November 1, 2010
Following up on my teaser post about my recent journey to Florida, here’s the detailed trip report. This won’t be nearly as detailed as some I’ve seen on various message boards, but it will help me remember what we did and what we want to do differently next time (provided I re-read this when we’re planning our next trip, which is far from a given, but at least if I write it, there’s the possibility).
We arrived on Saturday the 16th, late in the afternoon. I don’t remember now why we decided on that flight; I’m guessing it must have been cheaper than the ones in the morning, and since we weren’t planning to try and fit as much in as when we do a pure Disney trip getting there early wasn’t a priority. It was nice to be able to sleep in a bit that morning and not have to rush to the airport, but it might have been nice to have a bit more of the day left when we got down to Florida. Because we thought we’d be spending most of our time at Universal (I’d bought 7-day two-park no-expiration tickets for $99 a couple years back, when Universal was running a special) and because we wanted the perks that onsite guests get there, we made a reservation at the Royal Pacific, one of three hotels at the Universal resort. By the time we got checked in and into our room, all we really had time to do was eat dinner. We hadnâ€™t made any reservations but were able to get right into the main hotel dining room, where we had drinks, appetizers, and entrees (and got to see Homer Simpson and Curious George—we weren’t aware it was a character dining night when we sat down; at Disney I don’t think we would have been able to walk in for a character meal, not during free dining anyway). For dessert, we went over to the NBA restaurant at CityWalk because one of the guidebooks we’d read described some things there that we thought sounded tasty. The flash fried strawberries were delicious, but my piece of carrot cake was so big I barely made a dent it in.
Sunday the 17th we breakfasted on leftover carrot cake (what? it was vacation) and were in line just before 8 a.m. to get into Islands of Adventure with the rest of the onsite hotel guests who wanted to see Wizarding World of Harry Potter (WWoHP). By the time the park opened for general admission, we’d done all the major attractions in WWoHP and had our first frozen butterbeer of the trip (yum!). The queue for the main ride, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, was excellent; I enjoyed it more than the ride itself, which made me a little queasy (maybe carrot cake for breakfast wasn’t the best idea) and jammed together all sorts of things from the movies into too short a time to have the storyline make sense. When WWoHP started to get crowded, we found a proper breakfast elsewhere and toured the other lands. We were able to do all the rides and shows we wanted to (express access for hotel guests was a help, for sure) as well has have lunch at Mythos, the one “fancy” restaurant in the park, (again, without a reservation, though we did have about a five minute wait). We returned to WWoHP around dinner time and were able to get into The Three Broomsticks with no wait at all, which surprised the heck out of me. The pasties there were very tasty. The detailing in WWoHP was just as good as I’d expected based on hearing early reviews (though I am puzzled by why it’s winter in the village and not winter at Hogwarts), and I really liked that the shops didn’t have merchandise from other lands or the other park. I wasn’t as blown away by the Forbidden Journey ride as I’d hoped to be; I liked Spiderman over in the Marvel Super Hero Island section better.
Monday was our anniversary, and we spent it at Disney’s Magic Kingdom. We didn’t get there until mid-morning, as is our usual style. We stopped at City Hall to get buttons marking the occasion to wear for the day; I felt a tiny bit dorky at first but it was nice having people wish us a happy anniversary and we got some good conversations and a couple little magical moments as a result. We did some touring before heading over to the Contemporary for a late lunch at The Wave. We’d made a reservation for that before we left home, but I think we would have been fine coming without one. We headed back to the park for more touring and a quick dinner before watching the Electrical Parade and the fireworks. Since this wasn’t intended to be primarily a Disney trip, we weren’t trying to get in as many attractions as we could, so we had plenty of time to stop and enjoy the extras, like the Dapper Dans singing, the Main Street Philharmonic playing, and the talking trash can interacting with guests in Tomorrowland. One of the Jungle Cruise cast members led the people waiting in line in a rousing rendition of “if you like to stand in line, clap your hands”, and that was very amusing.
Tuesday we slept in and had breakfast at the hotel before heading to Islands of Adventure wearing our “these clothes can get wet” outfits so we could do the water rides we’d skipped on our first visit. We started with the barely gets you damp fish ride in Seuss Landing before heading over to Toon Lagoon, where we got soaked on the log ride and the raft ride (we rode each twice, since we couldn’t get any wetter at that point), and finished up with two tours on the Jurassic Park river ride. Then it was back to the hotel to shower and change for our fancy dinner at Artist Point at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge (we would have done this on our actual anniversary but we didn’t want to risk getting delayed and missing the parade, since at the time we did our planning we thought we’d only have one opportunity to see it). After dinner, we went to Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party at the Magic Kingdom. We mostly skipped the trick or treating to do attractions and see the fireworks and parade. We finished the night riding the Haunted Mansion, getting in line just before the party ended at midnight.
Wednesday is when we really started deviating from the (admittedly rough) plan we’d made for this trip. Having done pretty much everything in Islands of Adventure in a day and a half (some things more than once) and seeing that Universal Studios was the same size or less attraction-wise, we decided to re-allocate a couple days from Universal to Disney. Thus we found ourselves heading to Epcot for lunch around World Showcase at the Food & Wine Festival. It was definitely not cheap, but it sure was fun, and the cherry coladas in the Puerto Rico kiosk became my new best friend. We did see some attractions in between eating and drinking excursions. I don’t remember now why we decided to leave Epcot and go to Magic Kingdom to see the Electrical Parade and fireworks, other than we really like them. If I’d known what a mob scene we’d face at park closing, I might have lobbied hard to skip the trip and stay in Epcot for Illuminations instead. The line for the express monorail was as long as I’ve ever seen it, not only filling the whole wide, long ramp up to the station but snaking back and forth outside the park gates with the end of it lost in the mess of people trying to make their way to the resort monorail or the boats or the buses. We decided to walk to the Contemporary, figuring we’d either be able to catch the monorail there or grab a cab to the TTC so we could get back to the Epcot monorail and get to our car. I sure didn’t expect such craziness in the middle of October; that used to be a quiet time at WDW.
Thursday we thought we should finally get to Universal Studios, but before we did that, I wanted to go back to WWoHP and use our early entry privileges one more time. We rode Forbidden Journey again; I didn’t get a queasy this time, either because I knew what to expect or because I hadn’t had cake for breakfast. We poked around in the shops a bit, and had more frozen butterbeer (still yum!) and tried pumpkin juice (I’d read a lot of people found it too sweet, if anything, it wasn’t sweet enough for me, especially compared to butterbeer). On way out of the park, we rode Spiderman again since it’s my favorite. We made it over to the Studios around 10:30, between then and 5 p.m. when the park closed to get ready for Halloween Horror Night (HHN), we rode everything except the one coaster which was broken and saw some of the shows, too. We had dinner at CityWalk and went back to the hotel to change for HHN. We got there late, around an hour after the party started, but still were able to do three of the haunted houses and some of the scare zones and most of the attractions that were open that night. Having done it, I’m now sure HHN is not my thing; I was hoping for more scenes to look at in the houses but they shuffle you through so fast that there’s no time to appreciate the details between all the scareactors jumping out at you. Maybe it’s better if you’re drunk, but I was not (and not for lack of opportunity to buy alcohol; they were selling it in most of the lines).
Friday we spent all day at Epcot, which was in the original plan. We’d slept in after HHN so didn’t get there until around noon, which was fine since it meant we could start right in having lunch at Food & Wine. We did some attractions we’d missed or skipped the other day and left the park to have dinner at Kuzzina, a Cat Cora restaurant that replaced what was once my favorite place to eat at WDW (Spoodles). It was pretty decent, certainly no worse than the level Spoodles was at by the time it closed. We finished the day with seeing Illuminations (and having another cherry colada).
The final Saturday was our marathon day. We started at Disney’s Hollywood Studios at opening so we could get FastPasses to ride Toy Story Mania later in the day, then did a few attractions there before heading over to Epcot to do some things there, but not Food & Wine, as those booths were absolutely mobbed. We had lunch at one of the hotels on the way back to the Studios, where we used our FastPasses and did a couple other rides before moving the car over to Magic Kingdom, where we planned to end the day because it was going to be open later than the other parks. As long as we were over there, we had dinner at the Polynesian resort, then went to Epcot for more attractions, more cherry coladas, and Illuminations. We joined the throngs leaving the park and headed back to the Magic Kingdom, where we watched the fireworks from the ferry dock before going into the park for the second Electrical Parade showing, which was refreshingly non-crowded. We ended the day with a ride on Small World, which had been closed earlier in the week. Some of the cast members from the restaurant that overlooks the line were leading dances and cheers, and that was fun. The ride was a fitting way to end our time at Disney, being such a classic (even in the less impressive than California version which WDW has).
Sunday we checked out of the hotel, found a cheap buffet to have lunch at, did a little shopping at a tacky souvenir store, played some mini golf, drove out of our way to find gas for the rental car, and got on the plane home. It was a fun trip, though not as fun as if we’d split our hotel stay between Universal and Disney. I don’t ever see us booking a room at Universal for a whole week in the future. There are some good things at those parks, just not enough of them to engage us for a more than a couple/few days, and they’re not places that invite lingering (we found the “background” music in a lot of areas way too loud, for instance). They’re definitely aimed at a young adult audience, and much as I don’t act like it sometimes, I’m no longer a young adult. I never needed to be upside down seven times in two minutes, but at this point in my life, I don’t really want to be upside down seven times in two minutes. We rode the Hulk coaster once, got a little queasy, and for the rest of the trip “feeling Hulky” became the phrase we used when we’d had a bit much and needed a break. There was no way we could have done as much as we did without having a rental car, but I’m undecided on renting a car for future Disney trips. On the one hand, it’s nice to not have to be crammed on buses to get places, but on the other, the parking lot trams are not that enchanting either. I guess it’ll depend on where we decide to stay and how much rental cars cost the next time we go. Now we have no trips planning until ski season; there’s been snow on “our” mountain already, so I hope that’s a good sign.