Sunday, January 15, 2012

Dinsey: Tips, Opinions & Observations

So not only did I take a vacation from blogging, I also took a REAL vacation! We went to DISNEYWORLD and UNIVERSAL STUDIOS. It was a great time, and since I qualify as a Disney expert now (LOL!) I just thought I'd throw in my 2 cents. Here goes...

Fireworks at Magic Kingdom on New Year's Night


1) Get there early! Get there early! Get there early! I read this on many blogs, websites, and in the guidebooks - but it wasn't until we made the choice to sleep in the first morning that we learned how true it is! Getting to the park early is truly the key to the whole "Disney Strategy" (which I will explain in a minute!) If you are staying at a Disney resort, you can also take advantage of "extended hours" available to those staying on Disney property. (Usually 1 or 2 hours before/after the park is open to the general public.) But even getting there right at opening time is a big bonus!

2) Fast Passes are your Friends! Before we went I had heard about these, but didn't really understand them. (If they're free, why doesn't everyone get one??) Here's where the Disney Strategy comes in. Only certain rides have Fast Passes available. And there are a limited number of passes given out, so you should try to get them early in the day. The pass will list a time range later on when you can come back and get in the "Fast Pass" line. The important thing is: you don't have to use the pass at the designated time, just anytime LATER than what is printed on the pass. If you have this golden ticket, you go to a special line that is considerably faster than the regular line. You get to zoom by all the other chumps waiting for 1, 2, or even 3 hours for a 5-minute ride. I think the longest Fast Pass line we waited in was about 1/2 an hour for Soarin' at EPCOT. The "Stand-By" line on the other hand, was 260 minutes. My son took a picture to prove it. There is a little feeling of guilt as you pass by the other people in line (oh yes, they're just on the other side of a rope, watching enviously) but hey, you do what you have to.

3) Meal Plans & Reservations Now this is just completely my opinion! We opted for the Disney Deluxe Dining Plan. It included 3 meals per day and 2 snacks per person. We usually did a cafeteria-style breakfast at our resort, then lunch and dinner at a restaurant. This was GREAT for the first couple days, but once it sunk in that ALL our lunches and dinners included an appetizer AND dessert for EACH PERSON, we quickly realized just how much weight we would be gaining. It was WAY too much food for us. We ended up taking many of the snacks back home - which will eventually end up in my kids' lunches! :)

About the reservations - I was scared by friends & other Disney experts into making all our dining reservations in July. (All the restaurants would be booked, they said!) I had visions of my family hungrily roaming the streets of Disney in search of food. Hence the reason for the sit-down lunches. Due to changes in our plans after we got there, we ended up cancelling a few reservations & even made new ones on the same day. It wasn't nearly as difficult as I was led to believe!

A couple of our favorite places to eat:

Planet Hollywood @ Downtown Disney

The 50's Prime Time Cafe @ Hollywood Studios
We all laughed when my parents & husband got their dessert at Paradiso 37 @ Downtown Disney - the proportions in close-up picture are a little deceiving - but this is actually sorbet served in a shot glass!

Shot of sorbet, anyone?
4) Plan Ahead, but don't stress out! I know people who have down-to-the-minute plans for their vacations at Disney. I'm not one of those people, but what I found helpful was to look at the park map for the place we'd be visiting the next day & figure out what we wanted to see most. We definitely missed some things, but by checking out the maps ahead of time, we were able to see most of what we wanted.

5) Pay Attention to the Red Triangles!  If you have a weak stomach (like me!) you will want to pay special attention to the rides marked on the maps with a red triangle. These are the ones that are more likely to cause motion sickness, heart attacks, headaches, vertigo, you name it. Not all of them are that bad & I did ride a few. But Space Mountain? Never. Ever. Again.


1) Every major ride has an exit through the Gift Shop! So be ready. My daughter is THE WORST about wanting to stop & buy everything she sees. And she rode a lot of rides! ;)

2) There are a LOT of international visitors at Disney and Harry Potter. It is really kind of cool. By the end of the trip, I was looking at people trying to guess whether they spoke English or another language. I'm sure I got some strange looks while hovering over people waiting for them to talk. A lot of the employees are from another country also - all of their name tags had their home town or country listed, so it was fun to see all the different places people came from. I never did see an employee from Iowa though!

3) Disney Loves Christmas! (And so do I) Even though we didn't get there until after Christmas, all the parks were still decked out with Christmas things. I love holiday decorations, so this was a special treat. All the parks had a large Christmas tree at the entrance with a different theme. My favorites were New Year's Day at Magic Kingdom - the light & firework show was awesome. And our last night at Hollywood Studios we saw The Osborne Family Spectacular of Dancing Lights (no, not Ozzy's family) but it is wonderful! And a little "snow" falling from the sky made it complete! (The funny part is, it was probably cold enough for the real stuff the night we were there!) So if you ever go to Disney at Christmas time, this is a MUST SEE!

4) Disney Shuttles. Disney has a GREAT shuttle service that runs between the resorts & parks. We never had to wait long for a bus, and even took a boat a few times. We stayed at the Port Orleans French Quarter resort, which was right on the water & had a boat that took us to Downtown Disney and the Riverside resort. The kids loved it!


Harry Potter World is Overrated. And we are HUGE, HUGE Harry Potter fans (I would repeat HUGE a few more times, but that's redundant). So I hate to say this, as much as I wanted it to be awesome. The scenery was wonderful.  I felt like I was in the "real" town of Hogsmeade! The castle was very cool, and the town was very authentic looking. But unfortunately, it is WAY too small and SO crowded!
The Castle! My heart beats faster just seeing it now! So Cool!
The town and THE PEOPLE!!!
And more people! Yikes!
The one ride I went on (there are only 3) was "The Forbidden Journey." It was very cool - I compare it to "Soarin'" at Disney, but with more twists & turns. And even though there were repeated warnings about not riding if you are subject to motion sickness, I did it anyway. (And almost lost my breakfast! But it was worth it.) The major drawback to this ride (other than waiting in line 1 1/2 hours) was the requirement that anyone with a bag had to store it in a locker during the ride. Doesn't sound so bad - the locker was free and large enough to hold just about anything. BUT...these lockers are in a dimly-lit room just inside the castle where (you know it!) literally HUNDREDS of people are milling around. The ones who just finished the ride are looking for their locker (oh, and DO NOT forget your locker number!!) The ones who haven't ridden yet are frantically searching for an empty locker, which are few & far between. It is total CHAOS! All the while, the rest of our party had to wait for my mom & I to secure a locker. 

And as I said before...SO. MANY. PEOPLE. SOOOO MANY!!!! Maybe it was the timing - we went on January 3 - but it was almost unenjoyable. (If it was anything other than Harry Potter, I would have turned around & left!) I have heard that Universal is expanding this part of the park, so maybe it will eventually get better. They definitely could build a park dedicated just to Harry (and it would probably still be full!) Other than that, there is a gift shop "Dervish & Banges", a candy shop "Honeydukes" and the toy/joke shop "Zonko's" and a couple carts that sell butterbeer and pumpkin juice. I actually waited in line at Dervish & Banges just to go in the store! And didn't buy a thing. I did make a Potter purchase later out in the Universal gift shop, and was even disappointed by that. Too bad I didn't notice this until I got back to Iowa! See if you can figure it out from the picture. Sigh.

Sorry! Not the greatest picture - but you should be able to spot the imperfection!

If you've made it all the way through this post, thanks for reading my opinions of the Greatest Place on Earth and Harry Potter World. Take them for what they're worth! 


  1. Is that Harry's cousin, Harru Potte?;) Bummer! I had a similar experience when I went to Germany and bought a beer garden t shirt with the year. When I got home I realized it was the previous year!

    1. Yes, the famous Harry Potte! (The other side is fine, by the way - guess I was in a hurry & didn't inspect it!) I think this will be a "sit on the shelf" mug, I don't want to risk any more of it coming off! :(

  2. You forgot to mention the fingerprint scanner at HP World - a must if you want to be able to get your bag out of one of those hard to find lockers!