Return to Afar - December 1-8, 2019 (updated 7/12)


DIS Veteran
Dec 30, 2018
1. The Two Caballeros(more intro)
2. Magic Carpet(transportation)
3. Curiouser & Curiouser Tea Parties(dining)
4. The Tangled Weave(initial plan of attack)
5. Plans Not in Stone(changes to the plan)
6. Change Places!(more changes)
7. Noooooooooo!(Rise of Resistance set to open),
8. I Have Reservations About This (Galaxy's Edge & Modified ADRs)
9. Topsy Turvey(New Changes)
10. Dash It All...or not (Fast Pass Day)

In the Style of Nick Wilde
*At a press conference no one really called*

Reporter 1: Who the heck are you and why did you call us here?

Me: What awesome Father/Son duo are returning to Disney World in December? If you take a look at this picture from February of 2019, the son is on the left and the father is on the right.


Reporter 2: But why the return in December, so soon after your trip earlier in the year?

Me: Why go back to WDW, just months after Galaxy's Edge opens there? I believe you just answered your own question. And honestly, I'm such a Disney fan (as evidenced by my avatar with none other than Megara herself, Susan Egan), that I just couldn't resist risking the Holiday and Star Wars crowds melding into one. Plus there's always so much I haven't done and I keep learning about

Reporter 3: How will you apply what you've learned from your past trips?

Me: What are my plans? Well I already have a few things lined up and you'll learn them in short time. There's some news flying around about changes at Hollywood Studios that might mess with my strategy with that park. I'll be a little more forthcoming at a later date (actually some you'll learn in just a bit. I just wanted to have a bit of fun with this intro).
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Intro the Second

So as you've just read, I am taking another trip December. Could be my last for the next couple of years. My dad and I went to WDW this past February and had such a blast we couldn't risk one more glorious return. Some things I learned previous vitis:

1. Don't go to parks on arrival day. Oh sure I could have listened to everyone on here and everwhere else. But I thought that would be my last trip for the next couple of years. But I was wrong (of course). I know now one needs to decompress from that travel time.
2. Don't book so many hard ticket events. We had 3, two After Hours and the After Fireworks Dessert Party with Plaza Garden Viewing. The After Hours Animal Kingdom was particularly rough since that was also on arrival day.
3. Don't neglect character time or be shy about character autographs. Something I really wish I had realized prior to the trip two years ago (though I realized that during my trip). Character meals are great as long as the food is relatively decent and understand you're there for the characters. I can easily recommend Trattoria Al Forno Bon Voyage Breakfast and Tusker House. One needs to go to Cinderella's Royal Table at least once to say they've eaten in the castle.
4. We are not the people for the Disney Dining Plan. Just way too much food for us and we always end up leaving snack credits on the table (not for a lack of trying!)
5. Plenty of Anime fans work at Disney World. Cast member almost didn't let me meet Tinker Bell because of this shirt (For you familiar with FMA & DBZ, yes that is Nina & Alexander doing the Fusion Dance)


The February trip had a large focus on characters, whether it was character meals or running around the parks to meet them. I even created my own autograph book using a photo of Trattoria Al Forna's "Bon Voyage journal" as pictured here (wasn't available at my breakfast, so not sure if they stopped using them or because it was the late meal at 11:35 and just didn't have any by then):


I met a range of characters, from all the princesses to the step sisters to even a few rare characters like Scrooge & Launchpad. All in all we had a blast. For this upcoming trip, characters won't be a major focal point but they'll still get their due. This time around it's about new dining experiences and Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party. Each day has a table service neither of us have ever been to. Some were chosen for the theme, others the characters, and others just because we heard good things. Again those will be forthcoming. But before I forget, I shared an individual photo of me, but here's one of my dad as we ride the auto train in February:
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Here is where the machinations begin.

Departure Date: 11/30.
Arrival Date: 12/1

Travel Method: Auto Train from Lorton, VA to Sanford, VA. Then an hour's drive to Coronado Springs.

In all honesty, even without the parking fees, it is more economical to fly and it's an hour or two shorter to simply drive. However, we both really enjoyed taking the train on our last visit. Plus it comes with a complimentary meal, which is a plus. And we get to enjoy views we wouldn't get to savor if we were on the road ourselves.


We did splurge for a bedroom, which are still cramped, but come with their own bathroom. I've sat in coach before on other Amtraks, and trying to sleep in those chairs is about as fun as trying to sleep on a coach flight. The beds are comfortable enough and while I don't feel I slept all the way through the night, I didn't feel at all tired. I think the rocking of the train actually really helped, even though I was on the top bunk. Overall, I'm really looking forward to taking the train again. Though you can't be too shy. When you sit down for your meal, they will sit you with strangers if there's only two in your group to fill in the seats. But hey meeting new people is all part of the fun.
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Curiouser & Curioser Tea Parties

Something I learned the hard way from my first trip back in 2017 is the importance of ADRs. Granted, my dad & I were staying at the Animal Kingdom Lodge and we were able to find tables available at Boma after our days at the park (or for breakfast before the parks, with quick service being our dinner). Great food there but did get repetitive. On our last trip we had the dining plan and so we paid OOP for Be Our Guest Dinner (with a gift card I had loaded up months before) and then used table service credits for Tusker House - Rivers of Light Dining Package, Trattorial Al Forno Bon Voyage Breakfast, Mama Melrose's Ristorante - Fantasmic! Dining Package, and Cincerella's Royal Table.

We have a room-only reservaton, so we don't have a dining plan this time. Though given we can never eat as much food as that thing offers, I think we're still coming out on top (relatively speaking) this time around)

12/1 - Raglan Road - 7:00 PM - Sounds like a really fun place and the food is unique enough to feel true to that Irish Pub setting without going to unfamiliar

12/2 - Yak & Yeti - 2:30 PM - This is the "I almost feel like I can have this at home, but I heard good things" restaurant. The duck sounds pretty good after all. Now Tiffins at 1:05

12/3 - 50's Prime Time Cafe - I want to participate in the fun and see what they do if I'm on my phone too much or put my elbows on the table. Also my dad was a 50's child so want to see if any nostalgia kicks in. As much as I want to we'll have to save this for another trip. Instead it's an all day MK venture with MVMCP. Skipper Canteen - 12:45

12/4 - 1900 Park Fare - 6:50 - Aware that things are subject to change, this is a bid for meeting Lady Tremaine & Prince Charming among the other characters

12/5 - Garden Grill - 12:50 - All of the characters I've met but wanted the unique experience the restaurant offers

12/6 - Sci Fi Dine-in Theater Restaurant - 7:30 PM - Again, just wanted to experience the theming (and my dad is a big old Sci fi buff) Now Hollywood Brown Derby at 2:00

12/7 - Story Book Dining at Artist Point - 8:30 PM I like the look of the unique menu as well as the possibility of meeting the Evil Queen (and the other characters).
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The Tangled Weave

Here is where I shall reveal my grand machinations (subject to change depending on certain events & confirmations).

I am staying on property at Coronado Springs, so extra magic hours are a go. I've read various articles that Hollywood Studios are putting almost all rides (if not all, the possible exception being Star Tours)

My tentative park strategy (if that HS news is true and the EMH holds):

Monday: Animal Kingdom has Morning Extra Magic Hours. I plan on taking advantage of this perk, touring some of the animal attractions, and then hopping over to EPCOT after our lunch at Yak & Yeti. I haven't quite decided which Tier 1 I'll fast pass. Maybe Test Track since I didn't do that last time but I do want to really take in World Pavillion this time so we'll see

Tuesday: This is going to be a rope drop day. I want to try to get into Galaxy's Edge. I don't actually expect to go on Smuggler's Run, but might depending on time. I'm going to try for an afternoon FP+ for Slinky Dog Dash (Haven't fully explored TSL) or Tower of Tower (favorite attraction there) prior to our lunch. Prior to that, I hope to have enjoyed a Fuzzy Tauntaun & hunted down some scrap metal for parts. After lunch we're off to Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party. This will be more about the rare characters and snacks (I am mentally prepared to wait in line for both)

Wednesday: Magic Kingdom has Evening Extra Magic Hours. I'll probably choose among the Mountains, Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, & Mine Train for my FP+. For Dinner, we head over to Grand Floridian to meet royalty at 1900 Park Fare before returning to Magic Kingdom to close out the night. This might change if we want a bit of extra rest for the next day.

Thursday: EPCOT has Morning Extra Magic Hours, so this is likely a reverse of Monday. Here we'll grab some Animal Kingdom Afternoon Fastpasses. Again haven't quite decided the priorities yet, only because I think I can hit several attractions on Monday's Extra Magic Hours.

Friday: Same as Tuesday (but no MVMCP event), filling in the FP+ with either Tower of Tower or Slinky Dog Dash, whichever one I couldn't get. And maybe I'll take in of at least one of the shows I might have to Fastpass due to that restructure.

Saturday: Return to Magic Kingdom. Will try to combine the rides I didn't get for Wednesday. Then for our last dinner of the vacation, we head over to Artist Point for Storybook Dining.

So I find myself not prioritizing FoP for a change. Instead I'm prioritizing ToT or SDD for specific times to try to get into Galaxy's edge and experience the land. I hold no hope of getting on any attraction(s) without a 4hr wait but hope I can take in the land. Wouldn't mind trying that breakfast Ronto wrap.

My plan regarding the Animal Kingdom/EPCOT days may change date of visit depending on how fully I feel like I've explored World Pavillion.
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Plans Not in Stone

Well I already have my first change. After discussing it with my dad, we decided we would be in budget for Tiffins. While I do enjoy familiar food, sometimes I like something a little adventurous. And the restaurant offers what looks to me like a fairly tantalizing menu, expense be damned.

On another note, I know it's been confirmed that Hollywood Studios is changing its fast pass structure to almost all rides as Tier 1 & shows as tier two. I know the exception might be Star Tours which might be kept at tier 2. I definitely understand the negative reactions to it but understand the decision for crowd control. I see strategies for gaming the FP or avoid using it on Hollywood Studios at all. That said, given my interest in Galaxy's Edge, I'm not sure that's the plan for me. I've accepted I may just have to eat a couple of FP's for shows and use one each DHS day - one for SDD and one for ToT. I have seen some say they won't go to DHS while this is in place so fingers crossed😅
Change Places!

So yet another change. With the changes to FP+ I couldn't justify such a late reservation at Sci Fi Dining (7:30 PM) as my dad & I would probably just be waiting for dinner & barely do any attractions. And going back to the hotel or another park might risk capacity issues. No other reservations so we cancelled.

However, we decided this is a "what the hell" vacation. We were able to get a 2:00 at Hollywood Brown Derby. Significantly more expensive but we've always been more convenience over cost if we can afford it (which may sound weird to those who saw we're taking the auti-train😅). Still the restaurant menu looks good and the reservation is a good time for us.

Oddly enough, it seems hitting two Signatures on vacation seems to be our signature. We hit BoG & CRT last time. This time Tiffins & Hollywood Brown Derby.

7. Noooooooooo!
Ok, so this throws an entire monkey wrench into my plans. Do I still try for GE on its incomplete phase or just wait until that Friday (crazy right?)? I get the feeling there's going to be crowds trying to avoid the Rise of Resistance premiere as well as crowds trying to get onto it.

The Hollywood Studios FP structure with all rides being tier 1 I could handle. It's not ideal, but I could adapt. This news is making me question if I should even attempt GE. Maybe I'll skip it and do TSL. I haven't really explored that area yet anyway and do want to get on SDD.
8. I Have Reservations About This

After a long hiatus of updates, I thought I would return. Back in August, I missed the announcement regarding reservations opening for Savi's, Oga's, and the Droid Depot. I was feeling a little dejected as Oga's was full up. Luckily I kept looking and a 7:45 PM slot opened for 2 on 12/5. I immediately took it.

Savi's was a bit of an X factor as I didn't realize my dad was interested also (mainly because of cost). Due to how late in the game I was, I was only able to make two separate reservations for myself and my dad but at least on the same day. Luckily it works out since I know he's the type who wants a chance to take things slow and make sure he's getting it right (even though we know the gatherers will be their to help). I have a 9:25 am and he has a 12:05 pm session on 12/5.

As for Droid Depot, it wasn't initially interested but now that I am everything is booked for my week XD. Oh well, I have all the reservations I want to initially experience so I'll enjoy what I have and keep looking for any openings.

There's also a few extras my dad and I got and some ADR changes that have changed some plans around:

We felt we explored Animal Kingdom thoroughly, having been on Flight of Passage several times over as well as the other attractions. So we decided to get the Up Close with Rhinos tour. For about $40 bucks each, it seemed like a worthwhile and well-valued experience. Plus the chance (though again I know know no guarantee) to touch a rhino is one we couldn't pass up. We also decided to invest in two Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party and split our time between rare characters and shows. One on 12/3 and the other 12/6. I may however give serious consideration if they have a similar season pass as they offered in MNSSHP if it pays for itself in 3 since there's 4 parties during my stay.
9. Topsy Turvy

Well with all those changes listed, obviously there's a few adjustments to my schedule. Here's the new (tentative) outlook:

12/1 - Arrival Day. Put everything in our room if it's ready. Otherwise it's off to Disney Springs to explore and enjoy the shops. Then dinner at Raglan Road at 7:00.

12/2 - Hit Morning Extra Magic Hours for AK (both my dad and I are early birds). If I can't get a fastpass for FoP (likely I won't I know), will hit that first. Hit Everest and maybe Dinosaur if there's time before opening. Then head over to Kilimanjaro Safaris. Go to Up Close with Rhinos at 11:00am. Afterwards, meander a bit before going to our 12:45 ADR at Tiffins. Finish any wandering or possible FastPass then head over to EPCOT to explore World Showcase and partake in a few specialty drinks and some of Festival of the Holidays.

12/3 - Magic Kingdom All Day. Lunch at Skipper Canteen at 12:45. Changed here because it's one of my party dates and I understand crowds MIGHT be a little less crowded prior to the party. So fingers crossed here. And after that first MVMCP night.

12/4 - Hollywood Studios in the morning and early afternoon. This one is a real outlier depending on what they do with Extra EMH. But assuming it's NOT extended, then most likely will go to my Savi's reservation. We'll take a look at the wait time for MFSR and if it's an hour or so, we'll hit it. Otherwise we'll explore the land and get a snack or meal before my dad's reservation. Then we might try for MFSR if we didn't get to it in the morning and wait time is 2 hours or less. After that, head over to the MK area, hop on a ride or two and travel to 1900 Park Fare for our 6:50 Dinner. Depending on our energy we may or may not do Evening EMH. I realize the crowds won't be nearly as low as morning, but I'm going more for the smaller rides than the more popular thrill ones (which I'm banking on hitting Tuesday).

12/5 - EPCOT Extra Magic Hours. Plan is to hit whichever tier 1's I couldn't FP then explore World Showcase after the 12:50 lunch at Garden Grill. As well as again explore more Festival of the Holidays. Yes I'm confident I can eat that much XD. Afterwards, it's an attempt at Hollywood Studios again in hopes that RotR drags the crowds away from other attractions. And then we cap the night off with a couple of drinks from Oga's.

12/6 - Hollywood Studios Rope Drop - likely for Slinky Dog Dash, if I can't FP or EEMH it. I'm likely not going to try to touch RotR unless wait times are ridiculously short for debut ride (though considering MFSR times have been incredibly reasonable, so who knows?). ADR for Hollywood Brown Derby at 12:10. Head over to Magic Kingdom afterwards.

12/7 - Last day in the parks. Focus on any Magic Kingdom attractions we missed. Head over to Story Book Dining at Artist Point for dinner at 8:30 PM.

12/8 - Departure Day. Farewell breakfast at Whispering Canyon Cafe at 9:30 AM.
10. Dash It All...or not (Fast Pass Day)

So, i had my fastpass day, and with that I have my plans set. You'll see I didn't use all of my FP's but I'll add a bit of extra details about why at each point that I didn't.

Arrival Day - DHS - Dec 1
Alien Swirling Saucers - 4:15 PM
Dinner - Raglan Road - 7:00 PM

This is our arrival day. Plan - go over to DHS, see how long the wait for MFSR is then either hop on it or hit our FP. I chose Alien Swirling Saucers only because it's the only other ride at DHS besides SDD we haven't been on (and SDD of course had no FP). We're then going over to Disney Springs to explore and dine at Raglan Road

Dec 2 - AK
Dinosaur - 9:45 AM
Up Close with Rhinos - 11:00 AM
Lunch - Tiffins - 12:30 PM
Expedition Everest - 1:35 PM
Kilimanjaro Safars - 2:35 PM
Simple Plan: Use EMH for Pandora (mainly FoP and maybe NRV depending on time spent) then rope drop KJS. After our last FP, head over to EPCOT for World Showcase.

Dec 3 - MK
Early Morning Magic - 7:45 AM
Haunted Mansion - 10:15 AM
Big Thunder Mountain - 11:30 AM
Lunch - Skipper Canteen - 12:45
Splash Mountain - 1:45 PM
Yes. My dad got suckered into doing both EMM & MVMCP on the same day. Luckily we're both early risers and while it is a lot, I think we can do it and still have lots of fun.

Dec 4 - DHS
Savi's - 9:25 AM (for me) and 12:05 PM (for my Dad)
Tower of Terror - 12:25 PM
Star Tours - 1:30 PM
Dinner - 1900 Park Fare: 6:50 PM.

So hopefully we won't be too tired from the partying the previous night. As you can see this is one I didn't use all my fastpasses for because of DHS' tiers. Plan is to try to either squeeze in MFSR between the two Savi's times (only way I could get us both). I know the Savi's for my dad butts up against the ToT FP, but I think we should be able to make it as we have the entire hour. We may or may not try MK's evening EMH after dinner for some of the more gentler rides we don't do often (think Dumbo), but it depends on how tired we are and may need to skip to rest up for EPCOT's Morning EMH

Dec 5 - EPCOT
Frozen Ever After - 9:50 AM
Mission Space - 10:55 AM
Lunch - Garden Grill - 12:35 PM
Spaceship Earth - 1:35 PM
Plan here is to use Morning EMH for Soarin' & Test track, rope drop Anna & Elsa, and then hit up FEA. Then After Lunch it's world showcase. I put Mission Space before Garden Grill for obvious reasons...because it's a more direct path! (also because who wants to go on spinning rides right after eating?). Later in the night, we head to DHS for a reservation at Oga's at 7:45 PM.

Dec 6 - DHS
Droid Depot - 9:55 AM
Star Tours - 10:30 AM
Lunch - Hollywood Brown Derby - 12:10 PM
Rock 'n' Roller Coaster - 1:05 PM
Another DHS day means another day I'm not using all of my FP's. We have a second MVMCP on this day as well. So just a lot of crazy going on.

Dec 7 - MK
Ultimate Day of Thrills Tour
Pirates of the Caribbean - 4:05 PM
Peter Pan's Flight - 5:10 PM
Space Mountain - 6:10 PM
Dinner - Story Book Dining At Artist Point - 8:30 PM
Yes. My dad and I really splurged on this upcoming trip and I'm only hoping we aren't too tired to do it all. Anyway, I realize I'm repeating Space Mountain but I have enough ways to get in rides I haven't listed and like Space Mountain well enough to add it for a second ride.

Dec 8 - Departure Day
Breakfast - Whispering Canyon Cafe - 9:30 PM
Absolutely no park for that day. We will definitely need that breather. XD


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