Universal Studios Islands of Adventure (Orlando)
As part of our fantastic family holiday of a lifetime to the amazing World of Disney in Orlando we also paid for 14 day flexticket plus passes to Universal Studios parks as part of the package bought through Virgin Holidays. Our tickets allowed 14 day continuous access to Universal Studios, Universal's Islands of Adventure, Aquatica, ... SeaWorld Orlando, Wet n'Wild Orlando and Busch Gardens at Tampa Bay. These tickets were £203 per adult and £191 for children. So for 6 of us were quite a lot of money!
My wife had researched Universal Studios quite a lot before we arrived in Florida and despite visiting the park 20+ years ago with her son and parents wanted to make our visit as memorable as possible including The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Islands of Adventure in fact she even knew how to avoid the welcome meeting by the Virgin reps which you are supposed to do within 2 days of your arrival! So, one morning towards the start of our second week my wife took the long walk to the other area of our Disney resort where we were staying at 830am to see the Virgin rep and to get early admission to Islands of Adventure with free parking permit and free keyring (Yes, we are now all members of the Order of the Phoenix!).
So, from the Port Orleans (French Quarter) of Disney's Riverside resort it was only a 15-20 minute car journey (or would have been if we had programmed the satnav correctly) - we ended up in the main staff parking area with security guards manning the gates and yet again during our stay in Florida heard the immortal words "In 50 yards make a legal u-turn!". What's wrong with that you say? Well, when you are crossing 5 lanes of traffic traveling towards you at 50mph you'll understand. We had to be at the park by 8am and arrived with minutes to spare. We were amazed to find when parking the car that they had spent the time to create an effect on the floor of the car park like you would see on an artex ceiling and wondered how long it must have taken the poor bloke that had done it.
On exiting the car park travellators take you to Islands of Adventure of to its sister park Universal Studios. When we got to the main gates they were still locked and are early entry permits were all checked by their staff prior to the gates being unlocked. As they opened we had to put our tickets in the turnstiles, followed by the daily fingerprint scan (adults only) and bag search. Once through the gates the hundreds of fellow park guests with their early entry passes like us were on a mission with 90% or so heading towards The Wizarding World of Harry Potter for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. In fact it was like a queue waiting for the doors to open in the January Sales and despite being near the front of the queue we were passed by loads of people and probably only half way to the attraction by the time the first ones were being strapped in. We were in such a hurry that barely noticed any of the attractions in Seuss Landing or The Lost Continent. As we approached we could see Hogwarts standing proudly on a hill and we walked through a street of shops including Ollivanders where you could buy wands including Harry's and Honeydukes where you could buy all sorts of candies (including snot jelly beans, chocolate frogs and witches hats).
The reason we got the early admission passes is because we knew Harry Potter and Forbidden Journey is a very, very popular ride and in our case the queue time was around 40 minutes as you slowly advance towards the entrance to Hogwarts. As you walk through the building paintings start talking just as they do in the films and you are met by holographic images of Harry, Hermione and Ron who describe your mission and followed by Professor Dumbledore. Cars face sideways and you are sat in groups of 4 with full restraints coming down over you before starting on your ride. The cars twist and you can move up, down and sideways up to 180 degrees. It gives you the sense of flying on a broomstick as you fly around Hogwarts and discover what it's like to be playing quiditch and being chased by forces of the dark lord. The ride ends as you are greeted by the whole school applauding your exploits and as you leave the ride you enter a shop where there is plenty of opportunity to buy Griffindore shirts, plaques and various other Harry Potter merchandise and also to buy your ride photo although when we visited the machines were not displaying the photos on the screens.
After visiting the toilets we decided to have breakfast at The Hog's Head where they advertised a full English breakfast for around $10. Well it was edible but certainly not English and none of us eat all of it as just wasn't that good, but it was enough to keep us going.
As we left we took the opportunity of tasting Butterbeer from one of a number of outside stalls in the area with standard cups being around $3 and tankards $10 which were refillable with coke etc from stalls around the park for 99 cents. Butterbeer is certainly an experience with a frothy head which appeared to be whipped cream and the main drink tasting like a mixture of tizer and irn brew.
My mad 8 year old daughter decided that the Harry Potter ride was not scary enough and persuaded my son-in-law's partner to go on Dragon Challenge where you can ride either the red or green roller coaster. Mad is probably not the word as these two fast coasters appear to mingle around each other and although she came off loving it that couldn't be said of my son-in-law's partner who felt rather ill!
We spent quite a while walking in and out of the shops around Hogwarts before heading for Jurassic Park and as we did so noticed that the queues had now risen to 90 minutes and at one point the ride experienced technical difficulties and they were intending to suspend the ride.
Our first stop in Jurassic Park was to the Dinostore and Jurassic Outfitters selling books, hats, collectables, dinosaurs and Jurassic Park logo'd items. The area is also shared by The Jurassic Park Discovery Center where you look at fossilised remains of a Tyrannosaurus Rex and look at fossil remains on wall exhibits that magnify and identify fossil fragments. You can also look at dinosaur eggs and view the nursery / hatchery.
Our one and only ride in Jurassic Park was the Jurassic Park River Adventure. The queue was around 40 minutes and unlike Disney, Fast Track tickets are extra so we never bought any particularly considering the amount we had spent already! The ride is in the form of small boats with 2-3 guests per seat and 5 or 6 rows long and as you gently meander along the water you enter large gates into Jurassic Park where you are met by a stegosaurus and other dinosaurs that spit water at you. There is also a notice stating that your ride will not go through the section of park containing carnivores (or so you think). Your boat is bumped off course into the restricted raptor containment area where you learn that the power is down and the raptors have escaped. Your boat ascends (steep ramp) to the Environmental Systems building where the raptors are waiting for you and as you attempt to escape you discover a tyrannosaurus rex waiting for you and as it reaches down to gobble you up down the shoot you go! So did it eat you or did you escape - well I'll leave that to your imagination but this was a great ride and at 85ft is nearly 30ft higher than Disney's splash mountain.... and steeper! I would have loved to go on the ride again but with queues being so long that would have been impractical.
Overhead there was what appeared to be a gentle ride - Pteranodon Flyers which looked fun, but not a ride we went on. It is classed as a roller coaster and I could see very little to suggest it was but we were unable to find the ride entrance. We left Jurassic Park and headed for Toon Lagoon.
After a quick drink my wife had charge of the bags as the rest of us headed for Popeye and Bluto's Bilge-Rat Barges. Now when we think of river rapids in the UK at Thorpe Park or Alton Towers it is a gentle ride with the possibility of a few drips on your clothes. Well this is the American style white water rapids where you do in fact get wet, so wet in fact that our daughters were literally wringing out their clothes and I ruined our camera which was stored securely in a pocket in my combat trousers. We all loved this ride and without doubt would have gone back on it if the queues hadn't dramatically increased. There's also the possibility that you'll get splashed from water cannons fired by other park guests, and there's also an encounter with a giant octopus. All in all a fun exciting ride. This would in fact be our last ride in Islands of Adventure.
The one ride I regret not going on at Islands of Adventure was Dudley Do-Right's Ripsaw Falls which is a log flume ride with a difference - it has two lanes side by side that drop 75ft - below water level and unlike the normal log flumes where after the drop there is a gentle return to the entrance on this ride you literally whizz through rapids before finally heading back. Unfortunately this is one ride where I truly missed out but with queues of nearly 90 minutes and a rather worried look from my wife - as she thought it was much steeper than the Jurassic Park.
Marvel Super Hero Island had a number of thrill rides - for the insane! Yes, my 8 year old would have loved any ride in this area but no-one was brave mad enough to go on them. Don't take my word - these are the facts!
You accelerate from zero to 40 mph in two seconds flat, with the force equal to that of a jet taking off an aircraft carrier. The world turns upside down as you experience a weightless "zero g" roll. Then you feel a surge in power as you pick up speed and a menacing roar fills your ears. All you can do is hang on as you experience the rage, power and fury of the Hulk, smashing through the sky and plummeting down to earth on a high-speed roller coaster rampage of destruction.
 The Hulk launches riders upward 150 ft. and reaches top speeds of 67 mph.
 The ride has a total of seven inversions and two subterranean trenches during the 2-minute 15-second ride.
Doctor Doom's Fearful
With menacing Doombots watching your every move, you're strapped into your seat. The tension builds. Suddenly the countdown reaches zero and you are rocketed skyward, 150 feet into the air, then hurled back down faster than the force of gravity itself. Doctor Doom's diabolical device has done its work... he collects the fear from your body and sends you on your way, ready to claim his next victim.
 The initial launch at the beginning of the ride uses more thrust than a 747 jet engine and accelerates faster than the space shuttle. Doctor Doom's Fearfall has two towers that each stand 200 feet tall.
Still we had time for both girls to get face painted - the youngest with a princess effect and the other with a joker effect that cost us about $25 in total. After face painting we looked in a nearby shop selling marvel comics and other marvel memorabilia and as we exited came out behind a number of marvel super heroes as they rode off on their motorbikes and sidecars.
As left Islands of Adventure along CityWalk we saw Bubba Gumps Shrimp Company (yes the original on which the film Forrest Gump was very loosely linked) and the Hard Rock Café. In fact Universal advertise the area as The Entertainment Capital of Orlando. It is full of bars, nightclubs, music, special events, drive-in mini golf and 20 screen Cineplex with IMAX and of course shops.
Island of Adventure is full of shops selling gifts, food and drink. T-shirts were in the region of $20-$30 - very similar to Disney prices and for a standard sized soft drink around $3. There is plenty to see and do and enough for the real thrill seeker. If you really want to take advantage of Fast Track, prices are around $20 per person for the Universal Express Pass. This is a wonderful place to spend the odd day or two of your vacation. In our case in addition to a 14 day unlimited pass to Disney.
If you are in a position to visit Orlando I would certainly recommend Island of Adventure. In our case a 14 day pass to Universal was excessive as we only visited 3 parks, so before booking it is vital you plan well in advance. It may work out cheaper per day to book before you travel but you also need to understand what you will achieve. You'll love this park - we did!
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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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Theme Park / Zoo International
Theme Park / Zoo International / Parc Zoologique de Fréjus, zone du Capitou, 83600 Fréjus, France, Tel: 049 811 3737
Erlebnis-Zoo Hannover / Theme Park / Zoo International / Adenauerallee 3 / D-30175 / Hannover / Tel (+49) 511 28074 163 - Somewhere in the vast sub-continent, deep in the jungle, stands an imposing palace. What is perhaps more surprising is that this palace is to be found in Hannover.
Theme Park / Zoo International / Duinrell's Amusement Park means days of splashing good fun for the whole family. Beautifully located in the splendid woods and dunes of Wassenaar, there's a wide range of attractions in store for young and old. Info:+31 (0)70 51 55 155.
Rue des palmiers / Theme Park / Zoo International / BP 171 / 4089 Port El Kantaoui / Hammam Sousse / Tunisia - After experiencing an exhilarating descent in a tire down the Crazy River who could resist the fantastic, four track, Foam Tobogan.
Theme Park / Zoo International / Oasis Park, conveniently located in Port El Kantaoui, is home to thousands of botanical species and numerous rare and exotic birds and animals.
Theme Park / Zoo International / Water fun for the whole family!
Sea World / Theme Park / Zoo International / Orlando / Florida / USA
Address: Rue de la Médina / Theme Park / Zoo International / Yasmine Hammamet / Tunisia / North Africa / Telephone: 216 72 240 111
Theme Park / Zoo International / Discovery Cove, located adjacent to SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida. Swimming with dolphins is the most popular attaction. Reservations: 1-877-4-DISCOVERY.
Address: Benidorm / Theme Park / Zoo International / Spain - Cool off at this large water theme park. Something for the whole family.
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