The night prior to Disney World we parked the camper at Tamoka state park a couple of hours away from the magic; normally I prefer free spots but some AC was necessary in the oppressive humid heat. Avi and I woke early and spent an hour wandering along the road we traveled in the dark evening prior. It was a tiny road – barely 2 lanes- with old overhanging oaks creating a tunnel. During the day it could’ve been scenic and southern, but it wasn’t since we were mostly focused on the blacktop looking for pieces of my camper.
Some asshole had been driving over the center line getting a head start on passing the slower reasonably-driving car in front of him while I was headed the opposite way. He came so far over I was forced to drive on the non-existent berm and scraped the top of the camper on a low-hanging tree. Sucks to my awning! I thought the whole thing ripped off, but in the morning we were just searching for pieces of hard black plastic casings. I put a classy Walmart bag over the now-exposed mechanical arm and we were off for Disney World.
The experience left me grumpy, so I’ve decided to dedicate this blog to the crap that goes wrong. I’m not normally so negative, but there are plenty of other blogs you can read about perfect vacations.
Counting down to the worst… here are the 8 things that tried to ruin our Disney Vacation:
Number 8: We did not get our ‘room’ request.
I booked us at the Disney Fort Wilderness Campground to park our RV. It’s way overpriced for a campground, but cheaper than any other resort at the just-off peak season when we went mid-August. It is treated no different than any other on-disney resorts; staying here still got us all the resort benefits like extra magic hours and (the essential) 60 day ahead fast pass bookings, so, that’s fine. We were even able to get flowers delivered; Bryan had them sent!
I spent a long time pouring over weird people’s blogs to find campsite numbers because I wanted to be near enough to the bike trail to hit it directly from our site and not need to ride all the way around a loop or through someone else’s spot to get there. The campground is nice and convenient to Magic Kingdom by a direct ferry boat, and buses to the rest of the parks. I did not want to ride inter-campground buses, though, which add stupid amounts of time to a park commute. So, it needed to be loop 1700 and site 1719 was perfect.
At 3pm that day we had left the State Park with bits and pieces of my camper in a bag. We were standing in line for food at the crowded Blizzard Beach water park when I got a text that our room was ready.
By 4pm, we were driving to Fort Wilderness. Hookup was fairly easy, though the spot is so large our electric line to the rear of the spot was barely long enough when the sewer line at the front of the spot was hooked up. These sites are not designed for reasonable campers. Avi and I spent the evening on bikes exploring while Zoe relaxed, and then a thunderstorm brought us all in the for an early night to bed.
We got site 1722. Nearby, but not my request. The neighbors weren’t usually around when we biked through their spot to the bike trail, so it worked out just fine in the end.
But you know what? I got another call from the “front desk” that I had a delivery. So, Avi and I biked to retrieve the mystery item It was flowers from Bryan!
Number 7: It was crowded.
I booked our trip for mid-August because that’s when we could go that wasn’t peak season, but it had just been peak season last week so I guess the crowds didn’t get the memo that school was back in session. The Disney World app was essential in defeating the crowds, as were the Fast Passes which get you in the short line of a ride. I had to drag myself out of bed to be on the computer at 4 am (time zones!) exactly 60 days in advance to get those squared away!
I bought the 5-day military salute passes – thanks to Disney for being such a military supporter – so we got 5 park hopping days, plus 5 Fun Passes which are ideal for fighting over later. It all paid off, though, as we hit the big rides first and then were able to re-book a fast pass one at a time to check off other fun rides.
Magic Kingdom was our first day and the absolute busiest. Insane people stand in line for two hours for some of these dumb rides. The worst was the Mine Train; it’s a coaster similar to Thunder Mountain with a slow bit in the middle showing the seven dwarfs in a mine. It’s interesting, but a super-short ride and mildly fun as far as family coasters go; not worth the TWO HOUR wait! We fast-passed it and 8 other things that first day.
With an hour left of park time after the mediocre night show, we ran to our next fast pass – the motor cars. It’s the first I’ve ever ridden them because the lines have always been too long. Then, with 10 minutes to spare, we RAN to Space Mountain to get in line. If you are there before close, you ride. The 60 minute wait sign proved wrong – it was barely 25 minutes and we finished the day like we started zooming around the stars.
I suppose that, in the end, the crowds really brought us together. Zoe and Avi’s competitive edge stood out in their willingness, nay, desire, to run across the park to get a short line, or for me to continuously refresh the fast pass options to beat out the rest of the hoard. We became the solid family team unit we always wanted to be against those people. Every park we went to ebbed and flowed in the crowd department, and we rolled with it turning it not so sucky after all.
Number 6: Lightening and Rain forced closures
Its Florida in August. It rains daily at 4pm.
On our second day, we visited EPCOT and it simply rained all afternoon. we donned our Niagara Falls ponchos and sloshed through the international area in and out of freezing rain and freezing air conditioning. We ended up with plenty of time to see every single detail of every single country – the kids did the KIDCOT passes which no one told us “close” at any point, so in Canada they had to dig out their final special postcard. And in Italy, Zoe just took it upon herself to dig around for the stamp in a cupboard because no one was manning the station in the rain. She is a problem solver! Anyway, the rain delayed the final show a good two hours, which is why we ended up with time to see it all! Win!. The irritatingly nice announcer kept pushing it back in 15-minute increments; I felt like I was at an airport.
One of our non-park days found us a Typhoon Lagoon two people away from a ride down Gangplank Falls when the announcement rang out that the park was closed and we should all seek shelter. NO! Not that we didn’t see the lightning coming. We crouched in the changing room for a bit and had a snack. But everyone else donned their clothes and left. Within a half hour, the slides were reopened and there were no lines! That’s a win!
The second time we visited Typhoon Lagoon was on our final day. We had these Plus passes to use and wanted to do both water parks in one day. As the afternoon clouds rolled in we switched up the plan to just stay put. The kids had discovered the joys of body surfing the giant waves, which meant scraped bellies, lost sunglasses and water-filled sinuses, but that can’t ruin our trip because its just so fun! This time, though, when the lightning came it was a torrent; we waited a long while before it became apparent that the storm would outlive the open hours. To use our last Fun Passes, we headed to the Winter Summerland mini golf course where the sun was out again.
Of all the places, though, EPCOT seems to have the most still open during a lightning scare. Our day at Animal Kingdom was a disaster! The rain came mid-afternoon closing off our options; it was too late for any shows (which should really run later in the day), and the only indoor things were the over-crowded rides at Avatar Land. So, we flitted about in the rain – visited the Bug Life and Dinosaur ride and waited in the sandbox part of the Dinosaur Dig playground when the rides all opened.
It all closed again about 20 minutes later by which time we had ridden the Dino themed crazy mouse and wandered aimlessly to the Avatar area. This closure was short-lived and we discovered that the app has a weird delay after closures; it showed the Avatar boat ride at 20 minutes when it was really only about 5. Glad we didn’t need to wait in line for that one since it was kind of lame; Avi especially kept waiting for it to get fun. He kept saying there would be a drop or something interesting like Splash Mountain, but nope…it’s like Small World: ride a boat and look at stuff.
Anyway, we had been given a free fast pass because our Mt. Everest fast pass was rained out, but there was nothing to use it on so we considered leaving when I mentioned the evening show which we had never seen. Avi wanted to leave and could care less, Zoe took convincing, but she finally voted with me to stay. The safari popped open again, so we rode that thinking to simply waste time. It was awesome, though, as the sun was setting and all the animals were out and about!
Then, a miracle happened! The hoard of a crowd left the park, Mt. Everest opened and rode 7 times in a row!! Then, we jumped over to Kali River Rapids for a no-wait round and went twice, getting off just as the music started for the evening show which was incredible! A new favorite; it made me think of a water-borne Korean Lotus Lantern festival.
No park was immune to the rain. Our day at the Studios was cut short as well with a freaking mock-hurricane squall just after riding the Slinky Dog. It was good we got to try it, as the rain never let up. We ran past lightning bolts cracking the palm trees to the safety of the Muppets and attempted to enjoy the long wait at Buzz Lightyear before calling it a crap day.
Number 5: I spent $2868
Disney is expensive, and I’m such a cheap mofo that I’m still listing my cost even though we got a great deal.
We used Disney’s military salute tickets bought ahead via the Shades of Green, which meant I received them in the mail months ago. They are a huge discount, but still, it’s expensive. The 5-day park hopper plus was $286 each (x3), so I spent $868 (there is a $10 fedex charge) on tickets. It is quite nice to buy them ahead via Shades of Green, because then I would receive the card tickets in the mail, and could register them on the My Disney website which would link it to our resort booking. All this lingo means that we get Disney magic bands, our resort “key” wristbands that will then be used as tickets like a regular Disney guest.
Next, I decided to stay 9 nights and make a big vacay out of it. So, yeah, my bad. But, I called and got a ‘good-for-Disney’ deal on the campsite only shelling out $65 – $83 a night, which turns into $95 after taxes and crap. Weeknights are always cheaper, so I purposely booked us over only a single weekend, arriving on a Sunday and departing on a Tuesday.
We tried to keep food cheap by eating big breakfasts at the camper, packing snack, and eating a “Spanish time” lunch. I like to eat late, like 2-3pm at Disney because it is not crowded. This is the big meal of the day – buying only once saves a lot of cash, as does bringing a water bottle to refill at the numerous FREE water fountains and not buying overpriced sodas. Ever. Waste of money. So, it was around $30 for that meal daily. Later, we ate more packed snacks like slim jim, string cheese, apples, clementines, and granola bars, which meant my fanny pack is super full at the beginning of the day and a sticky mess at night. I do allow us each to choose one special treat a day – yes, this stingy mom lets her kids pick one fun food like a dole whip or cotton candy.
The best bang for your buck at Magic Kingdom is Pecos Bill with large portions and a huge toppings bar. I ordered us a fajita platter and 3 taco platter, plus filled up on toppings, and we were all quite stuffed. I find that ordering two adult meals at Disney (meals, not burgers) is usually ample food for us all, and that it avoids the nasty kids meals. I have no idea why they think kids can only eat burgers, hot dogs, PBJ, and chicken strips…. at every restaurant! Uck. We buy real food.
I did also splurge on a special activity for each kid. Avi recently finished his Phonics Curriculum, and since reading has been a struggle I decided to reward his effort with a horseback ride at the campground. $55 for each of us. His choice of activity! Zoe chose to take the “Behind the Seeds” tour as her special thing, just for being her. It’s a really interesting tour of the hydroponic gardens and the right price at $25/20 each.
Beyond that, my bill, which is tidily itemized on three pages of Magic Band charges, was roughly $2000. It shows that I also foolishly let the kids pick two special sit-down dinners at places that require a reservation. Zoe wanted to eat inside the pyramid at Mexico in EPCOT and Avi opted for the Sci Fi Drive In at Studios. Each racked up over double our regular meals ~ $60. Fun and unique? sorta. Worth the cash? Not really. Well maybe the Sci-Fi: it’s truly unique. But you can get enough atmosphere inside Mexico without eating. Both were a lot cheaper than themed or character meals which would be $60-$100 each!
Free character stuff is always better. We hit up the Chip and Dales campfire on a break day, brought our own marshmallows and had a great time. Take that, Disney.
About $2000 on resort stay, food, and activities, plus $868 on tickets and I’m exhausted at the cost. I do realize this is a good price for a 10-day Disney vacay for a family of 3, but it’s still a lot of dough for this budget traveler to gulp.
3. Kids bickering so much I threaten to leave.
They disagreed over the theming for the new water slide at Typhoon Lagoon, over how we should stand for the free auto-photo ops with cars after Test Track at Epcot, over who splashed who when all of Animal Kingdom was completely soaked; they downright argued about whose turn it was to ride solo on any number of rides. Us being a group of 3, someone had to go it alone and they both always wanted to ride with me. Never together.
They each had a heated opinion about how the ghosts in Haunted Mansion were created. Zoe gave Avi a hard time for having nerves about the Tower of Terror; Avi gave Zoe a crack when she was wrong about the Yeti’s location on Mt. Everest. Eventually, over them arguing to the point of tears and hard feelings over a game of mini golf at Winter Summerland, I lost my cool and announced that we were going straight home. Then I realized I spent a ton of cash and modified my rant to the conciliatory grant that if they didn’t make a concerted effort to simply shut up instead of being disagreeable we would leave. That’s how it always starts… they disagree on some queepy point, but they never agree to disagree. ugh. Opinionated kids! It’s probably all my fault.
On the flip side, we also had many cheesy magical shared moments of bliss like when they were both sleeping on the bus at the end of the day (can’t fight when you’re asleep), or when one of them was in the bathroom. They share an absolute love for the Rockin Coaster, and both agreed the new Magic Kingdom lights-on-the-castle show was kind of a let down, but that the Animal Kingdom show was amazing. When put on the same team against a hoard of crowds they step up to the plate and hussle their bones all over creation to get a low line and a fun ride!
They had a magical moment coming together against me in their dislike for the Hall of Presidents, and were shockingly kind to each other enraptured in games of rock-paper-scissors and “fingers” in times of stress like the hour-long line we were forced to endure for the Norway ride – it’s the same BTW as when I was kid except now Anna and Elsa are in your face. They loved loved loved body surfing together at Typhoon Lagoon. So, I guess, they are pretty good kids.
In the end, our bonus 5th day brought the team together! It was a gorgeous crowd-free cloud-free day of park hopping to all the rides we loved. It became the “best day ever” as we did all the Pirate Adventures in Adventureland while waiting for a fast pass to Splash Mountain, ended up bagging all the Magic Kingdom mountains then heading for EPCOT and a Test Track fast pass we couldn’t get any other day, followed by a bus to Animal Kingdom for some rounds on Everest, and back to the campground in time to watch the electric light parade!
2. Losing Avi
That’s right. He got lost. And at night.
Plenty of times I give the kids a bit of freedom. In crowds, though, I don’t allow them to wander. At Disney, there are a few places they can run amok without me. We all love Tom Sawyer island, which is rare, I gather from other bloggers.
Whats not to love? Indulge me for a moment in the fun of this place – it’s on an island so the kids can’t escape, there are fun tunnels to run in and explore, and cool towers with guns to shoot at Thunder mountain.
The Dinosaur Dig playground at Animal Kingdom is another great place for kids, but a bit more boring for adults. It’s really just a fenced-in over-themed playground, so I feel like I should be adulting with the other parents safely on the ground.
Avi didn’t get lost at either of those or in a theme park. Nope. It was at the resort. Like I said before, we stayed at Fort Wilderness campground and had a couple of days of total downtime to enjoy biking around to the Lodge, going on Avi’s horseback ride, and just playing at the pool. I allowed them to bike to the Meadow Rec Area and visit the arcade, as long as they stayed together, and they did.
One evening we stayed at the pool for hours and hours. The kids played party games with the other kids and the Disney youth leader, I typed and sat in the hot tub yapping with the other adults whining about their whiny kids. It was perfect. We closed the place down, and I thought it would be fun to go watch the Magic Kingdom fireworks and Electric light parade again from the beach.
With time to spare, we ho-hummed along the bike trail and stopped at one of the random mini-parks to play a round of tetherball. There was an accident (JUST WAIT FOR NUMBER 1), and Avi decided to help by riding back to the camper with his BMX racing skills to unlock it and get stuff situated – we needed the Med Kit! Zoe and I walked back and by the time we arrived I just barely saw Avi biking around the camp loop in the opposite direction. I yelled for him, figured he heard me, and went in to take care of the issue. After 20 minutes, or so, he wasn’t back. PANIC. I went out riding to look for him and he still wasn’t back. At the point when I was about to call the Disney security folks (for the second time in one night), he showed up at the door crying.
I thought he hurt himself, but no he was just scared. Apparently, Zoe and I took longer than his estimation to return to the camper, so he went looking for us. That is when I saw him go. He had not heard me yelling for him and had biked all the way back to the little park, the pool, and around the campground before returning. He felt sure he should’ve passed us and was crying because he was scared something MORE had happened to his sister. Nope, it was still only that:
1. Zoe broke her Finger
Ever notice that tether-ball isn’t on school playgrounds anymore?
That’s because it can hurt people. We all rotated around who played whom and I had been letting the kids win when it was my go. Zoe wasn’t pleased about that and wanted me to “really use my skills”. I played a lot of tether-ball as a kid, and slowly amped up my game. I then whaled on the ball for a final wrap-around. She saw it coming and held her hand up to save her face when it stove her pointer finger straight on, and she screamed bloody murder. Way to go, mom!
Needless to say, the security people found us and took us in their little golf cart to the nearest bathroom and its medical supplies. We buddy bandaged her finger hoping it was just a bad sprain or something and turned down a kind offer for real emergency personnel. She walked back to the camper still whimpering while I pushed the bikes. No fireworks, instead I lost Avi and broke Zoe’s finger.
The next couple of days she dealt with it fair enough. I have a good med kit – stabilized the thing and had our “best morning ever.” The next day we went for our bodysurfing day at Typhoon Lagoon and WinterSummerland mini golf. Her finger still hurt a ton but wasn’t swollen. From there we hit the road for home but ended up spending a day in Tallahassee wandering between three urgent care centers until we found one that took our insurance. The finger still hurt badly, and the x-ray tech said it was fractured.
Bam! Go ahead and try to ruin our vacay with a broken finger.
I hope I’ve inspired you to stay away from Disney World. Perhaps if you take my advice and avoid the place like the plague, it will be nice and crowd-free next time we go. Because we will! It’s the happiest place on earth, after all. Even a lost kid and a broken finger didn’t end up ruining our fun!
[…] summer camp in PA. And we rounded it all out with a swing by Disney World for a serious vacation. [That blog here] And then we came home, driving across Texas again: something I loathe. Here are the most memorable […]