This past week I met up with my oldest daughter for five days at Disney World. She is now in her
30s and living with her husband in the Washington, D.C. area. She also loves Disney World.
But I had not been back since she was a young teen, and my two youngest children were about two and four years old. I wasn't a big fan of Disney, and neither of my youngest children clamored to return. They would rather spend a week at the beach.
So I had not been back to Disney for more than 20 years. And the real reason for returning was to spend time with my daughter. Disney World was simply the location she chose.
Prices are more than a bit higher than they were 20 years ago. A single day comes in at over $100. But if you plan a longer trip, the per diem price drops considerably. A basic 5-day pass without Park Hopper or Water Park options, and with a AAA discount goes for about $311 - or just over $60 per day. It's only about $15 to add a fifth day to a 4-day pass.
I must say, Disney World 2014 was a pleasant surprise. Disney's skill at moving masses of people in and out of the park with minimal inconvenience is remarkable. And the park remains spotless, without a trace of age on anything - except by intent.
The biggest improvement is the electronic tickets with the Fast Pass system. Long gone are the E-tickets, replaced by a modern electronic tickets that look like credit cards or wrist bands that can be purchased.
Fast Pass system that gives those in the know a way to avoid long lines even on the most popular rides. You can pick three rides each day, making reservations for specific times. When you get to the ride, you go to a separate Fast Pass line that admits you at your specific time, and allows you to bypass the long wait.
You can do this up to 30 days in advance on the Disney website. You can also link up tickets for the rest of your group to the same Fast Pass reservations. And after those are used, you might be able to schedule one or two more Fast Pass rides. This must be done in person at a Fast Pass kiosk in one of the parks, and depends on remaining availability for any particular ride.
A big plus is that there are more grown-up roller coasters. The Mine Ride, Expedition Everest, the Rock 'n Roll Roller Coaster, all are nice additions to the classics such as Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain and Splash Mountain.
But the true classic rides for children are still there. Peter Pan remains a wonderful ride. Dumbo has been updated. And there are still the spinning Tea Party and of course It's a Small World.
Three of the four parks at Disney are absolutely wonderful.
Magic Kingdom. It remains the keystone of the parks, a place of imagination and delight for children and adults alike.It still has all the classic rides like Dumbo, Peter Pan, Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean and of course the Jungle Cruise. But it always seems fresh and new.
The entire park still seems sprinkled with Pixie Dust and Disney Magic.
Animal Kingdom. This was my biggest surprise. It is my second favorite, only behind the Magic Kingdom on my list. There is a wonderful mixture of real-life animals and plant life with Disney's own magic creations. I could spend a day just sitting in the shade and watching the world go by.
Hollywood Studios. This was my least favorite when I last visited, but I must say I now have a different opinion. I'm still not crazy about the overall layout. The streets seem too narrow, and its hard to find your way around. There are many less-than-top-shelf attractions. But the top level rides are the best in any of the parks. And the evening show is simply the best thing at Disney.
EPCOT. The Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow is unfortunately in need of a major upgrade. Of all places, this is the one that should never seem dated. But it does. Most of the rides seem tired and not all that different from more than 20 years ago, despite how technology has changed all of our lives. In someways, it seems like a flashback to the 1990s, not a look forward. Even the Illuminations park-closing fireworks show pales compared to the other parks.
What does it say when my favorite "attraction" at Epcot was the saki bar at the Japan pavilion and the Bass Ale at the English pub? I enjoy walking around the lake, but if I visit again, I'll probably skip Epcot in favor of an extra day at one of the other parks.
So here are my Top 10 "don't miss" attractions from my recent Disney World trip.
10. Toy Story Mania - Hollywood Studios: This is one ride you don't want to get a Fast Pass for, not because there isn't a long line (there is), but because the line is almost as much fun as the ride. You wind through a maze of all your childhood delights, oversized: Scrabble, Twister, Tinker Toys, Lincoln Logs, Crayolas. But the electronic pie-shooting target game is fun, too. Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin in the Magic Kingdom is similar - just not quite as much fun.
9. Finding Nemo Musical - Animal Kingdom. This was the biggest surprise of the trip. This is a full-scale 40-minute musical version of Finding Nemo, complete with extraordinary costumes, special effects, and wonderful performances. Young or old, don't miss this.
8. Space Mountain - Magic Kingdom. Still doing it in the dark. And still a thrill.
7. Peter Pan Flight - Magic Kingdom. If any ride at Disney World is sprinkled with Pixie Dust, this is it. It is simply magical as you fly off to Never Never Land.
6. Twilight Zone Tower of Terror - Hollywood Studios. Love the homage to Rod Serling. Well done ride that is different every time you ride.
5. Kilimanjaro Safari - Animal Kingdom. Personally, I would rather spend time close up with real life than watching Disney animatronics. This gives you a close up view of giraffes, big cats, elephants, rhinos, crocks, wildebeests, and birds of all types, all in an environment that mimics their natural habitat.
4. Rock 'n Roll Roller Coaster - Hollywood Studios. Lives up to the Areosmith hype. You're upside down before you've settled into your seat - and the ride doesn't slow down until you're done. It's the best pure roller coaster experience at Disney.
3. Expedition Everest -- Animal Kingdom. Another true roller coaster, but with a few more surprises and Disney touches than the Rock 'n Roll coaster. Pure fun that might even take your breath away.
2. Seven Dwarfs Mine Ride - Magic Kingdom. This is Disney's newest coaster, and it is a work of art. I've never been on a true roller coaster that is as smooth as this ride. It incorporates the Disney experience, taking you through the bejeweled mine where the dwarfs are working. My view of this ride is a bit skewed because my daughter and I, by happenstance, timed it perfectly to take the ride as the Magic Kingdom fireworks exploded directly overhead. It made for a memorable, dare I say magical, experience.
1. Fantasmic -- Hollywood Studios. This evening spectacular closes Hollywood Studios for the evening. It is the one absolute "DON'T MISS" at Disney World. Whoever conceived, designed and planned this show deserves some type of national award. It is the consummate Disney experience. Mickey runs the show calling up images of Fantasia. But every Disney character is there, either in person or in laser-light images cast against flowing water. Then there are the villains, particularly Maleficent, the Queen from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Not to entirely give away the story, but by special effects she is transformed into the towering, fire-breathing dragon right before your eyes. Fantasmic is everything that makes Disney great. It is a tribute to the genius of Walt Disney and the creativeness of those who follow in his footsteps.