Thursday, 9 October 2014

10 Crazy Days in Florida - Part I

Back in August I spent an exhausting, but really exciting, 10 days in Florida, visiting the theme parks and generally making the most of the excuse to act like a child. Having always been a Disney fan and only having visited the USA once before, I couldn't turn down the chance to combine the two.

All the excitement


The Flight

As I’d only been on a long-haul flight once before, the journey itself was quite exciting (is that sad?) and I used the time to catch-up on some films I’d wanted to see for a while. The Lego Movie, by the way, is HILLARIOUS.

We were also flying business class, which was another new experience for me, and the novelty of having a seat that reclined into a bed somehow didn’t wear off for the entire eight-hour flight.

The only thing that was disappointing was the attitude of some of the BA staff when we informed them that the floor around my chair was dripping wet. Instead of attempting to help or show any interest, the air hostess seemed annoyed that we’d interrupted her dinner and sent us to the toilet to get some tissue, which had no effect on the puddle surrounding me. Not cool, British Airways.

My own little cubby-hole

The Hotel – The Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes

The Ritz-Carlton Orlando is a great location to stay if you’re in Florida to visit the parks, as it’s only a five minute drive from SeaWorld, 15 from Universal Studios and only 20 from Disney World, and the hotel provides a free shuttle service to all the parks throughout the day.

The grounds of the hotel are really beautiful, and as the grounds are shared with a JW Marriott, there is a lot of space to explore. Around the lakes the grounds double up as a golf course, and there are other activities such as Kayaking, a Ropes Course and a four-person bike you can ride around the paths. There is also a huge spa on site, and if you’re staying in the Ritz-Carlton you are free to use the lazy river which is in the JW Marriott’s pool area.

A View from the Balcony ;)

The amazing view

The lobby area of the hotel, which was predominantly marble, has a really luxurious yet relaxed feel, and most evenings we chose to eat in the seated area here, rather than in the more formal restaurant, NORMAN’S, as we didn’t have to feel compelled to dress up so much and there was much more choice on the menu.

The eating area in the lobby
The rooms are spacious and the beds are really comfortable, which is important after you’ve spent 12 hours on your feet at a theme park! Just be careful not to sing too loudly in the shower as the ventilation systems in the bathrooms are far from soundproof (I’m looking at you, William)!

I wish I'd got a photo on the first day!

Although we didn’t get to spend much time at the hotel because we were trying to fit in all the parks, the pool area is lovely and the staff are extremely attentive, whether you are after some food and drinks or would just like an umbrella moving. There was also a smaller, gated pool area for young children, which had a few slides.

Attached to the pool area is a casual restaurant – ideal for hiding from the passing storms or having an early poolside dinner.


Bliss

The only real criticism I have of the hotel is that on weekends the restaurant used for breakfast couldn’t cater for the number of guests, and you had to arrive at 8am to avoid a 25 minute wait. But that wasn’t really an issue for us as we were leaving the hotel at this time to get to the parks anyway.



Disney World – Magic Kingdom

Whilst I was expecting Disney World to be huge, nothing could have prepared me for its actual size. Wow.

So the resort is made up of six parks (including the waterparks) and there are 22 (if I counted right) hotels within the resort, as well as the ‘Downtown Disney’ area full of restaurants and shops. Disney World really is like its own city, with actual ‘highway’ type roads between each of the parks. I mean, to put it into context, it is about a 20 minute drive between some of the parks, and that’s still within the resort. It was insane.

We began with the main park, Magic Kingdom, complete with the iconic Cinderella’s castle. I love the entrance area of Magic Kingdom, with all the buildings and cute little shops leading up to the castle.



Such a cute quote

Each area of Magic Kingdom has a different theme, with a different set of films and characters that reside within the area. I can’t even imagine how magical this must be for little kids – I was excited enough rediscovering all my favourite childhood films!

Best Ride: It’s too difficult to choose but I love the story-based rides like Peter Pan’s Flight and Journey of the Little Mermaid. Space Mountain is the most thrilling ride, though!

Best Attraction: As cheesy as it is, the ‘Disney Festival of Fantasy Parade’ is an essential if you want to see all of the characters and get the full Disney magic experience.





How perfect is this shot?



Disney World – Epcot

So with some crazy first-day enthusiasm, we attempted to squeeze in Epcot after Magic Kingdom (which on reflection wasn’t the best idea, as I spent the bus journey home vomiting my exhaustion into a plastic Disney World bag – classy, eh?).

Epcot is more of an educational park, with rides such as ‘Living with the Land’ that takes you through living laboratories. You can get to Epcot (as with Magic Kingdom) via Disney’s monorail service, which runs frequently throughout the day.

I still don't know what this is, but it's cool right?

Best Ride: ‘The Seas with Nemo and Friends’ – sweeeeet, totally.

Best Attraction: We didn’t have time to do it, but round the lake in the park there are various small clusters of buildings, each of which represents a different country.




Disney World – Hollywood Studios

A couple of days later we returned to Disney World to tackle Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom – and this combination is actually doable in a day.

Yep, we were about 15 years older than anyone else queuing up

Hollywood Studios is the park that attempts to take you behind the scenes of Disney films. The park is a mixture of rides, short films, ‘drive-through’ effect attractions and then walking round the Hollywood-style sets.



This park has a completely different feel to Magic Kingdom, and we could have happily spent the whole day wondering round all the attractions and learning about the history of Walt Disney and the many aspects of film-making that lead to the finished products.


Best Ride: Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster – so this is cheating a little as we ran out of time and had to skip this one, but I’ve been on the ride at Disneyland Paris and it’s amazing.

Best Attraction: The Studio Backlot Tour takes you through the creation of various special effects, including a fuel tank blowing up and water flooding through a canyon. You also get to see loads of vehicles that have been used in Disney films and the tour takes you through Disney World’s costume department.




Disney World – Animal Kingdom

After spending the morning and early afternoon wondering around Hollywood Studios, we headed to Animal Kingdom, which was (from what I can remember) a 15 minute bus journey from Hollywood Studios. As with the monorail, the free buses run regularly between each of the parks and are really easy to find.
Lion King tree
Unfortunately the weather wasn’t on our side and so it was into our rain ponchos for the rest of the day.

Looking gooooood
The downside to the storms was that a lot of the animals were hiding from the rain, so we didn’t get to see as much as we would have liked, and didn’t get to go on the safari ride.


Animal Kingdom is split into four main areas (Discovery Island, DinoLand U.S.A, Asia and Africa), with themed buildings and rides and the corresponding animals within each area, which really gives you a feel for some of the cultural aspects of the two continents too.

Expedition Everest
Best Ride: Expedition Everest is possibly the scariest ride I’ve ever been on. Getting to a point in the ride where the track is broken and shooting backwards into the pitch-black mountain to see a Yeti before dropping the entire length of the mountain was not was I was expecting!

Best Attraction: We just happened to catch the gorilla enclosure just as they were doing a training exercise, which involved one gorilla catching fruit that was being thrown at him from the other side of the valley. Amazing.



As you may have noticed, this is only part one of two - that's how crazy the 10 days really were! The next post will include SeaWorld, Aquatica and Universal Studios, so keep an eye out for that.

Have you been to Disney World? Which were your favourite parks and rides?


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