Keeping things in perspective, we still had a good time, but compared to other/past trips our recent 5 night Disney World Vacation was pretty frustrating and disappointing. I'll outline the various reasons below--some things were outside our control, some within our control (and yours if you're planning a trip).
1)Weather--not much to do about this. We experienced 5" of continuous rain on Saturday--the day we'd planned for EPCOT's Food and Wine Festival. Despite having brought gortex rain coats and a poncho and umbrellas, by 4pm we were all completely soaked through and miserable. Water had wicked up our shorts and even our underwear was saturated. While we'd enjoyed the food, beer, wine and a few rides, even my hearty crew had had enough and we headed home to call it a day.
ADVISE-Plan for it, try to stay out of it--if the forecast calls for 5", maybe plan a movie at Downtown Disney or something.
2)Dining--Our last 3 trips we have tried, and failed, to eat at Le Cellier at the Canada Pavillion. They have no waiting list for cancellations and if you don't call as soon as the phone lines open 180 days before you want to eat there you have almost no chance of getting in. There are several other nice places that are nearly as difficult. I appreciate that the restaurants are good and have limited capacity, but it infuriates me that they don't have a reasonable wait list system in place--maybe for a week ahead or something? Even the ESPN Restaurant on the Boardwalk was packed with a 1 hour plus wait to get in on a Saturday night. We had several other options we really wanted to try and just could not get seating. Clearly there is demand for more high end dining--Disney needs to meet that need.
That said, the places we did get to eat at were top notch--we hit Bouma for the 3rd time and the food, as always was great--the place is noisy and packed and I'm not a fan of buffets in general, but as they go, the food was outstanding and service decent. We also ate at Sanaa and could not have been more pleased. Prices were probably actually less than at Bouma but with table service, an amazing menu that would be a top restaurant in any big city. Our waiter was outstanding, incredibly knowledgable and engaging. And the view of zebras, giraffes, wildabeasts, gazelles, etc. all grazing just outside the window from our table was just incredible! We also had a nice, if loud (we were banished to a back room apparently set aside for families with kids) dinner there too. We had booked Bouma & Kouzinna ahead of time, but changed a reservation to eat at Sanaa and were please to get that.
Advise:Make your reservations as early as possible (180 days out) or you could find yourself settling for eating somewhere that you really didn't plan/want to.
3)Transportation--This bugaboo probably led to much of the frustration with our dining. We flew to Orlando, took the "Magical Express" (which was fine, and quite quick--30 minutes airport to our doorstep), and planned to use Disney transportation for the entirety of our trip other than the one day we were going to rent a car to go to Universal. This seemed the cleanest, easiest and cheapest way to do things.
The problem is, it is also the absolute SLOWEST way to do things. Because we had planned to eat at other resorts (we stayed at DVC's Saratoga Springs next to Downtown Disney) we always had to transfer from a bus that got us by our room at the DD transport center, then catch a second bus to where we were eating. The problem is that there is always a wait (10-20 minutes on average) to catch each bus (total 20-40 minutes just waiting at the bus stop). Then each bus has other stops, sometimes many other stops. Sometimes they even change drivers during a stop! The sum total of all those various stops and waits is that it took us typically from our room to our destination 1:15-1:30 to get to our dining location!! And, yes folks, we still had to get back home. We, on 2 consecutive nights, spent a total of 6 hours on busses getting to and from the place we planned to eat and twice could not get in (ESPN and Le Cellier) and ultimately ended up feeding our kids at 10:30 at night after hours on a bus on frozen pizza cooked in our room! When we did rent the car for the 24 hours that evening we took the drive to Boardwalk (where ESPN and Kouzinna are) and the drive from our room took < 15 minutes! The time difference nearly made us choke.
Advise: Unless you absolutely can't afford or justify a car, rent a car once you arrive. I still think that the Magical Express and taking the buses to the parks themselves (which are direct from the resorts) make sense, getting around the Disney properties to eat and such are just so frustrating, with kids at least, to not be worth the effort or savings, IMO. There is an Avis we used at the Hilton just across the street from DD, there's also a Budget which is apparently quite cheap and has a discount in the "Unofficial Disney World Guide". You can return the car on your last night and take the Magical Express back to the airport.
FWIW-Universal was nice, we got there about 45 min prior to the 9am opening time, they actually opened @8:45, we walked right onto the Harry Potter Encounter ride, then same on the Dualing Dragons. But by the time we finished riding that twice the line for Ollivanders was up to 75 minutes--so we bought wands at an outside stand. Butter Beer is cheaper in the restaurants than the outside stands. The shops are FAR too small for the number of people who want in, but there is a store outside the main gate that sells much of the same stuff--you can buy it on your way home and not have to carry things around with you. Many of the rides don't let you carry on ANY sort of bag (even purses)--you can rent lockers (free up to 25 min.), but they are time consuming to use and if you go over that 25 min(which you will on most popular rides) they start charging you--we had one locker we opened at 26 minutes and it charged us $3 to get our things out. So, if possible, bring strap on fanny sacks and no extra anything.
Sorry to hear about the frustrating issues concerning this trip. Weather is an issue, as you stated that is beyond control, but a back up plan is a great idea.
We have been to Disney World in October in 2009 & 2008 and have had the same issues trying to make dining reservations. Never made it into Le Cellier either. However our next trip is February 2012 and I am happy to say I received every reservation I wanted (with multiple time slots available), including Le Cellier. I am beginning to think that the free dining in October, the Food & Wine Festival, and Halloween activities are the main cause of my previous dining dilemmas. My current reservations were only 145 days out.
The bus system has always worked for us. It can be a hassle dining at other resorts though. We usually try to dine in or near the park we are visiting that day to keep things more simple. But I also would be completely infuriated if transport took hours. I think I would have called a cab.
I really want to go to Universal next year as well. We have already paid for our air fare however and would have to pay a 150.00 pp surcharge for flight changes. The question is, is it worth it? I doubt we will return to Florida for quite some time, so this may be the last chance for a while.
I appreciate your in detail review and hope that you have a better experience next time you travel there.
Buses inside Disneyworld depend on which hotel you are staying at and where you are going. The moderate and value hotels tend to have the best buses for high volume locations, where if you are going from hotel to hotel, unless there is a shared route, it can take forever.
Some of the hotels, such as the Grand Floridian, which has a monorail and is walkable to Magic Kingdom, shares a bus with Polynesian and Contemporary (if you need a lift to somewhere unusual, they will give you a ride in the van).
Best bet is to ask the driver (or a really nice person at the concierge desk) and they sometimes can explain the best way to get somewhere (sometimes its better to take a boat to a Park and then get on a bus from there to the next place). Do not think that the closest point will get you there the fastest.
I have a lot of tips in reviews / forums because we had an annual pass for Universal last year. I have never been to the California park, so I do not know how it compares, but Islands of Adventure can be a lot of fun, and if going during off-season, very easy to tour. If you are not renting a car, best bet would be a taxi or car service, which is available in the common areas (i.e., park transportation or the shopping area) of both parks.
I'm so sad you experienced that in visiting Disney World. My family is just so damn lucky that they visited Disney World in a fine weather.
Thanks, overall we still had an OK trip. I think if it had been our first trip we would have appreciated the positive things more and down played the negatives. But we go every couple of years and had just been in Disney Hong Kong a few months before--so I guess we're a bit spoiled maybe.