Firstly, let me introduce our party: there's me - Alison, 42, I. T. Director for a large company; Bob, my husband, 48, an I. T. consultant; our two daughters, Lucy, 7, Daisy, nearly 6; Ivy, my mother, who is over 21, and Nick, my father who is 68. My parents last visited WDW in 1982 and the rest of us have been annually for the past 4 years. We live in England, so we always come for at least two weeks - its too far for anything less and because of school considerations, we always come in the school holidays. However, we try and make the best of that by always coming at the very end of August, beginning of September when the crowds have lessened to a great extent.
Although we have visited often before, I only discovered the Disney sites on the Internet after our last visit in 1996. I can only send my thanks to everyone who has taken the time to submit information and trip reports to this site, Brian Bennett for a great site and also Deb Wills for her site. I have spent hours scouring the information and although I thought I knew a lot about WDW, I have picked up some really useful tips that made a difference to our holiday. Hopefully, this report will prove useful to others too, particularly visitors from the United Kingdom.
Obviously, I used all the sites I could find on the Internet, particularly this one. I read every single report published - I can recommend reading the reports in a nice warm bath with a glass of wine - its nearly as good as being there sometimes particularly on a cold, damp November night in Yorkshire!!! I can also recommend the book, Walt Disney World with Kids, it was very useful for a family travelling with small children.
We scoured the pages of the British Sunday newspapers for cheap flights to Orlando and found a good deal from Travel City, a ticket agency. They gave us round trip tickets including car hire for 220 ($358) each with a small discount for the children. Because there was 6 of us and we didn't want to have two cars which is what we would have got from the basic deal, we chose to upgrade the car hire part to include a minivan and that cost us an extra 200( $326) for the two weeks.
I found our accommodation on the Internet via a villa agency - Alexander and Associates in Kissimmee.
Let me explain my thoughts on accommodation. If budget were unlimited, and our children were either babies or teenagers, we would choose to stay in a villa within WDW, probably in Old Key West or the Boardwalk Villas. However, budget is a consideration and at the Moment, the children are too small to have a room on their own, connecting rooms are not always available and room sharing for two weeks just doesn't seem like a holiday to me. We have found that a villa or an apartment is a perfect solution for us and because of the cost of Disney villas, that means staying offsite. We have done this over the past four years at different locations in Kissimmee and always had a very good experience. We prefer Kissimmee to International Drive because we like Disneyworld, plan to spend the majority of our holiday there, and Kissimmee is the closest we can get to it.
This year we got a four bedroom villa with its own private swimming pool, 15 minutes drive to Disney for 430 ($700) per week. The home was extremely spacious and well furnished and contained such items as a washer and drier, microwave, fridge/freezer, full oven etc etc as well as having 4 good size bedrooms, lounge, dining room, two bathrooms etc. I really feel that with a large party, the extra space pays off especially at the end of a hot, tiring day when everyone can feel a bit fractious!!!! It was also extremely nice to be able to cool off at the start and end of the day with a swim in our own pool. In fact, it was invaluable as my main report will reveal.
Other pre-trip actions included getting my company to join the Magic Kingdom Club so that I could have a complimentary card. We used the card extensively and it saved us money. Even if I couldn't have had it for free, I would have bought one, knowing what I know now. If you access the Disneyland website, you will find the contact info for corporate application. It was extremely simple.
We always choose to come right at the end of August. We have found that this is a good time for English people with children to choose. Firstly, the weather is hot - and we like that because we don't get enough sun at home! Also, most U.S. schools have already gone back so that the parks are quieter - apart from the fact that they tend to be full of English people! If you look at the other school holiday options, Christmas, Easter and the early summer, they are all peak times. This strategy has always worked for us as it did this trip. We walked on to nearly every ride.
Wednesday, August 20th
A normal day at work for Bob and I and the children were at day camp. My parents picked them up at 4 o'clock and waited at our house for us. We had already packed, so that we came rushing home at 5 p.m. when we finished; packed the luggage into the car (this took several attempts because we weren't quite as well organised as we thought we were at this point) and we all drove away at about 7:30 p.m. Our flight was at 0900 on Thursday morning from Manchester airport, which is about 1 hours from our home. We had to check in at 0600 so we decided to stay at an airport hotel the previous night. I found one (Britannia Country House), that gave us free parking for the two weeks. It cost 75 ($123) for a family room for four including the parking. My parents paid the same for their twin room. We stopped in Leeds on the way there for a quick snack of Kentucky Fried Chicken (yum yum) and arrived at about 9:30. It was really packed in the hotel and they had mucked our reservations up so we ended up with two twin rooms instead of the family room for me, Bob and the two children. Also the rooms were unbelievably tiny and very hot, un-airconditioned and you couldn't open the windows. We ended up splitting up and each of us slept with one of the children. As I fell asleep, I felt my sinuses filling up and my last thought was that I was going to start the holiday feeling ill.
Thursday, 21st August
Yes, indeed!!! I woke up feeling like I had a really bad cold with a sore throat and a stuffed up nose! Took Hedex and sucked Fisherman's Friend pastilles which helped. We got the free bus to the airport and checked in. Got good seats, shopped a bit in the duty free and the flight was on time. The airline was American Trans Air, a charter, and much as I had dreaded it - it was perfectly fine. In previous years we had used airline frequent flier miles to cross the Atlantic which had meant a scheduled flight into Chicago and then a connection on. This flight was direct to Orlando International with a refuelling stop in Gander, Newfoundland. This was really nice actually because it split the flight almost exactly in half - 5 hours to Gander, 45 minutes on the ground and about 4 hours on to Orlando. We had excellent movies, good food and arrived on time. Our car hire was from Dollar and although they are on airport, all the English people were taken to Dollar's off airport location which is about 5 minutes away by bus.
I would like to highlight this as a major gripe on our part. We had pre-paid our car hire in the U.K and had taken out LDW cover on the car. However, when we got to the Dollar location, they put everyone through a real high pressure sales pitch on extra insurance to top up the third party liability which together with all the extra local taxes resulted in most people paying out at least another $300 for a two week rental. Last year, we arranged our own car hire from Dollar on airport and we didn't get this treatment at all. It is obviously a sales driven exercise that is designed to target people who are on unfamiliar turf and have just stepped off a very long international flight. Basically, you aren't thinking too clearly, its very hot and all you want to do is get away and get on with your holiday - so everyone pays up. I don't know who is at fault here - the package operator or the car rental agency, but it doesn't start people off with a good feeling! I understand that airport taxes are due to rise substantially next year in the U. S. and maybe local people who depend on the tourist industry should think about whether they really want to kill the golden goose for the sake of nickel and diming them to death.
Anyway, we made a determined effort to put all that behind us, drove to the villa agency, picked up our keys with no problem and drove to the villa. It was everything and more we had hoped and the children jumped straight into the pool. We left my Dad in charge and drove off to the nearest supermarket (Publix on 192) and bought our supplies.
We had decided to cater in all breakfasts, and take packed lunches for non park days so we bought those items. We found microwave breakfasts for about 99 cents per meal, cereal for the children, melons, salad stuff, eggs, bacon, sausage, ice cream, cakes, a pie, a wine box, beer, soda, crisps and dips, milk, chicken packs etc. The whole shop cost us $150 and it was a big one. We had brought tea bags (sorry, yours are horrible), washing powder (sorry, yours is not very good), 3 loaves of bread (frozen) from home and everything else we bought in this shop.
By the time we got home, had a swim, unpacked etc it was about 9 pm and we were exhausted - it was 2 am our time by then, so we turned in.
Oh dear, we woke up at the dreaded 0430!! Bob and I lived in the States for three years, and for some reason for the first six months, we always woke up at 0430 in the morning. Body clocks gone crazy, I suppose. Anyway, we woke up and sort of lay there chatting for a while. About 0530, it became apparent that everyone else had also woken up so we all got up and had breakfast in the dawn around the pool. I suppose that this is one of the blessings of being self contained. You really don't have to worry about time or noise or anything like that. We had a nice breakfast and a swim and got dressed and headed off for Typhoon Lagoon at about 0845.
We had already decided to buy 5 day World Hopper passes and really max out the value by using up the water park options. We are all very keen swimmers and have really loved the water parks on past vacations. Also, after a long flight, diving right into the parks is not the best idea.
We got to Typhoon Lagoon right at 9 am. I was still feeling really grotty and taking the medication to try and sort my sinuses out.
We bought our passes here and got our MKC discounts. This was really worthwhile. Then we parked ourselves under one of the wooden shelters in the Ketchakiddie Creek area and hit the slides. We always leave our clothes and small belongings under the wooden shelters in case of rain. One year we didn't do this, there was a big downpour and by the time we got back to our clothes, they were soaked! Yes, you can have lockers, but actually that's no good for towels and picnics - you want them to be on-hand. We have also invested in one of those smallish waterproof boxes that you can wear round your neck. These are ideal for money, credit cards, passes, car keys, glasses etc - those things you need to have there but don't want to leave about. You can get the boxes in all different sizes. The round ones are not the best if you want to take credit cards. Also beware of the force of the waves in the big pool. Bob got upended one year and lost the waterproof box, his hat and his sunglasses in one swoop!! Very luckily they were washed up at the feet of a lifeguard and he got them back.
We love the garden theming at Typhoon Lagoon. Its so dense and the slides are completely hidden. Today Daisy discovered lizards - there are thousands in Florida - and began an obsession with catching them that would last for the entire holiday!!!
Today the park was not particularly crowded and we managed to do all the slides we wanted (the slower ones) very quickly. I had hoped that the girls would go through the coral reef part this year, but they were still put off by the sharks so we just viewed it through the shipwreck. We spent hours floating around the lazy river - a real family favourite - and then had fun in the wave pool. I even managed to get my father down the slower tube slides!! We had taken a picnic lunch in a freezer box, so we ate that midday.
We left about 4 pm and headed back to the villa to shower off. We then went out to dinner at a restaurant called the Black Angus, on 192. The children had steaks off the childrens menu, Bob and I had prime rib, the kids had ice cream and soda, Bob had a couple of beers, and I had a glass of wine. The bill was about $50 with tax and service. I didn't think it was as good as last year. After that we drove up 192 to Old Town and bought a value pack of ride tickets for the funfair attractions. The kids rode some small rides, I took them on the big wheel (Daddy doesn't like that!!) and Bob took them on the go-karts (I don't like that much !!!). By then, we were beginning to feel a bit exhausted, so we headed back and collapsed in bed.
Saturday 23rd August
0530 - hello dawning world!!! Well, slightly better than yesterday and the drugs have paid off and I feel better!! Today we planned to go to MGM, even though it was a water park day on our pass. The reason was that it was one of the last two days when we could see Sorcery in the Sky, and the other day was Sunday. Didn't want to go Sunday, because that was early entry for MGM and it was my strategy to avoid all parks on early entry days.
Had another breakfast around the pool - spotted heron and otters on our lake behind the house - and got to MGM at 0830. Drove up almost to the door - and walked in. Made immediate dinner reservations for the Sci Fi caf for 6:30. We then walked right onto the Great Movie ride (fantastic), closely followed by Star Tours (good), Muppets 4D (brilliant), Hunchback of Notre Dame (excellent as ever), had a breather in the caf while the children played in the Honey I shrunk the Kids playground, then hit the Backstage Tour (good), Voyage of the Little Mermaid (good), met some characters and got autographs. It was now about 2:30 so we staked out our position for the parade, opposite the Brown Derby in the shade of some trees. It was extremely hot at this point and we refreshed ourselves with some iced water. I got the guy to give me some ice cubes in a cup which we allowed to melt on us as a cooler. It really works!
I thought the parade was short but good. We left directly afterwards and after some deliberation drove to River Country for a swim break. It was really packed. There were two business conventions there and I have never seen it so crowded. However, we managed to get loungers in the kiddies area and had a really nice swim and cool off.
I really like River Country. It isn't a patch on the other water parks for size or number of slides or excitement, but it is undoubtedly the most relaxing of the three. Also this year, the extra activities that they are putting on really add to the atmosphere. Basically every hour there is some activity themed around a typical 4th July type family outing. The kids really enjoyed everything especially the dancing and the tug of wars. Typically for Disney, everyone always gets a little prize just for taking part.
Got back to MGM at 5:30 and went straight to Sci Fi. There was a wait so we mooched in the shops for a while. Actually the wait was quite long. We didn't get our table till about 7:15. The meal was ok - nothing very special. I had a burger, which was the best choice, Bob had a pork chop special (bit mediocre), the children had chicken pieces, and Mum and Dad had caesar salads. Mostly we enjoyed the ambiance, the films etc. It was worth it for that. Our bill for 4 was about $50 including a beer and soft drinks etc. When we came out we rode Star Tours again, and the Great Movie ride and then pegged out for a place in front of TGMR for Sorcery in the Sky. We had never seen this before, unlike the other night time shows, and we were absolutely thrilled with it. It was a really great display of fireworks and in combination with the music and the appearance of Mickey at the end, was quite superb. Honestly, we just don't have fireworks like that in England other than on very special occasions like the Royal Wedding, or the Silver Jubilee. Here they are letting them off every night!!!
We walked back to our car and could see the other fireworks going off presumably in Epcot and the Magic Kingdom. Got home about 10 o'clock and collapsed again.
Sunday, 24th August
Woke up at 7 am.!!! Hooray, we must have acclimatized. Had our usual breakfast and swim and headed off to Blizzard Beach. Got there right as the park opened and got a great location in a wooden shelter at the Training Camp portion. Dumped our stuff and went right into the slides. First we did Teamboat Springs - Dad, Daisy and I got the chairlift up and Bob and Lucy walked. We went right on to it and it was fantastic as usual. My Dad was a bit surprised by how exciting it was, but he loved it. We then collected my Mum and walked around to the tube slides and she watched while we did them. Have I explained that my Mum is a very nervous swimmer and also hates speed rides of any sort??? We went down three at a time and two at a time and Lucy and I did the dark tube. Then we all got on the lazy river and rode that around for a couple of circuits. We did the wave pool and then went back and had our picnic in the shelter. The girls did the attractions of the training camp and then my Mum did one of the small tube slides there. This gave her so much confidence that she agreed to do Teamboat springs, so we went up and did that. This was a real big deal for her. She gets quite ill on even a carousel, so we were a bit concerned but she managed it ok. She didn't want to do it again, mind you, but it didn't upset her.
We left Blizzard Beach at around 4:30 and went home and got changed. We then went out and ate dinner at a Chinese buffet on 192. It was really good $7.95 for all you can eat and $4.95 for the children. They had duck, shrimp, clams, and all the usual Chinese dishes you can imagine. We absolutely gorged ourselves. I had a coupon for 10% off too!!
We then had a quick dive into the Lake Buena Vista Outlet Mall. This is a really brilliant place about 3 minutes north of the 192 SR535 intersection. There are a number of shops including Big Dog, Carters, OshKosh, SwimMart etc and a supremely good factory outlet called VF Outlet. They had Lee T shirts for $3 and sweatshirts for $5 etc. There was also a shop called Character Corner which had proper Disney merchandise at a ridiculous price. I bought a Beauty dressing up costume which normally goes for $40 for $8.95 and some t-shirts for $5.
It was late so we only had a quick sortie and decided to come back another night. Besides, Bob started with a sore throat and sneezing!! Looks like I am passing it around. We went home, dosed him up with Tylenol and collapsed.
Monday, 25th September
Bob bravely fighting off the cold!! Women, you will know what this means.
We head off to River Country for the day with our picnic. It is really hot but River Country is not nearly as crowded as on our last visit and we manage to get loungers with an umbrella. We play in the lake pools, do the slides etc and join in the games. These are really fun and the kids all get little prizes. At about midday Goofy turns up in a speed boat and comes ashore and does autographs and plays around with the children. Also there are more activities for them in the afternoon including sing songs, dancing and various games. It was really nice and a welcome relax for us parents.
At about 4:00 the storm clouds gathered and the rain began. It really hammered down followed by thunder and lightning and we were all removed to the shelter of the BBQ hut. Chip and Dale and Goofy kept the children amused for the worst of the storm
We had Whispering Canyons Caf reservations for 5:30 that night so we were getting a bit anxious as we had planned to go home first and get changed. However, in the end we had to content ourselves with a tidy up in the van and then going straight to the Wilderness Lodge.
What a place!!!! The lobby is absolutely out of this world. We checked in, had a wander about, did some pressed pennies, explored the pool area and then we got our call for dinner. The children really enjoyed the camp building area just outside the restaurant. We had a great table and a very nice server called Miss Scarlett!!!
The dinner was as huge as we had been led to believe and was all really delicious. You have to be careful not to OD on the bread and the starters or you can't do justice to the meat. Bob had a really delicious honey-flavoured beer. The children took part in the horse race and were rewarded with vouchers for free ice creams from the food court. Every little touch was just right from the tableware to the way the servers tapped the floor in a horselike rhythm as they moved the serving trays.
One thing we felt a bit bad about...Our server was very nice but she was on the large side and not the most prettiest of faces. At the end of the meal my Dad turned to my Mum and said,"well that was great, now all we need is the bill from Miss Piggy"!!! What he didn't know was that she was standing right behind him. We all collapsed into our plates with embarrassment and then tried to pretend she hadn't heard. Actually, I don't think she had, but we left a good tip just in case.
Then we walked down to the pool, watched the geyser erupt, took a boat ride to the Magic Kingdom and back, fed the fish on the dock and mooched around. The children went to the food court to get their free ice creams - very nice.
It had been our intention to see the Electric Water Pageant, but to be honest we had been given such early dinner reservations and we were getting so tired, Bob wasn't feeling that great and the weather was looking like rain, that we gave up about 8:45 and headed out. Actually, it really rained hard as we got to the car so it was probably a good decision. However, I did begin to wonder if I would ever see that parade.
Tuesday, 26th August
We took a vote and decided to go back to Blizzard Beach as it was overwhelmingly our favourite water park. Got there at opening time and got our favourite hut in the training camp area again. Repeated the usual pattern, did the raft ride, the tube rides, the lazy river, the wave pool etc. Lucy got her hair braided. She has really long hair and by the time it was done, it cost $40!!!!! Still she was thrilled and it did look very cool! They both got fake tattoos. We had a picnic, rode the lazy river again, did the raft ride again etc etc. Really like this park. There is so much to do. All the family voted it their favourite of the three.
One of the things that we love about all the parks is the fantastic landscape gardening that Disney have done. Typhoon Lagoon is completely tropical and the slides are totally concealed in the foliage. River Country is the same. Blizzard Beach is now also beginning to grow into its gardens even though it is clearly designed to be more visible that the other two. We all like plants and gardening and found it very interesting to examine the planting in all the parks.
Left about 4:30 and went home for a change. We intended to eat at the Rainforest Caf so we got to the Marketplace at about 5:30. Forget it. We were faced with a 2 hour wait and although frankly I would have taken the wait, I was faced with total rebellion from the ranks. So we watched the parrot show, took a quick dive into the Disney shop and bought some Xmas presents for the girls and then went back to the Chinese buffet on 192 where we had eaten before.
We stuffed ourselves again. I was feeling a bit disgruntled at missing the Rainforest Caf, so I didn't take enough notice of what the kids were eating. Lucy apparently ate one shrimp, about three strands of noodles and four huge plates of jelly, chocolate pudding and ice cream.
We revisited this later!
We then went back to the Lake Buena Vista Mall and really bought loads of stuff. For English people, this is good advice: travel very light, bring empty suitcases and plan to buy lots of stuff. We bought t shirts at $3, men's trousers at $10, childrens outfits at $5, swimsuits $9.99, towels $4.99, etc etc. It is absolutely astonishing value when you compare it to home prices. And the quality is very good - this is not shoddy stuff.
Took the children for a late night treat of go-kart driving and then crawled home.
Just after going to bed, Lucy was extremely sick. That's what you get for eating 4 plates of chocolate pudding, ice cream and jelly. She was all right afterwards, but we all learnt a lesson. It was another reason that we were glad that we were in a home environment though - it made cleaning up really easy and with no embarrassment.
Wednesday, 27th August
Typhoon Lagoon. A leisurely breakfast and off to the water park. Another relaxing day bathing and sliding and drifting around the lazy river. Very light crowds. We had our picnic and enjoyed our last Water Park day. Bob is fully over his cold. As we leave, Dad starts to sneeze. This is potentially bad news as he is asthmatic and any cold type complaint is always worse for him than anyone else. And he's a man-women and wives you will know what I mean by this!!!!
We were going to the Backyard BBQ but we decided that we weren't quite up to this and we decided to check out another place on 192 instead. I had a voucher for a buffet called Little Italy which was in front of the Osceola Mall. The voucher gave us 15% off the bill so we went and I was sent in to check it out.
Well, what a place. We had always enjoyed Stacey's buffet in the past and were quite heartbroken when we discovered that this restaurant had closed in the past year in Kissimmee. Anyway, Little Italy is nearly as good. $7.95 for adults and $4.95 for children. There are cheaper children's meals if they don't want the buffet. As you can imagine the buffet is heavily Italian flavoured with various pasta dishes, pizzas, salads, chicken, mixed meat dishes and three wonderful roasts - ham, beef and turkey. The portions were mega and you could eat as much as you liked. There was also soup and dessert. It was one of the best meals we had all trip, and so cheap. OK, so the ambiance wasn't as good as the Sci Fi, but for every day, frankly, the food was much better and so was the cheque at the end.
Thursday, 28th August
About the end of our water parks section and time for the main parks. Today we went to Epcot and we were up early to be at the park gates for 8.30. Crowds were incredibly light. We didn't queue for anything all day.
We walked right on to SpaceShip Earth. This is a major family favourite and I always get quite tearful on it particularly when you get to the point where you look down on the Earth and the stars. The whole ride is so inspirational and moving and I have to say that I quite like Jeremy Irons voice. Perhaps it's the English thing. I also liked Walter too, I must say.
We spent some time in the Global Village area, then walked left to Universe of Energy. We really enjoyed the show, especially the dinosaur portion. Daisy was a little nervous in it - they were pretty real. I could imagine getting irritated with Ellen fairly quickly. We then went into the Human Body pavilion and walked right onto Body Wars. Everyone enjoyed this. We played on the outside attractions, walked right into Cranium Command and then had a snack in the caf in there. Goofy arrived and we got his autograph. We seemed to meet Goofy everywhere this trip.
One word about snacks in Disney. We always buy the souvenir cups which cost about $1 more than having the drink in a polystyrene cup, but you get to keep a nice souvenir which comes in useful at home for children's drinks and picnics. Also, most fast food outlets in Disney have what they call "fixings bars". These bars contain salad and dressing items which you can add to your burgers and hot dogs. To be honest you can add enough to make a sort of salad on your plate and it not only fills you up nicely, you can console yourself that its while at Epcot. This time, we took the launch to the Swan and Dolphin and explored there. Quite liked them, but not as much as the Beach Club. Still it made a cooling break from the park in the heat of the afternoon.
Dad was definitely sneezing, so we were dosing him up with medication by then.
Went back to Epcot at about 5 and walked through some more of World Showcase.
One thing to bear in mind with older people is that they do walk much slower than you and it is actually very tiring to try and keep that slow pace up. This may seem odd, but you just try it.
Anyway, we visited America but had missed the show, Japan - saw the drummers and had a good shop in the store and Morocco - saw Aladdin and Jasmine. Got to our reservations in the Ankershus in Norway for 6. I thought the meal there was absolutely first class, but you have got to like fish. I really do, especially salmon and I ate salmon about five or six different ways. I especially enjoyed the gravlux and the poached salmon which is possibly the best I have ever had.
We got our Magic Kingdom discounts here. I don't think Mum and Dad enjoyed it as much as me, possibly because they are not so keen on fish and possibly because they were just not hungry enough that night.
We came out and had a good stay in China, which I really like. The store there is absolutely fantastic value and I bought some very nice porcelain figures and some soapstone ornaments. They were literally just a few dollars.
By now it was 8 and we were all very tired so we got the boat back to Showcase Plaza and prepared to peg out for Illuminations. We always watch this from the area in line with the silver ball and more or less opposite the U. S. Pavilion. In previous years, it was a first come first serve area, but this year they had roped it off and were only dropping the rope at 8:30. We were pretty near the head of the queue anyway but a big crowd built up, especially as there was a Caribbean dance band entertainment in the little square in front.
Now normally, I believe that Disney control and manage crowds better than anyone else I can think of, but what they have done here is crazy and an accident waiting to happen. Basically they allow a big crowd to build up, at both entrances and they then wind the crowd up by having shouting competitions between each side for about 10 minutes. Finally, they tell you not to run and then drop the ropes. What happens? There is an absolute stampede from both sides with people desperate to get to the railings by the lake. I swear that if you fell, people would stamp on you or fall on you. It serves no purpose at all other than to ensure a crush. What is the problem they are trying to solve? In the past if you got there early you got a good seat. Now, small kids and old people are merely mown down by the mob behind. They need to really rethink their strategy here.
Having said that, I still believe it offers the best view. We were lucky (or maybe we just stampeded faster!!) and we got front of lake seats for the show. We all thought that it was superb. My parents had never seen it before and they thought that it was far better than Sorcery in the Sky. I did too, though perhaps not quite as good as last years show. Much better than I'd expected from reading reviews of it though.
Afterwards, we crawled exhausted away, with Epcot sore feet. This is a very big park with so much walking. You have to split it up. We actually visited it over 3 days and still didn't really quite cover everything.
Friday 29th August
Great excitement on waking up today because it is our first trip to the Magic Kingdom. We aim to be there for 8 am and we just about make it. Again, they hold the crowds at the entrance to the TTC and whip everyone into a frenzy for 30 minutes before they drop the rope, with the same hollow advice to not run. A mad rush ensued during which several people did fall. Obviously it is sometimes necessary to make people line up for extended periods of time, but they should really think of better ways to entertain the crowds than organising competitive shouting contests etc.
We tried for the driver's compartment but the family of the day had beaten us to it. Oh, well we will have to try again!! Last year we were very lucky with this and sat up front often. When we got to the Magic Kingdom, we were fairly quickly through the turnstiles and immediately bumped into Minnie Mouse and some of the other characters. Got their autographs while Bob went and got a stroller for Daisy. We wanted it as an insurance policy for later in the day. Worst case, its handy for putting bags on instead of carrying them.
We headed straight down Main Street and under the arch into Cinderella's Castle for Fantasyland. Had a short wait at this point for the rope drop which we spent admiring the mosaics. They are magnificent.
I must be one of the few people that actually quite likes the pink birthday cake. All right its not as tasteful as the old grey and blue castle, but it looks very festive and is particularly nice at night.
The crowds were really light, and I felt our strategy of avoiding early opening days paid off throughout the trip. We really hardly queued up at all. We rode Snow White (fun), Mr Toad (fun) and Peter Pan (one of my favourites) in quick succession and then caught the first show of the Lion King. This was much liked by all. The crowds were so light that we were even told that we could sit where we liked i.e. not have to move to the end of the row!!!!
We then finished off Fantasyland with It's a Small World. We all have a real soft spot for this ride and the kids really like it.
Walking anticlockwise we moved into Liberty Square and visited the Haunted Mansion. Last year Daisy refused to go on this, but this year she loved it. In fact, they liked it so much that we rode it again with the two girls in their own car.
Moving around we entered Frontierland and as it was about lunchtime, we went into the Diamond Horseshoe Saloon and shared a light lunch while we watched the show. This is a very good way of taking a rest and a cool off. We love the show and in previous years have always managed to get a table on the main floor. We cut it a bit fine this year and had to sit upstairs on the balcony but it was a good view and Bob and my Dad could rest easy that they weren't going to be picked for a victim!!!
After the show we crossed into Adventureland and visited the Pirates of the Caribbean, another of our all time favourites. Again we more or less walked in.
After the pirates we did some shopping in the exit ship. Its full of really good small items that make good stocking fillers at Xmas - pirate swords, treasure bags, eye patches etc. We then went on the Jungle Safari. I am very iffy about this ride and would gladly miss it to be quite honest. It is totally dependant on the patter of the guide and if you have to queue a long time (which we didn't this time) and then you get a mediocre one, then it's a real disappointment. Lastly, we went into the Tiki Birds which is in its final season. Now, I really like this show. Its not particularly exciting but it is very beautiful I think and provides a welcome entertainment at the end of a hot afternoon.
I was really disappointed when towards the end people started stampeding out. It is really so rude to spoil other people's enjoyment by squashing past them, opening doors and letting light in and generally making a noise. Surely anyone can stand to sit still for 15 minutes or whatever rather than be so ignorant and uncaring to other guests. Two women who had definitely eaten at Pizza Hut a few too many times trampled all over me in their eagerness to get away before the end.
Time was beginning to get on and for some reason we decided to walk towards Mickey's Toontown. This was probably a mistake because it was a long walk and very hot. Our idea was to let the kids cool off before the parade in the boat attraction and maybe get some autographs. Anyway, we were all absolutely boiling by the time we got there and all ended up going in the squirts and getting soaked. We always wear bathing suits with shorts over them to the parks so it didn't really matter about getting wet. I also often get handfuls of water from the drinking fountains and just throw them over myself and the children, to cool down. Another good cooler is to take off your hat, soak it in cold water and then put it back on and feel that nice cold water keep dripping down your head!!!! Anyway, it took us so long to get there, that we didn't have time for autographs and we got the train back to the Main Street Hub where we pegged out for the parade.
The parade was really good - much better than last year's. We ended up dancing in various sections of it and had a thoroughly good time. I was amazed that we managed to get front row seats right opposite the train station at about 3:00 with no trouble at all. It was so quiet.
Immediately after the parade we left the park and got the monorail to the Contemporary Resort for our afternoon break. I had never been to this hotel before and was very impressed with the public areas. It is probably the least attractive hotel of all from the outside but the inside and the pool areas are really nice. There seemed to be plenty of activities going on for the children and it was clearly a place that was very child friendly unlike the Swan which had felt a lot more business oriented.
I got a nice lot of pressed pennies and we had a good break and got the monorail back to the Magic Kingdom for about 6. It was a nice ride back all around the lagoon with good views of the Polynesian and the Grand Floridian. We decided to visit them both over the next few days.
Back in the park, the heat of the day was passed and we walked to Tomorrowland. Crowds were pretty light but we decided to have dinner first. We went to Cosmic Ray's Starlight Caf and Bob and I and the two girls had the family chicken feast. This consisted of a whole chicken, two big tubs of mashed potatoes, beans and corn bread. It cost $15.99 which as excellent value and a real bargain in Disney where food bargains are rare. The mashed potato was especially delicious and we were all very full by the end.
After dinner we decided to do the race track. Lucy wanted to drive herself, Daisy went with my father, Bob went alone and I went with my mother. Now my mother cannot drive, so we decided that she should drive the car!!!! We had a real hoot going around the track because she kept bumping against the divider and I think we were about half of the way around before she realised that actually there was no danger of her actually crossing it!!! It was the most fun time I've ever had on this ride.
After that, we went on Take Flight (fun), Carousel of Progress (corny but interesting), the Timekeeper (OK but a strain with small children), and the Tomorrowland transportation system ride which we all liked. I wanted to go on Alien Encounter but no one else did, and Lucy wanted to go on Space Mountain, but no one else did. We promised her we would go next time.
It was getting late so we walked out of Tomorrowland to the hub and got a brilliant place for the parade right at the end of the walkway to Tomorrowland. We had a clear view of the castle for the fireworks later and of course a clear view of the parade. I could not believe our luck. Our best position ever. We positioned ourselves and then Dad and I went to the ice cream shop at the bottom of Main St and bought everyone an ice cream. They are absolutely massive and delicious. Even though I am a total chocolate fan, I must recommend the butter pecan which seemed to me to be the best flavour.
Spectromagic is a fabulous parade and absolutely not to be missed. My parents had never seen it or the Electric Light Parade before and were absolutely speechless. The children were openmouthed and Daisy was overcome with delight when Robin Hood came up and kissed her hand towards the end. We especially liked the Demon from Fantasia, and also the peacock which was exquisite. Afterwards we stayed where we were and got what must be one of the best views of the fireworks available. We also could see Tinkerbell clearly and the children were delighted with her. The fireworks were good and rounded the evening off nicely.
Afterwards we joined the huge throng wending its way out. The queues for the monorail were long so we headed for the Riverboat. Just as we were lining up for it, what should come along but the Electric Water Pageant!!! So, I did get to see it after all. It was better than I expected as I had got the impression that it was only a couple of floats.
It was extremely hot on the riverboat and both girls fell asleep on the 5 minute voyage which made getting off difficult. The queues for the trolleys to the car park were long although they moved fast. All in all, it was late when we got home after a long day and we were really tired, but very happy.
Saturday, 30th August
After all our walking yesterday, we had always planned on a quiet day today. So, we slept in a bit, got up and had a swim and a leisurely breakfast and then headed off for Beltz Mall to bend the plastic a bit more. We drove up International Drive to get there. I am always amazed at how many new attractions have sprung up over the year. The latest one seemed to be a family haunted house called Skull Castle or something like that. It looked pretty gruesome.
Beltz was as good value as I remembered. It is probably difficult for Americans to appreciate how good the prices are at these places. For instance, in England a standard bath towel would cost at least $12, name jeans start at about $49, a bed sheet would be $25 etc. etc. We bought quite a lot of things in the Character Outlet. Does Disney actually own this shop as its all authentic merchandise? I like to shop for birthday party presents for the girl's friends and I accumulate a nice cupboard full at home. In England it is really hard to find a decent party present for under $8 and at these ages the girls are going to so many parties it all really adds up. I could buy really nice things for $5 and less at Beltz. I got some lovely Hunchback ware: china trinket boxes with Esmeralda and Quasimodo on the front for $4.99 and also some porcelain figurines of Esmeralda for $3.99. Got Daisy's birthday present for October - a Mickey Mouse watch, a bargain at $19. Had a really good shop fuddle as we call it in our family!!
Next we went to Toy Liquidators which is a toy outlet there and bought up a load of toys and games for presents and for Christmas. Yes, we do all our Xmas shopping in Orlando in August. You can get people much nicer presents than you could otherwise afford. And yes, I also bought loads of lovely Xmas cards in a card shop there which were marked down. Its not that they are particularly cheaper than at home. They are just different in style to English ones - more glamourous - and make a nice change for people. We often get comments on the lovely cards we send and people always like the foil lined envelopes!!!!
We spent hours at Beltz. Luckily the children also enjoy shopping - we give them pocket money to spend themselves and anyway there is a great carousel at the centre. We had lunch in the food court there. It was mediocre but cheap. We went home about 3 and had a swim in the pool.
Several evenings before, I had noticed that American Gladiators were offering a special deal on their dinner show tickets $14.95 instead of $36. The price included the show, a three course meal and all you could drink including wine and beer. We booked up and went along tonight.
You had to register at 5:45 for the show which was at 7. While you waited, you got a picture taken, and could mooch around the merchandise stalls. We had excellent seats in the auditorium, very central and second row back. The meal was ok. Salad to start which was on the stale side, chicken, stuffing and vegetables - good, and ice cream cake for dessert - quite nice. They kept the drinks coming throughout. The show was very good fun and just like on t.v. but without the elaborate equipment that we have on the show in England. I've never seen the U. S. version of the show, so I don't know if the equipment in Orlando is a scaled down version or what. Anyway, the crowds were whipped into a frenzy of support for their team and we all yelled and screamed throughout. The gladiators themselves were absolutely huge - especially the women!!!! They came around the tables quite a lot and shook hands so you got to see them close up. One of the men was even a Brit!!!! Suffice it to say that we had a thoroughly enjoyable evening for a stunning price. We even bought the picture ($9) which was a very good one of us all. I would definitely go again especially for that price. It would be too expensive at the original for a family of four.
My Dad really started to succumb to the dreaded cold in the night and was very wheezy the next day.
Sunday 31st August
We decided on a park hopping day today, so we started in the Magic Kingdom. We this time went first to Frontierland by train and Bob took Lucy on Splash Mountain. I am not a huge fan of big drops, so I passed on that. While we waited for them, I took Daisy on BTMRR which she loved. It was by way of a test because she has never been on a ride like that before. Anyway, we walked on more or less and it was a success so I said that we might do Splash Mountain later that day - she was just about tall enough. After that we went to the Country Bears which everyone loved and the Hall of the Presidents. This is a really good show and I would recommend it to everyone. Finally we rode the Mark Twain River boat round the Rivers of America which is a really good attraction. I hadn't done it for years, but I found the commentary very interesting and I would recommend it as a change of pace We then walked into Toonland, stopping for an ice cream on the way, and visited Minnie's House, Mickey's House, the famous friends (Donald, Daisy, Pluto and Goofy) and finally Mickey himself. We all took lots of pictures, got the autographs and shared the children's enjoyment and excitement.
Decided on an early break today so got the launch to the Grand Floridian and had an explore there. It is certainly a beautiful hotel with magnificent public areas and breathtaking flower arrangements. We had a good cool off and an explore and were fortunate enough to enter the main area just as two chefs were giving trials in cake decoration and cream art. It was fascinating to watch and try and you got to keep your cake and take it away!!! Apparently they do it every day at 1 o'clock. Well worth a visit.
There were several weddings on that day and we enjoyed watching the guests in their finery and even speculated on the fact that Princess Diana and the Princes had stayed there last year - which was quite a coincidence as we later discovered. At one point in the main lobby, a most enormous cockroach ran up to us on the bench. I told the woman on reception because it was really gross and not something I thought they would want hanging about in their flagship hotel. She didn't seem very bothered by it and it was still there waving its horns at us in a friendly manner as we walked away. I suppose they must be everywhere in that climate. Bit of a surprise though.
We enjoyed the Disney shop on the first floor. Lucy bought a really wonderful toy from the Hercules range. I knew she would want it as soon as I saw it. It's a squeezy ball which looks like a giant eyeball complete with iris and lens and veins. It is filled with red liquid and as you squeeze it, it makes a really horrid squelching noise and the "blood" moves around!!!! I suppose it must be the eye of the Cyclops (haven't seen the film yet). Anyway it was $4 and she has played with it ever since. You have to smile when you see it, its just so perfect and just the sort of thing children of that age like, you know fairly gross!!!!! Its really quite realistic - took me back to biology in school when we had to dissect cow's eyes!
About 2 o'clock we got the monorail to Epcot via the TTC and we did the shows in Future World that we had missed the other day. First we had to do Spaceship Earth again though, because everyone loved that the best. Then we headed off to do Innoventions. We had a good play in here on the computers and games and got a snack lunch. Then we went to the Living Seas. My Dad was really beginning to suffer at this point with a temperature and a blocked nose and headache so he sat it out. The rest of us had a reasonably short visit in the pavilion. We like it but we knew we were going to Sea World so, we didn't want to spend too much time. We did enjoy our visit with the dolphins and the manatees though. Coming out we went to the Land and left Mum and Dad in the food court while we took the kids to Food Rocks. By now everyone was feeling really fractious. Dad was really feeling awful and was not being a brave soldier, Mum was nervous and Bob was afraid my Dad's rather volatile temper would spoil the day if we remained much longer. I was tired and getting a bit Disney commandoish as I saw my "plan" disappearing into the sunset. We had planned to complete Future World that afternoon and go back to the Magic Kingdom for the evening. Bob and I decided while waiting for Food Rocks that we would have to call it a day.
As we got back to the table, Mum and Dad told us the news that will always be associated with that location for me now. Some English people had told them the terrible news about Princess Diana. We had not listened to the TV that morning so we had missed the news breaking. To say that we were shocked and devastated is an understatement. Why we had just been discussing them when we were at the Grand Floridian and the staff there had been saying what an angel she had been. We walked out into the sunshine in a daze really not quite taking it in, even hoping against all the odds that it was a false report and some kind of mistake.
We got the monorail back to the TTC (where our car was) fully intending to go home, but Lucy and Daisy were both very upset that we were not going back to do Splash Mountain and BTMRR. In fact they both sobbed and sobbed. So despite heavy hearts and heavy cold we re-entered the Magic Kingdom and walked to Frontierland. Bob, Lucy, Daisy and I got in the queue for Splash Mountain (it was inside the building) and after two minutes Daisy changed her mind. I took her back and talked my Dad into joining us on BTMRR. We more or less walked on. What a different ride that is by night!! It seemed much faster and more exciting. I don't think my Dad enjoyed it too much actually - a bit too exciting. I felt a bit guilty because it seemed fairly innocuous in the light of day, and he wasn't very well.
Anyway, by the time we came out it was almost 9 and time for Spectromagic. Bob and Lucy still weren't back and so we stood on the parade route at the end of the walkway to Splash Mountain and watched the parade again. Bob and Lucy joined us and saw it all.
We then hurried as quickly as we could out of the park and almost but not quite missed the rush after the fireworks. This time we got the monorail back and somehow lost Bob and Daisy on the way. The rest of us waited in the car for them till they turned up. I tried to get the news on the radio but no luck.
When we got home we turned on the MSNBC news station and sadly it was all true and we heard that Dodi and the chauffeur had been killed too and a lot more detail. We watched until about 1 am and then very disturbed, turned in. We were all very surprised at how very shocked we were and how affected by the tragic news. I don't think we expected to be. Well, who would ever expect such a terrible thing to happen to such a beautiful young woman? It seemed such a cruel and tragic twist of fate just as life was about to take a happier turn for her. Bob and I finally fell asleep reflecting that you really do have to enjoy each minute to the limit because life is so unpredictable and tenuous.
Monday, 1st September
Woke up and switched the news station on again, which was full of the terrible pictures of the crash and sad reaction from home. We are all still stunned. Dad has had a very bad night - his cold has gone to his chest and we had dosed him up with antibiotics which we carry, just in case. He decided to stay home today and be a little quieter. We decide to follow our plan and go to MGM and Epcot.
Today is a public holiday in the U. S. and we wondered if the parks were going to be full, but if anything they were even quieter. We drove to Epcot and parked. We planned to finish the early evening there so that's why. Of course we began with Spaceship Earth!!!! We then went back to The Land and did the Land tour which Mum enjoyed very much. She is a very keen gardener. We then came out and walked to World Showcase which wasn't yet open, but we wanted to get to the International Gateway. This was no trouble, they let us right through. We got a boat to the Yacht Club and then changed boats and got the one to MGM. It took us about hour.
In MGM we went straight to Beauty and the Beast and got quite good seats. It is a very good, very colourful show. I personally much prefer the Hunchback show because I find it more affecting and less "Broadway", but this is a very good show. We then had a snack lunch near the show, then walked back and saw the sound effects show. We were first in the queue for it and about 5 minutes before the time a women came out and picked 8 children to be participants - including our two. They were absolutely thrilled - as were we - it really made their day. Basically, in the show the children provide the special effects to a black and white portion of the cartoon film 101 Dalmations. You then watch the film at the end in full colour with your children's sounds overlaid. Lucy was the voice of Cruella Devil and did a most magnificent laugh, and said "You fools" or something like that, and she also made a belch sound on a keyboard. Daisy was the sound of the puppy running. The kids all played their parts really well and it was a very cute show.
After that we came out and went straight into Indiana Jones. The cleaning lady preshow wasn't there this time. Pity because she was excellent last year. Anyway about 2 minutes into the show, the heavens opened and it poured with rain and there was thunder too. Basically they stopped the show after the market scene for safety reasons and we were disappointed not to get to see the desert scenes with the plane.
We came out and visited some shops and then decided to head back to Epcot. This time we got the launch to the Boardwalk.
We had intended to cool off here and visit the hotel, but the weather was so wet, that we really didn't need to. So, we visited some shops - I bought my Mum a lovely handpainted egg there and then got the launch back to Epcot.
We walked anticlockwise round the World Showcase, visiting all the countries we had not yet seen. We went to the U. S. and heard the Voices of Liberty - absolutely superb. Even the children were spellbound. Daisy sat at their feet with her mouth open throughout!! We then saw the show and were full of admiration for it at the end. One of the most admirable things we notice about the U. S. is the sense of national pride and we reflected that we wished the British pavilion was more like that. After all, we have plenty to be proud about too. But somehow, that is just missing from our national character. We are too embarrassed or cynical or whatever to stand up and say "Hey its great to be British". It's a real pity.
Anway, we visited Italy - pretty but expensive -, Norway and rode the Maelstrom - good - saw the film there, we like it!!! We visited Germany briefly and then went to China and saw the film there. It's a fantastic film, well film doesn't really describe the experience of the 360 degree screens. Highly recommended. We also were treated to a lovely musical performance as we waited for the show by two Chinese ladies.
Following China, we went to Mexico and rode the River del Tiempo. It's a cute ride and we enjoy the whole atmosphere inside the pavilion. We always mean to eat in the restaurant because its so beautiful there and we like Mexican food, but somehow its never happened. This time it didn't happen either.
By now it was about 6:30 and we felt we ought to get home to Dad. To be honest, we were still feeling very shocked by the news from home and although we were going on and enjoying our day, it was having an effect. So, we bid a sad farewell to Disney for this year and wended our way back to the car.
One sad note especially was that on the three visits we had made to Epcot this year, we had managed to miss all of the fountain shows. I really love seeing them and I especially wanted my mother to see it, but our timing was always wrong.
Got home and luckily my Dad was feeling much better after a quiet day, so we went out to eat. We unanimously decided to go back to Little Italy again for the buffet. We had another good feast and Dad filled us in on the news from home. More details were coming in and we now knew that we would be home for the funeral. We were also interested to hear that public opinion was growing hostile to the stiff reaction of the Royal Family and their lack of public mourning for the Princess.
To be frank, we have always felt that they behaved abominably to her from the beginning and certainly their actions throughout this week when they were really forced by public opinion to accord her the respect that she so richly deserved merely reinforced everything we have felt for some time.
After dinner we stopped off and let the girls have a play on the go karts and then went to Kmart. This is another little tradition with us. We have always loved the whole ambiance of the place, not to mention the bargains that can be picked up. I bought some super bath towels ($4.99) and some underwear and socks for the girls (Hanes - 8 pears of socks for $4 etc), we then went on home. Listened to the news for a while and then turned in.
Tuesday 2nd September
Mum and Dad are both staying home today. Dad is still not 100% and he wants to come to Universal with us tomorrow and Mum wants to keep him company. It is on such an occasion as this that having the house really comes into its own. Dad is not sleeping well, coughing and spluttering and he can get up and sit in the lounge without disturbing anyone. On a day like this where they decide to stay home, they have all the comforts of the house, food, space, the tv and the pool too. It's a lot better than being cooped up in a room, having to vacate for room cleaning etc.
Bob, the girls and I headed off for Sea World. We have been meaning to visit Sea World for 3 years and have never made it. Bob and I went to the one in San Diego about 7 years ago, but we always wanted to take the girls so this was our chance. We got there at 9 and the crowds were light. As we drove in and paid for parking, they gave us a coupon book that included a coupon for $3.50 per person off admission. This beat the $2.50 that I had found in a tourist book. Anyway, it cost us about $130 for 4 tickets. A lot, but hopefully worth it!
It was!!! We had a really fantastic day. I don't think we would want to go every year, but the girls actually say that it was one of their best days of the whole holiday. They absolutely loved being able to get up so close to dolphins and rays and seals etc and actually stroke and hand feed them. It was really wonderful for them. We walked around the park in a clockwise fashion basically following the show schedule.
The first show we saw was the dolphin and false killer whale one. It was enjoyable but we were in very hot seats and that took the edge off a bit. We then saw the seal show which was absolutely superb - very funny and very clever. After visiting the rays, the dolphins and the seals we headed round again and went via the Anheuser Busch hospitality centre and the horse stables to Shamu's playground. This is a truly fantastic childrens area with pirate ships, tunnels, ball rooms, a massive climbing and netting area, swings etc etc. Its huge - the largest of its kind I've ever seen - but because its behind netting (like a cage!!!!) the children are contained and secure and the parents can sit in the shade beneath and have a little rest. Which is what we did for about an hour. It was great! We were disappointed that there are some attractions in the play area that you have to pay for, and also you have to pay to go up the tower. It just seems unnecessary and leaves a slightly bad taste - better to roll it all in.
We then went to see a troop of Chinese acrobats perform in a theatre. They were mindboggling, better I have to say, than anything at Epcot. Don't be tempted to miss them if you go. We then went to the underwater viewing area for Shamu stadium and spent a happy hour watching the killer whale pod playing.
Dad was feeling well rested so we went out to TGI Fridays on 192 for dinner. It was a very good meal - huge portions - and good value, about $45 for four including beer and a glass of wine. It's a lot more expensive to eat there at home. We got chatting to another English family there. They had just arrived for 3 weeks - the lucky things.
Really feeling our time is ticking away now. We seem to have been here a long time and have certainly packed a lot in and seen a lot, but it is flying by
Called in at the giant Wal-Mart on 192 on the way home. This is a mindboggling place, right next to Medieval Times - well worth a visit. It basically contains a garden centre, a huge supermarket and the central store which is like Kmart. I bought some bedding here and also some other odds and ends. Mum and Dad bought some large hams which were very cheap at about $7.99 each. They would have cost at least $22 at home. I bought some thick Hot Fudge sauce which we can't get, and some Ranch dressing too. We can get Ranch at home, but its not like the US version.
Went home and began to pack. Lucky we have bought a new suitcase while we are here. We would never have got everything in otherwise.
Wednesday, 3rd September
OOH, its our last day really. Dad felt ok so we all headed off for Universal Studios. We had got a small discount by calling into one of the agencies on 192 - $3 per person. You saw other offers but they all involved viewing timeshare properties and we just didn't want to waste the time. We have done that before, and actually got a good deal, but this was just too near the end of the trip.
Anyway, got there just before 9. There is loads of building work underway, obviously the new theme park which looks enormous. Parking was in a multi storey car park linked by moving walkways to the main park. No trams running at all. It was quick to get in.
Bumped int Xena and Hercules just outside the car park and got their autographs. Then onto the ticket booths. It cost $140 for a family of 4. Ouch.
Anyway, there is a lot to do, it's a very full day and we really like the park. To my mind Universal has better rides in most departments than the equivalent Disney ones. AND YET, it somehow lacks the charisma that characterises the Disney parks. I can't explain it. The entertainments are exciting and dazzling but the magic isn't quite there.
We started off with Terminator 2 3D. This is an unbelievably spectacular show that combines live action with 3D film. It follows the story line of the Terminator films with film and "live" appearances by Arnie, Linda and co. The effects are stunning and the 3D is far better than any seen in Disney. Its quite frightening, and Daisy didn't like it at all. She really cried and I felt badly that we had taken her in. Be warned - the effects are very intense. For adults and teens though, its really stunning, and our 7 year old liked it too.
We then walked around the park anticlockwise. Next ride was ET and this was a lovely ride which placated Daisy and re-established her confidence. The idea is that you are returning ET to his home planet and this involves riding with him on a bike through space. The entry to the ride is a walk through a huge misty forest, just like in the movie. There were so few people in at this point in the day that it was extremely effective. We all loved the ride, and the little trick at the end is a good touch.
Next up was Back to the Future which everyone but my Mum went on. She is absolutely no good on motion rides. We walked right on and thoroughly enjoyed it. It is, in our opinion, far and away the best simulator ride in any theme park. Far and away better than either Star Tours of Body Wars.. An outstanding ride with intense effects. Dad didn't like it much - it was too much for him.
On to Jaws. Daisy remembered this from last year and totally refused to go on, so Bob and I rode with Lucy while Mum and Dad stayed with Daisy, then Lucy swapped in with them and they rode. It's a good ride - I think a bit corny - but it always makes Lucy jump - and she is not nervous at other things. There's an explosion of fire at one point and the flames are REALLY hot - I mean, you have to lean well away. That's one thing I notice at Universal. The effects are a lot more intense in every way than at Disney. Almost to the point of being slightly unpleasant at times. It's a lot less suitable for small children, or the squeamish than any of the Disney parks. I would guess that teenagers would enjoy it more though.
Next up is Earthquake - but there were technical difficulties and we were advised to try later, so it was on through San Francisco to New York and Kongfrontation. It took considerable encouragement to get Daisy on this ride, but she actually enjoyed it. Apart from the size and sight of Kong, it is not very frightening. Not as intense as Earthquake or Jaws.
We then has a walk around the set of Lost World which was a bit disappointing. Nothing special at all.
Bob,the girls and I then went into Hanna Barbera and did that ride. Mum and Dad sat it out. Mum because it was too intense and Dad because he was beginning to feel bad again - a lot of walking and the heat. It's a good ride. It's a simulator ride through a cartoon environment - that's how best to describe it, and the effects are very very good. Not a nothing little ride at all, as you might think.
Decided it was now very hot so we headed off for Fievel's Playground which is an excellent play area for children with shoots, slides and water. The girls had a really good time here and we got cool too. Next we just had to got to the Barney Show. This was really cute and we got right down the front. Trick is to get right up next to the waterfall doors in the preshow, if you aren't there you won't get up front and the seats back in the crowd aren't nearly as good. Reason is that people stand up once the singing starts and that's no good for small children - they can't see. Anyway the whole gang appeared and put on a nice show which is toothachingly sickly but our smallest girl loved it. At the end you get the chance to shake hands with Barney.
After that we felt like a another little sit down - hey, it's a long day !! -so we headed for Nickelodeon. This was great because although our girls don't know the shows, they are similar to ones we have in England, so they quickly caught on. Anway, you get a very brief tour of the studios and an ad for the station and then you go in and play some games as per the shows. The children are split into two teams and the adults are too. One child is chosen to get "slimed" and of course everyone volunteered for that. We had a lot of fun playing the games - the children thought it was wonderful. The hosts were excellent - very funny.
Back we went to see if Earthquake was operational. It was and we had about a 20 minute wait to get into it. Lucy was chosen to be one of the people in the quake film at the beginning and she was very excited about that and did a good job. Daisy was nervous about the ride, but she was fine, except for the explosion and the fire which she didn't like at all. It is amazing at the end when all the effects put themselves back again. There is so much water and it just disappears.
As we came out a massive thunder storm started. We sheltered for a while but Dad decided he had had enough and they headed for a caf and a sit down. We went to see the Wild West spectacular - which was great. At the beginning I thought it was going to be really corny but the stunts were super - some of them quite amazing. We then had a last ride on Back to the Future and went to meet Mum and Dad who were at Mel's.
It was now about 7 and we were all pretty bushed so we bid a final farewell and headed home for the last time. They were just gearing up for the evening parade and party. Universal is a very full day. Its big like Epcot and really you need two days to see it all. They have some excellent ticket options going $75 for an annual pass with unlimited admissions and some other ones in conjunction with Sea World, Busch Gardens and Wet and Wild.
It was time for our last dinner. Dad felt too under the weather to eat so we took him home and then went out. Bob had a hankering for prime rib so we went to a place called the Lone Star Grill on 192. It was an excellent meal - probably one of the best for quality that we had. Bob and I both had 12 oz prime ribs with salad course, potato, vegetables and hot bread - it was about $14. Mum had a 12 oz steak - with all the same trimmings it was $12. The children had children's meals at about $4.95 including drink, ice cream and special cup. It was a great final feast. We took a doggy bag home for Dad.
A last call in at Wal-Mart on the way home. I was trying to get some shopping that a friend of mine had asked me for. I managed to get some of it anyway.
Dad was sound asleep so we quietly finished packing and turned in. Watched the news as usual and marvelled over the incredible news from home.
Thursday, 4th September
This is really our last day. Finished the packing and then had a final breakfast and swim in our pool. At least I am going home with all clean clothes as we have done washes. So that's one thing that I won't have to do when I get home. Got all loaded up and drove away about 11. Dropped the key back in at the agents. The house has been marvellous and we would love to stay there again. It really worked out for us. As I say, I would love to be able to afford to stay on the property, but to get the same amount of space is just out of our range. And for children of this age, it is much better to have the space. When we had babies, it was easy to all share a room. I would imagine that when they get to be 10+, having separate rooms or even a studio, could work and be a real option in a Disney Hotel. But right now, its no contest for me. That's my view anyway.
My Mum is a real garden fan and she has a fantastic orchid collection. We had spotted a place called Orchid World advertised and had slotted it in for the last day. Actually, I had been keen for the girls to do the Ladybug Release at the Wilderness Lodge, but they had opted to sleep on and have a swim. So anyway, we went to Orchid World which is just south of 192, west of I4. If you are an orchid fan, this is probably right up your street. They have a very large display of many different kinds with fish and parrots etc too. To be honest, we went for Mum. It cost $20 for Bob and I all together and the children were free. We spent about 1 hour there max. Not really worth it, but Mum enjoyed it and she got some food for her orchids which pleased her.
We then went to the WDW Village for a last mooch around and to get a snack. Went in the Disney Store looking for some Toy Story clothing for a friend. Nothing. I don't like the new store that much. Its very big and hard to find your way around, and actually it doesn't seem to have as much stuff as the old one did. This must be an illusion I know, but I couldn't find much I wanted. They hardly had any videos and there always used to be loads, and the children's costumes were very few in comparison to previous years.
Anyway, we happened past the Rainforest Caf and lo and behold it was a walk-in!!! So that's what we did. And even my Dad, who was a sceptic, thought it was well worth it. Service was slow. But the theming was excellent and the portions were enormous. Bob and I shared an appetiser which was Mexican in flavour: flatbreads with cheese, chiles, guacamole and salsa. We also had a large order of round chipped potatoes which were absolutely out of this world. It was plenty and we are both big eaters. Daisy and Lucy shared a children's burger with the same round potatoes. Mum and Dad shared an order of Mojo Bones and those potatoes again. The bones were fantastic - extremely tender and full of flavour. The other portions we saw were very large too. The children got ice creams and drinks in their deal. They also got to keep the souvenir cups. It was a lovely ending to a lovely trip and I'm so glad that we got to do it after all.
By the time we had finished eating, it was 2:30 and time to head off for the airport. Bob dropped us off and took the car back. We checked in and then when he arrived found a quiet place to wait in the shopping area.
The shops in the terminal are a welcome diversion and the children played for hours in the play area in the Warner Brothers shop. No-one seemed to be bothered about it. I bought a CD for my car which was supposed to cheer me up on my way to work, but I don't like it. Actually I made a mistake and a hasty purchase without reading the label properly. The title of the CD was Music From the Parks, and the track titles are all the old favourites. However, instead of the park versions, these all pop versions by various artists. Some are really weird ie the Pointer Sisters sing Yo Ho Yo Ho, and Tim Curry sings Davy Crockett. To be honest, I hate it, but I'm still playing it on my way to work this week!!
Our flight boarded on time 6:00 but then it was announced that instead of routing via Gander, as the loading was light we would go straight home. They then fiddled around for an hour and a half adding extra fuel and doing paperwork. Still we did arrive home 15 minutes early and didn't have the disturbance of the refuelling stop in the middle of the night. So I suppose it was worth it.
Bob went and got the car while we had a cup of tea and we then drove on home, admired the weeds which had grown in our garden, and began to unpack.
WDW now seems a long way away, but there's always next year and in the meantime, I have the great pleasure of reading all the new trip reports - including one from the excellent Mike Scopa. His was the first one I ever read - and it got me hooked. It's a bit like reading someone else's diary isn't it? Well, hope you got a few ideas from our experiences. Can't wait for our next trip now.
Hunchback of Notre Dame Show
The Great Movie Ride
Beauty and the Beast
Sorcery in the Sky
Legend of the Lion King
Pirates of the Caribbean
Country Bears Jamboree
Diamond Horseshoe Saloon Show
Remember the Magic parade
Fantasy in the Sky
Universe of Energy
Honey I Shrunk the Audience
Voices of America
The Electric Water Pageant
The Golden Dragon acrobats
Feeding the dolphins and the rays
Terminator 2 3D
Back to the Future
The World of Hanna Barbera
Best Meal Experiences
Whispering Canyon Caf
Sci Fi Restaurant
The Long Horn Grill
Beltz Outlet Mall
Lake Buena Vista Outlet Mall
Disney for roping off the viewing area in Epcot and then causing a stampede.
Disney for cancelling the 5 Day WorldHopper - it's the best for us offsite long distance travellers.
Having to pay for extras at SeaWorld.
All the extras on the car hire.
People who trampled us as they tried to get out of the Tiki Birds.
People who tried to push in at the start of the parades
People who park their strollers on the kerbside during the parades and block out small children sitting behind. This is all right if there is a child in the stroller, but often there wasn't. What's wrong with the back of the sidewalk till its over?
People who take flash pictures during the shows despite all the warnings.
People who talk throughout the shows, very loudly. I can watch what's happening, I don't need a running commentary from behind me.
The family who let their child run his Intergalactic Buzz Lightyear in speech mode right through one show making it hard to hear.
Sickest of all: the family we saw in Epcot who had a wheelchair with them and who by their actions showed that there was nothing wrong with anybody. In fact the person who was in it at one point got up and RAN to be in the front of a queue for an autograph!!! We watched them and they were just using it to save queuing up. Can this practice be widespread? I didn't feel guilty about the knives and forks after this.
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