Orlando Day 7 – Epcot / Sea World

December 23, 2010 at 11:25 pm | Posted in Travel, Travelogues | Leave a comment

Since the World Showcase at Epcot doesn’t open until 11 AM it was a no-brainer to make this last day a later morning arrival.  We arrived at about 10:30 and initially I was going to head to get a FP for Test Track thinking Soarin FP was going to have a return time that was already too late for us.  But when I got to TT, the return time was only a couple hours out so I raced over to Soarin and got a FP with 4 PM return time which was about the time we planned to exit the park.

We bought the kids Passports in the gift shop right before Canada so they could visit each of the countries to get their passport stamped and the person wrote a message in it.  This kids though this was very cool. We were also going to do the Kim Possible thing but they wanted us to go to the opposite end of the park to start it so we just stuck with the Passports.

We worked our way around and had an early lunch in America because the receipt from the gift shop we visited earlier gave us a 30% discount.  Big mistake.  The food was crappy.  We spent the rest of the day wishing we would have eaten at any of the other countries.  Italy look particularly inviting with a nice pizza and red wine to go with it.  Obviously there was a reason Disney was trying to drive customers to certain restaurants with the 30% off offer.

We visited all the countries but only watched the waiter show in France outside the restaurant and the American Adventure in America.  Both are recommended.  We had also planned to see the Dragon Legend Acrobats rounding out the three top shows in World Showcase but didn’t get to China in time to see the last show.  Oh, we did go on the boat ride in Mexico even though I read it was cheezy but the group was curious.  It actually wasn’t that bad but I wouldn’t recommend it.  We did it only because there was just a 10 min wait.  Malestrom is much much better.

We stopped at Soarin on the way out of the park at 4:30 to ride one of our top rides for a great end to a nice leisurely day 2 at Epcot World Showcase.  This park really does need two full days to do as there were lots of (as I call them ‘second tier’) activities/attractions in Future World that would have been worth going to had we decided to eat dinner at Epcot.  Instead we grabbed Sushi outside the park.

At dinner on our last I commented how nice it was that everything went super smooth.  No injuries, sickness or other mishaps.  The kids and I were the only ones with enough energy to brave the cold low 50’s evening to return to Sea World again just to ride the Kraken and Manta roller coasters.  Unfortunately they had already closed the Kracken so we road the Manta 4 times with no wait, 2 time in the front row.  However it ends up we did push our luck.  On the very last ride of the very last night of the trip, the girl before us puked and it delayed us getting our 4th and final ride for a good 20 minutes.  After the ride, despite the fact I conciously zipped everything in my jacket pockets, one pocket the zipper came open on the ride – probably also the last ride.  Luckily my wallet didn’t fall out but the car keys did.  And luckily my Dad and managed to separate the two sets of keys a couple days earlier so we took a taxi back and I got the keys and retrieved the car.

I might also note we stayed at the Marriott Cypress Harbor for the trip.  It is a nice Marriott Vacation Club Timeshare but a little dated compared to their newer properties but the location was excellent and the property had a lot to offer.

All in all an excellent and very memorable trip.

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Orlando Day 6 – Discovery Cove & Sea World – Swim With Dolphins, Not

December 22, 2010 at 10:42 pm | Posted in Travel, Travelogues | Leave a comment

My Mom discovered Discovery Cove.  Simply put, it is a Aquatic/Beach Oasis across the street from Sea World.  I believe is is aslo owned by Annheuser Busch.  The unique thing about this park is that they don’t admit more than 1,000 people per day.  As a result, the place never seems crowded but you typically have to book your tickets a couple months (maybe more for very busy season days) in advance.

They have two admissions. The basic and one that includes a 30 min. Dolphin Encounter.  I’ve seen these Dolphin Encounters before at the Hilton on the Big Island of Hawaii, and in the Bahamas.  Calling it a “Swim with Dolphins” is a bit misleading as you don’t really spend time swimming with them but typically just stand or float in the water, get to pet them, see them do some tricks, and then take a few second ride holding their fin.  We went with the basic admission as we believe these Dolphin encounters are at their root exploitive no matter how the company tries to candy coat it as being educational (you learn about the same you could learn with about 5 minutes of reading on the Internet.)

The bottom line is that a lot of people (especially in the U.S. and Western World that can afford it) for some reason have a facination with being able to touch a Dolphin.  Maybe it stems from the show Flipper and/or that these creatures are billed as being so highly intelligent.  Or maybe because Dolphins are a common theme for toys, decor, clothes for little girls.  I’m really not sure.  But what I am sure of is that probably 90+ percent of the people opting for the Dolphin encounter had done no research as to what is really going on with these Dolphins. Why would you want to risk ruining your experience due to guilt?  We live in a society of wants and gratification.  These Dolphin Encounters are a poster child for amusements that have been created to fill the demand for more and more entertainment.

I WOULD participate in a Dolphin Watch on a boat to observe them in their natural habitat. These Dolphin Encounters though If you don’t believe me, I suggest actually learning about Dolphins and these encounters here:

http://www.wspa-usa.org/wspaswork/marinemammals/dolphinscaptivitymain.aspx

We got a great deal on admission using a special American Express discount promotion that got the price just under $100 if I recall.  Since that day the high was only going to be barely over 70, we didn’t arrive until late morning.  The provide full shorty wet suits for the cold wimps and thin vests for the more warm blooded.

The place really is an oasis in Orlando.  The landscaping is incredible and most of the place is covered with white sand like the beaches in Hawaii.  We opted to rent a private cabana.  They have a Manta Ray lagoon where you can wade with the Mantas and pet them.  A larger lagoon with giant Mantas and tons of tropical fish.  And another swimming lagoon and then the Dolphin area.  However my sons liked the Lazy River the best, partially because it was so warm.  Since there is no sea life in it, it is heated to what I would estimate the high 80’s!  Practically feels like a spa!

The place was very peaceful and very uncrowded.  We estimated it was probably full to about 50-60% capacity that day.  Even 100% would have seemed uncrowded due to the 1,000 guest per day limit.

The Aviary was really cool.  When went in it several times and birds will come sit on your arm or shoulder so you can feed them.

Another great thing about Discovery Cove is that it is all you can eat snacks, lunch, and drinks including beer (courtesy of Budweiser of course.)  The lunch food was pretty good with lots of variety and you can eat lunch from 11-3 so you can go back for more whenever you want.

We really like Discovery Cove.  It was a nice, well needed break from the Amusement Parks.  Interestingly in the few minutes I walked over to watch the people at the Dolphin Experience I watched one of the workers get knocked down and injured by an aggressive Dolphin because she was carrying food around the edge of the lagoon.  Think these Dolphins are hungry?  Obviously since withholding food is the primary method to be used as a reward to condition them to do the tricks/behaviors for the encounter.

Another great thing about Discover Cove is that it includes a 14-day admission to neighboring Sea World.  We went there that night just to ride the two roller coasters.  We were not interested in any of their corny shows, again, with captive sea animals.  It did seem like a nice clean park though and I imagine there are so attractions other than the roller coasters worth seeing.  But time was limited.

The park was open until 10 and we got there about 8:30 and it was chilly (about 55) and we were one of the only ones going in, everyone was going out.  We got to ride the Manta and the Kracken as many times as we wanted with no wait.  We rode each three times and then left the park.  They are definitely (along with Dragon Challenge at Universal) the best, most intense roller coasters I’ve ridden in my life so far.  The kids loved them.

Orlando Day 5 – Magic Kingdom (with Disneyland Comparison)

December 21, 2010 at 10:05 pm | Posted in Travel, Travelogues | Leave a comment

Due to the late night at Hollywood Studios, we opted for a late morning arrival to Magic Kingdom.  It was Extra Magic Hours there the night before so that should make the park relatively less crowded.  I also learned a trick.  I was not aware you could walk to Magic Kingdom from the Contemporary Resort.  It’s about a 12 min walk or you can take the monorail.  Otherwise you have to park in the main parking lot and take the tram (from way back in the parking lot if arriving later), then the monorail or ferry to Magic Kingdom from clear across the bay.  The trick is to make a breakfast, lunch or dinner reservation at one of the Contemporary Resort restaurants so you can tell the guard you are eating there.  The reservation can be easily made and canceled online.  However it turned out to not be necessary at least on that day as the guard never checked the reservation.

If you take the monorail from the Contemporary Resort only take it back from the park, not to the park.  If you take it there, it goes the opposite direction of the park and makes several stops.

I wasn’t that excited this time to go to Magic Kingdom as our previous trip here or trips to Disneyland.  Primarily because there are a few disappointing aspects of Magic Kingdom compared to Disneyland that we discovered our last (first) time visiting.  I’m glad we live on the West Coast close to Disneyland.  At Magic Kingdom there is no New Orleans Square which is my favorite part of Disneyland.  In addition the Pirates of the Caribbean ride pales in comparison to Disneyland.  First there is no swamp with the Blue Bayou restaurant (nor Club 33.)  There is only one small waterfall as opposed to two slightly larger ones.  And the ride at Magic Kingdom is overall shorter with less scenes.  The Haunted Mansion does not look like the Haunted Mansion and they don’t do the Nightmare Before Christmas Overlay like they do at Disneyland which is really cool.  The Space Mountain has not been renovated like the Disneyland one and the walk through and boarding areas is not as good and the ride is not as smooth.  The railroad only has two stops at MK (Frontierland and Toon Town) as opposed to three stops at Disneyland at there is no Grand Canyon diorama.  The Small World ride building is nothing compared to the one at Disneyland.  They don’t have the Pinocchio ride nor Mr. Toad nor the Matterhorn (but the Everest ride at Animal Kingdom is a good substitute.) Also from what I’ve read Toon Town is a lot better at Disneyland (we didn’t spend time there at Magic Kingdom but just walking through I could see the MK Toon Town was a ‘dummied down’ version of the one at Disneyland (no Roger Rabbit ride and some other buildings and surprises) which is strange considering MK is the bigger park (Disneyland has more attractions than MK.)

To Magic Kingdom’s credit, the Swiss Family Treehouse hasn’t been re-themed to Tarzan like they did at Disneyland.  They have Mickey’s Philharmagic at MK and the castle is bigger.  The MK park is overall a larger (107 acres compared to 85) but the difference is mainly felt in the hub area in front of the castle (the castle is over twice as big as the one at Disneyland) but elsewhere in the park it doesn’t feel larger.  And the park’s surroundings is a lot nicer than the cramped Anaheim area with all the cheezy motels.

Our main mission was to get a few fast passes to use on the popular rides in the evening and ride a few of the less popular rides.  It worked out very well.  We got there between 10:30 and 11 if I remember right (I’m writing this 6 days later.)  Because I knew the MK Space Mountain wasn’t all that, instead of getting a FP there, we hopped the train to Frontierland and I got one from the other ride I know usually has long lines – Splash Mountain.  Because it was colder than normal that day (about 60 that morning) the stand-by line was only 30-min and the FP Return was only a couple hours away.  We then walked over to Pirates of the Caribbean but because it was later in the morning, everyone who stampeded to Tomorrowland and Fantasyland that morning was starting to migrate to Adventureland and the line for Pirates was 40  minutes.  Skip for now. We headed over to the next one on the list, The Hall of Presidents.  This is one of those sleeper attractions that a lot of people aren’t aware of or at least interested in.  It was an enjoyable show and the kids like learning about U.S. History.  There was only about a 10 minute wait for the next show.

We had not originally planned to each lunch at MK.  In my opinion the dining selections at MK are some of the weaker ones compared to the other parks.  But since we arrived late, we had no choice.  After reading some reviews at themeparkinsider.com I decided we would try the Columbia Harbor House.  We got there at about 11:45 and I went and grabbed a Fast Pass for Big Thunder Mountain.  There was almost no line.  This place is sort of tucked away by the Haunted Mansion and I think a lot of people don’t know it was there.  The Fish & Chips were so so, pretty greasy (English Batter Style.) We were able to find seating outside.  If I had to do it over again I might have just got a Hot Dog or a Turkey Leg right near where we were sitting outside by the Hall of Presidents.

After lunch we walked over and and used our Splash Mountain Fast Passes and managed to not get very wet.  Splash Mountain is one of my top 5 rides that Disney has made (the others are Pirates, Haunted Mansion, Tower of Terror, and Soarin)  I like the theming though of the Log Ride at Knotts Berry farm a little better. After Splash we hopped the train to Toon Town to get to Fantasyland.  It was negligible if it saved us any time from just walking to Fantasyland.  In Fantasyland, as expected, everything had a long wait with the exception of the attraction we were there for, Mickey’s Philharmagic — an enjoyable short 4D experience.

Next we walked over to Tomorrowland and I got Fast Passes for Space Mountain for that evening.  At about 2 in the afternoon the return time was already past 9 PM.  Note that I opted to get Fast Passes for this instead of Buzz Lightyear because Buzz Lightyear is more of a young kids ride and should be wide open late in the evening when all the little kids have gone back to go to bed.  We road the Transit Authority ride next which had no lines (supposedly never does) which was a fun little tour around Tomorrowland.  Definitely recommended as a good ride to give your feet some rest.

We managed to hit all the objectives (except Pirates) and be out of there by 3 to head back and sit in the Spa and let the kids swim at the Marriott Cypress Harbor.  The kids were really excited to go back and had the map out planning all the rides we were going to see that evening.

We returned at about 9 in the evening (used the same Contemporary Resort trick) and did Pirates, Big Thunder Mountain (Fast Pass), Haunted Mansion (10 min line – all of these rides are better at night in my opinion), Splash Mountain (because there was no line – saw fireworks during the ride), Snow White (Peter Pan line was still 30 min), Small World (waste of time), Space Mountain (no line), and finally Buzz Lightyear at about (had no line at about 11 PM).  Buzz Lightyear (during the day) gets my vote as the most ridiculous line for what you get out of all attractions.  The line can be as crazy as Toy Story Mania but this ride pales in comparison to Toy Story Mania.  In my opinion the hour to two hour waits at this ride is the poster child example of how parents (who didn’t plan ahead) completely lose their minds and wait in the ridiculous line anyway to avoid feeling guilty their kids didn’t get to ride it.  We skipped the parades and fireworks (although you can see the fireworks no matter where you are) as we been there, done that.

We were hungry and decided to get a snack (which turned out to be $30 – ouch) in Tomorrowland at Starlight Cafe which was one of the few places still open. I ordered the chili-cheese fries because they were cheap but they put it in as the chili-cheese dog.  Pretty gross.

This late arrival, late evening itinerary worked out very well for a stress-free, virtual no-wait visit to Magic Kingdom essentially because the park was open until midnight that day and it was a Tuesday, still several days before the peak Christmas/New Years crowds.  The cold weather probably helped cut the crowds down too (was about 50 late that night.)  Nevertheless, we were exhausted by the end of the night.  Theme Park vacations can be hard work – unlike sitting on the beach in Hawaii.

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