Review by: Ria
When you wish upon a staaaarr! Woohoo Disney! Thanks to mom for collaboration with Walt Disney World Resort, for Chris and I, who were lucky enough to each get a 1-day Theme Park Ticket with Park Hopper option and we managed to see THREE of the 4 Disney Parks which were included in our ticket. The last time we did Disney as a family, was the summer I turned 16 (16 years ago!) and Chris had never gone before so we were both super excited! We started at Epcot as that was where our free hotel shuttle went to (check with your hotel if you are staying anywhere close by – most of them offer free shuttle service and there were Disney buses everywhere!) We made it to Epcot before the 9:00 AM opening and after stopping at guest services to pick up our passes, went inside the park and headed over to “The Seas with Nemo and Friends”. We rode the “clammobiles” and walked around the beautiful indoor aquariums. This was Chris’s favorite section! As scuba divers, we love the underwater life and saw many interesting animals and critters that we don’t get to see in the waters of Roatan. We also went to “Living with the Land”, “Spaceship Earth” and saw the 3D Pixar Short films.
Disney has a GREAT transportation system in place to get you comfortably from park to park, which allowed us to see as much as we did on our 1-day pass. Depending on where you start you have the option to take the bus, monorail or ferry – all for free! Lines and wait times averaged about 20 mins between pickups.
Next stop was Animal Kingdom!
I have always been an animal lover and after realizing that “Pandora” was out for the day we headed over to “Africa”. I guess the big thing right now at Animal Kingdom is the “Pandora” section of the park, based on the movie Avatar. We had wandered over as soon as we got there only to see that wait times for the 2 main rides were between 70-120 minutes! No thank you! If you want to go – get there early or use your Fast Pass for these rides. I heard comments from other guests who HAD waited in line and they said both were GREAT! We ended up taking the “Wildlife Express Train” over to Conservation Station where we saw “Rafiki” from The Lion King, and wandered around a small petting zoo with sheep, goats and pigs. Then the “Kilimanjaro Safari” where we saw hippos, elephants, giraffes, and lions!
We ate an early supper of BBQ ribs and watermelon lemonade (sooo good!) at the “Harambe Outdoor Café” before doing the “Kali River Ride” in Asia. We got soaked! We walked over to “Dinoland USA” and the dinosaur themed carnival games area as well as the “Dinosaur” ride where you go back in time to the Cretaceous period. It was getting dark by this time and we walked back towards “Discovery Island” and admired the “Tree of Life”. Look closely here – the “tree” is carved with all the faces and bodies of the animals in the park! Underneath the tree is “It’s Tough to be a Bug”; a 3-D/animatronic show with the characters from “A Bug’s Life.” The benches you sit on squirted water and it felt like bugs were crawling under your butt!
Last but certainly not least – Magic Kingdom! We had planned to be there later in the afternoon/evening as I wanted to be there to watch the 9 PM Happily Ever After Fireworks show. From the second we set foot into the park, I was instantly transported and had this euphoric, nostalgic feeling just from being there…. the buildings and the smells and the atmosphere was what can only be accurately described as “magical” and I almost regretted not spending our entire day there. We slowly sauntered down Main Street, taking it all in, dodging the crowds that were already lining the streets for the fireworks. We stopped for frappuccino’s at Starbucks and just stood around taking it all in for a while! We had only about an hour and a half before the fireworks so we did “Haunted Mansion” and “Country Bears Jamboree”, which I remembered going to with my family when I was younger. As we were coming out of the show, the music started blaring (“How Far I’ll Go” from the movie Moana) and the fireworks started going off and I got goosebumps! We walked with our faces turned towards the sky until we got as close to the castle as we could. I do not remember the light show from when I was there previously but they now project scenes from the movies and Disney characters on the sides of the castle, changing it to the songs and this was my favorite part of the entire day!
I watched and waited for Tinkerbell to come flying down from the castle and we hustled back over to Adventureland to do the “Pirates of the Caribbean” ride. Last stop was “Big Thunder Mountain Railroad” – the scariest roller-coaster we had done all day compared to the mostly kid-friendly rides! The ride (and screaming our heads off!) was a great ending to a terrific day and we dawdled back towards the main entrance gate, just after 10 PM, not wanting to leave yet, but needing to make it back to Epcot for our 11 PM hotel shuttle pick up. Thanks Disney for a magical day!
**A few random facts and advice from our day with Disney:
Wow all the walking!! I think everyone says this but WEAR GOOD RUNNING SHOES! I had been in Orlando for a SCUBA convention and had only brought my flip-flops. It didn’t take too long before my feet were sore and blistered from all of the walking that you must do to see the parks. Good shoes are a must!
Fast Pass was great and although I am somewhat technology challenged (don’t own one of those fancy smartphones that everyone seems to have attached to their hand) I signed up for the Disney Experience app and was able to use my tablet in the park (free wifi!) to Fast Pass our way through some of the rides. This allows you to pre-book a time slot of one hour which you can use your card to enter the “fast” line for the ride. It really felt great to blow past all the lines of people waiting and go right to the front! You can pick 3 rides/times with this pass.
The employees were all so nice and they must go through some extensive interviews and seem to all genuinely love their jobs. Everyone running the rides, cleaning, greeting, etc was happy and smiling and had nice comments to say to everyone.
We didn’t see any of the Disney characters other than Daisy Duck at Epcot and Rafaki at Animal KIngdom. They do things a bit different from when I was a kid. Instead of just chancing upon a character while walking through the park, they now have “Character Spots”; meeting places set up (mostly indoors) where you can use your pass to get in line to have photos taken with the Disney characters at certain times. I guess this way is more controlled than 100 kids running up to Mickey and mobbing him in the streets!
Bring a backpack/purse with some snacks and water as food is quite expensive in the parks. I had packed granola bars but we did have a few small snacks while we were at each place, mostly cafeteria style places and we bought a few of those 5 dollar Mickey Mouse ice cream bars! I missed out on the Dole Whip (mmmm.. pineapple soft serve goodness….) but found some copy-cat recipes online I will try now that I am home!
As a smoker, I was slightly upset at the lack of designated smoking areas available. Only 2 or so in EACH PARK so it is a lot of walking to have a cigarette break. They are also quite hidden and out of the way, marked only on the paper maps with a small smoking symbol. Chris was very patient with me during all of them (as were most of the kids waiting for their parents!) Plan on smoking less than you usually might while visiting!
All in all we loved Disney and can't wait to come back again!