Casey Liss is a developer, podcaster, and writer who lives in the suburbs of Richmond, VA. Though his name might not be immediately recognizable to those in the Disney World fan community, people in the tech community might recognize him from his widely popular podcasts, ATP and Analog(ue). In fact, it was Casey’s description of a trip to Disney on a recent episode of Analog(ue) that led me to reach out to him for a Rope Drop [dot] Net interview. Casey is not someone who visits Disney World every year, so I thought he could bring a unique, thoughtful perspective about planning and then experiencing Disney World. Thankfully, he graciously agreed to the interview:
(As always, my questions are bolded and Casey’s answers immediately follow. Minor edits were made for readability, but all efforts were made to keep the content of the questions and answer as is.)
What do you remember about the first time you went to Disney World?
The first time I remember going to Disney World is very vague memories of being in a treehouse in Fort Wilderness. I don’t believe they’re there anymore, but you could rent some sort of cabin-like treehouse. I vividly remember, despite being only around 4 at the time, that it had a spiral staircase in it. I was mesmerized.
I remember always reflecting on the trip fondly, but I remember so little else about the trip.
The first visit I remember in more detail is when I had just finished my freshman year of college. My whole family went – at this point I had two younger brothers – and loved it. It was in the summer of 2001, and I believe Rock ’n’ Rollercoaster had just opened. I hated the feeling of negative G’s – drops – and loved Rock ’n’ Rollercoaster because it was a “launcher” rollercoaster – no drop required.
I also rode Splash Mountain on that trip; I enjoyed that… quite a bit less.
NOTE FROM JOHN: When Casey mentions that spiral staircase, I think he is talking about the original Treehouse Villas the operated from 1975 through 2002. You can read about the villas and see pictures of the staircase in this post from 2719 Hyperion.
If you still aren’t a fan of “negative G’s”, then I assume you probably don’t get super excited about some of Disney World’s signature attractions (Splash Mountain, Tower of Terror, etc…). What are your “must do” attractions when you visit Disney World?
I wasn’t a fan of negative G’s. Not too long after Erin and I started dating, we had started only-sorta-jokingly talking about getting married and honeymooning. I confided in her that I’d always dreamed of honeymooning in Disney World. As a lifelong Disney fan, who had never visited Disney World before, Erin was all-in from the get go.
Except that she knew I didn’t care for roller coasters, and she knew that there were at least a handful of roller coasters at Disney World. In a very rare case of Erin… explaining… something to me, she explained to me that if we are going to honeymoon in Disney, then darnit I’m going to go on rollercoasters with her.
We started with launch coasters at our two local theme parks – Kings Dominion and Busch Gardens – and eventually moved up to negative Gs, one step at a time. By the time we went to Disney for our honeymoon, I was able to do everything except Tower of Terror. I drew the line there.
When Erin turned 30, I surprised her with a trip to Disney World. She didn’t know where we were going until we checked in at the airport. That trip, we did ride Tower of Terror once. I was more than a bit nervous about it. I’d ride it again, but I was extremely nervous until it was all over.
When we travel to Disney, there are definitely some must-sees. Number one on that list is the Tomorrowland Transit Authority People Mover. Honestly, I’m not sure why I love that ride so much, but I do. Maybe it’s my proclivity for lazy rivers at water parks. Maybe it’s that the ride rarely has a line and generally has a nice breeze. Maybe it’s because my mother has always loved it. No matter the reason, it’s always been my favorite.
Outside of the People Mover, I also love the Rock ’n’ Rollercoaster and, as a huge car nut, the Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show. In fact, I have long thought that MGM Hollywood Studios gets a bad rep, and is far better than most give it credit for. Though I’m told that quite a lot of it is under construction now, so perhaps now it really does live up to its crummy reputation!
Outside of Hollywood Studios, though not an attraction, I always loved the dancing water in Epcot, ever since I was a toddler. I could sit there and watch it for hours. I don’t know why. Also in Epcot, and again appealing to my inner car nut, I love Test Track. Erin loves Soarin’ and Living with the Land; that has endeared both of those to me quite a bit. Living With the Land is in many ways my Epcot equivalent of the People Mover.
I loved Expedition Everest the first time I rode it, because I didn’t know what to expect at the apex of the ride. I still quite love it, but I’d kill to be able to ride it again, not knowing what to expect.
Knowing that you have certain rides that you and Erin want to go on, how do you go about planning your trips to make sure you get to do the things you most want to do?
We’ve done all flavors of planning. We’ve done last-minute and far-out. We’ve done with-agent and by ourselves.
Our most recent trip was for three nights, two days, when we happened to be near-ish Orlando for a wedding. We hemmed and hawed about going in the first place, since our son was only 8 months old at the time. We finally decided to just go for it about a month before our arrival – we finally booked on 18 May for an arrival on 23 June. We weren’t able to get some of the dining nor FastPass+ reservations we wanted, but we didn’t expect the trip to go as planned, thanks to our delightful little baby. 🙂 At least during his first year, he’s the boss of us. We did all the booking ourselves using Disney’s site.
The time before that I also procrastinated a bit. For Erin’s 30th we booked at the end of June for a mid-August trip. We did better that time, though we didn’t get a chance to dine in Be Our Guest, which I suspect we’d really love. I did all the booking in concert with a AAA travel agent.
For our honeymoon, we booked in February and March for a late-June arrival. We did the booking via a AAA agent.
In general, we’ve been enough times now that we generally know what we like. For the two-day trip, I definitely referred heavily to Disney’s website, as well as allears.net for some menus that either weren’t available or weren’t up to date on the Disney site. I also had a bear of a time trying to get information about the Polynesian Villas & Bungalows. We were really trying to figure out what the room layout would be in advance, to plan appropriately for our baby’s crib/etc. We eventually found the floor plan on yourfirstvisit.net, though of course I can’t find the specific link again now.
Were we to do it again, I would definitely prefer to be far more deliberate about the whole experience. I would likely be the one waking up early, 180 days out, to book dining. The last couple of trips have just been decided so late in the game that I just had to roll with what options were left.
Once we’ve decided on which days to go, I typically start with dinner reservations and work backwards from there. Every time we go, excepting the last time, we try to hit at least Coral Reef and the 50’s PrimeTime Cafe. The dinner reservation will define what park we want to be in that evening. We try to be in different parks each night. I’ll then back into FastPass+ reservations based around our dinner time. Pre-baby, we would usually do two parks in one day, and visit each park two or three times per week-long trip. With the baby, all bets are off.
We have now stayed in all three monorail resorts, and though the call of the Wilderness Lodge is strong, we’ve been extremely spoiled by being on the monorail. Our favorite for just the two of us was far and away the Contemporary, but for the family, the Polynesian did work out really well.
What are your thoughts on the changes that have been made to certain aspects of Disney World vacations over the past few years? What, if any, of the upcoming changes to Disney World are you most excited about?
I don’t keep up with Disney in the “off season” like many do. Generally I get my news about the parks by way of friends or family who have recently visited.
That said, having visited in 2013 and again in 2015 we have seen the “beta” and then adoption of the Magic Bands and FastPass+.
The Magic Bands I really like, from start to finish. Picking them out in advance gets you excited way before your vacation begins. Receiving them in the mail gets you excited about your imminent vacation. Using them is so much nicer and easier than worrying about a key card. It’s slightly awkward bending your wrist so that they can be read, but that’s a small price to pay to be able to travel without a thing in your pockets if you so choose. (Being able to travel without anything in your pockets is particularly useful at Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon.)
FastPass+ I’m less of a fan of. I understand the motivations behind it, but I feel like it’s a net loss for guests. Even as someone who loves to plan things in advance, for me, it just creates even more anxiety up front. This is compounded by the “packages” that they compel you to use. I’d probably like it more if it was a complete free-for-all based solely on availability, but it seems like you’re always limited to only one “top tier” attraction per park per day. Again, I understand the motivations behind this, but it’s still a tough pill to swallow.
I do like being able to change them by way of the My Disney Experience app. But inevitably I end up getting frustrated because of the aforementioned “packages” that don’t fit my needs.
I did like the FastPass+ far more when we went in 2013. We stayed in the Contemporary, which was one of the “beta test” resorts. It was pretty neat, and made us feel special, to walk around with the bands on. About halfway through our trip, we befriended a couple at the 50’s PrimeTime Cafe. They asked us if we still had our traditional hotel key cards. We did, and they then enlightened us that we could still get traditional FastPass tickets with the keycards, while still holding FastPass+ via the bands. That was magical. Unfortunately, that loophole has since closed.
It’s funny; I write software for a living, and have written apps in the past. However, in this case, I think that having FastPasses managed by way of an app, in advance, is worse for guests. The app in general, however, is very useful, especially to see where you are in the parks.
With regard to changes I’m excited about, I can take or leave Star Wars and am not a huge Avatar fan. I always loved Maelstrom and enjoyed Frozen so I’m curious to see what’s going to come of the Norway pavilion. I wasn’t aware of pending updates to Soarin’ until this interview; I’m cautiously optimistic about those changes. The fact that Soarin’ was all about California I couldn’t care less about, but the ride is one of my favorites, and is my wife’s favorite. If they stick with the same general idea, as I assume they will, I’m sure I’ll love it.
Though it’s old now, I didn’t have a chance to ride the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train when we were there in the summertime; I’m anxious to see that. I’d also love to visit Radiator Springs in Disney Land; we were there in 2012 when it was being constructed, if memory serves.
A huge thank you to Casey for agreeing to be interviewed for the site. As I alluded to in the introduction, I think it is beneficial and intriguing to get thoughtful opinions about Disney World from outside of the standard Disney fan community. Casey clearly delivered on that front.
Though I will give a more general “where to find Casey” in a second, I do want to encourage you to listen to Episode 47 of Casey’s Analog(ue) podcast or read this entry on Casey’s site. In them, Casey describes taking his son, Declan, to see the Leave a Legacy block that his family purchased many years prior. It’s a heartfelt story about what that attraction can actually mean to people (even though some dismiss it as simply an eyesore in front of Spaceship Earth). Again, I encourage you to take a few minutes to listen to or read the story.
Finally, if you want to hear more from Casey, you can listen to him on the Accidental Tech Podcast with Marco Arment and John Siracusa, or on Analog(ue) with Myke Hurley. You can also find more about Casey on his website caseyliss.com or follow him on Twitter, @caseyliss