We finally got back from our week long journey today. Let's see... To go from Cary to Orlando took 11 hours and 2 tanks of gas and two meals, totalling about $100. To return from Orlando took 29 hours and 2 tanks of gas and one hotel night and several meals, totalling about $300. Note to self: Use the same strategy and planning for the return trip as was used for the arrival trip.
For the trip TO Orlando, we left at 3:30am, everyone slept until about 8am, and we arrived by 2:30pm. For the return trip we left around 11:30am, decided at the last minute to NOT visit another park, and hit the road with intentions of making it home by 11pm, after visiting a family friend in Daytona. We had to stop several times as our bathroom cycles were all out of sync. And after 8 grueling hours and 300 miles, we were barely in Georgia. We decided to stop in Savannah for the night, went to Tony Roma's for one last nice vacation dinner, and then left this morning. It pains me to recount how much it felt like rowing uphill into the wind for the remaining 5 hours with 3 wide awake restless boys in the car. The Xbox, DS, and endless videos did little to keep the peace, as there was always something to argue about.
While at Disney, here were the "logistical" things I want to remember...
- There are about a dozen Disney hotels on their property. They provide bus transportation between all of them and all the 4 Disney parks (plus Downtown Disney). At the place we stayed, Fort Wilderness Campground Cabins, they have 3 bus lines that run a continuous loop around the neighborhood and the "outpost" where you connect to the 4 park buses. Our wait time for a bus was anywhere from 0 to 25 minutes. The average was probably about 10-15. Parking for cars at the parks was $12 and we wondered if cars staying at a Disney resort had to pay. I bet they would.
- There is also monorail transportation between some of the resorts (The Contemporary, for example) and Magic Kingdom. There is also monorail between MK and Epcot.There is also boat transportation from some of the resorts (Fort Wilderness, for example) and MK.
Therefore, to go from FW to Epcot, we could go FW neighborhood bus - to FW outpost - to Epcot. OR... FW bus to FW marina - marina to MK - monorail to MK main station - then other monorail to Epcot. The transportation possibilities are endless, and the variety is nice.
- Getting from one resort to another is a bit challenging. There are some cases where the monorail or boat will do the trick. Otherwise, you will have to go from resort to a park (any park - perhaps one in between would be best) and then from that park to the other resort.
- At Downtown Disney, there are 2 bus stops. One at one end, and the other at the Pleasure Island end, which is closer to the middle, and Planet Hollywood. Decide ahead of time which stop you need.
- Each park offers lockers so you can store your bag of snacks or different clothes. The cost is $10 and there is a refund of $5 when the key is turned in. After we went to the same park 2 days in a row, it occurred to me that I should have kept my key and used the same locker for 2 days. I asked if the deposit would still be given and I was told YES, but they don't like to advertise that.
- Be sure to use the Fast Pass. Here are the rules: Go to a popular ride and insert each admission card into the kiosk. The current time may be 3:05pm and the standby wait may be 70 minutes. The Fast Pass return time may be 5:30pm - 6:30pm. So by getting a Fast Pass, we can come back at 5:30pm and do something else fun from the current time until then - instead of waiting in line for 70 minutes. The catch is that you can only get one Fast Pass per ticket. At that point, you must WAIT for 2 hours OR until the Fast Pass return time, whichever is less. So in the example above, I would be able to get ANOTHER Fast Pass for each ticket at 5:05pm. If the Fast Pass return time was 4:30pm, then I would have been able to get another Fast Pass then (1 hr 25 min after the first Fast Pass). The key is to time it well so that you always have a Fast Pass in hand, AND are prepared to get ANOTHER Fast Pass as soon as you're eligible.
- We are late sleepers, and we had a hard time getting into the parks by noon on most days. (Hey, taking it easy is what vacation is all about!) Anyway, on several days, after arriving at a park between 12:30 or 1:30pm, I would immediately rush to the best ride with plans of getting 5 Fast Passes. Several times, I would find that the ride had distributed all the Fast Passes for the day. So arrive early in order to get the best Fast Passes.
- The Fast Passes always are for a 1 hour block of time. I asked, and an attendant confirmed, that the end time is actually open. The will let you use a Fast Pass AFTER the expiration time, and this comes in handy when you are on one end of the park when you need to be on the other end for a ride.
- I asked if I alone could come to the park early in the morning, and get Fast Passes for my whole crew. Several people told me that all the tickets had to be IN THE SYSTEM in order for the Fast Passes to be distributed. Ie. we all have to be in the park. I never did verify this, but I wouldn't doubt it.
- Another Fast Pass opportunity is as follows. I was not able to take advantage of this, as I wasn't thinking at the time. On one occasion, I tried to get a Fast Pass for a ride. The card jammed, and I had to call an attendant. I will say that overall, the cards fail to work about 5-10% of the time. In this case, the kiosk will print out an error card saying that the Fast Pass is not eligible at this time. Then, they usually work on the 2nd try.
I only had about 2 jams (out of probably 80-90 attempts) where my card got stuck. In this case the attendant has to open the machine and pull out the stuck card. On this one particular time, the attendant asked, "How many Fast Passes do you need?" and then proceeded to click off 5 Fast Passes for me in seconds. Well... what didn't click (in my head!) was that all my 5 tickets were still eligible for Fast Passes! I could have used them again right then on that same ride (different kiosk, and perhaps a few minutes later), or another ride altogether.
- Regarding the ticket itself. We purchased five 7 day tickets. After about 3-4 days, each additional day is only $3 per ticket. THEN, they also offer a "Park Hopper" which allows you to go to multiple parks in the same day. Given all the buses, monorails, and/or boats we had to take, and the subsequent wait time, we never found this to be a useful option, and so we didn't purchase this. The Park Hopper is additional $30-50 per ticket. It occurred to me that if we had paid for a 7 day ticket, then could we not use that for 1 park each day for 5 days, and then use our 6th and 7th day ticket both on day 6? I asked about that, and they said that would not work and that we would have to get the Park Hopper to be able to go to more than one park in a day. I never verified this, but I guess that is a loophole they have closed.
- If you want to get picked for anything, get near the front row and act like a maniac so that the "volunteer chooser" sees you. This worked for Luke (Jedi Training) and me (Indiana Jones cast member)!
That's all I can think of for now. Overall we had a very fun vacation, though the trip home was not much fun.