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Orlando, the Magic Kingdom and Universal Studios

May 4, 2017

So, as promised a quick overview of the holiday. Above is me – still peely wally (ie very pale for my non Scottish readers) – at Disney’s Magic Kingdom with Cinderella’s Castle in the background. Yes I am wearing Minnie Mouse ears and a Micky Mouse t-shirt…it’s a prerequisite of going to Disney! There were tonnes of families in matching t-shirts and ears and hats and my family were no different…except my dad who refused point-blank to wear anything like that. So we just called him a ‘bah humbug’!! Hee hee.

Anyway, first impressions of the Magic Kingdom…We took a free shuttle bus from our hotel to the park early in the morning. We arrived at Epcot and took the monorail to a steamboat port and got the boat across the water to the Magic Kingdom. It was a nice way to arrive, but a bit drawn out. Anyway, I was shocked by the amount of security on the doors of the Magic Kingdom…shocked, but not surprised.  Disney, like most other big parks, is a potential target for terrorists, which is horrible. Anyway, we got through the security (it was like being in an airport it was that much) after standing in the first of many queues that day. We walked through the gates and into a lovely faux town with lots of shops selling hugely overpriced food, drink and gifts. Everywhere was the sickly sweet scent of sweets or cakes or something. There was no magic…not for me anyway.

We walked up towards the castle and into the area where the first ride we wanted to go on – Space Mountain was – unfortunately the queues were horrendous. We had bought a day ticket, but you can’t pre-buy day tickets for Disney, websites only allowed you to buy two days or more, so you can’t pre-book fast passes for a day either. We tried to book it on the machines in the park and we got help from a very nice Disney employee who was a whizz on them, but we couldn’t get a fast pass for Space Mountain for that day (the queue was over two hours long). We did, however, manage to get fast passes for the Haunted Mansion, Toy Story and Pirates of the Caribbean and a couple of other rides, so we took those. We also went on the train that goes around the park a couple of times.

I’d like to say I had a fantastic time at Disney, but after a whole day (and around nine miles of walking according to my Fitbit) traipsing around the park I came away with a kind of ‘meh’ kind of feeling. I was quite disappointed in it. I felt the rides we did get on were quite old-fashioned, there was nothing fantastic about them. Also, you had to wait ages to get your picture taken with a character. I didn’t come away feeling like I’d had an amazing day. I just felt I’d paid an awful lot of money for a non-descript kind of day.

Above the view from the train in the Magic Kingdom. Verdict on Disney’s Magic Kingdom – meh.

Now Universal Studios is so much better.

We did Universal Studios the following day and it was fantastic. As a huge Harry Potter fan I, of course, was desperate to do the Harry Potter bits of the parks. We bought tickets for the two Universal Studios parks (as well as the fast passes, although we still had to queue, but not as long as folk who didnt have the passes) just so we could really enjoy both Harry Potter sites and the train between the two, but we got so much more as well. The first bit we headed for was Hogsmeade (pictured above and below).

It was amazing. The place felt so real and the attention to detail was amazing. We went to Ollivanders to buy wands and I picked up a couple of book marks too. This area also houses Hogwarts itself which we also visited. Then we went to the station to get the Hogwart’s Express to Diagon Alley.

The train journey itself is amazing. It has old-fashioned carriages with individual wee rooms. On one side, you can see out the windows and watch the ‘journey’ to ‘London’, but on the other, you are looking at the frosted glass of the doors between the room and the walkway and you can see the shadows of Harry, Ron and Hermione and hear their conversation. The journey doesn’t last long and takes you to ‘King’s Cross Station’.’s

Diagon Alley was nearby, as was the Night Bus (see below).

Diagon Alley was packed and we didn’t do the ride at Gringott’s (although apparently it’s good, but I don’t like rollercoasters so I didn’t want to do it).

Once we’d had our fill of Harry Potter, we decided to explore the rest of this park. It was fantastic. There are lots of places to see and things to do and it’s here we did the Transformers ride (which is AMAZING – you really feel like you’re in the middle of a battle between the Decepticons and Optimus Prime and his ‘men’, it’s terrifying in places, but such a thrill – you are in a city trying to escape the Decepticons and you get shot at and you tumble off the top of a sky scraper and it’s all so real you squeal all the way through it, but are secretly loving every minute of it), the Despicable Me ride and the Shrek ride. The Despicable Me one was amazing too, although not on a par with Transformers, and the Shrek one was good, but tamer.

We also saw a parade. We missed out on the Disney parade in the afternoon because we were doing the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, so it was nice to catch this one. Here’s Gru et al dancing and singing in the streets…

And a view of this park across the water…

After we’d tired of this park we took the Hogwart’s Express back to the other park and did the Jurassic Park ride and a few others.

Some more views of Hogwarts and Hogsmeade from a bridge that led us to the Jurassic Park ride.

The Jurassic Park ride was really good. It’s a river ride. You get on your ‘boat’ and go into the enclosures, dodging animatronics dinosaurs along the way. It ends with a long tip and splash into the water and is really fun. We followed this by popping into the King Kong ride. None of us were that bothered about doing it – in fact my mum was going to sit out because she couldn’t be bothered waiting in yet another queue – but we were all so glad we did. It’s really REALLY good. Again you are in a ‘car’ driving about Kong’s island dodging dinosaurs and large spiders and other beasts. This is done mostly with SGI and it’s so lifelike. It was exciting and scary and thrilling and, well, if we had the time or energy we would have done the ride again and again and again. It’s great…almost as good as the Transformers ride.

If I remember rightly, King Kong was the last ride we did that day as we had to catch the bus back, but we also squeezed in a few others along the way. We would around 10 miles that day according to Fitbit and we could hardly put one foot in front of the other by the time we were finished, but we all had a really good day.

Verdict on Universal Studios: loved it, would definitely go back. It’s fantastic. Recommend it.

Oh nearly forgot, my thoughts on Orlando. It’s immaculate and very modern, but I felt it was soulless. There is no culture to the place. It’s pretty enough, but I prefer old cities and towns with hundreds of years of history and buildings to match. We stayed at the Days Inn Hotel, which when we first arrived we weren’t that impressed with, but it was immaculate, the rooms were comfortable, the staff were lovely and it had a really nice pool area that the kids loved.

Our last full day in Orlando was taken up by the Universal Studios trip. The following morning we got up early (aching from all the walking we had done over the previous two days, but it was worth it), took a taxi to Port Canaveral and caught our cruise ship, the Norwegian Epic. More about that in the next blog post…I just loved the ship and the places we visited.

Til next time,

Dawn xxx

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