Walt Disney World 2012 Part One review and guide) was all about re-learning Disney World. There was so much to re-experience and revisit through older (and maybe even wiser) sets of eyes that I felt it really needed to be captured as such. I considered it a catalog of the Disney World experience, if you will. But this time around, we knew much more about what we were getting into. details of that experience (and see the parks for yourself!) and you’ll see why we feel like we’ve got a reliable Disney acumen, at least a little more than the last time we were in Orlando anyway. Throw in three Disneyland visits over the last three years, and we had a lot of updated comparisons to make. This is what I hope you’ll see as I describe this week-long vacation. The eye-opening rediscovery of Disney World is under our belts. We’ve been there, experienced it, and are back for more this time around. There’s no need to dwell on descriptions, but rather I can provide a play by play that more accurately reflects the experience of visiting. Don’t worry, the usual details, tips, and what I hope approaches insight are still there, but in the more natural ‘as it happens’ flow. The plan was no less involved for this visit (actually, it was a bit more so), but it was considerably less of a shot in the dark. We had a much better sense of the resort, our options, and our capacity to take it all in. With that and our Disney best practices engrained and on display as early as the planning process, we sketched it all out. First and foremost, our number one key to Disney awesomeness is to go during the offseason. If you’re making your first visit and can’t possibly fathom an iconic attraction or two being closed for maintenance, maybe you’d prefer fighting the summer crowds while getting on every last possible ride. For us, it was an easy tradeoff to accept a few seasonal rehabs in order to enjoy a fraction of the crowds. We saw no reason not to revisit during the very same week, the second week of January. Most folks are fighting post-holidays depression (and hangovers), and only a crazy person would cash in a week’s worth of vacation right after a long break. That thinking is exactly why it’s one of the best times of the year to make a visit. We’d be doing so again with the official marathon in town, but we found the last thing thousands of marathoners want to do after a race is traipse around a theme park. The day of the race last time was the quietest I’ve ever seen a Disney park. Disneyland Paris in 2008. Things went mostly smoothly as we knew better than to synchronize our park time. Let’s just say they have a different (i.e., less-manic) approach to touring. Regardless, we’d be able to do a good number of rides, all the major meals, and even go in on lodging together. That was another nice change, a major upgrade in accommodations. Our dollars went plenty far at the Pop Century last time, but my folks were looking for something a little more comfortable. This meant sharing a suite at the Saratoga Springs, my first overnight exposure beyond the Value resort level. Sure, we’d be relegated to the pull-out in the living room, but we considered even that an upgrade. Once they left, we’d be back on our own at the same economy digs, but it would be nice to see how the other half lived for at least a few days. The last change was partaking in a full-on package. Booked through my parents’ travel agent (yes, they still exist), we were looking at a combo of tickets, room, and meal plans. We did the math, multiple times over, and as long as we took modest advantage of what was essentially pre-purchased food, we’d be coming out ahead. The Saratoga Springs portion provided us a table service meal each day, along with a snack and quick meal, the budget half of the week still had a plan, but it was two quick meals and a snack. Still, it seemed reasonable for the price, even if we had to pay for - but pocket – the latter package’s tickets for a future visit. Our general itinerary was primarily based on the Extra Magic Hour schedule. I know most guide books and touring plans will tell you to avoid a park on a Magic Hour Day, and with good reason, since it draws resort guests for the day. I look at it as more of an even tradeoff – larger crowds are the cost for extra time in the parks. But the way we see these parks, it never seemed like a huge issue to me. Besides, lighter crowds in the offseason make a lot of the touring plan concerns somewhat moot, and our early mornings and smart use of Fastpass generally leave us with few missed attractions. It all means we’re just happy to get an hour extra here and there during the week. As you’ll see, we rarely encounter waits anyway, so we might as well get a longer day. We wouldn’t be able to do everything with my parents over their three days, but considering they visit every few years, they were cool hitting the highlights and the few new things. It seemed everyone’s favorite was Epcot, and that they really hadn’t done Animal Kingdom justice, so we’d be giving a full day at each. Hollywood Studios and Magic Kingdom would have to share a day, but they’ve done both those parks several times over in the last 20-plus years. Megan and I followed the hours again for our extra three days. It worked out quite well, seeing as we could split a day between Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios to fill in anything we missed, and then have full days at Magic Kingdom and Epcot to finish out the week. Nothing was set in stone, but it did happen to match what we ended up doing over our six days in 2009 – we were looking at two half-days at Hollywood Studios, a full day and a half-day each at Animal and Magic Kingdoms, and two full days at Epcot. Once the packages were booked, the itinerary sketched out, and the airfare purchased, it was a simple matter of playing the waiting game. Fortunately we had the holidays (and a separate east coast swing for Megan and me) to keep us busy, but we still found ourselves counting down the days. It was a mere nine days back in California after Christmas, and we turned right back around and headed for what we hoped would be yet another Disney trip of a lifetime. Day 1 – Saturday, January 7th Our expedition started early, but not bright, with a 3:30am wake up. To be able to enjoy an afternoon and evening on the east coast, you’ve got to be on the first flight out in the morning. The long flight time and loss of three hours takes up much of the day, and we were making a connection to boot. Mom and Dad had a much simpler route, a direct flight from Newark scheduled to arrive an hour or so before us. The only real concern was connecting through Denver without incident. We’d been checking the weather, and thanks to the mild winter nationwide, there would be no delays. In fact, we spent the entirety of both cross-country legs enjoying the benefit of first class upgrades. Thanks to all the traveling in 2011, we hit the Premier level with United, and lucked out with the undersold early flights. It meant a little more legroom, and little peace and quiet, and an extra boozy start to the vacation. Getting into Orlando ahead of schedule, we narrowed the gap with my parents. As we touched down, they were getting on the Magical Express bus, so we were right behind them. Greeted by sunshine and palm trees, arriving in Florida is a sigh of relief, but we still had some logistics to deal with. The Magical Express experience went smoothly enough last time, and somehow, it was even easier this time around. Once we were off the shuttle from the satellite, we eventually found the right floor, and were told to skip the check in desk and go right to the bus queue after showing our passes. It was barely a pause there, and not a minute after directing us to the proper queue, they loaded us onto a bus with a few other folks. Not five minutes later, we were on the road, and were officially headed to Disney World. Crossing the border onto Disney property some fifteen minutes later, it would be the last of the real world we would see until our ride back to the airport, in almost exactly one week. But leaving was the last thing on our minds, and we marveled at the switch in scenery once we were officially in Walt Disney World. All the while, the Magic Express arrival video manically walked us through logistics and hit the highlights of all the parks. Just as I thought last time, Disney needs to realize that at this point, we’re already sold.