The Miserable Bastard’s Guide to Surviving Disney World Pt. 1- Prep, The People, The Resort

Marriage and kids are a slippery slope to doing shit you never imagined in a million years. I am not the kind of man who would voluntarily travel to an overcrowded amusement park for a week and spend more than the cost of a very nice European vacation for the honor. I hate flying, I hate crowds, and I hate waiting in lines…and there you have the Disney World trifecta of terror.  It took a few months, but I went from denial to acceptance without any major meltdowns before the big day came, and I managed to plan a pretty well-rounded itinerary. I still don’t understand the childless adults who flock down there and blog every detail, from the latest snacks to every celebration button through the years.  I’m deeply grateful for how their documentation assisted me in my planning, I just don’t get the enthusiasm. And the guys my age who are waaaayyyy too into pin trading…at some point it’s weird to shake people down for swag. But hey, a lid for every pot, right?  As the time between choosing a resort in September and getting on the plane in early March passed, the anticipation of seeing my six-year-old constantly lose her mind for a week was the main driver. And it did not disappoint.

I want to be very clear about a couple of things. First, I have no sponsors or advertisers, therefore no reason to make things sound better than they are. I’m a food guy and a kind-of novelist (buy my first book for an experience like no other), but I feel compelled to share this milestone occasion. Overall, I had a great time, but the reverence with which WDW is handled on a lot of blogs holds no weight with me. I totally respect the big blogs because the time it takes to do it well is a massive undertaking and monetizing your effort if you have the chance is a no-brainer.

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Disney’s Magical Express

Second, as far as I’m concerned, every WDW employee is a saint and I hate Yelp. I’ve always thought Yelp was nothing but an echo chamber for self-aggrandizing dopes who know absolutely nothing about writing reviews…and the WDW related stuff I read during my research reinforced that belief one thousand percent. The trip is an extravagant expense by anyone’s standards, and it’s reasonable to expect great service. I get that. The painfully detailed whining and nitpicking was annoying enough before I left, but after experiencing the crush of human flesh from beginning to end, if I had one employee just slap the shit out of me for no real reason once a day I’d be okay with that. They deserve to slap one person per day. The weird “pixie dust” rationalization gives visitors cover to ignore what has to be an absolutely soul-crushing work experience. Yes, the folks who get to feed the sea life outside the interactive Crush experience probably have a different view of things than the souls of the damned in the Akershus dish pit. Everyone we encountered was helpful and professional. And even if they weren’t I wouldn’t say anything here. I handle my problems at the time they occur with the people who handle the problems, and I don’t go whining for the entertainment of bottom feeders on review sites. Disney employees are the greatest for simply surviving that insanity, and I did not encounter a single one in a week who answered any question with “I don’t know”. Moving all those bodies all day long…the buses, the rides, the restaurants, the stores…it is beyond the realm of my imagination. There are harder jobs. More thankless jobs. More dangerous jobs. I know that. But having a million dream experiences in such close proximity to the non-stop churn of that machine provides an indescribable and ridiculous counterpoint. I just tipped whenever it seemed appropriate. The handy Magicband aside, I loaded up on cash before we left Kansas City. People deserve that. I was reading on a board where someone waits until they are checking out to leave money for housekeeping. If there is a hell, it is meant for people like them. You do that daily, there is no person assigned to your room for the whole stay. And even if there was, they deserve a little thank you every day because a lot of people tip zero. Anyone who pulls the “tip at the end” ruse is doing one of two things…they are leaving a shitty tip or no tip at all. The “when to tip at Disney” blog pages out there are a handy starting point…but you should try to do better than that. ANYWAY, in the interest of not dedicating this entire post to my anti-Yelp, pro-employee ranting, I will move on.

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Always some random stuff going on…

PREPARATION

One caveat…we’ve only got the one kid. I say that to communicate the fact that not ending up on the evening news was probably due to just having the one kid. If you are a generally miserable bastard like me, please understand your mileage may vary BY A LOT if you read this with four kids and think “hey, Disney doesn’t sound so bad now”.  If I had 2 kids, their asses would be Disney-free, I guarantee you. It’s a lot. There were many times I stood silently in solidarity with parents of more than one child just losing their shit. “Are all of their kids still alive afterwards?” was the only question that mattered to me. Nobody lost a kid on my watch, but I’ll be damned if I was going to begrudge some mom or dad a well-deserved meltdown when shit went south after the purchase of one of those stupid bubble wands that are everywhere. Our kid was fine 99% of the time. But it’s just the one kid. Optimum Disney.

So where does the magic of Disney begin in a midwestern home? It was something we’d talked about a few times within the context of “if you can do it for your kid, it’s kind of your duty”. I don’t remember when or how the actual planning started, but once it did it really snowballed. I think we bought all our reservations five months out and did just fine.

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Ariel’s big show…

The first thing I would suggest once you know it’s happening is to consult the crowd calendar on a site like Undercover Tourist. Without it we would have made the fatal error of just going during spring break. Instead we went the week before spring break season when the crowds were “moderate” …after dealing with moderate I’ll live the rest of my life avoiding “high” crowds.

Then figure out where you want to stay. We wanted to make life as easy as possible, so staying on-site was a no-brainer, and then eventually settled on a medium-priced resort.

I’d say that once you know your dates, and you know where you want to stay and have checked availability, before you book check for flights and if possible go with non-stops even if the times aren’t exactly what you want. Non-stops will mean the world to you, trust me. Then just book it all in quick succession in case anything is in danger of selling out.

Pro-tip: If you don’t already have someone who can take you, treat yourself by booking transportation to and from the airport. Considering what you’re going to spend, the cost is negligible and gives you one less stresser. Five Guys Transportation in Kansas City deserves a plug here. We left home at 4:30am in the middle of snowstorm and they delivered us to the airport safely.

Get fully invested in the Disney website’s “My Disney Experience” portal, as well as the mobile app as soon as humanly possible. That app is your touchstone with reality for the duration of your trip. I cannot overstate that fact. Play around with it, use it to book any dining you know you need (princess breakfasts, etc), but don’t over-plan eating. As a QA tester, I can vouch for the app. It is not without its faults, but it has just about everything you’ll need to keep track of every aspect of your trip in real time…bus times from the resorts, navigation of the parks via GPS, etc.

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Toy Story Land is still insanely crowded…

Just my opinion, but you would be smart to check out Garden Grocer and consider having groceries delivered to you (if you are staying at a Disney property). The prices aren’t really any higher than rack rate grocery store food, and delivery is $15 unless you buy x-amount then it’s free. Plus a discount for ordering early. Garden Grocer delivers to bell services on the day and timeframe you specify, and then bell services delivers to your room (tip on the website and tip the guy who brings your food). We chose not to do the dining plan, and figured we’d save money by eating breakfast in the room every day, as well as having snacks on hand while in the parks. We’ll dial it in better next time, but milk, cereal, granola bars, pop tarts, fresh fruit, hummus, pita chips, carrots, half and half for coffee, plasticware, bottled water, Lacroix, and goldfish crackers were the MVP’s. Go ahead and get your snacks for the plane ride home and save yourself an easy $20 at the airport. We spent around $100 with delivery fee and tip, and saved god knows how much money while delaying our dive into the sea of bodies each morning and keeping hangriness at bay with granola park snacks.

Pro-tip: I am very serious about my coffee, and as far as I know there isn’t much good coffee to be found on property, just Joffrey’s and Starbucks (the first person to mention the vacuum brewing at Victoria & Albert’s gets cut). Both would do in a pinch, but I’m a home roaster and I do not fuck around when it comes to my morning coffee. Plus having truly good coffee in your room? Magical. Invest in an electric kettle, a travel-proof French press, and some good coffee beans, and you will improve your chances at survival by at least 50%. Brew it strong and use a travel cup provided by housekeeping to walk to the bus stop confidently and with your head high.

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This is Survival 101

Pack too many clothes or plan on doing laundry while you’re there. Look into the facilities at your hotel/resort…ours was great and readily available (online machine status). Next time we’ll pack less and plan on doing a couple of loads of laundry. You will want to shower and change clothes more than you think, if you’re not already a super active person from a warm climate.

Speaking of active…take 2 pairs of walking shoes that you can swap out to give your feet some variety and better comfort. I invested in good Skechers, and so did my wife…she even got some for the one kid. Every day is at least 20,000 steps/10 miles-plus of walking, and that is just doing the basics of getting around the resort and the parks. Again, unless you’re already used to that it’s a real task to deal with. Add to that the insane amount of time you’ll be standing and waiting in a line. Have better shoes than you think you’ll need and break them in some before you leave.

Those are the high points I could think of, based on my experience as someone who needs to be researching and planning something all the time, and generally hates being around a lot of people. Take this next piece as the gospel about your arrival in Orlando. Your arrival is kind of an amuse bouche for the entire trip: You’ll land and be jammed next to excited people in a line waiting to get off the plane, and then you’ll walk a little while to get on a shuttle you’ll cram into shoulder to shoulder in order to get to the right terminal. Once you’re in the right terminal you’ll dodge people and try to find the right escalators to the correct floor. If you’re taking Disney’s Magical express, once you get to the right floor you’ll walk, and walk, and walk, passing every single rental car counter, thinking there’s no way they’d put the pickup at the farthest possible end of the building. Then when you get to the farthest possible corner of the building, they’ll scan your magicband and herd you into lines based on your destination. You’ll be in line for a good 20 or 30 minutes waiting for your bus before you’re herded aboard and on your way to Disney. That is the short, but completely accurate, version of your entire visit to the Magic Kingdom. Every day. So, plan on some downtime at the pool, or a movie at the Disney Springs AMC. Don’t be a hero. We will never be people who hang at a park from rope drop until fireworks. Not going to happen. Even if you’re just 50% miserable bastard, don’t think you are up for that task. I promise.

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Frozen Ever After is great…

THE RESORT

I loved getting to my damn room and BOOM my luggage was already there!  Magical!  Disney resorts are the only way to go! There are a million good blogs that cover every angle of every resort, so I won’t go in-depth.  Originally, we were just going to stay at a hotel near Disney Springs that provided transportation to the parks, but ultimately we chose to stay at Port Orleans- Riverside. My wife read up on it, and after we saw the Royal Rooms, that was it for us. Watching our daughter walk into Princess Tiana’s royal room was one of the things we anticipated most about our trip, and it will always be one of my happiest memories.

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Port Orleans Riverside

We got room 9578 at Parterre Place, so it was at the very end of the resort closest to French Quarter. A lot of people on different Disney boards slice and dice every foot of every resort to determine distances from the bus stops, lobby, etc. With the amount of walking we did every day, an additional 50 yards in any direction was negligible. When we return I’ll probably request the same building and the same river view. It’s a stone’s throw from the nearest pool that happens to also be the location for the nightly outdoor movies.

Worth noting- I’m a cigar smoker. More importantly I’m a polite cigar smoker and would rather skip it than sit at one of the poorly placed designated smoking spots and blow smoke on passersby. The bench at the far end of Parterre Place was perfect in the evenings…very little foot traffic and right by the river. After a full day of Disney overload, a nice cigar while listening to the clippity clop of the horses and watching the boats go by was transcendent.

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I broke out some good stuff…

Overall, this was the perfect resort for us. On our days when we planned to head to the parks later in the day, it was easy to relax or go find something to do. The boats to Disney Springs will be a big draw for us to come back, as well as the variety of swimming pools. Large laundry facilities will make packing easier, the refrigerator in the room was small but definitely larger than a tiny dorm version, and housekeeping was fantastic. The beds were of a much higher quality than we were expecting…a necessity that cannot be overstated after putting in a twelve-mile park day. The staff was always 100% on top of things.

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Parterre Place from water…

And what’s not to love about tapping your magic band and spending all your dollars worry-free? Honestly, when we go back in a couple of years once Star Wars dies down a bit, I think at most we’d try French Quarter, but we really, really loved Port Orleans. Quiet, relaxing, plenty to do, top tier staff…absolutely recommend. Unless we fell into a swimming pool of money and could do one of the crazy villas overlooking the wildlife at Animal Kingdom, I can’t imagine enjoying any of the top priced resorts more than Port Orleans Riverside. And especially not for another $300 per night!

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It’s a very easy walk from Riverside to French Quarter

THE PEOPLE

This is where things get a little dicey. If my completely accurate assessment of Yelp gave you a little twinge, the whole People of Disney observation may not be for you. I’m not a fan of physical contact with strangers, but I am a fan of my personal space. By the end of the trip I was ready to rip my skin off like the guy from Interdimensional Cable on Rick and Morty, because of the war on my personal space. And the clueless people in general….my god. I’m not talking about the screaming kids or the parents trying to keep track and corral them. That’s all in the game. I will admit, I did not foresee Disney World being Sturgis for motorized scooters. God bless anyone who must use one, I do not begrudge them one bit. There are just wildly inconsistent levels of expertise in the ability to drive them. Wildly inconsistent. At one point I told my wife that the perfect scam to get around Disney would be to throw down that $70 for the rental and pull the ol’ stolen valor routine…” Step aside! I’ve been in every war! Show me your thanks by letting me run over your goddamn foot on the way to the front of the Swirling Saucers line! I’m terrible at driving this fucking thing!”  I’d never do it, and damn anyone to hell who would, but that would be a solid con.

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STURGIS!

I’m not exactly easygoing when it comes to random strange men approaching my daughter and striking up a conversation. Disney has a lot of chatty grandpas. As it should. I’m pretty good at staring into someone’s soul, and I never got a sinister vibe while I was there, it’s just something to be aware of if you possess the destructive nature of the old gods like I do. I can’t vouch for some of the 50-something pin trading guys trying to both educate and trick kids out of superior pins…I’ll cross that bridge if our child ever chooses to be a collector.

Parents being dicks to their kids in a grand manner…already covered that one. More power to those people, if you keep that bottled up it can get dangerous.

Here’s a simple one- how about keeping your eyes pointed in the same direction your body is moving? I’m a big guy so I don’t have to worry about this as much as some, but when 2 bodies are each moving at 4mph and they collide, that’s like an 8mph accident. Because someone thinks they spotted fucking Olaf!

I am very thankful that I decided against bringing the Nikon on the trip. In the parks there aren’t many opportunities for great photography. Too many bodies in all directions. Some people cannot accept this and try to block major traffic flows long enough to get a photo, and some are total entitled dicks about it. I am not looking for opportunities to ruin a photo, but a choice between jamming myself between two scooters and a family of French tourists and walking through a large empty space someone is trying to block off, is no choice at all.

In the tradition of the people who attempt to block the flow of bodies to take a photo, you will also experience the people who block the flow of bodies by walking five abreast. Two across would be ok, single file is smartest, but no…. five across right in the middle of the hell mouth (area around the carousel at Magic Kingdom).  What’s that? The guy in the middle is stopping to rummage through his backpack for something so the whole group stops abruptly? Of course that’s what’s happening! Seriously. This is a hanging offense. People are very stupid.

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Just a random crowd shot to break up the verbiage…

 

The final two People of Disney drove me closest to putting a stranger on blast. First, what is up with men who constantly must be talking to someone and do not possess an indoor voice? Is it some alpha male territorial thing? Nerves? They cannot think everyone within earshot wants to know their every thought. There was a guy on the boat to Disney Springs who found out the captain was from someplace he lived in his lifetime. It was twenty minutes of very loud grilling about the finer points of whatever town it was, and it was crystal clear far above the sound of the engine from the opposite end of the boat. The worst one of the trip, and this is saying a lot, was either a coach or just weirdly invested in turning everything into a sports analogy. This was for the duration of the line waiting to get on the safari trucks at Animal Kingdom (fastpass does not mean immediate departure, be aware of that). He made sure everyone was aware that, A) You can’t be lettin’ people past your goal, into your zone, you gotta guard your field from people cuttin’ in line!, and B) HE AIN’T STUPID! HE AIN’T WAITIN’ IN A FOUR HOUR LINE FOR AVATAR FLIGHT OF PASSAGE! HE’S GOT A FASTPASS! A FAAAAAAAAASSSSTTPPPAAAAAAAAAAAAAAASSSSSSSS!!!!  The thing about these guys is, they will talk to anyone who is too polite to ever just disengage from them. They will talk to a three year old or an octogenarian, as long as it’s about something they know well so they never, ever, ever, not even for a second, ever, stop talking. Loudly.

The last people on my list I refer to as “The Anti-Vaxx LuLaRoe Death Cult Moms”. Do they want to speak to your manager? No. They want to summon Christ Jesus himself to intercede in whatever totally minor situation they need to blow out of proportion. I’m sorry Karen, but I do not want to join your pyramid scheme. Yes, I understand that it means I don’t want to be independently wealthy, and that I’m a shitty parent who doesn’t desire more time with my kid on top of our pile of money looking down upon all my victims, er I mean team members. KAREN! Their mission on earth is to find any instance where they can yell “Excuse me! There’s a line!”  They live for it. They will knock children out of their way to be the first in a line, and then perch like a sentinel waiting for any infraction against line etiquette. They possess a laser focus the intensity of which is only matched by its pointlessness. They line up for rope drop at 3am, and they killed one of their own children as a lesson to the surviving siblings when a snack on the meal plan went unused last year. Perhaps you will remember them from their starring roles in “filmed screaming at black teenagers for no reason and then calling the police”.

THIS WAY TO PART 2….it’s even better!

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An average crowd at the East Depot at 8am…

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2 Comments on “The Miserable Bastard’s Guide to Surviving Disney World Pt. 1- Prep, The People, The Resort”

  1. Donna Fisher
    March 17, 2019 at 4:04 pm #

    I love reading this!!!!! I know it was a trip of memories to last a lifetime!!! And as your mother, I know the level of sacrifice such an ‘adventure’ cost you

  2. Teresa Mizell
    April 11, 2019 at 5:26 pm #

    I so enjoy your great sense of word!! So happy for you, Meredith & Julia that you had a vacation of a lifetime that will never leave your mind or your heart.

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