Disney/Universal Trip Report Dec 9-14/15-16 Kidani, Deluxe studio Loews Royal Pacific So a month ago to the day, my wife and I were arriving at WDW for our first visit. We left our children (2.5y and 9 months old) at home with the grandparents, to take some much needed time for ourselves. We were also celebrating our birthdays, so we knew it would be magical. It really was. From A to Z. For the first time in my life I used a travel agent to help me plan the trip and it was an excellent decision. For a first timer, there was just too much to take in. She really helped us optimize our schedules and plans, gave us good time saving tips and which places to avoid or skip. We were told that the first two weeks of December are some of the least busy of the year for Disney, which led me to conclude I would never want to be even near the vicinity of WDW when it is busy. On Dec 31 I checked the app for giggles… 5-7 hours wait time on Flight of Passage or Soarin’? I mean… seriously? Who waits 5 hours in line for an attraction? Even FoP? Are they mad? In short, we were happy to be there when it’s not too busy and while Christmas decos are up. Really added to the magic. For research purposes, I’m sharing a short itinerary with meal experiences and photos. It may help someone with their choices down the line, like this forum helped me as well in my planning months. Kidani Pros: - Small size. For a couple trying to go back to a calm hotel after a long day, this is a plus and it was perfect. - Picked up first by the buses. (Jambo House fills up buses quickly.) - Small kitchenettes in the studio was very helpful for breakfasts - Soundproofing of room is excellent - Very comfortable bed - Great attention to décor and details, all the way to the ceramic tiles in the shower - Sanaa. Kidani Cons: - Abysmal, last-century wifi speeds (1mbit symmetrical). AT&T’s reputation for mediocrity is well deserved. - Expensive (duh). We were upgraded to savannah view for free, we were so rarely in the room that I don’t feeling paying for the view is worth it. - Limited food offering (Jambo House has a shuttle that comes and goes every 7-8 minutes, or it’s a 10-15 minute walk.) but Sanaa is amazing. Thoughts on the Deluxe Dining Plan: With the DDP, we had 15 table credits each overall. Because we meant to make this trip a foodie trip as well since the kids weren’t there, we had six signature restaurants planned (one for each day, and one for the day of our arrival), which already took 12 credits away. We had groceries delivered from GardenGrocer for most of our in-room breakfasts, and used the other credits for a a few lunches. Which meant on most days we only had one table dinner. I cannot imagine having three table meals a day on the DDP. 99% of the time we brought the dessert back to the hotel in a bag, because it was just too much food. I can’t imagine doing this three times a day for five days. It’s probably physically impossible. Yes, we saved money, 441USD exactly, compared to à la carte pricing, but we would never have ordered all that food had we not been on the plan. Also to consider, each signature restaurant meals ended up costing between 180-200USD for two. Times six for our trip, the tips add up as well in the end. When we go back with the kids, we won’t take the DDP, but I really wish there was a middle plan with 2 Quick and 1 table credits or 1 quick and 2 tables… 3 table credits is just too much, and from what we gathered, 1 quick and 1 table won’t suffice either. TL DR summary of DDP: too much food for 99% of situations. MON, DAY 1: MAGIC KINGDOM (my birthday) Upon our entrance we were kids again. Seeing the castle made us giddy. Favorite attraction: Space Mountain. Highlight: Meeting Buzz and Mickey, day parade I could not get a FP to 7 Dwarfs and wait time was 2+ hours, so we didn’t do it. Attractions wise, the park disappointed me. Places we ate at: Narcoossees, 8/10 (the night before) Lobster bisque, mixed greens salad, shrimp and campanelle pasta, surf and turf, chocolate torte Everything was delicious. It felt like the least “high-end” signature restaurant we’ve been too, if ambiance matters to you at all, which it didn’t for us. Be Our Guest, 6/10 (Breakfast) Croque madame, poached eggs on open croissant, mimosas Food was OK. However $76USD, the cost without credit, is EXTREMELY poor value. Drink stations were awful; coffee and juices tasted like water. The ambiance is what you go for. Yachtman Steakhouse, 8.5/10 (My birthday dinner) French onion soup, shrimp cocktail, filet mignon with mash, crème brûlé, admiral cake Unfortunately, we had a 7:30PM reservation and I underestimated how tired I would be. I wasn’t very hungry, so I really made an effort. I think that affected my appreciation of the food. So tired in fact I forgot to took photos of the meal! Everything was good, but presentation was meh! I took the filet mignon because it was the smallest cut, and it’s just dumped on the plate with a mountain of mashed potatoes beside it. It was cooked rarer than the medium rare I ordered which I didn’t really mine, but I shoved off a point for lack of seasoning. Too little sauce to make for the lack of taste. Our waiter was exquisite, he took the time to explain every dish down to the ingredients and really upped the overall experience. TUE, DAY 2: EPCOT Took us nearly 90 min to transfer from Kidani to Epcot because our bus broke down. That started the day a little awkwardly. Every was made better shortly after. Favorite attraction: Soarin’ We really liked Epcot but found it to be the most underwhelming park, both décor-wise and attraction-wise. Places we ate at: Mexico Pavillon: had delicious nachos and tacos for a quick lunch. We paid out of pocket and found the value fair. Jiko, 10/10 (Dinner) ***BEST MEAL OF THE TRIP*** Pork tenderloin, pear and watermelon deconstructed salad, lamb tangine, elk loin, malva puddings WOW! Jiko is a step above every other signature restaurant we have been to. The décor, service, food… it was the closest experience to perfection we had. If the Hollywood Brown Derby is to be considered a signature experience, Jiko should be in a new Diamond category on its own. We will DEFINITELY return on our next trip. WED, DAY 3: ANIMAL KINGDOM Favorite Attraction: Flight of Passage (it’s the best attraction in WDW) Highlight: Pandora (day and night) We arrived at 8AM to do FoP early since we had no FP for it that day. That was a good decision because we waited less than 40 minutes to do the ride. And what a ride… had a smile from ear to ear the whole time. We got River of Light tickets through Tiffins, and loved the show. Animal Kingdom has my favorite ambiance and it’s the reason we wanted to stay at AKL. There’s something special about this park. Places we ate at: Tiffins, 9.5/10 (Lunch) Octopus and falafel, bread service, chicken and waffle, surf and turf, desert trio. Drinks were excellent (Tempting Tigress and Snow Leopard Salvation) The second-best meal experience of our trip. To see all the notes and photos from the Imagineers was really interesting. Our waiter was excellent. The food was just as good as Jiko’s. Highly recommended experience. Restaurantosaurus, 5/10 (Dinner) Burgers and fries. Forgettable junk food, but topping bar is nice. We went back to Magic Kingdom that night for the fireworks, which were exquisite. The projections on the castle are very impressive and we loved the presentation. However, the return home was very unpleasant. Even though we strategically positioned ourselves near the exit and ran to the bus stop, we arrived there first as if we had just missed the bus. It took 30 minutes for another one to arrive. By that time, the line was filled completely, and less than a third of people waiting managed to get on the bus. After a long day you just want to get back to the hotel and in bed ASAP, and it made me wonder how it must be absolute hell when the park is actually busy. We should have taken a Uber ride Pandora at night MK Fireworks THU, DAY 4: HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS Favorite attraction: Aerosmith Highlight: Meeting Chewbacca! My heart melted. We liked Fantasmic but hoped it would be updated to reflect the more modern movies, and we were surprised at how dark it is. My son would have **** his pants. I am excited to see what they do with Galaxy's Edge and the new Star Wars hotel. Slinky Dog Dash is cute but absolutely not worth waiting 1-2 hours for it, don't understand the hype. Places we ate at: Mama Melrose, 8.5/10 (Lunch) Tomato and basil salad, calamari, filets. Adorable waitress. Wow. BEST STEAK I HAD ON WDW PROPERTY. Can you believe it? I ate at six signature restaurants and had red meat at all of them and this was the best beef I had! It was a filet, which isn’t my favorite cut (I’m a ribeye guy) but it was SO TASTY, it took me by surprise. Cooked perfectly, with just enough char, and the cheese-sauce penne accompanying the steak were to die for. Our waitress said it’s the exact same steak that they serve at the Flying Fish, but for 1 credit. The waitress was adorable, gave us Fantasmic passes even though we didn’t have a package reservation. Mama Melrose was the biggest dining surprise of the entire trip. Hollywood Brown Derby, 6/10 Cobb Salad, beef carpaccio, filet, chicken breast, dark chocolate crémeux, cappuccino brûlé and warm blueberry cobbler. Sidecar had no sugar rim. Overall, it was a so-so experience. I honestly feel like the Derby has no place calling itself a signature restaurant. Compared to Jiko, it was a cafeteria experience. Service was sub-par. My filet tasted like nothing. The Cobb salad is really ordinary. The drinks were too diluted and my sidecar had no sugar rim. The desert were the best part. The only thing going for it is the décor. Otherwise I would MUCH MUCH rather eat at Mama Melrose twice for the same price. I would skip this place entirely. It’s underserving of its signature status and is extreme poor value. FRI, DAY 5: ANIMAL KINGDOM (my wife’s birthday) This day was meant to be a little more relaxed, with no "be at the park by 8AM mentality". We went back to AK after breakfast at Boma. We had a FP+ for Flight of Passage that day so I got to do it again, much to my delight. FoP is the only attraction I did twice at WDW and it's probably the only one worth waiting 1-2 hours for. We really liked the Lion King show and Kilimanjaro Safari as well. Places we ate at: Boma, 9/10 (Breakfast) Breakfast buffet SOOOOOOOOOOOO good! It was the last day of our trip and it made us wish we had breakfast there every day. Superb décor, great variety, tasty drinks (their house juice is good, but they also serve authentic cappuccinos which we really appreciated). The food is varied and really excellent. Highly recommended. Sanaa, 8.5/10 (Lunch) Soup, bread service, butter chicken with vegetables. As good as everyone says it is. We paid of out pocket because we had no credits left. A bit on the expensive side, but not outrageously so. California Grill, 9/10 (Wife’s birthday dinner) Beets salad, goat cheese ravioli, bison x2, valrhona chocolate cakes. Excellent drinks. The view of this place is just amazing. Food was great but not amazing. Its good reputation is well deserved. After our delicious Cali Grill dinner, we took a Uber and transferred to the Loews Royal Pacific at Universal for the last two days of our trip. SAT, DAY 6: UNIVERSAL STUDIOS Royal Pacific pros: - Superbly located as it’s a 10 minute walk from our room door to the park’s entrance. After five days of Disney this was a breath of fresh air. - Express Pass Unlimited are amazing Royal Pacific cons: - Mediocre sound proofing. Through the communicating door, I could hear everything in the other room, from the details of a conversation to a stream of urine. It felt like a magical Harry Potter door: you see one but it’s not really there and blocks NO SOUND WHATSOEVER. - Expensive (duh) First thing I noticed about Universal: HARRY POTTER!!! OH MY GOD YOU CAN BUY WIZARD ROBES! I EMPTIED ALL MY SAVINGS AND I DIED OF HAPPINESS!!!! Harry Potter stuff aside, overall, I preferred the rides at Universal. For thrill seekers, it’s definitely a better experience. Places we ate at: Three Broomsticks: American Breakfast, was OK, coffee was OK too. Nothing special, you go for the ambiance. Hard-Rock Café: $70 for fajitas, a burger and two drinks. Standard Hard-Rock experience. Pizza: We had it delivered by UberEats to our hotel from Antonio's House of Pizza, and we watched a Harry Potter movie in bed. Great NY style pizza (which is hard to find where I live in Quebec), great end to a great day. SUN, DAY 7: UNIVERSAL STUDIOS Since we didn’t spend a bajillion hours shopping for HP gear, souvenirs and clothing, whilst trying to rationalize an irrational spending spree on costumes, we did many more attractions. Hightlights: Both HP rides which we did many times each, Hogwarts Express, Skull Island, Hollywood Rip Ride, Hulk, Transformers, walking around the parks disguised as Hogwarts alumni. Places we ate at: Three Broomsticks: Again, because Harry Potter. The Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar: Had a great burger there, and my wife loved her sushis. Great terrace. Cost about the same as Hard-Rock Café but was better. We came back home exhausted and 10 times more tired than when we arrived, but our mental batteries were recharged. We left with so many uplifting and magical memories, we can’t wait to go back to Disney with our children and relive this through their eyes. I also can’t wait to go back to Galaxy’s Edge, the new Star Wars hotel that will cost two kidneys and a leg to stay at, and revisit Harry Potter Land with the Hogsmeade expansion finished, hopefully alone so we can costume up again and giggles like the children we had in our hearts. I wish you all a happy year 2019, filled with magical trips! PS. We used Uber about 12 times overall. We found the $120 we spent to be really worth it for all the time it saves. Often it was for resort to resort transportation, but also sometimes we just wanted to go back to the hotel ASAP. We never waited more than 7-8 minutes for a Lyft or Uber ride to arrive, and it’s so flexible that it makes it a perfect tool to use alongside with the bus system.