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Walt Disney World: First Time, Last Time, First Time in a Long Time (2016)

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Okay, so I’m about three weeks away from my next trip to Walt Disney World and I’m starting to get a little antsy to get the trip underway. If you’ve been reading along at home for a couple of years you know that I had the pleasure last summer of a three day trip across country to see Disneyland for the first time in 40 years. Obviously, that was a really great thing, but it also means that it will have been more than two calendar years since I spent any time in any of the Florida Disney parks by the time I leave for Orlando at the end of the month. I know, first world problems, right?

A trip of any kind will typically feature some stuff that you’re really looking forward to. Sometimes that’s because it’s something you’ve never tried before and you’re excited to give it a whirl and sometimes it’s an old standby that you just can’t get enough of. By way of working off some of my own impatience for the next few weeks to pass, I’ll be going over some of these things that I’ll be experiencing this time around. Join me after the break if you like!

Cabins at Fort Wilderness

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I’m traveling with a group of five friends, so this turned out to be the most budget-conscious choice we had that still kept us on property. This will be a first time for me in the cabins and I’m both really looking forward to it and feeling a little apprehensive. The cabins are nicely themed and feature some personal amenities that most other resorts can’t boast. The most obvious thing you’ll notice is that you’re not sharing any walls with any next-door guests. If you’re one of those people who has ever found yourself in one of the All Star resorts during a cheerleading camp you’ll recognize that this could be a big advantage. You’ll also notice that the cabin has its own driveway. Now, I’m flying to Florida and taking Disney’s Magical Express to the resort and using the bus system to get around, but one of my bunk mates will be a local who lives about five minutes away from the parks (yeah, I’m kind of jealous until I remember that means they have to live in Florida), so having a personal driveway is still pretty nice.

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Disney classifies the cabins at Fort Wilderness as a moderate resort, but unlike Coronado Springs (where I stayed a few years ago), and from what I understand the other few moderate resorts, the cabins include full kitchens. This not only includes a sink and microwave, but a small cook top, a small full-sized refrigerator, a four slot toaster, and a full-sized dishwasher as well! If you look through those cabinets, you’ll also find a complete set of dishes and flatware. That really makes breakfast a lot easier and more affordable if you’ve got, say, a local in your group who can bring some groceries in by automobile. Why get boxed into a nine dollar Disney breakfast or a Starbucks egg and meat sandwich if you don’t have to? If you’ve been paying attention to what’s been happening to breakfast inside the parks you’ll notice that they’ve been reducing any competition the Starbucks locations there have. Take a look at the outdoor photo of the cabin and you’ll also notice that it boasts a nice sized deck with a table and one of those fixed position grills if you want to serve up a steak or some burgers. This all means that folks staying in a cabin can make themselves a lot more self-sufficient.

So what am I nervous about where it comes to the cabin? Well, I value quick and efficient transportation around Disney property when I’m visiting the parks and compared to a place like Pop Century where I’ve stayed multiple times, it’s pretty clear that the cabins at Fort Wilderness could come up a little short in this department. The Fort Wilderness resort doesn’t just have a bus stop where the regular Disney buses come and pick you up and take you to the parks, but is spread out enough to also require an internal bus system just to get you to the main bus stop. There is also a charming boat that can take you across the water to the Contemporary Resort area which is within walking distance of the Magic Kingdom, but on all but one of our days that really won’t be much better than the multi-bus setup. I’ll most certainly be reporting back on this aspect of my Disney stay when I return home in early October.

Let’s take a look at some of the things I’m looking forward to in the various parks! –

Disney’s Hollywood Studios

This park is currently in a bit of a shambles due to really extensive demolition and construction that will eventually bring both a Star Wars themed land and a Toy Story area that will feature multiple attractions aimed at smaller guests. Plenty of people are skipping this park for now, but I’ve got a few reasons why I’m not doing that.

Peanut Butter & Jelly Milkshake

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While I could easily live without this opening day (1989) ice cream treat that is available at the 50’s Prime Time Cafe, you can bet that I’ll be giving it a try since we will indeed be going to this park and have reservations for a meal at this restaurant. The popular treat is made with a grand total of four ingredients: Peanut Butter, Jelly, Vanilla Ice Cream, and Milk. Pretty simple, huh? I’m betting that’s what makes it good. There has been some grousing online about this treat not being eligible for purchase via a Disney Ding Plan snack credit. Well, since I won’t be using the dining plan this time around, that’s not something I have to worry about and I’ll still be spending less and getting what I want.

And of course one of the things I’ll be sure to get ahold of again is the famous Carrot Cake Cookie that is available at a couple of spots in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. It’s mostly known for its longstanding location in the case at The Writer’s Stop, but nowadays you can also find it at Sweet Spells over on Sunset Boulevard. If we end up at Hollywood Studios on our last day instead of our first, I’ll likely be feasting on the thing on my flight home.

The Great Movie Ride

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Tower of Terror

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I’m lumping these two attractions together because both have been the subject of some pretty serious rumors suggesting that they might not be long for this world. Considering how fast the Tower of Terror in California got fingered for closure and how soon it’s happening (January of this coming year), I figure it’s better to be safe than sorry. I’ll be riding both of these attractions multiple times before I leave the park this time just in case it’s my last chance. That won’t be too difficult because half of the park is closed at the moment and the current state of affairs may have saved them for the time being because Disney simply can’t afford to give up the crowd capacity they provide with all of the other closures there. These are favorites, so I’m going to enjoy them when I can and hope I’m overreacting.

Epcot

This will be our longest day in the parks and will feature a lot of what I’m really looking forward to.

Soarin’ Around the World

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This was a long-rumored change to the very popular Soarin’ attraction which is really Soarin’ Over California, but dropped the state-specific part of its title when it was brought over here to Epcot in Florida. There have been some early complaints about both obvious computer graphics effects in the new film and a failure by the imagineers to account for the curvature of the screen it’s being projected on. People have been breathlessly awaiting this update for a long time and it doesn’t seem that anyone was prepared for the new version to be significantly worse than the original which suffered from poor maintenance on the East coast. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

Snack Around the World

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While “Drinking Around the World” in Epcot’s World Showcase is a widely practiced exercise in alcoholic gluttony, I’ll be attempting a slightly less “Woooohooo!”-inducing version. That means I’ll be walking the length of Epcot’s World Showcase and ingesting at least one food product in each of its eleven pavilions devoted to specific countries. I will likely be trying things like Churros from the Mexico pavilion, the American Dream slush, some Edamame at the Japan pavilion, and some Baklava from the Tangerine Cafe in the Morocco pavilion. There are a couple of other treats that I’m particularly set on scarfing down, though, including…

School Bread

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This is one of the more iconic snacks in all of Walt Disney World, but largely because of my predilection for enormous table service meals I have rarely made the effort to seek out anything to eat between these more formal gastronomical presentations. That means that this will be my first try of this Norwegian treat. It’s a cardamom bread filled with a sweet creme and topped with toasted coconut. This last bit is what is off-putting to some folks, but I’m intrigued by a Scandinavian snack that is topped with something I identify with a deserted Pacific island.

Fish ‘n’ Chips

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Most of us are pretty familiar with fish and chips as a rather traditional British dish, and I know I’ve sampled a wide range of examples in a variety of locations, including here in North Carolina, in Chicago, and in England itself. Only on one occasion did I dislike what I was served, so even if what I get in the UK pavilion in Epcot is just average I’m betting I’ll like it well enough. No matter which way our group is traveling around the lagoon this will function as a de facto meal on a day when I’ll be stuffing snack after snack down my gullet.

Frozen Ever After

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In addition to the Soarin’ update, Epcot is host to the both popular and controversial Frozen re-imagining of what was once an attraction named Maelstrom. I made sure to ride Maelstrom one last time on my last visit to Walt Disney World back in 2014 because this change had already been announced back then. The Frozen attraction opened earlier this summer, but had some technical difficulties at first. These have not been reported much lately, so I’m assuming the issues have been worked out now. You can count me as a cynic when it comes to this potential breach of theme in World showcase, so I’ll be trying to judge it both on its own merits (you know, as if it was sitting somewhere in Fantasyland) and on how it fits in where it was placed.

Magic Kingdom

There’s nothing particularly new that I’m excited about at the Magic Kingdom, but that doesn’t mean my evening there won’t be a highlight. This will be my third time attending Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, and I’ll again be dressed as a character from one of the park’s longstanding attractions. You’ll have to wait for the trip report to see just what.

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And of course, since I judged Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion to be slightly inferior to the Florida version, I will be really glad to be returning to re-visit the current champ. During the party the Mansion gets a little extra attention, with more lighting and fog spilling around the building’s grounds and a special cast member sitting out front as a ghost to chatter at the guests. Three rides seems like the minimum this time around.

Animal Kingdom

When we first made our plans for this trip it looked like a whole set of nighttime experiences at Animal Kingdom would be up and running for us to enjoy. Unfortunately, as things stand now, the central portion of this evening plan, the nighttime spectacular “Rivers of Light” will not be ready. This will cause the entire park to start closing early again and us to shuffle our plans to visit Animal Kingdom on our last day in the parks instead of on our first evening. Either way there are things I want to try for the first time at the newest of Disney’s Florida parks.

Dole Whip with Rum!

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What else needs to be said? The Dole whip is one of Disney World’s most beloved treats, so it seems reasonable to think that adding an alcoholic element to it could be a promising idea. The fact that this has gotten positive reviews from plenty of other park guests helps to heighten my anticipation even if I’ll still have it on my breath as I head for my flight back to North Carolina. Just one certainly can’t hurt.

Harambe Market

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I’ll probably be pairing the above alcoholic Dole Whip with some sort of savory snack from Harambe Market which has been added since my last visit to Animal Kingdom. A specialty corn bread battered sausage sold here sounds pretty good, but with our large meal at-

Sanaa

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being moved to the middle of the day, I may need to choose something lighter. After all, I most certainly won’t be holding back when the Indian-African fusion menu for Sanaa is placed in front of me. The popular bread service featuring naan bread (just thinking about this stuff is making me hungry as I type) and a wide variety of toppings will just be an appetizer as an entrée boasting multiple dishes will follow it into my belly. This gluttony will be in an environment which is located right next to the Animal Kingdom Lodge’s savannah which hosts grazing animals like zebras and giraffes which will be visible from the dining room, a key part of the already tempting experience if you ask me.

Lots of my plans center on food this time around, but yes, I’ll be riding roller coasters and gently floating boats and enjoying wonderfully themed environments punctuated by classic and new Disney music. I’m going to do it all and a little more. You’ll see.

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Posted on September 7, 2016, in Animal Kingdom, Epcot, food, Hollywood Studios, Magic Kingdom, theme parks, travel, Walt Disney World and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. I have been looking forward to this for a while. Especially since you have been teasing us all on FB. First observation: take out the cabins and this is more than half food items, right? I think that’s pretty common for a veteran WDW tourist. We’ve all seen and done all the attractions that appeal to us at all (and some that don’t) but no matter how often you go, you’ll never try all the food options. Obviously, menus are easier to change than rides and shows, so the food options are updated much more frequently.

    I have had the PB&J shake. The “J” isn’t really a factor beyond shading the milkshake pink. It’s basically a peanut butter milkshake. As a PB fan, that’s not a bad thing. But I do wish there was a little more depth of flavor. We had the churros at Mexico in 2014. They are good. I mean, they are churros. Aside from the shape, they aren’t any different from what you’d get at any of the food carts on property. We had the edamame as well as some meat skewers in Japan way back in 2003. They were tasty. I had fish and chips in the pub during my first trip to Epcot in 1988. I doubt they have changed all that much. Even the worst fish and chips I ever had was still pretty good. I would like to revisit them, but no one else in the family likes fish. Usually our day at Epcot includes an all-your-care-to-eat character meal, so we don’t do a lot of snacking there. That means I haven’t tried the infamous school bread. From what I have read, it’s kind of like a cream-filled donut but not overwhelmingly sweet.

    The part that interests me the most is the cabins. I applaud your secret-keeping ability. If I were staying there, I’d have blabbed about it on FB by now. That’s a unique experience, I’m sure. We have considered it, but the math never worked out. Your summary reflects what I have read about the place. Great amenities. Poor transportation. I have read glowing reviews from people who love it and nightmare stories from people who didn’t. I’ll be curious to read your reaction, because my observation is that it is better for people who want to make use of the camp grounds than those whose primary interest is the parks. I know your a parks over resort grounds kind of guy, so I’ll be curious to see what side you come down on here.

    From what I have read, GMR is a done deal. Disney officially cancelled the Turner Classic Movies sponsorship telling them the ride was being replaced. You know Disney doesn’t cancel sponsorships lightly. I think you can safely assume this is your last ride. The Tower will remain in some form. Whether or not it is still themed to the Twilight Zone is another matter. If we get the Guardians (and I’m betting against it) it won’t be until after Star Wars opens. So you should have plenty of rides to look forward to on that one. What I think is more likely is that at some point in the future, Disney dumps the TZ name to save a few bucks and rerecords the pre-ride video. Regardless of whether or not this is your last chance to ride TOT in its current form, you don’t go to DHS and skip it. It’s one of only two or three reasons to go to that park.

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    • Simply the chance to stay someplace new was enough to allow me to throw away my reservations about what I have read about transportation at Fort Wilderness and sign on with the idea. It’s a unique resort and with a 5 person group was more appealing/affordable than anything else that was available to us. Two value rooms didn’t figure as well as one moderate. I won’t reveal exactly what I’m paying as one of 5 people staying there, but it’s a pretty appealing rate. One thing that will be nice is that when we wake up one by one the morning after our very full Epcot day with the Halloween party not starting until much later in the day we will have lots of options that include very social communing on the front deck. If I’m feeling energetic I may run over to Disney Springs or take a low key tour of the monorail loop resorts or go look at the horses kept at Fort Wilderness. Or I might just hang out on the deck and relax.

      I will definitely be coming back from this trip with much more snack expertise than I left with. Like you, since I’ve tended to gorge myself on big table service meals I’ve never felt the need for many snacks. The highlights have really been a Dole Whip Float and the Carrot Cake Cookie. My plan to snack around the world should help widen my knowledge on this topic, but of course it means I’m not checking off any more table service restaurants that are new to me. That’s a trade-off I’m willing to make this time. Sanaa really is one of the things I’m very amped up about experiencing.

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      • My last trip to Animal Kingdom was 2012. I have read good things about the Harambe Market in general. But having no plans to revisit the park until the completion of Avatar, I haven’t paid a whole lot of attention. Looks appealing.

        I am pro-snacking in general and at WDW. Some of the most satisfying foods at WDW are snacks. And the investment is minimal. The Carrot Cake Cookie is a can’t miss. As a non-drinker who thinks Dole Whips are vastly overrated, the rum-soaked float isn’t all that appealing to me, but I can see why it’s a popular option.

        It sounds like you have a good attitude towards the cabins. Being a solo adult hanging with friends allows you a lot more freedom to just roll with the punches. With my family, even the most ideal Disney transportation has traditionally been a pain point. I have pretty much been told that I will only ever get them to set foot on Disney property again under protest, so I can’t take chances with additional shuttles. You’d find me buried somewhere in Fort Wilderness once they realized that was part of the deal. But if I were in your position, that’s a trade off I’d be willing to make. Both for the financial benefit and the uniqueness of the accommodations.

        There was a Travel Channel show, I think it was Disney on a Dime, that dealt extensively with the cabins. If you can track it down, it might be worth a look even if most of the tips on the show (stay on property, use FP, buy the dining plan) were painfully obvious and could arguably cost extra rather than saving you money.

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        • I sat down and did the math on my anticipated meals and snacks this morning (our group made the decision to switch to DHS on Friday and AK on Monday), and I don’t think it will be any surprise to find that I’m saving money by forgoing the Disney Dining Plan. Because of the nature of this trip I had to convince the rest of the group to do things this way so hopefully it will work out as well for them as it looks like it will for me.

          This trip is not only unique in its population makeup but also in the way it is structured schedule-wise. There are partial park days on Friday and Monday, a day in Epcot snacking around the world and a day centered on the Halloween party that doesn’t take us into the park until 4pm. One thing this does is cut down on substantial counter service opportunities. Any time I’d eat one I’ll either be piling up on snacks or looking forward to a big table service meal. Staying in the cabins means that those standard resort breakfasts aren’t as easily available as they are in most resorts, so breakfast will be on the run in the parks which tends to make them less expensive.

          This year, the standard Dining Plan costs $63.70 per resort night, and as you know provides one sit-down meal, one counter service meal, and one snack per day (this is changing a little next year, but that’s a discussion for a different day). Based on my planned meals if I’m only comparing what the Dining Plan provides to what I’m spending on those same meals, I’m saving $51.81 by paying out of pocket. If I went out of my way to ONLY order the absolute most expensive thing on each meal I could maybe break even, but why force myself to do that? (I’ve done that before, but don’t see the point of forcing the issue every time)

          One of the drawbacks of the Dining Plan is that it just doesn’t cover some of the stuff you actually want. When we go to Sanaa for lunch on Monday I can guarantee I’m going to want the bread service (I love naan bread). That PB&J Milkshake I’m going to try? It’s neither a drink nor a snack. The few alcoholic drinks I’ll be getting aren’t a part of the plan either. If you want any of these things you have to pay for them out of pocket even if you have the Dining Plan. Since I’m trading out some other items for these the math is a little different here where you’d expect it to save you the same amount. When I consider these changes I’m actually looking at saving $54.54 by NOT buying the Disney Dining Plan.

          I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but the nominal convenience the plan offers isn’t something I’ll buy for almost $55. If I was going to spend that amount on convenience I’d put it toward a cab ride to or from the airport

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        • As I was reading this comment, I was formulating thoughts for a response. But you covered most of what I came up with. Obviously, I 100% agree on the value of the Dining Plan. You can save a couple bucks if you plan it all out to game the system. For most people, that’s going to take a lot of effort and it will mean ordering things you wouldn’t have ordinarily wanted not to mention changing your eating habits to fit the structure of the plan. That’s not a smart trade-off which is why I would not pay for the plan. I’m honestly debating whether or not there is any value to be found on property any more, but as you say, that’s a different conversation. It’s a shame because the dining plan was a real win-win proposition when it was introduced. Guests were able to sample more sit down meals per trip and Disney was filling half-empty restaurants. But since then, they have slowly shaved off what is included while raising the price and removing expensive items from menus. Now, I’d call it a fool’s bargain. Fortunately for Disney, their customer base gets down right foolish with money where the parks are concerned (or just about anything else with the Disney name on it).*

          *I should confess I am wearing a Tower of Terror T-shirt as I type this.

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        • They made some changes to the standard plan starting next year, but it’s a mixed bag. On the positive side, you get an extra snack credit each day instead of the unimpressive quick service desserts. On the down side, the price is going up by something like four dollars, so you’re really paying for that extra snack anyway.

          Last time I was at WDW I ate steak after steak in part to take full advantage of the dining plan. It became one of the themes of the trip for me, which was perfectly okay but I wouldn’t want to do that over and over again. I understand the good feeling people get out of not having to reach for their wallet as often while they’re on their trip, but it really doesn’t take a rocket scientist to connect those numbers on your receipt to how much you paid ahead of time.

          Because I like not having to drive on vacation, staying on site continues to have some value for me, but that’s clearly not going to be a feeling everyone shares.

          A new t-shirt will probably be on my back in three weeks!

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        • I read that Disney is very concerned that Millenials are staying off property, using Uber and saving a fortune. I have never used Uber in my life, but dang if that doesn’t seem like a brilliant idea. You avoid Disney’s sad shuttles and the savings more than pay for the added transportation costs. We have used taxis strategically before. But it’s too expensive to do multiple times every day of a trip. Especially when staying on property. This just solves so many problems with very few trade offs. No wonder Disney is considering starting their on Uber-like service.

          As for the dining plan, my last trip was a similar all steaks all the time experience. I didn’t mind it that one time, but I don’t want to repeat it. More snack credits are the last thing we need. We always burn unused snack credits on the last day and bring home a box full of cupcakes.

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        • I’m not yet sure how I feel about Uber. My Mom taught me not to get in a car with a stranger. Maybe if they had candy…

          This specific trip would benefit from extra snack credits (if I was paying for the Dining Plan), but yeah I’m with you on that count most of the time. The counter service desserts have always been pretty useless, so if a person snacks a lot in the parks the trade may seem like a good thing. The increase in the overall cost of the plan just wipes out that advantage, though.

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        • I would trade the counter service dessert for a snack credit in a heartbeat. Snack credits are far more flexible and I haven’t just eaten an oversized fast food meal. But the price hike is steep and comes after years of similar hikes which have already made the plan a dubious proposition.

          I feel the same way about Uber. Seems like you’re asking for trouble. But from what I understand most of the WDW area drivers are off duty cast members anyway. So, maybe that makes it more palatable. The kids today have no such reservations about using the service. They love it and consider it normal. Disney is going to have to find a way to adapt.

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        • I looked up Uber from MCO, but apparently only the most expensive drivers/cars are allowed to pick anybody up from that airport: the “black” cars and the “family” cars. I’ll probably just rely on the Magical Express despite its inconsistent timely-ness.

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        • I have found ME consistently late. There was on year when my mom came with us and she proved to be a good luck charm. Every other year, it seems to take 20-30 minutes to for a shuttle to arrive. Almost invariably we will be in the one ME line that is a mile long and have to wait for a second bus to arrive. I am beginning to think Disney has it in for us!

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  2. I haven’t been to Disney in forever. It’s just so damned expensive. It’s only about 3 hours away, but so much money. Plus, I’m single without kids. I’d be going alone.

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    • I think the prices have finally pushed us out. I’d never tell anyone not to go. I do think it’s something that ideally every child should get to experience at least once. But I just can’t justify the expense for a family of four any more. When you compare the current product and prices with what was offered even ten years ago, it just feels like such a rip off.

      We will probably go again at some point in the future after they open Star Wars land. The fact that there is even doubt about that is amazing to me. I had no idea during out last trip that it might actually be my last trip. But it might. If it turns out we do go back, that will almost certainly be our last visit for a long, long time. Maybe ever. Just a few years ago, such a thought would upset me. But today, I’m okay with it.

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    • I haven’t been pushed out by the prices yet, but if I find that the quality I’m being offered in how their projects and parks develop is not matching what are indeed steadily increasing prices they are in danger of losing me. As long as they’re doing excellent work I’ll pay, but if their recent half-assing reaches a point where the parks become truly mediocre, well there’s a lot of entertainment options in this world.

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