Orlando, FL – Let me start with a tip: think twice before visiting 6 theme parks in 7 days. Experiencing just one park is a whole day affair, and according to our pedometer, yields an average of 15,000 steps. Assuming you stay for the nighttime entertainment (and you really should), you’re looking at 12 hours in the park, plus driving/parking time. Doing this back-to-back (to back-to-back-to-back) is at best an exhausting undertaking. At some point during park #6 my eyes glazed over and I just didn’t care anymore. I wanted to go somewhere — anywhere — that wasn’t a theme park.
We visited Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, Epcot Center, Animal Kingdom, and Disney Hollywood Studios. While in Orlando we also visited Universal Studios Florida and Universal Islands of Adventure. We stayed at the Orlando/Kissimmee KOA campground as we were unable to get a spot at Disney’s Fort Wilderness RV Resort which often fills over a year in advance.
I’ve written a separate post about how we planned our visit to Disney World.
Magic Kingdom is the crown jewel of Disney World, and it’s not just for kids. We were hustling around this giant park from 9 am to 8 pm and still didn’t see everything. Disney sure knows how to craft an entertainment experience. The rides are not particularly adventurous or daring, but they are satisfying. How can you not love classics like Space Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean and Splash Mountain. And in the heat of the afternoon, the 20 minute Carousel of Progress show in glorious air conditioning provides a nice respite. One of my favorite rides, and I have no idea why, is the Peoplemover. Maybe because there are rarely lines.
Make sure you leave room for a refreshing Dole Whip frozen treat at Aloha Isle in Adventureland. But in the afternoon the lines get crazy long. Here’s a tip: use the Disney World app to order (and pay for) your Dole Whip and skip the lines. I literally stood well outside the fray, took 1-2 minutes to place our order, waited 3-4 minutes and then walked away with Dole Whips. Meanwhile, the place in that huge line we would have waited was still nowhere near the ordering window.
Epcot is probably my favorite Disney park, although both the Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom are close. We arrived around 9 am and didn’t leave until 9 pm, and we kept plenty busy all day. I tallied close to 20,000 steps! The park is split into two main sections, Future World and the World Showcase. Future World has most of the rides and attractions while the World Showcase contains fairly realistic micro-cultures for 11 countries around the world.
The rides here are very well done. I would say do them all. A special shoutout however to Soarin’. Over the last 10 years, more and more rides like Soarin’ have appeared on the theme/amusement park landscape: simulators where you don’t actually go anywhere, but high resolution images and sound impart a sense of motion. Most suck (The Simpsons and The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman in Universal are examples). Tons of herky-jerky motion combined with a ridiculous plot had my eyes rolling and wishing for the end. But Soarin’ is different. The motion is smooth and the plot is simple: you are soaring over beautiful landscapes on Earth, as if you’re hang-gliding. It is the first — and so far only — ride I actually clapped at the end. For the entire 5 minutes I was transported into lands far away and completely forgot about my terrestrial orientation in Orlando.
As for food recommendations, make a beeline for the France pavilion and head to Les Halles Boulangerie & Patisserie. Most food at theme parks is bland Sysco mass produced fare. But not here. The Nutella Beignet rivals that at my favorite Fort Collins French Bakery, which itself is excellent (but don’t tell owner Jean Claude his isn’t the best). I started with a brie, apple and cranberry sandwich on multigrain baguette. C’est magnifique!
This is Karla’s favorite park and she has written a separate about Animal Kingdom.
Hollywood Studios is my least favorite of the Disney parks and the only one we would not revisit. This park is noticeably smaller than the rest and feels unfinished. However, there is an expansion underway at the Star Wars area set to open in 2019 that may bring this park up to par.
One attraction that stands out is the “Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular!”, a live-action movie stunt performance that re-enacts choice scenes from Raiders of the Lost Ark. It was amazingly well done and easily my favorite attraction in this park. This is a perfect example of what Disney does best: flawless entertainment on a grand scale. After each scene was re-enacted, the set pieces moved away to reveal an ever larger set. At some point it was a major technical achievement to simply move these gigantic pieces in a time sensitive manor. Audience attention never waned, and they did a great job of hiding what would happen next.
We also enjoyed dining at the Sci-Fi Dine In, an indoors re-creation of an outdoors drive-in movie theater from the 1950s. The tables are built into period “cars”, mimicking eating in your car while watching bad horror and sci-fi flicks from the 50s and 60s. The food is pretty good to boot. We had a nice lunch while watching clips from Attack of the 50 Foot Woman and The Blob. Does kitsch get any better?
As for other rides, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster starring Aerosmith was great, traveling from 0 to 57 miles per hour in 2.8 seconds. Unfortunately the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror had to shut down during our visit.