Here is a tip...if you book a late flight, don't assume that will mean less of a crowd on Magical Express. Because we were later in the evening, the buses were waiting much longer than usual to make sure they had as many guests on board as they could get since they run less frequently that late at night. We waited on the bus almost 45 minutes while they allowed more passengers to check in at the desk and get on board.
We then were on our way and arrived at the resort very close to 11:45PM. The crowd at check in was very light due to our late arrival and since most other passengers on the bus were headed for other resorts. In about 15 minutes we were checked in and waiting outside for the resort internal bus to take us to our assigned building. We were in "Aruba" which seemed about half way between the Custom House (where you check in) and Port Royale (where you go to eat and shop).
We got in the room at about 12:30AM and were very pleased with the size and decor of the room. Our room was a "Garden View" which really means you have some flora outside your window that pretty much blocks your view to anything else.
Here is another tip...when arriving this late to the resort, plan on packing your bath necessities and your next day's clothes in your carry-on bag so you will have what you need to get you through until the next afternoon. Then call the front desk when you arrive to your room and tell them to hold your bags until the next morning. If you don't, you will have to stay up until the bell service delivers them to your room which, in our case, was not until roughly 1:30AM. We were exhausted by the time they arrived and wished we had planned better for such things.
We had an early character breakfast reservation at Disney's Hollywood Studios which also meant we got little sleep before our first day in the parks, but it always seems like adrenaline kicks in when you get to a park and it manages to carry you through the day. We awoke at 6:15AM ready to get to our bus stop to catch one of the less frequent buses (so we thought). We understood that the buses ran only every 30 to 45 minutes if it was more than an hour before the parks were scheduled to open. Our reservation was for 8:00AM at Hollywood and Vine so we figured we better be at the bus stop to catch a bus that might be there around 7:15 or 7:30 in case another did not come until closer to 8:00AM. Well...we got at the stop around 6:50AM and the bus pulled up right at the moment for Disney's Hollywood Studios so we jumped on and a whopping 10 minutes later there we were right outside the gate of the park at an ever so early 7:00AM...a FULL HOUR before our breakfast reservation. Lesson learned! :)
Hollywood and Vine is a great place to eat breakfast in the park. It was a full breakfast buffet with an abundance of choices including some healthier fare. There were also characters from the Little Einsteins and JoJo's Circus present which seemed to be a hit among the children.
After breakfast...we headed out to get in the line forming for the official opening of the park. The good thing about having an early morning breakfast reservation in the park is that you do get to bypass the lines forming outside in the turnstiles and you end up about half way up in the crowd that is waiting or the rope to drop.
Tip: If you are visiting Disney's Hollywood Studios in the next few months, plan on heading to their newest attraction, Toy Story Mania, first. It seems to now be more popular than the Tower of Terror or even Rock N Roller Coaster.
The crowds were pretty good considering the time we traveled was also during Disney's free dining plan offer which is available to resort guests during a certain time of the year (usually the end of August until late September) and at select resorts. For those not familiar with the dining plan, here is how it works. You get 1 table service meal, 1 counter service meal and 1 snack per person, per night of your stay. We were staying 6 nights so we got 6 each. This dining plan works well if you plan on eating a lot of food. If you usually have a dessert item for lunch and dinner, then the plan will save you money overall. If you don't...I am not sure it is a benefit. It demands that you plan your meals well in advance of your trip. If you do not use your meal credits by the end of your stay...you lose them. We had to make advance reservations at 5 table service restaurants (The Hollywood Brown Derby is a signature restaurant so it required 2). If you wait until you arrive, the chances of getting into some of Disney's more popular sit down restaurants is pretty slim. We made our reservations about 90 days before our trip.
What has changed recently with the plan is that you no longer get an appetizer with your table service meals, only one non-alcoholic beverage, one entree and one dessert. Also tips are no longer included in the plan so make sure you tip each server accordingly.
I will post more about the meals and the other aspects of our trip in part 2...