By the co-author of The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2017, from the best-reviewed Disney World guidebook series ever. Paperback available on Amazon here. Kindle version available on Amazon here. PDF version available on Gumroad here.



yourfirstvisit.net—Disney World Instructions for the First-Time Visitor



FastPass+ Test #3, A Couple of Meet-Ups, More Resort Hopping



By Dave Shute

The Magic Kingdom Christmas Tree from yourfirstvisit.netJust got back from a great week at Walt Disney World that overlapped my top ranked weeks of 2013!

This was my third visit this fall, and at first I had two goals:

1. To test FastPass+ in utterly unplanned use:

  • No customizing, no MagicBands mailed ahead, no FastPass+ booked at all, much less 60 days out, not even any ADRs
  • We didn’t even pick parks til the actual day of visit, and often didn’t get around to picking that day’s FastPass+ until after noon that same day.
  • Another way to put this: we tested using FastPass+ spontaneously. (For more on the first test of Fastpass+, see this, and the second, this.)

2. To re-visit a bunch of DVC and deluxe resorts with a view towards refreshing their reviews:

  • I’m one of the few people to have recently stayed in and reviewed every Disney World resort hotel, and every major room type within them.
  • My moderate and value resort reviews are all from re-stays in 2012 or 2013. But a few of my deluxe and DVC reviews go back as far as 2009 and 2010 stays, so as part of this trip we booked seven different rooms so we could update the reviews based on fresh experiences.
  • After this and my November visit, I now have a backlog of 8 and a half deluxe and DVC updated reviews to write…when they are done, my oldest review will be just 30 months old, and only four will be from a 2011 visit–all the rest will be newer

Then some other goals emerged:

So here’s the scoop.

FASTPASS+ AND SPONTANEITY

My original thought in not booking any FastPass+ ahead of time was to test in real time at Walt Disney World just how well the MyDisneyExperience app worked from my phone.

Most of what I’d done on the prior trips–including day-of changes–was from my laptop, as were all of my pre-planned FastPass+.

Well the short answer is that the phone app worked fine and I mostly had no trouble getting on the app, setting FastPass+ up, and changing them from my phone, in both the hotels and parks. Others continue to report difficulties, especially on Android-based phones, but my creaking old iPhone worked like a champ.

I tested this to see how making and changing FastPass+ from phone apps would work for first time visitors. But without really meaning to, I was also testing FastPass+ and spontaneity.

Here’s the deal–many repeat visitors have a way of approaching Walt Disney World, that works for them and because FastPass+ is new and different, it’s raised a lot of concerns–one of them being not wanting to set their park plans in stone 60 days ahead. This is the “spontaneity” issue.

Well, we had no problems getting great FastPass+ options on the day of use–sometimes picking them in the morning, but more commonly not getting around to choosing the until the afternoon–even late afternoon. We got fireworks shows, parades, and tons of headliners offered.

FastPass+ from yourfirstvisit.netSee the image, of FastPass+ that I selected around 3p on a Magic Kingdom day with the full evening program and evening extra magic hours, sandwiched between two 7p close days.

Even on such a predictably rough day at MK,  I was offered even more headlines–Peter Pan, the Electrical Parade, Splash–but had already done these earlier in the trip.

Talking Mickey from yourfirstvisit.net(The new Talking Mickey, one of our FastPass+, weirded me out a bit.  As a severe introvert, I know how to do regular silent Mickey…but am not a chatterer. I probably weirded him out too.)

So we had absolutely no issue with spontaneity.  Now we know when to go in general, and which parks to see which days specifically, so that helped.  But even so we went to certain parks on lousy days and still had no problems.

So does this mean that like us, you can show up with no FastPass+, decide each morning which park you are going to, and still grab a bunch of great ones?  Well, I dunno…it’ll depend on the pace of roll-out of FastPass+ to other visitors, and of course when you go.  But based on this test, I’m encouraged that at least so far you can still be spontaneous with FastPass+— if you pick your dates and parks wisely.

However, there are still tons of other complaints about FastPass+–too few FastPass+ available per day; headliner restrictions; can be used in only one park per day; no repeat FastPass+ in a day–and many people are still having all kinds of technical problems.

So while I’m very happy about FastPass+ for first-timers following this site’s itineraries (after I revise the rest of them on this model…) the jury is still out on the overall initiative.

UPDATING DVC AND DELUXE REVIEWS

Baby Zebra from my Balcony at Kidani Village  from yourfirstvisit.netBetween my November and December visits I stayed for multiple days in all the key room types at

  • The Wilderness Lodge and Villas
  • The Animal Kingdom Lodge and Kidani Village
  • The Contemporary and Bay Lake Tower
  • Saratoga Springs and the Treehouses, and
  • The new DVC offering at the Grand Floridian

For all these but the last, my published reviews were for stays in 2009 and 2010, so it was time to get back for a fresh–but kinda expensive–look.

Updated reviews will be coming out soon–well, soon by my standards–for all but the Grand Floridian Villas. The review of Villas at the Grand Floridian is already being published, see this.

At the Wilderness Lodge from yourfirstvisit.netNone of these re-visits will likely have much of an impact on the resort rankings–though I may change my mind on that, after I actually settle down and write them.

But what was reinforced from being in all these two-bedroom villas in less than a month was something I already knew and have covered here, but need to do much more sharply: there’s huge differences in livability for larger groups in the two-bedroom villas.

Two Bedroom Villas at Old Key West, Kidani, Bay Lake Tower, and the Grand Floridian are much more livable for families of 6 or more than are the two bedroom villas elsewhere. (So are the three-bedroom Treehouses, for those who can productively use the two 70 inch long bunk beds.)

See below for the starkest example–first, the dining table at the Villas at the Grand Floridian…

Dining Area in One and Two Bedroom Villas at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa from yourfirstvisit.net

…and next, the dining table in a two-bedroom villa in the Villas at the Wilderness Lodge.

Dining Table One and Two Bedroom Villas the Villas at Disney's Wilderness Lodge

More on this later…

Getting Ready for December Resorts Tour from yourfirstvisit.netThe other thing I learned from being in all these rooms is that Disney is not well set up for people staying in more than one hotel.

The system won’t check you into one resort easily unless you’ve checked out of another, and there are inconsistencies within Disney systems as to whether or not you have done so.  As a result, often our check-in took a while (though all had been completed on-line), and too often our new MagicBands were messed up–all eventually fixed except in one case, where we just made do.

Souvenirs of a Kind from yourfirstvisit.netNow our account–combining multiple reservations with all-new MagicBands provided at each new resort’s desk, rather than mailed to our home–was kinda complicated. But this is a bug that Disney needs to fix.

(Disney is aware of this bug–all our on-line check in packets included a handwritten routing slip letting the cast member know about our multiple reservations, and most of the front desk staff dealt with the issue immediately, and all courteously! A little more worryingly, about half of the check-in staff said that I looked familiar to them…that’s never happened before…maybe they are fans of my Facebook page!)

THE MEET-UP WITH MAGICAL MOUSE SCHOOLHOUSE

My bud Jodi of Magical Mouse Schoolhouse now lives just outside Orlando, and after the joint meet-up with Steve of MiltiaryDisneyTips.com last month, wondered if she and I could do one too!

So we did it–with help from our travel partners Destinations in Florida and 3D Travel Agency–on Wednesday.

Before the Meet-Up from yourfirstvisit.netThat was a day we changed resorts, and we got into our room at Bay Lake Tower so late that I thought I might have to do the meet-up in my swimsuit and life jacket…

Me and Jodi at the Meet-Up from yourfirstvisit.netBut, freshly showered, I met Jodi…

At the meet-up!…gave away some Glow With the Show Ears to the fans who showed up…

During the Meet-Up from yourfirstvisit.net…gave away some more–that’s lovely wife Amy Girl in the back, and a recipient in the front…

…and just chatted with folk.  It was fun!

MEETING A FAMOUS PINNER

The great Disney World pinner Linda Stevens-Jones was in the parks during the second half of my visit, and I had a chance to sit and chat with her and husband Dan for a bit at the Magic Kingdom.

Me and Linda Stevens-Jones at the Magic KingdomI coulda chatted with them for hours…but we both had FastPass+ to pursue! Linda, by the way, was one of the many who were having technical difficulties with FastPass+

TESTING THE CROWDS THESE TWO TOP-RANKED WEEKS

As it happened, I was at Disney World during parts of my two top ranked weeks of 2013! So it was a nice test to test whether in fact these remain low-crowd weeks.  (They are not, by far, the lowest crowd weeks of the year–but I did forecast them as low.)

Were they?  Well, I thought they were great. But I’ve had multiple comments and emails from others about them facing longer than expected lines, and this post on TouringPlans.com supports the thought that crowds, while still low, were heavier than expected.

But if you dig into the details, what you’ll learn is that except for one or two days, the crowds were largely driven by Extra Magic Hours and the absence of Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.

Crowds during this period go up a bit every year, but overall they were still good.  But this time of year, you really have to be careful about which park you go to which day!

A TON OF PHOTOS OF CHRISTMAS AT DISNEY WORLD!

On both the November and December trips I got a ton of photos of the resorts and parks in their Christmas finery.

I’ll never be able to use them all–unless I just do a page of photos, should I?–but the one below is my favorite!

Christmas at Disney World from yourfirstvisit.net

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10 comments

1 SarahB { 12.12.13 at 9:06 am }

Great information, Dave! Thank you! I was particularly happy to read that you still feel BLT has particularly comfortable 2-bedroom units. My family is taking our first WDW vacation in May (2 little kids, 2 parents, 2 grandparents) and we will be staying at BLT on rented points. I agonized over all your reviews before choosing that location. So far, I am feeling pretty good about it in terms of 6-person comfort plus convenience to MK and monorail. Looking forward to reading more! Glad you had a great trip.

2 Scott { 12.12.13 at 10:03 pm }

Hi Dave,

When we were there in the last week of October the wife did quite a bit of changing on the iPhone and it worked like a charm. We also had left a day or two not preplanned and added on the fly. Granted I do not think the crowds were as large as they were last week.

Scott

3 Dave { 12.13.13 at 8:50 am }

Hi SarahB! I think you will love it!

4 Dave { 12.13.13 at 8:57 am }

Thanks Scott!!

5 Mandy W { 12.13.13 at 12:18 pm }

Dave, we just got back last night from our 9-day, 8-night stay at Walt Disney World. I have to say, I appreciate your site SO MUCH!!!!! I was the official ‘tour guide’ for our group (my voice is now gone, after all the directing and also screaming on Expedition Everest), and our touring went really, really well, mostly due to all of your advice.

As far as specifics, it was very interesting to me to try out the Magic Bands, Fastpass+, and gauge the crowds. The MagicBands worked wonderfully for us. We scheduled most of our Fastpass+ in advance of our arrival, but even the one day that we picked them on the fly, it worked fine. The major inconvenience was, as you stated, the My Disney Experience app did not work at all for me on my brand-new Moto X (Android-based phone). I was so thankful that I had written down all of our Fastpass+ reservation times for each day so that we didn’t need to visit the kiosk to see our schedule. Other than that, though, the MagicBands were really fun. Even my four-year-old learned to scan her band on each ride!

That said, I don’t know how I would have liked it if we wouldn’t have been able to pull legacy Fastpasses as well. We stayed at Port Orleans Riverside, so we were able to use both types of Fastpass, plus rider swap because we had an infant with us. With the combination of all three things, my 7-year-old was able to ride Expedition Everest 6 times one day and Space Mountain 5 times another day. She loved it! It would have been a big disappointment to have been restricted to Fastpass+ and standby.

As far as crowds, it “felt” crowded to us as we were walking around many of the parks, but the wait times many times did not reflect a crowded park. We were able to avoid waits longer than 15 minutes or so through the use of Fastpass, etc. and making sure to pick the right parks on the right days (again, following your sage advice!). Two out of our three days at Magic Kingdom were Party days, and the third was a Wednesday, and all were great. The absolute longest we waited was 35 minutes to meet the fairies, and of course to save spots for parades, etc. We even were able to score an amazing lunch at Be Our Guest this past Wednesday by getting there at 10:30 when it opened – and we only waited 10 minutes! I think the busiest day was at Epcot, on Friday the 6th, and we knew that would be busy (evening Extra Magic Hours), but we did that on purpose to avoid big crowds at exit. We ended up not staying for Illuminations, actually, due to tired kids, but we did everything we wanted to do, including riding Test Track and Soarin’ twice each. The Candlelight Processional was absolutely marvelous.

Anyway, this ended up being a very long post, but I wanted to let you know how much you helped our family have an amazing Walt Disney World vacation! Our girls absolutely loved it and so did we. I hadn’t been since I was 12, so your help was invaluable. Thank you!!!!!!

6 Dave { 12.15.13 at 10:08 am }

Mandy, it’s so kind of you to write and let me know how it went! It sounds like you had a great trip, and I’m so glad the site helped! And I hope your voice is better 🙂

7 KE { 12.17.13 at 5:32 pm }

We went 12/7-12/13 and like Mandy said it felt and looked crowded but the lines were fantastic!

We waited 5-10 minutes for most rides with the longest being a half hour (Astro Orbiter of all rides). We met a ton of characters and the waits for those were about 10-15 minutes for most. We fast pass+’d the headliner rides but even so the standbys were not unbearable and we waited in those in order to do a few of the headliners a few times over. I had fast pass for BOG at lunch time and that was a blessing because the line was a little too nuts for my group to have waited in it.

We did not pull any “old” fast passes because we just didn’t need them. I changed my FP+ reservations twice during the trip at the kiosks in the parks and that was a piece of cake! I was uneasy about doing it the first time, but the Cast Member was helpful and it only took a few minutes to complete and we were on our way.

We traveled with a party of 7 for the first part of the week that included two 2 yr olds and a 6 yr old. The later part of the week just left the 6 yr old and my husband and I. Not once did I ever think we had chosen a bad time to be there. The weather was fantastic, the lines were great and the advice I had read here led me to have “inside” knowledge of how to work the parks to maximize our time and experiences.

I also charted wait times from the MDE app I have on my Kindle for the past year. I planned our navigation through the park using that information and your recommendations. It worked out that we saw and did more than I ever thought we would, especially with the crew we had!

We made some great memories and I’m already ready to plan the next trip! Thanks again for your help! I have recommended your site to others and know that they will find the same invaluable information that I have during my research.

8 Linda Stevens Jones { 12.17.13 at 10:48 pm }

Hey Dave!

Meeting you was definitely one of the highlights of our trip! I only wish we had more time to chat. Maybe we can meet up again in the future to continue our discussion!

I found the comments about using MDX on an Android device very interesting. Since I myself was using an Android phone, that might explain part of the difficulty I was having. (About 50% of the time, I got the “We’re sorry, a blip in the network kept us from retrieving your information. Please try again” message). But interestingly enough, I also had problems about 25% of the time this trip using my favorite app (Touring Plans Lines); yet it worked flawlessly on our trip just last year. I wonder if part of the problem was that there were just so many of us trying to access these apps in the park at any one time, creating an “overload” of sorts. I’m sure that sort of thing will be worked out in time.

I’ll look forward to your updated reviews on the resorts. Although I have a few repeat favorites, I also enjoy experiencing different resorts on our trip whenever possible. However, there is no way I could ever resort-hop like you do … so I’m glad you do it (in the name of research, of course) …so I don’t have to!

9 Dave { 12.18.13 at 10:02 am }

KE, thanks so much for the kind words and detailed report! I’m so glad the site helped, and thanks for telling others about it!

10 Dave { 12.18.13 at 10:04 am }

Hi Linda and thanks! It was great to meet you, and I too look forward to doing it again. I dunno what was up with the network…but since about 3 times as many people will be in MK next week as when we were there, I sure hope they get it fixed…and I will never try to re-visit so many hotels in such a short time again!!!

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