Friday, December 21, 2012

Disneymoon Adventures: We are Totally Experts Now, Part 2

Previously, on Our Geeky Adventure:

-Because we have planned exactly one trip to Walt Disney World, we are the foremost experts on Disney vacations and you should follow our advice to have an equally fantastic time.
-Travel agents = life (and money) savers.
-It's okay to not take yourself quite so seriously when you're in Disney.

And now for the rest of The Geeks' Rules for Having an Awesome Time at Disney World as Childless Adults (and Probably Some of These Rules Apply to People With Kids, Too)

10. Don't let the ride warning signs scare you.
 Anything even remotely considered a thrill ride at Disney has the same warning slapped on it- People who are pregnant, have back or neck problems, or who experience motion sickness should refrain from riding.  (That's paraphrased, but you get the idea.)  I understand the first two warnings, but motion sickness?  Heck, people who experience motion sickness should probably avoid riding in cars, too.  With Mission: Space, especially, I think people read these warnings and think "Well that one time I ate a whole bunch of nachos then went on that roller coaster and promptly threw up...this ride is too intense for me."  I haven't always been a daredevil- when I was a kid, the concept of riding an upside-down roller coaster was more terrifying to me than being plunged into hell itself- but by the time I got to high school, I finally understood the "thrill" part of thrill rides.  And then I went sky diving in college, and nothing has been able to scare me since.  Mr. Geek and I spent the summer and early fall visiting theme parks within driving distance with our friends- Hershey Park, Kings Dominion, and Busch Gardens- and riding some of the craziest, most intense coasters ever.  (We haven't done Cedar Point yet, but it's on the list!)  Compared to parks like those, every single ride at Disney World is tame.  Super fun and amazing feats of engineering, yes, but tame.  However, the reputation of Mission: Space preceded itself- the fact that it was designed with the help of NASA, and that a few astronauts rode it and confirmed that yeah, that's actually what leaving the Earth's atmosphere feels like in real life- and I was a little scared.  I'm prone to migraines and, yes, motion sickness, and I did NOT want to be one of those people who stumbled off the ride, threw up in the bushes, and had a miserable rest of the day.  With words of encouragement from Mr. Geek, however, I talked myself into picking up a Fast Pass (not that we needed it) and, after eating (and fully digesting) a small breakfast, we got in line for the ride.  The thing is, even though the DON'T RIDE THIS RIDE warning is the exact same one that's on Rock 'n' Roller Coaster, for Pete's sake, it's repeated at you about a bajillion times before you actually get on.  The very last time is when you're standing just outside your "rocket", receiving your mission briefing, and a very convincing Gary Sinise looks you dead in the eye and repeats how this ride is frickin' intense and probably no one should ride it, ever, and if you decide to chicken out now we won't make fun of you (too much).  Well, okay, maybe he doesn't say THAT, exactly, but he repeats the warning that is slapped on the wall every few feet up until this point.  I looked at Mr. Geek with my eyebrows raised and he assured me- "You can do it."  I am so, so glad I did this because it was truly the most awesome ride I've ever been on- and yes, it felt real.  You feel yourself rise out of your seat a little bit, you feel your face pull's almost like sky diving, but in reverse- you definitely feel like you're being pulled up to the sky, not falling down.  In short- if you are at all a roller coaster person, RIDE MISSION: SPACE.  (If you're not a roller coaster person- ride all the other rides!  Ride Expedition Everest!  Ride the Dinosaur ride!  They really aren't that bad, I promise!)  And if you're like me and don't exactly have a reputation for having guts of steel, just follow the safety instructions carefully- keep your head back, keep your eyes open, and look directly at the screen.  They simulate the sense of weightlessness by spinning the whole enclosure very, very fast, and if you close your eyes or look anywhere but the screen, you can become disoriented very quickly and as your body tries to decide which way is up, your stomach will be deciding it doesn't really want that muffin anymore.  I did find myself a little weak in the knees when we disembarked, but everything stayed firmly inside my belly, thank heavens.

11. Don't let the wait times scare you, either.

Mr. Geek and I learned how they calculate the wait times when we rode Expedition Everest.  As we entered the queue, we were handed a red badge on a lanyard and told to walk it up to the ride attendant when we got to the vehicle.  Before he handed us the badge, he tapped it against something, and when we handed it to the guy at the top, he tapped it against something, too.  So that's how they do it- a little NFC-enabled tag that tells the computer what time you start the queue and what time you get on the ride.  But you know how I mentioned last time that Disney has really, really entertaining queue spaces?  Some people (like us) might dawdle a bit, looking at all the details- although I tried my best to drag Mr. Geek along, knowing the accuracy of that wait time depended on our progress.  The thing is, not everybody carrying those tags is quite so conscientious of their responsibility.  (Hyperbole.  Learn it.)  That, coupled with the fact that they're not necessarily sending those red tags through the line all that often means that the wait time listed on the "Stand-By Entrance" sign might not be 100% accurate.  Case in point: when we showed up to Toy Story Midway Mania, the wait time was listed as 55 minutes.  We had been dying to ride this all week but we never had time for the ridiculous wait, we were locked out of getting Fast Passes, or the Fast Pass return time was too late in the day for us to make it to our dinner reservations.  The last day that we went to Hollywood Studios, literally our only goal was to ride this ride (we visited this park 3 times total during our stay).  We were slightly disappointed to see that the sign said 55 minutes, but we were determined to get on this ride that morning, and there was nothing else we really wanted to do in the park that day.  The line had not yet made its way to the outside, extended portion of the queue, and as we took our place behind the last person, we didn't actually stop walking until we were well inside the building.  There were a few times when the line stopped moving, but we spent that time snapping pictures of the amazingly detailed environment of the queue (or looking through pictures we'd taken the rest of the week).  By the time we sat down on the ride, we had only actually stood in line for 35, maybe 40 minutes.  So just remember- sometimes, the wait times are wrong!  (And, for Toy Story Midway Mania specifically, your wait will be shorter than 45 minutes if the line is not yet outside, regardless of the time on the sign.)  We are so glad we decided to suck it up and wait- this was one of our favorite attractions all week.

12. Do the "geeky" things.
Mr. Geek and I refer to the area in the front half of Epcot- the side that isn't World Showcase- as the "geeky half" of Epcot.  Other than riding Soarin' and Mission: Space, there aren't many obviously fun things to do on this half of the park- at least that's how it feels as you're quickly trying to maneuver over to the "eating half" of Epcot.  But there are really quite a few gems of the educational-and-fun variety here and in other Disney parks that are really under-appreciated.  My favorite of these is The Sum of All Thrills, an attraction that lets you design your own roller coaster, I'm not even kidding you.  It uses this touch table set-up to let you choose elements for your ride, and you get to decide on the height of each individual element and how fast you want the car to be going as it hits each one.  Unfortunately, there's no time to do actual calculations- in an effort to maximize the amount of people who get to experience this attraction in any given day, there's a very short time limit for the design stage- but as you input measurements, it shows you the equations it's using to calculate the other dimensions of the track, and the equations turn red if your settings are impossible to achieve.  Again, due to time constraints, it doesn't explain why they are impossible, (ie, you'd be traveling too slowly and wouldn't make it through the loop, or you'd be traveling to fast by the time you reached the end and the brakes wouldn't be able to safely stop you, etc) but in any case, it won't allow you to design a coaster that isn't going to function properly (or, presumably, that a human body would be incapable of handling.  Presumably.)  Your design is then loaded onto a card which you take to a ride operator.  They put your card in a computer which controls a large robotic arm with two seats, and when you sit down, a hood comes down over each passenger individually with a screen in front of your face- but your arms are still free to grasp the bars on the over-the-shoulder harness, just like on a real roller coaster.  The arm takes you through the movements of your roller coaster design- including the upside-down bits!- and the screen displays a simulation from the passenger's point of view.  Mr. Geek and I designed a roller coaster that pushed the limits, using all the most "extreme" elements, the highest allowable heights, and the fastest allowable speeds.  AND IT WAS AWESOME.  I even got the slightly-wobbly-legs effect I'd gotten on Mission: Space!  (Or maybe that effect was just left over from riding it that morning...)  Most of the hidden, "geeky" gems in Disney World aren't rides, though- like One Man's Dream, pictured above, a museum about Walt Disney's life and how the Disney parks came to be found in Hollywood Studios.  Mr. Geek particularly enjoyed this museum- he's kind of a museum person- and it really was interesting reading about how just plain smart Walt was, innovating in film, animation, and animatronics, and how, like any good engineer (well, Imagineer), he was very hands-on with everything, not content to just toss out an idea and let somebody else figure out how to implement it.  People might criticize some of the decisions and expansions made by Disney in the decades since Walt's death, but nearly everything the company is doing now can be traced back to ideas Walt had that he was never able to implement, or are otherwise improvements on the ones he was.  There are many, many of these under-appreciated, little-known attractions all throughout Disney World; if you have the time, just wander around aimlessly for a while and do or see every little thing you come upon- you won't regret it.

Picture is unrelated, yet hilarious
13. Be flexible.
I mentioned in my plug for ADRs that it's important to have a plan before you get to Disney.  For us, the best way to create that plan was to research what the Extra Magic Hours were likely to be for each park, then make meal reservations based on that- in other words, lunch reservations in parks with extra morning hours and dinner reservations in parks with extra evening hours.  However, it's important not to restrict yourself too terribly much.  I've mentioned before how awesome The Unofficial Guide was when planning this trip; we made our decision on where to stay and, for the most part, where to eat based on the Guide's recommendations.  At the back of the book, they have drawn up "touring plans" for all the parks based on how many days you have to spend there that show you exactly which attractions to hit in which order and when to stop for food- they also have a smartphone app with current wait times for all the rides and additional touring plans not found in the book.  Originally, we had planned to use these guides and this app- Mr. Geek had already purchased it and installed it on his phone before it got smashed during our Let's Decorate for the Wedding party and was rendered useless that week- but when we got there we realized it's MUCH more fun if you just wing it.  We had planned out which parks we were going to be in on which days, and what time we would leave to head to the next park (generally, immediately after eating lunch) and that ended up being all the planning that was necessary.  As we grabbed a map on the way into the park, we'd discuss what our individual Must Do attractions were, agreeing that it would be okay if we skipped the other things.  If we'd scheduled another day in a particular park and had not yet hit one of those Must Do's, we knew we could always do them later in the week.  Because the crowds were so thin this particular week, most rides had minimal wait times, so we really were able to approach them in any order we wanted, and the Guide's plans, amazingly detailed though they are, were not necessary.  Obviously, it is much, much easier to be this flexible when you don't have any kids with you- nobody is going to cry and pitch a fit and fail to understand that it's okay that we didn't have time for Star Tours, we can do it on Thursday.

14. Ride all of the popular Magic Kingdom rides during that park's Extra Nighttime Magic Hours.
This is a super specific tip, but it's a very important one, depending on your priorities.  If you want to meet characters or go shopping or watch parades, do all of those things during the day, during regular park hours, because many of them are closed or don't happen in during Extra Magic Hours.  Magic Kingdom was open until 1am with the extra hours on our first night at Disney, so as soon as the park "closed", we hit up all the rides- Haunted Mansion, Big Thunder Mountain Railway, Pirates of the Caribbean, Space Mountain, the Buzz Lightyear ride, even the Peter Pan dark ride.  There were lines- everybody had the same idea we did, obviously- but they were definitely shorter than they'd been before "closing", and although the park was only open 3 extra hours, we successfully rode every ride and managed to leave by 12:45.  An added bonus to this strategy is that rides like Big Thunder Mountain Railway are even more awesome in the dark!

15. Do all your shopping at the beginning of your trip.
We started our trip armed with a list of all the loved ones we planned to buy Christmas presents for during the trip (and it was quite a long list).  A bonus to staying on-property which I don't think I mentioned last time is that when you buy something in the parks, you can have it delivered to the gift shop in your resort, meaning you don't have to carry all your souvenirs around all day.  However, they're not delivered until the next day (or even the day after that, depending on how late in the day you're shopping) so you don't want to wait until your last day to start picking up souvenirs, else you'll have to drag them with you everywhere.  Once your packages have arrived at your resort, you'll get a phone call (or a voicemail) in your room telling you they're available for pick up.  We got the majority of our list checked off in the first two days- and it was quite helpful to have a list, by the way, because we were able to check it off as we went, and I wrote down what we bought for each person, so it was much easier to wrap and tag everything when we got home.

photo is, once again, unrelated, and, once again, hilarious
16. Before you start planning your trip, get a Disney Visa card.
We knew even before Mr. Geek popped the question that we wanted to do a Disney World honeymoon, so when we did get engaged, one of the first things I did was sign up for a Disney Visa card.  Every wedding purchase (that didn't have to be made by check) and every gas purchase was charged to this card (and the balance was paid in full each month).  The rewards (1% of every purchase) from this card can be used in any Disney Store and in any store or restaurant in the parks (and to pay for your trip itself, too, but instead we charged it to the card- and, again, paid the balance in full every month.  No going in debt to go to Disney!)  Your Disney Dollars come in the form of a debit card that can be reloaded as you earn new points, which makes them easy to spend.  We used this little card to buy souvenirs and pay for alcoholic drinks and tips at meals- meaning the majority of those Christmas presents we bought were free, paid for with rewards from purchases we had to make anyway.  Of course, there are many credit cards that offer "cash back" rewards, so if you don't go with a Disney card, I still strongly suggest paying for your trip on one such card and using the reward cash while on your trip.  Having this little Disney debit card was a very convenient way to keep track of how much "free money" we had spent so we could more easily budget for our Christmas gift shopping.  The Disney card comes with other, little perks as well- you get an automatic discount at Disney Stores when paying with this card, you can take advantage of a special financing plan to pay for your trip if you want to, and there is at least one special cardholder character meet-and-greet which includes a complimentary Photo Pass print.

Okay, I think that about covers it.  I know you're probably all sick of hearing about how absolutely amazing our honeymoon was :)  I promise, starting next week there will be no more talk of Disney round these parts for quite some time!

What are your "best practices" when it comes to Disney vacations?

Much love,
The Geeks


  1. I'm glad I found your blog! I am looking forward to catching up on your honeymoon recaps. My hubby and I love Disney and just got back from a trip a few weeks ago. I'm hoping to get my recaps done soon so I can have all the info handy for scrapping our trip.

    Great tips - I totally forgot about the exclusive Character Meet & Greet this trip! We are saving the points we earned towards our next trip in 2014. It wasn't enough to really count for much yet. You were smart to get the card early on!

    And I am SO glad I didn't ride Mission Space now. I thought about it for hubby's sake but then chickened out. I hate roller coasters and didn't do well with Expedition Everest on last year's trip so I made him do all the "scary" rides alone this year lol. I'll try Dinosaur next time!


    1. I'm glad you found the blog too! :)

      For the first time EVER I was really glad I got one of those "sign up for this credit card!" envelopes in the mail, otherwise I would've never heard about the Disney card. I figured since we were going to be buying so many craft supplies and things for the wedding that we would likely be charging to a credit card, we might as well make some money off of it, as it were.

      And I am quite the thrill seeker so Mission Space was INCREDIBLE for me. Dinosaur is definitely not an intense *ride* but a "scary" experience as those critters are pretty lifelike! I'm a sucker for Disney animatronics :)