Walt Disney World has been affectionately known as the happiest place on Earth for years, and is a popular vacation destination for families and Disney adults alike. While I went a number of times as a kid, I hadn't attended since I was in High School around 2008. But this changed earlier this October, where I returned to to the parks as an adult. And there were 3 things that rocked, and 3 things that didn't.
I'd been hearing Disney World stories from my loved ones for years, so I was eager to see how new lands and systems would function. Although I was happy to know that throughout any moments of discomfort, I would be able to drink alcoholic beverage. Still, there were a few things that really stood out as I visited all of the parks in Orlando over the course of a week. Let's start with the good.
Star Wars Galaxy's Edge Is Even More Immersive Than I'd Imagined
One of the big reasons I wanted to come back to a Disney park was because I'm a huge Star Wars fan. The last time I was there, Galaxy's Edge wasn't even a glimmer in Disney's eye, but boy did they deliver. I was looking forward to my day at Hollywood Studios the most, and it ended up being my favorite of the entire trip. And a large part of that was due to just how immersive Galaxy's Edge truly was. It made me want to come back for the Galactic Starcruiser experience, although I might have to win the lottery first.
The land of Hollywood Studios (or as I still refer to it, MGM) was so detailed it took my breath away. The two attractions Rise of the Resistance and Smuggler's Run were both truly outstanding, and helped to further helped me to feel like I was in the galaxy far, far away. On my post-Rise of the Resistance high I got a cocktail at Oga's Cantina, feeling like I was in the middle of a Star Wars movie. I also sprung for the experience of building my own lightsaber at Savi's Workshop, which was worth every penny. That was the single coolest moment of the day, with the saber itself being the ultimate souvenir.
Avatar Flight of Passage Is The Most Amazing Ride I've Ever Been On
Another long-hyped update to Walt Disney World since my last visit was Pandora - The World of Avatar, which was a land added to Animal Kingdom a number of years ago. Like Galaxy's Edge, I was wholly impressed with how immersive this part of the park was, including architecture of the floating mountain and the food at Satu'li Canteen.
But the real star of the show were the two attractions in Pandora. The animatronic at the end of Na'vi river journey was spooky in its realism, seemingly looking straight into our souls. But it was the massively popular Avatar Flight of Passage that goes down as the most amazing ride I've ever been on. The 3-D looked crisp and gorgeous, and small details like the smells and feeling of the Banshee breathing under me was next level. And as a result I'm way more hyped for the upcoming release of Avatar: The Way of Water this December.
Genie+ And The Disney World App Worked Out Great... Mostly
What perhaps I was most nervous about going into my return to Disney World was the Disney+ system, and how much of the parks relied on digital reservations. While some loved ones raved about it, others have complained about the additional fee per guest. Indeed, my group and I payed up for Genie+ access for each day at the parks.
Despite the nerves involved, the Genie+ system ended up working great once my party and I got into a rhythm of booking new reservations, while timing out which lines we'd wait in for via stand-by. And being able to also schedule food orders and/or reservations all from the same app really made most days a breeze.
The exception of this came on my day at EPCOT. That park has far fewer rides than others, with the big ticket items being Remy's Ratatouille Adventure and Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind. The slots filled for both of these attractions pretty much instantly (more on that latter), as did the Frozen attraction. And since we were at rope drop and therefore got to ride other attractions like Test Track and Soarin early in the day, it wasn't cost effective to pay extra on our Epcot trip. Of course, we already did just that before realizing.
Now that I've spoken about the best part of my return to Disney World, let's break down the three things that were less than stellar for me.
Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind Was Basically Impossible To Ride
As previously mentioned, EPCOT ended up being the day where the Genie+ system failed to really pay off for us. The hottest ride in that park is definitely Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, which was at the top of our to-do list during that day. Unfortunately it ended up being basically impossible to ride, and we never got to experience it.
Unfortunately it seems like Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind is a ride mostly reserved for those staying at a Disney resort. I was on campus at a chain hotel, but staying in a Resort allowed access to Disney+ and Lightning Lane reservations for Cosmic Rewind. The rest of us had to try and get on the digital queue at 7AM and 1AM, and both times they filled in a matter of seconds on the day I was at EPCOT. What's more, there is no standby queue available (other new rides have used this strategy upon opening), so we couldn't even suck it up and spend a few hours on line. There was literally no way for me to get onto this ride, which was the premiere attraction at the park. And it unfortunately was a mood killer throughout the day.
The Cost Of Disney Was Truly Shocking (How Do Families Do It?)
Obviously vacations to Disney parks are known for not being a cheap expense. But upon doing it for the first time as an adult (and paying all my own bills) it was truly startling just how expensive the vacation ended up being. And since I was only paying for myself, I had to wonder: how exactly are families even able to do it?
As previously mentioned, there are ways to cut the lines at Disney through Genie+ and Lightning Lane. But these additional feed are per person, which means that if you'd like to schedule an attraction for an entire family, that fee is multiplied. Add in the cost of food, tickets for the parks themselves, and hotel stay (which can affect your ability to reserve queue spots), and it's almost insurmountable. While Disney World used to be something that a working class family could save up for, I'm not sure it's even sustainable unless you're willing to spend thousands upon thousands of dollars.
There Were A Ton Of Ride Closures Across All Parks
Another bummer that I noticed throughout my times at all the Disney World parks were just how often rides were closed. While most of these were temporary closings, I saw at least 1-2 closures at each of the parks during my trip. And given how important reservations on Genie+ and Lightning Lane are, it seems like a giant mess to shut down popular attractions down in the middle of the day.
During our day at Hollywood Studios we saw as The Rise of The Resistance closed down multiple times, which definitely made me feel lucky that we got on the ride as soon as we got into the park. The same can also be said for Rock 'n' Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith. I was unable to ride certain rides altogether due to closures, such as Pirates of the Caribbean. And while I accepted not being able to do every single ride on my list, I was taken back by just how frequent closures were across the various parks at Disney World.
Despite some disappointments, overall I have to give my first adult Disney World experiencing two big thumbs up. Although after worrying about the bills and seeing countless young attendees crying throughout the week, I'm not sure I plan on going with any kids. Does this make me an official Disney adult?
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Corey was born and raised in New Jersey. Double majored in theater and literature during undergrad. After working in administrative theater for a year in New York, he started as the Weekend Editor at CinemaBlend. He's since been able to work himself up to reviews, phoners, and press junkets-- and is now able to appear on camera with some of his favorite actors... just not as he would have predicted as a kid.