The Miserable Bastard’s Guide to Surviving Disney World Pt. 2- The Food, The Experience, Final Thoughts

THE FOOD

In general, Disney food is not good. I’m not saying that with the authority of a Yelper who will commit self-harm if they don’t get Elite status again this year (Elite Yelpers are the absolute mind-numbing worst). I’m saying it as someone with realistic expectations who actually knows what he is talking about. I did research the HELL out of the food before I left but I did not eat every item available. I will list out what I thought was really good at the end. When I say the majority of Disney food is not good, I don’t think there is a way to make it good without major price increases to meals that are already a questionable value at best. The food is exactly what it should be, and the outliers are whatever is being made fresh in front of you and wherever has the least number of items on their menu. Big variety means a level of repetition, teachable processes, and prefab/lower quality ingredients to meet the demands of total food cost while executing with efficiency that can absorb the onslaught of bodies.  Disney is great at fostering the “I’m just here for the snacks!” fandom, and the food service workers are at the top of the saint ladder as far as I’m concerned. Three days into the trip I would have paid $50 for a Chipotle burrito on Main Street USA, and I’m not a Chipotle guy. Why don’t they incorporate fast casual chains into the Disney landscape? Because why are they going to split their money with another corporation when they have the infrastructure to keep ALL the money?

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The Dole Whip…not as good as the Orange Swirl

We weren’t fed garbage or anything inedible at any point, don’t misread what I’m saying. We got what we expected. The food was as good as it could possibly be prepared every time. My first big lesson was- if you’re only paying $14 at a Disney resort for a giant foot long hot dog topped with pulled pork, cole slaw, and a side of fries…don’t expect an artisanal sausage with house smoked pork. In Disney pricing, that experience would run you about $25. We had really good burgers and fries at the Sci Fi Drive-in at Hollywood studios. They weren’t anything like the preformed patties and what I am assuming is a proprietary Disney French fry that looks like it’s from McDonald’s but tastes like sadness. But again, one burger experience is around $12, and the other is $21. Don’t think I’m an oaf because I’ve never tasted the wonders at Victoria & Albert’s, the elusive Club 33, or Markham’s at Golden Oak. I know fine dining. Last night I had dinner at a friend’s restaurant where I’d be willing to bet dinner at one of the aforementioned places that his food eclipses any of them. I don’t doubt they are beautiful experiences with excellent food and impeccable service, I’d go to Club 33 in a heartbeat. But the same value rules apply at those restaurants as Casey’s Corner. You’re going to pay Alinea or Eleven Madison Park prices for the type of experience that is readily available outside of Disney for about half the cost. But it’s Disney…so paying the money isn’t crazy by any stretch. Is it a good value? Outside of Disney no way in hell. But it IS Disney, and that is the x-factor that makes value harder to measure. You tell me those places are amazing once in a lifetime experiences and I’ll believe you. You tell me the food can compete with the best fine dining in the United States, and I’m going to call BS.

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Pastry in France…get there before the World Showcase opens

We opted to skip a meal plan, which for us ended up being the best choice. Part of it was the thought of micro-managing the trip to make sure we used everything, and part of it was the lack of freedom that would come with making sure we used everything. Plus, I don’t want to carry a damn mug around with me for the free ocean of soda. Fucking Wilford Brimley and the Diabeetus Posse would mark me for death. We knew that mentally we’d need to have a few sit-down dinners, but the cost of the middle dining plan and having to schedule our days around reservations made far in advance was not appealing. In hindsight, the amount of waiting in line and hunting for tables would have been a big issue for us if we had a dining plan. I’ll happily eat a granola bar I packed to ward off hunger long enough to either find a short food line or wait and eat outside the park. Unless you’re wanting to eat in the cacophony of popular sit-down restaurants in the park (or your resort), there is plenty of good food and same-day reservations in Disney Springs. We only made one reservation well in advance because we knew we wanted to eat at Morimoto. It was a very good meal, but the highlight of the whole trip was a last-second table we booked at Frontera. Moneywise we came out ahead without a dining plan. All of our meals (including a friggin’ $50 Disney pizza delivery), snacks, incidentals like toiletries and suntan lotion, several souvenirs that included nice jewelry for kiddo, only totaled about $200 more than the middle dining plan. And that was with us going wild and carefree with the magicbands. If my lazy ass skipped buying a $4 Dasani and got a free ice cup more often, you could probably knock that total down another $75.

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Count on a 30 minute wait, even with your reservation…

The one total burn that you can’t question is the princess breakfast. We opted for Akershus, and with tip it’s close to a $200 meal for three people. The food is not good. It’s kind of like the free buffet breakfast at an airport Marriott. It is engineered to be good enough to eat but not so good that you want to linger and keep them from turning your table. They know what they are doing when it comes to moving bodies, and moving bodies is masterfully handled throughout Disney. You get your plate of hot food, your little buffet, the kid gets to parade through the dining room with the princesses, and every princess makes a stop at every table to chat, sign autographs, and take photos. And another table gets turned without you feeling rushed. It’s beautiful in its effectiveness. And our daughter was in a total dream world the entire time. It was amazing, and I will happily pay that tab every trip.

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The fish and chips at the England kiosk are awesome, and from what I understand half the price of the sit-down restaurant

My most controversial statement in this giant blog post is as follows: The orange citrus swirl and citrus swirl float is far superior to the infamous Dole whip. I found this out when there was no way in hell I was going to deal with the Aloha Isle zombie holocaust and went to the little kiosk farther down the sidewalk with no line.

 

Epcot is the park that deserves more attention from us next time. I liked the bakery in Norway better than France, and if you don’t buy into the “Sweet Baby Jesus, I would run over my family to get to some School Bread!” hype you’ll do okay. School bread is very good, the Viking Mousse Cake is very good, and at least when we were there the line wasn’t unreasonably long. The nice thing about the bakery in France is that you can get to it before the rest of the World Showcase opens and the line explodes. The baked items we tried were good, but it goes back to the whole “impossible to achieve greatness when you’re making a hundred different items thousands of times a day” conundrum.  Neither place is unreasonably priced, actually kind of a bargain by Disney standards, so absolutely worth a visit. The staff at both places deserve a special mention, world class. The fish and chips kiosk in England is great, highly recommended.

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Best….strip mall…..ever

Pro Tip: The Dole whip is still very good, and the smartest place to get it is probably Tamu Tamu in Africa at Animal Kingdom. Not a crazy line, but BONUS…there is a ton of covered seating right around the corner with actual available seats.  Not far from there is Mr. Kamal’s, and following my rule of “less items the better”, they only serve about 3 things. The chicken potstickers are good, and the tzatziki and sriracha ketchup covered fries are as good as the ubiquitous Disney fry is going to get.

Bonus Pro Tip: Also Animal Kingdom…Pongu Pongu in Pandora was a great find, because the pineapple lumpia (basically a fried spring roll filled with pineapple and cream cheese and sprinkled with sugar) is awesome. But that’s not all…if you are there before 10am, there is no line and a ton of outdoor seating at the restaurant across from it that doesn’t open until lunch.

 

Shocking come from behind dark horse winner item? The Dijon chicken wrap at the Bakery/Starbucks nearest the fountains on Main Street in Magic Kingdom. Seriously. If I’m endorsing both Starbucks and a stupid wrap sandwich, you can trust me. Big enough for 2 people and made fresh. But just buy that and whatever you can pull from the cooler or shelves yourself, because if you order something get ready to suffer the indignities of the Starbucks queue. The employees are rockstars, but Starbucks people order some overly complicated and stupid shit that slows things way, way, way down.

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$6.99 for 6 make these the best value of the trip, they are not small

Woody’s Lunchbox is Heaven AND Hell!  Toy Story Land is just cool. Insanely crowded but cool. Woody’s Lunch Box has pre-order available, which is heaven. But the seating situation, very very popular with the Anti-Vaxx LuLaRoe Death Cult members, is hell. Good luck getting a seat without having to cut off someone’s ear. In fact, good luck even scoring a standing table. The kid’s meals are a good value, and the tater tot nachos don’t make you feel like a fool for paying the $9.  Man, there was one family who had finished eating long ago holding a Disney trivia contest at their table until some lady (a hero), shamed them into moving the hell along. Just brutal over there.

 

My Loyalty to Cosmic Ray’s   Oh, it’s not great. But you can pre-order your food, and even when the hell mouth (area around the carousel) is so packed you can barely physically make it through, right down the path to Tomorrowland sits an amazing amount of open seating at Ray’s. Available Disney seating is more important than the quality of Disney food. Please judge me for talking so much about seating AFTER you visit. Hats off to the staff for keeping the topping and condiment stations full even though people fill at least 35 ramikens full of shit they will never use. The loaded fries are a weird version, man. Cosmic in that I think they were dreamed up by a robot that was programmed to create “stoner food”.

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Cosmic Fries….designed by robots

Disney Springs is the Greatest Strip Mall in the World  I really mean it. A crazy crowd at Disney Springs is like a completely empty Magic Kingdom park in comparison. My only regret is that Jaleo wasn’t open yet. Our first date was at Jose Andres’ minibar in DC, so when we do go to Jaleo with our daughter it will be a special experience. Getting back from a park, collapsing for a few minutes, then taking a shower, putting on clean clothes, wandering down to the dock to catch a boat, and pulling into Disney Springs for an honest to god sit down and chill out meal was cathartic. Morimoto was a very good meal. The ribs and Peking duck get a genuine recommendation from me. A different experience than the parks and resort, but while they will never make you feel rushed they’re turning that table in about an hour. Just an observation, that never bugs me. My wife reminded me that some people like to get in and out quicker than we do, but the combination of efficiency and professionalism is worth mentioning. Our meal at Frontera was our favorite meal of the trip. The food is fresh and totally solid, and we happened to have an amazing and genuinely kind server. We had a reservation, but they do take walk-ins. Reservations seem to get better seating farther back in the restaurant. The elotes and their tortilla soup are items I’ll always order.

 

 

THE EXPERIENCE

This is the part of the blog for my random thoughts about the “Disney Experience” that may or may not contain nuggets of wisdom for miserable bastards who had zero children until they were 43.

Waiting for buses sucks, don’t trust the posted wait times. Four empty Animal Kingdom buses will go by before you are turned into the Human Centipede to cram way too many people onto the only one headed to Hollywood Studios in the past forty minutes. That is just the way it is. It will constantly bug you, but outside the parks people tend to be very civil to one another, so there’s that. I’d say at least it’s free, but you’re still paying for it when you buy the tickets.

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There is a longer walk from the bus to the park entrance (and vice versa) than you are probably expecting. There is also more security involved to enter the park than you are probably expecting. If you have a bag you will wait in line for it to be checked thoroughly by hand. If you don’t have a bag, you can skip that line and head straight to the metal detectors. Once through the metal detectors you can go get in the lines to actually enter the park. During times of extremely high traffic, some of these processes may be modified to speed things up, but don’t count on it. From stepping off the bus to getting inside the park, it can take upwards of a half hour. Fair warning for the InfoWars/Breitbart zombies…they electronically scan your fingerprint when you enter the park to make sure you match your magicband or ticket. They keep it in the database only until the end of the trip…supposedly! Maybe they’re usin’ ’em to get them illegals some ID’s to do some votin’! If you can’t prove they ain’t doin’ then it’s gotta be true!

Most of the rides are going to be shorter than you are expecting when compared to the wait times.

Disney knows how to move bodies, so trust being cattle. The built-in efficiencies to move groups of people in as people are moving out are impressive. With that in mind, be ready to jump on and off lots of rides that never totally stop moving.

Favorite ride? I’m not a thrill-seeker, so I’m going to say Star Tours. Favorite ride or show with the kid? We ended the final day of our trip with the Frozen Sing-along at Hollywood Studios. Absolutely the most perfect choice for our daughter. That memory alone is worth the whole trip.

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March of the First Order

I think about some crazy shit when I’m waiting in long lines. There’s much written about how Disney tries shielding customers from some of the grim realities of life…”Code V” means vomit needs cleaned up, etc. And you know that people die at Disney. Disney doesn’t kill them, it’s generally natural causes or they’ve done something incredibly stupid.  Still, I wondered to what lengths they go to in order to lock that down. Every once in a while on the app you’ll see a ride suddenly go to a “currently unavailable” status. I’m sure it means nothing, but I always imagined some poor mangled bastard lying in blood screaming “SOMEBODY PUT MY FUCKING GUTS BACK IN! CAN’T YOU SEE ME HERE? THIS IS AWFUL! WHY THE TARPS? DID YOU DISPATCH CHIP AND DALE JUST TO DISTRACT PEOPLE FROM MY AGONY? IS THAT WHAT THIS IS? MY GOD I AM BLEEDING OUT, THIS IS NOT MAGICAL AT ALL!”

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The Sci-Fi Drive-in at Hollywood Studios is a good value

If you have a little girl and you want to get her a special gift during the trip, I am sure there are ways to spend the equivalent of a Range Rover in some of the stores. We wanted to spend money on something she’d have forever instead of just a big pile of random souvenirs. Plus, she had family members give her a nice chunk of change and we wanted something to show for it. A solid answer? Pick a Pearl at the Mistukoshi Department Store in Epcot Japan. You buy a $18 ticket at any register and then take it over to claim a line number and wait your turn. Your kid gets to pick a live oyster guaranteed to have a pearl, and there is a whole big ritual that goes along with the selection, opening, and presentation of the pearl. It’s pretty cool. Then there is an array of different jewelry options, or you can simply take it with you in the little plastic bag. For under $100 total (including her pearl) our daughter chose a really nice pearl cage that looks like Cinderella’s coach, and a sterling silver chain. She was blown away by the experience, and is nuts about her keepsake.

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Smart money for a genuine keepsake…

Unless we spring for the dessert boat cruise, I don’t know if we’ll ever be a family who hangs out to deal with the crowds during fireworks, and then wait around for the bus wait times to be manageable again. Maybe someday, but even after planning on it we voted it down this trip.

You know that poor guy is still just lying there, “OH MY GOD WHY ME? A SIMPLE DEGLOVING WOULD BE FAR PREFERABLE TO THIS! LIKE GERALD’S GAME! OH THAT’S RIGHT, MY INTESTINES ARE JUST A FIGMENT OF YOUR IMAGINATION, FOLKS! SHIVER ME GODDAMN TIMBERS YOU’RE ON PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN…DEAD MAN’S CHEST CAVITY! GET IT? I HAVE CHANGED MY MIND, SOMEONE JUST KILL ME! SWEET DEATH! WHY WAS MY LAST RIDE THE PEOPLE MOVER? I SEE THE ANGELS NOW! SEE YA REAL SOON JESUS!”

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I know I mention seating a lot, but honestly some of the more boring kid-friendly rides provide a nice rest. I’m not kidding, there is a line for every single thing- there is no unpopular ride or show when the park is busy. Swiss Family Treehouse racks up a 15 minute wait if that tells you anything.

When you are booking your Fastpasses 60 days in advance, be sure to pick things you 100% want to do. YouTube has endless ride footage to help you narrow it down, and a quick Google search will provide you with lists of rides with the longest waits. And it’s not crazy to figure out where each ride is in proximity to the others to maximize your time. The more free time you have, the better chance you’ll have to keep an eye on your MDE app for wait times. We decided we weren’t ever going to wait for anything more than 30 minutes, and we managed to score a lot of rides with minimal wait times. Not any of the rides with insane 3 hour wait times like Avatar Flight of Passage, but plenty that our six-year old enjoyed…like the Dumbo ride.

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This is the Animal Kingdom version of the hell mouth…along with all of Pandora

I don’t do drugs or drink alcohol at all, but I am not new to this world. I was checking out ride footage before we left, and I told my wife Disney World would be the ultimate place to go if you were on mushrooms or incredibly strong weed. Wrong. Wrong. It took me exactly thirty seconds inside the first park to realize what a horrific nightmare it would be to maneuver that place in an altered state of consciousness. Short of having the park to yourself, the best situation would be having a best friend in charge of It’s a Small World who could get you in after hours. A massive quantity of something along the lines of DMT, with the music switched from It’s a Small World to Du Hast, cranked up to an ear-shattering level…now that would be optimum drugged Disney. Only an observation, I would seriously never do something like that even if I had the chance. But I’m not your damn parent, if you can make it happen go for it. Just let me know if I was right about it being cool.

Simple but mighty truths- when you see water go ahead and get a drink, when you see a bathroom use it, and when you see something that looks good to eat, buy it. Hunger, thirst, and the call of nature can sneak up on you and leave you uncomfortable in the middle of a long line or a huge crowd. Free advice.

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LESSONS LEARNED

I’m a project manager by nature, so it’s normal for me to end a major endeavor with a “post-mortem”. I think we did a great job for a first trip. Granted, that is due in part to how Disney makes things as easy as possible for you from the moment you land until you leave. There are only a handful of things I’d do differently or reconsider for our next trip. I’ll be adding to this as I think of anything, it’s a work in progress.

The wait times for the buses does get to be a hassle about half the time. You’re either in hurry to get somewhere, or tired as hell wanting to leave as soon as possible. I’ve read up on alternate modes of transportation, and I think next time we’ll incorporate Lyft into our routine. Not all the time, Disney transportation is still a no-brainer, but an alternative when you’re stressed or trying to rush will be nice.

As discussed before, we are not a meal plan family. The freedom to do our own thing whenever we want, plus the benefit of already learning how eating works at Disney firsthand, is a solid combo for us. 

We’ll always spring for Memory Maker (while we’re booking, to save about $60). There are a lot of photographers all over the parks, and only a few of them have noteworthy lines of people waiting for them. Between our phones and the Disney cameras, we captured more than enough great moments for the additional cost and convenience of not carrying yet another thing around with us.

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As far as trips to the parks, next visit we definitely won’t pay the additional cost for park hopper, or tickets for the day we leave. One park a day is more than enough for us. I don’t see there being a time when we’re leaving Hollywood Studios and thinking “Oh boy! Now it’s time for Magic Kingdom!”  And a park on our final day just isn’t going to happen. If we have a late flight, our time will be better spent relaxing at the resort or taking a trip to Disney Springs at the most.

The ability to pre-order and prepay for your food in the parks is a big bonus, and most pickup spots are clearly marked and don’t get too swamped. The only drawback is it’s not available everywhere, so research and plan ahead to see if your must-have items can be pre-ordered. Otherwise, be ready to wait a full year in a line.

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Disney theming knows no boundaries…

We’ll take more trips to Disney Springs in the future. As far as we’re concerned, that is the only way to plan a sit-down meal and truly relax and enjoy it. Plus there’s a lot going on entertainment-wise. Yeah, it’s a fancy strip mall, but it’s a Disney strip mall. It’s awesome.

The bottom line for your Disney adventure is- you can do every possible thing that you  packed into your meticulous itinerary and be miserable, or you can roll with it and have a good time. Things will happen to fuck up your schedule, you’ll be tired, you won’t be in the same mood to do something you were five months ago when you planned it…be willing to make changes on the fly. If you aren’t having a good time, chances are good Disney isn’t the root cause.

Lastly, Disney magic is real. Not in the sense of fairy dust and surprise miracles at every turn. Nothing like that at all. It’s simple stuff that happens on a regular basis…a groundskeeper giving you a golf cart ride to your front door from the bus stop after a long day of walking…a random lady handing your kid some Mickey and Minnie stuffies for no reason at all…a cashier giving you free sodas for the heck of it. One night when we were leaving Disney Springs, our daughter realized she’d left her little bag with a note pad and colored pencils someplace. A four dollar loss, but a traumatic experience for a tired six year old. No sooner did we get in line for the boat back to Port Orleans, than the captain came over to do some funny sleight of hand for her and make a princess ring and pirate coin appear from behind her ear. That sort of thing…just some well timed kindness. It’s easier to have a good time at Disney World than put in the effort to have a bad time…it’s a simple matter of choice.

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Last Disney experience of the trip…

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  1. The Miserable Bastard’s Guide to Surviving Disney World Pt. 1- Prep, The People, The Resort | Hunter S. Fatback - March 15, 2019

    […] THIS WAY TO PART 2….it’s even better! […]

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