Day 1: The Magic Kingdom
Yes, you read it right, it is day 1 of a long string of days where we will go themeparking in Florida! The first one is of course the Magic Kingdom, the main park that is part of Disney World. After having researched the gazillion blogs available on how to visit the park, where to park, how to optimize your day, etc etc, we get to the park early in the morning for ‘rope drop’ so we can tackle some of the popular rides (more) quickly in the first 1-2 hours.
As we are not the first in the park (those staying at Disney resorts can enter a half hour earlier) we need to hedge our bets, and decide to start in the west side of the park that is also not open to early entry guests. While we follow the rope drop cast members there we are told that 3 out of the 4 rides there are not working yet… Great! So this means that the herd of people all make a dash for the one that is left! We are lucky though, as the other rides open up one after the other every time we come out of one which means we actually have a very good stretch of rides with little waiting times.
While that is great, some of the most popular rides we have not done yet, and we decide to play the rest of the day by ear and just tackle those with a manageable wait. It actually means that as the park closes at 6pm (there is a X-mas party event in the night you have to pay 100+ dollars extra for!) we only have one ride left on our list, which is a very successful day indeed. We can not imagine what it must be like on busy days…
Day 2: Animal Kingdom
After a good night rest at the local Cracker Barrel, we again get up early and head out to the 2nd park on our list; Animal Kingdom. This park is focused around many of the animal movies of Disney, with themed rides all around, but it is also basically one big zoo! An ‘extra’ here is the land of Pandora, which is the Avatar-themed part of the park, and an absolutely amazing sight (even better at night!). We start here, for the river-ride, and skip the other ride as it already has a one hour wait time (!!). We rush over to the safari ride which has a line that is picking up very quickly as well, and end up waiting almost 45 minutes here, but the safari itself is really fun and quite long!
We take the rest of the day a bit slower, working on the Wilderness Explorer booklet (we like the Junior Ranger-type activity scavenger hunt throughout the park!) and also going a bit more off the beaten track. This means we take the drawing class on the outskirts of the park to learn to draw a cartoon character, and meander through the park exploring the different animals. We also had a Memory Maker included in our park ticket deal, which turns out to be such a great addition, with photographers scattered throughout the parks (some making Magic shots!) and of course your ride photos it leaves the picture taking to others and means we are actually in all the pictures together for a change!
Towards the end of the day we get to the difficult decision – do we get in line for the most popular Avatar-ride or not? By now, unfortunately the line has not led up at all meaning the line will still be 95 (!) minutes as we enter it. It is a must-do and the boys still have the energy, so we decide to go for it. Turns out it is truly an amazing ride, the experience is incredible as you imagine yourself on the back of a Banshee flying through the sky. You even feel it breathing as you sit straddled on its back! Mom gets full on nauseous, but the boys are all overexcited and thrilled we got to ride this thing still so late in the evening. It turned out to be a long day and dinner is very late but Animal Kingdom is a great change of pace and the themes are done really well, so another great park!
Day 3: Hollywood Studios
Park no3 of the Disney range is Hollywood Studios, which we are visiting on a Saturday so we are prepared for longer lines and less effective visiting. Again we are not the first to enter, but a few rides are again not open yet as we enter, so we first make a dash for a fun and slow ride on Mickey and Minnie’s Railway adventure before jumping on the Rock ‘n Rollercoaster. The last one is still really epic and FINALLY a ride that goes upside down, so the boys are bouncing from the get-go.
We then get in line for the Tower of Terror before it really becomes a never ending one, and spend a bit of that time watching the NL-US soccer match in the world championships (while being surrounded by Americans, it is clear there is no interest for this sport here and we can scream excitedly when we score our first goal :-)). Going around Hollywood Studios we mix up some in- and outdoor shows on the peak of the day to avoid getting into one-hour lines, and even take a dinner break outside of the park (our RV is right around the corner so we can cook our own meal!) to see if the crowds ease a bit.
But again we come to the point where we have to decide on the long line for the Star Wars ride. We decide to go for it, and are not disappointed, on the contrary! We have never been in such an immersive experience, where you get out of a spaceship and literally walk onto the flight deck with the starry sky and an army of stormtroopers in front of you before trying to escape. It is absolutely epic and good reason for the long lines it has all day. With this ride covered we have just enough time for one more go on the Rock ‘n Rollercoaster before going to the final show of the day: Fantasmic. Held in a 9,000 people outdoor amphitheater it is an amazing show with all things Disney in it, ending of course in fireworks and with that our 3rd park day.
Day 4: EPCOT
Last but not least it is time for Epcot, and thankfully also the park with the latest opening hours which means we can sleep in for a little bit. The latest addition to this park is a ride on Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, for which there is only a virtual queue which means you can not just get in line for it. A spot in this queue can be claimed at 7:00 sharp in the morning so despite not having to really get up, we do take a 5 minute wake up call to get this sorted and go back to sleep. Turns out we were so successful we can already go on the moment we arrive at the park!
We decide to first squeeze in Test Track and then go in which again is an amazing ride, combining the immersive story with a rollercoaster where your cart actually turns during the ride! Testing our luck further we make a dash across the park to Ratatouille which has a posted line of only 45 minutes (which is very low), but of course by the time we get there it jumps up quite quickly. To make matters worse, it actually breaks down while we are waiting, so we end up waiting almost 2 hours (!!) for what is actually quite a short ride… I guess you can’t be lucky all the time.
For the rest of the afternoon we explore the different pavilions of the countries presented – every single one of them being beautifully done. Even more amazing is the fact that out of all of those fantastic destinations we only have China to go! We get surprised by the full aquarium on the ‘Sea’-side of the park including dolphins and manatees, and enjoy the imagination ride with Figment, the cute little dragon. Here again there is one ride we will have to leave for now and that is the Frozen one, as the lines are too long and we have had enough for the day. We go for dinner in a Mexican restaurant which we could still pay with our Sightseeing Pass (expires today), and with a well-filled doggy bag check into a campground nearby.
Day 5: Volcano Bay
While we did go to a waterpark in Brazil, the boys have always set their sights on a REAL BIG waterpark, and so we decided to make the move to the next of the big theme parks of Orlando, Universals 3 parks including the waterpark called Volcano Bay. We bike there from the campground where we were staying, which is a good half hour and drops us right at the entrance. The park is filled with incredible water rides, and to avoid dozens of people being crammed on the stairwells of the slides, they have a system where you check in with your bracelet, then wait when you get called when it is your turn.
A great system, but the park is near deserted on this Monday morning, and thus every ride has a ‘ride now’-status as we tap into them. This means we can ride as many slides as we want and can fully enjoy everything that Volcano Bay has to offer. It also has two rivers, one a lazy one in which you can float in a tube, and one wild one for which you need to grab a life vest to explore its many surprises along the way. Almost as fun are the different spots where you can tap your band to activate fountains and water guns to get other visitors wet.
We do a big round of almost all the slides that we can ride together, including a water rollercoaster that goes up and down, something we have never experienced before! Unfortunately it is a cloudy day, which means it is a bit chilly for the waterpark, but with some warm showers in between the boys manage to soldier through until the park closes at 5pm. After a short shuttle ride we are back at the bikes and roll back to the campground before darkness sets in… another fantastic day in the parks! As we get to the RV we even get surprised by some Sinterklaas gifts!! YEAAHHHH, the rest is apparently brought to the grandparents, so something to look forward to :-).
Day 6: Universal Studios
Time to tackle the first of 2 theme parks by Universal, the Universal Studios. According to the ‘crowd calendar’ we are visiting both of these parks on the 2 quietest days of the month, so we should be in for a treat. Nevertheless, some rides are so popular a one hour wait should be expected, so we try to hit those first. By far the best part of these parks are their world of wizardry, where they have created the world of Harry Potter with the necessary rides and attractions. The Studios part is home to Diagon Alley, with a ride in the deep dungeons of Gringott bank, while the other park has Hogwarts and Hogsmeade in it.
We take the ride early with a short wait, and then enjoy the magic of Diagon Alley including a pint of butter beer, and watching all the young wizards use their interactive wands. The attention to detail is really extraordinary, and you can really immerse yourself into the world as you walk through it (ow and of course buy a 63 dollar wand and 139 dollar robe… YIKES!). The rest of Universal studios is more of a mishmash with different attractions attached to different movies. We really enjoy the Revenge of the Mummy, the E.T. ride and Men in Black, but are also a bit underwhelmed with rides like the Fast & the Furious.
What really stands out are the intensity of the park itself, everything is bright, tight and colorful, and that really leaves your senses on overload at the end of the day. It is a good thing the park closes at 6pm today as we have had a long enough day as it is! The parents actually go to bed right after the boys to regain some energy and get ready for the final park of the range…
Day 7: Islands of Adventure
The last of 7 parks is the other half of the Universal theme parks; Islands of Adventure. To get there we take a slight detour through the other park, as there is a special ride to be taken to the other park – The Hogwarts Express from London to Hogsmeade station. Complete with a disappearance into track 9 3/4 the experience is incredible and we thoroughly enjoy it. The town of Hogsmeade is donned with thick layers of snow on the roofs, which immediately gets you in a Christmas mood even if it is 28 degrees and we are walking in shorts!
This side of the Harry Potter theme has multiple rides, so we start with the Journey … which is again an immersive experience in the depths of Hogwarts where we ride our broomsticks and follow Harry on a great adventure. Next is the Hippogriff rollercoaster which is quite a simple coaster ride, nothing especially great about it beyond it being set in the backyard of Hagrid. THE ride everybody aims for is the motorbike ride of Hagrid, but the lines are so long for that that we decide to wait for that later in the day.
We continue on in the park and tackle the vast majority of rides as it is really quiet in the park. The land of dr Seuss with the Cat in the Hat and a fantastic show of the Grinch, some marvel action with the Hulk, Spiderman and other characters. Then on to Jurassic park with a King Kong ride on Skull island, a very wet splash ride with dinos and a very fun playground to climb and slide in. The Velocicoaster is by far the best ride here, but of course we had not yet seen the one from Hagrid!
So we head back to Harry Potter, grab a Butterbeer for some liquid courage and get into the long line for the ride. The way to the ride is again beautifully themed and the line keeps moving, so the wait is not as bad, plus we decide to do a ‘bag swap’ which means one of the adults waits with the bag (instead of putting it in a locker) and then the kids get to ride twice with the other adult again. To be honest: This is the best rollercoaster we have taken in all the parks!! You ride the bike as if you are really steering, the ride goes backwards as well and is much longer than expected – definitely worth the wait!
We take the Hogwarts Express back to the other park, which is again a lot of fun (you sit in your own cabin and in the window plenty of things pass you by, while the blinded windows on the inside show people passing by) to get back to the Hollywood Studios park. There we decide to wrap things up with one more ride on Revenge of the Mummy and then call it a day. Verdict on the parks: Best rollercoaster is Hagrids, but overall atmosphere Disney takes the win… But let’s try that again and see how we conclude?
Next week: Theme park re-run