The September 2013 Crowd Calendar has been updated and the daily analysis for the entire month is available underneath the calendar image. June will be updated in the next day or two – the recommendations shouldn’t change. I’ll just mention that the second Electrical Parade and Fantasmic are better because they’re less crowded and that the late night hours are also a good time to tour. Nothing major. I would expect to see October’s hours come out on March 15th or 18th along with a similar update to July.
We’ll pop back into Splitsville, the newest addition to Downtown Disney. We took a much more comprehensive look around last week in this post.
Larger menu: http://www.easywdw.com/reports7/splitsville.jpg. As a reminder, this is what the food menu looks like. And this is the drink menu:
This time, I visited with friend-of-the-site Brian on an extremely busy Saturday night. I had never seen Downtown Disney so crowded. It was full of marathon walkers coupled with the usual Saturday night crowd. To avoid the crowds, visit on a non-holiday Monday – Thursday from 11am – 6pm or so. Getting to Downtown Disney can still be a hassle though as it will likely be the longest bus ride of your trip. Traffic around Downtown Disney is atrocious and you’ve got stops at the Marketplace, Pleasure Island, and Typhoon Lagoon during the day. Bus transportation is the worst to/from Animal Kingdom and the Grand Floridian. If you’re driving to Downtown Disney, consider parking on the West Side neat Cirque du Soleil and Splitsville. There will be plenty of parking places and it will be easier to get out. Consider taking the boat from the dock behind House of Blues over to the Marketplace and then walk back toward the West Side and your car.
As I mentioned in the previous review, I thought Splitsville would be a good choice for food when Downtown Disney was particularly crowded. There was no way we were going to get into any restaurant at 8pm on a Saturday night without a wait – if restaurants were even taking more walk-ups. Every restaurant would have been at least a 60 minute wait. But there was still room at several of Splitsville’s bars, including the patio downstairs and the main indoor bar upstairs. I started with a “Miami Vice” frozen drink with a 151 floater. As mentioned in the previous review, server knowledge had been spotty in my last two trips, but this one was much more knowledgeable. The bartender offered the rum floater for $2 and then proceeded to list several options, including coconut and 151 proof rum. The Miami Vice didn’t taste anything like the last two I had – it was much fruitier without much alcohol aftertaste. I could see the rum floating on top, so they may have added more sugar to the mix or the rum was watered down.
Brian ordered a Kingpin Margarita, which I had sampled on a previous visit. He agreed that he expected more drink for $14. The drinks are full of ice, despite being served in a large goblet. I don’t see them as being a compelling value whatsoever. We’ll find better drinks for almost half price at Bongos later.
I was curious about their sushi – a very trendy addition to a bowling alley. Speaking of being trendy, bowling alleys sure seem to be. Kings Bowling is opening on International Drive in a couple of months – a 22 lane upscale alley much like Splitsville. Nobody under 21 is welcome after 6pm. The new value resort at Universal is opening with another ten lanes.
Anyway, this is the Ninja Crunch – Fried salmon, Kani Kama Krab, tempura crunch, salmon, and spicy mayo – $13. I think this is 10 pieces with ginger and wasabi on the side, which seemed like a large portion for the money. I’m far from a sushi expert, but I can compare it to other Disney options. It destroys anything at Katsura Grill or in the coolers at the various resorts. It’s as good or better than what’s served at the Kona Cafe sushi bar. I enjoyed it more than what I’ve ordered at Tokyo Dining in the past, but that may have been luck. It wasn’t quite as good as California Grill has been in the past, but the sushi is also half the price. It was a lot of sushi for the money and Brian agreed that it would even be a nice entree portion. So I’m giving Splitsville sushi the thumbs up.
The Loaded Fries – Fries smothered with nacho cheese, bacon, ranch, scallions, and love. Normally I shy away from anything advertised as including “love,” but I was in the mood for some bar food. The fries were not as good – served lukewarm at best and limp. I think just because we were guys, the bartender commented that we got “hooked up with a lot of bacon.” It was still a lot of food and if prepared properly, I think the fries would be better.
Next, Brian ordered the Southern Tier 2XIPA, but they were apparently out of it. That was the best value on the menu – a quality microbrew with an 8.2% ABV. Instead, the Florida Avenue IPA was offered in its place. Brewed by Cold Storage Craft Brewery and coming in at 5.6%, it would be hard to find outside of Florida, but it isn’t quite as compelling of a value. Hopefully the 2XIPA is only a temporary shortage. Brian liked it enough to order a second, though he mentioned (correctly) that an IPA shouldn’t be served in a frozen glass like this. I’m waiting to try the Florida Ave at the Beer and Flower and Garden Festival next week.
Taking one for the team, I went for a Koolaide Bowl – Bacardi O, Razz, Limon, and Dragonberry, mixed with pineapple, cranberry, and orange juices – $14. This one was pleasantly fruity with just a little vodka taste showing through. The bowl drinks would be a good choice for someone looking to nurse a drink for an hour or two, but the hardened alcoholic should probably look elsewhere. The most booze for the money would be a frozen drink with a 151 proof rum floater.
Everything is better when tilted. Maybe I should start making the pictures a little more crooked with each drink. Interested in what kind of a concoction our bartender would create if I asked her for something with bourbon in it, she looked perplexed for a moment and then offered a whiskey and Coke. I agreed that sounded fine. The single ran $6 and I didn’t catch what their house bourbon was. It tasted like Jim Beam, but I had been drinking. You may want to order a simple drink rather than one of the frou-frou bowls.
Overall, our experience at Splitsville was positive, but I regard it as more of a place to grab a bite to eat rather than a place to grab a quality, reasonably priced drink. There’s always bowling too, I suppose House of Blues across the street serves up better, less expensive drinks, particularly during the 3pm – 5pm and 10pm – close happy hours.
In search of another beverage, we headed east. Bongos has three bars inside, all of which were full. It was crackin’ with music, dancing, and a packed restaurant, even after 10pm. We stopped at the outdoor bar, which is surrounded by high top tables.
We last visited Bongos in Part 4 of Downtown Disney Drinking in Depth.
Since it was a humid Florida evening, I went with the Bongos Famous Pina Colada – Our Signature Frozen Drink, made with Spiced Rum and the finest Pina Colada mix – $9. I have no idea what tasted so good in this drink, but it was one of the best pina coladas I’ve ever had. And I may be off base, but the frozen part of the drink tasted like it had been freshly blended, rather than stirring around all day like the Splitsville drinks. It had a nice mushy texture rather than the grainy texture you usually get from a frozen Icee type beverage.
As a fan of anything with a punch, Brian ordered the Havana Punch – The drink with a punch combines Bacardi Limon, Bacardi “O,” Orange, Pineapple, and Cranberry Juice – $9. Brian liked this one as well – I think more than anything we sampled at Splitsville. The outdoor music was fun and the crowd was lively on a Saturday night. While Downtown Disney was much busier overall than I would have initially liked, there was a lot more energy than your typical Tuesday evening. I’m not sure it’s worth braving the crowds, bus lines, and hassle, but it turned out to be a fun night despite the throngs of people.
The mojitos here are excellent too – stuffed full of mint and served with a sugar cane stick.
In closing, consider Splitsville for a bite to eat when the other restaurants are slammed. Bongos is an excellent place to grab a drink at the outdoor bar, particularly in the evening.
Changing gears, we’ll head out to Hollywood Studios on the morning of Monday February 25th. We’re arriving at just about the worst possible time – 9:37am. There’s usually a lull at the turnstiles between 9am – 9:25am. Most people who intended to arrive prior to Park opening are already inside, as the Studios routinely begins admitting guests at or close to 8:45am. Just about everyone in attendance at 8:45am would be in the Park by 8:55am. After that, you’ve got a few stragglers, but more people arrive between 9:45am and 10:45am than any other part of the day.
Despite what looked like a long line at bag check, I was through and to the turnstiles in three minutes.
And I was through the turnstiles in two minutes and on my way up Hollywood Boulevard. Waits at bag check obviously depend on how many checkers they have. Luckily they had plenty this morning, but I’ve arrived when they only have two or three and it takes a lot longer to check Grandma’s fanny pack.
If you’re only going to make one drop during your vacation, I’d suggest making it Hollywood Studios. Toy Story Midway Mania, with its broad appeal and limited capacity, almost always has the longest waits of any ride at any Disney theme park. And FASTPASS return times are almost always further out than any other attraction, at Hollywood Studios or otherwise. As you can see on the clock, it’s just past 9:45am and Toy Story FASTPASS is all the way out to 2:30pm. Virtually any other attraction on property would have FASTPASS with a return time of 10:30am – 11:30am.
When I arrived at Toy Story at 9:50am, FASTPASS was actually all the way out to 3:25pm or a full hour longer than the reader board indicated. This is why the early arrival is so important.
With the 8:25am arrival, you’d be waiting 20 minutes at the turnstiles – it’s true. But you’re saving a whole heck of a lot of time inside the Park. If you arrived at 10am, you’d be looking at a 60 minute wait at Toy Story.
You may remember my Ideal Hollywood Studios Morning Plan as discussed in this post.
- Collect FASTPASSes for Toy Story Mania with a return time of 9:40am – 10:40am.
- Ride Toy Story Mania in the standby line.
- Ride Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster.
- Ride Tower of Terror.
- Collect FASTPASSes for Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster with a return time around 11am – 12pm.
- Ride Toy Story Mania with FASTPASS.
- Ride Star Tours.
- Do whatever.
- Ride Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster with FASTPASS.
- Have lunch.
There are a couple of exceptions. If you want to meet the Toy Story characters across from Toy Story Mania, you want to get in line immediately after riding Toy Story Mania. They greet beginning at 9:15am and will have a 30+ minute wait by 9:45am that won’t dissipate until they take a break during the Parade. Meeting the characters will cause you to wait a minute or two longer at Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror, but it won’t be significant.
If you’re interested in participating in Jedi Training Academy, I recommend having a parent along with the kids that want to participate head straight to sign-up at the old Sounds Dangerous building, just past American Idol. If possible, have another person collect FASTPASSes for the group at Toy Story Mania. Once signed up (ask for a show after 12pm), meet at Toy Story Mania and ride in the standby line or skip ahead to the Toy Story characters. If it’s extremely busy or you want to stay ahead of the crowds, meet up at Tower of Terror or Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster instead of riding Toy Story in the standby line.
One newer wrinkle in Studios’ touring is The Legend of Captain Jack Sparrow, which we took an in-depth look at about a quarter of the way down this post. This attraction replaced Prince Caspian in November of last year. This line isn’t quite as long as it looks because only half of the queue is open, but it’s still a 20 to 30 minute wait at 9:50am.
By 10:15am, the wait was a solid 60 minutes. I doubt more than 10% of the people in line know what they’re going to experience inside. But the name recognition, limited capacity, and limited number of things to do at the Studios are causing lines to be long. And as we know, there are few things theme park guests like to do more than get in a long line. After all, if it’s worth someone else’s time, it’s probably worth mine too! If you’re skipping Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror, I’d visit Pirates after Toy Story Mania and the Toy Story characters. If you’re planning to do Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror, then I’d put off The Legend of Captain Jack Sparrow as long as possible. Ideally, visit during the first Fantasmic if there’s two scheduled. Or otherwise as late as possible when crowds around Toy Story are lower. Another good time to visit would be 2:45pm because the Parade pulls away a lot of families. On one hand, the Pirates attraction is completely skippable in most scenarios, but it’s also one of very few new experiences at Disney World. I would try to make it work, but it isn’t worth waiting much more than 20 minutes.
At 10am, I met up with Darcie and family, whom you may remember from dinner at Raglan Road. They arrived at 8:30am and had been on Toy Story Mania, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster twice, and Tower of Terror by this time. Sunset Boulevard isn’t looking too clogged.
Tower of Terror has been having significant problems lately. Often, only half of the elevators will be operating, which in turn halves the hourly capacity. Darcie said they got in line with a 5 minute posted wait and ended up waiting 25 minutes, which is the reason why they had only completed so much by 10am. The posted wait just before 10am was 60 minutes. You may want to ride before Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster in the morning or plan to FASTPASS it until it’s fully operational again. I’m trying to think of when Tower of Terror last received an interior refurbishment. They might want to consider it.
Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster is receiving an exterior refurbishment. I was impressed how well the scrim matched the scenery.
Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster was up to a 40 minute wait at 10am with FASTPASSes that were still 40 minutes out. I grabbed one so I could ride with Darcie later. Remember that by arriving at 8:30am, they had already ridden twice and carried FASTPASSes for a 10:35am return, on top of their Toy Story Mania FASTPASSes good for 9:45am – 10:45am.
10:05am and things are still light out on Sunset Boulevard.
This is why you want to arrive prior to Park opening. Hollywood Studios operates with the fewest rides of any major theme park in the world – six if you count Great Movie Ride and Backlot Tour. Even with relatively low crowds at 10:15am, serious waits have developed at the three major attractions. By arriving at 8:30am, you’d already be through all three.
At 10:15am, FASTPASS return for Toy Story was out to 4:45pm with a 60 minute posted wait.
The wait for the Toy Story characters was up to 45 minutes. Had you gotten in line after riding Toy Story at 9:10am, the wait would have been about seven minutes.
After Toy Story with FASTPASSes, it’s time for Star Tours, which actually had a line that stretched all the way out the door.
There must have been some “issue” with the queue as we basically walked straight through the queue for a total wait of around five minutes.
Offering FASTPASS and a large capacity, Star Tours is the lowest priority of the four major attractions. Plan to rely on FASTPASS or ride before 11am or after 7pm to find short waits.
At 11am, we headed back to Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster to use our 10:35am – 11:35am FASTPASSes. Even more people are arriving and the Studios will be at its busiest from 11am – 5pm.
After disembarking Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster at 11:15am, the standby wait was posted at 40 minutes with FASTPASS return 45 minutes out to 12pm. With an 11:30am reservation, Darcie and family opted to grab another set of FASTPASSes for 12pm – 1pm.
So by arriving at 8:30am, they were able to do Toy Story 2x, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster 3x, Tower of Terror 1x, Star Tours 1x, and they have FASTPASSes for a fourth ride on Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. Not bad.
If you were to arrive now and hop in the standby line, you’d be waiting the same amount of time to ride Tower of Terror and Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster one time each. Note that FASTPASSes for Toy Story are already gone.
What have we learned?
- Despite being a minor attraction, The Legend of Captain Jack Sparrow needs to be a priority – whether you visit before 9:30am, during the Parade, or as late as possible. Otherwise, you’re looking at a 25 to 60 minute wait.
- Tower of Terror has been having elevator problems and wait times are two to three times as long as they would be otherwise. This is causing even more people to use FASTPASS, which in turn makes return times later and standby waits longer.
- Don’t be worried if Star Tours has a visible line outside before 11am – waits should still be short barring major problems with the simulators.
- Arriving early at Hollywood Studios is essential if you want to experience the big three without long waits.
Archival footage of the entrance to 50′s Prime Time Cafe, where we’ll be having lunch. We last visited in November in the same post as the Captain Jack Sparrow information. My last experience was pretty lousy, with a sampler plate that had obviously been sitting under a heat lamp for some time. The entrees came out less than five minutes after ordering and the appetizer onion rings actually came out after the entrees were delivered.
Like a lot of Disney restaurants, including all the restaurants at Hollywood Studios, 50′s Prime Time offers one menu all day. Blame the Dining Plan.
50′s is known for its milk shakes:
These got good scores fromTim and his daughter, though he mentioned that they’re usually served in a nice glass with the malt cup containing a little extra on the side.
Darcie and I went with Diet Cokes flavored with cherry and vanilla respectively. It’s a nice little twist on your standard soft drink. Unlike the milk shakes, refills are free.
Tim started with Grandpa’s Crab Cake – Lump Crab Cake served on Succotash with Bacon, Chili Sauce, and crispy Onions – $9.49.
This is a cake in the same way a hamburger is a hot dog. When the “cousin” put the plate down, she even introduced it as the “crab salad,” which is what it is – a crab salad with just a little bit of crab in it. It looks like more than it is because it’s being propped up by unadvertised avocado. Amusingly(?) Tim didn’t eat much of the avocado and the cousin came to harass him about it. I said I was allergic to avocado, which is why it wasn’t eaten. The cousin replied with a smile, “You’re not really allergic…” I smiled back, picked up my fork, took a large bite, and said, “We’ll see.” This seemed to make the cousin a little nervous. Luckily I’m not allergic.
This time the Onion Rings – Beer-Battered Onion Rings and Horseradish Sauce – $6.49 came out in front of the entrees. They were nice and crispy and didn’t taste a whole lot like onion to me, which was fine. Don’t expect a thick cut onion and a light batter. The horseradish sauce could have just as easily been ranch dressing. It wasn’t bitter at all – probably because people don’t necessarily like horseradish. I would have preferred something a little more pungent.
Tim’s son ordered the Chicken Noodle Soup – Hearty Mixture of Chicken, Vegetables, and Egg Noodles – $6.99. He said it didn’t have a lot of chicken in it, but was just fine otherwise. At seven bucks, it seems to be at least two dollars overpriced.
Tim and his daughter each ordered the sampler. They seemed to be satisfied enough and there at least isn’t a film over the potatoes this time. The meatloaf continues to be dry, even with the drizzle and the pot roast is salty and fatty.
But the chicken is good! The standard Aunt Liz’s Golden Fried Chicken served with Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Chicken Gravy, and Collard Greens with Bacon – $16.99 includes three sizable pieces of chicken along with a healthy scoop of potatoes and the collard greens which few people probably eat.
Mom’s Old-fashioned Pot Roast – Slow-cooked ’til tender served with Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Brown Gravy, Carrots, Celery, and Onions. Darcie seemed to enjoy it, though she may want to interject with an additional opinion. It looks kind of sad on the plate.
Changing things up a bit, I went with Grandma’s Chicken Pot Pie – A Creamy Cheese mixture of Chicken, Mushrooms, Carrots, Celery, Onions, and Peas, topped with a flaky pastry – $17.99.
I actually enjoyed this quite a bit and I’m hoping it wasn’t terribly unhealthy. The broth was creamy without being heavy and it was full of hot baked chicken. The bottom is lined with pastry as well, so you might consider it a “deconstructed chicken pie” if you wanted to be fancy about it. There were only a few mushrooms and onions, which I didn’t object to. I think the smart money at 50s Prime Time is to stay away from the big three – the pot roast, chicken, and meatloaf. There was a family from France next to us and they seemed to be particularly amused by my picture taking. They ordered Salmon Caesar Salads and a Blue Plate Special that looked good from afar. I personally wouldn’t order the pot roast or meatloaf as an entree.
Others may have had better experiences recently. 50′s has a good reputation, but I’m not sure if that’s based more on meals from 2010 rather than 2013. If you’ve been to 50s in the last six months, you could share your opinions, good or bad.
Next up is a look around the interactive queue at Big Thunder Mountain.