First some background: We stayed there Monday through Friday, four nights. Our plane got in on Monday at noon, and we were in our first park by about 2:30-3:00 that day. We were in the parks Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and since our plane departed Friday at 2, we eschewed the parks that day and relaxed at the resort until check out. We chose park hopper passes, which wound up coming in handy on Wednesday as you'll hear later.
After researching several places online, we narrowed down our resort choices to either the Pop Century resort or the Art of Animation resort. Both are economy resorts, and both received high marks in reviews. The bottom line is, it came down to either style or convenience. Pop Century has more rooms at convenient locations to the buses to the parks, but their rooms are less themed and older. Art of Animation is Disney's newest resort, and the theme in the rooms and exteriors are phenomenal, but the non-suite rooms (themed to The Little Mermaid) are a bit of a walk from the buses. Since we're young(ish) and an enthusiastic theme in decor was important to us, plus the rooms were so new and pristine, we chose Art of Animation.
And we loved it there!!!
A few weeks before our vacation started, we got a letter in the mail inviting us to be part of the testing process for Disney's new Magic Bands system. These RFID bands are your key to the kingdom...they are your room key, your credit card, your park tickets, and your Fast Pass tickets all in one. And in fact unlike the usual Fast Pass system, where you have to race to a kiosk in the morning to book your times for the day, with the Magic Bands you can book your (three) Fast Passes ahead of time from the convenience of your home. It was marvelously handy!!
Upon arrival at the airport, we didn't have to pick up our checked bag...a yellow tag provided by Disney strapped around the handle was their clue to pick it up for us from the airport and it was delivered to our room while we were away in the parks. Love it!! We climbed aboard our shuttle bus, or Disney's Magical Express, at the airport and we were off to our hotel! As soon as we walked into the hotel, an employee greeted us and directed us to where we needed to go. Check-in was incredibly easy and fast, and we were given a map to our rooms, which were, as requested, in building 7 overlooking the lake. Again, I had read online that these were the best rooms for convenience in the Little Mermaid area. (yay research!) We walked to our room, past wonderful huge statues.
|These seagulls from Finding Nemo would randomly shout out "Mine! Mine!" as you walked by.|
The Finding Nemo suites were directly behind the main building, and then we walked through the Lion King - themed area.
Finally we arrived at the Little Mermaid area!
We stayed in the Ursula building. It was easy to remember. ;)
Yes, that Ursula is four stories tall. Sweet.
When we got to our room, the Disney magic already had begun, but it continued with three surprises: a Mickey head made from towels on the edge of the bed:
A shell towel with an Ariel sticker in the middle:
Aaaaand a special message on our answering machine:
After dropping off our stuff, we headed out to our first park, Epcot!
Oh, I forgot to mention that when we checked in, we were given red "Happy Anniversary" buttons. You'll see them in all of our pictures. And let me tell you, they were such a great part of our trip. Everyone at every level of employment, from bathroom attendants and security bag check guys to face and costumed characters at the park wished us a happy anniversary. And it never got old...we could have taken off our buttons at any time, but I'd say at least 90% of the people calling out greetings did so in a really genuine and enthusiastic way: I'm sure they were told to do so, but their hearts and kindness seemed in the right place.
Soooo Epcot. We arrived there around 3:00, which we later discovered is definitely the hottest most scalding part of an Orlando day. The entrance confused us, as did the map, and so for the first ten minutes or so, we wandered around trying to figure out what to do before our first Fast Pass time started at 3:30. (Fast Pass times are an hour chunk...you have to arrive SOMEtime during that hour, or five minutes before it starts, but you don't have to be there RIGHT at the start time). We decided to do the "design your own roller coaster and ride it in virtual reality" feature, which was in air conditioning in a building similar to our local COSI with educational rides. Ironically, the line for this was probably one of the longest ones we waited for during our entire trip. We timed it RIGHT: We hardly had to wait for a thing.
From there, we met Chip and Dale, the first of MANY characters we got pictures with as you will see.
Meandering around again, we found a doorway with a sign above it that said "Epcot Character Spot"...we asked the cast member at the door (note: Disney employees are known as "cast members") who was inside. Mickey, Minnie, and Goofy, they replied. And there was no wait. We walked right in, met the characters, took our time with them...it was wonderful!
We used a Fast Pass to ride Soarin, a virtual flying experience over the landmarks and vistas of California. They even pump in smells like citrus as you fly over the lemons and oranges. It was pretty neat, but it was over disappointingly quickly. From there, we went to check out the world showcase areas of Epcot. We arrived during the Food and Wine Festival, which is apparently a big thing for some people, although to be quite honest I didn't really get it: little kiosks were set up throughout the different countries selling food from different nations, but I guess I'm not a foodie and the appeal of buying overpriced tacos and pasta just didn't make sense to me. (shrug)
|In the Canada area, in front of a pretty building.|
|Calling my British friend Kirsty on a British phone. Kirsty, you there?|
And tried different free samples of fountain drinks at the Coke store (80% of the drinks were out of order, but we tried a couple of neat ones like watermelon fizz and fizzy lemonade)
Our dinner reservations that night were for the Rose & Crown Pub in the England area of Epcot. As you can tell by our shirts above, we're big Anglophiles and our original plan for our anniversary trip was to go to the U.K. So I thought it'd be fun to celebrate that with our first dinner. Amusingly enough, as we were seated on the patio overlooking the water, the sky grew dark and cloudy and we had juuust one or two raindrops splash on us. But the breeze was cool, the weather was quite authentically British, and since our table didn't have an umbrella it kept us from getting scalded by sun so we didn't mind.
|Not my photo of the pub...occasionally I'll use Google photos to illustrate our trip if I forgot to take one or it turned out awful.|
After dinner we stopped by to meet Mary Poppins:
We rode the Maelstrom ride in Norway. (rather underwhelming) and scoped out a place after dark to view the Illuminations fireworks display they hold on the water at the center of the world showcase area. It was a wonderful fireworks display, and I have to say...once you've seen fireworks at Disney, it spoils you to all others. The choreography of the explosions with the music with the fire with the lights on the buildings...it was marvelous, and the perfect end to our first day at Disney. We booked it fast out of the park when the show ended, weaving among the crowd, and managed to get on the first bus back to the resort.
We collapsed in bed and enjoyed the kind of black-out sleep you only get when you sleep on a comfy mattress (note: we need a new one at home) after a long day of jetlag and park events.