Disney World Resort Florida - Animal Kingdom
I can't believe that it's nearly 8 weeks since my wife and I set off from Gatwick Airport with our 2 youngest daughters, her son and his partner on the trip of a lifetime to the near tropical climes of Orlando, Florida for a 14 day stay on Disney's Port Orleans (French Quarter) of the Riverside resort with 14 day Disney Ultimate, ... together with 14 day passes to Universal Studio parks, day tour of The Kennedy Space Center, car hire and a free Disney dining plan entitling us to 2 main meals and 2 snacks per day.
Like all Disney parks and resorts the Animal Kingdom was only a short 10-15 minute car journey from our resort and by staying at a Disney resort we received a free parking permit saving us $14 on the daily parking charge. You can also get there from the resorts or from Downtown Disney on their free bus service running regularly throughout the day - although there is limited seating (approx 30 seats, 30+ standing).
Parking lots at all Disney parks are massive and although there is a shuttle operating to and from the parking lot to the park entrance it is still pretty likely that you will have a very long walk ahead of you just getting to the shuttle. The park entrance like all Disney and Universal parks involves putting your ticket in a machine at the turnstiles and fingerprint scan (scan for adults only) followed by bag scan. The only difference at Animal Kingdom is the animal small - which to be honest disappeared once inside the park.
It was the end of our first week when we visited Animal Kingdom and the temperature was around 36 degrees centigrade with 90% guarantee of a thunderstorm sometime in the afternoon. We decided not to have breakfast at our resort, partly because breakfast by now had become a chore and partly to try other things. Before arriving we had checked our map detailing all the cafes and other eateries at Animal Kingdom taking the Disney dining plan and after arrival we almost ran to the Rainforest Café for breakfast. Literally, as we placed our order the menus were changed and half the tills closed. Breakfast was only slightly better than our resort with slightly different options and would have cost us $90 or so if we hadn't had the free dining plan.
From the café we did a lot of window shopping as we walked up to the Tree of Life and from there walked towards the Festival of the Lion King and my wife picked up some pink leopard print Mickey ears for about $10 enroute. We saw Daisy Duck and Donald's nephews Huey, Louis and Dewey amongst the trees as we neared the attraction. We queued for 20 minutes or so before doors opened and we were led inside what appeared to be a circular theatre and didn't know what to expect. In fact this was a fantastic musical event with circus like performances from trapeze artists, singers, dancers and fire eaters together with a massive elephant, giraffe, warthog and Simba the Lion King. There were a number of songs from the film / musical in this spectacular performance which lasted about 30-40 minutes. You are sat in one of the four animal areas and they do try to make you part of the show.
On leaving the attraction Donald Duck, Mickey and Minnie Mouse were all signing autographs / being photographed and as we walked back towards the Tree of Life Balou the bear was also being photographed.
We decided to go to DinoLand and our first stop was Dinosaur. Like many Disney rides, Dinosaur has various warnings about your health and safety, the majority are over exaggerated. Entry to the ride is through a series of fossil exhibits on walls and from the ceiling and is followed by a short video detailing your time travelling mission to the land of dinosaurs in the late cretaceous during which a rogue scientist wants you to collect a dinosaur egg and bring back to the present day which is believed to be highly dangerous. You travel back in time on-board timerover cars, the ride itself is not fast but there are lots of tight turns and is a bit scary for young children - my 8 year old was really scared any spent most of the ride hiding. With the sudden turns she also lost her glasses - luckily we got them back at Disney's lost property office by the entrance to The Magic Kingdom the following morning. This was a great ride with a dramatic finale.
Primeval Whirl is a roller coaster similar in style to the wild mouse rides that appear in travelling fairgrounds and to Spinball Whizzer at Alton Towers although about 2/3 the height of the latter. Members of the family enjoyed the ride which basically spins as you travel along the peaks and troughs of this roller coaster.
TriceraTop Spin is a similar ride to the flying elephants rides but with the cars designed like Triceratops. This is a gentle, fun ride for young children and their parents!
While on the TriceraTop ride, we saw a number of Disney characters walking through DinoLand and Goofy and Pluto both stopped for photos and autographs. There were also a number of fairground type stalls in the area to win various cuddly toys.
Finding Nemo The Musical is another great show. It starts with the loss of Nemo's mother and his father being determined that the same wouldn't happen to his son. Nemo however doesn't listen to his father and is caught and taken to a pet shop where he is helped to escape by a seagull whilst his father travels the ocean to find him. The cast have most of the fish on sticks which they wave around as they sing. The show ends with Nemo reunited with his father and bubbles falling from the roof.
On leaving Nemo The Musical we decided to look for something to eat and as we did so were met by the anticipated daily thunderstorm. A number of attractions and outdoor food stalls were immediately shut including Expedition Everest - Legend of the Forbidden Mountain. We did however have the opportunity of viewing some riders which did give me the impression that I had a lucky escape! The ride to the top of Everest is curtailed by the Yeti who rips up the track and sends you backwards down the hill. By the time the ride was reopened travel time were in excess of an hour and Fast Pass tickets had all been exhausted.
The Kali River Rapids was actually our last ride at Animal Kingdom. Queue times at 5pm were about 45 minutes and as we left the ride stalls were all closing. The ride is designed in such a way that is set to represent the effects of logging etc on the environment. In reality it is a short water ride designed to get you wet! As with all water rides - I love them and we certainly did get wet which is more than can be said for the rapids at Thorpe Park or Alton Towers.
Kilimanjaro Safaris had a wait of around 30 minutes. You travel on what appears to be an extended open sided land rover with about 8 rows of seats at about 10mph through habitats similar to those at Longleat Safari Park where you see crocodiles, gazelles, elephants, giraffes, hippos, rhinos, warthogs, zebras and lions in natural surroundings - without any sign of how they prevent the lions from eating everything! The journey is roughly 20-30 minutes and is well worth it. It is one of many safari type adventures at the park, some of which need to be pre-booked.
There are various tickets available to all Disney parks from daily tickets to the Premium (7 day) and Ultimate (14 or 21 days). We booked our Ultimate tickets as part of our package through Virgin Holidays which cost £265 (adults) and £235 (for 1 child) each, and in excess of £12,000 overall.
Fast Pass tickets to some rides were available nearby by using your park admission ticket in a machine to book a return time (normally an hour time slot) and are free - this does mean sometimes Fast Pass queues are actually longer than the standby ones!
Like most cafes and restaurants prices at Animal Kingdom are pretty much the same as any other with rough meal prices around $15+ each. Children's menus can be a little uninspiring with the likes of jelly sandwiches and apple sauce appearing quite regularly on the menu. As with other parks there is a lot of sameness to their menus - including burgers and hotdogs (with chips - crisps). One word of warning, water at most Disney sites is terrible and where possible it is advisable to buy bottled drinks.
The shops sell lots of animal related products including plastic and soft toys as well as t-shirts (approx $20-$30) and a range of Disney items such as badges, pens etc many of which you will find throughout the Disney parks and at Downtown Disney.
We loved Animal Kingdom and if we could afford to re-visit Disney World we would certainly add this park to our list of places to visit. There is lots that we missed and other bits that we would see again. Our only disappointment (apart from the weather) is that this park closes earlier than others - latest is 6pm, although for Disney resort guests there are Extra Magic Hours available on advertised days which for this park allow you to enter the park at 8am rather than the normal 9am.
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Magic Kingdom (Florida, USA)
When I think of Disney World in Orlando, Florida my first thoughts are always of The Magic Kingdom and in particular walking through the entrance beneath the Railroad Station to Main Street USA and of Cinderella's Castle to which it leads and of course three rides - Space, Thunder and Splash Mountains. We visited Disney World at the ... beginning of August 2012 with temperatures from 34 to 39 degrees centigrade and daily thunderstorms in mid/late afternoon (apart from 3 days). It was a fantastic 2 weeks of which the Magic Kingdom has to be one of my highlights.
The Magic Kingdom was the first park we visited on a 14 day holiday of a lifetime to the USA staying on the Port Orleans (French Quarter) area of Disney's Riverside resort with 14 day Disney Ultimate tickets, 14 day Universal Studios tickets, 1 free Disney dining plan (entitling us to 2 main meals and 2 snacks each per day), car hire, a coach tour to The Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral and for 2 of our group the ultimate experience of swimming with dolphins at Discovery Cove. In all our holiday was in excess of £12,000 and was booked through Virgin holidays with Virgin Atlantic flights and use of their V Lounge at Gatwick Airport for the few hours before take-off - this was for a family of 6 (myself, my wife, our daughters (8 and 16) and my wife's son and his partner. Our Disney Ultimate tickets cost £265 (adults) and £235 (child). There are other tickets available including 7 day Premium and 21 day Ultimate and generally the longer the period the cheaper the daily rate. Alternatively you can buy tickets from parks or from a number of touts that were even at the airport when we left trying to purchase unused days left on your passes (which are extremely risky as they are linked to your fingerprint when first activated).
The Magic Kingdom is exactly what it says - magic, it is the place where dreams really do come true and its full of all your favourite Disney characters. It is also the place of imagination and despite two full days at the park there were still areas that we hadn't explored. With the exception of water parks, Disney parks are not for thrill seekers but have great family rides - thrill chasers will find Universal Studio parks more to their liking, they do have the odd rides of this type but they are few and far between.
From our resort The Magic Kingdom was only a 10-15 minute drive - in fact none of Disney's parks or resorts were any further. By staying at a Disney resort we had a free parking permit to all Disney parks - car parking normally was $14 per day. There was also the possibility of using Disney's free bus service operating between the resorts and all their parks, and additionally to Downtown Disney (which we did on our second visit). There is also a monorail that operates to EPCOT and to at least two of its resorts - Polynsesian and Contemporary (the latter located next to the Magic Kingdom).
Well, when I said 10-15 minute drive what I really meant to say was that was how long it would have taken if we had put the correct address in to the Sat Nav that was built in to our Lincoln Navigator that we had hired from the airport. Instead we spent another 30 minutes or so driving along the roadway between the car park and the walkway leading to the park and having to turn around in the members only golf course situated at the end of the road. Still it worked, so next time you want to tee off in Florida just say you're lost and hey ho! At least we were nearly there, it just took a while to re-program the route.
From the parking lot it was a good 10-15 minute walk just getting to the walkway that would lead to transportation to the park's main entrance. There are two ways from the car park to arrive at the park's main entrance - boat (ferry) or monorail and we decided to choose the boat which literally packs hundreds on board before setting sail with a short wait or monorail where you can be queuing for quite a considerable time. Either way you arrive at the same area (as you would by bus) to turnstiles which for adults are two step - put ticket in machine followed by the ritual fingerprint scan (children don't do the fingerprint scan) and bag search that are operated at all Disney and Universal Studio parks.
After the bag search you enter below the Railroad station into Mainstreet USA which is an area for photo and autograph opportunities (on our first visit Snow White, our second Goofy) and additional photo opportunities as you walk along the street with Victorian characters dotted around on either side. My wife had visited Disney World with her parents and son 20 years before and her first thought was of the cinnamon bun she had from the bakery on Mainstreet USA. Our first stop was to look for sunhats and within minutes Donald Duck was proudly attached to my head and my 8 year old daughter had a pink sunhat after trying on a variety of Mickey Mouse ears which had cost me around $30. The building continued into a candy shop which was highly colourful and packed with candy apples and yummy snacks that they were making on the premises. Despite this we didn't buy any sweets or snacks from the store. T-shirts across the site range from about $25-$30 (of the ones we were interested in), and generally the same, if not slightly cheaper with exchange rates to those sold in Disney stores in the UK (although not of the rides or parks).
Without leaving the building we walked in to an area selling various artworks which were beyond our price range and some in excess of $3000, and were followed by another shop area selling pens, badges and other momentos. We visited the shops on both visits and it was only on our second that my wife finally bought her cinnamon bun (although her son went out separately with his partner and our 16 year old daughter and brought her one back). Our personal visit to the bakery was to use our Disney dining plan - which included some very large quarter rolls with ham or turkey stacked inside and pinned in place by a wooden stake - well it should have been. We had some rather delicious snacks with cold drinks that cost around $20 (for myself, wife and 8 year old daughter).
We also looked in the shops on the opposite side of the road looking for Kermit ears for my stepson. Although disappointed at not finding the ears we were impressed by the range of gifts, t-shirts, hats etc that were in the shops and did buy Mickey ears for around $10.
We visited the park twice, the first was literally from about 10am until after 10.30pm and the second was to see bits we'd missed and to try to recover my 8 year olds glasses that she'd lost the day before on a dinosaur ride at Animal Kingdom if you do lose anything it is held in a lost property building by the car park at The Magic Kingdom - in our case we did find them after being given a tray of over 30 pairs (prescription) glasses from one park on one day! On our first visit we must have walked at least 8 miles around the park and as it was only me, my wife and our 8 year old on the second we decided to get around part of the park using the railroad.
Parades and Fireworks
Our first experience of a Disney Parade was literally as my wife was heading towards her cinnamon bun at the bakery on Mainstreet USA at 11am. There was a sudden burst of music and there we go dancers on stilts, dancers and floats with Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Pluto, Goofy, Buzz Lightyear, Woody and Jessie all moving to "Celebrate a Dream Come True" along Mainstreet USA with music and dance to follow from the area in front of Cinderella's castle. We didn't watch for long as there was so much to do but when they reached the area by the castle the dancers were recruiting children to take part. The parade starts from an area to the left of the railroad station as you walk into Mainstreet USA.
We watched the 3pm parade from Frontierland near the Country Bear Jamboree attraction. It had been raining for an hour or so prior to the parade and had only stopped a few minutes before the start which is from and area next to Splash Mountain. This is a much longer parade and includes dancers, floats and characters walking - including Jafar who noticed my daughters crisps and came across to take some! Naught Jafar! There were Disney princesses, including Cinderella and villains and Aladdin's monkey (Abu) who high fived me and my wife!
I missed most of the fireworks display at 10pm because I was on Splash Mountain with my daughter - which was quite an experience in total darkness as you reach the drop! Still, we did see enough to realise that it must have been quite an experience from Cinderella's castle.
We were still in Frontierland just about to get on the Pirates of The Caribbean ride when we realised that we had only a short time before the Electrical Parade and when we came out rushed over to the area in front of the castle to watch it. Although we arrived in time, we and many other guests were asked to move back towards Frontierland to watch it. The parade started at 11pm and is a good 10 minutes before the first float reached us. To say they were magnificent, all brightly lit and glass like was an understatement. There were many of your favourite Disney characters and ended with Prince Charming, Cinderella and the Fairy Godmother. There were others like a caterpillar that spun around along the route so you could see it in its finery. I'm sure at one point we even saw Mickey mouse looking out from high in the castle.
The parades on their own were inspirational and I'd love to go back just to see them.
We did not visit all the attractions even with 2 visits but I think we went on most of the ones we would have wanted to go on. Rather than list them in the order we visited it is probably better in the order they appear on the map.
The Railroad begins from the Mainstreet Station as you enter the park and runs along the edge of the park stopping at Frontierland (near Splash Mountain), Adventureland (near The Barnstormer) and Tomorrowland (Space Mountain). Trains run every 7 minutes and were definitely worth the wait. They're not the most comfortable seats but as the journey was relatively short - even if you did a full circuit.
Pirates of the Caribbean is a gentle water ride which takes you on a journey to see life in the eyes of a pirate as you see them in action with what looked to be a full sized ship firing at battlements, running amok in buildings, setting buildings on fire and waiting at the gallows. There's even the odd appearance by an animatronics version of Captain Jack Sparrow (which was added after the films were produced). As with almost every ride there is a shop area - in this case pistols, swords, t-shirts and raincapes (which we bought on our second visit). To enter the water there is a very gentle drop - which scared the life out of my wife!
The Enchanted Tiki Room is quite fun. The building is designed with what I believe were hexagonal benches that form around a group of parrots on a box hanging from the ceiling. And then the fun begins as the parrots start singing and are soon joined by more birds, alligators drumming and stone statues humming. It was after looking around while the alligators were playing that I realised why the benches were designed this way - each wall of the building has exactly the same décor, birds, statues and alligators.
The Magic Carpets of Aladdin is literally the same as flying elephants with controls in both front and back that allow you to move up and down as the ride spins round and is great for young children - and their dads.
The Country Bear Jamboree, hmmm where do I start? There's blood, blood on the grownndd. Well it's the most memorable of the songs we heard. It's basically a theatre like production of bears singing out of tune and songs that at times are sick or odd, but the way they sing and how it's done makes it a really funny experience which I would encourage you to watch. My wife had heard of the film and she knew it was really naff, she just didn't expect this to be quite so bad - which is what made it so gooodddd!
Splash Mountain my favourite ride is a typical log flume with a 50ft+ final drop. The ride is based on Disney's 1946 film Song of the South featuring Br'er Rabbit who leaves his briar patch to look for his "laughing place" but is hunted by Br'er Fox and Br'er Bear who are both trying to catch and eat him. Br'er fox is caught by an alligator and Br'er rabbit escapes to a new briar patch (down the final drop). At the bottom you see Br'er Rabbit in his new home and a showboat with Zipadee Doodah ringing out. Splash Mountain is part indoor/part outdoor and you can see Thunder Mountain as you move slowly along one of the bends. It is named Splash Mountain in an attempt to market the film Splash. After riding this attraction during the day and darkness in the outdoor areas the dark provides a much better experience - especially as you come down the big drop! Again, as we left the ride you enter a shop selling t-shirts and other products featuring the ride.
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is the one ride I didn't go on. We had the opportunity on our second visit to choose between splash and Thunder Mountain and I have to admit the signs that were posted made me feel like this would be a really fast roller coaster - which I hate, although I like going on ones like the Runaway Mine Train at Alton Towers, and yes as we travelled along Splash Mountain and saw it briefly that's exactly what is was like. In fact, as I remember it the front looked just like a real train engine and they were only wearing lap belts! Still, with queues of an hour we had to choose one - which we would get Fast Track tickets for. (Fast track tickets can be obtained by anyone by putting your park ticket in a machine which allocates you an hour slot - sounds fun until you realise some of the Fast Track queues were actually longer than the standby one! I would have like this ride - so don't get put off by the signs.
The Hall of Presidents is America at its best (or worst as I saw it). It starts with a gallery of some of America's presidents and followed by a film of what made America great including its struggle for independence and through the American Civil War which included an animatronic version of Abraham Lincoln reading the Gettysburg address and inauguration of Barak Obama. There is an animatronic version of each president behind the stage curtain and each makes a movement (nod of the head etc) as a spotlight points to them as their name is announced. I'm afraid it just wasn't my cup of tea and something I would have avoided if I had known about in advance.
This area however is full of shops including a shop selling Christmas decorations - we acquired a couple at approximately $15 each featuring Mickey and Minnie Mouse. There are also lots of stalls, sweet shops etc along the waterfront - including ones selling turkey legs and hot dogs.
The Haunted Mansion is an attraction I actually tried - or should I say my 8 year old and I went with my wife's son and his partner and queued for what was almost an hour and walking along the graveyard route where there are some quirky gravestones including a series of mysterious deaths of the whole family - suggesting they killed each other followed by witty poetic rhymes that were reasonably funny and a tomb where slabs started to slide in and out of it. Well, that's about as much as my daughter and I saw because as soon as we entered the building and the floor dropped she got scared and out we came. In fact, that was the scariest part as we were told later and apart from a funny bit at the end where your heads are all chopped off and put on someone else's body that was it.
It's A Small World is another gentle water ride with one continuous tune running through your head as you travel across countries around the world all singing the same song and playing a variety of musical instruments. This is animatronics at its best (or worst as you might say) because you literally will come off this ride humming the tune - in fact it's still ringing in my ear now - arghhhh! The ride finishes as it began saying it really is a small world - as when you die you still won't get away from this tune! If you want to hear it, I believe there are videos on YouTube - enjoy.
Mickeys PhilharMagic is a short 3D musical film with Mickey and Donald Duck. Donald tries to conduct the orchestra to devastating effect and ends up as usual in a lot of trouble. The music is good and I felt sorry yet again for Donald because he was trying his best. There are some very funny moments in this show which includes music from Aladdin and other Disney films.
There is a carousel (Prince Charming Regal Carousel) which we didn't go on - mainly because my 8 year old is now only interested in rides of 3000ft and 300mph. It looked just like any other and is located near to Pinocchio's house (restaurant).
Dumbo The Flying Elephant is just like The Magic Carpets of Aladdin except it has elephants and a rather increased queuing time - at least 30 minutes! Apart from that you control your Dumbo the same way. The attraction is that it's DUMBO.
Casey Jr Splash and Soak Station is basically just a fun way of getting wet and on our first visit after trawling through the park boy did we need it! There are water jets that randomly shoot at you and others that come up from the floor.
The Barnstormer is very similar to the runaway mine train - a relatively small roller coaster, which in roller coaster terms is nearly my limit.
Stitch's Great Escape is an odd attraction. You are transported to the future where you are greeted by a robotic prison guard on its first day and in control of the prison teleport and is overwhelmed by a high level prisoner - Stitch. You are taken to the main containment area where Stitch runs riot. My wife and I were rather worried when the head restraints came down - just like we were going on a really fast roller coaster. Well it wasn't a roller coaster but there are some "scarey moments".
Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin is a really fun ride where you sit in 4 seater cars (with 2 seats back to back). You have cannons that you fire at a range of targets that appear on walls in front of you each with its own points value with the aim to get the highest score. Your cars are capable of spinning which often makes scoring more difficult - especially if your daughter is doing the spinning! Be warned this ride is extremely popular and Fast Track tickets are advisable.
Walt Disney's Carousel of Progress I have to say is the most boring and pointless attraction I have ever seen. It is a revolving theatre with the seating moving around the central stage area. Each area starts with the song "It's a great new beautiful tomorrow shining at the start of every day" which is followed by the main animatronic talking about new technology that has made life easier. This attraction was first shown at the New York World's Fair in 1964 and quite simply is out of date. There are lots of gadgets that are included as being modern for the time and finishes with what at the time was expected to be the future. What made this attraction worse was being part of 6 sections some guests became rather restless and started to get up - so each time it happened the section would start all over again!
Tomorrowland Transit Authority is a gentle ride around Tomorrowland and you can see inside Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin and see Tomorrowland Speedway and look at imaginary city layouts and ride along the edge of the Carousel of Progress. You even get to go inside Space Mountain in darkness to listen to the screams. It is accessed by a travellator near the Astro Orbiter located in the centre of the main part of Tomorrowland.
Space Mountain is situated on the edge of Tomorrowland with the Railroad running behind it and as mentioned earlier the Transit Authority ride going through it. Surprisingly on our visit queue times were less than 30 minutes. Well after surviving my first ever flight (and being afraid of heights), I foolishly let my 8 year old talk me in to this! Being honest it isn't a very high rollercoaster but being totally in the dark it doesn't need to be. You are seated in 3 seater cars (1 behind the other) and are normally launched together. It isn't the various ups, downs or even twists it's more the fact that you do part of the ride and suddenly you're off again. Certainly my photo was not to be messed with! I absolutely hated this ride, but I am glad that I have experienced this ride - and I got the t-shirt ($25) to prove it!
These are not the only rides / attractions at The Magic Kingdom but are ones that we have experienced. Eateries are another story. There are plenty around the park, but it is not so easy to find ones selling food you want to eat. In fact, we had to split our lunch on our first day between a fast food café in Tomorrowland and Pinocchio's house in Adventureland. Our other problem (at the time) was finding somewhere we could use our Disney dining plan. Our second visit was much later in our vacation and by that time had much better understanding of where we could eat. In fact, we were amazed at what we could get and on our second visit we ended up buying massive turkey legs with chips (crisps), cookies and drinks which we could have probably eat between us and not had one each of. The other thing to note is tap water is not very nice!
When considering what we paid at The Magic Kingdom (in fact any Disney park or resort) with exchange rates their pricing is much lower than you might find at our top attractions like Thorpe Park or Alton Towers - granted that it's a lot of money to get there.
I would recommend The Magic Kingdom to anyone and I really would love to go to it again.
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Epcot (Florida, USA)
Before setting off on the holiday of a lifetime to Disney World, Orlando with my wife (Sue), our two daughters (8 and 16) and Sue's son and partner it had been suggested by many (including Sue) that EPCOT was the park they enjoyed most when they had visited Florida. We spent in excess of £12,000 on our vacation which included ... 14 nights at Disney's Port Orleans (French Quarter) on the Riverside resort, 14 day Ultimate Disney passes, 14 day Universal Studios passes (including Sea World), a day tour to The Kennedy Space Center, car hire, free Disney dining plan and a trip our 16 year old and Sue's son's partner would never forget - swimming with dolphins at Discovery Cove. The holiday was booked through Virgin holidays and also included Virgin Atlantic flights and use before taking off from Gatwick of their V Lounge.
Well, the only thing I knew before arriving at EPCOT was that it had what appears to be a massive golf ball within its grounds so I was going with an open mind and no idea what I would find. Our Disney Ultimate tickets were £265 (adults) and £235 (child). The tickets were issued on arrival at our resort and included our Disney dining plan and room keys on plastic cards similar to credit cards and known as the Key to the World and could also be used for charging whilst at Disney parks and resorts.
From our resort EPCOT was only a very short journey by car. As a guest on one of their resorts we were issued a pass which gave us free car parking at Disney parks which would normally be $14 for cars. The car park is massive and a shuttle operates from a number of stops to the main entrance. We could also have taken Disney's free bus service that operated from our resort to all parks and Downtown Disney. Additionally, from the Magic Kingdom and a number of resorts a monorail takes you to the main entrance.
Temperatures throughout our stay ranged from 34 to 39 degrees centigrade and apart from 3 days were split mid/late afternoon by a daily thunderstorm many of which were reasonably short. In fact we arrived to a thunderstorm and when we exited the airport it was like being blasted by the heat.
EPCOT (experimental prototype community of tomorrow) was opened in October 1982 and was a creation that Walt Disney had planned in 1965 only a year before he died. EPCOT is part of a massive 27,000 acre site that makes Disney World a city within the city of Orlando - with its own roads and was first opened in 1971.
We visited EPCOT twice although the second (the following morning) was literally to try out the coke machines that offered free tiny samples of how different countries tastes can be both in colour and taste - these were Mozambique, Costa Rica, Italy, Germany, Japan, Israel, Mexico and China. Well to say they were disgusting was an understatement and we would spend the rest of the day making up for it with retail therapy at Orlando's Premium Outlets.
Our visit to EPCOT the day before began in the same way as all Disney and Universal parks by putting your ticket in the machine and fingerprint scan (or would have if I remembered which finger I had used previously) and bag search by Disney's mass of security staff.
The front of the park separates into Future World East and Future World West.
Future World East begins with Spaceship Earth which starts with a gentle 2 seater ride inside the golf ball which starts with a glimpse of how our world developed - through the use of writing and some of the developments that have us to where we are now, and where we could go with the ride ending with a view of the sky. At the end of the ride are numerous hands on displays and screens where your face appears on a map of the world. We spent a few minutes there before heading for the next attraction.
Universe of Energy (Ellen's Energy Adventure) begins with a brief talk before entering the main seating area where you watch Ellen starting her dream in which she plays a game of Jeopardy against her brainy former school friend and Albert Einstein and after losing the first half her friend takes Ellen back in time to the age of dinosaurs which is a surprise as the seats divide into individual sections and travel separately around the theatre returning when Ellen has learned about energy and where it comes from - and wins her game of Jeopardy. The ride is the best part of this attraction.
Mission Space was a ride we did after visiting attractions in Future World West and having had our lunch and by this time were in the middle of a thunderstorm. This is a simulator that is supposed to show you what it would be like to leave the space station on a mission to Mars where you are in modules of four and given tasks as you attempt to land on Mars. There are two missions - green which we took which has movement but no spinning, or the orange which is a more intense ride. Whichever mission we chose queues were in excess of 30 minutes, but we did feel a little dejected when we finished the mission because it didn't seem very long or feel like you had done very much.
The final attraction in Future World East was Test Track which was closed - whether it had been opened or not prior to the thunderstorm we couldn't tell, but no Disney crew members were in the area.
We had our first meal at EPCOT in the Electric Umbrella where we had a couple of salads, couple of burgers and chicken kids meals, with chips (crisps), cookies and soft drinks including coke, chocolate milk and bottles of water which were all included as part of Disney dining plan. The meals were good and the burgers were massive and included mushrooms and were so big that you couldn't take a full bite down the whole of the burger!
The first attraction in Future World West is a chance to take photos and get autographs of some of the Disney characters although we didn't see any there at the time of our visit.
The Seas with Nemo and Friends is another gentle ride in 2 person clamobiles on the search for Nemo. At the end of the ride you arrive in the shop, and it was full of cuddly toys of Nemo and all his friends from about $15+. There were other items on sale but who can resist a shark? Well me anyway and after leaving the shop we entered an area where you can have your photo taken inside the mouth of Bruce. There is also a Turtle Talk with Crush as part of this attraction that we didn't visit.
Soarin' was the only ride at EPCOT that we didn't go on although it was probably the one we all wanted to do. I'm not sure if it was just its popularity or a result of the thunderstorm but Soarin' had waiting times of nearly 90 minutes and all fast track tickets had been issued for the day by the time we arrived, so we hoped queues might die down by visiting the other two attractions within the building - Living With The Land and The Circle Of Life. Soarin' is a ride where you are supposed to experience flying in the form of a 2 seater hang glider over California.
Living With The Land is a very gentle boat ride which attempts to show how the world is changing and the many ways scientists are trying to adapt to drought and increasing population - by genetically modifying crops! By this point I switched off because this and The Circle Of Life were trying to teach us to suck eggs in fact the US is one of the countries that is causing the problems they were trying to deal with! In addition, many of the genetically modified crops were being used in their on-site restaurant at rather hiked up prices.
The Circle Of Life is a movie which sets out to teach you about how your actions affect the lives of many others through animation (Lion King characters) and real life events. I am not one to make my feelings known but I felt disgusted that the US with all their faults believe that they are making a difference - without banning CFCs which were in all their sprays or their over exaggerated high pollutant cars - like the one we had been given that eat fuel at the rate of 13 miles per gallon.
There were plenty of water fountains around the park including upside down one and water jumping from one spot to another and back again. These unusual fountains were in an area next to the last two attractions in the main park area - Journey Into Imagination with Figment and Captain EO.
Journey Into Imagination like all the rides at EPCOT was gentle and aimed at using your senses. It starts with the professor (Eric Idle) who wants to show you what he has created to test your hearing, smell and sight and very quickly Figment takes over and takes you on his own ride. The ride is quite good and there are the odd surprises. Again like all the rides there is a shop selling a wide variety of toys, t-shirts etc. There is also a hands on area where you can make music by changing air pressures or colours. We spent a good 20 minutes or so in the area trying out some of the equipment.
The last of the attractions in the front area of the park was Captain EO, a 3D version of an attraction that had been at EPCOT for approximately 20 years starring Michael Jackson as a space captain whose crew were fighting the cause against an evil enemy but preferred to do it their own way instead of following orders. Captain EO eventually lands on the planet of the evil emperoress and quickly starts converting her subjects through music and dance. This is only a very short film and the film shown while in the waiting area of how they created the film to my mind was actually longer. This is quite a good film, but not his best.
By the time we left Captain EO it was starting to get dark and we walked into the World Showcase area surrounding the lake at the back of the park. Starting with Canada with its totem poles, followed by the UK with its many pubs and the expectation that we all live in castles theme! Well I can't moan too much about the UK because I managed to buy myself a Manchester City top for about $27 which I though was quite good value and there was a proper fish and chip shop (Yorkshire County Fish Shop) and The Rose and Crown Pub selling traditional beer. There's a number of other shops selling tea and UK chocolate, biscuits etc and another selling traditional knights in their armour - yes exactly what we wear on a daily basis. Still I managed to find Winnie The Pooh and Tigger as they were trying to take off after a busy photo shoot and we all broke out in song as an American rock band started singing Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody after playing Billy Idol and a number of other artists songs that our children had probably never heard of from the 70's and 80's.
The World Showcase area is aimed to show you the cuisine and culture of 11 countries - Canada, UK, France, Morocco, Japan, United States, Italy, Germany, China, Norway and Mexico and includes a number of attractions - mainly film base and each country has its own range of shops. I was surprised not to see Australia or even Russia amidst the countries on display, and I'm sure there are better ways to show the culture than were on display.
By the time we had left the UK zone it was already 8pm and the light had faded fast, there were the odd buildings that were identifiable like the Eiffel Tower and pagodas but at this point we simply walked slowly along the edge of the lake looking at a variety of shops as we went.
We decided to wait to eat our final meal of the day until after we had watched EPCOTs firework and laser finale IllumiNations that took place around the lake. It was quite a site when the lights of all the attractions and shops turned off automatically except from a number that were used to highlight the buildings and a massive globe moving across the edge of the lake as though it was travelling across the water.
We had decided shortly after we arrived at the park (with the aid of a map) that we would eat Chinese as our 16 year old daughter had been starved of it for months! Our Disney dining plan included the Lotus Blossom Café and so we walked in to find a rather limited choice of meals and not the hundred or so you can choose from at the local takeaway. My wife decided to have some dim sum and we ordered shrimp rice and egg roll, orange chicken, sweet and sour chicken with chips (crisps), desserts and cold drinks. The food was dry and tasteless which I am led to believe is how Americans like their Chinese food - yuk!!!
We thought by about 3pm that our day at EPCOT may be over especially as we all had lost interest in some of the attractions, but we held out and made it into a full day. The day had been specifically chosen to make the most of Disney Magic Hours where resort guest / ultimate ticket holders can continue using the park after other guests had left, but what we were to find was that our Magic Hours were worthless as the majority of attractions and shops closed at 9pm when the park closed.
We left the park at about 9.40pm feeling a little disappointed and one of the reasons we went back the following morning to test the coke.
There was plenty of eateries and a wide choice which is a welcome change from that offered at the other parks.
Would I go back to EPCOT if we had the opportunity? Well, paying a day's full admission price I would probably say no, but I would like to go back to see the bits we had missed (mainly World Showcase) and would like to try Soarin' and try the Orange route of Mission Space. This certainly wasn't the best park in Disney World for me, but it did have its moments.
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Theme Park / Zoo International
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