Enough with the root canals! Time for us to smile and have some fun! And there’s no place better for that than at our next destination, Walt Disney World. With our 5 night Fort Wilderness reservation (made in April, 2018), our Magic Bands, our daily itinerary and our excitement – we were so ready for our 2019 magical experience. After all, our last visit was in January, 2015 so we were very eager to enjoy a hug from Mickey again.
About a week before our arrival at the campground, we had faxed a list of about 10 of our favorite campsites through our recently purchased annual subscription to TouringPlans.com ($11.95). If you are planning on going, be aware you don’t need to subscribe to any website to do this – you can directly call or fax the list of your favorite campsites (407-824-3508) or hotel rooms directly. Imagine our surprise when an hour or so before our arrival at the campground, we received an email from Disney stating that our campsite (site #629, our second choice on our list) was ready and we could proceed directly to that site without going through the check-in line. Woohoo! What a time saver that was – on prior visits it had taken well over an hour to go through the registration process. Perhaps they are assigning sites in advance to everyone because during our entire stay, we never saw more than a handful of rigs in the registration line.
Another big improvement we noticed was a new bypass road off of World Drive to Fort Wilderness. On prior visits we had to pass through the Magic Kingdom entrance, explain to the attendant that we had reservations at Fort Wilderness, then move quickly to the right to take Fort Wilderness Drive. Now there is a new exit to Fort Wilderness Drive before the Magic Kingdom entrance. Much easier!
Stopping just for an identity check at the security gate at Fort Wilderness, we were quickly on our way to our site. Sometimes maneuvering into a back in site at FW (there are no pull thrus) can be a bit of a challenge because the sites aren’t quite long enough for big rigs so vehicles are often parked in front of their rigs and jutting into the already very narrow roads. But this time we were in luck – no obstacles were in our way.
We have found over the years that having a great time at Disney doesn’t necessarily involve exhausting days inside the parks. Instead you can have a relaxing and free visit to Disney by taking the various forms of transportation to the hotels and Disney Springs, walking/biking the trails, sitting on the beach watching the fireworks and just plain hanging out.
So would this be another relaxing and free visit or would we opt for a busier and exhausting visit? Well, back in 2011, we had purchased two 7 day non-expiring park hopper tickets (Disney no longer sells these) and we had 3 days remaining on each ticket prior to this visit. After much discussion, visits to both Animal Kingdom and Epcot ended up on our agenda, but doing both in one day to only use up a single ticket each.
But when to go to avoid massive crowds? Activities for the upcoming Run Disney Marathon event were scheduled to begin on Wednesday, January 9th and last until January 13th so we figured the parks would get more crowded as the week went on. Because of forecast of lower crowd levels and the fact that Epcot had extra magic hours from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m., Tuesday, the day after we arrived, would be the best day for us to visit the parks. Ouch, I could feel the blisters blossoming on my toes just thinking about all that walking!!! But more about our exhilarating visit to the parks in our next post.
Back to our arrival…after we settled into our site, since it was such a beautiful day, we walked down to the beach/marina so we could catch the boat over to Magic Kingdom just for fun.
Once the boat docked at Magic Kingdom, we disembarked just to walk around a bit and snap a few magical photos. Interesting to note that we now had to go through a security check as soon as we left the boat. Previously anyone carrying any type of bag would go through a bag check just before going through the turnstiles to enter the park, now everyone, even those without bags had to go through a scanner and security check.
Our first stop was a visit to Wilderness Lodge where there were quite a few changes since 2015.
Back in 2012, we had taken a fascinating tour of Wilderness Lodge. If you visit, be sure to check at the desk to see if these tours are still offered.
Located near Silver Creek Springs Pool (the Resort’s main pool), Geyser Point Bar & Grill is a new restaurant at Wilderness Lodge which offers two different dining styles (Table Service and Counter Service) as well as stunning views of Bay Lake. What used to be Trout Pass Bar next to the pool has been permanently closed and that space has been transformed into the Salon By The Springs.
Following our tour of Wilderness Lodge we jumped on board the Magic Kingdom boat again, then switched to the monorail for a ride to our next destination, the Polynesian Resort where we enjoyed a refreshing pineapple and vanilla soft serve swirl at the Pineapple Lanai.
From there, we walked a path along the water to the Grand Floridian Resort.
Surprised to see that they still had their majestic Christmas tree still standing in the middle of the lobby, but unfortunately the massive gingerbread house had already been taken down. All of the other hotels had disappointingly removed their Christmas decorations as well.
On Thursday, our good friends, Jim and Ann (former neighbors at our condo in Bretton Woods, NH) made the two hour trek from their beautiful home in Vero Beach to Disney to have lunch with us. Since we had been to the Grand Floridian and the Polynesian Resorts with them on previous visits, this time we drove to Port New Orleans Riverside and took the free resort boat down the Sassagoula River to what is now Disney Springs. Although it was a little on the chilly side, it was still a beautiful sunny day for a relaxing boat ride.
When it was first created, Disney Springs shopping area was known as Disney Village Marketplace, then in 1997 it became Downtown Disney, an entertainment mecca that provided visitors with a place to play, dine and shop for over 20 years. On September 28, 2018, Downtown Disney closed for good. The next day, Disney Springs opened with well over 150 shops and restaurants, offering high end luxury goods and gourmet restaurants making it competitive with other nearby shopping destinations. This interesting article discusses the pros and cons of the new Disney Springs.
Disney Springs is so big now, you can get lost!
Since Rob and I had enjoyed a delicious meal at Raglan Road Irish Pub and Restaurant on a previous visit, we decided to have lunch there.
I had made reservations but the place was pretty empty when we arrived so reservations probably weren’t necessary. At the recommendation of our waiter, I had the Pork Blah Blaa ($17) which was porchetta, Wild About Celtic chutney, caramelized onions, crispy crackling on a blah bun served with skinny chips. Quite tasty but boy was it messy and difficult to eat! Rob enjoyed one of their signature dishes, Fish & Chips ($20) which he said was very good. Jim had Rib O ($15), which was braised short rib & thyme marinated mushroom omelette with spinach & porter cheddar cheese sauce and Ann had Pie in the Sky ($20) which was chicken, wild mushrooms & leeks in a white wine cream sauce topped with puff pastry served with side salad. All of us enjoyed our meals. For dessert, we shared a Raglan Delight, a raspberry pavlova with vanilla ice cream and raspberry coulis.
After lunch we wandered around Disney Springs for awhile until it was time to catch the boat back to Port Orleans.
Back at the coach, after saying our goodbyes to Jim & Ann we spent a quiet evening. Always fun seeing them again and catching up on all the news, especially their recent trip to Alaska. Thanks, Jim and Ann for treating us to a delicious and enjoyable lunch. Hope to see you again in April at Riverbend!
Friday was our last day at Disney, not a lot to report except a walk over to the stables and along the trail to Wilderness Lodge. Besides that, it was a day of errands and laundry. Next up – we’ll revisit Tuesday, our day in the parks!