Tips for planning ahead or last minute trips to Disney World

Disney World Email countdown to trip
Email countdown

Tl;Dr: First and foremost, practicing financial responsiblity is paramount as these tips require credit rewards to be successful. Don’t get yourself in debt just for a vacation (been there, done that.) Using credit rewards, being flexible and seeking out discounts are great ways to do a last minute trip. If you’re looking to plan ahead, you’ll be able to budget wiser, while also taking advantage of current prices. Using gift cards to pay also allows you to get a small percentage off (Targer RED card) while paying essentially in cash so when your vacation arrives you wont have to worry about a big bill later.

Last year I had high hopes of heading to my very first D23 event. I had signed up as Gold Member to get the discounted tickets and was already looking at flights. Then, it turned out, I was told this year I needed shoulder surgery. Since I didn’t know how my recovery was going to go, I decided not to make any plans. When it became clear I could travel, it was too late to buy tickets. It really was for the best: seeing the difficulties folks have had making reservations for panels, I’m glad I didn’t tie up any money into something that might not be all that fun. I haven’t had a good time at conventions as of late: they’ve become overcrowded, logistical messes. Still, I really wanted to get out and revel in all my Disney obsession. Being stuck at home recupirating has me feeling a little like I’m living my own version of Groundhog Day.

Aside from the monotony, my dad’s birthday recently came up. We lost him four years ago and milestone dates tend to be unpredictable on how I’ll deal with them. Some days are easier than others, some punch me in the gut and have me drowning in depression and anxiety. This particular birthday I posted a picture of him and felt the wave of what would become a two day anxiety attack. I’ve been told grief comes in waves, it ebbs and flows. Sadly, I was caught in a rip tide.

Last Minute Trip

So, what does this have to do with planning a Disney trip? August 9th was the 50th anniversary of the Haunted Mansion in Disneyland. August 2nd, Disney Parks Blog announced Disney World was doing their own little event to celebrate. My dad’s birthday fell in that week. I thought hey, maybe I should go down and check it out. It would’ve been my first solo trip. My husband and kids all thought it was a great idea. I called my doctor to make sure I was okay to travel to which he said I was. So I looked at hotels and airfare which, of course, being so last minute was cost prohibitive. Since I knew I had a JetBlue card I checked to see if I had enough points for a flight. I did, but it would’ve wiped me out. I was feeling super guilty about going alone, especially since Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge was getting ready to open. My husband and I are super fans and using points just on myself didn’t seem right. So I searched for the Labor day weekend to see the cost of flights. Amazingly enough, it would be less points for both of us to go that weekend than if I had gone solo in August.

Now , there’s been a lot of talk about how SW:GE in Disneyland is a “failure” which is hardly the case. There were definetly lower crowds (which is never great for shareholders) so Disney began offering discounts at their properties starting September 1st to intice people to visit the parks. I looked to see if we could take advantage of any of the offers. Because the discount was based on the rack rate (the nightly rate without discounts) and that rate was lower than the August rates, it would be cheaper to go for Labor Day. I looked to see what was available. Port Orleans French Quater, a moderate and one of my favorites was available at a discount, while Pop Century, a value and our go to resort, was only available at rack rate. Seeing it was $270 less than the discounted moderate, I priced out the value with a two day base ticket. $933 versus $1203. I love Beignets but not that much. I looked at one more factor before deciding on finalizing any plans.

On the homepage Disney offers their credit card. For new members, you can earn a $250 credit for any purchase of $500 in 90 days. I applied for the card and was approved. So, because there is a $49 annual member fee, we were saving $200 which made our 3 night trip $733. Plus, we would receive reward points towards our next vacation. We also purchased tickets to Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party which cost $158 in lieu of spending money on a park hopper, as we knew this trip would be all about SW:GE. So, by using points and rewards, we spent $913 on airfare fees ($22), hotel and park tickets for two adults. We decided on leaving the kids behind for two reasons: first, I really wanted my husband to experience SW:GE for the first time without worrying about the kids (who’s hungry, who’s bored, who’s touching who, etc. etc.) He was working a lot lately and I definetly needed to get away. Second, we had already planned a big family vacation for Christmas.

Cinderella's castle during the holidays

Cinderella’s Castle is jaw dropping during the holidays

Planning Ahead

Christmas is arguably the most expensive time of year to head to WDW. There are usually no discounts or other offers. In spite of this, its the most crowded time of year and not for the faint of heart. We made our plans on a bounce back offer last year (discounts for guests already at the hotel) with Free Dining. At the time that was the best we could get and were fine with it. We even thought we might push the vacation out because of the crowds. We didn’t realize if we did it would cost us greatly.

Disney price increases are as inevitable as death and taxes. This year, they began date pricing (higher prices for busier times), while also raising rack rates. When I considered changing dates I looked at what the same dates, resort (Pop) and tickets (8 day Park Hopper) for four (both my kids at this point would be considered “adults” when it came to cost). The price difference between what we booked last year and what the cost is now was about $1100. I’m not sure how it could possibly that so compare apples to apples and made sure I hadn’t made a mistake. I had not. The increase was substantial. We decided to keep the reservation as moving it would take us into the next year with the higher rates.

Because we booked so far in the future, we were able to take advantage of the Target RED card trick. I originally didn’t like the idea of it: 5% off most purchases which included Disney gift cards. I thought getting a credit card with a high interest rate would negate any benefit of the 5%. Target does have a debit RED card which means you’re essentially paying cash. As in example, if purchasing a $100 Disney gift card, at checkout, you’re only paying $95. If you book directly through Disney, they require full payment thirty days from check-in. If you book out far enough, you could take your time paying using the discounted gift cards. So on a $2000 reservation you’re saving $100, not chump chain in the least. If using the debit card, you’ve paid it off in cash which means you won’t be dealing with a huge bill after your vacation is over.

This point in my life, experiences and not things are what I appreciate most. I’m not ashamed to say I’ve caught the “Disney bug.”

Which is better, credit rewards or cash?

Using credit is a tricky thing. Taking advantage of rewards is always a good idea when and where you can but beware: spending money is how you get rewards. If you over spend just to get points, rewards, etc., you’re not saving anything. Speaking from experience, I didn’t realize until I was pretty deep in a hole that the rewards I was trying to attain were negated by the amount of interest I was paying. Being at Disney World, while magical, has its costs. It will be in the back of your mind the entire time and will ruin the whole experience. Being financially responsible will give you peace of mind when its time to make large purchases. Budgeting to pay in cash is always a good idea, rewards and credit rating not withstanding, as there’s no bill to worry about. The best of both worlds is using credit and paying off the balance at the end of the month, easier said than done, I know. Depending on your goals, (taking more flights and trips) using credit is beneficial. Keeping track of it will help you stay afloat.

We are pretty excited about both trips coming up. An adult only trip its worth its weight in gold, and being able to enjoy our travels to a galaxy far, far away on our own will make our trip with the kids later that much more magical. Being able to save the way we did was the only way we were able to do it. This point in my life, experiences and not things are what I appreciate most. I’m not ashamed to say I’ve caught the “Disney bug.” Sadly, that might be changing. The cost is becoming more than we can bare. Looking at next year’s rates are really scary. I’m hoping the cost will come down via discounts but after this year we’ll wait and see.

Last minute trips are great if you can utilize rewards and are flexible with dates. Planning ahead for larger trips that may have concrete dates, larger parties and busier times make it easier to budget for while also locking in current rates. Either way you choose, never leave money on the table.

Disney World, with or without kids, from a Gen Xer mom

Tl;Dr: Got kids? Go. No kids? Go. Its more important to enjoy the moment than it is to worry about what others think. Conversely, we should all learn to empathize about what the other person is going through, instead of staying in our own bubbles.

Disney World
Kids or no kids, its Disney World

So, a viral story has been making the rounds over the last week regarding an angry mom ranting about millennials taking over Disney World. Or, something. If you haven’t heard by now, the gist of the story is a mom, obviously frustrated with her day at the theme park, angrily posted about someone having the nerve to A) be on line to purchase food and B) being without child.

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This rant was actually made last year and made the rounds when it was first posted. It’s getting attention again after the above tweet and went viral, bringing with it the debate of whether or not its ok to go to what is considered a family theme park without children. Spoiler alert: it’s absolutely ok to go to a theme park without kids (not all family places are equal, I would argue playgrounds are a totally different story.) It may come as a shock to some but, Disney doesn’t care who’s at their parks as long as they’re paying customers. My thoughts on the matter, being on both sides, is there really is a lack of empathy all around for everyone else’s experiences whether on social media or in the real world.

First, I must admit, I’m not a millennial but a loud and proud Gen Xer mom of two. I’ve done Disney World with my two beautiful, awesome kids a bunch of times so I feel I can speak with some authority that there is nothing more awesome than being at the Happiest Place on Earth WITHOUT children. Or, at least without young children. Disney makes it rather enticing to bring little ones as under three go free. Though all kids are different, my experience has been it’s just better when they’re old enough to enjoy it.

That said, I could feel the frustration in the mom’s post. Her anger in the post is palpable. The irritation she felt in the moment can be attributed to so many factors: the cost of the parks becoming so astronomical, when one doesn’t have a “magical” experience, it becomes overwhelming. Kids heighten this frustration, especially when they are younger. Keeping them fed, comfortable, healthy and while also trying to create happy memories for them is exhausting. I felt great empathy with this mom when she ranted about the “millennial” waiting on line for a pretzel. On my little one’s first trip to WDW, and when she was still enthralled with Elsa from Frozen, we got on line to meet her and her sister Anna at Epcot. I could see the pure excitement on her face, the anticipation growing as we snaked through the line. I noticed some twenty-somethings in front of us sans kids who were giggling with some of that same excitement. My husband and I looked at each other with the “Really? Aren’t you a little old for a meet-and-greet? You’re the reason why my daughter had to wait fifty minutes to see her idol!” expression on our faces. Truth be told, we waited maybe an extra five minutes and my daughter got to meet Queen Elsa and was beaming for the rest of the day. Who else was beaming? The twenty-somethings that were in front of us. That joy my daughter got was the same they did. Who the hell was I to judge?

While there were moments where I’d miss the kids there were many more moments when the hubby and I would witness a toddler meltdown while secretly high-fiving each other ecstatically declaring “That ain’t us!”

On our last full day of our vacation, my teenager and little one decided they had had enough of Extra Magic Hours and refused to get up. My husband and I made the call to have them lock the door (we were on-property) and head to Magic Kingdom one more time. IT. WAS. THE. BEST. No worrying about feet hurting, who was hungry, who didn’t want to do what. We were there for maybe three hours and decided right then and there we’d come back for our twentieth anniversary, just us. That trip was simply amazing. While there were moments where I’d miss the kids there were many more moments when the hubby and I would witness a toddler meltdown while secretly high-fiving each other ecstatically declaring “That ain’t us!”

Disney World

After dinner Fireworks…with no kids!!!!

Our last trip was with the kids who were a year older and wiser. It was actually a great trip because they knew what they wanted (‘Ohana) and what they didn’t (Tower of Terror is a no for me and the little one.) Not that there weren’t arguments but there were far fewer meltdowns than there were really great moments.

On a side note: our next trip my little one will be ten which makes her an “adult” in the eyes of Disney (at least where food and park tickets are concerned.) Seeing as how much better it was as the kids got older, it really blows how much more you have to pay for child who, at that age isn’t really any older.

So this begs the question: who is Disney World “for”? As evidenced by all the Instagrammable foods & alcohol, merch and high end upcharges, Disney recognizes that the kids who went in their youth are the same ones coming back to relive their childhoods, and more importantly, spending money. Sure it’s primarily a family park but it’s more than that too: its part of people’s identity. As parents, we want to create happy memories for our kids. Our kids will then be the same kids who come back with either their kids or maybe just themselves. There’s nothing wrong with pursuing happiness, however we define it.

The other side of the argument, as a parent, is hoping those same adults indulging in their fantasies are aware of those families around them. I’ve seen over eager folks who pushed passed kids for the sake of their own experience. This is not singling out any one age group: I was waiting in line with my little one for the Haunted Mansion and this couple rushed in front of us to get to the Doom Buggies almost separating me from my child. An extremely stern look (and maybe a nasty word or two) let them know to back off but in a situation where we’re all excited, situational awareness goes a long way. This is in no way a defense of the angry mom’s post, rather just an attempt at empathy.

And that’s all this post was about: empathy. I’ve been on the receiving end of both a temper tantrum toddler and a completely unreasonable adult. Claiming however that anything belongs to anyone at the exclusion of the other is simply ridiculous. Perhaps the Angry Mom Ranter and the Millennial who tweeted could go on an all-girls trip to Epcot and drink around the world. A little mutual understanding is something this world needs.

Star Wars Celebration and Ep IX teaser, Disney+ and losing evening Extra Magic Hours?

Tl;Dr: This better not be a Return on the Jedi redo and holy crap was that Palpatine???

Quick Star Wars Celebration info (Galaxy’s Edge tidbits and announcement of returning in 2020)

Disney+: November 12, $6.99/month or $69.99/yr. Excited for Marvel What If but are the other Marvel shows too much of a good thing?

Magic Kingdom evening Extra Magic Hours not scheduled for October. Are they gone for good and our we heading straight for paid FastPass?

HUGE week for Disney news with the announcement of Disney+ and Star Wars celebration going on. Figured I’d give my take on the big stuff (and what I think of a not so great rumor).

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Start Wars IX Teaser

The Teaser does a good job of giving us nothing in the way of story beats which I prefer. The Luke narration and Leia footage gave all the emotional weight needed and the surprise cackle at the end was surprising. It left me wanting more so it did it’s job. That said, I’m kind of worried that JJ Abrams won’t stick the landing in what is being billed as the final chapter in the Skywalker saga. Unpopular opinion, but I preferred Last Jedi over Force Awakens only because it tried to do something different (for better or worse.) Every time I’ve tried to rewatch episode VII I get angry with just how derivative it is. I hope that The Rise of Skywalker will give us the fitting ending this saga deserves. The biggest problem with Last Jedi is it didn’t really set up anything to look forward to. As a fan, I’m hopinge to get closure while also getting something other than fan service.

Celebration

Personally, I was more excited to see the stream of The Mandolorian panel. While there was a blackout of the footage there were some clips leaked online and what was shown is something of a space Western featuring all new characters. Game of Thrones alum Pedro Pascal is the titular antihero as well as Apollo Creed himself Carl Weathers, Gina Carano and per IMDB Nick Nolte (!). Look it up before they’re taken down.

Star Wars Celebration also offered a lot of new info on Galaxy’s Edge. Of particular interest was the lightsaber building and the ability to purchase legacy (read: character) swords. Polygon had a great write-up on it. There was preliminary talk of cost (approximately $158) but that’s been disputed and they’re still working out pricing which to me says “more”. The ride vehicle for Rise of the Resistance was also on display but there was still no concrete date for when the attraction would open.

Lastly on Celebration it was announced the usually biannual convention would be returning next year in Anaheim which is rather curious: per reports, Disney is taking a break from making Star Wars movies after Episode IX (the focus seems to be on expanding the universe through Disney+ and spinoffs) so either there is something big coming up in the next year or the convention is that successful to change to a yearly offering.

Disney+

Prior to Celebration, Disney finally offered information on their streaming service and challenged Netflix with the news it would cost half of it’s rival’s monthly fee. At $6.99/month or $69.99 a year Disney is pricing their service pretty aggressively.

Full Disclosure: I work for an ISP so I won’t go further into my personal opinions of the actual service but I will offer my insight into the content.

With Avengers: Endgame rapidly approaching, and the promise that this is the end of an era for at least some of the characters, having a format to showcase other players and expand on their stories is a great way to keep them fresh in our mind while waiting for the next MCU release. My concern, however, is twofold (and possible Spoilers ahead): first, the fear of overexposure. If, for instance, the goal of Winter Soldier and Falcon is to setup either of them taking the mantle of Captain America, would we bother following them to the cinema to what we already saw at home? Conversely, with ScarlettVision and Loki, are there enough stories to keep the audience interested while also not growing too tired of them?

Finally, and this is selfish, what about the shows that have toed the line for the MCU with little to no reciprocation, primarily Agents of SHIELD and the Netflix shows? I hope they’re not forgotten when this new storytelling universe is introduced. Maybe they can find their niche, since it was these shows that proved an episodic narrative with these characters could work.

No More Extra Magic Hours?

I first read the rumor here but then saw it come up on other Disney news sites so I decided to check for myself and yes, for the month of October (or at least the dates available), the calendar on Disney’s page shows no evening EMH at Magic Kingdom. So the theory on those sites are with dates for both Mickey’s Halloween party and possible other hard ticket events (After Hours) maybe there aren’t enough nights to also offer on-property guests both morning and evening access. Also, because Disney still has info for evening EMH listed and no confirmation of it permanently ending that perhaps they’ll return. My cynical view is this: EMH will be limited to the one morning hour (like Universal) and offer more hard ticket Early Morning Magic and After Hours. Simply put, this will be how they’ll get around charging for FastPass.

EMM and AH have been objectively successful just going by how many times it’s sold out. The costs are high ($79/pp EMM and $125 AH) but tickets are limited so the crowds are minimal. The Halloween and Christmas parties offer unique experiences and while their at a higher capacity there’s still less than any peak day. Just browsing Twitter during this Spring Break period the crowds are absolutely bananas. FastPass lines are ridiculously long. The option Disney has is to start charging for FastPass to control crowds (the reason they give whenever they hike prices). The only problem with that is, I think, the outcry would be huge for a time with zero benefit. They could do what they do in Disneyland and charge to use the My Disney Experience app but ultimately that wouldn’t deter crowds. Better to offer a hard ticket with promises of little to no crowds and charge a premium.

Here’s my problem with it: what’s the point of staying on-property if perks are taken away? I get the the whole “in-the-bubble” experience but for the cost it’s becoming less and less worth it. Disney resorts are not cheap and I know I’ll eat the price because there’s a benefit. With Disney offering some of these perks off-site I wonder if for my next trip I’ll even bother. I could just save on the resort and spend the money for the hard ticket.

Well those are my thoughts on all the big news of the passed week. What are your thoughts? Please post a comment on how your experience differs!

Disney Parks thoughts: Star Wars, ticket price increase and stupid long wait times.

Tl;dr: If your looking to book a trip for the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, understand its opening in phases with the Millenium Falcon attraction primarily and the Rise of the Resistance opening at a later date. Disney is already warning limited access to the entire land (meaning you might not even get in to buy merchandise let alone go on any rides.) Planning a trip will require some thought as WDW also just raised prices for the busiest time of year (Christmas through New Year’s) for a one day ticket at $159, up from $129. Finally, what’s up with the ludicrous wait times? Is Disney artificially creating long lines to test how the park handles demand?

Last week, Wednesday March 7th, Disney surprised everyone when they announced the opening dates of their highly anticipated new land Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Those dates, May 31st 2019 for Disneyland in California and August 29th 2019 in Disney World in Orlando, Fl were earlier than speculated. I got the news via YouTube notification and within seconds I was dialing up WDW to change our December reservation to the first week of September. I thought for Christmastime, when we’re booked, is not only unreasonably crowded its also the most expensive time to go. We were on a bounce back offer (discounts offered to on-property guests that need to be booked prior to check-out,) that gave us Free Dining. Thing was, our family’s favorite time of year is fall/Halloween and our most recent trip was the first week of September of last year. We had such an amazing time I figured, if SW:GE was opening in August it would be better to go then and avoid all the negatives of the holiday season. So here I am, on hold waiting to speak to a cast member when I check out the Disney Parks Blog page and find some info not given in the announcement video. After finally getting through to a very friendly live person, and with complete info on the opening, we decided to keep our Christmas reservation. Here’s my experience with the booking process, discounts or lack thereof and price increases. Also, my simple little theory on why the waits are nuts at WDW.

Why we’re going in *gulp* Christmas

In spite of my better judgement (and growing credit card bill,) we decided to take advantage of a short trip to WDW in the first week of September last year. Dubbed the “Fall Into Magic” package, it offered 4 days/5 nights at Caribbean Beach Resort (which was still under heavy construction) for a discounted rate and included a special welcome dinner at Epcot inspired by the Food and Wine festival, exclusive access to both Animal Kingdom and Toy Story Land which had just opened and tickets to Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. It was a short trip but we had an amazing time. On our last day, we decided to take advantage of the bounce back offer for the same time this year. To be totally frank, the offer was for Free Dining and our little family just doesn’t eat that much for the amount of food given. I was more interested in doing this short trip with exclusive access to the parks again. Spending three hours in TSL with very few folks was awesome (my kids did Slinky Dog fourteen times, I could only stomach five.) When I booked, I realized there was no guarantee SW:GE would be open when we wanted to go so I aired on the side of caution and booked the last available day for the offer, December 23. It was obscenely expensive but I knew there would be no other discounts (and I had over a year to pay for it.) I decided at least with free food it was worth it, whether we ate it all or not.

When Disney announced the opening dates I thought “perfect, we’ll go earlier and cheaper.” They were offering up to 30% off discount on rooms until September 30th which I knew would be eaten up unless I called right away. Well, after being on hold ten minutes I was able to speak to a cast member who explained the how Star Wars would open: the park will roll out in phases with the Millenium Falcon attraction primarily and the Rise of the Resistance opening at a later date. I asked her if she had any info when the land would be completely open and she really couldn’t say, other than later in the year. She looked at my reservation for December, saw that I had Free Dining and that we were staying at Pop Century, a value resort. She enthusiastically encouraged me to keep my reservation, as the new Skyliner gondola system (a tram system between Pop, Art of Animation, Caribbean Beach, Riviera, Epcot and Hollywood Studios where SW:GE will be located) should be open by then. I asked about the previous fall package and if that would be offered again. She said they were being told no discounts would be offered once the land opens which makes a lot of sense. So I kept the reservation and bumped up our six day ticket by two days. Within a week, Disney hiked the prices.

So, how does that help when considering booking a Disney World trip to experience SW:GE? For the sake of clarity I’m going to stick to WDW because Disneyland is its own beast. When diving deep into the Disney Parks Blog post about the land opening, there’s a lot to consider: first, and this is a big one, NO FastPasses. For the uninitiated, that’s the reservation system that allows you to book an available hour slot to bypass the standby line. Per day, guests are allotted three initial FPs (in three of the four parks at WDW, the attractions are tiered, for example, pick one from column A and two from column B.) The argument for/against FPs is you can book a busier attraction while getting on shorter lines, but when you bypass the line, you are basically getting in front of everyone else. With no FPs everyone is equally waiting and, in theory, the lines should flow smoother.

WDW will also offer Extra Magic Hours, access to the parks an hour before the park opens or an hour after it closes to guests on-property (Disney owned hotels.) The blog site states this will be offered to “select Disney World resort hotels.” No other info is given besides to check back for more info. My thoughts are this: the “select” hotels will either be the Deluxe level (luxury resorts that start close to $300/night rack rate during value season) or it might be the Skyliner resorts. My theory is, these resorts will have direct access to the park, alleviating congestion on the roads and at the bus stops. “Select” may also mean all of them for all we know but that’s my two cents. Another consideration: Disney also says there’s no guarantee you’ll get in to the land regardless of where you’re staying and access will be dictated by capacity. To put that into perspective: opening day at Toy Story Land there was a four hour wait just to enter the land and it is no where nearly as immersive as SW:GE promises to be.

Finally, remember that discount I linked above? Despite the offer stating the last day to book an on-site property as September 30th, checking for any dates after the opening of SW:GE the results come up empty. So either everything was eaten up or Disney pulled the rooms. I thought I was crazy but then I watched the Dis Unplugged WDW discussion and they brought it up too. The days of discounts, I think, may be over. Disney only offered them initially to get folks in the parks during slower times. Now that slow times don’t really exist anymore, I think discounts will be offered to better control crowds. That’s the excuse they give for why they raise ticket prices, as they did on March 13th: a $30 increase for a one day ticket during Christmas time is huge. The reason given is to offer better cost flexibility to everyone. Of note, the off peak one day tickets were left unchanged this go round but that was after Disney switched to date-based pricing last year that also included a price hike. Increases for the Park Hopper option and parking make it seem that ways to save money on a Disney trip are becoming few and far between.

So, what should you consider when booking a trip to Disney? If you’re not into Star Wars then head there now before it gets too crazy and cost prohibitive. There are some good on-property discounts currently (that discount above ends March 24th) so if you can swing it, go when it should be slower. Staying off-property is a better strategy to keep costs down. Aside from Star Wars opening this year, Hollywood Studios is also getting a Mickey Mouse themed thrill ride where the Great Movie Ride used to be. In the following years Epcot has major attractions and renovations coming up so while its a great time to be a theme park fan, expect those prices (and crowds) to continue to go up.

If you do decide to head over now, its been reported wait times are a little bananas.

Wait times taken on March 14th at 4PM

Believe it or not, these aren’t that crazy considering its Spring Break season, but still. My crazy conspiracy theory is Disney is inflating wait times to test how well the park will be able to handle the crowds once Star Wars opens, while also testing guests’ patience. For a more scientifically nuanced explanation check out this analysis form Touring Plans.

Well that’s my experience booking a Disney World vacation in anticipation of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and my little thoughts about booking future vacations. While your experience may differ, know that Walt Disney World is always in state of flux so while I might theorize there won’t be upcoming discounts, Disney may go and surprise everyone.

Resident Evil 2: Remake

Too hard? Worth playing again and are the scenarios different enough?

Tl;Dr: Is the totally remade Resident Evil 2 worth a second trip through Raccoon City? Absolutely. Rebuilt on the Resident Evil engine introduced for RE7, its still the same game you remember but enough surprises to keep you on your toes. Is it difficult? If you’re a novice to the Resident Evil series then possibly, but that’s the point. Its survival horror, you’re supposed to feel like its impossible. As for how the two campaigns differ, well they are very similar with the same story beats, albeit with some unique experiences depending on character. The second run through is more similar than it is dissimilar; you start the game farther in, puzzles are remixed and its more difficult. Is it worth it to go through? If you want the “true” ending and to unlock a new game mode then yes. The play experience is different because where you once thought there would be one or two enemies, now there might be more. Mr. X will also be a constant threat more so than the first go round.

Back again…

I’ve been a fan of the Resident Evil video game series since the first entry was released way back in 1996 on the original Playstation. All I knew about the game was it took place in a mansion, and there were zombies. As a kid, I gained a phobia of ghouls when my grandmother thought it would be fun to do a marathon of undead movies when I came to visit her one weekend. Playing RE was reliving that childhood trauma. The dialogue and voice acting was terrible and the zombies weren’t, in hindsight, that scary (their polygonal bodies look more at home in Minecraft nowadays). Nevertheless, I felt absolute terror. After finally beating the game, I felt that it kind of, sort of, helped with my fear of zombies (kinda, sorta…) When RE2 was released two years later, I was so pumped for the next installment that I took time off of work just to play. It was definitely an improvement from the first (better environment renders, larger scale) but I felt underwhelmed. My favorite thing about the series is the story. I look for every diary, journal, brochure, anything that would give me a window into the lore I soaked up. RE2 had less of the story snippets in written form, only because the story progressed in-game. Silly squabble but just how I felt. Gone were some of those first-hand accounts that make RE so amazing (“itchy…tasty”). Its why Code:Veronica and RE Remake are my favorites. The story, the breadcrumbs of information, all made the horror that much more enjoyable. RE2 has a good story, and good side characters, but just felt like there was something missing.

RE2 Remake is still the same story, which reminded me why I felt the way I did the first time around. That said, the game is completely rebuilt. Using the Resident Evil Engine Capcom created for RE7, this isn’t just the best looking Resident Evil game, its one of the best games I’ve seen in recent memory. Gone are the fixed camera angles and pre-rendered scenes (something the RE Remake still employed), instead we get photorealistic environments and the most claustrophobic ordeals experienced in a game. There is even a side quest that’s exclusive to the remake that gave me some of that side story content I was craving.

For the uninitiated, the game allows the player to chose between two characters, Leon Kennedy and Claire Redfield. Once the game is completed with one (doesn’t matter which), the game gives the option to play a “2nd Run” where the player begins at a different starting point. The two characters first run through have some unique story beats but otherwise its the same game. In the second run through, puzzles have slightly different solutions and the enemies are for more relentless. Going through the second time gives the player the “true” ending of the game with a final boss fight and opens up a new game mode, the “4th Survivor”, essentially a speed run with limited resources and everything thrown at you.

After beating the game in both scenarios, (I tried the “Hunk” mission and just said screw this), I had some feelings about the game and apparently a few folks did too. I read the IGN review and could see how for someone who wasn’t familiar with the game could think there was no point in playing through it again. By the time I read it a correction had been added to the review stating there was “factual” inaccuracies so I didn’t think anything of it. The Internet had other thoughts of course. On YouTube, vlogger Dreamcastguy spoke about a reddit discussion whether or not the game was too hard. After reading through that thread I understand why some might feel the difficulty of the game may be excessive. Here, I’ll talk about my overall experience with the game. Going forward there will be spoilers…

Was the game too hard?

In a word: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. I wouldn’t say its “too hard” to beat but what I would say the learning curve is steep for new players. I said to a friend its like the Infinity War of games: if you haven’t played the game the last twenty years they sure weren’t going to hold your hand with any tutorials. Throughout the game there are helpful hints and if you die enough times the game will offer to go into “Assisted Mode” where weapons will auto target, health will slowly replenish and enemies aren’t as tough. What I gathered from the reddit discussion was some folks felt there wasn’t enough ammo and Mr. X, the super Tyrant that relentlessly follows you throughout the majority of the game made it too frustrating to finish. I think, because the game just throws you into the action, (and if you didn’t read any guides or watch any videos) you might not know how to proceed. New players wont know from past experience that this game (and most of the earlier entries of the series) aren’t about action, but about survival. As Dreamcastguy said in his video, its about item management. Probably not a good idea to blow through whole clips of ammo on one zombie, knowing there are probably three more down the hall. This becomes especially important when you face enemies that are drawn by sound. Blasting your way through a corridor might not be the best strategy. Not utilizing the map to know if you’ve cleared an area of items will also be your downfall, as you could be leaving precious ammo and health behind.

Some of my issues have nothing to do with the veracity of the enemies (though Mr. X can get to be a little tiresome when you’re trying to get from one point to another to complete a puzzle or retrieve an item), but with the item management in general. One of the most impressive aspects of the game is the lighting effects. For large parts of the game you’ll be in the dark with a flashlight as your only aid. This is purposeful: in the first four entries of the series (RE1-3 and C:V) the game used fixed camera angles which kept the player guessing as to what was around the corner. With the camera over the shoulder in the remake, the player has full view of what’s in front of them. To give that feeling of suspense, your field of view is narrowed by what the flashlight illuminates. This is terrifying at first. You can have eyes on an enemy and not realize they’re not the only ones in the room with you. However, when you’re looking for items this gets annoying. Newer players also may not realize that backtracking is pure Resident Evil. Getting an answer to a puzzle that you ran into on the other side of the precinct and having to run back to progress in the game is common. In the dark this becomes a chore, especially when new enemies show up to hinder your path.

Another issue some players had was knives, used both for defense and offense, degrade over time. I was OK with this, but like others I thought, if you could stack hand and flash grenades, why couldn’t you stack knives? My only other criticism is, in most other entries of the series you are able to combine ammo with weapon to reload. This is not possible here, forcing the player to reload in-game. Makes sense realistically but you can combine ammo, gunpowder and items so why not reload in menu? In a boss fight this sucks especially when some weapons have seriously long load times. Not a complaint but just feel it arbitrarily made things more difficult.

Does this make the game too hard? I didn’t feel like it did though I can see why for others. You wont know not to engage Mr. X unless you die and you get the hint on the load screen. No point in wasting your ammo on him. Same with the lickers, they are blind but have superior hearing so you can conserve lots of ammo by simply walking by them. Lots of trial and error in the game if the player is willing to learn but I think giving the player more information up front would be have helped in this regard.

So, is the “2nd Run” worth playing through? Or is it the same game?

That’s easier to answer. Yes, its definitely worth playing the “2nd Run”. As most reviewers noted, it doesn’t matter who you start the game as. Both games hit the same story beats and you have to complete the same goals. There are some unique aspects to each. You both meet a different side character that you control for a short time (one story being stronger than the other), and there are different areas accessed. In the “2nd Run” you start the game farther in and access the RPD from a different route. This is different from the original. The first play through affected the second: items you picked up wouldn’t be there for the next go around. I think this is a good thing for those saying its too hard. It takes the spontaneity away but this is made up for by the experience. Mr. X shows up much earlier on and is in true Terminator form. He will not stop. Areas that had only one enemy now might have more, so if you think “hey, let me clear this area” you’re in for surprise.

Some areas, I like to call safe rooms (the ones with a box and typewriter) are usually off limits to enemies. Second time around not so much. SPOILER: The main hall is one such safe room (though Mr. X will chase you in there in the first play as well.) You meet Marvin here who rescues you from an area that’s filled with zombies. I found that going through this area and into the main hall I wasn’t followed my zombies (some areas they will break through doors). Sadly, Marvin is hurt and succumbs to his injuries. You can take him out before he turns or wait. “2nd Run” he’s already up and has friends. I figured going back into the area it would be the reverse and not be followed. Then I heard that familiar growl, turned and saw Marvin had followed me in. This happened a few times where I thought I’d be safe because it didn’t happen the first time only to be surprised the second. This kept my anxiety levels high.

Finally, the characters themselves are different and are both worth playing through. Leon is your archetypal hero, wanting to do the right thing. He has fewer weapon options but they all do their job. I never felt like I had too little ammo. Claire has way more weapon options and not enough ammo. On top of all this she’s squishy, taking less hits to get to that dreaded Danger status. She is more interesting as a character with more voice lines and interactions. One isn’t better than the other. Leon seemed more straight forward where Claire seemed a little harder, not knowing which weapon was best to bring (I did do the “2nd Run” with her which may have had some impact). I preferred her side character Sherry over Ada in Leon’s campaign. NOT REALLY A SPOILER BUT SPOILER: Sherry’s mission is new to RE2.  While she was in the original, there is a whole campaign ala Hello Neighbor that gives some seriously disturbing and tragic diary entries which, for me, made up for the lack of entries throughout the game. This gave me my lore fix.

As for the IGN “controversy”: the reviewer, Daemon Hatfield, remarked that the two play throughs were the same which affected his score. It turned out he had not played the “2nd Run” but the new game of the alternate character. He maintains that, while he made a mistake, “The two playable characters’ stories aren’t as different as I’d hoped, but I enjoyed nearly every gory minute of my return to Leon Kennedy and Claire Redfield’s shoes.” Other issues of IGN aside, I don’t disagree. The experience is different but there are parts of the game (the sewers) that I just felt like I was going through the motions. Jumbling the order of puzzles didn’t make it different. There are different cut scenes and goals but those are achieved doing relatively the same thing.

Is the game short? Again, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. I’ve seen “no-hit” play throughs of two hours and the general consensus is it can be beat in eight. I took fourteen because I wasn’t in a hurry. That’s still fairly short so it would’ve been nice to have more content the second time but the amount of detail put into the game (and promises of DLC forthcoming) I’m willing to forgive.

Ultimately, this ends up as my third favorite Resident Evil only behind Code:Veronica and RE Remake and followed by RE7 and RE0. That said, this is exactly where I want to see the series go. If Capcom decides to remake the earlier games I would not be mad. I really started to pull away from the series when the games went for more action. If I wanted that I’d play an action game. As stressful as it is, I want to obsess over my inventory. I want to find every item, every document. I want to be terrified of what’s around the corner. I hope that the Ghost Survivors DLC will give us more and I certainly hope Capcom realizes what they have and expound on it.

20th Anniversary trip!

An adults only trip to Disney World? Yes please!

When my husband and I planned for our very first solo trip together (even our honeymoon had my parents and little brother along) we weren’t sure where to go and what to do. We really wanted to make it special but, as creatures of habit, we didn’t want to do anything too unfamiliar. We had just taken the kids to Orlando for Christmas and they couldn’t be any less impressed. On our final day at Disney World, the kids opted to stay at the hotel and sleep while we took advantage of Extra Magic Hours. We had a blast just the two of us and decided that would be our vacation. So, how was it? In a word, amazing. A vacation at Disney World, however, has its own challenges whether with children or without. In the last year we’ve been three times and I think we’ve got a good spread of information on where and when to go and how to get the most out of your vacation.

Let’s talk in general what worked, what didn’t, and what we’d do different. In subsequent posts we’ll talk specifics.

Celebration buttons get you a lot of attention

So, can you have fun at Disney World without kids? (Isn’t that weird?)

Yes you can and no it isn’t. We saw plenty of couples doing the same as us: celebrating being together in the happiest place on Earth. Plenty of newlyweds, anniversaries, birthdays or maybe just folks sharing their love of all things Disney. For us, there were moments where we felt guilty (that is, until we saw a child melting down and we secretly high-fived each other) but we had to remind ourselves that it was ok to be there without our kids. The vacation felt completely different when we were only catering to each other versus having to worry that one child didn’t want to do one thing while the other was bored or they both ganged up on us to get out of doing something we wanted to do. Or the times they wanted to do things we weren’t up for. We were doing Disney at our own pace and not theirs.

Victoria and Albert’s would’ve been lost on them

Because we were going at our own pace, we were also able to see more of the parks and from different perspectives. With our kids, it was always trying to get from point A to point B, trying to make all those Fastpass and dining reservations while also keeping everyone’s energy level up. I wasn’t sure how much exploring they wanted to do (or could do as we went during the holidays) so it was always sticking to the itinerary. That last point is more on me then the kids and perhaps I didn’t give them enough credit. Just noticing their body language and cries of “we just want to hang out at the pool!” made me think maybe they didn’t want to be as adventurous.

Appreciating the details

It must have been so easy getting around just the two of you

Yes and no. This is where we get into to nitty gritty of what works and what doesn’t whether you have kids or not. A lot of what it comes down to is where you’re staying and how you’re getting around. Staying on property (Disney owned resorts) allows you access to the Disney on-site transportation. Depending on which resort you’re staying, this can be a great service or it can be very frustrating. When we stayed with our kids at Pop Century, Disney’s Value Resort, we drove down to Orlando from New Jersey. Though we had our own car we rarely used it and utilized the the bus system. This time around, since it was just the two of us, we flew into Orlando and used Disney’s Magical Express, the free bus transfer from the airport to our resort. Because we were trying to make the time special we upgraded to the moderate Resort Port Orleans Riverside. The resort was absolutely beautiful and definitely felt like you were whisked away to another time and place. With that being said, if I was going to only rely on the Disney’s transportation, I would not stay at that resort again.

Due to its size, there are four internal bus stops within the resort. This Resort also shares a bus with its sister resort French Quarter from Animal Kingdom and Disney Springs, the shopping and entertainment center (of note, there is a boat that goes to and from Disney Springs to the two resorts but that’s weather permitting.) This made coming into and leaving the parks more of a chore. We were the third stop so depending on how busy the day was we might not get on and when we did it didn’t mean we’d always have a seat. Pop Century has a dedicated bus and dedicated bus spots to individual parks. The only downside is the bus stop isn’t sheltered like it is at Port Orleans. Though it definitely felt like a motel with Disney branding, I would definitely consider staying at Pop Century again. The amount of time we spent at the resort was so little it really was kind of a waste. That being said, I would consider French Quarter. Personally I just thought the aesthetic of New Orleans streets and the smaller size appealed to us more. We actually spent more time in their food court then in our own (beignets!!!) and even when the buses were shared FQ was the first stop. There were times we just got out and walked between resorts. The real issue when determining where to stay is cost and how much time your actually spending there.

How was the weather? I hear it gets hot

We’ve gone during spring break, Christmas and we just back from our June trip. Of the three times my favorite for weather was April. It wasn’t oppressively hot but warm enough for the pool and not as many afternoon showers so less downtime for the rides. Christmas was nice but it gets cool especially later in the evening so if you’re not expecting it it’s a shock.

For our June trip we did get caught in the rain but got used to it as the thunderstorms came like clockwork between 2-5. As mentioned above, Disney stops all boat transportation during storms (the only boat I saw during a super was the main ferry from the ticket and transportation hub to Magic Kingdom.) Because we were alone it really wasn’t a big deal but with kids I think it would have worried me they were getting wet. For them I’m sure it wouldn’t have mattered.

With rain come rainbows!

So, did you feel guilty leaving the kids at home?

Absolutely, and at the same time I feel relieved. There were many times I thought “oh, my son would’ve liked this” or “my daughter would’ve got a kick out of that” but then I had to remind myself that we were just there with them during Christmas and, while they did have a good time, there were says they would’ve targeted just hung out by the pool. We spoke with them everyday while we were gone and though they said they wished they were with us, when I ask them now if they’d want to go back they shrug. I guess my kids aren’t Disney kids ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

We missed our children, but for every meltdown we saw other parents enduring we secretly have each other a high five. Disney can be super frustrating between the weather, the long lines and just trying to get from one place to another. I commend all those parents who do it with younger children. Even with my teenager and preteen there were days that were rough (one doesn’t want to get on a ride, the other is permanently attached to his phone.) Disney is definitely made for families but if your a Disney fan(atic) with kids but you have the ability to it alone, don’t short yourself the opportunity.

I’m planning for the next trip and yes we will take the kids. For all their complaining it was awesome to see my daughter’s eyes light up during the fireworks and my son get all fanboy on Tigger. At least my husband and I will have had this one time.

Here’s to another 20 years!