It’s quickly becoming a family tradition to take a little weekend trip to Walt Disney World during the Veteran’s Day weekend. It comes at a good time during the football season for me to take a break, since it’s Week 11 and largely a slow week for us. It’s also a perfect time because Timberly and the boys have Veteran’s Day off, so we can make a long weekend out of it.

We made the trip last year and did it again this year and will likely make it a permanent thing, as long as I can swing the Friday night off like I’ve done the last two years.

It’s a great time to visit WDW, because it’s the last weekend of Food & Wine Festival, and it’s also the first weekend of Christmas decorations going up around WDW. We got a nice little preview of Main Street USA with all the Christmas decorations up, as well as Animal Kingdom. The Epcot and Studios decorations should be coming this week.

We checked the boys out of school around 11 a.m. and made the 7-plus hour drive down to Orlando, getting to Pop Century just in time for dinner. We had our favorite at Pop — the large pepperoni pizza. We’ve figured out the easiest way to save money at WDW is to share meals. We’ve opted out of the dining plan and we’ve saved so much money on dining. We budgeted $500 for basically three and a half days of dining (three table-service character meals included) and we ended up being under budget at the end of the weekend. And we ate well.

We took it easy the Friday night and let the kids blow off some steam at the arcade. I know it’s a big waste of money, but it keeps them happy and entertained for a couple of hours while we relax.

The next morning, we headed out to Animal Kingdom for a half-day there. We really didn’t plan on doing alot at Animal Kingdom, because we had sandwiched a trip to Tusker House smack dab in the middle of our half day there. We did head straight to Kilimanjaro Safaris for the first ride of the day and got on with no wait. After our 20-minute safari ride, which included a lot of very close encounters with animals, we walked the Pangoni Forest Trail. The kids did some of the Wilderness Explorers badges they had missed our last trip. We timed it perfect to get to Tusker House right at 10 a.m. for our 10:25 a.m. seating. We were seated within 10 minutes and enjoyed a nice breakfast. It was actually our plan to eat breakfast and stick around long enough to sample some of the lunch fare when they turned it over at 11 a.m., but I guess with the late breakfast we just didn’t have it in us. We were all pretty full and decided to skip out on the lunch fare, even though it was turning over right as we were paying.

After lunch, we headed over to Festival of the Lion King, my absolute favorite show on property. I love that show, always get a little teary-eyed when I look over and see my boys and wife singing and clapping along to the music. We did FOTLK and then decided it was time to head to Hollywood Studios.

As many times as we’ve been, this was the first time that we’ve ever park-hopped by the true definition of the phrase. Normally when we hop to a new park, we go back to the room for some rest, and then head to the new park. Saturday, we went straight from AK to Studios. In hindsight, the break may have been better, but we worked through some frustrations.

Here’s where we got our first experience with FastPass+. We had set aside our FP+ experiences for the afternoon at Studios, knowing we could walk on pretty much anything we wanted at Animal Kingdom. We had Toy Story at 2 p.m., Star Tours at 3 p.m. and Fantasmic at 6 p.m. It was so nice to get to Studios after lunch and know that we had not missed out on Toy Story. Normally, if you don’t get to Studios first thing in the morning to get that coveted Toy Story FastPass, you’re either going to wait two hours or not ride. We didn’t hit Toy Story first, as we knew the FP+ wasn’t going anywhere. We jumped on Great Movie Ride and were treated to the cool Western gunfighter scene. We’ve done Great Movie Ride a dozen or so times and 90% of the time we’ve gotten the Gangster scene. This time, we got the shootout in the Wild West.

After Great Movie Ride, we went to Toy Story Midway Mania. I love that ride. I tried to use some tips, and didn’t do too well. Still managed to get to 171,000, which was best in the vehicle in the past hour, but I missed a lot of points. After Toy Story, we headed over to Star Tours only to find out that the ride was down. So, we ducked into Indiana Jones and watched that show. Another favorite of ours, even though we’ve seen it a few times, it never gets old.

Luckily, we got out of Indy and went back to Star Tours, which had just reopened. We used our FP+, but didn’t even need them as the line was back down to a 5-minute wait. But by the time we got off the ride, it was back up to 30 minutes as word of the re-opening spread.

After Star Tours, we just basically milled around the park and enjoyed the sights and sounds. We did catch Voyage of the Little Mermaid and One Man’s Dream, as well as going into the Animation Courtyard for a picture with Mr. Incredible and Frozone.

We were pulled into a movie on Hollywood Blvd. by Alberto Dante and Mimi Kaboom. It was funny because we were all wearing Michigan jerseys, and Mimi called us the “Numbers Family.” Unfortunately, Logan got stage fright, and when Alberto tried to talk to him, he kind of threw a tantrum. So the quick-thinking Alberto said “OK, your job when I yell action is to go over there and stand on the sidewalk and watch.” I love the Citizens of Hollywood. Basically, we just did a football commercial thing where we yelled into the camera. It was a fun little thing. Too bad Logan got a little stage fright.

We stumbled onto a comedy showdown on Sunset Blvd. between Evie Starlight and Dorma Nesmond. It was OK. We missed most of it, but heard the last couple of jokes, which were cute.

We went to Beauty and the Beast before Fantasmic, just to really waste some time. We probably shouldn’t have gone, because we got out of Beauty and the Beast at 5:55 p.m. and had to hoof it to Fantasmic for our last FP+. To be honest, I don’t know that I would do this FP+ again. We were seated in the farthest corner of the amphitheater, and missed a lot of the nice effects on the mountain. It was still nice seats, and the kids enjoyed the show. First time I’ve seen Fantasmic in 10 years, so it was good to experience it again. And Kaleb and Logan liked it, so we can add that to the rotation. Fantasmic was our curtain call for Studios, and it was probably the right time to leave because the park was closing in an hour and we were pretty worn out.

Sunday was Epcot/Magic Kingdom day for us. I got lucky and did our FP+ before they made the changes to the Epcot FP+ system. I was able to get Soarin’ at 9 a.m., Test Track at 2 p.m. and Mission Space at 3 p.m. It felt so good (like Toy Story the day before) to get to Epcot and not have to RUN to the Land pavilion to get our Soarin’ Fastpasses. Instead, we took our time, took some pictures and got a picture with Pluto just as he was coming out. In hindsight, we probably should have jumped on Spaceship Earth then too, but instead we headed to Soarin’. We rode Soarin’ with a very short wait because of our FP+. Amazing how by the time we got off Soarin’, the line was already 45 minutes (at around 9:20 a.m.). We rode Living with the Land after Soarin. When we got off that, I checked the times again and Soarin was already up to 90 minutes. That ride is popular.

After the Land, we did a quick ride on The Seas with Nemo and Friends. We didn’t hang around long in the Seas pavilion and went back to the fountain area. I wanted to try out the Starbucks at Fountain View and Kaleb was ready to ride Mission Space, so he and Timberly took off for Mars as me and Logan went to Starbucks to get a couple of peppermint mochas. I was surprised to see as many people in Starbucks as I did. I keep hearing all this hatred about Starbucks in the parks, but it was packed. Got our drinks pretty quickly and went sit outside Mission Space to wait for Timberly and Kaleb to get back from Mars. It must have been a long trip because I finished my drink before they got out. They timed it perfectly, though, because the Jammitors (err, the Jammin’ Chefs) were setting up for their show. We hung around and watched for a while, but the boys wanted to go into Innoventions, so we followed.

After Innoventions, we had to get to Germany for our lunch at Biergarten. Along the way, we had time, so we stopped in at Mexico and rode The Three Caballeros. We headed to Biergarten and enjoyed a very good lunch. We had never eaten there and was a little worried that we might not like it, but it was great. I ate roasted chicken, meatballs, pork roast, sausage, just about everything a man could desire. We ate really slow because we wanted to be there for the 1:15 Musikstan show. I liked the show. I think next time, I’ll try to time it to where we’re eating around 12:30 p.m. and won’t have to wait a good 15 minutes for the show to start. Loved seeing Logan creep onto the dance floor and eventually dancing to some polka music. All in all, a good first experience at Biergarten.

We did not hang around World Showcase for long, mainly because it was the last day of Food and Wine and the crowd was crazy. Lots of people drinking or waiting in line to get something to drink. It felt like I was back home at a Festival. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but we prefer our Disney experiences to remain Disney-like.

We did our Test Track FP+ next and it was Timberly and Logan’s first time on Test Track and they both liked it. Logan liked it more than Timberly, for sure. I think it’s a ride we’ll do more in the future. It’s definitely Kaleb’s favorite ride.

We rode Spaceship Earth on the way out, and it was a 20-minute wait by the time we got there. It’s a can’t-miss for us, so we stood in the line to ride it. After Spaceship Earth, we hopped on the monorail to Magic Kingdom.

Magic Kingdom Sunday night was largely a last-minute thing just to allow us to be in MK at night. We hadn’t planned on doing a whole lot, so we just kind of winged it. I think we did Dumbo (with the new playground queue), Tea Cups, and the Carousel. We spent an hour (at least) playing Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom. When you’ve gone as much as we have in the last two  years, the kids need something new and this is perfect for them.

We kind of got stuck in the park around 8 p.m. because my plans got shot when the train station got shut down because of the parades and Wishes. I was thinking we could take the train from Storybook Circus to Main Street and get out of there quickly. Instead, we had to make the back walk from Storybook Circus to Tomorrowland and through Tomorrowland down Main Street (watching the parade roll by) and out the gates. We were coming back to MK in the morning, so didn’t want to stay too late.

Monday morning was tough because we were all tired and it was hard to get up in time to get packed and at the Poly for breakfast. But we made it to Ohana in time for our 7:40 a.m. ADR. The meal was good (as usual) and we had the same seats as last time with the perfect view of the castle. The kids loved the meal, and I got a second day of Pog (Lilikoi juice, Jungle juice, whatever you want to call it). We took the monorail to MK and got there 15 minutes before rope drop.

We headed straight to Fantasyland and jumped on Little Mermaid, Tea Cups (again), Winnie the Pooh. We had a FP+ for Haunted Mansion, but didn’t even have to use it. After Haunted Mansion, I jumped on Big Thunder Mountain for a quick ride while Timberly and the boys waited. We went to Adventureland and got on Pirates with little wait before going to Jingle Cruise for our second FP+ of the day. Probably didn’t need FP+ here either, but we used it anyway to avoid waiting. The Jingle Cruise concept is pretty cool, but it’s the same jokes with Christmas themes. Still love Jungle Cruise, though.

After Jungle Cruise, we jumped on Magic Carpets before an obligatory stop at Aloha Isle for a Dole Whip. We made our way to Tomorrowland to catch Monsters Laugh Floor before getting on TTA People Mover. It was a treat because the lights were on at Space Mountain, so we could see the guts of the attraction. It was nice to see that. After People Mover, we did Buzz Lightyear, knowing that would be our last ride. We stopped on the way out to get some more Sorcerers cards, then headed back to Poly for lunch.

We did Capt. Cook’s for lunch and it was OK. I was surprised at how slow it was there to get the food. One thing the value resorts have on the deluxes are the quick-service meals. They are definitely faster at values, but I guess at deluxes most people are eating the table-service meals.

Capt. Cook’s was our last stop, as we headed back to Pensacola to get back to reality. It was a short, but fun trip. We were able to pack a lot into a little bit of time.

Up next: I’ll take a look at Magic Bands and give my review of how they worked.

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