From the middle to the end of June we took a trip down South that included my cousin Laura’s wedding and a week at Walt Disney World.  It was our first trip there since 2004, and our first with the kids.

Melissa did a great job of arranging the trip with Disney.  We took advantage of their offer to get 7 days of “Magic Your Way” (i.e. Park Hopper tickets and resort accommodations) for the price of 4.  We stayed at the Beach Club Resort mainly because of the great pool area and proximity to Epcot and Hollywood Studios.  We would have liked to have gotten a Beach Club Villa, but they weren’t available at our vacation time and with the promo pricing.  When we arrived, we needed to get our room assignment changed to what we had requested (two queen beds and a balcony), and the front desk delivered.  I think they hold on to some of the better room configurations for just these types of purposes (i.e., to make you think they’re going out of their way to accomodate your desires).  The room was superb; there was plenty of space for us to spread out for the week.  The in-room coffee was even good!  Two downsides: the room’s cable modem wasn’t working properly, and the excellent LCD HDTV in the room was hobbled by standard-definition programming.  I was surprised Disney wasn’t pumping HD into those rooms.  It is 2009.  Also surprised there was no complimentary internet access, wired or wireless.  I found some free Wi-Fi in the resort’s lobby and used that sparingly twice during the trip to interact with extended family and check email.

Besides the renaming of Disney/MGM Studios to Disney’s Hollywood Studios since our last trip, the parks were mostly the same.  Gone was the extra Sorcerer’s arm and “Epcot” sign from Spaceship Earth.  Added were some excellent new rides: “Soarin'” at The Land in Epcot, “Toy Story Midway Mania” at Hollywood Studios, and “Expedition Everest” at Animal Kingdom.  We used Fastpasses a lot and sometimes used Kiddie Swap.  The parks were hot and busy.  On most days, we concentrated on getting to them as early as possible and leaving after lunch, coming back later in the afternoon.  Standby lines for the newer rides were outrageously long, so we used Fastpass for the ones we wanted to do.  Some highlights for me was taking Ryan on some of my favorite rides: Mission: Space, Spaceship Earth, and Star Tours, for example (sense a theme?) and seeing how he liked them.

I still like Epcot the best of all the parks, with Hollywood Studios second and Magic Kingdom third.  I was only at Animal Kingdom a little bit this trip since I stayed back with a sick Zachary the day Melissa and Ryan went for the day.  As a family, I think we enjoyed Magic Kingdom the best, followed by Hollywood Studios, then Epcot.  There was more that we could do with Zachary at our family-favorite parks.

Melissa made a number of dinner and lunch reservations in advance of our trip.  We had dinners at T-Rex at Downtown Disney, Whispering Canyon at the Wilderness Lodge (definitely our best dinner experience), and Rainforest Cafe at Animal Kingdom.  We had a reserved car for lunch at the Sci-Fi Drive-In at Studios, which was a unique experience, to say the least!

Ryan, being 9, had a great time, but he was sick with a fever for about a day midway through the trip.  He didn’t want to eat much then, but he did get our and do some of the parks with us even when he wasn’t 100%.  It’s hard to keep a kid from Mickey. 😉  Zachary, at 2, did pretty well considering he’d rather not have been in the stroller so much, and didn’t want to hold hands much.  When we go back in 5 years (assuming we keep our current schedule), he’ll enjoy it a LOT more!

We were able to avoid using our car during our stay except to go to Downtown Disney and a grocery store one day.  We used our feet and the boats as much as possible, using the bus system when needed.  The buses are great, but the system suffers from a lack of consistent timing due to its tripping over itself to accomodate guests in wheelchairs/scooters.  While I applaud their focus on these guests, tying up a bus for 10 minutes to secure a guest who might not have had to wait their turn to use the bus can really throw things off when the system doesn’t try to compensate for the disruptions caused.  Don’t use the buses at Disney unless you have a lot of time on your hands.

Despite its warts, the Disney experience is still one of the best ones out there, even when there are tens of thousands of other people there at the same time.  The parks are clean and filled with staff ready to help.  I remarked during the trip that you know you’re at Disney when you see someone buffing the garbage cans.  Hersheypark and its ilk may beat Disney in terms of the number of thrill rides, but no park I’ve been to has topped the overall ride experiences of the Disney parks.  Looking forward to our next trip!