NOTE: The events in this post and the following series all took place pre-COVID. Many of the rules and planning for a trip to Walt Disney World (WDW)have changed since my last trip. Be sure to do your own research as things change frequently right now at WDW and any destination in general.
Day 1: Hollywood Studios and Epcot
The Flight and Arrival
We got up early to catch our flight from Detroit Metro Airport (DTW). I’m always nervous about not leaving enough time and take the recommendation of arriving at least an hour and a half for domestic flights seriously. In fact, I usually try to be at the airport two hours early. By the time you park off site (the least expensive option at DTW), get your shuttle bus, check your bags (1 bag under 50 pounds to avoid fees, plus the trusty CPAP which does not count as luggage by the way), go through security (almost always quick at DTW – unlike other airports I’ve been at), and find the gate (why is it always the furthest gate from the security checkpoint?), make one last trip to the restroom, etc. and you can use up most of the two hours easily.
Anyway, after one last check to make sure that we were properly packed, that our Magic Bands were on, and a quick trip through the McDonald’s drive-through for breakfast, like Crosby and Hope we were on the road (you youngsters will have to look up this reference. Trust me, it’s funny)!
A quick note on airport security and one I think that TSA would appreciate me bringing up. Even if you are a seasoned flyer and think you know all the rules take a few minutes before you pack your carry-on and look at them again (check the TSA website for the current list). In these security conscious times they do occasionally change and I’ve been in too many lines where too many people seem to be caught unaware. For those of us traveling with medications be prepared, don’t have them buried in a hard to get to spot keep them readily available. More info directly from TSA is here. Likewise with medical devices – for example, you will have to take your CPAP machine out of it’s bag.
Back to our story…
I had one primary goal for this trip and that was to get a “boarding pass” to experience the brand new Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance attraction at Hollywood Studios. Beyond this as I mentioned in my previous post (which is here and details our preparation for the trip if you haven’t read it yet) I considered this to be Bob’s trip since it was his first time. However, since he is a more avid Star Wars fan that I am, Rise of the Resistance and all of Galaxy’s Edge was high on his list too.
Our game plan for today was simple. Get to our hotel, stow our gear, get on a bus and head to Hollywood Studios to scope out the situation. Making use of our previously reserved fast passes we should be able to get onto Toy Story Mania, Smuggler’s Run, and see the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular.
The flight was without incident and we arrived in sunny Orlando a little ahead of schedule. I don’t know why I was surprised to see that the marketers at Disney had already figured out how to promote the new Stars Wars attraction by decorating the airport’s monorail station to look like a transport station in a galaxy far away. If there’s one thing the folks at Disney know, it’s how to market!
We collected our bags and made our way to the Disney Magical Express bus (this service is being discontinued soon by WDW, by the way which is a shame as it was a nearly magical start to our vacation) and soon arrived at the All-Star Music Resort before noon. Using the Disney app to check in we learned that our rooms wouldn’t be available until 3:00 PM (we anticipated this) so we checked our bags at the bell station made sure our Magic Bands were securely attached to our wrists and headed to the bus to get to our first park – Hollywood Studios. All this without realizing we had made a mistake that would impact the rest of our afternoon (insert ominous music here).
We arrived at the gates of Hollywood Studios before noon ready to scope out the new Galaxy’s Edge and the other attractions in the park. After a few pictures on Hollywood Boulevard, we had purchased the Memory Maker photo package after all, our first order of business was to try out our dining plan and have some lunch – it had been a long time since breakfast back in Detroit! We were moving around the park counter clockwise so we stopped in Toy Story Land at Woody’s Lunch Box. I ended up ordering the BBQ Brisket Melt (Shredded Smoked Brisket, Pickles, and Tangy Barbecue Sauce between Melted Cheddar and Monterey Jack on Grilled Sourdough Bread), potato tots, and a Diet Coke. Seating was at a premium in the lunch box’s courtyard but we finally found a spot to squeeze in. I found my meal to be very satisfying if somewhat pedestrian tasting – tangy might not be the best way to describe the barbecue sauce – but I didn’t expect an adventurous menu in Toy Story Land.
We were able to fit quite a bit into this first afternoon and experienced the following attractions:
- Muppet Vision 3-D
- Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular
- Star Tours: The Adventure Continues
- Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run
- Toy Story Mania
Of this group Toy Story Mania is still my favorite attraction. I have to say though that I hadn’t been on Star Tours in decades and the relatively new, at least to me, upgrades to this attraction are great! Smuggler’s Run is fun but for me the real thrill is having the experience of actually stepping onto the deck of the fabled spaceship. The detail is just that good inside. The Indiana Jones show was fun as usual, but there was an issue with one of the major effects on the day we were there and a certain boulder failed to roll. Though, the show was so well done I’m not sure if the malfunction wasn’t part of it. Perhaps someone else can enlighten me. Sadly, Muppet Vision 3D is in need of a make over. It’s still fun but given how the technology has improved over the years with 3D movies in theatres the novelty isn’t quite the same. It’s always a delight though to see Waldorf and Statler in person even if they do remind me of a couple of other grumpy old men I know.
As evening approached we decided that we better move on to Epcot where we had dinner reservations. We’d be back in the morning after all to try and get our boarding pass for Rise of the Resistance and we were both eager to see how the new Skyliner worked.
By the way, does it bother anyone else that Disney no longer capitalizes all the letters in “Epcot?” It does me. I guess I’m a purist or just old enough to remember that EPCOT is an acronym for the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow.
There was a lot of concern regarding the Skyliner when it first opened. It seems that it had a habit of breaking down and stranding guests for hours with no way to get down. I’m happy to report that this did not happen to us and the system seemed to work exactly as intended. We both did notice the emergency pack stowed in the cabin though.
It was a fairly hot and humid day, but we found the breeze created by the motion of the cabin along the cable to be sufficient. By this time though we were happy to be off of our feet for a little bit. You may remember I mentioned a mistake back at the hotel. It was a rookie one I’m sorry to say. We had dressed for the Michigan winter when we left Detroit that morning. The Florida weather we experienced in early February of 2020 was the opposite of that. We really should have changed from our jeans to our shorts before heading out for the day. Bob regretted not switching to his walking shoes especially! I won’t ever make that goof again.
Arriving at Epcot we encountered and unexpected surprise – we were greeted by Mickey Mouse himself! No line, no fast pass needed. There he was seemingly just waiting for us to come through the gate and say hello. Now, I don’t care how old or grumpy you may think you are – there is something about seeing the Big Cheese in the flesh (so to speak) that just brings out the child in all of us. I didn’t get to take a picture with him on my first trip way back in 1975 – but I’ve been getting a photo ever since! I will also say that this first character greeting seemed to whet Bob’s appetite for them and he became a man on a mission from this point on to find as many favorites as he could, including the elusive Scrooge McDuck (more on this in a future installment)!
We did not do a lot this particular evening in Epcot as our main reason to be here was for our dinner reservations at the Biergarten in Germany. I had fond memories of this restaurant from a family trip in 2000 and I’m happy to say this evening did not disappoint in any way. The German buffet was bountiful and everything was fresh and delicious. Well, as fresh as a selection of sausages and sauerkraut can be that is. Seating at the Biergarten is communal so you are often paired with another group in true Oktoberfest fashion. We lucked out and were seated with a pleasant world traveling middle-aged couple and had great conversation through our meal. They had been to Greece recently which was were I was scheduled to go in just a few weeks, unfortunately COVID has postponed that trip indefinitely, so I’m glad to have had a chance to talk to some people who had been there at least. I felt adventurous and even had a beer with my meal – a grapefruit ale of all things (Schöfferhofer Pink Grapefruit Hefeweizen). According to the menu description it was a “unique combination of sparkling smooth hefeweizen with grapefruit juice. Refreshing well-rounded taste with tangy character and hints of sweetness that is pleasing to the palate. The world’s first unfiltered grapefruit hefeweizen-mix.” I don’t normally drink and, frankly, have never learned to like beer but I found this one to be pretty tasty.
For entertainment there was a German polka band who played a variety of instruments and even dancing for those who wanted to do so. To finish the evening we continued our walk around the World Showcase and watched the Epcot Forever fireworks show. Then it was back to finally see what our room was like at the hotel.
All-Star Music Resort
As I said in my previous post – I’m not a believer in spending more on a hotel room at WDW than you have to because you are not going to spend a lot of time in the room. Our room was typical of all the All-Star Resorts, clean and comfortable. An interesting feature of the All-Star room is that one of the beds is a Murphy bed which folds up into a cabinet while a table folds out. Perfect for laying out maps or what not during the day or if you bring food from the food court back to the room. The rooms also come with a flat screen television, which we kept mostly to the WDW information channels, but no microwave or refrigerator (they want you to buy food remember). The bathroom is spacious by budget hotel standards and there seemed to be enough storage space for our clothes and luggage.
This first night we didn’t spend a lot of time talking or rehashing the day. We were both exhausted and we also had to get up early tomorrow to be at Hollywood Studios as soon as the gates opened. Our goal – Star Wars: Rise of the Resitance.
I pulled down my bed, plugged in my life support (the CPAP), and quickly fell fast asleep dreaming of things from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.
To be continued…
All photos by David P. Wahr unless otherwise noted in which case the original artist retains all rights. Otherwise photos and words @copyright by David P. Wahr