I don’t understand people who go to amusement parks. I spend most of my time trying NOT to be nauseous. ‘Excuse me, could you strap me in upside down? I’d like to be as sick as humanly possible.’ ~ Dom Irrera
Deanne and I definitely sympathized with the author above. We must be getting old or something because, while the kids were fine and wanted to do the same rides multiple times, Deanne and I had to keep moving them on to something else as we easily would become nauseous very quickly.
As you can guess, we have spent the last couple of weeks enjoying the theme parks of Florida. We had been looking forward to this portion of our trip. Deanne and I were looking forward to having a condo with a little more space and the kids were looking forward to trying out all the rides now that they were a little older. They also were looking forward to seeing Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade at Universal for the first time.
We had lots of fun despite our rumbly tummies. This post will probably be fairly short as there really isn’t a whole lot of interesting details to cover when you are going to theme parks.
Our journey to the theme parks got off to a bit of a rocky start when we discovered that the condo we had pre-booked and paid for a year in advance suddenly canceled on us without any help in finding a replacement. We had picked that condo area because we had been there before and had enjoyed the condo. It was a lovely area with its own pool, well-furnished condos and it was very close to all the theme parks. Knowing that it was going to be a very busy time (being over the Thanksgiving holiday), we had booked a year in advance to take advantage of the cheaper rates. Trying to find a similar place in the same condo community just before we arrived for the same place. As I mentioned, the rental agency was not helpful at all and just washed their hands of the whole deal. They weren’t going to help us find something comparable. The booking agency we had rented through were a little more helpful but kept trying to book us smaller accommodations. They were trying to offer us places that were comparable in price. Because we had pre-booked so far in advance, we had gotten a great deal on a larger condo. The price equivalent so close to our arrival resulted in rentals that were much smaller and not in the area we desired. We ended up having to pay quite a bit more to get a place in the same condo community, but it was worth it. Once we had that all settled, we were able to have a little more peace of mind. However, this all happened while we were in Rome and we were very fortunate to have good wifi to help us sort this all out. I can’t imagine what would have happened if we hadn’t had wifi or if our wifi had been spotty. (We are still trying to get the booking agency to cover the additional cost we had to fork out. We’ll see what happens.)
As it was, we arrived in Florida, after some delightful days in San Juan looking forward to more moderate temperatures, visiting with relatives and meandering methodically through the various theme parks. While we were in Florida, we had tickets to go to all the Disney parks and the two Universal Studios parks. Ten days in all. We had decided that, since we had so many days booked, we would usually start with school in the mornings, then spend the afternoons/early evenings in the parks. This worked out very well as it allowed us to enjoy our time more without worrying about rushing around to fit all the rides and activities in. We were able to spread out the activities, make sure we had fast passes for the rides we really wanted to go on and not get stressed out with the crowds.
Early on during our time in Florida, we rented a car and drove out to Venice, Florida to visit with my relatives from Nova Scotia who had a home in that area. This was something we were looking forward to as we don’t get to see them that often and here we were getting to see them for the second time in a year after having seen them on our first stop to Nova Scotia. We had a wonderful visit, going out to the local beach and just spending our time chatting and catching up. We were sad to say goodbye but we had already vowed to ourselves to get out to Nova Scotia more often so we knew we would see them again soon.
Returning back to Orlando, we readied ourselves for the shockwave that is the theme parks. We opted not to use a rental car to get to the theme parks as it was cheaper over the time we were there to use Uber. All the parks have a $25 dollar minimum.
On to the parks…..
The Adventureland area also had another game which also didn’t seem to attract much attention. At the entrance to the area, there was a little hut with a very simple, understated sign. Inside the hut, you could sign up for a different series of quests unrelated to the interactive card game. These quests only took place in the Adventureland area. For each quest, you got a map. You used the map to find the various elements you needed to claim various treasures. At the end of each quest, you were rewarded with a card representing that treasure. There were about eight quests you could do and we did manage to complete all of these ones. The neat thing about this game was that at each station something interactive would happen. At one station, this seemingly ordinary cannon, normally just used to add atmosphere to the area, would suddenly explode with smoke as if it had just shot a cannon. In fact, you also heard the cannon “boom” and a distant bell ringing out from across the square behind you acting as if it had just been hit. This was quite a shock to the person sitting next to the cannon when we did it the first time. They had had no idea that the cannon could do that, apparently assuming it was just there for decoration. They got quite the surprise when they were suddenly enveloped in smoke! The kids really enjoyed this game, following the map and instruction to the various places around the area.
Both these games really added to our experience at Magic Kingdom. They gave us something to do between our rides, the kids enjoyed using the maps and the cards and also had fun meeting other kids doing the same games. Deanne and I enjoyed it because it meant the kids were constantly bored having to wait in lines for the rides.
We did get to enjoy the rides as well and, by the end of our time in Magic Kingdom, managed to do all the rides including a few we had not done before like Splash Mountain and the Seven Dwarfs mine train ride. Our favorite is still the Thunder Mountain ride which we managed to go on a couple of times.
Our kids were really on the fence about doing the Expedition Everest ride, the wildest ride at the park. Their dad was also very on the fence as I am not a wild rollercoaster ride kind of guy. However, we ended up doing the ride twice. I didn’t go the first time but was
shamed convinced to go on it the second time. It wasn’t as bad as I had been expecting though I don’t think I could have gone on it again too closely after the first time. We tried to go on some of the rides in the new Pandora section, but only managed to get on the riverboat ride as the highly popular Pandora flight ride consistently between 90 and 120 mins for it’s wait time (at one point it was a 3hr wait). We couldn’t get fast passes for the ride and we weren’t going to wait in that kind of a crazy line so we didn’t manage to make it on that ride. We saw the light show and the Lion King show and the kids enjoyed doing the Wilderness Explorer activity which involved going around learning about different ecosystems and animals and earning badges for their booklets. There were also a couple of very interesting wilderness trails each representing a different ecosystem. The children got to see exhibits on birds, gorillas, bats and other wildlife. The other area the kids enjoyed as the Dinosaur area which was themed to be like an old amusement park. The kids enjoyed running around the playground area and digging for dinosaur bones.
Epcot has always been my favorite park to visit. With a vast area sectioned off to represent different nations, it has always been fun to wander through the various pavilions. This time was even more interesting as we had visited all the countries represented by this point. The most interesting one to explore was the Moroccan pavilion as we had just visited Morocco a few months prior. We had a lot of fun comparing this version of Morocco to the real Morocco and chatted with several of the workers, all of whom were from Morocco and were so happy when they heard that we had actually been to Morocco recently. While these pavilions are very sanitized versions of the real thing, it was still a lot of fun to wander through each of the country pavilions. As it was near Christmas, several of the pavilions had live story-telling of traditions and folktales from those countries that were centered around the Christmas season. The Italian pavilion also had a very humorous juggling act that we all enjoyed. Of course, we had to visit the Canada pavilion, where we met one of the workers who was from a very small town in Southern
This park probably turned out to be our least favorite of all the parks. It was often crowded and, as we discovered very quickly, there really isn’t a whole lot to do other than to wander. The rides that were there often had long waits except for the Star Tours ride which we went on several times. The shows were okay but the Disneyland California version of the Beauty and the Beast show was much better done by far being more elaborate. The other fun show was the Indiana Jones show. I was chosen as one of the “townspeople” and got to go onto the stage to be part of the action. The kids favorite part, unfortunately, was this little room which housed a number of Xbox’s where the kids could play one of the Disney online games. I think that gives a good indication of our experience at Hollywood Studios. The Slinky ride was one of the better rides there as was the Toy Story “shoot-em-up” ride but both those rides usually had long lines, especially the slinky ride and we only managed to go on those ones once. The Slinky ride was probably the longest we waited (45mins) for a ride in any of the parks. Of course, all this will change when they open the new Star Wars themed area but we won’t be back for that area for a couple of years and hopefully, by then the crowds will have thinned out a little for that area (and moved to the Star Wars area). Though, as there is little else to do, it will probably still be very crowded. We were quite surprised at how little there actually was to Hollywood Studios. The one in California is far more balanced in terms of rides and activities.
Once we had finished with our passes for the Disney parks, it was on to Universal Studios. As our kids are a little older and past the age where they enjoyed the Disney characters and princesses, we thought that the Universal Studios parks would hold a little more appeal for our kids, especially with their love for the Wizarding Worlds of Harry Potter. However, first, we had to pack all our stuff and move to one of the Universal hotels. Re-packing seems to get more difficult the longer we travel as all the little things we have accumulated along the way have steadily increased the amount of luggage we have to cart around. We are still doing okay but every little thing added to our luggage increases the difficulty in the logistics of transportation and packing. Of course, packing things like the fragile Venetian masks the kids made in
We had decided to move to one of the Universal Hotels as, even though they were more expensive, the rooms included fast passes to all the rides. This is very different from the Disney parks which only give you fast passes for three rides at a time per day. Universal fast passes allow you quick access to all the rides at any time. The hotel room was very nice as well though we probably would not have moved there if it hadn’t been for the great deal of getting the fast passes and early access with the room.
As it turns out, we really didn’t need to the early access or the fast passes. The two days we spent at Universal were very calm with hardly any one in the parks. It was a very relaxing couple of days. For most of the rides, we could just wander on with hardly any wait even for the more popular rides.
Arriving at the parks, the first thing we did was head for Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. We did each on different days as they are both in separate parks. Diagon Alley is the bigger of the Wizarding World re-creations and we enjoyed lots of time wandering around. The kids had brought their interactive wands with them (the ones that had caused some concern in Morocco!) and the kids enjoyed practicing their wizarding skills. They found it a lot tougher than they thought to get the wand gestures correct, which is why I guess wizards have to go to school to learn how to be wizards! The kids also enjoyed their first taste of butterbeer and both agreed that it was the best drink they had ever had. Unfortunately, Diagon Alley only has the one ride, Gringott’s Bank, but we were able to go on it a couple of times which was fun. The rest of the time, we just wandered around the area and enjoyed the detailed world. We also had lunch at the Leaky Cauldron which serves fairly traditional English food. I had the Bangers and Mash which was tasty. The kids had the more conservative Macaroni and Cheese.
The next day, we headed over to Hogsmeade which is much smaller in size but has the fantastic re-creation of Hogwarts School. This also houses one of the more amazing rides. To get to the ride, you get to wander all throughout Hogwart’s school through a couple of classrooms, Dumbledore’s office, through the portrait gallery and so on until you finally get to the ride itself. There are interactive elements all throughout to entertain you as you wait in the line. The ride itself is amazing. You get strapped into this suspended chair-lift contraption which then flings all around as you move through the ride. At some points, you are stopped in front of this huge screen which displays you flying through the air around Hogwarts School and the Quidditch field. It is quite engaging and involved. However, as Deanne and I remember quite well, it is not a great ride for those who suffer from motion sickness (in fact, I am feeling a little queasy just writing this!).
Deanne and I went on this ride 3 years prior, on a trip for just the two of us, and rushed over to the ride so we could get on it before the crowds descended. We really enjoyed the ride and when we got off and saw the line was still only a 5 min wait, decided to go on it again immediately. Well, that was a big mistake as about halfway through our tummies had decided they had had enough. We barely made it through the ride the second time. With that in mind, we were a little more careful this time around and, while we did go on it a couple of times, waited an appropriate amount of time in between rides. The kids loved the ride though and enjoyed how immersive they were. For lunch, we went this time to the Three Broomsticks restaurant which was also very good. The food isn’t cheap at the parks and this was definitely a splurge, but it was a lot of fun eating in the Harry Potter themed restaurants.
For the rest of the time, we wandered throughout the rest of the two parks and did all the rides we wanted. As the crowds were so small, the two days we had at Universal allowed us to get everything we wanted in with no difficulties and, in actual fact, these were probably the most relaxed couple of days in the theme parks.
We thoroughly enjoyed our days at the theme parks and with the time we had, didn’t feel like we had missed anything as we hit the end of our time in Florida. We had played hard and had time with family. All in all, we felt pretty lucky to have had a chance to stop in Orlando on our travels. It felt like a bit of a break from our travels much like the cruise had. However, we felt ready to move on and start exploring new destinations.
Next stop, Savannah, Georgia!