It’s been a while—years, actually—since we did a Walt Disney World trip report. Well, we’re going to be doing a few these next few months at Walt Disney World and Disneyland. Our goal is to have these serve as ongoing updates to our content. It’s really tough to keep everything fully updated (though we really do our best), so our most recent trip report should be a good place to see our most recent thoughts on things, particularly touring strategies.
About This Trip Report
This trip report covers our May 2019 visit to Walt Disney World. It’s designed to provide a final set of notes for visits in summer 2019 before August 29, 2019 when Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opens.
This trip report will be in six parts (links open in new tabs and will go up as content goes up):
Part 1 - Introduction, Booking, Travel, and Afternoon at Animal Kingdom (this post)
We’re heavily into Extra Magic Hours and After Hours this trip, so the reports might not be as valuable for guests who won’t have access to Extra Magic Hours. Our next Walt Disney World trip report will probably be the opening of Galaxy’s Edge. That report will cover post-Galaxy’s Edge strategy.
This report was set in May 2019. As such, it doesn’t quite have the high crowds that you’ll see starting Memorial Day.
Updates at Walt Disney World
Before I even get to the retelling of my trip, I want to cover some things that have changed at Walt Disney World since our last visit and that aren’t specific to any parks.
It’s Tough To Be In Bug Season. Love bugs are out in full force this first week of May, and it is positively disgusting. They congregate primarily around the bus stops it seems—or other spaces with large flat surfaces. They aren’t much of a problem at night.
Cheerleaders In Town. The Summit All Star Cheerleading Championship was in town. This didn’t impact our visit, but it may have been the cause of reduced hotel availability at the value end of things.
No Smoking and Other Rule Changes. May 1 brought changes to the smoking policies (no more in the parks), along with restrictions on stroller sizes and a new loose-ice policy. You can read all about these here.
A Confusing App Entertainment Glitch. If you use the My Disney Experience app you know it’s a pretty poor app. One new glitch I’m seeing pertains to the entertainment schedule. If entertainment is available during a ticketed event (like After Hours), the app will make it look like it is only available during the ticketed event, even though it has a full normal schedule for the day. Click into the event to see the full roster of times.
Booking and Travel to Walt Disney World
I booked this trip just a few weeks in advance. We’re fans of both luxury and budget travel, but when we’re focused on parks and visiting for work we tend to go heavy into the budget end of things (with some spare money for bars and a table service meal or two).
I booked a round-trip flight from Chicago (ORD) to Orlando (MCO) on Spirit Airlines for $124.60. This didn’t include a checked bag or carry-on, but all I needed was my awesome Disneyland backpack (that I got as one of those super manipulative “only $20 when you spend $12,999” deals).
I searched and searched and searched, but I could not find hotel availability at Walt Disney World on the Disney website for my stay. I think this was because of a cheerleading event that was in town—they tend to eat up all the value resort availability.
I considered a few Priceline Express deals or rates at other hotels in the area, but ultimately I settled on a Priceline rate of $814.45 for a five night stay at Disney’s Pop Century Resort (a favorite of ours). That’s $162.89 per night, or about $40 total under what the rack rate for the room would have been.
Most of my clothes that aren’t in storage were obtained from Disney parks around the world over the past year. Today I was heavy into the Disneyland gear, which sort of made me hope someone on the plane would give me the “bad news” that I was going the wrong direction.
The flight was pretty bumpy, but that’s common this time of year between O’Hare and MCO. Emily also had a bumpy flight coming in from Denver (“bumpy” to us means flight attendants were ordered to their seats) a later night. My flight touched down at about 1:11PM and I was boarded onto the Disney Magical Express bus at 1:58PM.
Keep in mind I didn’t have a checked bag to pick up. If you are bringing a checked bag, you can arrange to have Magical Express transport your checked bags to your room by evening of your arrival date.
Check-In And Our Pop Century Room
I arrived at Pop Century around 2:30PM. Check-in was smooth.
I opted out of housekeeping to receive the $40 gift card, which came as an e-gift card via email shortly after check-in. This is $10 per night for my length of stay minus one night. The pamphlet reminds you that you are still subject to room inspections, (and we had one). Some quick notes about our room and stay.
Our room was identical to our last room at Pop Century (review here). Nothing new here.
The refrigerator was really loud and kept making a clanking noise. It’s tough to say if that kept me awake or whether I was just sleeping poorly. It’s disappointing to see problems in new rooms because it worries me that something like that could be widespread if the refrigerators just aren’t good.
The walls are thinner than I remember. We could hear our neighbor Facetiming at 12:30AM. It wasn’t the sort of volume to keep us up, but it was annoying.
Our coffee machine was broken. This was a simple fix, and we were quickly brought a new one in a box when we asked.
Bus service was sufficient. I remain pleasantly surprised by bus service at the value resorts.
The Cast Member who checked me in was also able to secure me tickets to the Hollywood Studios After Hours that same night. It was the special May 4th (Star Wars Day) edition, which meant I didn’t get an Annual Passholder discount. I decided on this last minute.
I didn’t actually have plans for the day, but I was able to get afternoon FastPass+ reservations at Animal Kingdom for Na’vi River Journey, Expedition Everest, and DINOSAUR. It just made sense to visit Hollywood Studios After Hours to finish off the day. I headed to the bus at around 3:00PM and boarded around 3:10PM, amidst a small Florida drizzle.
Afternoon at Animal Kingdom
I arrived at Animal Kingdom at 3:30PM. That’s 2 hours and 19 minutes from wheels down to my first park for the trip.
By the time I arrived, my Na’vi River Journey FastPass+ had converted to a multiple experiences FastPass+, and I’d grabbed a Kilimanjaro Safaris FastPass+. If the ride breaks down and a FastPass+ converts to multiple experiences, you get to keep that one and grab a replacement.
I started with lunch at Satu’li Canteen, my favorite quick service spot in Animal Kingdom. I wish I’d taken a picture of the tofu bowl, because I actually thought it was a little skimpy on the sweet potato hash. Still delicious, though.
I saw the Otter Grotto, newly reopened, but the otters weren’t there . The hippos and crocodiles wouldn’t make appearances on my safari either, but that’s just how the safaris go sometimes. I headed to my safari just after 4PM and was done around 4:30PM. The rain had brought a few animals out, and I got good views (not good pictures though, sorry) of the wildebeest and cattle.
Without big plans for the afternoon, I really just wanted to walk around and enjoy myself. I actually quite tire of having my face in my phone on instagram and booking FastPass+ all the time, so it’s nice to take a few minutes to enjoy the park.
I grabbed a beer at Nomad Lounge and walked around, taking pictures of a few of my favorite views, squeezing rides in as my FastPass+ reservations came up. Okay, so I had my face in my phone just a bit, and at 6:37PM I lucked into a 7:40PM Avatar Flight of Passage FastPass+.
With all same-day FastPass+ reservations, I wound up riding Avatar Flight of Passage, Na’vi River Journey, Kilimanjaro Safaris, and Expedition Everest. That’s a pretty good selection of Animal Kingdom rides for a short afternoon.
I left sometime around 8:15PM to head to Hollywood Studios After Hours. The bus to Hollywood Studios got me there at 8:45PM, just in time to grab a quick service dinner before Hollywood Studios After Hours, which I’ll cover in a different post.
Thanks for reading the introduction and first day of this trip report!
All Your Other Disney World Planning Questions Answered
Don't be overwhelmed by Disney World planning! Take a second to check out our most important content and you'll not only be an expert, but you'll save big $$$ along the way.
Just starting out? Check out our Walt Disney World planning guide! If you're still picking dates, we've got everything you need to know about Disney crowd calendars. For picking your hotel, check out our Walt Disney World hotels guide.
When it comes time to book we’ll help you find discount Disney World tickets. Decide whether you need a dining plan in our Complete Guide to Disney World Dining Plans! And at 180 days out it's time to book those Disney World Advance Dining Reservations!
Don't forget to master your Disney World FastPass+ strategy a few months in advance. We'll keep you out of long lines so you can maximize the magical time in the parks! We've got park-specific guides as well: Magic Kingdom FastPass, Epcot FastPass, Animal Kingdom FastPass, and Hollywood Studios FastPass.
Know what to ride with our guides to: Magic Kingdom rides, Hollywood Studios rides, Epcot rides, and Animal Kingdom rides! Plus learn about the water parks with our guide to Blizzard Beach and our guide to Typhoon Lagoon! And for some some fun prep, check out our Ranking of Every Ride at Walt Disney World.
Finally, before you head out, be sure to check out our to-the-point packing list, 10 essentials you forget to pack for every Disney trip. And if you're interested in saving, there's no better list than our 53 Ways to Save on your Disney trip from start to finish.