This three-part series covers my family’s vacation at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida in December 2017. Such a trip is the best Christmas present I could ever ask for!
Alright folks, so my family is yet another Disney family. Whenever we moved to a different country (which happened quite a few times) we took a month long break to go on vacation. When I was little, this almost always meant going to the US to visit family and going to Orlando, Florida. However, flash forward almost a decade and my Mom calls to tell me that my Dad wants to go to Disney World, Universal Studios, and a Disney Cruise Line. Say, what? Has Dad gone bonkers? No, he just wants to celebrate retiring by taking us all on a trip that the Delaneys know how to do best. However, there were some challenges this time around because so much has changed since the last time we were hitting up the parks — more on that later.
After scrambling to book things only 6 months in advance, we finally booked flights to Orlando the evening of Christmas Day. We were set for our Christmas Disney vacation. Looking back, I don’t really recommend booking things so last minute but I will say that it all worked out in the end.
I kind of go into military mode when it comes to Disney World. I’m a strict advocate of getting up crazy early and being at the park before it opens. Sort of a play now, relax later approach. Our first day was EPCOT and we did pretty good seeing as we got to our hotel around midnight the day before.
One new feature to us is the Magic Bands. They are plastic, waterproof wristbands used in the park as ‘tickets’ for various things. This includes FastPasses, Dining Credit, Hotel Cards, and they can even be used as credit cards. The idea is that everything is stored in this one device and you don’t have to bring all these others things like money. It’s all on your wrist — a kind of Apple Watch. If you stay at a Walt Disney World Resort Hotel, these Magic Bands can be waiting for you. They can also customise the bands with your names! There was a bit of a heated discussion of who would get what colour, but luckily we got that sorted way ahead of time.
Speaking of FastPasses, if you are staying at a WDW Resort Hotel you can pre-book three FastPasses 180 days in advance of your park visit! The competition online is fierce but I highly recommend trying to get some. The FastPasses we managed to get were Spaceship Earth, MISSION: Space, and Frozen Ever After.
We made a bee line to Soarin’, one of my mother’s favourite rides in all of Disney. Perhaps showing how long it has been since we last visited Disney World, Soarin’ was slightly different this time around. Instead of a California landscape, it was a glider flight through the world.
After Soarin’, we got a notification from the Disney World app that one of our FastPasses would no longer work. Spaceship Earth closed down due to technical issues (so typical of this ride to be honest). The great thing is that it’s not a complete waste. Disney lets you pick any other FastPass ride and it’s valid all day. We would use that later. For now, we raced over to Test Track. This high-speed thrilling ride is always a lot of fun, but again there were some major changes. First of all, Test Track has a new sponsor. Consequently, the queue looks quite different. The theme is Chevrolet’s Design Studio where you learn about different types of cars. Then, you get to create your very own vehicle to test out on the track!
Our FastPass for Mission: SPACE started at Noon, so we headed over there after a quick coffee break at Starbucks (I know… not my usual pick). Mission: SPACE is meant to simulate astronaut training for the first manned mission to Mars in 2036. The thing about Mission: SPACE is that it has a controversial reputation. When the ride first came out in 2003, our family naively went on without a care in the world. My Dad was scarred for life as he felt so ill and dizzy afterwards. Several people have been taken to local hospitals for chest pain and nausea after riding. Now, Mission: SPACE has two versions of the ride. The Green Team is similar to the original except that there is no spinning. I highly recommend this option if you are sensitive to intense spinning sensations! The Orange Team is the original ride, which we bravely opted for AGAIN even after all these years. Needless to say, I did not feel awesome after the ride. I had to sit down and regain my senses.
Once I felt like myself again, we made out way to World Showcase, my favourite part of EPCOT.
For lunch I highly recommend La Hacienda de San Angel in the Mexico pavilion. For those familiar with Disney, this would be the restaurant that is NOT inside the Aztec temple structure. With seating both inside and outside, La Hacienda de San Angel is perfect throughout the year. The food is great and let me tell you now, this was the best meal we had at any of the parks.
The Mexico Pavilion is my personal favourite and I love seeing all the different imported items. The interior of the Aztec temple-like structure is unbelievable. When I entered and saw some pieces relating to the Pixar movie Coco, I knew I was in heaven.
After a delicious lunch, we made our way over to Norway for the Frozen Ever After ride. This was one of our FastPasses as I read online that the popularity of this Disney princess ride is insane. As we arrived a little early, we spent our time wandering around.
For a snack, we visited Kringla Bakeri og Kafe where I tried the Troll Horn. It is a little too sweet for my liking, but that cloudberry cream is delicious!
As for Frozen Ever After, wow, what a great ride! Obviously it is geared towards slightly younger folks, but it is incredibly well done. We hopped into our little boat with a family behind us and sailed into the world of Frozen. When Olaf popped up, the little girl behind us started screeching from excitement. You are forewarned: there are lots of crazy fans.
In China, we wandered around the beautiful buildings and watched ‘Reflections of China’, a film exploring the history and culture of China. I even bought myself one of those handheld Chinese fans.
We continued to make our way clockwise around World Showcase. The crowds began to intensify, but we still wanted to make sure we stopped at every pavilion. Our next stop was Germany. Traditionally, this has been one of our favourite places because we normally purchase a Christmas ornament from the Christmas shop here.
Italy isn’t normally our favourite pavilion as there isn’t much to see other than a restaurant and a shop. I always thought Disney could further incorporate some great Disney Italian themed films like Pinocchio, or even American-Italian films like Lady and the Tramp. I really should be a Disney Imagineer.
France is a major Disney film destination, with lots of great movies inspired by the French countryside and towns. We’re talking about films like Beauty and the Beast, the Aristocats, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and the Hunchback of Notre Dame. We also can’t forget one of my favourite Pixar films, Ratatouille. After roaming around the “streets of Paris” we got a little treat at Les Halles Boulangerie Patisserie.
One of our favourite stops is Japan because of the massive Mitsukoshi store. Mitsukoshi is a large department store chain from Tokyo, Japan and is a wonderland for Japanese product lovers. My brothers also get so excited about the Pokemon toys. I love the Studio Ghibli merchandise as well as the Oyster counter where you can buy a pearl. As a kid I always thought of this place as a mini-theme park.
We made dinner reservations at Restaurant Marrakesh in Morocco. My mom had great memories of this place when we went almost a decade ago, but I’m sad to report that our experience this time around was pretty terrible.
Nevertheless, we did not let dinner damper our spirits. We completed the World Showcase circle by making quick visits to the United Kingdom and Canada (okay, we skipped the USA).
Having some extra major hours left in the park, we raced back to Future World to see what rides we could squeeze in. We went to The Seas with Nemo & Friends, the most adorable ride ever, and then Spaceship Earth to finish the day off. All in all, Day 1 was a great success!
What a packed day! Next up: Animal Kingdom.