This is part 3 of a multi-part travelogue on our 2014 trip to Florida. Part one described some of the planning of the trip. In part two, we spent a day at Kennedy Space Center and four days at Universal, and Gail spent two days in bed. In this instalment, we travel down the road from Universal to Disney World.
August 21: Early entry at Magic Kingdom today. We tried to get to the Seven Dwarves coaster first since the line-ups on that ride get insane quickly, but it was closed so we rode Buzz Lightyear instead. Since there were no lines, we actually rode it twice. After that, it was over to the Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor, which I expected to be a short movie with the Monsters Inc. characters, but it was different. It was actually a “live” comedy show featuring a monster. They must have had a comedian in a motion capture suit backstage with cameras on the audience, and the character on screen interacted in real time with audience members. It was very well done and pretty funny.
After that, we did more rides: Big Thunder Mountain, Mickey’s Philharmagic, Peter Pan, Under the Sea, Tomorrowland Speedway, Haunted Mansion, Country Bear Jamboree, Space Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Jungle Cruise. Sounds like a pretty busy day but most of that was before lunch.
Lunch was at a Beauty and the Beast-themed restaurant called Be Our Guest (note that we tried the gray stuff, and it was indeed delicious). During our entire Disney vacation, something we kept coming back to was “Disney does things right”. We were impressed countless times with how efficient or easy things were, from making dinner reservations online to free wifi throughout all of the parks. Lunch at Be Our Guest was one of the very few times that I was surprised at how this was not the case. First off, we did have lunch reservations (which we had made months in advance), and even placed our food orders to speed things up. But we still had to wait in a line for at least 20 minutes before getting inside. This was around noon and there was no shade anywhere near the line. It was around 35° outside so we were melting by the time we got inside, but I felt worse for the family in front of us, with two much younger kids. Once inside, we found that our reservation was there but the lunch order had been lost, so we had to go through the ordering process, which was not very efficient at all. We were sent to a room with terminals where an attendant would enter our food order. But while we were waiting for the group ahead of us to finish, people in line behind us were redirected to other stations and finished far earlier. It seemed very haphazard and slow.
Eventually we got seated and things were fine after that. The food arrived very quickly and it was really good so while the overall experience had some problems, the end result was happy people with full bellies. And some desserts to take back to the hotel.
After a few more rides, we headed back to the hotel around 3:30. The boys and I went for a swim while Gail napped. For dinner, we tried the Pepper Market, a cafeteria-type place within our hotel complex. Coronado Springs is a huge place and since it’s all two-storey buildings spread out around a lake, we actually drove to the front of the hotel for dinner. Let me say that another way: we went to a restaurant within the hotel complex in which we were staying, and we still drove to get there. Anyway, the market had lots of variety and the food was very good. I had enchiladas with green chilies made by a guy from Mexico City. Turns out that Taco Bell is not the best example of Mexican food you can find!
After dinner, we went back to the Magic Kingdom. We were hoping to get a good position for the evening’s parade, but while looking for a spot, some pretty dark clouds started to move in. We were walking by It’s a Small World and Gail suggested we duck inside there to avoid the rain. We rode that and once we came out, the ground was pretty wet but we were not. But the clouds were still there and the parade had been cancelled so we decided to call it a day. On the way out, we stopped by a place near the front gate called Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom. This was a scavenger hunt kind of game involving cards and video monitors hidden throughout the Magic Kingdom. It was free to play, so we signed up and found a couple of the easy ones in that area. But it was getting late and the boys were tired so we decided to continue another day.
Ryan: 21.03 km
Nicky: 12.90 km, 21506 steps
August 22: Another early entry day, this time to Hollywood Studios. The first ride was the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, which was very fast and loud. I really enjoyed this one, as did the boys. Gail’s back was feeling much better by this point, but she was taking no chances so she skipped this one, and all of the other intense rides for the rest of the trip. Tower of Terror was right next door so we did that next. I am totally not a fan of this kind of dropping ride, but I remember this one (from when Gail and I went in 1996) as not being all that bad. I was mostly right. It was about as intense as I could handle from a ride like this – any more intense and I wouldn’t have liked it. This was a little beyond Ryan’s limit, however, and he wasn’t happy at all. Nicky, as expected, loved it.
After this was Star Tours, and then the Indiana Jones stunt spectacular, Muppet Vision 3D (I’m not a huge Muppet fan but I liked this one), Toy Story Midway Mania, The Legend of Captain Jack Sparrow (lame), One Man’s Dream (a historical show about Walt Disney), and Voyage of the Little Mermaid. This was a very hot day, so we spent a lot of time inside. Lunch was Pizza Planet, where Ryan and Nicky had some fun playing overly expensive video games. Dinner was also fun – we went to the Sci-Fi Dine-in Theater. The restaurant is built like a drive-in theater, where all the tables are shaped like cars and they have scenes from very bad 50’s sci-fi movies and old commercials playing on the big screen.
One thing we missed was the Backlot Tour, which we remember enjoying from years ago, but it was closed for renovations. We never managed to get on the Great Movie Ride because the lines were too long.
After dinner, we did one more ride on Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and then Nicky went on Tower of Terror by himself. Once that was done, we hung around for Fantasmic, a firework / film / laser / water live-action show that’s hard to describe but we really enjoyed. After the show I realized that I’d left my Toronto Rock hat on the roller coaster, so we went back there to see if it had been turned in. Just like Nicky’s phone from a few days before, someone had found it and turned it in so I was happy to get it back.
Ryan: 12.35 km
Nicky: 18.47 km, 30799 steps
August 23: A rare non-early entry day so we slept in – until 7am. After breakfast we headed to Epcot. Our first ride of the day was The Sum of all Thrills, which was an interesting combination ride and Raytheon advertisement. You use a fancy computer (created by Raytheon) to design your own roller coaster, then get in a one- or two-person simulator (created by Raytheon) and actually ride it. It wasn’t quite as thrilling as the name implied, but it wasn’t bad. Next was Mission: Space, which ended up as one of my top 3 favourite rides of the whole trip. Right next door was Test Track, which was fun as well. Considering you were sitting in a car with no seat belts or restraining bar, it was quite fast.
Some other rides: Spaceship Earth (the ride through the big golf ball), Ellen’s Energy Adventure (which was fun even though I might have dozed for a few minutes), the Circle of Life (a thinly-veiled “we’re destroying the planet” environmental documentary featuring Timon and Pumbaa), and some parts of Innoventions.
We went into the World Showcase shortly before lunch since we had reservations at the German Biergarten. Lunch was a buffet featuring lots of German specialties and I’m sure our hosts would have been offended if I didn’t have a German beer, so I made that sacrifice. After lunch we headed over to the Canadian pavilion where we saw the 360° movie “O Canada”. This one was new – the pavilion had had a similar movie running since Epcot opened, which Gail and I had seen back in ’96. It was very dated even then, so we warned the boys about it. But the movie we saw was “all-new” and featured Martin Short. It was much more up-to-date and we enjoyed it.
After the movie we were walking back towards the front when the sky started to grow very dark very quickly. Gail said “let’s duck into this store” and within a few minutes it was teeming with rain outside while we were nice and dry inside. There was a cafe attached to the store so we had a little snack while waiting for the rain and thunder to stop. This was at least the third or fourth time we’d missed being outside in a rainstorm by minutes and the boys and I were getting quite impressed at Gail’s ability to make this happen.
Dinner that night was at the Maya Grill back at the hotel. Not the quickest place around – it took a long time for our meals to arrive but once they did, they were very good. I had more enchiladas since I liked the ones from the other day, and Nicky ordered chimichangas – I think mainly because he liked to say “chimichanga”.
One thing I noticed back in the hotel room was that there was a safe in the wall – with a metal key. I’ve stayed in many hotels over the last 20 years with safes in the rooms, and they almost always have a numeric keypad that allows you to enter a code to lock it and then enter the same code again to unlock it. Disney issues everyone “Magic Bands” which are RFID bracelets that get you into the parks, act as a room key, allow you to book and redeem FastPasses and dinner reservations, and more – and the room safes use a metal key? Another thing we noticed was that there was no channel on the TV that would list the things you’d charged to your room, or show you your balance owing or anything like that. Nothing personalized at all. This also seemed like 20-year-old technology that Disney just didn’t have.
We were in bed pretty early this night. The early mornings, many kilometres of walking, and the crazy heat (32°-35° all day every day plus humidity – we had several humidex values over 40) are starting to take their toll on us. By the end of every day, we’re all exhausted.
Ryan: 12.33 km
Nicky: 16.53 km, 27551 steps
August 24: Today was supposed to be an early-entry day for Animal Kingdom, but the exhaustion took over and we all slept in. We changed our minds on our destination at that point and around 9:30 (!!) we headed out to Typhoon Lagoon for some water park fun. The boys and I did a few water slides together and then Nicky (Mr. thrill seeker) wanted to do “Humunga Kowabunga”, a slide with a 5-storey drop. After that, we tried to do Shark Reef, which was a pool containing all kinds of fish including small sharks. You get a snorkel and mask and swim through slowly and get a great view of all the ocean life. But at the beginning, Nicky put his mask on and immediately felt a burning sensation in his face. He had to take the mask off right away and was almost in tears because of the pain. Then I put mine on and felt the same thing. It wasn’t terribly painful for me but seriously uncomfortable. Ryan was fine, so off he went, but Nicky and I just returned our equipment and skipped it. We figured it probably had to do with the cleaning solution they used on the goggles.
After lunch at the Leaning Palm, we did the lazy river around the park and then spent 20 minutes or so in the wave pool. But this wasn’t like other wave pools, where waves come in every few seconds. In this one, you get one wave every minute or so but that one wave is six feet high, blasting everyone off their feet. The boys loved that and I had a bunch of fun too. Around 1:30 we pulled the boys out of the wave pool, got dried and changed, and headed to Animal Kingdom.
At Animal Kingdom, we first rode Dinosaur and then Expedition Everest, which was a very fun coaster that went both forwards and backwards. Then we saw Finding Nemo: The Musical, which was very good, and the Festival of the Lion King, which is an absolute must-see if you go to Animal Kingdom. It’s definitely one of the best shows at any of the parks. Just as we were walking into that one, we felt a few raindrops and sure enough, a few minutes after we got inside (before the show had even started), it was pouring outside. Missed us again, Mother Nature. <sticks tongue out>
After the show, we went to a place called Tusker House, which was another of the places we might not have gone were it not for our free dining plan. It was an African buffet which featured various curry dishes; all kinds of chicken, beef, and pork; tabouleh; plantain; hummus, and a ton of other things you don’t get at your average food court. I wasn’t sure the boys would find enough stuff that they’d eat. As it turns out, they’re pretty good when it comes to things like that. I know people whose kids will only eat a handful of things and basically refuse to eat anything else. They’d rather go hungry than eat anything but chicken fingers or Kraft Dinner. My boys certainly have their favourites and sometimes don’t seem that adventurous (Ryan would happily take a bagel with cream cheese as his lunch for five days straight), but they’ll at least try stuff they’re not familiar with, and have surprised us on more than one occasion.
After dinner we went on the Kilimanjaro safari where we saw rhinos, elephants, a cheetah, antelopes, lions, giraffes, crocodiles, and a bunch more. Being Disney and all, you almost had to remind yourself that these are real animals – no animatronics, no CGI, nothing like that.
Once we came out of the safari, the park was closed so we headed to a place in Downtown Disney called Disney Quest. This was
free included for us as part of the package we bought (which included this, the water parks, and a few mini-golf courses that we never had a chance to go to). It was basically a big five-storey arcade with lots of video games, a few simulator rides, and even a virtual-reality ride. The boys are avid gamers so they had fun but quite honestly, I could have easily skipped it.
Ryan: 18.93 km
Nicky: 9.89 km, 16486 steps
August 25: Another Magic Kingdom day, though not early entry this time. We did arrive for park opening though, and then headed straight to Splash Mountain which we missed on our previous day. While we were in line it started to rain and we couldn’t duck into a store or restaurant, so we actually got rained on. Of course, we were doing Splash Mountain anyway, so it didn’t matter much. Big Thunder Mountain was next and by the time we finished that one, the rain had stopped. Other rides: Space Mountain (can’t ride too many mountains, ya know), Buzz Lightyear, Carousel of Progress, Under the Sea, Enchanted Tales with Belle (where Nicky got picked to act in the story – he was a knight), Liberty Square Riverboat, and Swiss Family Treehouse.
While waiting for the train to take us from Libertyville to Tomorrowland, we talked with a “cast member” named Bob. While talking, a squirrel walked fearlessly up to him and climbed his leg. Bob took a peanut from his pocket and gave it to the squirrel, who promptly ran back down and ate it right there. Bob said that he’d tamed this squirrel over the past few months, and calls him “Dale”. He told us that a few months prior, Dale had had some kind of physical problem (don’t remember what it was) and the Disney people had actually captured him and sent him to a vet, who’d performed surgery on him. Surgery. On a squirrel. Just because. Only at Disney.
After lunch at the Liberty Tree Tavern, we did some more of the Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom game. We ran into another guy playing this and he gave us some hints. He had a big binder with what looked like hundreds of cards. I guess there are many levels to this game, and the further you go, the more accurate you have to be. To “defeat” enemies, the boys had to pick a spell card or two and hold them up – the card would be detected and usually that was it, but at the higher levels you had to pick the right card or series of cards. I think I’m glad we never got to those levels because that’s just too much thinking.
We then a Disney bus from the Magic Kingdom to Downtown Disney where we had dinner at the Portobello Country Italian Trattoria. On most nights I would have said this place was very good, but given the great food we had at a few other places around Disney, this place was just all right. No major complaints and it wasn’t any more overpriced than anywhere else (not that we cared – Dining Plan), but nothing stood out.
After dinner, we did some shopping. There was a Christmas store which had hundreds of Disney-themes ornaments and other Christmas goodies. I saw an ornament of Mickey Mouse holding a lacrosse stick. Since I’m a big lacrosse fan, I tweeted a picture of it and within minutes, I had requests from two people to buy it for them, which I did. We then grabbed the bus back to the Magic Kingdom, arriving just in time to get a good spot for the electrical parade, followed by Celebrate the Magic (a unique show featuring video projected onto the castle itself) and then Wishes, a fireworks show.
As an aside, the rudeness of some people never fails to amaze me. There are security people all over the place and hundreds of people lining the streets waiting for the show to start, and two minutes before it’s supposed to start, a family with three kids tries to squish their way in next to us. There is not enough space for them (and we didn’t move), and thankfully a security guy managed to convince them to move on, but really people? We’ve been standing in our prime spot for an hour (because it’s a prime spot) and you think we should just move over when you arrive two minutes before the show? Once again, Disney got this right. There were taped lines on the roads and sidewalks and if you wanted to stand / sit for the show, you had to be within the taped area. If you weren’t, move along. This made it completely subjective – you can’t argue “but people can still get by!” or things like that. Either you’re inside the line or you’re not. We were. They weren’t.
Ryan: 18.96 km
Nicky: 25.94 km, 43240 steps
August 26: This was another sleep-in day. Nicky in particular took full advantage and slept until about 9:30. We decided to make this another water park day so we headed to Blizzard Beach once we were all dressed. Blizzard Beach had more water slides (and bigger too) than Typhoon Lagoon but a smaller wave pool – or at least the waves were smaller, more like a typical wave pool. There was one slide called Summit Plummet which was (for me) scary even to look at. The tall slide at Typhoon Lagoon was about 5 stories high, but this one was about twelve. Of course, Nicky had to ride it. It took him the better part of an hour in the line and Ryan and I rode a few other slides while he was waiting but he loved it.
We had lunch at the Lotta Watta Lodge and then back for more slides. We left the park around 3:00, went back to the room to change and then headed to Epcot. We rode Mission: Space once again and then all four of us rode Soarin’. Honestly, I didn’t think Soarin’ was the mind-blowing unbelievable experience that others have described, but it was definitely fun. Dinner was at a restaurant in the Chinese pavilion called Nine Dragons, and it was excellent.
After dinner we rode the boat ride in the Mexican pavilion, then saw Turtle Talk with Crush which was similar to the Monsters Inc. comedy show – they had Crush (from Finding Nemo) on the screen and someone talking in his voice but interacting in real-time with the audience. The show was very good. After that we managed to get on the last Spaceship Earth ride of the day before the park closed.
Ryan: 7.36 km
Nicky: 9.49 km, 15827 steps
August 27: Our last day at Disney. We arrived at the Magic Kingdom at opening and went straight to the Seven Dwarves mine train since we couldn’t get fast passes for it and the lines during the day were always over an hour long. We managed to get on after a short wait and it was OK but it really wasn’t worth an hour wait. We spent the rest of the morning doing the Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom game, and the boys had a lot of fun with it. Lunch was the Columbia Harbour House where Gail and I each had an amazing lobster roll. After another hour or so of the Sorcerer game, we headed back to Epcot.
We rode the Maelstrom in Norway, then Soarin’ again, and then headed back to China for the Chinese acrobats which are always entertaining. Dinner was at the Coral Reef, and I think this was our best meal of the whole trip. We said that it was our last day at Disney and asked if they could get us a table near the aquarium and after an extra five minute wait, we got a table right next to it. We had a great view of all the fish, sharks, rays, and even scuba divers in this immense aquarium, and the food was outstanding.
After another ride on Mission: Space, we tried another new thing: an “Agent P” adventure. Agent P is a character in the Disney show Phineas and Ferb (which is just as funny for adults as it is for kids), and this game was similar to the Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom thing, but using a special smartphone. You’d follow clues and the GPS in the phone would detect when you’d gotten to the right place, then you’d have to answer some questions about where you are, and there were videos on the phone and such. There were different adventures in different countries in the World Showcase but we only did the one in England.
After that we grabbed a spot next to the fence around the lake in the middle of the World Showcase and waited (about an hour) for the IllumiNations show, which was fireworks + laser + fire + water + video + music. It was a great show and a great way to cap off our amazing vacation.
After the show we headed back to the hotel where we packed up everything for the trip home. We could have checked into our flight as early as 48 hours beforehand (i.e. yesterday) but we forgot so we did it tonight. Unfortunately, that meant we had boarding numbers in the C15 range.
Ryan: 19.11 km
Nicky: 23.09 km, 38491 steps
August 28: Home time! We packed everything up last night so there wasn’t much to do this morning. After breakfasting on the remaining breakfasts / desserts / snacks, we packaged up the rest of the food in our carry-on bags and left a note for the cleaning staff, asking them to find a good home for the remaining cans of pop. We packed up the car and headed for the airport, stopping for gas on the way. Dropping the car off was uneventful and after a short wait we checked in and got our boarding passes. We made our way to the gate, with another wait to get through security. Unfortunately, I did a dumb thing and it cost us.
When Gail was laid up in bed and we were walking around Hogsmeade, we bought a bottle of pumpkin juice to bring back to the hotel for her. But she never drank it. She wanted to bring it home. I know that checked bags aren’t in a pressurized section of the plane, and I thought it would be possible the bottle would explode (or at least leak). So I was smart and put it in the carry-on. This was indeed clever until we got to security. While putting my shoes and belt back on, the guy said he had to open my carry-on because something unusual showed up on the X-ray. I figured it was our GPS receiver, but no. It was the pumpkin juice. I immediately smacked myself in the head because we’ve known for years that you can’t bring more than a very small amount of liquids onto a plane. The security guy said that I could either throw it away or go back out into the concourse to drink it, but then I’d have to get back in line to come through security again. With Gail giving me the stink-eye, I reluctantly dropped the bottle into the garbage.
Since we had only checked in the night before, we were very late in the boarding procedure and I ended up sitting in the second- or third-last row next to a guy with a baby girl on his lap, across the aisle from his wife, who had the baby’s twin sister on her lap. Not exactly ideal, but it worked out fine. The babies were cute and quiet, and the guy and his wife were friendly so it was all good. Upon arriving in Buffalo we called the hotel where the van was parked, and they sent a shuttle for us. After picking up the van, we headed to an outlet mall in Buffalo for some back-to-school clothes shopping, then a 45-minute wait at the border, and we were home around dinner time.
So that was our vacation in
extreme detail. But wait, there’s more! I have two more articles coming, one is something I like to do called “by the numbers”, summarizing our vacation with a bunch of “statistics”: how many nights in different hotels, how many miles we drove, how many pictures we took, that sort of thing. The second is a comparison of the Disney and Universal experiences. This will be primarily a comparison of Disney’s FastPass and Universal’s Express, their strategies used to reduce wait times.