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Old 05-01-2013, 07:50 PM   #1
btaller
Earning My Ears
 
Join Date: Apr 2013
Location: Ottawa
Posts: 1

An April Solo Trip

Hi All,

This is a relatively short trip report and I'm not sure if people will enjoy it or not since it's a little different than most of the ones I've read here. First, I want to thank everyone for their efforts in posting these reports. They are fun to read and gave me an idea of what to expect (I had not been there in 15 years).

A little background. A few months ago, I decided to start planning a birthday trip in April. I usually go to Las Vegas, but seeing as how I had just been there for NYE, I decided on somewhere different. After some research, I decided on Walt Disney World since it was more affordable than other alternatives (for similar duration).

A little about me. I am a regular solo traveler, 37 year old male and vegetarian. This report will hopefully provide insight to those who are curious about how much they can pack in a day on their own. I also focused on food from the trip because being Vegetarian can be challenging (Vegan even more so).

I'm also not a true Disney fan in that I have not watched many of the movies. However, I don't think it mattered much in the end. I really enjoyed my trip and the attractions even if I didn't always know the background. My previous trips were all family affairs that involved little planning and lots of time spent at Epcot. We also stayed off site and usually arrived mid-afternoon. This time I'm staying on site, relying on Disney Transportation and spending full days in the park.

I usually don't write these reports, but I learned quite a bit on this trip and I thought I would share some of my thoughts on:

- Is the DDP worth it for a Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian?
- Is Disney a good place for Solo travel?
- Can you do Universal and IOA in one day? (Okay, not Disney but part of the trip)


Throughout this report, I list the attractions visited as a gauge for what is easily doable when traveling solo. I used Touringplans.com and the lines app for scheduling. This is more of a highlight report than a step-by-step review. I wrote this at the end of the trip and I didn't really take any notes.


A Quick Summary:
Travel Dates: April 8 - 17
Hotel: Pop Century
Transportation: Disney Reliant (except for one trip on Mears to Universal)
Food: Regular Disney Dining Plan


Day 1:
Arrived and headed directly to Magical Express. It took about 25 minutes to depart the airport but I was second on the arrival list so I go to Disney Pop Century about an hour after arrival. My luggage arrived 3 hours after I arrived.


I ended up switching my hotel room three times. The first time I was put on a low floor beside a busy walkway. Then I was moved to a "preferred room" beside the pool. Finally I was moved to building 10 facing towards the play structure. I can't recall ever having to move rooms before, ever. My sole request was a quiet king room.


Review of Pop Century:
- The grounds were nice
- I liked the restaurant, but missed not having a table service close by
- The hotel bed sheets were stained and older
- The bed was comfy
- The towels looked like they should be replaced
- Housekeeping was OK
- Loved having the safe
- Small fridge was a nice feature
- Check-in staff were very courteous
- Most King Bed rooms are Handicap
- Walls were kind of thin (I knew when I had neighbors but it didn't bother me)

Since I arrived after 9PM. I decided to have my first counter service meal at the Pop restaurant. The Veggie Lasagna was very good. Dessert was the Tie Dyed Cheesecake and a Bottle of Water. Overall, a good start.

I decided to do all four parks in four days. As I mentioned before, I used Touringplans.com to prepare schedules for each park. Then used the crowd tracker to determine the order of my days. Then I made some dinner reservations based on the park I would be visiting. On the first four days of my trip, I would be at the parks for rope drop.


Review of Touringplans.com:
- Very effective for Disney World (not so much for Universal)
- Loved that I could optimize my plans on the fly using Disney Wifi
- Worth every penny and would use it again
- Wish I could factor in the single rider lines


Day 2: Disney Hollywood Studios
Restaurants:
Counter: Backlot Snack Bar (lunch)
-Grilled Vegetable Sandwich, Lemon Meringue Cupcake, OJ
Table Service: Hollywood and Vine (dinner)
- Buffet


While waiting in line for the bus, I met a solo traveller named Peter. A bus driver from Washington state. We met up a few times over the first four days of my travels. A good guy, I wish I had asked for his Facebook or email info.

Anyway off to Disney Hollywood Studios which used to have the MGM affiliation when I was last there. I think they need to revive that relationship, many of the "MGM" rides are my favourite.

For Hollywood and Vine, I mentioned to my server about my dietary restrictions. He pointed me to the chef. The chef took me through all of the options on the buffet and warned me away from some that looked OK but used chicken stock. The chef was very friendly and happy to discuss everything and even came over to my table because he forgot to mention that I should hit the pasta making station. This was a very good meal, the salads were fresh, plantains, pastas, and vegetables were all tasty. The service was OK. I did feel a little self conscious about dining here on my own (more so than I would at a normal restaurant at home).

One thing that surprised me was that parents were taking their young kids on Tower of Terror and the Roller Coaster. Some of these kids were clearly not interested and were expressing their distress. But I guess some parents think they know best. I don't know what they were trying to do other than cause their kids to scream and cry before, after and during the ride. But admittedly I'm no parenting expert.

I had the VIP for Fantasmic, but I was early so I decided to see if I could find a better spot. When the usher saw my VIP ticket and realized I was on my own, he allowed me to sit in the reserved section right in the middle of the theatre. This was a great spot and I really enjoyed the show. Leaving was nice and easy and I made a bee-line for the bus. One thing I found ironic was that one of the songs song during the pre-show was "Happy Birthday". Disney has copyrighted this song and now it costs a royalty fee to play or sing that song in public. A shame really.

Anyway, this was one of my favourite days at Disney. Lots to see and do, and the crowds were sparse. Plus it was my Birthday (which I prefer to keep on the down-low).


Rides:
Toy Story Mania (Fun)
Tower of Terror (Amazing)
Rock N' Coaster x2 (Amazing)
Great Movie Ride (dated, but fine)
One Man's Dream (OK)
Little Mermaid Voyage (Kids may enjoy, but it was nothing special)
Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular (hasn't changed in a while, but fun)
Star Tours x4 (Loved it)
Muppet Vision 3D (Loved it)
Streets of America (Cool to walk around)
Backlot Tour (OK)
Fantasmic! (Great show)


Day 3: Magic Kingdom
Restaurants:
Counter: Be Our Guest
- Veggie Quiche w/ Salad, Chocolate Cupcake, OJ
Dinner: Crystal Palace
- Buffet


I knew that this would be one of the more challenging days and it didn't disappoint. The touring plan schedule was very tight, plus I don't have lot of patience so I knew I would be tested. It was busy, but manageable.

I found the arrangement for Be Our Guest was really frustrating. Once you get to the castle, they separate you into two lines. My line crawled and the other line moved quickly. When I got to the front, the "host" looked at me funny when I said I was just a party of one. Then he guided me to a terminal that was being "misused" by a family of six who were letting their kids play with the menu like it was a game. Eventually they got the help they needed. This is nice place but very busy. The food was mediocre at best. I was happy to eat and leave.

Crystal Palace was a Winnie the Pooh character dinner. I met Eeyore who was the only character I really had any interest in meeting. It was nice guaranteeing that opportunity. The dinner was OK. Again, the chef helped point me in the right direction but the options were much more limited than Hollywood and Vine. Desserts were OK but I only had a few because I was doing the Tomorrowland Terrace Dessert Party.

The Tomorrowland Terrace Dessert Party was OK but not worth repeating. I lined up at 8:00 and I think they seated us by 8:30 or so. The desserts were pretty good but there are only so many you can eat. I appreciated the selection of drinks on offer. The view was OK. It was nice not having to line up with everyone else. I felt a little self conscious doing this event solo. You can see the Electrical Parade from the terrace but it's a little far away and you miss the individual float music.

After the party, I bolted for the buses and I was back at the hotel around 11:00.


Rides:
Space Mountain x2 (Loved it)
Big Thunder Mountain x4 (Loved it)
Pirates of the Caribbean (Good)
Splash Mountain (Fun)
Haunted Mansion (Loved it)
It's a Small World (OK)
Under the Sea (OK)
Enchanted Tiki Room (Fun)
Swiss Family Tree (Cool)
Buzz Lightyear (Fun)
PeopleMover (Nice Break)
Carousel of Progress (Interesting)
Stitch's Great Escape (Scary, would not do again)
Winnie the Pooh (more for kids, not worth the wait)
Hall of Presidents (very cool)
PhilharMagic (loved it)
Wishes (OK, but my least favourite of the three end of day shows)


Day 3: Epcot
Counter: Seasons (Veggie Sandwich, Cupcake and Ice Tea)
Table Service: Biergarten (Buffet)

I hit Epcot at Rope Drop and focused on Future World until well passed noon. Then I walked through the World Showcase.

I had heard lots of good things about Seasons as a counter service. I was a little disappointed by the vegetarian food options available. There were about three or four. However, I can see the appeal in that there is lots of variety.

Biergarten was an interesting experience. The "Executive" chef was the only one who could provide me with the nutritional information I needed so I waited about 20 minutes for him. He quickly pointed out the available options. I was able to make a meal out of the food available. The potato dumplings, red cabbage and salads were all very good. I doubt I would return on my own. The family dining is a bit uncomfortable. Despite more than half the restaurant being empty they pointed me to a table with two other couples. This turned out to be OK, but was quite awkward at first.

I didn't stay for the Illusions show since it had been a long day. I knew I would get a chance later in the trip. So I headed back to Pop Century to beat the rush.


Rides:
Test Track (Loved it)
Soarin' (OK, it should be digital and not film)
Living with the Land (Liked it)
Seas with Nemo (OK, mostly for kids)
Seas Tank Exhibits (cool for a look around)
MSN Space: Green (OK, but I should have done orange)
Ellen's Energy (Worth it)
Innoventions (Didn't see much to see/do)
Sum of All Thrills (fun, the only attraction in innoventions I enjoyed)
Oh Canada (cool but long to stand through)
Impress de France (Interesting and the seats were welcome)
Reflections of China (wish there were seats)
Maelstrom (short and not really worth the wait)
All of the pavillions (cool to look around, some of the stores offer some very unique items. The Japanese pavilion store was particularly busy).


Day 4: Animal Kingdom, Downtown Disney
Table Service: Breakfast at Tusker House (8:15am)
Counter Service: Wolfgang Puck Express (Macaroni and Cheese, Vanilla Cheesecake and OJ)


This was one of the two days where I lost significantly on the Disney Dining Plan. I really wanted to go to Tusker House for Breakfast so I decided to use a Table Service. The place can become crazy busy and loud but the food was very good with lots of options. I loved the Mealie Pap and the quiches. I read the newspaper and watched the chaos around me. The handlers were kept busy bringing order to the character requests.

For Animal Kingdom, if you choose an early breakfast and finish before the rope drop, avoid walking back to the front of the park but rather use the trails further in the park. If you walk back then you will be forced behind the rope drop line. It didn't really matter much to me since the park was pretty quiet and I was one of the few interested in seeing Dinosaur early in the morning. I had a car to myself for this ride which certainly increased the fear factor.

At 2pm, I made my way to Saratoga Springs and walked through to Downtown Disney. I spent quite a bit of the rest of the day and early evening at Disney Quest. A wonderful place to play some old school video games and play pinball. There are some larger attractions but I was too busy enjoying the arcade. Wolfgang Puck Express is a great counter service. The food was fantastic and the Vanilla Cheesecake is amazing (it has a creme brullee top).

I called this an early night since I was pretty warn out. I was leaving Downtown Disney just as it was starting to get busy with Friday night activities.


Rides:
Dinosaur (A little scary)
Finding Nemo Musical (Fun)
Expedition Everest x2 (Loved It)
It's Tough to be a Bug (Never again, a little too much bug interaction)
Discovery Island Trails (relaxing to walk around)
Maharajah Jungle Trek (cool but man those birds get close)
Flights of Wonder (very cool)
Pangani Forest Trail (Loved the bat area)
Kilimanjaro Safaris (Amazing, saw lots of animals on this short ride)


Day 5: Photo Day (MK, Epcot)
Table Service: Kona Cafe (veggie Stir Fry, Creme Brullee, Lemonade)
Table Service: Garden Grill (Special Vegetarian Meal)


This was a day I reserved just for more artistic photography. The previous four days I used my smaller compact camera for photos. On this day, I brought out my big camera.

I started by going to Epcot and shooting the flowers, Future World and World Showcase. I took the Monorail to the TTC and on a whim decided to check out the walkway to the Polynesian. It was a pleasant spontaneous decision that landed me at Kona Cafe where I enjoyed a great veggie stirfry. Wait staff were very friendly and I struck up a nice conversation with the guest beside me. After some more photos I went to MK for a few more photos. I then decided to go back to the hotel to freshen up for dinner.

The Garden Grill was a very pleasant surprise. The special vegetarian option (grilled root veggies served on a polenta cake in a tomato stew) was a meal highlight. It looked better than the "regular" food. The bread with the maple butter was excellent as was the dessert (vanilla cake, with blueberries and strawberries served with a large dollop of whip cream). I loved the slightly revolving floor and the staff was very friendly. I would return again in a heartbeat.

After dinner, I stayed to watch Illuminations. I had a nice little spot from Future World. The show was good and the exit was nice and easy.


Day 6: Universal Studios and IOA
Lunch: Pizza (from the Dr. Seuss area)
Dinner: Pastatore


This was my longest day since the Mears shuttle service picked me up at 7:25am and dropped me off around 10PM. This allowed me to rope drop at IOA and have dinner after the parks closed.

The pick up went smoothly and I arrived at Universal just after 8:00AM. The Mears shuttles pick up every hour. So if you took the 8:25 AM shuttle arrival would probably arrive just after opening.

I bought an Express Pass since I wanted to do everything in one day.

I spent my morning\evening at Islands and afternoon\evening at Universal. In my opinion, Islands of Adventure has the best theming of any park. The Dr. Seuss area and Harry Potter area are amazing. The Butterbeer is worth every penny.

I found there was lots of great souvenirs to buy but so I had to keep myself in check.

The other aspect I enjoyed is that there are no duplicate themes for each ride. For example in Disney World, there are two rides\attractions that feature Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Toy Story or Nemo. At Universal there is no overlap even at each park. Everything is fresh and different. I really appreciated the variety. I hope Disney will start looking at referencing other movies for future rides.

I also appreciated being able to walk easily from one park to the other.

Disney is still the larger draw with more to do for longer trips. But I think Universal shines if you only have a day or two. The rides were more geared to an older audience. Universal IOA was a joy to just walk around. The walk paths are wide and allow for an easy flow of traffic (similar to Epcot).

Pastatore is a great place for pasta and pizza. The prices were quite reasonable. Dinner rang at about $25 including dinner, drink and a wonderful Tiramisu cake.

The shuttle back was waiting when I got to the bus stop. We left giving 5 minutes grace period to no-shows and I was back just after 10PM.

Rides:
Incredible Hulk (Amazing, almost too much coaster for me)
Spider-Man (One of the best simulators)
Forbidden Journey x2 (Loved it)
Ollivanders wand presentation (not worth the wait)
Poseidon's Fury (OK)
The Mummy (great)
Terminator 2 3D (OK)
Lucy Tribute (OK)
Shrek 4D (Fun)
Despicable Me (Great)
Rip Ride Rockit (A little too rough for me)
Beetlejuice Review (OK)
Horror Make-UP (Loved it)
E.T Adventure (Fun)
Men In Black (Great)
Simpsons (Loved it)


Didn't manage to see due to time:
Dragon Challenge
Twister
Disaster Starring you
Cinematic Spectacular (was not running that day)

Review of Mears Shuttle:
- Very Reasonable at $19 return trip
- Great bus drivers and vehicles
- Would use again
Note: You can call them anytime to make a reservation. But you may want to call 24 hours in advance to secure your preferred time slot.

Review Universal Studios and Universal IOA:
- I managed to cram almost everything in using Express Pass, Single Rider Lines and a quieter crowd level
- Harry Potter section is absolutely amazing (the entire IOA is really well designed)
- Food prices were more reasonable than Disney
- The Hulk is an amazing coaster

From the list you can see that I did most of what I wanted in the time allotted. The Express Pass and TouringPlans.com really helped maximize my time. The lower crowd levels also helped. If the park had been busier (it was a slow day) or if I didn't have the Express Pass it would have limited quite a few opportunities.

Day 6 (at night)
- I woke up with some sharp left rib pain. This has since been diagnosed as a torn intercostal muscle. It did impact my last few days of the trip in that I chose to limit my the number and types of rides . I think the tear occurred on the Rip Ride Rockit ride since the top of the lap belt hit at the exact spot. But I can't be certain. This does not change how I felt about my Universal day, however, I will avoid this coaster in the future.


Day 7
Counter Service: Pop Century (Spinach Pie, Tie-Dye Cheesecake, OJ)
Table Service: Wolfgang Puck Cafe (Pumpkin Ravioli, Key Lime, Pineapple Jus)

I took it easy today and walked around Pop Century Resort. Then I walked around the lake to the Animation Resort across the way. Then I took a bus to Downtown Disney and did a little shopping at the World of Disney store.

Dinner at Wolfgang Puck Cafe was amazing. The pumpkin ravioli were perfect and the Key Lime an exceptional end. This was a very expensive meal and worth a table service.

I walked around a bit and enjoyed the evening and then headed back to the resort.


Day 8
Counter Service: Pizza near the Tower of Terror (with Chocolate Cake and OJ)
Table Service: Chefs de France (Table de Hote: Macaroni, Salad, Creme Brullee)


I made my way to Disney Hollywood Studios. But before going in, I noticed a really cool photo opportunity for the Tower of Terror near the bus stops. I then noticed a small sign for the Boardwalk hotel. I decided to walk down the trail and I arrived at the Boardwalk Resort. I didn't really do any research on the other resorts so I didn't realize that Disney Hollywood Studios was so close to other resorts. I walked around the Boardwalk and the Yacht and Beach Club. It was nice and uncrowded and I walked around listening to my ipod. I then walked over to the Dolphin and Swan. When I come back to Disney I think I will try to stay there. These two hotels are beautifully maintained and offer close access to the other two deluxe resorts mentioned above and walking distance to Hollywood studios were you can access all the other resorts. There is also a boat to Epcot (or another easy walk). So easy access to my two favourite parks.

I walked back to Hollywood Studios and then made my way through the park enjoying a few attractions. I took a bus to the TTC and jumped on the Resort Monorail to check out the Grand Floridian. It's a very nice resort and I enjoyed walking around the shops and through the public areas.

Then I jumped back on the monorail and made my way to Magic Kingdom for a few more repeat attractions. After which I took the Monorail to Epcot for a few more attractions and dinner at World Showcase.


Rides:
Star Tours x2
Muppet Vision 3D
Magic of Animation (OK)
Mickey Philharmagic
Captain EO (26 years old, it can't really compete with other 3D shows)
Journey into Imagination with Figment (Fun for kids)

Parade
Celebrate a Dream Come True Parade

I must admit, I have never sat and watched a Disney Parade. But it was amazing. I almost shed a tear during the parade. The message is so amazing. Definitely worth checking out and a nice surprise.

Chefs de France was very good but I would never eat there without the dining plan. I just didn't see the value for the cost. I had a nice window seat and I watched people pass by. I debated about staying for the Illuminations again, but I wanted to get back to pack for departure tomorrow.

Day 9:
Table Service: Boma (breakfast)
Counter Service: Backlot Express (Veggie Sandwich, Cupcake, OJ)


This was my last day I checked out and stored my bags with the bell hop. I started my travels by touring the Animal Kingdom Lodge. This is a beautiful looking resort. I wasn't very hungry for breakfast but since I had a reservation I headed to Boma. The food is very good and there were some interesting items. This was another loss day on the DDP since Breakfast is only $18.

I then headed back to Hollywood Studios for a few more attractions and then it was back to the hotel for Magic Express.

Rides:
Star Tours x2
Muppet Vision


Review of Magical Express
- Free (the price is right)
- Requires lots of patience (I was the first off when arriving and last one picked up on return so it was OK for me. But some people were on the bus for an hour+)
- May be better picking up bags when arriving in the evening unless you don't mind waiting until midnight.


Review of Disney Bus Transportation:
- Free (the price is right)
- A few bus drivers commented on how strange it was that I was traveling on my own.
- Buses arrive regularly but there are no times
- You can learn a lot from the drivers when you are the only one on the bus (I had one driver who was very honest about how Disney treats its staff and how they influence the salaries downward since they are one of the largest employers in the area). I also had one driver who told me about some insider information about Disney Springs (but nothing special).
- Can get very busy and I appreciated the direct rides offered at Pop Century.


Final Thoughts:
Disney Dining Plan really does favour the omnivore. I may have broke even over the course of the trip. I averaged about $4 +tax per snack. The other factor is that there were many meals where I would not have bought the dessert. So overall, I would not recommend a DDP for Lacto-Ovo Vegetarians just because we would never see a significant saving. But I did manage to eat well and at least one meal per day had lots of greens and veggies.

I found Disney a challenging place to travel solo. It's hard to strike up conversations with other travelers since they are usually in their own groups. I was very lucky meeting Peter on the first day and running into him regularly. He really provided a nice boost of companionship during the first part of my trip. Some cast members were OK with my being solo but some (bus drivers\wait staff\park staff) found it odd and even remarked as much. I've never had that experience before.

Most of the Table Service restaurants don't have a bar area where you can sit on your own and watch a TV screen. Most tables were set for four and dining experiences were a little awkward.

That being said, I don't think it should stop anyone from touring Disney solo. Just be prepared for some slight biases by others. Once you get past that, the World is literally yours. I managed to see and do lots on my holiday. I was accountable to no one and I didn't have to compromise on anything. I went at my pace. I kept to the strict touring plan when necessary and and enjoyed spontaneous visits to other resorts.

Disney when traveling solo or with others can be rough. It requires patience, planning and flexibility. But it can also be a great vacation destination (even solo) with the right mind set.

Thanks for reading!
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Old 05-01-2013, 08:18 PM   #2
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Enjoyed your trip report. I will be travelling semi-solo next week. Love to see some of your photos. Thanks for posting your report !
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Old 05-01-2013, 09:10 PM   #3
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Enjoyed your TR, particularly the detail. Also, I was not aware you could take a Mears shuttle to Universal. Thanks again for sharing!
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Old 05-02-2013, 08:48 AM   #4
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Great TR!
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