Now that I have posted all about our recent holidays, here is a summary post with links to all the posts, first for Florida. Happy Disney (and astronauts and wizards)!
Now that I have posted all about our recent holidays, here is a summary post with links to all the posts, first for Florida. Happy Disney (and astronauts and wizards)!
How times flies. A week ago we had arrived after a fairly long journey and were at the gates of Magic Kingdom at 8am. Now, 7 days later, it was the same situation, however in the past week we had done all 4 Disney parks, Universal Studios, and the Kennedy Space Centre. One last day to act like kids (well, some would argue I do this most days and you are probably right).
Of course it was another early morning to do a Disney breakfast, this time in the Beast’s Castle. There were no character meet and greets, but it was just to have a good brekkie in elaborate surrounds, and be in the park nice and early. The castle was pretty cool, with all kinds of Beauty and the Beast ephemera about.
From there it was all about filling some gaps of things we hadn’t done (and getting on some of our favourites again). We were right next to Peter Pan’s flight so jumped on. For reasons unbeknownst to both of us, the line is always huge for this ride. I mean, it is fine, but it is just an elevated boat type ride through the Peter Pan story. We went on since we were literally first in line, but neither of us think it is worth the typical 90 minute wait.
From there we went to our first fast pass ride, Splash Mountain. Lucky we sorted fast passes as the line was… non existent. Nope, a 5 minute wait. That was OK… on we went and got nice and wet as we hoped… and then went straight back on. Why not?! It was already warm, and we may as well get doubly wet now than wet again later! So back on started our day nice and soaked. Oh yeah.
We jumped back on to some of our other favourites. Big Thunder got a run (still better than 7 Dwarves Mine Cart) and also onto Jungle Cruise (sorry driver this time… you weren’t as good as our first one last week).
In our travels through Adventureland, I finally got myself one of my Disney must-gets. Dole Whip Float! That super sweet Dole pineapple whip with pineapple juice is so delicious and perfect in the Florida heat. So much better than the Beer Float from a few days ago.
It was then into Tomorrowland to jump on a couple of rides. We popped on to one of our usual favourites, Buzz Lightyear Astra Blasters, which was actually named something slightly different. Once on the ride we found out why. It must have been the first version of the ride as it was very lacking compared with the usual. Everything about it (the guns, the targets) just seemed off. Oh well, now we knew.
Space Mountain also seemed a bit different. Neither of us could remember it being more of a sled that you rode in (single file, just like a bobsled). The ride itself seemed the same… rollercoaster in the dark with things flying about… but again it just seemed a little different. This must have been how they tried to differentiate Disneyland and Magic Kingdom a bit decades ago when this was built.
While in Tomorrowland we bumped into another character… Mr Incredible! We met the big guy and he was hilarious. He was “busting moves” onto Kate so I had some banter, and then in our photos he proceeded to block me out of all of them. Gold! It is great when the characters have some fun like this. I imagine it must be a tough gig being in these suits for hours, so I am grateful when they have fun with it.
We got one last ride on Haunted Mansion. It seemed a number of the rides were suffering technical difficulties at the park, meaning longish lines at most rides. We got our final fastness sorted for our favourite ride, so back on to Haunted Mansion for one last time. It was nice to get the buzz of our spooky hitchhiker mentioning Australia again.
It was getting dark and in our last hour or two we did some of the shows, like Country Bears and the Tiki House, as well as go around Pirates of the Caribbean again. Fitting since tomorrow we would be on our way to a country on the Caribbean. Maybe we would run into a pirate or two on our travels.
And so with that we were done at Disney World. I have to say, it was a super fun week. I like my Disney, but having the 4 parks, all quite different experiences, and staying in the resort with magic bands and easy fast passes and the systems that worked a treat, it was great fun. Kate did a great job of organising things which, while I was worried was going to mean we were TOO planned, actually meant we had a smooth and line-free Disney, which is the best type of Disney.
We got back to the room and did a pack, ready to embark on a new adventure… to Costa Rica!
Having done the parks, we had the luxury of picking and choosing what to do for our final couple of days at Disney. We knew we were going to do one more full day at Magic Kingdom, but today we thought we would bounce around a bit between a couple of parks and Disney Springs. So with a relatively lazy start (leaving the room at 9am), we made our way back to Epcot to start the day.
Why Epcot? We were pretty content with our day at Animal Kingdom, that we got everything done we wanted to. We planned to go back to Hollywood Studios to go on our favourite rides again, but we rushed through a bit of Epcot and also were frustrated by the wait (and non-ride) of Frozen Ever After, so we headed back to fill that gap.
Frozen Ever After, as I alluded to earlier, is the most popular ride at Epcot. In part because it is Frozen, and mainly because it is the newest ride. As such, Fastpasses are very difficult to get. So first thing we headed there and had the luxury of only having to wait 15 minutes or so to get on.
And how was it? It was alright for one of the slow boat-type rides. Given it is a few decades newer than most of its type (i.e Pirates), the animatronics were a lot better, with animated faces rather than the weird puppet like figures that is the norm. There wasn’t too much “Let It Go” either which made even more pleasant. As we docked to end the ride, there was basically no queue, so around we went again! Why not given we were going to head off from Epcot soon.
We wandered the international part of Epcot for a bit, which we had some trouble doing last visit due to the rain. In many respects if I had an annual pass to Disney here, I would end up spending a bit of time in the International Showcase at Epcot. Mostly because it is not about waiting for rides, rather than chilling out eating and drinking, so I could imagine it would be fun with a bunch of people to pick a country and hang out there for a few hours.
So after a couple of hours of wandering, we decided to head off to Hollywood Studios. Conveniently, a boat connected the two, so on to the boat we jumped and 20 minutes later we were at the doorstep of our second park.
We didn’t really have much of a plan here… we just knew that we were more likely to jump on random rides we liked here more so than Epcot. I went straight for Star Tours to see where I could end up. Sadly another pod race, but I did get to zoom around the Wookie planet which was fun. No Endor unfortunately. Kate took the opportunity to have some Darth Vader waffles from the nearby eatery. Why not hey?
With our magic bands and the app we scored some fast passes for Toy Story Mania which is always ace fun. We even bumped into some Army Men out front and joined in with their drill.
I had neglected one main ride here, mostly as it was a Kate no-go-zone, but also because, well, it seemed a bit kitschy. Rockin’ Roller Coaster starring Aerosmith. Yep, Aerosmith. That immediately dated the ride a bit, but it was a full on rollercoaster, so the opportunity arose and I jumped. The ride was just as I thought. After a VERY dated kitschy opening (apparently we had to rush to the gig!), it was onto the rollercoaster and off on what is probably the most adrenaline filled ride in the Disney Parks. Imagine Space Mountain but way faster and amped up and that is Rockin’ Rollercoaster. Good fun once it got underway… they probably just need to think about replacing Aerosmith.
As you may notice too, it was May 5th. May 4th is a BIG day in the Star Wars universe, but sadly the parks don’t seem to do too much. We had checked, and there was nothing worth coming to Hollywood Studios yesterday that was special, outside of a chance to buy a limited t-shirt. So we kept our Animal Kingdom plans. But being there on May 5th (which is also the lesser known celebration day… i.e Revenge of the 5ith) gave me a chance to pick up to limited pins that are only sold on these two days, one for each day. I nice specific memento for our trip.
We rode some rides some more (I hit up Tower of Terror again) and then at dinner time decided we should head to Disney Springs for an opportunity for some better food and drink. Kate had found a bar to try out, so on to the bus and in no time we were there.
The destination was Jock Lindsay’s Hanger Bar. Who is Jock Lindsay? He is the water-plane pilot at the start of Raiders of the Lost Ark, and it was his bar apparently. It was pretty cool, done up with all kinds of ephemera, including the gold idol hiding up on a shelf. Here they also had special cocktails and mugs, so of course we opted to try the one that came in the monkey head. We also had some good food to go along with our strong drinks which made a nice end to the day.
A bit of a wander around the rest of Disney Springs, and we drew a close to the penultimate Disney day.
Our last Disney park! Not our last Disney visit, but our final park to visit, and my last park to see to get the set (i’m not counting Disneyland China yet). Animal Kingdom! This was the one park I really didn’t have much idea what to expect. Magic Kingdom I had basically visited in a bunch of other countries, Hollywood Studios there had been variations in Japan and California, and Epcot has been in the pop culture consciousness for a while. but Animal Kingdom was a bit of an enigma for me.
We arrived early for a planned breakfast. Another brekkie with characters and one that would get us into the fairly new Rivers of Light show in the evening. Animal Kingdom obviously has a strong African theme, and breakfast setting was no exception. Kinda funny given almost a year to the day I was in actual Africa. Breakfast was a pretty extensive buffet and I made sure to have lots of granola and yoghurt… as well as my fill of bacon. Mmmm.
With a hearty brekkie to kick start our day we went to our first “ride”, Kilimanjaro Safaris. I say “ride” as it is actually much more like a zoo experience, where we loaded into big jeep like trucks and made our way through their african animal enclosure. It was a mini Ngorogoro Crater (well, kind of). They actually had quite a collection of animals… zebras, lions, elephants, rhinos… all the big ones. It was not quite as a big a deal for me as many others in the jeep, but it is still always fun to see those animals.
The day was much like our other Disney park days. We made our way to all the rides thanks to our well planned fast passes and Kate having a good idea of what we needed to visit. The centrepiece of the park is the massive Tree of Life… a statue of sorts that represents all the animal kingdom and it was a sight to behold actually. We would keep coming back to the tree as we moved from area to area of the park.
There was a bunch of fun rides here at the park. Given it was a nice warm day we decided to get on to Kali River Rapids nice and early. It was a classic water rapids ride. There were warnings about getting wet and we indeed did get wet. So nice! Very refreshing in the warm Florida morning. I also had fun on Expedition Everest, a rollercoaster type ride around and through a mountain, getting chased by the elusive yeti. Love some backwards roller coaster action.
We also had a chance to meet a bunch of characters. Mickey and Minnie were hanging out there as expected, but we also ran into Russell from Up (yay!) and even the cheeky Rafiki. We also went to a few musical shows. The Lion King show was pretty good, and the Nemo show not too bad either.
As the sun began to set we decided to jump on to Kilimanjaro Safaris again. At dusk the animals start to get a bit more active, and while it wasn’t too much different to the morning, it was fun to get out there again.
It was dark and time to head to our seats for the Rivers of Light show. On the way, the Tree of Life was starting its “awakening”… a series of projections on to the tree at different times that would make some of the animals carved into the tree spring to life. We saw the opening one as we headed to the show and it was quite stunning. The tree was teeming with life as animals got up to all kinds of things all around the tree. There are a series of different awakenings meaning we would need to get back to see some more.
We got to our seats ready for the Rivers of Light show. As mentioned, this was a fairly new show and quite hard to get in to. Unlike many other evening shows and parades, there was set seating so we were quite lucky to get a spot. It was a pretty cool show, a fairly straightforward boat-float-water projection type show. Being new gave it novelty for most, but for me I thought it was pretty good without being stellar.
With that it was time to head back to the hotel. We caught another tree “awakening” on the way out, and like most nights it was approaching midnight before we got the chance to jump into bed. Phew.
Today was our one other day outside the Disney bubble. The Orlando area has a bazillion things to do, and the other main theme park to visit is undoubtedly Universal Studios. I had visited Universal in California many many years ago, and while it is fine it is not somewhere I would rush back to. It’s a little different these days with the addition of the Harry Potter franchise.
In reality, Potter was the reason we were visiting the two Universal parks. Yep, two. They have a good scam going on, with the Harry Potter rides and experiences split between the two parks, meaning you had to have a special 2 park ticket to get to both. Of course they did. That ticket was also the only way to get onto the Hogwarts Express that runs between the two parks. There was never a question of not going, but it made it a bit of a bitter pill.
But it was not only Harry, but also the Simpsons that I was keen to see. As gates opened and we headed straight for Diagon Alley, we made our way through Springfield. Yes! We would come back later in the day, but I couldn’t help but stop with pictures with pretty much everything. The Springfield sign! Jebediah Springfield! Chief Wiggum! The Comic Book Nerds store! The Quickie Mart! Moes! Duffman! Queasy, Surly and Remorseful! I was grinning from ear to ear.
We moved quickly through there and arrived in ye olde London, specifically just near Kings Cross Station and also the hidden entry to Diagon Alley. Kate stopped for a quick chat with the conductor of the Knight Bus, as well as the shrunken head hanging off the read view mirror, who was actually pretty hilarious.
But we had rides to get on, so into Diagon Alley we went and headed straight for Gringotts. Having only one day at both parks, we had the aim of doing everything Harry, so made sure to get our ride on early. It seemed to be a quiet day so it didn’t seem like it would be too hard, but regardless we headed straight into Gringotts for the escape ride.
We wove our way through, meeting goblins and Bill Weasley who acts as your guide throughout. The gist of the ride is we are in a Gringotts cart when we meet Voldemort and Bellatrix and have to escape. So it is a fast mine cart like ride with amazing visuals and all kinds of thrills. BEST. RIDE. EVER. It was sooooo good. If it isn’t the best theme park ride it is right up there. The cart bit was great but the visual were stunning. Even Kate who doesn’t do motion rides was giddy. We got out and saw basically no line so went straight back on. We knew we would be back again later too.
We spent the rest of the morning exploring Diagon Alley. That meant heading into Olivanders, where Kate spent time pouring over the wands and trying to make a choice. We also saw a few performances by the local acting troupe, who acted out stories of Beedle the Bard with some great puppets (similar to the style in the Deathly Hallows film).
But a close second to the escape from Gringotts was the frosty goodness of frozen Butterbeer. Oh man. It was soooo tasty. My sister had given me a heads up about it, and it did not disappoint. Delicious!
By now we had seen much of what Diagon Alley had to offer, so on to the Hogwarts Express it was to head to the other park. The train ride is actually a bit of a ride, which makes it quite cool. You are in cabins just like in the movie and you are attacked by dementors on the way. A nice touch.
We arrived into Hogsmead at the other end and were greeted with a huge Hogwarts towering over us. It was pretty stunning and was actually the home of the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride, another dark motion ride. Again Kate was sucking up her dislike of motion rides to go on. Like Gringotts, there was lots to see in the line, but as there were so few people we moved through very quickly. In no time we were on the ride. This was similar to the Gringotts ride, however involved much more zooming and swooping and massive screens giving the impression we were zooming all about Hogwarts on our broomstick. Every now and then a dementor would pop out to give us a fright. At the end I LOVED it. Another best ride contender. Kate, not so much. This one was a bit too zoomy and was not her cup of tea.
It was time for lunch so into the Three Broomsticks it was for a bite, before exploring Hogsmead some more. We went on the Flight of the Hippogriff, a small roller coaster type ride, and I also went on the Dragon Challenge ride, a full blown upside down roller coaster. They certainly up the adrenaline at Universal.
Like Diagon Alley there were some shows to see, with the students from the Beauxbaton and Durmstrang putting on a show. We experienced all Hogsmead had to offer and with only an hour before this side of the park shut, we did a quick scoot around the rest of the park. To be honest, there was not much in the rest of the park of interest. I went on to a Spiderman ride that was a mix of motion and sets and 3D that was actually pretty good. But otherwise not much else was of interest.
So back onto the Hogwarts Express it was back to the other park to get some more Gringotts, before exploring the Simpsons land a little. I went on the main Simpsons ride that was a Star Tours type ride… a motion simulator ride that was kinda fun. They had a fair bit of the Simpsons humour in there.
And with that we were done. 9pm had arrived and it was park closing time. We were happy to have gotten everything we wanted done, and as we thought, Harry was the clear highlight. With the Potterverse done, we were content and ready for more Disney.
Another day, another Disney park! Today was one I was really looking forward to, Epcot. Why was I looking forward to it? Well, I knew of Epcot and it’s big ball at the entrance, but didn’t know that much about it to be honest. All I knew was that it tried to capture Walt Disney’s view of the future to an extent. I was expecting it to be a little kitschy… and I wasn’t disappointed.
The whole park just felt really… 70’s. And not in a way where they tried to make it feel dated, but just that it had now become quite dated in places. I can’t put my finger on exactly what it is about it, but the front half of the park certainly seems like a product of its time (the back half, the International Showcase, is a bit of a different story). But there was a charm and certainly lots of fun to be had. It was also their Flower Festival, so the entire park was adorned with flower representations of their characters which nice to see in the warm Florida sun.
Epcot is especially encapsulated in the famous big ball at the park entrance. I was super keen to finally see it, and it still looks like a 70’s view of the future. Ask me why and I can’t tell you, but to me it is certainly quite iconic as a particular view of the future.
At park open, I raced for Soarin’, aplane ride simulator through different key locations around the world. This is an update of the one in California Adventures, and is a great ride… being suspended in a big glider with dozens of others, and zooming around in front of a big screen that consumes your whole field of view. It is definitely one of the best rides in the Disney parks, and the long queue as I got out was testament to that.
The other main rides in the front half of the park are really showing their age, but in a kinda interesting way. I went on to a ride called Mission: Space, another simulator ride, but this tie for space travel. I had the option to choose normal or intense, and of course chose intense. You take the role a member of a space travel crew and get into a small simulator with only 3 others and then take off. DAMN! The feeling of taking off is nothing like I have ever felt in a ride. It was intense! And awesome! There are also moments of slight free fall feeling, as well as zooming around planets. If only the whole preamble to the ride part didn’t take so long, this would be almost the best ride in Disney.
The other space themed ride was one inside the big Epcot ball, Spaceship Earth. Riding in small carriages, you move throughout the ball, glimpsing at what the future may look like. Not sure how accurate it is, but it is certainly fun to see how we may be zooming around with jetpacks in the near future.
Around this time, the wether decided to take a turn. And I mean a TURN. Our bright blue skies became torrential downpour. So much so that much of the park was under half a foot of water. Kate and I made a break for the Nemo ride, and by the end of the dash my shoes were absolutely full of water. Looked like Florida weather had caught us.
It was still raining when we emerged so took the opportunity to catch up with some more characters, two of my recent favourites, Joy and Sadness. Alas Anger wasn’t about for me to rage with. We also got to meet Baymax and he was indeed as squishy in real life as he seems in Big Hero 6.
In between bouts of rain, we also found our way into a weird pavilion that simply had a bunch of soda fountains with strange drinks from around the world. Yes! My kind of place! It was funny to watch that people just would not try certain flavours, in particular the Japanese carrot based drink. Of course we had them all and they were all fine. Sadly the Italian soda was not there, one it seemed was a chinotto type drink. Damn! I love me some bitter Italian beverage.
The weather proceeded to have moments of torrential rain until about lunchtime when the sun emerged and we were able to wander more freely around the park. This coincided with moving into the back half of the park, the International Showcase… or as I like to think of it, World Expo ’88. Epcot truly is a weird place. You have all this (now) retro-future vibe at the front half of the park, and in the back half around the lake, it is all about celebrating a random assortment of countries in different ways. All areas had their own architecture in the style of the country they were representing, and then there would be different things to do. Not rides as such, but often 360 degree films about the countries, or maybe a slow boat ride through the country. The there was the food and (quite amazing to me) the booze you could have at each stop. We started heading counter-clockwise, starting with Canada for some lunch.
We planned to visit Canada for lunch, as apparently it was home of a quite fantastic poutine, a Canadian speciality. So in we went to Le Cellier and strapped in. Of course we wanted to eat everything, and even our choices of a cheese soup each and a poutine each ended up being way too much. But it was so delicious! The soup was great, but the poutine was awesome. I went with a bacon based poutine (of course) while Kate went for the Le Cellier Signature Poutine… the chips with Canadian cheddar cheese, black truffle and a red wine reduction. I have to say Kate’s was the winner. Super rich but super delicious. We had plans for dessert, however that didn’t eventuate when we were so full after that.
So with full bellies, it was off to explore more countries. We went from Canada to the UK to France and to Japan, meeting characters and sampling food and drink on the way. Japan gets a special mention for actually feeling quite Japanese actually. Of course the main beverage oddity I would come across was there… a Kirin Beer Float. Yep. It was basically Kirin beer with frozen beer on top. While it sounded OK and looked great the frozen beer was not necessarily the greatest thing I have ever had, even on a warm day. Oh well, live and learn.
We kept moving around the lake… Germany to Italy to a generic African country to Norway to China and to Mexico. While in Mexico we went on the 3 Caballeros ride, and met a Mexican themed Donald Duck as you do. And while in Mexico we took the opportunity to get stuck into some empanadas. Mmmm.
With that we had made our way around all the countries. We had plans to see the light show on the lake, so decided to fill in some time by visiting a ride dedicated to Figment, the Epcot imagination dragon. Kate seemed to have a fascination with Figment. Me… I just thought it was all a bit odd. But keeping with the spirit of Epcot I guess!
The sun had gone down and it was time to head back to the lake to watch the Illuminations show. We sorted fast passes so went to our spot and had a great view of the show. This fast pass thing was working very well for us.
We still had an hour or two before park close, so we decided to head back to Norway and try and give the most popular things at Epcot a go, meeting Anna and Elsa, and jumping on the relatively new Frozen Ever After ride. We got to Norway and basically walked in to meet the two Frozen gals. Frozen Ever After was a different story. Only 30 mins the sign said. Yay! However when in line we realised that was not the case. Close to an hour later and we were not really getting anywhere. It seemed the ride was suffer a fair degree of technical difficulties. I guess we can say we went on “Frozen Ever After – The Line Ride”.
So we decided to cut our losses and legged it to the USA area to catch their “America, F’ Yeah” show. Well, it was a historical animatronics show but did end up being very “USA USA USA”. It was fine, and it was quite funny to be in an auditorium that probably could hold a thousand people with like 6 people in there. When we were done it was 11pm and time to make our way back to the front of the park and head back. Another midnight night, and another early morning coming.
After a brief sojourn, it was back to Disney! Today was Hollywood Studios, and what we were dubbing my official Star Wars birthday celebrations. At Disney you can just ask for a badge indicating it is your birthday, so I started the day with a birthday badge adorned, ready for a big day.
This park is the “Hollywood” Disney park as the name suggests… focusing mostly on other side properties like Pixar and especially Star Wars. So I was going to be in my element! Rather than give you the blow by blow details of what did, I will just point out the highlights for you all…
We obviously had a whole day of more rides and meeting characters. As I alluded to there was a distinct Star Wars flavour to much of it. I started with Star Tours, a ride that has been in Disneyland for quite a while, but it has had a recent revamp,with much of the content updated. A simulator type ride, its key aspect now is that you don’t know what experience you will get before riding. I have heard there is dozens of different experiences you can have, all about what content they choose and how they put it together. The basic idea is you are in a shuttle escaping the Empire, but how you do that changes. My first flight put me in the middle of a Pod Race (fun even though it was Phantom Menace related), but after that I had a Hoth experience which was what I was hoping for. So ace to be speeding through the snow and tripping up AT-ATs.
We also took the opportunity to met the handful of Star Wars characters there, which was an interesting assortment. First Order Stormtroopers continually wander the park, and interact in hilarious ways. They won’t stop for photos, and any attempt to interact will be met in a variety of different ways, depending if they see you as a rebel or part of the First Order. A sneaky photobomb was all I could try and do which was fun.
The characters that were formally there to meet were mostly Force Awakens ones, with BB-8, Kylo Ren, and Chewie there. BB-8 was a bit disappointing as he just sat there on a podium, but both Kylo and Chewie played their parts well. Kylo was a jerk, just like in the film 🙂
Hollywood Studios is the park where I can get some of my more thrilling rides on, so I relished that opportunity. The Tower of Terror, a staple at a number of other Disney parks, got a couple of rides, as did a big fave of Kate and mine, Toy Story Mania. We first played that in California, and it was just the same here and super fun as always.
We managed to fit in most the other attractions in the park too, like the Indiana Jones Stunt show, and the Great Movie Ride, all pretty fun.
There were two other main super fun things we did during this visit. First up was lunch, booked into the Sci-Fi Diner. This was a kitschy experience of sitting in old cars while watching 50’s drive-in content. It was totally cheesy but super fun, sitting there eating burgers, drinking beers, and watching old cartoons. Everyone gets right into it, making it a great way to take a break for lunch.
The day ended with one of the main things Kate organised, which was another dessert party. More exciting for me with this one was that it was Star Wars themed, with not only desserts but endless cocktails too! After getting our fill of those, including the Vader Peanut Butter cupcakes, the dessert party also gave us a primo spot for the fireworks show, which was the Star Wars Galactic Spectacular. Woo!
Of course this was my kind of fireworks show. With projections onto the main theatre at the centre of the park, this was a celebration of all things Star Wars, mostly the original trilogy. The projections were great and everybody was loving celebrating Star Wars? And who wouldn’t? Especially on my birthday celebration day.
Believe it or not, we interrupted our Disney experience just one day in to head to a new destination, one I was super excited about… NASA at Kennedy Space Centre! Time to be an astronaut!
It was about an hour away so we jumped in the car and had a cruisey drive there. In some respects I had no idea what to expect. All I knew was that it was what my 8 year old self was looking forward to. So in we went and were immediately greeted with a “Rocket Garden”… a big open space full of used rockets from different parts of the space program. So cool! I even got to jump into a capsule and pretend I was plummeting to Earth.
Early on in the day we got to experience something I had not expected we would be able to do, which was to hear a talk by a former astronaut. A real astronaut! Jerry Ross completed 7 shuttle missions and was there to give us a run down of what it was like to be an astronaut. To be so close (and meet!) someone who had been in space that many times, and completed a number of space walks to go with that, was pretty nuts.
From there, we went off to see one of the coolest things at the centre, the actual Atlantis space shuttle. A REAL space shuttle! This was easily one of the coolest displays I had ever seen (spoilers coming up!). After watching a short film on massive screens, the final shot slowly faded to reveal the real shuttle hiding behind, which you would then walk through where the screen was to find the Atlantis hanging from the ceiling. Damn, it was amazingly spine tingling.
We only had a little time to explore the Atlantis and its story before we needed to be heading to the check in point for our optional tour that we had booked on. We were going to be visiting the NASA mission control centre! So on to a bus we hopped and headed out of the complex toward the rocket launch areas.
Today were very fortunate, as that morning SpaceX was scheduled to launch from one of the actual launch pads we were to see. A “sensor error” meant that it didn’t launch and it was there sitting on the launch pad waiting for us to see it! While we couldn’t get too close, we could indeed see it there, ready for the next mornings launch. Now THAT is cool.
We then arrived at the main NASA building housing the control centre, which was very tight with security. After going through more checks, in we went and up to the 3rd floor. There we got to enter the mission control centre, in all its 70’s vibe and glory. It was amazing to think that here was the place where countless missions were launched and monitored, and where many dramas had unfolded.
While we couldn’t do too much in there due to security, we did get to spend a bit of time and hear quite a bit more about its place in history. It was fascinating to hear that it is now used mostly by private companies such as SpaceX for their launches. That’s the way of the world these days I guess.
From there we were dropped off at the other main display area, home to many other pieces of history such as lunar rovers, capsules and the like. Sadly our day was fast disappearing, and so we just got to have a quick wander and soak it all up.
In no time at all, a full day had disappeared. I didn’t have too much idea of what to expect to be honest, but it was amazing. We could easily have come back to spend another whole day as we didn’t have the time to enjoy every exhibit fully, or even watch any of the many IMAX features that were showing.
So at 6pm it was back in the car and back to Pop Century. As we arrived, I found a surprise waiting for me… Kate had organised a surprise birthday present for me! The door was adorned with Mickey and inside was an amazing gift parcel for me including presents and cake. It totally blindsided me and was a super sweet surprise 🙂
And then it was time for bed. Every day was proving to be jam packed full and we had to get to bed for another early morning.
A mere 26 hours of travel and we are officially into the first phase of our trip… into the Disney bubble!
Florida is indeed quite a ways from home. Melbourne to Sydney to San Fransisco to Orlando is no easy feat. But the travel gods smiled down on us, and we had a relatively smooth trip with no dramas, so while a little tired, we would take that.
We grabbed our rental car at the airport and headed to to our digs for the week, which was the Disney Pop Century Resort hotel. Kate and I debated a bit about where to stay near the Disney parks. I wasn’t that sold on staying at a Disney branded hotel, but Kate sold me and it indeed was the wise move for all the perks that it entails (which I will elaborate on later). Checking in at about 10pm, all we could think about was sleep.
Ah sleep. I had only once been to the east side of the States and the jetlag was a killer. With both Kate and I being wide awake at 4am, it looked at though we may be in for a similar experience. But that was cool… we were both just jazzed to be there and were ready for action. So nice and early we were on a complimentary bus to our first park, Magic Kingdom.
Magic Kingdom is your “typical” Disney park, looking and feeling like most others. There is a big castle in the middle, along with Tomorrowland, Frontierland, etc, and is what people usually think of as “Disneyland”. Being there nice and early was in our interest as we had an 8am breakfast scheduled for inside said Disney castle.
Kate wanted to celebrate her birthday by having breakfast there and being greeted by the array of princesses, of which we certainly met our share. Snow White, Aurora, Ariel, they all did the rounds. It was fun to watch everyone (especially the kids) losing their minds as they came to their table… a sweet way to start the whole Disney experience.
From here on in, and probably most of the Disney related blog posts, they will be pretty free form. There won’t be the blow by blow descriptions, as you don’t need to hear exactly what we did… rather I will try and give you the highlights!
Magic Kingdom is all about the traditional Disney rides, as are at most other Disney parks. So we enjoyed the relatively small number of people (for a Saturday at the very least) and made our way from ride to ride, with some character meetings in between.
Back to why you stay at a Disney hotel. Believe it or not, that allowed us to be able to book Fast Passes for rides a couple of months in advance, and while the crowds were not huge it still meant saving a lot of time. In fact, the system that looks after your whole Disney experience, the Magic Band, is pretty incredible. Our personalised bands were our hotel key, park tickets, parking passes, our pass to get onto rides more quickly, payment system, you name it. And for the most part it worked pretty flawlessly.
So we used our fast passes and smashed out as many of the big rides as we could. We went on our mutual favourite, Haunted Mansion nice and early, which was ace, as it had been quite a while since I had seen it in it’s proper state (my past visits to this ride had all been Christmas themed). But I wasn’t prepared for the nice Magic Band surprise at the end (spoiler coming!). Assuming the ride recognised us from our Magic Bands, the hitch hiking ghost in our carriage at the end was holding up a sign saying “Australia here we come!” which was a total awesome spinout. A rad touch.
We got on to another fave, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad not long after, as well as the seeming most popular ride, the Seven Dwarves Mine Cart. Not sure why, as while it was fun, Big Thunder is still the mine cart of choice in our opinion.
The day had an extra fun flavour as unbeknownst to us, it was an unofficial fan day called Dapper Day, in which the park was flooded with folks dressed up in their best “dapper” gear, meaning mostly your 50’s costumed, and in some cases heavily tattooed glamour look. The dudes had their beards and moustaches perfectly groomed and it made for a great day of people watching.
But now it was mid afternoon and that meant it was time for the first parade of the day. We were at the centre of the park, so found a bit of pavement, and camped out for a wee bit for the parade to start. The Florida heat was not too bad, although we knew we should pack an umbrella for shade if nothing else. In no time the parade was underway. It was the usual array or floats and characters and dancers and shenanigans. Given it wasn’t too crowded in the park, we had a nice clear view of everything.
What other highlights did we have? Well, not waiting long for rides was awesome! But given the nice warm humid Florida weather, we also took a couple of hours off in the afternoon to sneak out of the park and head to nearby Trader Sams bar. We had visited one at California Disney Springs and it was great fun, so why not visit this one too? The idea is that it is Tiki themed and various shenanigans happen when certain drinks are ordered. Sadly, the main bar had a 2 hour wait, so we just took a seat outside and had a sneak mojito and margarita which was going to be some fuel to get us through the rest of the day.
We headed back into the park and continued smashing out rides until it was time for another preplanned activity, the Wishes Fireworks Dessert Party. This gave us not only a tasty array of desserts but also a prime position for the nightly fireworks show. So after getting sugared up, we were lead to our spot for a great view of the castle and the show. The Wishes show had only a couple of weeks left, so it seemed lots of people were turning up just for the fireworks. But then after that many seemed to depart leaving Kate and I to run amok in the park for a couple of hours getting on to any ride we liked. The nighttime Jungle Cruise was a highlight with a great boat driver, complete with her deadpan script delivery down pat.
We called it quits at park close, meaning we didn’t get back to our hotel until close to midnight. Yep, 8am – 11pm of Disney. And this was just the start.
Hi all. Yeah yeah yeah. I know. I haven’t posted anything yet.
Well, I have a new plan. I am going to skip Florida for the time being, so that you can try and keep track of what we are up to right now!
So Florida can wait for a little bit and I will try and get up to date with Costa Rica now I have internet again. Yay!