Starting Summer Vacation with a Bang .


Day 5 - Epcot - AM

Our last full Disney day. Up bright and early once more, DD bravely arising again despite long, long day before. This was because of promise of seeing Chip & Dale for breakfast. Hooray touring plan compliance motivators! Epcot bus from Pop half full, we arrived and delighted in being waved through the ADR breakfast line - only to find Garden Grill staff not only not allowing people with 8:10 reservations in at 8:00, but keeping them waiting till 8:20. With settling in a table, drink orders, etc. it wasn't till 8:30 that food appeared, by which point time crunch anxiety massively interfered not only with enjoyment of the meal overall but even eating at all, since I am a slow eater and had to take pix of DD with all the characters. We inquired with our server about Mickey as he had still not appeared (to us; we saw him at a distance) by the time we were paying our bill to get ready to stay ahead of the mad crush and DD was near tears. Server did send Mickey to us in time, thank goodness, so that was fun, but overall, I was disappointed. All of us found the food at best mediocre. Despite the early hour, the fruit was already overly soft and becoming slimy on the edges, the bacon was undercooked, and the eggs were cooling. I guess we could have asked for more of all those in hopes it would be a better batch, but we didn't want to sacrifice the time. I am not sure I would go back.

And with all of that, our plan still almost failed. DD and I made a quick bathroom break, and when we came out, DH was already pointing at the throng racing by him at exit of Garden Grill to get on escalator down to Soarin. We joined them and ended up waiting less than five minutes in the queue. This ride ended up being DH's absolute favorite of whole trip. So we got right back in line and went again. Was kind of interesting because the first time, we were centrally located, but the second time we were in a place where many of the objects pictured looked bent. Either way, we all wished the ride was longer and showed even more cool sights.

Off of Soarin, we headed out towards Character Spot but were immediately blocked by lines set up to accommodate a performing dance group. This involved many, many dozens of girls in glittery costumes, makeup, and brilliant smiles, as well as two very brave boys, and most awesomely, a girl in a wheelchair. Her smile was most brilliant of all as she expertly did all the arm movements.

We got in line for Baymax - hooray! and Joy & Sadness. Their interaction was great, Sadness leaning her head against the wall in despair when DD first went to hug Joy (she was closer) and then allowing herself to be consoled and coaxed back into the photo again. They were great, but I did not like their backdrop (which shows Riley as she goes about her day, the way that the feelings all see her through the brain) , it totally interfered with all the shots by making the whole thing too busy and steering attention away from the subjects. Baymax' background was much better, enhancing the subjects in the foreground.

Character Spot completed (by this point we really didn't need another Micky pic) we crossed the park to Test Track for FP#1. DS loves cars so this was his Disney highlight. Was a lot of fun for us all. I was amazed at how fast the final outdoor bit goes. Spent some time looking at the vehicle displays. Then, on to FP#2 - Spaceship Earth. A thoughtful and interesting approach to explaining all of human history.

On to the Seas, and living with the land. Then Turtle Talk with Crush. Was great. The cast they have doing the interactive bits, here and at Monsters Laugh Floor, are amazingly quick on their feet (their brains?) and skillful at engaging in a funny, non-condescending way. We were also really happy to see some manatees, for first time ever. Yay real life mermaids.

By this time it was very hot and surprisingly late in the morning. Kind of hard to believe how quickly time speeds by with what seems like few rides completed. All that criss-crossing and waiting in line really takes its toll. We ended up having to hurry all the way to the other side of world showcase to make our ADR - not fun in the glare of midday early July sun. On the other hand, entering Via Napoli and being ushered to our booth in the cool, bright, and relatively non-noisy back room was all the more of a pleasure. DH had a great time taking his rusty Italian language skills out for practice with the one-and-all charming staff. i thought we would order the family salad and one of their largest pizzas, but looking at some examples of those monstrosities on other people's tables made us realize we needed the next size down. Between that, the salad, the bread with olive oil provided, and DD's linguini with meatball, we all felt stuffed. Was delicious and relaxing and I would very gladly return.

Ride Impressions:
ASD: DS was fine with Soarin, Seas, Land, and of course Turtle Talk. He did fine with Test Track also, but may have struggled in earlier years due to final stretch of noisy acceleration. In Spaceship Earth, there is a point where one's vehicle (pod? hoverpad? chairmobile?) spins around once and then tilts in a way that one descends at a sharp backward angle. If one is in a calm frame of mind it is actually nice because you look up at "stars", but it proved anxiety producing for DS. He didn't have an outburst or anything but needed a bit of non-talking, non-motion recuperation time after we got out of the golf ball.

Motion Sickness/Claustrophobia: I had been a little worried about Soarin but it was fine. No problems on the other rides. We ended up not having time for the Mars ride and frankly I was not sad about it.
Last edited:


Day 5 - Epcot - PM

In what was becoming tradition, after lunch the fam decided to go back to our room and chill, while I stayed behind.

Not much was happening in Italy when we emerged from lunch, but something was going on at the open air theatre opposite American Adventure. "Something" turned out to be Guardians of the Galaxy Awesome Remix. Apparently the story is that the Guardians have to teach some sort of aliens to rock out or the universe will end or something. The story didn't make sense but the show was very lively and fun and Starlord really looked and moved and sounded like Peter Quill.

Next, Japan. Very pretty and the drummers were out, and impressive, and the cute culture exhibit worth a look. I had built up a lot of anticipation for the department store, and if our town didn't have (conservatively) 3 Chinatown areas, I would have been more intrigued. As it was, while window shopping was fun, there wasn't anything of interest that I couldn't find for a better price at home. The one thing I had been interested to do was Pick-a-Pearl, but when I suggested to DD, she asked if it hurt the oysters. We googled it and DD so horrified with the decidedly un-animal-friendly results (and me so embarrassed that it had never occurred to me to ask) that it was a no-go.

On to Morrocco which I personally found to be the prettiest/most atmospheric of the showcases. Sadly, no Aladdin or Jasmine to be found (even on two return check-ins) but fantastic magic shot with Iago, and great selfies with fab fez-wearing wooden camel statue.

On to France where Serveur Amusant were performing (liked it), no Belle to be found, nice shop browsing, and enjoyed a Framboise (raspberry parfait thing) which was very refreshing in the heat. Then into the France theatre - and Holy Decrepit Movie, Batman. The clothes and hairstyles of the people in it look to be from multiple decades ago. It seems like this is the same movie that was shown on Epcot's very first day of operation. Surely there have been enough changes in France - and cinematic technology - to make creation of a new movie worthwhile??

Moving on to UK. What a nice little showcase. The Beatles (or whatever they are called) were performing, and the shops are lovely to wander through. Purchased my first souvenir of the trip - a kind of Twinings loose-leaf tea I can't get at home, in a pretty tin for my teatin collection. They also had cool t-shirts (back view of Mickey making a call in an iconic red payphone booth, I am Sherlocked, etc.) but eldest son at home declined them all as his bring-home gift.

Moving on to Canada. This being July 1st, and Canada Day (equivalent to American July 4th), I had a celebratory mini-Maple Leaf flag in my hair and was excited to see festivities would be going on here. Special food? special fireworks? Some kind of extravagant lumberjack dance and maple syrup candies for all? No such luck. It was some kind of coloring page for kids, and a wooden plaque with Mickey-in-a-pompom-beanie to hold for the photopass photog taking one's picture in front of Chateau Laurier. The grand waterfall had even been shut off. Very anti-climactic. Of the movie, I can say that it was miles better than the one in France, but despite beloved Martin Short, for me is was good but not great. Worth seeing, but not re-seeing over and over.

Now back at the entrance to FutureWorld, it felt much too hot to stay outdoors. The cool of the pyramid and drifting music of the mariachi beckoned. But I didn't settle in to listen to their full set because - there was Donald! In his poncho and sombrero! Completely adorable. Inside the pyramid the Coco exhibit was still on, and the wooden animal carvers impressed. I wandered the marketplace longer than necessary because of showers outside.

Once they were done I went next door to Norway, to find the line for Anna and Elsa posted at 10 minutes - amazing. They were lovely and sparkly and animated. With great excitement, I got in line for FP #3 - Frozen Ever After. It was mildly pleasant, but I kind of expected more from such a top tier priority. I consoled myself with some school bread (delish) and the Scandinavian gods exhibit.

I had just entered the store in China when fam texted that they had returned. We met in Mexico and went on the ride. Good lord. It seems even older than the movie in France. I could smell the dust on the props as we boated through (not even kidding). Mexico is an amazing, ancient, richly diverse country in every way - SURELY there can be something better here to represent???

DD wanted to go meet the Frozen sisters so we turned back to Norway while DH & DS wandered on. The princess and queen even more delightful with DD than before. By now it was starting to get perilously close to end of day and she decided she would rather look at countries than wait for a long time in Frozen ever after standby (since she had missed her FP and there were none left to rebook). We wandered into Germany and had a hard time choosing treats at Karamelkuche. Finally shared a peanut/toffee apple (heavenly) and a caramel butter square (would not get again). Fun magic shot with Pascal, and some minutes admiring the model train. Quick wander through Japan and Morocco, but by now the sun was setting and the torches around the lake were lit. Was beautiful. Fam had earlier rejected my suggestions of where to pick up something for dinner (tacos? norwegian grilled sandwiches? german sausage?) and now places were closing up and everyone was hungry. As we settled in to a spot by the grand red gate by Japan, DH desperately scrounged a pretzel from somewhere and a small collection of sushi.

The show, once again, was very nice, and the illuminated buildings on the walk around the lake on the way out were beautiful. And once again, less beautiful, the long wait for buses to get back to Pop.
Last edited:


In Spaceship Earth, there is a point where one's vehicle (pod? hoverpad? chairmobile?) spins around once and then tilts in a way that one descends at a sharp backward angle. If one is in a calm frame of mind it is actually nice because you look up at "stars", but it proved anxiety producing for DS.
My non-ASD 12yo daughter also has a hard time with this part of the ride. We have to convince her to go on it every visit.


Day 6 - Transition Day

Took our time packing and finishing the groceries left in the fridge, casually ordered a Lyfft and received a very rapid education on how many ride-share vehicles hover close to Disney resorts. Received text almost immediately that driver would arrive in four minutes time. Followed soon by text that he would leave shortly if we did not show. Hustled over to main entrance to meet him, very glad that Lyfft provides photos to match with driver's appearance for safety's sake. Driver showed us place on app where we could have notified him we needed a few more minutes, so we filed that away for future reference. Car was comfortable and spacious, driver was courteous and quick, I would use Lyfft again.

Arrived at Surfside Endless Summer resort at Universal by 11:00, less than a week after the hotel opened. I had been a bit leary of booking in case of hiccups like delayed opening, but figured that if that happened Universal would give us a room in another of their properties. But all worked out, and it was beautiful. Airy, open lobby with lovely colour palette and lots of comfortable seating and charging spots. Instagram worthy surfboard decor (according to expert DD). Eager-to-please staff made us simultaneously happy by advising our room was ready, and unhappy by cautioning that pool hopping was forbidden. This was deeply annoying since i had deliberately asked if it was OK to use other Universal pools when I called to book, and was assured that this was alright. In the end it was OK though because it was far too hot to come up with the energy to travel elsewhere and back just to swim - even though it did hurt to give up on waterslides.

We went up to our room and found despite it being Universal's most "value" category larger and nicer than what was a "value" property elsewhere. The only element that we felt was superior in our Pop room was the presence of the table when the Murphy bed was up. At Surfside ceilings higher (though perhaps that was due to our being on top floor), window much larger, view more expansive (to the in-construction sister property next door), club chair much more comfortable, shower larger, way more floor space for DS's air mattress. We had lunch at the spotless quick-service spot in the lobby and found the food fresh, tasty, and not crazy expensive.

Then on to the pool - simultaneously perhaps the best feature of the property, but also my single element of disappointment. It is in the shape of a surfboard, and very large, with massive amounts of loungers and umbrellas surrounding in attractive colours, zero-entry area, large bar area directly poolside (as opposed to outside of the fenced general pool area), with dozens of beach balls, complimentary swim diapers, and an enormous jug of SPF50 sunscreen available to all. The only criticism I have is that it was too shallow. I am not a tall person, and at its deepest point the water depth came to four inches below my shoulders. Despite that, we spent a great afternoon alternately splashing in the sun and cat-napping in the shade, kids every once in a while heading back into cafeteria to top up refillable mug.

At some point somebody said they were hungry so we changed and got on the bus at the side of the hotel (there are a total of 2; one to the parks, one to Volcano Bay). After a very short wait, the bus arrived and we embarked on what should have been a very short ride, but included a period of just siting on the tarmac due to traffic at that time of day. Even so - the ride is so short compared to distances we had been travelling at Disney that it seems like it could be walkable, if only there were a safe and pleasant way to do it (you need to cross a very busy and exhaust-filled major road). It drops you off in an area that seems to be the Universal equivalent to Disney Springs - a large space filled with shops and restaurants, a rushed 5 minute or leisurely 10 minute walk from the actual park entrances. It is thronging with people and the impact on me was a kind of too-intense, in-your-face level of competition for visual and auditory attention. Makes Disney's initial parks-approach impact seem kind and gentle by comparison. But I imagine many people would find it invigorating and fun, and it certainly stokes the "Hooray, I'm on vacation!" feeling. So there's that.

At quarter to six, Cowfish was already maxed out on tables and we were given a buzzer with the expectation of a 15-30 minute wait. We wandered about, watching a bit of the Americas Cup soccer match on the Jumbotron size outdoor screen, doing a bit of gift-shopping for people at home, marvelling at the VooDoo Donuts selection and the chocolate restaurant (really!) eye-catching outdoor display. More than the full half hour went by before our buzzer called us back to Cowfish where we had the choice of indoor or upper level patio table. DS chose AC, and we were seated at a table close to kitchen and server-station. Although in reality I guess it wasn't really cramped, the fact of staff continually rushing past us in two directions (we were on a corner) made for an exceptionally non-relaxing meal. I knew it would be uncomfortable from the moment I saw where the hostess was headed, but I resigned myself to it because very clearly there were few if any other tables available and the fam would not be happy to wait longer, and because DH finds it embarrassing to question hostess table selection. So, fine then. We had a mix of sushi and burgers, and found the food to be neither remarkably good nor bad. Overall, I wouldn't advise against Cowfish, but would rather check out other places in this area than return again.

After eating we returned to Surfside, with DH and DS choosing downtime in our room while DD and I returned to the pool - which was even more enjoyable at night. Temperature perfect, lighting very well done, not a single mosquito (how do they do that?? With all the moisture in the air and standing water everywhere to form perfect mosquito breeding grounds??), we stayed quite some time. Then tested the shower in our room - good - and found the beds very comfortable. We would not hesitate to stay in this hotel again. Or perhaps, try out the sister hotel (to be finished next year) in case their pool is not quite as shallow.
Last edited:


Day 7 - Universal Studios - AM

Note to the Planners among you - many things can be delegated. Perhaps, the responsibility to set the alarm on days when early entry is critical should not.

With only one day at Universal, we stayed on site specifically to take advantage of the hour long early entry for guests at Universal hotels. Somehow, whether by genuine mistake or "accidentally on purpose", DH set his alarm 50 minutes later than he was supposed to. The late wake-up began what felt like a domino effect that impacted our day.

We dashed around madly, at the same time getting dressed, wolfing breakfast, packing, and finding a trolley to clear out the room. We dropped our luggage at bell services and then scrambled to get onto the next bus to the park. Spent precious 10 minutes at guest services trying to get disability access sorted (which really, I should have taken care of the evening before but somehow I did not remember to take the park entry tickets with me when I spoke with guest services then) but the line - which would have been empty had we arrived at time originally intended - was long. I gave up and we joined the crowd funnelling past security checking for hotel residence. By the time we got to the very back of the park where Gringotts ride is located, there was a long line already. We were directed to first place our backpack in the storage lockers. Theses are free for the little ones (can fit a couple of phones, keys, smallish purses) but had a fee for the ones large enough for a backpack. With that precious hour of early entry evaporating, we decided to do rider swap rather than take the time to search though everyone's money to see if we had the correct combination.

The queue for Gringotts is fantastic. You really feel like you are in a bank staffed by judgmental goblins who are trying to get their work done while being distracted by an irritating stream of intruders. Then you go down into the subterranean levels, really like some some kind of catacombs. DD opted to remain in the waiting room with DH as she was worried about intensity of the ride, so DS and I rode the first round. It was great, and within managable levels intensity-wise, so when we got off I encouraged DD to ride with DH. She allowed herself to be persuaded, so we rode again (as staff allowed our party to remain together). I liked how the ride shows why the dragon is perched on top of the tower when you tour Diagon Alley.

Off of Gringotts, DS wanted to rush to Transformers, his single most anticipated ride of the whole trip. So we did. With hindsight, we should have taken some minutes for the fam to tour Diagon Alley during morning light and low crowds while I went to Guest Services on that side of the park to arrange access pass. But at the time, we thought it was early enough that Transformers should have been a walk-on. Big mistake. It now not only ate 45 minutes at precious start of day just in line, without counting actual ride time, but this queue was head and shoulders the most difficult waiting space of our whole trip. The queue explains the necessary backstory to understand what will happen on the ride, so in theory it is a useful part of the whole experience and does give you something to look at/listen to while waiting. But in practice, even as a non-sensory-challenged person, I found it hard to deal with the constant barrage of input. It is loud, there are spinning red lights, and the atmosphere intentionally conveys panic as the concept is that the planet is under attack and the riders are the last line of defence going into battle with the transformers. It would be OK if one were just taking a few minutes to walk through. But 45 minutes felt like a constant assault and left me feeling tense and with a headache even before I got on the ride, which was creative and thrilling but also more of the same as in the queue, but intensified. So for me, this was one and done, but DS loved the ride, so I guess it was worthwhile.

He did, though, need a bit of time to "re-set", outside of any ride, and not in the sun (which by this time, mid-morning, was already verging on maximum scorch). He and DH browsed the Transformer shop and went to get in line to meet Optimus Prime while DD and I headed to guest services. On the way we stopped for pic with the penguins of Madagascar (awesome interaction) and in Springfield at Lardlad for one of the dinner-plate sized pink glazed donuts with Sprinkles DD desperately wanted to memorialize on her social media. They come boxed, and in her eagerness to open it up for that series of pix, she somehow managed to drop it. As she bent down to pick it up to throw away, a duck who had apparently been patrolling under the nearby outdoor umbrella seating dashed over and snatched it out of her grasp, and ran away with the prize. Who knew ducks like donuts? Who knows how many generations of Orlando ducks are now raised on pink glaze and sprinkles?? The Lardlad staff were very nice and gave her another one. She barely ate one-fifth. For the curious: it tastes like an average donut, and was not fresh-made. I think they are made off-site and frozen. Ours was still not quite fully thawed when we got it.

We rejoined our men and rode Shrek (all liked it), then stepped into the Today Newscafe for a snack and air conditioning. It was very recently renovated, and we really liked it. Fresh, tasty, quickly-served sandwiches, heavenly AC, friendly and efficient staff. Highly recommend.

We got in line to meet Shrek and Fiona but got out again before speaking with them because the sun was unbearable. Got a time for Minions, which was an hour out. We walked over to Race in New York, which has its own sort-of-fastpass system. You draw a ticket for the time to return to the queue. We walked around, looking at stores and entertainers, and then went into Jimmy Fallon line. The pre-ride area is the most comfortable of all that we experienced, with inside seating, some consoles with a video game, and a live a cappella group. Really nice. The ride was fine, but I was definitely starting to feel the cumulative effect of all those immersive simulation experiences and optical effects. By the time we got out and headed back to Minions, we were all feeling kind of fried. The attendant allowed us into the line 15 minutes sooner than our designated time, and the wait in that line was about 20 minutes. We enjoyed the Gru family portraits and wall art crayoned on by the girls while we waited. Then on to the Minion ride (for which I had to close my eyes multiple times). Kids liked it. Danced a bit with the minions at ride exit and got in line for pictures with them. Then out of the park and back to the hotel for a much-needed break.

It may say something that at the Disney parks, I stayed all day without difficulty, but at Universal I felt utterly spent by 1:30 - even though we woke up an hour later than we did on Disney days. In fairness, this had also felt like the hottest day so far, and perhaps, if we had done the parks in reverse order (with Epcot last) I might have felt the same way on the Epcot day. But somehow, I suspect not. I think this was a testament to the intensity of the Universal simulation rides. This is both a good thing (since you really, really feel them, and I doubt that many people get off them and say "Is that all?" which is something I did say about a number of Disney rides) and depending on your personal perspective a negative thing - since there are only so many someone like me can go through before total overload.
Last edited:


Well-known member
Sorry you didn’t enjoy Universal. I kind of love it since it’s smaller and much easier to plan than Disneyworld—although if you’re lacking express passes and miss their early opening I can see how you’d feel behind the 8 ball all day.


Sorry you didn’t enjoy Universal. I kind of love it since it’s smaller and much easier to plan than Disneyworld—although if you’re lacking express passes and miss their early opening I can see how you’d feel behind the 8 ball all day.
Hi Nola.

It's not that I don't like Universal. It's that it felt like I would need two days to complete - enjoyably - the amount of activities I can manage in 1 at Disney. Also, with hindsight, we should have tried to intersperse rides with shows.


Well-known member
Yeah I agree, if you want to do both parks there I’d say it’s a three day event if you’re hustling.


Day 7 - Universal Studios - PM

We took the bus back to Surfside Endless Summer and more or less collapsed in the cool of the lobby, waiting for our Turo host to drop off the car.

Turo, for those who may not be familiar, is an awesome service I only recently discovered as I tried to research rental cars for this part of our trip. Turo is kind of like Airbnb for cars. People make their personal vehicles available short-term, and clients who "occupy" them pay a daily fee to the car owner, plus a small connection fee to Turo and as well as for insurance. It was significantly lower cost than traditional rental companies, and we chose a vehicle that had the option of being delivered to our hotel and could be dropped off at the airport (as opposed to having to be picked up and dropped off at the owner's residence). Our host (shout-out to Brennan Duk of the 2019 Toyota Corolla, who was an excellent, flexible, collaborative host) texted us that he would be a bit late and offered in apology to assume responsibility for topping up the tank prior to our own drop-off. So I put on my bathing suit and went out to the pool.

Brennan eventually arrived, and we piled into the car for the very brief drive over to our last hotel, the Drury Inn. This is an older property which came highly recommended in terms of location, spacious rooms, and included breakfast. Staff at this property one and all turned out to be very friendly, and outgoingly helpful. We had a suite with two large rooms, two TVs, and a sort of butler's pantry area that was very handy for food prep and storage. I was only allowed to enjoy the luxurious amount of space for a short time as DD had discovered there was a Chik Fil A across the road. There are very few of these north of the border (any?) and she could not rest until she had tried it for herself. So back out in the broiling sun we marched. Got the kids some different things to sample, and they enjoyed it while I had a very refreshing power nap.

This hotel chain offers something called Kickback in the later afternoon/early evening which I had pictured as something similar to the small plates offered on weekday evenings at Homewood Suites. This was the same concept, but perhaps a cut or two lower in quality to the level offered at Homewood (or at least, the ones where we have stayed). The Italian side of our family, for example, would wish to smack someone here upside the head for daring to apply the word "pasta" to the noodle-shaped but definitely not pasta-label worthy objects on offer here a few nights.

Still, the salad was always plentiful and fresh, there were baked potatoes every evening if one didn't trust the "pasta" situation, and the kids liked the daily offer of hot dogs and nachos with cheese sauce. DH and I made use of the unexpectedly huge and amazingly excellent prepared foods area at Whole Foods across the street, on the opposite corner of Chick Fil A (which was kind of a funny juxtaposition). And the next time we return to Orlando, for sure my kids will want to stay here again for the single reason that free popcorn is available in the lobby in the afternoons and evenings.

We happened to overhear the very useful bit of information that after 6:00 pm, parking at the Universal lot is free. So we hopped back in the car and returned to the park. The kids went on the Simpson ride together as DH and I enjoyed a pretty twilight in Springfield. Then we all headed over to Diagon Alley in hopes of being amazed.

And we were. What an astonishing piece of immersive theming. I think it is even better than Hogsmeade village on the other side. We wandered the shops and squares and bought chocolate frogs and ate ice cream in flavous you can't find outside of Potterworld and got pleasantly creeped out by Knockturn Alley and marvelled whenever someone with an interactive wand succeeded in making a bit of magic work. Sadly, the dragon never once breathed fire while we were there (we were told he doesn't like wet or overly humid weather) but he was massively impressive nonetheless. One of the very best bits though was outside Diagon Alley, and seemed to be sadly overlooked by the majority of visitors. The Knight bus, with conductor and shrunken head passenger, turned out to be even more hilarious than the monster of Monsters Laugh Floor or Crush at Epcot. We had a fantastic conversation with them, and listened to two others with other visitors who took the time to stop awhile rather than taking a single photo and then dashing on to the Hogwarts Express or whereever. Highly, highly recommend chatting with this comic duo on any visit to Universal.

We didn't have park to park tickets so we couldn't ride the train, but I had hoped we could at least look at it. Nope.

Closing time was fast approaching so we slowly moved on, regretful that we hadn't stayed longer in Diagon Alley in the morning. We arrived at Fast & Furious and to our surprise DD did not seem reluctant to give it a try. So we all went on with very little wait and didn't try too hard to understand the logic of the pre-ride backstory the characters were trying to convey (the best way to deal with a bunch of gangsters is by getting on a party bus? Really?). The ride was fun in a doesn't-really-make-sense way, but I guess the same could be said of every ride we had been on that day. No one but me was interested in The Mummy as we walked by, so we let that be and headed towards the exit.

There are supposed to be fireworks at this park, but there seemed to be confusion on whether they would be held that night, and we didn't see anything as we walked.

Drove back to hotel and enjoyed anticipatory bliss of knowing we could wake up whenever we wanted the next morning.

Ride Impressions:
Motion Sickness/Claustrophobia: Gringotts was not as bad as I feared it would be, certainly easier to deal with than the ride on "broomsticks" out of the castle in the sister park (that one incapacitated me on our previous trip, I had to be literally pulled out of the vehicle by elder DS and sat in the rider swap room with my eyes closed and non-speaking for close to half and hour ). In Transformers the queue was difficult, but the ride was manageable with a few moments of closing eyes. Race through New York and Minions same. Shrek was OK. Had heard that Simpsons ride is not good for either of my conditions, so I didn't even try. Though it is in the other park, in case it is helpful I will share that I had some bad moments at Poseidon's Adventure (or whatever its called) - not during the ride, but in the queue. We waited for what seemed a long time, the ceiling was low, there were MANY people, and the heat made it stuffy. By the time the line moved to let us into the pre-ride area I was hyperventilating and feeling dizzy. Just FYI.

ASD: Having learned from previous park days, we kept DS in the middle of our family group in queues. He knew kind of what to expect from Gringotts, Transformers and Fast & Furious rides, so he did fine with them. it was the mid-day heat and crowds rather than the rides that made him less verbal and more frowny as the day wore on. But he managed to deal with everything that came his way without complaint.
Last edited:


Day 8 - Gatorland

July 4th. We had not been sure how to plan this day, with all the expectations of insanely huge crowds at the parks and traffic all over.

So we got online tix for Gatorland. We had been once before long ago, when the boys were kindergarden- and toddler-aged, and remembered it as a family-friendly, non-overwhelming destination. We arrived right at opening to max a dozen cars in the parking lot (good sign) and what felt like road-melting temperatures already (bad sign). Kids adored the roadside-oddity attraction entrance of walking in through giant open alligator jaws. Inside are various viewing areas for all types and sizes (bitty baby to horror movie huge) alligators and crocodiles, different birds, reptiles, Florida panthers, etc. There are dozens upon dozens of the white crane/heron type birds which seem to be to Florida what pigeons are to Italy and Canada geese are to us and seagulls are to the rest of the world. At first sight you happily take some shots of the pretty/graceful/colorful birds as interesting photo subject matter, but then rapidly change their status to "too common to be interesting" and shortly after that "darn photo bombing all my pix creatures who make a mess of my shoes with their non-housebroken habits".

There are some educational shows, with the headliner being when they attach raw chicken to clotheslines and reel the chicken out over the big boy ponds and the gators jump out of the water to get their snacks. Quite impressive. The kids favorite part was entering the parakeet aviary, where you can buy honey seed sticks and when you hold them out the very cute and very loud aviary inmates descend on you in clouds. Reminded them of their pets back home. There is also a board walk through the neighboring swamp, which DH and I reallly enjoyed as a slice of "real" Florida with some beautiful plant life. There is a cool looking zipline right over the gator pens which normally we would have been interested in, but way, way too hot to contemplate being strapped into gear and waiting your turn in the sun to do that day. Also, huge gift shop with some fun/unusual souvenirs. We didn't get the Gator hot sauce because all the bottles had a real gator foot with claws attached (seemed like a jarring contrast to the conservation/respect nature messaging going on everywhere else in the park), but we did get DS#1 a tee that showed a blowing palm tree with alligator half way up and perpendicular to the trunk, jaws clamped on, with the caption "Hurricane Shmurricane".

It was a great little destination to fill half a day or so at a very leisurely pace. We didn't stay for lunch because there is no inside seating, and we desperately needed to get back to AC.

So we returned to hotel and got delicious take out from the Whole Foods prepared section. Rested inside, swam in the pool, got some snacks at the Kickback, then tried our luck at one of the malls for which online hours stated open. Online was wrong. So we returned to the hotel amid on-again, off-again showers, wondering if fireworks would be cancelled due to weather. From our upper-level window, we later got our answer: no. We could see multiple fireworks displays over the course of an hour, too far in the distance to see much detail, still striking because it felt like they were at many points across the horizon from where we looked. Very nice. Happy Birthday America.
Last edited:


unsure of the release date for the dumbo anniversa
There is a cool looking zipline right over the gator pens...
I like ziplining but there is no way on this earth I'd zipline over a gator pen! Alligators absolutely terrify me!


I like ziplining but there is no way on this earth I'd zipline over a gator pen! Alligators absolutely terrify me!
Hi JillyB
Its kind of fun even to watch others brave the zipline, even if you don't want to do it yourself. DD didn't want to go on the zipline because of the thought of getting stuck midroute in case of malfuntion or something . This feeling was intensified when the staff who host one of the educational shows talked about how one of the biggest gators (or crocodile?) in the park had to be moved to a more remote location in the park from his previous high-exposure location because of his acquired habit of waiting for birds/creatures to land/climb onto branches of a tree over his pool and then ram the tree trunk to knock them into the water for a snack, to the onlookers' horror.
Last edited:


Day 9

This was the day I had hoped to visit one or two state parks a little north of Orlando, for leisurely swimming and tubing in beautiful clear waters that are nothing like the kind we have up north. I envisioned it as a super-fun, super-low-cost day, with entry fee for a carful of occupants something like $6 plus the cost of renting tubes.Only it needed an early start to get there before crowds showed up. But the fam rebelled, not accepting my thought that everyone could nap in the shade as much as they wanted once we reached the destination. Unkind words were said ref: overplanning and pushing too hard and this is not what vacation means. So I bowed to democracy and remained silent and followed everyone's lead. Predictably, when we arrived mid morning at State Park #1 we found a sign announcing the park was closed due to capacity crowds, and when we tried to approach State Park #2, we didn't even get to the point of a theoretical similar sign because we could see the long, long line of cars backed up into the highway turnoff waiting to get in. I didn't say "I told you so" or any variation thereof. But i did think to myself "Really? REALLY? We flew all the way here to do things we can just as well do at home instead of something that can only be done here?" as we trudged around one of the outlet malls the fam decided on as alternate activity.

Even excluding disappointment at not getting to do original planned activity, we all felt the outlet mall was a letdown. Partly because it is outdoors and we broiled walking between stores, even when in the shade. Partly because none of us found a single thing we wanted to purchase. For the curious: we found the Disney outlet store to be small and very limited in merchandise. I guess this can change depending on luck of the draw on any given day, but for me, it is very clear that it is not worthwhile to make a trip here specifically for that store.

The only thing we liked about the outlet was the real-life "Paul Blart" we saw patrolling the area. My kids love the Paul Blart movies, and the gentleman riding his Segway with "Security" on his vest resembled the movie character in both body type as well as smile and helpfulness. He was great. Even so, we left pretty quickly to get back to AC and pool back at the hotel.

By late afternoon, clouds rolled in again bringing on and off showers for the rest of the day. Fam didn't want to be outside, so they chose to go back to the mall of previous day (Millenia? don't quite remember the name). It was a big mall, and had some stores that were unusual for us, plus things like the Crayola and M&M experience. Was kind of fun to browse. Overall, much more enjoyable way to kill a few hours and get some steps in than the outlet mall, before heading back to hotel for some device/TV time.


Day 10

During breakfast, morning shift hotel manager walked the tables to ask how everyone was doing so we asked him what he would recommend for people who didn't want a park day and wanted to see something of "real" Orlando. He said Olde Towne area is very touristy, and we could try a stroll around Lake Eola (?) downtown. So we drove in that direction and found them setting up for a festival or something, resulting in few and pricey parking spots close to the lake.

We changed plans and parked our car at Disney Springs to catch the bus to Swan resort and walk on through to the minigolf course. Still had two tickets. We did the Fantasia course, which was fun but most importantly had a lot of mature trees for shade. Walked back to Dolphin and looked around there a bit, decided to have lunch at Fresh Mediterranean Market. We sat in a near-empty restaurant at a window table with pretty view of the grounds, highly attentive staff, wonderful AC, and enjoyed different variations of their lunchtime salads for $15 or so, which included the dessert buffet. It was as far removed from our experience of the dessert buffet at Trails End as it could possibly be. Apart from fruit there were many pastry choices, every single one fresh and delicious and looking like a small work of art that could have been at home at Amorettes at Springs. This was by far the nicest, most relaxing lunch we had on the whole trip, at a (relatively speaking) reasonable price. Recommend.

Bus back to Disney Springs, strolled there a bit.

We had received an email from Pop that they had found an item we left behind in our room during our mad dash to leave because the Lyfft driver had arrived at the entrance. We drove there and discovered that there is a lengthy process involved in locating a lost item in storage and bringing it to the front desk. So fam members each chose how to chill in the public areas; I took a dip in the Hippy pool. After, took the kids for a snack at the food court and discovered during one of those flips that the overhead menu sometimes does to show you extra choices that they sell "pineapple soft serve".


This after we had travelled all the way to Polynesian resort to get dole whip while we were staying at Pop. We could have had it all along with a brief stroll from our room. ARGH.

Back to hotel. Another rainy evening that didn't create much desire to go out. Did laundry and most of packing.
Last edited:


Day 11

Travel day. Took our time waking up, clearing the room, enjoying breakfast. Decided to go explore Wilderness Lodge. Plan hit a snag immediately as entrance attendant informed us that the lodge was busy so only confirmed stays or dining reservations were allowed in. So we immediately tried to make an ADR through the app, and for once, the app functioned outside of a resort building. And indeed, the parking lot was full enough that it took a bit of cruising before we found a spot.

It was the day of the Americas Cup soccer final, so we got info on where that game would be shown. Until then DH and DS relaxed in the cool of the soaring lobby with phone/ipad while DD and I looked around the Lodge a bit. She then chose to stay also, while I went out to the boat launch. Took the boat Contemporary strolled a bit, looking into Chef Mickeys from overhead, then Monorail to Polynesian and Grand Floridian. Not much going on at either that time of day, but fun to have such different vibes in short space of time. Returned to Wilderness Lodge for late lunch at Whispering Canyon. We enjoyed the food (nachos, bison burger, turkey sandwich) but the "shenanigans" had middling success. I imagine it all works much better when there are many tables occupied and the staff all join in and play off each other. During our lunch, there were few tables and even fewer staff. They did try, with the ketchup delivery and such, but it fell a little flat. Our server for example made some sort of joke about his name and how it was linked to his tossing the napkins on our table, but perhaps he was new and hadn't practiced enough or something because he managed to have them land on the food and get "sauced". Ended up being awkward and kind of embarrassing for him rather than the aimed-for amusing. No pony races or anything else. Not a big deal, but it would be safer to come primarily for the food, rather than in hopes of entertainment.

Lunch over, it was time to head towards the airport, theoretically a short drive away according to the route suggested by google maps. Yet on that brief drive, we had (IIRC) three toll stops. We were astonished at this - not just because it felt like we barely reached cruising speed before having to stop again, but also because by this time we were running very low on American currency and didn't even manage to come up with required coinage for the final one (there was an option to pay later, so we arranged with our Turo host). Arrived at the airport, we were pleasantly surprised to see that airport parking is free for first 20 minutes , great for quick drop offs and pick ups. We texted our host about the parking spot, and went in to our last round of security and flight home.

Thanks for a great time, Orlando.
Last edited:


Wrap Up Thoughts

- I chose the park days according to Josh's now-older most- and least- recommended days on his crowd calendars, which he hasn't updated in some time. I don't know whether that is because he is busy, or because those most- and least- recommended days are no longer applicable. Regardless - considering the fam's consistent demonstration of need to return to hotel room for a while in the afternoon plus much fewer buses from the resort to the parks in the late afternoon, in future I would choose parks according to which ones were open latest on that day. On both our AK and Epcot days it was very frustrating that the parks closed when the re-energised returnees still had an hour or two of touring juice left in them.

- I would stay at Pop again - if I could swing it according to prices post-gondola and considering everything is 30% increased in price for us due to currency exchange. Alternatively I would look at All Star Movies, since they seem to have the same room layout and calm decor. I would also stay at Surfside Endless Summer again.

- Having seen how extremely (extremely!) busy and loud the rooms close to the main hall and pool were, I will never again be seduced by the phrase "preferred room" at Disney. Being in the most distant corner of the most distant building worked excellently for us, especially ASD son. I gladly walked a few extra steps for that quiet.

- Because of consistent dreadful returns at end of day from the parks, in future I wouldn't even try to line up for the bus, I would just budget for Lyft rides when closing out the parks.

- Some really good advice applied from previous posters: I took a screen shot each day of FP & ADR times before entering the parks. This saved a lot of aggravation when, as happened much more often than not, the Disney app did not work. It worked most of the time when I was at a resort, and almost none of the time when I was in an actual park. Super frustrating.

- Related to previous point: when Mobile Order for QS works, it is a delightful, magical thing which allows one to walk up to a special counter with few or no other guests ahead past long lines AS ONE IS STILL PLACING THE ORDER and have one's food presented an amazingly short time later - and then save even more time by simply tapping one's Magic Band at the cash instead of going through process of extracting wallet, etc. This deliriously joyful experience happened to me once. On the rest of the occasions I tried it in the parks, the phone app didn't work, and I just had to stand in the regular long line like everyone else watching other people walk up to that mobile order station. Why, oh why, Disney overlords??

- Again related to previous post: with Disney app unfunctional, the FP kiosks in MK worked really well for us, and we pulled 2 (3?) more FP from them for rides we really wanted after the first 3 were gone. They also seemed kind of hidden, so maybe not everyone knows of/thinks of them to seek additional FP.

- If I have learned anything from Josh it is that morning is the best touring time. While I respect that, at the same time, in all 3 parks the morning photos turned out significantly better than afternoon/evening ones. If you or your children are at all photohounds, consider making use of the Photopass and Magic Shot opportunities as you come upon them in the a.m. if they don't have long lines.

- Lesson learned: better to walk a few extra steps from whereever one happens to be in the park with ADR in hand to guarantee being able to sit down in AC and order without a long wait, than to preserve one's "freedom to choose" of where/when to eat, and risk kid fatigue and overload and wasting a whole lot of potential touring time trying to locate some calories and (literal) cool at the same time as thousands of others.

- I used my umbrella to protect against the sun much more often than against the rain. Totally worth the weight and space taken in my bag. Also very worthwhile: those little cold-preserving towels you moisten and place on your neck. If only they would make them in non-fluorescent colors that stand out so much when you forget to remove them prior to a photo.

- We are not soda drinkers, and I had brought my own mini-kettle to make loose-leaf tea in our room (in room coffee makers don't work for tea because the water doesn't get hot enough and when it passes through the spout it tastes like the coffee made in it before) , so I originally thought we wouldn't get the refillable mug at the resort. But already from first lunch at the food court, it because clear that getting it was a no-brainer as each single fountain drink was $4, and the mug, IIRC was $17. During the first hours of the first day at the resort, it paid for itself, considering how often the kids went back to get more soda water or vitamin water while sitting in the pool area, and DH used it for his morning coffee (love the mug-washing stations in each fountain area).

- We participted in a MemoryMaker share, with two other families found in the forum here. It was our first time and I felt intimidated by the cautionary posts of other who talked about difficulties, however, it turned out to be not a big deal and worked well. The family going to the world first took the lead, purchased the MM, and opened a dummy account. Then the other two families transferred money for our shares, linked our accounts with all family members in it, and voila. No problems experienced. I would do it again.

- Best breakfast: Boma. Most disappointing breakfast: Garden Grill (in terms of food and long time to get seated despite start-of-day ADR; characters were great)

- Best lunch: Yak & Yeti. Most ear-splitting and difficult to find a table lunch: Pecos Bill.

- Best dinner: take out from Whole Foods prepared meals section (I kid you not). Most not-living-up-to-its-reputation dinner: Trails End.

- Best atmosphere: Fort Wilderness Campfire Singalong. Most disappointing lack of atmosphere: Whispering Canyon (though food was good).

- Of all deluxe hotels visited, the one most likely to stay at if we ever decided to splurge: Animal Kingdom Lodge, by a landslide. Grand Floridian, Polynesian, and Contemporary didn't even come close to the vibe and overall appeal of AKL.

- Best location at Universal to set up equivalent of DAS: guest service station inside and in back of the park, between Men in Black and Diagon Alley. Utterly no-one in line, whereas the station outside of the park gates, as well as the one directly inside of park entrance, overflowed with people waiting.

- Despite all the planning, we didn't manage to: eat a citrus swirl, play the Sorcerers or Pirate game in MK, eat at Sautuli, meet any showcase characters, find Devine, experience Tree of Life Awakenings, etc. etc. So those become things to look forward to on a future visit - together with attanding a Halloween party, and maybe participating in a Run. Maybe once the Remy and Guardians of the Galaxy rides are up and running? In 2021?
Looking forward to it, Orlando.

Last edited: