Monday, December 19, 2016

Orlando Part IV - Disney World, Hollywood Studios, and Epcot!

Of course we couldn't spend a week in Orlando without visiting the Disney theme parks.  Jeff and I grew up in California and have been to Disneyland several times, both as kids and as adults, and last year Jeff, Sam, Allie, and Kevin went to Disneyland when they were in Anaheim for Blizzcon; they had a great time, and we all were interested in seeing Disney World, especially Epcot.

We didn't have a rental car while we were in Orlando, so at the recommendation of the Universal hotel staff, we used Uber to get to Disney World, which worked out nicely.  We had a two-day pass to the Disney parks, so we went to Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios the first day, and Epcot on the second day - which ended up being days three and four of our theme park visits, if you're keeping track.

Our Uber driver got us to the passenger drop off area at Magic Kingdom, and we thought we'd walk up to the park entrance.  Um, nope.  There was a huge body of water separating the parking area from the park:
Can you see Cinderella's castle waaayyy off in the distance??

Apparently, if you aren't staying at a Disney resort, you have to take either a ferry boat or the monorail to the park entrance.  That was a surprise!  Now, we weren't in any particular hurry, but this added a good 30 minutes to when we thought we'd be inside the park.  We opted to take the ferry as there were a lot of people milling in the area and we figured the wait for the monorail would take longer.  While the boat ride itself was fine, we did not enjoy the crush of people surging as we boarded it, so when the boat docked, we waited until most had disembarked before walking off.

The other thing that was off-putting was that like Universal, Disney World had metal detectors at the entrance, but if you were carrying a purse, bag, or backpack, you had to go in a long line and wait for your bag to be hand searched.  HAND SEARCHED.  The guard in my line unzipped every compartment in every bag that he searched.  It felt very antiquated, especially considering the X-ray machines at Universal, where you put your bag in a plastic tub, just like you do at the airport, and they screen in a much quicker process.  Also, I was pulled out for "additional screening" every time at Disney (they went over my body with a wand), with Jeff and the kadults being pulled out randomly as well at times, and I can't remember where, but there was one place when all four of us were pulled aside for additional screening.  Let me tell you, the guards who are doing this do not act like the usual pleasant Disney staff.  If I had to rate all the security I dealt with on this trip, best to worst, it would go:
  1. Universal - they were quick, friendly, and got the job done without much ado.
  2. Airport TSA - it's a tough job but they were usually pleasant.
  3. Disney World - I think they hired former prison guards for their security screening.
Anyway, as you can probably surmise, just getting inside the park on the first day was more of an arduous process than we anticipated.  We finally made it, and started our way down Main Street - it was really crowded, much more so than the Universal Parks, plus there were about a kajillion strollers, which made walking quickly a challenge.  We stopped at a cart to get our free "First Visit" badges and then headed for Tomorrowland:
It was a beautiful day in Orlando - in the high 60s, with low humidity...ahhh!

We went on the Peoplemover first, just to get an overview of that section:

Then we went on what I call the rocket ride, officially the Astro Orbiter.We waited in line for nearly an hour to go on this ride, but it was one I remembered from childhood, so the wait was on:
SOMEONE was better prepared for the long waits than I was - what a good idea to bring your knitting!
Not us, but this was the ride - we each got our own rocket ship and got to go up and down.  Not nearly as scary as I remembered from when I was a kid; good to put that memory to rest!

While we were in line, Sam played with the Disney app on his phone and discovered that we could get three free fast passes, so he scheduled us for more rides:
You have an hour to get to the ride and use your fast pass - it worked out really well.

We went on the Tomorrowland Speedway where I found out that I can't drive those cars any better now than I could when I was 10 years old:
Not us, but this was a fun ride.  My family played bumper car a couple times, but not me - I behaved myself on the ride.

Then we needed to get over to Adventureland so we could ride Pirates of the Caribbean; we were a little tired from all the walking we'd done the previous two days at Universal, so we decided to take the train:
We ended up taking the train from three different stations, so we got to see the entire park via train.  This was nice - it got us away from the crowds for a while, we got to not walk, and it was pretty entertaining to see the animatronic old west characters as we went through the back of Frontierland.  I'm glad we were able to ride the train, as it will be closed for maintenance from January through March 2017.

We arrived at Pirates to see that they were just closing the ride for an issue.  So we didn't get to ride that one or Buzz Lightyear - both were shut down midday.  And Haunted Mansion was closed for maintenance, darn it - I know that ride is corny, but I always liked it plus having a ghost sit with you just plain entertains me.  We ended up eating lunch over there - the food was decent but the crowds to place your order were not managed well.

We rode the train back to Tomorrowland, where we went on Space Mountain, and then we went to the Carousel of Progress attraction, mainly because we could sit down for a while.  Did I mention we were pretty tired?  Carousel of Progress is really entertaining for its antiquated animatronics - it was like looking back to what used to be considered advanced technology, if that makes sense.

We never went into Fantasyland; maybe if we had little kids with us, we would have done so, but there was such a huge mass of people in front of Cinderella's castle that we didn't want to bother:
A high school marching band was performing when I took this picture, but really, every time I looked at the castle, it was this crowded!
I was attempting to take a family selfie with Cinderella's castle in the background but wasn't getting a lot of cooperation, as you can see here.
I took a ton of pictures for other families during our week in Orlando - any time we were asked, I obliged.  So I finally asked one woman to take our picture at Disney, with the castle in the background.  It's to the left...all she needed to do was pivot a tiny bit!  Oh well - it's a good picture of us, even if Sam didn't know what to do with his hands.

I went to the Starbucks on Main Street to buy a Magic Kingdom "You Are Here" mug while Jeff and the kadults went in search of Dole Whip, which I'd read about from other bloggers.  It was delicious, I have to say!  Then we decided to head on out to Hollywood Studios for the rest of our day.  To get there, we had to take the Monorail back to the parking area and then hop on a bus to Hollywood Studios.  It was a little confusing but we figured it out.  After going through security and being pulled aside for additional screening again, we set out to find the Tower of Terror - I think we ended up with a fast pass for that ride, if I recall correctly:
This was a great ride - very scary and super fun!

We also went to the Muppets 3D attraction, which of course we liked because MUPPETS, and Star Tours.  We walked around the park and saw pretty much everything we wanted to see - it wasn't nearly as crowded as Magic Kingdom, so it was easier to see everything.  On our way out, I stopped in at the Starbucks and bought a Hollywood Studios "You Are Here" mug, and then we went to the parking lot to call an Uber, which magically appeared within a minute - there were a lot of smart Uber drivers waiting for fares at that time of day.

The next morning, we decided to take it easy - we realized a little too late that we should have built in some rest days into our week.  We had a leisurely breakfast at the resort and then took another Uber to Epcot.  This time, we really did arrive at the park entrance - no water crossing necessary.  Security, check, additional screening check.  Finally, we were at Epcot - and it was pretty cool.  Of course, we headed over to the giant golf ball, or Spaceship Earth:
The line starts outside, underneath the golf ball.  It was really cool to see this in person.

This was very interesting - there were all kinds of cool things to look as as the line moved forward, but this is also where Jeff nearly got thrown out of the park!  He stepped over one line to look in a window at a display and the worker there did not appreciate that.  Definitely did not feel like a Disney moment, but after me getting a ride stopped at Universal, it was nice to see him get in trouble too.  You really can't take us anywhere.
Allie, Jeff, and Sam - in front of our favorite ride at Epcot.

We liked the Test Track ride, where we paired up and designed our own futuristic concept cars and then tested them against the other passengers on the ride, and we loved the Mission Space ride, where you are each assigned a duty as a NASA crew member of a spaceship; the ride is actually inside a spaceship command center, where you have switches to flip at certain times and - this was super cool - you got to experience G force!  It was really, really neat.

I can't remember this ride - they were all in the same futuristic space area - but Allie and I rode together in one car while Sam and Jeff rode in another, and at one point early on, they made sure we knew to smile for a picture.  When we got off the ride, we walked into an arcade-like area, where we saw funny images of us on huge screens:
It's like we were the Jetsons!
Of course they made goofy faces for the picture!

We walked around Epcot and went to the World Showcase - we ate lunch in China, and did a little shopping in Japan.  It was fun to see everything but we didn't end up going on any of the attractions.  We had a short day, but still were at Epcot for nearly seven hours!  I got my last Starbucks mug, and we Ubered back to our hotel for some much-needed lazing around.
Except for a pair of Mickey Mouse earrings, these were my only souvenirs from Disney World - what can I say, I love my Starbucks mugs!

I'm glad we got to experience Disney World and their parks, especially Epcot, but if you've been to and are a fan of Disneyland, I wouldn't recommend going to Disney World.  It's pretty much the same, only not quite as good?  That's probably a blasphemous thing to say, but I'm going to stand by that assertion.  Go to Epcot if you've never been there, but spend the majority of your Orlando visit at Universal Studios.


  1. Replies
    1. I saw them posted on Reddit about a year ago, and was really happy to be able to get them. Weird that Universal doesn't do the Starbucks mugs - they have a Starbucks inside the park, but all they carried were Orlando and Florida mugs.

  2. What a great trip and so nice to have the whole family together.

    I agree. I like Animal Kingdom, Epcot & Universal the best. I could skip Magic Kingdom.

    I went there before I collected Starbux mugs!!

  3. I went to Disney Land once, but I love, love, love Disney World! We went there on our honeymoon and have been a few times since. Epcot is my favorite park and you really do need 2 days to explore it. I love Magic Kingdom as well, but you have to go early in the week and not Fri-Sun as it is stroller city and crowded.

    Reading these posts make me want to go again :D

    1. We were at Magic Kingdom on a Tuesday, and if it's much worse on the weekend, I can't see how you could move around the park, egad!

  4. Hollywood Studios is my favorite park! Magic Kingdom is always so busy! My daughter and I rode the golf ball ride (I can't remember the name of it) and you have to choose which language. She chose Mandarin and we were stuck with it the whole ride. I have no idea what the ride was telling us but the end of it you answer questions and it plays what your futuristic lifestyle would be. I don't know how my daughter answered the questions correctly since they were in Mandarin but it had us snow skiing and her getting injured and us at the emergency room. I was like you nailed it because that has been our scenario almost every winter!! LOL!!

    1. Cracking up over Mandarin! I don't remember getting to choose the language, but maybe we just did that really fast? Too funny on their prediction of your lifestyle, though!

  5. Oh my. This post makes me tired just reading about it! All that screening, it seems like it would promote anxiety and put a damper on the whole day. I like your Jetsons experience the best :) The Tower of Terror looks super scary--I'd like to try that one!

    1. We worked hard to let the security stuff go - at one point when I was in the additional screening area, I looked over to see Jeff and the kadults making faces at me. What else can you do??

      The Tower of Terror was really good - we should have gone on that one again.

  6. Yea, only disney transportation pulls right up to the gate at Magic Kingdom, but I look at the ferry as an extra ride that you don't need a fastpass for!

    I've never had problems with Disney security before. Must have been a very busy day or something.

    Boo to the lady for not actually getting the castle in the picture.

    As you know I'm a huge fan of disney so I could go on and on with my comment but i'll stop here. Glad your family enjoyed their time there!

    1. The security has been strengthened as of last December; it really didn't feel very Disney-like. Or else I'm old-school... ;)

  7. I agree that Universal is more visitor-friendly, though I haven't been to Epcot yet. And I am totally envious of your 3 new *$ mugs! I had no idea they even had them at Disney, I would have snapped them up for myself. Thanks for sharing your Theme Park Travelogue, Orlando Edition with us :-)

  8. I am just catching up on my blog reading - love how much fun you guys had! We went to Epcot back in 2005 - when the kadults were still in jr. high and high school and Epcot was my favorite too - wish we would have had Uber back then though!

    1. Very cool that you all got to see Epcot - I wonder how much it's changed in 11 years?

  9. The Cinderella castle! My children are entranced by it from the opening credits of Disney movies! I told them once I had seen it and now they whisper every time "Mama has been there!" Looks like a great but exhausting trip :-).

    1. That is so charming, how your children are so impressed that you've been to Cinderella's castle! Love it, thanks for sharing. :)

  10. What a cool and fun post, I enjoyed reading it so much and look at all the fun photos.

    Back in 1993 I went on a trip to California and visited Disneyland there and loved it. Also went to Universal Studios which I even loved more. We have Euro Disney close to Paris but I have never been there.

    1. I think once you've been to Disneyland, why bother going to another one, even if it's near Paris? Besides, you have way more interesting things to see in Europe, in my opinion.

  11. I was going to ask for a pic of the mugs! The Epcot one is so pretty! I heard they are going to change the giant ball in to the Death Star. I wonder if that's true.

    I appreciate your honest recap of Disney. So many bloggers are gaga for it, but I can't imagine dealing with the lines and crowds (and apparently, not so nice security guards!) - I am too much of a fuddy duddy, lol.

    1. I agree, the Epcot mug is the prettiest. Rare to get a purple one. Although I do love the mouse ears on the water tower on the Hollywood Studios one.


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