Walt Disney World Mulligan

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Three years ago I said Ryan and I would eventually give Walt Disney World another chance, and next week we’re keeping our word. There’s a controversial backstory to that statement.

We’re confirmed Disneyland Resort “vets”—the fan term denoting someone’s “home”, i.e. preferred, Disney parks. And I mean, really confirmed. As in, High Holy Days at Disneyland confirmed. I’ve been a Disneyland fan for years. Ryan became one big time when I gave him the 40th birthday present of a trip to the Anaheim parks. (In fact, I’m a Disney parks carrier—a decade earlier I dragged Devyn, too.)

Although our home Disney parks are the ones in California, because of unexpected safety improvements at the Anaheim parks that took lots of rides offline during one of our planned trips, in May 2013 we decided to take the opportunity to visit Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida.

It was my first trip to the “World” in 40 years—and Ryan’s first trip ever. We were eager to explore the east coast parks, especially since the Anaheim and Orlando resorts (and even rides with the same name) aren’t clones of each other. They’re actually very different. We wanted to come home loving Disney World as much as we love Disneyland.

Boy, did we hate it, instead. When we got back to Chicago, I wrote an epic post detailing what we didn’t like and why. That post, “Why Two Disneyland Vets Didn’t Love Five Days in Walt Disney World“, almost instantly became the most popular post in the 11-year history of this blog. Many people agreed with us that the magic comes together a lot better at Disneyland. Many others—mostly Disney World cast members (the Disney term for employees), were angry that anyone would criticize the east coast parks.

At the time, we were disenchanted by the heat, the crowds, the spread-out layout, the counter-service food options, the cast members, the ride upkeep, and even the other guests, all of which we found combined in a much better way at Disneyland than at Disney World. Epcot almost killed us—half from walking, the other half from boredom.

Anyone who thinks this is much ado about nothing doesn’t have a Disney parks fan in the family. We’re rabid in our love for our home parks. Visiting the Disney parks on the other coast for the first time (much less, the ones in France, or China, or Japan) is likened to an alternate reality experience where you think you’ve got the lay of the land, until you realize nothing works the way you expect it to and you collapse on a bench with a box of popcorn, a crumpled map, and a persistent headache. (Kind of like how New Yorkers react to Chicago, but I digress…) We Disney parks fans almost always prefer our home parks, but we usually also have room in our hearts for the “away” parks, too.

But that last part didn’t happen for Ryan and me, and it really bugged us. All Disney parks are different, and none of them can be expected to feel like the original park where Walt walked, but we couldn’t believe Walt Disney World could consistently be as bad as our first adult encounter with it. After the shock wore off, we realized we wanted a do-over. Maybe it was the time of year, or the management team, or any number of factors that conspired to make ours a rotten “World” tour. (Well, almost rotten. I did come home with a lot of affection for Magic Kingdom.)

Well, a lot has changed in three years. We had an epically rotten multi-day experience at Disneyland (“Wishing for the Disneyland HoJo at the Grand Californian Hotel“), the controversial management structure at Disney World has changed for the better, and wise Disney parks fan forums and blogs have had lots of time to talk us down from the ledge.

We think we had a point three years ago, but sometimes first impressions deceive. So armed with the blessing of familiarity and my graduate-level advance-planning skills, we’re going back to Walt Disney World with open minds next week—and we’ll be damned if we don’t come back with a different attitude about the place. This time, we won’t be making comparisons. We want to let the Orlando parks speak for themselves without a little Disneyland devil standing on our shoulders the whole time whispering vile things in our ear. (Although I can totally see Team Disney Orlando rolling that out as a magic-shot option with PhotoPass.)

We’re also doing things a little differently. Since 2013, we’ve realized the vibe we like in a Disney vacation. Our golden standard in Anaheim is staying at the Disneyland Hotel, with its awesome rooms and awesome pool, sitting next to the awesomeness of Downtown Disney, and a brief walk away from the even awesomer awesomeness of Disneyland and California Adventure.

No wonder we hated staying at Disney World’s nice but isolated Pop Century value resort in 2013. There just wasn’t anything to do there. It turns out, we’re deluxe mice. So to bring our Disney World stay into our comfort zone, next week we’ll be staying at the Yacht Club, with its awesome rooms and awesome Storm-Along Bay (the widely acclaimed best pool in Walt Disney World), sitting across Crescent Lake from the awesomeness of Disney’s Boardwalk, and an awesomely short walk from Epcot’s World Showcase or boat ride from Hollywood Studios.

We’re also geeking to the super-duper-uber-awesomeness of reserving headliner rides from home with FastPass+ and the My Disney Experience app, and looking forward to the dorky convenience of wearing our Magic Bands in the pool. (I seriously wish Disneyland would hurry up its adoption of this technology. Physical FastPasses and juggling multiple tickets and key cards is so 20th century.)

And we’re wise enough to go in late August, when the heat may still kill us, but at least it will do so in relatively uncrowded theme parks.

Beyond all that, though, we’re really just going to let Walt Disney World be Walt Disney World this time. I managed to let that happen during my childhood trips, and we always let that happen in Anaheim. This time, Ryan and I both want to get out of our own way and let Disney World shine on its own terms.

And if that doesn’t work, we’re just going to rent a little apartment next to Disneyland and call it a day.

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