Trip Report

Walt Disney World & Universal Orlando

March 7-12, 2009

A trip report and photo highlight of my latest trip to Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando from March 7-12, 2009.

Last week, I had the opportunity of visiting Central Florida during the off-season and early Spring season.  We were very fortunate with the weather as each day saw high temperatures in the low 80's with not a cloud in the sky until the last day.  In other words, it was nearly perfect.  Shorts could easily be worn in the day and at night, and it was easy to dry out in the sun after getting soaked on a water ride.

The reason for such consistently nice weather was a region of high pressure that was sitting right over the middle of the state.  The descending air prevented the development of any major clouds and it also kept an approaching cold front at bay.  This didn't help the dry fire conditions throughout the state and the wildfires in nearby Titusville, FL (home to the Kennedy Space Center), but for vacationers, it was outstanding.  The flowers and plants were in full bloom and looked excellent with their brilliant color displays.

In addition to the outstanding weather and Spring-like conditions with the plants and flowers, the parks felt like they were nearly empty at times.  It was a night and day difference with the crowds and wait times between the New Year's Eve trip and this early March visit.  My last true off-season visit to WDW was many years ago back when I was in elementary school and my parents got to pull my brother and I out of class to go on a week-long vacation (my classmates hated me for that :) ), and I had forgotten about just how nice it was in the parks at those slower times of the year.  Otherwise, all of my other visits from high school to college to beyond all took place either during Spring Break, the summer, or between Christmas and New Years.  In other words, vacationing along with everybody else in the country.

NOTE - This trip report consists of ninety-five (95) photo highlights showing off the latest construction projects, attraction highlights, and the general feeling of being in the Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando theme parks from March 7-12, 2009.  All of the thumbnail pictures open to larger sizes.  The table of contents for this trip report uses the following abbreviations:  DAK (Disney's Animal Kingdom), DS (Disney's Hollywood Studios), EP (Epcot), MK (Magic Kingdom), IOA (Islands of Adventure) and USF (Universal Studios Florida).

Saturday, March 7, 2009 - The drive and Disney's Hollywood Studios

Living in the Atlanta metro area, it's not exactly a short hop to go from here to everybody's favorite Central Florida vacation destinations.  Our usual method involves leaving home around 6 in the morning and cruising straight down to Florida while keeping the stops to a minimum.  We always stop at the same gas station near the Georgia-Florida line to refuel, and our other stop is at a service plaza on the Florida Turnpike.  After that, the final stop is either checking in early to our hotel and then grabbing lunch at the Checker's on 192, or vice versa.  By the time we're finished with lunch and have dropped off our stuff at the hotel, it's time to head into a Disney park for the rest of the afternoon and evening.

For this visit, we arrived at Disney's Hollywood Studios around 2:30 or so on Saturday.  I was expecting rather heavy crowds from the locals since it was a Saturday and the weather was exceptional.  What we encountered was the opposite.

That day Toy Story Midway Mania was having some technical problems and had a bit of a wait.  The FastPass for that was also sold out, but that was expected.  We headed down Sunset Boulevard and grabbed some passes for Tower of Terror, and my brother and I went through the single rider line at Rock 'n' Roller Coaster.  The main stand-by line for the coaster was only about thirty minutes long.  The unusual thing was that our Tower FastPasses only took about an hour before they went active.  What took us completely by surprise is that when we went through the FastPass line at Tower, we saw that the stand-by line was empty to the preshow while the FastPass line was lined up outside of the lobby!

Disney Studios - Animation Courtyard - 01

Banners are already in place for the latest Disney-Pixar film, Up.

Disney Studios - Animation Courtyard - 02

Promotions for Up and Bolt at The Magic of Disney Animation.

Disney Studios - Sounds Dangerous

There weren't any showing of Sounds Dangerous today.

Disney Studios - The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror

The Twilight Zone: Tower of Terror was looking good in its new blue illumination.  The previous versions of the Tower had a dark purple with a mixture of green lettering for its night display, but here we can see the new blue building with white lettering.  It doesn't look as sinister and ominous as before, but the blue still looks pretty good.  The other major (or minor to those who don't pay attention to details) addition to the Tower is a set of spooky sounds including thunder down in the final line queue in the boiler room.  It adds more to the experience even though there are usually clear skies for most of the Tower visitors.

We saved a trip through the stand-by line for Toy Story Midway Mania as one of our last rides of the day in the park.  The line was stretched out to the street, but without the extra FastPass riders merging into the line, the main line moved quite well.  When we split off for the handicap line queue we were the next ones in line at that station and only had to wait for a moment before a car was sent in our direction.  That was just lucky timing on our part since many groups of handicap people were in line behind us, and those of you who have experienced waiting in that separate line queue know just how frustratingly slowly it moves.  It's almost as frustrating as watching the people with no apparent disability problems easily going through that line queue, but that's a different story.

As a whole, the emptiness of the Disney Studios was a pleasant surprise.  The longest wait we had was in the single rider line for the coaster.  Otherwise, Tower of Terror, Great Movie Ride, Star Tours, and MuppetVision 3D were all walk right on, and the wait for Toy Story Midway Mania was less than ten minutes.

Downtown Disney, on the other hand, was quite busy.  Lots of local people like to go there on the weekend, and with the free parking and excellent food at Earl of Sandwich, I don't blame them.  We had a bit of a hard time finding an open parking spot at the Marketplace and an even harder time securing a table inside of Earl's.  But the sandwich was excellent as usual, people (predictably) abused the drink station by filling their free water cups with soda while the workers stood by and did absolutely nothing to stop them, and there was a 35% off sale for almost all of the toys throughout Walt Disney World, including at all of the stores (except for Lego) in Downtown Disney (no idea if that sale is still occurring or how long it is lasting).

Not bad for the first day of the trip.