Our First New Year’s Eve in Walt Disney World
I am sure to all of our readers that it is a no brainer where the Petermanns decided to spend their first New Year’s Eve as FL Residents. Among the parks that make up Walt Disney World, we felt that Epcot would be the safest in terms of space, crowds, and parking. We didn’t come for the rides, or the food, we came to see those famous New Year’s Eve fireworks and ring in the New Year with a bang. Here is how we did it, here is how YOU can do it, and hopefully everyone learns a little bit about the happenings of this oh so special night- enjoy!
We had a healthy, large meal at T.G.I.Fridays for lunch around noon, one to use a gift card given to us, and two because we knew we would be at the mercy of park food and long lines by the time we got inside Epcot’s gates. It was a relaxing time as we laughed about the insanity we were about to take on, but here is the first ingredient to have when going into something of a night like this. Keep the positivity level high, and the expectations level low. We completely took it on as “Well, hopefully we get into the Park, and if not, we will go home and do something else.” I tell ya, it is a beautiful thing, and a miracle in itself, when the entire family agrees on something.
We entered Epcot around 1:30 p.m., with no hold up at the turnstiles. Honestly, the traffic reminded me of a busy Food and Wine day, so nothing crazy yet. We were taken back to “E” Parking Lot, row 78, which proved to be a GEM at the end of the night. Remember, the farther back you park, the easier it will be to get out – ESPECIALLY on a night like this! We joked on Facebook that our parking lot should be renamed “Oh You Thought You Were Going To Ride Something Today?” With apps on our smart phones, we already knew that the lines were outrageous. We had a straight shot in, past the Triple A parking lot, and in the left side. So all in all it was quite nice because if you walked in the Security check point on the left is usually empty, because the tram drops off on the right which merges into Monorail traffic causing the right security lanes to ALWAYS be backed up.
After we got through Security with all of our stuff, which was enough in itself, the CM told us that they were expecting over 80,000 people today. Wow! So the odds on finding a REALLY good seat for the fireworks, not to mention enjoying anything, is up to how well you tolerate people. Speaking of what we brought in with us, another major ingredient to making it to midnight in a packed park is to make sure you have everything on you. We were NOT going to take the chance that if they closed to capacity that we may have been out of luck to run back and get the sweatshirts out of the car. We packed one backpack with sweatshirts, and the other with a bag of snacks and drinks then the electronic gadgets like DS’s and Ipods to amuse the kids while we ticked the minutes away. Kyra had her own “Beetles” bag that she carried her stuff in, then I had my purse with new charger and cell phone. It sounds like a lot, but when you are going to be there all day, you need to have everything with you so that you don’t have to go and buy much as well.
Honestly, I was first amazed at the size of the lines at the ticket windows. I guess people just buy a one day tickets for the celebration. We sailed in with our Annual Passes, and soon we were among the thousands who came to play. Again, no expectations, which is why this day turned out to be so much fun. Our first shock was the line for Spaceship Earth, WOW. The picture says it all, and yes, a 60 minute wait. Maybe I am spoiled now, but I know on vacation here we STILL would have never waited that long for that ride. We then walked towards The Land to see how busy Soarin was and to catch a glimpse of the madness. Had we been eating something while reading the wait time, we would have choked. 220 minute wait for Soarin at then 2:30 ish. Almost 4 hours!!!! I asked the Soarin CM how it’s THAT long since it seems like the queue for that ride wouldn’t be that, and he told me they double back them. So think about how you would get all the way to the end of the line, only to have to wait all the way back to the beginning, and then back again. I would be in tears! After I took the picture of the wait time, a CM said to me “Hard to believe isn’t it?” I said, “I am a lucky woman to live here and never wait that long.” Living with the Land was a 60 minute wait as well, and that line is a LONG one to wait in. We have done it on vacation, and it was really hot in that area because everyone is so close together. The pictures speak for themselves on the crowds.
Our original plan was to make camp in the “Cold Hallway” near Club Cool and just chill out for a couple of hours, play our games, and wait the time out. The hallway was PACKED when we got in there, with people sleeping EVERYWHERE! It looked like a Disney sleepover. We found an empty spot and staked our claim. I stayed with the stuff and played a new Zombie app I bought, while Craig took the kids to Test Track to see what was going on over there. I was content, I was sure we had a great plan so I played my game over the next hour. They got back, kids settled, and Craig took off for World Showcase to see if anyone was lining up yet for the fireworks. Of course we were all comfy with our stuff all out, when Craig returned and said “We should go NOW and find a spot, they are lining up already around WS.” We piled everything into the backpacks and took off.
It was now 3:30 p.m. when we got to the front area, center of WS, and right behind the large Christmas tree. They had taped sections where you could sit and walk, but the front area near the railing was completely open and NOT taped. I asked a Cast Member THREE TIMES, not even kidding, if we could stand there for the fireworks. I made it VERY clear that if were going to invest EIGHT hours of our day in holding this premium spot, that I wasn’t going to be moved after waiting there. He assured me that all was well- even after I asked him again later, and then 15 minutes later after that. I had a gut feeling that this was NOT right, and that maybe they would have it be for wheelchairs. I was just about to run to the bathroom, when I saw a CM manager walk up to Craig and Emily, and everyone else up by the railing, and announced they were closing that section at 5 p.m. because the fireworks are so close and huge for New Years that it’s a safety issue, so they were completely blocking it off. I went right up to that CM Manager and said “I talked to Karel, the CM over there, who reassured me three times I could stand there. Now, I want the best seat in the house for the misinformation, because it isn’t fair that you all don’t have your facts straight.” Of course, I said it in my sweet AFP voice so I didn’t tick him off, and he escorted us to the front and center taped area, and that is where we parked it at 4:00 p.m. I thanked him very much and we were officially camped for the second time.
We weren’t the only early birds, but we were in a small group who staked out at the second spot at 4:00. It’s funny what comrade you can make with those around you for hours on end. We had a lovely nice couple sit behind us early on, so we had our back covered. Yes, I do think about those things because it seems our luck that we get some yutz behind us who makes life miserable. The people on the left of us were there early on with us as well, and later a cute Japanese couple sat behind Craig and Kyra. We were confident that our small alliance would hold up until Illuminations at 11:40p.m.
So what does one do with all that time on their hands? Well, you enjoy the warm weather, the sunny skies, and your IPhone- if you can get a signal. Liz Driscoll had mentioned on FB that she could not get a signal during a busy Food and Wine day- yup, that was us. I tried tweeting, updating my FB status SEVERAL times, and it just uploaded FOREVER and then just quit trying. Which got me thinking how horrible that that can happen- when all these major weather happenings like hurricanes, tornadoes, and disasters occur- how will anyone get through when everyone is tying up the airwaves? Scary thought. I played my Zombie game, but I found I was too distracted by everything going on around me. Emily tried to watch a movie on her IPod, but the noise level was so high that even with the ear buds she could barely hear it. So a heads up for those who want to watch or listen to something to pass the time, the noise level just increases as the day goes on. I should have brought my noise control headphones, just didn’t think it would be that noisy. Lesson learned.
We had a system for our small corner of people, and it worked well. Someone was always with the stuff, and the four of us took turns leaving. Craig and Kyra got dinner for us at the Electric Umbrella, while Emily and I people watched and chatted with those around us. Craig said the lines were not bad at all, and they did have “Take Out” bags for those of us camped around the park- the tray isn’t a great idea when trying to maneuver around crowds. Also, sodas aren’t a great idea either, get water bottles with your meals, you can bag them and carry them so much easier.
Of course while you are sitting up front and out of the crowds, you don’t see what’s happening in the Park around you. Several people around us were coming back with hats and noisemakers, and since we were new we weren’t aware they gave those out, and for free! So the gentleman behind us went and got us some, then Craig, who didn’t know if our new friend could get ours too, also got some. By the time everyone was back at camp, we had a ton of hats and horns, so we handed them out to those around us for others to enjoy. I even got the Cast Member’s help to hand them out with me. Craig said they were located in the courtyard outside the cold hallway and between that and Imagination. The line stretched to Nemo, but he said it went quickly. Emily and I had another bathroom break at 9:30 p.m., and we walked past this area, finding the table, hats, and horns completely gone- so there isn’t an unlimited supply, so get yours right away!
Speaking of Cast Members, here is another ingredient in making this day enjoyable. TALK to the Cast Members, wherever and whoever you meet. Tell them they are doing a GREAT job- because most of us wouldn’t want the nightmare it must be to contain and control 80,000 people… and half who are probably intoxicated. When staking a spot like ours, it is imperative to talk to the CM’s. Why? You want to know you have that “go to” person that if someone tries to steal your spot, stand in front of you, or even any other concern you have- the reality is that you and them are in the same area for 8 straight hours, so working together makes all the difference in the world. A big thanks to Tim and Betty who were more than kind to us, who looked out for us, and made sure that we always had our spot.
By the time Illuminations started show number one, at 7:00 p.m., our spots were still secure and even though everyone was now standing, we weren’t crowded at all. It was an amazing view, to have dead center, no one in front of us, we had never seen Illuminations this well before! The show, as always, was beautiful, and it was nice to see the Christmas tag one more time this year. Again, the tears, but they were happy ones that we had made it to that point in time, period.
Of course as it was over, the crowds thinned a bit. We held our ground, so did the couples behind us, so we felt confident we were good. Maygume, the Japanese woman behind us, made the girls paper cranes while sitting there and spoke to us for while. She was such a sweetheart!
Then it happened… it was like a switch was flipped in Epcot! The park was alive like I had never witnessed before. Dance music was coming from everywhere, horns were blowing, and it was a sea of celebration. Again, I had no expectation of this, so it was a treat for all four of us.
Emily and I hit the restrooms, but didn’t make it there right away when we heard “Dancing Queen” playing by the Fountain of Nations. Huge stage, big DJ playing with the largest Mickey hands I have ever seen in my life- it was so cool! Emily and I stayed and danced three songs(VIDEO BELOW), and she was laughing the whole time- I will never forget her huge smile in that moment. We used the restrooms in the cold hallway area, and it had a small line, but nothing too bad. A side note, they had a trailer set up in WS for extra restrooms- so keep in mind that if a line isn’t moving, always ask about where others are.
As the night went on, Craig and Kyra would head out and explore, then Kyra and I would, and so on. Because we had front row seats, we could see the World Showcase excitement head on. So of course we had to go and see what all the excitement was about! Craig and Kyra headed to China first, and found the craziest and coolest dance party ever. With a dragon hanging from the rafters, a DJ spinning the tunes, and flames shooting over the whole thing every now and then- it made for an exciting experience. Craig recorded what they saw for you below, enjoy!
Well they came back to our spot, oozing about what fun they had, so Kyra and I headed back over so I could see. No words, I wanted to stay in China all night! Kyra and I were jumping, dancing, right in the mosh pit- it was great. You only live once, and you only have one first New Years Eve in FL, got to go big! We then made our way to Italy, which had the coolest laser show I have ever seen! Now, I will admit, I didn’t know the music being played, I didn’t care. We were again dancing and jumping and having a great time. Here is what Italy looked like, enjoy the video below!
We checked out America, which funny enough had latin music playing in the Garden Theater, and we didn’t make it to France, but they had a DJ as well. We headed back through the crowds, stopping again in China to dance to “Dynamite” and then found our spot again with the family. The crowds were manageable, as the CM’s were directing one direction each way so there was a traffic pattern to it all. I did notice the lines for alcohol were incredibly long everywhere.
As the time got later and later, people started to circle our spot like vultures. Stepping on my soap box now- be prepared. If you think for ONE minute, after waiting 8 hours for that spot, I am going to let you come in and try to “step in” without me seeing, you have another thing coming. Yes, you think I’m not paying attention, I am. Hence why two of us were ALWAYS there to watch it. WDW okayed us leaving our spot to enjoy the festivities, before some of you say “Well you shouldn’t leave your spot ever.” As far as health sense, you should never be sitting on concrete for 8 hours straight, or stand, without moving around anyways. If you want our seats, be there at 3:30 like we were. Thinking you are going to walk up at 11:00 and just “blend in” isn’t going to fly with me. So if you are thinking of doing this, at any parade, fireworks, or event where people have been waiting for HOURS, please, think again, it’s just rude and insulting to those who put the time in. Off soap box, here is what started to happen. People were walking in, at 11:00 and asking to stand right on top of us, no room at all. I said “No, we were here at 3:30 p.m.” and most moved on. On the other side of us, people were trying to push their way in to sit, and they weren’t having it. No fights, but a lot of yelling. We had a foreign family stand right next to us in the walking zone and try to pull it off, but they made them get behind the people behind us. They lucked out that the people behind them didn’t say anything. Sorry, but you have a lot of nerve to do that to people. By the time everything started, the walking zones were filled with people, and I had many next to me. I didn’t care at that point, but it was sad that people don’t respect others.
11:40 the show began, and it was amazing as always. It was almost hard to sit through Illuminations because we were so anxious for the New Years ones. No Christmas tag at the end, but the New Years ones started right away. They highlighted each Country who had already celebrated New Years, and then they had their own set of fireworks set off behind each one. THAT was brilliant!! Then we got to the U.S. and they counted down from 10, which when you hear and see the video is quite funny- we get hung up at 5- we apparently count too fast! LOL We got to 1, and the place went nuts! I can’t even tell you the emotions I felt at that moment, the purest joy known to man. My kids were smiling, my husband had tears, and the fireworks were going crazy over our heads. It was incredible, amazing, and the best I have ever seen. Craig kissed me after I recorded the video, and we whispered “Happy New Years.” Enjoy the video below of New Years, and you can also catch a small glimpse of Studios in the background as well.
Was it worth it? Heck yeah! We went into it with low expectations, and wound up leaving on the highest of highs. If you want to do what we did next year, it’s pretty simple. Get there after lunch, no reason to get in early at Epcot anyways, and stake out your spot right behind the large Christmas tree, Bring blankets, which we wish had, sweatshirts (you don’t know how cold it may get when the sun goes down), snacks, drinks, and something to keep you busy when you are sitting there. Make nice with those around you, Cast Members as well, and you will have a much easier time. It can be done by anyone who has the patience and time to do so. Is it for you while on vacation? Yes, if you go into it for the fireworks and New Years Eve festivities, it’s worth it. If your only day at Epcot on your vacation is THAT day, don’t bother. Get there early, Fastpass as much as possible, and walk up on them since they are in the air. They did have the grassy areas open for viewing, you just have to make sure you don’t get behind any columns or towers.
I hope you enjoyed this lengthy post, it truly was a labor of love. We enjoyed our night so much that I had to add all the details, including all the pictures and videos. I hope you enjoyed our New Years and yours as well. From our family to yours, Happy 2012!