Just spent 5 nts/6 days at Disney on a multi-generational trip celebrating my in-laws’ 50th wedding anniversary and my daughter’s 6th birthday. I was not on assignment and Disney did not know I was a travel writer. I feel I have to share my misadventures so others — and Disney, if they choose to read this — might perhaps learn from my experiences.
* The luggage tags on my bags were supposed to ensure that they were whisked from the airport to the hotel without my having to pick them up at baggage claim. This didn’t happen.
* Baggage at MCO (Orlando airport) was across the airport and downstairs from my arrival gate. To get from baggage to the bus (Disney’s Magical Express, included in my room rate) I had to go upstairs and across the airport again.
* From when I arrived at the bus to when I arrived at my hotel, more than an hour had passed. We stopped at several resorts before mine and waited in front of mine for more than 5 minutes without an explanation as to why we weren’t moving.
* None of our three rooms was ready upon our arrival. It was after 3pm and we hadn’t had a proper meal since breakfast at 8am. The check in process was unbearably slow. We had staff “helping” us for a full hour, as we waited in the lobby for an explanation and for a room number so I could get my strollers and groceries I had pre-ordered delivered. We missed our FastPasses for that afternoon.
* There was no one at the bell desk to help us with our luggage, no one pointed us in the right direction to get to our rooms, no one told us anything about the hotel.
* Finally we got into our room and this is what I find:
We were staying at the Bay Lake Towers at the Contemporary Resort and our room was more than $800 night.
That was just the beginning.
* I ordered flowers for my in-laws and they were delivered to me instead.
* I ordered a birthday surprise for my daughter and it was delivered some time between 6pm and 9pm when we were out for dinner.
* Our air-conditioning didn’t work and I called for a technician who explained that it turns off when the motion sensors don’t sense motion (at night, and when people are out of the room during the day). He taught us how to bypass it so it would actually do its job of air-conditioning the room.
* My brother-in-law’s TV didn’t work. The technician made a temporary fix.
* The room comes with a full kitchen, including coffee maker and coffee. But no coffee filters. Requests for filters fell on deaf ears. As did requests for blankets (we used towels) and fresh towels. After two days of no housekeeping I called and got two housekeepers — I asked for them to just take out the garbage and give us fresh towels. I was busy with my child so I didn’t pay attention to what they were doing. They took out the garbage and the used towels but left without giving us new towels.
* Re dining, we encountered poor management almost everywhere. At Le Cellier in Epcot/Canada we were seated 45 minutes after our reservation time and served our food another 35 minutes later. At the Rose and Crown in Epcot/Great Britain we were served our food nearly a full hour after being seated. At Cinderella’s Royal Table we waited 45 minutes to be seated. I learned to pack sandwiches and crackers for us to eat while we were waiting to eat! A restaurant that seated us near our reservation time was Be Our Guest. However, we were seated in the dark room with the ripped curtains — it has a thunder and lightning period every few minutes and my four year old (and mother-in-law) was not happy about that.
* We ate at California Grill our last night and the view from the top floor was spectacular. The wine list was impressive (they had my favorite, hard-to-find South African dessert wine) and the duck appetizer was outstanding. However, the short ribs were dry and flavorless. And don’t order the cheesecake if you are expecting it to taste like cheesecake — it has an almost gelatinous texture and a citrus flavor.
*It would have been much better to eat at our hotel every night instead of spending long commute times and further battling crowds after loooooooong days pushing strollers on and off monorails and buses and navigating seas of families with crying children, and waiting in lines 20 minutes long, and rushing to make FastPass times, and covering vast distances.
* I had no concept of how great the distances were between hotel and parks, among the parks, and within the parks. Our hotel had a monorail in it — convenient, right? We had to take our elevator at Bay Lake Towers from the 7th floor to the 5th, cross an outdoor walkway that went through two sets of doors, go into the Contemporary, and get into a tiny elevator (usually had to wait for at least one full one to pass) to get to the platform. We had two strollers filled with kids and stuff so using the skinny escalator was challenging. It took us 45 minutes to get to the Magic Kingdom one morning. Yes, the Contemporary is one stop on the monorail from the Magic Kingdom ONE THE WAY BACK from the Magic Kingdom. On the way there you have to stop at several other resorts, wait for the crowds with their strollers and kids and wheelchairs to board, wait for train congestion to clear. It was only after suffering this frustration that we figured out how to walk it. It took us 8 minutes.
* We had a pirate adventure booked one morning. I got the kids there and was told it had been cancelled. No one had called or emailed. We could have used that time to get to a park early. It makes a huge difference how early you go: The crowd expands exponentially as the minutes tick away.
* Over two days we waited in line five times to see Cinderella’s stepmother and stepsisters and the line was cut off EACH TIME either just in front or two families in front of us. Lesson: Find out the schedules for the characters you want to see. Not so easy.
* Another tip: You WILL get wet on the Kali River Rapids ride in Animal Kingdom. If the sound of that doesn’t bother you, think about walking around the rest of the day with soaking sneakers and wet underwear. Plus, the temperature was chilly. Bad idea. I later saw that there were lockers and rain hoodies people got somewhere.
* Also, there was a crazy lit up dragon in the water every night from 10:15 to 10:30 p.m. blaring music. Kids are sleeping, Disney!!
* What was great? Gardengrocer.com delivered groceries; orlandostrollerrentals.com delivered sturdy and easy to push strollers. We had an awesome server at Cinderella’s castle, where four princesses came by our table (but not Cinderella: we had our picture taken with her upon arrival). The babysitting service was professional — Kid’s Night Out — but note that they are not allowed to bathe kids. The cast members who played the princesses and characters like Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland were fantastic — interactive with the kids and totally in character. Enchanted Tales with Belle got the kids not only meeting Belle but interacting with her in a little play. The Peter Pan ride takes you “flying” over London and vignettes of the story. It’s a Small World is sweet and a longish ride so it makes the wait more worthwhile. At Disney Hollywood Studios the Toy Story Mania ride was phenomenal. I wouldn’t have paid attention to it unless my travel agent told me to book it. None of us has seen the movies and we are not arcade fans but the ride was so incredibly well done. It’s 3D and you get swooshed around and have to fire your cannon at moving targets. Each cannon gets a score. Really fun.
Bottom line is I don’t understand why anyone thinks it’s fun to battle crowds with strollers and screaming kids and traverse large distances to wait in line for 20-30 minutes (or more) for boring three-minute rides. In planning this trip, I read three books larger than War and Peace, read tons of online articles, talked to friends who had been to Disney, and hired the one travel agency recommended by Conde Nast Traveler as a Disney specialist. All this and I still had a frustrating, stressful, exhausting trip.
I would not recommend families with young children to go. It’s just too hard to push them so far and so long and deal with the crowds (and I went in the off season!) and to wait for everything — rides, transportation, food. Plus, my four-year-old was scared of many rides. I would wait until the kids are tweens and can stand in line and ride on their own. Or better yet, I would just go to one of the many amusement parks within a couple of hours of me.