Disney World – Article 3 – Orlando, FL – Kosher Vacation


Disney World – six trips from the time I was 5 until now. Perhaps I had kids so I could go to Disney World and experience it again through their eyes. Write-ups about my previous trips in 2013 and 2016 have more discussions about minyanim, kosher food, Universal Studios, and Seaworld. This time I stayed close to Disney and only went to Disney parks so the experience is quite different. Initial comments:

1) Buy Disney stock. Any company that can get people to pay $100+ a ticket per child per day in an ecosystem with rides, shows, food, and hotels and wait on lines for even up to 105 minutes … invest in that.

2) Get the Genie / Fastpass thing. It’s $15 more per day on top of your already $100+ ticket per person. It changes the entire experience. Instead of 105 minute lines … stack reservations and avoid major lines. More details coming up below.

Food and Kids to Take

Read the older articles about off-park kosher restaurants (links above). They’re about a 1/2 hr from Disney and close to Universal Studios. There is kosher food available within each Disney park. The problem is it’s pretty bad airplane food and can take a long time for them to put the double-sealed tray into boiling water to heat it up. Disney lets you bring in your own food which is better and probably less expensive. Do that.

Another thing I learned – if you can, take only kids who want to go. Or, for the kids who don’t want to go to the parks, rent a house with a pool and most kids are happy there for the day. Pools, in fact, are pretty good competition for a Disney park.

One kid to Disney goes something like this after a few hours: “I want to go home” … and you go home.
Take two kids and one of them whines they want to go home while another whines they want to go on another ride.
Take three kids and one whines to go home and each of the other two whine they want to go on a different ride at opposite ends of the park.
Take four kids and you don’t know where on earth (well, where in a fake microcosm of Earth called a Disney park) this fourth kid is.

There are so many times kids are crying and parents are in their face saying, “I paid $100 for this ticket! Stop crying and enjoy it as much as I want you to!” Those kids just need a pool.

Staying Close to Disney

Disney owns many hotels with prices varying from “not too bad” to “wow, that’s expensive.” They have free busing to the parks and some are connected to a gondola to the parks (even some cheaper hotels) or even Disney’s monorail system. I almost stayed in the “Art of Animation” themed hotel until I saw their rooms were Little Mermaid themed. That movie is an insult to women’s intelligence and feels like a 1950s movie where women are either eye candy or evil … let’s attract the man based on our “body language”. No.

So we stayed in the less expensive Wyndham Bonnet Creek resort … glad we did. The hotel was MUCH nicer and less expensive. I actually took the gondola to the “Animation” hotel because, hey, it was another free ride to take my daughter on. The Disney hotel was kind of tacky and the pool wasn’t nearly as nice – it was also packed.

The Wyndham Bonnet Creek, by contrast, was great … it’s beautiful and there is plenty to do onsite including a lazy river and many pools and hot tubs (usually sparsely populated), mini-golf, shows (a comedian), arts and crafts, and whatnot. For $1.50 there’s fish food for the fish in the lake which the hotels surround. The food attracted coi, bass, turtles, and … ducks. Ducks are everywhere. Lizards are abundant too … all good child and adult-friendly entertainment.

This resort also has a small mini-market where about 80%+ of the food is kosher … milk, drinks, bread, breakfast cereal, donuts, snacks, bananas, and ice cream. All the ice cream is Hersheys … as is the ice cream store next door. The ice cream store, however, charged almost $6 for a small cup of the same ice cream as a pint thereof at the mekolot, err… mini-market. It’s good ice cream too.

Renting a Car vs. Taxi

If you’re staying far from the parks and hopping around kosher restaurants, Universal Studios, Disney, a house in some neighborhood etc, renting a car is good idea. This was my first trip car-less Disney trip thanks to the magic of Uber and short distances of travel. Regular yellow cabs seem to not really exist there anymore and Lyft is sparse. I added it up at the end of my trip: for the raw cost, it would have cost me almost the same to rent a car as I did for all the taxis I took. However, factor into that paying for gas and the cost of parking at each park ($25/day) and hotel parking (closer hotels charge for parking), as well as the chance of damage to the car and the Uber rides were about half the price with a bonus of drop-off at the entrances to the parks.

The downside to this is that you can’t always get an Uber that fast. It rained at Magic Kingdom as we were leaving one day. They shutdown the monorail and there was a ridiculous line to take a ferry. It’s walking distance to some of the nearest resorts where you can get an Uber (they don’t allow them to Magic Kingdom itself; only to the parking lot a monorail ride away). I was afraid there’d be such high demand for an Uber from the parking lot that I’d wait yet again. I opted to talk a free bus to a Disney hotel near my own instead – which, I could do because I wasn’t beholden to a car in the Disney parking lot. Once there it still took a half hour to get an Uber and $38 for a one mile trip! It was $8 the previous time when there was no surge pricing. Going to the airport only cost $50. It’s all part of the equation otherwise $8 to $15 to get from the hotel to Disney isn’t so bad. (Wyndham has shuttle service not often; Disney hotels have much more frequent bus service.)

Spirit Airlines & Budget Airlines

Quick aside about Spirit – this was my first time rather than a regular airline like JetBlue (very nice), El Al (I happen to really like El Al … they constantly feed you), or United (ugh). It’s known to give you no frills and up-charges for everything. Surprise: I really liked it.

First, they take off and land on time having far less baggage than other airlines to load and unload. Delays were only because of air traffic controllers. Second, there’s no sensory overload … no screens all over, no coming around six times to offer you this or that and take away what’s left of the this or the that. It’s just – a plane that takes you from A to B kind of how a bus does. You have your seat and you have plenty of room to store your luggage.

The seats don’t go back which is a double-edged sword (well, not ‘sword’ per se). I like to put my seat back though even more than that, I really don’t like when the person in front of me puts their seat back. I’m tall and a moving seat in front of me smashing into my leg … not fun.

Spirit’s seats are small and the legroom is sparse – all true. I fight alright though and the seats on other airlines actually are less comfortable for me because the headrest usually hits my back rather than my head causing neck strain.

In terms of paying extra even for a carry-on – I’m actually a fan of this practice now. Google flights will compare prices with luggage extras and if it’s cheaper with the up-charge, that’s still … you know, cheaper. Meanwhile the plane isn’t packed and there’s plenty of space to put your luggage right near your seat. Less clutter and no one scrambling around the plane to find space for their luggage in an overhead compartment also means quicker takeoff and landing.

With no television distraction in your face and on every other seat it’s easier to chill. Choose your own media and you don’t have to hear six month later how your child watched something you find totally inappropriate which would never be found in your home. Books and podcasts work for me. Downside: harder to entertain kids on the trip without a screen. For a longer flight I think I’d fly a “nicer” airline or, at least, upgrade to nicer seats … if it were cost effective, anyway.

Bring a Smartphone

This is a must – even if you don’t use the Lightning Pass thing and pay the extra money, at the very least the Disney app will tell you the wait times on every ride. This changes the experience so much. No more trekking a mile to find the ride you want has a wait time of infinity and beyond. The app itself is hokey and not very intuitive. It also won’t give you a description of the ride or tell you where it is so knowing the parks or being near Disney staff who does is very helpful. Once you get through the poorly designed interface it’s very useful.

Genie Lightning Pass (formerly, “FastPass”)

The worst park about going to Disney: THE LINES. I wasn’t going to buy up a theme park and tell everyone they can’t come because that’d backfire anyway. (Props to anyone who gets my reference.) I resigned myself … okay, this child hasn’t been yet … I’ll brave the lines for her. I’ll go in August when it’s hot out so the lines are shorter (almost all lines are in the shade or indoors).

Day 1: line waiting … paid $100+ a ticket … not paying $15 more (+tax)! Puhh – stop trying to get more money out of me, Disney! It was misery.

Day 2: I paid the extra $$ to book reservations using the app. The Disney blogs are all over this “you can only reserve once every two hours” … that’s true except when it is not. Once you use one of your reservations you can book another right away. Here’s the trick: as soon as you check in for a ride, book the next ride. Disney rides are roughly 20 minutes so if they next time Disney offers you for a decent ride is 20 to 40 minutes out, you’re generally fine. Even if it’s an hour out, catch a show (usually with max 15 minute wait) or go to a ride with a short standby line. With this method I barely waited anywhere at all, all day. Well, until about 3:30pm each day when I maxed out the number of reservations I could make at about 8.

By the time you read this, they’ll probably have changed around the settings because this was too good to be true. In the past I might have gone on three major rides during a day in the park … I went on 10+ each day with the lightning thing including our favorite rides twice. (My daughter actually went on the largest roller coast three times … once was enough for me.) If you want, you could hop back and forth between Splash Mountain and the Haunted House all day just to say you did. Others were waiting in 35 to 50 minutes for these attractions. At each park though there’s one ride with a super long wait … have to book 4+ hours in advance. So skip that one or reserve it before the park opens. Jungle Cruise isn’t that amazing anyway.

One more thing – don’t book shows with the Genie thing. It’s a waste of one of your reservations. Get to the show 15 min before showtime (Genie tells you to get there 30 before anyway) and you’re fine. Also, don’t book rides with a 5 or 10 minute standby wait time. Often the Genie thing isn’t any faster anyway and you’ve wasted another reservation.

Hollywood Studios

Do you like Star Wars? Do you like to be around people wearing Star Wars t-shirts? Do you wear Star Wars t-shirts? Then this is the park for you.

I like Star Wars. The geek factor ruined any chance of liking this and it was ‘meh’ even without the geeks.

This is a total guess though I’m guessing the Disney execs created this park like this …
Executive 1: “We just bought everyone else’s intellectual property. Let’s make money.”
Executive 2: “No, we’re losing tourists to Universal Studios and their movie themes. We need to compete with that instead.”
Chiwala (the guy who serves them tea): “Hey, look at my Star Wars t-shirt! I want a Star Wars theme park!”

The executives scoffed and then opened Hollywood Studios.

I went on one Star Wars ride … it was one of those things where you sit in thing that shakes around in different directions while you look at something on a screen. (Universal Studios does it much better with their Simpsons / formerly Back to the Future ride, by the way.) Meh. Then I went on another, early in the morning before long lines, where they take you from line to line through uneventful things that look like they’re from Star Wars. Got to a hall that looks like the inside of a ship and the Star Wars t-shit people are “whoaaa”-ing at the rows of Storm Trooper models on a black tile floor. Then we went on another line … told where to stand … ushered into a prison room with a TV screen above us … then the ride broke. We didn’t know that for a while well we stood and waited. That was memorable. Ha ha. The ride turned real.

Outside the ride, now with a 120 minute wait (hint: I didn’t go back to that ride) Star Wars t-shirt people walked around gawking at the painted plaster meant to look like an old Middle Eastern city complete with flag hanging down from what looks like Ariel Sharon’s apartment in the Arab quarter of Jerusalem. In other words: walk through Jerusalem instead where the stones are real, the people are real, the history is real, and the spirituality was there before George Lucas read the works of Joseph Campbell.

Oh, and Tower of Terror is here – it’s based on Twilight Zone. Disney doesn’t own Twilight Zone and this ride is totally out of character for the park. It’s also the best ride in the park.

Animal Kingdom

From more than one taxi driver I heard that this was a favorite. I can kind of see how that could be. The park has real animals though it’s no Six Flags Great Adventure or even comparable to a modest size city zoo. There’s very little Jungle Book because kids don’t know it anymore. They have a lot of Lion King themed things because, of course. There’s a show on water which is a bunch of Lion King balloons pulled on jet skis … so much potential for a stunt show there. Some Bugs Life 4D type thing … meh.

There was an indoor Lion King show with trapeze artists which was excellent. There was an Africa section where all the performers were black and the people with brooms and pushcarts were white. I kid you not – I saw the exact opposite in Tomorrow Land. Do what you want with that information. To hide that further in the middle of the paragraph what’s great about Disney is that the staff is knowledgeable and has to smile (except for at the Haunted Mansion which is in high demand amongst Disney employees for that reason). They point with two fingers so as not to be offensive to some cultures and you can ask for directions or to get your picture taken from someone pushing a garbage can or someone there to … I guess … give directions at intersections.

On the right see that picture with a seat belt? There’s a yellow thing to pull on when the ride attendant comes around to check if you’re seat belted. Little things like this Disney has thought of all over the place to make the experience more pleasant. It’s a step or two above other parks in this area.

The one major ride @ Animal Kingdom (without a 4+ hour wait) which is the Everest roller-coaster. It’s pretty cool – up into a huge recreation of a mountain with forwards and backwards motion and a Yeti theme. Good stuff.

Magic Kingdom

If you go to one Disney park it has to be this one. The other parks have their one or two major rides. This park has about six. Some of them are dated and classic (It’s a Small World comes to mind). Some are dated, classic, and need to be replaced (Tiki Room was probably amazing in 1963). Some are shameless self-promotion (movie about Walt Disney). Some are classic and haven’t become dated.

Favorites: Haunted mansion. With the magic genie pass thing I was able to go on this multiple times … they really packed this place with detail. Things you don’t notice the first time you notice on later travels. Disney is great at filling in your frame of view from the time you get on line (or the first line of three lines) until well after you exit. They do it even better than their regular standards on this ride. Look behind your car where you’re not being directed and there are even more things there to see. I loved this ride as a kid and as an adult.

Second favorite: Space mountain. This is probably more for nostalgia as a kid being the first major roller coaster I remember being on. Still, it’s cool. It has a nice theme going on and the actual roller coaster is a scary yet smooth ride and in the dark. Sensory overload is avoided. (Side note: the Aerosmith ride at Hollywood Studios is basically a copy of this ride with loud Aerosmith music.) Space mountains’ 70s’ cheesy “2001: A Space Odyssey” version of the future is still up to date (present? futuristic? presently futuristic?).

Third favorite: Monster’s Inc. laugh floor. This show is formulaic though not in the typical Disney way. Disney shows are usually like this: “Hey, I’m the character you know from the cartoon and here’s me acting the way you expect. Let’s do a boring explanatory thing now from the movie – Wait? What’s this? My enemy from that movie is causing problems. I will now break the fourth wall and pretend stuff is going wrong which will resolve itself soon enough and make you feel good about yourself.” (I guess the formula works.)

The Monsters Inc. show is different.

Disney gets everything right. While you’re waiting for the doors to open there’s information and some minor comedy on the screens … and without frustrating repetition that plagues so many other lines at non-Disney parks. The actual show, once inside, is a seamless integration of pre-recorded lines and animation from the Monster’s Inc. characters interspersed with live voice actors within the animated show. These “live” characters are new so they can change the voice actors from day to day with, for example, “Sam and Ella” who are attached to form “Salmonella” (I love that line).

The premise is that the monsters need to collect enough laughter for power to open the exit doors (I’m over simplifying – it’s fine) and they proceed to tell dad jokes (Salmonella … such a good one) and pick on audience members to do silly or cute things. There’s one little girl each time … my daughter was one row off from one of the usual places they pick from … bah. Me, on the other hand … one of the times I got to be “That Guy”. I’m the person they used as a running gag to go back to while making some not so nice comments. They make it up to you by providing you with a sticker at the end as I reward. I’m satisfied! Got a good picture of myself on screen too.

There are also just so many side places to go where I’ve never seen a line … Hall of Presidents is cute, Wheel of Progress, and the 3D movie thing here … the style is just copied at their other later built parks which are far smaller.


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