July at Epcot – a lazy morning at the house, then heading to the park in the early afternoon.
We headed over to The Seas to see our fish friends, and rode the Nemo ride to get in.
From there we headed to The Land pavilion and rode the new Soarin’, which we all love. We always ask to be in B1 – which puts you in the center of the screen at the highest position. Pro tip.
We then headed to the Canada pavilion and had lunch at another of our top WDW restaurants, Le Cellier. The food was amazing, as usual, particularly the mac & cheese side that Aly ordered, and of course, the pretzel bread.
After that, we did Journey Into Imagination with Figment, then made our way to World Showcase and the Mexico boat ride.
We continued around a blazing hot World Showcase, hoping to find a short line at Frozen Ever After, the new ride at Norway (it used to be Maelstrom). The line was not short enough, but the line to meet Anna & Elsa was, so we took a break from the sun and met the Frozen sisters.
As with Tiana and Rapunzel, these two were talking up a storm and cracking our girls up.
We then stopped and got some slushy drinks near the China pavilion, which we enjoyed on a concrete bench in front of the lake.
It was around 6:30pm at this point, and people were already staking out places to watch the 9pm fireworks. While we sat and consumed our drinks, we debated on whether we should just stay on this bench until the fireworks, but ultimately decided that 2.5 hours of waiting on concrete would not be worth it, so we continued around WS and stopped at the girls’ favorite shopping spot – the Mitsukoshi department store in Japan.
We continued around an increasingly crowded World Showcase and ultimately staked out a spot along the main path back towards the fountain. The girls made another visit to Club Cool for some Melon Frosty (pictures coming to the next Epcot section), while I ate some candy and held our spot sitting on one of the planters.
While we were waiting, a pretty spectacular sunset was happening, so I grabbed my camera and waited for a monorail to pull into frame. Leah came with me and tipped me off when it was coming so I could be ready to fire a burst.
I got about 30 frames handheld, but I wish I had put it on a tripod and shot it as time-lapse – it would make a cool little clip.
Anyway, we settled in and shortly after 9 watched the best fireworks I’ve ever seen. The main show was very good, but the finale was ridiculously over the top. It had so many fireworks happening at the same time, and in so many directions, that I was laughing at the scope of it, as were many around me. It reminded me a bit of this video from a few years back, where a city’s entire 4th of July display went up at once due to a malfunction.
The whole video below is worth watching, but be sure to watch the last minute. As with the MK video, there are additional fireworks out of frame, but it shows you how amazing the finale was.
It was thrilling to be there and see that. Despite the heat and the crowds, I definitely recommend seeing the special fireworks at both parks. There’s no better way to wrap up a July day at Disney.
Day Five – Epcot again
After several late nights in a row, we decided to take a more traditional approach and arrive at the park closer to opening time, in hopes of finding the short line at FEA that we had missed the previous day.
We zipped over to Norway and found a reasonable wait time for FEA, so we jumped in line. As usual, we enjoyed the ride, got a bit wet, and then Leah had a great encounter with a CM in the post-ride store, who had a flip book Disney quiz.
With FEA out of the way, we headed back to Future World, since the rest of World Showcase wasn’t opening for another hour. This, of course, included another stop at Club Cool.
We then headed over to Universe of Energy, a classic Disney dark ride with huge video screens and animatronic dinosaurs. As I write this post (on Aug 13), this is the last day that UoE will be open, as Disney announced a few weeks ago that the ride was permanently closing and being replaced with a Guardians of the Galaxy attraction. We’ll all miss this one, as it was a long cool break from the heat of the park.
From there, we made the short walk over to Test Track, where we had FP+ reservations. Just as in January, Aly decided not to ride, even though she loved the experience riding it many times over the years. We left her in the post-show store, then the three of us designed our car and strapped in.
Our lunch reservation was approaching, so we made a quick stop in the mist outside Test Track, then headed back to Italy for another of our must-do restaurants, Via Napoli.
By now, you can probably guess that Aly ate arancini. Deep-fried balls of risotto? What’s not to love? We also got an amazing quattro formagio pizza. Via Napoli is highly recommended and making me want pasta right this moment.
With another top at Club Cool on the way out, we left the park to spend some pool time at the house.
Day Six – let’s parkhop
At this point in the trip, I felt like I hadn’t had enough quality Magic Kingdom time, so I was happy to get into the park for a good chunk of the day. We also leveraged the FP+ system extensively this day, making many FP+ reservations after completing our initial three. And then a really important FP+, but we’ll get to that later in the day.
We entered the park with Aly having missed breakfast in favor of sleeping, but we actually made it pretty close to park opening time. Rachel and Leah took off for the Mine Train, so Aly and I stopped at the Main Street Bakery to get her the required croissant.
As much I like (or like to say) to unplug on vacation, smart phones have completely revolutionized the Disney World experience, in several ways. It certainly makes it easier to split our group and keep busy, as in this case, where we knew about how much longer Rachel and Leah would have to wait, so Aly and I got to ride both Buzz Lightyear and Astro Orbiter.
We caught up with them at the Mine Train exit and then all hopped into a hunny pot and rode Winnie the Pooh together.
We headed to one of the best attractions at Disney World that everyone misses: Mickey’s Philharmagic. Leah took a shot at the sword in the stone as we passed by.
We finally headed to our first FP+ of the day and rode Haunted Mansion, all of this in the first two hours that the park was open.
Next up was Splash Mountain, which Aly elected not to ride, so we bought her an ice cream treat and dropped her off in the shade under the railroad. Leah was anxious about riding, but braved it like a champ and earned herself a new plush, which she would select after the next ride.
We had grabbed another FP+ for Pirates, so we grabbed a quick lunch at Pecos Bill’s and walked over there for another boat ride. We thought we’d use the PhotoPass opportunity to embarrass the kids, so we did this:
Leah chose her plush in the Pirates store, going with the baby version of the dog in the jail from the ride.
Outside the ride, we found a PhotoPass photographer taking pictures, and took the opportunity to get another family shot:
While in line at Pirates, we had made a FP+ for Aladdin’s Magic Carpets, so that was up next.
While in that short line, we made a FP+ for Leah and Rachel to ride the Barnstormer, so we crossed the park so they could ride and Aly could grab a slush and some A/C. We also realized that the Goofy/Donald line behind us was very short, so we all did that once they were off the coaster.
As usual, Goofy was tons of fun, pretending he couldn’t see Leah. I jumped in with Donald and then kicked Leah out of the picture, since she gets a kick out of me doing that with princesses. Donald thought it was funny too.
At this point, Aly was wilting in the heat and really wanted to leave, but we convinced her to stop at the Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor on the way out, since we could get a FP+ for right then and we’d be passing right by it.
After Leah was on camera in January, we were hoping she’d get picked again, and as we went into the theater, a CM said “you guys sit here” instead of filing all the way across like usual. I hoped this meant she’d be on screen again, and it did. As with last time, it was hilarious and she was delighted.
We then headed back to the house for some pool time, after doing tons of things in less than five hours at MK.
Shortly after getting back to the house, I managed to finally get a FP+ for the new Flights of Passage for that same night at 7:30 – our seventh FP+ of the day! We knew the kids were tired and hot, so we gave them the option of staying home, but they wanted to go, so we did.
We parked and made the long walk into the park, and back through Pandora. It was very hot, and the sky looked, well, interesting at this point, but we made our way into the queue excited to find out what the new ride was about. We had not watched any videos or read much about the ride ahead of time, saving that experience for our first ride.
So how was Flights of Passage?
My reaction at the time: holy shit, that was amazing!
My reaction now: holy shit, that was amazing!
We all rode it. About ten seconds into the ride, I looked over at Aly who said “I hate this!” but by the end she was loving it. She still says she loves it, but isn’t sure if she’ll ride it again or not.
The rest of us are sure: we’ll ride it every chance we get. I won’t spoil it, but it’s the coolest theme park experience I’ve ever seen/felt/heard.
At this point, we were all tired and hungry, but we couldn’t get a reservation on the Disney app, so we tried walking up at the Rainforest Cafe attached to the park, but they couldn’t accommodate us either. At this point, the sky was very threatening, so we hustled back to the car as lightning flashed all around us.
We stopped at the Subway to grab some food on the way back, but they were understaffed and we had two large parties in front of us, so that took about 30 minutes. I wouldn’t do that again, but it didn’t matter, since we had finally been on FoP!
Day Seven – Animal Kingdom
After such a busy day the day before (we walked 8 miles in that crazy heat), we took it very easy Friday morning and afternoon, with lots of pool and relaxing time.
We headed into Animal Kingdom around 3:30 and found a PhotoPass in front of the Tree of Life, and took some normal shots, then they set up this one. This is always fun, because they pose you and tell you how to act, but you don’t know until later what they’ve done to your picture.
We then used a FP+ for Festival of the Lion King, the excellent show that’s a fusion of broadway and cirque-style shows. As usual, we loved it.
Our dinner reservation (no Subway tonight!) was at Yak & Yeti, so we traversed Africa into Asia for a delicious dinner. Aly even ate the green beans, but that’s probably because they were deep fried.
Leah wanted another reward for trying a new scary ride, so the three of us rode Dinosaur, which she mostly hid from the whole time.
We had a FP+ for Na’vi River Journey – another first timer for us – so we crossed the park to Pandora.
We all liked the ride, which is similar to other slow boat rides at Disney, except set in the world of Avatar. There were some very cool effects and creatures. While I wouldn’t wait 120 minutes in a standby line, I’ll definitely ride this again.
After that, we stopped at the cool new drink place in Pandora, and got this crazy looking drink for Aly:
Aly had really been looking forward to Kali River Rapids, which is a river ride near the back of the park. We had FP+ for this coming up, so we headed that way, but stopped to watch the 4D movie A Bugs’ Life along the way.
I love watching this show when it’s full of first-timers, as it appeared to be on this night. The screams and shocked yelps are lots of fun.
We did get to ride Kali after putting our stuff in a locker, and we got fairly well soaked as a group. But we loved it, and jumped right back in the standby line. When we were very close to getting on, they announced they were closing it due to lightning in the area, so we headed back to the car and the house. Despite the fact that we only did one park this day, and didn’t start until after 3pm, we still covered nearly 5 miles at AK.
Day Eight – Commando
Among WDW regulars, there are several types of touring styles. “Park hoppers” and “rope droppers” are a few of the common names people give themselves, or use to describe their style on a particular trip.
Pre-kids, Rachel and I were frequently “commandos”, meaning we’d cover as much territory as possible each day to get as many rides in as possible. We’ve had days where we visited all four parks, and we’ve had days where we walked more than fifteen miles. That mostly ended with kids, but we decided to go full commando on our final day, which also happened to be our 22nd wedding anniversary.
Those of you who are familiar with Disney World might have noticed that we’d only been to three of the theme parks through the first seven days of our trip. The fourth park, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, is undergoing major construction as they add two entirely new lands to the park, so there is less to do than in past days. We made it to the park right at opening time, and headed to Tower of Terror so Leah could try that out for the first time as well.
We gave Aly some money and parked in the post-ride store, then headed into the hotel to catch our elevator.
We had FP+ for Toy Story Midway Mania, which is a blast, but the standby time was very short when we arrived, so we did a quick 10 minutes in standby, then rode again using our FP+.
I need to back up a bit, because I had gotten two voice mails from Disney Guest Experience the prior night while on rides at Animal Kingdom. They said they needed to contact us about our lunch reservation at Mama Melrose’s, which we had chosen as our anniversary lunch. I had called them back both times, but couldn’t get a live person. After exiting TSMM, I called them again while we walked over to The Great Movie Ride.
I got someone live this time, who told me they needed to cancel our reservation because of “unplanned kitchen maintenance.” We lingered in front of the TGMR entrance while I was on the phone, and an awesome CM came over to entertain Leah, telling her all about the handprints in the cement and other things. The CM I was talking to managed to book us lunch at 50s Primetime Cafe instead, and also gave us a special FP+ that could be used almost anywhere in the parks. That’s a decent resolution to something out of their control.
Meanwhile, the CM playing with Leah asked if we’d like a special experience on TGMR, and said we could skip the line and go in through a special door. She took us in a backstage entrance, and put us in front of the whole maze queue in the pre-ride area. She then asked Leah if she’d like a cowboy or gangster experience, and she chose cowboy.
She then said she had to go prepare, and asked another CM to make sure we were in the very front of the next ride. We felt like VIPs standing outside the queue, and then being ushered to the front. I’m sure that CM was going to play the cowboy role on our ride, but something must have gotten mixed up along the way. We tried to find her after the ride to thank her, but couldn’t locate her. But it was a cool example of Disney CM magic.
We’ve always enjoyed this ride, and we did on this day as well. Unfortunately, August 13 is also the last day ever for this attraction, as the contract with TCM has run out and it will become a Mickey attraction instead, set to open in a couple years as part of the park’s overhaul.
After that, we took in the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular, which the kids loved, despite the fact that I was not chosen to be in the show this time around.
We headed to lunch at 50s, which is one of the most fun restaurants at Disney World. The servers will scold you for putting your elbows on the table, drinking too much pop, or (as we’ll see) not eating your vegetables. We got a great server this time around named Christian, who had us laughing the whole time.
He called Aly “Princess Gap” and Rachel “Princess Pinky”, because, well:
Rachel quickly drank her first cherry coke, and then he just kept loudly bringing her more and slamming them down on the table, sometimes two at a time. Later in the meal:
Christian gave Aly a ton of abuse about not eating her green beans, to the point where he wouldn’t bring her dessert. He tried the “choo choo train” game with several other servers involved to get her to eat them, tried to shove one in her mouth, and eventually dumped one into her water glass. He took away the plate twice, leading her to think she was off the hook, but then loudly dropped the plate back on the table. It was awesome.
From there, we watched Muppet Vision 3D, another favorite, then headed out of the park.
We headed back to the house, and then formulated the rest of our last-day plan and how we’d use the bonus FP+.
The kids really wanted to do two things once more at Epcot: Soarin’ and (you guessed it) Club Cool. So we drove to Epcot around 6:30 and headed into the park for just those things. We were able to secure a FP+ for Mine Train later, so we used our bonus FP+ to ride Soarin’ without waiting.
After that, we headed back to the park entrance and hopped on the monorail to Magic Kingdom.
Let me tell you, this is the proper way to end a Disney World vacation: three parks, tons of rides, and the last park is MK.
We headed into the park and straight to the Mine Train, which the three of us rode while Aly got ice cream.
The fireworks were starting right around the time we got off the ride, so we took advantage of that to pack in two shows of Philharmagic – one in the very front row, and one in the very back, without leaving the theater.
You don’t get this view of Philharmagic seating very often:
This may be a spoiler for some, but the roof of this building is used for some of the nightly fireworks launches at Magic Kingdom, and the booms rattling the theater made it even more fun us – what a treat.
We had also scored another FP+ for Pirates, so we strolled over there among the post-fireworks crowd and loaded in for one last ride.
After that, back to the monorail for the ride to the TTC and then back to Epcot, where we collected our car and headed back to the house. We had packed a lot into those 3.5 hours at the two parks, and logged 7 miles overall on the day. It was a great way to end the trip.
We left the next morning and had a much better drive back to SC – no holiday traffic this time.
Until the next trip….