A few years ago, I mentioned to my sister that we were planning yet another family vacation to Walt Disney World. Her response was one that I’m sure many of my friends think but never actually verbalize: “How can you keep going back to the same place?”
It’s a fair question and it’s one that I used to think/ask my older, more family-oriented co-workers at the travel agency where I worked. They had so many travel discounts and perks available to them and yet they chose Disney. Year after year.
I didn’t really know how to explain it until I said to my sister, “I guess it’s like people that go to the beach every year.” And we both seemed to come to some sort of understanding.
It’s not like it’s the only place we ever go. In fact, we weren’t even planning to go this year. We just ended up with the stars and our wallets aligning and took a short vacation there. For us, though, I think it’s because it’s a guaranteed good time.
We know the park will clean and cast members friendly. We know we’ll laugh and make memories. And, believe it or not, we know we’ll discover something new.
It’s that last part that so many people don’t understand and that true Disney freaks do. Visiting Disney Parks is almost like a game. There are so many secrets to unlock and changes to see. That’s part of the magic. And honestly, we see or experience something new every time we visit.
After just visiting in February of this year, I was surprised at how many changes I had seen since I last visited in May 2015. That’s part of what keeps it fresh and exciting for us so I thought I’d share some of the new and different highlights so far this year.
We found a new hotel!
Although we love to stay at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, we don’t always have the best options in terms of price and availability when we book only two weeks out. Instead, I found this little gem situated near the parks and designated one of the official Disney Springs hotels. The B Resort has been completely renovated, is within walking distance of Disney Springs, offers free transportation to the parks, and offers great rates! (We averaged about $120 per night).
I’ve also recently toured the Wyndham Lake Buena Vista – the closest official Disney hotel to Disney Springs. They have two great hotels under one roof at two different price points. And both share the same affordable luxury amenities!
Downtown Disney is now Disney Springs!
Speaking of Disney Springs, it’s the renamed Downtown Disney area. I don’t know why they renamed it but if you hear both names, just know they’re the same. And being able to walk there meant we had great restaurant choices every night.
Morimoto Asia is a can’t-miss, don’t-miss restaurant in Disney Springs!
For this trip, I knew we’d be back near Disney Springs every night so I could plan our meals. I made reservations at some old favorites (Raglan Road) but made it a point to try new places. We went to Wolfgang Puck’s Grand Cafe which was mediocre at best. But Morimoto Asia was outstanding from the food to the decor to the service. Next time, I want to eat there every night!
You can take a ferry to Magic Kingdom!
I don’t know that this was better but it was certainly different! Our resort bus dropped us off at the Travel & Transportation Center where we took a ferry to get to the Magic Kingdom. It was an easy enough trek and we got to glimpse the new over-the-water bungalows at the Polynesian Resort.
New sights (for me) at the Magic Kingdom!
I’m not a big character person but as I was sitting at Casey’s Corner on Main Street eating my way-too-big hot dog and scarfing down the delicious fries, I looked to a nearby garden and saw Mary Poppins and her penguins!
While in New Fantasyland, my pal Melissa messaged me about spotting Pascal in the rest area near the Rapunzel bathrooms.
What? I didn’t even know there was a rest area. Sure enough, there’s a lovely, shaded seating area with outlets for you to charge your phone. And if you have restless kids (or grown-ups), Pascal invites you to find his friends hidden in the greenery.
I found one and called it a day. Can you see it? (it’s on top of the light post!)
New sights (for me) at Hollywood Studios!
Sadly, the Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show will be retired in April to make way for the new Star Wars experience at Hollywood Studios. Fortunately, we got to see this amazing show one last time and stuck around to talk to the drivers at the show. We told them how much we were going to miss the show. I think they’re going to miss it too.
The most exciting thing, though, was spotted by Evan as we walked along the Streets of America. If you’re as huge a Once Upon A Time fan as we are, you’ll geek out over what we saw. Mr. Gold’s Pawn Shop! And yes, you could see many objects that all have played an important role in the show.
Star Wars is Everywhere!
Even though the original movie debuted in 1976, the hype isn’t going anywhere. Not only are they making room for an entire Star Wars experience at Hollywood Studios, but the old animation area has now become a Star Wars character meet and greet. Let me tell you – meeting Kylo Ren was actually a frightening experience. And you’ll see real, live Stormtroopers walking around!
Along with the featured attractions comes… merchandising. Granted, I only own a simple Star Wars t-shirt and hat, I could easily adopt rebel fashion.
New sights (for me) at Animal Kingdom!
I didn’t expect much to be different at Animal Kingdom but there were changes o’ plenty. The first I noticed on the Kilimanjaro Safari when our tour guide pointed out the painted dogs – so new they aren’t even on the ride’s animal chart yet.
Can you see them in this picture? Yeah, me neither. But I swear they were there!
On the Maharajah Jungle Trek, the first thing I noticed was the Komodo Dragon. Was he there before? I’m not sure but he put on a more noticeable show this time so it felt like the first time I was seeing him.
As we left the safari, we started walking toward our next ride, Everest. All of the sudden I said, “I don’t think this market was here before. In fact, I don’t think that this entire walkway was here before.”
Disney has a way of doing that. Introducing something without much fanfare and integrating it so thoroughly that you’re not sure if it’s new or had really been there all along.
We also saw signs of new construction going on. Some of it we assumed was for the planned Avatar experience while another looked like some sort of new water show. And sure enough, we were right! Disney announced the new Rivers of Light show.
Sometimes there aren’t big ticket items to see. No new rides, same old parks. But there’s always some place new to eat, especially at Epcot (we loved Le Cellier Steakhouse). There’s always a new perspective. There’s often a different angle.
When walking through such familiar territory, it’s easier now to look past the big picture and start paying more attention to the details – like this beautifully carved octopus.
Maybe a carved octopus isn’t your thing but it’s the first time I noticed it. In fact, there’s a lot of detail if you pause in the moment occasionally and take a look around.
So, will we return to Disney? Absolutely. Will we go back next year? Probably. Will we have an amazing time? Most definitely.
Tell me the reasons your family has fallen in love with Disney and if you’re one of those guests that returns again and again.