North America

Magic Kingdom (Part 1)

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During our stay over the Christmas holiday we decided to visit Magic Kingdom before Christmas day, due to numerous websites and reviews reporting after Christmas would be madness in Magic Kingdom. The following days after Christmas Magic Kingdom was closed for entry to various ticket holders due to reaching capacity. We were all really happy we went to Magic Kingdom before Christmas Eve and day.

For our first day in the park, we didn’t make any dining reservations since we had originally booked the dessert party later in the evening, but that was cancelled on us by Disney. Since we arrived at the park earlier than we had planned, we checked out the new Jungle Navigation Co Ltd Skipper Canteen.

In December the restaurant was not taking reservations since it had just opened a few days before we arrived. At this time you could tell the cast members were practicing various jokes and memorizing a script since many of the cast members were using the same exact phrases. Luckily our waiter did not partake in the corny jokes during our meal.

We had around a 15 to 20-minute wait before being seated in the “secret dining room.” The restaurant has a jungle cruise theme obviously and the food is inspired by “exotic” cuisines around the globe.

We started with the falafel appetizer and we all really enjoyed this. The meal also came with bread and a honey dipping sauce (the dipping sauce is fantastic). For my entree I ordered the Char Siu Pork, which was great and the meat surprisingly tender! Everyone else ordered the “A Lot At Steak” Salad, which was a Thai marinated steak salad. Overall a great new restaurant addition to Magic Kingdom.

After our late lunch/early dinner we waited for our FP+ reservation time at the Jungle Cruise (Jingle Cruise in December). In December the ride was decked out in Christmas decorations and all the jokes were holiday inspired. Afterwards we walked around since it was getting late and we had a FP+ reservation for Holiday Wishes.

Originally we had booked the dessert party for the first night, but Disney cancelled our reservation due to overbooking. To make up for the cancelled reservation Disney gave us a FP+ reservation for the firework show and a $100 gift card. The FP+ reservation for the firework show was new to us and gave us access to a fenced off area to watch the fireworks without having to stake out a spot for hours.

The fenced off area opened up about an hour and a half before the firework show started. Before the fireworks started there were  also two different shows in front of the castle. The first was A Frozen Holiday Wish, which was a castle lighting ceremony. The castle lighting is actually very pretty, minus all the Frozen hoopla. The second show was Celebrate The Magic, which is a musical light show focusing on various Disney stories. Celebrate The Magic starts around 15-minutes before the Wishes Fireworks show begins. This show was really great and showcased what seemed like some of the forgotten Disney movies.

The real highlight though of the evening was the Holiday Wishes: Celebrate the Spirit of the Season. The firework show seemed to be around 15 to 20-minutes long and of course put everyone in the Christmas spirit. Once the show was complete we decided to head back to the hotel after the drive from Miami that morning.

Disney Magic Band and Fastpass+

This was my first experience with the Disney Magic Band during our trip. The Magic Band is a relatively newish part of the Disney experience in the last couple years at Disney World. So far the Magic Band and Fastpass+ is at Disney World and hopefully will remain only there. Disney may think the Magic Band and FP+ is great, but I actually have mixed feelings about the entire experience.

First off, the positives about the band is everything is now connected to one item. The Magic Band is your room key, park pass, FP+, and even a credit card if you want. This did make the experience in Disney easy because you didn’t have to worry about losing a paper ticket or room card, since everything was connected to a band on your wrist. When you enter the park or line up at a FP+ queue, you will just tap the RFID chip to a sensor in order to gain admittance.

The Magic Band is one size only, but a portion of it is removable for those with smaller wrists. The band is rubber and will glue to your wrist in the heat (one of the major annoyances with the band, especially when you don’t like anything on your wrist). The band does have a RFID chip in it that connects to virtually everything you may need during your Disney experience (basically Big Brother is watching your every movement).

Before you get to the park you can order your Magic Band online, which will then be shipped to your home. Make sure the address is connected to your home address and not a travel agency. There are multiple colors to choose from and your name will be on the back of your band. If you don’t do this ahead of time, you will just receive a grey band. In the park you can buy further items to customize your Magic Band, which know of us partook in at all.

Now the annoying part of the Magic Band is the FP+ aspect. I personally hated having to make FP+ reservations before getting to the park. If you are staying at a Disney World hotel, you can make reservations 60-days before check-in. If you aren’t staying on property, you can make reservations only 30-days before arriving. If you don’t make any FP+ reservations, it will be hard to actually get a Fastpass at the parks over popular times at Disney. The Disney phone app does allow you to change your FP+ reservation time, but when you are there in the high season there can be little to no flexibility in changing the FP+ time. This also means you have to plan out everything ahead, which to me lost the Disney Magic. I felt like we were on time constraints a lot because we knew we had to be somewhere at a specific time all day. 

Another aspect I found frustrating is you could only make reservations for a FP+ in one park each day. For example I wanted FP+ in Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios for the same day, but was only able to pick one park.

Overall the system to me loses the Disney feel of spontaneity and forces you to plan out your entire experience in even more detail. We actually did not end up using a lot of the FP+ reservation times because we got tired of the rigid time schedules. I personally like the old system of getting a Fastpass when you are in the park and having to get them throughout the day.

Disney’s Port Orleans Resort French Quarter

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We stayed at Disney’s Port Orleans Resort in December over Christmas. The property is a moderate hotel and is one of the smaller Disney resorts at Disney World. We decided on the Port Orleans Resort French Quarter after reading some of the reviews online and looking at various other resorts in Disney. Since it was over Christmas, some of the next level up resorts were costing an arm and a leg to stay at.

Check-in for Disney World resort hotels is completely different from the last time we stayed at a Disney hotel. Now everything is online and you can receive a text message once your room is ready. Your Magic Band is also the key to your room. Since we got to Orlando earlier then planned, we did stop by the front desk since we weren’t sure of the process at that time for check-in. The check-in experience is really easy since everything is done online ahead of time, but we did all feel the Disney magic was no longer there.

Our room was ready within an hour after getting to the resort. The room was basic since this was a moderate resort, but there was a mini-fridge. We used the fridge to store water bottles since the tap water is not the best in Orlando. The resort did feel more adult oriented because of its size and seemed to have less kids than some of the other properties. 

Since this resort was not on a monorail line nor had boat transportation to any of the parks (boat transportation is available to Disney Springs), there was a bus service. Bus service is actually a major part of the Disney resort and is common at all the hotels. For the most part the bus system was convenient and easy. Only twice we found the system to be irritating. One time we waited for the bus to Magic Kingdom for over 40-minutes. Another time the bus to Epcot stopped at the Riverside resort as well and added a good 20-minute drive to Epcot, which thankfully was the only bus experience with multiple stops in December.IMG_3962

One of the major highlights at the Port Orleans French Quarters is the beignets in the restaurant. The beignets are made fresh to order and are fantastic. This is the only thing we had at the food area during our entire stay. We ordered beignets twice and both times they were delicious.

Overall the resort was nice for the price and quiet, though it really did not have the Disney feel like some of the other Disney resorts we have stayed it.

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Day 1: Flying from Miami to Amsterdam

In the morning I was picked up about 8:15 am by a local shuttle service and then headed to the Miami airport. After a bit of traffic on I-95, I arrived at the Miami Airport around 9:15 am. Amazingly there was no one in line for check-in and security took less than 2 minutes. Having the Global Entry card that provides TSA Pre-Check makes going through security much easier and faster now. Once through security I found the Delta Terminal at the Miami Airport to be really nice and easy to navigate, plus the Delta lounge was one of the nicer ones I have been in. My flight left right on time, even after an issue with a passenger’s oxygen tank. The flight then arrived in Detroit early and I had a couple hours to spare before my flight to Amsterdam.

I decided to fly through Detroit since the Detroit to Amsterdam leg was on a 747. Since I had business class tickets this was one of my major reasons for choosing this flight because of the upper-deck part of business class. The upper deck only has 15 seats, which makes for a much quieter flying experience. The seats are also the ones that recline fully flat, which did help somewhat but still not the best to sleep on. I probably got a good 2 hours of sleep on a 7-hour flight. The flight from Detroit left a few minutes late but arrived in Amsterdam the next morning about 25 minutes early.

Upper-deck for the front part of business class

Upper-deck for the front part of business class

Upper-deck for the back part of business class

Upper-deck for the back part of business class

The newer international business class seats for Delta. The beds fully recline and you are in your own pod.

The newer international business class seats for Delta. The beds fully recline and you are in your own pod.