Our Bonus End-Of-Year 2014 Trip

mgarbowski

Well-known member
WDW Late December 2014 - New Year's 2015
A (Relatively) Spur-Of-The-Moment Trip


Background


My family has been to Disney World 8 times, going annually since 2010 and DVC members since 2011. When Disney recently reinstated the DVC discount for annual passes, we jumped on it, because the last couple of years our annual trip has taken place during Easter Week. With Easter 2015 coming earlier in the year than Easter 2014, we could fit 2 standard annual trips into less than 365 days and save considerably on our park tickets.


Then of course, we started thinking about ways to work in one more trip while we have the APs to take advantage of the situation. We thought about Halloween season but we couldn’t make it fit. Then just after Halloween I took a hard look at the possibility of going the week after Christmas and everything clicked. We had the time, and with Christmas and New Year’s Day being on Thursday everything just seemed to work.


With no ticket expense, and because we drive, our major expense would be lodging, and we wanted to stay somewhat low budget but definitely on-site. For a change, we would not be using our DVC points. I searched for availability and there were only two options below Deluxe: Caribbean Beach Resort and — occasionally — Art of Animation. I don’t know why but sometimes AoA showed availability and sometimes it didn’t. The price premium for CBR was not much so I booked that, making a note to ask for Aruba or Jamaica as I knew (from here) that those two sections had a completed refurbish, whole other areas were either undergoing the refurbish or not done at all yet.


I’m the planner, and my family consists of my wife, and 2 daughters, Older Daughter is 14 and shows no signs o tiring of WDW yet. Younger daughter is 10. Booking less than 60 days before the trip started I also immediately started on FP+ and ADRs. Helped by this site, I managed to make some changes over time. For example, when I first booked there was very limited 7DMT availability. A couple weeks later, someone, maybe Josh on the main blog but also maybe someone on the boards, posted about new FP+ openings for 7DMT during our week and I was able to move our 7DMT FP to a much better time.


Photo Notes

I’m an avid photographic hobbyist. Which may or may not mean I’m any good but definitely means I like to experiment and play around. Having been to WDW so many times I sometimes decide to have a theme, or to limit myself in some way to add some variety. This trip I decided to rely [almost] entirely on film. I shot six rolls, using 2 identical Contax T3 cameras which were a great (and somewhat) expensive vacation camera back in their day. The cameras a small and fit in cargo pant pockets. Having 2 allowed me to always choose between color and B&W. The cameras have an excellent 35mm lens with no zoom or telephoto. Each roll I shot used a different type of film (4 color and 2 lack and white) so there’s no consistency of colors and tones. The majority of shots here, excluding of course the WDW staff shots, were taken with these cameras. There are also a handful of iPhone of Fuji x100s shots, which camera I chose because its capabilities and lens closely match the T3 film cameras I was using. The Fuji was used mostly for super low light (night and some indoor shots) so you see a lot of it this first past for Osborne Lights which I managed to shoot without a tripod.


The Trip Down
We do the drive from NYC to WDW in 2 days. We stay in South Carolina on the way down and North Carolina heading home. Not worth reporting much from a long drive. The biggest challenge as practicing Catholics was fitting in and properly timing our arrival for a Mass. Our driving days were Saturday and Sunday so we could go to either the Saturday evening vigil or a Sunday morning option. We preferred the Saturday option so we would get to the parks earlier on Sunday which meant finding an option in advance that we could reach in time for a 5 or 5:30 start. We actually managed to hit our preferred option, a St. Ann's in Smithfield, NC, getting there right around 4:30 for a 5pm Mass, which gave all of us a chance to walk around and get some air before heading inside.






Then it was dinner at a nearby Cracker Barrel, and back on the road. We knew we hit South Carolina when we saw South of the Border and that big fireworks compound off I-95.






Day 2 of the drive was more of the same.




Big traffic on I-4 in Orlando (surprise!) and Waze took us on a detour that actually passed this place.



The Caribbean Beach Club. I immediately said “Hey Look, We’re here” to absolutely no response because my wife was driving and although we were stopped at a light she was still focused on that, and the girls just weren’t paying attention. But I thought it was clever. To my shame I was not quick enough to grab a shot but this is from Google Maps street view. This place is, no kidding, less than 20 miles from WDW and our resort. And it looks exactly as inviting in person as the image above.
Next stop.

Arrival

CBR did not make a great first impression. Oh it was beautiful, but having never been there before we did not know the procedures and some of the CMs were less than warm and helpful. This really is the most negative section of the entire trip report, except maybe for one incident I'll get to in a couple of days. We pull up towards the Custom House and as usual for any resort or busy hotel front entrance there is some chaos: buses, taxis, cars, pedestrians all vying for a share of a small space. There are multiple CMs there, some with clipboards, and only one makes eye contact with us. He just occasionally looks at us offering no acknowledgment or guidance. There was also no smile, and no direction, whether it be hand up signifying to please wait, or a wave and pointing to a particular spot. We had arranged things to have my wife driving so I could run in and handle the check-in; after waiting a bit for some indication of what we should do -- and basically being ignored -- she pulls into a open area and that same CM walks up and just says: “Are you checking in? One of you can go inside and I need the driver to pull out to that short term parking area over there.” Which is fine, but how about a “welcome” or a smile, or some acknowledgement that what we did was completely normal given the lack of signage and how things usually work at hotels?


So we do as instructed. Check in is relatively simple. One disappointment is that the CM says she cannot put my Disney Visa rewards card on the account to automatically handle room charges until it runs out and then have the credit card take over. I’ve read inconsistent things about this - some folks online claim it can be done and others got the same answer I did. I have no desire to press the point or take time right now; she says I should come back after I have charges on our bands and they can be transferred then [cue ominous music indicating this will not turn out well]. I also pop over to the concierge to confirm that my Memory Maker purchase is properly assigned to our bands and account. It was, but the email and online verbiage on this is very confusing, at times indicating that the MM is already assigned to a different account.
Anyway, I walk back to the car and we head to our room in Aruba 55. It is refurbished and very nice. I’m more than pleased, but before we get there, as we park in the lot and collect our bags I realize I was given no guidance or offers to help with the bags.


I apologize in advance for this mini-rant about signage. If you want to skip ahead to Are We Having Fun Yet [spolier - YES] feel free. I realize It will take me more time to write it up than it did to work through an admittedly petty annoyance but here we go. The building is a small haul from the parking lot (at least with bags) and there are no carts or anything to help. The signage is terrible. Walking from the parking lot towards building 55, the path splits with 2 branches leading to different corners of the building.

There is no indication which one is better for our room. At registration I was told we’re on the second floor and the closest corner has no visible stairway. The farther corner that a different path goes to does have a stairway but also clearly has no elevator (at this point we do not know there are no elevators) and for all we know this corner is completely opposite where we need to go for our room.


I see that the near corner has a sign with room ranges listed with arrows, so I put my bags down at the path split and walk to it to get bearings and our room number is not listed within any of the ranges. The list of room ranges is woefully incomplete. Really, what the heck Disney? What is the point of a sign that directs people to some random subset of room numbers?


I head back to the path split, and we decide to head for the far corner that does have a stairway since we cannot even see where any other stairways (or potential but non-existent elevators) might be. We schlep the bags up the stairs and at the head of the stairs is another list of room ranges with arrows. Our room number is again not within any of the ranges. Again. Why is this? So we send the girls off in different directions to figure out where to go while wife and I stand at the top of the stairs with all of our bags. The girls return and finally we know which way to go.


Which is a lovely room, well appointed and clean [/rantover]. There is one moment where my wife thinks we have no bathroom since the doors to it are so well ornamented but we quickly get past that. CBR rooms have a refrigerator but no microwave, which I had sussed out in advance so no surprise there. They do have a coffee maker but they are the kind that use single cup mini-pouches so the coffee and filters we brought are useless. Fortunately housekeeping keeps us well stocked during the week so no harm done (except my coffee is better:RpS_glare:).


Are We Having Fun Yet


It is pretty much a given, even a near tradition, that our first evening upon arrival we go to Hollywood Studios.




Even though it rivals AK for having the least of the park attractions, it has 3 of our favorites, RnR Coaster (mostly for OD), plus ToT and Star Tours (for everyone but Mom. Mom is not big on rides). On the way in there is some sort of dance party near the soon-to-be-gone hat.





We head over to ST, and I think it was about 4-4:30. Our first FP is for ST at 5:30 and we head over there to see if we can grab a ride on standby first. We’ve had good luck on ST on our first evening even during other busy times like Easter but no such luck today. I think the wait was about an hour, and we decide to skip that. Instead we walk over to the Baymax/Hiro meet and greet. We know we probably won’t see him but we’re coming back to HK tomorrow and figure we can scout the situation.


It turned out to be worthwhile. As expected, we couldn’t meet him that night. When we got there there was a group in the waiting pen with a rope closing off access. My wife chatted with the CMs who were very helpful. There was going to be one more session that night that would be starting soon and we could watch from behind the rope. We found out what time it started the next day (I think it was 10:30) with an advisory to get there maybe a half-hour early and strong advice to go in the morning because the technical problems with the Baymax suit tend to get worse as the day goes on and the sessions get shorter and the breaks longer. We managed to see Baymax’s entrance which is quite charming. I also grabbed a couple of shots and the set and characters look surprisingly cool rendered in black and white film.







Then we head back to ST for a 5:30 FP. It was around now that I realized that data service in the park was atrocious. I couldn’t access my FP information or get any data over either AT&T network or the park WiFi. This became a running problem during the week. Occasionally the AT&T service would work. At a moment when that happened I decided to grab screen shots of all our FP+ schedule for the whole week. The park Wifi was routinely terrible. The In-room and resort wifi were good. AT&T was intermittent. I think all of it was an issue of crowds. Both the AT&T indicator and FiFi indicator routinely showed full bars on my phone so the signal was strong. They just lacked the capacity to handle the amount of data that everyone was trying to access at once. Given how much of WDW is made accessible to guests using their phone apps they really need to improve this. I realize this was the busiest week but they should be able to handle their busiest week.
So, ST was fun, with the ending where the robot breaks through the windshield, and we then go to the Commissary for dinner, which is another tradition of sorts for our first night. It’s nothing great, but we like it. It has high capacity and so there’s rarely a long wait or difficulty getting a table, and that’s most of what we’re looking for on first night. Thanks to Josh, we knew to avoid the new high-end entrees, especially the steak. My wife and I probably would have stayed away anyway from quick service steak, but YD has developed into quite the beef and steak lover and might have been tempted had I not been able to tell her it was a really bad idea.
We walk back over to ToT, getting caught in a wave of people exiting Fantasmic, and when we get past that we notice an enormous standby wait at ToT, plus a long line for FP+ even. We decide to sit for a bit opposite the ToT gift shop, where we hear an announcement of technical problems. The FP+ wait is more than 30 minutes. As an alternative, they say you can use your FP+ at most other attractions, excepting mostly Toy Story, or get a paper FP for again, most attractions in the park except for TS Mania.
We decide the grab the paper option, which gives us the most flexibility. It’s good thru Wednesday and we’re coming back to this park tomorrow. We decide to hold off on riding ToT or using the passes until then. So we kill some time visiting Osborne Lights until the RnRC FP+ time hits. [To be honest I'm not sure at this point if we did this, or if we just waited to go on RnR first and then went to the Lights, but I'm sticking with this story since it doesn't really matter.]













Somewhere along the night -- and I think it was now -- we grabbed this shot:


Finally back to RnRC.


The hardest part about taking the shot above was convincing two strangers to hold me upside down while I took it.

OD is the only true fan of this ride. I decide to ride once with her, and she takes either my wife’s or her sister’s band to go on a second time.

Oh, one more thing. When OD and I went to the FP+ line, the folks in front of us got turned away. I only heard the CM telling them "I can't help you with that here. You have to go back to that CM or Guest Services." I'm only guessing, but I think they probably tried to use their ToT FP+ and it did not automatically transfer over despite what the announcement at ToT said. The paper passes we got worked fine for us tomorrow.


That’s it. Done for the night. Back at it for full day exhaustion/fun starting tomorrow.



It takes a while to write these up. Could be close to a week between each one,with a very small chance I'll get the second up before this 3-day weekend ends.
 
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mgarbowski

Well-known member
I've got 4 more short videos from Day 1 and only 1 is permitted per entry. I can add them in separate posts if there's interest.
 

ChristineOH

Active member
Can't wait to hear about the rest of your trip, when you get around to it!
We are staying at CBR (the one ON property, lol!) for the first time in June, because I couldn't get POR on the spring discount. We really loved POR on our last visit, but I'm excited to try CBR. I have read that they can take you to your room, or at least drive you and your luggage to your building, so it's good to know I may have to seek that out.
 

QueenBee

New member
I'm glad to see my kids aren't the only ones that sleep with a giant pile of stuffed animals, even at Disney....
 

blambo22

New member
Love your pictures! We were there the same time as you this Christmas. My son waited in line for BayMax but only got to see Hero. BayMax had issues with his "battery". Can't wait to see the videos!
 

mgarbowski

Well-known member
Thanks for reading and the feedback. QueenBee we would probably cut down on the stuffed animals if we flew but driving makes it easy to overpack.
Here's a few more videos. All are pretty brief, just to give a flavor of what we saw. Also I have more for this first short evening in the park than for any other day.
First up, a clip of the green Toy Soldier figure dancing by the doomed hat.
 

mgarbowski

Well-known member
Here is the Baymax/Hiro entrance plus a bit of them interacting with the first family on line for this session. The Baymax bit is so charming. Our whole family just loved that movie. I think this is also my longest movie clip.
 

mgarbowski

Well-known member
Here is a bot of Osborne Lights. We were not there for the main super-crowded music show. When we went there was no line, less crowd control, and you could walk right in. They did occasionally run short music bits with light shows down this side street where they also had a Photography area set up. We have a family portrait in this section that I posted above and while we were waiting on line for it (maybe 10 minutes) this happened. The photographers stopped shooting when anything like this happened because the changing lights were too crazy for them to work with. In fact, we were next in line when this happened. It ended, they shot the family that was in front of them, and by the time we got set up a new mini-show started and they had to pause again.
 

mgarbowski

Well-known member
WDW December 2014
A (Relatively) Spur-Of-The-Moment Trip


DAY 1 Is Above With Trip Background and Photo Notes

Day 2 - First Full Day - Hollywood Studios

Planning
If I were less of a planner we never would do our full day in Hollywood Studios the day after we spent our first evening there. I cannot now remember exactly why I set the order for the week. I know the only certainty was to do AK on New Year’s Eve, because it’s the only park that does not stay open until midnight and is therefore not completely overrun and in danger of having to close to new guests during the day. We never planned on staying up for that so doing AK that day was an easy call.
Looking back at Josh’s schedule, the most recommended park this day was Epcot with HK second. The following day those two reversed positions. Yet I must have had a reason for switching, and my best guess it was FP+ availability and scheduling. As I mentioned in the first entry I did not book this trip until the 60-day window opened up . Fortunatelyy we are not interested in the most hard-to-get character greet FP+ opportunities, but I did find that some ride passes were scarce, and only available at inconvenient times for us. It all worked out no matter what.
In fact our family plan for this entire trip was to take it easy, and not get worked up over what we could or could not fit in. It’s an extra trip and we decided to just enjoy what we are able to do and not obsess about any plans that went awry.

Our FP+ schedule going in was as follows:
12:50 PM RnR Coaster
1:50PM ToT
3:00 pm Star Tours
Plus we have the 4paper FP tickets from ToT being half-closed last night, and on top of that our only other real goals were to meet Hiro and Baymax and do The Great Movie Ride, which we had never done before. We wanted to see the existing version before the refresh.


We also had dinner reservations at Citricos in the Grand Floridian at 8:10pm


It’s not super-ambitious and we managed to get it all in.


Breakfast at OPR in CBR
The park opened at 8am, and we decided to go early but not rush for Rope Drop. First, we had breakfast at Old Port Royale in CBR. Pretty typical QS, but the format, especially for breakfast, is a bit confusing. The area is divided into separate “shops,” one for pizza, another sandwiches, another grill, etc. But for breakfast that’s all thrown out, and they each serve what seems to be a somewhat random subset of the breakfast menu. For example the pizza area had the mega-breakfast (whatever it’s called) with sausage, eggs, a waffle, etc. There was no way just to get eggs and meat with no waffle in the pizza area, but you could in the other storefronts, some of which also had omelets. But otherwise a fine QS place and we appreciated that they were still playing Christmas themed reggae and calypso music. So many places stop all Christmas and holiday music on December 26. It was good to find out that WDW keeps it going.











Then we headed over to HS getting there some time around 8:30am or so.


The first two things we did were a the Great Movie Ride for the whole family, and a non-FP Star Tours ride for the girls and me. I believe the ST wait was listed at 30 minutes and took roughly 35. I did notice what seemed to be more than the usual number of FP people passing through when we were on line. I know they limit the number of FP+ available for any given hour but the distribution of when those people actually show up within that hour can have an effect on standby waiting times. I also remember getting really annoyed when we were maybe 10-12 people from the point where the FP and standby lines merge because there were no FP people there and the CM was letting us in but the folks ahead of us were so fascinated by the animatronics robots that they didn’t notice and I wanted to yell “CAN WE PLEASE MOVE?! SHE'LL LET US IN WE YOU JUST MOVE AND I'M SURE THERE'S A PARTY OF ABOUT 40 FP+ PEOPLE ABOUT TO WALK IN ANY MOMENT NOW SO PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY PLEASE MOVE” but I didn’t because the curse of the repeat visitor is to get annoyed by the first-timers and we just have to accept it gracefully (but I can vent my frustrations here).








Then the Great Movie Ride which is fine and I’m glad we can check it off but - consistent with most reports - it’s not spectacular and even after it gets its refresh we probably won’t make it a priority.




Baymax Meet and Greet


By now it was maybe 10:15 and we walked over to the Baymax meet and greet area. We were able to get into the pen behind the greeting area. There are 3 snaked lines back there and we were roughly behind 2.5 of those 3. The characters came out right on schedule and we were I think the next-to-last family to make it in during the first session, which lasted a bit longer than 45 minutes.









I understand this feature is expensive and technically challenging, and while the movie was a hit it was far from Frozen level, but I hope they find a way to keep it going beyond the current extension into some time in March.
Then we decided to take advantage of our paper Fps from last night. We used 3 on ToT and 1 for OD to tide RnR Coaster.

Random Shots:















LUNCH
By this time we were ready for lunch. We decided to walk by 50s Prime Time Cafe even though (1) we did not have reservations ,(2) it’s the busiest week of the year, and (3) I don’t think the food is very good. All because we went on our regular annual trip last April and we all loved the atmosphere. To my shock,(and slight disappointment) they actually put us on the waitlist with a projected 30 minute wait. This happened to be pretty much what people with, you know, actual reservations were being told as well. They have a fun waiting room but it was somewhat stifling so we waited outside. For a while a CM actually stood out there trying to convince even more people without reservations to come in. I don’t know what part of “busiest week of the year” they did not understand but there you go.
After almost exactly 30 minutes we were seated, and it was exactly as I remembered it: fun atmosphere, limited menu, not-so-great food, expensive lunch, good milk shake. The schtick does not change, but I guess that’s the point.
Our entrees were brought very quickly. OD and I skipped desert because we had shakes, but wife and YD ordered dessert which took a very long time to arrive.










Afternoon - Just the Fast Pass Ma’am


Having now spent probably 10 of the last 12 non-sleeping hours in Hollywood Studios we just wanted to make use of our remaining FPs and head back to the hotel to relax until dinner.


OD left 50s Prime Time cafe to go ride RnR Coaster one more time while the rest of us waited for dessert to arrive. Which it did. Eventually. Was it 2015 yet?

Ride Photos From The Day












Finally we met up with OD and killed some time until ToT, and then more the same until our last ST ride. We definitely fit some shopping in.



Mom decided to check out the Christmas shop while we were in ST, and that’s pretty small. While there she noticed the Phineas and Ferb M’n’G had a reasonable line so she got on and we joined her there after a bit of confusion. We’ve been meeting the boys annually since they first appeared in HS, whenever that was, and almost skipped them this trip. YD was wearing a Ferb-centric pin lanyard and the character noticed and was appropriately attentive to her as a result.




Ferb wouldn't let her go.




But finally we pulled them apart and we bid goodbye to HS for this trip and went back to the hotel.







Mousekeeping did a nice job.

Finally we went out again for dinner. Citric was our big splurge for the trip. My wife loves the Grand Floridian and it doesn’t make sense - we think - to spend extra money just to stay there but a nice dinner there does. We have previously gone to the Grand Floridian cafe, which is actually a full restaurant. We stepped it up this trip to the Signature restaurant Citricos.
We parked in the regular MK lot and rode the resort monorail to GF. We got there early enough to shop and take in the Christmas decorations at GF which did not disappoint.














Citricos was quite good, although IMO not quite worth the price bump over the GF Cafe for repeat visits. If I'm going to spend that much I'd rather be at California Grill. We will be trying Narcoosee's, another Signature restaurant at GF, this coming April. One bonus I was not aware of despite all my research was that you can see the MK fireworks from the Citricos dining room




Oh, and my dessert was pretty cool.



That’s it for the day. Back on the monorail to the transport Center; tram to our car and back to the hotel to sleep until Day 3.
 
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mgarbowski

Well-known member
Bonus photo

Not directly relevant to this year's trip but fitting in the general Hollywood Studio theme so far. Here is a collage from a couple of years ago when YD first rode ToT. This spans 2 trips. The first photo is from the earlier Trip in 2012 and YD is holding me tight with her face buried in my arm. The remainder are from 2013 and show her, in order, holding on with both hands with eyes scrunched, holding on with both hands but relaxed, raising one arm, raising both arms (and without me). The Memory Maker made this possible.

 

Monica

Member
enjoying your report. your girls are very cute, it's such a funny juxtaposition to see the "evil villainess" (Yes, I know, not really) horns on your little one!
 

mgarbowski

Well-known member
Great report so far and I love your ToT montage! Not so scary after all, it appears!

Bev
Yeah she is slowly adding new rides to her repertoire and it was fun to see her advancement on ToT that year. And actually the first shot in the collage was from a year before MM and it was the only time in all our previous trips where I bought a ride photo. We always has PhotoPass which didn't include ride photos and generally didn't consider them worth it. When I saw this one I loved how her face was buried into me I was very taken with it. I actually walked out and through the gift shop, then reconsidered, went back, and bought it for whatever ridiculous price they charge for individual ride shots. Well worth it in the end..
 

mgarbowski

Well-known member
I can't believe there were people just ignoring the fireworks! Oh well. It was a pretty good view!
It was funny. Even though it's a great view the fireworks are not as prominent as in the Mexican restaurant at Epcot (I forget which of the many San Angel variations it is). Plus it's just a touch more formal so maybe folks felt awkward making a big deal of them.
 

mgarbowski

Well-known member
enjoying your report. your girls are very cute, it's such a funny juxtaposition to see the "evil villainess" (Yes, I know, not really) horns on your little one!
Thank you Monica. She bought that on our last trip, towards the end, so she did not have much chance to wear it. It was fun to see her wear it almost constantly on this trip.
 

mgarbowski

Well-known member
Mini Update - Prequel Version

When I described the background for the trip I left out the reveal. Just so you don't have to back track, the basic story is we usually go on annual trips, lately during Easter Week. Because those trips are annual, there is no reveal. This year we had an AP, and added this end of year trip as a bonus. A little extra background is that when we suddenly decided to plan this in early November my wife needed to switch her vacation days from the week of Christmas to the week after Christmas and it took about 7-10 days before we got confirmation on that. So we did not tell the girls about this until then, and after we got the confirmation we waited until a weekend time when we would all be together and relaxed.

We ended up telling them while eating dinner at California Pizza Kitchen after seeing Big Hero 6. My wife and I decided to play with it a bit. We started the conversation by saying that now that they could both stay up later we should think of something to do as a family on New Year's Eve. It took about 4-5 suggestions before the younger girl, 10, said Disney World as a joke. We were pretty confident that would happen. Then I pulled out the mailing from Disney about our Incredible Vacation(TM) which had arrived in the meanwhile. From there it still took 2-3 minutes before they figured it out. "Didn't we get this already?" - meaning for our usual Spring trip. I finally had to open the page with the trip dates and point to it.
 

TiggerGirl

Well-known member
I love the photos that were taken on film - it's neat to see the difference between film and digital - I took for granted that digital was 'just as good if not better' than film

ah the old days.
 
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